Monday, June 27, 2022

Indie Spotlight: Stephen Baker | Donkey Show

 

Welcome to our Indie Spotlight series, in which TNBBC gives small press authors the floor to shed some light on their writing process, publishing experiences, or whatever else they'd like to share with you, the readers!



Today we are shining the spotlight on Stephen Baker




The Origin of Donkey Show: 

Take a real story and play with the pieces

 


I was working a while back as a general assignment reporter at the (now defunct) El Paso Herald-Post when a freelance photographer returned from a harrowing experience across the border, in Ciudad Juarez. A reputed drug lord, Gilberto Ontiveros, and his henchmen had beaten and mock-executed the photographer, Al Gutierrez, apparently mistaking him for a DEA agent. Gutierrez brought back a death threat from Ontiveros for our lead drug reporter, Terrence Poppa.

 

The newspaper, naturally, ran with this as a series of front-page stories, nothing less than a crusade. It was accompanied by editorials accusing the Mexican government of sheltering the drug lord. This pressure eventually led to Ontiveros’ arrest. Our editors viewed it as a journalistic triumph.

 

Poppa was an excellent, hard-working reporter, who later was nominated for a Pulitzer for his investigative work. In his Herald-Post series, he reported that Ontiveros traveled around Juarez in a Mercedes limousine with a carload of "pistoleros" in front or back. The drug lord’s trademark, he wrote, was a briefcase with the words "The Boss" spelled out in diamonds.

 

For my novel, Donkey Show, I started with that same story, but changed it in crucial ways. What would happen, I wondered, if everything in the story had been wrong--if the original reporting had been flawed, and if the death threat had come not from the drug lord, but by underlings who wanted to see him thrown in jail? In such a case, the newspaper would be running its crusade based on misunderstandings. And the reporter--a lazy one, in my story--would have to put the pieces together.

 

That’s the essence of Donkey Show. I placed the story in 1993, just as the United States and Mexico (and Canada) were finalizing a continental free trade agreement (NAFTA). This gives the fictional newspaper more leverage in its campaign. It’s still a time when regional newspapers carry weight. The digitalization of media is still in the future. Cell phones, huge with antennas, are luxury items for the rich. In short, information is scarcer, and the resulting ignorance drives the plot on both sides of the border.

 

My 2014 novel, The Boost, also takes place along the border, though in the future, not the past. In fact, the protagonist of The Boost, a coder named Ralf, is the great grandson of Tom Harley, the lazy death-threatened reporter of Donkey Show.

 

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Stephen Baker has worked as a journalist and writer in many cities, including Paris, Mexico City, Caracas, Quito, Madrid, New York, and El Paso. His non-fiction books, including The Numerati and Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything, explore the effects of technology on society.

 His first novel, The Boost (Tor Books, 2014) is a near-future tale that, like Donkey Show, takes place along the U.S.-Mexico border. Kirkus Reviews called the book “a true delight of a techno-thriller that has deep, dark roots in the present.” Before moving to the New York area, Baker was a Paris-based European technology correspondent for BusinessWeek, where he headed up the magazine’s coverage of wireless technology and the mobile Internet. 

 He is a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and earned his B.A. at the University of Wisconsin. He lives with his wife in Montclair, NJ. They have three sons.

 

Author website: https://stephenbakerbooks.com/ 

Twitter: @stevebaker

Instagram: @TheNumerati


Monday, May 16, 2022

Blog Tour: Dark Factory Interview With Kathe Koja

 


We're happy to help Meerkat Press support the release of their latest title Dark Factory by participating in their blog tour. And if you're at all into winning free stuff, they're running a giveaway where you can potentially win a $50 book shopping spree.

Click here to enter!





Dark Factory is Kathe Koja’s new immersive novel from Meerkat Press, that brings together Kathe’s award-winning fiction and her experience producing live events, to create an experience for the reader that takes place on the page (and ebook and audio), and onsite at https://darkfactory.club/ where readers are invited to be part of the party.

Marfa Carpenter is a freelance culture journalist for Blog Out, Daisychain, Excelsior, Artfetish, and Journal of Daily Pop. She interviews various Dark Factory makers and regulars, as well as a philosophy professor, a sound designer, a tattoo artist, an editor/arts journalist, and more. Recently, she interviewed Kathe Koja.

 

Q:  Can you dance?

