This is a really cool anthology that I wanted to share with you. I asked Cynthia, one of the contributors and one of the people who came up with the idea of the anthology, to come and talk to you about Sirens, her story, and the anthology in general. So without further ado, please welcome Cynthia:
My name is Cynthia Porter. I’m here today to tell you that writing a blog post about Queens & Courtesans: A Sirens Benefit Anthology, is only slightly easier than writing my short story, Affairs of State, that is included in its pages.
Sirens is a conference dedicated to women in fantasy literature. The conference describes itself as “part scholarly conference, part enthusiastic convention, part networking weekend, and part personal retreat.” Attendees include readers, authors, librarians, booksellers, educators, scholars, and publishing professionals. Queens & Courtesans is a labor of love created to benefit the conference where we all met.
This is the first time I have ever written a story to a writing prompt. When we created the idea of the anthology, the request was for stories with a Queen and a Courtesan. None of my current projects had characters like these. I had to almost start from scratch. The almost part was because the world I chose to set the story in was one I’d created years ago. I shifted south of where my other stories have taken place and found myself in a royal court.
I knew I wanted my queen to be a mature woman, not a teen/young woman who has no idea of the trials ahead of her. I wanted my characters to know who they were, to be confident in their abilities and their lives.
I think I wrote three drafts before my queen character finally got her name. This is very unusual for me. My stories are character driven. Typically I know nothing about a story until I have a name. That name brings the character’s personality, their back story, their hopes and dreams, and the plot! With a normal story I’m stuck without a name. Except for this queen. She was more than happy to share her story, she just didn’t see the need to share her name with me. It drove me crazy. I would talk to her while staring at the story on my computer screen. “Name, name, name– you need a name!” She’s one of the rare ones who knew who she was without a name. I had to work to find a name that fit her temperament. Not my most difficult character ever, but absolutely one of the most quietly stubborn. She was the Queen. What more did anyone need to know? Her name, as it turns out, is Arcalys. True to form, it took about four drafts of this post to realize she’d done it to me again!
Lenzienne, or Lenzi, my courtesan, knew exactly what her name was from the very beginning. She walked into a room, completely furious, and snarled her opening lines. Her name flowed onto the page and the story followed.
The really difficult characters in Affairs of State were the secondary characters. Three of them hung on to significant roles in the story. A couple more exist as, well, names and nothing more. The others all got cut from various drafts of the story. Why? Because they thought they were populating a novel. I prefer the longer forms of storytelling because invariable my characters bring big ideas, themes, plots trailing behind them—none of which fit into a short story. Borders, Barriers, Refugees, Magic, all this exploded into larger and larger arcs. I shoved most of them aside, telling them “later”. My editor, Jessica, jumped on several more. She helped me focus what was more of a prologue for a novel down into a short story.
While my queen and my courtesan are happy with their “little” story, I’ve acknowledged that their novel needs exploration. Once Queens & Courtesans is well and truly launched into the world, I’ll be letting all those characters, all that world-building, all those themes and plots to swirl out from the door where they’ve been lurking.
To get your copy of Queens and Courtesans in print or ebook, click here for Amazon, or here for BN.
This has been my go-to fast chocolate cake recipe for birthday cakes. It’s incredibly chocolatey and moist and delicious and not a lot of work.
I’ve just read through all of Lexi George’s Demon Hunting in the Deep South series. It’s over-the-top romance in some ways, but doesn’t take itself all that seriously in that regard. Really funny stuff, though. And all the side characters are just too much fun. They are total candy/popcorn reads, and totally worth it.
For no particular reason, I started looking at poisons today. I figure it’s something I’ll stash in the back of my head for future writing use.
The one I discovered today is Thallium Nitrate, which is odorless, colorless and tasteless. It’s a heavy metal. It cause hair to fall out, vomiting, organ failure, and general system failure, plus causes a burning/prickling sensation in the limbs. It will kill you in a high dose, but in low doses, it’s a slow road to death. There’s no antidote for it, and if caught soon enough, you can survive. It can be found by blood, urine, and hair. It leaves the blood pretty quickly, though, so if the blood test is all there is, then it might not get discovered.
I thought it could be a pretty good poison for a poisoner. Especially if it can be put into food. Be good for someone who wanted to cause a slow, diminishing death.
The stuff was used in the 50s in rat poison.
I’ll probably talk about more poisons in general. I find them interesting. I’m working on some murder/suspense stuff that could benefit from this sort of info.
In the meantime, I’ve a bunch of roses to plant and the weather is fine and the puppy boys are happy. Been reading Lexi George’s Demon Hunters books and they are frequently very fun. Just like candy, and funny urban fantasy romance.
