Archive | February 2019

Update and question for you and a chapter teaser from Inside Straight

I’m about half way through Inside Straight at the level I think of as ‘Ready for Editor’. (ish). Tomorrow (Friday 1st) the first quarter (15 chapters – 28k words) will go to the beta readers, and unless there need to be a lot of changes, the second quarter will go to the beta readers as soon as feedback on the first is in.

There’s more written than that, but I’ve written in isolated scenes, which means the connecting flow sections and segues need to be put in. When they get put in, I find the scenes often need to change slightly.

I’m continuing to put out teaser chapters as below. These aren’t complete episodes, so the chapter will not feel like an episode from Change of Regime or A Name Among the Stars.

Speaking of the ‘Among the Stars’ series… after 2 months Amazon support have finally identified why the series title does not appear on the Amazon book page. So, what I designed (according to all the Amazon help files) was for the book page to be headed ‘A Name Among the Stars (Among the Stars Book 1)’ and for the books to be linked as a series. A month after launch I finally managed to persuade them to link the two books as a series. They claimed undocumented publishing rules prevented that, and just doing what it said in the help documents and emailing them to ask wasn’t enough. I actually had to note in my bio that the two books were part of a series!

Now they have told me another undocumented rule is that the series title cannot be contained in the book title. So the series cannot be called ‘Among the Stars’ because that’s part of the book name ‘A Threat Among the Stars’. Now, there are lots of series on Amazon which avoid this by adding the word ‘Series’ to the series title. So, potentially, the full name + series name would be ‘A Name Among the Stars (Among the Stars Series Book 1).

Here’s your question: do you think ‘Among the Stars Series’ is a good name (even if other books in the series don’t have ‘Among the Stars’ as part of the title), or should I go for something completely different? In the books I talk about humanity’s ‘Expansion’. Do you think ‘Expansion’, or ‘Humanity’s Expansion’, or ‘The Fourth Expansion’ would be better titles? Or something completely different? Suggestions?

What is the effect this has all had?

It’s difficult to *know* what happens in Amazon promotions, because Amazon aren’t telling. Amazon claims it will automatically prompt you, the reader, if there’s a new book from a writer you’ve read before. It claims it will prompt you if there’s a subsequent book in a series you’ve read. It claims it will prompt you if you’ve clicked on the ‘author follow’ button and there’s a new release from the author.

One of my beta readers has read every single book of mine, including A Name Among the Stars, and has followed me on Amazon. He just received an email telling him about A Threat Among the Stars last week, two months after it went up on pre-order. Others still haven’t had any notification.

As you’ll know if you follow my occasional posts about marketing, the first month after release is vital for a new book, and A Threat Among the Stars has suffered, for whatever reason. I can’t claim it’s all about Amazon. I simply don’t know. Once I settle the series title issue, I’ll have to start marketing (including giving money to Amazon for stuff they should have done anyway). Worse, advertising has to be created, which takes time, just like writing. So more marketing means less writing.

Anyway… teaser time.

Previous teaser chapters are at:
https://henwick.wordpress.com/2018/12/24/christmas-wishes-and-bite-back-6-teaser-chapter/
https://henwick.wordpress.com/2019/02/04/bite-back-6-teaser-chapter-2/

 

Chapter 3

 

Keith was driving us home fifteen minutes later and I was even more restless, twitchy and uneasy. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing up.

Catching Bian’s paranoia?

Or worried about Diana and Tullah?

Or infusing Scott and possibly killing him?

Or is it only the thought of seeing Kath again at Mom’s dinner tonight?

My cell pinged, startling me. A text message from Yelena.

 

Landed at Centennial. On way home.

No problems. Tove is a mess.

 

Well, everything was a mess. Where had the relaxing Christmas holiday with my House and family gone?

I texted back.

 

We have a situation.

Diazoun House seeking sanctuary with complications inbound.

Talk to Pia.

 

I glanced at the clock on the dash. In twelve hours and change I had to be ready to turn up at my parents’ house in Aurora, looking presentable. No excuses.

What was the timing looking like?

Amanda Lloyd had called before entering Colorado. That was Athanate etiquette, though she should have called Bian, not me, before crossing into the territory of House Trang.

