Hello From the Shadows

I keep finding myself another few months from my last blog post, wondering if I’m in an alternate universe where time mocks all my efforts to get back to writing.

How many of you have day jobs? You probably go through seasons where you’re understaffed, overworked and coming away with a paycheck that doesn’t reflect the energy/family time you’ve sacrificed to “fill in.”

Well, my season of overworking has been much like hitchhiking on a turtle. It keeps going and going at a painfully unproductive pace. I need a wormhole, friends.

However, the time I’ve had away from writing has blossomed with new ideas. I’m considering switching gears to enter the general market. My current genre of faith-based speculative fiction has been fulfilling, but it’s a genre so obscure that I’m not connecting with enough of a readership.

I want to write more real-world, living-this-hard-life themes while keeping the undeniable magic. I have ideas for fiction and one non-fiction.
Thank you all, for your patience and for sticking with me. In this fast-paced world where our attention spans are compared to that of goldfish, you guys are highly valued.

As a thank you—that I’m only alerting those reading my blog—I’m offering the kindle version of ILLUME for FREE, today only. So far, readers consider it my best work and the best of the series. If you’re a tactile person it’s also in paperback now, yay!

I’ll be back, taking you along on my research journey, soon! Happy Tuesday!

ILLUME

My friends!

I have more to say than just this, and I’ll be back next week with some encouragement, but as I’m in between writing and the Son’s karate lessons, I’ll leave you with this today.

I finally finished the third book in the City of Light series. Here are the first two paragraphs which you don’t want to read unless you’ve read the other two. By the way, WAKE (#1) is permanently free on Barnes and Noble. Here.

 

 

He stands in a cloud of ash, his long hair ruddy and dry at the ends like wild grasses blown by seasons of wind. His eyes are slivers of rich bark, his arms browned by colonies of freckles. A cord of stones hangs from his neck, and although no ghosts materialize from its powers, he captures my attention like a specter from my past—the man I think is my father.
I tug my shirt over my mouth to keep the fire residue from choking me and take one step toward him. Nearly as large as Luke, he places a thick hand over his heart, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say stars slipped into his eyes from the remains of night just to shine on me. He smiles with closed lips, a near perfect reflection of the way my mother smiled when I woke each morning. You’d think they’d had a whole lifetime together sharing a smile like that. I can’t imagine why she never told me about him.

 

The link for ILLUME is here. I hope you love it–it’s for you, after all.

Happy Wednesday, and see you soon!

 

 

The Summer Files: Day….something

Wow. Is the sun shining? I’ve been formatting books for the past few weeks…I might have come up for a few gulps of air.
Anyway, at long last, Wild, the second in the City of Light series is out today! Instead of just telling you about it, I’ll do better.

1. Wake, the first book is free today and for the next several days.
2. The first chapter of Wild is posted below.

Happy Tuesday!

 

