Tag Archives: Callia Gainsborough

Manifestation

mani_promoClick here to read Chapter 1: Magic. Here you can read the second sample chapter of my debut novel, Manifestation, an urban fantasy adventure that explores the revival of magic and mystery in a world that is unprepared for the changes arcane powers will bring. Available in paperback and ebook.

 

Chapter 2: Manifestation

 

 

Gabby woke up late in the night. She was disoriented for a moment, until she remembered she was in her friend’s bed. Callia slept next to her, her angelic face softly glowing in the moonlight, her hand still resting against Gabby’s skin. Gabby’s heart raced, and she couldn’t help leaning down and planting a soft kiss on her friend’s lips. She lingered for a long moment, then pulled away as Callia whimpered contentedly in her sleep.

Gabby looked at the digital clock on the nightstand. The glowing green numbers read 2:14. “Shit,” she whispered. Her parents were going to kill her when she got home. Taking the car had been bad enough, and being out until all hours of the morning was probably giving her mother more time to stew on her anger.

Gabby climbed out of the bed, pushing away her desires as she pulled herself from Callia’s touch. She changed back into her still-damp clothes, moving as quietly as she could in the dark room. Once she was dressed, she unlocked the door and slipped out into the hall, holding her breath the entire time.

She’d taken two steps down the stairs when she heard a door open behind her. She froze, hoping that if she stayed still, she wouldn’t be seen or heard in the dark. A moment later, the hall light flared to life. Gabby shut her eyes against the sudden brightness, then slowly opened them and turned to see Callia’s mother standing in the hall.

“Gabby,” she said, crossing her arms. “When did you get here? You know, your mother has been calling here all night looking for you.”

Gabby swallowed and lowered her head. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Gainsborough,” she whispered. “Please don’t tell her I was here? I’m going home now—”

“I’m not going to lie to your mother, Gabby,” Mrs. Gainsborough said. “You should be ashamed of yourself! Taking your mother’s car, staying out all night, and now I catch you here, in my daughter’s room.”

Gabby’s face turned red as she glanced back towards Callia’s door. Did Callia’s mother know what had happened? Not that anything had happened. Not really. It had just been a kiss. A kiss Gabby could still taste on her lips.

“I’m calling your mother,” Mrs. Gainsborough said. “She can come down here and get you, and—”

“No!” Gabby whispered. “Please, I . . . I’m going home right now. I don’t want to get into any more trouble.”

Mrs. Gainsborough stared her down for a long moment. “You shouldn’t be out alone this late at night,” she said. She let out a sigh. “Your parents are probably asleep by now, so I suppose there’s no point in waking them. But let me get my coat, and I’ll drive you home.”

“But what about my mom’s car?” Gabby asked. “I can’t leave it here.”

Mrs. Gainsborough tapped her fingers on her arm and studied Gabby for a moment. “Where did you park?” she asked. “Is it far? I don’t want you wandering through the streets alone in the middle of the night.”

“I parked right around the corner,” Gabby said, turning towards the stairs. “Really, I’ll be home in five minutes.”

She waited for a moment, until Mrs. Gainsborough nodded. “All right,” she said. “Fine. But I’m calling your mother first thing in the morning.”

Gabby decided not to argue the point any further. She didn’t want to get into any more trouble than she was already in. She hurried down the stairs and out the door. Mrs. Gainsborough followed her and watched her as she walked from the house, until she was around the corner and out of sight.

The rain had stopped, but the night air was freezing, and Gabby’s breath frosted in the air as she hurried back to the car. When she was still a couple of blocks away, however, she saw the flashing lights of a police car in the distance. She froze in place, her mind screaming in panic. She thought about how many laws she was technically breaking at the moment, being out past curfew with her mother’s car and wallet. She held her breath and hoped that the police weren’t there for her, but there was no such luck. When she got close enough to see what was going on, she spotted a cop car and a tow truck by her mother’s car. Her mother must have reported it stolen, or at the very least called the police to report her daughter missing and send them looking for her.

“Oh, God, no, no, no,Gabby whispered, rubbing her hands across her face. She looked around, uncertain what to do. Being brought home by the police would make her situation worse.

She turned in the other direction and started circling around the block. It was a long walk from Callia’s house back to her own, but she decided she’d rather walk home in the cold than get picked up by the police. She kept a brisk pace, trying to come up with a story in her head that would explain what had happened. She tried to think of a convincing way to make her mother believe someone else had stolen the car, even though she knew any story she concocted would be full of holes.

The silent streets were empty, except for an occasional car passing by. After walking for almost an hour, she realized she’d gone in the wrong direction. Her mind was so frazzled that she’d lost her way. She was almost back in the industrial district at the edge of San Lorien. She cursed under her breath and turned around, rubbing her arms in an attempt to keep warm.

She was finally headed back in the right direction when a pair of headlights illuminated her in the darkness. She turned around and saw a car approaching. She considered hitching a ride, but she knew that was too dangerous, especially in this neighborhood. She turned back in the direction she was heading, ignoring the car. She expected it to pass her by, but as the car approached it slowed down. She glanced back. A shadowy figure watched her from the driver’s seat. She picked up her pace, suddenly feeling very alone and vulnerable and far from home. The pressure in Gabby’s skull returned, worse than before. The car followed, and she panicked, breaking into a run.

Tires squealed behind her as the car raced after her. It sped up until it overtook her, screeching to a halt right in front of her and blocking her path. Gabby screamed and turned to run in the other direction, but the driver got out of the car and chased after her. Her breath burned in her lungs as she fled, but the ground was slick from the rain and she lost her footing. Before she knew what was happening she slipped and fell, and then the man was on top of her. She tried to fight back, but he was too strong. She searched inside for the strength to fight him off. There was a burning light in her mind, just beyond reach. She screamed and struggled and tried to find the light, but she was helpless to stop what was happening. Eventually she gave up and turned everything inward, her thoughts, her emotions, and the light she’d been reaching for. Trapped with no hope of release, she surrendered and let it happen, while the pressure inside her continued to build endlessly upon itself.

* * *

The house was empty when Gabby finally made it home. She stumbled through the door and shut and locked it behind her. “Mom!” she cried out into the darkness. “Dad!”

There was no answer.

She dragged her bruised body upstairs, searching every room for some sign of her family. No one was home. She went into her room and found a note lying on her desk:

Gabby,

I don’t know what in God’s name you were thinking taking my car, but you are in serious trouble. We came home and you were just gone! I don’t know what’s been going through your mind lately, but this is unacceptable behavior.

It’s almost four in the morning. I just hope you’re someplace safe. Your sister just went into labor and I think it’s for real this time. We’re taking her to the hospital. When you get home you had better call me right away so I know you’re safe and sound. And as soon as we get home you and I are having a serious talk about what you did.

-Mom

Gabby sat on her bed and sobbed, clutching the note to her bruised chest. She pulled out her phone with trembling hands; after what had happened, she had been in too much shock to think to call for help. She turned the phone back on and saw more missed calls, texts, and voice mail notifications from her mother. Her fingers shook as she tapped the screen, about to call her parents and beg them to come home.

