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March update, quiz question and a teaser of chapter 4 from Inside Straight

(I’m not putting out these chapters as teasers really, so much as a monthly nudge for me to be making bigger strides with writing)

The beta readers have read about the first third of Inside Straight, and I’m overdue taking them up to the half way point. There’s more written than that, but in isolated scenes that need a lot of joining up.

Other news

I’m still in limbo with the Among the Stars series. Amazon continue to refuse to allow the series name, despite allowing other series to break the ‘rule’ that they’ve quoted to me. While this is going on, I can’t really progress with marketing or even getting the second book into print, so the series isn’t moving well.

The Amazon marketing machine has now just started to market ‘A Threat Among the Stars’ to me. Lol.

Quiz question

Okay, not easy this one. Probably need someone who lives in Denver, or someone quite skilled with Google.

Take a look at the photo on this post. What is the name given to this restaurant in the Bite Back series?

Prize for the first to answer correctly? Your choice: Signed copy of any one of my print books… or name a character to appear in Inside Straight.

On with the teaser

(Previous teaser chapters (in order) 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/
https://henwick.wordpress.com/2019/02/28/update-and-question-for-you-and-a-chapter-teaser-from-inside-straight/)

 

Chapter 4

 

They were waiting in the sun lounge as I’d asked.

Yelena went in first. She’d caught a serious case of Californian biker chic from the girls of the Belles werewolf pack in LA. She was head-to-toe in mean, sprayed-on, black leather, and with sunglasses, in Denver, in winter, pushed up onto the top of her head.

I was right behind her in my cowboy boots, jeans and an oversized winter jacket I’d ‘borrowed’ from Alex.

Probably neither of us exactly what House Lloyd expected to be wandering around in Jen’s upscale mansion.

Good. I didn’t know what to expect from them either.

And even better, with Yelena looking like that, no one spared me much attention, which gave me a chance to develop some impressions of them.

It was a shock; such a jumble of sensations.

Their scent. My nose flared, caught the usual Athanate copper base but overlaid with something floral and appealing.

House Lloyd herself had a sensitive, intelligent face, dominated by gray eyes that were wary and watchful. A hand’s width shorter than me in height, maybe five-five. Blonde hair pulled back hard and tied. Trim. Wearing casual clothes that suited her, and still looked good, despite probably being what she’d lived in for a couple of days.

She projected a sense that she was all tightly buttoned down.

Two tall men were standing with her. Very attractive, tall, dark men. Hmmm. Down, girl. Jeans and handmade buckskin jackets. One had his hair braided up in a complex knot that ran in a thick rope back over the top of his head. Both Native American. These were the Adepts. I could feel that, flowing off them, like silk brushing against my skin.

I guessed Yelena made an impression, the way the two guys were trying to edge protectively in front of House Lloyd.

She wasn’t allowing that, which made me smile.

An older kin, another handsome man in a dramatic Old World way, lay on the sofa. He was unconscious. That had to be Scott.

A sensation filtered through my Athanate senses of Amanda Lloyd’s age. I knew many older Athanate, but they toned it down. House Lloyd didn’t. She was older than Yelena, Pia or Bian. I wasn’t good enough to make an accurate guess. Not really old. Not like Skylur or Diana. Younger than Naryn or House Prowser. But a helluva lot older than me.

“Is House Farrell back yet?” she said.

Her voice was smooth, accentless, but beneath that control there was the whip of adrenaline, and elethesine, the Athanate equivalent. My eukori opened and tasted it.

Yelena didn’t reply. She was doing her job as Diakon in an uncertain situation. She was there to meet any threat, not to answer questions. But we sensed no threat here, and she moved aside without complaint when I touched her arm.

“I’m Amber Farrell, House Farrell,” I said. “Please, just call me Amber.”

I’d surprised her, but she replied automatically. “Amanda Lloyd.” She seemed to collect herself and added: “House Lloyd.”

She stepped forward for the formal Athanate greeting, and we met in the middle, taking hold of each other’s forearms.

She was shivering. Black swiftly chased the gray from her eyes.

The purpose of the Athanate laimia, the greeting by kissing each other’s necks, is to allow both parties to gauge the state and mood of the other. I hardly needed that; I could see Amanda Lloyd was only just under control.

I went ahead and kissed her neck, breathing deeply.

Coppery, as I’d already noted. I concentrated on the remainder: gardenia and a beautiful note of springtime peony. As Athanate scents went, House Lloyd had one of the most attractive I’d ever come across.

Very, very attractive.

Mine.

My instincts were way ahead of my head. They had progressed from the unfocused desire to build my House, mingled with the gut reaction to House Lloyd’s desperation. And now the voodoo Athanate senses got involved: every Athanate’s marque identified her, revealed her mood, but it also acted as an instinct-level advertisement to others of her potential as an Athanate associate.

Oh, my God.

My fangs started to ache with need. They wanted to erupt and claim her for my House now.

Her marque scent was delicious. Addictive. I gasped and took a second deep breath of it.

Amazing.

Also rude in Athanate manners, but Amanda wasn’t complaining.

