My 2018 in review

HAPPY NEW YEAR! (Well, it is here — though maybe not there, where you are. And if it isn’t, why are you reading this right now? Bookmark it and come back to it later!)

Like 2017, 2018 wasn’t a stellar year for me on the writing front. Or at least, that’s how I feel when I think about it — but I’m measuring that purely against the number of words I’ve written on my current novel manuscript. I’m maybe a third of the way through, and have been for a month or more. Everything has kind of … ground to a halt.

Still, one of my two resolutions for 2018 was not to be so hard on myself when I fail to meet my goals, so — in that spirit — I’m going to go over my accomplishments for the year. There have been a few firsts in there, which is actually kind of exciting when I think about it.

I released two new books: Guardian Angel and Rheia

Guardian Angel is a novella, and it’s maybe a quarter of the length of Rheia, so the grumpy cynic in me says it’s cheating, but she can go sit in the corner and sulk. Aside from anything else, urban fantasy is my jam and my comfort place, and working on Guardian Angel really helped me when I got stuck on other projects.

On the subject of Rheia, I love this book and am very proud of it. A friend told me she thought it was my best book yet, and I quietly agree with her (even as this fills me with terror regarding the next book, ahahahahasob). If you haven’t already grabbed a copy and you love the ancient world, creeping doom and/or steampunk, then may I urge you to check it out? 😉

(Actually, I technically released three books, as I also released an erotica novella, Kiss of the Succubus, under my Tammy Calder pen name. If you’re an adult and not related to me in any way, you can learn more about it here.)

I had a story published in the A Hand of Knaves anthology

Being a part of a multi-author anthology is something I’d always wanted to do, so it’s super awesome to be able to cross that off my bucket list. This one was published by the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild, and working with the editors — Leife Shallcross and Chris Large — was a joy. 10/10, would do again.

I was part of the Shadows and Spellcraft book bundle

Again, this is something that had been on my bucket list. This urban fantasy book bundle has fifteen ebook novels and novellas, including Isla’s Inheritance — and it’s around US$4 for all of that, which is great value. And, again, working with this wonderful team of authors was both inspiring and educational. Seriously, I learned a lot.

I went out into the world and did author-y things

Okay, that’s not the best summary in the world, but bear with me. I went to the A Hand of Knaves book launch — a real-world launch, not the online ones I favour — and met new people and signed stuff. I also had a signing at BookFace here in Canberra, and signed even more stuff (mainly copies of Rheia). Given I never organised face-to-face promotional events because the awkwardness it inspires in me isn’t great, this was a pretty big deal for me.

See? Photographic proof! (Also, check out my low-key signing pen.)

A resolution round-up

At the start of 2018, I made two resolutions (one of which I’ve already mentioned):

  • Do better.
  • Forgive myself at times I don’t do better.

Comparing 2018 to 2017, I can definitely check the first one off the list. The second one … eh, it’s a work in progress.

This year, I want to finish the sci-fi draft that I’ve been wrestling with for the last few months. I’ve also got another idea that I plan to work on — stay tuned for more as the year progresses. Beyond that, my resolutions are the same as for 2018.

Do you do new year’s resolutions? Tell me in the comments below!

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Mini-Review: ‘A Hand of Knaves’ short short anthology

Rogues, thieves, pirates and ne’er-do-wells abound in speculative fiction. Sometimes heroic, sometimes villainous, often somewhere in between, rogues are as likely to steal one’s heart as one’s purse, and show little remorse while helping themselves to either.

So why do we love them? Because they’re imperfect, fallible, and even vulnerable under that carefully-maintained, world-weary exterior.

Rogues represent something we rarely see in our daily lives: ordinary people prepared to take on the “powers that be” by way of guile and subterfuge. But are they only in it for the loot, or are they–deep down–romantic at heart?

I have a policy of not rating or reviewing my own books (even over at Goodreads, where author reviews are a thing), but in this case I will, partly because I’m just one contributor, and partly because there are lots of awesome Aussie writers in here and I love to support Aussie fiction (especially by Aussie women, given I do the Australian Women Writers challenge every year). Also, in case you were wondering, I can’t profit any further from sales of this book — so there’s no financial incentive for me to lie. 😉

I’m honestly a little blown away by the talent on display in AHOK (especially because I apparently duped the editors into letting my story sit alongside the others!). There are rollicking space pirate adventures; beautiful stories full of slow magic and whimsy; time-travel and psychic tales that twisted my brain in knots; and vignettes that were gorgeously atmospheric and left me wanting more. There are LGBTQ+ and POC stories, too, which I always love reading. Oh, and one story that is told entirely in quotes from witnesses. (Literally just extracts of dialogue, but you still can see the tale emerge!)