One

Our new life begins in a mass grave—one in which our parents’ bodies lie. Bones dried from the sun, voices silenced by the mud Luke smears over my skin. I catch his hand in mine, wishing the night wouldn’t hide his blue eyes. “Is this necessary?”
“Yes, quiet.” He points above us to where the sound of horse hooves approach. I escaped Titus to gain freedom, but suddenly I don’t feel free. Luke pours water from his flask to make more mud, then smears it over his face and hands, where his deer skin doesn’t cover him.
A heavy footstep above us splatters dirt clods into The Chasm, and we cover our heads and hug the wall. Mountain Men in hand-me-down boots line the cliff, casting a wicked glow from their torches.
When the light falls on the edge of a rib cage jutting from the earth between me and Luke I press my fist over my mouth.
It could have held the heart of someone I loved.
I squeeze my eyes shut, keeping still until I hear them leave. One by one, the Mountain Men grunt, spit or curse, then mount their horses and trot away. I raise my eyelids again and whisper, “How do we climb out of here?”
“With sunlight.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“They roam the hills all night. It’ll be safer at dawn.” He unfolds himself from our hiding place and stretches—I hear the familiar pop in his back. “There’s a place farther down, without all the company.”
I try to step where he steps, but the moonlight shies away from the depths of The Chasm. My boot crunches down on something. I bite my lip and wipe my tread on the ground and shuffle behind Luke until we come to a hollow dug for two. “You’ve hidden here before?”
“Yes.”
After we curl up on the damp ground, he pulls the deer skin over me. I try not to imagine the deer it might have belonged to and push it far enough away to where I smell more of Luke than the hide. I lie with my back to him, feeling awkward now that the lines between friendship and something more have gone unresolved. His voice comes to me, low and tired. “I’ve been here a week, trying to figure out how to get you out of The Seed. Mountain Men have been surrounding The City a few weeks now.”
The night has cooled the summer day into blanket weather. I scoot closer to Luke and let my own troubled week spill from my lips into his ears: imprisonment in my own home; surviving The Seed, where Preston and his father tormented me; fearing for Luke’s life. I suppose our parents and grandparents that were dumped here had lived similar stories. We rebelled against the laws and searched for God, discovering He existed after all. The artists, like Luke, tried communicating Him to the people of Titus, through various forms of art. Many who didn’t manage to escape into the Wild ended up in this pile of bones the city calls rehabilitation.
“Preston hunted me because I betrayed him to the Mountain Men—chased me through the orchards like it was a game. He’s just like his dad, and would have killed me if I hadn’t gone through the glass.”
“Don’t worry—I have plans for him.” There’s an edge to Luke’s voice—like a scar in the tone. He folds his arm around my waist. “I made contact with Galeo after Orca took you to The Seed. He told me how Preston treated you.” I jump when a few sets of hooves snap and crunch their way along The Chasm’s rim. Luke squeezes my arm. “Javelina. Can’t you smell them?”
“No. How can you possibly smell them from here?”
“It’s astonishing how living in the Wild sharpens the senses. We become like the animals.”
“Can you smell the jackfruit tree I hid in?”
“Sour onions…where you hid from Preston?”
“Um hmm.”
“Then I smell the man I’m going to kill.”
“I’m pretty sure he’s dead. Didn’t you see us fall from The Seed?”
“You survived.”
I turn my face to the stars above. “This doesn’t sound like you.”
“The City will fall soon. Unless The Triad—and Preston—is replaced, it won’t survive. The people won’t survive.”
The euphoria that filled me when I survived the fall from The Seed is steadily leaving me. We’re finally together. Despite the dangerous path we’re on, I think I can finally rest for the night. I turn over and bury my face in Luke’s shirt, both familiar and foreign. My eyes lose their focus as The Chasm swallows me into the deep of night.
It seems like all I did was blink and exhale, but the next time I open my eyes, our hollow is swallowing a spoonful of morning light. Luke sits across from me, stretched out in full sun, his face still dirtied by his mud disguise. He smiles.
I sit up to take it all in. His hair still lifts away from his face, although it looks lighter than its darker city shades. Only a month separates us, but his eyes look five years removed from me. Wild. Wise and Wild. I touch my own face, wondering if trauma has done the same to me.
“You’ve never looked better. Here, put these on.”
He tosses a pair of boots at my feet. They’re soft and pliable, surely too delicate for living outdoors. Laces crisscross all the way up the sides. Caressing the smooth material, I pull it to my cheek until I catch the scent and throw them back down. “Skin?”
“From the same skin you slept under last night.” He scoots close to me. “It doesn’t take long to get used to wearing it. It’s like air—we need it.”
“They don’t look like they could handle a hike.”
“Their durability won’t be your first surprise, and the Watchdogs won’t find your tracks as easily. Put them on; it’s time to go.”
“And these?” I pull off my old boots, staring at the sturdy rubber tread, dropping them when I see shards of bone pressed into the tread.
“Bury them.”
I do so without arguing, quickly lacing my new boots when Luke grips his shoulder and groans.
“Let me see it.” I step behind him, pushing his vest aside. A deep red scar runs from mid-back to his right shoulder blade: Preston’s parting gift. “How deep does it run?”
“Down to misery some days.”
I look at him leaning over, catching his breath against the pain. Luke rarely complains of pain—the only time I’ve seen him like this was when he burned his arms trying to pull his mother from the museum fire. I stare in the direction of Titus. “Surely he’s dead.”
Luke says nothing more until we’ve left The Chasm three miles behind. Collapsing in the shade of several oak trees, we drink from his flask. My hip aches from the explosion in The Seed, but walking is more bearable than it was yesterday. Still, I lay on my stronger side, wipe my forehead with my tattered sleeve and stare at Luke, trying to become familiar with him again. His eyes roam our surroundings as we rest, eventually falling on me. His mouth curves into a slight smile, then falls again. “How bad did he hurt you?”
“He tried to break my foot to keep me from escaping.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
A wave of heat surges across my face and neck. I look down, remembering how Preston stared at me with a brazen appetite. “Surprisingly, no.”
Tension melts from his face as he leans against a mound of leaves and other forest debris. “We get a new life, Monet.” His face is set in bold lines; no smile lifts his mouth, but his eyes gleam when I meet them. “You and I.”
“Tell me. How do families fare in the Wild?” I swallow and lean hard against the ground. He moves so close to me I feel his warmth, then lowers his eyes to mine, capturing me in a decision. “They live on courage, not fear.”
“I can do that.”
He smiles and curls his hands around my arms. “The weeks have changed you.”
“And you.” I touch his jaw, so tight. He looks away.
We jerks our heads toward a sharp snap in the woods west of us. Before any words register in my mind, Luke pulls me from daylight toward the mound he leaned against moments ago. He grabs a branch at the base of the heap, and lifts it up with the entire blanket of forest debris attached and pushes me inside the manmade nook.
“Don’t make a sound.” He pulls the lid of leaves over us and we wait. Inside our hideaway, the darkness assaults me; I’m not claustrophobic, but the thought of living like prey, dressed in the skin of prey, wraps around my chest like a vice. I take a deep breath to calm myself and wonder if the Wild Ones are civilized at all.
As we lie within the droppings of trees and animals, I realize I’m letting absolute logic take hold again, as if the smell of Titus still clings to me. I know better. I breathe in and out, slowing my lungs and let myself enjoy being stuffed next to Luke. His shoulder firm against mine, his fearless nature strength for my fearful one. I am free. I am free.
Luke lifts a corner of our roof, edging his face near the opening.
That’s when I smell it. A Mountain man. I scoot close to warn Luke, but again, he reacts faster. Whipping his legs in front of him, he catches a pair of battered boots and sweeps the intruder to his back.
Our cover flies back and Luke bolts outside and grabs the man by the shirt, pulling him close enough to see every granule of filth on his face. “What do you want?”
“What we all want.” The man coughs and turns his head toward me, grinning. “Her.”
Luke spares a second to glance at me, eyebrows lifted—just long enough for the man to break from Luke’s hold and sidestep far enough to pull a long knife from the sheath strapped to his leg.
“Preston said he killed you. Kid’s a liar just like his Dad was.”
“Was?” I stand near Luke, pluck a branch from the ground. I grip it with both hands, trying to look like I know what to do with it.
The man grins, wide and yellow. “We disposed of’m. Threw him in the Chasm ‘bout an hour ago. Right about where you two cuddled up last night.”