The polite, forearm-gripping embrace changed. Flowed into something tighter. Closer. Her lips and nose brushed my throat as she took her second breath of my marque as well, and I felt her reaction mirror mine.

Thrills chased goosebumps over my skin and I felt a shiver in response from Amanda.

The intensity of it scared me—I was being rushed into decisions by reactions that worked at some deep level I couldn’t control.

I forced myself to step a little back, cleared my throat in embarrassment.

“Thrice welcome,” I said in Athanate, as we straightened up, back to holding each other’s forearms. We both needed the support.

My voice was hoarse, my throat dry.

She blinked a couple of times and then she swallowed. Her face steeled.

I opened my mouth to suggest we sit, but she moved before I could: she knelt at my feet, taking my right hand in hers, her head bent.

“House Farrell,” she spoke quietly, her voice ragged, “I beg sanctuary for all of House Lloyd. And I beg—”

I pulled her back up onto her feet.

“We don’t do kneeling for petitions here,” I said.

My Athanate was responding to it though. Mine. Mine. Mine. My whole jaw throbbed in sync.

I could feel Pia enter the room. I could feel her caution reaching out to steady me but I knew, deep down, that my instincts had just picked a direction and sent me on a runaway train. Every worry or reservation in my head was being battered aside by a desire to take House Lloyd into my House.

“Yes,” I said quickly, before Amanda could start again, or Pia could interrupt. “I grant sanctuary, and on your own head, I will attempt to infuse your kin.”

She blinked again, her tightly-bound eukori opening.

“But sanctuary is a short-term solution,” I went on immediately. “What I want is your oath of association.”

She flinched, and her eukori cooled.

“I understand.” She took a step back. “You must have heard that my Blood may be valuable. I still need to explain about that—”

I stopped her. “No idea what you’re talking about, Amanda. I grant you sanctuary because you asked for it. I will infuse your kin for the same reason. I’m warning you, again, about the dangers. I’m a hybrid and I’ve never infused anyone before. It might be dangerous. But there’s no further obligation for those gifts.”

“But—”

“Sanctuary is not a long-term option if you want to stay in America after the infusion. What you decide to do is up to you. Ireland accepts diazoun. What I’m asking is for you to stay.”

I felt my face flush.

Pia murmured. “Boss, taking on a sub-House should really be a process with a careful, informed decision. Discussion on both sides.”

My Athanate was past caring.

“I’m asking you to become my sub-House,” I said to Amanda. My words were sounding more and more clumsy to my own ears, but I pushed on. “I want you as part of my House.”

I could feel her eukori unfold and let it sink into mine.

Good. She’d know I was speaking the truth.

“But why?” she said. “Just because our marques… Well, you hardly know us, and there’s all the…” She stopped and gave a short, embarrassed laugh. “I got all worked up to make my case and here I am rather arguing against it.”

My Athanate desire to take her into my extended House was based on the balance of intangible Athanate perceptions and needs. I hadn’t really thought about whether I would like her as a person, but I found I did.

Still, why was a good question for her to ask, and one that Pia answered for me, having given up on cooling me down. “My mistress relies a lot on instincts. They have served us well,” she admitted as she came and stood by me.

Pia was right. Things had worked out okay.

So far.

We’d probably been lucky once or twice. Maybe even a few times.

The trouble was, it wasn’t really a strong argument for House Lloyd to agree to become a sub-House, if all she had been readying herself for was to argue for sanctuary.

Unless it was good enough for her.

“Yes,” she said, and I felt a fierce pulse of Athanate joy course through me and come to rest in my jaw.

Then she ducked her head. “But I need to be sure you understand all the problems.”

“House Prowser has given up any claim,” I said, liking her even more, despite my Athanate impatience.

Some relief showed in her face. Obviously, that was one ‘problem’ down.

“And you’ve told me these young men are Adept outlaws in Michigan,” I went on, looking the two of them over. Dammit, they were attractive. That attractiveness wasn’t quite so distracting that I didn’t get a hint of unease coming off them.

Interesting.

“About that…” Amanda said.

I waited.

One of the Adepts cleared his throat. “It may not be just in Michigan.”

It was the whipcord-wiry one, with long hair braided into a sort of rope that ran over the top of his head.

“I’m Kane,” he said. “Thing is, we may have pissed them off one time too many.”

“I can imagine.” I smiled. “Any of these pissed off people in Colorado?”

All three exchanged glances.

“We’re not sure,” the big guy said. “I’m Flint. Thing is, we’ve always found that just moving out the area makes them lose interest. We’ve really moved this time. Never been this far south before, but…”

“Somebody’s taking an interest down here,” Kane completed the sentence.

“Local Adept, or someone from Michigan has followed you?” Yelena asked.

They shrugged.

“Difficult to tell,” Flint said.

“More a case of that someone-looking-over-your-shoulder feeling,” Kane said.

Which was pretty much exactly the feeling I had as well over the last day or so.

Was I picking up some kind of Adept vibe?

Still, as far as I knew, Adept communities didn’t really interact much. If it was just the local Denver community, well, they already had a beef with me, so taking on House Lloyd wouldn’t make it worse, would it?

However, if I was going to be facing trouble not just from Denver, but from groups of Adepts in Michigan that co-operated with each other, that was a different level.

