Jan 08

Reylo Trash II – The Last Jedi

Well, Rian Johnson did it. He actually gave us more than the Reylo tease we got in The Force Awakens.  Not only that, he gave us an absolutely fantastic film. It’s everything Star Wars should be– the creatures, the plucky heroes, the dogfights, the humor. But it’s also a lot more. It’s deeper, richer, more nuanced than the early movies, the characters more well-rounded and human. In my opinion, this is THE best Star Wars film.

* * * SPOILER ALERT * * *

This post contains major spoilers. If you haven’t seen The Last Jedi yet, stop reading now and go see it. I’ll be here waiting until you come back.

Since The Force Awakens,  I’ve found the dynamic between Rey and Kylo Ren the most compelling aspect of the new films. I never bought the Princess Leia/Han Solo or Anakin/Padme romances. They always seemed forced and unconvincing. But even when they’re in full antagonist mode, Rey and Kylo Ren have chemistry. The fuse TFA lit really burns in The Last Jedi, taking simple antagonism and turning it into a complex, ever-changing bond.

A lot has been said about Kylo Ren– he’s weak, he’s bratty, he’s a Darth Vader wannabe, blah blah blah. This is a gross misreading of his character. His temper tantrums are a result of extreme and agonizing inner conflict. He says so himself, when he says he feels the call to the light, and when he tells Han how he’s torn apart. Everyone from Rey to Snoke talks about his conflict. So why does he continue forward on his path of darkness? Ah, now that’s the question. One I think is revealed when he talks to Darth Vader’s melted helmet.

Kylo Ren says, “I will finish what you started.”

Has everyone forgotten who Anakin Skywalker was supposed to be? What he was supposed to do? He was the Chosen One. The one who would bring balance to the Force. Is this what Kylo Ren intends to finish? The Last Jedi gives us hints.

In the newest film, the point is hammered again and again that the old binary system must fall. Luke says it and Yoda says it. Kylo Ren says it best: no more Dark and Light, Sith and Jedi, Rebellion and First Order. They all have to end.

If this is in fact what Kylo Ren is trying to do, we can argue that his methods are, um, less than savory, but there are two possibilities. One is that he has Force-based reasons for doing what he does. This fan theory best explains the idea.

In fact, there are hints of some greater goal in play in Rey and Kylo Ren’s Force-mediated conversations. When Rey calls him a monster, he calmly agrees. Then she demands to know why he killed his father. Why did he hate him? Kylo equally calmly tells her, “I didn’t hate him.” How can Kylo Ren accept these facts? Is he really this dissociated and psychopathic? He’s definitely not stable, but I don’t think he’s a psychopath. He has a greater purpose.

What does this have to do with Reylo? Well, it’s pretty hard to have a romance when you’re enemies. So if there’s to be a Reylo, somehow, they have to bridge the divide between them. And I find the concept of Rey and Kylo Ren coming together (reluctantly?) for a common goal much more interesting than pitting them against each other in another shallow, boring good guys vs. bad guys plot.

The Last Jedi goes a long way toward bringing them together. In Rey’s first Force-connection with Kylo Ren, she tries to blast him on sight. But she gradually comes to understand and even sympathize with him, especially after she learns exactly why he turned on Luke. One of the most powerful scenes in the film is after Rey accesses the Dark Side of the Force in search of her heritage only to be bitterly disappointed. Kylo tells her, “You’re not alone.” And Rey replies, “Neither are you.” And they reach out through the Force to touch hands. Wow.

Now, here’s where things get interesting. When they touch, Rey has a powerful vision that Kylo Ren– whom she’s begun calling “Ben”– will turn to the Light. A vision powerful enough to send her to him. Yet Kylo has seen that it will be Rey who turns. This seems to suggest that they’ll both turn to meet somewhere in the middle. The fact that Rey has no hesitation to connect with the Dark Side of the Force supports this idea.

In the new movies, the Force seems almost sentient, determined, through these two gifted people, to break free of the limitations imposed upon it. Both the Jedi and the Sith are insults to the wholeness of the Force. The Jedi continually seek to do away with with its initiates’ humanity– they’re allowed no ties to other people, and are conditioned to deny and suppress their emotions. (Here’s an in-depth post on the topic.) The Sith, with their insatiable lust for power and control, warp the Force just as much. In The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren and Rey are both searching for something new, something more complete. Kylo wants to destroy the old order. Rey sees the Force in its completeness: dark and light, warmth and cold, peace and violence, life and death that begets new life. And each is bound to the other.

