Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Fight Song Chapter 16

Last time on Fight Song, Callie and Jonathan talked through their differences and Callie learned that Jonathan doesn't get paid to be unobservant. This week, the two test Callie's theory that she can stop Welsh's power by singing its opposite song. As always, questions, comments, and critiques are welcome. Enjoy!

Chapter 16: The Anti–Death Song

Jonathan texted me the next evening: Julián had agreed that we could try our plan next weekend. I found myself counting down the passing days before then as eagerly as if I were waiting for Christmas. If this worked . . . Well, it wouldn’t solve all my problems, but it would solve one of the major ones.

Midway through the week, Uhjin texted me while I was on lunch break: Uncle sent security feed video! I checked; Welsh is in there. 

I sent up a silent prayer of thanks when I saw the message; Jonathan and I had yet to find anyone else who’d give us access to useful camera feeds. I texted back: Thanks! Will transfer to my comp tonight. Make copies. The last thing we needed was to lose our best piece of evidence because of a careless deletion, or, worse, a hacker.

Saturday arrived at last with the type of heat and humidity that I’d expect from mid-August, not May. The day had barely cooled at all by the time Jonathan and I met outside Julián and Ana’s apartment building that evening. We trekked up the metal stairs to the third floor and down concrete walkways to their door. Jonathan paused before knocking. “Ready, C— Ava?”

I nodded. “Ready as I’ll ever be. Let’s do this.”

Jonathan knocked. A moment later, Julián answered. “You are early.”

“Sorry.” I glanced at my watch. He was right; in our eagerness to test our idea, we had gotten here ahead of schedule. “Do you want us to come back?”

“No. If you can do what you say, we should not wait.” Julián stepped aside so we could enter. “She is worse than last time.”

“Thanks for the warning.” I walked inside and approached the couch. “Mrs. Reyes?” I circled the couch and had to hide my shock.

Julián hadn’t been exaggerating. Ana is so thin she seems to be merely skin draped over bones; her eyes are dark and hollow and haunting. Her face glistens with sweat; her breath comes in gasps— yet she had managed to sit, propped by pillows, and she attempted to smile at me. “Julián said . . . you think you can help?”

Is her condition confirmation of my theory or just the natural effect of having been under Welsh’s power for any length of time, no continued drain required? I don’t know, but I hope it’s the former, that my theory is right, that I can save her. “I think so, yes. Did he explain what Jonathan told him about what I’m going to try?”

“Yes.” Ana leaned back against the couch cushions, her eyes sliding shut. “Go on . . . if you wish to try . . . try now. Before I am . . . all the way gone.”

“Right.” I knelt by the couch. “Can I hold your hand? It might help.”

Ana nodded as if that small motion exhausted her. I grasped her bony hand, so light and fragile that I couldn’t help feeling like I’d break it if I wasn’t careful. Then I shut my eyes and listened.

At first, I couldn’t hear anything, nothing but Ana’s gasps and the traffic outside and all the normal songs of an apartment in the city. I listened closer, tuning out the natural noises so I could focus in on the songs of power. There was the chiming tune of the water in the glass on the bedside table; there, the hums of plastic and metal and wood; there, the complicated melody of the woven fabric of the couch, and all around, the ever-shifting song of the air. No Death Song. For the first time in my life, my heart fell because of its absence. Had I only imagined it last time? Was I wrong after all?
I focused in, listened more closely. The high-pitched hum of the lights, a sound I normally blocked out for fear of losing my sanity to it, grated over my ears. I winced, but still listened, praying desperately. Please . . .

Then, like a rasping whisper, like the slight shuffle in autumn leaves when you’re walking home long past dark and your brain turns every sound into warning of monsters and serial killers, I heard it. It lay beneath all the other music, barely perceptible, but poisonous, corrupting every song it latched onto. As I recalled, it was not quite like the normal Death Song. Its beat was slower; its not-notes more orderly. I could work with this.

I listened for several minutes, forcing myself to pay attention so I could piece together the song’s reverse. I started with the basic rhythm— not so hard to figure out; that wouldn’t change between the original and its antithesis. Then I moved to the notes themselves— far more difficult. I couldn’t work in bars; I had to take it one note at a time. Finally, I thought I had the song correct, or, at least, I could hear an anti-note and figure out its real self quickly. Then and only then did I take a deep breath, open my mouth, and start to sing.

Nothing happened. The Death Song still scraped across my senses. Ana still labored for each breath. My voice faltered. Was I wrong? Can Welsh’s power not be stopped after all?

I have the song wrong. That’s it. That must be it. I wasn’t sure if I was acting out of desperation or determination, but I worked my way through the song, adjusting one note, then another and another until— yes! The not-melody of the Death Song faltered, the anti-notes off-pitch as if played by an amateurish child. But the song didn’t stop, not yet.

I adjusted another note, then paused for breath. What else can I try? Maybe my timing is off . . . I started again, careful to match each note to its antithesis, each chord to its opposite, without missing a single beat.

And this time, it worked.

The Death Song faltered again, skipping and repeating like a scratched CD. The melody splintered into greater discord, anti-notes screeching and distorting. Oddly enough, the distortion made them sound more normal, not less. Then, finally, it stopped altogether.

