Listen to my Halloween story, “The Ghost of Gold and Grey”, on Pseudopod!

ghostofgoldgrey

Happy almost Halloween, everyone. I have one of my short stories, “The Ghost of Gold and Grey,” available for a listen on Pseudopod, a horror podcast. I wrote it a few years ago, but was lucky enough to have it picked up for audio. This is the first time I’ve ever heard someone else reading my words aloud, so that’s pretty cool. My story starts around the 20 minute mark and the reader has a Scottish accent, which fits perfectly. There’s also lots of great stories by other authors who are on Team Mushens, aka have Juliet Mushens as their agent (save Edward Cox). If you’d rather read but not listen to it, it’s on my blog and Wattpad, too. My story is based on the WIP I’ve codenamed Betwixt Book, which I’ve mentioned a few times on my blog. Ghosts! A castle! The Scottish Highlands! My main character yelling a blasphemous curseword!

Official description and link:

PseudoPod 461: Flash On The Borderlands XXVIII: Britshock II

by Severity Chase, Richard Kellum, Laura Lam, Andrew Reid, Taran Matharu, & Edward Cox

A gaggle of new Flash Fiction to warm your heart and chill your bones…

Absolution by Severity Chase
Read by Khaalidaah Muhammed-Ali
Severity is mystery.

My Daily Vampire by Richard Kellum
Read by Graeme Dunlop
Richard’s not only an author (Fantasy/Horror) and daydreamer. he’s a fellow podcaster who, along with Chris Brosnahan (Who’s own serial you should totally be reading too), hosts Early Draft. He’s on twitter here and blogs at Elf-Machines From Hyperspace.

The Ghost of Gold and Grey by Laura Lam
Read by Tatiana Gomberg
Laura, geek, author, Californian can be found on twitter here and she blogs here. Her upcoming books are False Hearts & Masquerade. Out now: Pantomime, Shadowplay & The Vestigial Tales.

Run Forever by Andrew Reid
Read by Joe Scalora
Andrew Reid – Cook, climber, teacher, writer and one of the most fiercely articulate, creative people it’s my honour to know. He and I, along with Lou, survived redshirting World FantasyCon together last year. That may mean at some point we open a bar. We’ll let you know… Andrew blogs at My God It’s Raining and tweets here.

Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing by Taran Matharu
Read by Marguerite Kenner
Taran, is the author of the popular book Summoner: The Novice (read 6 Million times and published in 11 languages) and can be found on twitter here.

Gravemaker by Edward Cox
Read by Alasdair Stuart
Edward, author of THE RELIC GUILD and THE CATHEDRAL OF KNOWN THINGS can be found on twitter here and blogs here

And that’s our stories, supplied by The Mushens Agency. I’d like to thank all our narrators and authors for turning in stories that show just how diverse and vibrant a genre horror is.

The stars are right again, and what an age-old cult had failed to do, a band of innocent authors has accomplished. After vigintillions of years the Flash Fiction Contest is loose again, and ravening for delight. Each week, batches of stories will be released into gladiatorial pits to fight for supremacy. The floor will be churned to mud with the blood of the fallen until the mightiest stories remain for your delight and dread. Head over to the forums, take up your stone, and join us in the harvest festivals of the October Country.

It’s easy to be become a member. Sign up for a forum account and make a single post so we know you’re not a bot. This is a good thread to start with. From there, head over to “The Arcade” as the contest thread will not be visible until after you have made at least one post. Authors, encourage friends and families to come over and participate – you just can’t tell them which stories are yours. Visit our forums for rules and details.

Tales of a Hybrid Author: The Vestigial Tales Experiment One Year On

waterhouse

Last June to September, I released a short story or novella every month and became a hybrid author. They are tie in short stories to my Micah Grey series, which were trade published by Strange Chemistry but will be re-released by Tor UK digitally this year and in paperback next year, with the conclusion in 2017. I designed the Vestigial Tales to be (hopefully) standalones that could be read in any order. For awhile, I was doing monthly roundups of sales, which proved fairly popular, but after about six months, sales were declining and the roundups were taking too much time.

I figured I’d do an updated list of numbers and some ruminations about what I learned from the experiment.

As of today, the stories have sold the following amounts:

Total Sales/Borrows per Story (until June 2015, which is the last payment period):
“The Snake Charm”: 198
“The Fisherman’s Net”: 163
“The Tarot Reader”: 120
“The Card Sharp”: 139
Total sales: 620 (a little under 2 a day on average)

The Cold Hard Cash:
Total Gross Income to Date: £485.88 ($760.28)
Costs: £132 for 10 ISBNs (I still have half of them)
Total Net Profit: £353.88 ($553.73)

Where I Sold Them:

Most of my sales were Amazon. On Smashwords I sold 60 in total of the above across all stories (25 of those were through Apple), but some sales were for free when I made the stories pay-what-you-want for a few months (one person paid me $5 a story–thank you whoever you are). There wasn’t that much uptick through Smashwords and the other distributors, so after a few months, I went back to being exclusively on Amazon in the hopes I’d get more borrows from Kindle Unlimited. I had a few, but not loads. Occasionally I made a story free on Amazon for a period and got a few hundred downloads each time, say 200 to 400. I do think a few of those led to sales of the other stories or the main novels. At the moment I’m not sure if I should keep them on Amazon or put them back on Smashwords as well, but not as pay-what-you-want as I don’t think Apple Books supports that. I could also maybe put them up on Wattpad too, as marketing for the main series.

What Marketing Did you Do?

Not a lot. Mainly just talking about it on social media sometimes and occasionally making them free or cheaper. I never paid for advertising. I did notice if I put a story down to 99 cents it didn’t change sales one whit. So if people wanted to buy it, they were okay with paying $2.99 for the longer stories.

Observations:

Sales would be relatively strong initially and then tail off after a month or two. The Drystan stories (“The Snake Charm” and “The Card Sharp”) were marginally more popular, which isn’t too surprising, as he’s a favourite in the series. “The Tarot Reader” is my favourite of the stories, and the longest and therefore best value for the price, so it’s a bit of a shame it’s sold the least. “The Fisherman’s Net” is the shortest, so I’ve always kept it around the 99 cent price point.

