5 Titles Aimed for September

When I visit the blogs of my favorite living authors – Lois McMaster Bujold and Robin McKinley – the number one thing I’m looking for is news of their next books.

Is she working on one? What is it about? When will it be in stores so that I can buy it? And read it!

5 new titles banner with Fate's Door

I don’t know if any of my readers feel as passionately about my stories as I do about Bujold’s stories and McKinley’s. Comparing feelings doesn’t really lead far, does it?

It’s sort of like the children’s book Guess How Much I Love You.

I love this book more than the distance to the moon. I love it more than the distance to the moon . . . and back! No, Pluto! Alpha Centauri! And so on.

But I know I do have a few fans who are probably wondering when my next title will appear. It’s been nearly a year since I’ve released anything new.

To those of you wondering and waiting, rest assured that I have been writing. A lot! And all this writing has been piling up into books.

Where are the books?

I have two that are ready to release. I always intended to release Serpent’s Foe, which appeared in Quantum Zoo, solo – for readers who don’t care for anthologies.

Serpent’s Foe is ready for release: cover complete, story file formatted.

Winter Glory is also ready for release: cover complete and story file formatted for upload.

In fact, not only are the ebook editions ready, but the trade paperback editions are also ready.

What am I waiting for?

I’d really like to increase my visibility. A number of readers have contacted me or written reviews saying they were delighted to have found my books. A recurring phrase is: “hidden gem.”

Naturally I love the idea that my books are gems. But I’m not so keen about the “hidden” part. I’d like to have more readers.

Almost a year ago, I read about something called the “Liliana Nirvana technique” on a blog written by SF author Hugh Howey.

The technique is simple: release five books on the same day.

Why? Because your visibility will soar. With five titles appearing on the “New Releases” lists, browsing readers will see your name more than once and be more likely to remember you, to check out your books, and to consider reading them.

If this were just a theory, I’d be skeptical. But quite a few writers have tried the technique with excellent results.

Honestly, I’m still skeptical.

But I’ve not gotten to where I am by staying with the tried and true. New ideas and new ways – and sometimes old ways that are so old they’re new – have always attracted me.

So I’m going to give the Liliana Nirvana technique a try.

Sept 2015However, the wait for my five new titles shouldn’t be much longer. September is looking good for their publication.

Hunting Wild is with my proofreader. When it comes back from her, I’ll correct the typos and format the file. It’s a few hours work at most. And the cover is already complete.

Caught in Amber is with my third beta reader. Normally, my books go through only two beta readers, but I made so many revisions to Amber I wanted a third reader’s eyes on it to be sure I got it right. The cover for Caught in Amber is already complete.

I’m still writing the fifth book – Fate’s Door – but I’m closing in on the end. The last fifth of the novel, in fact. The word count currently stands at 80,000!

I’m a writer who picks up steam through a book. I start out slow, achieve a respectable speed through the middle, and then barrel through the end like an express train.

I expect to finish Fate’s Door by the end of May. Then the manuscript goes to my first reader, then my second reader, and then (after my revisions) to my proofreader.

So what exactly will come your way in September? Here’s the list:

Amber web cov 200Caught in Amber • When young Fae awakens in a locked and deserted castle, she remembers nothing. Who she is, where she comes from, none of it.

Beauty from all the ages – medieval, renaissance, and gothic – graces her surroundings, but underneath the loveliness a lurking evil stirs.

Fae must recover her memories and discern the true nature of the challenge before her, while she confronts the castle’s dangers – both subtle and not so subtle.

Somewhere in her forgotten past lies the key to her freedom.

 

Serpent’s Foe • Bastet, divine protectress of the gods themselves, lies defeated in a cage.

Trapped in beast form, imprisoned behind bars, and confused by nightmares, she struggles to regain her sanity.

Yet clarity of mind is only the beginning of her fight for freedom. In the dimness of the ancient Egyptian duat – where Ra journeys from sundown to sunup – a potent enemy lurks.

When strength battles compassion, what guise must victory assume?

 

Fate's Door, web cover 200Fate’s Door • Secrets, like troubles, come in threes. When you possess one of either, two more arrive to keep it company. Nerine, a sea nymph of the ancient world, knows too much about both.

Each morning, in the chill before the sun’s rising, Nerine and the three Fates stand under the mighty branches of the World Tree, gazing into the depths of the root-girdled Well of Destiny, watching the dooms that must come to pass that day.

But when the dawn’s visions show Nerine’s lover, shipwrecked and drowning, all her renounced yearning for him rises anew.

Somehow – this day, this morning, this time – Nerine must subvert destiny or lose the companion of her heart forever.

 

Glory web cover 200Winter Glory • In the cold, forested North-lands – prowled by trolls and ice tigers, redolent with the aroma of pine, and shrouded in snow – Ivvar seeks only to meet his newborn great granddaughter.

Someone else has the same plan.

Traversing the wilderness toward the infant’s home camp, Ivvar must face the woman he once cherished and an ancient leviathan of the chilly woodlands in a complicated dance of love and death.