A: I can! I love to dance. And I’m a Detroit native, so, techno.

 

Q: How long have you been wanting, or planning, to write about the club scene?

A: I never actually plan out any of my work, what I’m going to work on next, I follow my nose, my instincts and interests; for every writer, there must be a thousand possible projects out there, waiting to exist. And since everything I write starts with someone I see in my mind’s eye, that person ends up bringing the world of that story in with them. Then I start researching, then writing.

That said, the club scene, any club, is such a rich landscape to reimagine and write about, it’s nighttime, it’s playtime, everyone is trying to present their most engaging persona while the atmosphere, the drinks and drugs and whatever, open up all the inner doors. And everyone is there hoping that something amazing will happen. The dancefloor is very much like life.

 

Q: Is an immersive novel still 100% fiction, or is it closer to a creative documentary? Or is it something else?

A: The whole concept of immersion—and I learned this making all kinds of live events, in all sorts of real-world settings, in a Victorian mansion, a historic church, in art galleries—immersion means going so deeply into the story being presented to you that it becomes your minute-to-minute reality, it is the world you’re living in. And readers have been achieving that experience forever with books. So making a novel that expands its narrative into the real world seems like something that always should have existed, and now it can.

 

Q: Then how do you define reality?

A: Reality defines us, I think.

 

Q: That’s a pretty easy answer to a pretty hard question. Elaborate, if you can.

A: Reality has been operational long before human beings arrived on the scene, and will operate long after we’re gone. Asking for our definition, my definition, of reality, is like asking a word what it thinks of the dictionary.   

 

Q: Does this story have an end, then?

A: That’s for its readers to decide.

 

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DARK FACTORY by Kathe Koja

Out May 10, 2022

Speculative Fiction | SciFi | LGBT | Literary


Welcome to Dark Factory! You may experience strobe effects, Y reality, DJ beats, love, sex, betrayal, triple shot espresso, broken bones, broken dreams, ecstasy, self-knowledge, and the void.

Dark Factory is a dance club: three floors of DJs, drinks, and customizable reality, everything you see and hear and feel. Ari Regon is the club's wild card floor manager, Max Caspar is a stubborn DIY artist, both chasing a vision of true reality. And rogue journalist Marfa Carpenter is there to write it all down. Then a rooftop rave sets in motion a fathomless energy that may drive Ari and Max to the edge of the ultimate experience.

Dark Factory is Kathe Koja’s wholly original new novel from Meerkat Press, that combines her award-winning writing and her skill directing immersive events, to create a story that unfolds on the page, online, and in the reader's creative mind.

Join us at DarkFactory.club. The story has already begun.

 BUY LINKS:  Meerkat Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Kathe Koja writes novels and short fiction, and creates and produces immersive fiction performances, both solo and with a rotating ensemble of artists. Her work crosses and combines genres, and her books have won awards, been multiply translated, and optioned for film and performance. She is based in Detroit and thinks globally. She can be found at kathekoja.com.

 

Website  |  Twitter  |  Facebook


Thursday, April 7, 2022

Page 69: Dream Kids

Disclaimer: The Page 69 Test is not mine. It has been around since 2007, asking authors to compare page 69 against the meat of the actual story it is a part of. I loved the whole idea of it and so I'm stealing it specifically to showcase small press titles - novels, novellas, short story collections, the works! So until the founder of The Page 69 Test calls a cease and desist, let's do this thing....





In this installment of Page 69, 
we put Michael Wayne Hampton's Dream Kids to the test






Set up page 69 for us. What are we about to read?

This is the last page of the third chapter of the book titled “Kids with Choices.” Each chapter of the book has a title that previews its content. This moment takes place the night after Bryce’s first day at The Dream Academy when failed get the electives he wanted to set his own path towards happiness for the upcoming semester.

More importantly, this passage highlights the frustration Bryce find as he longs to be loved by his friend Paige once again who takes him and his love of granted. It also shows his attempt to make amends with his friend Jaycee whom he had hurt despite her affection for him.

 

 

What is your book about?

 Dream Kids is on the surface a novel about a group of teens attending an experimental high school where they are never sure of what exactly they are learning or why. At its heart though it is a love song to those tender years when each decision and action feels at once unknowable and likely to mark a person for life; the time when young lives have the most passion, take the greatest risks, are battered by messaging and advice, all while possessing the least experience or wisdom, and yet somehow have to make it through.

