A Farewell to Shadowplay

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Today’s a weird day. I woke up to find out Pantomime (and many other great books) has been nominated for a Cybils award.

Now, Shadowplay is now officially on Netgalley. I think I’ll only be up for a month or so, so if you’re a reviewer, grab it sooner rather than later.

This means that the book is now out of my hands and into reviewers, and soon it’ll be available to anyone who wants it. It’s a frightening, bittersweet time.

To celebrate, I’ve updated my Goodreads review of Shadowplay, with some pictures that hint at the interior of the sequel to Pantomime.

I’ve also PDFed the first chapter, and you can read it here to whet your appetite.

For every book, I’ve decided that when it gets to around this point in the publication project, I’ll write it a farewell. I did this with Pantomime last year.

magiciandoveShadowplay is a very different book to the first one, and writing it was a different process. Pantomime was the first book I ever completed, and I was very much learning as I went. I had to do a huge structural edit. I wrote the first draft to my sophmore book, Shadowplay, much quicker (I blogged about that here). While Shadowplay changed in edits, it never needed the same overhaul the first one did. Some people say the second book can be the most difficult. For me, it wasn’t near as challenging as the third book I’m writing (which is non-Micah related). I re-started it so many times and at the moment it’s on hold while I write my fourth book (also not Micah-related).

It was a pleasure to write Shadowplay. Of course, I ripped out my hair and moaned and whinged plenty and maybe now I’m looking back with rose-tinted glasses because it’s done, but overall, it was a relief to step back into Micah’s shoes and bring him on more adventures. He grows in this book, and I grew too. Certain parts completely took me by surprise, and the finished book is rather different than I initially thought it would be.

I’m no less scared, setting this book out into the world. I mean, this time I do know there were people who enjoyed the first one, but now I’m afraid of letting them down. Now I have pre-conceived expectations to contend with. There will be people who love the first book and hate the second, and there will be people who liked the sequel better than the first. There will be people who just can’t be bothered picking it up and following the series anymore. I have no control over any of it.

All I can do is sit back, let go, and say farewell to Shadowplay.

Fly, little book. I hope you land in the hands of people who will love you as much as I do.

 

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Halloween Short: The Ghost of Gold and Grey

I’m venturing down to Brighton for World Fantasy Con on Thursday, or Halloween! It turns out there will be 11 clients of Juliet Mushens there, so to celebrate, fellow Mushenite Andrew Reid has been coordinating a few spooky shorts that some of us are putting up on our blogs prior to WFC.

Other stories from Team Mushens, which are all wonderful:

Andrew Reid – The Tall Men: A Tale of the Ironwood
Stephan Aryan – The Burden of Sin
Richard Kellum – Party at the Witch House
Liz de Jager – Midnight in New York
Lou Morgan – Murderess Lane
Jen Williams – Constance Withers and the Wall
James Oswald – Job

My story ties into a WIP that’s currently on hold as I finish up another project and do more research into the time period. But dipping back into it for this reminded me how much I love the setting and the mythos, and I look forward to getting back to it. This short is told from the POV of one of the secondary characters of that novel. I hope you enjoy it.

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THE GHOST OF GOLD AND GREY

by Laura Lam


The Highlands, Scotland, 1908.

They said Castle Dunoir was haunted.

The people in the nearby village of Allise Oir gave Irene Lewis sidelong looks when she said she’d found employment at the castle in the Highlands. She’d moved to the village from Aberdeen a few months ago, and her aunt and uncle’s crofter’s cottage was a far cry from the comfortable mansion in Rubislaw Den. Irene helped out, but she was no farmer. She was a lady’s maid.

So she trudged the five miles and knocked on the door to the Baroque castle crouched in the middle of the loch on a rocky peninsula. The gamble worked. Before the week was out she’d moved her carpetbag from the crofter cottage to the castle.

