I had high hopes for revived word count production this month. In the past, magic happened for me in November. A group of friends and I make an annual effort for NaNoWriMo, meeting every Sunday to split our time between writing and talking. We take turns participating in a running conversation, putting on headphones and typing furiously when we have nothing to add to a topic only to jump back in later. Somehow, it works for us.
Alas, this is the first year I fell on my face during NaNoWriMo. The typical mojo escaped me. Unfortunately, I'm far from the only person in my group to experience creative abandonment. The last few weeks have rarely involved writing, and when I do write, it's somehow wrong. Between struggles at work and concerns born of our current climate, I can no longer wander through the dark worlds I have created. At least not right now.
While my words evade me, I have taken comfort in worlds created by others.
The All Souls Trilogy
Deborah Harkness can certainly write. I set down her books several times, impressed by how quickly I fall into the world she created. Her descriptions and pacing are spot on. The second book in the series, Shadow of Night, is a combination of historical fiction and the fantastic. I can't imagine how much research went into the piece and found the details fascinating. I often find an excess of description tedious, but she struck a balance.
I do struggle with a large element of her work. The relationship between Diana and Matthew is fraught with violence. Matthew is persistently on the verge of giving in to the blood rage that boils beneath the surface. His love for Diana brings out every protective instinct him, diminishing his control. He's even destroyed at least one woman in his past. The character, Diana, devotes a large portion of page time to rationalizing her true love's behavior, trading control for passion. All at once she loves and fears him--for good reason. In typical vampire fashion, he broods and attempts to scare her away for her own good, which only stokes her urge to fix what's broken in him.
Sure, Diana's own temper is fiery. My problem is that her superhuman lover teeters on the razor's edge between loving and destroying her. The dynamic is very typical of the genre, and I wonder why we accept it so readily. A supernatural monster devoted to a woman to the point of destroying everything around her seems to be okay as long as he also protects her from an external physical threat. The mounting violence he feels towards the heroine is channeled into fighting others. The main character even fears him, knows that if she runs he will hunt and hurt her. His instincts are too strong for him to be predictable if she caves into her fear and flees.
The romantic relationship is very reminiscent of Twilight, but the writing is stronger. Despite my issues with the trope, I enjoyed the series.
I have been known to read everything from literary fiction to erotica, but when I saw the title and cover for Lady Pirate, I suspected I would find it rather ridiculous. I was pleasantly surprised! This book is witty and smart. Laughing out loud happened several times. I enjoyed the main characters, and there were mysteries and mishaps to balance out the miscommunications between the love interests that are typical in romance. I finished the book in a day and highly recommend it despite a questionable scene on a beach...
Big Little Lies
Liane Moriarty is my new favorite author. She captured my attention from the outset with an Audrey Hepburn/Elvis Presley costume party, an old woman who converses with her cat, and a murder. That's just the first chapter! I simply adored the ending. I can't wait to see how HBO handles the content (plus Alexander Skarsgård #TeamEric). If you enjoy Gillian Flynn but wished for a little humor to balance things out, you'll love this book.
Movies and Books continued
If you haven't seen Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I highly recommend it. My husband and I went with the nieces, and I fell in love with the character Jacob Kowalski. Because I found the movie delightful, I've finally caved in and purchased the Harry Potter series. I know, I know. Every time I confess I've never bothered to read the series I get a chorus of horrified proclamations (my favorite being my niece's reaction: "HOW COULD YOU???"). I'm halfway through book two, and I'm beginning to see why so many people fell in love with Rowling's world.
I'm always looking for new books to check out. Let me know in the comments what you thought of any of the books above or if you have a recommendation of your own.
I have a confession to make.
I hadn't written anything of substance for months. MONTHS.
The occasional idea percolated. My ability to throw ideas around during dialogue with friends hadn't declined. But when it came to putting my butt in a seat and cranking out word volume, I sucked. Rather than staring at a blinking cursor, I dove into the wormhole that is YouTube as a distraction. Somehow writing had become a chore. I no longer needed it. Hell, I didn't even want to.
I didn't have writer's block. I had writer's abandonment.