Ivvar’s second chance at happiness – and his life – hang in the balance.

 

Hunting Wild200 pxHunting Wild • When a king begs a boon, can you refuse him? Young Remeya – fosterling and maid-in-waiting to King Xavo’s sister – thinks you cannot.

Her king requests that she retrieve a dread secret from the well on the grassy hillside of his castle’s outer bailey, and she complies. From the moment her sovereign grips the unwholesome treasure in his hand, the coherence of his mind, his court, and his kingdom start to unravel.

 
 
 

* * *

So…get ready to binge on a handful of new stories in the fall! 😀

 

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Cover Preview: Winter Glory

I’m writing a lot, and exciting things are happening with my work in progress, Fate’s Door. I can’t wait to share the story with you. I’m hoping for a May release – fingers crossed – but I won’t rush the story telling. If it takes me longer to finish, that release may slide to June. 😉

I’ve also been working on book covers for the stories that are complete and approaching release to my readers.

Winter Glory came back from my proofreader (thank you, Wendy, fantastic work!) about a week ago. The interior of the book is now all ready, and today I finished the cover! Naturally, I want to show you what it looks like.

I’m really pleased with how it turned out, and I’ll share how I built it in a future post.

Glory feature cover 300

In the cold, forested North-lands – prowled by trolls and ice tigers, redolent with the aroma of pine, and shrouded in snow – Ivvar seeks only to meet his newborn great granddaughter.

Someone else has the same plan.

Traversing the wilderness toward the infant’s home camp, Ivvar must face the woman he once cherished and an ancient leviathan of the chilly woodlands in a complicated dance of love and death.

Ivvar’s second chance at happiness – and his life – hang in the balance.

Coming soon!

 

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New Paperbacks! Rainbow’s Lodestone and Star-drake

I had a lot of trouble getting CreateSpace to honor the margins specified in my files for the paperback editions of Rainbow’s Lodestone and Star-drake. Then – margins sorted – the next proof copies featured the colors all wrong. It was all so discouraging, that I allowed months to elapse between wrestling bouts with the two books. Finally, in November 2014, nearly nine months after I started, the two books were ready to be approved and released!

Take a look!

Rainbow POD photo

A lost birthright and unending agony.

On a whim, the rainbow’s child falls to earth, where a cruel adversary takes advantage of her innocence. Can she reclaim her thunder-swept heavens? Must she dwindle and die?

This transcendent short story set in the troll-ridden North-lands explores how inner freedom creates outer opportunities.

Earth trumps heaven until ancient music plays.

Rainbow’s Lodestone as a paperback:
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PRAISE FOR RAINBOW’S LODESTONE AND STAR-DRAKE

“…almost “Tolkienesque”…the stories feel like they’re happening on the Earth we know, but long before our recorded history… Despite the fact that it deals with a grim act of mischief, [Rainbow’s Lodestone is] a delightful read. The enchanting thing about it is the personification of the Rainbow, and the general attitude she has towards her fate in the story… All in all, these are wonderful stories… Ney-Grimm’s unique blend of Nordic fantasy and fairy tale mentality is a refreshing take on the genre, and [her] poetic style of writing (whichever tone she uses) adds a special sheen to the work. I read a lot of fiction, and I can honestly say I’ve not come across anything quite like this.” – James J. Parsons, Speaking to the Eyes

* * *

Star-drake POD photo

Gefnen – troll-herald and hound for Koschey the Deathless – hunts life across the moors of the far north.

Not deer, not pheasant, not meat for the table. His master eats choicer fruits.

When the piercing scent of youth tingles his senses, Gefnen focuses his chase. The prey – a boy – lacks guardians strong enough to best a troll. Swift triumph awaits.

But other seekers tilt the chances of this game. Spirit of storm, poignant memories of a sea-prince, and something more ancient than memory or the wind shape the looming tumult.

Gefnen hunts victory, but a darker victory hunts him.

Star-drake as a paperback:
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* * *

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Cover Preview: Hunting Wild

I’ve been writing up a storm lately.

I finished a revision draft for Hunting Wild (a North-lands Story) at the end of the summer and sent it off to my first reader. I completed a first draft of Winter Glory (in the Kaunis Clan Saga) at the end of October, and sent that off for beta reading. Now I am hard at work on Caught in Amber, about halfway through.

All the writing has been immensely satisfying, but I continue to work on the publishing tasks that go along with being an indie publisher.

I’m working on a cover for Serpent’s Foe. The story is included in the anthology Quantum Zoo, but I plan to release it solo as well (which means it needs a cover). Some readers prefer their short stories in anthologies and collections. Others like to pick them up one by one, choosing only the exact ones they want. (The single versus the album.) I like to please every variety of reader. 😀

I’ve also been working on the cover for Hunting Wild, and that’s what I wanted to show you today. I had a lot of fun making it, and I think the result is pretty cool. One of these weeks I’ll do a “building cover” post to show you what went on behind the scenes. It was pretty involved!

