Archive | December 2013

What have I been reading? A selection.

I’m in agreement with the theory that all writers should read all the time, but Wild Card needed a lot of me in November and December, and my reading habits had to change. I couldn’t afford to be kept awake at night wondering about the plot details of someone else’s book.  So what did I chose? I find books about travel help me to wind down and switch off at night, and I’ll pass on a couple of recommendations at the end.

And once I finished Wild Card on the 22nd, I needed to read something completely different. I’ll start with that:

Desprite Measures by Deborah Jay is, on the surface, a light hearted urban fantasy set in and around Inverness, in Scotland. But like nearby Loch Ness, which looms in the shadowy corners of the tale, the surface of the lake doesn’t always show the depths. In this, the story has the feel of a certain kind of fairy tale or myth.

Cassie Lake is an immortal elemental, a water sprite. She is capable of holding a human appearance, and lives a dual life, human by day and water elemental by night. She has a selkie (Were-seal) lover, friends and a job. A comfortable life, that only exists before page 1 of the book, where we find her trapped by a human magician in a bubble that he squeezes smaller and smaller. Unfortunately, also trapped in the same bubble is another elemental, the equal and opposite fire sprite. If they touch, ‘bye-bye Scotland’. A grand wee setup.

We go on from there, stirring a couple of covens, a druid and some familiars into a tale that reveals the magician’s purpose and greed. We get a cameo performance by a vampire, what might be a fairy or an elf, and also what might be a devil or an angel. Good is sort of triumphant and some massive hooks are left in for the next of what’s planned to be a five part series.

It’s well done, with a light touch, appealing characters, and scenes that made me yell ‘Noooo!!! Cassie, don’t do that’ without making me think she was a twit / TSTL. The world building is well constructed and consistent. The villain has an ambiguity during the story which Jay disassembles at the end. I’m not sure about that, but I certainly didn’t expect it, and I can understand it in light of the moral quandary of the denouement and Cassie’s internal journey.

All of which just makes it another book. It’s the subtexts that raise it.

A concern with the environment is woven through the book, and provides the structural support for the main plot line, but the real twister is Cassie’s journey. Acting human has started to develop Cassie’s soul. As an elemental, she doesn’t expect to have one. Others certainly don’t. And with the soul, of course, comes pain and grief as well as love.

To reveal more would be to give spoilers, and I won’t do that.

I’ll copy the core of this review to Amazon and Goodreads and I’ll probably give it a five there, as that’s what it’s closest to. In my scoring, it’s difficult for book 1 of a series to get a five until I’ve seen book 2. I want the mythic quality to come out, I want to see that underlying fairy tale, even if it means that the series may not be a Disney HEA. Fairy tales have a taste of blood and iron, which is just beneath the surface in Desprite Measures. I’m looking forward to book 2.


Travel books

I’m recommending, but not rating these. Either you like travel writing or you don’t, and you’ll get enough of a flavor reading the sample chapters on Amazon.

The Golden Chersonese and the Way Thither by Isabella Bird

This is a free book, the travelogue of an adventurous woman exploring the Far East in 1883. I got it for the chapters where she describes Saigon, and it’s part of my research for Bian’s Tale. I haven’t finished it – I prefer to dip in and out. She was a sharp-eyed observer and remarkably unbiased and non-judgmental. She covers the peoples and the plants with mentions of the animals as well.

Amazing lady. I’d recommend it just to honor her spirit and bravery, but it’s also informative.


Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed

This is a famous book, one of Oprah Winfrey’s selection. It tells the story of one woman’s walk along the Pacific Crest Trail (I want to do this!), and her spiritual journey on the way. That sounds naff as we say in the UK, but it isn’t- the spiritual element stays largely in the ‘show’ and little in the ‘tell’. It has peaks and troughs to match the trail, laughter and tears. I’m lightened every time I recall the scene at the beginning where she struggles into the backpack for the first time and it’s like she’s put a VW Beetle on her back. She falls over and waves her arms like a turtle.

It’s not all sweetness and light. She had an addiction, she broke up her marriage and she had fallen into the sort of self-destructive, self-pitying mental trap that I would never stand for in a fictional heroine. Her lack of condemnation for her earlier self made this a difficult book for me.

This was a re-read.


Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie by Andrew Sykes

I loved this. Here’s the link to my Amazon review.