I sat back and released Ana’s stiff hand— why so stiff? Please, please, no— and opened my eyes. Ana still slumped on the couch, wide-eyed and gasping, but her gasps didn’t sound like those of someone choking or unable to breathe. They sounded like what I’d expect from someone who’s been drowning and just found their way back to the air. “You ok?”

She nodded. “I . . . I am. I think.” She sounded stronger; winded, yes, but not weak. “Your song . . . it hurt. But it was good pain.”

Jonathan and Julián were both staring wide-eyed. I wondered what they’d seen while I’d been focused on the Death Song. Jonathan offered a hand to help me up. “Well. I guess it worked.” He said it like he didn’t know what else to say, like he wasn’t quite sure if what he’d seen was real or not. “Good work.”

I took his hand and pulled myself to a standing position. “Thanks. And—” I turned my attention back to Ana and Julián— “Thanks for letting us test our theory.”

“No, we should thank you. You have given us hope.” Julián rested his hand on Ana’s shoulder, looking down at her tenderly. “Hope where we thought we had none.”

I shrugged, glancing down, not sure how to respond. “I . . . You’re welcome? Mrs. Reyes, I hope you keep getting better.”

“I think I will.” Ana nodded. “You will stop Welsh with this?”

I nodded. “I hope to, yes.”

“Good. Remember to remember me when you face him.” She smiled a slow, satisfied smile. “Good luck to you, Ava. Though I do not think you will need it.”

“I hope not.” I hooked my fingers in my pockets, not sure what to do with my hands. “Well, we should get going. Thanks again.”

With a few more polite thanks and well-wishes on both sides, Jonathan and I departed. We headed back to the street in silence. Once there, I glanced at him. “What did you see while I was singing?”

“I . . . I don’t know. I don’t know if I saw anything.” Jonathan shook his head like he was clearing his head of sleep. “Your song was . . . I don’t know. I don’t have good words for it, and I’m a writer. I thought I was going to go crazy from hearing it, but at the same time, I wanted to keep listening. It messed with my head. I thought I saw things— lights, mostly; some kind of weird shadowy thing once— but they’d be gone a minute later.”

“Weird.” I’d barely even considered what it would be like for someone to hear the anti-Death Song, especially someone who normally didn’t hear the songs at all. “Well, maybe it’ll confuse Welsh the same way. At least we know that I can keep him from killing me long enough to get what we need.”

“True.” Jonathan nodded, straightening, apparently more confident now that we’d moved back to a topic he was comfortable with. “I’d say that calls for a celebration.”

“Maybe.” I wrinkled my nose. “I’m running low on coffee money, though. No more trips to the café for a while. And it’s too hot for coffee anyway.”

“Who said anything about coffee? I was talking about ice cream— my treat, as long as you don’t order the biggest thing on the menu.” Jonathan grinned at me. “What do you say?”

I laughed. “Well, if you put it that way, who am I to turn down ice cream? Let’s go.”

Friday, May 18, 2018

Self-Published Favorites

Hey'a, all! As you may or may not know, Indie e-Con is coming up fast— the scavenger hunt and Facebook party are tomorrow, and then the con proper begins the Monday after! For those who aren't aware, Indie e-Con is basically an online convention of indie and self-published authors and readers. Authors post about their experiences and advice, and there are contests, critique opportunities, free stuff . . . it's awesome. And because of Indie e-Con (and a helpful comment from my sister), I decided that this would be a good time to spotlight some of my favorite self- and indie-published books.

Self-Published Favorites

1. Samara's Peril by Jaye L. Knight. Ask most fans in the Christian-self-publishing circle about their favorite books and the Ilyon Chronicles will probably pop up somewhere on the list. I'm not quite as obsessed as some of them are, but, y'all, Samara's Peril is good. The character development is great (and pushed us past one of the things that kept me from loving other books in the series quite as much as I might have), the conflicts span the scale from small to epic, we learn stuff about a certain character's history that made me so happy . . . Plus, Samara's Peril contains, in my opinion, the best-handled Christ figure in Christian fantasy since Aslan and Narnia, along with one of the best extended battle sequences I've read outside of a Sanderson novel. Basically, it hits all the right buttons for me to count this my favorite self-published book I've ever read.

2. Lady Dragon, Tela Du by Kendra E. Ardnek. Y'all knew this one was coming; I've certainly talked about it enough. There's no Second Book Syndrome here, just a straight-up awesome plot, a pair of main characters who I love both as a couple and in their own rights (snarky practicality+dependable dreamer+childhood best friend romance= happy Sarah), an excellent villain with an equally excellent arc, and an emphasis on family. Oh, and a complete lack of unrealistic warrior prodigies, which is just icing on the cake. (As a bonus: Kendra's upcoming book, Worth of King, is just as good, or very nearly so, even though it has a very different feel. It comes out in August and I can't wait.)

3. Plenilune by Jennifer Freitag. This is a heavy book, both physically and emotionally. However, the weight doesn't make it less awesome. The writing style is the type of beautiful you usually don't find in modern books, a type of beautiful that can only come from an author who's willing to take her time with a story (and expects her readers to do the same). Yet despite a relatively slow pace (think The Lord of the Rings for comparison), the story never sags or grows dull but holds your interest all the way through. Granted, names and battles are sometimes confusing and overwhelming, and I got lost once or twice— the main reason this isn't second or even first on my list. But for the patient reader, this is a delight. Also, it has a Dammerung. Dammerung is awesome. I don't even know how to describe him without giving away too much, so I won't try, but yeah. He's one of the best parts of the book. Read it and you'll get what I mean.