It's normal for me to slip into a rut after releasing a book. It takes months to write a first draft and then turn it into something consumable. The back and forth with beta readers, the editor, and the proof reader also takes months-- culminating in a feverish sprint of marketing activity. My typical pattern involves finishing the first draft at the the end of November and launching in May. I use the summer to recover and plot the next book (sometimes I crank out a book for fun that will likely never be published).
This year was different for a lot of reasons. I switched gears with my career and took on more challenging work. Somewhere around March I realized that I had trouble reaching people at my publisher. I knew something was off, but I was still surprised to receive official notice that Booktrope had decided to shut its doors. Instead of launching a new book, I spent the month of May negotiating contracts with the people who helped produce my finished novels and readying the content for relaunch. I pushed my team to complete work on my new novel, Visions and Bones, in June and launched in early July. Another month passed before I realized my typical malaise had morphed into something heavier.
A lot of factors fed into my decision to disconnect from social media, blogging, and the news (without risking a polarizing comment, I think it's safe for me to say this election year has been particularly vitriolic and damaging). In my darker moments I've considered pulling the cord and removing my books from sale altogether. I allowed my insecurity to overshadow the tremendous accomplishments I had achieved.
Now that I've had a couple months of recovery, my temptation to blow up what I've created seems silly. I don't regret withdrawing from writing and focusing on self care. I'm back to running every other day and lifting weights on days I don't run. Physically I feel better than I have in a couple of years. I still struggle with finding balance at my day job and come home with just enough energy to eat and decompress. I don't know how I used to come home and spend hours writing after a full day of work, but a few hours a week seems reasonable. I finally feel ready to participate in a scaled down version of NaNoWriMo.
The minute I pulled into the parking lot of Third Place Books, I knew meeting up with my writing group had been the right decision. Eliana West, our resident ambiance official, pulled out all of the stops. The table in the middle of the food court was a thing of beauty. Six women showed up to encourage one another and discuss the issues we perceive in our projects.
There's a kind of magic that happens in a really good writing group. People committed to cheering one another on doesn't happen often. Perhaps the collective creative energy also fuels word count. The thing that blew me away today was the realization that each of us has benefited from one another's experience. My writing has improved because a member of our group challenged my way of thinking or called me out for relying on tropes.
In the corporate environment, the best bosses realize that diversity provides tremendous strength. People from varied backgrounds tend to approach problems from different angles and offer unique insights critical to strengthening a product. Our writing group is no different. We have writers from romance, sci fi, fantasy, horror, and thriller genres. Our religions and lifestyles vary just as much as our genres. As a result, I can offer my friends plot devices to increase tension and conflict. At that same table, I receive advice on upping the romance between characters (which I need!). While I don't like hearing my fellow authors are also struggling, it is a bit of a comfort to know I'm not the only one dealing with insecurity.
Perhaps joining up with my writing group sooner would have sped up my recovery, but I think I needed the time away. The words flowed today, albeit slowly. It may take me a few more months to finish book four in The Hunted series than usual, but I no longer doubt my ability to keep going.
How do you get out of a writing rut? Do you have a writing group that works for you?
I love autumn. There's something magical about the way the trees burst with color and the air is heavy with change. After an unusually dry summer, there have been rain storms, making it blissfully easy to fall asleep. I grew up on a lake, letting go of consciousness while listening to the waves lapping against the shore. Water comforts me almost as much as the forest, and lately I've been spending time with both. This makes me happy and has helped me recover from a bit of burn out. I've also been reading voraciously, finishing multiple books per week. Literary therapy! I love it.
I've read a variety of books, but I circled back to vampires. If you need an excuse to read about vampires (I'm not sure why you'd need an excuse), it's nearly Halloween. I couldn't believe how many great series I've missed! Some of them were mindless, some were guilty pleasures, and others were just good. Here are some of the books I stumbled upon.
A Quick Bite by Lynsay Sands
A family of old vampires stumbles upon a psychologist who may be the key to curing Lissiana's embarrassing phobia. You'd think a vampire would have no problem with blood--they need it to survive after all--but she faints at the sight of it. This was a quick and cute read for those of you who like a little romance. It was a nice change to read a book with a man as the weak human.
How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks
An old vampire with an obsessive streak loses a fang in a very embarrassing manner. His folly is a dentist's good luck because only a vampire can save her from the crazed maniacs out to kill her. The opening was hilarious with some laugh out loud moments. It was predictable, but a good read.