Was it Worth it?

Yes and no. I have extra respect for all my publishers and agent do for me, definitely. I also learned a lot about design and self-publishing. I know how to format text into ebook without it looking terrible.  It was a fun side project and I did like having control of the process and going at my own speed. Writing and putting these up kept me busy and helped my anxiety as I got ready to go on sub for False Hearts. It also helped me feel like I hadn’t given up on Micah Grey, whose future was super uncertain then. That forward momentum made it much easier to go back and finish the first draft of Masquerade in the autumn of 2014. I learned that I have around 80-100 readers who will buy what I put out within a few weeks, which is nice. Thank you, loyal readers!

But for 60,000 words, £353/$553 is not a great wage by any stretch of the imagination. The minimum professional level is 5 cents a word, which would be around $3,000 for all stories combined. I so far have made 1/5th of that. If you compare my self-published income to my trade published income (which, sorry, I’m not going to post), the result is pretty ridiculously disparate, even if you factor it in per word. Self-publishing was not the magical honey pot in my experience, not that I expected it to be.

The Vestigial Tales are still there, though. Recently I’ve made maybe $10-20 per month, but this is the first month where it looks like I won’t make anything. When the Micah Grey series is back in ebook (in a few months!) and print, and after False Hearts comes out, they might start selling again and fund some coffees when I work in cafes.

No one would call the experiment a runaway success, but I also didn’t lose any money. I didn’t invest in editing (a group of beta readers helped me) and I’m very thankful to my friend and cover artist, Dianna Walla, for her amazing work. If I’d paid market rates for both, I’d still be in the hole financially over the Tales.

Would You Self Publish Again?

I don’t know. I do have another completed Vestigial Tale already that I wrote last year, called “The Mechanical Minotaur.” It’s about a little boy who finds a minotaur automaton that might be able to lead him to his mother. Think The Indian in the Cupboard meets boy Cinderella. There’s some hints in it to things that tie into the climax of Masquerade though, so it doesn’t stand on its own quite as well. I’m not sure what to do with it, really. *stares at story on hard drive*

I like writing shorter works between novels as palette cleansers. I have lots of ideas for other Vestigial Tales that I’d love to write on the side in between my books.  Mystery novellas about a famed Shadow in Imachara around the time of Micah’s childhood, the story of the discovery of the Clockwork Woman in Pantomime, and there’s a new character in Masquerade I really like even though he’s not in it that much. He’d be a good candidate for his own story. I made a pretty detailed world for the series and I have a lot of fun dipping back into it. But who knows.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

For the moment, I’m focusing my attention on my books under contract and plotting out others to pitch. The recent Amazon payout system change seems to have gutted a lot of self-publishers’ income too, which is another shame. Not as easy to put up short work and get a kickback any more.

So there’s the one year update of my Vestigial Tales. Feel free to check them out (they’re free for Prime members to borrow and I get paid per page read). I can always use another cup of coffee. 😉

A 2014 Roundup, or: Well, That was Quite a Year

Well, 2014. That was a year. Here’s a brief roundup.

sflaunch7
Reading from Shadowplay at Borderlands Books in San Francisco

January 2014: This month had a good start. Shadowplay (Micah Grey #2) was released. I was lucky enough to be able to fly back to San Francisco for this, where I did a few events: a book launch at Borderlands Books, a talk at my alma mater, California State University East Bay, a visit to one of my professor’s classes, and another visit at my old high school, Hayward High. I was also able to do some research trips around San Francisco for the book I’d just finished drafting. I found out Pantomime had been listed a Top Ten Title for the American Library Association Rainbow List. The end of January was less pleasant, for I found out there’d be no contract for Masquerade, Micah Grey #3. I was, frankly, beyond devastated.

Favourite book read in January:  either City of Dragons by Robin Hobb or In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters.

aberdeenlaunch1
Waterstones Aberdeen Launch. Photo credit: Laura Benvie.

February 2014: Licked my wounds, battled depression and anxiety, and kept promoting Pantomime & Shadowplay. I went down to Newcastle for the North East Teen Book Awards, which ended up being very, very timely. I’d been tempted to take a writing hiatus (because I knew I could never quit completely), and here were teens saying my books were some of their favourites of all time, wanting to take photos and have my sign things, and just in general being so sweet and so enthusiastic about books and reading. I came back and threw myself into the new project I’d been editing. I’d finished the first draft at the end of November 2013, and after some great beta reader comments, I was working on turning it into a workable draft. I called it Bonkers Book on social media. I also announced the Vestigial Tales, or my plan to self-publish some short stories/novellas set in the same world as the Micah Grey series. I also had an Aberdeen launch at Waterstones for Shadowplay, and was really touched by how many people came out for it. I seemed pretty on top of things. Behind the scenes, I was still a mess, though I was getting myself together.

Favourite book read in February:  Unteachable by Leah Raeder.

Mowgli assisting with the Robin Hobb scavenger hunt.
Mowgli assisting with the Robin Hobb scavenger hunt.

March 2014: I’d been approached to write a short story for an anthology and in March I was able to announce it as Fablecroft Press did a funding drive for the Cranky Ladies of History, which blasted through its goals. I also got to participate in Robin Hobb’s worldwide scavenger hunt (post with pictures illustrating the clues), and am now friends with the girl who found my present, Louise, and we meet for coffee occasionally. I found out Pantomime had been nominated for the Bisexual Book Award—yay! I went to my friend Rhona McKinnon’s wedding and danced at my first-ever ceilidh.

Favourite book read in March: The House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill.

micahanddrystan
Laya’s first piece of fan art for the Micah Grey series

April 2014: There were some good events for #LGBTApril I participated in. I went to my first convention of the year—Eastercon, in Glasgow. As the conventions are usually in England, it was nice to only have to travel 2 hours to get to one, for once! I was on my first panel. I had fun but it was also a difficult convention, as my mental health was still patchy.  There was more ceilidh dancing. I finished editing Bonkers Book and was working on the Vestigial Tales. Laya drew her first (of what proved to since be many) fan art pieces, and I also received some fan mail. I was so touched I wrote an emotional thank you to readers. I finished editing Bonkers Book & sent it to my agent and worked on the Vestigial Tales.