The castle was understaffed, even if only Lord and Lady MacLain lived here with their son, Archibald. They never entertained, and Lord MacLain was often away on business. The lady of the manor floated through the corridors, looking a little fey. She spent a lot of time staring out of windows at the loch, as if searching for something in its depths. The son stayed in his room most of the time, and he must have been the loneliest boy Irene had ever met.

As Irene did her chores, she could swear she was being watched. The hairs along the backs of her arms and neck would prickle, and every few minutes she’d give in and look around. Before long, her nerves were frayed. She noticed the cook, Maura McCray, took a medicinal dose of sherry every night before she left the warmth of the kitchen to brave the dark hallways. No one spent more time alone than they needed to.

On Hallowe’en, the housekeeper, Mrs. Fraser, asked her to fetch more petrol from the cellar to help light the bonfire. They could have brought up the petrol in daylight. Irene recognised it for what it was: a test.

“Come on, lass, surely you can brave the wee ghosties so we can drive the dark away with the bonfire? Ye’ll be the hero of Samhain!” Alan Ramsay, the groundskeeper, teased. The others chimed in.

Irene volunteered readily enough, squaring her shoulders.

“Dinnae let the Sìth or the spirits find you on the way and hurry straight back, lass,” Maura whispered, giving Irene an oil lantern to take with her.

“Aye, I’ll try, Mrs. McCray,” Irene laughed.

Mrs. Fraser told the cook to hush, but Alan the groundskeeper and the footman, Andrew, also wished her luck.

In the dark of the corridor, she wished she’d said no, even though that wasn’t an option. The hallways were frigid, lit only by her lantern and the flickering lights of the occasional tumshie lanterns, the hallowed out turnips Maura had carved with ghoulish faces and placed about the castle, much to Mrs. Fraser’s annoyance.

As she reached the side entrance to the castle, she took a coat from the peg by the side entrance to the castle and wrapped it around herself. Outside, the stars peppered the sky, the west patch of sky coloured the red and orange of dying embers. It felt more like January than late October. Maura had also left a small bowl of wine and a plate of soul cakes by the door, an offering for the spirits.

Rubbing her hands together, Irene scuttled across the frosted ground, and pulled open the wooden door to the cellar with a creak. It seemed as dark as the devil’s waistcoat down there, and she didn’t want to go.

“I’m nae afraid,” she whispered to herself, fiercely, and held the lantern out as she made her way down into the cellar.

It smelled of frost, mouldering vegetables, dust, and wood shavings. The petrol bottle was on a shelf just by the ladder, and she grabbed it, tucking it under the arm and scurrying back up the ladder. The wooden door of the cellar fell shut behind her. Irene smiled. She had done it.

She turned around, and the smile faded as she swallowed a scream. In front of her was a man who definitely had not been there before.

And he didn’t have a face.

She stumbled back, but the man staggered forward, one arm outstretched. He wore boiled leather and chainmail trousers, and the front of the metal-studded tunic was stained dark with old blood. His head was framed by a mane of unkempt hair, but his face was a ruin of blood and bone, breath gasping wetly from the hole that had once been a mouth. And he was transparent, made of grey and black, with small specks of gold. Yet he still looked solid enough that Irene feared he’d do her harm.

“Buggering Jesus!” she screamed. She dropped the lantern and it sparked out.

The man did not react but only came closer, the wet snuffling growing more frantic. As if he could smell her.

Instinct took over. Still clutching the can, she dodged the figure. He moved quicker than she expected. His arm reached for hers, but his fingers went through her, though they were colder than snow. She screamed and ran faster, throwing open the side door, darting inside and slamming it shut. She leaned against but then worried that the ghost would come through the door. Irene ran back to the warmth of the kitchen, the footfalls echoing around her, the carved faces of the tumshie lanterns leering at her.