Kiss of Midnight by Lara Adrian
A woman stumbles upon the underworld of vampires by witnessing a violent murder. Concerned for her safety, an elite warrior protects her and finds himself inexplicably attracted to her. This was very alpha male and a little too damsel in distress for my taste, but if you crave another series like The Black Dagger Brotherhood, you'll love this book.
Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost
The backstory for the main character is unusually dark. She is the result of her mother's rape at the hands (er... you know what I mean) of a vampire. Catherine is tough and determined to make a dent in the local vampire population, compensating for her own darker nature. While hunting monsters, she meets her match in a British vampire with a noble streak. If you have a thing for The Big Bad from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (minus the unforgivable degradation of character he suffered in season six), check out this book.
Undead and Unwed by MaryJanice Davidson
A woman loses her crappy job only to die in a freakish accident. Later she wakes up in a garish suit and her step mother's shoes. Little does she know, she's destined to fulfill a prophecy by becoming the vampire queen. The love interest is boorish, but there were plenty of laugh out loud moments in this book to make me look past my irritation with a few of the conventions followed in the storyline.
Gentlemen Prefer Succubi by Jill Myles
This book had me at line one. "It had obviously been one hell of a night if I couldn't recall why I was waking up in a Dumpster." Nailed it. This book leans further into the erotica genre than most of the books on this list (although most of them feature descriptive sex scenes), but she's a succubi. A very fun read!
Do you have any vampire books to add to the list? What is your favorite book to read near Halloween?
While my topics haven't always been consistent, my presence on this blog has been until about a month ago. It has been a stressful summer, and I haven't been feeling well. In the interest of finding a healthy balance, I've decided to focus on my career during the day and give myself a break on evenings and weekends. This has meant time to read, cook, and watch movies, which has done quite a bit to improve my morale.
I'll be back soon. The downtime has allowed me to return to some of my favorite books and even sneak in a little gaming, which hasn't happened in years. There are a lot of topics I'd love to discuss, but I need a little more time recharging.
As always, Annie has been a wonderful assistant. She has benefitted from this extra time, too. More walks are a good thing.
I wish you good health and lovely distractions--especially excellent reads involving our favorite fanged creatures. If you've found a great book, please comment and let me know. My favorite reads this summer have included Big Little Lies, Wizzy Wig, The Lisen of Solsta series, and Billy Purgatory: I am the Devil Bird.
All the best,
I read a broad range of fiction, but Sci Fi is one of my favorite genres. When Michael G. Munz offered to give me an advanced copy of the latest in his New Aeneid Cycle trilogy, I said, "Hell, yes." I loved the first two, so of course I wanted to get my grubby little hands on the third. The concept is interesting, I love the characters, and he does a great job writing well rounded female characters in leadership positions. A Dragon at the Gate has officially launched. Go get your copies here. Added bonus: He has a great sale running.
Here's the blurb:
Artificial intelligence, aliens, and nanotech collide in this cyberpunk adventure...
Michael Flynn has lost time. An operative in the worldwide conspiracy known as the Agents of Aeneas, the last thing he remembers is the struggle to retake Paragon—the derelict alien spacecraft found crashed on the Moon. Yet that was three months ago. Now, as he wakes in a hospital back in the high-tech, urban strife of Northgate, his struggle begins anew.
The Agents of Aeneas have vanished.
His friends are either missing, in danger, or altered. Hired killers shadow his every move. And Jade, the mysterious, cyber-enhanced woman watching over him, will give no answers. Thrust into a blind search for the truth, Michael needs allies. Yet whom can he trust when once loyal friends may have turned against him?
Meanwhile, an intelligence thought trapped within Paragon has escaped to Northgate. Driven to fulfill the goals of the mysterious “Planners,” it, too, seeks allies. When it finds them, it will transform the face of Northgate, the world, and the entire human race.
The year 2051 draws to a close, and nothing will be the same.