Given the time I’d spent getting Bian’s reponse, Keith and I might arrive back at Manassah just as House Lloyd turned up.

At which point, I had a three-way decision to make: drag her and her kin out to Haven and let Bian imprison her, or offer simple sanctuary, or take her oath as a sub-House. Because Bian had handed it over: ‘our call’ had become ‘my call’.

My fangs throbbed.

Who am I trying to kid?

I’d already decided, unless something went very wrong in the next hour: if she was willing to give an oath, I would accept it.

Which meant I had to start thinking of how much metaphorical baggage House Lloyd was bringing with them, apart from some lynch-mob of northern Adepts.

For example, House Lloyd was diazoun, an outsider. She wouldn’t have contact numbers for the Athanate territories she’d passed through, and, as diazoun, possibly didn’t think it mattered if she passed through another House’s territory. I had to address these potential problems, because if I accepted her as a sub-House, they became my problems.

I knew highways were open to Athanate, but what if they’d stopped somewhere for food?

Or Blood?

I called Pia.

“If they stayed on the highways and she didn’t feed, there’s no issue,” Pia said.

“Otherwise?”

“Well, unofficially, no harm, no foul. A written apology citing urgency would cover it. If she caused a problem anywhere that reflects on the resident House, all bets are off. And none of that covers House Prowser’s claims. What did Skylur say?”

“That Prowser’s okay with it,” I said. “And we have the go-ahead to accept Lloyd as a sub-House and try out my infusion on her kin, if we think we’re up to it.”

Pia was quiet. Like me, she was probably adding up everything that could go wrong. She was my zamenik, in charge of all the process around infusing new Athanate in my House and then guiding them through crusis. Pia would be the new Athanate’s Mentor, and her kin would help provide the training on feeding. Once I bit House Lloyd’s kin, theoretically, he would become mainly Pia’s responsibility.

And all of which assumed my bite would work. I had accidentally and partially infused David and that worked out okay, but he’d been infused by Pia before me. No one knew what would happen with a completely new infusion, let alone the complicating factor of a kin who hadn’t gone through rigorous preparation, and was about to die anyway.

“Okay, Boss. Well, it’s your call then.” There was a noise in the background, David’s voice, and Pia spoke again. “David’s talking to House Lloyd now. They say they’ll be here in five.”

“Make them comfortable in the sun lounge and leave them alone.” I glanced out of the car. We were just coming up to the Platte River crossing on 6th, and traffic was quiet. “I’ll be there in ten.”

The cell was beeping, telling me there was a second call.

My mother.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Hello, Amber,” she said. “This is a pleasant surprise. I was expecting to get that rude foreign woman again.”

“Yelena?”

“That’s the one. Always telling me I can’t speak to you. Has she got the day off?”

No. She’s bringing a drug-addicted prostitute from LA to live with us.

I decided I wouldn’t share that news with Mom.

And, yes, Yelena probably was a bit abrupt with everyone calling me whenever she took charge of my cell. She’d told Felix, the Denver alpha werewolf, to ‘fuck off’ once. I hoped she hadn’t said that to my mother.

“Hello?”

“Sorry, Mom. Distracted. Is everything okay for tonight?”

“I was calling to make sure you remembered.”

She was calling to make sure I turned up. She knew I didn’t forget things, but family life had been difficult recently.

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” I said.

“Kathleen will be here with Taylor,” she said casually.

It was anything but a casual comment, and that was partly my fault. Partly Kath’s as well, maybe even some of Taylor’s too. Her fiancé had certainly gone along with her craziness.

“Good,” I said, tamping down all my other feelings. “I’ve been wanting to… re-build bridges.”

It sounded lame, and it was. I could barely keep the tremble from my voice.

In my head, I was back at Jen’s ranch, high up in the Rockies, looking at the video cassettes that Special Agent Ingram had just given me. The cassettes that Forsythe used to record his rapes. There was one cassette that recorded my rape, neatly labelled with my initials. And one more. In the lighting, the letters written on the front were dark, like blood under UV.

KF.

Kathleen Farrell.

I’d run away. I’d left my sister behind in Denver with that monster and that was the result.

“Amber? Are you all right?”

“Sorry,” I said again. “Mom, I’m going to be busy right up until it’s time to come over.”