If you can track down a copy of this anthology, please do. I strongly recommend it!


Short story: ‘Letting Go’

I’ve been pondering short stories lately, as you do. Despite having a story in the A Hand of Knaves anthology that came out earlier this year, I still feel like short fiction isn’t my natural state. (My current novel WIP was intented to be a novella, and it’s … well, it’s longer than Guardian Angel and I’m still going.) But I think that might be because I’m out of practice — I used to do a lot of writing challenges, but I’ve fallen out of the habit.

The below — which I’ve decided to re-share because yay, Christmas — is an example of that. I wrote it in 2013 as part of a challenge to write out of my usual genre. The original is hosted at The Midnight Type, if you want to show them some love (although the site seems to be inactive now, sadly).


Letting Go

Michelle decorates the house in silence.

In previous years, her home had been filled with carols and laughter. Her family decked the halls to Deck the Halls, and the night was anything but silent. At fifteen, Ben was too cool to hang baubles, and he’d ceded the right to top the tree back to his father after ten years of hogging the privilege. But Michelle caught glimpses of childhood delight behind his surly exterior, and hid her smile behind her hand.

That was before she found the emails.

Now she strings the tinsel alone, performing the familiar ritual not out of celebration but because she’s fallen into a rut with steep sides — too steep to climb. There is no joy in it. She hangs out his stocking next to hers, over the mantelpiece. The pair hang limply.

The phone rings, piercing the silence like a scream. A glass bauble slips from her fingers, shatters on the empty tiles beneath the tree.

“Hello?”

Silence on the other end. Then a familiar voice speaks. “Michelle.”

“Darren.” Her voice is as sharp as the glass shards. Glittering crimson.

“How are you?”

She fishes the dustpan and brush from under the sink, cradling the phone against her shoulder. “Fine,” she says. It’s even sort of true. She is hollow, mercifully empty of emotion behind carefully constructed walls. “Why?”

“Well, it’s the first of December, and I thought…” He trails off.

He knows her. After twenty years of marriage, he ought to. The first of December is when the decorations go up. And she’s alone.

“I’m fine.” A white-hot spot of anger flares, burning away some of the numbness. She grits her teeth, suppresses the emotion. If she lets anger in, the rest will follow. When she speaks, her voice is cool. “The divorce papers arrived yesterday.”

“You don’t have to do anything with them right now. Wait till after the holidays.”

“I signed them already.” She sweeps red shards onto the dustpan.

“Oh.” He sighs. “Did you want some company?”

“No.” She frowns. Why is he pretending to care? He left her after Ben– She can’t even think the word. “Is there anything else? I’m busy.”

He’s quiet for so long she wonders if he hung up and she didn’t notice. Then he says, “Have you read the emails yet?”

This old argument. When will he stop blaming her for what happened? “I read them last year.”

“Read them again. Properly, this time.”

“Leave me alone.”

“Goodbye, Michelle.”

She hangs up and tips the glass in the bin. It patters down onto a shrivelled banana peel, an empty milk carton, Darren’s discarded stocking.

It has been almost a year since her fight with Ben about the emails. Electronic love letters between him and that girl. Brittany. Bad enough that her boy was fourteen. Worse that the girl was so far from the wrong side of the tracks that she couldn’t even see them. Her older sister had died of a drug overdose; her father was an alcoholic who spent all his time at the RSL, feeding his welfare cheque into the pokies.

Ben had stormed out of the house, hared off on his bike. The car hadn’t seen him in the dark.

The guilt claws at the walls around her emotions, tearing through them. Its talons are her grief, its wings her regret. She’s familiar with the beast. But before it can drag her down again, in a tangle of self-loathing and bourbon, a little mouse, curiosity, creeps in behind it.

The next afternoon, when the hangover recedes a little, she reads the emails.

***

The soup kitchen is bustling, the queue almost out the door. The first smell that invades her nose is of salty gravy, the next of unwashed bodies. She holds her breath and ducks inside.

