The Court of Broken Thoughts

“I breathe this empty sigh,
I just read the Court of Broken Knives.”

  • Green Day (Probably)

 

Hey everybody,

So I finished reading Anna Smith Spark’s The Court of Broken Knives today.

Because a few people asked me about it, I decided to share my thoughts here.

As usual, I hesitate to call this a review.

Instead, I will share my thoughts.

It will be biased.

This is something of a divisive book.

Like Mark Lawrence, I have read 5 star and 1 star reviews.

Some delighted people have devoured it in one sitting, and other disgusted people have stopped reading it after a few chapters.

Delight and Disgust.

Now I buy a considerable number of books each year, but I still live on a limited budget so those same reviews inspired me to add it to my Amazon wish list, remove it, and then add it again.

It had actually re-landed high on my wish list when I won it on facebook…

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Made me feel like I received an ARC, it did.

Of course, Brandy and I had just decided to start reading the Stormlight Archive which took a considerable amount of time…

But then I got to it.

Okay… Thoughts time.

Anna Smith Spark (as you can see on twitter) is the self-proclaimed (others have also proclaimed it) Queen of Grimdark Fantasy.

To that I say…

Hail to the Queen, baby.

She is a phenomenal writer.

She uses words like damn Shakespeare (a claim I can make because education reasons).

The book switches tenses a few times between chapters, a fact I thought would jar me, but freakin’ didn’t. Instead, it provided insight and perspective.

Her words, like the broken knives in her courts, are often jarred loose from sentences. Fragmented. Immediate. Repeated. Repeated. Repeated.

It makes the story vital. It gives it a need to be communicated. Urgent.

And there is a lot of urgency. and pain. and death. death. death.

Back to our protags.

Marith – Homicidal banished emo prince. Demon-spawn hellthing. Distant relative of Dragons. Junkie. To quote a friend, “World’s Nastiest Murder Man.” But he is so beautiful.

Thalia – Ex-high priestess. Performed human sacrifices (including children – though none on the page I can think of. As a father with young kids, I don’t know if I could have stomached that). In love (maybe) with Marith. Discovering a whole new world.

Orhan – Government official. Wants to murder the emperor. Ends justify the means kinda guy. Marriage of convenience to a badly disfigured woman (poor thing). Not-so-closeted homosexual in relationship with another government official. Plagued by his conscience.

Chaos ensues.

I can honestly say, I didn’t expect the story to go as it went. To be fair, I didn’t super know where it was going to begin either… I went in with little to no background on the plot.

It kept me guessing…

Or at least I would have been guessing if I wasn’t so busy reading.

My prediction: future authors will rip off her style.

So why 4/5 stars if I loved it?

Because the people I’m barely acquainted with on Facebook are the only people I can tell to read it. I know no one in real life who I think would enjoy it. Well…who would read it long enough to enjoy it. It is a 5 Star Book… [this is an edit while reading through the post. Knocking off a star for that seems stupid. I’m’a just give 5 stars…There. Done.]

It’s brutal. Death is the answer to every problem.

So…if none of that turns you off. Buy it. I gave you the link above. Read it. And then leave YOUR thoughts on YOUR blog…and on Goodreads.

Also, I truly look forward to the sequel.

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Thank you, Miss Smith Spark, for this book.

Not only for the copy you sent me, but also for the story.

You are an exceptional storyteller.

scritch out.

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Boy, that escalated quickly: A Lesson in Facebook Writing Posts

Hey everyone,

Three days ago I posted the following picture on Facebook…

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It seemed like a really cool idea…

Spoilers: It was. I stand by that.

In fact, as I write this someone else just commented.

When I posted it, I didn’t really think about how many I would have to do.
At a guess, I would have said 10.

48. (Including the guy who just commented)

I ended up writing with 49 of them.

Right now, the document I’m storing them in is 9,590 words long and 18 pages.

All fresh ideas and all using names of people I know on Facebook.

My method was simple. I looked at their name, their comment, and thought about what I k new about the person. Then I went with the first image I conjured for them. What came next was a great exercise that took a lot of time but produced some pretty decent work…At Least, I think so. People have been complimentary.

So what am I doing here?

Below you will find all of them…

Yes all of them. It’s a long post.

Feel free to read all of them or none of them.

Ctrl+F and find your name.

Additionally, I have still managed to get in almost 3,000 words in on my current novel as well. So…this hasn’t been ALL consuming.

There are included a few extra ones too. I wrote one for Brandy using the same guidelines and also my friend Bud wrote one for me, which was really sweet (and excellently written I might add).

I’ll add more if they come in.

-scritch out

 

Facebook writing challenge:

