Tag Archives: fantasy

Book Signings and Renaissance Faires

Who says Reno doesn’t have culture?

This Sunday, I’ll be signing books at the Nevada Opera Renaissance Faire, alongside local authors Jean Booth and Kurt Winans. Also available are books from award winning authors who write with a fantasy edge: A.D. Trosper, Hannah Steenbock, Katie Jennings, LaDonna ColeNatalie Gibson, and Sophie Moss.

Would you like free signed books? Read on to find the secret buzzwords!

Nevada Opera’s Renaissance Faire

An Artown Event

  • Sunday, July 6, 2014
  • 10am to 9pm
  • Wingfield Park (on the river)
Ren faire color

Banner by Blue Harvest Creative

An excerpt from Vassal, available September 20th, 2014:

Aislin marched arrow-first into the hall. The sun, now peeking full into the window, danced along the high points of the men’s faces. They reacted the same as all men did when facing Aislin’s bow. Their somber expressions became dubious, and they retreated a step.

Darrion demanded, “What do you want?”

The same husky voice rasped, “We seek wheat and rye.”

Immediately Darrion replied, “We have stores to share, if you are needy.”

Aislin’s arrow sagged. She didn’t often feed beggars, for she rarely had ample food for her own fief. “What do you—No, we don’t. We have to plant.”

“I’ll take care of this,” Darrion said.

“But we don’t—”

“I said—” He set a hand on her bare shoulder. “—I’ll take care of this.”

Shrugging his hand away, she lowered her bow.

The men stood patiently. One, blond with long hair tied back in a tail at the base of his neck, carried an axe slung on his belt. The other, with a mane of dark, scrubby wool on his face and his chin, carried a one-handed arming sword. They watched Aislin’s bow, but they did not approach.

“The grain is in the barn,” Darrion said. “Allow me to retrieve my boots, and I’ll fill a sack for your journey.” Passing by Aislin on his way back to the room, he whispered to her, “Try not to shoot them.”

Her mouth fell open, and her head turned to watch him leave. One of the intruders shuffled his feet. Aislin aimed her arrow at him and cocked her elbow back. “Don’t move,” she snarled.

Did you catch the buzz word? In case you didn’t:

I’ll be giving a swag bag to the first person who approaches our booth and proclaims, “I seek wheat and rye.” Within Vassal, those words promise trust within a secret and illegal organization. On Sunday, they might win you a signed copy of Minstrel, swords and tiaras for up to 5 children in your group, and a tote bag courtesy of Blue Harvest Creative.

Author Jean Booth is also offering a swag bag. Visit her website for her buzz words:

Please drop by the Renaissance Faire. Listen to amazing music. Visit vendors for some tantalizing food and unique wares. And come see us! We’re offering a free sword or tiara for every two books you purchase, and have many stories to suit your personal tastes.

“What do you like to read?”

Soul of the Universe

SotU72logo

At long last, The Anthology Club’s first publication, Soul of the Universe, is available in eBook!

Ok, let me back up a little. Just what is The Anthology Club?

Launched in 2013 by Michael Manz, The Anthology Club promotes writers’ careers by producing and publishing anthologies of short fiction from flash to novellas. Senior members of the club propose projects, inviting both senior and junior members to write. Once the project is complete, the club publishes the work and offers it within the major eBook channels.

Royalties are distributed as follows:

  • 15% for the Club, to pay for publication costs, copyediting and formatting, artwork, and publicity for the current and future projects.
  • 5% for the editor of that particular project.
  • 80% is distributed among the contributors, based on the amount of content contributed by each author.

For a few months, The Anthology Club hovered within the limbo of closed beta as the senior members worked out the bugs in the system. When ready, Mr. Manz opened the club out to all writers, with calls for submission spread across the internet.

As one of the original senior members, I have been on board throughout the entire journey. It’s been fascinating. The Publication Agreement was my first ever, and a landmark for me in my career. I’ve had my say in projects still in the works, such as the pirate-themed anthology which still has a few meager weeks left for submissions.

Soul of the Universe paves the way for these other anthologies.

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” – Plato 

“Here you will find a collection of six stories by four authors that, at first glance, seem to have little in common. We have Sci Fi Adventure. We have Medieval Fantasy. We have Emotional Drama, and we have Steampunk. We even have a Western. 

“Though each of these stories seems to have little in common with its companions, every one of them shares the same genesis. They were all inspired by that same divine spark that gives the universe purpose. They were all inspired by music. 

“Each of the authors in this collection took a favorite song as their inspiration and told the story that no one else could hear. The result is an endlessly entertaining collection of well spun yarns , thrilling adventures, and emotionally engaging drama. 

We hope you’ll enjoy.”

Soul of the Universe contains works by four authors: Michael Manz himself, Michael Walker, and me. And last but not least, the already published and quite bawdy and hilarious Michael Wombat, who has also headed up and edited the project. The artwork is by Kit Cooper, a newcomer herself to the eBook world.

SotU72logo

If you would like to check out Soul of the Universe and support The Anthology Club, you may find it at these links:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon Canada

Amazon Australia

Soul of the Universe on Goodreads

ACLogo_Small_Green

And if you would like to write for The Anthology Club, you may find them online and on Facebook.