4. Golden Daughter by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. I'm not sure if this quite counts as self-published? I mean, yes, Anne Elisabeth published it herself, but she also created her own small publishing house that publishes other people's books, so . . . yeah. That's the only reason why this isn't at the top of the list, because in terms of how much I love this book, well, let's put it this way: Tales of Goldstone Wood is one of my favorite series in the world. It's on par with The Lord of the Rings and most of Brandon Sanderson's work— honestly, it probably ranks slightly higher than a lot of Sanderson novels. And Golden Daughter is one of my two favorites in Goldstone Wood. It's just so unique, from the plot (twisty and unpredictable) to the setting (magical and magnificent and based on ancient Asia!) to the characters (Sairu is a contradictory delight). It balances humor with heartbreak, pain with promise. It answers questions and asks new ones. It's everything I love about Goldstone Wood wrapped up in one book.

5. The Beast of Talesend by Kyle Robert Schultz. And now for something completely different . . . The Beast of Talesend is a short, steampunky spin on one of my favorite fairy tales featuring a detective main character who makes his living debunking magic . . . at least until he's magically transformed into a monster. (Not a spoiler; it says so in the blurb.) It's not an epic tale by any means, but it still grabs your attention and doesn't let go 'til the end. It also has a healthy dose of humor, especially in terms of character banter, and a pair of awesome brothers whose relationship is one of my favorite bits of the book.

6. An Earthly King by Hazel West. Clean, solid urban fantasy is hard to find (I should know; I've looked), which is one of the many reasons why I love An Earthly King. The fact that the fantasy bit is primarily based on Celtic/Irish mythology just makes it even better, and it has a really nice blend of the urban and fantasy elements (as opposed to the first book, which felt more heavily fantasy). Plus, we've got fun brotherly relationships (both between actual brothers and between friends-so-close-they're-almost-brothers) and an actual mystery what is this.

7. Magician's Trial by H.L. Burke. I officially need to learn to reserve judgment on any self-published trilogy or series until after I read the second book because something along the lines of the following consistently happens:
Me: Ok! *reads book one* Oh. That was pretty good. Not amazing, but not bad either. 
Me: Uh-huh. *procrastinates on book two*
Me: *finally reads book two*
Me: What the pumpernickel, that was SO GOOD.
Friends: WE TOLD YOU SO.
And, yes, I may be referring particularly to one specific friend who does this a lot, but, yeah. Basically, that's what happened with the Spellsmith and Carver series. The first and third books are good, but the second is the absolute best. Steampunk mystery is right up my alley (especially when it's an actual mystery), and this involves a magnificent blend of science (specifically engineering) and magic that I really enjoyed.

8. The Sky Riders by Christopher Hopper. We can't have a favorite-self-published-books post without a mention of one of the books and authors that first drew my attention to self-publishing in the first place and gave me one of my first experiences with steampunk. I gave this book five stars the first time I read it— looking back, I'm not sure I would do the same now. (I was a proofie on it, so there might be some sentimental attachment going on.) However, it's still a good book with an exciting plot and a fascinating world. My only real caution is that it ends on a cliffhanger and the second book is, well, nowhere in sight. Ah well.
What are your favorite self-published books? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Fight Song Chapter 15

Last time on Fight Song, Callie attempted to make plans and got mildly distracted by life and loneliness. This week, she and Jonathan meet up for the first time since their argument to actually talk through ideas and hopefully work things out. As always, comments of any kind are welcome!

Chapter 15: Possibilities

I arrived early to the café again that Saturday afternoon, coming straight from work without even bothering to change out of my red polo uniform. And, like last time, I found no sign of Jonathan. Lannis was working the counter, and she greeted me with a tired smile as I approached. “Meeting your reporter friend again?”

“Yeah.” I dug out my wallet. “One coffee, please. Black, with cinnamon. And . . .” I thought a moment. “And when my friend comes in, put his order on my card.” Hopefully that would get our meeting off to the right start. If it worked, it would be worth drinking an extra mug of instant coffee instead of the good stuff.

“Will do.” Lannis tapped in my order and waited for me to stick my debit card in the chip reader. “I hope whatever you’re doing goes well.”

“So do I.” I pulled my card back out and replaced it in my wallet, along with my receipt. Five minutes later, I was sitting in a corner booth, coffee in hand.

Another ten minutes passed before Jonathan walked in and approached the counter. I watched him give his order to Lannis, saw surprise cross his face, probably when Lannis told him he didn’t have to pay. He waited by the counter as she got his drink— cold brew again— and then walked over with his coffee in hand. He slid into the seat across from me. “Hey. Thanks for the coffee.”

“You’re welcome.” I curled my fingers around my cup. “How’ve you been?”

“Fine. Busy.” Jonathan shrugged, trying and failing to look casual. “You?”

“Same. Fine. Busy.” Darn it, why did this have to be so awkward. I couldn’t look at him, so instead I stirred my coffee with the little stirrer I’d picked up and watched the dark liquid swirl. “Look, I’m sorry about how I acted last time. I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did.”