She wanted to talk. Wanted to talk to me alone about Kath, but she was so nervous I’d make up an excuse not to come, she let me go. We’d have to talk sometime. Tonight, I’d be there with Jen and Alex. Kath would be suspicious if Mom and I disappeared off together, so it wasn’t going to be tonight.

I could guess some of the things what Mom might want to talk about: Kath’s alcoholism, her erratic behavior, or the split between us.

I’d intended it to be permanent: the last words I’d said to Kath had been designed to hurt.

I had a little sister once, I’d said. I loved her with all my heart.

And I’d walked out of her house, not wanting to see her ever again.

She’d been awful to me. Evil. That wasn’t my fault. What Forsythe did to her—that wasn’t my fault either, any more than it was my fault what he did to me.

And yet, and yet. I ran away. If I’d gone straight to the police…

Then his family’s lawyers would have made it look as if I was to blame. They’d have claimed I was drunk. I wanted it. I encouraged them.

But Kath would have believed me, back then. Without question. With the result that she’d never have fallen for whatever line he’d come up with.

So it was my fault.

Why had my mother even let her out with Forsythe?

But I couldn’t have that conversation with Mom. I couldn’t have that conversation with Kath either.

Yet.

Jen and Pia had made me agree—first rebuild the relationship, then review how to fix the damage.

How high was this mountain?

“Boss, Julie and I…” Keith stuttered, breaking into my thoughts. “We understand how this Athanate thing works. Sort of. I mean…”

He was floundering even more than I just had with my mom. I raised a brow at him.

It was difficult. Keith and I had been an item back in Ops 4-10, before I’d been bitten and infused. By the next time I saw him, he was married to my friend Julie, also Ops 4-10. And not long after, I’d nearly gone rogue and bitten him. Now he was part of my House. Mine. As far as Athanate rules went, I could have his Blood anytime I wanted. And by Athanate customs, his body as well. Same for his wife’s.

Yeah. Made it a little awkward.

Maybe Keith was bringing it up now to distract me from my dark thoughts.

“Your body is probably safe from me,” I said, putting on a husky voice as I ran a fingernail down his arm. “I don’t think I can manage any more than Jen and Alex at the moment. Your Blood, now. Hmmm.”

He twitched and I watched the pulse in his throat pick up.

Joking aside, it made my jaw throb in time.

Keith stayed silent.

“Thing is,” I went on, “the Athanate rules say I should bite everyone in my House to ensure they’re bound to me.”

Keith swallowed.

“But you and Julie are Yelena’s kin, and she’s bound to me, so I don’t need to check the pair of you out…”

“Copy that,” he said quickly.

“Course, I might do it for fun anyway.”

He knew I was teasing him then, and he laughed. It was good to hear that sound. There hadn’t been much of it back in LA.

“Yelena has bitten you, hasn’t she?”

I walked my fingers up to his collar and edged it aside. No scars.

“Yes, Boss.”

He was blushing already. That was so cute.

“Just not on the throat,” I said.

He coughed. “No.”

Not on the wrist either. The bite scars generally healed to invisibility in a week, but there had been none on display. I could smell he and Julie had been bitten by Yelena, but I wasn’t going to say that.

“None of my business, really, where she bites you,” I said, thoughtfully. “Might be your upper arm. She bit me there once, you know.”

He went a shade darker.

“But, as I understand it, for a real… intimate bite there are only three places. Throat, wrist and—”

“Okay! Okay. Yeah. She bit us both on the thigh. Happy now?”

I smiled. Oh, yes.

Julie would blush too, probably even more than Keith, when I brought it up. And I was going to bring it up.

In the meantime, we’d successfully distracted me and we were back at Manassah, where the car Yelena had been using was parked alongside a Volvo with Michigan plates, brick-red under the road dirt of a long trip. House Lloyd’s car.

 Back to the present. Mind in gear.

In the next few minutes I had to decide about House Lloyd and infusing her kin, based, as ever, on my gut instincts, which were being inflamed by Athanate desires I really didn’t control. And a constant, looking-over-my-shoulder feeling that I was missing important things that had already gone wrong.

 

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Bite Back 6 teaser chapter 2

Here’s chapter 2 of Inside Straight.