Favourite book read in April: This was a good reading month so I had three: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth, and Cress by Marissa Meyer.

race

May 2014: Pantomime was listed as a Scottish Book Trust Teen Book of the Month! I shared the first Vestigial Tale cover and blurb, for “The Snake Charm.” I went to my friend Elizabeth May’s wedding in Gretna Green and ran my first race, a 10k. By this point my mental health was a lot better. I’d been accepted into a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Aberdeen.

Favourite book read in May: Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb. THIS BOOK. THIS. BOOK. I love it so much.

rowing0

June 2014: Pantomime WON the Bisexual Book award! I posted my acceptance speech. I released “The Snake Charm,” and it had a great first month! I shared the cover and blurb for “The Fisherman’s Net.” My short story “They Swim Through Sunset Seas,” was accepted in the Solaris Rising 3 anthology. I was nominated for Best Newcomer for the British Fantasy Awards and wrote musings on being a baby writer at the beginning of my career. Strange Chemistry, the publisher of Pantomime & Shadowplay, announced that it was closing down very suddenly. I participated in a rowing competition for work dressed as Princess Leia. Behind the scenes, I’d received and implemented edits from my agent on Bonkers Book and it was getting ready to go out on wide submission.

Favourite book read in June: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

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July 2014 aka THE MONTH MY LIFE CHANGED:  Vestigial Tales: I posted a roundup of “The Snake Charm” and its first month sales, launched “The Fisherman’s Net,” shared “The Tarot Reader’s” blurb and cover, and went on the local radio. Tor/Macmillan offered pre-emptively on Bonkers Book aka False Hearts, changing my life. It was right before a big work audit and I was trying to concentrate on spreadsheets while internally screaming with glee. The press release went live on July 25th. I told work I wanted to stop working full-time. My friend Erica came out to visit from California.

Favourite book read in July: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier and Natural Causes by James Oswald.

Best selfie ever: Ewa, Kim, Mahvesh, Me, Anne, Jared. Photocred: Mahvesh Murad
Loncon3. Photo credit: Mahvesh Murad

August 2014 aka THE MONTH OF ALL THE CONS: Vestigial Tales: I posted my month 2 roundup of being a hybrid author, launched “The Tarot Reader,” and unveiled the cover and blurb for “The Card Sharp.” Erica and I took a day trip to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. I went to Nine Worlds in London and had a great time—definitely my favourite con of the year. I went to some other London events such as the Broken Monsters launch for Lauren Beukes and the Fantasy in the Court event at Goldsboro Books, where I got to meet some people from my new publisher, like my editor Julie Crisp, for the first time. Then it was time for another convention, Loncon3. I went back to Aberdeen, exhausted.

Favourite book read in August: Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters.

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Reading from False Hearts at Fantasycon

 

September 2014: Vestigial Tales: another monthly roundup and launching the last of the Tales (for now), “The Card Sharp.” The cons weren’t over! I journeyed down to York for Fantasycon. My husband and I celebrated our 5 year anniversary/10 years of being together. I did some events for #WriteCity in Aberdeen, doing both public events and school visits throughout the city. I started my Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Aberdeen and began reducing my hours slightly at work. I was able to announce that False Hearts will be published in the US through Tor/Forge and in Italy through Fanucci Editore. Peter F. Hamilton blurbed the book (!), calling it: “A smart debut from someone who’s clearly got what it takes.” I went down to Winchester for Amy Alward’s beautiful wedding. I became a British citizen!

Favourite book read in September: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes.

More Laya art! Aenea on the trapeze.
More Laya art! Aenea on the trapeze.

October 2014, or THE MONTH OF NO FREE TIME: I did my full-time masters. I did more school visits. I worked around 30 hours a week at the day job. I tried to write, but that didn’t really happen. Pantomime was listed as Gay YA’s October Book of the Month and they did lots of great promotion. I managed to post another Vestigial Tale monthly roundup. I really missed sleep and free time, but by the end of the month, my replacement had started and been trained and I dropped down to around 12 hours a week for work. I finished the first draft of Masquerade, finally.

Favourite book read in October: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (for uni).

Traffic cone or wizard hat? Glasgow.
Traffic cone or wizard hat? Glasgow.

November 2014: I did my full-time masters. I worked part-time. I stupidly decided I’d do NaNoWriMo because who needs free time, right, though I had to adjust my goals to include blogging and university work. My nephew, Theo, was born on November 5th. Shadowplay was Gay YA’s November Book of the Month and False Hearts sold in Germany to Heyne Verlag. Shadowplay was nominated for the ALA Rainbow List! I posted another hybrid author roundup. I took a weekend trip to Glasgow. I “won” NaNoWriMo by the skin of my teeth and swore I’ll never do it again, but it does mean I wrote a good chunk of Brainfreeze Book, my option book for Tor. Things happened behind the scenes regarding *stuff.*

Favourite book read in November:  Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, with an honourable mention to the Complete Atopia Chronicles by Matthew Mather.

The double rainbow in Arran.
The double rainbow in Arran.

December 2014: I finished up the first semester of my Masters degree. I went to London for my agent’s Christmas party. I went to the Isle of Arran on my first-ever writing retreat with Elizabeth May and Emma Trevayne, editing Masquerade for beta readers. I waited to hear about *stuff* and tried to be patient (and failed). I was called back into the day job almost full-time for a little bit. Stress. Stress. Stress. Aaaaand relax. Got ready for Christmas. Ate all the food. Now: reading, watching a lot of TV and slowly editing what I wrote of Brainfreeze Book and sorting through Masquerade beta comments.

Favourite book read in December: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell.

And that was my year. Let’s see what 2015 brings!

The Last Vestigial Tale: “The Card Sharp” is now Live!

The Last Vestigial Tale, “The Card Sharp,” is now up on Kindle. By happy coincidence, today is also Bisexuality Visibility Day, and Drystan is bisexual.