“Hey, no cutting,” a bearded man mumbles, glaring at her from watery eyes.

“I’m not here to eat.” Her stomach churns at the thought. “I’m looking for someone.”

He smiles, gap-toothed. “Is it me?”

“No. Sorry.”

“Well, if you change your mind…” He winks, and she finds herself smiling back. Just a little.

“You might be able to help me. I’m looking for this girl.” She shows him the printout of the photo. It is pixelated, poor quality. Ben took it on his phone.

“Sure, I seen her. She’s up there.”

Michelle turns, squares her shoulders. Walks along the queue till she finds the girl.

“Excuse me.”

Brown eyes turn to her. There is no flash of recognition. Ben never introduced them. “Yes?”

“I’m Ben Rigby’s mother.”

Now there’s recognition. Also anger and grief. Brittany swallows the feelings, but Michelle can see they are old companions. As they are Michelle’s.

“What do you want?” Brittany says, eyes narrowed.

“To see you. I…” Michelle hesitates, looking the girl over. She’s the same age as Ben would have been, still a teenager, but she looks older. Her hands are calloused from work; her bare arms bear faint green and yellow bruises, like bracelets.

“What?” The girl stares back, examining Michelle just as Michelle examines her. “If you came here to yell at me, you can piss off.”

“I didn’t. Actually, I’m planning Christmas dinner, and I wanted to invite you.”

Brittany’s mouth falls open. Then her expression hardens. “I ain’t interested in being your charity case.”

“It’s not about charity. I know you and Ben … cared for each other.” Brittany’s cheeks redden and she lifts her chin. Michelle looks down at her shoes, conspicuously expensive next to Brittany’s scuffed slip-ons. “I’ve spent the last year blaming you for taking him away from me, as much as I blamed myself for driving him away. And, well, Christmas is the season for forgiveness.”

“I don’t want your forgiveness,” Brittany says.

“No.” Michelle looks up, meets her gaze. “But I need to give it. If you’ll let me. I need to let go.”

The girl gnaws her lip, thinks for several moments. “I reckon Ben would want me to,” she murmurs. “Sure, I’ll come.”

Michelle feels something then that she hasn’t felt for almost a year. A tiny piece of joy. She gives the girl a piece of paper with the details written on it. Brittany folds it, slides it inside her purse next to a battered photo. Ben smiles back at Michelle from the image, reminding her of Darren when they’d first met. She can’t help but smile back.

She pulls her phone out of her pocket. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s someone else I need to invite.”


‘Snow Softly Falling’ — a Fanfic Poem from Cass’s Days of Yore

If you have read my novella Guardian Angel, you’ll know that I used a couple of poems as song lyrics, one to introduce the story and one as an integral part of it. (You can read the first poem at the novella page here.) I’m about to sit down and write another set of lyrics for an urban fantasy story idea that I can’t shake, in the hope that it will go away so I can get back to drafting the sci-fi young adult story I’m working on.

Like all angsty teens, I used to write a lot of poems, although most of them are, objectively speaking, sheer garbage. (Sorry, past Cass, but it’s true. I was just flicking through your books of poetry, and yeesh.)

There is one storytelling-style poem that I wrote when I was at university that I think is alright, though, and I thought I’d share it here. It was written back in the day when I was obsessed with Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books, and is about a character I’d created for some fanfics I wrote. Knowledge of that world is useful, but I don’t think it’s 100% necessary to follow along.


Snow Softly Falling

The snow was falling softly down onto the icy ground;
The moaning of the winter wind was the only sound
Until the crunch of hoofbeats came, a-breaking through the snow
Plowing through the muddy soil that was concealed below.
The stallion and his rider were both attired in white
And so appeared and vanished through snow-filtered light.
Herald and Companion, making their weary way
Through the fading twilight that comes at end of day,
To a Herald Waystation where they would spend the night
Then up and travel onward, as soon as there was light.
Their heads, they hung down, weary; they hungered and were sore —
The snow was falling softly down onto the forest floor.

Herald and Companion both were Couriers for the Crown
And had just delivered messages into a nearby town,
Warning loyal and local lords of rebels in their fold,
Spies come out of Hardorn, or so the Queen was told.
Couriers travel quickly, and these quicker than most —
Although it’s not the sort of thing of which you’d hear them boast.
The messages sent early, the task already done,
The Herald and Companion’s journey home begun.
They came upon the Waystation and settled for the night,
The glowing of the embers on the hearth the only light.
The night replaced the daytime with nary a sound.
The snow was falling silently onto the icy ground.