“You’re forgiven. I wasn’t exactly behaving like a gentleman.” Jonathan took a sip of his coffee. “So. You want to lure Welsh into a confrontation, then video how he attacks. And somehow you think you can keep him from killing you in the process.”

I nodded. “That’s basically it, yes.”

“But how?” Jonathan gestured towards the window. “You know what happened to Ana and to Welsh’s other victims. You’ve seen it yourself. And you claim that you can neutralize his life-draining thing, but I don’t see how that’s possible, even with your power—”

He stopped short, going even whiter than he normally was. “Er . . . sorry . . .”

I stared at him, trying to process— had he really just said what I thought he’d said? Oh, no, no, no . . . “What did you just say?”

“Well, uh,” Jonathan sighed. “Look, I didn’t say anything about it, because you were obviously trying to keep it secret, but I’ve known for a while that you have some kind of superpower. No offense, but you aren’t exactly subtle, and besides, I’m a reporter. It’s my job to notice things.”

Oh, great. First Uhjin, now this. I thought I was doing well at keeping secrets, but apparently not. What’s next? Rebecca revealing that she knows everything too? Granted, Jonathan knowing already would make my plan easier to explain, but I still tried to stall a few extra minutes. “If you’re so certain I have powers, what do you think they are?”

“Some kind of elemental control, I’m guessing. You can obviously do stuff with air, based on what happened during the holdup here—” Jonathan waved his hand to indicate the café in general— “and if you were the one who stopped the mugger in the subway, then you’ve got some kind of earth or stone manipulation. And it could be just those two, but it would make sense for you to have some kind of control of fire and water too, basically a Master-of-Elements type of thing, like in that TV show.”

That comment stopped my mind spinning long enough for me to give Jonathan a hard look. “You think I’m the real-life equivalent of the Avatar? Really?”

“I said it was a guess,” Jonathan replied, defensively. “I could be wrong. But you can’t deny you have some kind of power that lets you control at least the two.”

He was right; I couldn’t deny that much. Not honestly, anyway. “You’re not going to tell anyone.”

“Of course not. I haven’t told anyone this far, have I?” Jonathan shook his head. “I made a promise, on my honor as a journalist. And when I make promises, I keep them.”

He has a point. And this will be easier if he knows the truth. Not like I wasn’t thinking of telling him anyway at one point. So, I sighed and let myself slump. “Fine. Yes. I have powers. But I’m not the real-world Avatar. It’s not that simple. It’s . . . it’s music. That’s my power. Everything in the world has a song— the wood that makes the tabletop, the glass in the window, the coffee in your cup. Most people can’t hear the songs. I can. And when I play or sing one of those songs, I can manipulate the thing it connects to.”

Jonathan nodded slowly, leaning forward with his elbows on the table. He seemed so attentive, I was surprised— and relieved!— that he didn’t have a notebook and pen in his hands to write down my every word. “So you’re thinking that you can wait until Welsh has you under his power and then use your songs to fight back. But we don’t know how much time you’d have to do that once Welsh starts draining your life . . .”

“Which is why that wasn’t my plan. I hope to neutralize his power, not just fight him off.”

“Then how . . .” Jonathan’s expression darkened. “Callie, can your songs . . . Do people have a song too?”

“Yes— no—” I tangled my words, trying to answer both the question asked out loud and the question implied. “They do, but . . . It’s forbidden. Sort of. I promised myself I wouldn’t use it after I figured out what it could do. It’s not right, taking someone’s will like that. And, anyway, I already tried it on Welsh. I shouldn’t have. But I ran into him, and I . . . I wasn’t desperate. But he was killing someone else, and I wanted . . . I wanted him to face me and feel as helpless as his victims did. And I wanted to make him tell the truth, to hear it from his own mouth. So I used it. I don’t even know if I would’ve heard the truth, or if the song would’ve made him tell me what I wanted to hear . . . I didn’t get that far. Remember how Ana said Welsh had a silvered tongue or whatever? She wasn’t joking. And that power of his was a lot stronger than my song.”

“Oh.” For once, Jonathan didn’t seem to know what to say. “So . . . but . . . I guess you survived? How?”

“Someone else showed up. A super. Don’t ask which one. I had never seen her before, and I haven’t seen her since. She got me away before Welsh could even start.” And thank God for that. Without Audrey’s help, I wouldn’t be here right now. “That’s all beside the point, though. The people’s song won’t help us, and I never should’ve used it anyway. But what might help—” I paused— “This will sound weird, but what might help is the Death Song.”

Jonathan raised an eyebrow. “That sounds . . . ominous. So, you can control . . .”

“No!” I shook my head hastily. “No, definitely not. The Death Song . . . it’s not even a song. It’s sort of the opposite of a song, but not just noise either. It’s like someone turned the melody and the notes and everything inside out and backwards. I don’t know how to explain it other than that. I hear it any time someone nearby is dying. That’s how I knew Welsh was killing Lacey three years ago. But the Death Song sounds different in different situations, and when he kills someone, it’s . . . more ordered, I guess. Less chaotic. Just a little bit, but I think that if I heard it, I could figure out its inverse. And if I can do that, then I might be able to stop him from using his power.”

