eSPEC BOOKS AUTHOR READING SERIES – 9/25/20


Do we have a treat for you this week! Two of our readings are sneak peeks at upcoming books! The third is about biker faeries! How could you go wrong? We hope you’ll enjoy them all. If you are interested in the books, they can be purchased via the links provided.

If you are an author and would like to participate in one of these series, please visit the eSpec Books Author Reading Series Facebook page for details.


The eSpec Books Author Reading Series

Christopher L. Bennett reading an excerpt of his upcoming novel, Arachne’s Exile.

What a Tangled Web…

When the colony starship Arachne unwittingly destroyed a deep-space habitat of the Chirrn, her crew committed themselves to a lifetime of penance to repay their debt. But a brutal act of vengeance has now forced them into exile in a distant part of the galaxy.

Drawn into a cosmic conspiracy spanning millennia, the colonists learn that the Chirrn’s ancient choices have exacted a terrible toll on human history. Now, their only way to win true freedom may be to carry out a perilous theft aboard an extraordinary megastructure orbiting a neutron star.

Will Arachne and her crew pull off the heist of the millennium? Or are they being manipulated into committing a far more awful crime… one for which all humanity could pay the price?

About the Author

Christopher L. Bennett is a lifelong resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, with a B.S. in Physics and a B.A. in History from the University of Cincinnati. A fan of science and science fiction since age five, he has spent the past two decades selling original short fiction to magazines such as Analog Science Fiction and Fact (home of his “Hub” series of comedy adventures), BuzzyMag, and Galaxy’s Edge. Since 2003, he has been one of Pocket Books’ most prolific and popular authors of Star Trek tie-in fiction, including the epic Next Generation prequel The Buried Age, the Enterprise — Rise of the Federation series, and the Original Series prequel The Captain’s Oath. He has also written two Marvel Comics novels, X-Men: Watchers on the Walls and Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder. His original novel Only Superhuman, perhaps the first hard science fiction superhero novel, was voted Library Journal’s SF/Fantasy Debut of the Month for October 2012. He has three collections reprinting his original short fiction, Among the Wild Cybers: Tales Beyond the Superhuman from eSpec Books (containing an original Only Superhuman prequel novelette) and Hub Space: Tales from the Greater Galaxy and Crimes of the Hub from Mystique Press.

Megan Mackie and Frank Sjodin reading an excerpt from Megan’s short story “A Krampusnacht Carol” from the upcoming anthology, Horns & Halos, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and John L. French.

About the Author

Megan Mackie is a writer, actor, and playwright. She started her writing career as an indie author and had such smashing success in her first year with her inaugural book The Finder of the Lucky Devil, that she made the transition to traditional publishing. She has become a personality at many cons, recognizable by her iconic leather hat and engaging smile. She has recently joined Bard’s Tower, a mobile con bookstore, and has sold her books next to great authors such as Peter David, Melinda Snodgrass, Dan Wells, Claudia Gray, John Jackson Miller, and Jim Butcher, to name a few. She has written four novels including: The Finder of the Lucky Devil, The Saint of Liars, Death and the Crone, and Saint Code: Lost all of which will be re-releasing through eSpec Books.

She is also a contributing writer in the role-playing game Legendlore soon to be published by Onyx Path Publishing. Outside of writing she likes to play games: board games, RPGs, and video games. She has a regular Pathfinder group who is working their way through Rapanthuk. She lives in Chicago with her husband and children, dog, three cats, and her mother in the apartment upstairs.

About the Voice

Actor Frank R Sjodin has performed at and built sets for various theatres across the Chicago area, most notably as a clown and puppeteer. As a voice actor, he is best known for the role of Andrew Snidge in the online serial radio production Our Fair City, which ran for eight seasons. Though he technically is employed game-mastering escape rooms, he is spending most of the pandemic game mastering role-playing games virtually and occasionally writing.

Danielle Ackley-McPhail reading an excerpt from her biker faerie novel, The Halfling’s Court: A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale.

Get Your Bad-Ass On!
The rumble of a Harley…
The gleam of black leather…
The shine of polished chrome…
The freedom of the open road….

Motorcycles meet magic and mayhem as Lance Cosain, the halfling leader of The Wild Hunt MC, protects his turf and his people from attacks ordered by Dair na Scath, the high king of the fae.

Holding his own against rogue fae, redcaps, and pissed-off road gremlins, all Lance wants to do is settle down with his lady. Instead, he goes toe-to-toe with the high king’s champion over an ancient dagger and his claim to the throne.

Who will triumph? The king of the road or the king of the realm?

Either way, the Hunt is on!

About the Author

Award-winning author, editor, and publisher Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for longer than she cares to admit. In 2014 she joined forces with husband Mike McPhail and friend Greg Schauer to form her own publishing house, eSpec Books (www.especbooks.com).

Her published works include six novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise, The Halfling’s Court, The Redcaps’ Queen, and Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, written with Day Al-Mohamed. She is also the author of the solo collections Eternal Wanderings, A Legacy of Stars, Consigned to the Sea, Flash in the Can, Transcendence, Between Darkness and Light, and the non-fiction writers’ guides The Literary Handyman and LH: Build-A-Book Workshop.

She is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Gaslight & Grimm, Side of Good/Side of Evil, After Punk, and Footprints in the Stars. Her short stories are included in numerous other anthologies and collections.

In addition to her literary acclaim, she crafts and sells original costume horns under the moniker The Hornie Lady Custom Costume Horns, and homemade flavor-infused candied ginger under the brand of Ginger KICK! at literary conventions, on commission, and wholesale.

Danielle lives in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail and one extremely spoiled cat. To learn more about her work, visit http://www.sidhenadaire.com or http://www.especbooks.


All purchase links in these posts are Amazon Associate links
and we do receive a token commission if you should purchase via these links.

COVER REVEAL – TO HELL AND REGROUP


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THE FINAL SHOWDOWN ON TROY!

The strange bird-like aliens that humans have nicknamed “Dusters” have destroyed a human colony, the Semi-Autonomous World Troy. The North American Union sent a massive force of troops from the Marines, Army, and Navy in response.

In orbit, the remnants of the Navy must pull together and fight off the latest wave of Duster reinforcements to come through the wormhole and press their attack.

On the ground, Marines are locked in pitched combat with the Dusters, who continue to press their advantage, now with a weapon of devastating power, mounted on a large tank-like vehicle.

At headquarters, the Army Corps of Engineers must figure out how those tanks work and figure out how to either stop them—or use them!

And back on Earth, the NAU President must decide humanity’s next course of action, even as scientists try to discover the Dusters’ secrets to help the soldiers, sailors, and Marines win—

—and time is running out!

Advance Praise

From the cold, detached environs of an orbiting battleship to the grit, sweat, and blood that defines life in a fighting hole on an alien world, Sherman and DeCandido pull out all the stops in this explosive concluding chapter of the 18th Race trilogy.

—Dayton Ward, bestselling author of
The Last World War and Star Trek: Agents of Influence


Other Books in the Series

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David ShermanDavid Sherman is the author or co-author of some three dozen books, most of which are about Marines in combat.

He has written about US Marines in Vietnam (the Night Fighters series and three other novels), and the DemonTech series about Marines in a fantasy world. The 18th Race trilogy is military science fiction.

Other than military, he wrote a non-conventional vampire novel, The Hunt, and a mystery, Dead Man’s Chest. He has also released a collection of short fiction and non-fiction from early in his writing career, Sherman’s Shorts; the Beginnings.

With Dan Cragg he wrote the popular Starfist series and its spin off series, Starfist: Force Recon—all about Marines in the Twenty-fifth Century.; and a Star Wars novel, Jedi Trial.

His books have been translated into Czech, Polish, German, and Japanese.

After going to war as a U.S. Marine infantryman, and spending decades writing about young men at war, he’s burnt out on the subject and has finally come home. Today he’s writing short fiction, mostly steampunk and farcical fantastic Westerns.

He lives in sunny South Florida, where he doesn’t have to worry about hypothermia or snow-shoveling-induced heart attacks. He invites readers to visit his website, novelier.com.

Keith R.A. DeCandidoKeith R.A. DeCandido has been an author, editor, critic, TV personality, martial artist, museum curator, Census worker, musician, sportswriter, and podcaster over the course of the last three decades. He’s best known for his fiction writing, with more than 50 novels, around a hundred works of short fiction, and a mess of comic books. He’s written fiction in more than thirty different licensed universes, based on TV shows (Star Trek, Supernatural, Doctor Who, Farscape), movies (Alien, Cars, Kung Fu Panda, Resident Evil), comic books (Spider-Man, Thor, X-Men, Hulk), and games (Dungeons & Dragons, World of Warcraft, Command & Conquer, StarCraft), and also in his own original universes, including fantastical police procedurals set in the fictional cities of Cliff’s End (Dragon Precinct and its sequels) and Super City (the Super City Cops novels and novellas) and urban fantasy tales set in the somewhat real locales of New York (the Bram Gold Adventures) and Key West (tales of Cassie Zukav, weirdness magnet). Recent and upcoming work includes the Alien novel Isolation (based on both the movie series and the videogame), the collaborative novels Animal (with Munish K. Batra, MD) and To Hell and Regroup (with David Sherman), the next books in his ongoing series, Phoenix Precinct and Feat of Clay, the graphic novels Icraus and Jellinek (with Gregory A. Wilson and Áthila Fabbio), and short stories in the anthologies Across the Universe: Tales of Alternative Beatles, Bad Ass Moms, Footprints in the Stars, Thrilling Adventure Yarns, Pangaea Book 3: Redemption, and Brave New Girls: Adventures of Gals & Gizmos). Keith has also been writing about pop culture for the award-winning webzine Tor.com since 2011, has been an editor of thirty years’ standing (though he usually does it sitting down), is a third-degree black belt in karate, plays percussion professionally, and probably some other stuff he can’t remember due to the lack of sleep. Find out less at his hilariously primitive web site at DeCandido.net

THE eSPEC BOOKS AUTHOR READING SERIES – 9/18/20


This week’s offering is three fantastic Guest Author readings–and I mean that in every way. We hope you’ll enjoy them all. If you are interested in the books, they can be purchased via the links provided.