She stopped before making the call and looked at herself in the mirror. She was covered in mud, her hair was tangled, and her sweater was torn. She didn’t want her parents to see her like this. She put down the phone and stripped from her clothes, throwing everything she was wearing—the torn sweater, ripped jeans, and shredded panties—in the garbage. She never wanted to look at those clothes again.

She showered, spending a long time under the hot water, trying to get clean. She didn’t feel clean. Later, she returned to her room, changed into fresh clothes that covered the bruises, and locked her door. She didn’t feel safe anymore, not even in her own home. She lay down on her bed after the worst night of her life, and by the time she fell asleep the sun was rising.

She slept most of the day and ignored her phone whenever it rang. She didn’t leave her room once all day. It was late by the time her family came home. They were laughing and happy, and her brothers’ voices drifted up along with her parents’ from downstairs. Before long there was a bang as someone tried to open Gabby’s door.

“Oh, this is real mature, young lady!” her mother yelled through the door. “You were gone all last night, and now that you’re home you lock yourself in? Gabby?” Her mother banged hard on the door as she screamed at her through the thin wood, “Gabby? I’ve had enough of this. I know you were off at Callia’s house last night, her mother called and told me. Your sister had the longest day you could possibly imagine, and we are just thanking God that she made it through okay. Now you are going to march your butt downstairs apologize to your father right now! And tomorrow when you meet your nephew you are going to treat him and your sister with some respect, do you hear me? Gabby? Gabriella!

Gabby remained where she was, huddled in the corner. She didn’t want her mother to see her the way she was. She didn’t want anyone to see her shame.

“Fine,” Mom snapped. “You can just stay in there all night and think about what you’re doing to the rest of the family.”

Gabby heard her mom stalk off and stomp down the stairs, while all she could do was huddle in the corner and cry.

Her tears eventually stopped and she sat there in the dark, alone. Her head throbbed with pressure that wouldn’t go away. She didn’t want to talk to anyone, but she knew she couldn’t sit there forever. She went downstairs, and found her family all together in the living room. They were showing pictures of the new baby, who was down at the hospital with her sister. Her parents and brothers were all quietly talking, looking happy and fulfilled. Gabby crept up quietly, without a clue how to explain to them what had happened. She didn’t know what to do next.

“Mom . . .”

All eyes turned on her. She stifled a sob. When she opened her mouth to speak, her mother cut her off, “Unless you’re here to apologize, I don’t want to hear it.”

“But, I—”

“But nothing, Gabriella Marietta Palladino,” Mom said. “I don’t want to hear it.”

Gabby choked back a sob and yelled, “No! Mom, you need to listen!”

“You do not speak to your mother that way!” Mom screamed. “If you aren’t going to learn some respect, you can just go back to your room.” She stared Gabby down and pointed to the stairs. “Upstairs!”

“Mom, please!

“Now!” Mom screamed, standing up and pointing towards the stairs.

Gabby stared at her as tears streaked down her face. Her father sat quietly and let her mother call the shots. Anthony and Frankie looked between her and Mom, but they said nothing. Frankie looked like he was about to say something, but a sharp look from their mother cut him off.

Gabby turned and ran up the stairs and into her room. She slammed the door shut and slid to the ground, hugging her knees to her chest as she broke down in sobs.

She stayed in there the rest of the night. She didn’t go downstairs for dinner. The stress, the crying, and the gnawing pit in her stomach from not eating anything all day had given her a headache that wouldn’t go away. She endured it for as long as she could. Her head was still pounding when she heard the front door open later in the night. She looked out her window and saw Frankie and Anthony leaving, returning to their lives away from home. Not long after that she heard her parents down the hall, getting ready for bed. When quiet settled over the house, she crept into the bathroom to search for some aspirin.

She opened up the medicine cabinet and snatched the bottle down, then dumped half a dozen pills into her hand. She popped them in her mouth and turned on the faucet, cupping her hands and filling them with water to wash the pills down. Then she splashed the cold water on her face to wash away her tears.

After she dried her face, Gabby grabbed the aspirin bottle to put it away. She paused and stared down the mouth of the bottle for a long moment, her mind blank of any conscious thoughts. She turned the bottle in her fingers, watching the little orange pills tumble about inside. Then, without really thinking about what she was doing, she put the bottle to her lips and dumped the full contents into her mouth.

She turned on the faucet and leaned over the sink. She choked on the pills as she tried to wash them down, and she ended up spitting half of them back up. The water carried them down the drain. She opened the medicine cabinet to search for more. She grabbed Dad’s heart medication and the diazepam Mom was taking for her nerves. She swallowed them all, a handful at a time.

The empty pill bottles were scattered all over the countertop. A few stray pills were littered across the floor. She left them there and she went back to her room, turned off the light, and laid down in bed to go to sleep, possibly for the last time.

Chapter 3: Distraction


mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

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Magic

mani_promoHere you can read the first sample chapter of my debut novel, Manifestation, an urban fantasy adventure that explores the revival of magic and mystery in a world that is unprepared for the changes arcane powers will bring. Available in paperback and ebook.

 

Chapter 1: Magic

 

 

Gabby Palladino raced through the front door of her home, a huge grin on her face for the first time in weeks. “Mom?” she called out. “Dad?” She hurried into the living room, looking for her parents. They should have been home already; she’d stayed late after school to audition for the new play, and by the time the late bus brought her home, it was well past the time her parents normally returned from work.

“Mom?” she asked, peeking into the kitchen. “Adrianna?” There didn’t seem to be anyone downstairs. She looked back out the window and saw Mom’s car sitting in the driveway, but Dad’s car wasn’t there. She didn’t know if he was late getting home from work, or if he’d gone back out for some reason.

She climbed the stairs and looked into each room on the second floor. Frankie’s room was empty, though it always was now that he was away at school. He almost never came home, even for the weekends. Adrianna wasn’t in her room, nor was she in the nursery. Adrianna was due any day now. Gabby glared at the secondhand crib that awaited the birth of the little brat. She couldn’t stand the sight of that room anymore. It used to be her oldest brother Anthony’s room, but ever since they’d moved his old stuff into the attic to make room for the new baby, she couldn’t look at the room without remembering that her big brother wasn’t coming home anymore. At least, not for anything more than the holidays.

She turned away and looked into her parents’ room. Mom’s purse sat on the dresser, but there was no sign of her parents anywhere. She imagined they must have left in a hurry for Mom to forget her purse.

She took out her phone and swiped her finger across the screen to scroll through the contacts until she found her mom’s cell phone number. She plucked at the loose threads of her sweater while she waited for an answer. When her mother finally answered, she had the gall to sound impatient. “Yes, Gabby, what is it?”

“Where are you guys?” Gabby asked. She went back to her room and peeked out the window that overlooked the front yard, hoping in vain that she’d see Dad’s car pulling up to the house.

“We’re at the hospital,” Mom said. “Adrianna wasn’t feeling well and we wanted to make sure she’s okay.”