I went to Westercon last weekend and it was a lot of fun. Had some great panels with some terrific people and the audiences were attentive and smart and asked great questions. Pretty much a perfect storm of panels. And people came to my reading, which was on the first day and I wasn’t sure anybody would.
I got back on the fourth and zoomed out again on the fifth at 6 in the morning. Drove with my folks to CA for my mom to see a doctor. Amazingly, it’s been much cooler than normal–which is to say, I haven’t whined that much and I’ve been able to get out walking. The oaks here are amazing and the scents of the summertime dried grasses, certain weeds, dirt, and oaks just bring me back to childhood. I’ve so been enjoying that. I got to see an enormous vulture in a tree very close up. I didn’t impress him. Or her.
The only downer has been I seem to have had a bout with some food poisoning. Last night on the way home from dinner, I started getting an awful headache and nauseous, and then I got home and upchucked everything. It wasn’t long after that that I started feeling better. I’ve been able to see some people–my father-in-law, my brother and niece, and tonight I’ll get to see another niece and a nephew.
Saturday we drive back. My poor mom’s face is terribly swollen–she had a bit of skin cancer removed–and it’s given her a black eye and half her mouth is swollen. Poor thing.
I’ve been reading some. One book by a popular romantic suspense author that I think must have been written in the eighties because the male lead is an alpha asshole and the woman is sort of a door mat. I read the whole thing, but I didn’t enjoy it the way I wanted to. Now I’m reading one by Iris and Roy Johansen. It’s not really romantic, but the lead character is a lot of fun and I am enjoying that. I’ll report back on it later.
Also, Lois Bujold has a new Penric novella out. If you haven’t read the first, do. I’ve not read the second, but I plan to.
There’s something magic about the solstice and on top of that, a full moon, too. For me, it’s all stirred into the fact that today is my birthday. I don’t have big plans. Mostly to write and to catch up on stuff I’m behind on. And pet dogs, because yanno, dogs and cute. And read. I think I’d like to read. I’ve been on a romantic suspense kick. Laura Griffin is my current favorite, but have had recommendations of other writers I”m working on trying out. Oh! And another birthday!!!
Devon Monk’s new book, Death and Relaxation, hits the shelves today! You should check it out. I’m thinking it’s an excellent birthday present for me. Hey! That’s what I can read today! Yes, I’m a little slow on the uptake today.
I finished proofing all the Path books for their ebook reissue. I have to say that I was happily surprised. First, that they were really good. So I haven’t read these since I wrote them. I have always feared that they weren’t that strong. But I was really happy with them. I loved what I did with the characters and how they grew and changed. I really liked the narrative layering in the last book. It reminded me that that’s okay to do. I know, that’s weird. But I’ve been deliberately avoiding too many points of view. And by too many, I’ve been stopping at two. But if I do it well, I can get away with a lot more of them. And it makes the book a lot richer. This is what I needed to remember for the last Crosspointe book, and maybe for this Diamond City Magic book I’m working on right now.
The second thing that surprised me was how well they held up. It shouldn’t be that surprising, really. They are traditional fantasy, so the decade+ since their release hasn’t aged them in terms of cultural references. But I am proud of them. Really proud of them. I want to tell everybody to read them.
First, the good. I’ve read some Janet Evanovich before, but I’m not a regular reader. I have enjoyed her stuff, though, and I thought Curious Minds, by Evanovich and Phoef Sutton, sounded fun. This is the back cover copy:
Emerson Knight is introverted, eccentric, and has little to no sense of social etiquette. Good thing he’s also brilliant, rich, and (some people might say) handsome, or he’d probably be homeless. Riley Moon has just graduated from Harvard Business and Harvard Law. Her aggressive Texas spitfire attitude has helped her land her dream job as a junior analyst with mega-bank Blane-Grunwald. At least Riley Moon thought it was her dream job, until she is given her first assignment: babysitting Emerson Knight.
What starts off as an inquiry about missing bank funds in the Knight account leads to inquiries about a missing man, missing gold, and a life-and-death race across the country. Through the streets of Washington, D.C., and down into the underground vault of the Federal Reserve in New York City, an evil plan is exposed. A plan so sinister that only a megalomaniac could think it up, and only the unlikely duo of the irrepressibly charming Emerson Knight and the tenacious Riley Moon can stop it.
Emerson Knight is a kick. He reminds me a little of the TV version of Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock, except much more endearing. He’s rich and totally eccentric and so is his family and house. Emerson is determined to actually see the gold he’s invested his money in. He doesn’t really have a reason, he just wants it. But Riley is sent to convince him otherwise. Soon they discover her boss and family are carrying out a plot to take over the world.