Hunting Wild 300 pxHere’s a little bit about the story.

When a king begs a boon, can you refuse him?

Young Remeya – fosterling and maid-in-waiting to King Xavo’s sister – thinks you cannot.

Her king requests that she retrieve a dread secret from the well on the grassy hillside of his castle’s outer bailey, and she complies.

From the moment her sovereign grips the unwholesome treasure in his hand, the coherence of his mind, his court, and his kingdom start to unravel.

Remeya claims the task of setting wrong to right, but the king’s madness erodes every good thing remaining, even while her own determination brings neither sound strategy nor success.

Only when King Xavo condemns his sister to death does Remeya consider a most unlikely resource.

Coming soon!

For more on cover creation:
Creating Livli’s Cover
Building Star-drake’s Cover
Cover Creation: Perilous Chance

 

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Quantum Zoo in Paperback!

I’m always excited when one of my books releases in paperback. But there’s something really special about Quantum Zoo doing so. Probably because it was such a big project, an ambitious project, and involving so many people. Regardless of the reasons…I am totally doing the happy dance!

:: happy dance, oh, happy dance, happy dance, so happy dance ::

Okay, maybe I can calm down now. Here’s the more sedate statement:
Quantum Zoo is now available as a paperback. Just in time for holiday gifts! Yippee!

(Okay, maybe not so calm after all. I can’t be calm with all this excitement fizzing inside me!) Here’s what the book looks like. More about the contents below.

QZ POD photo 600 px

From a haunted old zoo filled with ghosts to a dying starship on its way to a new home – humanity’s final gasp, Quantum Zoo presents a dozen compelling stories featuring a dozen exotic and unusual menageries.

Jack the Ripper arrives for one last murder, while a dinosaur – out of place and out of time – bridges the gap between two poignant lovers in the wonderfully atmospheric England of Hugo-­ and Nebula-­nominated Bridget McKenna.

Quantum Zoo propels you on an enthralling journey through awe and emotion, highs and lows, with tender romance following hair-­raising action.

Join some of the hottest independent science-­fiction and fantasy authors writing today in the fascinating worlds they create from the zoo!

Quantum Zoo as a paperback:
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PRAISE FOR QUANTUM ZOO

“What a terrific anthology! Quantum Zoo brings together a great collection of stories by both new and seasoned authors. Given only the starting concept of “zoo,” each author was then allowed to explore that theme in any way they chose. The result: a head-spinning collection of amazingly inventive stories ranging from high fantasy to horror to science fiction.” – Michael Major

PRAISE FOR QUANTUM ZOO AUTHORS

Morgan Johnson writes a “fast, fierce and gritty cyberpunk space lovecraftian tale. Seamlessly honed to a wicked point.”

“Definitely a page turner, exciting, funny, and heart-wrenching at the same time. Gelner ‘knocked it out of the park’!”

“Furie has an eye for witty detail that keeps you turning the pages. More, please!”

“A.C. Smyth has written a gripping, captivating page-turner… Sylas owns my heart, and his journey alternately makes me want to laugh, cry, smack him upside his stubborn head, scream, and most of all, keep reading!”

“McKenna’s subtle style and deft handling are practically textbook perfect for short form fiction.”

Stegall “clearly loves two things: historical research and San Francisco. I’m not sure if I learned more about San Francisco or Wyatt Earp, but I had a great time in the process.”

“Batt has done it again. This story is just unfairly funny. I couldn’t stop laughing, which got me plenty of odd looks in public, I’ll tell you…”

“…always fun to discover a new, talented author, and Scott Dyson is my latest find.”

“A brilliant new fantasy concept, intelligent writing… [McCoy’s] innate story-telling ability combined to produce a tale that I could not get enough of.”

Ney-Grimm “has an ethereal sort of quality to her writing…it’s almost mystical…absolutely unique, and absolutely engaging.”

“Damn you John Hindmarsh – I am on vacation in Turkey and am waking up late every day because I start reading this book in the evening and can’t put it down until 2:30AM!”

Quantum Zoo continues to be available as an ebook.
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QZ spine photo 600 px

 

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Paperbacks Galore

I know that some of my readers prefer paper books over ebooks. And there is something special about holding a book in my hands, turning it over to see the back cover, and turning the pages to read it. Maybe my enjoyment of the physical form is just because that’s what I grew up with, but it’s real. Of course, I must plead guilty to reading a lot of ebooks: super convenient for when I’m waiting in a doctor’s office or ferrying my child to soccer practice, etc. Plus ebooks don’t break my budget.

This post, however, is for the paper lovers among us. Several of my readers ask me at intervals if I have any new paper releases. I thought it might be helpful to list all of my books that do have paper editions. As I type this, I have ten stories in paperback. Ten! That amazes me. 😀

Here’s the list:
 

thumbnail imageTroll-magic

Accursed Prince Kellor wrestles with the daunting challenges of his north-bear form. A childhood friend holds the key to his escape. But charming Elle will be no easy task. She faces her own engrossing dilemmas. Can she realize her musical promise and unravel Kellor’s curse? In epic adventure across a stunning landscape, the two engage a potent enemy in a lethal battle of wills.