“You think.” Jonathan rubbed his temples and then took a long drink of coffee. “If you can figure out the inverse, and if it works, and you still have the time constraint. Those are all big ifs. And if you’re wrong, Callie, you’re still dead. You won’t get a second chance.”

“I know. You think I don’t know that?” I slumped. “I can’t think of another way to get evidence, though, not without someone definitely dying. And . . . and if I’m going to do this, if I’m going to be a hero and not just a girl with a couple fancy tricks up her sleeve, that means risk, doesn’t it?”

“Well, yes. You’re right. But it shouldn’t mean unnecessary risk. If you’re going to try this, we need to find a way to test it.” Jonathan seemed to have resigned himself to the fact that I was doing this whether he liked it or not. “You’re sure this wouldn’t work on deaths not caused by Welsh?”

“Positive. If it would, do you think I’d be sitting here right now? I’d have the power to stop death in my voice. I’d be off, I don’t know, sneaking into hospitals to cure dying cancer patients or something.” I let out a short laugh. “Nothing can be that easy, even with powers.”

“So in order to test it, we’d have to find Welsh killing someone. So we’re back to either following him around or else trying to predict where he’d strike next that wouldn’t be you.” Jonathan took another swig of coffee. “And neither of us has the time or resources for that, especially not since he only seems to kill in the city when he’s desperate or provoked.”

“Yeah. And I’ve definitely provoked him, but I don’t think he’d come for me himself unless I made him really mad.” More than I don’t think he would. I know he wouldn’t. He’d just hire thugs to try to kidnap me and take me to him. “You know, the Batman movies made this whole bringing-criminals-to-justice thing look so easy.”

“That’s because Batman makes plenty of ethically questionable choices along the way.” Jonathan shook his head. “Why does the Death Song change, I wonder? Maybe something to do with the transfer of life energy, since it’s directed to someone else? If that’s the case . . . does the victims’ energy continue to drain to Welsh the last three days after he kills them? You’ve spent more time around one of his victims than I have. Is the song the same?”

I thought back to Lacey and Ana, to what I’ve heard. “Yes. It’s a lot fainter, almost not there at all. But it’s the same song, and it keeps going all three days. But, then, I wonder . . .” I’d started to stare off into the distance; now I pulled my attention back to Jonathan. “Could you ask Julián and Ana if we could come see them again?”

“Probably. Why?” Jonathan pulled out his phone, whether to create a reminder note or to email Julián, I wasn’t sure. “Welsh failed with Ana. He’s not still pulling energy from her.”

“He might be. I don’t know if he knows he is, but he might be. I heard the Death Song in her apartment, and it sounded like Welsh’s variation. And it would make sense if he was. When Ana got away, whatever connection he made to take her life energy might’ve been partially broken, but not all the way broken. So he might still be killing her, just really slowly.” Never had I been so excited to realize someone was slowly dying. “And if that’s the case, then I should be able to test the song with her.”

“That . . . actually sounds like a workable theory.” Jonathan made a ‘huh’ face. “I’ll contact them and ask if we can talk.”

“Don’t ask if we can talk. Tell them what I think I can do.” At his surprised look, I added, “Ana can sense people’s gifts, remember? She knows about my powers.” Though, honestly, the list of people who don’t know seems to get shorter every day.

“Right. I forgot about that. I’ll tell her. In the meantime, we can start thinking about how to set up a confrontation with Welsh, and— have you talked to your other witness? Asked about getting copies of the security tapes?” I nodded, and he went on. “Good. It probably won’t do much good, but I’ll review my list of other witnesses and events and see if I can get anything too. You know, as a backup plan.”

“I can help with that. A little.” Jonathan’s probably more likely to get results, though. He seems to have way more connections than I ever will. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” Jonathan stood. “I should go— I have another story I’m working on, and it’ll take time to through the list again. Let me know if anything comes up. And . . . thanks for trusting me again.”

“You’re welcome. Thanks for being trustworthy. And for coming back.” I gave him a half grin. “Good luck with your story.”

“Thanks.” He headed off with a wave, carrying his coffee. I stayed at the table for several minutes after he left. So many pieces were still missing from our plan, and yet it seemed to be coming together at last. Bowing my head, I silently prayed: God, let this work. Let us be able to stop Welsh. Let my quest finally end.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Fight Song Chapter 14

Last time in Fight Song, Callie came up with a plan . . . only to end up in an argument with Jonathan. This week, she attempts to go it alone, which goes, well, about as well as you think it will. As always, comments, questions, suggestions, and critiques are welcome. Thanks for reading!

Chapter 14: Lonely

Uhjin wasn’t there when I got home. No surprise. I made a sandwich and settled down to wait for her. I needed to ask her about getting the security camera feeds, and now that Jonathan was out of the picture, I’d need her help with executing my plan too. True, she wouldn’t have Jonathan’s experience or connections. But she was the best option I had— the only option.

Hours passed. I jotted down notes about my plan, such as it was, and practiced my guitar, my violin, my singing. No Uhjin. Apparently I’d missed her; she’d come and gone while I was at the café. I stuck a note to the fridge telling her that we needed to talk about my mission and then went to bed.
The next morning, there was a second note next to mine: “Ok. See U at dinner.” And, sure enough, Uhjin was waiting when I got back from my shift at the music store that evening. We chatted lightly as we made our dinner, sausage and rice skillet, and then she listened and ate silently as I explained my plan. I didn’t mention my powers outright, not yet, just told her that I’d figured out a way to counter Welsh’s power. She didn’t press for details, just asked what she needed to do to help.