If you are an author and would like to participate in one of these series, please visit the eSpec Books Author Reading Series Facebook page for details.


The eSpec Guest Author Reading Series

Dan Hernandez reading an excerpt from his story “The Rats of Pangaea” from the anthology Pangaea III, edited by Michael Jan Friedman, published by Crazy8 Press. 

Pangaea At War

The super-continent Pangaea, on which mankind has lived its entire life as a species, has become a dangerous and unpredictable place. The ancient oppressors known as the Aristai are tearing civilization apart in order to rebuild it in their own image.

If the nations of the world are to weather the storm of death and destruction, they will need heroes—not just leaders and lawmen, but also saviors from the most unlikely of places: A bodyguard who’s lost his way in the wilderness. A chef who knows the value of keeping everything in its place. A truck driver carrying more than what’s in his truck. A professor who’s unlocked the greatest secret of the super-continent.

To guide you on your journey through the lonely mountain peaks, the wild, wide plains, and the teeming seacoasts of Pangaea, we’ve enlisted the talents of a distinguished fellowship of science fiction luminaries—Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Ilsa J. Bick, Michael A. Burstein, Russ Colchamiro, Peter David, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Kevin Dilmore, Mary Fan, Michael Jan Friedman, Robert Greenberger, Dan Hernandez, Paul Kupperberg, Ron Marz, Aaron Rosenberg, Lawrence M. Schoen, Geoffrey Thorne, Marie Vibbert, and Dayton Ward.

In this, the final volume of the Pangaea series, see who will rise, who will fall . . . and who will be left to pick up the pieces.

About the Author

Dan Hernandez is an author, producer, and screenwriter living in Los Angeles, California. His television credits include Central Park, the Peabody-nominated One Day at a Time, The Tick, Super Fun Night, and 1600 Penn. In film, Dan recently wrote the movie Pokémon Detective Pikachu, which went on to gross 433 million dollars at the box office and was the first adaptation of a video game to receive a “Fresh” score on Rotten Tomatoes. He was recently featured as one of Variety’s “10 Screenwriters to Watch 2019.” Dan is a dungeon master, which can’t possibly surprise anyone.

David Lee Summers reading an excerpt from his novel, Dragon’s Fall, published by Hadrosaur Press. 

Three vampires. Three lives. Three stories intertwined.

Bearing the guilt of destroying the holiest of books after becoming a vampire, the Dragon, Lord Desmond searches the world for lost knowledge, but instead, discovers truth in love.

Born a slave in Ancient Greece, Alexandra craves freedom above all else, until a vampire sets her free, and then, she must pay the highest price of all … her human soul.

An assassin who lives in the shadows, Roquelaure is cloaked even from himself, until he discovers the power of friendship and loyalty.

Three vampires, traveling the world by moonlight—one woman and two men who forge a bond made in love and blood. Together they form a band of mercenaries called the Scarlet Order, and recruit others who are like them. Their mission is to protect kings and emperors against marauders, invaders, and rogue vampires as the world descends into the chaos of the Dark Ages.

About the Author

David Lee Summers lives in Southern New Mexico, somewhere between the western and final frontiers. He is the author of a dozen novels and numerous short stories and poems. His most recent novels are the global steampunk adventure, Owl Riders, and a tale of space piracy, Firebrandt’s Legacy. His short stories have appeared in such magazines and anthologies as Cemetery Dance, Realms of Fantasy, and Straight Outta Tombstone. He’s been nominated for the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling and Dwarf Stars Awards. When he’s not writing, David operates telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Find David on the web at http://www.davidleesummers.com.

Marie Vibbert reading an excerpt from her story “Falling for the Wrong Guy” from the anthology Pangaea III, edited by Michael Jan Friedman, published by Crazy8 Press.  

Pangaea At War

The super-continent Pangaea, on which mankind has lived its entire life as a species, has become a dangerous and unpredictable place. The ancient oppressors known as the Aristai are tearing civilization apart in order to rebuild it in their own image.

If the nations of the world are to weather the storm of death and destruction, they will need heroes—not just leaders and lawmen, but also saviors from the most unlikely of places: A bodyguard who’s lost his way in the wilderness. A chef who knows the value of keeping everything in its place. A truck driver carrying more than what’s in his truck. A professor who’s unlocked the greatest secret of the super-continent.

To guide you on your journey through the lonely mountain peaks, the wild, wide plains, and the teeming seacoasts of Pangaea, we’ve enlisted the talents of a distinguished fellowship of science fiction luminaries—Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Ilsa J. Bick, Michael A. Burstein, Russ Colchamiro, Peter David, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Kevin Dilmore, Mary Fan, Michael Jan Friedman, Robert Greenberger, Dan Hernandez, Paul Kupperberg, Ron Marz, Aaron Rosenberg, Lawrence M. Schoen, Geoffrey Thorne, Marie Vibbert, and Dayton Ward.

In this, the final volume of the Pangaea series, see who will rise, who will fall . . . and who will be left to pick up the pieces.


All purchase links in these posts are Amazon Associate links
and we do receive a token commission if you should purchase via these links.

eSPEC EXCERPTS – AN UNCEASING HUNGER


Today’s excerpt is an early glimpse of Michelle D. Sonnier’s An Unceasing Hunger, the long-awaited sequel to The Clockwork Witch, book one in the Evolution of Magic series. For those unfamiliar with the series, this is an alternate history setting where witches are the declining power in society, and steam technology is vying to take it’s place. Our protagonist, Arabella, as the first ever technomancer, stradles both worlds.


An Unceasing Hunger – Chapter One

The Story Begins Anew

The witches of Blackstone House cast their eyes to the sky and said that it was a good omen their newest member would be accepted to the Sisterhood of Witches on such a glorious summer day. It was warm, but not unbearably hot. The sun was bright. The clouds were fluffy, light, and few.

Arabella, the young witch in question, restlessly dozed in her father’s carriage as they sped westward to her mother’s ancestral home. The air didn’t move in the stuffy confines. She’d tried to sweep her hair up that morning in the small roadside inn where they’d spent the night, but she was not as cunning with her hairpins as her sisters and escaped curls clung to the back of her sweaty neck. She hunched against the wall of the carriage trying to put some space between herself and her brother John with little success. John had a habit of sprawling out in his sleep, which along with his snoring made him a tiresome traveling companion.

Arabella sat up straight with a huff and began to fan herself with the letters she clutched in her lap. “Can’t we open a window?” she grumped to her father and older brother, Henry, sitting across from her. “It’s unbearably stuffy in here.”

“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” muttered Henry, without looking up from the book he was reading.

“We’re out of the city, brother dear,” snapped Arabella. “We have been for quite a while. I hardly think we need to worry about the miasmas and smells at this point.”

“And I suppose you’d rather be covered in dirt from the road when we arrive then?” Henry finally looked up from his book and arched one brow. “I’m sure that would make such a stellar impression on all the luminaries of the witching world, who I am sure Mother has invited to this occasion.”

Arabella tightened her jaw. “Why, such tender concern! I didn’t think you cared about the opinions of witches.” A peevish tone entered her voice.

“I’m only trying to look out for my baby sister,” simpered Henry. “For so many years I’ve been deprived of the opportunity to attend to my brotherly duties to my sisters.”

Arabella snorted and crossed her arms over her chest. She opened her mouth to speak.

“Children!” Father barked as he snapped his own book shut. John started up mid-snore and scanned the carriage interior with bleary eyes.

“I understand you are not used to being in close quarters with each other,” Father continued. “But for goodness sakes, can you please try to be civilized and not snarl at each other like beasts?”

“It’s just so frightfully warm, Father,” Arabella pouted. “And Henry is not being amicable about opening a window.”

Henry grimaced as he turned to their father. “If Arabella has her way everything in this carriage will be covered in dirt before we’re another mile down the road!” He held up the book in his hand. “This is a rare edition borrowed from the Club’s library. I’m responsible for the condition I return it in.”

“Why would you bring a rare book, that doesn’t even belong to you, on a trip to the country?” Arabella’s voice rose. “You should have left it at home, or at least packed it in your trunk so you could carefully read it after we arrive!”

“I am in the midst of important research that can’t be stopped for some little witchy garden party!” Henry’s voice rose to match Arabella’s.

“My investiture is not just some little garden party!” Color rose into Arabella’s cheeks.

“Enough!” Father roared. He pinned his daughter with his gaze. “Arabella, you may open the window near you, but just a bit. We don’t want too much road dust.” He turned his gimlet eyes to his oldest son. “Henry, you will stop antagonizing your sister. You borrowed the book and you are responsible for it. Arabella is right, if it is so fragile you should have planned for its care better.” He swept his gaze around the carriage. “There will be no more bickering today, Children. Have I made myself clear?”

“But I didn’t do anything…” whined John. “I was asleep!”

Arabella leaned into the small stream of fresh air at the window and let her eyes flutter shut. “Your snoring is loud enough to be considered part of the argument.”

“On that I will agree,” grumbled John as he tucked his borrowed book into his worn leather satchel.

“Two against one is not fair,” said John as he adjusted his waistcoat.

“Don’t whine,” griped Father as he turned back to his book. “It’s unbecoming of a gentleman.”

John took a breath to say something, then clamped his jaw shut and settled back into his seat as he shook his head. Arabella held up her letters to shield her face from Father and Henry, and stuck out her tongue at John with a twinkle in her eye.

“And what are you reading, sister dear?” John chuckled as he reached out and tried to snatch the ribbon-wrapped packet from Arabella.

“These are personal!” Arabella a theatrical gasp as she held them out of the way.

Henry harrumphed as pulled out a portfolio to peruse from his bag. “You delivered most of them, John. You know they are from Julian Pattersby.” He rolled his eyes. “I don’t understand why the two of you must insist on playing such juvenile games while we are in such close quarters.”

“Because we’re hopelessly bored and it’s hours before we’ll arrive at Mother’s,” John replied to his brother matter-of-factly.

He turned back to Arabella. “So I only delivered most of them? I wasn’t your only secret postmaster? I’m wounded… Then there must be some I haven’t read!” He tried harder to get them from Arabella. She giggled as she tucked them behind her back.

“Children….” Father cautioned without looking up from his book.

John and Arabella settled back with a sigh, companionably leaning against each other.

“I really haven’t read any of your letters,” John said after a moment.