Snoke tries to wave away the importance of Rey and Kylo’s Force bond when he tells them (both of them, not just Rey!) that he was the one who bridged their minds. But keep some things in mind: first, they already had a connection in The Force Awakens. When Kylo was Force-probing Rey’s mind, she turned around and read his most secret fears. Just as importantly, the two connect again at the end of the new film– after Snoke is dead.  Yet another clue is the physical manifestations of the bond. Not only do they physically touch hands, Kylo wipes away the water that splashes Rey during one of their talks. Furthermore, Luke can see them when they touch. If their connection is nothing but a product of Snoke’s manipulation, how would Luke be able to see it? No, their Force bond is real, potent and survives every setback and division.

But if Kylo Ren envisions a Force made whole again, why would he talk about ruling the galaxy? Has he been so blinded by his Sith indoctrination that the only role he can see for himself in this new world is that of ruler? Or does he truly desire only power? His goal is hardly noble, and as disappointing to us as it is to Rey.

Rey’s violent rejection of Kylo/Ben is just as disappointing. Look at it from his point of view. He’s saved her life. He fought beside her to defeat Snoke’s Praetorian Guard. He pleaded with her, not threatened (“Please,” he whispers when he asks her to join him, holding out his hand to her). And what does she do? She goes for her lightsaber. No wonder he wants to kill her after that. He’s discovered, again, that he can trust no one. Not even the one he’s bound to through the Force.

To be fair, I don’t think either of them could do anything different at this point on their journeys. Kylo Ren is trapped in the machinery of the First Order and still a captive of Snoke’s longstanding manipulation. Even with his power and his best intentions, it will be difficult to free himself. And how can Rey trust him, not only with her own life, but with the lives of everyone she cares about?

As a writer, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the conflict can be resolved. I think the last film will provide a lot of revelations. What worries me is how Kylo Ren’s arc will be resolved. Popular culture’s usual redemption for bad guys is death. But what I really want is to see Kylo/Ben and Rey come together to create a better world.

I’m not much of a fanfiction writer, but I’m tempted to explore their journey myself.

Oct 08

The Best of All Possible Worlds

The Best of All Possible WorldsThe Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like many writers, I read a lot. This book was recommended by C. Gockel, another writer whose work I enjoy. One of my favorite stories is her novelette, “Magic After Midnight,” included in the anthology Once Upon a Curse. Her description sounded interesting, and when I saw Amazon reviews comparing Karen Lord’s work to Ursula K. LeGuinn’s and Jane Austen’s, two more of my favorite authors, I was sold.

I bought the book right before I went on vacation and read it in a couple of days. While I was on vacation, I read it twice more . Then I read through my favorite parts a few more times. Do I need to say I really love this book? In every re-read I discover something new, another layer, or something that only later becomes clear.

A brief synopsis: after the destruction of the planet Sadira and the genocide of most its people, the refugee Sadiri emigrate to the colony world of Cygnus Beta, hoping to find there remnant populations of Sadiri. Dllenahkh, a Sadiri savant, joins forces with Cygnian Grace Delarua for the yearlong, government-sponsored search intended to save the Sadiri people.

So what made me enjoy this book so much? For one thing, it’s exactly the kind of thing I like to read (and write)– a story heavily focused on the characters, their inner worlds, their growth and relationships. And yes, a little romance, too.

I absolutely loved Dllenahkh and Delarua, the narrator. Delarua’s humorous, down-to-earth personality sparkles throughout the book. Despite the driving tragedy of the destruction of the Sadiri homeworld and most of the population, the plot focuses on healing and moving forward, making it particularly uplifting.

I read a fair amount of romance, a genre that inevitably focuses on relationships. The romances I enjoy the most tend to be in the vein of Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte. Not necessarily chaste, but following a believable arc. No “insta-love” or jumping into bed at every likely (and unlikely) opportunity, but two people gradually coming together.

Dllenahkh’s and Delarua’s courtship is as delicate as any of Jane Austen’s couples. It’s a delight reading about two very different people getting to know, respect and value each other. There’s certainly an undercurrent of physical attraction, but it takes a back seat to the personal aspects of the relationship.