Camela Thompson's Review (4 of 5 Stars):
The third book in The New Aeneid Cycle did not disappoint! Book two ended on a bit of a cliff hanger, and I was looking forward to seeing how the author navigated book three. I really enjoyed the newest featured character--Jade--muscle for hire with a bit of a conscience. Munz does a very good job of not only writing women but putting them in leadership roles and allowing them to shine on their own (which seems like an odd thing to say, but there are so many books out there that fail in this regard). Munz is a very talented writer and I appreciated so many points where the description offered was beautifully done. I would recommend reading the books in order. And I seriously want to visit that plant themed nightclub (it sounds odd but trust me, it works).
Recently I was interviewed by J.H. Coates on Reading Makes You Look Stupid. It was a blast! We talked about video games, movies, television series, and books. We even got into my own history with a stalker and how that fueled my first book in The Hunted series, All the Pretty Bones. I loved talking with J.H. Coates because the conversation wandered so many interesting places--we even had a discussion about how gender expectations emerge in the world of writing.
Check it out:
My husband and I like to live tweet bad horror with Michael G. Munz. On occasion we find a campy gem hiding behind low ratings. The three of us tried to watch Shark Exorcist this past weekend. Michael and I were done after fifteen minutes. Lance, my husband, doesn't give up on anything. Ever. The next day he watched the whole thing through just to see how bad it would get. From what I hear, it got pretty bad.
Camela: Thanks for guest blogging today, Lance! What was it about Shark Exorcist that made it so bad?
Lance: At the beginning of the movie, the acting was pretty terrible. This was followed up by the story itself having zero structure and random scenes that didn't really help or improve the theme.
To touch more on the acting, it was shocking how bad it was. Most of the shows we see were at least somewhat casted to find people who actually have some skill or promise in this area. In this case, it shows what would happen if you grabbed a bunch of people off the street or your friends and had them make a movie for fun. Also, it wasn't just one or two actor/actresses, it was all of them.
Camela: Tell me more about the story having "zero structure." Can you give an example of a random scene and why it didn't work?
Lance: Towards the end of the movie, a new character is shown going to a park, and being followed by a random creepy dude. She strips to a bikini and starts tanning, and then falls asleep. (As a side note on the low budget theme of the movie, it was cloudy the day they shot. This cracked me up). Anyway, the creepy dude then takes her phone and takes several close up pictures of her while she is sleeping, then spends several more minutes still standing there looking at the pictures he took.
She wakes up only to be stabbed by someone else, and random creepy dude has no other part in the film.
Camela: We talked about the terrible acting and the random scenes. You mentioned it was low budget. Can you give some examples of areas they might have improved despite the low budget?
Lance: They could have tried. I know it sounds mean, but they didn't do basic things they teach you if you're writing a paper in elementary school, or used basic common sense. What I mean by that is that they should have hired an editor to look through the story and notice scenes that didn't matter or were not needed. There is a reason that even the best authors have someone else look through their work.
Also, I mentioned the scene where they were someone was tanning when it wasn't sunny, but an even worse scene happened at the fair. They alternated back and forth between using shots they had filmed during the day and night, which made it very confusing to determine how much time had gone by. It was supposed to be just a few minutes, but if you went by how often they switched from day to night, it was several days.
Also, early in the movie, "Aly" was seriously injured from a bite with a shark. However, the special effects crew just threw a tiny amount of blood on her leg and called it good. It looked more like she had walked to close to a rose bush in shorts than was bitten by a shark.
Camela: It's funny to see you mention being mean. Everyone who knows us knows that you're WAY nicer than I am. On that note, I do feel a little bad sometimes when we live tweet and end up hating the movie. Sometimes actors, directors, and writers tweet back, and it makes me cringe a little.
How did you not give up? You consistently see things through that I just... At a certain point it seems like a waste of life. How do you do it?
Lance: Maybe that's why they kept throwing so many random scenes in, but I just wanted to see where the disaster was going to end up. Would they make a story that would go somewhere? It actually almost did. Would they find even more terrible actors? Would they bring back the actor of the guy who died back as someone else yet again? So many (well, three) questions were left unanswered!
Even after it ended, they had a scene that went way past the credits. I had to fast forward to see if they were going to throw in a twist. It should have been a twenty second scene, but it went for five to ten minutes. This part was so painful that it did require the fast forward feature to get through it.
Camela: I'm starting to wonder why we do this live tweeting thing... On to happier things. Do you have a favorite horror movie (counting highly rated movies we watched on purpose)? Have you found a horror movie you like doing this live tweet thing?