“Did she have the baby?” Gabby asked, her tone mocking the excitement she should have been feeling.

“No,” Mom said. “The doctor said it was false labor. It could be any day still. Listen, there’s leftovers in the fridge. I’ve got to go.”

“But Mom,” Gabby protested, “you didn’t even ask me about—”

“Not now, Gabriella,” her mother said. “I need to go talk to the doctor about your sister.”

“But Mom!” Gabby said. Her mother hung up without another word.

She grumbled and sat down on her bed, crossed her arms, and glared at the floor. Her mother hadn’t even asked her about the play. She’d gotten the lead. It was one of the most exciting things she’d ever done. Not that anyone cared.

After a few minutes of moping, she got up and went over to the window. It was raining, so going out anywhere was out of the question. She looked down and saw Mom’s car sitting in the driveway. She wasn’t allowed to drive yet; she was supposed to have her license already, but like so many other things in her life, it had been put off because her family was too busy getting ready for the baby. Almost every time she’d asked her parents to take her out for lessons, they’d made excuses. She knew how to drive well enough not to get into an accident, but she wasn’t ready to take her driving test yet, mostly because of parallel parking.

She went back to her parents’ room and looked at her mother’s purse. She stepped over and peeked inside. The car keys sat on top of Mom’s wallet. She reached in and tapped them with her fingers. She wondered how much trouble she’d get into for what she was considering.

She decided she didn’t care.

She grabbed the keys, then as an afterthought snatched her mom’s wallet as well and shoved it in her pocket. She went back to her room and grabbed her pink jacket. It had been bitter cold all day. The weather seemed to be hinting at an early winter. The rain would make the cold that much worse. She put on a knit hat and gloves, then headed outside without any real idea where she was going.

She drove into the city first, crossing from the suburbs into the busy streets of San Lorien. She took herself out to dinner at the most expensive restaurant she could find, in the lobby of the Donovan Grand Hotel, and paid with her mom’s credit card. When the maitre d’ questioned her, she claimed her family was staying at the hotel but her parents were off sharing a romantic evening together, and her mother had sent her to dinner alone. He eyed her with doubt, but didn’t argue.

After dinner her phone rang. Her mom’s number displayed on the caller ID. She ignored the call, then put her phone on silent. She didn’t have any idea if Mom was calling from the hospital, or if she’d gotten home and noticed that she was missing. Either way, she didn’t want to deal with it right now.

As the sky grew darker, she started to worry about getting lost in the city if she kept driving around at night. The rain had lessened, but it was still coming down enough to make visibility poor, and the approaching darkness made it worse. She didn’t know the streets of San Lorien all that well; she’d grown up in the suburbs, and didn’t come into the city that often. She was already lost, since she’d been driving around without any real destination in mind. She pulled to the side of the road so she could use the GPS to find her way, knowing she’d never figure out where she was going without it. Once she started tapping the buttons on the touch screen, however, she realized she didn’t know what address she should punch in. She didn’t want to go home yet. After a moment’s thought, she decided to punch in her friend Callia’s address. She wouldn’t be able to take her mother’s car all the way to Callia’s house, of course, since Callia’s parents were surely at home.

The GPS guided her through the dark streets, and the tall buildings of the city faded away and were replaced by the worn-down industrial buildings that ringed San Lorien. She drove past those and into the more familiar two-story homes of the West District suburbs. She parked around the corner from Callia’s street and got out to walk the rest of the way. The night air was chilly, and the cold rain soaked through her knit hat before she reached her friend’s house. When she got there, she hesitated just before knocking on the door. Her parents might have called Callia’s, looking for her.

She snuck around to the back of the house and pulled out her phone. She hit the power key and swiped her finger across the screen to unlock it, then immediately saw several missed calls and texts from her mom. She ignored them and instead sent Callia a text message: Are you in your room?

She waited in the rain for the reply, bouncing up and down on her toes to try to keep warm. A minute later Callia’s reply appeared on the screen: Yeah, I’m home. What’s up?

I’m outside, Gabby texted back.

What? Callia texted. Why didn’t you ring the doorbell?

I’m in the backyard, Gabby replied. A moment later she saw Callia’s window on the second floor open, and her friend’s blonde head stuck out.

“What are you doing down there?” Callia asked. “Your parents called here looking for you.”

“Let me in,” Gabby said, trying to keep her voice down so Callia’s parents wouldn’t hear. “I took my mom’s car.”

“You’re crazy! Callia said, shaking her head. “God . . . hold on.”

Callia pulled her head back inside and shut the window. Gabby shivered in the cold while she waited for her friend to come let her in. Her phone was still on silent, but while she was waiting, the screen lit up with an incoming call. The caller ID showed it was her mother’s number again. She tapped the screen to reject the call, then locked the phone again. She didn’t want to talk to her mother right now. A few moments later Callia appeared at the back door. Gabby slipped inside, stepping carefully so as not to make any noise. “You’re gonna get in so much trouble,” Callia whispered. “You know that, right? If my parents catch you here . . .”

“I won’t stay long,” Gabby whispered. “Where are your parents?”

“Watching TV,” Callia said. “Come on, and be quiet.”

Callia led Gabby through the kitchen and into the hall. Gabby could hear the sound of the TV coming from the living room and the light from the screen flickered into the hall. They slipped past with care, then hurried up the stairs and into Callia’s room. Callia shut the door and locked it, then turned to look at Gabby. “You’re soaked,” she said. She helped Gabby get her jacket off, but the old, worn out material hadn’t kept the rain out very well and her sweater underneath was damp as well. “Here, let me get you something to wear. I need to get changed for bed anyway.”

Gabby sat on the edge of the bed while Callia dug through her dresser drawers and pulled out a nightgown for herself and an over-sized t-shirt for Gabby. Callia started to get changed, showing no modesty in front of her trusted friend. “So let me guess,” Callia said as she pulled her shirt over her head. “You had another fight with your mom.”

“Yeah,” Gabby said, keeping her eyes down and trying her hardest not to stare at her friend’s body. She couldn’t resist a peek, and her face heated up at the brief sight of Callia’s bare chest before her friend finished changing into her nightgown. “Well, not a fight. But they left without me, and . . .” She trailed off and bit her lip, realizing now that taking the car just because her parents had taken Adrianna to the hospital hadn’t been a bright idea. Now that she wasn’t distracting herself and she sat down and think about what she’d done, it started to sink in that she was going to be in a lot of trouble.

She changed out of her wet clothes quickly, trying not to let Callia see how much she was blushing. It was the same feeling she dealt with around other girls in the gym locker room every day at school. “It’s just,” she said, “ever since Addy got pregnant, that’s all anyone ever cares about. It’s not fair that she gets so much attention just because she was a slut.”

Once they were both changed, Callia sat next to Gabby on the bed and took her hands. “You really shouldn’t be mad at your sister,” she said. “She’s going to need your support.”

“It’s what she gets,” Gabby said. “She’s been with so many guys. She just keeps it secret from Mom.” Gabby knew that Callia was right; the baby was due any day now, and Adrianna was going to have to raise him alone, since her ex-boyfriend Jeremy had abandoned her.