While the Sadiri borrow heavily from Star Trek’s Vulcans (logical, telepathic, long-lived, physically stronger than ordinary humans), Delarua’s empathic experience of them gives them much more depth and humanity. Though they express it little, the emotional lives of the Sadiri are as complex as any other human’s.

If I have any complaint, it’s that I wish Lord had given more physical description of her characters. Delerua isn’t described until about halfway through the book, and Dllenahkh not until the very end.

The Best of All Possible Worlds might be a little bit of a genre-bender. Hardcore SF fans might be put off by the romantic aspect and romance readers might be unsatisfied with the low-key romance. But for me, the book was almost perfect, one for my “favorites” shelf.

View all my reviews

Aug 20

Fated Magic

Kathlena L. Contreras –

A Land of Enchantment Novel –

A dangerous wizard. A gifted seer. A love that could change the future.

Seeress for the mob…

Emilia Dunmoor is a woman out of place and time. Thrust into the modern world, she scrapes out a meager living telling fortunes to curious tourists. It’s a bleak, lonely fall from the life she once led, when she was beloved, when she belonged. Then the dream comes again, where she’s hunted by a dragon…

The Dragon of Russia…

Vadim Dragovich takes what he wants. And when Emilia’s slim fingers close around his for a palm reading, he knows he wants her. Centuries ago, even his wizardry couldn’t prevent him from losing his power and the empire he’d built as a warlord. But Emilia’s gift of foresight will make sure that never happens again—and will cement his control over the territory he’s ripped from California’s Russian mob.

Captured by the Dragon, Emilia’s only weapons are her wits and her gift. But as she’s drawn deeper into Vadim’s violent world, she begins to see another side to this formidable, contradictory man. And she realizes with heart-wrenching clarity that her choice must be between freedom…or saving the life of a mobster with a noble heart.

Fated Magic is now available on Amazon. Click or tap here to get your copy.


Dec 17

Love Comes in Unexpected Packages

I saw this on The Passive Voice, a writer’s blog I read. Besides being way cool (LOVE Mrs. C’s red chopper!), it brought tears to my eyes. So nice and warm and gentle after all the ugliness of the election.

Merry Christmas, joyous Yule, and happy holidays to you!


Nov 24

When the Pig Came to School

Every once in a while, I think about posting a review for a book I’ve read. Like many good intentions, I never quite manage to get around to it, instead spending my writing time on my own books.

Well, this time I’m finally putting thought into action. My stepmom, Ewa Carlsson, who designed my Flying Tiger web banner, illustrated a children’s book. It’s called Nar grisen Nisse kom till Skolen, written by her dear friend Margareta Fritz.

The book contains 14 stories of Mia’s life as a small girl in rural northern Sweden. I read an English translation, and the stories are a charming glimpse into a world very different from that of a modern American child. Children ride to school in a car, instead of a yellow schoolbus, gnomes live in barns, and little girls roam the fields and forests of beautiful northern Sweden. Ewa’s illustrations of the stories are sweet and whimsical and so evocative of another time and way of life. The cover illustration is for the story of Mia’s pet pig, Nisse. Nisse followed Mia everywhere, even to school, which caused her to be the object of much teasing by the other kids.

The book is presently only available in Swedish, but Ewa’s illustrations are enjoyable all by themselves. Here’s a link to Adlibris, where you can get the Swedish language hardback. Good luck, Ewa!

Oct 30

Fateful Magic – Chapter 3

Here’s the latest installment of Fateful Magic. If you missed the beginning, you can read it here.

It’s fun looking for images to go with the chapters. At first, I was going to include one of Tiff, but then I decided, no. It’s got to be Vadim Dragovich (pronounced vah-DEEM), the Dragon of Russia and the antagonist (sort of) of the story. I rarely find images that fit my people exactly, but this one isn’t too far off.

Vadim DragovichEmilia walks along the beach swinging a driftwood stick. Her skirts are hiked up, baring her legs to the calves. The wind teases tendrils of hair around her neck and face. The waves roll in and out, darkening the sand, pushing and pulling seaweed and scallops of foam. The wet sand is firm and cool beneath her bare feet, the dry soft and warm.

A shadow sweeps over the beach, snuffs the glitter of the sun on water. Heat beats against her back. She looks up and the dragon is there, his toothy mouth stretched in a grin, his claws reaching for her.

Em-i-li-a. He sing-songs her name. I’ve waited a long time for you.