Christmas message

I started this blog thinking about the things I left out of Wild Card, and why I left them out. But I guess I’m not ready to revisit it all yet, and work through my reasons. The one thing I did leave out that I can’t ignore is in the acknowledgements. They should give (and will, when I resubmit the text) a thank you to Susan Illene for answering some points on the US military that I raised with her. Some of you may have spotted her on the site here. She was a sergeant in Airborne, and did that crazy stuff about jumping out of perfectly serviceable aircraft. She’s also an author with her own UF titles, the Sensor series starting with Darkness Haunts. Thank you, Susan.

I’m bound to have forgotten others as well.

For those things I left out deliberately, well, one of the reasons was to get the book out by Christmas. I had originally estimated August and then October, so I felt I couldn’t miss the third deadline. And this was a good time to release a book last year.

Wild Card shows every sign of outdoing Hidden Trump. Thank you to all the readers who are buying the book. And those readers should also be saying thank you to you, the folk who email me or visit this site and say such wonderful things to me. You are my writing fuel.

What am I doing now? Very little until after Christmas. Then some planning work on Bian’s Tale and Amber’s book 4. I’ll address some specific requests made on the blog, provide a couple of those snippets of the stuff I cut out, and I’ll also respond to questions raised over the last few weeks that I haven’t had time to address. I’ll start writing again in January.

And Christmas…

Christmas is a little different here. We have no tree, but we have flashing lights. We have no turkey, but we have goose, duck and chicken. (I’m hoping for boned goose stuffed with boned duck stuffed with boned chicken like last year, but I’m afraid there’s not enough of a crowd coming round to justify it.) We also have a 20 kilo case of bananas, more oranges than the average orchard and a lovely bunch of carnations on the dinner table. I’m glad this house is a little mad, it makes it so much more interesting.

We should count our blessings and remember all those in public service who aren’t home with their families at this time. And all those who have no home or family.

I’ll take this opportunity to wish you all a very merry Christmas, a happy holiday and a fulfilling year in 2014.


Wild Card Final

Well, I pressed the button at 19:30 GMT Sunday and Amazon usually takes about 10-12 hours to put it up.

It’s 171k words.

I had a bunch of clever things to say, but they’ve gone out of my head. I’ll check later to make sure Amazon hasn’t thrown up a problem with the conversion. Sometime tomorrow, I will get to answering all the fantastic supporting posts and emails that have come in over the last couple of days. Thanks guys and gals, I needed them 🙂

I hope you enjoy it and I look forward to hearing your feedback – here, on Amazon, Goodreads or where-ever.

Final editing update

Saturday night report 🙂
All structural edits done.
Tomorrow, I have one pass through the text for minor edits which I have accumulated (with lots of help from Jessica), and then the final read through.
I’ve done the cover titles, but I still have to write the cover copy.
That should mean that I press the publish button on Amazon sometime Sunday evening, and it should be available sometime on Monday.
I’ll post again when I’ve pressed that button.
Nearly there!

Editing update and cover image


The cover image

Here’s the image for the cover of Wild Card.

Yup, broke the rules. Day rather than night and not a weapon in sight.

Thank you for the many positive comments that you’ve posted as we’ve got closer to publication date (which is still looking good for before Christmas).
What have I been working on? Well, those Part 4 edits and the scenes that feed into them. My editor is one fierce lady. A few of the sub-plots that I tied up in Part 4, she just said “Meh. You’ve tied up the sub-plot, but you haven’t made me care enough.” She wants to laugh or cry whenever I wrap something. So the Part 4 edits have required fine tuning of the previous scenes in Parts 1-3 that build the arc toward that end scene. All good stuff.

And the result? I think it’s better. But not smaller. I looked at the mirror this morning and jabbed my finger at the guy and told him to cut 10k words. He didn’t. In fact he added some. 🙂
A couple of you have been concerned at what I’m ‘removing’. Any scene that gets chopped is either bad (in which case it’s dumped and you really don’t want to see it) or good but not for now, in which case I’ll find a way to incorporate it somewhere else. As an example, for those of you that have read the prequel, the Club Agonia scene was originally intended for Sleight of Hand.

I know people are keeping on looking at this page, so I’ll keep posting updates until I publish.

What else? Raw Deal has just overtaken Sleight of Hand in total numbers.

Editing update for Wild Card

I have now finished the structural edits for Part 3. I had intended to cut the length down by 10%, but whatever I cut seemed to sneak back in different places, so this section of the book is still around 54k words.

My most difficult-to-please beta reader has read up to the end of Part 3 and her verdict is: ‘best of the series’.

That was the good news.

