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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About Mark Henwick

I was born in Africa and left out in the sun too often. An early interest in philosophy and psychology was adequately exorcised by tending bars. And while trying to enroll in a class to read Science Fiction full time, I ended up taking an engineering degree which splendidly qualified me to move into marketing. That in turn spawned a late onset career in creative writing. When not working, I get high by the slightly less conventional means of a small light aircraft. My first books are available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Mark-Henwick/e/B008SBO5YK/

29 responses to “Update and question for you and a chapter teaser from Inside Straight”

  1. azrm says :

    Don’t love being teased, but love the story…can’t wait for the book!!!

    • Mark Henwick says :

      It’s really unfortunate that I enjoy teasing so much. 🙂

      Actually, this time, it’s not so much teasing you as continually prompting me to stop polishing prose and get the damned book written.

      Soon(ish)

      • Justin says :

        Since you have had so much trouble with them just go with “the Fourth Expansion.” I don’t think I have received an email, but I also bought it right away. I was going to remind you at midnight (your time) about the next teaser chapter 😆

  2. amper5andrew says :

    Hi Mark, I’m really looking forward to the new book, but I’m not reading these. I’m waiting (patiently … ish) for the full thing.

    I’m really sorry to hear that Amazon are messing you about. This seems to be the way of large corporations.

    As regards the series title, I always think of it as that series about the Names. Even in a name among the stars the concept of being a Name was important beyond the main character. The guy she didn’t go to the prom with who was in a relationship with a commoner. To me, this is the central thrust of the books.

    I’d go with something about Names.

    “What’s in a Name” or (preferably) something similar but actually good 🙂

    A Name Among the Stars: What’s in a Name book 2

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Interesting – a series title to focus on the human aspect rather than the setting. I’m going to have to scratch a few out to see. You’re right, I make a great deal about being a Name and what it means.

      As I mentioned in response to the comment above, these chapter releases are more about kicking me in the butt than teasing my readers.

  3. Elkwood says :

    Amazon can be really hard to deal with when trying to get something straighten out if it goes past the decision tree of the person u are talking to.

    I recently got the email about the book in question. I seen this happen with other authors work. I have had it for month or more then get a email telling me it was out. Always chuckled at it but can see why it be really frustrating to the author.

    Among the Stars Series A good series title to me. When i see it i know pretty much what to expect from the book.

    Far as the teaser goes i really liked it other then it was way to short !!! 🙂 Makes me wonder what is going on with the folks she left in LA. Like Tamanny or is she in Denver with the others ….

    As the series mature it must be really hard to balance screen time for all the different characters u have. So many good ones that i want to know what happening with them !!!

    Really excited to see how u handle all the threads u are weaving.

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Yes, tell me about balance!

      Tamanny is in Denver and in a later chapter in the first quarter I have a Christmas day scene where the House gathers together in the lounge at Manassah. She gets a mention there, as do some others in the (rather large) cast I’ve created. Now that’s great for the readers who are asking ‘whatever happened to…’, but my editor may come back and say that it slows the pacing too much. I have to find a balance.

      Tamanny isn’t a big character in this book. Tove has a part to play. The characters from Winter’s Kiss are central. A couple more from Cool Hand & Angel Stakes as well.

      🙂

      • Michael Orton says :

        There is an easy solution to the “what happened to X during Y?”.It’s called forking the plot and putting the extra bit in a parallel novella.

        You are about to demonstrate you can do this with the way you used Winter’s Kiss to lift plot thread from one book and feed it back into the next. Provided you keep the interaction between books low, but non-zero, this can work very well.

        i’d love to know what the FBI have been doing. It was revealed in Change of Regime that they have been doing something. A novella from their perspective might be interesting. We know they have an agent with limited vision who might make a good narrator for Agent Ingram’s actions.

        • Mark Henwick says :

          I enjoyed writing the novellas and providing ‘side-quels’ (as opposed to prequels and sequels). It is useful for dealing with threads that are impossible to tie in with the main series.

          However the reaction to the novellas has been mixed.