 

 

Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what the book is about? Does it align itself with the book’s overall theme? 

I think this page gives a good sense of the tone of the book as a whole though doesn’t represent the humor throughout. It is a good glimpse into the most central conflicts at play, and for a single page I am proud of that.



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Michael Wayne Hampton is the author of five books. His criticism, essays, fiction, and poetry have appeared in numerous publications such as The Southeast Review, Fiction Southeast, and Rust+Moth. His work has won an Individual Excellence Award from the OAC and been nominated for Best American Short Stories. His writing has also been named a finalist or semi-finalist for other awards such as the Iowa Short Fiction Prize and The World's Best Short Story Contest.

Michael can be reached via his homepage at michaelwaynehampton.com or on Twitter @motelheartache


Monday, April 4, 2022

Page 69: How to Adjust to the Dark

 Disclaimer: The Page 69 Test is not mine. It has been around since 2007, asking authors to compare page 69 against the meat of the actual story it is a part of. I loved the whole idea of it and so I'm stealing it specifically to showcase small press titles - novels, novellas, short story collections, the works! So until the founder of The Page 69 Test calls a cease and desist, let's do this thing....






In this installment of Page 69, 
we put Rebecca van Laer’s How to Adjust to the Dark to the test





Set up Page 69 for us. What are we about to read? 

We’re in the midst of a passage where the narrator, Charlotte, is interpreting a long poem that she wrote in a creative writing workshop. After her first episode of major depression, Charlotte is exploring the roots of her trauma through a simultaneously dark and humorous, Plath-esque poem about dolls. Here, we see some of her analysis of Part 3 of the long poem, “As a Doll,” as well as the beginning of Part 4.

 


What is the book about?

In How to Adjust to the Dark, Charlotte reflects on a string of doomed love affairs from her early 20s, as well as the poems she wrote about them. Through vignettes, poetry, and close reading, she untangles her beliefs about love and art to arrive at new theses about what it means to write about love—and what it means to love to write.


 Does this page give readers an accurate feel for the novel? Does it align itself with the book’s overarching theme?

This portion is a bit less narrative than the novella as a whole, grounded more in a moment of poetry and self-reflection than in a snapshot of Charlotte’s life. However, it is an accurate reflection of her voice, at once analytic and filled with compassion for a prior version of herself.




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PAGE 69

HOW TO ADJUST TO THE DARK


Just as children listen to the sound of the ocean in seashells and mistake the rushing of blood in their own heads for it, children hold dolls to their chests hoping to feel something from the doll, when all they can feel is what is already inside themselves.

But in this poem, when the speaker holds the doll’s cool face to her own it is not that the doll is like herself (lovable, warm) but rather that she is like the doll: pleading, silent. And so she names them, all of them, after herself. This is how I begin to retell my story, and to make sense in this poem: in naming my toys Charlotte, I indicated my likeness to them. I did not imagine dolls as extensions of myself, living and breathing, but rather saw myself as decorative, mute, and helpless.

I continued breaking up these reflections on myself

and my childhood.


4. Typology

Of course, there is a difference.

Sometimes, it’s like being in a candy store.

The vibrant yellow business suits

small magenta combat boots

heels that match the leopard eyes

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Rebecca van Laer’s writing appears in TriQuarterly, Joyland, The Florida Review, Salamander, and elsewhere. She holds a PhD in English from Brown University, where she studied queer and feminist autobiography. She lives in the Hudson Valley. 

Friday, April 1, 2022

Where Writers Write: Aaron Angello

 

 Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!



Where Writers Write is a series in which authors showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 



This is Aaron Angello. 


Angelo is a poet, playwright, and essayist from the Rocky Mountains who lives and feels remarkably out of place in the charming, but very Eastern, town of Frederick, MD. He received his MFA and PhD from the University of Colorado Boulder, and he currently teaches writing and theatre at Hood College. His book THE FACT OF MEMORY is being published by Rose Metal Press in April.