Outside the little building, creeping through the trees,
Came four men in cloaks and hoods, silently, with ease.
Each man bore a cruel sword, its blade bright and bare.
Their breath frosted before them upon the frigid air.
Four men came from Hardorn at their lord’s request
To stop the message from reaching the spies’ hidden nest,
To stop the Couriers delivering their message from the Queen.
Four men creeping closer, all silent and unseen.
Their hearts were hardened steel, their faces a blank mask:
Four men with a dark intent to do a grisly task.
The message was delivered, but they could not know.
Four men, dark and deadly, creeping through the snow.

Herald and Companion, both were sound asleep.
Both were sore and weary, and so their sleep was deep,
Yet, suddenly, the Herald felt a foreboding chill
Of fear upon her dreams; she woke and she lay still.
Blinking rapid in the darkness of the little room,
Ears and senses stretching into the pressing gloom.
Mindspeech had the Herald, and so it told her this:
Four people came a-creeping to give her metal’s kiss.
The Herald wondered briefly what had made her wake,
And thanked the Lady Luck herself for the lucky break.
She woke her Companion, she readied her bow.
The Waystation was silent in the field of falling snow.

The four men reached the building and eased open the door;
They saw sleeping Companion, blankets mounded on the floor,
A body huddled under, sleeping without a care.
The first entered the room, approaching with blade bare.
Imagine his surprise when he reached the sleeping form
And discovered piles of clothes! He turned, his friends to warn,
And Herald, hid in shadows black, shot him in the heart,
As the Companion raised his head, making the next man start.
Trembling with anger, the stallion kicked out;
The man fell down, screaming, his limbs thrashing about.
The Herald drew her sword and swiftly dropped her bow.
Two men still stood standing in the falling snow.

The men exchanged a wary glance, taken by surprise.
Together, they advanced again with caution in their eyes.
Perhaps fearing the fate of those who’d gone before,
The men approached with caution the broad Waystation door.
Deciding it was better to take the fight outside,
To give the stallion room to move, the Herald room to ride,
Our heroes hurried forward into the wintry night.
The bandits closed in, snarling, and so began the fight.
The Herald’s sword danced, gleaming; the stallion reared up, fierce.
Bright hooves caved a skull in; bright sword a chest did pierce.
Then, exhausted panting remained the only sound.
The icy snow fell softly onto the scarlet ground.

The Herald’s arm hung, bleeding, from a lucky bandit’s strike;
She cleaned it first with salves, then bandaged it up tight,
And of the four assassins, only one yet lived —
The Herald made him name and orders of his master give.
The lord who’d sent the order to protect the hidden spies
Was one who lived within the court, right under Heralds’ eyes!
And, although tired and wounded, the Herald knew they must
Get this news to Haven, reveal this breach of trust.
She used her Gift of Mindspeech to warn the Queen that night;
The traitor was arrested, and thus the tale set right.
Then Herald and Companion resumed their well-earned rest.
The winter snow gleamed whitely, and Valdemar was blessed.

Valdemar and its trappings are copyright to Mercedes Lackey, and no infringement of that copyright is intended.


 

 


Shadows and Spellcraft feature: ‘The Awakening’ by Tanya R. Taylor

Shadows and Spellcraft has your copy of The Awakening (Real Illusions Book 1) by Tanya R Taylor plus over a dozen more reads at the amazing pre-order price of US$0.99! Order your copy today!

Amazon / iBook / Kobo / Nook

Trent Matheson fights to keep his true identity a secret from all those around him, including the love of his life. After losing the only one privy to his secret and who had guarded it his entire life, Matheson now has to contend with a sinister force so powerful that seeks to destroy him. A fierce battle is imminent and the future of the world, as we know it, is in jeopardy.


Author Bio

Tanya R. Taylor has wowed readers with her riveting plots and compelling themes.

She is the author of several #1 bestsellers on Amazon and published her first book titled A Killing Rage as a young adult. Tanya writes in various genres including paranormal romance, fantasy, thrillers, science-fiction, mystery and suspense.