There was a long pause, then Callia asked, “What about you?”

Gabby looked up and asked, “What about me?”

Callia gave her a shy smile and asked, “Have you ever . . . y’know . . . with a guy?”

“Eww, no!” Gabby replied, shaking her head and scrunching her face up in disgust.

Callia giggled and shook her head. “Yeah, me neither,” she said. “I’ve never even been kissed.”

Gabby found that hard to believe. Her friend was beautiful. She had perfect porcelain skin, golden blonde hair, and shimmering blue eyes. She was thin and graceful, and exactly what Gabby pictured an elf would look like.

“Have you ever been . . . curious?” Callia asked.

Gabby’s heart started to speed up. “Yeah,” she whispered. “I mean, I guess. But I’ve never met someone who I’d want to . . .” That was a lie, but she’d never admit to the truth.

“What if it was someone that you trust?” Callia asked. She intertwined her fingers with Gabby’s, a playful smirk touching her tender lips. “Just to try it.” She shrugged. “See what it’s like.”

Gabby barely nodded. “Yeah,” she said. Her mouth suddenly felt very dry.

“Yeah?” Callia asked, leaning closer.

“Yeah . . .”

Their lips touched and Gabby closed her eyes. Callia’s lips felt so soft, and they tasted faintly of strawberry chapstick. They were moist and warm, and Gabby trembled at the thought of her own chapped, dry lips. She held perfectly still until Callia’s lips moved gently against hers, and she parted hers ever so slightly in response. In that moment, she believed in magic.

All too soon it was over. “That was . . . interesting,” Callia said.

Gabby nodded, unable to find her voice. Her heart was pounding and she trembled. She could still taste her friend’s lips and all she could think about was kissing her again.

The room was silent for a moment, then Callia got up and said, “I’m going to go say good night to my parents, so they don’t come up here to check on me. I’ll be right back.” Gabby nodded and waited while Callia headed downstairs. Gabby settled herself awkwardly on the bed and tried to keep as quiet as possible. Her mind raced, but no coherent thoughts came to the surface. She was full of energy, and it danced just beneath the surface of her skin, waiting to be released. She just didn’t know how to release it.

When Callia friend returned, she locked the door again and shut out the light. “Okay, they think I’m going to sleep. We just need to be quiet.”

In the dark, Callia settled on the bed next to Gabby. The rain outside had finally cleared, and the moonlight drifted through the window. Gabby could barely make out Callia’s form, lying on her side, her head propped on her hand. Her thoughts raced with forbidden desires, but she kept them to herself. They built up in her mind like a pressure building up inside her skull, threatening to burst free. It made her head and her heart ache.

“So,” Callia whispered in the dark, “what else is new with you? Didn’t you audition for that play today?”

Gabby smiled, glad that her friend had remembered. “Yeah,” she said. “I got the lead.”

They chatted for a while, keeping their voices low as Callia asked Gabby about the play and about school. Gabby had a hard time concentrating on anything beyond the warmth of the girl lying next to her and the pressure building up inside her. After the conversation lapsed, to distract herself from such thoughts, she asked, “What about you? Are you still going to Costa Rosa in the spring?”

“Actually,” Callia said with a smile in her voice, “I have an interview for an internship. It’s with the Jansborough Wildlife Preserve. If I get it, it’ll count towards college credit, and I can enroll at C.R.U. next fall.”

“That’s great,” Gabby whispered, fighting the conflict she felt in her chest. Jansborough wasn’t that far away, but it still meant her best friend would be out of reach. Jansborough was even further west than Costa Rosa, and further inland, away from San Lorien’s ports. “If you wait until next year to go to the university, we could end up starting at the same time.” Callia had graduated from high school the year before, but Gabby was just starting her senior year. Callia had taken a year off after high school to figure out what she wanted to do with her life. She’d worked some part-time jobs and done volunteer work, which had taken up a lot of her free time lately.

Gabby missed seeing her friend in school every day, but she could look forward to sharing classes again in college next year. Until then she would miss Callia dearly. Even if Gabby had a car or her license, the move to Jansborough would put her friend hours away. It wasn’t as if she could expect her parents to drive her that far for a visit.

“Yeah,” Callia said. Her hand idly reached out and played with Gabby’s hair. “It’s going to be a great learning experience. There’s a research station, deep in the woods, with cabins where the staff live. We’re going to be studying animals in their natural habitat, trying to find out how they’re being affected by civilization moving in on their homes. And since the work there counts as college credit, I won’t need to spend as much time in classes later on.”

“It sounds great,” Gabby said. She was glad for the darkness; it kept Callia from being able to see the tears in her eyes. “It sounds just like what you always wanted. Going out there and actually doing something.”

“Yeah,” Callia said. “I’ll miss you.” The excitement was gone from her voice.

“I’ll miss you, too,” Gabby replied. They settled back into silence. She closed her eyes and let out a sigh, focusing on nothing except for the feeling of Callia’s fingers playing with her hair. Before she knew it, she had drifted off to sleep.

 Chapter 2: Manifestation


mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Something at Stake

I mentioned in my last post that I would be working on some of my short stories for Arcana Revived in the near future. I’ve also mentioned that I was getting a couple of those short stories critiqued and workshopped by my classmates in my Rowan University graduate fiction workshop. I noticed a common theme during the class workshops, both of my own story and of others from the class, which seems to come up often enough to be worth discussing. It’s the issue of making sure your characters have something at stake.

This seems to be an issue that mostly relates to first drafts and works that are in their early stages of development. The idea is that no matter how interesting the individual events in the story are, the characters involved (most especially the main character) need to have something at stake. If they don’t have anything at stake, anything to lose, anything to gain, or any chance to grow, then their story may end up being pointless.

There’s a few different ways that this issue seemed to come up in the stories we workshopped, so I’ll go over each one individually.

The Stakes Aren’t Apparent at the Beginning

This seems to mostly be an issue with the stories that were actually the early chapters of a novel. The problem occurs when there are interesting characters in an interesting situation but with no apparent reason for them to be there. For example, one of my classmates was writing a story about a character who was being dragged along as a guide/sidekick/partner to the Spirit of Vengeance while they went on a quest to do . . . something.

That “something” part was what was missing. The section we workshopped (which was basically the first chapter of the draft) didn’t give us any reason for the characters to be on this “quest.” The characters were interesting (think Jay from Men in Black meets a ghost who has the same creepy powerful vibe as Agent Smith from The Matrix). The idea of traveling with the Spirit of Vengeance on some kind of quest was interesting. But in the opening we read, we didn’t know what the quest was or why it was important for the main character to be on it.

This mostly seemed to stem from the fact that this was an early opening draft where the author was still exploring the characters and learning what they were all about. It’s a common thing in early drafts. Sometimes it takes a while to explore the characters and learn about them. However, once you’ve done so, it may prove necessary to cut the early “exploratory” sections of the piece before final publication.