Where Aaron Angello Writes


About a decade ago, I put together a website called the Denver Poetry Map. It was basically a google map of Denver that was filled with marker icons, each connected to a poem. When a reader clicked on a marker, a poem would open in a pop-up box. It was a simple concept, but poets and readers loved it. It really got me thinking about the relationship between a piece of writing and the space in which it was written. I asked poets to submit a poem that, for them, was connected to a very specific location in the city, whatever that meant to them. Some poems mentioned the location in the poem itself (a bridge, a tattoo parlor), but for most, the connection was much less literal. Poets attached poems to places that they were drawn to, to places that somehow inspired them, to places where they conceived ideas, and to places where they wrote. To me, the most interesting relationships between poem and place were the least literal, the poems that the poet could not separate in their mind the poem from the place, even if the content of the poem didn’t seem to connect to the location at all. The more enigmatic the relationship, the more interesting.


I like to think of poetry and lyric essays as records of thought processes. Each of them allows a kind of expression of thought that can only be expressed in that form. Both allow for disjunction and for multiple, complex meanings. Sometimes they meander, sometimes they are concise, often they meander in a concise way. As readers, if we read well, we kind of share in the patterns of thought that are presented. In his “Defense of Poetry,” Shelley wrote that a person (not just a poet) “must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination.” He goes on to specify that “poetry strengthens the faculty which is the organ of the moral nature of man.” He’s writing about empathy, of course, and man, I love that. The writer must have empathy for others, certainly, but also, the poem allows the reader to share an experience of thinking with the writer.

One thing that the Denver Poetry Map taught me was that the thinking that is expressed in a poem is directly connected to the place in which the poem was composed. The reader, then, can empathetically connect with the poet, and by extension the place. Once the reader has read the poem, the place it’s connected to is forever altered in their minds. There is a circular bond that connects a physical pace, a poet’s mind, a poem, a reader’s mind, and the place again.

So, place matters. A lot. Yet, I don’t know if I can entirely identify why that is. I think about it all the time. I think about the power of remembering a childhood bedroom, the feeling one gets when they drive by their old high school, the overwhelming sensation one feels when they go back to that bar where they met a lover.

I also think about what a place does to the physical body. Does it invite the body to stretch out or constrict? Is the movement in the environment around the body that can be sensed, or is it still and quiet? Are the people or animals near the body or is the body isolated? Is the physical body larger than the objects near it or is it surrounded by giant objects? Is the environment natural or built? The place affects the body which, in turn, affects patterns of thought. I am convinced that any place one chooses to write is going to have a massive impact on the work that is produced in that place.

When I wrote the first draft of The Fact of Memory, I was living in a one-bedroom apartment in Boulder. I was doing a kind of daily, meditative practice where I’d get up before the sun, sit in a straight-backed chair that was adjacent to a large, sliding glass door, meditate upon a word from Shakespeare’s 29th sonnet, and then write. It was a profound and productive practice for me. Because there are 114 words in the sonnet, it took a while. (This is a photo of the herbs from my wife’s Instagram, but that’s the chair and that’s the window.)


Late in the process of writing that first draft, my wife and I went to California to visit a friend. We stayed at a beautiful little place in Palm Springs with lots of desert light and a swimming pool. I kept up the process of getting up early each morning and writing, but the stuff I was writing was entirely different – tonally and in the treatment of the content. Instead of sitting in the dark, looking out on a Colorado winter, I took my notebook to a lounge chair in the sun by the pool. I wrote, but what I produced just wasn’t a part of the project I was working on. It didn’t fit at all. It moved differently, and the intellectual engagement was of a different kind entirely. (Actually, I don’t recommend writing poolside – there’s no struggle in it. If you find yourself in that situation, I suggest just having a cocktail.) I ended up rewriting almost all of what I wrote on that trip.

Now, I live in Maryland. I’m currently writing this little essay in my office on the campus of the college where I work. It’s small, windowless, and a bit cluttered, but it suits me well. I find myself fighting the urge to answer emails or grade papers, which is no doubt affecting what I am writing, but this is a good place to think and to write.

 


Last spring, I wrote a play at a cheap little plastic table in my backyard. I wrote every morning with a cup of coffee and Max Richter and Philip Glass in my headphones. The air was lovely in the mornings, the birds were doing their bird thing, and my imagination felt unfettered. It was easy for me to slip into that liminal space where creative stuff happens. It’s like twenty degrees outside right now, though, so that’s not in the current mix.


 I like to work on poems on a little fold-up Formica table in my kitchen. This is also where I prepare food, so it’s often messy, and there’s always a connection to food when I’m there writing, for better or worse.


Ultimately, I like to try different writing spots out. I write in cafes; I write while sitting on park benches; I write on public transportation. I mix it up a lot. What I know is this: I need to move around if I want to continue to explore new ways of thinking in my writing. If I hit on a project, though, I need to stick with a spot.