The Anthology Club homepage

The Anthology Club on Facebook

Take a moment to check them out! They might just be the writing project you’ve been looking for! And buy Soul of the Universe for some unique and truly entertaining stories.

5 Stars from Readers’ Favorite

Authors love any good review. But when the review comes from a highly acclaimed service from which traditional publishers choose some of their next prospects, authors get really excited.

These higher review services can be hard to get into, but luckily I have an agent. Blue Harvest Creative offers free agent services when authors hire them for the full  book design package. In return, many of Blue Harvest Creative’s authors have gone on to win awards through these review services. BHC submitted both Minstrel and “Darrion” to Readers’ Favorite, and both won 5-star reviews! Minstrel has now been entered in 2014’s Readers’ Choice Awards. When I have the money for another entry, I’ll submit “Darrion” as well.

Readers’ Favorite’s review of Minstrel is here:

Minstrel Cover

Reviewed by Tania Staley for Readers’ Favorite

“An unlikely hero becomes the center of royal dispute and intrigue in Marissa Ame’s exciting tale, Minstrel. When Liam and his band of theatrical brothers arrive in the city of Cynegil, they have only the desire to make enough money to buy food and a place to lay their head. But when they see the signs that the city is in mourning they have a difficult decision to make. Do they ignore their empty bellies and move on in the hopes of finding sustenance someplace else, or do they disregard the rules against merriment in a time of mourning and entertain people? The needs of nourishment require them to go against the rules, and this decision lands them in the hands of the new king Riordan’s court. Riordan rules the country in excess, throwing parties and feasts, ignoring the emptying larders and purses of the country. Shamus, his twin brother, realizes that it is imperative that someone knows the truth of events and hires Liam to be his personal historian in order to record the happenings of Riordan’s reckless rule. But, can a simple minstrel right the wrongs of an entire kingdom? Will anyone listen to him if he tries? Find out in Marissa Ame’s Minstrel.

“It was with much excitement that I downloaded a copy of Minstrel to review. Having previously read Marissa Ames’s short story, Darrion, which is also a story of Tir Athair, I was expecting the same intrigue and excitement in Minstrel that I had come to associate with Ames’s writing. I was certainly not disappointed. The feudal society that Ames has created, the intrigues involved in the opposing twin royal brothers, and the unlikely heroism of the minstrel, Liam, are wonderfully thought out and beautifully crafted. Rather than the lofty idealism that surrounds many fantasy landscapes, there is a grit and grime that is just as enchanting in the city of Cynegil. The world the author has created lives and breathes amongst the pages of her book. I highly recommend Minstrel, and I can’t wait to read her next book, Vassal.”

And the 5-star review of “Darrion”:

Darrion cover

Reviewed by Tania Staley for Readers’ Favorite

“Marissa Ames’ high-fantasy short story, Darrion: A Story of Tir Athair, will have readers longing to read more. Darrion is the prequel to Ames’ larger work, Minstrel, and I dare anyone who reads this short story to not want to pick up a copy of Minstrel in order to find out what happens next. Lana believed her dreams had come true when Kellan, a gifted healer, pronounced his love for her, but there was trouble ahead for their romance. The realm of Tir Athair was at war, and Kellan had been called upon to use his powers. There were darker forces at work than either of them could have realized, however, and Kellan is soon being used as little more than a weapon. To make matters worse, Lana bears a child who is gifted as well, and under the kingdom’s new regime it is a law to relinquish her child to the king’s control. Can Lana escape the kingdom and save her child from the same fate as her husband?

“Darrion is a short story that gets me quite excited to see what else Marissa Ames has in store for readers. In just a few pages, Ames creates a rich and vibrant story full of emotion and intrigue. The author has created a romance that tugs at the heartstrings and, from this joining, a potential hero that readers will want to learn about. I can’t help but wonder what sort of future lies in wait for Darrion. I see a lot of potential in this series, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of Minstrel.”

Aislin’s Trial by Ordeal

Darrion cover

Cover art by Blue Harvest Creative

If accused of a crime in medieval times, a person could undergo a lengthy trial with a jury of his peers. This happened more often with nobility, richer and more important people who might disrupt societal structure if proven guilty and removed from their stations. The peasants often faced quick trials by ordeal.

In Vassal, the upcoming novel following the short story “Darrion,” Aislin has already banished Darrion from her manor house, for sins she just can’t forgive. He lives within the serfs’ cottages, biding his time until she can find a way to banish him from her fief forever. But someone has slipped belladonna poison into Darrion’s food, and the soldiers have arrived to arrest both of them. Harboring a gifted fugitive, and consorting with the Brotherhood of Teague, isn’t punishable by death. It’s punishable by torture, dismemberment, and then death when the accused could take it no longer.

Aislin faces a trial, but medieval trials weren’t as merciful as they are today. A woman, even a landholding vassal, did not stand equally among a jury of her “peers.” She relied upon the mercies of a husband, or her liege, to defend her in a trial. But Aislin had no husband. And Parlan, the Earl of Edurne, sought to defend her only to gain further control. A cauldron bubbled in the courtyard, ready for her trial by ordeal. Aislin had one more option that even Parlan did not anticipate.