She flings the stick at him. His breath burns it to ash before it can fall. She works her one trick, the only advantage she has beyond her gift. She will make herself disappear into the beach around her.

Instead, it’s the beach that disappears.

Rich carpet replaces the sand. Walls and coffered ceiling take the place of cliffs and sky. The smell of jasmine supplants the tang of salt and seaweed.

She turns, turns again. A wall of windows looks out onto an evening garden. Two chairs flank a cherry wood table. An abstract painting in sunset colors hangs on one wall. It’s the house, the same house she’s dreamt of before. The one she can’t escape.

This is the dragon’s lair. How can she not have realized it? She doesn’t see him, but she can feel his heat, hear his breaths as slow and powerful as the waves. His heart beats within the walls, a deep thrum beneath her feet.

Her mouth is papery. Her breaths come too fast. Her own heart patters like a scampering rabbit. She wants to run, but doesn’t dare. Running only tempts a predator to chase. So she stands quivering, hoping if she’s still enough he’ll forget she’s there.

Emilia. His voice is rich and soft as mink. I know you’re there. Time to wake up.

* * *

Emilia gasped and shot upright. She lay on a sofa. Opposite her, two chairs flanked a cherry wood table in front of a bank of windows overlooking an evening garden. In one chair, a man sat watching her.

The grey-haired man from the market. The wizard.

“Good evening,” he said in the dragon’s voice. “Welcome to my home.”

Her shawl, which must’ve been covering her, had slid to her lap. She clutched it to her. “Who are you?”

He smiled that same, somewhat mocking smile. “You tell me. You’re the seer.”

“The dragon.” She tried to wet her lips and couldn’t. “The Dragon of Russia.”

He bowed his head. “The very one. Vadim Dragovich.”

She shrank back. She didn’t know why—she’d known who he was even as she dreamt.

He smiled. “You’ve heard that name before, I see.”

“I heard— Yes.”

He cocked his head, studying her rather more intently than she liked. “Do you know how long my name has been forgotten?”

Her mouth was still dry. “What do you want with me, my lord?””

“Oh, pah, ‘my lord.’ Call me Vadim. Or Mr. Dragovich, if you must. I know how you English value propriety.”

Emilia blinked at that. Ridiculously, she felt eased. At last, someone who understood such things.

“Why have you been hunting me?” she said. “If you think you’ll take my gift from me again, I promise you, I’ll die first.”

“Now why should I take your gift when it sits here before me in such an interesting package?”

“Don’t toy with me, my— Mr. Dragovich.”

“So possessive! And we’ve barely met.”

The flirtation, here, now, outraged her. “How dare you! You abducted me. Now you taunt me?”

“Forgive me,” he said, but amusement still glittered in his eyes. “I meant only to put you at ease.”

As Morgan might say, Yeah, right. “You can put me at ease by returning me to my home, thank you.”

“You haven’t yet heard my business proposal.”

“I have no interest in anything you might propose, Mr. Dragovich.”

“Not when I can offer you whatever you might ask?”

“There is only one thing I would ask of you.”

“Maybe. But consider anyway.” He made an expansive gesture. “This can be your home. Why should you live in a squalid little trailer telling fortunes to anyone who puts twenty dollars in front of you? So shabby, so degrading. And in the winter, when the fog and rain keep the tourists away, what do you do then? I suppose you must be hard pressed to come up with the rent.”

He described her last winter quite accurately. She’d been worrying about what she ought to do for the one coming.

“None of that is your concern, sir.”

He dismissed that with a flick of his fingers. “I can provide you with much more stable, lucrative employment. In the comfort a woman of your abilities deserves.”

“Did it occur to you to try this approach before stalking me and carrying me off?”

“I had every intention of it.” He sighed. “But you never gave me the chance.”

“Your reputation and actions suggest otherwise. You must forgive me when I say that I cannot possibly, under any circumstances, accept your offer.”

“Mmm.” He thrust out his lower lip thoughtfully. “Since my reputation is familiar to you, perhaps you can tell me what it is.”

A warning chill brushed her. “That you’re a criminal of the basest kind.”

“So disappointing. I expected to hear you speak of the bloodthirsty warlord whose name once made entire armies tremble. For whom towns would fling open their gates in surrender rather than incur my wrath.”

In fact, the rumors she’d heard had never said any such thing. Emilia wanted to believe he was trying to frighten her, but had an uneasy feeling it was the literal truth.

