Demon in the Machine: Spring-heeled Jack

Jack6You never know where an idea will come from. I’m always on the lookout for things I can use in my stories and when I listened to an episode of Lore (Episode 22: Over the Top, to be exact), I was given the kernel of an idea. I’d been listening to the podcast for a while, by that point. It’s one of the many I like to have on in the background while I’m engaged in tedious work. If you haven’t checked out Lore, I highly recommend it. This particular episode was about a mysterious entity who plagued London and England in the 19th century. His name was Spring-heeled Jack.

There are many stories about Spring-heeled Jack. Reported from the 1830 until the 1880s, most of the sightings centered around London and its suburbs, though some occurred in the north of England as well. In these sightings, a demonic-looking man would burst out of the shadows and accost someone, usually a young woman. He was usually described as a devil, or devil-like, with sharp claws at the tips of his fingers. Sometimes he was also said to be wearing a helmet or a black cloak. In other descriptions, he had red, glowing eyes. And he almost always made his escape by leaping away, hopping over tall obstacles as if it was nothing, hence the name.

The podcast episode was an interesting one, and it stuck with me. It was about the same time that I was working on plot and character development for Demon in the Machine. I knew Isabella was going to be a cat-burglar, and I knew I wanted her to have some mechanical leanings. The legend of Spring-heeled Jack was suddenly too good an opportunity to pass up.

I decided to work it in by having Isabella accidentally contributing to the urban legend. One of the items she invented to aid in her burgling was a jump rig. The device allowed her to easily get to roofs and to scale the sides of buildings. It also made traveling through London at night much easier. However, in her pale canvas suit and helmet, making long bounds through various neighborhoods, Isabella also created a bit of a scene, one that was remarked upon perhaps more than she was aware of. Still, it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as no one could trace the legend back to her.

A couple of the details aren’t exactly right. Demon in the Machine takes place in the 1890s, by which time the scare had mostly died down. I considered moving the timeframe back a bit to take advantage of the period during which Jack was historically most active, but decided against it. The main thrust of the plot has to do with the rise of the automobile, which happens later in the 19th century. However, given that 19th century English inventions weren’t enhanced by demonic magic either (that we know of), I decided the liberties I was taking weren’t too terrible.

Making things up out of the whole cloth is great, but I do enjoy it when I can take something that existed and borrow part of it for one of my own stories. Steampunk as a genre works well for that in general. In particular, this strange little urban legend helped me add a lot of flavor to my story.


BEL-DemonMachine

Demon in the Machine, out June 15, 2018

At the height of Britain’s Industrial Revolution, steam power and magic join forces to create wonders the world has never seen. But those wonders have a dark side—one that will soon force a reckoning few could have anticipated.

Half-demon Briar is content with her structured life as an archivist, a far cry from the chaos of her background and upbringing. Briar’s simple and predictable existence is rocked when she discovers something sinister powers one of the grand, new inventions of her era.

Isabella Castel, the only daughter of Viscount Sherard, is far from the brainless socialite she pretends to be. Isabella is everything Briar is not: passionate, creative and impulsive, but with secrets to rival even Briar’s own. Two more unlikely partners should not exist, yet if the women cannot find a way to work together, they will lose far more than their reputations.

Can a half-demon and a debutante work past their secrets before all hell breaks loose?

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Demon in the Machine, Meet the Characters: Isabella

Isabella Castel is the only daughter of the Viscount Sherard. While Briar revels in the structure of Victorian society, Isabella chafes against it. She was raised in high society, but her mother is not only American, but also highly unconventional in her own right. However, Althea Castel has learned how and when to disguise her differences while Isabella is still trying to get a handle on that.

When Isabella and her brother Wellington were children, their mother insisted tat Isabella was to have access to all the same schooling and tutors as her brother. Isabella discovered that she had an interest, and even better, a talent in building mechanical things. While her brother gravitated more toward the magical side of tinkering, Isabella gloried in the challenge of creating mechanical marvels using as little magic as possible. She developed a number of tools for around the shop, and designed and built what she calls a jump rig.