We talked for an hour, trying to form my idea into a plan, or something like one, anyway. Planning had never been my strong suit; I was better at improvising. Uhjin promised to ask her uncle about getting a copy of the security feed, and we discussed how we could use that to lure Welsh out, where we should stage the confrontation, how to make sure we got decent video— all without really deciding anything.

The several days passed much the same way. Uhjin and I kept radically different schedules, so our only chance to meet and talk was at dinner. Our progress was further slowed by the fact that neither of us really had any idea what we were doing and we both were all too aware of what the consequences would be if we got this wrong. More than once, I wished for Jonathan’s help; his resources and his knack for planning would’ve made this five times easier.

And, honestly, I missed Jonathan’s company, not just his help. Over the last few weeks, he’d become a friend, not just an ally. Journalist or not, I felt I could trust him in a way that I couldn’t trust a lot of others. And until our last meeting, he’d always listened to my ideas. Always talked to me like an intelligent equal. I guess that’s what made his refusal to hear me out this time hurt so much.

Thursday morning I skimmed the Herald’s webpage in search of an article one of my friends had told me about, an interview with Professor Morris, everyone’s favorite music prof, about her current concert series. As I scrolled through the site, another name caught my eye: Jonathan Davis.

I paused, clicked the article, a lengthy piece about recent immigration protests downtown. So this is what had him stressed on Saturday. It was a well-written article. Unbiased. Honest. I stared at it for a while, lost in thought.

Jonathan was at fault. He was the one who hadn’t listened. He was the one who’d shut me down, who’d turned down my idea without having all the facts. He should be the one to apologize, if either of us did.

But, at the same time, I can’t blame him for being incredulous, maybe even scared. And I can’t say that I was a perfect angel. I could’ve kept my cool better. Been more patient, less defensive. And in the end, he’d said he wanted no part of my plan, but I’d said I wanted no part of him.

After a few more moments of consideration, I grabbed my phone and tapped out a text. Hey. Saw your article. Looked good.

I hoped for a quick response, but— nothing, not until after I’d gone to work and gotten through my morning shift and hit my lunch break. Then, when I checked my phone, there was a message waiting: Thanks. And a second text beneath it, sent a full fifteen minutes after the first one: Are you still going with your plan?

I took my phone and my sandwich and typed my response as I ate: Yes. Trying. Hard w/out help.
Several minutes passed. I finished my sandwich and sipped from my water bottle, watching Rebecca across the breakroom. She was standing just outside the door, chatting with her boyfriend and her boyfriend’s sister— I thought her name was Saxon; I’d seen her when I visited the city library to use their wifi a few times. I couldn’t help a pang of jealousy, seeing them— Rebecca especially. She fit so easily with people; she drew them in and won their hearts and kept their friendships without even trying. No matter where she went, she always found her way inside the circle. And why shouldn’t she? She had no secrets to keep, no reasons to stay on guard even among friends, no murderers to hunt and be hunted by. She could relax and be open with others, and as a result, they liked her. Lucky girl.

My phone buzzed, breaking me out of my self-pity. I bet, Jonathan’s text read. Do you still really think you can keep Welsh from killing you?

Would I be going through with this, or trying to, if I didn’t? I didn’t ask that, though. Instead, I responded: Yes. I think I found a way to neutralize Welsh’s power. Haven’t been able to test it, though.

This time, I barely set my phone down before Jonathan replied. What??? How???

Three question marks. That was impressive. I shook my head with a smile, but before I could respond, Jonathan texted again. Guess I should’ve realized you’d have some plan. You’re not an idiot. Sorry for treating you like one. 

And there it was, what I’d been hoping for. I silently thanked God and then typed my reply. You’re forgiven. Does this mean you’ll help with the plan after all? I hoped he’d say yes. I needed his help— Uhjin was doing her best, but Jonathan knew practical crime better from his journalistic work, and he knew Welsh better.

A minute passed. Two.  I glanced at the clock. I only had a little bit of break time left. Please, respond.

Finally, his message popped up on the screen. Sure. If you’ll let me. Meet at the café on Saturday?

I breathed a sigh of relief and smiled as I responded: See you there.

Monday, May 7, 2018

A Call for Betas!

Hey'a, all!

Do you find yourself in need of something new to read? Do you want to read something of mine that isn't Fight Song? Did my various posts about Blood in the Snow over the course of the last year make you really curious about the book?

If the answer to any of those questions is "yes," well, you're in luck because I'm looking for beta-readers for Blood in the Snow! (For anyone who's new here and doesn't know what Blood in the Snow is, it's a retelling of Snow White blended with The Goose Girl, set in a world inspired by ancient Asia.) The novella is currently about 20K words long, but may be closer to 25K once I send it out— I want to expand a few scenes now that I don't have a wordcount limit.