Less good news, I still have to edit Part 4 (quite a lot of work), and both the editor and I need a final read through. I said Christmas for publication, and that might mean Christmas Eve! I should be sure by the weekend and will do another of these mini-posts, with the cover page.


Quick update on Wild Card

Just a small post for a BIG milestone.
The last couple of chapters of Wild Card have just gone to the editor. Total words 173k.
I have been chopping it down, and will chop it down some more.

Tomorrow, I start on the editing of Section 3. There’s quite a lot to do – mainly in trimming it down.

When I finish that, I may have some editing to do in Section 4.

Closer and closer.
I’ll keep posting…

Update and excerpt

Well, it’s December.


Not quite finished yet. The good news is I have only 3 scenes left to write, and they’re well sketched out in my mind. The bad news is that my editor, Lauren Sweet, has sent the third section of the book back to me with a LOT of edits to do. I’m still intent on publishing Wild Card by Christmas, but I will have to put in the hours to fix the bits that are wrong in section 3.

Part of what’s wrong with section 3 is my need to tie things up and link them together. That’s made section 3 long and not tense enough. The edits will remove some of that, so that it may be logically a little less tidy, but shorter and more compelling. I may be reducing the total length of the book closer to 160k than 180k.


The run up to Christmas is a slow period for ebook sales and I haven’t spent time marketing, so it’s no surprise that sales are sluggish, with daily average sales falling to 6 for SoH and 5 for HT. RD is averaging just under 14 daily downloads.

In total, SoH has over 18,200 sales, HT has 12,800 and RD has 18,100 downloads.


I’ve included the short first chapter of Wild Card. As with the rest of my books, I tend to throw readers into the deep end and explain things later. Maybe.

That’s certainly the way with Wild Card. It makes much more sense with another couple of chapters 

It’s the Monday after the Assembly that ended Hidden Trump. Amber should be getting some rest, taking some time to recover, but she knows the world doesn’t owe her that. Life, and death, go on.