She was very careful not to let her father (Joseph, Viscount Sherard) know that she was using the jump rig to help her break into the houses of their peers. After Wellington drained the family resources and was sent to Germany ostensibly for school, but mainly to keep him out of trouble, she began supplementing the family’s resources with burglary. The shady past of Isabella’s mother past came in handy when Althea hatched the plan to keep the family from the poor house.

And so it is that Briar keeps running across Isabella at various high society functions and balls. Isabella plays the brainless socialite while keeping an eye on the expensive baubles of those around her. While Isabella is pretty good at playing her part, she yearns for more from her life than what she has. She and Briar do not hit it off, in fact, Isabella takes delight in tormenting Briar. Things begin to change when they’re forced to work together, and they realize they have more in common than either had thought.


BEL-DemonMachineDemon in the Machine, out June 15, 2018

At the height of Britain’s Industrial Revolution, steam power and magic join forces to create wonders the world has never seen. But those wonders have a dark side—one that will soon force a reckoning few could have anticipated.

Half-demon Briar is content with her structured life as an archivist, a far cry from the chaos of her background and upbringing. Briar’s simple and predictable existence is rocked when she discovers something sinister powers one of the grand, new inventions of her era.

Isabella Castel, the only daughter of Viscount Sherard, is far from the brainless socialite she pretends to be. Isabella is everything Briar is not: passionate, creative and impulsive, but with secrets to rival even Briar’s own. Two more unlikely partners should not exist, yet if the women cannot find a way to work together, they will lose far more than their reputations.

Can a half-demon and a debutante work past their secrets before all hell breaks loose?

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Demon in the Machine, Meet the Characters: Briar

Briar, Briar, Briar… What can I say about Briar? There’s a lot to her, certainly more than most people would guess. Isabella Castel thinks she’s a prude. Isabella’s best friend thinks Briar needs to be rescued from her hum-drum existence. They both know her as Brionie Riley, the somewhat odd employee of the Earl of Hardwicke. What they don’t know is that the very proper Miss Riley is actually a half-demon, and her mother is a succubus.

One of the things I love about Briar is how divided a person she is. Half of her nature is chaotic and all about sensuality and hedonism. She was raised in that environment, with her mother’s people on the infernal plane. The infernal plane is no place to raise a child who might look a lot like the other succubi, but has more in common with her human ancestors when it comes to temperament. She left home for the mortal plane and has been doing her best to quash the demon side of her personality. She embraces order and discipline in direct contravention to the situation in which she was raised. She works hard to eradicate the lack of impulse control her mother’s genes leave in her, and is mostly successful. And if she appears closed off and cold, well it’s only because she is terrified that if she lets go, she will revert to the behavior of her demonic ancestors.

In this world, succubi and incubi are empaths, capable of reading the emotions of others with the slightest touch. Briar shares that ability, but someone who has problems controlling her own emotions has little use for experiencing the emotions of others. Add to that her odd ability to read objects in much the same way, is it any wonder that Briar holds herself apart from most others? The ability to divine information from objects comes in handy for her chosen profession. As an archivist, she can tell which of the materials she handles are related to others. Occasionally, she can even experience events where those items were present. That particular feat can be quite disorienting since things don’t experience the world in the same way as humans, but over the decades she’s become quite adept at interpreting those experiences into something that makes sense to her. It’s an unknown trait among succubi and one her mother would love to breed into their lineage. Briar has other ideas and avoids her family as much as she can, which isn’t too difficult when she’s on the human realm.

Finally, Briar is an accomplished used of demonic magic in the eyes of many humans. She dismisses that particular feat, as demonic magic to her is simply a matter of linguistics and semantics. She grew up speaking and reading the demonic tongue, the same language that twists demonic magic into useful shapes on the mortal realm. As far as she’s considered, she’s simply literate. Her disdain doesn’t stop her from using magic when the situation calls for it, however.

That’s Briar, a bundle of contradictions trying to make her way in the human world and looking for ways she might be happy. She might have grey skin and red eyes, but she’s as human as anybody else.


