Taylor Brooke on Inspiration and her latest novel Fortitude Smashed. (guest post, excerpt and giveaway)

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Fortitude Smashed by Taylor Brooke
Interlude Press
Published September 21st 2017

 

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Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have Taylor Brooke here today talking about the inspiration behind Fortitude Smashed.  Welcome, Taylor.

Somewhere Else – The Story Behind The Hollow by Taylor Brooke

Fortitude Smashed is full of Laguna Beach staples – Main Beach, The Whitehouse, The Saloon, The Koffee Klatch. These native hot spots are routinely visited by locals and tourists alike, supplying cocktails, appetizers and daily doses of caffeine. However, there is one place that lives in the pages of Fortitude Smashed that most people will probably give my imagination all the credit for. I mean, how could a giant treehouse be hidden in Laguna Canyon?

Surprise. The Hollow is real.

A friend of mine found it after deviating from an established hiking trail and bush-whacking his way through the dense Laguna Wilderness Park over spring break. I didn’t believe him at first, or I guess I didn’t know what to believe. I asked myself how a treehouse that big, how something that cool, could’ve hidden from us all this time. The answer presented itself when he tried to show me where it was: Make it almost impossible to get to.

The Hollow was a place that demanded to be stumbled upon, and stumble we did. There really was a fence with a hole to crawl through, though, and there really was a game trail that led through a break in the tree line. When we finally got to it, my friend said, “I told you so,” and I said, “Who else knows about this?”

The tire swing dangled by a frayed braided rope that would obviously snap if someone tried to play on it, and the rusted car was littered with cigarette butts, beer bottles and Del Taco salsa packets. The Hollow was magnificent, though. Despite the questionable rigging and the litter left behind by partiers, the cluster of treehouses tucked away in the forest seemed like a promise fulfilled. To me, it proved that magic was real. It was a secret place that we could claim, and claim it we did. We fixed the tire swing, carved our names into the biggest tree and spent many nights howling at the moon, doing things we weren’t supposed to, in a place that wasn’t supposed to exist.

We didn’t know if anyone else knew about it. But whoever did happen to know was never there at the same time we were. We found clues – cigarette packs that weren’t ours, liquor bottles we hadn’t left, new carvings in the tree with names we didn’t recognize. Being a teenager was like running with a pack of wolves. I had my pack, others had theirs, and we shared one magical, strange hideout that blurred the lines between reality and somewhere else.

I live in Central Oregon now, and I have to admit, I miss somewhere else. I wonder if it’s still there.

Here is a deleted scene from Fortitude Smashed. Aiden, Shannon, Daisy and Chelsea take a trip to The Hollow the morning of Aiden’s twenty-third birthday:

The Hollow was a place for secrets.

There were flourishing lakes of wide awake flowers, luminous yellows and tangy oranges, lavender and periwinkle, and heartbeat reds. The trees, full and overpowering, reached every direction with long, leafy arms. Copper leaves danced with springy ferns, and cat tails swayed alongside bristled cacti. Secret upon secret upon secret transformed with the seasons. The muted leaves that crunched beneath their feet in winter had been replaced by lively moss and long grass. The rusted car, crowded with weather-worn party favors, was home to vines climbing the hood, looped through the glassless windshield.

“It’s gorgeous.” Chelsea sighed. She stared up at the tree houses, the rope ladder, the deck, the tire swing, and shook her head. “Is it safe?”

“Yeah, it’s safe,” Shannon said, sipping on a large 7-Eleven soda.

Daisy picked through a bag of mixed nuts and held it out to Chelsea.

Chelsea tossed a cashew in her mouth. “Look at that,” she whispered, taking long strides toward the carved-up tree, branded with memories. Daisy trailed after her.

Shannon watched Aiden circle a bushel of honeysuckles. His blue vans looked strange, such a startling replacement to his combat boots. But that might’ve been the only startling thing about him now. The rest of him, black tank and dark washed jeans, sharp edges and clever eyes, were pleasant familiarities.

Aiden sat in a patch of light that beamed between trees, plucking honeysuckles and sucking on their stems. Shannon took slow steps, drawing out the image in front of him. Aiden’s camera around his neck, his gaze flicking from the flower to Shannon, and his smile, warm and comfortable, parting as he said, “What’re you looking at, Detective?”

 

FORTITUDE SMASHED ~ SUMMARY 

After scientists stumbled across an anomalous human hormone present during moments of emotional intimacy, further research created the ability to harness the direction of living energy and pinpoint when two lines will merge. Personalized chips are now implanted beneath the thumbnails of every infant, where glowing numbers count down to the moment they will meet their soul mate. Fate is now a calculation.

But loving someone isn’t.

When Shannon Wurther, the youngest detective in Southern California, finds himself face-to-face with Aiden Maar, the reckless art thief Shannon’s precinct has been chasing for months, they are both stunned. Their Camellia Clocks have timed out, and the men are left with a choice—love one another or defy fate.

FORTITUDE SMASHED ~ EXCERPT

Shannon’s first instinct was to call for backup. It’s what he should’ve done.

Instead, he slid his hand around the door and pulled it open; his other hand rested on his holstered gun.

The scent of oil paint and clay wafted strong in the stillness. The room was too open, a wide space with nowhere to hide. Shannon took a step, another, and glanced at the desk, where abstract patterns swirled on the screen of a hibernating computer next to a dimmed, decorative lamp.

Movement. Footsteps, heel to toe, slow and quiet, behind him.

Shannon swung around. Someone—the thief—gasped. He grabbed the fabric of a shirt and shoved whoever was wearing it against the wall.

“You’re under arrest,” he growled. The body, a man, squirmed and cursed. The one time he didn’t play it safe and call for backup was the time he might need it. Shannon forced the thief’s hands against the wall. “Spread your fingers.”

The thief complied. “Of fucking course.” Shannon heard him rolling his eyes.

“Breaking and entering is a crime, you understand that? So is taking things that aren’t yours.”

“I didn’t take anything. I didn’t get the chance to.” Whoever he was, he was unapologetically bored with the situation. Shannon spotted a bold tattoo on his side where his shirt was bunched up from their abrupt collision. The man sighed. “Can I have my hands back now?”

“No, you can’t, because—”

Shannon’s entire being screeched to a stop. His spine straightened; his knees locked. He couldn’t breathe. Beneath his glove, warmth spread from his right thumb into his wrist. The Camellia Clock vibrated, gentle but convincing, a purr that alerted him to the 00:00 that now read in glowing numbers under his thumbnail. Saliva pooled in his mouth. Heat coursed through him. Blood rushed—high speed traffic in his veins. His heartbeat, steady and then not, pounded in his ears.

He stared at the hand spread out on the wall. On the thief’s right thumbnail, the same numbers glowed 00:00. Shannon squeezed the man’s wrist a little tighter.

A shaky breath quivered from the chest in front of him. Apparently, Shannon wasn’t the only one surprised.

He swallowed, and his grip tightened again before he let go and ripped his hands away. Eyeing Shannon carefully, the burglar spun. He had a straight nose and a sharp jaw; he was all angles and edges and pale skin. His skittishness reminded Shannon of a deer—maybe not a deer. The stranger’s lips twitched into a straight-toothed grin under hooded dark eyes. Yeah, maybe not a deer. Maybe a wolf.

A breathless chuckle trickled past a clever smile. The thief gave a slow shake of his head, disbelief and curiosity stitching a genuine expression across his face that Shannon hated. “Aiden Maar,” he said, too confidently to be taken lightly.

Shannon’s jaw was set so tight it ached to open his mouth. “Detective Wurther.”

“Pleasure’s all mine, Detective.” The rasp in his voice made Shannon’s stomach jump.

Before Shannon could yell, or grab, or get another word in, the thief—Aiden—was gone, darting past him and out the door. His head swam. Still reeling, he couldn’t have caught Aiden if his life depended on it. But he was going to have to, because, according to the Camellia Clock, Aiden Maar was his future.

According to Shannon Wurther, the Camellia Clock was wrong.

* * *

Fortitude Smashed will be published by Interlude Press on September 21, 2017. Connect with author Taylor Brooke at taylorbrookewrites.org; on Twitter @taysalion; and on Facebook at facebook.com/taylorbrookewrites.

About the Author

After fleshing out a multitude of fantastical creatures as a special effects makeup professional, Taylor turned her imagination back to her true love—books. When she’s not nestled in a blanket typing away on her laptop, she can be found haunting the local bookstore with a cup of tea, planning her next adventure, and fawning over baby animals.