  1. Brooke Heintz: It was a brisk night, not unlike the evenings in late autumn when the air smells of fresh earth and burning leaves. The city street was empty save for its one occupant pounding the sidewalk as if her every step would be her last. With a look of consternation, Brooke Heintz carved a path down the road with grim determination and the crackle of her red trench coat rippling in the wind behind her. There was something in the air, she knew. Something ineffable she couldn’t quite put her finger on. Stuffing her hands in her pockets, she felt for her mother’s ancient talisman. There it was, cold as ice against her fingertips, a cruel comfort against whatever spirits had escaped their confines.
  2. Brad Cain: Brad Cain scratched his forehead. The answers were here, he was certain of it. For hours now, he had leafed through voluminous text after voluminous text searching for the secret to his peculiar abilities. Glancing over a column of text for key words and phrases, he caught the word he had been looking for – pyrokinesis. The word gave no further explanation, but it was there. The passage was all but useless, but it gave him hope. He was getting closer.
  3. Aili Huber: “I’m warning you.” Aili Huber said, planting her feet and jabbing the tip of her index finger into the behemoth’s chest. He wasn’t a tall man, but he was thick – like an ox that had learned to walk. With a sneer he laid his hand on her shoulder. I warned you, she thought, her hand snapping it his wrist. In a blur of motion, she struck. Spinning like a dervish, she drove her heel into his knee, her fist into his stomach, and the edge of her hand into his throat. The man collapsed; folded on top of himself like clothes dropping from a line. He wasn’t the first, she thought, and he probably wouldn’t be the last. With one final kick to the fool’s stomach, she strode along into the temple. Being a warrior queen wasn’t always what it was cracked up to be.
  4. Michael Allen Davis: “Two thousand credits,” croaked the Rodian merchant, “Take it or leave it.” My’Kal dayVis didn’t have that kind of money. He was barely scraping by on the few credits he made every week and couldn’t spare one let alone two thousand. But kyber crystals were hard to come by. Adjusting his cloak over his broad shoulders, My’Kal examined the market. Despite being on the outer fringes of imperial space, you could never tell when a Stormtrooper might be looking over your shoulder. Taking a breath through his nose, My’Kal waved his hand on the counter. “You want to sell me the crystal at a fair price,” He said. “I want to sell you the crystal at a fair price,” The merchant echoed. “15% over cost will be fine.” The Rodian struggled for a second before replying. “15% over cost will be fine.” The merchant held out his hand. “Three credits,” He said. My’Kal smiled. The Jedi may be all but dead now, but at least he could power his lightsaber again.
  5. Bud Thompson: The man held up one finger as if to say something profound when something struck him as odd. He had no idea who or where he was. His heart started to race. He had been talking to someone a moment ago, hadn’t he? Where did she go? Had it been a woman? He thought it was a woman. Skimming over his pockets, he searched for anything that might give him a clue as to what he was doing. Other than the Detroit Tigers baseball cap on his head, he wore no other distinguishing article of clothing. Useless. Breathing in deep to steady his nerves, he turned around in a tight circle. On the ground behind him was an open wallet. Kneeling down beside it, he looked at the driver’s license. “Bud Thompson,” he said, “Who the hell is Bud Thompson?”
  6. Justin Winters: “Take me, you bastards,” Justin Winters screamed at the top of his lungs, “Take me!” Flailing his arms over his head like an angry child, Justin waved to the flashing lights in the sky. They hummed for a few moments longer before streaking away through the night sky and leaving the mountaintop in grim silence. He stood, upset and perplexed, as he stared at the vacant place in the sky the UFO had just occupied. Scratching his scalp, he began the long walk home. For fifteen nights, those lights had appeared to him and fourteen times he had followed them. He was getting closer. He could feel it.
  7. Ashley Nicole: Setting her half-empty pint down on the bar, Ashley Nicole scrunched her nose. What was that smell? The bar she frequented every Thursday night wasn’t famous for its hygiene, but it wasn’t known for smelling like shit either. Spinning slowly on her stool, she looked around. Aside from the old man half-asleep in the corner, the place was empty. Most places were at 3 a.m. Dropping down from her seat, she followed the scent. It seemed to grow stronger the closer she came to the kitchen. She’d never looked back there despite ten years of consistent patronage. Pressing the door open after a cautious glance through the glass window, she stepped inside. Her breath caught in her throat. Bill the cook was sprawled out on the ground, his intestines torn from his body and splayed out over the tile floor like ivy creeping up the side of a house. The waitress squatted over him, rifling through his guts. Stepping back slowly, Ashley tried to walk backwards through the door. A loud clanging behind her alerted the waitress. The woman’s head rose slowly, like an animal expecting its master. Her face was polluted by viscera and her eyes were completely black. “Mistress?” The waitress asked as Ashley turned and ran.
  8. Elizabeth Henry: “I’ll bite,” Elizabeth Henry said, folding her arms and gesturing to the man with her chin, “How do you do it?” The magician before her flashed a smile showing too many teeth as he stepped down from the platform. “You know what they say about magicians who reveal their secrets.” He said as he grew closer. “No. What?” Elizabeth replied. “Nothing.” He said, leaning down in front of her. This close, she could feel his breath on her face. It smelled like rotting fish. Waving her hand before her nose, she dispelled the scent before extending her arm. Careful to avoid the touch, the magician backed away with arms outstretched. “If no one can guess my method,” He shouted, his voice growing just a little hoarse, “you must assume I can do magic!” Elizabeth grunted, folding her arms. Just because she hadn’t figured him yet didn’t mean he could do magic. The Magus Academy’s tests were infallible, and they didn’t recruit just anyone. Deciding to give the man a few more minutes, she shifted in her seat and braced for another sleight of hand trick.
  9. Ann Celeste: The clouds swirled, sucked down into the vortex and distilled in the vial. Once her servant had secured the stopper, Ann Celeste lowered her ancient staff. The concoction wouldn’t last long in that small glass vial. She would need to bring it home before the drought wiped out the last of her people. Staring toward her homeland, a gentle breeze rippled her flowing white and blue robes; regalia she wasn’t certain she deserved anymore. Cloud-callers weren’t as powerful as the legends had led her to believe. She supposed if she could still provide her people with water, it would have to be enough for her.
  10. Stephanie Spence: “Sweep the leg.” It was a quote she knew all too well. Growing up, Stephanie Spence had watched The Karate Kid more times than she could count. Standing opposite her opponent, the line echoed now in the recesses of her mind. The woman she fought was one of the best she had ever seen, but she left her plant leg exposed every time she kicked high. Drawing the woman’s attention toward her face, Stephanie went low, her brown hair whipping behind her back. The woman saw the attack unfold but could nothing. Her snap kick was committed. Stephanie swept the leg.
  11. Lindsey Douglas: The pictures before her were grim. No worse than she was used to, but bad enough to keep her up at night regardless. Thirty-eight stab wounds, she counted. Standing between her desk and the corkboard, Lindsey Douglas examined the photos from the crime scene. Tapping her thumbnail against her teeth, she poured over them pixel by pixel looking for something she missed. This was excessive. Anger? Maybe. Passion? Perhaps. But there was something else. A green deterioration she hadn’t noticed around one wound in the right ribcage. Her heart raced and breathing stopped. Poison. A poisoned blade? Her partner and captain would call her crazy. The toxicology report had already come back negative, but if this was the Water Moccasin again, or even a copycat, dozens of people could die. Pulling back her hair, she sat down at her desk. She had work to do.
  12. Tim Unis: “I will eat your soul!” The succubus screeched. Any ordinary man or woman would have buckled beneath that call, drawn in by the demon’s irresistible allure. Tim Unis was no ordinary man, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t play along. “It’s yours,” Tim whispered, “my queen.” The warped monster pulled its bloated body toward him like wet cloth drawn across stones. Sucking and squishing, it wormed closer and closer to him. He had yet to meet the hell-beast that could survive a silver-tipped bolt fired at point blank range. Most of the time it was the only way to kill the bastards. Within a hair’s breadth from him, Tim lunged back, drew his crossbow, and shot the succubus between the eyes. Its tongue lolled out of its mouth and it fell with one last squelch. “Not today, I guess.” He shrugged, shouldering Doombringer, the weapon of the gods.
  13. Amanda Grah: “Oh, I’m definitely stealing this.” Amanda Grah whispered, inching closer to the glass case of relics. The glass contained no less than thirty pieces of jewelry – crowns, bangles, and earrings mostly with an odd pendant or two. For the most part, these were useless. There was something else though buried beneath the pile. Amanda wasn’t even certain what it was, but it contained a fair amount of magick. Ignoring the Don’t Touch Glass sign, Amanda touched the glass, drawing in the power through her palms. Her cheeks flushed as she exhaled, the magicks warming her chest. A siren sounded above her and guards shouted indistinct commands in a language she couldn’t understand. Expending the magick here in the room she stole it seemed a perfectly good waste of resources. “Guess I’ll just have to fight my way out.” She mumbled, summoning her twin daggers from the immaterial universe. Thinking about the magicks in her chest, she flung herself at the nearest guard. It was worth it, she supposed, to keep the reserve. New Rome wouldn’t be rebuilt in a day.
  14. Benjamin Erikson: Benjamin Erikson adjusted the fur of his wolfskin cloak to better keep the cold off his neck. No point getting sick while standing guard duty. It had rained now for three straight weeks without a break. The wet would be bad enough if it also hadn’t been just cold enough to keep the water from freezing. He would take snow over rain any day of the week. The overcast clouds set the sprawling landscape beyond the castle on edge, cast in endless hues of black, white, and gray. Clutching the sword at his side, he studied the horizon. In the ten years since he took up his post, he had seen no one other than the guards who relieved him every night, and he was beginning to think no one else existed in those lands to the south.
  15. Livvie Owens: Every day felt a burden. The putrid green Sun beat down on the horizon making everything look sickly. How many days had it been since the Great Merging of Worlds? That’s right. Twenty-two. It had been just over three weeks since the world essentially ended. Livvie Owens was a survivor. She had always considered herself one, but this was different. As far as she knew, she was only one of fourteen to have survived that final, fateful day when the Metacurians had brought their world into ours. At the very least, she consoled herself with the knowledge they’d been wiped out too.
  16. Danielle Andrukitis: This wasn’t Danielle Andrukitis’ first rodeo. In fact, it was her nineteenth. Rodeo was also a pretty loose term in regards to what she was doing. Was she wearing a cowboy hat? Sure. Jeans? Yes. Holding a saddle? Check. She was also on the back of a Sztrrian Deathbeast, suspended upside down in a water-tank. For the worst riders, survival meant a month’s rations. For the best, it meant riches she couldn’t imagine. Danielle was stuck somewhere in between. Adjusting the strap on her impervious glasses, she made the “ready” gesture to the umpire. Just one more ride, she told herself. She always told herself that. It was more of a mantra than a promise. Just one more ride.
  17. Lauren McDonald: What was it her father had called her? Gifted. That’s what it was. If she was being honest, Lauren McDonald had never felt gifted. Now more so than ever, drenched in the blood of the Thousandfold Legion. Who knew there could be so much blood in a man? The rage had taken her again. She knew it had. She knew this because she couldn’t remember killing anyone. But here they lay just the same. Dead by her hand. Letting her axes drop, she wiped some of the blood from her hands on the back of her leather jerkin and chainmail skirt. These were the only areas unmarred by gore. Looking up at the horizon, she caught a glimpse of someone looking down at her from the hillside. That would be her father, she supposed. Gifted, he had called her. Gifted.