The Point of View Character Isn’t the One with Something at Stake

This is a different issue than the one mentioned above, where the “main” character of a story is just along for the ride. Some of the stories we reviewed had characters who were reporting on a lot of interesting things happening around them (happening to friends, family, or others), but who had no personal stake in the events.

As an example, consider what would happen if you took a story like The Hunger Games and told it from the perspective of someone watching the Games from home. You could have them watch every event that Katniss goes through, tell the exact same story . . . except the person watching wouldn’t be the one with something really at stake. Even if it were Katniss’s mother or sister, they don’t have as much at stake in the story as Katniss herself.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that a character has to be the most directly involved in order to be the point of view character. Dr. Watson was Sherlock Holmes’s sidekick, yet he was also the one telling the story. But he was directly involved in events and had a personal stake in their outcome.

The Stakes Aren’t Personal Enough

While my story, Next Spring, was being workshopped, some of the reviewers raised the point that the main character, Callia Gainsborough, didn’t have enough of a personal stake in the conflict as it was being presented. This is something that will be easy enough to fix during revisions, and the central cause was that the story focused a little too much on the supporting character, Ethan. Ethan’s role was meant to be minor, and his interactions with Callia in the story were meant to show how Callia would react to certain events. Yet since most of the story involved Callia merely reacting to Ethan’s actions and behavior, the result was that she didn’t seem to have much at stake for herself, her own needs, and her own character development.

The solution is simply to revise the story with a greater focus on Callia’s thoughts and emotions. There are issues that Callia is struggling with: the changes in her life, her loneliness, her need to find her place, and her as-yet-unexpressed feelings for someone she’s only previously been friends with. Focusing on these issues will give Callia more of a personal conflict to overcome (even if the conflict is mostly an internal one). Then, her interactions with Ethan simply become a catalyst for how she decides to look within herself.

The good news is that the basic structure of the story–the events that laid out from Point A to B to C–are already there. This will allow me to go back and add more depth to the character without having to alter the overall course of the story.

The Character Doesn’t Demonstrate Change

An important part of any story is having a character grow and change during the course of it. During a short story, this can be difficult, since you don’t have a lot of time to work with. However, a character can undergo a significant change in a short amount of time.

Sometimes the change is merely an internal one. For example, as I mentioned when discussing New Spring above, the conflict in the story is mostly centered around Callia’s thoughts and emotions. Simply coming to a decision, revelation, or other emotional triumph can be enough of a change in such a case. In other stories, the change might be more drastic, such as with my short story Radiance, where the main character Maria Vasquez undergoes an actual supernatural physical transformation. Then there are cases where a character grows up in some way by making an important decision that shows an embarkment into maturity. Or a character might make a significant life decision, and in a short story, the reader doesn’t always need to see what happens after that decision. Just knowing that a character is going to quit their job, or move to another state, or try to reconnect with their girlfriend might be enough of an ending (think of the ending to the movie Clerks, where Dante ends with the decision to fix things up with Veronica, but we don’t actually see him do so).

If a character didn’t change throughout the course of the story, it was probably because they had nothing at stake. The stakes of the story should be the catalyst for change. And if you see someone else besides the main character experience growth and change, that’s a good sign that the main character wasn’t the one with something at stake.

There’s likely other issues centered around a character having something at stake. Let me know if you can think of any. Because what’s at stake for me is becoming the best writer I can be.

Progress on Book Four, and Upcoming Plans

I’m nearly at the end of the spring school semester at Rowan University, so it seems like a good time to make some updates on my writing projects and where they’re going.

First, I’ve got about one week left now before all my classes are complete and I’m off for a month. I’ve got a few final assignments left this week, mostly involving revisions. Two of the pieces being revised are Arcana Revived short stories that I wrote for my fiction workshop class. The stories, currently working under the titles Questioning Angels and Next Spring are both centered around Callia Gainsborough, one of the major supporting characters of the series. When Manifestation comes out later this year, you’ll get the chance to learn more about Callia. She has a major role in the series, but she doesn’t usually get to be in the spotlight on her own, which is why I wanted to write a couple of stories about just her. They provide some interesting character development, giving the chance to see more about who Callia is outside of her relationship with Gabby Palladino.

After the semester is over, the next main project will be finishing up preparations on Manifestation. The manuscript is currently with my editor, and after the edits are complete, I’ll be going over everything to determine if any further revisions are needed. After that the only remaining steps are formatting (to get the manuscript ready for physical printing and ebook conversion) and cover art (which will be the last step after the formatting is complete since the exact physical size of the book needs to be determined). I’ll have a more exact date figured out soon, but for now I’m aiming for “before September” with a failsafe of “before the end of the year” to have the book out and ready to go.

Next, there is the writing of the next book in the series. Manifestation is written, revised, and being polished. The second and third books in the series, Contamination and Collapse are complete first drafts. I won’t be revising those until after I’m done getting Manifestation ready. So while those two are awaiting revisions, I’m working on writing the fourth book in the series, which is being written under the working-title Mutation.

Over the summer, I’ll be in a graduate-level course called “Writing the Novel.” While I don’t yet know the exact course requirements (such as how many pages or chapters of writing will be required as assignments), based on the way past classes go, I expect to be doing a decent amount of creative writing during the course. If possible, some of that writing will be chapters for Mutation, and I’ll also be doing plenty more writing for Mutation on the side of any writing I do for the class. Since the class lasts just over a month (from May 27th to August 1st) I’m planning on treating it as an unofficial NaNoWriMo so that I can finish the book. I’m currently sitting at almost 45,000 words, and the other books in the series all hit right around 120,000 words. If my past NaNoWriMo experiences are any indication, I should be able to finish the remaining 75,000 words before August.

Then, of course, during the real NaNoWriMo this November, I’ll be starting on Book Five.

In the meantime, if you’re curious to see what Arcana Revived is all about, you should check out the first short story ebook I published, Radiance. Radiance is the origin story of a girl named Maria Vasquez, who becomes a major supporting character later in the series. The short story shows you how she gets started in a world where magic is returning for the first time, after centuries of people thinking such things are nothing more than myth and legend.

More updates will come when there’s more to tell, especially over the summer as work on the series continues.

Character Relationships: Til Death Does Them Part?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to how to develop character relationships in writing. I’ve never been a romance writer, and I’ve only read a few romances in my time. I tend to lean more towards science fiction and fantasy. Of course, there are always plenty of romantic subplots in sci fi, fantasy, and plenty of other genres. They just aren’t a primary focus, and they haven’t been something I delved into in deep detail in the past.

Like in many other works, my own series, Arcana Revived includes a couple of romantic subplots. The primary one is between the main protagonist, Gabby Palladino, and her love interest, Callia Gainsborough. To avoid spoilers I won’t go into too much detail about their relationship, but suffice to say it’s something that is developed in an ongoing fashion across the first few books I’ve written in the series so far. The more time I spend developing their relationship, the more I have to consider what elements make for a good relationship in fiction.