Now, this book should have been ridiculous. The plot–well, come on. Take over the world? But it works. Mostly because Evonavich and Sutton don’t take themselves or the story too seriously. There’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek. The story is a bit silly and fun and hugely entertaining. Puts me a little bit in mind of the silliness of Psyche or Leverage. I really enjoyed Riley and Emerson, and I found the bad guys truly bad. I also enjoyed the way the plot played out. In the end, it all made sense, even though it was utterly fantastic. I recommend it.
Second is not quite so good. I enjoy Pamela Claire’s I-Team books. They are steamy romance thrillers and quite fun. Barely Breathing is a new romance in a new setting–Colorado with Search and Rescue instead of SEAL types. Here’s the back of the book blurb:
Lexi Jewell left Scarlet Springs twelve years ago, vowing never to return to the small Colorado mountain town where she grew up. Now, here she is—over thirty, out of a job and with little choice but to move back in with her eccentric father. Lexi knows it’s just a matter of time before she runs into Austin Taylor, her first boyfriend and her first heartbreak. She’s determined to show him she’s over him—until he steps out of a pickup truck and back into her life, looking sexy as hell in his mountain ranger uniform.
As far as Austin is concerned, Lexi can turn her snazzy little convertible around and drive back to Chicago. After all, she ripped his teenage heart to pieces and turned her back on the town he loves. But from the moment he sees her again, he can’t get her out of his mind. Even her smile messes with his head.
When an evening of conversation turns into something else, Lexi and Austin agree to be friends—with benefits. But as Lexi starts making plans to return to the big city, Austin realizes he’ll lose her a second time unless he can show her that what she’s searching for has been right here all along.
What works really well is the romance. Totally believable–the backstory, the current story, the friendships that surround the two lovers, and the progression of their love story. Lexi’s relationship with her father and step-mother also works really well. It’s difficult and painful and has no easy solution. So why don’t I like this better? I’ll tell you. It’s the sex. Don’t get me wrong, I like steamy romance. I like sex in books. But this book threw me. I know Claire was trying to capture the ‘modern male’ and the raunchy language, which I also don’t mind. But in my sex scenes, I really don’t want to read about pussies (the vagina variety) or plush lips or plump lips (of the kissing variety). Or saliva. It’s so . . . not romantic, I guess. I also really hate it when characters talk about their lovers as a good fuck. Or say something to the effect of, I’m going to fuck her later. It makes the romance tawdry and it feels like hooking-up, rather than not. At some point, they call each other fuck-buddies. Again, makes sense with the friends with benefits thing, but it just throws me out of the story.
What Claire does do well is wrap the raunchy elements up with romantic descriptions of the emotions and physical feelings, which redeems those scenes a bit for me.
Anyhow, much of the story I enjoyed, but there were a lot of sex scenes, a lot of pussy and plush and plump and possible some perky, and then the fucking. If you don’t mind any of that, then this is an excellent book. If you do, well, skip those scenes?
I started out the year reading a whole bunch and then this month I’ve not been reading that much. In fact, only one book in the last couple of weeks. Finished it today. I didn’t really like it–it wasn’t particularly well-written and there was a lot of info-dumping, the villains were cardboard and rather silly, and the romance was, for lack of a better word, stupid. And by that, I mean that there’s an epidemic that’s killing millions of people, and the doctors from the CDC who are desperately trying to figure out what’s going on, two of the them are making happy cheerful flirties and then perky sex while being hunted down and you can see why this is stupid. I mean, people can fall in love in desperate situations and they do–I mean, they might die–but they aren’t going to be all happy and flirty and smiley and winky. Oh, and one of the doctors kept making muffins and cookies at the drop of a hat. In the jungle. With MILLIONS of people dying.
You might wonder why I kept reading. Basically I wanted to see how the story finally pulled together or if it fell flat. Some of the elements were done decently well. Others . . . yeah, no. But here’s the thing I discovered–even though I could have just not finished it, I felt compelled to. And yet I didn’t want to read it, so I didn’t read at all. Then I decided I should try something else, so I’m reading Stealing the Elf King’s Roses, which is fun, but I misplaced the book and sigh.
And now I’m having constant acid reflux. Which is not typical for me. I do not know if this if because I’m sick (and I have had some symptoms in that direction), or if I’ve suddenly developed it. As it is, Tums isn’t doing the trick so I need to pick up something else. I cannot stand this feeling of having something stuck in my throat. Blech.
I came back from the writing retreat having written 32, 281 words in basically 3.5 days. I am completely stunned. I have never written that much in that little time, ever. I worked on the sequel to The Incubus Job (comes out in just six days!!). It’s what you might call a zero draft. That means that I tried to just write story and not worry about the research elements, or making up names for particular people or things, and so on. I just put and asterisk and described what should go there. I’ll be able to search asterisks and fix those, though I’ll probably just end up combing through the whole thing when it’s done and revise and catch them that way.