“Do you threaten me, sir? If so, just say it. It’s unworthy of a man to torment the woman in his power.”

“Ah, so you do recognize the situation. Good. Then you accept my offer.”

“I most certainly do not!”

“Not even when I offer you life?” Continue reading

Oct 15

Fateful Magic – Chapter 2

Well, the votes are in, and the title Fortunate Magic for the newest Land of Enchantment book got a thumbs-down. My personal favorite is Omenous Magic, but voter’s choice is Fateful Magic. So Fateful Magic it is for now. Here’s the next chapter. To read from the beginning, start here.


Vadim pushed up from his chair and paced. The thick carpet hushed the agitated tread of his boots. Through the open window behind him, a hot inland breeze flicked the papers on his desk.

“Tell me, Nikolai,” he commanded his servant. “How is this of value to me? What possible use can I make of what you tell me?”

Niko curled and uncurled his fingers, a small gesture of nervousness. Not surprising given the statement the man had just made. Few people nowadays admitted to believing such things.

“I thought it would be funny,” Niko said, not quite pleading for Vadim’s forbearance. “Get my fortune told. Maybe afterwards, show her all the places she went wrong.” He ran a hand down his chin. “Boss, she didn’t get anything wrong.”

Speaking rather too fast, he detailed the fortune teller’s words, counting out points on his fingers.

Vadim gave a small, mocking smile. “Surely she couldn’t have meant pimping, pushing and protection. Sales and insurance are common enough to include most anything.”

“I know,” Niko said, ruffling a little, then caught himself. “I thought the same thing,” he went on in a more respectful tone. “But I could tell she wasn’t thinking ‘salesman’ and ‘insurance.’ I could see it in her face. You know how it is, how they look when they know who we are, what we do. She didn’t want to say what she’d really seen. Then…then she said I’d learned a truth. How could she know I decided she wasn’t just spouting shit?”

Vadim turned to the window, clasping his hands behind him to hide his excitement. Beyond the glass, a carpet-like lawn, sculpted bay and yew trees, glossy jasmine vines starred with white flowers rolled away to the high wall that enclosed his property.

His mind worked, turning over thoughts like stones. He’d be reborn into an age that had left magic to children, madmen and imposters. How humbling it had been! To find his power considered nothing but hokum or delusion. To realize that the name Vadim Dragovich, the Dragon of Russia, had been forgotten, lost to centuries and distance like everything he’d built.

He’d had to start again with nothing but his wits and wizardry. It had taken some time and much care to conceal his true nature, but once more he had money, influence, power over men. But to know the future…

Ah! What he could accomplish with a seer!

“You believe her,” he said, still thinking.

“I wouldn’t’ve said anything if I didn’t. I’m telling you, this one’s the real thing.”

Vadim nodded slowly. Seeress or sensitive, the woman might bear looking into. “Then I suppose I’ll just have to go see for myself.”

Continue reading

Sep 25

Fateful Magic – Chapter 1

I’ve been trying to figure out a title for my new story. Since it’s set in the Land of Enchantment universe, It needs the word “magic” in the title. But what kind of magic? Since the story revolves around fortune-teller Emilia Dunmoor, it has to include something about the future or foreseeing. Prescient Magic? Imminent Magic? Foreboding Magic? Fortunate Magic?

For now, I’ve settled on Fateful Magic as a working title. I like the play on the word “fortune,” although the magic involved isn’t exactly fortunate.

If you missed the prologue, you can read it here.

gualalaChapter 1

Two years later…


“I had that dream again,” Emilia said.

Beside her, Livy pushed her ever-present shopping cart. This time, it was mostly empty—Livy was heading to the beach to gather driftwood for the sculptures she created. A breeze tasting of salt fluttered her greying hair under her hairband.

“The one about the house?” Livy said.

Emilia nodded, pleating her skirt with her fingers.

For a few paces, Livy only pushed the cart, its wheels squeaking and rattling along the pavement. A pine and fir-clad slope rose behind the buildings on the landward side of Highway 1. Hotels dotted the strip of cliff above the Pacific. It was too early yet for most tourist traffic, although the local restaurants had drawn in a few for breakfast.

“True dream, do you think?” Livy said at last.