I let it sink in, tasted the thought.

It didn’t change my mind.

“I accept there may be some trouble from the Adepts. We’ll discuss it as a House, along with everything else,” I said firmly. “Later.”

Amanda had gone very pale, but she nodded once, short and sharp.

Yesss.

“Diakon Vylkove, Zamenik Shirazi, attend,” I said. I needed witnesses.

I reached out and took Amanda’s hand. Her eukori unfolded sweetly.

She trembled, but her voice was strong. “I petition, for all House Lloyd, association and acceptance to the mantle of House Farrell. I offer our Blood, lives, loyalty and obedience to House Farrell. We will honor the obligations and responsibilities of the House and submit always to the absolute rule of the House.”

The words echoed through me. Fangs threatened to erupt again, but I needed to speak clearly first. I hoped I remembered the responses right. “Under the authority invested in me as House Farrell, I accept House Lloyd within my mantle.”

Letting my hand go, Amanda reached out to her two Adept kin. “I swear, on my Blood, my House will honor this association, and return oath for oath, faith for faith, Blood for Blood, life for life.”

“I grant the rights and privileges within my gift.”

“My Blood is yours,” she said.

“It is done,” I finished.

“So witnessed.” Both Yelena and Pia spoke softly.

With our eukori open, I could feel the oaths bind themselves around our hearts. And I knew the oath was sufficient, but the fangs didn’t care. I wanted Blood.

“Mistress,” Amanda said as I gathered her in my arms.

Yesss. Mine.

“It’s Amber,” I replied, licking her throat in preparation for biting.

“Or Boss.” Yelena laughed as she and Pia enjoyed hugging the Adepts in welcome.

My eukori unwound over all of them, deeper and deeper. Our Carpathian Athanate heritage enabled Yelena and me to sweep them all into one complete communion of sensation and emotion.

And that was what stopped me in my tracks.

 

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Episode delayed

The weekly episodes of A Threat Among the Stars have been removed in preparation for the release of the book on Amazon in January 2019.

My Amazon page:

US https://www.amazon.com/Mark-Henwick/e/B008SBO5YK/
UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mark-Henwick/e/B008SBO5YK/
DE https://www.amazon.de/Mark-Henwick/e/B008SBO5YK/
FR https://www.amazon.fr/Mark-Henwick/e/B008SBO5YK/

 

Bian’s Tale – The Right Path – first half

Here is the fourth episode of Bian’s Tale; the first half of Section 3 – The Right Path.

I think it’s fairly clear that Bian’s Tale is not really suitable for episodes, but I’m keeping it going to keep pressure on me to finish this first novel of the companion series.

In this episode, Ophélie/Bian see-saws between optimism and realizing how much the structure of Saigon works against her. It almost ends on a cliffhanger.  🙂

I’m going on a writer’s retreat at the end of this week, for a week. I will be on my own in an apartment in Madrid (the daughter arranged for a £35 return flight ticket!). My posting of the next couple of episodes may be a bit early or late.

This episode from Bian’s Tale 1 – The Harvest of Lies has been removed.
The book will be available shortly on Amazon.

 

Christmas story

A Christmas post.

I’m wishing you all a very merry Christmas, and a fulfilling and prosperous 2017.

A reminder for German readers that Cool Hand, Bite Back 4, is now available on Amazon Germany. It’s called Optimales Blatt. (https://www.amazon.de/dp/B01MT1FQYO/)

And a short Christmas story…

’Tis the evening before the night before Christmas and…

The girl slips into the church. Father Julius is aware of her immediately. The door is slightly ajar, as it often is at this time, and she edges in sideways, like a crab, her eyes wide and terrified.

St. Jude’s is neither busy nor empty. The church is Roman Catholic, but almost Protestant-plain. Not too high RC that it would scare the Irish away, nor too low that the Italians wouldn’t feel comfortable. If the church had a motto, that’s what it would be: comfortable. There’s coffee and tea and biscuits in the vestibule, despite misgivings from the diocese. They make noises about turning a place of worship into a cafe, but they can’t argue against attendance figures at services.

And the welcome means that all are welcome, even waifs who probably haven’t been to church in years. The girl does not look familiar to him.

He’s proud that St. Jude’s looks welcoming, feels welcoming, and he’s well-practised in this, so he doesn’t approach the girl. He makes himself busy, which is not difficult. There’s plenty to do, just before Christmas. However, he does not lose sight of her while he works.

She sits at the back, hunched over, even though just coming in has seemed to reduce some of the fear he can sense from her.

Outside of services, he encourages people to sit in the pews and talk if they need to. There’s a chorus of older ladies who gather and murmur amongst themselves, and today’s turnout is good. It’s the most relaxing sound, like listening to the rain on a stout roof. Yet it takes half an hour to work it’s magic before he senses the girl moving.

He lets her get within a few feet of him, every step slower than the last, before he turns and smiles.

“Welcome,” he says, trying to project warmth and safety to her.

She flinches as if he’d struck her.

She’s late teens, living on the street or couch surfing. Unsure of where the next hot bath is coming from or what it’ll cost her. He does this snap assessment a lot. He’s seldom wrong.