An ancient judicial practice carried on through the Salem witch-hunts and ending as late as the 1700s, trials by ordeal were surprisingly effective. They followed a simple premise: God would save the innocent. The effectiveness also followed another simple premise: The guilty, who had as much faith as the accusers in the premise that God would save them, knew they would fail and declined the trial, thus automatically condemning themselves. Church and judicial officials could often rig ordeals so the participants could pass them, if the authorities so wished. If they did not rig them, the innocent still suffered.

Several trials existed, some crueler than others:

Trial by Combat

trial by combat

Depiction of a judicial duel between a man and a woman by Hans Talhoffer (Ms.Thott.290.2º f80r, 1459)

Regularly used in Germanic law, trial by combat let men settle accusations without witnesses. Both parties fought in a single dispute, and the winner was proclaimed to be right. Trial by combat appears to have been introduced into common law in England following the Norman Conquest and remained through the high and late Middle Ages. This judicially sanctioned duel disappeared gradually throughout the 16th century. Hans Talhoffer, in 1459, names seven offences which warrant a judicial duel: murder, treason, heresy, desertion of one’s lord, abduction, perjury/fraud, and rape. Peasants had to present their case to a judge before dueling, but nobles had the right to challenge each other to duels without involving higher powers. Trials by combat were abolished by Emperor Maximilian I, but evolved into gentlemanly duels, which were only outlawed in the 19th century.

A one-sided ordeal of combat included “running the gauntlet,” though this was more commonly used as a form of public punishment much more dignified than the pillory or the stocks. Stripped to the waist, the condemned or accused had to pass between a double row of men holding cudgels, whips, switches, or blades. Someone walked in front of him, to keep him from running, and sometimes the accused was dragged or prodded along. Sometimes rules banned edged weapons, or required the two sides to each keep a foot in place, or allowed the accused to protect his head with his hands. He did not always die; sometimes he simply could not walk afterward. “The gauntlet” began in Roman times, as a form of execution by cudgeling, and ended in Russia and Sweden as late as the 19th century.

Ordeal of Fire

trial by fire

After being accused of adultery Cunigunde of Luxembourg proved her innocence by walking over red-hot ploughshares.

The ordeal of fire typically required that the accused walk a certain distance, usually about nine feet, over a red-hot surface such as ploughshares. Or they carried red-hot iron for the same distance. Complete lack of injury proved innocence but, more commonly, a priest bandaged the wound and re-examined it three days later. If the wound had healed in those three days, God had intervened for the innocent. If the wound festered, exile or execution followed.

Cunigunde of Luxembourg and Emma of Normandy, both women in history accused of adultery, proved their innocence by walking barefoot over red-hot ploughshares without incurring injury.

Ordeal of Water

Several ordeals of water were employed: boiling water, cold water, and use of water to condemn witches.

trial by water

Water-ordeal. Engraving, 17th century.

In the trial by cold water, people accused of sorcery were submerged in streams. Survivors were acquitted. In the 6th century, pagans cast Gregory of Tours into a river with a millstone tied to his neck. According to record, divine miracle saved him, and the water did not suck him down. This law was abolished by Louis the Pious in 829, but reappeared in the Late Middle Ages. Men guilty of poaching could be submerged in a barrel three times, and be considered innocent if he sank and guilty if he floated.

In the witch-hunts of the 16th and 17th century, the scenario reversed: those who sank were innocent, and witches floated. Believers claimed witches floated because they had renounced baptism. In the Historia Litteraria, Jacob Rickius claimed they were supernaturally light, and recommended weighing them as an alternative to dunking them. James VI of Scotland claimed that water was such a pure element that it repelled the guilty. Witch trials by water occurred as late as 1728.

trial by boiling water

Aislin faced the ordeal of boiling water, in which Warrick tossed a ring into a cauldron. She had to recover the ring and prove her innocence.

In history, the boiling water had to be deep enough to cover the wrist of the accused if he was charged with one accusation, and up to the elbow for three. Afterwards, as with the trial by fire, the arm was bound and examined three days later. If the wound had healed within three days, God had intervened.

The Tir Athair series occurs in a medieval-based world, which has a basic belief in the singular God. However, since this is a fantasy world, instead of medieval Europe, there is no Christianity and no Catholic Church. The people face holy wars, inquisitions, trials by ordeal, and forced religion, but  accuracy to the tenets of Catholicism is not used. Instead I use artistic license. In addition, Tir Athair has the presence of natural magic, referred to as “the gift” in Athairan and Saoiran societies. Gifted people can harm, heal themselves, and heal others with the natural magic residing within them. Opinions about this magic vary from land to land; in some lands, they are considered cursed, and are burned for witchcraft. In others, the gift is feared and revered at the same time.

As Aislin faces her trial by boiling water, Warrick is ready to take her back as his ward and to control her as he desires. He offers her the opportunity to submit instead of undergoing the trial. The thing is… Aislin is guilty. But she knows she will be burned. In defiance of the judicial system and the Earl of Edurne, she plunges her arms into the cauldron.

Ordeal of the Cross

To discourage ordeals by combat among Germanic peoples, the church introduced ordeals of the cross. In this trial, the accuser underwent the ordeal with the accused. They stood on either side of a cross with their arms outstretched. The first to lower his arms lost. Charlemagne prescribed this ordeal in 779 and in 806, before Louis the Pious and Lothar I abolished it to avoid the mockery of Christ.