I’m NOT intending to publish this book all on the blog, and it’s structured as a novel rather than episode-ending-on-cliffhanger, so you should regard these chapters as teasers. It’s just intended to keep the blog ticking over with a chapter a month, and I sincerely hope to be publishing before we even get to the quarter point.

You will note in these chapters that there are references to what happened in the novellas: The Biting Cold, Winter’s Kiss and also Change of Regime. These novellas are part of the overall Bite Back story from different viewpoints and take place chronologically at the end of Angel Stakes and beginning of Inside Straight. TBC and WK are set in Michigan, CoR is set in New York.

What else?

As I’ve posted on Facebook, the publication of A Threat Among the Stars has been a disaster, for whatever reason. I’ve relied too much on word of mouth perhaps, and I need to get much more serious about advertising on Amazon, Facebook, Bookbub etc.

Anyway, first priority is to get Inside Straight completed.

Chapter 1 is at

https://henwick.wordpress.com/2018/12/24/christmas-wishes-and-bite-back-6-teaser-chapter/

 

 

Chapter 2

 

There was, and the distraction was welcome.

It was Mykayla. A few months ago, she’d been a happy-go-lucky Denver girl who liked raves, and had a crush on me and Bian, not in that order. Now she was Bian’s kin, and an Aspirant—a human training to become Athanate. Diana had chosen Mykayla as the first person she wanted me to infuse, to test out whether my infusion would actually reduce crusis, or turn people into hybrids. Or something else entirely. It might even kill.

Mykayla, crazy girl, had actually volunteered.

She was training this morning: Aspirants go through a vigorous physical program, so that when their time comes to be infused, they’re at the very peak of condition. It helps with the dangers of crusis.

What state would House Lloyd’s dying kin be in? What if…

I pushed the thoughts away and concentrated on Mykayla.

I hadn’t been monitoring her progress while I was away in LA, so I was surprized by the change. Her exercises on the training mats and the sleek look of her body impressed me. Let alone the dedication to get up this early to work out.

She wasn’t alone. Haven was busy, even the gym, even at this hour.

Colonel Laine had recruited soldiers from our old battalion, Ops 4-10, after the whole Ops 4 group was disbanded. They’d started out based in Wyoming, but as of a few weeks ago, Haven was their HQ. They were working directly for House Altau now and they were taking their new role as seriously as I would expect from former Ops 4-10 personnel. It wasn’t just people in the gym at strange hours, there was a new multi-channel comms system covered the area, patrols 24/7 with staggered shifts, biometric monitoring of active personnel and surveillance of the locality across the spectrum.

I could see they were just begging Basilikos to try attacking Haven.

It was intended that small teams of former Ops 4-10 would be sent from here to just about every House in North America. Skylur had declared that North America was his territory and he intended to strengthen his sub-Houses so that there was no weak point for Basilikos to exploit.

Colonel Laine looked to have that objective all in hand.

Keith had wandered off to find breakfast and any familiar faces from Ops 4-10, leaving me alone when the training ended.

Mykayla came bounding over.

“Hi, Amber!”

We hugged.

“Hi yourself. You’re looking good, girl.”

“Yup! I’m ready.”

I didn’t need to ask what she meant she was ready for. The girl wanted to start the process of transformation by being infused by me.

“You’re ready when Bian says you’re ready,” I said and sat back down on the bench.

“Come on! Tell me I’m not in top condition,” she insisted. Her face got a little sly look to it. “Get a load of these abs.”

She opened her gi and lifted her sweaty shirt.

Yeah, great abs, and an entirely intentional opportunity to appreciate the cutest little pink-nosed puppies too.

I snorted and grabbed her by her canvas training pants, lifting her up as she squealed and depositing her next to me on the bench.

I was laughing, and after a little pout, she joined in.

“Bian put you up to that, didn’t she?” I asked.

“Sort of.”

“Either she did or she didn’t. Come on, Mykayla, spill.”

“She bet me. Said if I got you into bed, she’d agree I was ready to be infused.”

I laughed harder and gave her a hug. That was typical Bian, but Mykayla hadn’t quite seen all of it.

“Could have been a double whammy,” she said indistinctly and sighed, her face pressed against my shoulder.

“Congratulations,” I said.

She leaned back and looked up at me suspiciously, as if I were teasing her some more.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Bian might have a horrible sense of humor, but look at it this way: do you think she’s irresponsible?”