She seems to steel herself and whispers “Father.” Her eyes look over his shoulder at the altar and slide away quickly.

“Can I just talk?” she says, and can’t meet his eyes.

“Of course. Come, let’s sit.”

Without touching, he ushers her to the empty front pew. She sits on the edge of the wooden bench, and every muscle remains tensed, as if she’s expecting to have to escape. He has a lot of practice looking comfortable, and he does, half turned to her, with his arm resting on the back of the pew and his legs crossed.

Without hearing words, he can detect the murmuring ladies at the back, approving that he takes time to speak to anyone who comes in. They are good souls, every one of them, but he tunes them out and concentrates on the girl.

Her name is Tiana, and her accent makes her from Georgia. He does not ask why she’s here alone, or where her folks are, or any of the questions that he can guess answers to and which are important but not urgent.

He knows she wants a place that’s welcoming but not intrusive. A priest that listens more than he speaks.

Five minutes in and with another fearful, sliding glance at the altar, she reaches the topic she came to speak about.

“I think I was attacked.”

“Mmm,” Father Julius says, quietly. “Tell me.”

She stares at her hands and recounts a tale that starts in familiar ways. A party, dancing, a smoke, a drink. A handsome guy.

He listens.

“He didn’t,” she says and pauses. “I mean…I think I was dressed. I was dressed. I was. It’s just…”

“It’s blurred,” he suggests.

“I didn’t have that much to drink,” she says, prickly with defense. “I’m careful. I drink from the bottle. I don’t leave my drink. And it was only weed.”

Then suddenly, her carefully stored up courage starts to leak away.

“You’re just gonna think I’m crazy.” She starts to get up, and for the first time, he touches her, gently on the arm.

She flinches, but she sits down again abruptly.

“I believe you,” he says. “It was confusing. Not enough to eat, maybe. I’d guess tired, strung out? A little alcohol, a little weed, a lot of dancing. And then?”

She’s silent for a long time. Her hands clench into fists.

“He bit me.” The words are forced out.

One trembling hand rises to the woolen scarf around her neck, pulls the edge down. Her eyes come up to meet his, angry, expecting laughter, daring him to laugh.

He does not laugh.

He offers up a silent prayer for help. There are things he can do and things others must do.

“Come with me,” he says and he takes her hand, lifts her up.

He leads her to the font, places her hand on the edge.

She is trembling.

He dips fingers in, holds them over her hand. Drops of holy water splash onto her skin.

She flinches again.

“See?” he whispers. “You’re just you.”

“You don’t believe me,” she says.

Her hand twitches, but he presses down, very gently, and runs his fingers over her skin in a circle.

Her eyes are fixed on her hand.

“I believe you,” he says, “but what happened isn’t what you thought happened.”

“Yeah?” The street-smart sass tries to assert itself again, but she has no follow-up.

“Yes.” His fingers continue circling on the back of her hand, and his voice is low and soothing. “You were tired and hungry. A little drink and a smoke affected you more than normal.”

It’s working. It’s hard being so scared for a long time, particularly when you’re tired, and escpecially when someone speaks so calmly.

“Dehydration and tiredness made you clumsy. You stumbled. Hit your head. Blows to the head are strange. They can make everything a bit weird. Then a guy got too friendly. Bit you on the neck. How gross.”

His fingers continue to stroke the back of her hand. Her eyelids are lowered. Her breathing is slow and she’s stopped trembling.

She tries to speak, but can’t form words.

“You left,” he says. “No harm was done.”

“Mmm.” No words from her, but a relaxed acceptance.

“Vampires don’t really exist, but even if they did, you couldn’t be one, because holy water doesn’t burn you.”

“Mmm.”

Her eyes are closed, her shoulders drooping.

“In a moment, I’m going to give you the address of a house just a block away. Go there. You’ll get showers, meals and a safe bed for a few nights. Get you back on your feet.”

He feels the last of the tension draining out of her, and slowly removes his touch.

Her eyes open. Blink. Lift to meet his, questioning.

He smiles at her. “You are more in need of sleep than anything I can do or say,” he says. “Here, go stay at this place and come back when you’re rested.”

He gives her a card, and she frowns at it.

“I can’t—”

“There’s no payment required. Help with others there is always welcome, and I think you’d be good at that.”

She blinks again, backs away, but not in fear. She’s still uncertain. Not quite believing.

“Go on,” he smiles and makes a shoo-ing motion with his hands. “Sooner there, sooner washed, fed and asleep.”

“Thank you, Father,” she mutters, and moves away, gathering speed, as if the offer might have a time limit on it.

 

She’s at the door when it swings open to admit another. They pass, the girl and the newcomer.

Father Julius shivers.

He’s impressed and appalled.

Impressed at how quickly the response has come. It is barely ten minutes since he sent the prayer for help. Of neccessity, in this age, his prayer is initially a short-range WiFi, needing only to reach his laptop in the back room. The laptop then connects to a distant server and sends a pre-arranged message to its target in a building. That building is eight minutes walk away.

Appalled, because of the emissary who has come in response.

She is memorable, but in a way that not a single one of the chorus of ladies gathered in the pews will be able to describe her actual appearance.