One thing that comes to mind is that most characters who end up in a romance plot seem to start off single, and their relationship sparks sometime early in the course of the plot. When I think of the various romantic plots I’ve read about, almost none of them involve characters who start off already involved at the beginning of the story. In fantasy series, some of the most prominent that come to mind are Richard and Kahlan from the Sword of Truth series, Rand and Min/Elayne/Aviendha from the Wheel of Time series, Caramon and Tika from the Dragonlance series, and dozens of examples in the Xanth series (many of which include interspecies romances between various fantasy races like humans, centaurs, zombies, dragons, and demons). Each of the examples involve couples that weren’t romantically involved at the beginning of the book, and the majority of them are characters who didn’t even know each other before the story began.

Based on these, and other fictional couples, it seems that part of the appeal to romance stories is developing the initial attraction and building up tension. Indeed, the “Will they or won’t they get together?” question seems to be a common trope that’s also seen across television and movies. It also seems that this tension can be played out across several stages of the relationship, from “Will they or won’t they kiss?” to “Will they or won’t they have sex?” and even “Will they or won’t they break up?” These questions link back to a basic conflict-building technique: give your character a goal, then put obstacles in the way of that goal to keep them from achieving it as long as possible. The first goal might be getting their love interest’s attention, then once they’ve achieved that the next goal may be a kiss, and so on and so forth. The tension and conflict of the relationship can, in such a way, be built up and carried on for quite some time.

The question, then, is how do you know when a romance is complete? The few romance novels I’ve read seem to go through several stages: courtship (developing interest between the characters), buildup of the relationship, a crisis (something that almost ends the relationship), a resolution, and finally an ending that implies there will be a “happily ever after” for the characters.

Is that “happily ever after” really the end, though? Aside from the potential for future conflicts related to marriage, children, and the various troubles that life throws at people, how do you know when the “story” of the relationship ends? It’s a bit of a different question than knowing the ending of the other conflicts I see in various stories. A mystery might end when the murder is solved, an adventure end when the treasure is recovered, a fantasy epic end when the evil wizard is defeated, and so on. A relationship, however, is an ongoing thing; if the relationship is expected to continue “ever after,” then it wouldn’t truly end until “death do us part.”

This thought brings to mind a topic I first read about in the book Radiant by James Alan Gardner. The plot of Radiant involves a character named Youn Suu traveling with another named Festina Ramos, as they try to solve the mystery of a dangerous planet and the alien powers there. In addition to the primary conflict, there is an additional conflict between these two characters based on their backgrounds and viewpoints. Youn Suu is a Buddhist and her viewpoints in the novel are largely inspired by Eastern cultures, while Festina’s viewpoints are more in line with Western cultures.

The difference between Eastern and Western cultures comes up frequently throughout the book, but one particular aspect is relevant to this discussion about character relationships. Gardner (writing in Youn Suu’s voice in first person) describes the difference between Eastern and Western heroes and the way stories are told and how they end (p. 84):

There’s nothing dearer to my people’s hearts than an admired soldier who refuses to break some minor Buddhist precept and, therefore, dies horribly. The more pain and mutilation, the better. In Eastern legends, death is always part of the story. Even if a hero dies peacefully at a ripe old age, you have to include that death as part of the hero’s tale. Many Western champions just vanish into the sunset or “live happily ever after,” as if death passes them by . . . but in the stories I heard growing up, the time and manner of a hero’s death were never glossed over. Often, they were the whole point.

While this concept is described in relation to a character as an individual, it can be applied to a relationship as well. This passage essentially describes the same “happily ever after” idea I mentioned earlier, where the audience assumes that a relationship continues without any serious problems long after the book, movie, or show has ended. If a writer were to apply this Eastern philosophy to a romance story, however, then the story would have to continue until the end of the relationship. This could either mean moving ahead to some time in the future when a couple breaks up or divorces, or following them until one or both of their deaths if the couple remains together until death does them part.

I’m not familiar with any romance novels that follow a relationship to this point, but I’d be curious to see how it would work. There are plenty of ways that a following a couple to their deaths could still lead to a happy ending. The most prominent example that comes to mind is the movie Bicentennial Man, which follows the main character and his wife right up to their death bed. They die on the same day. After spending a life together, there is a certain romanticism about the idea of a couple leaving the world together, so that they won’t have to live without each other.

I’ll be reading a lot more romance novels in the near future, especially since several of my Twitter friends are romance novelists and I’ve started buying their books. I’m curious to see how each of them ends . . . will their romances simply have a happily ever after, or will death do them part?

Writer’s Workshops

Since I’ve spent the last several years attending writing classes at Rowan University, I’ve been involved in a lot of writer’s workshops. Depending on the type of class, they can be managed differently from one situation to another. No matter what the case, however, they take a certain amount of thick skin.

In some classes, we do small group workshops. In these scenarios, your story is usually read by three people, who offer you feedback in the form of both notes and small group discussion. This is usually a relatively painless procedure, but can offer a lot of valuable advice.

The other type of workshop I usually go through is one where the entire class reads your story. Then, instead of getting verbal feedback in a small discussion, the entire class discusses your work, usually for about 45 minutes. This can be a lot more difficult, though arguably it is also more valuable.

I went through a workshop session this week for my Fiction Writing class. Since it’s a graduate class, the workshop consisted of more than a dozen experienced writers, all of whom are working on their master’s degrees. Now, I’ve been one of the critiquers in these workshops plenty of times (and I’ve critiqued and discussed four stories by four of my classmates so far just this semester). But being the one in the “hot seat” is always difficult.

It’s definitely important to bring your thick skin and leave your ego at the door. Fortunately, my classmates all know how to be positive and constructive (especially since they all know THEY will be in the hot seat soon enough). Still, even when the environment is a positive one, it can be difficult to spend 45 minutes listening to a group of people point out all the flaws in your story (doubly so since the writer isn’t allowed to speak until the very end).

In preparation for the workshop, I had my story reviewed by a few friends on Twitter, so I could polish out some of the basic issues ahead of time. I got good feedback on the story. It’s another short story in the Arcana Revived series, this time focusing on Callia Gainsborough and Minori Tsujino (both of whom are major supporting characters in the series, but characters who don’t often get their own time in the spotlight).

Based on the feedback I received from the first group, I cleaned up the basic grammatical errors, polished up the details, and made sure the story was clean and well-composed. That meant that there (in theory) wasn’t much for the workshop group to say about basic issued of grammar, description, and other “surface level” stuff. As a result, they focused more on greater structural issues, like character development, scene order, and world building.

Based on the feedback I received, I’ll be able to develop the story further and address the issues that were raised. Many of them stemmed specifically from the fact that this was a standalone story that is part of a larger work. Callia in particular is a character with a lot of history in the overall series, most of which wasn’t addressed in this short piece. This led to a lot of questions from the readers. So part of what I need to do is make sure to add in enough of those details to address the key questions, so that the story can function just fine as a solo piece. It’s a bit of a different way of looking at things, since I’m used to writing novels more than short stories. More than half of the questions that were raised wouldn’t have been issues if this story was just one chapter in the novels. The questions would be answered earlier or later in the novels, in other chapters. But to be a standalone piece, the story needs to hold itself up without the reader having knowledge of the other works.