Lance: The Man Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon was excellent, and cracked me up the way it parodies the entire genre, but Tucker and Dale vs Evil ranks above that as my favorite. It's almost more of a comedy. While growing up, Nightmare on Elm Street was the best and scariest at the time.
I think my favorite movie to live tweet was Zombeavers. It was ridiculous, but fun.
Camela: Ugh. Zombeavers. Well, thanks for stopping by! Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Lance: I think that covers it. Thank you very much for having me as a guest on your excellent blog. :)
Camela: Aw. As my husband you kind of have to say that, but I'll take it!
by Camela Thompson
Today I met with J.H. Coates for his vlog/podcast (check out his channel on Youtube), and our conversation had my brain whirring long after we disconnected our video chat. In reading the synopsis for my book, he noticed my main character in All the Pretty Bones challenged the traditional role of female victim from the start. Olivia decides to hunt her stalker. He wondered if that was difficult for me because it flies in the face of some deeply ingrained cultural norms.
What an excellent question!
All the Pretty Bones was Olivia's first step into an evolution that (Spoiler) later leads her into a life as an apex predator. I desperately wanted to challenge the typical set up of normal, plain, boring girl meets wonderful vampire who sees something special in her despite her overwhelming normalness. Trust me, I've enjoyed those books, but I wanted something different. I wanted someone who had greatness locked inside of her, waiting for the right trigger into evolution. I wanted someone who had strength despite physical instability.
For those of you who haven't read the book, Olivia faces ten years of persistent trauma by her stalker only to be diagnosed with terminal cancer. With nothing to lose, she decides to hunt her hunter. My primary challenge centered around her illness. There are dramatic physical limitations that accompany her condition, which presented giant issues that stood in the way. I couldn't Rocky my way through the book. She couldn't train herself into peak physical condition and chase down her tormentor. How can she fight when she can barely function? How can she run away and avoid being cornered? Weakness, fatigue, and debilitating headaches are just the tip of the ice burg as many of us have unfortunately seen.
Asking for help is hard, but it's not a sign of weakness. Olivia does ask for help, and she asks it of a man. The majority of reviewers appreciate how its navigated, but not all. It was a very difficult balancing act. I didn't want her to depend on someone else, but I needed to approach the scenario realistically (I laughed at myself a little just then because VAMPIRES....but even fiction has to have some semblance of logic). In the end, she's forced to face her nature--on her own--before she's ever given the opportunity to tap into her power.
It was difficult to challenge the traditional definition of victimized women, but it wasn't at all for the reason I thought.
We are seeing more examples of strong female warriors in television, and this is a good thing. However, there is still a very long way to go. My friend and I decided to watch Tarzan together despite our reservations over the inevitable questionable messaging (she wrote a wonderful blog post on it here). While Jane showed intelligence, fortitude, and bravery, she was still the damsel in distress, relying on her husband to rescue not only her but all of Africa (big eye roll). In a bizarre twist, her spirit revved her captor's engines. Even her fortitude was sexualized.
Right about now my family would be rolling their eyes, but look at how women warriors are depicted in video games, comics, television shows, and movies. One day I will sit down a costume designer and explain to them why it isn't practical to run around in three inch heels with long hair flowing free and only leather panties and bra when fighting bad guys. If you doubt me, here's what a search for "woman warrior" turned up in PIxabay:
The search for "man warrior:"
Can we agree the clothing ratio is a little higher on the second search?
To be fair, there are some wonderful exceptions to the typical depiction of the woman warrior. Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, Jessica Jones, Crimson Peak, Pan's Labyrinth, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are just a few that come to mind. There are male writers who write women well such as Joe Hill, John Green, Stephen King, and George R.R. Martin. Their secret? Writing women as three-dimensional characters who have motivations, needs, and an arc.
As an author, I view it as my responsibility to continue to challenge myself to overcome social tropes in my own writing. I haven't always succeeded, but I'm aware, and I'll keep trying. I encourage others to do the same.