“I know,” said Arabella with a little smile. “I’d have to turn you into a toad if you did.”

John looked at his sister from the corner of his eyes. “Can you really do that?” he whispered.

“Not yet,” Arabella giggled. “But I’m still learning.”

“Please don’t scare me like that.” John laid his hand over his heart.

“But a reasonable fear of witches improves your sociability so much, brother dear.” Arabella put her hand over her mouth to stifle another giggle. Father and Henry sighed in unison but didn’t say anything else.

John drummed his fingers on his knee and peered at the country fields outside his window. Arabella fanned herself with her letters and sighed.

“I don’t suppose you want to tell me about anything in those letters,” John murmured to Arabella.

Arabella suppressed a smile. “That sounds suspiciously like digging for gossip.”

“I’m not looking for gossip.” John looked abashed. “I’m just trying to be a good traveling companion for once, trying to hold up my end of a pleasant conversation.”

Arabella shifted to face him and raised one eyebrow.

“Alright, I’m also hopelessly bored. Hearing you swoon over Julian Pattersby would be more interesting than watching the countryside go by.”

Arabella tilted her head to the side and raised her other eyebrow.

“Fine,” growled John. “I am actually at least slightly interested in your feelings for Julian. You might wind up married to the lad and then I’ll be stuck with him so I might as well try to learn something about him.”

Chuckling, Arabella nodded. “I see… How amazing! My brother does actually care about someone other than himself.”

“I thought I’d already proven that,” John grumbled as he crossed his arms across his chest. “Fine. I’ll just watch the countryside since you have no interest in conversation.” He turned his head firmly to the window.

“John…” Arabella’s kept her voice soft as she reached for his hand. “I was just teasing you.” She leaned forward to try to get a good look at this face. “Can’t a sister tease her brother?”

John turned back to Arabella and considered her a moment. Then he pulled his face into a mock pout. “Wounded again!” He placed the back of his hand on his forehead. “The outrageous treatment I suffer at the hands of my cruel, cruel sister!”

Henry snorted and turned another page in his portfolio.

John glanced at Henry and smirked, then caught Arabella’s hands up in his own.

“Now that you know how grievously you’ve hurt me, you simply must tell me every juicy detail. It’s the only way to make it up to me.” John grinned.

Arabella broke out into a full-throated laugh. “John, you are absolutely ridiculous. But I still love you.”

He settled back and tugged the lapels of his waistcoat. “Not quite the groveling apology I was hoping for, but I’ll take it.” He folded his hands on his lap, eyes sparkling. “Now, do I deserve even a few crumbs of chitchat? Just as little taste?”

A dreamy smile spread over Arabella’s face as she looked down at the letters in her lap and stroked them.

“Well, I supposed I do owe you at least a little something after the horrible way I’ve treated you.”

John out his elbows on his knees, chin in his hands, and fluttered his eyelashes at Arabella.

“You’re terrible,” she giggled, rapping his shoulder with his fingertips. The dreamy smile returned, and she sighed. “He just seems so perfect. It hardly seems like he can be real.”

Behind his portfolio Henry turned an ear toward his siblings, but he didn’t lower his papers.

“Go on…” John prompted.

Arabella blushed. “It’s silly…” she paused. When John let the moment stretch on, she let her words out in a rush. “He just… He takes me seriously. He seems interested in what I think, the things I have to say.” She bit her lip and looked sideways at John. He tilted his head to the side, giving her an encouraging smile.

Arabella flushed deeper and fluttered her hand in the air. “I should just stop talking. I’m not even sure how I feel about him. Every little butterfly could just be because he’s the first man outside my family to actually pay me any mind. And courting right now? Impossible! I barely survived the Trials, no thanks to Beatrice. If it hadn’t been for Parthena’s quick thinking, I’d be dead. Just a scorch mark on the floor…” Arabella gasped and stopped cold. All eyes in the carriage were on her, stunned. The carriage creaked and swayed but no one said anything.

Arabella finally broke the silence. “Can all of you please forget I said that?” She searched their faces desperately. “I’m really not supposed to say anything about what goes on in the Council Chamber.” She dropped her eyes and stared down at the letters in her lap. Her lips pressed into a thin white line.

Father coughed gently. “Well, yes,” he harrumphed. “I am quite familiar with that restriction given how long your mother and I lived together. I am also quite familiar with conveniently forgetting things I shouldn’t have heard for the good of someone I love.” He reached across the carriage and squeezed Arabella’s hand. She gave him a small, weak smile. He glanced back and forth between his sons, and said, “I’m sure Henry and John will be the respectable gentlemen I raised them to be and do the same.”

“Of course, Father,” John sputtered. “I would never say a word that might endanger Arabella.”

The three turned to Henry, who regarded them all with narrowed eyes and pursed lips. When he still didn’t say anything Father raised an eyebrow and frowned.

“I’m insulted you even think I need to say anything. I am always a gentleman,” Henry huffed.

The three let out the breaths they had been holding and settled back in their seats. Henry shook his head and returned to his perusal of his portfolio. Father leaned forward again and patted Arabella’s hand before settling back into his book. Arabella and John fidgeted with their fingers in their laps.

“So,” John said after a moment. “Is there anything else you would like to chat about? Anything that doesn’t involve death and secrets?”

“Everything in my life seems to involve death and secrets these days.” Arabella sighed.

“Hhmm… Perhaps a secret that only mortally wounds then? We could start small.” John jostled his sister with his elbow. Arabella frowned as she tried to sidle away. John nudged her again. “Just a slightly poisonous secret? Surely you have at least one… You can turn me into a toad if I tell.”

Arabella stifled a giggle and elbowed her brother back. “You know I don’t know that spell yet.” She sighed again. “We could always chat about Mother. There’s plenty of grist in that mill.”

“Hhrrm, yes…” John looked thoughtful, tapping his chin with his forefinger. “I do seem to remember you being in quite a fit of pique when the investiture invitation arrived. I believe it was something about your name?”

“Yes! She addressed it to Arabella Helene Sortilege.” Arabella’s lips quivered and her eyes flashed.

“Here we go…” John chuckled to himself.

“Mother disowned when I wouldn’t come to her heel like a trained dog, but now she wants me back in her circle. She’s trying to hold out the family name like some sort of treat.” Arabella frowned.

“So, when you were a burden she was happy to set you aside. But now that you’re officially a witch and no longer a danger to her precious position, she’s happy to claim you.” John’s brows drew together as he frowned.

“That’s only part of it, John. Things are very complicated in the witching world. I wouldn’t expect a man to understand.” Arabella shook her head sadly.

John threw his hands up in the air. “Yes, I’m just a man and I can’t understand anything. Or perhaps you could try to explain it to me?”

Arabella pursed her lips together. “One of the complications is what House I will claim allegiance to. If I do not claim Blackstone House then the web of loyalties between me, my House of birth, my House of choice, and blood family gets complicated; and I could also tie Houses together where there were no ties before, or strengthen already existing ties.”

“Aren’t you already of Blackstone House?” John’s voice rose in confusion.

“Not since I was disowned,” Arabella said with a bitter smile. “Some Houses will no doubt court me, while others will avoid me like spoiled meat left in the sun.”

“I would think that your magical strength and potential ties to Blackstone House would make you attractive to all of the Houses,” John said.

“And here is one of the things I don’t think you understand,” Arabella said with a wry half-smile and tilt of her head. “There are many in the Sisterhood who do not like change, and who like technology even less. Since my power is centered on technology they see me as a perversion of witchery, an abomination they’d just as soon see dead.”

Henry dropped his portfolio to his lap and blinked in shock. “That’s just ludicrous! Change is part of life. You are a natural and expected adaptation to the world around us.”

Father snapped his book shut. He raised his finger as if about to pontificate. Arabella burst out laughing, silencing them all.

 “Did you expect me to turn out the way I did?” She looked at each of them in turn with her eyebrows raised expectantly.

The men blushed and dropped their eyes. Arabella smiled at them fondly.

“I appreciate the support from all three of you, but I am quite aware of the dangers of my position at this point.”

“So what are you going to do?” Father asked in a gentle voice.

“I’m joining the Sisterhood, and I’m enjoying the party. Perhaps I’ll even make Mother stew a little before I declare a House.” Arabella chuckled to herself. “If Mother wants me to declare my allegiance to Blackstone House, she shall have to court me.”


Michelle D. Sonnier

Michelle D. Sonnier writes dark urban fantasy, steampunk, and anything else that lets her combine the weird and the fantastic in unexpected ways. She even writes horror, although it took her a long time to admit that since she prefers the existential scare over blood and gore. She’s published short stories in a variety of print and online venues, and has upcoming projects with eSpec Books and Otter Libris. You can find her on Facebook (Michelle D. Sonnier, The Writer). She lives in Maryland with her husband, son, and a variable number of cats. The Clockwork Witch is her first full-length novel.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT – MICHELLE D. SONNIER

PROS & CONS – REAL CHARACTERS


I don’t know about you, but those of us who at one time marked our schedules by which convention we were attending that month are really feeling the impact of these transformitive times.

Conventions are where we connect with our friends, our fans, and our family by choice. For those of us that find fandom our natural habitat, their absence is felt even more deeply in this time of isolation. Online events help fill that gap, but it isn’t quite the same.

Pros & Cons hopes to share stories of cons gone by from the authors and industry professionals around which those events shape themselves. We hope you will join us.


Real Characters by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

I’ve been to a lot of conventions over the last seventeen years. I wish I’d discovered them sooner in life, given they are the only place I truly feel at home. They’re like summer camp without the dirt and bugs…well, mostly. 

Over the years I have encountered a lot of characters, but two of them stand out bigger and bolder than all of the rest. Here I share with you my two favorite encounters with Harlan Ellison and CJ Henderson. 

I once got into a shouting match with Harlan Ellison that ended in a hug. It was at the 2005 World Horror Convention. The hotel had only one bank of elevators that went down to the basement level, which is where the mass signing was being held. EVERYone was waiting for the elevator, even though it was just one flight down…and a single flight at that. I started making my way through the crowd saying “excuse me”, and Harlan says at the top of his voice “We’re all going the same place,” so I, being the brash smart-ass that I can sometimes be, answered at the top of my voice, “Fine! I’ll race you down the stairs!” He just kind of looked at me, and then said… “Where are you from?” For some bizarre reason that I don’t even know given I lived in Queens and grew up in New Jersey, I said loudly, “Brooklyn, now give me a hug!” We hugged, then I just turned around and went down the stairs, leaving everyone else behind. I picked a choice spot while they were still waiting for the elevator. It was the highlight—sadly—of that convention.