“The Card Sharp” is almost 16k words long and stars Drystan before he joins R.H. Ragona’s circus of magic. It has magicians, card counting, drug lords, Vestige, and a heist.

It’s in Select so it’ll be exclusive with them for 90 days before being released elsewhere. I know having Amazon have the exclusive can be difficult for those who don’t want to purchase through them, which I understand. They are such a large part of the market, though, that having the chance to lower the price/make them free/let people borrow them if they have Prime is too good to resist. By the end of the year, all tales will be out of the exclusive timeframe and I’ll put them up on Smashwords or D2D to be distributed to other retailers.

This is the end of the Vestigial Tales project for now.  I have no more plans to self-publish any more short stories/novellas this year. I’ll keep doing monthly roundup posts about my self-publishing experiment.

I’ve really enjoyed writing them, editing them, and putting them up myself. Traditional publishing has long timeframes by necessity, but this has given me something to do in the meantime and I’ve learned absolutely loads. I’ve discovered more about Drystan and Cyan by writing “The Snake Charm,” “The Tarot Reader,” and “The Card Sharp,” which has influenced Micah Grey #3.

As with the other tales, proceeds from these stories are being earmarked towards self-publishing the third book in the trilogy. There will also be a Kickstarter for that soon as well.

A huge thank you to everyone who’s helped me every step of the way: Dianna Walla, cover artist extraordinare, and my betas: Erica, Craig, Mike, Wesley, Vonny, Jennifer, Lisa, Kim, Amy, Collin & Emma. Thanks to Diana Sousa and Kim Curran for early e-formatting help, everyone who looked at the first blurb as I was trying to figure out the formatting. Thanks to my copyeditors: my mother, Sally, and my mother-in-law, Sheila.

I hope you enjoy “The Card Sharp” if you pick it up. Any help in spreading the word to others would be greatly, greatly appreciated: tweeting, sharing on Tumblr or Facebook, leaving a review on Goodreads and Amazon, telling your friends offline. I have wonderful readers and appreciate each and every one of you more than I can say.

TheCardSharpCoverUntold centuries ago, the Archipelago was ruled by the Alder—mysterious beings who vanished, leaving behind only scattered artefacts of unknown power, called Vestige. Sometimes, a person will be lucky or unlucky enough to discover that each piece of Vestige has its own tale to tell…

The Card Sharp

“He always mourned that moment, when the high began to fade. It was like he moved from who he wanted to be to having to face the reality of who he was. He’d rather feel supernatural. More than Drystan Hornbeam, a seventeen-year-old-boy who had made a lot of foolish mistakes and didn’t seem to be changing his habits anytime soon.”

Before Drystan became the White Clown of R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic, he was a Lerium addict struggling on the streets of Imachara. When a mysterious woman gives him a chance at a new life, he takes it, even if it means falling even deeper into the dark underbelly of the capital of Ellada. Drystan knows that selling Lerium to the powerful men and women who bet at the high stakes card tables is perilous, especially when he still battles his own addictions. Yet when he meets a man who can help him learn to cheat at cards and swindle them out of enough money to start a new life, he dives headfirst into more danger.

Vestigial Tales are stories set in the world of the award-winning Micah Grey series. Step behind the circus ring from Pantomime, the theatre of Shadowplay, and more…

The Card Sharp

PURCHASE: 

Amazon US / Amazon UK / Amazon Canada / Amazon India / Amazon Germany / Amazon France / Amazon Spain / Amazon Italy / Amazon Japan / Amazon Brazil / Amazon Mexico / Amazon Australia

ISBN: 978-0-9929428-4-7

Information on the other three Vestigial Tales (“The Snake Charm”, “The Fisherman’s Net” & “The Tarot Reader”)

The Second Vestigial Tale: “The Fisherman’s Net” is now Live!

And the hybrid author journey continues.

Info about “The Fisherman’s Net”:

This is a story set in Ellada, but otherwise has no overlapping characters with Pantomime or Shadowplay, so it is completely standalone. As the intro of the short story says:

This is a fable adapted by the noblewoman Lady Emilia Weatherwood. Her calling was to take Hestia’s Fables and to expand them into longer, richer stories that worked for a more contemporary audience. Her work is still much beloved amongst men and women throughout Ellada. Like the original stories, each has a message, but not every reader receives the same one.”

Professor Mildred Acacia, “Retellings of Hestia’s Fables,” Royal Snakewood University

For this story, I decided not to go exclusive with Amazon for three months. It’s currently up on Amazon and Smashwords. Once it’s approved into the Prime Catalog, Smashwords will distribute to most retailers (iBooks, Kobo, etc). I’m in the process of uploading it to B&N’s Nook Press. Amazon has been getting such bad press lately, and I wanted to make it available to as many people as possible. It means this one can’t be borrowed for free if you have Prime membership, but as it’s cheaper than “The Snake Charm,” I’m hoping that won’t affect things too much.

Speaking of “The Snake Charm,” I’ve lowered the price to $1.99 for at least the next two weeks to see if it results in an uptick of sales.

There will be at least 4 stories/novellas in total, and more if these prove reasonably popular.

If you would consider buying this short story and then perhaps leaving a review, I’d be very grateful. It’s 3.5k long. All profits from these stories are being earmarked for self-publishing the third Micah Grey book, should that be the way that book is released.

You can read the first 20% or so on both Smashwords and Amazon. I’ll come back and update this with more links as they go live.

Cover artwork is by Dianna Walla / Paper Tiger.

the-fishermans-net-cover

Untold centuries ago, the Archipelago was ruled by the Alder—mysterious beings who vanished, leaving behind only scattered artefacts of unknown power, called Vestige. Sometimes, a person will be lucky or unlucky enough to discover that each piece of Vestige has its own tale to tell…

The Fisherman’s Net

A humble fisherman in a village of the coast of the island of Linde buys a trinket at the market, which he discovers is Vestige. The poor man soon becomes the best fisherman in the village and marvels at his newfound wealth. One day, he ensnares a most unusual catch: a Chimaera sea maiden that isn’t meant to exist. And he’s not sure if he can let her go.