* * *

Fortitude Smashed will be published by Interlude Press on September 21, 2017. Connect with author Taylor Brooke at taylorbrookewrites.org; on Twitter @taysalion; and on Facebook at facebook.com/taylorbrookewrites.

Giveaway

Book Tour Rafflecopter Giveaway:
Grand Prize $25 IP Gift Card + Multi-format eBook of Fortitude Smashed// Five winners receive the multi-format eBook

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A Free Dreamer Review: Fortitude Smashed by Taylor Brooke

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

After scientists stumbled across an anomalous human hormone present during moments of emotional intimacy, further research created the ability to harness the direction of living energy and pinpoint when two lines will merge. Personalized chips are now implanted beneath the thumbnails of every infant, where glowing numbers count down to the moment they will meet their soul mate. Fate is now a calculation.

But loving someone isn’t.

When Shannon Wurther, the youngest detective in Southern California, finds himself face-to-face with Aiden Maar, the reckless art thief Shannon’s precinct has been chasing for months, they are both stunned. Their Camellia Clocks have timed out, and the men are left with a choice—love one another or defy fate.

The idea of a sort of inbuilt clock counting down to Day X isn’t exactly a new idea. Usually, Day X marks the person’s death. In “Fortitude Smashed” the Camellia Clock counts down to the second when you meet the love of your life, your soulmate. I think that was an interesting take on things.

With the whole Camellia Clock and personalized chip set-up, I’d expected a Science Fiction story. What I got, however, was a contemporary story set in  present-day California.  I must admit, I was a bit disappointed by that. It almost seemed a little bit lazy to me, as if the author didn’t want to bother with coming up with a whole new world. Instead, she opted to set it in the present day and just added the Camellia Clocks. Consequently, there was very little worldbuilding involved. I would’ve liked to know how the whole Clock thing actually works and if there is a way to opt out of having that chip implanted.

Considering Shannon is a cop and Aiden is a thief, I’d expected lots of tension there. So I figured, even if there’s no SciFi plot there, at least there’s still gonna be lots of conflict. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t. Aiden stops his thievery pretty soon and the tension between the two is the usual romance-tension. I will say that I’m normally not a reader of contemporary romances, because I always feel like I need a little more than “just” a love story. And that’s just what “Fortitude Smashed” is: Just a contemporary love story.

I liked that both Aiden and Shannon had their issues. Especially Aiden struggled with mental illness and Shannon was wonderfully supportive. Neither of them was exactly perfect but they still worked together really well.

There were plenty of sex scenes and they were really hot, without being overly explicit. Taylor Brooke definitely has a way with words. All her descriptions are wonderful, no matter if she was writing about the landscape or body parts. She definitely also has a sense of humour and I found myself laughing out loud a lot.

Overall, “Fortitude Smashed” was a bit of a disappointment to me. I’d expected SciFi but got contempary. I’d expected a crime plot but got a “normal” love story. I guess I mostly just had the wrong expectations. As I’ve said before, I’m not a huge fan of contemporary romance novels and I probably wouldn’t have picked this up, if I’d known it wasn’t Science Fiction.

Still, this book did have its moments and I’m sure lovers of contemporary romance witha bit of a twist can and will enjoy this book. It just wasn’t for me.

Cover: I really like the cover. It looks very summery and is a nice change from the usual covers of M/M romance. And it matches the feel the story gave me.

Sales Links:

Amazon

Interlude Press

Barnes & Noble

Book Depository 

Book details:

ebook, 346 pages

Expected publication: September 21st 2017 by Interlude Press

An Alisa Review : Beast of a Time (Hellhound Bound #1) by Misha Paige

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Rating:  4.5 stars out of 5

 

Everyone’s heard stories or songs about being a beast of burden. Well, it’s quite a burden to be a beast, too.

 

Kane isn’t like most people: he’s not human, for one thing. What he is, is exceptional.

 

An event from his past led him to stay on Earth, a planet of people that were often scared and hostile to his kind. Even so, Kane ignored all the hateful things said to him and focused instead on the job he chose to do.

 

That job is everything to him, and it’s his reason for living. When one man shows up—Al, a new hire who keeps smiling at Kane when he should be looking at him with fear and distaste—Kane is faced with a challenge he never expected. He didn’t think anyone would ever truly want him, and to discover that a very sexy, handsome man does indeed want him, shakes Kane to his core.

 

Despite Kane’s best attempt’s at keeping distance between them, he finds himself partnered with Al. Kane knows he needs to push Al away, and he tries. Sort of.

 

Al isn’t scared off like Kane’s former partners, and if he and Kane can survive the fight that’s coming for them, then maybe they’ll have a chance to discover what it means to love.

 

This was a great story and I loved it.  Kane has been helping humans for years and no matter how much he proves himself they continue to be mean or not give him any respect.  All Al want to do is be a good partner to Kane and pay him back for when he was a child.

 

Even though this story is told through Kane’s eye it is easy to see Al’s determination to be a good partner and to his indifference to Kane’s moods.  When Kane accepts Al he knows it goes far deeper than even he thinks Al could know but it seems that Al has the same commitment to him even if he isn’t a hound.  I enjoyed the mystery in this story and how Kane put himself on the line to protect those around him even when they are being jerks and trying to keep him from doing his job.  I am really looking forward to reading more in this series.

 

The cover art by Beany Sparks is great and eye catching.

 

Sales Links: Amazon | B&N  

 

Book Details:

ebook, 82 pages

Published: August 10, 2017 by Rainbow Ninja Press

Edition Language: English

Series: Hellhound Bound #1

On Tour: E.M. Hamill on Writing, and ‘Dali’, (author interview, excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Dali

Author: E.M. Hamill

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 8/7/17

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 85200

Genre: science fiction, space travel, third gender, interspecies sex, kidnapping, genderfluid, space opera

Add to Goodreads

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Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to host E.M. Hamill here today. Thank you for taking time to sit in our author interview chair. The author also brought an excerpt and giveaway.  Don’t forget to check both out after the interview!

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~ Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words E.M Hamill Interview ~

 

  • Do you write on a typewriter, computer, dictate or longhand?

Computer. It keeps up between my brain and my fingers better than pen. I used to do data entry and I type really fast.

  • How long on average does it take you to write a book?

Six months for the first draft of a full length novel, usually. You can’t rush editing, though. I average about a year before it’s ready to try and publish.

  • Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it?

Oh, gods, yes…just keep plugging away, is all I can do. Even a few words a day is better than none. Eventually it cracks. I may start an entirely new section just to get flowing again. Worst case scenario, walk away from it for a week or so and then come back.

  • What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?

Writing is such a subjective thing. There are books I disliked, which were beautifully written and are someone else’s absolute favorite books. A review is simply the manifestation of personal taste. When someone’s taste coincides with mine and they love the story I’ve told, it’s a warm and wonderful thing. A bad review can really crush my ego, but if it’s constructive, I try to take those things into account.

  • What is your favorite motivational phrase?

Be the change you want to see in the world.

  • What is your favorite quote?

“We are the music makers,

And we are the dreamers of dreams,

Wandering by lone sea-breakers,

And sitting by desolate streams;—

World-losers and world-forsakers,

On whom the pale moon gleams:

Yet we are the movers and shakers

Of the world for ever, it seems. – Arthur O’Shaughnessy”

Synopsis

Dalí Tamareia has everything—a young family and a promising career as an Ambassador in the Sol Fed Diplomatic Corps. Dalí’s path as a peacemaker seems clear, but when their loved ones are killed in a terrorist attack, grief sends the genderfluid changeling into a spiral of self-destruction.

Fragile Sol Fed balances on the brink of war with a plundering alien race. Their skills with galactic relations are desperately needed to broker a protective alliance, but in mourning, Dalí no longer cares, seeking oblivion at the bottom of a bottle, in the arms of a faceless lover, or at the end of a knife.

The New Puritan Movement is rising to power within the government, preaching strict genetic counseling and galactic isolation to ensure survival of the endangered human race. Third gender citizens like Dalí don’t fit the mold of this perfect plan, and the NPM will stop at nothing to make their vision become reality. When Dalí stumbles into a plot threatening changelings like them, a shadow organization called the Penumbra recruits them for a rescue mission full of danger, sex, and intrigue, giving Dalí purpose again.

Risky liaisons with a sexy, charismatic pirate lord could be Dalí’s undoing—and the only way to prevent another deadly act of domestic terrorism.

Excerpt

Dalí
E.M. Hamill © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

Human beings are assholes. I should know. I’d become one in the last few months.