  18. Steve Zook: The merchant life wasn’t for everyone. Long days and nights aboard countless freighters traveling between star systems was a tedious lifestyle. Steve Zook, however, loved it. It afforded him the luxury to do something his father and his grandfather before him had longed dreamed of doing. Exploring the universe. Tucking his plasma pistol into the folds of his red, silken sash, he leaned back against his rough woolen sack. What was in there again? He barely knew these days. He had been across ten galaxies in as many days and hadn’t slept for more than three hours at any given time. Exhausted, he closed his eyes. In just under twelve hours, he would finally be home with whatever his journey had provided for him; a few trinkets and a fair amount of wealth. It was going to be a good year in the Zook household. It would be indeed.
  19. Tiffany Hornak: Something sharp stuck Tiffany Hornak in the side. It was different than the pains she felt whenever she ran hard. This was something else. Hissing, she slowed to a stop and pressed her hand to the source of the pain. Taking it away, she saw blood. Looking around, she searched for signs of an attacker. There was none. Was this just another part of the game? Removing her virtual reality helmet, she looked around the gaming pod. It was as enclosed as ever, complete with flashing lights and reality enhancing spheres. A thin trickle of blood leaked from the same spot on her side, oozing through the thin fabric of her jumpsuit. What had happened? Twisting the latch on the pod, she tried to exit. It was locked. That was normal. She couldn’t exit until her training session was complete. Kicking against the door would do no good, she knew. This was Atrium after all. Frowning, she pulled the helmet over her head and logged back into the game. She’d just have to finish as quickly as possible.
  20. Brad Sytsma: The Harlequin Road wasn’t a long walk. Situated between two small towns, the footpath would take only a few hours to traverse. Unless, of course, you were harassed by thieves. The road had become a haven recently for the dregs and lowlifes who had been evicted from the nearby up and coming cities. It is for this reason, Brad Sytsma found himself walking the Harlequin Road. As a child, he had wanted to be a thief. A dashing rogue of myth and intrigue, to be more specific. But with shoulders as wide as a horse and arms as thick an oak tree, he was far better suited as a warrior. A rustle of leaves and few snapping twigs told him he had found some of the outlaws wandering the forest. In three heartbeats, he was surrounded. The men looked hungry, half-mad by the looks of them, and reeking of desperation. There had been far fewer victims as of late it seemed. Unfastening his broadsword from his back with careful precise movements, Brad readied for the attack. Before the blade had left its sheath, the first man attacked. Driving the pommel of the sword into his attacker’s face, Brad thwarted to his right just as the man’s feet went out from under him. Throwing his sheathe to the side, Brad set the flat of the sword against his right shoulder. “Next.”
  21. Adam Ferguson: The highway stretched out before him, splitting the desert in half, and extending into the horizon. Knuckles white on the steering wheel, Adam Ferguson drove his old Buick LeSabre as fast as the old thing could manage without falling apart. At eighty miles per hour, it was already threatening to throw him loose at any moment. The wind tore through the open windows, overpowering the classic rock station he had at full volume. It was difficult to tell, but he thought it might be AC/DC. A sign passed on the right like a streak of florescent green light. He only caught it out of the corner of his eye, but he already knew what it said. New San Diego – 80 miles.
  22. CJ Wood: CJ Wood stared unblinking at her computer screen willing the numbers on the screen to change. When tears started to blur her vision, the reality of what she was seeing began to set in. Embezzlement. On a grand scale. For years. Clicking through form after form, she couldn’t believe no one had ever seen the pattern. Decimal points shifted, zeroes added, bogus accounts created and then deleted. All the evidence was there. “Okay, okay, okay.” She whispered, slapping her cheeks to work some feeling into them. One luxury of her position was the silence and solitude. She had taken to talking to herself to fill that void. “What does it mean?” She found herself saying again and again, “What does it mean?” Did she need to tell someone? The thought turned her stomach. The Federation was notoriously stringent with these types of investigations, and she could end up caught in the crossfire. Perhaps that was why no had ever said anything. Offering the incriminating documents one last look, she picked up her receiver and pressed three. Legal would have to get involved. Groaning, she waited for someone to answer the call. And she had been having such a good day.
  23. Annie Lewis: The duster was just a little too big for her, but she liked it that way. It was black, like the night sky during a storm, and as heavy as water-laden wool. Tying its leather belt around her waist, Annie Lewis fixed her eyes on the approaching tanks. They rolled over the smoldering remains of the old prison which had once harbored some of the hardest and vilest criminals alive. Now they were nothing more than dust. With eyes almost as dark as her jacket, Annie watched those monstrosities roll past her and on to the next town. The soldiers marching along with the vehicles could neither see nor hear her. For all intents and purposes, she was a ghost, and this latest mission had left her feeling like one – yearning for a simpler life she could never have again. Pulling on her leather gloves, she wondered if those desires made her weak. It was only a weakness, she decided, if she allowed someone to use it against her, which was something that could never happen again. With nothing to lose, she followed after the tanks leaving ruin in her wake.
  24. Bri Lindsey: The air was cold and crisp and a fresh layer of snow littered the ground making everything around Bri Lindsey seem new – A brand-new world born of ice. With careful steps she walked the country lane beside her home, embracing not only the cold but also the winter sky. The stars always seemed clearer to her right after snowfall. Out of the corner of her eye, a streak of light caught her attention. Looking in its direction, she beheld a shower of stars unlike she had ever seen before – flashes of blue, then red, and then yellow in quick succession. Gasping, she watched the display with eyes wide and mouth agape. “Lovely, isn’t it?” A tiny voice said beside her. Wonder abandoned, Bri leapt back and turned to the source of the sound. Endless fields of white met her gaze. “Isn’t it?” The same voice asked from behind her. Again, Bri spun around to find nothing. “What the f-” She started to say when the voice returned. “Mother says you shouldn’t speak like that.” Whirling toward the sound, she flung her hand out and smacked something out of the air. “Oof,” cried the voice as it left a tiny crater in the snow. A streak of blue shot out of the ground and hovered before Bri’s face. “Funny,” the shapeless mass of blue light said, “I’d always heard it was good luck to see a human.”
  25. Mary Sepanik: Arranging papers until they were aligned with the very edges of her desk seemed a trivial thing at the moment. The enemy was at the front gate. It had been years since Mark Sepanik had known the heat of battle, but those memories came back all too quickly. The alarm had been raised hours earlier, and she couldn’t help but think if help was on its way, it would have been there already. Strapping her gladius to her belt and removing her shield from its place above the mantle, Mary left her office. The children of Heart Stone Academy were gifted. That much was true, but it wasn’t their time to fight quite yet. The volunteers who trained and taught at Heart Stone were now either fleeing with the children or preparing to hold the courtyard – hoping to give everyone else time to escape. Only as she turned the corner into the courtyard did she realize how woefully unprepared for an invasion the school had been – only nine now stood to fight. But none of that mattered now though. All that mattered was that Mary had set her back to the school, and no one would step foot further than she allowed.
  26. Michael Hammond: Michael Hammond set his elbows on the kitchen table, leaned forward, and pressed his palms together as if to pray. “Let me get this straight,” Michael said, holding down his intense desire to laugh, “you brought three squads and you still couldn’t catch the vigilante?” Earl shook his head. Michael laughed. How could he not? He loved hearing about the struggles of the NYPD – doubly so now that his brother in law was the chief of police. “I’m sorry.” Michael lied, wiping a tear from his eye. “It’s just so stupid.” Earl flushed and stood up, leaving his beer on the table. It must really bother him, Michael thought as he leaned back in his chair and finished his drink. Crushing the can, he threw it toward the garbage can. It bounced twice and then fell to the ground. Scowling at the discarded can, Michael wondered how well Earl would take it when he discovered that the vigilante was his wife.
  27. Jordan Casemier: Ankle deep in a clear blue river stood Jordan Casemier. In the distance a mountain rose from behind a canopy of trees which cast shade over the side of the river. Hiking up her dress, Jordan reached down into the water and ran her fingers over the smooth, mossy stones in search of something she had lost many years earlier. The dreams had told her it would be here. In the same place, she had thrown it as a child. The idea seemed absurd. Of course, the currents had carried it away years before. She just couldn’t live with herself if she hadn’t looked for it. The dreams had just been too real. Standing upright, she let her dress fall back down to just above the water’s surface. Turning to leave, her foot slipped on the edge of a slick boulder and upset her balance. Holding out her arms to catch herself, Jordan stumbled and fell, sending sprays of foamy water in every direction. Sitting upright in the river, she pulled her aching foot out of the water. Around her ankle, dangling like a memory almost remembered, hung her mother’s necklace. The chain was thin, no thicker than a piece of twine, and bore a delicate silver heart pendant with gilded filigree. This was how it happened, she thought. Every night she had lived this moment in her dreams. This was how it happened.
  28. Blake McDaniel: Blake McDaniel held a five iron in one hand and a can of raid in the other. Whatever was holding his golf ball looked like it could handle both with a grin and a smile. The creature wasn’t tall at a foot and a half, but it stood on its rear legs and had sharp serrated teeth stuffed into its large rat-like head. Gesturing to Blake with the ball, the creature’s thin, spiny tail wrapped around its feet. “Mine now. Not yours.” It said, in very broken English. “Ball hit head. Ball mine now.” Blake furrowed his brow. Should he demand the ball back? He always played through. Always. If it had just been a rat, he would’ve gone upside the things head, but this? What even was that thing? “Kobold.” The thing answered his unasked question. “Thing is Kobold. Don’t hit thing. Have ball.” The kobold laid the ball on the ground and then scurried away into the brush. Looking around for witnesses, Blade dropped the can of raid onto the green and walked back to his golf cart. Now that he thought of it, hallucinations had been listed as a side-effect of his pain medication.
  29. Priscilla Coffey: “Excuse me.” Priscilla Coffey said as she bumped into a man on the street. He was of the upper class, she knew, based on his silken attire, knee-high boots, and painted face. With a sneer, he wiped his shirt as if scraping away a week’s worth of grime. Scratching her head, cut short on the sides and left chin-length on top, she held out her gloved hands for alms. The man shook his head in derision, carefully avoiding her plea as he strode away. The moment his back was turned, Priscilla sprinted in the other direction, leaping over hedges and sliding under a porch. Her heart was racing when she finally stopped. Not from the run; she was used to running. Slow thieves didn’t last long on the streets. It was the weight of the purse she had cut from the pompous aristocrat that set her heart to beating. Pulling back the drawstrings on the leather bag, her mind boggled. There had to be at least thirty gold pieces inside. More than enough to buy her a ticket to New Haven with food along the way. After closing the coin purse, she tied it around her neck and looked back out on to the street. When no alarm sounded, she crawled out and cut down an alleyway. Preparations were in order.