Vestigial Tales are stories set in the world of the award-winning Micah Grey series. Step behind the circus ring from Pantomime, the theatre of Shadowplay, and more…

Add on Goodreads!

PURCHASE:

Smashwords / Amazon US / Amazon UK Amazon Canada / Amazon India / Amazon Germany / Amazon France / Amazon Spain / Amazon Italy / Amazon Japan / Amazon Brazil Amazon Mexico / Amazon Australia

ISBN (Kindle): 978-0-9929428-2-3

“They Swim Through Sunset Seas” – Coming Soon in Solaris Rising 3

solarisrising3Whee, a bit of good news – I have a short story called “They Swim Through Sunset Seas” out in the Solaris Rising 3 anthology, which will be released in August, I believe. It’s about a husband and wife team who are sent to an underwater science facility on a planet called Anthemusa. They’ve been sent to study the indigenous aliens, the Nyxi, which basically look like giant tardigrades, but multi-coloured and with wings. Things don’t go according to plan.

I quite like this story – I wrote it a few years ago and gave it a re-edit this year, and I’m so glad it found a home. A huge thanks to Ian Whates for commissioning it.

Here’s the first line:

“I thought I would write and tell you what happened after you died.”

It’s such a pretty cover. And my name’s on the front!

It’s on Goodreads!

It’s also on Netgalley! (Request please, bloggers!)

I’m sharing the table of contents with lots of great folks, and I’m looking forward to reading the other stories slated to appear. There’ll be a release at Foyles I believe, and I’ll actually be in London then!

Blurb:

Following the exceptionally well received, Solaris Rising 1 and and the Philip K. Dick Award-nominated Solaris Rising 2 series editor Ian Whates brings even more best-selling and cutting edge SF authors together for the latest extraordinary volume of new original ground-breaking stories.

These stories are guaranteed to surprise, thrill and delight, and continue our mission to demonstrate why science fiction remains the most exiting, varied and inspiring of all fiction genres. In Solaris Rising 1 and 2 we showed both the quality and variety that modern science fiction can produce. In Solaris Rising 3, we’ll be taking SF into the outer reaches of the universe. Nina Allan, Aliette de Bodard, Tony Ballantyne, Chris Beckett, Julie Czerneda, Ken Liu, Alex Dally MacFarlane, Ian R MacLeod & Martin Sketchley, Gareth L Powell, Adam Roberts, Benjamin Rosenbaum, Cat Sparks, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Ian Watson and Seam Williams are just some of the names set to appear.

Vestigial Tales: “The Fisherman’s Net” Blurb and Cover!

“The Fisherman’s Net” is the second story in my Vestigial Tales series. The first one, “The Snake Charm,” went up for Kindle last week (other retailers to follow after the 3 month exclusive with Amazon). Two more novellas will follow later this summer.

This would be a good story to read if you haven’t read Pantomime or Shadowplay. There’s absolutely no overlapping characters and it’s set in one of the other islands of the world. It’s a fable, reworked by a noblewoman for the court in Ellada.

Without further ado…

the-fishermans-net-cover

Untold centuries ago, the Archipelago was ruled by the Alder—mysterious beings who vanished, leaving behind only scattered artefacts of unknown power, called Vestige. Sometimes, a person will be lucky or unlucky enough to discover that each piece of Vestige has its own tale to tell…

The Fisherman’s Net

A humble fisherman in a village of the coast of the island of Linde buys a trinket at the market, which he discovers is Vestige. The poor man soon becomes the best fisherman in the village and marvels at his newfound wealth. One day, he ensnares a most unusual catch: a Chimaera sea maiden that isn’t meant to exist. And he’s not sure if he can let her go.

Vestigial Tales are stories set in the world of the award-winning Micah Grey series. Step behind the circus ring from Pantomime, the theatre of Shadowplay, and more…

The artwork is by the exceptionally talented Dianna Walla of Paper Tiger. I love the tarot card treatment she gives these. A lot of the original Rider Waite cards have yellow backgrounds, and it makes the images pop. She’s also a knitwear designer and graphic artist, so check out her website.

This story will be released in about 3-4 weeks and will likely be 99cents/70p, as it’s about 4k long. And if you missed “The Snake Charm,” please do consider picking it up! As I’m swamped with several deadlines I’ve not been doing too much promo about the stories yet. Once all four are up, I’ll do a blog tour and see how it affects sales. In the meantime, it’s a useful experiment to see how many potential readers I can reach through my various social networks. I’ll be blogging once a month about what I did, how much I sold, and what it’s like to be a hybrid author.

Free Fiction Friday: “Palimpsest”

This is another short story that features Puck, the first story, “Pseudonym”, of which I featured two weeks ago. I was once planning on writing a bunch of short stories that all showed Puck through various people’s points of view to tell an overarching tale, but I never wrote more than two. I quite like this story – it’s the only story I’ve written so far from the point of view of an old man. I never queried, partly because I wasn’t sure what genre it falls into – it has a dash of horror, a dash of supernatural, but not very much. Anyway, here it is. I’d love to know what you think.

hitchhiker

Palimpsest

by

Laura Lam

“Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death.” –Frank Herbert

 

The headlights flashed through the darkness, revealing flickers of the surrounding countryside. The twin beams illuminated a tree just long enough to show its twisted limbs stretching over the road before it disappeared, replaced instead by the muted yellow of a yield sign, the flash of a raccoon’s eyes, or the slate gray of the curving road ahead.

My head nodded, vertebrae clicking slightly as my neck slid down towards my chest; I jerked myself awake. It was late and my energy had begun to fade with the setting sun. The eerie green glow of the electronic clock said it was 11:37 pm. Generic classical music crackled out of the speakers, interrupted occasionally by the nasal voices of announcers. The day was slowly winding like the road before me. There were the artificial boundaries of hours and exits, but neither time nor the road ever really ended, except for death or the ocean.

I shook my head. In my exhaustion, I was waxing philosophical. Usually by this time my head was on a soft pillow.

The headlight beams settled on a lone figure ahead in the gloom. He or she was almost impossible to see, but the pale swatch of a face peered at me, the one dot of a hand wrapped around the body for warmth, and the white comma of the other hand stuck out into the road. The hunkered form of a car crouched behind the small figure, still breathing steam.