The other amusing experience was one Lunacon where CJ Henderson had a free table by himself in the hallway and our table was in the back of the dealer’s room. Mike (my husband and partner-in-publishing-crime) went out to keep him company. CJ had a number of standard phrases that made up his spiel. One of them was “I’ll dance like a monkey for a nickel.” It was pretty safe…after all, who carries change anymore? But what CJ didn’t realize this particular weekend was that Mike heard him and quietly went out to our car and grabbed all of the coins from our toll money. When CJ wasn’t looking, Mike deposited all of the nickels on the end of CJ’s table where he couldn’t see them. For about an hour, every time someone stopped at CJ’s table he actually had to get up and dance and he was dumbfounded…until he started paying attention. When he noticed where the nickels were coming from he waited for the customer to leave, then stood up, stalked around the table, and swept the remaining nickels into his pocket.

He did not use that phrase again that weekend…Mike and I still laugh about that to this day.

eSPEC EXCERPTS – ARACHNE’S CRIME


We have a lot of exciting new titles coming out over the next six months. Here is a sneak peek of Christopher L. Bennett’s Arachne’s Crime. The first volume in his hardcore science fiction duology.


Arachne’s Crime – Chapter One

Stephen kept his eyes on the lights in the sky, even as he lay in the mud. The more they tried to beat him down, the more he took comfort in the heights humanity could reach.

“Look up there,” he told them once he’d grown strong enough to defend himself and win the chance to be heard. “Look at what we have the potential to achieve if we use our energies together instead of wasting them against each other.”

At first, Benjamin was his only audience, gazing up with him at the points of light that swept across the heavens. Stephen spoke to inspire the boy, to give his younger brother the same hope that had sustained him. But he did it for the others too. He knew that fighting them off would only make them come back with greater force. To protect Benjamin, he needed a more powerful weapon, one that could reach into minds and change them, turn their own power to his side. And so he spoke.

“Most of the world isn’t like this anymore,” he told the starving, bitter people around him whether they listened or not. “The governors keep us hungry and desperate so we’ll turn on each other. So they can call us savages and use it to justify keeping us down. So we won’t have the strength to stand against them and the militias that keep their entitled white asses in power. But look up there, brothers,” he urged, even as the bullies’ hands grabbed at him and tried to hold him down. “You can see it’s a lie. You can see that by standing together, human beings can scale the heights of heaven.”

And one by one, they started to listen. One by one, their hands fell away and their eyes turned upward with his, watching the countless points of light that soared outward in a line like regimented fireflies, a scintillant cascade growing ever faster with distance.

“What are they?” Benjamin asked, gazing up at him with those big dark eyes as they stood together on the levee. The boy’s rich brown face was Stephen’s only reminder of their father.

“Auxons. Self-replicating robots. Or parts of one. They need to start small so they’re easier to accelerate—the drive beam can get them close to lightspeed in days. Once they get there, they’ll combine into larger robots, ones that can make more robots. They’ll build a whole ecology of probes to survey the fifth planet and tell us whether humans can live there. And if the answer’s yes, then we’ll tell the auxons to build a settlement for us, so it’ll already be waiting when the colony ship gets there.”

Ben beamed at how clever it was, and Stephen took joy from the sight. He’d never appreciated it enough when Ben had been this young. A burst of brilliant light illuminated Ben’s face, and Stephen turned his gaze back outward to watch the fireworks blazing.

“You know it wasn’t really like this.”

Stephen turned. Cecilia LoCarno leaned against a grafitti-scrawled wall nearby, her sinewy frame taut and ready even in her casual pose. The light from the fireworks put red and blue highlights in her severely cut silver-blonde hair. “You’re romanticizing it again, aren’t you? Brilliant lights soaring to the stars? You know they launched the microsail probes over months, and with a microwave beam, not visible. Oh, plus it happened a decade and a half before you were born. And, well…” She looked down at Ben, but said no more.

She didn’t have to. His eyes stung as he turned back to his brother, older now and standing rigidly beside him while their mother gazed up apologetically from her sickbed, her delicate Chinese features sunken and gaunt. “Why won’t they help Mama?” the youth demanded. “They have the medicine.”

“I’m working extra-hard,” Stephen told him. “Saving everything I can.”

“Then they’ll just raise the prices! They’ll never help one of us. There’s only one way to get it!”

Benjamin was already receding from the room. Cecilia tried to stop Stephen from following. “You know where this leads. Don’t give into it.” He resented her for making him remember. Ben had never grown any older than Stephen saw him now. All he had done to protect his brother had been for nothing. He pushed past her, trying to catch up to Ben and stop him from making the same mistake that had taken their father, but again he felt hands holding him back. “Let go, Cecilia!”

“No, you let go!”

Now they were side by side in the waiting room, in the cheap plastic seats where he felt he’d been imprisoned for ages, waiting for the word that his mother had died at last. In the opposite corner, a silver spider was weaving an intricate web. “Why are you here?” he asked Cecilia.

She shrugged. “Maybe we were both thinking of the mission at the same time. Arachne picked up on the common cues and hooked us in.”

The mission. He stared at her, startled, before he remembered again. Her words confirmed that she was the real Cecilia LoCarno. People who were really there had a different feel about them, but sometimes Stephen didn’t remember to pay attention. “How do you do that?” he asked her.

“Do what?”

“You always know it’s a dream.”

“Disciplined mind. Goes with the job.” She smirked. “Plus, it’s easy to tell in here. Reality isn’t in the habit of giving us what we want.”

Stephen glanced around. They were in his orbital shuttle, awaiting clearance, and the computer was announcing a prolonged delay. Through the window, the flooded remains of Florida were merely a thin streak vanishing over the horizon. Ben was gone now… had been gone for a very long time. “I know that as well as you do, Cecilia. More. Yet I always get drawn into the dream.”

She punched him in the arm. “You would. That’s why you need me to drag you back to reality.”

 “Not here, I don’t.”

“Hell, yes. Otherwise you’d have remembered on your own—relived the shooting and tortured yourself with losing Ben all over again. Jesus, for such an optimist you sure are pathetic in here,” she added, knocking him on the forehead. He cried out in pain; she tended to be rough in the dream realm. Inhibitions were low in unreality, since memories were fleeting. “Or is that it?” she asked. “Maybe that’s why you needed to travel so far from Earth—to run away from all that.”

“I’m running toward something, not away.” He sighed as he stared out the port. The shuttle was hemmed in now, in a holding pattern flanked by other craft, distant points that seemed to be drawing closer. “At least, I will if we ever get clearance to leave!”

Cecilia frowned. “Wait, you’re right. I sense it too. Something holding us back, holding us still. Even before you said anything, I think I could feel it.”

Stephen struggled to remember how this dream world worked. “Then it’s… something from Arachne? A message?”

“But just impressions. Damn, I wish we were awake enough to perceive direct telemetry without all the subconscious filtering. Just… try to concentrate on the ship, on the space outside.”

He looked out again, and the Earth-orbit vista was gone, replaced by a vast spiderweb gliding through the interstellar void. Arachne was a broad cone of shroud lines connecting three great rings of magsail cable, with crew and cargo modules and laser assemblies strung along smaller rings toward the rear. In reality, the gossamer craft was virtually invisible while coasting. In dreamtime, she shimmered, the magnetic field of her sail glowing like an aurora. Gamma Leporis lay ahead, but not an orb, just a bright point, fiercer and whiter than Sol. It brightened suddenly—no, a flash from a closer source? Like the fireworks reflected in Ben’s eyes. What was Arachne trying to show them? More flashes, nearer—meteors flashing past the ship. Hitting the ship? He wasn’t sure what he’d seen, but whatever it was, something changed. The wind died down, Arachne’s sails falling limp, the ship dead in the water. “Do you see us… becalmed?” Though they were in communication, they weren’t necessarily perceiving the same things, not without verbal or contextual cues to put them on the same page.

“Parked. In orbit of something, but there’s nothing there. A brown dwarf? No, but there is something… something drawing near.”

His dream Arachne was now a clipper ship with canvas furled, adrift beneath the stars, endless black reflecting in the calm sea. A voice called faintly from above. He looked up to see a great silver spider skittering along the rigging, alert and ready as a ripple fractured the starlight. But beyond her, Stephen Jacobs-Wong saw dark shapes drawing in, pirate boats with oars muffled and lanterns doused. “Stand by,” he heard himself call, “and prepare to be boarded.”

~*~

 “Stephen? Can you hear me? Please respond.”

The voice faded in and out at the edge of Stephen’s consciousness… no, it was his consciousness that faded in and out. The clear, soothing alto—Arachne’s voice, yes, sounding authentically human yet more pure and perfect—held steady as it always did. He tried to make a noise, but hibernation gel filled his throat. He remembered to subvocalize, got something out, but instantly forgot what he’d said.

“I’ve had to rush your revival. This will be difficult, I know. But you must focus.”

Try as he might, he caught only fragments. Detected… contact… gravitational… boarded… inside.

Then the gel drained away and all he knew was the struggle of his weak, unused muscles to expel it from his throat, his lungs… merciful that he’d forget… and then a hand on his arm, and—

A dragon? In a space helmet?

He was pulled free and hit a cold, hard surface… and then everything was a blur.


Christopher L. Bennett

Christopher L. Bennett is a lifelong resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, with a B.S. in Physics and a B.A. in History from the University of Cincinnati. A fan of science and science fiction since age five, he has spent the past two decades selling original short fiction to magazines such as Analog Science Fiction and Fact (home of his “Hub” series of comedy adventures), BuzzyMag, and Galaxy’s Edge. Since 2003, he has been one of Pocket Books’ most prolific and popular authors of Star Trek tie-in fiction, including the epic Next Generation prequel The Buried Age, the Enterprise — Rise of the Federation series, and the Original Series prequel The Captain’s Oath. He has also written two Marvel Comics novels, X-Men: Watchers on the Walls and Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder. His original novel Only Superhuman, perhaps the first hard science fiction superhero novel, was voted Library Journal‘s SF/Fantasy Debut of the Month for October 2012. He has three collections reprinting his original short fiction, Among the Wild Cybers: Tales Beyond the Superhuman from eSpec Books (containing an original Only Superhuman prequel novelette) and Hub Space: Tales from the Greater Galaxy and Crimes of the Hub from Mystique Press. 