Fighting against a nightmare pales beside fighting for a dream.

Troll-magic Paperback
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thumbnail cover imagePerilous Chance

Clary needs a miracle, but wonders rarely step forth to solve life’s problems. While her mama lies wearily abed and her papa spends the day . . . elsewhere, Clary struggles. Then she visits the old bramble-grown quarry. Hidden there, her miracle awaits: a miracle of razor-sharp talons, world-shaking magic, and ravenous hunger. When it cracks the egg, can Clary survive? Something wondrous this way comes!

Perilous Chance Paperback
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thumbnail image of coverThe Troll’s Belt

Young deceit sprouts timeless trouble.

Motherless Brys Arnsson digs himself into trouble. Bad trouble. Tricked by a troll, Brys must dig himself and his best friend back out of danger. But that requires courage . . . and self-honesty. Traits Brys lacks at depth.

A twist on a classic, The Troll’s Belt builds from humor-threaded conflict to white-knuckle suspense.

The Troll’s Belt Paperback
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A medieval lady stands in an ancient stone hallA Knot of Trolls

North-lands spellcasters who reach too boldly for power transform into trolls – grotesque villains wielding a potent magic and destined for madness. A Knot of Trolls features seven of these evildoers, each pursuing a unique design for troubling their neighbors. Across the ages of the world, ordinary youths must rise to the challenges laid down by trolls. Destiny and hope lie in the balance.

Seven tales of magic and troll-mages – ancient error echoes down through time.

A Knot of Trolls Paperback
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thumbnail imageSarvet’s Wanderyar
KAUNIS CLAN I

Running away leads right back home – or does it?

Sarvet walks with a grinding limp, and her mountain culture keeps girls close to home. Worse, her mother emphasizes all the things Sarvet can’t do. No matter how gutsy her spirit or bold her defiance, staying put means growing weaker. Yet only boys get wanderyars. Lacking their supplies and training, how can Sarvet escape? Can dreams – even big dreams – and inner certainty transform impossible barricades into a way out?

Sarvet’s Wanderyar Paperback
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thumbnail imageCrossing the Naiad
KAUNIS CLAN II

Its truth forgotten in the mists of time, the old bridge harbors a lethal secret. Something dark and primal haunts the stones and the wild river below.

Kimmer knows the stories, but she doesn’t know why the crumbling span feels so fraught with menace. Her way home lies across the ruin. Dare she take it?

Crossing the Naiad Paperback
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thumbnail imageLivli’s Gift
KAUNIS CLAN III

In Kaunis-spa′s magical spring, Livli achieves spectacular cures. A pioneer, she hopes to match new ways for healing with new ways of living. But the Kaunis-sisters fear rapid change. While Livli pushes forward the new, one influential foe pushes back. Home will keep its ancient customs, even if Livli loses everything. Must surrender spell defeat? Or could letting go harness real power?

Livli’s Gift Paperback
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A goddess of ancient times under a volcanic sunDevouring Light

Can one good deed offset ultimate destruction?

Mercurio guards the first planet, guiding it through the perils of the void. Part messenger, part prankster, he cocks an eye for danger.

When a beautiful celestial wanderer seeks refuge at his domicile, will he recognize his role as cat’s paw? Or will a looming menace – more lethal than Mercurio imagines – threaten the solar system’s very existence?

Devouring Light Paperback
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thumbnail imageSkies of Navarys
LODESTONE I

Lies twine with legend – can trust bring forth truth?

A royal geomancer announces that the goddess Evaia shrugs, and every citizen on the island springs to action. Amidst the uproar, the aeromancer Palujon steals unique and magical lodestones. Mago discovers the theft and vows to retrieve the stones. His friend Liliyah questions Palujon’s motives. Why would a man of his stature break the law? Is he truly a rogue? Life and death hang on her answers.

Skies of Navarys Paperback
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thumbnail imageResonant Bronze
LODESTONE II

The warriors of Torbellai brought back a prize in the night, and young Paitra wants to see it. Even hidden away in the armory, the artifact changed the whole mood of their mountain citadel from dread foreboding to hope. But the warlord hid the fighters’ plunder for good reason. Forged by trolls and radiating magic, it presents grave risk to any who approach it. Will Paitra survive his curiosity?

Resonant Bronze Paperback
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Updated 12-09-2014 to add: Rainbow’s Lodestone and Star-drake.
 

thumbnail sizeRainbow’s Lodestone
LODESTONE III

A lost birthright and unending agony. On a whim, the rainbow’s child falls to earth, where a cruel adversary takes advantage of her innocence. This transcendent story explores how inner freedom creates outer opportunities.

Earth trumps heaven until ancient music plays.