His eyes cling to me, bees to honey. I wave the branch across my body as if to disengage his train of thought, but they adhere to me, sliding down my neck, my waist. Luke seizes the man’s wrist and slams it against the tree until he drops his knife. Like an angry sting, the man brings his opposite arm down on Luke’s, breaking free. Backing away, they circle each other. Luke’s shoulder stiffens ever so slightly, and I see his left hand flex to cradle the pain, but he keeps it down—I see it because I know Luke so well, but the Mountain Man’s eyes have been trained for survival because as soon as he reads Luke’s body language, he pounces.
The branch is heavy in my struggle to swing it high, but I do it anyway, thrashing it against a leg, an arm. But my clumsy attempts don’t help Luke. Finally, they separate enough for me to attempt a blow to the man’s chest. I lift the branch to gain momentum, but it catches on the tree behind me. I lose my balance and fall between them.
The Mountain Man grabs me by the hair, pulling me to my feet. The shock of it makes me gasp, and I fling my hands to his to pry them from my hair. I accidentally poke his eye and then do it again after I hear him cry out. My hair goes slack.
Luke brushes me aside and grips the man by the back of his neck and arm, shoving him headfirst into the tree. The man doesn’t even grunt when he falls. His mouth hangs open, catching the last red stream of life trickling from his forehead.
“You killed him.” I gape at Luke, only three weeks in the Wild like he breathed it in to his very cells.
He gives his deed no mind, but asks, “What did he mean?”
I stare at the man, dead on the ground, wondering why it bothers me after spending the night in The Chasm. Perhaps a life in the process of leaving is less definite than a pile of broken bones.
“Tell me,” Luke says.
I find Luke’s face, hard again. “Didn’t you hear Hep when you came through the quad to get me?”
He shakes his head.
“He leads the Mountain Men. They took over The Seed right before I escaped. He…” I feel my face flush and look away. “He wants me. He offered the city a reward for bringing me to him.”
“We need to get home.”
“What about him?” I tilt my head toward the Mountain Man.
“The cats will take care of it.”
“Luke?”
He stops underneath an oak and looks at me. The words catch in my throat when I see the hard set of his jaw relax. He puts his hands on my shoulders, pulling me into his embrace. We take a minute to stay there, locked in the bond we used to keep the fear away when we were citizens of Titus. It is then, in the worn folds of his cotton shirt peeking from his vest, that I catch his old familiar scent. Metal. “You’re sculpting out here?”
He pulls away, grins and starts walking. “Peter found my welder when he was watching for you at the old house. Not much metal out here, but a few scavenged scraps keep me busy.”
“What will you make now that you’re free?”
He runs a hand over my hair and I fall in step beside him. “Maybe a door handle for a new home?”
“There are houses?”
“No. No houses. Just home.”
Home. Is it more than shelter then?
The sun is aimed deadly high when we get there, and if it wasn’t for a merciful breeze it would have baked us long before we reached our haven. When Luke stops and raises his arm in front of us, all I see is a cliff at our feet and a creek beyond. But just beyond the tip of Luke’s fingers, right where he points at the canopy of trees inside the walls of the cliff below us, something’s not quite right.

The Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queen, intervew with Tosca Lee

She’s the queen of prose, the storyteller of the century—she’s Tosca Lee, the author that will make even the non-reader devour the written word.

Her latest book will be released tomorrow. Here’s a bit about The Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queen, and an interview with the author herself (stay tuned for a giveaway):

There is the story you know: A foreign queen, journeying north with a caravan of riches to pay tribute to a king favored by the One God. The tale of a queen conquered by a king Queen of Sheba Coverand god both before returning to her own land laden with gifts.

That is the tale you were meant to believe.

Which means most of it is a lie.

The truth is far more than even the storytellers could conjure. The riches more priceless. The secrets more corrosive. The love and betrayal more passionate and devastating.

Across the Red Sea, the pillars of the great oval temple once bore my name: Bilqis, Daughter of the Moon. Here, to the west, the porticoes knew another: Makeda, Woman of Fire. To the Israelites, I was queen of the spice lands, which they called Sheba.

More from Tosca:

• What do we actually know about the Queen of Sheba?
We know something about the Sabaean (the Israelite Sheba = ancient Arabian Saba) people: that they had a capital in Marib, a sovereign “federator” who united the kingdoms of Saba, an elegant and evolving script, a sophisticated dam near the capital that turned Marib’s dusty fields into oases, and that there is great evidence of Sabaean settlement in the area of Ethiopia near what would become Aksum. We know the Sabaeans of the 10th Century BC worshipped the moon god, Almaqah, though experts do not agree whether this was a male or female deity. We know that in terms of the ancient world, they were quite rich due in large part to their cultivation of frankincense in the southeastern region, and that they had an extensive and evolving trade network that extended as far north as Damascus, as far east as India, and as far west across the Red Sea as Ethiopia and the continent beyond.
The queen is a very minor character in the scope of the biblical narrative, but you assert that her famous visit to King Solomon is vitally important in the scope of Old Testament history. Why?
For two reasons. If the story of the United Monarchy (the kingdom of David and his son/successor, Solomon) is not true, then the bedrock of three major world religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) collapses into fiction, and the claim of Jews to the land of Israel with it. Perhaps the authors of 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles knew that, because they took the opportunity to basically say, “Hey, this queen from the ends of the earth, that famous Queen of Sheba, came and brought tribute to our king, and blessed him and our god and said ‘All that I heard was true, and I never even heard the half of it!’” This is fascinating. It begs the question: what was it that was so great about this female sovereign—in a time when the world was ruled by men—and a pagan, no less… what was it about her that was so outstanding that her endorsement of Solomon, his riches, wisdom, and god, held so much weight as to be included in the Old Testament narrative? Who was this woman who matched wits with the wisest man in the world—whose throne was so secure that she could leave it and make the 1400 mile journey of half a year to visit this king… before making the long trek back? Well, this must be a woman worth knowing something about.