Andrew was putting two chestnuts in the fire as she entered the kitchen—one for him and one for the girl from the village he was seeing. Before they could see if the nut hulls burned steady and bright, they all looked up, ready to make a merry joke, and then they saw the look on her face. Irene set the petrol on the table with a thump. One of the chestnuts popped in the fire, and Irene flinched. She sat as close to the fire as she dared, shivering, her teeth chattering in her skull like dice in a cup. She still felt the cold imprint of the faceless man’s hand on her arm.

Mrs. Fraser ordered the servants to start the bonfire, and they all left until only the housekeeper and the cook remained. Maura knelt down beside Irene and passed her a glass of whisky. She gulped it down, though it did nothing to warm her left arm.

“Ye saw something out there, didn’t ye?” Maura whispered, stroking Irene’s hair back from her face.

Irene was ashamed to feel tears on her face as she glared at them. “Did ye do this on purpose? Send me out there to scare the living daylights out of me?”

Mrs. Fraser stood tall, unmoved. “I sent ye out there. I had no idea what ye might or might not see. Fit one was it?”

“Which one?” Her voice rose an octave. “There’s more’n one?”

“Fit did ye see, quine?” she repeated in her Doric accent.

“A man…a man with no face. Dressed like an old soldier.”

Mrs. Fraser nodded. “The pikeman.”

The housekeeper knelt down, so close to Irene that the younger girl wanted to lean away.

“The pikeman is not the ghost ye need tae fear,” she whispered, her pupils wide in the light of the fire. “There’s another that haunts this castle, and I think you’re strong enough to face ‘im.”

She stood and held out her arm. “Come. We’ll all go to the bonfire, and we’ll eat sweets and sing, and the spirits will trouble us no more this All Hallow’s Eve. But tomorrow night, you’ll come with me, and I’ll show you the true ghost of Castle Dunoir. And you will help me with him.”

Intersex Awareness Day

intersexawarenessdayOctober 26th is Intersex Awareness Day.

Intersex children are more common than you would think. Children often face surgeries before they are old enough to consent or before they are aware of their own gender identity. These surgeries can leave intersex children barren or essentially castrated, and may have to face further surgeries due to complications. Please take a minute to learn more about what it means to be intersex. Knowledge and acceptance are important to celebrate genital diversity.

After researching intersex issues for the main character of Pantomime, it’s become a cause near and dear to me and I consider myself an ally, and I hope that we continue to make strides to help raise awareness against stigma and unwanted and unnecessary surgery on children.

Intersex Awareness Day Wikipedia article.

Recently, the Federal US Court ruled that sex assignment surgery on children could violate the Constitution.

A post on GLAAD from the Executive Director of Advocates for Informed Choice, which “uses innovative legal strategies to advocate for the civil rights of children born with variations of reproductive or sexual anatomy.”

An excellent interview with intersex activist Mani Mitchell on Micro Rainbow.

Consider donating to Advocates for Informed Choice, the Interface Project, or the many other wonderful QUILTBAG causes out there that do such useful and vital work.

Any other links you are aware of? Please put them in the comments. I also have a list of organisations and some other resources on my Works Consulted/Resources page.

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Links & News

yalsaPantomime has been nominated for the American Library Association YALSA 2014 Popular Paperbacks list in the Books with Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer-questioning, Intersex, Asexual individuals, and their Allies Category! Very cool and honoured to be included.

I’m interviewed by Malinda Lo on her blog for her awesome YA Pride event.

There’s a short interview and a giveaway for a copy of Pantomime at Books for YA.

I’ve been updating my website and have added some discussion questions and sample assignment prompts for teachers, librarians, book groups, or what have you. Spoilers, of course! I’ve also added a Works Consulted/Resources list to round up some of my research for Pantomime & Shadowplay.

Around the web:

If you are a comics writer, there’s a queer sci fi/fantasy comics anthology now taking submissions.

Here’s some 1910 postcards that predicted the future of year 2000.