BEL-DemonMachineDemon in the Machine, out June 15, 2018

At the height of Britain’s Industrial Revolution, steam power and magic join forces to create wonders the world has never seen. But those wonders have a dark side—one that will soon force a reckoning few could have anticipated.

Half-demon Briar is content with her structured life as an archivist, a far cry from the chaos of her background and upbringing. Briar’s simple and predictable existence is rocked when she discovers something sinister powers one of the grand, new inventions of her era.

Isabella Castel, the only daughter of Viscount Sherard, is far from the brainless socialite she pretends to be. Isabella is everything Briar is not: passionate, creative and impulsive, but with secrets to rival even Briar’s own. Two more unlikely partners should not exist, yet if the women cannot find a way to work together, they will lose far more than their reputations.

Can a half-demon and a debutante work past their secrets before all hell breaks loose?

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Demon in the Machine

BEL-DemonMachineWe’re less than a month out from the release of Demon in the Machine, my latest novel!! This is a f/f steampunk paranormal romance with a bit of a mystery.

I wrote it because I needed an authorial palate cleanser. Five Moons Rising (my previous novel, which is contemporary paranormal) was quite dark, and I decided to try my hand at something that was a lot lighter, at least for me.

The story takes place in late Victorian London, and features steampunk technology that is heavily augmented through the use of demonic magic. Most people can’t view the arcane runes and inscriptions that bend infernal magic into the shape practitioners want it to take. However, those with enough demon blood in their veins, they see a London where glowing characters scrawl across most of the great technological wonders of the day.

It’s against this backdrop that Briar, a half-demon archivist and Isabella Castel, the only daughter of Viscount Sherard, find themselves thrown together to figure out what powers the newest model of horseless carriage. Briar suspects something is very wrong with the new carriages. She doesn’t give Isabella much choice in helping her. Along the way, they discover that they enjoy working together, and they strike sparks of attraction off each other while getting pulled deeper and deeper into the intersections of technology and magic. Not all is as it seems, and they’ll take to the skies and head underground while trying to stem a magical reckoning no one saw coming.

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The long break

Life_preserverMy last post was in July. Ugh. Not exactly what I’d been going for when I promised myself I would be more regular with my blog posts. Unless I’m going to post once every eight months like clockwork… No, better not.

The truth is, last year was difficult for me, as it was for a lot of people. My apologies for anyone who doesn’t want to read about politics, but the fact of the matter is that American politics have affected, and continue to affect, me deeply. It’s hard being part of a minority group under the best of circumstances, and it’s been so very much harder since the disastrous election results of this past November.

I heard someone say that liberals are just upset because we lost. That’s not it. I’ve been on the losing side before, we all have. Bush was annoying; Trump is terrifying. I didn’t have the pang of existential dread go through me in 2001 the way it did in November. I’d braced myself for some backlash after the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling in 2015, but no assuming of crash positions could prepare me for it actually happening. And it continues to happen. The steady erosion of our hard-fought rights, the emboldening of bigots, that creeping, never-ending feeling of dread.

Which is how I ended up in therapy. I had writer’s block for most of 2017. I never thought it would happen to me. After all, I have a ton of ideas for stories. I have enough to keep me occupied for the next 10-15 years, without coming up with new ones. So it’s not that I didn’t know what I wanted to write. I knew very well what I wanted to write, but I couldn’t reach the appropriate mental space for it.

When it comes down to it, I’m a maker. I make things in my real-life job, I write, and I build things, but writing is different. For me, writing requires a certain amount of order in my brain, order that was being regularly disrupted by the malarkey gushing from the White House on a weekly/daily/hourly basis. My therapist says my brain is like a tree, which I can see. One idea sparks others, which branch out and spark still others. She also says that I spend a lot of time delving among the dark roots of that tree. Maybe a little too much time. I happen to disagree. Some of the most interesting things happen in the dark. Bringing them into the light, viewing that struggle to overcome the dark events of our lives is what inspires me to write. I love challenge for the feeling of overcoming it. What is a novel if not one long challenge? And finishing one is a triumph that has little equal.