Ordeal of Ingestion

A priest blessed dry bread or cheese and gave it to the accused. If he choked on the food, he was considered guilty. This developed into the ordeal of the Eucharist, wherein the accused professed his innocence by oath before partaking of the sacrament. It was believed that if the oath had been false, the accused would die within the same year.

The ordeals involving ingestion of sacred food were unusually safe and merciful, but the ordeal of poison wasn’t always so.

Ordeal of Poison

trial by poison

Castor beans contain ricin, and paternoster peas contain abric acid. Both are toxins of the highest ranking. From medieval Europe to western Africa, these two seeds were used by trials of ordeal. The accused had to swallow them without dying. There was one caveat to the trial: the accused often lived if someone tipped them off and told them to swallow, not chew, to keep the poison contained within the seed’s hard coating.

In the 1800s, residents of Madagascar used the tangena nut, causing about 3,000 annual deaths between 1828 and 1861. Even in present-day Nigeria calabar bean is used to determine guilt. Innocent defendants vomit; the guilty become ill or die.

Ordeal of Boiling Oil

Similar to the trial of boiling water in Europe, the trial of boiling oil occurred in India and West Africa, requiring the accused to retrieve an item from a container of boiling oil. Those who refuse the task are guilty. Those who emerge unscathed are declared innocent. Though many “boil them in oil” jokes exist regarding medieval Europe, this rarely occurred. Oil was precious in those parts, and far too expensive for an ordeal that could be easier executed with holy water or hot iron. Similarly, oil was rarely poured through murder holes onto invading armies. Instead, they used boiling water or burning debris.

Aislin’s plot thickens as she plunges her hands into the water. Will she face execution for harboring Darrion, though Warrick tries to convince the jury that she is innocent and led by fear, so he can regain control over her? Will the water even burn her, and will she retrieve the ring, which has its own emotional history throughout the novel? And what of Shaila, who accused Darrion of the sin which got him ejected from Aislin’s house? She’s sitting on a bench, watching the entire thing. As is Sully, who orchestrated the entire arrangement between Darrion into Aislin. Gael also watches, the soldier who was left for dead by the Athairan army and has risen again to fight for justice. Oh yeah… and what about Darrion, who’s hanging above the square in a gibbet, forced to watch the entire trial as she throws herself into the cauldron?

Here is where I leave you with a mysterious smile and tell you to keep in touch. I promise, all will be answered with Vassal’s release.

Responsible Heroines

Minstrel Cover

Today in church, L stopped me to tell me how much she enjoyed reading Minstrel. Currently she’s about halfway through, and she stays up past midnight to read.

L just turned 14 years old. She belongs to a demographic for which I didn’t target Minstrel. I don’t want to write young adult fiction, because I don’t want to focus on adolescent characters. I want to write about adults who get into gritty situations and prevail, breaking through pre-existing stereotypes. But as I wrote Minstrel, I thought about my friends’ daughters. I wanted my friends to be able to trust my work, to be able to hand my books to their daughters without first censoring them.

What I anticipated actually happened. My friends bought my novel and handed it directly to their daughters, without reading it first. Without asking me if I had included sex or f-bombs, or even if the subject matter was appropriate. They trusted me. They trusted my writing.

Minstrel now follows many fantasy novels as they gain considerable fans among the young adult population. Namely, among young girls.

Robin McKinley’s books are among those that have trended with young girls, despite being written for an older audience. The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown both feature grown characters. Not far out of adolescence, these heroines fight dragons and lead battles. They fall in love, but are not saved by their men. Often, they save the men.

Growing up, among my heroes was Alanna from the Song of the Lioness series. They were Harry from The Blue Sword, and Aerin from The Hero and the Crown. I began my love of fantasy with Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, from author Astrid Lindgren. From there I admired Princess Cimorene, who volunteered to be the dragon Kazul’s captive, and who teams up with the handsome king to rescue the dragon. These were the girls and women I wanted to grow up to be.

My mother was a wonderful woman. She was as combination of superhuman sacrifice and human weakness. She was independent, industrious, and morally upright. As I grew up, I became an eclectic mixture of my mother and my fictional heroes.

Now, my 12-year-old daughter has followed my example. While writing this post, I stepped out of my office to ask my daughter, “Who are your heroes? Fictional or real life.”

She replied, “Katniss Everdeen and Tamora Pierce.” Katniss Everdeen is the heroine from the popular books-turned-movies The Hunger Games. Tamora Pierce writes fantasy quartets about young women who prevail in male-dominated medieval settings.

My daughter didn’t choose me. Does that mean I’m a bad role model? I hope not, for I wouldn’t have immediately indicated my own mother if someone had asked me the same question at that age. Yet my mother was a wonderful role model. She was my reality. Alanna and Cimorene were my aspirations.

No matter how hard to you try to choose your daughter’s role models, she will still choose her own.

As Minstrel’s popularity grows among teenage girls, it further reinforces my responsibility as a writer. I could write horror or erotica, but I prefer fantasy. I prefer a genre that is devoured by teenagers of both genders, whether or not it’s written for adult audiences. And though many of my author friends claim, “You can’t control what the characters do,” I disagree. My muse may guide, but I have the final say over my work.