Mykayla frowned. “No. Not at all. I don’t understand.”

“Hundred percent responsible?” I prompted her. “Ninety? Eighty?”

“Hundred, of course.”

“So, let’s say you aren’t ready to be infused, but there was a chance, oh, one in ten, say, that we actually ended up in bed. That’d make her only ninety percent responsible, unless…”

Mykayla frowned again before suddenly it dawned on her. “Oh! Unless it didn’t matter. Unless she thinks I am ready, and getting me to try and seduce you was a joke.”

“Congratulations,” I said again.

“Oh, Amber!” she leaped up from the bench and did a handspring followed by cartwheels in a complete circle so she ended up back in front of me.

“Today? Now?” She bounced on her toes.

My fangs were throbbing with anticipation, which was distracting, but I managed a shaky laugh. No matter how eager my Athanate was to infuse someone, I needed help to go through the process, and I wasn’t in any hurry. No one knew what would happen when I infused someone.

The thought of it scared me.

“When Bian sets it up,” I told her, and sent her off to shower.

She disappeared, and on cue, Bian came into the gym, her brow furrowed.

I leaped up from the bench.

“What’s up, Pussycat?”

She gave me a distracted cuddle.

“Skylur says it’s all our call, Round-eye: granting House Lloyd sanctuary, infusing her kin, the whole thing.”

“What? But we wait for Diana at least before trying that infusion, yes?”

I really didn’t want to try this without my Mentor, Diana. Using eukori, she could guide me through infusing Scott and Mykayla. Diana was the Kumemnon, the eldest living Athanate. If anyone had a chance of ensuring things didn’t go wrong, it was her.

“Maybe not,” Bian said and sighed. “That’s part of what’s so worrying. There’s been a change of plans. Diana’s still on the way with Alice in the van but I’ve got no way to contact them because Skylur’s already in New York. The situation there is more urgent than originally thought.”

“How so?”

“Apparently, there’s a large group of diazoun Houses who’ve been hiding out in Long Island.”

I frowned. New York state had been the territory of the Warders, prior to their dissolution at the last Assembly. The Warders had claimed their domain as independent, while secretly cooperating with Basilikos.

A strong and secure Athanate House might decide to allow one diazoun House to sit on its borders. Two, if they were very quiet and respectful. But a ‘large group’ of Houses?

“The Warders let them?” I asked.

Bian snorted. “Not really. Apparently, the Warders just didn’t have a clue what was going on. Naryn stopped there on the way to his new domain in Boston, and the leaders of the diazoun presented themselves to him, figuring they’d never get away with hiding in Skylur’s territory.”

“They got that right. Well, I guess they all give him their oaths or go to Ireland. Simple. Isn’t it?”

The Irish Athanate had declared themselves independent from all Athanate politics and Ireland itself was open to any as a refuge.

Bian wrinkled her nose. “If it’s so straightforward, then why is it urgent for Skylur to go there rather than making sure Diana gets here safely?”

Good point.

“Skylur didn’t explain?”

Stupid question. Bian snorted.

“On the other hand, he did mention a bit of background,” she said. “It was your supplicant, House Lloyd, that started the process which ended with House Prowser finding out the location of the slave auction in LA.”

That rocked me. If that was true, why hadn’t it come up in the telephone call with Amanda Lloyd? I owed her. She had to know that, and yet she hadn’t tried to cash it in.

I searched my memory. “When Prowser spoke to me in LA, she talked about a sub-House and a court case or something…”

“Yeah. That’s the one. Anyway, the good news for you, I think, is that House Prowser has given up any claim to House Lloyd as a sub-House and waived her rights to Blood payment or feud with you.”

I swallowed. Athanate politics was prickly, and frankly, given my own response to thinking of someone taking any of my House away, I could understand why.

So why would Prowser give up part of hers?

Maybe I’d got lucky. Maybe I hadn’t.

“You’re not sure it’s good news?” I asked.

“You mean why did she do it?” Bian smiled. It was an evil sort of smile. “Maybe she knows something about House Lloyd that we don’t?”

“Has anyone ever told you you’re paranoid, Pussycat?”

“Yeah, lots of people, but they’re all dead, because they didn’t see it coming.”