You’d think the near extinction of our entire species after the pandemics and global poisoning our last world war inflicted might let us all pull together. Even with galactic war breathing down our necks, when almost everyone realized the human race constituted less of a threat to each other than some of the other things out there, we continued to be dicks.

Those attitudes started problems—in particular, Europan attitudes, of the New Puritan variety. I no longer possessed the self-control or sufficient fucks to avoid adding fuel to their fire.

His voice floated over the excited din of the crowd and the pregame show on the holographic screens above the bar.

“Abomination.”

I sighed and turned my head. The Team Europa-jacketed hulk next to me exuded a cloud of loathing against my empathic nets. I raised one eyebrow at him.

“Really? You can’t come up with anything more original after fifteen minutes of shit-talking?” The conversation behind me started as a diatribe against the rally for third-gender rights, held outside the arena and glimpsed on the main holo screen. I didn’t pay attention to either until the comments got louder and were meant for my ears.

“Faggot.”

“How very twentieth century of you.” I downed another of the six shots the robotic bartender dispensed in front of me. I wasn’t looking for trouble, only anesthetic. Outside, a cluster of media bots interviewing star athletes had driven me into the bar to hide. The presence of mechanized paparazzi still unsettled me. I didn’t want them in my face.

The annual Sol Series tournament games between Mars and Europa bordered on legendary for their savagery. No one took rugby as seriously as a gritty Martian colonist or a repressed New Puritan, and the bar overflowed with both, waiting for the station’s arena to open. Spectators gathered around us in the bar, drawn by the promise of a fight, glittering eyes fixed on us. My empathic senses drowned in their excitement and fear, even with the numbing effects of synthetic alcohol.

He invaded my personal space and leaned closer, face centimeters from mine. His breath carried a trace of mint and steroid vapors. Great. A huffer, his molecules all hyped-up on testosterone. He stood over a head taller than me, about twenty-five kilos heavier. His fists would do damage. His minions stood at either side, more meat than smarts. Neither spoke. Their mouths hung open while he harassed me, and I expected shuttle flies to crawl out at any time.

“You’re nothing but an A-sex freak.”

“Better. Still lacks originality.” I threw back the last shot. “How about androgynous freak? Hermaphrodite? No, those words are probably too big for you.”

The titter of laughter from the crowd only pissed him off. “Go fuck yourself.”

“Technically, I can’t. But I can fuck anybody else in this room. Can you?”

Shocked laughter rose from the circle of spectators. The guy clenched his fists and flexed his muscles. I continued, “Do I scare you?” I swiveled on the stool to face him and changed posture, crossing my legs in demure modesty. My voice rose into a husky, suggestive alto as I leaned one elbow on the bar. “Or do you want to find out what’s under my kilt?”

I hit a nerve. His eyes went blank, black, and his rage flooded over my senses. The crowd gasped and took a step back. Minion One caught his rising fist and spoke. “Jon, don’t you know who…”

Jon’s lip curled. “It’s an atrocity. It should have been killed at birth.”

“I prefer the term changeling.” I stood, and the circle around us got wider. The potent mix of hormones surged through my bloodstream as they altered my chemical makeup and bulked strategic upper body muscles. I let a cold smile form on my lips and dropped into a Zereid martial arts stance. Jon took half a step back as I became more definitively male in ways he recognized. “Oh, go ahead and hit me, by all means. A good fight is almost as good as sex.”

“Break it up.”

The crowd parted into nervous brackets with security’s arrival. Caniberi lumbered into the midst of the circle with the boneless roll space-born started to get after generations in orbit. He cast a sour eye in my direction.

“Dalí, why is it always you?”

“Just lucky, I guess.”

The constable growled at me. He turned to Jon. “You can’t play in the tournament if I throw you in the brig for violence. Move out.”

Jon stared at me a minute longer. The threat of not getting to beat the hell out of some hedonistic Martians made him reconsider. He and the minions moved away, but he threw one more sentence in my face like a javelin.

“You’ll be alone, changeling.”

The truth in his words knifed through me all the way to my gut and cut me deeper than any microsteel blade. “I’ll be waiting.”

Caniberi squinted at me as the crowd began to disperse. “Dalí, do I need to talk with the Captain?”

“No, sir. Leave my father out of this.” He’d dealt with enough from me already. My mother was now away on the diplomatic mission I’d been suspiciously—but rightly—deemed unfit to assume. Without Mom there to buffer the uncomfortable presence of my grief between us, Dad was lost.

“One of these days you’re going to push the wrong buttons and end up hurt, or worse. Some things the medical officer can’t fix.” His gaze softened. “Drinking and getting the shit beaten out of you won’t bring them back.”

“I’m well aware of that, sir.” My voice came out sharper than I intended. One of the best officers on the station, Caniberi had known me a little over a decade, and he never hesitated to kick my ass if I deserved it, no matter what gender I chose at the moment. This time, he just stared at me with an odd expression. His pity broke in tepid surges against my senses.

“Get out of here. I don’t want to arrest you again.”

I turned and left the bar. With the bots still hovering outside, I ducked my head to foil their facial recognition apps and fought my way upstream from the arena.

The shakes hit me in the aftermath of the hormone flood. The synthetic alcohol in my system warred with my normalizing chem levels and sour nausea threatened. I grabbed one of the rails lining the corridor and took several shuddering breaths as my muscles cramped, rearranged, and settled back into the lean, sexless frame where I am most at home.

The crowd jostled around me and headed toward the game. My empathic nets buzzed dully with their anticipation and excitement, but the sense of being watched pushed at the back of my mind. A familiar presence tripped a memory and an emotion.

The watcher knew me.

I turned my head. The Zereid made his way toward me, head and shoulders above everyone else, long, muscular limbs wading with passive grace through a river of human bodies as the crowd shifted for him. An eddy of cautious glances swirled and vanished downstream.

Oily quicksilver eyes without lids narrowed, their shape signifying the equivalent of a smile. His resonant voice buzzed in my ears. “He is the size of a cargo bot, you know. Even the arts we learned can’t change gravity. He might kill you.”

“I won’t let it go that far.” I shrugged. I actually hoped I’d bitten off more than I could swallow this time.

But the presence of my childhood friend undid me. A lump rose in my throat, pressure in my head, and I closed the distance between us. He gathered me in against cool flesh. I was locked in arms capable of crushing a human like a piece of foil but which held me with careful tenderness. Against his enormous chest, I felt like a small child, even though in developmental terms, Gor and I are the same age. His concern brushed my mind with affectionate familiarity.

“I see you, Dalí,” he murmured. “I mourn with you.”

I breathed in the scent of Zereid. Gor smelled of his homeworld—rain and earth and copper clung to his leathery turquoise skin and short, downy fur even in absentia. Homesickness washed over me.

I’d lived on Zereid most of my life. My mother, Marina Urquhart, served as ambassador for fifteen years. Dad’s career required he return to Sol Fed, and rather than separate our family, Mom resigned her appointment. My differences were clear, even to my third-gender mother, but there, we were aliens. I wondered what it would be like to have more friends who blinked.

When we got back to our own kind, I found out I was still an alien.

Gor pulled away. In the tarnished silver of his eyes, like antique mirrors, my unkempt reflection stared back at me. His dismay at my mental and physical state, impossible to miss, sighed against my mind.

“How did you hear?” I said.

“Your mother. “

“Of course.”

His head cocked. “I tried to come sooner, but the travel permissions into the colonies are daunting.”

“No, I understand.” I wanted to sit and talk with Gor. I eyed the bar, but couldn’t go back in there yet. “Come on. We can go to Dad’s quarters. He’ll be on the bridge.” My own cramped space wouldn’t accommodate Gor’s height or his bulk.

We squeezed into the private lift and rode up to the command deck. My thumbprint opened the door to the Captain’s suite, and Gor made a sound of wonder as he ducked through the port.

Three levels of transparent alloy shielding overlooked the U-curve of Rosetta Station. Shuttles buzzed in and out of bays like honeybees in the hydroponics domes, ferrying passengers to huge starliners docked on the outer limbs.

“An inspiring view.” Gor gazed out the window.

Ochre planet-shine from Jupiter’s face illuminated the room, the swirling storms in the gas giant’s atmosphere familiar to me now. I never found them beautiful, only an echo of the chaos in my head. I dropped into one of the chairs facing the viewport.

Gor eased himself into the seat opposite me. “You’re in crisis, Dalí.”