Have you seen good examples of women warriors in mainstream media? Please share examples. I'm always looking for my next book, television show, and movie.
by Camela Thompson
I have a tendency to lurk in the Bookbub Paranormal Suspense section. It's a great way to read a high volume at low cost, allowing me to find authors to collaborate with on promotions without breaking my bank account. Most of the time I enjoy the books I find. Once in a while I find a book I can't finish or that simply wasn't ready for prime time. I don't review books I don't like (there is enough negativity in the world and I experience guilt because I know the work that goes into a novel), but I might whine a little bit on Facebook without naming names or titles. In one case, an author dedicated chapters to her heroine's bizarre and completely irrelevant profession. My friend's reactions surprised me. One in particular:
"You mean the books you get for free aren't of stellar quality? I'm shocked!"
I don't have a problem with free books, but that may be because I've experienced the pressure to do freebies. Free books are a way to increase readership with the hopes they'll enjoy the series and move to the next book. The strategy has solid logic behind it, but it doesn't take into account the reaction I run into. People are naturally suspicious of a deal that's too good to be true and the perceived quality plummets. A quick Google search turned up a few research studies that confirmed what I've witnessed while talking to friends.
Then there's the lack of investment in the book. I have friends who download dozens of free books but never get to them because they're busy reading the books they paid for on recommendation. If money isn't spent on a book and it's downloaded on impulse, it's easier to forget about.
Finally there is the issue of quality. While I've read quite a few free books that were great, there were the books that started this conversation. It only takes a few bad apples to confirm a suspicion in overall quality. A book must be professionally edited and formatted.
I've done a freebie for my first book, and despite the hundreds of books given away, I didn't see a lot of lift in reviews or sales. Participating in Bookbub in a heavily discounted sale, on the other hand, went very well. I moved a much higher volume and there were more subsequent sales and reviews. Then again, it was Bookbub. My last sale didn't move nearly the volume of the freebie. It's difficult to make a comparison, but I'm leaning towards sticking with heavy discounts over listing books at zero cost.
What do you think about free books as a reader or a writer?
by Camela Thompson
The day is finally here! The third installment of The Hunted has launched. When Lucian finds a video of a comrade’s gruesome death, he fears a mysterious assassin is targeting the Nobil Onorabil. With Olivia’s aid, he hopes to prevent his own death and the Dracal from resurrecting....
I have a contest linked at the bottom, but first let me show off my new cover and give you an excerpt.
Chapter 17 Excerpt - Josette's Flashback
Josette ignored the dirt staining her bare feet and the rips in her skirt. She had finally found happiness and did not want the signs of a desperate situation to kill her mood. On a night that had started with a pregnant silence, everything changed. By chance or driven by some instinct, she had moved inland. Even there, the explosion shook the ground.
Josette had run toward the screams. The smoke made it easy to move in the shadows. The metallic stink of blood egged her on. Lumber fell across soldiers and civilians alike. She drained them until she was blood drunk and tripping over her own feet.
Death was in the air, and joy floated in her chest. She had her fill and then some. Why not? The men were dying with or without her. She moved among their broken bodies like an angel of mercy, releasing them from their pain. Some of them were so burned, their blood was half cooked. She pushed past her aversion and brought them release. Some had even thanked her.
The fire leapt high while she danced around it, laughing at the way her shadow contracted and expanded. The contents of her stomach sloshed like the wine in the bottle she carried. If the humans gawking from the shadows wondered at her boisterous behavior or the stains on her chin, the alcohol could explain away much. Their assumptions were partly correct. She was most certainly drunk, but the wine hadn't done it.
Only a few soldiers wandered into the glow, gaping at her merriment. Toulon had been taken, and the buildings still burned. Ships had fled the harbor with their brothers at arms, but they had been left behind. Some muttered angrily. Others only stared.
The brine in the heavy, cool air was overshadowed by the scent of spent gunpowder. Black smoke pushed through the buildings. The sunrise would burn a blood red, and Josette wondered if the haze would be thick enough to protect her from the light. She stood still considering the possibility when a woman stepped into the glow of the fire.
The woman’s eyes narrowed and she raised a finger. “Foul creature.”
“Excuse me?” Josette flounced her curls.
Josette threw her head back and laughed. “You’re mad!”
“You insult us with your celebrations.” A man stepped from the shadows in a torn uniform. Blood stained the meatiest part of his thigh. He had been wounded.