Emilia hesitated. “I don’t know. It’s so persistent, yet seems so nightmarish—”

Livy snorted. “Running through a big, beautiful house doesn’t sound very nightmarish to me.”

“I’m running because I’m trapped in it.”

“Trapped in a big, beautiful house. Uh-huh. The stuff of nightmares.”

“It is if one if frightened and desperate,” Emilia said, exasperated.

Livy made a considering noise. “Well, if it’s a true dream, it’ll only do you good if you know who trapped you.”

“Quite true.”

And her gift had been unreliable on that point in the past. That was what had led to her downfall two years ago. She shook her head. No, two hundred years ago, she corrected herself. When a man she’d trusted had betrayed her, tearing out her gift and plunging her into long, long darkness…

Had she been another of those shadows she’d seen when she reawakened, an empty husk of herself drifting through the centuries until some convulsion of magic restored her? How many others like her had there been?

Livy’s voice broke into her thoughts. “Have you laid the cards?”

Emilia shook her head, both in answer and to shake away the disturbing thoughts. “The cards aren’t trustworthy. They’re open to too many interpretations.” As were dreams, of course.

“Still, something’s better than nothing.”

Emilia sighed. “The King of Spades—a powerful man. The Ace of Spades—destiny. The Ten of Diamonds—an improvement in circumstances.” She waved a hand. “Any assortment of Change cards. The Two of Hearts—the lovers.” She frowned. Of all of them, that was the card that sent a chill straight to her middle.

“Huh,” Livy said. “You’re right. That’s not much help.” She slanted her a look. “Other than you better be careful around any powerful men.”


Continue reading

Sep 02

A New Land of Enchantment Story

After finishing Could It Be Magic, I hit a dry spell and so took a break for a few months. At last, I decided that writing something was better than writing nothing, so I started on a new story.

I talked about writing something like this in my post on Reylo Trash, but didn’t really have a story in mind yet. The one that finally began taking shape is set in the Land of Enchantment universe, but with two brand new characters: a wizard named Vadim Dragovich and Emilia Dunmoor, a seer. After Amethyst defeats the predator, Dr. Korhonen, in Familiar Magic, both Vadim and Emilia have been resurrected into modern times after drifting as mindless, powerless shades for a couple hundred years.

I’m not entirely sure where this story is going or when it will get there, but I thought the journey might be interesting and keep my writing brain in good working order. I’ll be posting chapters here. Eventually, I’ll even have a title for it.

UPDATE: The title is Fated Magic.


Magic battle

Emilia came to herself screaming. She clutched at the agony below her breastbone. There had been pain, dear God, such pain. The smiling, white-bearded face, kindly and pitiless, looming close—forgive me, my dear, but your gift is far too valuable

She clawed her way out of the memory, gasped a shuddering breath, spun. Where was she? A forest rose around her, not of trees, but of massive, towering metal columns and beams rising into darkness, bearing neither walls nor ceiling.

Nearby, much too close, a shadowy storm boiled. And among the shadows, men in all sorts of dress, all looking just as stunned, cast adrift, confused as she was.

A shadow ripped past her, then another. It snatched at her. She gasped again at an echo of that last memory’s pain, then it whirled away. Wind whipped her hair, tore at her skirts. The shadows parted a moment and she caught a glimpse of a thin young woman, teeth bared, fists clenched, head thrown back, dark hair writhing around her in a magical wind.

With a vague intent to help, Emilia took a step toward her. One of the shadows engulfed the unknown woman, seeming to sink its arms into her. The shadow grew thicker, took on substance and form until a man staggered back, hands clutching his chest even as Emilia had clutched her own. He shook his head hard, looked around him. Pain and bewilderment and fear shifted across his face. More shadows, clots of rage and hunger, streamed past, once more blotting out the woman struggling to fend them off.

A hard hand gripped Emilia’s arm. She bit back a shriek and wrenched around, her heart trying to pound its way up her throat.

A man with long, dark hair, a neat goatee and wild, panicked eyes seized her other arm, too, shook her a little. “¿Que es esto?” he shouted above the roar of wind and magic and voices crying out in every language. “¿Dónde estamos?”

“I don’t un—” The next instant, she recognized the Spanish words: What is this? Where are we?

“I don’t know!” she shouted back, then quickly in her badly-accented Spanish, “No lo sé!”

“Where is he?” The man demanded in Spanish. Still holding her fast, he looked frantically around.