The good part is that a lot of the general feedback was positive. Several people told me that they liked the writing, that the description was clear, and that the characters were interesting. So I take that as a good sign. I have the basics down. I have something that people will be interested in. I just need to take all of the feedback and use it to address the flaws in order to make the overall story stronger. So I feel like I’m heading in the right direction. Taking that into consideration, the workshop was clearly valuable. I wouldn’t have known which issues needed to be addressed if not for the feedback from my classmates.

Even if being in the hot seat was hard to do.

#NaNoWriMo Day 28, a.k.a. Thanksgiving

Hi there! It’s Thanksgiving, or something!

So this has been a rough week. I didn’t write anything on my novel Monday or Tuesday, and Tuesday night I legit almost cried from the stress. Now, I DID write about 6000 words on other projects for school and stuff, but my novel was sorely neglected.

So I made up for it by writing nearly 13,000 words on Wednesday. By the end of Wednesday I was extremely brain dead and it was 4:00 in the morning. Then today I had two turkey dinners (one at my dad’s house and one at my friend Chris’s) and a few Smirnoffs. So I’m barely functioning right now from the combination lack of sleep plus too much food plus alcohol.

I did, however, do some writing today. About 1000 words. In between turkey times. And since I haven’t shared an excerpt, here’s a little something. It involves, Maria, the star of the short story, “Radiance.” Now, my original plan was for Maria to enter the main novel series in Book Two . . . but I also planned for Book One to kinda end where Book Two now ends. But “Manifestation” ran longer than expected, and when I was only halfway through the planned story, I was at over 120,000 words. I also built up to a really nice climax at around that 120,000, and decided that was the perfect place to end “Manifestation.” But as a result, the second half of that “arc” ended up being Book Two, “Contamination” (which also ran longer than expected). As a result, Maria’s time to enter the story doesn’t arrive until Book Three, “Collapse.”

But here’s a little glimpse of her. Naked. (By the way, there’s major spoilers below. Sexy spoilers):

            The girl that stood before them had a body that seemed to be made out of ice. Glimmering crystals covered her flesh, and when she moved her head, her hair crunched like footsteps in the snow. She was also completely naked. Her crystalline body was like a translucent ice sculpture, carved by the hand of God himself. Gabby found her eyes drawn to the girl’s more sensual curves, and her face grew warm.

            Callia caught Gabby staring at the exotic stranger and smacked her on the arm. Hard. “Oww!” Gabby said. She rubbed her arm and tore her eyes away from the beautiful creature of ice to look at Callia. Callia crossed her arms beneath her breasts and gave Gabby a look. Gabby blushed deeper and lowered her eyes to the ground. “Sorry.”

            “Gabby?” the ice girl said. She stepped closer, then flinched when she crossed into Gabby’s aura. Gabby backed away, trying not to look directly at the very attractive, very naked ice girl. “Gabby Palladino?”

            Gabby looked up at the girl, catching another glare from Callia as she did so. She forced herself to keep her eyes on the girl’s face. She looked familiar, though it was hard tell with the way the light almost passed through the girl’s translucent face. “Maria?” she asked. “Maria Vasquez?”

            Callia leaned over towards Gabby and asked, “You know this girl?” The look in her girlfriend’s eyes wasn’t a pleasant one.

            “Yeah,” Gabby said. “She went to my school. But . . .” Gabby looked between Callia and Maria. “Maria, you weren’t at the school when the fire happened, were you? I thought you dropped out senior year?”

            “My mother was ill,” Maria said. Her crystalline eyes roamed the air around Gabby, tracing along the edges of her invisible aura. “She is preserved now.” Maria’s eyes seemed out of focus. Something about her eyes reminded Gabby of Minori. Like her mind was someplace else, just as Minori’s seemed to be when she spoke about Mithriel.

            Gabby frowned at the word “preserved,” and exchanged a look with Callia. “But what are you doing out here now?” she asked. “And why are you naked?”

            Maria looked down at herself. She ran her fingers down her skin and a sound like ice skating drifted through the air. “Cloth doesn’t stay anymore,” she said. “My new skin is too cold, and too sharp.”

            Gabby looked at Maria’s skin, and got another sharp look from Callia. She wasn’t looking at the ice girl’s curves, however, and instead studied her skin itself. It was hard to get a good look from the distance, since she couldn’t move closer without overloading Maria. It looked, though, as if Maria’s skin was covered in razor sharp crystals of ice. It looked almost like diamonds.

            Maria stepped over to a nearby Mimosa tree and scraped the back of her arm down the smooth bark. She left shallow gashes down the length of it, along with a layer of frost. “I have to be careful what I touch,” Maria said. She stepped away from the tree, leaving frosted footprints that turned the grass to icicles. “It’s not safe to be around me.”

            Gabby felt a swelling in her heart. “I know what you mean,” she said. “It’s not safe for me to be near people with powers.” She looked at Callia with a questioning glance. Callia arched an eyebrow and gave a small shake of her head. Gabby turned back to Maria. “You should come with us.”

            Callia glowered, then turned away and looked down at the ground. Maria arched an eyebrow and asked, “Come with you where?”

            “We’ve been gathering people with powers and taking refuge,” Gabby said. “The government is after us. All of us. It’s not safe, especially for you to be out here alone.”

            Maria turned and looked to the west. She stared for a long moment, then nodded. The motion brought the sound of crunching snow. She turned back to Gabby and Callia and said, “I’ve been avoiding people so I won’t hurt them. But if you understand this,” she held up her hand and turned it before her face, watching the light stream through her translucent skin, “then maybe you can help me.”

            Gabby nodded. “We can help,” she said. She looked to Callia, who still wasn’t meeting her eyes. She touched Callia on the arm. “Right?”

            Callia looked up and gave her a forced smile. “Right,” she said.

Gabby and Callia’s stories won’t be seen until “Manifestation” releases next year. But if Maria intrigues you, I’ve published a short story about her origins. It’s 3000 words and serves as a stand-alone story in the “Arcana Revived” world, and shows you how Maria got to be the way you see her above. The ebook also has a poem written by none other than Gabby Palladino, as well as an excerpt from “Manifestation.”

#NaNoWriMo Day 17

Hello blog-reading people(s)!

I’m exhausted. I’m always exhausted on Sundays. See, since I haven’t found a new job yet, I work 11 hour shifts back to back each day Fri/Sat/Sun. My “weekends” are just endless work. On top of all that, I spend them writing. Today, I wrote about 4000 words while at work.

“But Jason,” you say, “didn’t you finish ‘Contamination’ already? How can you be writing?”

I’m glad you asked.

As I may have already mentioned, “Contamination” was part two in a minimum three part series, “Arcana Revived.” The first book, “Manifestation,” was written for #NaNoWriMo 2012. It’s currently in revisions (which are on pause until after NaNo, since NaNo is about WRITING, not revising). After “Manifestation” and “Contamination” comes my third book and current new WIP, “Collapse.”