She has a passion for the welfare of children. Her hobbies include: reading, writing, and researching. She’s also keen on documentaries and is planning to pursue a degree in Psychology.

VISIT HER WEBSITE


Shadows And Spellcraft

The Ultimate Urban Fantasy Binge Collection

A boxed set with over a dozen amazing reads, that will take you to lost worlds, fall in love with unlikely heroes, and kick some butt with no-nonsense chicks. With a collection that includes New Adult romance, urban fantasy, and Young Adult, there’s something for everyone.

Each story is exclusive to this collection, and includes some shiny new stories from USA Today and New York Times bestselling authors.

If you love to binge on stories that take you away from the ordinary, this boxed set of fifteen books will keep you reading for days. It’s stuffed with vampires, shifters, mages, fae, ghosts and more in everything from modern day Earth to Apocalyptic settings. Bury your nose in this box set now. Order your copy of SHADOWS AND SPELLCRAFT NOW

Amazon / iBook / Kobo / Nook

Shadows and Spellcraft

 


Shadows and Spellcraft feature: ‘Primal Nature’ by Monique Singleton

Shadows and Spellcraft has your copy of Primal Nature by Monique Singleton plus over a dozen more reads at the amazing pre-order price of US$0.99! Order your copy today!

Amazon / iBook / Kobo / Nook

Known simply as subject 336, she was the unwilling subject of sinister and brutal experiments designed to replicate her enormous strength, healing powers, and apparent immortality. It didn’t work that way. They unleashed her primal nature.

Now they’re dead and she’s lost.

From the sweltering heat of the Mexican desert, her journey leads her to the tropical jungle of the Columbian Amazon. Against the backdrop of the Third World War, she fights her own grueling battle to come to terms with what she is: a killer, a monster, or maybe worse.

The world is at war, and she is caught up in the middle.

Joining the revolution, her newfound talents sway the balance of war in their favor.

But is she a blessing, or a curse.

Primal Nature captivates you from the first page and plunges you deep into the struggles and terrors of a random woman cursed with immortality

Warning: 18+ Adult content.


Author Bio

Monique Singleton writes compelling stories that mix fantasy with realistic psychological suspense and unique insights into the mind of the main characters.

As the daughter of a British soldier and his Dutch wife, Monique was born in an English military hospital in Germany. The family toured the world where she was exposed to different cultures in many countries. Finally settling down in the Netherlands she pursued a career in Art and later in ICT.

About six years ago Monique started to put the scenes she had running around in her head, down to paper.

Scenes led to a story, the story to a book, and the first book to a series.

In addition to her writing, Monique still holds down a full-time job as a business consultant. She lives in a beautiful old farmhouse in the south of Holland with her two sloppy monster dogs, some horses, and a cat.

The cat is the boss.

VISIT HER WEBSITE


Shadows And Spellcraft

The Ultimate Urban Fantasy Binge Collection

A boxed set with over a dozen amazing reads, that will take you to lost worlds, fall in love with unlikely heroes, and kick some butt with no-nonsense chicks. With a collection that includes New Adult romance, urban fantasy, and Young Adult, there’s something for everyone.

Each story is exclusive to this collection, and includes some shiny new stories from USA Today and New York Times bestselling authors.

If you love to binge on stories that take you away from the ordinary, this boxed set of fifteen books will keep you reading for days. It’s stuffed with vampires, shifters, mages, fae, ghosts and more in everything from modern day Earth to Apocalyptic settings. Bury your nose in this box set now. Order your copy of SHADOWS AND SPELLCRAFT NOW

Amazon / iBook / Kobo / Nook

Shadows and Spellcraft

 


‘Rheia’ book signing at BOOK FACE Gungahlin

A quick one for my Canberra (and region) readers: on the afternoon of 20th October, a Gungahlin Community Festival will be held in Canberra to celebrate the conclusion of key projects in the town centre. The festival will offer plenty of food, activities and entertainment for the whole family to enjoy.

As part of this event, BOOK FACE Gungahlin will be hosting various author signings, including one with yours truly to celebrate the release of Rheia. Come along, get your face painted (probably) and grab yourself a signed copy of my book — and any of my other books that you happen to be missing! I’ll be there from 1 to 2pm with my special book-signing pen and a smile.

I’d love to see you … but if you can’t make it, you can buy the ebook or paperback online, or contact me directly to organise a signed copy of your very own.