So what was I to do when I was caught in the dark roots of my imagination? When I couldn’t see how we could move into the light? And that’s why I couldn’t write. I couldn’t see a way through.

Therapy has been helping. I’m learning some coping techniques for the alarms my brain seems prone to raise these days. My therapist says I have generalized anxiety disorder. I think my anxiety is pretty damn specific, given that it wasn’t a problem before the elections. But it’s getting better. I’ve started writing again, though the words aren’t coming as quickly as they have for other books. I’m not sure if it’s because of my writer’s block, my (possibly too) busy life, or the book I’m writing. We’ll see.

For now, I’m continuing with my therapy, continuing with my writing, and trying not to let the hatred and disdain of a vocal minority in our society derail me from doing what I love.

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July is going to be a busy month! I’m heading to a conference, and I’m doing a book reading in Raleigh, and I’m moving. So lots of opportunities for you to hear a reading from Five Moons Rising, my new book. You can also check out the reading I did for The Lesbian Talk Show Podcast. But if you want to hear me live, keep on reading!

gclsI’ll be at the GCLS (that’s the Golden Crown Literary Society) Annual Convention in Chicago next week! I’m really looking forward to this. My first one was last year, and I feel a little better prepared for it this year. At least this time I know to leave room in my luggage for the books I’m going to pick up.

I’m participating in a panel called Not Your Mama’s Paranormal on Thursday, the 6th. This is one I’m really looking forward to. The other panelists are RG Emanuelle, Jeanine Hoffman, D. Jackson Leigh, Alex Westmore, and it’s being moderated by none other than Barbara Ann Wright!

My actual reading is the next day (the 7th for those following along at home). Last year’s experience was great. The audience was super engaged and asked fantastic questions. Best of all, I got to rub elbows with more authors, including the incomparable Lee Lynch (She told me she liked my reading and I about died right there!)

Then of course, there’s the author autograph session. That was fantastic! It was definitely a high point for me, and I’m an introvert. Sessions like that are usually my kryptonite, but the excitement of all the readers rushing around the room to get everyone’s signature, and those who were seeking out their favorite authors, well, it was contagious. I’m looking forward to it again this year.

lgbtlibrarySo that’s GCLS, but that’s not all! I’m doing a reading for the Queer Women’s Book Group at the LGBT Center of Raleigh, or as I like to call it the LGBT Library, since that’s how I know it best. Five Moons Rising is the book for July, so I get to meet with the group, do a reading and chat about the story. It sounds like it’s going to be pretty low key and super fun!

And then the move. We bought a house, so I get to move to my fifth address in five years. My wife promises me this is going to be the last one for a while. So even though I’m sick of moving, I’m excited to be heading to a more permanent address. And there’s the fact that not only am I down to a minimum of stuff (except for my workshop of cosplay-making stuff), I still have the original boxes I moved everything in the past few times. I don’t even have to relabel! So a couple of silver linings there, but I have to try to shoehorn this in around my other stuff.

That’s it for now! Keep it tuned, as I have some exciting news coming up in the next month or so (once the boxes are all unpacked).

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Five Moons Rising is out!!

That’s right, you can get it in your hot little hands. Right. Now! I’m excited (and a wee bit terrified), and I hope you are too.

This book was a long time coming for me. I first started writing it as part of NaNoWriMo. I knew I wanted to write something paranormal. Part of the fun of the paranormal universe is that there are so many different myths and legends to choose from and incorporate, and I was looking forward to doing that. I got to pick and choose what my beasties could do. For example, in this universe, werewolves are not negatively affected by silver. They don’t do much to discourage that assumption, though. Silver makes for crappy weapons, and they’re happy to keep would-be werewolf hunters at a disadvantage.