I couldn’t hide anything from him. Even if I wanted to, he was a telepath; his empathic senses much more attuned than my own modest abilities. Our friendship spanned far too many years, our trust well established. Lying to him would betray our oath of crechemates, a Zereid custom similar to old Earth tradition of blood brothers.

“Today would be the second anniversary of our wedding.” I stared at my hands. I still wore a ring on each of them, the ones Gresh and Rasida gave me.

“I remember. The love between you and your mates deserves celebration.”

Triad marriages with two members of the same sex and one of the opposite were common. The female population had not rebounded as fast as the male. But mine was the first triad marriage to include a changeling spouse under the new laws we helped to bring about. The legislation was both praised and vilified by hundreds of other citizens while we exchanged vows beneath the domes of the lunar capitol. My parents, Gresh’s mother, and Gor celebrated with us. Rasida’s mother refused to attend the wedding of her only daughter.

The three of us had been inseparable, invincible. Without them, I staggered, incomplete.

Our child would have been three months old now.

“Don’t say it.”

Gor’s eyes elongated in confusion. “What?”

“That they wouldn’t want me to be like this.”

“I did not come here to admonish you for grieving.”

I gave a short laugh. “What did you come here to scold me for?”

“For ceasing to live. Abandoning the larger destiny for which you trained.”

“Ambassador?” I dug a vape out of the pocket of my coat and thumbed the switch, inhaling illegal chemicals deep into my lungs. His gentle reproach against my empathic nets rebuked me without a word.

“You were sure of your calling as a peacemaker six months ago.” Zereid reverence toward conciliation is, ironically, unforgiving and unbending.

“I was certain of a lot of things then.” I exhaled a cloud of spicy mist. If any of the scent remained, I’d catch hell later for vaping in Dad’s quarters.

“There are always those who work against peace, even in their own hearts. As you are doing now.”

“I don’t know if I believe in peace anymore.”

“Because you do not possess it.”

“Stop feeding me platitudes, brother.”

He spread six-fingered hands wide. “What would you have me do? Tell me. Your pain is mine to share, beloved friend. Allow me to help you. Your rage is fearsome but undirected. You point it at yourself.”

“I was supposed to die, not them.” I cursed the terrorists who missed their target by eight minutes. When I decided not to address the media bots and chose instead to hold a private farewell with my family, I put myself ahead of schedule. I should have died with them. Even though the bastards failed to kill me, they destroyed me.

“Come home.” Gor waited for me to answer. I didn’t. He continued. “Madam Ambassador thinks Zereid would be a place of healing for you. You can study at the temple with me again, be teacher and student. This year’s crop of younglings is a challenge.” His vocal pipes fluted in laughter. “As we were.”

“That isn’t much of an incentive.” A grin tried to tug at the corners of my mouth, stiff and out of practice with the expression. “I’ll think about it.”

“Will you?” His doubt hovered between us.

The port slid open again and my father thundered in—Captain Paul Tamareia—“The Captain” to everyone on the station, even me at times. I stood at automatic attention, swaying a little. Gor rose too.

“What the hell were you thinking?” he demanded. “And turn that goddamned vape off.”

I complied. “A misunderstanding, sir.”

“Misunderstanding, my ass. Six shots of the synthetic piss that passes for whiskey says it wasn’t.” He turned to Gor and bowed. “Welcome aboard Rosetta Station, honored friend. Forgive me for not greeting you first.”

“Captain Tamareia.” Gor bowed back.

“How long will you be staying? I insist you use my quarters as your own. Stop by the constable’s office and he will register you for my door. I’m afraid most of the cabins are small, and we’re overcrowded with the tournament.”

“My thanks, sir. My travel clearance is good for the next two weeks, and then I must return.” Gor nodded at us. “I should collect my belongings now. I will go to your constable on the way back.”

“It’s good to see you, Gor.”

“You as well, Captain.” He put one enormous hand on my shoulder. “Dalí, please think about what I said.”

Gor let himself out. Dad and I both understood he made a graceful exit so we could shout at each other in peace. Zereids don’t carry a whole lot of baggage. They don’t wear clothes.

“Did you need to pick a fight with the number eight of the bloody Europan rugby team?” He tossed his personal data device on the table. “Do you even know who he is?”

“Other than a prick, no.”

“Jon Batterson. Does the name ring a bell at all?”

“Batterson.” I blinked through mental processes made sluggish by the vape. “As in President Batterson?”

“Light dawns. The heir apparent to his self-righteous little robotics empire.” He ran both hands through his hair. I inherited my dark-brown waves from him, but Dad’s customary high-and-tight showed little hint of curl. Mine now fell to my shoulders in a shaggy, tangled mane. “Do you realize the mess I would have had to clean up if you really let loose on him? Even if he is built like the ass end of a freighter, you could put him on the injured list.”

“It wasn’t my intent.”

“From what Caniberi told me, you were about to unleash hell on him. You sure stirred up some crap. The president is coming to the game tonight. The constable didn’t know who he was either, or he might have thrown you in the brig to prove a point.” He sat down with a thud on the steel bench and sighed. “Dalí. Come here.”

I sat next to him and braced myself.

“It’s been six months. Your leave from the diplomatic corps is finished, and if you don’t return, you’ll be dismissed. This has to stop. When you go back to your life, you’re going to encounter people like Batterson on a daily basis. Your reputation and your career are at stake. You can’t do this anymore.”

“That life’s over.”

“Don’t throw it away. You did so much in so short a time. You have a gift for understanding, and you will be a formidable ambassador. Sol Fed needs you in the negotiation chamber at the Remoliad. Luna is a better place because of your work.”

“Because of Gresh’s work. Because of Sida and our child. They were my reasons for everything. I’m not sure I feel as strongly for the rest of the human race.”

“Then you need to find another way to deal with their deaths. I won’t watch you destroy your future. You worked too hard for it.”

“Tell me how, sir.” My fury rose. “Tell me how I can deal with it because I’m looking for an exit.”

He stiffened. “What do you mean?”

“Nothing.” I rose and stalked away. He started to call after me, but the communication tones went off.

“Captain Tamareia, report to the bridge. The president’s shuttle is incoming.”

“On my way. Dalí!”

I ignored him and ducked through the port.

Purchase

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Meet the Author

E.M. Hamill is a nurse by day, sci fi and fantasy novelist by night. She lives in eastern Kansas with her family, where they fend off flying monkey attacks and prep for the zombie apocalypse. She also writes young adult material under the name Elisabeth Hamill. Her first novel, SONG MAGICK, won first place for YA fantasy in the 2014 Dante Rossetti Awards for Young Adult Fiction.

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An Ali Audiobook Review: Vassily the Beautiful (The ESTO Universe) by Angel Martinez and Greg Boudreaux (Narrator)

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Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Vassily Belikov, composer and pampered son of privilege, suffered neurological damage in the accident that killed his father. Resentful of being treated as an invalid, he lives as a recluse, dependent on his mother. That changes the day she brings home a new husband with two sons of his own.

When deep-space pirates capture Vassily’s mother, he’s left to the mercy of his cruel, amoral stepfather. Fighting addiction and his physical shortcomings, he’s forced to seek out the criminal mastermind Baba Yaga for a crucial piece of equipment. While she agrees to deal with him if he beats his Exoticus addiction, paranoia and mysterious intentions infuse her household. Drawn to her fierce, suspicious youngest son, certain his actions are all carefully observed, Vassily must find the courage to face both his fears and his desires if he expects to survive.
 
I wasn’t sure about this book at the beginning.  Vassily was very fragile and made some decisions that didn’t make any sense to me.  Some of the abuse by his step-father was also a bit hard to read.  But when Vassily heads across the city to find the infamous Baba Yaga the story just took off out of the gate.  I loved it from then until the end.  
 
This is a sci-fi setting but it is not heavy on that aspect.  I mention that because I’m not a big sci-fi fan but I feel like there were just small aspects to this and really it just felt like a story in another universe.  It was easy to read and the world building was detailed enough for you to get the feel for how and where they live, but wasn’t overwhelming and didn’t overshadow the story.
 
I think the author did a great job with the characters.  There were a lot and they all stood out as individuals.  The villains were wonderfully bad, Vassily, once he starts to stand up for himself, was sweet and charming, and Baba Yaga and her sons were just awesome.  They were the highlight of the story for me.  
 
I loved the pairing of Vassily and Sumerki.   It was such a great opposites attract pairing.  Vassily soothed and mellowed Sumi out and Sumi’s fierceness gave Vassily the strength he needed.  
 