Sunday, March 20, 2022

SMOLFair Keynote & Main Reading Events



SMOLFair has sprung and will continue to bring you cool small press virtual events, publisher tables, and wild discounts through the 26th. 

We kicked things off Friday evening with our Keynote Event, featuring Brian Evenson. If you missed his amazing speech, reading, and Q&A, dry those tears... we recorded it for your viewing pleasure!



2022 SMOLFair Keynote Event, Featuring Brian Evenson






We also co-hosted an amazing SMOL Brunch Reading with Alternating Current Press yesterday. Our joint authors knocked it out of the park! It featured readings by Cameron Mackenzie, Jayne Martin, Jackson Bliss, Sara Rauch, Leah Angstman, Jen Michalski, Ryan Ridge, Suzi Q Smith, David Leo Rice, Tyler Friend. But you had to see it to believe it. And see it you can, down below:



Alternating Current Press & TNBBC Publicity's 
SMOL Brunch Reading





Which events have you hit up so far? Which ones are you  most excited for? 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Blog Tour: Eugen Bacon's Mage of Fools



We're happy to help Meerkat Press support the release of their latest title Mage of Fools by participating in their blog tour. And if you're at all into winning free stuff, they're running a giveaway where you can potentially win a $50 book shopping spree.

Click here to enter!



Welcome to our Indie Spotlight series, in which TNBBC gives small press authors the floor to shed some light on their writing process, publishing experiences, or whatever else they'd like to share with you, the readers!



Today, we are shining the spotlight on Eugen Bacon




Eugen Bacon is an African Australian author gradually growing her black speculative fiction writing in novels, novellas, short stories, essays and prose poetry to a global gaze. She was recently announced in the honor list of the 2022 Otherwise Fellowships, and appears in four works shortlisted in the 2021 British Science Fiction Awards, including her collections Danged Black Thing (2021) by Transit Lounge Publishing and Saving Shadows (2021), a collection of black speculative prose poetry and microlit by NewCon Press, for Best Art.

Publishers Weekly listed her newest novel Mage of Fools in the Top 10 SF, Fantasy & Horror Books Spring 2022.

 Eugen’s debut novel Claiming T-Mo (2019) by Meerkat Press is a Jekyll-and-Hyde conundrum that happens when a father flouts the conventions of a matriarchal society. The story tackles themes of identity, engaging with difference, betwixt, inhabitation, a multiple embodiment—recurring themes in Bacon’s storytelling.

Eugen is fond of poetry for its abstract, fluid and subversive nature, and says, “Poetry is timeless, intense, insistent and metaphoric. It comes with immediacy and you can write it from the gut.”

 

Let’s chill out with Eugen, find a little more about her interests:  

 


Why speculative fiction?

I’d define my writing literary speculative fiction, where poeticity, musicality of the text and playfulness with language is a penchant. In a form of subversive activism, speculative fiction empowers a different kind of writing with its unique worldbuilding that has, over decades, emboldened writers like Octavia Butler and Toni Morrison to write a different kind of story that’s also about writing oneself in.


 

Where is your writing space?

My writing begins in the head and on scraps of paper, scribbles in notepads everywhere. By the time I settle down to the writing, it’s about putting the pieces together.

 


Writing ritual?

Increasingly I find myself experimenting with prose poetry that sometimes slips into the opening, closing, sideline or core of a story. Sometimes I write to music, or the news—where else would I find stories of carnage?


 

Writerly crush?

Toni Morrison. In shaping my own voice, I was drawn to writers of literary fiction, counting Anthony Doerr and Michael Ondaatje, and found commonalities in riveting dialogue; in the depth of characterisation; in the ambition, adventure and variability of writing that discourages bad writing. These favourite authors seduce me with bold writing that spotlights mood, reorients prose and courts characterisation. They anticipate me, the reader, until I mislay questioning and instead find curiosity.

 

Are you structured or unstructured as a writer?

It’s increasingly a balance of both. I am an experimental writer. I love to explore the uncanny and step beyond traditional expectations of genre. I am enchanted with language (Morrison), and playfulness with text (Roland Barthes), each taking me to a space where I can be, become, and my characters can be, they can become.