“¿Quien?” Who? She pulled against his grasp, trying to twist free.

“Copora. The wizard. The snake. The hijo de perra!”

Emilia went cold. “Korpela?” His face rose up again in memory. She began to shake. “Did he have a white beard? A kindly face…”

Still kindly even as he reached into her and ripped out her gift by the roots—

The man shook her again and she realized she stood rigid, panting in remembered agony and terror.

“Is he here? Where is he?” The man thrust her away and turned, his chest rising and falling as desperately as hers. He abruptly released her, shoved her away. “Flee! Flee now, while you can!”

He raised his hands and vanished.

Wizard! Emilia clutched one hand to her chest, thrust out the other as if to ward off an attack.

More men—and a handful of women—staggered away from the shadowy seethe. Wizards. Sorceresses. All of them here, transformed by this storm of magic, shades somehow given body and life once more.

Wizards, dozens of them. And she, with her gift that gave her no power against them, yet one they coveted—

Emilia turned, caught up her skirts and fled into the enveloping night.

* * *

Vadim turned, snarling, raised his hands and called up power. The magic heaved and roiled around him, far hotter and more potent than any he’d felt before. The scene before him made no sense.

Where was the wizard he’d been battling? His hand flew to his chest. It had been clawed open. Hadn’t it? After the wizard transformed himself, no magic Vadim flung at him would stop him. The wizard in dragon form had pinned him like a mouse. Then pain, worse than any he’d ever experienced, and a long agony of darkness—

He dropped his clutching hand. He was unmarred, the power within him bright and potent as ever. The dragon was gone, replaced by a bewildering storm of darkness, a stink of burning, the thunder of wind and a terrified babble of voices. And at the center of it all, a woman blazing with power as she fought shadows like swarming hornets.

A man staggered away from the boil of shadows besetting the strange woman. The man, dark and bearded, ran into him then clutched at him as one would clutch at a bit of flotsam in a raging sea.

Vadim called fire.  Writhing, crackling tendrils coiled around his fingers. The man’s eyes widened and he released his grasp. His voice rose in a question, the words in a language hesitating and soft.

Still holding destruction in his hand, Vadim frowned and shook his head.

“Who are you?” the man stammered in Arabic-accented French—a language most worldly men would understand.

Vadim drew himself up and smiled. It was a smile no man wished to see on his face. “Vadim Dragovich.”

The man sucked in a breath and stumbled back, then turned and ran, tripping once on the hem of his robes.

Vadim’s smile turned to one of satisfaction. He folded his arms, reveling in the churn of magic and chaos around him. Reveling in life, somehow, impossibly returned.

Read the next chapter

Jun 27

What Happened to Goodreads Giveaways?

Goodreads, the social book site, has for some time offered a program in which readers can enter to win a paperback copy of books they’re interested in. It’s great for readers, of course, because they can get free copies of books they’d like to read. It also offers authors exposure for their books and a chance to gain some reviews. (Goodreads encourages but doesn’t require giveaway winners to write reviews.)Free books

I’ve run a few Goodreads Giveaways for my books. The first two ran in 2014, and I was pleased with the results. Several people were interested enough to go to Amazon to buy the Kindle version of the book, and I did get some reviews. By the way, reviews are always incredibly helpful to authors. They make it a lot easier for new readers to decide if a book is one they’ll enjoy. Back to that first giveaway… I was especially touched by a reader who wrote a long review full of praise, and who has re-read the book three times so far. I can’t express how much that means to me. (Mel, I only have to read your review to brighten my day. Thank you!)

Fast forward to this year. I’ve run three Giveaways, one for eight copies of a new release, and the other two for previously published books. One of the books was a title I’d run a Giveaway on two years ago with good results. But this time, the results have been very disappointing. Although I had hundreds of people requesting the book, I saw no spike in sales of the e-book. No reviews have been posted. The entire point and expense of the giveaway was wasted.

What happened? Are people entering giveaways just to get something for free, regardless of whether or not they’re interested? Are they even reading the book? Did they not like it and are just being polite by not posting a star rating or a review? Did Goodreads make some fundamental change in how it selects winners? Or are the people who won just not the type to write reviews and I got unlucky?

I have no way of knowing the answers to these questions. I only know that after three Goodreads Giveaways that didn’t produce results,  I probably won’t be running any more. If I want to give away books, it’s a whole lot cheaper to offer free e-books.