I could have made Molly a simpering little waif who let herself get bounced around by whichever man claimed her. Aerdra could have let her people die, or begged her husband to defend her, instead of taking up a hatchet and fighting alongside him. Finola remained the voice of reason and morality for her daughters, while her son battled politics within the king’s guard.

Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, is often asked, “Why do you create these strong women characters?” Joss’ answer has now become a mantra for feminism and equality within art: “Because you’re still asking me that question.”

Joss’ inspiring speech is here:

Other authors who write strong female characters stand out as remarkable, or even abnormal. To this idea, Neil Gaiman has replied, “Well, I write people. Approximately half of the people I know are female and they’re cool, and they’re interesting, and so, why wouldn’t I?”

Orison

Daniel Swensen, an author friend whose fantasy novel Orison is due for publication in 2014, had problems with his main character, Randoval. The novel was staid and boring, and Randoval didn’t have the potential he needed. Daniel examined Orison and realized he followed the trend that so many fantasy authors follow: the men were the heroes, and the few females were oversexualized. Daniel’s amazing solution, which changed the entire tone of the novel, was to flip Randoval into a brown-skinned woman named Story Kai Tann. Suddenly, perspective changed. Friends and beta readers were amazed. Daniel’s editor even said, “Story could never be a man! Story as a man = boring. Story as a woman = awesome.”

Daniel said of his gender-flip, “I’m not trying to teach the world to sing, or anything like that, I’m just writing the kind of book I’d like to read myself. I don’t for one instant consider Orison to be some sort of Important Feminist Work; it most emphatically is not. It’s just a good fantasy yarn, which happens to have a female protagonist who doesn’t get by on her bare midriff and her sexuality. And if that makes my novel out of the ordinary somehow, well, all I can say is, it shouldn’t. I think it should be both common and unremarkable.

You can find Daniel’s blog post regarding this gender-flipping decision here.

So what, exactly, is my responsibility as an author? First, let’s briefly look at some of Minstrel’s growing fanbase:

Though L’s parents are happily married, she’s strong in her faith, and her family has a dynamic that I envy, L and several members of her family are currently undergoing health problems that will alter their future. L herself holds on with uncertainty.

K is 11 years old. She has been the victim of poor choices made by the adults in her life, since she was conceived. Though she’s an honors student, K continues to struggle past the examples set by some of the most important adults in her life.

As she nears 16 years of age, A has become a driving force in the success of her peers. Blessed with a strong and loving family, she maintains a high moral standing in high school, surrounding herself with friends who are not so lucky.

Then there is the teenage girl who stopped by my table at a book signing and asked, “Dad, I really want to read that book. Can I please have it? Please?” I explained the book to the father, who promptly purchased it for his daughter. If she had simply seen the novel in a bookstore, she would probably have wanted it just as badly, without the author present to assure the father of the content.

Which of these girls deserves a trustworthy piece of fiction, with role models and ideals they can follow? How would my writing career, or the trust my readers have, change if I threw in f-bombs, sex scenes, or overt violence into the books? As a parent, I consider this broad demographic the same way that I consider my own children.

Sahara

My own daughter, S, lives two lives because she switches back and forth between two biological parents. When people ask about the moral character of her father, I simply reply, “Well… we’re divorced.” She is still growing, still reaching that critical moment when she decides who she will become. And, if my daughter is going to pick role models that she has never met, I want to be sure she has some she can look up to.

I don’t feel like I owe the world a story. I’m not writing for a teen magazine, or for a rally of any kind. I write entertaining fiction. But when parents hand my work directly to children as young as 11, trusting me, I feel my responsibility is to keep that trust.

As I write Vassal, as the heroine encounters compromising situations and has to take the high road (or doesn’t) through each, I keep these young women in mind. I don’t write for the young adult market, but I write for the ones who might pick up my books. They’re the ones who hand my book off to their friends. They are my fanbase.

A Nixie Christmas by Theresa Miller

This story is written for AMMC: A Merry Minion Christmas. You can find the rules here:

Title: “A Nixie Christmas”
Author: Theresa Miller
eBook: YES

To my daughter, Katrina Novak, from whose brain the Nixies and Noxies were born. May your imagination continue to make the world a better place.

fairy christmas ball

“D.U.B.S., this is Agent Noreen Silva, I have a situation here.”

The communicator in Noreen’s hand came to life with a tinny gender neutral voice. “Due to budget shortfalls, the office of the Department of Underworld Border Security has been temporarily closed. Please avoid any emergency situations until we reopen.”

“Thom is that you? I really do need to get through to Noxie Command.

“Thom this isn’t funny.

“Thom? Hello?”

Noreen stared at her communicator in consternation. Had Tatiana and Oberon’s squabbling gotten that far out of hand? Reluctantly she trickled the necessary magic into the device to switch it from Communicate to Record and Transmit.

“This is Agent Noreen Silva reporting a disturbance in the Verge. There’s a depression about my height and twice as wide.” She paused, considering. “For the sake of accuracy I must report it’s a bit taller than me; about the height of a regular Noxie or,” she shuddered delicately, “Nixie.

“Since no Noxie worth their dust would mistreat the border this way, I assume a group of Nixies passed through recently. This would be a great time for backup. Agent Silva; going in.”