 A short story or prose poetry begins with a question, or a curiosity. I am seeking to find something, and sometimes I don’t know what it is. It may be a longing or a memory, a dirge or a possibility. The quest is fluid, and I am open to where it might take me – sometimes to a newer question, or curiosity. 

It is intentional when I write a novella or a novel, because I chart its skeleton and have an idea of its core players, of the events that might drive them and, vaguely, why. Often, I tuck little stories and poems inside, layered vignettes invisible to the reader, but they carry the mutability and intensity of a short story, which seems to power my longer forms.

 


If you could improve your writing right now…  

A part of me would love to have the craft and patience to write a series maybe. But that’s not telling it straight. The short form is my love and, at 49,000 words of a novel, it’s Mt Kilimanjaro.         

 

When I’m not writing…

I am reading—I love short stories, collections, anthologies, black spec fic poetry. I love watching a film or documentary that moves me or triggers my mind (nothing is waste), and fine dining (but, the pandemic).

 

Reading right now…  

Susan Midalia is a titillating Australian short story writer, and she brings me back to my fondness of the short story. She’s not a speculative fiction writer and her literary shorts—about 2,000 words each or so—are something else! My favourite is An Unknown Sky and Other Stories.  


 

Best film…

 

I’d like to start with Matrix, which I love, but no. John Carter, an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs A Princess of Mars, moves me in many ways.

 

In your writing, what are you most proud of?

I’m truly happy with where I am at in my writing, the global visibility that my work is getting and the publishers it is attracting. Danged Black Thing was my biggest breakthrough in Australia. I’m excited about Mage of Fools by Meerkat Press, the publisher who made me.

I like how my upcoming collection Chasing Whispers (2022) by Raw Dog Screaming Press is turning out. Despite the pandemic, I have managed to be incredibly prolific, and I am grateful to my ancestors and all the generous readers, critics, writers, editors and publishers who extend to me many opportunities that thrive me.


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Releases March 15, 2022

Speculative Fiction | Dystopian | Afrofuturist


SUMMARY:

In the dystopian world of Mafinga, Jasmin must contend with a dictator’s sorcerer to cleanse the socialist state of its deadly pollution.

Mafinga's malevolent king dislikes books and, together with his sorcerer Atari, has collapsed the environment to almost uninhabitable. The sun has killed all the able men, including Jasmin’s husband Godi. But Jasmin has Godi’s secret story machine that tells of a better world, far different from the wastelands of Mafinga. Jasmin’s crime for possessing the machine and its forbidden literature filled with subversive text is punishable by death. Fate grants a cruel reprieve in the service of a childless queen who claims Jasmin’s children as her own. Jasmin is powerless—until she discovers secrets behind the king and his sorcerer.

BUY LINKS:  Meerkat Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


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EXCERPT:

1

Tuesday.

Outside the double-glazed window, a speck grows from the moonless night and yawns wide, wider, until its luster washes into the single-roomed space, rectangular and monolithic. One could mistake the room for a cargo container.

The space, one of many units neatly rowed and paralleled in Ujamaa Village, pulses for a moment as the radiance outside grows with its flicker of green, yellow and bronze. The cocktail of incandescent light tugs along a tail of heat. Both light and heat seep through the walls of the khaki-colored shelter, whose metallic sheen is a fabrication, not at all metal.

Light through the window on the short face of the house—the side that gazes toward Central District in the distance—rests on the luminous faces of a mother and her two young children, their eyes pale with deficiency in a ravaged world. It’s a world of citizens packed as goods in units whose short faces all stare toward the Central District that will shortly awaken in the dead of the night. The light drowns the toddler’s cry of wonder.

As sudden as the ray’s emergence, it evanesces and snatches away its radiance, leaving behind hoarfrost silence. A sound unscrolls itself from the darkness outside. First, it’s a thunderhead writing itself through desert country—because this world is dry and naked, barren as its queen.

The lone cry of a wounded creature, a howl or a wail reminiscent of the screech of a black-capped owl, plaintive yet soulful, rises above the flat roofs screening the wasted village. The cry is a dirge that tells an often-story of someone in agony, of a hand stretched out to touch an angel of saving but never reaches. A second thunderhead slits the sound midcry, nobody can save the mortally wounded one.

Jasmin closes her eyes. She needs no one to tell her. She knows.

Everybody knows—except the children. That King Magu’s guards—so few of them, yet so deadly—have found another story machine, and its reader.