The polite ones will call her, somewhat ambiguously, a working girl. Their mouth will purse in disapproval to dispell any misunderstanding. Those less polite will call her a whore.

She strides. Her heels click on the stone floor. Her coat flaps.

“Livia,” he murmurs.

“Julius.”

Her voice is soft. The sound of it always puts him in mind of the phrase: iron fist in a velvet glove.

They sit. Livia is impatient, but as committed to maintaining his disguise as she is to hers. They work together in these uncertain times, so she will pretend to be a woman unburdening her soul to him.

The chorus mutters that Father Julius is a saint to give his time to anyone who comes in, not really meaning anyone, but meaning Livia.

Another time, it might make him smile. Not now.

The message transmitted through the internet has no details. It is simply a call for help. But Livia has acute senses.

“The girl?” she says, her head tilting to indicate the door where they passed each other.

He nods. “Bitten. Her memories left intact.” He sighs. “I have blurred them, offered an alternate meaning and speeded up the healing. She’ll be fine.”

“I’ll go and find him then,” Livia says. Her senses are acute enough that she’s captured an impression of the attacker’s marque, the scent that will linger after biting. Livia may not know who it is, but she’ll find him.

Justice will be swift tonight.

Father Julius opens his mouth to speak and shuts it again, thinking he’s wasting his time.

Livia raises an eyebrow to prompt him.

“He’s young, I think,” he says. “A clumsy mistake, not deliberate.”

“Exactly the kind of mistake we cannot afford,” she says. “Especially now.”

“You have news?”

She shrugs. “He’s coming. It’s not up to us to enquire when exactly.” And as she speaks, this woman who has always scared him, this nightmare made flesh, this woman who is about as soft and sensitive as steel…she shivers. But her voice is steady as she continues. “You want me to spare this clumsy oaf, who threatens us all with discovery by humanity, just at the moment we get a new master? He might think you’d spent too long as a priest, you’ve become your disguise. That you’ve become unorthodox.”

They are speaking English, but the word unorthodox carries its sinister echoes from their language.

Unorthodox is biting a person and failing to blur their memories.

Unorthodox is protecting someone like that.

Unorthodox is a reason for execution.

“And yet,” Julius says, “he is the most unorthodox of all, and his interest in us would seem to be precisely because we are different to the rest of the Athanate world. That we might not follow every rule in every case.”

Livia leans back on the pew.

“Face it,” Julius presses his advantage, “if unorthodox is an automatic death sentence, then every single one of our little community is dead.”

“I’ll think about it,” she says finally. “I may just discipline him.”

She gets up and walks out, to mutters that ripple through the chorus.

This time, he smiles.

There is reason to hope.

Skylur Altau has declared New York his domain. They expect him to arrive any day. They’ve already made themselves known to his Diakon, this little community that hid, unnoticed, beneath the noses of the Warders.

They’d known they would not escape detection by Altau, and there was nowhere else to go.

What would their new master make of them? A small group of Houses of different persuasions that try to live in harmony with each other and integrate themselves into the human community.

A sort of model for the whole Athanate world.

Father Julius smiles and gets up. He has a lot to do at this time of year for his parishoners. Of all types.

 

(To allow this to appear on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, I need to remove the other posts which feature chapters from Change of Regime)

The resulting novella is available on Amazon:

 

 

 

Long post! Pictures at the end 🙂

Writing update

I’ve written another short story for an anthology, but it’s not due out until Q1 2017. I haven’t even settled on a title yet. It’s about 16k words (a little shorter than The Biting Cold). It’s in the Athanate universe, but it’s set in a fictional island in the West Indies (‘St. Mark’s’ in the Leeward Islands) in about 1800. It’s pre-edit, but hey, there’s only 16k words so it can’t change much. Hahahaha.

I’m working on Bian’s Tale companion series book 1, Saigon: The Reach of Lies. I’d say it’s going well, but I got to a point last time, about 75% through the whole book, and suddenly, it wasn’t going well. I’m going to be cautious this time and say it’s going okay. I’ll start to engage with beta readers sometime this month or next.

I’m also working on the plot of Bite Back 6. It’s time for the Adepts to come to the fore, and many threads need to be woven in. Those of you who’ve read The Biting Cold and Winter’s Kiss (Bite Back: Outsiders companion series) know that there is input from that companion series as well. A couple of chapters early in Bite Back 6 will actually be the next step in the Outsiders series, and I will be telling the same events from the two different points of view.

I have a lot of other projects I would like to start, but they’re all on the back burner.

Road Trip Report

Readers of this blog will know I did a US road trip in the fall. I visited Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. It was too much and not nearly enough. I have been promising to show pictures and report back, but I don’t want to swamp you with 20GBytes of photos and pages of musings. I’ll try it a state at a time and no more than a couple of photos per road. This post is just an overview. Next post will start the actual road trip and cover Wyoming.

Why did I do it?

Planning started back in 2014 when I was sketching out the plot for what became two books – Cool Hand and Angel Stakes. The internet is amazing for writer’s research, but there’s a lot to be said for being at the place that you’re writing about. Talking to people. Seeing with your own eyes. And I’d done a lot of research on Denver in 2011 when I was planning the story that became Sleight of Hand and Hidden Trump. So… I planned to visit New Mexico and Los Angeles in preparation for Cool Hand and Angel Stakes.