  30. Deneje Smith: The blacksmith’s hammer struck the molten metal again and again. Beat, shift, clang. Beat, shift, clang. It was a sound she had grown used to, living beside the shop. Adjusting her apron, Deneje Smith, or Neje as she was known around town, was hard at work preparing dinner for the village guests. The mayor had told her nothing about them other than that they were from quite far away. Secluding herself in the kitchen pantry away from the bustling waitstaff of the Waylock Inn, Neje locked the door behind her and drew a ward against eavesdroppers. On the opposite wall, she drew marks of communication and then infused the lines with power. A face, made of chalk lines and woodgrain, appeared in the center of her runecircle. “Master,” Neje whispered, “There are visitors coming to the Inn. I think they may be the ones you’re looking for.” The woodgrain face smiled. It was the same fatherly expression she knew so well. “I will be there shortly.” Her Master said. “Well done.” A chill ran down her spine as the face, along with the circle, disappeared like a mist dissolving in the air. The Order of Mages had been all but decimated after the War of Undoing. Was it finally time to rebuild their ranks? She could only hope.
  31. Sandy Kirchinger: In the back of the bar, in a room few people knew about, Sandy Kirchinger was shuffling cards. Running her fingers over the sides of the stack, she let her thumb feel the grooves between each card. This wasn’t a room she frequented, but desperation bred necessity. Dealing the cards to the three other occupants of the table, a man in his late eighties, a woman in an elegant blue dress, and a young man of twenty or so years, she readied to make her move. In a plain yellow dress and cat-eye glasses, Sandy was unassuming. A little too memorable perhaps, but certainly not a suspect in a criminal investigation. Laying down the last card, she raised her glasses of champagne. “To the evening.” She said, taking a deep sip and giggling. She didn’t like to giggle but the affectation suited her appearance. The others drank. Fifteen seconds later, they were laid out on the table. Leaping to her feet she collected whatever money she could from their pockets, stowing it away in the lining of her oversized purse. When she reached her seat, she dropped the last tablet in her own glass before gulping it down. No point robbing everyone else if she couldn’t also play the victim.
  32. Brittany Schultz: Setting down the four pitchers of ale she carried, Brittany Schultz shuffled through her apron for the table’s receipt. She recognized the one man. The jagged scar across the right side of his face marked him as William Betton. Wanted in three states, including this one, dead or alive. That would make his friends James Bonny, Ichabod Tell, and Running Bull Malone – four of the deadliest men alive. Like William, they were also wanted; their list of crimes including everything from petty larceny to multiple counts of murder. It has to be said there was a pretty penny to be made on their hides. To say nothing of a reputation, which was something Brittany still needed. Bounty Hunters were paid more for their reputations than their actual work. Placing the receipt on the table, she gave William a smile. The man had eyes like a rattlesnake. Ignoring her, the men pushed their mugs forward in anticipation of being filled. Brittany shrugged off their irritated looks and obliged them. Four men poisoned to death would be bad news for the saloon. Not that it really bothered her any. She didn’t work there.
  33. Brie Roper: The crowd roared as champion Brie Roper scored the last point. The match had gone much as she had expected. Her opponent, Austrian Prince Heinrich Gerschlag, was significantly taller than her and had a corresponding reach advantage. His first point had been scored quick and furious. She had had barely enough time to think let alone parry. Luckily for her, the match was to three. The second and third touches went slower. Heinrich used his reach to maintain distance, but Brie’s parry-riposte was second to none. Something Heinrich learned the hard way when she tagged him square in the chest to score her second touch. At two points to one, she had been a little mean. Rather than just outright beating him, she toyed with him a little, letting him gain advantage until disarming and smacking his bottom. Casting aside his helmet, Heinrich looked irate – his face a red mess of contorted lines and bulging veins. He couldn’t even be bothered to congratulate her; the ass. The very picture of serenity, she offered him her hand. Slapping it away, he said, “You’ve made an enemy this day, Roper.” Brie smiled. “Be mindful of your words, Heinrich,” She replied, “I would hate to see you end up sitting in the hot seat.” The Prince scowled before stomping away like a toddler put in timeout. “Sitting in the hot seat!” Brie called after him. “Because I spanked you!” He didn’t get it. Not a sharp one, that prince of Austria.
  34. Scott Lange: “Scott Lange,” The man repeated into the microphone, “Phone call for Scott Lange. Please see customer service for your phone call. Thank you.” Scott had heard the man. Who in the airport hadn’t really? But he didn’t want to answer. He knew who was on the other line, he knew what that person would say, and he wasn’t ready for that again. He didn’t know if he ever would be. A firm hand on his chest stopped him in his tracks. A like something out of a spy novel, a woman stood in front of him – medium height, black trench coat, black hair, sunglasses and a black fedora. She couldn’t be any more of a stereotype if she tried. Judging by her finely manicured fingernails and the way she planted her feet…No. He was done thinking like an operative. “You missed your call.” The woman said, her hand still pressed against his chest. “Katherine,” Scott whispered, that voice taking the fight out of him, “Not you too.” She used her left hand to remove her sunglasses as she looked up at him. “We need you Scott.”
  35. Philip Monson: Those who didn’t know his name called him, “Silencer, the Ender of Screams.” Everyone else just called him Philip. James Philip Monson sat alone in the corner of Doom’s End Tavern sipping idly from a flagon of mead. He typically refused any alcohol, but this was a special occasion. He was retiring. No one knew this of course, few people even knew he was Silencer, but it was a decision he had reached after careful consideration. Rogues rarely lasted long enough to enjoy the spoils of their lives, and he had a mind to buy an Inn in Loreshire. Grinning into his drink, he imagined hanging up his daggers over the hearth, without reason or explanation, and letting wandering warriors and bards write their own reasons. The vision warmed his heart…or maybe that was the mead. Finishing what was left of the honeyed drink, Philip dropped three gold coins on the table before wandering upstairs. As he approached his room, a strange green glow crept like spiders out from beneath his door. There was something familiar about it. Wrong, but familiar. Kicking open the door, he threw a dagger to the source of the light. A robbed man swept his arm in the air, catching the dagger mid-flight and dropping it to the ground. Beside the man, a large purple phantom with bright yellow eyes lurked like a shadow on the wall. Before the man removed his hood, Philip recognized him; a pale ghost of the man he had known in his youth. A man with a reputation of his own – the warlock, Exandor. “Hello, old friend,” Exandor wheezed, gesturing with his withered hand to his shadowy companion. The door closed behind Philip as Exandor continued, “I need your help.”
  36. Chris Bowser: “Kinda curious about this,” Chris Bowser laughed, twirling the corners of his moustache between his fingers. The thing in front of him was dead. At least, he thought it was dead. Chris had shot it after all. Twice, just to be certain. It was long and lean like a deer but purple with two bright red horns curling back over its head. Nudging it with the toe of his boot, Chris’ brother Marvin nodded. “I think it’s dead.” Chris dropped his rifle to one hand before adjusting the strap and slinging it over his shoulder. Crouching beside the dead animal, he asked, “What do you think it is?” Marvin shrugged. “Painted deer?” Chris shook his head. He didn’t know why he bothered asking his brother anything. The man was an idiot. Standing upright, he surveyed the area; nothing but trees and fallen leaves for as far as he could see. Looking back down at the alien deer, Chris wondered if it was even edible.
  37. Emily Hall: It had been twenty-seven days since Emily Hall had started at the Red School. Almost four weeks, and they still had no idea she was a spy. Technically speaking, she supposed they did; just not the kind they were infamous for producing. Walking the bleak white-washed hallways of the school, Emily memorized everything she saw. Three doors on the right, two on the left, no posters, boards, or pictures on either wall. The former hospital was designed to puzzle and disorient. The absence of familiar markings not only nurtured confusion, but it also forced its students into a heightened state of awareness lest they get lost. Taking one final right, she stalked toward her next class, Tactical combat. It had been something of a specialty of hers during her CIA days and feigning ignorance had proven to be a challenge. She would need to work harder. With only two weeks until extraction, she still had next to no valuable intel.
  38. Jacqueline Frid: “Just try me,” Jacqueline Frid said, lowering her halberd and planting her feet. Jacqueline wasn’t a tall woman by Anaminian standards, but then again neither was the rock goblin standing across from her. The tiny monster stood only as high as her waist but held a wicked looking dagger in each hand. Her halberd would be little use if that thing managed to get within distance, but as long as she kept it away…It lunged. Back-peddling, she jabbed a wild thrust at the goblin’s chest. It parried and scrambled to her right, trying to flank her. Spinning the halberd in a wild arc over her head, she chased the goblin with the axe head. The blade found its mark in the back of the goblin’s neck, sending it careening to the ground. With one final twist, the goblin shuttered and then lay still. She hadn’t been looking for a fight in the abandoned mines, but one had found her; and judging by the flickering lights, it wouldn’t be the last.
  39. Jeán-Marie Cheney: Cracks of thunder broke the demure silence of the castle between intermittent flashes of lightning. Standing in the stone archway between her chambers and the terrace, Jeán-Marie Cheney held a half-filled crystal chalice watching the shadows of the world dance and flutter before the roiling might of the storm. Nursing the last of her drink, she wondered at the peculiar twist of fate that led her guests to seek shelter in her home. Tucked away deeply in the Black Forest, it was no easy journey to find her, and it seemed unlikely they would run out of gas on their way to…where? What was on the other side of the forest? She didn’t know anymore. She hadn’t left her home in centuries. With her stockpiles full, there hadn’t been a need. There still wasn’t a need. However, there was the hunger. Stronger and more compelling than she had felt in years. This vile substitute she had concocted was a pale substitute for the real thing and with such fresh subjects…If only she could…No. No, she wouldn’t. Setting aside the chalice, Jeán-Marie drifted from her chambers toward the hall, her crimson dress flowing around her like the storm clouds approaching the castle. The hunger was still there, lurking like a wolf in the underbrush, but she was stronger than it. At least, she hoped she was.
  40. Breezy Squires: Breezy Squires was very good at her job. At twenty years old, she was the youngest member of the king’s livery but was already garnering a reputation as the king’s favorite groom. Brushing the coat of the king’s warhorse, Stormfeather, Breezy hummed to herself quietly. Stormfeather had seemed uneasy when she’d started and the tune calmed him. It was a song she remembered from her childhood spent in the rolling hills of Loreshire. The king would be leading a charge soon, Breezy suspected. Stormfeather seemed to have a sense about these things. Before she had even finished, an alarm sounded in the square. Not the call to battle. That would have been the church bells. This was different. “The Barbarians are through the gate!” A voice rang out. The Stable Master rounded the corner and sprinted in to the nearest stall. “Get out of her, girl!” He shouted, mounting up without a saddle. “What’s happening?” Breezy shouted back. The tumult was growing closer. “They’ve killed the king. The walls are breached.” he said guiding the horse toward the exit. Breezy looked at Stormfeather. His languid eyes reflected her panicked face back at her. After pushing open the stall door, she pulled herself upon his back. “Run.” She whispered, grabbing ahold of his mane. Stormfeather trotted out of the stables and into the street. The city was in chaos. Billows of smoke and flames dominated the horizon to the south. Stormfeather turned north and galloped through the city streets. The Stable Master had never told her what to do in this situation. It wasn’t supposed to happen.