Rainbow’s Lodestone Paperback
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thumbnail sizeStar-drake
LODESTONE IV

Gefnen – herald to Koschey the Deathless – hunts life. When the piercing scent of youth tingles his senses, Gefnen focuses his chase. The prey – a boy – lacks guardians strong enough to best a troll. But other seekers tilt the chances in this game. Spirit of storm, poignant memories, and something more ancient than memory or wind shape looming tumult. Gefnen hunts victory, but a darker victory hunts him.

Star-drake Paperback
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Three Paperbacks Newly Released

I’ve gotten behind announcing new paperback releases, so I’m going to catch up!

The most recent one – just 2 weeks ago – was Resonant Bronze. It was the second story to be inspired by Rainbow’s Lodestone. I got to wondering about the ruins that formed the setting for Rainbow and the people who had lived in them. Resonant Bronze is the result.

Resonant Bronze has been “in print” as an ebook for a year, but it’s exciting to have it release as a paperback.

Resonant Bronze paperback

The warriors of Torbellai brought back a prize in the night, and young Paitra wants to see it. Even hidden away in the armory, the artifact changed the whole mood of their mountain citadel from dread foreboding to hope. But the warlord hid the fighters’ plunder for good reason. Forged by trolls and radiating magic, it presents grave risk to any who approach it. Will Paitra survive his curiosity?

Trade Paperback: Resonant Bronze
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Ebook: Resonant Bronze
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B&N I iTunes I Kobo I Smashwords

* * *

Devouring Light released as an ebook last December – 8 months ago – and as a paperback this June, roughly 3 months ago.

In it, I departed from my North-lands to tell a story in which the constellations performed a circus for the Greek gods. The circus ended up being somewhat of a sidenote in an adventure that spans our solar system. It’s fantasy, even though Mercurio (aka Hermes or Mercury) travels to Pluto, while Draco (the dragon constellation personified) leaves the environs of Sol altogether, flying far into outer space.

D Light paperback

Can one good deed offset ultimate destruction?

Mercurio guards the first planet, guiding it through the perils of the void. Part messenger, part prankster, he cocks an eye for danger.

When a beautiful celestial wanderer seeks refuge at his domicile, will he recognize his role as cat’s paw? Or will a looming menace – more lethal than Mercurio imagines – threaten the solar system’s very existence?

Trade Paperback: Devouring Light
Amazon.com I Amazon UK I B&N I CreateSpace

Ebook: Devouring Light
Amazon.com I Amazon UK I Amazon DE I Amazon ES I Amazon AU
B&N I iTunes I Kobo I Smashwords

* * *

The release of A Knot of Trolls is especially thrilling for me. I’d envisioned creating a collection of my shorter works almost as soon as I had a few short stories and novellas out. It took me rather longer to make that happen than I’d expected! A Knot of Trolls released as an ebook February 2014 and as a paperback April 2014.

A Knot of Trolls paperback

North-lands spellcasters who reach too boldly for power transform into trolls – grotesque villains wielding a potent magic and destined for madness. A Knot of Trolls features seven of these evildoers, each pursuing a unique design for troubling their neighbors. Across the ages of the world, ordinary youths must rise to the challenges laid down by trolls. Destiny and hope lie in the balance.

Seven tales of magic and troll-mages – ancient error echoes down through time.

Trade Paperback: A Knot of Trolls
Amazon.com I Amazon UK I B&N I CreateSpace

Ebook: A Knot of Trolls
Amazon.com I Amazon UK I Amazon DE I Amazon ES I Amazon AU
B&N I iTunes I Kobo I Smashwords

* * *

 

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Quantum Zoo: “Demon Rising”

R.S. McCoy wrote an intense tale about the monster under a little girl’s bed. Her story appears in Quantum Zoo. I present its opening here.

Alhambra freize

She’s coming. I could always tell when she neared. A strange thumping noise would erupt from my chest, starting low and quiet until it had moved up into my neck. An automatic smile would sprout across the blistery skin that graced my jaw.
 
The soft thuds of her feet grew steadily louder as she made her way up the stairs. The absence of the second, heavier set revealed she was alone. Finally.
 
I had waited all day, just as I did every day, for the sun to go down and the girl to make her way up. Her footsteps stalled just outside the door a moment before the brass knob creaked as the small hand turned it. A dim light broke into the room for the brief moment before she shut the door behind her.
 
“Pan?” she whispered, inaudible but for the vibration of muscles in her mouth. She asked as if she wondered if I was still there, although I didn’t know why. I would never, ever leave her.
 
“Is it safe?” I asked in return. Exposure must be avoided.
 
Katherine“Of course.”
 
I reached out one disgusting clawed hand to pull my body closer to the edge until I could just make out her shape in the darkness above me.
 
“Come on.” She reached out her own petite hand to pull me up. The metal frame scraped the skin along my spine as I rose but I was careful to keep the pain from my face.
 
A small flame appeared and landed on the wick of a candle. “I’m sorry you had to wait so long. I know you hate it under there.” Her face was especially sweet in the dim candlelight, a dark tendril of hair fell across her face.
 