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT – CHRISTOPHER L. BENNETT

PROS & CONS – WEIRDNESS ABOUNDS


Welcome to our newest series. I don’t know about you, but those of us who at one time marked our schedules by which convention we were attending that month are really feeling the impact of these transformitive times.

Conventions are where we connect with our friends, our fans, and our family by choice. For those of us that find fandom our natural habitat, their absence is felt even more deeply in this time of isolation. Online events help fill that gap, but it isn’t quite the same.

Pros & Cons hopes to share stories of cons gone by from the authors and industry professionals around which those events shape themselves. We hope you will join us.


Weirdness Abounds by Ty Draco

Weird things happen at writers’ events.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve attended plenty of conferences, workshops, and retreats and they’re all awesome! But the fact remains that whenever you get a bunch of artists together, sometimes peculiar things happen.

Two cases in point:

While attending a conference, a young man approached me in the hospitality suite. Apparently aware that I was an ALLEGORY editor, he asked, “I’ve written the greatest short story of all time. Want to see it?”

Reading his earnest expression, I replied, “Well, sure!” I mean, how can you turn that down?

So, he handed me a single sheet of paper. On it were his name, address, and email. Then there was the title in bold caps, which read simply “EVERYTHING,” and a byline. And nothing else. Zilch. Nada. Zip.

I stared at the paper and thought, This has to be joke. It’s not even a very original joke.”

When I looked up, his earnest expression now included an odd glint. “Do you get it?” he asked. “By capturing nothing … I’ve captured everything!”

Yeah.

“Um … I don’t think we’re the right market for this,” I commented.

His expression fell. Sourly, he mumbled, “I thought you were an editor with vision.”

Well, that ticked me off. So, I replied, “Oh, I have vision, and my vision tells me there’s no words on this goddamn piece of paper.” Then I handed it back to him and added, rather snarkily, “Thank you for submitting your material. We regret it does not suit our present needs.”

That really happened.

Here’s another that really happened. At a separate conference, I took part in a “murder mystery theater” event. There were maybe eight of us, each in character. I played the big, menacing orderly in an asylum. I was also, as it happens, the “murderer.” I hammed it up shamelessly and the entire evening was a blast.

The next morning, however, a woman approached me in the hotel lobby. I didn’t know her, but she told me she’d seen last night’s show and wanted my help with something.

Apparently, while in the bar afterward, she’d been approached by a man who’d ended up accosting and frightening her. From what she said, the incident bordered on assault – a shitty thing to have happened and I immediately commiserated.

Then she asked me to go up with her to the guy’s hotel room and beat the crap out of him for her.

I remember gaping at her before finally replying, at little lamely, “Uh … I’m a writer.”

She immediately apologized for disturbing me and left.  I felt bad about it. I still do. But folks, I’m not Jack Reacher. I’m a practicing Quaker and I’ve never hit another human being in my adult life. But she’d evidently seem my “act” and had decided that I was the guy to defend her honor.

Maybe I’m a better actor than I thought.

Anyway, that’s two. I’ve got plenty of others. Ask me about the time I was slapped across the face by a Tor editor in public or about my ghost experiences at the writers’ retreat in the Catskills.

Trust me. Weirdness abounds!


Ty Drago

Ty Drago is a full-time writer and the author of eight published novels, including his five-book Undertakers series, the first of which has been optioned for a feature film. Torq, a dystopian YA superhero adventure, was released by Swallow’s End Publishing in 2018. Add to these one novelette, myriad short stories and articles, and appearances in two anthologies. He’s also the founder, publisher, and managing editor of ALLEGORY, a highly successful online magazine that, for more than twenty years, has features speculative fiction by new and established authors worldwide.

Ty’s currently just completed The New Americans, a work of historical fiction and a collaborative effort with his father, who passed away in 1992. If that last sentence leaves you with questions, check out his podcast, “Legacy: The Novel Writing Experience,” to get the whole story.

He lives in New Jersey with his wife Helene, plus one cat and one dog.

THE eSPEC BOOKS AUTHOR READING SERIES – 9/7/20


This week’s offering is three videos of classic fantasy reads. We hope you’ll enjoy them all. If you are interested in the books, they can be purchased via the links provided.

If you are an author and would like to participate in one of these series, please visit the eSpec Books Author Reading Series Facebook page for details.


The eSpec Books Author Reading Series

Misty Massey reading an excerpt from her story “Faerie Wrangler” from The Weird Wild West, edited by Misty Massey, Emily Lavin Leverett, and Margaret S. McGraw.

The untamed frontier is a challenge, a test of character, a proving ground for the soul. It’s a place where pioneers rewrite their future, or end their days…for better or worse. In the spirit of Bret Maverick, Cat Ballou, Kwai Chang Caine, and James West, The Weird Wild West blends western grit with the magical and mysterious unknown that waits beyond the next horizon.

With thrilling stories by Jonathan Maberry, Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin, John G. Hartness, RS Belcher, Diana Pharaoh Francis, Misty Massey, James R. Tuck, Robert E. Waters, David Sherman, Tonia Brown, Liz Colter, Scott Hungerford, Frances Rowat, Ken Schrader, Bryan C.P. Steele, Wendy N. Wagner, and a bonus story by New York Times bestselling-author Faith Hunter, you’ve hit the Mother Lode!

About the Author

Misty Massey is the author of Mad Kestrel, a rollicking adventure of magic on the high seas, and the long-awaited sequel, Kestrel’s Dance. She is an acquisitions editor for LoreSeekers Press, co-editor of The Weird Wild West and Lawless Lands: Tales of the Weird Frontier, and she’s working on a series of Shadow Council novellas for Falstaff Press featuring the famous gunslinger Doc Holliday.

When she’s not writing, Misty studies and performs Middle Eastern dance. She’s a sucker for good sushi, African coffee, and the darkest rum she can find. You can keep up with Misty at mistymassey.com, and on Facebook and Twitter.

The eSpec Guest Author Reading Series

Gordon Linzner reads an excerpt of his classic short story Malison on 35th Street, from the anthology Violent Legends, edited by Joey Froelich.

Jess Barry reading “Guardian Angel” from The Angel Cat Collection, edited by Jess Barry.

The Angel Cat Collection features all kinds of felines: magical, space-faring, piratical–even one with two tails. Ferociously loyal and protective, these most regal fur-fluffs reign supreme and never fail to look out for their families. The only thing they do better is wreak havoc, and make mischief and mayhem.

About the Author

Novelist and short-story writer Jess Barry loves old architecture, live theater (especially musicals), and astronomy and aerospace news. She studied journalism and German and worked as a technical translator. Her mystery/romance novel Masquerade plays out against a musical theater background. She co-wrote the Viking-era historical The Last Abbot of Linn Duachaill and is currently working on the sequel. The Angel Cat Collection she edited includes her stories “Guardian Angel”, “Ninja Angel”, and “Mischievous Angel.” She wrote two Civil War-era tales “The Crafty Corsair” and “The Rescue” in the Lady Pirates series. For updates on upcoming works please visit http://www.BluetrixBooks.com


All purchase links in these posts are Amazon Associate links
and we do receive a token commission if you should purchase via these links.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT – DANIELLE ACKLEY-McPHAIL


eSpec Books interviews Danielle Ackley-McPhail, contributor to the anthology Horns and Halos edited by John L. French and Danielle Ackley-McPhail, which is currently funding on Kickstarter.

eSB: Angels and Devils are a common theme in fiction. How did you make yours stand out? How much of a challenge was it?

DAM: I like to turn perceptions on their ear…or even dump them completely on their heads. There is this perception in lore and legend that big and scary looking equals powerful and dangerous. In my story, Lys and Shournan, holy warriors that are of the secret Order of the Lily, must search out and banish demonic forces to protect humanity, but the task is not as simple as they expect. It turns out the more powerful the demon, the more capable they are of hiding their nature until it is nearly too late. In the case of my story, one of the indicators of a demon’s power is the size of their horns. I will refrain from telling you how, as that would spoil the story.

eSB: Is your story based on particular lore or legend, or did you take the broad concept and run with it?

DAM: Well…part of my story actually draws on The Bible, or is based on passages anyway, and the Blessing of the Lily from the feast of St. Anthony, where lilies are said to bring peace and protect against evil. This story is a part of a larger universe where the Lilies—as in The Order of—literally protect against evil, in this case demons that are using religious reliquaries to anchor themselves to the mortal realm.

eSB: Is your story set in an existing universe or fresh and new for this collection?

DAM: This will be only the second story in this universe, but I do plan to expand it. I’ve had the idea for a while but wasn’t sure what form it would take until I recently revisited the seed story…just a scrap, really…and finally finished it for another upcoming anthology from Crazy 8 Press called Thrilling Adventure Yarns 2, edited by Robert Greenberger.

eSB: Is this your first time writing for a themed anthology, or have you done so before? What draws you to such projects?

DAM: I live for themed anthologies! I’ve probably created, edited, or contributed to over sixty or seventy of them at this point. The joy of themed anthologies is to find the most unexpected way of meeting the requirements of that theme. One time, as an example, I wrote a story for a themed flash fiction contest where the theme was Leaving. Just that, no other context. I looked up Leaving in the dictionary and among the various definitions I found “The act of putting forth leaves.” So you know what I wrote about? Dryads waking up in the spring and unfurling new leaves. I try to apply that same mindset to any collection I write for. See, with themed anthologies it is a given that a good number of those submitting will come up with the same general concept to write on. I never want to have one strike against my story before the editor has even read it.

eSB: What devilish thing have you done as an author?

DAM: Puns. Really bad puns. Part of what I write is military science fiction and humor is a coping mechanism in the military. Good humor…bad humor…sarcastic wit…dad jokes, whatever takes off the edge in a tense situation. One of my characters is a master at this and every once in awhile slips in really bad puns that are so bad you have to love them. In fact, one editor said that flat out. Nearly the only comment on the whole story was that he loved the ending…but would never admit it.

eSB: What angelic thing have you done as an author?