  41. Sophia Medawar: Driving the point of her small sword a fraction of an inch into the man’s chest, Sophia Medawar smiled. A little more pressure would send the point into his heart. “Why are you doing this?” He cried; sweat dropping down his forehead and slicking his blonde beard. Sophia paused. She had just assumed the Duke of Elwor would recognize her when she found him. Her eyes were her father’s, her hair was her mother’s, and photographs showed the resemblance to her sister. “Medawar,” Sophia said, maintaining the pressure on her sword, “You remember that name?” The Duke blinked and furrowed his brows. His eyes glazed over as he seemed to look more through Sophia than at her. His mouth fell open. “Sophia.” He whispered. “You’re supposed to be dead.” Turning her wrist, she brought a scream to his lips. “No.” She said, pronating her hand and driving the point in through his back. His face paled and in moments went slack. For years, she had chased him. Revenge had been all she wanted, but now…she felt hollow. Pulling her blade free, she hastily wiped it clean on a cloth; the red spreading and staining the white cotton. Dropping the handkerchief on his lifeless body, she sheathed her sword. A quarter of her life she had spent on revenge. Without that, she didn’t know what to do next.
  42. Kayla Simmons: The fire cracked and popped, sending sparks like fireflies spreading toward the starry sky. Across from Ronin Ludred, Kayla Simmons sat on a log studying his face. She wanted to remember every line and scar that marked him so she could accurately sketch him later. “I know we aren’t that close,” Kayla said, tucking a stray strand of red hair behind her ear, “But I’d like to ask you something.” Ronin shrugged as he stoked the fire. Not much of a talker, Ronin was. “People say you’ve slain over a thousand men. Is it true?” Ronin shrugged again. Kayla could see that getting annoying. “Ronin,” She said, clutching her notebook to her chest, “if I’m going to compose for you there are some things I’ll need to know. I can’t just watch you and write.” Ronin looked up at her, the intensity of the fire reflecting in his eyes fitting the stories already told about him. “Fifty-six,” He whispered, his voice so hoarse she could hardly hear it, “I’ve killed fifty-six men.” Fifity-six wasn’t a thousand, but it was quite a tally. Opening her book, Kayla started to write.
  43. Ashley Ward: After licking her fingertips, Ashley Ward continued to count the money; each crisp dollar bill scraping against the one beneath it like dead leaves blowing across an empty street. It wasn’t a duty, she particularly enjoyed. This wasn’t her money. It belonged to the Baroness – a woman both feared and reviled from Egonetta to Loreshire. Working for the Baroness had proven to be less fearsome than Ashley had first imagined. Although she had started as a simple maid, she had worked her way through the staff until she was one of the few people the woman trusted; trusted enough, at least. Ashley wasn’t certain the Baroness trusted anyone. How could she? There had been at least two assassination attempts on her life in the last month alone. That was the price of power, she supposed. Dropping the last dollar bill on the desk, Ashley put her hands on her hips. The money was supposed to be locked away as soon as it was counted. No point risking idle hands slipping in. Ducking beneath the desk, Ashley retrieved the metal box. After locking up, it would go in the vault the Baroness kept behind her painted likeness over her bed. Setting the box on the chair beside the desk, Ashley froze. The money was gone. Frantically, she looked around the room, her heart pounding. It had just been here a moment ago. Was it under the desk? No. Was there a breeze from an open window? No. There were no windows in the Baroness’ office. Starring at the vacant place on the desk, Ashley swallowed hard. Everyone would assume she had stolen it. Even if she remained to explain what happened, no one would believe her. Unconsciously, her hand went to her throat. The Baroness did not suffer traitors. She would need to run.
  44. Andrea Kennedy: Standing on the edge of the precipice, staring down into the murky blackness of the caves, Andrea Kennedy said, “This is a really cool idea.” After adjusting her helmet strap so it fastened tightly to her chin, Andrea tugged on the rope attached to her harness. Everything felt secure. This wasn’t the first time she had gone cave diving by herself. She preferred it actually. That way, she wouldn’t have to share anything she found. To be fair, she hadn’t found a great deal of treasure in the four years she had been diving, and the small amount she found was deposited right back into diving in the form of new equipment. Lowering herself slowly into the darkness, Andrea kept her eyes fixed on the wall in front of her, using her legs to maintain balance as she let the rope slide through her hands. After a few minutes, she stopped. A sound from above caught her attention. Her rope jumped and then she was falling. The wind howled around her head. She flailed, trying to grab anything. The ground met her hard, knocking the wind out of her. To her surprise, the ground felt soft, almost like moss but with more spring to it. Sore but unbroken, she titled her head back to cast her headlamp to the ceiling. The light from the cave’s entrance was a faint circle hundreds of yards away. Forcing down an urge to panic, she examined her surroundings. It was unlike anything she had ever seen.
  45. Katherine McInerney: The audience in the coliseum was under normal circumstances rowdy. Now, they were a sea of roaring sailors, weeping women, and screaming children. The Queen had thrown her hat into the ring. It was a wide hat, gilded in the shape of a crown, and bearing the sigil of the McInerney house. Standing before her throne on the raised pedestal, Queen Katherine raised her arms to silence the tumultuous throng. In seconds, she held the attention of every eye and ear in the place. “Zhar’Vhug,” She said, speaking with authority of her office, “You have bested our greatest champions. You have fought lions and bears to prove the strength of your people.” Zhar’Vhug grinned; showing his filed triangular teeth. “My people will crush you.” He said, wiping spittle on the back of his wrist. Stepping over the railing, the queen dropped twenty-feet onto the battlefield as easily as if she would have stepped down from a carriage. “Then you should have no trouble with me.” She said, offering him a broad smile. Zhar’Vhug gaped, reaching for the mighty axe strapped to his back. “Don’t be a fool,” He bellowed when his senses returned, “Surrender your people.” Katherine’s smile remained as she strode toward the brute, alone and unarmed. Few of those in the audience knew what was going to happen. Most were too afraid to watch. Zhar’Vhug sprang forward, whether to attack or intimidate, it mattered not. Katherine crossed her wrists so that each palm faced a different direction and then rotated them. Zhar’Vhug froze in place, suspended off the ground. His eyes twitched back and forth in his skull, searching for answers. Holding her hands in place, Katherine traversed the space between them and stood beneath his outstretched axe. Her smile faded. “You come here and make demands. You threaten and insult my name, my home.” At the turning of her wrists again, every muscle in Zhar’Vhug’s body tightened. With a single sharp motion, Katherine turned and drove her hands toward the ground. The enormous man vanished. The crowd watched their Queen in silence as she casually glanced through the open roof. Someone screamed. Zhar’Vhug fell from the sky and hit the ground, bouncing once and then laying still. “Let them come.” She said, her smile returning as she left the coliseum in a state of exultation.
  46. Dan Robbins: Looking down at the twisted blade in his hand, Sir Daniel Robbins could hardly believe it had once been his best sword. Casting it aside, he drew the dagger he kept sheathed in his boot. Leaving his armor at home had been a mistake. Sir Daniel had made the assumption a wyvern, being half the size of a dragon, would be easy enough to kill for one of his ability. He was wrong. With acidic blood, the wyvern, even with a hole in its chest, was every bit as deadly as anything he had ever faced. Perhaps, more so. Rearing back on its hind legs, the wyvern beat its wings downward, creating a gale that drove Daniel to his knee. Forcing himself to his feet, Daniel rushed the beast, slipped under its wing between beats and dove for its back. That was something he couldn’t have down in plate. Grabbing ahold of the spines protruding from its back, he hauled himself up. Ascending the wyvern’s back, Daniel found, was much like climbing a ladder, if the ladder was trying every moment to dislodge and eat him. Eventually, he found the spot he was looking for; a bit of soft flesh between the eyes and ear holes. With a grunt of exertion, he drove the blade in. The creature shrieked like a hundred wailing children suddenly startled by an approaching storm. Leaping from its back, Sir Daniel tucked into a ball just before hitting the ground. The monster fell a few feet behind him, whimpering as it took its final breaths. Watching the beast die, Sir Daniel felt a pang of remorse. His was not the way of death but of protection. There would be one safer village tonight, and he found solace in that.
  47. Brad Ziegler: Beakers boiled and Bunsen burners seethed in the laboratory of Dr. Brad Ziegler sending a fluorescent multi-colored mist wafting to the ceiling. Adjusting his safety goggles and tugging his rubber gloves, he sensed he was close. His colleagues at the academy thought he was insane, and his ex-wife had called him…What was the word? Oh, what did it matter? He thought of himself as driven. For years he had worked now on unlocking the mysteries of the universe. Not just on the secrets of matter and energy, but of the secret world beneath our own permeating existence itself. A sharp ding told him the timer had gone off. Half-skipping, Brad made his way to the vial. The vial which would hold all the answers. Using a set of tongs, he removed it from its flame and set it before him on the table. It bubbled and boiled inside the glass container, churning and broiling as if it would climb out of the vial on its own. With eyes wide, he watched it settled and cool. According to his calculations, it would be safe to drink in a matter of minutes. The time crept by, minutes dragged out into hours, until finally he could stand it no longer. Hoisting the glass above his head, he offered a toast, “To you Julia! In Vino Veritas,” before drinking the elixir in three large gulps. Although it was scalding, he was unburned, although his throat tickled a little. Exhaling deeply, he closed his eyes and prepared for the shift. When he opened them again, he was face to face with a large creature comprised of eyeballs. He leapt back. The room was full of them. “Hello,” He said, offering them an awkward wave, “I’m new here. Can anyone tell me where the bathroom is…I think I’m going to hurl.”
  48. Addison Roberts: Rows of trees like columns of sentinels stood throughout the orchard. Stretching out with his considerable reach, Addison Roberts plucked a perfect bright red apple from its perch and handed it to the child who walked with him. There was an eighteen year age difference between him and his half-brother but that never seemed to bother either of them. Their walks had become something of a weekly ritual. “Have you thought much about what will happen when father dies?” Aylen asked, crunching into the apple’s crisp skin. “Don’t say things like that.” Addison scolded his brother. It was bad luck to talk of the king’s death. Although he trained every day of his life for inevitably, he still didn’t like to think about it. As high-prince and heir apparent, Addison’s entire life had been spent in preparation to assume the Crystal Throne. “There’s time enough for that.” Addison said, softening his tone when he noticed his brother’s embarrassment. “You won’t send me away, will you?” The boy asked, still gnawing on the fruit. “I’ve read in books that new kings don’t like their brothers.” Addison chuckled. “Of course I won’t send you away. You’re my brother.” This seemed to placate Aylen as they continued their walk. In the distance, a rider approached, wearing the insignia of the King’s personal guard. They weren’t supposed to be away from the king. A chill ran down Addison’s spine as the rider drew closer. “Stay behind me.” He whispered, guiding Aylen with his hand. “Your majesty,” The rider said as he brought his horse to a halt, “you need to come with me.” Addison nodded. “What’s wrong, soldier?” The man looked nervous, glancing at Aylen. “Its…your father, highness.”
  49. Brandy Steel: Brandy Steel felt the rope in her hand; its braided strands tightly woven for strength and ease of use – the work of an expert craftsman. Twenty feet or so in length, she suspected it didn’t need to be that long for what was needed. She was the executioner’s daughter, and it was her responsibility to turn this rope into an implement of death. Tying nooses had never bothered her before. It had been expected she would continue her father’s work once he passed away. This was the way of things in the kingdom and tying the knot had been her very first lesson. This rope, however, unsettled her as she manipulated it into shape. Never did she imagine having to tie the knot for her father’s murderer. Tears streamed from her red, sleep deprived eyes, making her work that much harder. Her mother had asked if she could manage to do it alone. She could. She didn’t have a choice in the matter. This was her job now. Cinching the knot, she let it drop to the ground. She’d need to have it ready for tomorrow’s execution when she’d kick the stool out from under that man. Thoughts of revenge did her no good. She just wanted her father back.
  50. John Scritchfield by Bud Thompson.