“I don’t mind,” I replied honestly. There are worse places to be than under her bed. I had only flashes of memory from the before, but they were enough; I would never go back as long as I could help it.
 
“Here, I brought you something.” She held out a small object, but I knew what it was before I even caught sight of it. She brought me one every time.
 
“You went again today?” I asked, attempting to hide my envy. There was nothing I wanted more than to go with her.
 
“Father says I can go as much as I like.”
 
What father said about the zoo was no secret. She said the words every time she went. The carved wood animal was placed into my palm.
 
“Don’t worry. You’ll go with us someday.”
 
I could only hope she was right as I marveled at the tiny creature in my hand. It appeared to be some kind of cat, but the teeth were long and sharp and it wore a thick patch of fur around its neck. And it had a tail just like mine.
 
“What do you call this one?” I asked as I clumsily turned the carving over in my hand as well as my thick, clawed fingers would allow. Yet again I wished I had ten small, capable fingers instead of the four useless ones I possessed.
 
Lion“A lion. It’s from Africa.”
 
“Lion.” I repeated, rolling the word around my jaw and savoring the taste of it. If only I could see it for myself.
 
“And look. It has a tail like yours.”
 
I leaned down a bit so we could both look at the carving together. A strange feeling welled up inside me when I realized she had picked it out especially for me. She recognized the same tail and didn’t think it disgusting. Maybe I would really get to go with her someday.

* * *

To read more of “Demon Rising,” pick up a copy of Quantum Zoo.
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For more Quantum Zoo samples:
Serpent’s Foe
Skipdrive
Echoes of Earth
A King in Exile

For a list of the 12 stories in Quantum Zoo, click here.

 

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Quantum Zoo: “Skipdrive”

Morgan Johnson wrote the story that inspired the cover for Quantum Zoo. Here’s the opening to his action-packed adventure.

Lavender and orange nebula cloud against starfield

When we found the things floating in the darkness between stars, we should have been more afraid. Instead, a giddy joyous wonder gripped the world like a fever. Every news feed shared the pictures of the two massive creatures spinning slowly somewhere past the Oort cloud and speculated wildly.
 
“Proof of alien life at last?” asked the Gawker News Network.
 
“17 Amazing Facts Scientists Have Learned About The Spinners,” offered Huff-Feed.
 
“Russia Sent A Probe To Chase Comets. You Won’t Believe What They Found Next!” was Google’s attempt to capture eyeballs.
 
We couldn’t read enough, know enough about those dark shapes.
 
Here is what we thought we knew: at the extreme edge of our system, just past the distant ring of ice and dust that marks the blast radius of our own sun’s kindling — the accretion disc — life was waiting for us. Alien life forms the size of humpback whales floated in the black. Encrusted with rock and ice, they looked like nothing so much as a mad child’s drawing of a cuttlefish. The first two we found sported tentacled limbs floating motionless in space and eyes larger than a man placed in a ring around a cavernous mouth.
 
The very best radio telescopes and laser rangers were trained on the lurking things. Each day the news was full of speculation. Did they have hearts or brains? Were they alive? Were they explorers from an alien world? Could they be dormant, awaiting an intelligent culture to wake them up?
 
Seriously, we should have known better.
 
The narrative the media settled on was predictably optimistic: the things were organic, living ships sent by a benevolent alien race to explore the galaxy. They were probes of a sort, like our Voyager, taking a message to the stars.
 
Of course we had to have them.
 
And of course, once we found two it took little effort to find more. While our ship — my ship — was being outfitted to race out ahead of the Chinese and the Pan-African ships to get our hands on the beasts we found more. Lots more.
 
Some days it seemed that wherever the astrophysicists looked they saw another Lurker. Once the eggheads knew what to search for it was easy; they found dozens. Some of the Lurkers were as small as a car while the largest would have given the largest dinosaurs a run for their money.
 
photo of a whale underwaterThere were contests to name them on board the U.S.S. Melissa . The smallest one — the thing that looked like a turtle with eight limbs and no head — ended up with the name Raphael. Private Corrigan won the lottery and came up with that one.
 
Our Chaplain, a bubbly Unitarian from Hawaii, she named the largest Leviathan. Everyone groaned at that. Too obvious. No art.
 
Sardines being sardines, the rest of the Lurkers ended up with names spanning a breathtaking range of vulgarity. It’s the Navy, after all. We may have been professionals. We may have been seasoned combat veterans of the Pluto Conflict. But if you show us a life form fifty yards long shaped exactly like an erect penis, well, we’re going to name it the Cock Rocket. Can’t be helped.
 
No, I didn’t take part in the name lottery. Whoever won had to stand up and shout the name for everyone in the mess to hear and I just haven’t been comfortable with attention since the accident.
 
But I dreamt up some good ones.
 