Noreen hung the communicator on her belt, then put her hands on the soft, springy substance of the boundary and melded into it. Tingles running through the Verge material painted clear pictures for experienced Verge travelers. Today’s picture was all too familiar. Her brother had been here. Like all Nixies he was the offspring of a Noxie father and a Pixie mother. Like all Nixies he had a Noxie’s ability to meld with and shape the Verge and a pixie’s penchant for mischief.

“Must I spend my life cleaning up after him?” Noreen sighed as she followed the familiar trail. She was almost to the Other Side before she found the pocket. She pulled out the communicator.

“Agent Silva again. It’s definitely Nixies. I’ve found their stash. It would’ve taken quite a few of them to stash this many…” She reached out and tentatively prodded the nearest brightly colored box. It crinkled under her questing finger. “Well, whatever they are they’re bigger than socks or spoons and there are a lot of them.”

Noreen pocketed the communicator, hefted the largest of the boxes and, closing her eyes, concentrated on willing the Verge to allow the passage of the strange object. Reaching the edge, she poked her head through, right into the prickly branches of a pine tree. She was sure it was winter in the human realms, but the tree was bare of snow and the air was warm and stuffy.

She frowned. This didn’t make sense. She seemed to be both in a forest and in a house. Things didn’t work that way in the human realm. They just didn’t.

Movement caught her eye. She turned and found herself face to face with a dread beast straight out of her nightmares. The black-furred creature narrowed its yellow eyes and bared its fangs. Noreen jerked her head back into the Verge as the beast lunged for her, claws extended. Its paws passed through the barrier and caught her collar, dragging her back into the human world. She twisted out of her jacket and fell, hitting branch after branch until she landed face down on a softly carpeted floor.

“Mittens, what are you doing in there? Are you in the tree again?” A woman appeared in the doorway. “Get down from th-.” The woman stopped short and put her hands over her mouth, eyes wide.

Noreen froze. How was this human seeing her, especially partially hidden as she was by the tree trunk?

“The presents.” The woman turned. “Bob, the presents. They’re gone!” Quietly Noreen melded back into the Verge.

“D.U.B.S., Agent Silva again. I have a female human distressed about missing ‘presents.’ I know humans are obsessed with the current point in time, but have no idea how it can go missing. If these humans have a way to store bits of time in boxes and a bit of forest growing in the middle of their house, we need to do a sweep for magic in this area. There must be a leak. In the meantime the tree is guarded by a ferocious feline. I’ll have to find a different route. Looks like it’s gonna be an all-nighter. Sure would appreciate that backup.”

It was a long night. When she finally finished pushing the time boxes into the human world she dragged her aching body to a point along the Edge where she could see the tree. The magic must still be leaking in because it was now covered with a myriad of colored lights and glittering pretties.

The woman sat sadly on the floor surrounded by several smaller humans, the smallest of which was crying. Noreen wondered for a moment if she had failed, but then dismissed the thought. Crying was one of the default states of small humans and it always seemed to make the bigger ones sad.

“Shhh,” the woman said hugging the smallest one. “We can still have Christmas without presents. We still have each other.” The small one only wailed louder.

Suddenly a door blew open and bounced off the wall with a bang. The wind blew in a flurry of cold and snow and a human man who was grinning from ear to ear.

“Merry Christmas!” he bellowed, throwing his arms open wide. “Santa must have been extra busy last night. He didn’t have time to bring the presents down the chimney. They’re all up on the roof.”

The small humans squealed, jumped to their feet and ran to follow the man outside. The woman sat there for a moment then reached under the tree. She held up a beautiful little red jacket with a torn collar. She gazed at it a moment. It was too small for any of her children. Where had it come from?

A shriek of pure joy came through the open door followed by the clunk of a ladder hitting the house. The woman looked up with a smile then rose and went to join her family. The jacket fell to the floor, forgotten.

As soon as she was out of sight a small hand reached out of thin air, grabbed the jacket, and pulled it out of sight.

Read other stories from this project here:

Darrion: A Story of Tir Athair

Darrion cover

In one week, just a few weeks prior to Minstrel’s release, a new short story of Tir Athair will be available for both Kindle and ePub readers. “Darrion” takes place about 20 years after Minstrel, and about 20-25 years before my next novel, Vassal. Within about 10,000 words, it tells the story of the supporting protagonist in Vassal.

Blurb:
The first time Darrion struck her, Lana loaded her wagon and left Cynegil. Two-year-olds should not hit like that. She draped the windows of her cottage with dense cloth and worked by a single candle. If she timed her flight well, she could pass through the market during changing of the guard. In another era, under another king’s reign, Lana would have rejoiced that Darrion had inherited his father’s gift. Now, if Lana did not present her son to the king, she could lose her head.

bhc

Blue Harvest Creative has done its magic yet again.

I have a stunning cover and internal format that rivals the big publishing houses. Beta readers have rated it highly. Now I just need my other readers to give me their input and to build excitement for both Minstrel and for my new work-in-progress, Vassal.

Design Credits:
Cover painting of bluebells by Marissa Ames
Cover Concept by Marissa Ames & Blue Harvest Creative
Cover Design by Blue Harvest Creative
eBook Design by Blue Harvest Creative
Imprint concept by Marissa Ames
Imprint Design by Blue Harvest Creative

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In addition to formatting both “Darrion” and Minstrel, Blue Harvest Creative has helped me create the imprint name, under which all my books shall be published.