I never write like that. Devon Monk encouraged me to try and it was kind of freeing. I’m going to use that technique in the next couple days to write an anthology story I have due soon. I doubt I can do 10,000 words a day since I’ve got obligations here that I didn’t have in the rainforest, but I think I could get at least 4 or 5K. If I don’t get bogged down in doing stuff on the net. I’m thinking of getting the Antisocial app, but I’m wondering if there’s a free sort of thing out there that works the same way.
The writers retreat is at The Rainforest Resort Village which sounds a lot less rustic than it actually is. We got to stay in a cabin with a back sliding glass window and deck overlooking a very babbley creek and beyond that, the lake. Geese flew in and out and it was absolutely lovely, even raining most of the time. We had a fire going in the cabin and a little kitchenette, and we hunkered down and wrote like fiends. It was fabulous. I love doing this retreat and plan to go next year, crossing my fingers I register before they sell out.
Once I got back, I had to finish the copy edits on Whisper of Shadows, the next Diamond City Magic book, which will be out April 15. Got that done, then worked on the tax receipts. I always have the best intentions of inputting those receipts into my spreadsheet throughout the year, and I always have to do it right at the end. They were all in one place. I keep a file bin hanging on my wall in my office to stuff them into.
I also went out and bought some manure and worm castings for the garden, along with three plants for the rock garden we hope to put in shortly (we need to create better drainage in that location before we can.) My peonies are all in bloom and so are some other flowers. Plus the crocuses are up and so many. The former owners had planted them and this year some came up where they hadn’t before. I guess the wet this year really helped them.
I’m just about on schedule with my reading for this year. Trying to read at least six books a month, not including my own. Need to finish the one I’m reading–a British police procedural–to get my 12 for the year. I tend to let reading slip when I’m tired or really busy and just veg in front of the TV. I’m trying hard to avoid that and read, which most of the time I enjoy a lot more. A lot of them I get from Netgalley, which lets me discover a wider range of authors than I might ordinarily encounter, and a wider range of topics. So that’s been very nice.
I just finished the third book in Lisa Shearin’s SPI files. They are so fun. I read the first one, The Grendel Affair, when it first came out. I bought the second, The Dragon Conspiracy, and then somehow forgot about it. Then The Brimstone Deception came out last month and I realized I had some reading to do. The happy thing is that I had two to read back-to-back and that was so fabulous. The unhappy thing is that I don’t have another to chew through. Damn.
Anyhow, the SPI books take place in New York City and revolve around a supernatural non-official police force. There’s a lot of police procedure, adventure, snark, and a hint of romance. The character interactions are just so much fun. Smart and funny and serious and in the latest book, you get to meet the great great great . . . grandaughter of the witch who built Hansel’s and Gretel’s gingerbread house. Only Kitty’s not a child-eater. You’ve got a wide cast of characters, and a variety of cool stuff going on. I really recommend you just go get all three, stock up on some munchies and your drink of choice, and hunker down for a good long, lovely read. Really.
And then, because she’s just so much fun, watch Jeanne Robertson. A very fun, very clean comedian. You’ll laugh.
From the New York Times bestselling author of A Rush of Wings and The Maker’s Song series, a humorous, action-packed urban fantasy about a werewolf pack and an animal control officer in way over his head!
Someone is picking off fortune tellers and hippies in Oregon, snatching them out of their Birkenstocks mid-stride. And when the legend himself, Hal Rupert, Animal Control Officer, gets a whiff of the mystery, he knows he’s the man to solve it. In between proudly wrangling out-of-control cats and dogs, he’s noticed a peculiar uptick in another sort of animal…werewolves.
Hal infiltrates the country fair to investigate the disappearance of the flower children. But his real priority is protecting the love of his life, Desdemona Cohen, whose long purple tresses and black-glossed lips captured his heart the moment he first saw her standing behind the register at Hot Topic. Desdemona may have nicknamed Hal “Creep,” but he’s determined to win her heart. And, you know, save everyone else, too.
So first of all, you can tell from the tone of the description, that this is a tongue-in-cheek sort of romp. It’s entertaining as hell with a lot of fun stuff going on. First of all, Hal is a dog-catcher and his weapon of choice is a catchpole. At first I thought, oh, dear, this could go horribly awry. I should have known better. It’s so fun. Hal is partially a Walter Mitty, slightly delusional and believing he’s a secret superhero, and he’s also a secret superhero saving the world from terrible evil. The mix of his own delusions overlaps with reality in a lovely way. All the characters are well drawn and–I know I keep repeating this–they are so fun. There’s snark and wit and silly jokes and reversals and seriously, you’re going to want to read this one. It releases on January 4th, and right now the electronic version is only $1.99. I’m telling you, give it a grab. You won’t regret it.