* *

      
The U.S.S. Melissa was the last of the hive ships. The only survivor of the Pluto Conflict, and even then just barely. Trust me, I have the livid purple and silver scars to prove it. When she was built the idea was novel: a modular ship, constructed in space, that could be whatever you needed it to be. She looked from the outside like a squished shiny orange. Looking close you’d see that her surface was covered in hundreds of hexagonal doors in all sizes like winking eyes. Airlocks, of course, leading to maintenance bays and cargo pods and fueling hubs and every sort of service a growing space fleet needs. On the inside it was a different story.
 
My grandfather served in the Navy, back when that meant boats in the water and not hurtling through the void. He had photos of his time on a submarine, which was basically a long skinny spaceship that moved under water. Weird, right? He used to complain endlessly about his time serving — not that it stopped mom from following in his footsteps. The food was terrible. His shipmates were dullards. The boredom scraped away civilization, leaving behind a yearning raw ache where your heart should be. But mostly he complained about the space. Grandpapa was a tall man, over two meters, and he spent his entire service ducking and running back and forth through narrow corridors, the air slick with condensation.
 
His stories sound like luxury now. I pull up the vidcaps of his chats with us sometimes — I don’t know why, just sometimes being miserable and feeling sorry for yourself is better than feeling nothing at all — and there’s a part where he gets off on a tangent about a particularly awful ship he crewed and he says, at the end, at least you’ll have it better.
 
It always makes me laugh.
 
The Melissa is the third ship I’ve served on. As maintenance chief, I know her every bolt and plate. Her bundles of wires are more familiar to me than the mangled reflection I see in the mirror. I love the bitch. So when I say that she is the most uncomfortable ship in the Navy you should know I’m not exaggerating. The eggheads that put her together forgot to include space for a crew at first. Fills you with faith, doesn’t it? One hundred and sixty-three atmo-locked reconfigurable independent bays mounted around a central spinning hub, outfitted with conventional drives. The outer bays are each separate and flow around each other so that the docking hubs on the inner ring can get cargo or personnel to the correct bay as quickly as possible. She was designed to outfit and supply and repair an entire fleet at once.
 
From the inner ring it’s quite beautiful, like a giant beehive spinning before you, every hexagonal cell full of boxes and tanks and grease-covered half-naked grunts taking machines apart. When Nicolai and I were still together we’d go stand at the edge of the ring, thirty feet of empty space stretching between us and the spinning rooms full of busy little workers.
 
A marvel of human ingenuity, to be sure. But they forgot living quarters. They forgot lavatories. They forgot a mess hall. So at the eleventh hour, when colonist aggression grew out of hand, they carved out living space on the edge of the inner ring. Rooms little bigger than coffins. Showers so tight you couldn’t sit, let alone shave your legs. They put the mess hall in one of the smaller rotating bays. You ever try to eat while every thirty seconds your entire room jumped in a new direction? I swear every sardine aboard the Melissa lost weight on that tour.
 
I personally lost about forty pounds of bone and muscle and skull when the bay I was in was imploded by a crazed colonist ship on a suicide run.
 
She was an extremely useful ship, the Melissa, and that’s why we were picked to go out to the edge of known space and to stuff our little beehive full of those lurking things.
 
We were all set to go, too, and then China and the Pan-African Alliance announced they were sending their ships — their closer, faster ships — to fetch the first real alien life humanity had ever encountered. So the plan had to be changed. We needed the Russians. Our old allies from the Conflict were the only ones with a ship fast enough to get there in time.
 
The Russians could get there but they had no place to put any specimens they caught. We could hold all of them, but would take weeks to get there. The solution was obvious, like chocolate and peanut butter.
 
Through the center of the Melissa they drove the Russian Kerensky-class corvette, the Chernobog. From a distance the two ships together looked like a pencil stabbed through an orange. We were in a hurry so we worked double shifts. Triple shifts for those who could take it. Grafting the two vessels together in an unholy amalgamation. The engineers were pretty sure — really — that the Hoffman-Streibling Drive wouldn’t just tear the two ships to pieces. But there was that chance. The skipdrive had only been used a handful of times before.
 
Mostly I was worried about Nicolai. He was mustered to the Chernobog — the “Chorny” — and it’d be the first time I’d see him since the accident, since half my face and skull were ripped off when the walls around me crumpled inward, since I lost an arm and a leg and a few ribs to boot. No one knew that I’d been tied down in that empty cargo bay, that I was wearing my one set of stockings and nothing else, waiting for Nicolai to show up and take me again on the warm steel floor, our sweat making us slide and bump and clutch each other tight to keep from drifting apart.
 
Maintenance Chief ElizaHe was late. Or I was early. I’d handcuffed myself to one of the safety rungs in the starboard wall. It wasn’t our first time. Hell, at that point it wasn’t our fiftieth time. The crew quarters could fit two people snugly, but unless those people were contortionists they’d have no luck getting busy in those cramped berths. It was an open joke. A handful of the smallest repair bays — too small for even the vipers the Navy prefers for ship-to-ship conflict resolution — were reserved permanently for R&R.
 
When the crew first began using the R&R cabins people snickered and made jokes, but as the Conflict dragged on and the colonists dug in, it  lost any humor . At best you’d see the cold glare of jealousy in someone’s eyes across the mess as you reserved your room.
 