Due to my current plans for Blood in the Snow, this will be a pretty quick turnaround. The timeline I'm aiming for is as follows:

May 7 – May 14: Beta-readers sign up while I work on expanding those scenes. If you're reading this after May 14 but before June 5 and want to sign up, you can, but you'll have less time to read the novella.
May 15: I send out Blood in the Snow to beta-readers.
May 15 – June 5: Beta-readers read the book and send me feedback.

Beta-readers can make comments in the document itself, type out their thoughts in an email, or do both. I may also have some specific questions that I ask all the beta-readers; if that happens, I'll send them in the email with the novella.

Interested? Awesome! Here's the form to sign up!

Thanks, everyone! I can't wait to hear your thoughts!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

April 2018 Doings!

Well, that was an adventure. Or, rather, several adventures smashed together along with a heaping helping of stress and a lot of writing antics. Speaking of, let's get to the Doings! report, shall we? (Also— yeah, no Fight Song post this week, because I wanted to get this up sooner rather than later. Sorry.)


  • As I'm sure you all know, April was the first Camp NaNoWriMo of the year. My goal was 10,000 words of rewriting Dust of Silver and editing Fight Song. I can't say that I got anything done on Fight Song . . . But Dust of Silver hit 12,710 words on April 27! For a while, I had a really nice streak of writing every day, but that fell off around the last week of the month, once I started getting close to the goal and to the due dates for all my final projects.
  • I have really enjoyed working on Dust of Silver, even more than I thought I would. I've missed these characters and this world— they may not be the most original ones I've created, but they include some of my favorite concepts and dynamics. I especially like that I get to write sister dynamics that aren't constantly on the verge of a train wreck. (I love my Alyron girls, but they have issues. And, ok, yeah, that's my fault, but it's what the story needed.) Also: the villains in Dust of Silver are very, very present, as in they're frequently on-screen and interacting directly with the protagonist, more than they are in almost any of my other novels. It's super fun, especially when I get to drop Significant Details (that look insignificant in the moment).
  • I did work on one project in addition to Dust of Silver: a short story for the Indie e-Con contest! I wrote it up in about four hours on the very last day of the month, mostly on a whim but also because I keep forgetting to submit things to various writing contests and I wanted to change that. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out; it's sort of a Beauty and the Beast retelling? Except it's also really not. It's definitely urban fantasy, which I've wanted to try my hand at for a while. I'm not sure how well I mixed the "urban" and "fantasy" bits, but, y'know, it's submitted and I'm not going to stress about it.
  • In the end, between Dust of Silver and my contest entry, I finished the month with a total of 16,051 words. Not too shabby for the busiest month so far this year!


  • Ahahahah. I . . . did not really read anything this month that wasn't for school. I had one free weekend when I meant to read a lot, but . . . I ended up writing instead.
  • I did start a book towards the end of the month, but I'm only about halfway through. It's called Dread Nation, and I'm quite enjoying it, though it's a little outside of my normal brand of spec-fic. And by that I mean that it's historical fantasy-fiction about the aftermath of a zombie uprising that occurred midway through the Civil War. So, yeah. The concept is cool, the worldbuilding is great, and the protagonist is pretty awesome, and there's actually next to no gore, which is impressive.


  • In contrast to the pitifully small number of things I read this month, I actually watched a lot of stuff. On the Fairy Tail front, my roommate and I are still working our way through the Grand Magic Games arc. I think we only have about ten episodes left, but we've both been crazy busy the last couple weeks. (Also we've finished the actual games bit, which was the interesting part, and now all we have left is the "Oh, darn, we have to save the world again" bit, which we're both less excited for. And I know that sounds kind of horrible? But honestly, the Fairy Tail gang saves the world at least once an arc, and we all know they're going to do it again, so, yeah.)
  • Besides Fairy Tail, the big watching highlight of the month was that I finally got to see Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. I'm a big fan of the Guardians movies, even though they're a little bit of a guilty pleasure? It's super nice to see characters still working as a team, as friends, as family, after the incredibly frustrating-and-feels-inducing mess that was Civil War, and the Guardians movies are a lot more colorful and varied than a lot of the other Marvel movies- at least the ones I've seen. Also, adorable Baby Groot is adorable, and Yondu is awesome. I don't know that I liked Guardians Volume 2 better than Volume 1? But I think I liked it just as much.
  • I also ended up watching, partially by accident, most of Leap Year, which is a rom-com and therefore not my usual taste. But other people were watching it, and I was working on a blog post in the same room, and, well, the male lead was snarky in a gorgeous Irish accent, and it was very distracting, ok? The movie itself was pretty decent for the genre; frustrating in bits and cliche in others, but overall sweet. I don't think I would watch it again by choice, but I would not be opposed to being in the same room while others were watching it again (which is more than I can say about the other rom-com that those same people watched earlier in the weekend, but I digress).