But…life happened. I didn’t go. I wrote those books using internet research and some feedback from people in the area.

How many mistakes did that produce?

Not as many as it could have been. On the Cool Hand audio, I had Julia pronounce Ute as ‘oo-teh’ and it should be more like ‘yoot’. In Angel Stakes, I had a desk sergeant at the police station, and apparently LAPD does not use sergeants to man the front desks. This was pointed out to me at great length by a reviewer (who managed to miss some other deliberate fictions, got his own facts wrong and got completely the wrong end of the stick on other non-LA items – LOL).

Still…the Bite Back action will move north in BB7 and I wanted to get a feel for the states involved. I also wanted to see some of the places I’d written about using just the internet and friends, hence the trip to New Mexico.

I could also use the photos for backdrops in book covers.

And I wanted a road trip. For me, there’s nothing like the vanishing point to free the imagination.

The plan…

Came together when the whole family wanted to see my daughter, Jessica, on the set for Iron Fist, filming in New York from summer to late fall. The family would fly out in the last week of August and spend about 2 weeks, and I would go from there when the rest went home. The timing was exactly what I wanted – to be touring after Labor Day, when the prices would drop (hahahaha) and it wouldn’t be too cold in the mountains (hahahahaha).

I couldn’t work LA into the trip. Instead, I concentrated on the Rockies.

The research required me to visit Wyoming and Montana. I wanted to start in Denver, and on a road trip, you should not travel any road twice, so that gave me my first loop:

Wyoming, taking in the areas where the Cheyenne pack run (Medicine Bow National Forest), and including the places where two of the founder packs of the Confederation are based—Wind River and Bighorn.

Montana, taking in Bozeman.

And returning through Idaho, along the Bitterroot and Salmon-Challis areas, where the Bozeman pack runs. (I was originally thinking of missing Idaho, but readers told me I had to see places like Stanley and Sun Valley, and it just worked).

Having done that, I needed to come back through Utah to Colorado.

I knew I’d need some time in Denver to write up, and then set off on the second loop.

For the southern section, I wanted to head to Nevada first. There is the potential for a scene in the Humboldt-Toiyabe area, and I also just wanted to drive along the ‘Loneliest Road in America’—Highway 50.

Then down to Taos, Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Back to Denver and complete.

(The requirement for returning to Denver was simple economics of return flights and car hiring).

That was the plan. It went right and wrong. Tune in to the next post to see how it turned out in Wyoming in detail.

How did it go overall?

It was awesome. As I say, things went wrong,  and I’ll tell all in the next few posts.

The important thing was that the principle reasons for the trip went very well – I finished the draft of Winter’s Kiss, edited and published it while travelling. I talked to dozens of people. I got lots of photos. Loads of ideas. I came back to the UK with my head full of scenes for Bite Back and other books. My imagination went into overdrive.

There are some photos on the Bite Back page, both from New York and from the road trip. Go to (https://www.facebook.com/TheBiteBackSeries/ and scroll down), I won’t repeat them here, but instead, have a look at some tasters of what’s to come.

I needed a car. Plain Toyota Camry – on a couple of occasions, I was sorry I hadn’t got a 4×4, but it did the task. Yes, things went wrong with cars…

the-car

I needed places to stay, hotels, motels and AirBnB. (I didn’t stay here – Jackson, Montana). Yes, things went wrong with hotels…

hotel

I needed a camera. During the trip my Canon G9 died slowly, and there’s a tale to that too. Ended up with the current Canon equivalent, a G7x. High quality, fast lens, reasonable zoom, no filters, no changeable lenses, manual and auto programs, robust, fits in pocket – basic parameters for my kinda road trip.

canon-g7x-mk2

I needed money. Mix of credit and cash. I have to say, I was offended by some of it! Cos I’m speshul.

american-quarter

I sought out views of scenes I’d already written. For instance, here is where Jen and Amber looked down on Denver from Lookout Mountain (at night), after the meeting about the quarter horse race venue in Hidden Trump.

lookout-hidden-trump

And scenes I’m going to write. A chase, a fight. Bite Back 6 or 7. This is part of a disused railway track in north Denver.

disused-railway-track-bite-back-6-7

But mainly I took photos just because the scenery was AWESOME. Every bend in the road seemed to bring something new and incredible.

Trees and mountains and rivers…

 

beauty-aspens-and-rivers

And the drama of Great Dunes and a dark butte under threatening clouds.

beauty-drama-and-dunes

As I said, it was awesome, and I look forward to telling you more about it – the little things and the large.

Would I recommend a road trip in the Rockies? Hell, yeah.

I will continue to update progress on writing as well!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

News: road trip and writing update

My apologies for the silence on the blog.

Road trip!

This is going to be a mixture of family holiday, writer’s retreat, photo shoots and research. I’m not planning to turn up at any bookstores to do signings, but I will be delighted to meet readers at a coffee shop or restaurant if I’m in the area. Message me on the contact email or Facebook.