          The FBI project team are currently unable to progress much (in book 6) due to the sheer volume of incriminating evidence captured at the end of Angel Stakes.

          There would be a whole side novel or longish novella just to follow Ingram’s internal path through the layers of administration.

          • Michael Orton says :

            And being “longish” is bad in what way?

            Ok, bad in that we cannot have it to read next month.

            But we don’t need their position going forward. It would be nice to know how they got to Amber, and put that team of linguists together which led to Change of Regime. You could use that mountain of evidence as the reason the narrator has to stop his diary entries.

            Yes I’m being greedy here, but I am confident you know a lot more about your world than we have seen and perhaps more than you consciously realise. I can just prod here and there and perhaps words will start flowing.

  4. Justin says :

    Since you have had so much trouble with them just go with “the Fourth Expansion.” I don’t think I have received an email, but I also bought it right away. I was going to remind you at midnight (your time) about the next teaser chapter 😆

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Ha ha. Got in before you could!

      “Fourth Expansion” does have the advantage, as you ready the first 2, that you realize things are happening in the innermost of planets as well and another time of crisis is about to come.

  5. Dee DenBleyker says :

    Hi Mark: I personally think you should stick with “Among the Stars” and do a new release. And I have never had any notification either and I have read all your books as well and follow you on Amazon too. In fact, I don’t ever recall having a notification on any of your books. I never thought much about it until you brought attention to the issue. Dee

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Thanks for the feedback Dee.

      The Amazon notification system doesn’t seem to be working. Reading between the lines, I’m guessing this is part of an attempt to pressure writers into paying for Amazon advertising, but in truth I don’t know and there’s probably no way to find out.

  6. Stefan says :

    Hi Mark,
    in my humble opinion “Among the Stars” is a very good title for a book, but i wouldn’t use it as a title for the series.
    I like the “The Fourth expansion” best from the suggestions you added.
    From a reader and marketing perspective, including the protagonist name into the series title in some way work really well (even if it is a bit boring). Many people refer to series in such a way anyhow like “Rachel Morgan”, “Kate Daniels”…..and of course “Amber Farrell” ;).

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Thanks for the feedback Stefan.

      Yes, ‘Zara Aguirre’ as a name would join a host of other series names, but more in UF than in SF. I’m sure others will come up a list of protagonist-named SF series, but all I can think off of the top of my head is Honor Harrington.

      I like ‘The Fourth Expansion’, but my reservation is that the actual fourth expansion doesn’t happen in the first two books, and not even in the third, as far as I have it plotted so far.

      Still no clarification from Amazon support, so it’s a waiting game.

      • Pyo says :

        Actually, a ton of those (mil) scifi series are named after their heroines:
        Loralynn Kennakris, Shelby Logan Chronicles, Siobhan Dunmoore, Alexis Carew, Cassandra Kresov, Andrea Cort, etcetc

        So, yeah, I’d agree, it’s a boring choice, but it’s what a lot of people do. But I don’t have much of an opinion either way.

  7. Michael Orton says :

    Amazon alerts about authors you are following are pathetic.

    I am following several other authors and I usually get alerts as to a new book coming out about two months after I bought it. I just received several for books I bought before Christmas.

    I used to think I could use such alerts to catch first day offers some authors make to their fans. Not a hope!

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Thanks for the feedback, Michael

      Yes, I really don’t understand Amazon’s thought process on alerts for followers of an author. They are well aware their most likely sales in a series come overwhelmingly from people who bought previous books in the series and that the overall total sales of a book over a long time are linked to the number of sales in the first month or so. Why then damage their own sales (as well as the author’s)? Unless it’s something to with extracting more money from authors.

      I note I have an email alert from Amazon today about a book in a series, (a series which I haven’t read), from an author I don’t follow (I’ve read a couple of his books in a different genre), for a book that isn’t yet published.

  8. Victoria Tinklenberg says :

    Interesting that your editor is worried about slowing the pace by talking too much about peripheral characters. My only complaint about your series, if I could be said to have one, is that I find the pace at times exhausting, as if I were running nonstop the way Amber seems to do. I love the downtimes with her Athanate family, and not just Jen and Alex, though that’s the best part, lol.