6 Weeks til Minstrel

Minstrel Cover

In exactly 42 days, Minstrel will be available in eBook and print formats. Now that I type that out, it feels a lot longer than saying “six weeks.”

However, with projects going on like the Fall Flash Festival, AMMC, and the Jingle Bells anthology, those six weeks will probably fly by as we rush to make these deadlines. But these six weeks are going to be full of excitement and anticipation.

In two weeks, I’ll have a surprise to offer. This surprise will only be free on specific days. (No, it’s not Minstrel. We all have to wait until November 5th for that.) To keep updated, and know when you can snag this surprise, “like” and follow my Facebook page. I will only be posting the links on there!

Thank you! Now go out and enjoy those fall leaves.

Dark Fairy Queen Writerly Bridal Shower: Assassin’s Vow

Title: Assassin’s Vow
Author: Marissa Ames
eBook: Yes

BoykinCarmerPoison

I held the puffer fish with one finger as I sliced off the eyes and fins.  With the tip of the knife, I opened the fish and carefully removed the innards.  I flicked the noxious parts into the refuse bucket.  Dipping the knife under the skin, I flayed the fish until I had nothing but clean flesh.  The skin plopped into the bucket atop the entrails.

“Don’t cut yourself,” Jess warned before cradling my hip against his.

I muttered, “Don’t worry,” as I sliced the flesh into morsels.

He set a plate on the butcher block.  “Where are your gloves?” he asked as he arranged the slices on the plate with his bare hands.  Giving me a knowing wink, he tossed a morsel into his mouth and chewed.

“I’m fine.”  I slid the plate aside then stabbed my knife into the other puffer fish.  Using the blade, I flipped the fish onto the block.

Jess caught my wrist.  “Wear gloves,” he said.  “Please?”

I sighed and put my gloves on.

“You’re in a mood today,” he commented as I popped both fish eyes then stabbed again to catch the liver.

Shrugging, I lobbed off the head and fins.  “The tarts are done,” I said as I ripped out the entrails.  I carved dainty slices with a frill of blue skin on one edge.  Jess nudged a second plate over.  “Baneberry has the fluted crust, currants have the scalloped crust.”

As Jess meandered to inspect the food, I looked over at my dress.  Cream silk with lace trim and a whalebone corset, it was exactly what I would have chosen for my own wedding.  It was expensive.  The client would pay for it tenfold after the job was done.

“What’s in the soup?” Jess asked before touching the ladle.

“Lily of the valley and death cap.”  I arranged the fish on the plate then wiped the flat of the knife over the food for good measure.  “Don’t eat the cheese.  The goats fed on autumn crocus.”

“Remember to make-“

“I know, I know,” I said as I flipped the knife down onto the butcher block.  “A clean batch is draining in cheesecloth right now.”

Today we sought to shake the power structure of a crime family.  Nobody expected to die at a wedding.  The client chose whom to warn about the food.  By the time the poisons took effect, Jess and I would be paid and gone on our supposed honeymoon.

I snatched up a wet rag and slapped it across the block.

Jess was immediately at my side, grabbing the rag.  “Alright,” he said as he pried it out of my fingers.  “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

We were professionals, not poets.  These things weren’t supposed to matter.  The others had warned us to avoid sentiment, to remain partners only.  It wasn’t like that, though.  Since we fell in love, our skills honed.  Trust bloomed.  No man watches your back like the one who holds your heart.

Jess leaned against the butcher block and folded his arms.  I avoided his gaze but he held strong.

“It’s nothing,” I insisted.  “Just another fake wedding.  Just another bride and groom, pretending to be happy.”

The happiness wasn’t false.  Most of the others didn’t know our partnership had evolved.  They just knew we worked better, satisfied more clients.  They pressed to know our secret.

It was almost everything I ever wanted.

Jess said, “You need to cheer up.”

“I’m-“

“Going to risk the contract.”  As I pouted and set my poisoned hands on my hips, Jess continued, “How can I help?”’

We were professionals.  Casting one more glance at my dress, I turned back to the butcher block and took up my knife again.

“I see.”  Jess dropped the rag on the block and wrapped his arms around my waist.  His lips hovered right behind my ear as he said, “I was saving this, but I suppose now is the right time.”  Releasing me, he took the knife from my hand then carefully peeled off my gloves.  I gawked down at him as he dropped to one knee.

“This time,” he said, enfolding my hands in his, “I hired a real priest.”

Steampunk-wedding-shoot-AIW-unique-wedding-blog-SingaporeBrides04

Photo Credit

Written for Anna and Michael’s Dark Fairy Queen Writerly Bridal Shower.  Congratulations!

Want to see what everyone else has written?  Go here:


A Fool of Ships

 ship 1

Hiding on Lord Bryant’s fief, Shamus considered fighting for the crown, or at least for the people of Cynegil. While the king entreated his sycophant nobles, the countryside weltered in drought. Riordan blamed his brother for all discord. Even Shamus’ attempts to save food had incited a riot within the peasantry. Now with a price on his head, the fugitive prince considered fighting for a people that did not want him. He also considered moving forward. When he had arrived at Bryant’s estate, he found farmers and craftsmen who had also grown weary of Riordan’s wasteful opulence, men who acknowledged where the true problem lay. They all wanted to move forward.