DAM: I helped organize several fund-raiser anthologies for CJ Henderson when he was battling cancer. Well, really all I did was say, hey, who wants to do this with me? And everyone piled on. As a full-time author, he really got hit hard with medical bills and such. Sadly, the final anthology started for this purpose ended up being a tribute anthology.

eSB: Could you tell us about one of your most amusing experiences promoting your books?

DAM: I once got into a shouting match with Harlan Ellison that ended in a hug. It was at the 2005 World Horror Convention. The hotel had only one bank of elevators that went down to the basement level, which is where the mass signing was being held. EVERYone was waiting for the elevator, even though it was just one flight down…and a single flight at that. I start making my way through the crowd saying “excuse me”, and Harlan says at the top of his voice “We’re all going the same place,” so I, being the brash smart-ass that I can sometimes be, answered at the top of my voice, “Fine! I’ll race you down the stairs!” He just kind of looked at me, and then said… “Where are you from.” For some bizarre reason that I don’t even know given I lived in Queens and grew up in New Jersey, I said loudly, “Brooklyn, now give me a hug!” We hugged, then I just turned around and went down the stairs, leaving everyone else behind. I picked a choice spot while they were still waiting for the elevator. It was the highlight—sadly—of that convention.

The other amusing experience was only Lunacon where CJ Henderson had a free table by himself in the hallway and our table was in the back of the dealer’s room. Mike (my husband and partner-in-publishing-crime) went out to keep him company. CJ had a number of standard phrases that made up his spiel. One of them was “I’ll dance like a monkey for a nickel.” It was pretty safe…after all, who carries change anymore? But what CJ didn’t realize this particular weekend was that Mike heard him and quietly went out to our car and grabbed all of the coins from our toll money. When CJ wasn’t looking, Mike deposited all of the nickels on the end of CJ’s table where he couldn’t see them. For about an hour, every time someone stopped at CJ’s table he actually had to get up and dance and he was dumbfounded…until he started paying attention. When he noticed where the nickels were coming from he waited for the customer to leave, then stood up, stalked around the table, and swept the remaining nickels into his pocket.

He did not use that phrase again that weekend…Mike and I still laugh about that to this day.

eSB: What is one thing you would share that would surprise your readers?

DAM: On my mom’s side of the family, I am related to Captain Kidd. On my dad’s side of the family, I am related to Grace Kelley. By right of birth, I am a bonafide Pirate Princess! That is my story and I am sticking with it!

eSB: What are some of your other works readers can look for?

DAM: I have written six novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, and Today’s Promise (the Eternal Cycle trilogy), The Halflng’s Court and The Redcaps’ Queen (Bad-Ass Faerie Tales), and Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn: A Steampunk Faerie Tale (co-written by Day Al-Mohamed). I also have five and a half short story collections, A Legacy of Stars, Transcendence, Consigned to the Sea, Flash in the Can, Eternal Wanderings, and The Die Is Cast (which is half my work and half my husband’s). And finally, I have three non-fiction books, The Literary Handyman and LH: Build-A-Book Workshop, and The Ginger KICK! Cookbook. I also have work in five or six other upcoming anthologies: Jeff Sturgeon’s The Last Cities of Earth, Bad Ass Moms, Pangaea III: Redemption, Thrilling Adventure Yarns 2, Mendie, The Post-Apocalyptic Flower Scout, and The Four ? Of the Apocalypse. At least…I’m hopeful I will get into those last two. Still waiting for story approval.

eSB: What projects of your own do you have coming up?

DAM: Right now. As in this very minute, I am supposed to be finishing up my military science fiction novel Daire’s Devils. It is the novelization of an ongoing series of stories I have written over the years for various anthologies and it is set against the backdrop of The Alliance Archives Martial Role Playing Game, a universe and system being developed by my husband, Mike McPhail.

eSB: How can readers find out more about you?

DAM: My website is currently down for renovation, but I am all over the place on the internet. Just search my name and you’ll find me somewhere…or pretty much everywhere. I have the distinction of a particularly unique name.


Kickstarter DMcPhail

Award-winning author, editor, and publisher Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for longer than she cares to admit. In 2014 she joined forces with husband Mike McPhail and friend Greg Schauer to form her own publishing house, eSpec Books.

Her published works include six novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise, The Halfling’s Court, The Redcaps’ Queen, and Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, written with Day Al-Mohamed. She is also the author of the solo collections Eternal Wanderings, A Legacy of Stars, Consigned to the Sea, Flash in the Can, Transcendence, Between Darkness and Light, and the non-fiction writers’ guides The Literary Handyman and LH: Build-A-Book Workshop. She is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Gaslight & Grimm, Side of Good/Side of Evil, After Punk, and Footprints in the Stars. Her short stories are included in numerous other anthologies and collections.

In addition to her literary acclaim, she crafts and sells original costume horns under the moniker The Hornie Lady Custom Costume Horns, and homemade flavor-infused candied ginger under the brand of Ginger KICK! at literary conventions, on commission, and wholesale.

Danielle lives in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail, and one extremely spoiled cat.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT – JENNIFER PURCELL ROSENBERG


eSpec Books interviews Jennifer Purcell Rosenberg, contributor to the anthology Horns and Halos edited by John L. French and Danielle Ackley-McPhail, which is currently funding on Kickstarter.

eSB: Please tell us a little something about your story.

JR: An angel enters the Internet to try and make people happier, only to find there are evil forces at work online.

eSB: Angels and Devils are a common theme in fiction. How did you make yours stand out? How much of a challenge was it?

JR: I took the concept of high-tech, with an angel traveling through the digital world.

eSB: Is your story based on particular lore or legend, or did you take the broad concept and run with it?

JR: It’s a broadened concept of a guardian angel.

eSB: Is this your first time writing for a themed anthology, or have you done so before? What draws you to such projects?

JR: I’ve written for several themed anthologies. I enjoy the experience of creating characters and stories that match a theme, and seeing what adventures they will have.

eSB: What devilish thing have you done as an author?

JR: I have definitely based unpleasant characters on real people a few times.

eSB: What angelic thing have you done as an author?

JR: Told editors I know about other authors I know who were seeking a project.

eSB: Could you tell us about one of your most amusing experiences promoting your books?

JR: The children’s book I wrote was once read during a sermon about kindness, and there was a surge in sales afterward.

eSB: What is one thing you would share that would surprise your readers?

JR: The first thing I was observed saying as a baby was “beautiful sunflower.”

eSB: What are some of your other works readers can look for?

JR: My children’s book is called Alligator’s Friends. I also have stories in several anthologies, including Thrilling Adventure Yarns and Bad Ass Moms.


62528854_10156064159665807_3113349439851331584_oJenifer Purcell Rosenberg wrote her first story in the form of a children’s book for her 3rd grade G&T teacher. She’s been hooked on writing ever since. She wrote and illustrated the book Alligator’s Friends, which is about a socially awkward reptile trying to make new pals in the animal world. Her short story credits include “The Power of Five” from the 2018 Brave New Girls anthology Tales of Heroines Who Hack, “Waking Things” from the Crazy 8 Press anthology They Keep Killing Glenn, “Night Path” from The Nature of Cities, Tales of Silver Green, and “Evening Sonnet” in Nisaba Journal 4, and “Outsider” in Thrilling Adventure Yarns, among others. Jenifer has also written for online publications, and for the tabletop RPG industry.

When she isn’t writing, Jenifer keeps busy with excessive volunteering, organizing charitable events, teaching paint classes, getting involved with Pride events, and learning new languages. Her garden is outfitted with a miniature fairy village that she has carefully cultivated. She also makes wine with her friends, loves to cook, and has bee gaming since she was wee. Jenifer lives in the wonderful city of New York with her family. She is thrilled to be a part of this project and plans to write more paranormal fiction in the future.

eSPEC BOOKS AUTHOR READING SERIES – 8/30/20


As a special treat, we have sneak peeks at two upcoming novels, melding myth, lore, fantasy, and science fiction, as well as a good ole’ romp with a space pirate novel that is already available. We hope you’ll enjoy them all. If you are interested in the books, they can be purchased or supported via the links provided.

If you are an author and would like to participate in one of these series, please visit the eSpec Books Author Reading Series Facebook page for details.


The eSpec Books Author Reading Series

Megan Mackie reading an excerpt from her upcoming novel, The Devil’s Day, funding now on Kickstarter.

You can always find help at the Lucky Devil.

Rune Leveau—emerging Talent and one-time corporate prisoner—knew that better than anyone. She’d rebuilt her life at the Lucky Devil bar, with her Aunt Maddie’s help. Now, in her aunt’s memory, Rune continues that legacy. But when it is time for the Devil to collect his due, Rune could lose it all…

With the days counting down until she must defend her claim to the House of Magdalene—including the bar—Rune and her partner, the cyber-spy St. Benedict, hunt for a way to defeat her challenger, the fire Talent, Abraxas. Instead, they uncover long-kept secrets. But do they hold the key?

No matter what, the Devil will have its Day…

Ty Drago reading an excerpt from his upcoming novel Dragons, funding now on Kickstarter.

For one young man and others of his kind, their very existence is a long-held secret.

But someone knows.

Someone not above kidnapping to learn about the secret society of dragons, though they wouldn’t recognize the reality if he was walking beside them.

To them, the answer is the end of the world. To Andy, it is staying alive.

Ask yourself, are you Kind?

The eSpec Guest Author Reading Series

David Lee Summers reading an excerpt from his novel, Firebrandt’s Legacy, published by Hadrosaur Press. 

Ellison Firebrandt fights the good fight for Earth. Under a letter of marque, he raids the ships of Earth’s opponents, slowing down their progress and ability to compete with the home system. On the planet Epsilon Indi 2, he rescues a woman named Suki Mori from a drug lord, only to find she isn’t so happy about living a pirate’s life. However, when the captain finds a new engine that will make him the most successful pirate of all, Suki is the only one who can make it work. Now Firebrandt must find a way to keep his crew fed and his ship supplied while relying on a woman who barely trusts him and while every government in the galaxy hunts him to get the engine back! 