As you can see on the side bar (all the way over there ————–>)
I’ve added a new word counter for “Collapse.” The “Contamination” counter is still not at 100%, because I’ve got a few little scenes to add in here and there to fix some plot holes. Today I wrote about 1000 words in one of those scenes, tying together some loose threads rather nicely. The rest of what I worked on was Chapter Two of “Collapse” (I wrote Chapter One yesterday).

My new goal is to complete “Collapse” by the end of NaNoWriMo. I wrote 80,000 words in the first two weeks of November. I want to write another 80,000 by the end (and then maybe use the first week of December for the last 40,000, unless I can squeeze it in to November still). That’d make a grand total of 160,000 words for NaNo, about double my original goal. Can I do it?

CAN I!?!?!?

*Ahem* Anyway, here’s an excerpt. I won’t share anything from the climax of “Contamination” because OMG SPOILERS!, but here’s a glimpse of the beginning of “Collapse” (which may also have SOME spoilers, so read on at your own risk (there may also be kissing (and clowders of demon cats))) :

Excerpt 1 (action):

            The cats emerged from beyond the tree line. There were half a dozen of them, and they were larger than any great cat Gabby had ever seen in the zoo. Their massive bodies would have dwarfed a tiger. “My God,” the man on Gabby’s left said. “They’re monsters! How did they get so big?”

            “The mana mutates them,” Gabby said. “Changes their bodies. Makes them grow.” One of the approaching cats let out a fierce roar and unleashed a gout of flame from its mouth. “And infuses them with arcana,” she added.

            “There’s a whole pack of them,” Colin said. His hands shook as he aimed his hunting rifle at them.

            “A clowder,” Callia said. Her hands were steady as she aimed her rifle at the approaching monsters. “A group of cats is called a clowder.”

            “They’re fire-breathing demon cats,” Gabby said. “And you think we should call them a ‘clowder’?” Callia just smirked and shook her head.

            “Cut the chatter,” Jeremiah ordered. He aimed his assault rifle, the only military-grade weapon they had, at the approaching clowder of demon cats. “Focus!”

            The demon cats ran down the street towards the school. “Fire when they reach the edge of the field,” Jeremiah said, sighting down the barrel of his rifle. “That’s about a hundred yards. You won’t hit them further out than that, so don’t waste bullets.” Most of the militia had little experience with rifles. A few had hunting experience, and with a decent rifle might be able to take down a target at two hundred yards fairly easily. The inexperienced militia members, however, would be wasting their shots at that range.

            Gabby stood up and aimed her bow into the air. “Gabby, wait!” Jeremiah said. “They’re still out of range, especially for a bow!”

            “Not for me,” Gabby said.

Excerpt 2 (because I promised someone a kissy scene today):

Callia stepped over and slipped her hands around Gabby’s waist. “I’ve never seen you so . . .” she said, ” . . . authoritative. It’s kinda sexy.”

            Gabby’s face turned red. She put her arms around Callia and said, “I couldn’t say no. It’ll give us something to do, and maybe next time there’s an attack, we’ll have a few more people with powers to help fight it off.”

            Callia’s fingers played with the hem of Gabby’s shirt and tickled the skin underneath. “And what do you want me to do to help with training,” she asked. “Captain Gabby?”

            Gabby scrunched her face and said, “Please don’t call me ‘Captain.’ That sounds so dumb.” She thought about it for a moment, though she was distracted by what Callia’s fingers were doing under her shirt. She pursed her lips and said, “How about, ‘Commander Palladino.'”

            “Ooh, I like that,” Callia said. She reached up and brushed a stand of hair off Gabby’s face. “Commander.

            The look in Callia’s eyes took Gabby’s breath away. Callia leaned closer and her lips touched Gabby’s. She pulled Callia closer and parted her lips to invite Callia’s tongue inside. They held each other close and kissed as if the world weren’t falling to pieces around them. Then Callia pulled back, her teeth tugging Gabby’s plump lower lip for a moment before releasing it. Gabby trembled, weak in the knees and clinging to her girlfriend. Her aura throbbed, and she had to take a few deep breaths to compose herself.

And that’s all for now!

#NaNoWriMo Day 10

So, it’s Sunday.

Yes, yes, I know what you’re going to say. “But Jason,” you say, “it’s after midnight, so that makes it Monday!”

Well, I say, poppycock! (Who says “poppycock” anymore, honestly?) It’s not Monday until the sun comes up. I’ve had enough of this “the new day starts in the middle of the night” crap!

What? Oh, right, #NaNoWriMo. That’s what I’m supposed to be talking about.

Well, let’s see where we’re at:

NaNoWriMo_Day_10What’s that? Yup! That’s 52,140 words! Wooo! VICTORY IS MINE!

Except, not “victory” since my overall goal is 90k for the month. But, still, at this pace I’m on track to write 150k in the month (if there’s that much story left in “Contamination,” which there isn’t. I’m closing in on the climax now).

So, if you’ve been reading all of my #NaNoWriMo posts, you’re probably asking, “Where’s Gabby? You keep promising a Gabby excerpt!” (Okay, I know there’s probably no one asking that, but you’re getting one anyway). I should probably also mention how anything you see here COULD constitute major spoilers. Just FYI:

Callia took out a bow and quiver and handed them to Gabby. “Here,” she said. “It’s easy.” She grabbed another set of bow and arrows for herself, along with a couple of the paper targets, and some funny looking pieces of leather. Then she led Gabby around to the front of the haystacks and pinned the targets to them with tacks. Once that was done, she led Gabby across the field. They stopped when they were just past a little flag that stuck up out of the ground by their feet.

“This is a hundred feet,” Callia said.

“A hundred?” Gabby asked. “Can’t we start off a little bit closer?” The targets looked a long way off to her. “I’ll never hit anything from here!”

Callia shook her head and said, “There you go again with, ‘I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.’ How many times have I told you that you need to be more positive, and believe in yourself.”

“Give me your hand,” Callia said. The leather thing turned out to be an armband, and she strapped it over Gabby’s left wrist. “This is to protect your arm when the bowstring snaps.”

Gabby strapped the quiver over her shoulder and picked up the bow in her right hand. Callia sighed and shook her head. “Hold it with your left hand,” she said.

“But I’m right handed,” Gabby said.

“So you hold the arrow in your right hand,” Callia said. “Here, let me show you.”

She handed Gabby an arrow, then stepped around behind her. “Keep your back straight,” she said. She reached around Gabby from behind and pulled her close. Gabby stood very still when she felt Callia’s breasts pressed against her back. “Nock the arrow like this.” She guided Gabby’s trembling fingers and helped her set the arrow on the bow string.

Callia guided Gabby’s hands and aimed at the target. “Just relax, and take your time. Focus on the target.” In that moment, Gabby couldn’t focus on anything but the way Callia’s warm breath tickled her neck. “And… release.”

They let the arrow go and it flew across the field, then sank into the target, just a bit off-center. “See?” Callia whispered in Gabby’s ear. “Easy.”

Gabby just nodded. Then Callia stepped away and said, “Now you try.” Gabby bit her lip and tried to hide her disappointment when Callia moved to the side.

Awkward archery lesson is awkward!