 Family holiday: From the 23rd August to the 5th September, I’ll be in New York, with the whole family. Jessica will still be filming the first season of Netflix’s Iron Fist (she plays Colleen Wing), so the schedule will be worked around that. I do plan to have a visit for Amber to New York in Bite Back, so I will be meeting readers, scouting locations and taking photographs as well.

Writer’s retreat: Home life has been ‘disrupted’ to say the least over the last few months, from replacing floors to garden landscaping. I’m going to find out how well I write when I’m not at home with these distractions. Back in 2011, I visited Denver for research and I did find I could write quite well while mixing it with doing research and being a tourist. I intend to be writing a few hours a day on average throughout this trip.

Research (and photo shoots): I’ve just about exhausted the notes I took from my first research trip to Denver, and the geographic scope of the Bite Back series has grown a lot. I actually meant to visit New Mexico and Los Angeles while I was writing Cool Hand and Angel Stakes, but it didn’t come off. So…this year I get to do the Rockies, north to south.

I have to visit the sites of the Confederation’s main packs: Wind River, Big Horn and Bozeman. I have to visit the equivalent sites for the League in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. I’ll do a side trip to Nevada to take in Humboldt-Toiyabe and Highway 50. And I’ll spend time based in Denver and looking around Colorado. All of the above are for research, but of course, I’ll be touring and hiking and taking photographs and meeting people as well.

The schedule is: 6th September to 18th September in Wyoming and Montana. Starting in Cheyenne, with the farthest north probably being Helena. I may cut through Idaho on the way back. If you have recommendations for spooky, strange or unusual photogenic places, or you’re in the general area at the same time, message me on the contact email or Facebook!

19th September to 30th September. I’m based in Denver. I’m already meeting a few friends and readers and would love to meet more. I will be full of strange questions about Colorado in general and Denver in particular.

1st October to 4th October. Nevada. Route 50 and the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

5th October to 10th October. New Mexico. Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Route 14.

Back to Denver, fly to New York and then fly home, hopefully with head and laptop full of ideas, scenes and photos.

If it goes well enough, there’s lots more of America I want to see.

Editing Winter’s Kiss

Current top-of-the-pile project is editing Winter’s Kiss. This is a novella sequel to The Biting Cold, which follows a different set of characters than Bite Back. However, I did rashly promise to weave them together and this is part of the reason that Winter’s Kiss has been a difficult job. While many readers will be from Bite Back, I’m hoping some new readers will come in from having read only The Biting Cold. My task is then to give them enough of a flavor of what goes on in Bite Back to read the series as well.

I’m about half way through editing and I *really* want this finished before I go on the road trip.

Editing So Many Doors

This is a background project. The book was written by my late mother in 1964 and never published. My sister and I have decided to put it up on Amazon, but there’s a surprising amount of style change required to make it ‘readable’ to modern readers. The book is set in Africa, in Northern Rhodesia, on a remote Colonial administrative center and it’s a murder mystery.

Cast list and synopses

A long-promised project. I have a lot of characters, and I’m writing a brief description of each to put in the back of the Bite Back series books, along with a synopsis of the story so far.

Next up

Bian’s Tale book 1, Saigon – The Reach of Lies. I know, I should be in Saigon researching this! However, the Saigon I’m writing about is the ‘Paris of the Orient’ in 1900, and that doesn’t exist any more.

I got about half way through writing Saigon a couple of years and it wasn’t going well, so I put it aside. It’s time to get it back out and finish it.

Schedule for publication? You know me and schedules. I’ll post progress.

Then…

Bite Back 6, as yet unnamed. Obviously, this will be next year. I have lots of scenes and ideas and I hope to have more from my road trip.

Also…

I may try my hand at writing something short and completely different, just to keep everything fresh. If you have a genre you’d like to see me try (there’s a challenge), email me at the contact address or comment here.

 

 

 

News, Progress and Round-up for May 2016

Yeah, the usual look at the sales and WiP and stuff.

But first! MILESTONES IN REVIEWS

The US Amazon site logged it’s 200th review! On 31st May, Hao-Ying Feng logged a 5 star review after a binge re-read of the series. Thank you! And thank you to each and every one of you who reviews on Amazon, Goodreads or by messaging me. All hugely welcome and important for me.

AND while I’m talking reviews, 95% of the SoH reviews are 4 or 5 star. That I wouldn’t have predicted when I started.

Almost at the same time, Angel Stakes hit 50 reviews in the 6 weeks since launch, and the percentage of 4 & 5 star has remained the same.

What are the next milestones? I guess 250 for SoH or 750 for the series on US Amazon (currently 604). On the series total, I will ‘cheat’ once Winter’s Kiss is written, because then it and The Biting Cold will be part of the series. 🙂

And then 1,000 for both US and UK Amazon added together (currently 711), or 350 on Goodreads (currently 303).

WRITING PROGRESS

Winter’s Kiss is more than half way done. As I mentioned in posts on Facebook, this sequel isn’t the same length as The Biting Cold (20k words). TBC was written to a specification on length for an anthology, and WK is just to link the story in with Bite Back, so I have more leeway.