Riordan and most of the southern nobles had always considered Shamus’ work with the northern clans to be foolery. Years of work with the wildmen taught Shamus whom he could trust. When Liam arrived at the fief, hidden deep in the belly of the players’ wagon, Shamus shared his plan: take those farmers and craftsmen, and try to convince the Daoine Ban clans to let them settle.

Shamus had several hundred discontent yet able-bodied people to transport to a better land. He needed a ship. Not just any ship. He needed a chronologically accurate ship.

Somewhere between the Roman galleys and the Santa Maria, something happened. Well, actually, not much happened. Not much at all. As with artwork and architecture, not a lot of progression occurred in the medieval maritime world. When fantasy books and films depict ships, they tend to lean toward roomy and streamlined models like the Spanish galleons. Those were just more effective, more beautiful, more… impressive.

galleon

A medieval cog was not.

cog drawing medieval

If I’m going to write about ringmail instead of chainmail or plate armor, about costumes called houppelandes and cotehardies, I cannot use a galleon as a ship. I needed a cog.

For anyone who isn’t so familiar with medieval terminology, I’m writing a milieu with the equivalent of 13th Century Europe. Yes, it’s fantasy. Yes, I have artistic license to stretch things a bit. But only a moderate amount of stretching can occur before a story becomes contrived. If I’m going to use a galleon, why don’t I just have my soldiers fighting in riveted ringmail, pulling their flintlock pistols from their holsters? If I want to adhere to the right milieu and avoid anachronism, I have to use the right wardrobe, the right armor and weapons… the right ships.

Santa-Maria

Before galleons of the 16th and 17th centuries, Europe had carracks and caravels. Columbus’ Santa Maria has been described as either a carrack or a caravel. That takes us from the 1700s, down to 1492. I still needed to go back a few centuries.

knarr

What about a viking knarr? This fits the right time period, but not the right purpose. First of all, Shamus fled from a civilization comparable to medieval Italy or Spain. He fled to a civilization comparable to that of northern Britain or Scandinavia. Second, a fugitive prince, with only a modest agricultural landowner as his benefactor, had nowhere to find a warship. The king had warships. Nobles with vineyards had cargo ships. In addition to transporting people, Shamus also had to transport livestock, seed, and enough food to support his settlers during the pending winter. He knew what land he traveled to; he knew he needed ample supplies.

A descendant of the Norse knarr, the medieval cog was a very unimpressive craft. Slow, heavy, and flat-bottomed, it was functional. And it was small. I had hoped to write about Shamus’ settlers, several hundred people who could start a promising settlement in the northern lands. Some would die in the harsh winter, some of illness or accidents. Several hundred people could travel on a galleon.

Several dozen people could travel on a cog.

Hoping to allow a few more settlers than two or three dozen, I researched further. I found this link:

http://www.startedsailing.com/cogs-and-other-12th-century-sailing-vessels.html

Again and again, the author of this site trounces writers’ hopes of transporting large loads of people and cargo over long distances. It was not done. They could transport people via a galley-type warship with no deck. Or they could transport goods over short distances with a cog. Up to about four dozen passengers could fit on a cog, but they likely slept on deck because of crowded conditions and a horrendous smell in the hold. They slept under the stars, in the weather. According to the author of this site, they were used to it.

cog

This picture from Wikipedia shows a recreation of a cog. A single-masted ship propelled by a rudder, it had little room for anything. Judging from the size of this ship, Shamus could transport a few sheep and some chickens. He had to leave the cattle behind.

excavated cog

This picture, an actual cog from ca. 1380, reinforces the lack of space. The precise dimensions of the Bremen cog were 24m long, 8m in the beam, and just over 4m on the sides… a cargo space of about 130 tons.

In addition to small hold space and little deck space, most of these ships had no enclosed captain’s cabins. They had no kitchens. For the most part, those happened later. Some of the warships had “castles,” raised areas from which the sailors could shoot arrows.

plantagenet ship

This picture of a medieval warship with the heraldic symbol of the Plantagenets depicts fore and aft castles so high they would have destabilized the ship.

A comfortable cabin to hold meetings, as seen in the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, did not happen this early. This was a bit of a problem during Shamus’ journey. He nearly had mutiny from overcrowded settlers, all seasick, with some small children and two pregnant women. They survived it. However, during the last journey in Minstrel, Liam had to bring back about the same number of people. He also needed a place to secure Maira, who suffered massive internal injuries and could not recline in a hammock or on deck in the storm. A bit of deus ex machina might allow a nicer, more evolved ship to appear in Kylemore’s harbor right when they needed it. After working so hard to research the correct ship, though, I’m not going to give in to a sudden, convenient solution. Maira had to travel in the shelter of a forecastle, or perhaps a hollow built from casks and barrels. Nothing would be comfortable.

The inconvenience of such a small and primitive ship did provide additional conflict where I needed it though. During the last chapter, I had some fabulous elements: Maira battled aggressive injuries from her punishment for defying the king. A royal warship followed them north to Shamus’ new settlement. Liam and Tristan battled wills against each other while they both grappled to keep the captain from turning the ship around and surrendering them to the crown. A violent storm nearly capsized them.

And… a putrid, overcrowded ship made things even rosier for everyone.

ship final