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Interesting! Thank you. I will quote that to Lauren next time she complains the pace is slacking. Certainly there are more people who say that they want Amber to catch a break or slow down than there are who say the books are slow. Even those who say the books are slow tend to say ‘slow at the start’.
      Amber gets Christmas Day off in this book 🙂

      • Michael Orton says :

        I would like to concur with Victoria. There have been moments when the pace could be said to be slacking, but if you use the more relaxed moments to expain how the veriaous hidden communities get along, and even get along with eachother when they must then that is actually interesting rather than dull.

        Consider the scene where Amber has to appoint her Diakon. That counts as a slow moment, but by working in a bit about Amber’s Carpathian heritage it usufully extended the world and then added humour to wrap it all up.

        Or back near the begining where Amber seeks refuge in a bar and reflects on why you can’t find vampires. That was a good moment to slow down just to catch one’s breath.

        Yes there have been moments in books 2 and 3 where the pacing could have been just a little tighter, but on balance I would say that scenes should only be cut or trimmed if they really are waffle which neither advances the immediate plot, fills in useful background, or is laying a foundation for something yet to be revealed.

        Even then you need just a frugal sprinkling of pure slack or it becomes too obvious when you are setting up a future surprise, and that destroys the point.

  9. Michael Orton says :

    I was reflecting this morning on how March is running out and when is Inside Straigt actually going to appear.

    And then I thought of something.

    We already know Diana is known to and respected by the Carpathians. This is only logical. Diana is The Eldest and the Carpathian group is the oldest of the power blocks among the Athanate. It has also been hinted that she has knowledge of the Carpathian ways.

    It therefore seems probable to me that before she took up with Skylur Altu she was a Carpathian herslef. My guess is she left them becasue she was sure Altu’s very long term plan, eventually leading to a tightly controlled Emergence, was better than focusing on the Hidden Way, which I’m sure the Carpathians are exceptionally skilled at doing.

    Anyway, that bit is not material to my actual question. Diana has declared her belief that Amber’s Blood brings advantage to the Athanate and her word on this is final. Yet she did not reveal that the source of that bood was Carpathian.

    Is it that she predates House Chrysos and so it is unknown to her? Possible, but House Chrysos was “lost” about 2500 years ago, and was probably rather senior at that time.

    If Diana predates House Chrysos, she ought to recognise Chrysos as being the child of somoene she knew from her Carpathian days. Yet she said nothing.

    Could it be that she recognised House Chrysos, but as the fate of that house is unkown, even to Diana, it could be that House Chrysos became a founding house of the Basilikos faction and thus Amber’s more recent heritage could be from them.

    It seems Diana wants to reintergate the Chrysos bloodline into the Panethus Domain, probably becasue she knows the potential Amber has inherited from. Yet she doen’t even seem to have confided in Altu. I find this very interesting.

    Oh, and is perhaps the ability to use Blood from Were a Carpathin trait? It seems Yelena has taken Nick as her kin. Perhaps Amber is not the true first of her kind after all. It’s just the last one died a few thousand years or so.

    Or perhaps in a fight in the jungle not quite so long ago…

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Diana predates the establishment of the Carpathian domain.
      She would definitely have known the founders, but part of the Carpathian ideology was to isolate themselves from the remainder of the paranormal world, even Diana.
      Following the establishment of this isolation, House Chrysos was formed from the fusion of several Houses. But you’re on to some of the deep secrets that are untangling under the pressure of Emergence…
      🙂

      • Michael Orton says :

        Fascinating!

        It had not occurred to me that Diana might predate the whole Carpathian Domain. Obviously at some point Amber will have to investigate her heritage and will need a technique for dealing with electric bo sticks as part of that. Perhaps an Adept technique for controlling lighting? Whatever she comes up with will be new and totally unexpected.

        Anyway, that is all for a future book, or perhaps two.

        March has marched on. What news on my next fix of this story?

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