I’ve given a couple of teasers on Facebook, linked by mentions of jazz (Amanda loves jazz). In case you didn’t see them there, here they are again:

“Morning found us just a few miles east of Marquette. The sun inched above the horizon, flooding the car’s rear window with hazy gold, etching the edges of the long, low buildings, and throwing our shadow out in front, where the road unwound like an old jazz song in a smoky club.”

and later…

“I switched switches on the music center. Little LEDs started to glow, and I pulled out LPs at random until the words jazz and soul songs caught my eye. A collection of instrumentals based on old songs. The list had some of my favorites, spanning the years.

I put the LP on the turntable. It was lucky it was one of those that loaded the arm automatically, because my hands were shaking.

I closed my eyes and waited; part of the drama and romance that I loved about LPs was that moment at the beginning.

A quiet hiss and crackle, full of anticipation, then the music started. A few falling notes were tossed out from a sax, as a ticking drum marked the beat. The piano picked up a couple of the notes, tossed them back. The saxophone held one note, almost too long, and then just let it drop and tumble and flow into the bittersweet melody of Ain’t No Sunshine.”

What else have I been doing?

The print books are a mess. Cool Hand and Angel Stakes not yet available, the sizes have changed, the covers don’t match. What I thought would be a simple overhaul turned into a nightmare. And to help out, CreateSpace (Amazon’s Print-on-Demand company) have changed their specifications. Everything is a PDF now. Not such a problem for the body of the book, but I have no graphics programs that save as PDF. I ended up loading the image into Word and using that to save. Which of course leads to warnings that my resolution is low. Grrr.

Adding to the frustrations, I use Word for writing, and Word’s print book formatting functions are flakey.

Anyway. I have submitted Cool Hand and Angel Stakes to CreateSpace and they now enable reviewing online, allowing me to skip the physical book review process. The print books *should* be available in the next week or so.

I apologize for the covers. What I’ve done is simply take the eBook cover, added black for the spine and back page and written on the black. All fine as long as the I’ve allocated *exactly* enough width for the spine.

I will do a rework of the covers and get everything to match in size and style, but it’s not on the critical path.

The print book fiasco means that I haven’t progressed with my other non-writing writing project, which is to create cast lists and summaries of story-so-far for each Bite Back sequel.

SALES

I did a big review last month, so I’m not going to repeat that since the figures haven’t changed dramatically. Instead, I’ll look at the overview and implications.

Averaged out at the moment, I guess I’m selling 600 books a month and that needs to be 1,200.

I’m still selling 70-80 Sleight of Hand a month, and a percentage of those go on to read the entire series. Amazon only knows the exact figures, but the sales stats suggest to me that about 80% of people who pick up SoH now go on to read all of the books in the series. This is as opposed to the figures of readers who picked up SoH back in 2012, which is about 25%. That low percentage is based on the total sales ever of Cool Hand as a percentage of total sales ever of Sleight of Hand, and it does creep up as some people just take their time going through the series.

What does this mean? Very approximately, I believe that if I had ten Bite Back books now, my monthly sales would be 1,200. The problem is that writing that next 5 will take me 5 years, and in the meantime SoH would slide.

What am I going to do about it? Write realted or unrelated shorter stories that I believe may bring in readers who wouldn’t otherwise have picked up Sleight of Hand, but who like the shorter stories enough to try the series.

I’d like to try out writing novels in two parts – a short story of around 10k words which tells a story but ends on a cliffhanger, and leads straight into a novella of around 50k words. This is close to the way The Biting Cold turned out. TBC was actually 20k words and Winter’s Kiss will be about 40k, and TBC didn’t end on a cliffhanger, but you get my drift.

I have a couple of ideas kicking around in my head – one in the Bite Back world but set in Canada and sharing none of the cast, another a SciFi novella and completely different. Oh, and one set in the 17th century Caribbean that popped up in a conversation with Debra Dunbar (that one might be related to Bite Back).

This does NOT mean that I’m less committed to Bite Back, but I think I can do these things and still get one Bite Back novel out every year. We’ll see.

Other projects – German

German translations have stopped at the moment. I need to get another translator, but I have to say that I need to re-examine the income to see if the cost is justified. I think I’d prefer to hand over to a German publishing company who do this as a business. I need to talk to people.

Other projects – Audio

Julia Motyka is unavailable until September, but assures me she’ll be back in the studio with Angel Stakes then. Audio sales are reasonable (as far as I know) – SoH 1,578, HT 668, WC 504, CH 273. Are there any writers out there with audiobooks who would be okay to share their sales with me?

Anything else

I asked people on the Facebook site what music Amber listens to. What a wonderful response, and a huge playlist to sort through! Great fun. Thank you all.

I’m planning a trip to America this year. My bio says I’m frequently in the Rockies and I haven’t been. At the end of August & beginning of September, I’ll be with my daughter in New York. After that, I hope to work my way down the Rockies from somewhere around Bozeman, Montana to Albuquerque, New Mexico, taking in Denver, Cheyenne and the loneliest road in the States. I hope to end up returning to UK via Boston and maybe catching some fall colors. This is a research and writing trip, not a book signing journey, but I’ll be happy to sign books, meet readers and attend conventions. If there’s interest, I’ll publish an itinerary closer to the time.