This audiobook was narrated by Greg Boudreaux and I thought he did a great job.  There were a lot of characters so there were a lot of voices, plus there were a lot of different accents.  I felt like he did them all really well.  This was my first time listening to this narrator but he will be going on my list of people to look for in future audiobooks.
 
Overall I enjoyed everything about this.  It was a unique plot and a sweet love story.  By the end I was fully invested in the characters and I really hope this author will revisit this world one day and give both of Sumi’s brothers stories also.
 
Cover:  I think the cover is nicely done.  I think it sets the feel for the book really well and the character on the cover fits the MC.  I also think the color scheme is attractive and eye catching.
Sales Links:  Mischief Corner Books | Amazon
Book Details:
ebook, 2nd Edition, 216 pages
Published June 11th 2014 by Mischief Corner Books LLC (first published April 2nd 2012)
ASINB00KWOP7NY
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesThe ESTO Universe

A MelanieM Release Day Review: Shadow Fray (Shadow Fray: Round One) by Bradley Lloyd

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Family is worth fighting for—and family doesn’t always mean blood.

No one knows what calamity poisoned the earth and decimated the human population, but living close to the toxic ground means illness and death. Justin is determined to keep his twin sister and younger brother from that fate—no matter what he has to do. To earn enough to keep his family safe in a high-rise, Justin enlists in a deadly sport called Shadow Fray. He quickly finds himself in over his head, especially when he is scheduled to face the most dangerous player.

Hale—who competes as Black Jim—knows he won’t be on top forever, despite his skills. He fights for a better life for his daughter, but his time is running out as Shadow Fray becomes increasingly lethal. Something about the newest fighter intrigues him, but does he dare defy his masters to investigate? Justin and Hale will clash in the ring, while beyond it the powerful elite and the crumbling world seem determined to keep them apart. If they can find common ground, they might have a chance to fight for their futures.

Shadow Fray (Shadow Fray: Round One) by Bradley Lloyd is a terrific story.  It’s just the sort of book that gets me thinking on so many levels and that’s due primarily to the excellent world building here.  Lloyd has created a future earth where a catastrophic event, now called The Thinning, has raised the water levels globally, sinking all coastal cities and lands, shattering governments, technologies and making the ground so  toxic that anyone who lives on the surface slowly dies, succumbing to a madness and “ground sickness”.  Those left, reformed into inland cities, mainly Chicago where the government is centered.  People live in the high rises left, the higher the floor the better (and the wealthier the people).  Some technologies were saved from the “before times”, so internet, mobile phones, TV (using only the old tapes of shows and movies stored, nothing new has been produced except Shadow Fray games, more on that soon), cars, trucks and even trains are running.   Farms are run again by the large companies like Exxon and DuPont on raised buildings and guarded by drones, as it everything else.   Some people (the Shutters) never leave their condos, the idea being make your living area and building self sufficient.

Women are few and highly regarded, the toxins in the ground having effected reproduction and gender ratio.  People wanting children have produced babies via utero experiments that turn out to be unis, children with both sexes.  They have the ability to choose a sex when older but are barren.  Most choose to be women another interesting element.  Homosexuality is not only not tolerated but outlawed as they are “non breeders” in a world with few children.  This is a hard, toxic world and for many it’s getting worse.

Lloyd makes us believe in this world because so many of the elements are only stages and layers away from what the scientists have been warning will happen with climate change.  The author folds fact with his imaginative world building and its works, horrifically, on so many levels.  In this book, we don’t get the answers as to why it has happened, but Lloyd says we will in the coming stories.

Then there is the Shadow Fray, a martial arts competition that deadly and underground.  Moved from location to location, with only the fighters and handlers in the know (supposedly), there is so much danger and mystery attached here, that the suspense just builds and builds with each chapter with no let up.  That’s because the more we find out about the Shadow Fray and who runs it, the worse it gets and the more mysteries pile up around it.  Amazing.

Then finally there is the forbidden romance between Hale and Justin.  That takes time to set up and become believable.  Remember it’s forbidden here so the men have to come to grips with their homosexuality too.  Every meeting, every touch?  Could be their last.  Plus each character is so beautifully written.  One at the top of his game, teetering on the brink of being pulled down.  The other?  Being pushed to the top of the very increasingly nasty pile.  And all around them are some of the most intriguing cast of secondary  characters you will want to meet from Justin’s twin sister to his non-speaking brother, to Gris and Hale’s tank thug brother too.  I could go on and on about the people here that match the world building.

Which brings me to the ending.  Argh!!!!

In this title, notice it says Round One (not so in other titles).  Well, it sort of ends like the ringing of a bell at the end of a fight.  Round One done.  No completion, nothing brought to an ending. It sort of halts with one character riding off.  To the next story that we are waiting for. Yes, its frustrating.  But I understand from the author it’s already at the publishers so hopefully we won’t have to wait too long.

The ending notwithstanding,  Shadow Fray is an excellent gritty, compelling story.  I can’t wait to dive into the second one.  Pick up this one if you love alternate universe’s, dystopian societies, mysteries and romance.  Meet you at the second book!

 

Cover art by  Anna Sikorska is amazing.  I love the details and the model.

Sales Links

Available for Purchase at

 

 

Book Details:

ebook, 284 pages
Expected publication: May 30th 2017 by DSP Publications
ISBN139781635333602
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesShadow Fray #1

Bradley Lloyd on The Games of Shadow Fray and Shadow Fray (Shadow Fray: Round One) (author guest post, exclusive excerpt and giveaway)

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Shadow Fray (Shadow Fray #1) by Bradley Lloyd
DSP Publications
Cover Artist: Anna Sikorska

Available for Purchase at

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to host Bradley Lloyd here today, talking about his latest release Shadow Fray. Welcome, Bradley!

✒︎

Let’s Play! The Games of Shadow Fray

In reading Shadow Fray, one might think the plot was decidedly adult. Think The Hunger Games but with a healthy dose of Fight Club. While I’m a fan of both titles, the inspiration for Shadow Fray came from a place far more innocent–the games I played as a little kid.

My childhood wasn’t filled with fisticuffs or mixed martial arts lessons; instead, I took daily trips with my siblings and friends to the municipal swimming pool. We played the standard games like Marco Polo, and we took turns swimming under each other’s legs without touching, kind of like an underwater version of the limbo. The game I most remember, though, was one based entirely on imagination.

In this game, our familiar pool became infested with invisible, hungry underwater creatures. You’d be fine if you never touched the bottom, because that’s where they lived. We’d spend all day swimming around, trying not to touch the bottom. If you did touch the bottom, that’s when the little monsters would attack with their nasty bites. Too many bites, and you could die. BUT if you managed to apply the special ointment in time, you could stave off infection and death.

The special ointment was Coppertone sunscreen lotion. The year we invented that game, we never got sunburned, believe me. In fact, we probably went through at least a giant economy bottle a week.

My main goal in writing Shadow Fray was to write something fun–a steamy, action-packed romance. So when I thought about what was most fun, this pool game came to mind, probably at first subconsciously but it morphed into a very important plot point.

In Shadow Fray, the ground has been poison for many years. Unlike the pool game, you can touch the ground, but prolonged exposure results in what the characters refer to as Ground Sickness. Because of this, those with enough money live in high-rises as far from the ground as possible.

For this reason, Justin is forced to fight in the underground tournament known as Shadow Fray. He needs to keep his twin sister and younger brother living safely off the ground, and the only way to supplement their meager income is for him to win. The stakes are high, especially when he faces Hale, a brawler he has long admired. Though they fight for similar reasons, they find themselves at odds, first with each other, and then the greater forces at work in the crumbling world around them.

If you’ve read this far, chances are getting better that you might also read the book, so I’m going to reveal a spoiler-free special secret right here. You won’t find out in the first book what really caused the ground toxification. Do I know? Yes. Will you know eventually? Yes. There’s clues if you want to try to figure it out, and like a good sci-fi, it has a basis in fact. Not revealing everything right away was a tricky decision for me as a writer. Is it realistic that people, after a post-apocalyptic event, wouldn’t know the cause or the remedy? One of the plot points is the misinformation provided by the shady people remaining in power. So, I decided, yes, it could be realistic. Granted, this was all before the election and the influx of “alternative facts,” so I think this choice was the right one to make, even prescient, though it asks the reader to follow me along for a bit.

You see, I think as I got older, my mind went from imagining pool monsters to imagining more realistic monsters, and now I love a good mystery. My favorite childhood game led me to a more adult game of playing sleuth, or maybe hide-and-seek, where it’s the truth that’s hiding. Shadow Fray is all about games, and I sincerely hope you’ll come and play along with me. ~ Bradley Lloyd

Book Blurb

Family is worth fighting for—and family doesn’t always mean blood.