Did you know Marmosets have conversations that sound strikingly human? Or that they have discovered a purring primate in the Amazon?

Michael J. Sullivan on When it Comes to Publishing it Pays to Think Outside of the Box.

Random Research: Soul Cakes

This week I was doing some research on Scottish Hallowe’en, or Samhain as it was before. I’ve written a short short story which will go on the blog closer to Halloween and ties into one of my WIPs. Wikipedia sez:”The cakes, often simply referred to as souls, were given out to soulers (mainly consisting of children and the poor) who would go from door to door on Halloween singing and saying prayers for the dead. Each cake eaten would represent a soul being freed from Purgatory. The practice of giving and eating soul cakes is often seen as the origin of modern trick-or-treating.”

They even have their own song:

A soul! a soul! a soul-cake!
Please good Missis, a soul-cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul
Three for Him who made us all.

So this morning I decided to make my own. I used this recipe, which was dead easy (har, har) to make. I did make some substitutions so mine aren’t totally traditional. I used 1/4 white flour and 3/4 spelt flour, used dried blueberries as well as a dried fruit mix which had candied peels in it, and I subbed some of the sugar for Splenda.

soulcakes3 soulcakes2Here they are fresh out of the oven. I tried to make the crosses on top with some currants and sultanas, with a bit of dried peel in the centre. They turned out really nicely, if I do say so myself. Spicy and a texture sort of like a flatter scone. They’d probably keep quite well and be nice with clotted cream or jam, but I just ate them plain, while drinking tea and hanging out on Twitter.

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Recent Links

A few links from the past week or so.

Pantomime links:

Nina at Death, Books & Tea had a few posts in her Rainbow Reads blog event for Pantomime:  An Author Interview with Me and two wonderful open letters to Pantomime from Leo Cristea and Lisa of Over the Effing Rainbow. Check out the other features in the event, which looks at bisexuality and asexuality, two orientations that are often glossed over in QUILTBAG YA.

Malinda Lo did an amazing post on 2013 LGBT YA by the numbers. It was really interesting to see this because I remember reading her blog post in 2011 and being quite disheartened that there were so few young adult books with GLBT characters. In 2013 Pantomime is listed and it’s the only one in the intersex section. Pantomime is also mentioned in Malinda’s post about GLBT YA in SFF. Malinda Lo & Cindy Pon also mentioned Pantomime as a recommended read on Zooey Deschanel’s site, HelloGiggles in a great interview about Diversity in YA.

The Book Club Forum has a YA Month and me and other YA authors will be active answering questions throughout October.

Lastly, Pantomime’s entry for the NE Teen Book Award shortlist is up on their website, yay!

Other interesting things I stumbled upon this week:

James Dawson has a great beginner’s guide to author visits on his blog.

Here’s a great essay on Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam trilogy on io9.

Kameron Hurley on The Blog Post That Lost me Half my Audience.

Scott Lynch on The Right Way to Buy my Books is Your Way (my way was buying Republic of Thieves on Kindle! Can’t wait to read it)

Did you know Robin Hobb is officially writing more Fitz & Fool books? A whole new trilogy? First of which will be out in August of next year? YAY!

Pantomime Shortlisted for the North East Teenage Book Award!

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Yay!

I’m delighted to announce that Pantomime has been shortlisted for the North East Teenage Book Award!

About the award: “The NE Teen Book Award has been running for 15 years and around 30 schools take part, with students aged between 13 and 16.  The readers themselves are responsible for choosing the winner.”

This is incredibly exciting! I’m looking forward to perhaps taking my first trip down to Newcastle for the ceremony in January/February, and I hope the students who read Pantomime enjoy it!

Congratulations to the other authors on the shortlist as well:

NETEENBOOKAWARD

Emma Pass, Acid
Paula Rawsthorne, Blood Tracks
Kerry Drewery, A Dream of Lights
Alison Rattle, The Quietness
Matt Whyman, The Savages