    “John?”

    A softened voice, filled with tenderness tinged with… with what? Apprehension? Frustration? Concern? Anger? The voice itself is not sure. But it reaches out anyway, into the room whose only other audible occupant is the clicking of keys coming from the desk area.

    The voice’s eyes search the back of a head, looking for any sign that it has been heard. It sees none. Now the eyes share the ambivalent mix of feelings that plague the voice. Trying to ignore a siren song of rising panic in the distance, the voice reaches out again.

    “John?”

    Was it louder? More insistent? More forceful? More agitated? It didn’t mean to be any of those things. It loves him. It doesn’t want to annoy him… but… (Hear the slightly louder siren song.)

    “Yes, honey?”

    A sigh of relief.

    “Are you almost done?” The voice didn’t mean to let that tone of desperation in.

    “Almost. I promised them that I’d write a novel intro for ANYONE who commented on my post. Who knew I had this many friends on Facebook? Besides, it’s a good… writing…exercise…” The last words are sailors leaping from a ship that is going down into an abyss it sought to find.

    “Well, I’m happy that you have so many friends, and I hope the exercise has been (each feeling in the ambivalent mix shouts out a word) helpful. But honey, it’s been days.”

    “I only have a few dozen to go.”

    He cannot hear the murmur of despair over the clicking keys.

 

 

Kings of the Wyld: A Review(ish)

Hey everybody,

I have an absurd fantasy in regards to writing. Skip this if you already know it.

I want to write someone’s favorite book.

I want someone to come up to me one day and say something along the lines of…
“I’ve never read anything like this before. This is my favorite book.”
(Maybe not that stilted, but you get the point).

I would then say (or sign the book):

Dear So-and-so,
I wrote this for you.

Nicholas Eames doesn’t know this yet, but…

He wrote Kings of the Wyld for me.

I don’t do book reviews often, and in the 3ish years I’ve been inconsistently blogging, I think I’ve review maybe one (maybe two. More to come hopefully).

But I feel compelled to tell you about this FREAKING AMAZING BOOK.

Do you like Fantasy? Read this book.

Do you like Rock n’ Roll? Read this book.

Do you like heroes with heart who have deep and meaningful character arcs? 

Read. this. book.

I will buy two more copies by the end of this year to give as gifts. I kid not.

So where to begin…

So. Kings of the Wyld is a one part Led Zeppelin Reunion Tour, Two Parts Dungeon & Dragons, and One Part Action-Comedy. The humor is never overdone, but often serves to undercut heroic fantasy expectations where the heroes are set up to do something awesome, but falter due to age, alcohol, or just being rusty. Also, SOOOOO many allusions to classic rock songs: A few chapter titles (Rambling On comes to mind), Character names (There’s a Layla in there, and a Sabbatha – Which makes me think of Encino Man era Pauly Shore introducing someone to Black Sabbath-uh), and so many others that I should have highlighted when I read them and chuckled to myself. There are also some meta-ish references to the likes of Lord of the Rings (just certain lines that ring reminiscent of Tolkien).

The story concerns itself with Clay “Slowhand” Cooper, the bassist…I mean…a member of the legendary band of mercenaries, SAGA (who I recently bad a badge of for an ill-fated badge contest).

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Ask Michael McClendon over at Booknest. He’s got my back…I was robbed. I would wear the hell out of this.

Clay has resigned himself to a comfortable life in the countryside with his adorable wife and daughter when the ex-leader of Saga, Robert Plant…I mean, “Golden Gabe” Gabriel shows up asking for Clay’s help rescuing his daughter-turned-mercenary, Rose, who has gotten herself trapped on the far side a fantasy-monster infested forest in an ancient stronghold by a giant horde of said fantasy hell-monsters.

 

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Golden Gabe circa Saga’s glory days…Not really…This is Robert Plant holding a sword. My google images search kung-fu is strong.

Gabriel has gotten it into his head that the only way to save his daughter is to reunite their legendary band and go after her, which after a change of heart (which is too character driven to talk about) Clay agrees to.

Together they pick up the rest of their band mates, who I will describe as the following:

Matrick Skulldrumer (the drummer), the murderous rogue turned fat-drunken king.

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John Bonham. I’d say Neil Pert, but Matrick reminds me more of this late great drummer.

Moog (The synth/keyboard man), the eccentric wizard suffering as he tries to cure the incurable disease which claimed his husband (Freddie). I can only assume Freddie is a reference to the greatest rock vocalist of all-time, Freddie Mercury and his battle with HIV/AIDS.