The other thing I wanted was to write something dark. There are certainly very dark moments in my On Deception’s Edge trilogy, but overall, I see it as a very hopeful story. This one was going to be different. I relished the chance to write about monsters of all stripes, including the human variety. As I wrote it, I came to realize that for my characters being a monster was about the choices they made, not whether or not they were human. I certainly wasn’t looking to make my supernatural creatures cuddly. (In this book, I use the term supranormal instead of supernatural. In terms of the story, it’s a term developed by the government that means those beings that are beyond or who transcend “normal.” After all, if supras are being kept under wraps, there can’t be people wandering around talking about the supernatural all the time.)

So I started writing. A lot. For those of you who aren’t aware, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. (My wife likes to refer to is as FroYoPoMo, though I can never get a straight answer as to exactly what that’s supposed to stand for.) Sadly, my plans for NaNoWriMo were derailed by life, as so often happens. That November was the same month my relationship of fourteen years ended. I had far less than the 50,000 words one has to write to “win” NaNo, but the timing simply wasn’t there.

The following year, things had calmed down significantly, so when November rolled around again, I dusted off the Five Moons Rising manuscript. To my surprise, I really liked what I’d written so far. The first couple of days of NaNo were spent reading it over, which put me at a deficit to begin with. For me, NaNo works best if I write about 1700 words a day. When I start slacking is when I get into trouble, and here I was slacking by getting into my own story. Still, I prevailed and was able to complete NaNoWriMo that year. I wrote my 50,000 words and was most of the way done with my manuscript. Those of you who have read my other work, you’ve probably realized that I don’t do short well. There was definitely some writing that had to be done to complete the story, but that was going to have to wait.

When I wrote my debut novel, Depths of Blue, I had no other demands on my writing time. In fact, I wrote the first draft of the entire trilogy back to back to back. Five Moons was my first experience of having to juggle multiple novels at various points in the publishing pipeline. While I was trying to finish up my latest manuscript, I had to put it aside to work on edits for Heights of Green. By the time I got back to Five Moons, I simply wanted to finish the manuscript. As a result, the pacing felt strange to me, and I really wasn’t certain if I’d written a decent story or not. I put the manuscript aside for a few weeks before starting on revisions, which is pretty typical for my writing process.

After getting the manuscript polished to the point where I felt I had a decent final draft, I sent it off to my publisher and promptly got sucked into edits for Vortex of Crimson, then working on some short stories before starting a new project. (Actually, I started a few new projects, but the one that stuck was Demon in the Machine. Look for that one next year.)

So imagine my surprise when I got Five Moons back for edits and I found that I really liked the story. I’d gotten so sick of it, and the experience of writing it had been so disjointed compared to my first go-around, that I was half convinced it was terrible. It turns out it wasn’t! The big problem during edits is that I’d find myself reading the story instead of working on changes. The more time I spent with Malice and Ruri, the more I fell in love with them all over again. And as usual, my editor (the incomparable Medora MacDougall) had excellent suggestions. With her help, Five Moons Rising became a book I knew I could truly be proud of.

So here she is, finally. My fourth-born, of whom I’m inordinately proud. I hope you’ll come to love her as much as I do.

 

bel-fivemoonsrisingFive Moons Rising, now out!

Unknown to regular citizens, nightmarish creatures lurk in the dark underbelly of human civilization. The presence of these supranormals (“supras”)—werewolves, vampires, demons—is a closely guarded government secret, as is the existence of a cadre of specially engineered Hunters charged with exterminating them.

Code-named Malice, Hunter Mary Alice Nolan was genetically modified and rigorously trained to use her great strength, heightened senses, and killer instincts to track and eliminate supras who prey on the innocent. A loner by choice, her only real link to the human world is her close connection to her mother and sister—until the unthinkable happens…
Ruri Samson has been a werewolf for more than a century and is comfortably situated as the Beta of her peaceful pack. Until she is betrayed by the woman she loves and an evil outsider massacres her Alpha and his most loyal followers. Barely escaping with her life, Ruri is forced to tread the perilous path of a lone wolf while vowing vengeance against the usurper and his minions.

Although these two powerful women should rightfully despise each other, fate will soon compel them to join forces on a dangerous quest to avenge their loved ones—and will ignite a forbidden passion that neither of them ever imagined.

Available directly from Bella Books or Amazon.

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