I found myself pulling over a bit ahead of the figure. My car hovered by the side of the road, purring. Usually I was a bit more cautious, but I could use the company and the conversation. I chuckled; I was fulfilling the stereotype of the old man who loved to prattle on at the young folk about wars and past presidents.

The steady muffled crunch of footsteps approached. The hitch hiker tried the handle and—finding it locked—knocked politely on the window. I clicked the locks and turned off the radio static, feeling a little silly for forgetting to do it before. I can blame old age on the little things I’d been forgetting for years, at least. The hitch hiker opened the door, the crisp autumn air swirled into the car with its new passenger.

“Thanks,” he said, rubbing his hands together to warm himself. I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye. He was a young fellow, definitely under thirty. He had a dark beard and a light, slightly grimy face, but in the poor light that was all about him I could discern. His Ivy cap obscured his eyes, which annoyed me. I like to look a person in the eyes when I first meet them. I fiddled with one of the knobs on the dashboard, hoping it was the right one, and the car warmed up by several degrees. The clock read 12:01 am. The green light traced the outlines of my gnarled, liver-spotted hand.

“My car overheated,” the man stated.

“I can see that,” I glanced in my rear view mirror at the smoking ruins as I pulled away. “Where’re you heading?”

“Well eventually I’m headed to Los Angeles, but the nearest big city will be fine so I can call a tow truck. Unless you have a cell phone on you, by any chance?”

“No, sorry,” I said. “I still can’t trust those things.”

He laughed a warm, low sound. “Me neither, though I’m regretting that a bit now.” Though the laugh had been friendly, his face didn’t look it. It looked hard, comprised of sharp angles and tense lines, as if an artist had drawn him while pushing the pencil down too firmly.

“I’m headed about three hours west, to Lincoln; I can take you that far, at least.”

“Thank you.” We sat in silence.

“Pity about your car,” I said, a little awkwardly.

“It was bound to happen sooner rather than later. I seem to have bad luck with cars. They don’t like me.”

“Ah. This car here has served me faithfully for twenty years.” I patted the steering wheel fondly. “They don’t make ‘em like they used to. This is a Ford station wagon. Not fancy, but it’s gotten me from point A to point B over the years. Usually the transmissions on these things are worthless, but my nephew-in-law’s a mechanic and keeps it in good order.” Ah, there was my inane, boring rambling. I was wondering when it’d start up. I felt more awake already.

“It’s nice to count on things.” The man stretched and stifled a yawn. “Feels like I’ve been standing out in that road for hours. What made you decide to take a chance and pick me up?” He twisted, the hat still covering his eyes. He had either a spot of grime or a mole on one cheek. “I could be a crazy person, you know.”

I cleared my throat. “Well, it’s late, and I could use the chatter to stay awake. I’ve always been an early sleeper.”

“Still, shows you’re trusting, what with all the stories on the news.”

I shifted in my seat. “Yes. I suppose I am.” I glanced sideways at him. The man saw and flashed a grin at me. I think it was meant to be reassuring.

“Did you hear about the girl that was killed a week or so ago? Shame, isn’t it? What is the world coming to?” he asked. The tone was sympathetic, the cadence was correct, but something seemed a bit off. It sounded like idle chitchat, like he was talking about the weather.

“Yes. It is a shame,” I said slowly. “It never ends, though. I’ve lost count of how many stories about missing girls I’ve read over the past sixty years. Eventually they all blur together into one sad girl with a sad face.”

“What does that girl look like to you?” He tilted his head at me.

“She’s young, maybe thirteen or so. She has blonde hair but dark eyes. Her face looks like a doll and her eyes look blank, beyond feeling.” I stared off at the road, not really seeing it.

“Who was she?” the man asked, his voice curious.

I hesitated. I was tempted to lie, but I decided to tell the truth to the stranger. “My little niece. We were close. I always think of her when I hear a news report like that.”

“How was she killed?” he asked.

“She was raped and then thrown out of a window wearing black lingerie and angel wings,” I said flatly. Hopefully that would end the conversation.

“What was her name?” he asked after a pause.

“What does it matter?” I said, more sharply than I intended. I should have lied. He turned forward and stared out the windshield.

Silence stretched in the car like elastic. My nerves thinned. The time read 12:53. Two lonely white points of light weaved down the road and passed me. I looked up in the rearview mirror at the red dots as the car disappeared.

“Hey,” the man said after another long pause. “Have you heard of thought experiments?”

“What?” I asked, mystified.

“You know, thought experiments. Theories or problems to think about. I’ve been reading about them a lot recently. Have you heard of the Ship of Theseus?”

Maybe I did pick up a crazy person. “Um, yes, I think I read about it a long time ago, but I’ve forgotten. Greek?”

“Yes, that’s where it originated. It’s also called Theseus’ paradox. You didn’t learn about it in philosophy classes when you were in college? I think it’s pretty standard.”

“I studied biology in the late forties.”

“Ah, right. Theseus’ paradox asks if something has had all of its parts replaced, is it still the same thing?”

“What do you mean?” I asked. I relaxed slightly back into my seat. I always loved discussing hypothetical questions. I had read a bit about philosophy over the years, but no one cared to discuss it with me anymore. The young were too impatient and the old were too senile. Next to me, the man was drumming his fingers against the arm rest on the door, tapping his pinky twice each time. I rolled the window down a crack to let in some fresh air; it was beginning to feel stuffy.

“Well, take the Ship of Theseus. It was this famous ship that Theseus returned home from Crete in. The Greeks were determined to preserve it so as each plank of wood rotted they replaced it with an identical but new piece. After centuries, as you can imagine, all the parts had been replaced. So, even though it had none of the original parts, was it still the same ship?”

I rubbed my leg. “What do you think?” I asked.

“I think that the ship remained the same ship, not physically, but it was still the same ship in the minds of its builders and sailors. Theseus hadn’t walked down those new planks, but they could still imagine him doing so. It’s the same ship in their minds for it looks like it did centuries ago. A pile of rotten wood wouldn’t bring up the same emotions or sentimentality.” His tone was sardonic, as if he found sentimentality distasteful. He stopped and cleared his throat. “Do you think it’s the same ship?” he repeated.