Chapter 1


She walked bravely for a woman who was going to her death.
She was dressed simply, with a warm ski jacket, and jeans tucked into flat-heeled boots. Her platinum blonde hair was caught up in a pony tail, which swung jauntily, jarringly at odds with her situation.
It took tremendous courage or bewildering stupidity to do what she was doing.
It was 3 a.m., the streets were empty and this was not one of Denver’s thriving areas. Some of the streetlights still worked, edging everything in baleful, sodium yellow. Small businesses lined the street, bolted and locked down, steel shutters like indifferent eyes closed against the night. Telephone wires, draped from pole to pole across the road, swung idly in the wind. Dark alleys sighed with fetid smells, trash spilling out into the hard light. Only two cars had passed in the last ten minutes, and no one else was on the streets.
Not a place for a woman to walk on her own.
But she knew she wasn’t alone, of course. She’d been instructed to walk without looking back, so she would know someone was behind her. And she knew who it had to be. She knew she was being stalked by a monster.
What could she possibly want that was worth the risk?
Or was this another trap?
If it wasn’t, I would listen. I had promised; I would listen first. My nails dug into my hands. My boot heels clicked on the sidewalk.
And if it was a trap, I’d take them to hell with me.
Meanwhile, I listened to the voices whispering in my head. Just sounds, I said to myself, not people, not anyone who might end up dead on my watch. Between the hissing came street names, junctions, all within a block, keeping pace with us.
Enough. It was time.
“Call it,” I whispered, and my voices answered.
“Clear on your two.”
“Clear four.”
A pause. My adrenaline surged, but eventually the report came. “Clear on your six and two in place.”
“Clear eight,” followed immediately.
“Clear ten.”
“Clear twelve.” Even through the comms, the last voice was smooth and deep, like rocks in a river rolling together. I could banish the images of everyone else, but Victor Gayle’s voice was too demanding. It didn’t bring to mind the image of him now, somewhere out in front of me, ghosting through the night and seeking out the trap I feared must be there. It forced me to see the image of him earlier, sweat and tears glistening on his dark skin, comforting the families of Reynolds and Zimmerman while the sheriff’s people argued with the FBI over jurisdiction of the bodies. Two of his men who’d died trying to protect Jennifer Kingslund, when Frank Hoben and his gang broke into Manassah. Two whose deaths I might have prevented.
After that, I felt sick over asking him to provide people tonight, but not only did he do it, he insisted on coming as well.
“We good to go?” he asked me.
“Go,” I said. I called the woman’s cell, watched her reach into the pocket of her ski jacket, hold it to her ear. My voice thickened until I had to force the words out. “A van will pull up. Get in the back. Do what they say.”
The van rolled past me, glossy midnight blue, its powerful engine muted, quieter than the rumble of the tires. A block ahead, it slowed alongside her.
The door opened. For a second, she held off, as if she’d started to have doubts. It was way too late for that. Arms snapped out, catching her, and she vanished inside. The van accelerated away just as a Dodge pulled alongside me.
“Call it,” I said again as I got into the Dodge, and the voices whispered the even stations of the clock, still all clear.
Then a final, “Tango secure. Comms and tracking clear,” from the van. Target secured—restrained in the back of the van. No suspicious activity on comms channels. Apart from ours, of course. No tracking devices found on the target.
She was clean and we were clear.
“Team Sierra, go home,” I said, and felt the pressure lighten as the outriding scouts disconnected and went away.
We stopped to let Victor swap with the Dodge’s driver, who walked off briskly without looking back. There was no sign of a trap yet, but regardless, that was one more safe. One less to worry about, I hoped.
“Hey,” Victor said quietly as we pulled away.
I reached over and squeezed his thick forearm. I said into the comms, “Phase one, complete. Phase two, green.” First part of the mission successful, target secured and scouts away, phase two commencing. I took a deep breath and picked a number. “Mike Papa three, in five. Out.”
I watched silently as Victor hauled the car around.
Just before the Platte River bridge, we pulled off into a side road lined with commercial properties. My randomly selected meeting place, the third of four possibilities I had set up. We turned in at a fading ‘For Rent’ sign and parked around the back. Two minutes later, the van pulled in alongside us.
Hillary Clinton and George Bush came out the side door and helped the driver swap the plates.
We got out; they tossed their masks and the old plates into the Dodge’s trunk. Victor gave them a nod as they took our places. We watched them drive away.
The van sat there, engine turning over. It looked crouched over its wheels, squat and dark, pointing down a path I hadn’t wanted to take. My heart rate was already climbing. I rubbed my hands together, feeling as if I needed another shower.
“You sure?” Victor said. His hand rested on my shoulder—the right shoulder, fortunately. The left shoulder was still recovering from Hoben’s bullet at the factory in Longmont. At least the Kevlar vest had absorbed most of the damage.
Victor was frowning at me. I could feel all the questions building behind the concern, and I could do nothing about it. Not now; maybe not ever.
My stomach was churning, but I nodded. “Platte River Road,” I said. “Up and down. Nice and slow.”
River one side, industry on the other. No one to hear. No one to see. No one to know.
I slid the panel door open and stepped inside, slamming it closed behind me. It was pitch black and she was effectively blind. Even the Athanate would have difficulty seeing in here, but I wasn’t just Athanate, I was becoming Were as well, and werewolf abilities were bleeding into me. I could see a little into the infrared spectrum. Certainly I could see well enough to know she wasn’t struggling as she lay there, trussed up like a chicken. It wasn’t that she was calm. She was scared, as she should be—her breath shallow around the gag and her heart racing—but she knew struggling wasn’t going to achieve anything, and Ops 4-10 kept no dummies.
The van rocked on its stiff suspension as Victor drove us out, back onto the road.
I sat facing her, cross-legged on the floor, waves of anger flowing through me.
My old covert army unit, Ops 4-10, had come after me. The same unit I’d given heart and soul to for ten years. They’d sent a team with Keith, my former boyfriend of all people, to snatch me off the streets last Friday and take me back to their scientific group, Obs. As far as Obs were concerned, once I’d been bitten by what they still called a vampire, I’d become a freak, an object to study, and I didn’t need basic human considerations.
They’d have my old cell ready for me, a bleak, windowless cubicle, where I’d never see the sun again. I’d sworn I wouldn’t go back, and when Keith’s team tried to catch me, I’d called in the FBI. They had a team investigating military units where the Defense Department had lost oversight, and Ops 4-10 had become exactly that. Or worse.
Keith and the rest of his team had been rounded up and were guests of the FBI.
And now this. Another member of Ops 4-10, trying to draw me out.
The wolf had become very strong in me. Last week I felt the first ripples of the potential to change form when I’d been attacked in an alley. Now? Now, it felt like there were claws scratching at me from the inside. I wanted to growl; I wanted to seize her by the throat, bite hard and taste her life blood.
I was fighting myself to hold it together, to push the wolf back down.
After a long couple of minutes, I felt stable enough to reach out and remove her gag.
I took a breath, forcing my voice to stay calm and even. I still sounded like a complete stranger.
“Hello, Julie,” I said.