 

No one knows what calamity poisoned the earth and decimated the human population, but living close to the toxic ground means illness and death. Justin is determined to keep his twin sister and younger brother from that fate—no matter what he has to do. To earn enough to keep his family safe in a high-rise, Justin enlists in a deadly sport called Shadow Fray. He quickly finds himself in over his head, especially when he is scheduled to face the most dangerous player.

 

Hale—who competes as Black Jim—knows he won’t be on top forever, despite his skills. He fights for a better life for his daughter, but his time is running out as Shadow Fray becomes increasingly lethal. Something about the newest fighter intrigues him, but does he dare defy his masters to investigate? Justin and Hale will clash in the ring, while beyond it the powerful elite and the crumbling world seem determined to keep them apart. If they can find common ground, they might have a chance to fight for their futures.

Exclusive Excerpt

Since my guest blog post is about childhood games, I thought I would introduce you to one of my favorite characters, the 10-year-old Charlie, who is mute. He’s the much younger brother of our hero, Justin. Even though he doesn’t talk, Charlie is still very expressive, like in this school assignment. In the book, Justin secretly holds on to this letter as a reminder of his reason for fighting in Shadow Fray. It’s also a great introduction to the Shadow Fray world. Enjoy!

Handwriting Practice

The Person I Look Up to Most

To: Sister Tim

From: Charlie

Justin does his best even when it’s hard, even when he’s tired and maybe hurting a little bit. He always shows courage. That’s why he’s the person I look up to the most.

I think we all have secrets to keep. It’s nice to have a little bit of privacy, like from the drones, and my brother tries to give us that. But we never hide. He wants me to have a normal life, whatever that is. My brother keeps secrets, but not from me. And he helps me keep my secrets too. Sometimes we hide from the drones like Shutters, but mostly we pretend like it’s just us.

Justin always tries to do what’s best for my sister and me. He raised me when my sister was at work. He always did lots of stuff with me. He read me books until I could read on my own. I didn’t even need school for that, because he taught me. But our favorite thing to do is watch cartoons.

He tries to keep things from me, but not in a bad way. He puts his tablet down all the time, but I know he’s reading. It’s almost like he doesn’t want anyone to know he reads, not even me. I think he doesn’t want me to be too curious about things. It’s another way he tries to protect me. So we just do kid stuff. But that’s okay.

My brother is really strong. He works out and he lifts weights. He makes me come with him and read a book but I watch him too. I know he stays strong to protect me and my sister. My sister is fertile, and so he always feels like he has to protect her because she’s in danger or something. My sister can take care of herself, but he does it anyway. I like that about him.

Justin’s secret is that he’s really smart. Like, really smart. Someday, my brother is going to figure out what is wrong with the world. He will figure out why all the people got sick and died so long ago, and what happened to poison the ground. Then he’ll find out why there’s not as many girls anymore, and why people can’t have babies. Maybe he’ll even find the cure for ground sickness, but that’s probably asking too much. I mean, he can’t do everything.

Here’s a secret about him and me. He says there’s two kinds of people—people who stay alive and people who go poking their noses where they don’t belong. I don’t say it (ha ha), but I know he’s both, and I’m both too. So really, there’s three kinds of people. But don’t tell him I said that.

He wants me to go to college at Exxon or DuPont in Chicago. I like that idea. Because if my brother doesn’t find out what happened and how to fix it, I want to find out for him. He’d like to take me out of Bruise City to Chicago, but maybe someday I will do that for him instead. Anyway, I like it here, because this is my home, and this is where you are too. Thanks for being the best teacher.

He would be so mad if he knew I wrote this. But I know you keep secrets too. So please keep my secret. I know you will, because you’re the third person I most look up to, and you always tell me I can do anything.

My brother tells me that too.

From: Charlie

P.S. My sister is the second person and I also have a friend named Gristopher Mays and he’s the fourth person. He’s really nice but I haven’t known him as long as I’ve known you.

P.P.S. I think you are that special third kind of person too. Thanks for being the best teacher.

Since my guest blog post is about childhood games, I thought I would introduce you to one of my favorite characters, the 10-year-old Charlie, who is mute. He’s the much younger brother of our hero, Justin. Even though he doesn’t talk, Charlie is still very expressive, like in this school assignment. In the book, Justin secretly holds on to this letter as a reminder of his reason for fighting in Shadow Fray. It’s also a great introduction to the Shadow Fray world. Enjoy!

Giveaway

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About the Author

Bradley Lloyd is a Chicago-born author who studied Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He was raised in a conservative religious household but became aware of his sexuality at a very young age—about the same age he learned of his ancestry to Hans Christian Andersen. Inspired by this knowledge, writing became an outlet that helped him cope with inner conflicts and bullying.

Of course, he was no angel and occasionally used his storytelling powers for evil. He once convinced the neighborhood children that gnomes had been real before all being turned into lawn ornaments.

Later, these experiences lead him to work with middle-school students. Now a teacher in the inner city, he shares his love of writing with a captive audience of kids, who are thrilled with true(ish) tales of their haunted school building. 

Interestingly, his favorite UFC fighter and former world champion was a student at his school, and when Brad is not reading or writing, you might find him hosting the next UFC pay-per-view event party. His dreams of becoming an ultimate fighter are realized vicariously through his stories and video games.

Brad is happily married to a wonderful husband. Their tenth anniversary was also the day same-sex marriage became legal, and they were couple number seven at the courthouse.

You can read more of Brad’s (free) tales on his website BradleyLloyd.com, check him out on Medium, follow IMBradleyLloyd on Facebook and Twitter,

or e-mail him directly at IMBradleyLloyd@BradleyLloyd.com

Wendy Rathbone on Playing the “V” Card and her release The Android and the Thief’ (guest blog and excerpt)

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The Android and the Thief by Wendy Rathbone
D
reamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Anne Cain

Available for Purchase at

amazon square borderB&N borderApple borderKobo border

✒︎

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to host Wendy Rathbone here today, talking about her characters, writing and her  latest novel,  The Android and the Thief. Welcome, Wendy.

✒︎

Playing the “V” Card

by Wendy Rathbone

My new novel, “The Android and the Thief,” is just out from Dreamspinner. It takes place in the far future where there are cloud cities, space prisons and flying cars, but people are still people with the same wants, needs and desires as 21st century Earth.

The book is a romance with some dark elements but a lot of heart and two main characters who really came to life for me as I wrote.

Khim and Trev are two very different people from two very different backgrounds.

Trev is the youngest son of the head of an organized crime family. He is trapped by his life and a father who will never let him go.

Khim is a vat-grown human android, born adult. He is an indentured man, born to be subservient, a slave to his owners. Created to be a soldier, Khim spends the first ten years of his adult life fighting, killing, following orders. When he is injured and cannot be healed sufficiently to go back into combat, he is sold to a brothel, something he is not trained for. Life for him just got spectacularly worse, and his already weakened programming to be submissive completely breaks down.

One born in privilege, one born in servitude, both men suffer their lack of independence. Because of their sheltered existence, neither is especially cultivated in societal norms, especially relationships. Trev is an introverted bookworm, acrobat thief and computer guy. Khim, having no hope for a future, simply lives for combat, the only job he’s known.

I did not realize, until I got deep into the story with my characters yammering in my ear, that circumstances created both characters to not only be late bloomers, they meet as virgins.

My editor noticed this and made the comment: “Ah, so you’re playing the “v” card.” She did not criticize it, or tell me it was wrong. She simply noticed, and gave me a smiley face.

I thought to myself, “Wow, did I do that?”

Well, yes, I most certainly did.

I think it makes a story fun when you have two characters who are both desperately trying to escape untenable situations while at the same time discovering who they are. Everything around them changes. They must change, too, or failing that, regress to their former, unhappy selves.

Khim and Trev’s love story came about quite naturally. When they finally realize they are in love, it is very exciting for them. Two guys who have had the worst, finally get a bit of reward.

Question for readers: Do you have favorite characters from any media—books, TV, movies—that you love who are innocent, virginal, or even asexual?

Thank you for reading!

Here is an excerpt from “The Android and the Thief”:

Strangers bathed his body in lilac-scented water. They brushed him down, naked, with gold body powder. They rimmed his eyes with blue shadow and caressed his lips with a soft pink sheen.