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I use Ray Manzarek because I don’t know keyboardists well and his work in The Doors is the only part of the band I love.

Ganelon (On Lead Guitar/Axe), the greatest warrior possibly ever who has been…ya know what? I’m not telling you where he is because HE IS FREAKING AWESOME.

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I’m gonna go with two guitarists to describe him because in attitude he reminds me of Slash (But I also think Slash is largely overrated) So…

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Slash is he could play like Jimi.

And finally, our protagonist, Clay Cooper, who I’ve already described above as the bassist of the band…

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John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin but crossed with a BEAR.

Clay is the heart and soul of Saga. Gabriel is the frontman, but it’s Slowhand that moves the song along with his steady bassline. They follow Gabe, but Clay is the reason they follow. The monster who chose to be a good man.

Kings of the Wyld hit me on multiple levels.

As a lover of classic rock and a loather of some current bands like…
The Screaming Eagles. I don’t know. They’re just who I thought of. A band with a lot of glitz and glam but lacking the substance of the old. They scream, they shout, they are the fallen angels, but does anyone REALLY care? Are we going to be listening to this song in 40 years? I think not.

As a fantasy fan and novice Pathfinder player.

And most importantly as a father.

If it one of my sons…Nothing would stop me.

If I haven’t convinced you to buy and read it yet, let me add this…

In a year where I have read: The Broken Empire Trilogy by Mark Lawrence, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis, The Man Who was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark, Two Dresden Books by Jim Butcher, Two Wheel of Time books by Robert Jordan, and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles freakin’ Dickens…

This has been my favorite read.

I’m hard pressed to say it’s my favorite book of all-time. I think time will tell that (and we’ll see how good Bloody Rose is)…

But!

I’ve never read a book before where I wanted to start it all over again when I was done.

It was like some of my favorite go-to movies.

They’re not my favorite movies of all-time, but there’s a reason I return to them.

I will return to Kings of the Wyld.

I will buy Bloody Rose.

I will buy whatever the hell else Nicholas Eames writes.

Because it is that freakin’ good.

Buy it.

Read it.

– Scritch out.

 

August State of the Blogger

Hey everyone,

So I’ve had a busy series of months.

Quick recap.

  1. We bought a house and moved there.
  2. I auditioned for, was cast in, and then played the part of Glenn Cooper in Rumors with Shadblow Theatre in Jenison, Mi.
  3. I’ve done less reading and writing than I would like
  4. Went on a mini-vacation to Double JJ Resort

Staring back at me, it looks like a lot less than it seemed…

Anyway,

As I mentioned months ago, I entered my first novel, The Last Days of the Wanderer, in a small competition hosted by Mark Lawrence (whose books you should buy).

My novel (as expected) did not make it out of the first round.

HOWEVER!

It did receieve a mini-review from Jared over at Pornokitsch who read the first 50 pages or so. His review is as follows:

Two brothers take the Old Road, looking for hope/adventure/survival. While exploring an abandoned city, young Alex falls through the ruins and finds a powerful pair of gauntlets. Adorned with his new abilities, he heads out to find his now-missing brother. Another suitably bleak depiction of the post-apocalyptic future, complete with shadow monsters, giant mutants and the like. The first part of this book was a little confusing, as Alex bounced (or fell) (or flew) from one moment to the next, and – despite visions and flashbacks – the underlying motivation was never quite clear. Another one that reminds me of the MG/YA SF novels, like Heinlein’s ‘juveniles’, in which things quickly bounced from one adventurous set-piece to the next.

On a scale of, “The Next Tolkien” to “Total Hack who should never write again,” I think it falls somewhere around, “Eh…it’s fine.”

Which, believe it or not, I was still pretty excited about considering I’ve written two novels since and the one I’m currently working on is actually pretty good (I think).

Anyway,

Things are looking pretty bright for ole John Scritchfield…

I’m playing Reuben Soady in Escanaba in da Moonlight.

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Please don’t compare me to Jeff Daniels, Michigan.

I’m writing a weird western starring a half-ork gunslinger named Thrak.

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Like this guy but paler and with more guns… And no cape…Or flashy hat…Okay you get the point, I don’t have a perfect picture, okay?

And my boys are growing up way too fast.

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Which isn’t really a great thing, but is a joy to watch.

And I’m reading this amazing book, The Kings of the Wyld, which you should all go out and buy right now. I’m planning on buying two more copies as gifts.

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REVIEW FORTHCOMING

Anyway, folks…I hope you’re as pleased and content with life as I am.

-scritch out

The Battle of the Bards Flash Fiction Writing Contest

Hey Everybody,

I submitted to a small flash fiction thing…I like it.

48. One Among Many

Argon didn’t know the sky could be so large. Every horizon where the ground ended, the night sky began—flecks of white and yellow cascading along a tapestry of black and blue. The taste of salt and iron like rust and bile was strong in his mouth as he licked his lips. The bloodlust had taken him again as he had seen the army rushing like termites fleeing from a broken stump toward him and his brothers. In each hand, he had held a short sword, his leather gloves had creaked as they clutched the hilts, knuckles white and palms slicked with sweat. Twenty-seven, by his count, had fallen to his swords when one lucky bastard slipped under his guard and caught him in the guts. That taste, like rust and iron, exploded in his mouth as his legs buckled. Collapsing to his knees, he thrust a wild counter-attack, taking the warrior’s throat with the point of his blade; number twenty-eight.

The cacophony of battle echoed around him for moments longer as the last of his brethren joined him on the ground. Argon had never thought about his death, never considered it for a moment until now. Grunts of exertion and cries of pain grew closer as the dying became the dead. A small circle of stars went black as the head of a man with hair like sunshine eclipsed them. With eyes blacker than the evening sky, he looked down on Argon.

“You’ve seen your last day, friend.” The man said as he slipped the point of a stiletto into Argon’s left eye. The pain, sharp and hot, lasted only a moment and was gone. With one final shudder, Argon exhaled as his spirit left him. One among many in life; one among many in death.

by J.L. Scritchfield

Source: The Battle of the Bards Flash Fiction Writing Contest

Someday I’ll get back into the swing of blogging again…

But until that day…

-scritch out.

What Else Have I Been Missing?

Hey everybody,

I had my first Krispy Kreme donut on June 4th, 2010.

I’m sure you might be asking how I remember that exact date? Am I a fatty savant? Perhaps I have a rare eidetic memory that allows me only to remember food related things.

The answer is rather unremarkable…

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I was doing an internship outside Cleveland, Oh and one of my superiors brought me there for Free Donut Day.

Eating that hot, glazed donut for the first time, I only had one thought…which I expressed in an over exaggerated shout…

WHAT ELSE HAVE I BEEN MISSING?!

It was like salvation.

I just had to tell someone about it!

 

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“Do you have a moment to talk about our Lord and Savior, Donuts?” (Not me. This is a stock photo)

Now I’m sure you’re asking, “Who the hell cares?”

Well.

Recently, as I’ve begun to take myself more seriously as an author, I’ve been doing a lot more reading (as all 3 followers of this blog can read in my previous post from two months ago).

Yesterday, Jacob (my 3 year old son) selected for me the next book I’m going to read.

A book that has been sitting on my “to-read” list and shelf for better than three years.

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I’m on page 100, and it is amazing.

I have no good excuse for not reading it sooner.

In previous instances in which I encountered a, “WHAT ELSE HAVE I BEEN MISSING?” moment, I’ve chastised myself.

ALL THOSE WASTED YEARS!!!” I’ve thought.

When really, I was so damn focused on the years I’d been missing out I forgot to take the time to enjoy experiencing it.

Which brings me to 2 recent, “WEHIBM” moments that have served as a sort of paradigm shift for me.

The first was listening to, “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” on audible.

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When I’m quiet at night, I can admit to myself it’s my favorite book.

I was so captivated from the beginning, I didn’t think about how long the book had been out until after it was done. It was then I had my moment of realization…

I needed to start approaching every book, show, movie, etc. like it might be my new favorite.

My second moment of paradigm shifting goodness occurred when Brandy and I started to watch…

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Yes, I know…I’ve never watched Friends. We’re on season 4. Shut up.

A few episodes ago, I realized I didn’t care how long I’d been missing out.

I was just happy to be experiencing it with my wife.

I didn’t feel like I’d been missing anything.

I didn’t feel like I should’ve broken down and watched it sooner.

I was just happy…enjoying it in the present.

This had made my first time viewing of another 90’s sitcom all the better…

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Yes, I’m just now also watching Frasier. Shut up.

 

All these new (to me) experiences aren’t being wasted in the same way my first Krispy Kreme donut was…

I’m haven’t once thought, “What else have I been missing?”

I haven’t been disappointed.

I’ve just been enjoying the experience.

I realize for other people this will read just like an appeal to, “live in the present.”

And I suppose it is…

But it was my personal revelation.

I understand finally what it means, not in a universal sense, but in a way that makes sense to me.

I’ve also finally read a book by G.K. Chesterton.

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After reading two books and A SPEECH I ONCE GAVE: ON LEWIS, TOLKIEN AND CHESTERTON by Neil Gaiman, I felt I owed it to myself to read it.