“I don’t think it was the same ship. I visited a castle once. I used to travel abroad a lot in my youth. They had tapestries hanging up in the chapel. They were recreated because the ones from the 15th century or whenever they were made were too delicate and damaged to be displayed. The news ones were identical to the old ones, but to me, they weren’t the same. They weren’t created by a weaver in that century. They had never hung up in the Great Hall while the King and Queen feasted. I suppose they hadn’t replaced the tapestry bit by bit, but it was meant to be the same. But they weren’t the same at all.” The bushes on the side of the road blurred into a constant dark green smudge through my window.

“Point. It doesn’t have the history associated with it, even if it has the design. To be honest, though, I don’t really care about the theory so much with inanimate objects. A thing is a thing, right? But if, say, a human being was replaced bit by bit, would it still be the same person, then?”

“But we already have been entirely replaced. We don’t have any of the same cells we were born with,” I said.

He smiled. “Your biology is showing. What about really being replaced? Where the body is entirely different? Foreign, alien. Little by little.”

“But we couldn’t replace every part of a human. We don’t have the technology.” I lifted a brow, but made sure to lift the one that the man wouldn’t be able to see. I shivered, and rolled the window back up.

“No, but we might one day. What about all those science fiction books about robots? Or what if you replaced half of a person?”

“Well, about an eighth of me has been replaced,” I said.

He didn’t say anything. He just looked at me from under his cap.

“It’s true,” I said, and lifted up my trouser leg. The shiny plastic glowed in the jade-green light of the clock.

The passenger leaned forward intently as he inspected my knee. His head was still bowed, so even though he was closer, I could not see his face. I turned from him to concentrate on the empty road in front of us. Drops of rain flattened into watery ellipses on the windshield before being erased by the windshield wipers. The straight lines of the road were distorted by the rain, and the car slipped a bit on the slick road. I heard a slight rustle of fabric and turned to see the man’s hand on my phantom leg. The man pulled away when I jerked in surprise. Even though I couldn’t perceive the touch, it still felt too familiar. People have touched my leg before without my permission. I imagine it’s a bit like when a woman is pregnant and everyone decides her belly is something they can rub for good luck.

“Excuse me, but I think I should know your name before you feel up my peg leg,” I said, trying to sound jocular.

“I was curious – I’ve never touched one before,” He didn’t apologize, but seemed to feel he should offer something in response. “My name is Puck.” He sat very still, as if waiting for my reaction.

I decided not to comment on the strangeness of the name. I’m sure he had heard it all before. I’d heard stranger names in my time. “My name is Alden.”

Puck smiled. “Did you know it means ‘old friend?’”

“Yes, I did.” I wondered vaguely how he knew—I didn’t have the most common name, either. Perhaps he was a linguist. I stifled a yawn. It was nearly two in the morning. I couldn’t remember the last time I had stayed up so late. It had been years—decades probably.

“So, do you consider it your leg? Or is it just a bit of plastic?” Puck had leaned back in his seat.

I pondered the question for a few minutes. “It is a piece of plastic, but it’s also my leg. It can’t feel anything. On the other hand – pardon the almost-pun – it doesn’t ache like my real leg. I rely on it in the same way I relied on the leg I lost, so I suppose it is my leg.”

“Interesting. So you consider yourself still fundamentally the same?”

“Of course. I’m still me. I just have one less leg than most people. Although I suppose as a result I’m a different person mentally than I would have been if I still had both.”

“What sort of person would you be mentally if, say, you lost both of your legs?” Puck asked.

I paused. “Well, I wouldn’t be driving right now, would I?” I said carefully, wondering where the discussion was leading. I felt nervous, my stomach fluttering. My unease was growing like a cancer. Perhaps being tired would have been preferable. A tiny trickle of sweat snaked its way down my spine.

“Legs are very physical things anyway—I mean, they help you get around, but they don’t change who you are very significantly. But what if you lost something that related to your senses or the way you communicate?”

“What do you mean?” I seemed to be asking this question a lot. I could see the two glints of his eyes from under the cap.

The silence seemed to seep into my very pores. My lungs felt choked with the quiet. I took my eyes from the road and looked over at him, wondering at the heavy pause.

“What if you lost your tongue?” He grinned and stuck out his own tongue, as if to demonstrate. His teeth flashed white in the gloom of the car. His pointed tongue looked slightly speckled in the moonlight.

“I—well, I wouldn’t be talking right now,” I stammered. The tongue in question curled itself behind my teeth. My answers weren’t very creative, either.

Puck laughed. I flinched. My nerves were wound as taut as a guitar string, and ready to snap. Puck’s laughter had not been malicious or spiteful, rather it was playful, and that was even more unsettling. I realized that I was gripping the steering wheel so tightly that my hands were numb.

“Why are you asking these questions?” I hated the quavering note to my voice. I sounded like a plaintive old man.

“Like I said – I’m curious. Why, do these questions bother you?” He sounded amused. He turned his torso towards me and rested his head on his hand.

“I don’t quite understand the reason you’re asking them to little more than a stranger.” The countryside outside seemed very silent, and very empty. The only sign of civilization was the weaving road I sped down. I eased my foot down slightly on the gas pedal; the speedometer inched past 80 miles per hour. It was a quarter after two.

“I ask these questions to a lot of people. The reactions are so varied, so different.” He paused reflectively. “Yet I suppose at its root the reaction is all the same.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“People always ask why I ask them. They never want to actually answer.”

“Maybe you ask the wrong questions.” A sign emerged out of the darkness. The nearest town with a population of over twenty was still nearly an hour away. I brought my foot down still harder on the gas. I didn’t know if Puck was playing a game with me or was serious, but in either scenario I was still the mouse and he was still the cat. My thoughts were running too fast on an unsteady track and my old, creaky self couldn’t keep up.

“Maybe I ask the right questions and that’s why people are too afraid to answer them. Will you give me a serious answer? What would you do if someone snipped off your tongue?” I was frantically keeping my eyes on the road, but I could imagine him staring at my mouth as he spoke.