Khim might have fought them off if, beforehand, they hadn’t made him breathe the curling zotic smoke from the pleasure wands the grooms waved all about his face and head. The smoke aroused him against his will, made him pliant, dizzy. Paralyzed his vocal cords—an invisible gag—and took away all aggression. Aggression under command orders for expert frontline fighting was his own past means of survival. Bereft of that, he had no sense of what to do as his body betrayed him by following every command of the grooms, every lead.

The grooms, three human boys who looked no more than nineteen, seemed pleased at his response. But mostly they seemed bored, applying all the makeup and powder as if they’d done it a hundred times before. Their touches were professional, gentle, not cruel. But except for that gentleness, they seemed uncaring about what he might be going through.

Created to obey, Khim had no words within him for a protest.

Brought onto a small lighted stage on a thin laser-leash by a fourth handsome groom, Khim could see nothing beyond the glow that contained him but shadows and darker man-shapes upon those shadows.

Knowing nothing of this new, nonmilitary world, he felt vulnerable and exposed, and fear fluttered through his stomach and into his chest. He knew what this was about—sex and its darker underpinnings. It couldn’t be otherwise, for he was naked, painted like a doll. He’d witnessed androids fucking without inhibition, but he’d never wanted it for himself. Never felt aroused by his own kind. Never had the sex drive some of the others seemed born with. If something was wrong with him, he never thought about it or cared. He got his pleasure from battle, from storming alien worlds and using his weapons to subvert, kill, destroy. It was enough for him.

But that was no longer his life.

This new thing was something so completely “other” to what he was trained for. He didn’t want it.

But his mind and body were like separate entities now. In this moment, upon this stage, as he tried again to find words to deny, to protest, to negate the proceedings, nothing happened but a few twitches in the sleek, round muscles beneath his henna skin. His voice was cramped down low in his throat, unwilling or unable to come out, and he was turned upon the dais as if he were a doll for all those out there in the shadows to ogle and critique and assess.

If there were conversations about his viability, his virility, his beauty, they were silent, through private systems and digital conveyances. He was privy to none of it, and Khim abhorred that even more.

The groom who’d led him into this dark area leaned away, put a hand up to his ear as if listening. Right after that, the groom made a motion and touched Khim on the wrist. He forced him to lift his right hand up and turn it, showing off the silver gleam of the metal that had replaced the flesh-and-bone hand he had lost in the explosion on Doom in Shadow.

It all took just under a minute. Then the grooms led Khim off by the glowing leash into a dark corridor beyond the little stage, where he was able to overhear just the barest of harsh whisperings.

*

Blurb for “The Android and the Thief” by Wendy Rathbone

Will love set them free—or seal their fate?

In the 67th century, Trev, a master thief and computer hacker, and Khim, a vat-grown human android, reluctantly share a cell in a floating space prison called Steering Star. Trev is there as part of an arrangement that might finally free him from his father’s control. Khim, formerly a combat android, snaps when he is sold into the pleasure trade and murders the man who sexually assaults him. At first they are at odds, but despite secrets and their dark pasts, they form a pact—first to survive the prison, and then to escape it.

But independence remains elusive, and falling in love comes with its own challenges. Trev’s father, Dante, a powerful underworld figure with sweeping influence throughout the galaxy, maintains control over their lives that seems stronger than any prison security system, and he seeks to keep them apart. Trev and Khim must plan another, more complex escape, and this time make sure they are well beyond the law as well as Dante’s reach.

*

*

About the Author

Wendy Rathbone has been writing for years, but since 2012 her focus is mostly on m/m romance. She writes all genres but seems to prefer fantasy and sci fi. She is also an award-winning poet. She lives in Yucca Valley, California, USA.

Wendy Rathbone’s Social Media Links:

Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Wendy-Rathbone/e/B00B0O9BMS/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1490462215&sr=1-2-ent

Newsletter sign up: http://eepurl.com/cqDVcX

Blog: http://wendyrathbone.blogspot.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wendy.rathbone.3

A Lila Release Day Review: Falling Into the Black (A Planet Called Wish #3) by Caitlin Ricci

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Rate: 4 stars out of 5

Sometimes there’s a difference between duty and doing what’s right. And sometimes doing what’s right comes with a high price.

Every aspasian at Asiq adores the handsome peacekeeper Resan—all except for Arin. While the other workers vie for Resan’s attention, Arin avoids him at all costs, which rouses Resan’s suspicion. When he discovers Arin is a runaway slave, Resan is bound by law to return him to his master. It is only later that Resan realizes what he’s done.

Arin’s owner bought him at twelve, married him, and not only violated Arin himself, but loaned him out to his friends. Resan has returned him to a life of rape and abuse, and now he must make a decision: free Arin and abandon the oaths he swore as a peacekeeper, or leave him to languish and abandon his own conscience and heart.

Falling Into the Black has a different feel than the previous books in the series. Perhaps because it takes place on different planets in the galaxy, and Corbin & Thierry are just secondary characters with a limited participation in the story. Even when they do play an important role, and we get updates on their relationships.

Arin and Resan are interesting characters. As a peacekeeper, Resan sees everything as black or white, good or bad. On the other hand, Arin’s life experiences have shown him the diversity found in-between those places. It takes time, and many rough moments for them to see beyond their own perceptions and into a future together.

The first part of the story moves fast and gets into the main issues right away. I’m glad that Arin’s experiences weren’t too graphic even when they were heartbreaking. I did have trouble putting the book down because I wanted to know how everything would be resolved. It does slow down toward the middle before it picks up again.

There are several twists and turns, and when you think the story is almost over, it’s just halfway there. Some things are a bit gut wrenching but don’t take away from the story. I enjoyed learning about the rest of the planets, the species, and all their characteristics. The world-build makes sense and enhances the scenes instead of being intrusive.

I’m not too sure about the ending and that’s why the story isn’t five stars for me. It’s more of an HFN than anything else, but not exactly what I was expecting. I love this series and I hope another one comes out soon. I definitely want to read more about this world and the couples we have met.

The cover by Brooke Albrecht goes well with others in the series. But, Arin’s representation seems too human.

Sale Links: Dreamspinner | Amazon | Kobo

Book Details:

ebook, 145 pages
Published: March 17, 2017, by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN: 9781635334890
Edition Language: English

Series: A Planet Called Wish
Book #1: To the Highest Bidder
Book #2: Fantasy for a Gentleman
Book #3: Falling into the Black

 

Adrian Randall on Writing, Characters and his latest novel ‘Countermind’ (author interview and excerpt)

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countermind-by-adrian-randall

Countermind by Adrian Randall
D
SP Publications
Cover art by L.C. Chase

Available for Purchase from

dsp-publications-logo

65a2f-waxcreative-amazon-kindle

✒︎

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to host Adrian Randall here today.  Thank you, Adrian, for sitting in our Interview chair and answering a few questions for us:

  • How much of yourself goes into a character?

It’s not really a question of how much as it is which parts. In the case of Countermind, Alan Izaki is a fugitive psychic, hacker, and thief on the run. Jack Smith, a government agent trained in a classified school of “counter-psychic” techniques, is trying to arrest him. The two of them run at very different temperatures: Alan is angry and indignant, whereas Smith is cool and conniving. I’m a pretty mild-mannered guy myself, so both of these characters represent very different extremes from me. But the nice thing about fiction is that you get to engage in behaviors that are a bit more outrageous than anything you’d do in real life.

  • Does research play a role into choosing which genre you write?  Do you enjoy research or prefer making up your worlds and cultures?

Writers should write what they know, which isn’t to mean that they should play it safe. Rather, they should go out and learn. The benefit of setting your story in this universe (or one close to it) is that you end up learning lots of cool stuff. Writing Countermind meant learning about topics ranging from hacking to spies to quantum physics and even video games. The risk is that you’ll get some details wrong, and actual experts will catch your mistakes and call you out on them, but it’s a risk worth taking.

  • Has your choice of childhood or teenage reading genres carried into your own choices for writing?

Probably, but I was a well-read kid so it’s hard to know which books influenced my writing and how. It doesn’t help that Countermind is a pretty adult novel, so it’s hard to say it was influenced by anything I read as a kid. I’ll say that one of the most formative books I read early in my life was A Wrinkle in Time. What that book taught me was that science fiction may be crammed full of big, cosmic ideas, but it can still be about the characters and their journeys. It taught me that genre fiction should still be character-driven. So I tried to make sure Countermind’s crazy plot also had a human heart pumping at its center. This weird little paranormal cyberpunk thriller is still, at bottom, a drama.

  • Have you ever had to put an ‘in progress’ story aside because of the emotional ties with it?  You were hurting with the characters or didn’t know how to proceed?