It did not disappoint.

I’ve also finally engaged with an online SFF indie author’s community through…

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In which, I entered my first novel, The Last Days of the Wanderer.

Available again on Amazon. Paperback coming soon.

Pornokitsch will be reading the first 20% of it and doing (at least) a micro-review.

I don’t expect more than that.

Bloodseeker (being edited by Brandy) is a much better novel.

All these new (to me) experiences, and I don’t feel like I’m missing a thing.

I’m just enjoying the ride.

Do with that what you will.

 

– scritch out.

Goodreads

Hey everybody,

I know I did this recently, but I still wanted to write it down.

Mostly for my own accountability.

For the first time in ever, I’m actually using Goodreads to track my reading!
This was inspired by my wife’s boss who tries to read 50 books a year.

They’re in publishing so that makes sense.

I decided, fancying myself a fledgling writer, to really work on reading to better improve my writing (excluding this blog because, let’s face it, this hardly counts).

Therefore I am going to try to stick to reading the following list of books (in this order)

  1. Fool Moon by. Jim Butcher (Finished 3/24)
  2. A Darker Shade of Magic by. V.E. Schwab (Finished 4/29)
  3. Salvation by Allegiance Alone by. Mattew Bates (Buy Here)
  4. The Judge of Ages by. John C. Wright (15% in)
  5. Speaker for the Dead by. Orson Scott Card
  6. The Reader by. Traci Chee (Finished 5/13)
  7. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Finished 5/22)
  8. Grave Peril by. Jim Butcher
  9. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaimen (Finished 5/1)
  10. Station Eleven by. Emily Saint John Mandel
  11. Storm of Swords by. George R. R. Martin
  12. The Silmarillion by. J.R.R. Tolkien
  13. The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by G.K. Chesterton (Finished 5/19)
  14. Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence (Finished 5/30)

AND on Audio Book

  1. That Hideous Strength by. C.S. Lewis (Finished 3/28)
  2. A Crown of Swords by. Robert Jordan (Finished 4/6)
  3. The Path of Daggers by. Robert Jordan
  4. Wheel of Time 9+

My goal for the year is 25. I think that’s doable.
I may bounce around this list a bit, but I want to get through all of these as part of my 25.

I am already 5 books in, by the way, having read:

  1. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by. Susannah Clarke
  2. Lord of Chaos by. Robert Jordan (audio book)
  3. The Hermetic Millenia by John C. Wright (so glad this is done)
  4. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by. NOT J.K. Rowling
  5. Storm Front by. Jim Butcher

Mind you, all of this while revising Bloodseeker and reading/memorizing scripts.

It really is a good time to be me.

-scritch out

Wife of a Scritch.

Hey everyone,

Brandy, you may not want to read this.

In honor of International Women’s Day, I decided to write about something I have long wanted to share with everyone.

My wife is the best.

Let me explain.

This is my wife, Brandy Noel Steel (circa 2009. A year before she chose me).

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We were both attending Valley Forge Christian College.
I was getting my degree with relative ease while spending most of my time at the theater, playing World of Warcraft, and generally making some of the poorer decisions of my life.

She was working on two bachelor’s degree, three minors, working as a TA, and also making time to act, stage manage, and build sets for the theater.

Just to be clear, I didn’t even learn how to do my own make-up because
1. I liked attention, 2. I was lazy, and 3. I really only had an interest in acting.

That will give you an idea of the disparity of our work ethics and priorities.

Regardless of this difference, we became very good friends over the course of that year (mostly because of the theatre) working together on The Diary of Anne Frank, Mousetrap, and Tartuffe.

During Mousetrap, I caught some feelings…but decided not to pursue her because I thought she was too good for me.

[FUN FACT: She was/is/will always be]

One second…

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Okay. It’s 2010 now. I’ve made some more bad decisions. Admitted those bad decisions and nearly lost her interest (that I didn’t know I had), and now we’re working on…

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I was assistant directing because I was acting in the other show.

Friendship grew more.

Misunderstandings abounded.

She confessed feelings.

I had an emotional weekend.

I confessed feelings.

We started dating – Nov. 2010.
We got engaged – March 2011.
We got married – August 2011.

I realize that may seem fast to some of you…but I knew what I had…And plus…
This was a thing at the time.

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She was a scholar.

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404: Photo before 2014 not found

A world traveler.

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In Greece I think. Maybe Israel. I have no idea. I’m not the traveler.

An actress.

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That’s me as Tartuffe. Her as Dorine. She pwned all the n00bs.

And then there was me.

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Thank you, Dan “The Sexy Beast” Graham for enduring so much.

Who wouldn’t learn make-up because I was lazy and didn’t think I could learn how to be good at it.

But regardless, despite being infinitely more interesting than me, she fell in love with me.

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“Carving the cake” 😉 😉

Because of her, I worked harder. Partly out of a healthy competition, but also because I wanted to prove to myself I was worth her interest. My gpa (which wasn’t horrible at 3.2) jumped to a 3.9 over those semesters.

A year after marriage, I got into a MFA in Acting program despite only having a minor in drama under my belt. I got freakin good at makeup.

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This isn’t actually makeup. Those are real metal plates in my skull.

And now, 5.5 years later…she continues to out do me.

While I earned my Master’s degree, she earned hers, worked full-time (at the RU Writing Center), and had a baby (Jacob) at the same time as writing her thesis (picture above).

During our 1 year layover between Virginia and Michigan when we couldn’t find jobs in our fields, she had switched roles and was a stay at home mom and had a second baby (Kaeden) while I worked construction.

Then she landed a job at Baker Academic Publishing House. So now she works full time in her dream job while I stay at home with the boys. At night, I’m able to audition and work in the theater. I’ve written another novel (which she edits). This amazing life I have now, I owe to her. She chose me when I was close to being the worst. And because of her, I’m the best me.

I’m not saying I didn’t contribute to her life too.

She’s much more chill now than when she was single. She’s wittier too (I made a joke about this at rehearsal for Much Ado and no one understood). She’s able to work her dream job because I’m the homemaker. I’m not deluded or unaware of my contributions. I just want to draw attention to how amazing she is, and how immeasurably blessed I am by this woman.

I don’t know is she knows how great she really is..

But I do hope she knows how much I love and appreciate her.

She’s the best.

-scritch out.

 

Bloodseeker – Official Announcement

Good afternoon everyone,

After months of typing and hacking at various keyboards, I have a rough draft of my forthcoming novel: BLOODSEEKER.

“Three times a year, the dried blood of St. Januarius, Patron Saint of Naples, is said to miraculously turn to liquid. If it does not, it is believed to signal the start of a period of war, disease, or famine. The last time the miracle failed to occur was in 1980 when the earthquake of Irpinia killed 2,900 people in Italy. In 1973, it served as a precursor to an outbreak of Cholera in Naples, and in 1939, 1940, and 1943 it closely corresponded with Italy’s involvement in World War II.

On December 16, 2016, for the first time in 36 years, the blood did not liquefy. While many, including some within the Catholic Church, regard the ceremony as nothing more than coincidence and superstition, Adrian Ramsey knows better; he knows this means hell is literally about to break loose.

On November 23, 1980, the same day the earthquake of Irpinia devastated Conza della Campiana, Adrian’s parents opened the gates of Hell.

Thirty-seven years later, Adrian Ramsey has betrayed his oath as a Bloodseeker—an ancient order dedicated to self-empowerment— so he can use his abilities to combat the escaped creatures and correct his parents’ treachery against humanity. When he and his assistant, Kiara Wells, hear of the sign of St. Januarius, they begin a desperate quest to prevent the world from being plunged into the chaos of the Hellscape.”
Please let me know what you think, and if you’re interested in being a beta reader.
I’m currently hard at work revising and editing the first draft and would love some feedback once it has made a round through rewrites.
My sincerest thanks to everyone,
J.L. Scritchfield

February State of the Blo(ger)

Hey everyone,

I finished the first draft of my manuscript. I really wanted to have an official announcement already, but I’ve decided to wait until I have a more polished manuscript. This is something I am currently working on. The manuscript is now 60,000 words and is more likely to grow than shrink as a lot of my third act is more of a skeleton. I’m also not satisfied with the way I brought about the third act climax.

This novel has been a tremendous experience so far. I’ve been able to push and stretch my creative abilities and really delve in to a new project rather than getting hung up on my first novel. It is extremely refreshing to have ideas and characters to be excited about again. I have started and stopped so many different projects in the last four years since I wrote the first novel. I technically finished a sequel that I’ve tried to edit and revise numerous times, but I haven’t been able to get up the stomach for it. I think it’s partly due to the my not loving the story. It always felt contrived.

I have three other projects I’ve started and felt too ill equipped to actually continue.

Until this one.

Everything I’ve needed has been there when I’ve needed it. Facts and places strung together in a way I had never thought of. I connected dots and made sense of mysteries.

It was a great deal of fun, and I’m very excited to share it.

Unfortunately, it has also taken over query letter writing.

I’m still debating on whether or not I want to query for my first book, this new one, or both.

Time will tell.

Thanks for reading and sticking it out with me.

-scritch out