It was our turn then, in the R&R cabin. The fighting had died down. The Collies had been quiet for days. Either planning something or hashing out terms of surrender, everyone agreed. Suicide mission hadn’t been on the list. Kamikaze strikes weren’t a thing you did. Ships were too precious, too few, to waste them. No one knew why they did it. One minute we were at a semblance of peace, stretched out better than naked in a dimly lit brushed-steel cargo dock waiting for our too-handsome-for-us Russian/Californian lover to engage in some conventional thrusting and the next minute a ship piloted by a starving madman tears open your world and pins you to a wall.
 
In the end, no one mentioned the stockings or the handcuffs. They patched me up with the cheapest cybernetics the Navy could get away with, gave me the minimum mandatory leave, and sent me right back up into the black.
 
Only now no one looked at me the same and my lovely Russian paramour had been assigned away as a liaison to some Red Navy boat.
 
* * *

 
The captain gave a big speech before we made the skip. Everyone was nervous about the new drive — the Hoffman-Streibling Device. It collapsed space or pushed holes around space or did things that didn’t make sense, no matter how many times someone sketched them on napkins. The short version was, the captain explained, that the drive would throw us across space-time like skipping a stone across a pond. The journey would take hours, not weeks. Then he rattled off a lot of optimistic nonsense about duty and science and frontiers of knowledge but I lost track of the narrative because at that point, in the largest bay, with all the crew and personnel huddled together, I caught sight of Nicolai.
 
I swear I could feel the seams of my flesh burn. The purple scars that marked where my skin ended and the flexsteel began ached and throbbed in his presence. He’d grown even more beautiful, something in his face was meatier. He’d put on muscle and changed his hair. He no longer looked like the prettiest sardine in the can but rather like a movie star pretending to be in the Navy for a scene.
 
He studiously ignored me.

* * *

To read more of “Skipdrive,” pick up a copy of Quantum Zoo.
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For more Quantum Zoo samples:
Serpent’s Foe
Demon Rising
Echoes of Earth
A King in Exile

For a list of the 12 stories in Quantum Zoo, click here.

 

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Launch Day: Quantum Zoo

Rocket Launch SequenceJune 17th was Quantum Zoo‘s official release day.

I didn’t really know what to expect. I’d never participated in a book project of this magnitude with 12 enthusiastic contributors ready to do whatever was necessary.

The day started quietly with a sprinkling of sales, and Quantum Zoo crept sedately onto the science fiction anthology bestseller list at rank #84.

“Well, that’s nice,” I thought. “At least we’re not starting with a big fat nothing.”

200x300Of course, we’d done considerable preparation for this day.

Several readers had agreed ahead of time to review the book.

I’d approached 19 book bloggers to look at Quantum Zoo and consider featuring it on their blogs.

I’d been posting about the anthology on this blog, on my Facebook page, and on Google+ as we got closer to release.

I know my 11 fellow authors were doing a lot as well. But still I did not know what to expect.

After my first check of the Quantum Zoo Amazon page, I went on about other business. Strangely, I can no longer remember exactly what I was doing. I was busy. I remember that. But whatever I was doing was washed from my memory when I checked Amazon sometime after noon.

Quantum Zoo was #21 on the fantasy anthology bestseller list!

#21 fantasy

#16 on the science fiction anthology bestseller list with a 5-star review!

#16 on SF list

!!!

Wow! Readers were buying our book!

And it just got better from there.

When Quantum Zoo hit #11 on the SF list, it was sitting smack in between two Wool books by Hugh Howey!

Those of you who write and indie publish will understand what this means. Readers who have read Mr. Howey’s books will also likely understand how mind-boggling this is. For those of you who haven’t read Wool, go pick up a copy!

Hugh is a masterful storyteller who took the reading world by storm roughly 3 years ago. He’d been writing for a long time, so he knew what he was doing. But, like many writers, his early readership was modest. Then he released the first novella in the Wool series. It proved to be the story the whole science fiction world was waiting for. He’s sold millions of copies and continues to be popular with readers world-wide. Rightfully so. Yes, I’ll confess to being a fangirl. 😀

#11 SF

Having our book sandwiched by Hugh’s for an instant in time means a lot to me!

As the evening rocketed onward, the news just got better and better!

Quantum Zoo went to #6 on the science fiction list.

#6 SF

And it closed out the night as #2 on the Hot New Releases list.

I was over the moon!

I awoke to even better news. Overnight our book had climbed to #4 on the science fiction list.

While I wrote this blog post, Quantum Zoo hit #3 on science fiction anthologies and #1 on hot new releases.

#1

#1 hot new release

I am blown away!

We owe it all to readers. To you!

Thank you! I hope you enjoy the stories tremendously.

And if you haven’t yet bought a copy, what are you waiting for? 😀

Quantum Zoo Amazon.com I Amazon UK I Amazon DE I Amazon ES

 

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