I had a couple works in progress that I’ve had trouble revisiting lately, just due to the current political climate. I started Countermind at a time when things were, if not perfect, at least more optimistic. It was easier to write dystopian literature without getting too bummed out. When I revisit these other projects, I’m going to try to make them a bit more hopeful, even if just because that’s what I need right now. (I’m also getting interested in the current “solarpunk” fad, for the same reasons.)

  • Do you like HFN or HEA? And why?

At the end of Stardust, Neil Gaiman writes that though the heroes were happy together, it wasn’t ever-after, “for Time, the thief, eventually takes all things into his dusty storehouse, but they were happy, as these things go, for a long while.”

But my own opinion is a little less certain. Without spoiling anything, I’ll say that one of Countermind’s characters doesn’t believe in happy endings, either for-now or ever-after, and is very surprised to end up getting both.

  • How do you feel about the ebook format and where do you see it going?

I haven’t been publishing long enough to have an informed opinion from a business standpoint, but, as a consumer of books, it’s been a godsend. You can read anything anywhere at any time without lugging pounds of paper bricks around with you. That’s revolutionary. But for those particular books that have special sentimental value to me, I do like to buy and display “analog” editions. (On that note, if you order Countermind from DSP Publications’ web site, you can get a free digital copy with the physical version, so it’s the best of both worlds!)

  • How do you choose your covers?  (curious on my part)

Like I said, I haven’t been publishing long enough to have much perspective on this process. I had lots of ideas about what Countermind’s cover look like, and I passed these along to the cover artist, but I mostly wanted them to have the freedom to surprise me with their own vision. And I’m so glad they did. I fell in love with L.C. Chase’s cover as soon as I saw it. The cool tones give the whole thing a very noir feel. Alan’s fixing the viewer with a guarded, wary look that really captures the character’s personality. And the arrangement of the cover’s elements, with Alan’s face, the Hong Kong skyline, and the text all at right angles to each other, puts the reader off-balance before they even open the book. It’s perfect.

  • What’s next for you as an author?

I’m not sure. I have a few ideas in mind, and a few projects in progress, but it’s a matter of deciding which of them needs to be written. We’ll see!

Blurb 

In a postprivacy future, secrets are illegal and all communication is supervised. Telepaths are registered and recruited by a government with no qualms about invading the minds of its citizens. Fugitive psychics are hunted by the Bureau of Counterpsychic Affairs, or Countermind.

Alan Izaki is one such fugitive, as well as a hacker, grifter, and thief.

Countermind agent Jack Smith is hunting him through the twisted underbelly of Hong Kong.

But Alan possesses a secret so dangerous and profound it will not only shake Smith’s loyalties, but the foundations of their society.

And Alan isn’t the only one on the run. Rogue psychic Arissa binti Noor escapes Countermind, in search of brilliant game designer Feng Huang. She hopes that together, they can destroy the government’s intrusive Senex monitoring system.

Their goals seem at odds, and their lives are destined to collide. When they do, three very different people must question their alliances and their future, because everything is about to change.

Excerpt

It was past midnight, and some parts of Hong Kong actually did sleep at this hour. The pawnshop was near Kwai Chung, its customer base mostly local workers pawning valuables just to squander their money on the races, men who wouldn’t have the resources to track down the goods they’d put up as collateral. Alan had chosen the shop for its proximity to a body of water, and it was just a minute’s hard sprint to the nearest container yard, then through that to the channel.

Alan charged downhill on roads still slick from the afternoon’s rain, gleaming with the reflected glow of the city. No neon signs or electronic billboards, just streetlamps and a few lit office windows. Droplets ran in steady trickling streams off the buildings, canopies, streetlights, AC units. Steel shutters of closed storefronts shimmered wet, and Alan’s skin glistened in the damp air. He didn’t hear any pursuing footsteps, didn’t bother turning his head to check.

He’d only gotten a brief glimpse of the attacker in the pawnshop, but that had been plenty. The man looked just a few years older than Alan, Eurasian, tall and lean, hale, clean-cut, clean-shaven. His attire had been dark but utterly nondescript. There was an impression of a black suit jacket, black slacks, and a black button-down shirt (but no tie, and open at the neck). Alan hadn’t the time for more lingering impressions, but the man would’ve been attractive under more civil circumstances.

The man wasn’t the shop owner, and was too well-dressed to be another crook or a triad member. That probably meant law enforcement, ample reason for Alan to make the quickest possible escape without sparing even a backward glance.

Alan vaulted from the sidewalk over a steel railing, dashed across the street, leapt another rail, and charged down a covered stairway, letting gravity lead his charge toward the water, angling toward the red lights atop the cargo-loading cranes just visible over a row of gently swaying palm trees. He hit the next street with such speed he lost some momentum to a brief stumble. A red-and-silver taxicab blared its horn at him, and Alan ducked under the canopy of a shuttered dim-sum shop to get his bearings. He glanced up at the building corners in the nearest intersection and spotted the closed-circuit cameras. He couldn’t see which way they pivoted in their housings, but didn’t think they’d have a clear look at him where he stood. Just to be safe, he’d have to circle around, keeping shy of major streets if he was to stay clear of any more traffic cams, though his pursuer couldn’t be far behind.

Or was it pursuers? The man had attacked Alan alone, not a standard practice for an officer of one of the world’s most famous police forces. If he was a government agent, he had to know what Alan was, right? And what such agent would be so reckless as to challenge a rogue telepath completely solo? Alan doubted even a state psychic would risk such a confrontation, and this man had given no sign of being a psychic himself, had not attempted any telepathic attacks, relying entirely on physical force. Who was he?

Whatever he was, if he caught Alan, it would mean death or worse. He had no need to know who this man was, only to escape him.

Alan pulled his jacket tight around him and popped the collar up. He turned a corner for a side street with fewer cameras and fewer lights and strolled a leisurely path into the shadow of an elevated highway, traffic rumbling above him. From there, he made his way through a hole in a chain-link fence he’d prepared earlier tonight with the help of his bolt cutters, slipping into the container yard, and then he sprinted across the yard toward freedom.

He ran straight into the agent.

The man stepped around the corner of a container and flashed Alan a razor smile as he kneed him in the stomach, allowing Alan’s own momentum to double him over. Then the man threw Alan into the side of the steel container with a clang that echoed inside his head as his arm was twisted behind his back. Alan was strong for his size, but the agent was using some sort of judo leverage shit. Alan tried to wrench free, nearly succeeded, and then the man compensated for his strength by spinning him into the side of another container.

The man tightened his hold and hissed into Alan’s ear.

“How many counts of resisting arrest?”

Alan gasped, gulped, and tried to talk his way out, forcing the words. “Come on, man. You never said you were arresting me.”

“I thought it was implied. You did flee.”

“After you shot me!”

“With a government-issue ranged electroshock device. Pay attention.”

The agent tripped Alan roughly to the ground and buried his knees in Alan’s back. His hand forced Alan’s face against the concrete, and Alan wheezed as the air was squeezed out of his lungs.

Alan screwed his eyes to the edges of their sockets, trying to see up through the corner of his eye. The light of a passing ship winked between the container towers and slid over the man’s features: dark eyed, dark haired, darkly smiling.

“Resist some more,” the agent said. “I don’t need to excuse brutality, but it helps with the paperwork.”

Alan realized—a bit belatedly and with scant sense of relief—that he was now very much in danger of physical harm.

He expanded his thoughts outward and upward, seeking out the luminescent glow of his assailant’s mind as if reaching for a firefly in the night. He found it, wrapped telepathic fingers around it, and squeezed tight.

There you are, Alan thought at him.

Fleeting impressions of the man’s surface cognitions filtered through the permeable membrane of Alan’s consciousness: mild surprise, then recognition, and then a strange kind of resigned satisfaction.

“And there you are,” the man whispered

.

About the Author

Adrian Randall is a PhD and a dual-class bureaucrat/scientist. A native Floridian, he lives in Alexandria with the love of his life and their many beautiful board games. He has a tenuous grasp on reality, owing to a steady diet of novels, comics, and other distractions. All his ideas start as character backstory for MMOs and RPGs, and he does all his writing while listening to video game soundtracks. So if he’s gaming instead of working on a book, it’s not procrastination, it’s workshopping. He usually spends his free time geeking out about some damn thing or another. You can geek out with him through any of his social media channels. If he doesn’t respond, it means he broke his phone again.

Twitter: @cyberpreppy

Tumblr: cyberpreppy.tumblr.com

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/cyberpreppy