I took a deep breath, gathering the frayed remnants of my nerves. “Losing my tongue would mean losing a fundamental part of myself—my voice. I speak every day: to my wife, the woman I buy my paper from, the waiter who serves me a cup of coffee.”

“You could still communicate. You could use sign language or write on a piece of paper.”

“I could, but it’s not the same. They wouldn’t hear the nuances of my voice. It’d be like speaking on the internet all the time. I finally bought a computer and I try sending e-mails to my children, but it’s not the same. Too much is lost. I grew up before we became so dependent on technology. Speaking is more than a way of getting through life, like a leg is used for walking. I’ve developed friendships and loves due to this tongue. It’s how I met my wife. It’s the tongue I used to read to my niece and my children before they went to sleep. It’s possibly my utmost means of expression. To lose it would cripple me far more than the loss of a leg.” I spoke very quickly, the tongue in question skittering across the back of my teeth. Perhaps I said too much, or the wrong thing. Puck was quiet for a moment.

“That makes sense.” It seemed as if I had passed an unspoken test of some sort. “Others have answered in such mundane, insipid ways. The younger ones have shown false bravado, saying it wouldn’t affect them at all, or that they’d kill the man who did it. Some have just been confused completely and not been able to answer at all. I’ve heard your sentiment before, but not so eloquently. Well done.” He gave a few soft claps with his hands. “I find it interesting you find the tongue so valuable. The spoken word, and the written one especially, seem to be going down in value as the years go on. And I suppose, Alden, your tongue is how you make friends?”

“Yes. I’ve made—and lost—many friends with this tongue of mine.”

“Interesting.” He lapsed back into thoughtful silence.

I let out the breath I didn’t know I had been holding. My sweaty palms slipped on the leather of the steering wheel. We crested a hill, and lights appeared in the matte darkness, as if holes were being punched out of a sheet of paper. We were reaching a destination, but I didn’t know what it was.

Silence flooded the car again. Puck seemed unnatural. I could not begin to guess at what he was thinking beneath the cowl the shadows of his hair and hat cast about him.

“How did you lose your leg?” He asked.

“World War Two. Landmine in Normandy.”

Puck seemed to fill with energy. “Ah! So you’ve killed people. This raises another perfect debate: do you think taking life takes away a part of yourself?”

I was quiet. The tang of blood and smoke filled my nose and my eyes clouded with visions of men dying. “Yes. It takes away a large part.” I almost whispered.

“You don’t think it adds anything? You don’t feel as if you gain power over those you kill?”

I looked at him, shocked. “No. Nothing but remorse and nightmares.”

“You’re going to ask me why I asked, aren’t you?” He gave a lopsided smile, the skin creasing over his mole.

I had, in fact, been about to demand that. I did not want to seem redundant, as I had a feeling that would annoy him. Instead, I shook my head and asked a different question: “Have you ever killed anyone?”

“Yes.”

I tried not to gulp. In retrospect, that was quite a stupid question to ask. My heart pattered in my chest. I had to keep him talking: “Do you think you gained anything?”

“Insight. We are surrounded by symbols, hidden by them, named by them. They are thrown about frivolously, but at the end, they mean everything.” His statement made absolutely no sense to me, but I didn’t want to ask him to explain himself. Puck stared off into the road, pensive, yet he didn’t seem to be thinking about this statement in reference to me. I left him to his reverie, trying not to even breathe loudly, not wanting to disturb him and bring his attention back to me.

We reached the outskirts of the city. Houses began to pepper the side of the road more, but I knew I couldn’t stop yet. I needed to get to the center of town, where the most people would be. I should try to make sure and stop outside of a bar or a night club.

We neared the town center. My eyes soaked in the welcome sight of human life—lights bled from houses and streetlamps, and music floated out of a late-night house party we passed. I saw a couple walking down the road, holding hands. I wanted to just stop the car, open the door, and run out into the street, screaming. But I could barely walk with my cane, much less run without it, and I didn’t know what Puck had spirited away under his dark coat.

“Let me out here,” Puck said suddenly. A pay phone was on the corner. I stared at it blankly. Hours ago, I dimly remembered Puck saying he needed a phone, but I thought it had just been a pretense. The normalcy seemed incongruous with Puck’s behavior. Who would he call?

I slowed the car, but relief warred with suspicion. The pay phone was not very well-lit. It lay just outside the island of light from the nearest streetlamp. There were no people around. Should I stop it on the hope that Puck would leave my life forever? Or should I keep going to somewhere with lights and life, and risk angering him?

“Stop here.” Puck said. There was a note of warning. I stopped.

I snapped the locks open, but he stayed seated for a moment. The acidic green light of the clock showed 2:59. He looked at me and took off his cap. I finally saw his eyes. They were primordial pools, with dark shapes flitting beneath their surface.

“Thanks for the ride. I won’t forget this.” He made the grateful words seem a threat.  I shrank back from him, aware that I was trapped in my seat. Puck opened the door and slid smoothly out of the car. He nudged the door closed with his hip, stuck his hands deep in his pockets, and sauntered around the front of the car. His languid walk was caught in the headlights as if he were on stage, putting on a show for my benefit. Puck stopped and rapped on my window. A loud group of drunken young men were stumbling down the sidewalk, so I cautiously rolled the window down.

“By the way, old friend, I’m sorry about your Evelyn.”

I lunged at him, but I only managed to grab the edge of his coat, which slipped through my fingers as though it were insubstantial. He jumped nimbly back and stood in the center of the road, laughing. The laugh reached into me and grabbed an invisible stone that let loose an avalanche of pent-up fears. I gave an incoherent yell and stamped on the gas as hard as I could with my false foot. The car screeched as it careened forward, leaving Puck behind me, still cackling. I wheezed and leaned my chest on the steering wheel for strength. My heart was a trapped bird beating against my ribcage, giving its last fight to escape. I sped down the road again, wide awake.

If you enjoyed this short story, please consider purchasing my full-length work, Pantomime & forthcoming Shadowplay. Thank you for reading.