Tosca PhotoYou recently won the 2014 Gold Medallion for fiction—what people may not know is this is the only award given each year by the ECPA for Christian fiction across all genres. And yet you’re known for your controversial points of view and pushing limits of the category. What is it about your books that you believe resonates so much with Christian readers?
I think it’s that I’m willing to go there and get gritty. To admit that halfway through the writing of Iscariot, I realized I was no longer writing his story… but my own. Havah is also my story. They all are. And we’re not that different, you and I. I like writing about these maligned characters because even though we may not want to, we can often identify with them far more readily than the good guys, who seem so untouchable. We all feel let down at some point by the way God fails to adhere to our agendas for Him. We all have moments when we think, “if you knew me—really knew me—you would not love me.” We all fail with the best of intentions, and we all want to be embraced exactly as we are. We are all as capable of darkness as we are of light—and often the darkness is far more tangible. The stuff in the Bible isn’t sterile—far from it. It’s gory, violent, sexual, and messy. But so is life. I want to be honest about fear and compromise as I am about hope, beauty and redemption.

It’s probably no surprise that you used to be a freelance writer. But you’ve also been an online gamer, a pageant queen—were first-runner up to Mrs. United States—a model and a leadership consultant to Fortune 500 Companies with the Gallup Organization. How have each of these seeming disparate experiences informed your experience as a best-selling author?
Online gaming, when I was doing it—before avatars and the time of EverQuest, even—was solely text-based. We’re talking about the early 90s, during the time of dial-up modems when online gaming boiled down to collaborative story-telling. I spent nine years writing about imaginary characters online. I don’t know how many words or pages that amounted to (hundreds and hundreds), but I assert often that everything I learned about characterization happened from role-playing in text and writing online—from slipping into the skin of characters I could only portray with words. The pageant thing, the modeling thing, gave me invaluable training in media. The year I was Mrs. Nebraska (1996) was when I started public speaking. Suddenly, I had a platform, and people assumed I had something to say. Well, I did, and that led to me going to work for Gallup. Working as a consultant, my primary job was as a speaker and teacher. This, too, has proved invaluable when it comes to speaking on writing and to the media. I’m very comfortable in front of an audience of 20 or 1000.

What are one or two things that your readers don’t know about you?
I danced semi-professionally as a classical ballerina in my teens. I also used to be a concert pianist. I have the greatest fans in the world, am terrible at math, can’t work if my house is messy, and am a crack shot with a deer rifle.

• What are you working on next?
I’m taking a break from biblical historicals. My next two books will be something different. And then I’ll delve back into the biblical world again.

What others have said about The Legend of Sheba

“An epic masterpiece.”
-Michael Napoliello, Radar Pictures

“Another winner from Lee.”
-Publisher’s Weekly

“Tosca Lee has outdone herself with Legend of Sheba.”
-Best-selling author Erin Healy

Links to Download Ismeni, the prequel FREE:Ismeni photo

Amazon: http://bit.ly/IsmeniPrelude
Simon & Schuster: http://bit.ly/LegendofShebaPrequel

P.S. I’ve read it—it’s awesome.

A few links to find Tosca:

Website: http://www.toscalee.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorToscaLee

Links to buy:

Amazon: http://bit.ly/LegendofSheba
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/RiseofaQueen
CBD: http://bit.ly/1oRPae6