All purchase links in these posts are Amazon Associate links
and we do receive a token commission if you should purchase via these links.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT – MICHELLE D. SONNIER – REDUX


eSpec Books interviews Michelle D. Sonnier, contributor to the anthology Horns and Halos edited by John L. French and Danielle Ackley-McPhail, which is currently funding on Kickstarter.

eSB: Please tell us a little something about your story.

MDS: My story features the archangel Chamuel (pronounced SHAM-u-el). He is the angel of finding lost things, from mundane items to lost people and animals to your inner self and your purpose in life. Chamuel helps you find anything and everything. In my story, Chamuel notices a huge increase in lost item requests and he starts to look into why. He finds out that the Fae have been stealing or moving small items to trigger the prayers to him, but why?

eSB: What inspired this story?

MDS: I can confidently say, this one is all my mom’s fault. My mom was a diehard Roman Catholic and whenever she couldn’t find something she would pray to St. Anthony. A frequent memory of my childhood was my mother walking around the house muttering, “Dear St. Anthony please come around, I’ve lost my <whatever> and it cannot be found.” It was usually her purse or her keys. It happened so often that we (her kids) would tease her that every time she started praying St. Anthony would roll his eyes and say, “Again??” Mom took the teasing well.

So, when I was trying to think of an angel story my thoughts naturally strayed to my mother, because she loved angels and truly believed. Then the St. Anthony story popped into my head because that was just so MOM. But it needed to be a story about an angel, not a saint. After a little research, I found Chamuel and the gears started turning.

eSB: Angels and Devils are a common theme in fiction. How did you make yours stand out? How much of a challenge was it?

MDS: Coming up with this story was hard for me. Angels are supposed to be all goodness and light, which can get, well, a little boring. In addition, one of the things I love to explore in my work is shades of gray. None of my other characters are all good or all bad, but angels are all good. I spent weeks wracking my brain trying to think of a way to write something interesting about an angel that hadn’t been done to death already. My mother’s St. Anthony prayer led me to Chamuel but then I still had the problem of what did he need to find and how could I bring in characters that are neither all good nor all bad, which is one of my hallmarks. Then it came to me to bring in the Fae and everything worked out rather quickly from there.

eSB: Is your story based on particular lore or legend, or did you take the broad concept and run with it?

MDS: My story is very particular to Chamuel. It wouldn’t work with any other angel but him. The whole plot depends on who he is and what he does.

eSB: Is your story set in an existing universe or fresh and new for this collection?

MDS: This story is based in a universe I’ve been taking notes for and writing in for a few years now, but it hasn’t seen the light of day yet. It’s not quite ready. It’s mostly the world we know, but it is urban fantasy so the supernatural exists and fantastic things happen.

eSB: Are your characters here ones that you plan to revisit?

MDS: I don’t think Chamuel will reappear in any of my other pieces, but I do think some of the minor Fae that appear in this story will pop up again.

eSB: Is this your first time writing for a themed anthology, or have you done so before? What draws you to such projects?

MDS: I’ve written for themed anthologies before, and I love doing it. It’s a great writing exercise to take an idea with restrictions and think, “how can I make this work with my style? How do I fit my story into this shape and stay true to me?” Earlier in my career sometimes I would have trouble with writer’s block, so I would trawl anthology calls on Ralan and Duotrope to see what would spark my imagination. I might make the deadline and actually submit to the anthology or I might not, but I got inspired and wrote a new story so I won in the end anyway.

eSB: What are some of your other works readers can look for?

MDS: I’m doing a lot of work in my Clockwork Witch universe right now. I’m wrapping up book 2 of a 7-book arc, and I’m itching to get going on book 3. There are some really interesting new characters I can’t wait to play with. And as I work on the mainline novels, I’ve got a running list of other spin-off ideas I’d love to work on. Every time I dive back in I see more corners of that world that I want to explore.


Michelle D. Sonnier

Michelle D. Sonnier writes dark urban fantasy, steampunk, and anything else that lets her combine the weird and the fantastic in unexpected ways. She even writes horror, although it took her a long time to admit that since she prefers the existential scare over blood and gore. She’s published short stories in a variety of print and online venues, and has upcoming projects with eSpec Books and Otter Libris. You can find her on Facebook (Michelle D. Sonnier, The Writer). She lives in Maryland with her husband, son, and a variable number of cats. The Clockwork Witch is her first full-length novel.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT – PATRICK THOMAS


eSpec Books interviews Patrick Thomas, contributor to the anthology Horns and Halos edited by John L. French and Danielle Ackley-McPhail, which is currently funding on Kickstarter.

eSB: Please tell us a little something of your story.

PT:  In Fear To Tread, a man who would be looking upon somebody who is down on their luck life has his life get whose and meets up with a crazy man who thinks he is connected to the divine. But just because the guy is crazy does that mean he’s wrong?

eSB: Angels and Devils are a common theme in fiction. How did you make yours stand out? How much of a challenge was it?

PT:  I’ve written plenty of angel and demon stories, including my Hell’s Detective stories, and in those, it is pretty obvious that the supernatural is real. In Fear To Tread that certainty that is present in most fantasy stories is not there and in the end, choosing to believe is a matter of faith. Or madness. Perhaps a little of both.

eSB: Is your story based on particular lore or legend, or did you take the broad concept and run with it?

PT:  I ran with it.

eSB: Is your story set in an existing universe or fresh and new for this collection?

PT:  This one is in a fresh and new universe.

eSB: Are your characters here ones that you plan to revisit?

PT:  I think for me this might end up being standalone, which is unusual for me, but who knows? The universe has some great potential so we may see more of it

eSB: Is this your first time writing for a themed anthology, or have you done so before? What draws you to such projects?

PT:  I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a few dozen themed anthologies over the years and even co-edited three, which include the vampire-themed New Blood (with Diane Raetz) and Camelot 13 (with John French). I will also be editing a few anthlogies for the upcoming Agents of the Abyss universe.

eSB: Could you tell us about one of your most amusing experiences promoting your books?

PT:  I managed to sell the shirt off the back of the artist at the table next to me at a con.

eSB: What is one thing you would share that would surprise your readers?

PT:  My books were part of the set on the TV show CSI for over 6 years and in one episode the Murphy’s Lore book Nightcaps was thrown at a suspect’s head during questioning in a prison.

eSB: What are some of your other works readers can look for?

PT:  There are 9 books in my Murphy’s Lore series about an NYC bar at the end of the rainbow which is owned by a leprechaun and where Hercules is the bouncer and Dionysus is a bartender. Spinoffs include 3 Terrorbelle books, Lore & Dysorder (featuring Hell’s Detective), and a pair of Hexcraft books. My Mystic Investigators paranormal mystery series is up to 9 books. I have a space opera Exile and Entrance as well as a steampunk book As The Gears Turn. And lest I anger the great old one, I write the Dear Cthulhu advice empire which includes 6 collections of the magazine columns as well as a monthly radio appearance on Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction.

eSB: What projects of your own do you have coming up?

PT:  I have been writing middle readers and picture books as Patrick T. Fibbs and have the first book in a new series coming out soon-Joy Reaper Checks Out. It’s about what happens when the Grim Reaper brings Joy with him on take-your-daughter-to-work day. The second books in both my other middle reader series The Undead Kid Diaries and the Babe B. Bear Mysteries are done and with the artist. I have 3 new picture books in the pipeline including Vicki Frankenstein and the Three Monster Dads with legendary artist Daniel R. Horne and a new Ughabooz which is the follow up to 5 Silly Monsters Jumping on Poor Zed.

As Patrick Thomas, I have Bikini Jones Vs. The Alien Brainnappers the first book in a fantastical new humor series coming out soon.  And I have been working on a new series Agents of the Abyss, best described as James Bond crossed with Universal Monsters which includes a mix of anthologies and novels featuring a host of talented writers, including a pair of novels with John French and Christy Jackson Nicholas as well anthologies which include tales by David Summers and Robert Waters who also appear in  Horns & Halos.


Patrick ThomasPatrick Thomas has had stories published in over three dozen magazines and more than fifty anthologies. He’s written 30+ books including the fantasy humor series Murphy’s Lore, urban fantasy spin-offs Fairy With A Gun, Fairy Rides The Lightning, Dead To Rites, Rites of Passage, Lore & Dysorder and two more in the Startenders series. He co-writes the Mystic Investigators paranormal mystery series and The Assassins’ Ball, a traditional mystery, co-authored with John L. French. His darkly humorous advice column Dear Cthulhu includes the collections Cthulhu Knows BestHave A Dark Day, Good Advice For Bad People, and Cthulhu Knows Best. His latest collection is the Steampunk-themed As The Gears Turn. A number of his books were part of the props department of the CSI television show and one was even thrown at a suspect. Fairy With A Gun was optioned by Laurence Fishburne’s Cinema Gypsy Productions. Act of Contrition, a story featuring his Soul For Hire hitman is in development as a short film by Top Men Productions. Drop by www.patthomas.net to learn more.

eSPEC EXCERPTS – THE DEVIL’S DAY


A sneak peek of The Devil’s Day, the third book in Megan Mackie’s Lucky Devil series, funding now on Kickstarter.


Devils Day 6 x 9

Prologue

“You can’t do this!” Alf roared. He had never raised his voice to Maddie before in his life. The shock of it reverberated through the bar, so much so that even the kitschy devils on the wall of the bar seemed uncomfortable.

Maddie didn’t flinch, however. Instead, she stared him down stone-faced. The loan officer sitting across from her in the booth, looked back and forth between the two, shifting as uncomfortably in his seat as the demons did on their perches, not that he seemed to notice them moving.

Getting no further response from his mistress, Alf turned to glare at the lanky man standing behind her. He leaned against the wall with his arms crossed, meeting the bar manager’s eyes, but also giving him nothing to work with.

“And you approve of this?” Alf challenged the man with his perfect Hollywood-movie-star proportions.

“It’s her bar, I have nothing to do with this decision,” the handsome man answered, pushing back his Homburg hat from his forehead, revealing curly hair, with a thumb.

“You’re supposed to be her husband,” Alf snarled.