“I celebrate life. As should you!” Josette tipped back the wine bottle and took a drink. “You survived. Is that not worth celebrating?”
The woman stalked closer. “I know what you are.” Her clothes were unremarkable, but something sharp in her gaze gave Josette pause. This was no madwoman.
“If anyone is a witch, it is you.” Josette stared at the men. One squirmed. Another averted his gaze. She was on to something.
“I know what you are. I know what you’ve been doing.” The woman’s hand shot up, her grip too strong, and tipped Josette’s head from side to side. Her thumb swiped the side of her mouth and she drew back, smelling the dark liquid. “Gunpowder and blood.”
“You mad cow. It’s wine.” She squinted at the smoke pushing skyward. “Gunpowder and wine.”
“You’re a revenant.”
“And you’re an old, mad witch.”
Two of the men crossed themselves. One disappeared. Others fidgeted uncomfortably. The man who worried Josette the most was the lone soldier who leaned against a stack of crates and narrowed his eyes, settling in to watch. She knew the type. A know-it-all who would wait to chime in when the most influence could be pressed upon the others. Intelligence carried a subtle but potent danger.
“Revenant. Succubus. Blood sucker. Demon.” The woman’s face burned orange in the firelight, bringing contrast to the grooves in her skin. “You are a stranger, frolicking on the night of our disaster. You rub our noses in our loss. You feed on pain.”
Josette shuddered. “I’m newer to this town than you are, but I’ve been begging and ignored for weeks. Stranded.” She pushed away the fear, remembering who she was. If she wanted, she could rip them all to pieces. She moved close to the woman and spoke in a soft but urgent tone. “You, on the other hand, are not new here. People have suspected what you are for many years. If you push me, I will remind them.”
The woman narrowed her eyes and lowered her own voice. “You underestimate me.”
“Perhaps.” The scent of blood grew stronger when the wind blew past the soldier leaning against the crates, but it carried a note of something else. Something sharp. “Continue and we shall both learn where you stand.”
Josette knew she had said something wrong when a slow smile spread across the woman’s lips. The smile vanished. She spun and raised her arms while she shouted. “She’s a revenant. Throw her into the fire.”
Absurd. “Well, if I’m a revenant, she’s a witch. Burn her!”
A man stepped away from the crowd, pointing his finger at them. “Burn them both!”
To her dismay, the group of men nodded and made noises of assent. Josette spun on the witch. “See what you’ve done? Fool.”
The woman paled and yelled to the crowd, “I’ll put curses on your families.”
Josette pointed and backed away. “She is obviously the problem.”
A child no older than twelve burst from the shadows and yelled, “Burn them!”
The witch backed up as well, a pained expression on her pale face. Josette wanted to throttle her. “So, witch. Now would be a good time to do something powerful.”
“I don’t know. Burn them? Make a dragon out of the fire? Turn them all into toads?”
The creepy smile reappeared. “How about I make you do the fighting for me?”
“What?” Josette’s feet left the ground. She screamed and kicked her legs as she turned in the air. She was certain the old bitch was going to throw her into the fire. Instead, she flew at the group of men. The force of the impact sent them all sprawling. After untangling herself from a sea of limbs, she stood. The unnatural sight before her sent a shudder down her spine.
The witch blew air from her mouth, only it was not clear. Black smoke issued from her lungs. While the smoke was expelled, the woman aged. Grooves etched in her skin and the color leeched from her hair. The smoke wound around three adults before finding its target. The young boy.
His head fell back and his jaw sprang open as though a hinge had been flipped in the center of his skull. The black smoke sped through his mouth. When the smoke disappeared, the boy turned to survey the crowd with solid, black eyes. Gone were the whites and anything human.
A guttural roar, too low for his small throat to issue, rung Josette’s ears. With limbs and fingers stunted by malnourishment, it seemed unlikely he could inflict much harm. What he lacked in size, he made up for in strength. He launched onto the nearest man, latching to his torso like a monkey. With his legs wrapped around the man’s chest, the boy jabbed both thumbs forward into the adult’s eyes. Unhinged laughter of different pitches issued forth from his mouth, as though many beings expressed their mirth.
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Freelance writer and Dark urban fantasy author featuring vampires with bite.