  • The life highlight of the month was the PWID spring trip. I mentioned this in last month's Doings!, but basically, every year, a group of PWID majors travels somewhere, visits a company to see what professional writers do there, and then spends the weekend sightseeing and having fun. This year, we visited Samaritan's Purse in Boone, North Carolina. Since this trip occurred so close to finals— the weekend before the week before, if that makes sense— and since a certain Illustrator project took about five times longer to complete than I anticipated, I was basically a bouncing pumpkin of stress before and after the trip. But the trip itself was super fun! Boone is in the mountains, and we got to stay in a cabin with a porch swing and a gorgeous view, and we went on a short hike while we were there. That's also where I watched all the movies I mentioned in the last section and I went to the escape room that I mentioned in my last Friday 5s, which, I would like to reiterate, was incredibly awesome. It might've been my favorite part of the trip, honestly.
  • Other than the spring trip, my month was mostly full of final projects and prep for final projects. I had projects rather than tests in five out of six classes, and— well, I'm not complaining; I'll take a project over an exam most days. That said, trying to balance everything got a little crazy at points. I'm quite satisfied with most of them, though, especially my Illustrator project! Our professor let us choose what we did for the final, and I decided to try something a little crazy and create a book cover for The Way of the Pen. I sketched out a few different variations, but finally decided to go for something close to my original vision. (That also happened to be the most challenging option because of the number of elements and the different techniques that I had to figure out.) In the end, I know some things about it could still be improved, but the cover as a whole turned out way better than I hoped.
  • The upside of having projects, of course, is that I finished with finals the day most people started! I turned in my last project and my one exam (Earth Science, open-book, open-note, take-home) yesterday morning and then celebrated that afternoon with a smoothie and a few hours by the lake with a novel to write and another to read. That was lovely, let me tell you, even if I did end up with a sunburn.
  • All that said, the month wasn't completely dominated by final projects. Towards the beginning of the month was the PWID Awards Banquet, an annual event where PWID majors and the PWID advisory board get together for a fancy dinner to talk, recognize graduating seniors, hand out awards for classwork and projects completed, and announce the org officers for the coming year. This year's banquet was much more chill than last year's— still fancy, yes, but not having assigned seating helped everyone feel more comfortable. I got to chat with the gentleman who did one of my mock interviews back in the fall and with his wife, a former PWID major who now owns her own marketing consulting business, and I quite enjoyed the discussion. We (along with the other two students at the table) compared notes on the college then and now, and they told us a little about what they do professionally.
  • TDK events also kept me pretty busy. Shortly after the PWID Banquet, we started a game of Assassins— basically glorified, multi-day tag— with the freshmen versus the sophomores. I am sorry to say that the freshmen beat us within three days . . . but at least I almost got my target. Almost.
  • Most of the TDK events, though, were of a more official nature. I was chosen as the organization's secretary for next year (yay!), so both the current and incoming officer boards had multiple meetings and events to sort of transfer command and orient the new officers. Those were a little stressful, since they fell right in the middle of some of my biggest projects, but I feel like I know what I'm doing now, so . . . mission accomplished? I'm excited for next year, though.
  • That almost sums it up; just one thing left. I'm still doing swing, see, but at one of the social swing events, the people in charge decided to change things up a little by teaching everyone how to ballroom dance. So now I can waltz! Or, at least, I can do the basic waltz steps, which is more than I could before. They also taught two Latin dances, but . . . eh. They confused me. I'll stick to waltzing and swing, thank you.

May Plans!

  • I'm going hoooome! And actually going to stay there this time instead of moving and galivanting all over the country! (Or, well, all over the northeastern part of the United States, plus Texas. You know what I mean.)
  • That said, the fact that I'm at home doesn't mean I'm going to do nothing. For one thing, I finally have an actual internship— thank God! Remember the couple who I said I talked to at the PWID Banquet? Particularly the woman with her own marketing consulting business? She needed a summer intern and asked my professors which PWID students they'd recommend, they passed along my name, and, well— long story short, I'm going to be doing design work and a bit of writing for her this summer, and I'm super excited. Not only does this fit my interests much better than a lot of the internships I found and applied to (most of which were technical writing— which I'm fine with, but isn't my first choice), but I get to work from home! So, yeah. That's going to be awesome.
  • I also have a few different writing projects that I want to work on. Kendra extended the deadline for the Indie e-Con writing contest, so I hope to write up another short story or two for that, assuming I can sort out any of my ideas into a full plot. I need to edit more of Fight Song; I'd love to finish it if I can, but that might be a bit of a stretch. I'll keep working on Dust of Silver, of course. And, last but not least, I'm returning to Blood in the Snow to make a few changes suggested by the Rooglewood judges before I start doing . . . other things . . . with the manuscript.
  • To accomplish all that: my official goal is half an hour of writing per day, five days a week. That's much smaller than I really need, but my hope is that once I start writing, I'll keep going. My unofficial goal is to spend an hour or two every day on writing projects, but I don't want to commit officially to anything like that until after I figure out what's realistic when combined with my internship.
  • And, of course, home always means an increase supply of books to read! Hopefully I can catch up on what I've missed from the last several months before the time comes to tackle all my summer reads, but we'll see what I end up doing. I also want to catch up on the Marvel universe as much as I can so that maybe I can see Infinity War before people start posting spoilers . . . maybe. We'll see if that actually happens, since watching any recently-released movie involves, y'know, actually going to the movie theater. It's a problem.
  • Finally, because sitting all day isn't exactly the best plan, I'm giving the #Walk30Days challenge another shot. This is an event every May hosted by Nadine Brandes, and the goal is basically to go walking 30 days in May. I tried this last year, then gave up when the weather turned rainy, but I hope that Virginia will cooperate better than New York did. We'll see what happens.
How did your April go? What are your plans for May? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)