“That’s enough,” Maddie snapped, which sounded wrong from her. She never snapped. The sweet-heart, grandmotherly face, framed by white waves was always smiles and warmth and understanding. The retainer flinched, unable to recall a time she had even been mildly annoyed.

“We can do this another time if you would like to discuss…” the loan officer attempted, as he pushed to stand up, but Maddie raised a hand for him to stay put.

“I made my decision, there is nothing more to discuss. Please, have a seat,” she invited, the officer found he had no choice but to comply.

“You can’t do this,” Alf repeated. “This is our House!”

“It’s just a place,” Maddie replied, as she focused on the paperwork in front of her, wielding her pen as she searched for the line she was supposed to sign.

“It’s more than just a place!” Alf slammed his small, beefy hand on the table covering the mortgage papers, which was quite a feat because his head just cleared the height of the table. “Why are you doing this?”

Maddie sat back again and took a breath.

Seeing a small opening, Alf pressed on. “If you need the money, I can get the money. Somehow. I’ll do whatever it takes.”

“There isn’t time,” Maddie said, levelly. “We don’t know where she is or what they’ve done to her.”

“Her who?” Alf demanded desperately.

Maddie pressed her lips together. “She’s a girl, barely a woman. And that’s all you need to know.”

“For a girl? This is all for a girl? You would exchange a Wizard’s House for a girl?” Alf shook his head. He knew everything there was to know about Maddie. He knew how old she truly was, despite her grandmotherly appearance, he had also seen her young and beautiful, but always wise. Why was she doing this? “Who is this girl? I don’t understand.”

“This is really none of your business, little man,” the lanky man said, moving forward to intercede, by grabbing the bar manager’s shoulder. Heat burned through Alf’s thick shirt from where the lanky man was touching him, but he didn’t dare give Maddie’s husband the satisfaction of flinching.

“Lucas,” Maddie said more gently, laying her own hand on her husband’s burning arm. A tense second later, Lucas released Alf’s shoulder. The fabric there had turned black in the perfect shape of his fingers and palm. He moved back to his position behind Maddie, leaning against the wall after readjusting his wings. The loan officer double blinked at them, but they disappeared again before he would have gotten a sure look at them, the cosmic microfiber of the feathers blending them away into the fabric of the universe.

“Alf,” Maddie said, stretching out her hand to grip his still clenched one. Her gaze met his with the more familiar calm understanding, “I do not need your acceptance or your approval and I will do this without either of them. You serve this House…”

“I serve you,” Alf declared, cutting her off.

“Then do as you are told, and step back. You aren’t the only person who serves me and you are not the only person I care about.”

I am sworn to protect you, even if it is from yourself. Which is what you should be doing!” He shot an accusatory finger at Lucas, who didn’t move a muscle, only he glowered back.

“Alf, no matter how much you wish it, I will never choose you,” Maddie said, with deadly quiet, her tired, wrinkled face withering a little bit with the weighty sorrow of being forced to say what all three knew to be true.

Alf thought he was going to crumble right there, his heart bleeding open before the only woman he had ever loved, not even his ex-wife. But what conviction did he have as her retainer if he folded now? She didn’t mean that. She was only saying it because… he wouldn’t stop. Couldn’t stop. There was too much at stake.

Picking up her pen again, Maddie shook her head, “It’s just a place. Like any other.”

“How can you say that? It holds…” He eyed the loan officer, “Magic.”

The loan officer cleared his throat. “I assure you, we have taken the whole value of the asset in consideration before making our very generous offer—”

“You can’t risk everything like this!”

“Alf, you are dismissed from my service.”

A cold shock washed down Alf’s body as the magic that linked him to Maddie dissolved with such simple, everyday words. If she had struck him with her fist, it would have hurt less.

“No,” he choked out, unable to believe what was happening. Behind her, Lucas smirked. “You can’t…”

“I sign here?” Maddie asked the loan officer, who was still holding on by the tiniest thread of professionalism.

“Uh, yes. Here and here. Are you sure you don’t want a co-signer?” That earned him a pair of black, unamused looks from the two most powerful beings he had ever encountered. “Sorry, it is company policy to… uh, ask, with big transactions like this…”

“This is all on my head,” Maddie said, with such understanding that the loan officer blushed with shame.

He flipped the next page and pointed to another set of lines. “Here and here.”

“No mere girl is worth this!“

She signed and Alf hit his knees beside her. She ignored him and continued signing away their past and their future. For what? Money? For some unnamed girl who had gotten herself in trouble. Maddie had always done everything she could to save others when she could, but this… this was going too far.

“You’re exchanging a priceless wonder for quick cash!?” Alf didn’t even realize the tears were streaming down his face.

“Are we done?” Maddie asked the loan officer, ignoring Alf on the floor.

“Uh, not quite,” the loan officer said, diving into his briefcase to pull out his OmniSin reader and connecting it to his chunky laptop. “Um, place your card in here and I will enact the transfer of the funds directly to your OmniSin. You’ll be able to access them within the hour.”

“Good. Do it,” Maddie said, slipping a thick plastic, grey card from a pouch sitting next to her. She slipped it into the reader and a small light on the side lit up green. The loan officer hit some more buttons on his keyboard and there was a merry little ding as the light turned blue.

“You may remove your OmniSin now,” the loan officer informed her, then stretched out a hand to shake. “It was a pleasure doing business with you,” he said, with rote cheerfulness.

Maddie obliged him by shaking back before removing her card from the reader to slip back into her bag. “Thank you very much. Now I don’t mean to be rude, but I do need to open in a half an hour and I have to reinstate many magical charms before then.”

“I’m sorry?” The loan officer blinked confused.

“We’re a magical establishment,” Lucas said, pushing off the wall, heading to behind the bar itself while he spoke, “She had to turn off a lot of very important charms in this place to keep from blowing up your little tech box there. So if you don’t want to lose it, I suggest shutting it down quickly.”

The loan officer double blinked at that, then started initiating shut down procedures with a few taps. “Yes… yes, indeed, I see,” he muttered.

Standing up, Maddie looked down again on her former retainer, still kneeling before her, his gaze starring devastated at the stained floorboards beneath him. For a moment, he thought she was going to say something to him, but then her feet began to move away.

“I, Alfonso fitzMagdalene, Steward of the House of the Magdalene, do acknowledge the Magdalene as my Lady and Mistress,” he said too quickly. Instantly, he could feel the magic reverberate between them, binding his mind, body, and soul to Maddie. Her steps faltered as it hit her. Only then did he dare look up.

She leaned against the booth, her hand on her chest, breathing heavily from the shock of the magic she had been unprepared to receive.

“Are… are you alright?” the loan officer asked, stopped midway from exiting with his briefcase in hand and computer bag sloppily hung across his shoulders.

“She’s fine, you should leave now,” Lucas ordered, startling him into action. While Lucas chased him out, Maddie finally met Alf’s heated gaze.

“I said you were dismissed,” she repeated and the magic began to dissipate.

Before it was completely gone, Alf said again in a rush, “I, Alfonso fitzMagdalene, Steward of the House of the Magdalene, do acknowledge the Magdalene as my Lady and Mistress.”

“Alf…”

“I, Alfonso fitzMagdalene, Steward of the House of the Magdalene…”

“I do not need a retainer who…”

“…do acknowledge the Magdalene as my Lady and Mistress— and yes you do. Janowski is finally, officially leaving soon. I will be the last retainer and without me, you renounce your claim to this House.”

“She still has me,” Lucas interjected, having cleared the bar of any other intrusion. Alf could feel the darker thrum of magic coming from the doorway. He had locked it down so no one could simply enter, probably until Maddie and Alf had resolved their confrontation.

“You,” Alf scoffed, “You’re no retainer. You’re just another…”

“I said that’s enough! Silence!” Maddie ordered. Alf felt his bond with Maddie compel him to silence. It was very rare she ever used the retainer bond to do such a thing, but at that moment, he was beyond grateful for the proof that it was still there.

Maddie passed a weary hand over her face. “If I dismiss you again, you’ll just repeat the vow?”

Alf didn’t nod or acknowledge her question. He didn’t have to. He wrote his determination all over his face.

Maddie sighed, then stepped forward to crouch down equal with Alf. He didn’t dare breathe.

“I dismiss you from my service,” she repeated with measured tones. The magic dissipated  and Alf could feel his will to speak return. But he didn’t. In a contest of wills, he knew he was no match for Maddie. At that moment, he realized how foolish he had truly been to try. But before his spirit could shatter in defeat, she saved him again, like she had so many times before.

“Now swear to serve this House and not to me.”

Alf’s eyes went wide.  “I serve you,” he insisted, only for her to press her fingers to his lips.

“Swear to me to serve the House. Swear to me that you will defend it, no matter what should happen to me.”

He wanted to insist he would never let anything happen to her, his life, his light, yet her eyes compelled him. Her beautiful will. Some part of him, intuitively understood what she was asking of him, even if his mind couldn’t form the thought of it.

“I, Alfonso fitzMagdalene, Steward of the House of the Magdalene, do swear to protect…” he licked his lips, “…this House, until the day of my death. I will protect it for my Lady.”

Maddie smiled and nodded. He didn’t dare get off the floor, even as she stood up. “Thank you, Alf.”

“Come on,” her husband said, coming up beside her. “We need to finish getting ready for Devil’s Day.”

And then, like a dream, she was gone.


Megan Mackie 2

Megan Mackie is a writer, actor, and playwright. She started her writing career as an indie author and had such smashing success in her first year with her inaugural book The Finder of the Lucky Devil, that she made the transition to traditional publishing. She has become a personality at many cons, recognizable by her iconic leather hat and engaging smile. She has recently joined Bard’s Tower, a mobile con bookstore, and has sold her books next to great authors such as Peter David, Melinda Snodgrass, Dan Wells, Claudia Gray, John Jackson Miller, and Jim Butcher, to name a few.

She has written four novels including The Finder of the Lucky Devil, The Saint of Liars, Death and the Crone, and Saint Code: Lost all of which will be re-releasing through eSpec Books. She is also a contributing writer in the role-playing game Legendlore soon to be published by Onyx Path Publishing.

Outside of writing, she likes to play games: board games, RPGs, and video games. She has a regular Pathfinder group who is working their way through Rapanthuk. She lives in Chicago with her husband and children, dog, three cats, and her mother in the apartment upstairs.