Here comes the beginning of school with the eclipse shadowing the Dr’s appointments, the sports, the everything but me getting work done. But Mythical books, my supporter of old, has graciously hosted me on their blog today. Read about why my newest book Wild is not your usual story. Continue reading…
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.
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?”
“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?”
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?”
“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?”
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.
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.”
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.
For some reason, I thought I would have much more time to write once my kids attended full-time school. They won’t have that many activities, I thought.
I guess shaving a month from summer vacation gave them room for all the half-days.
And being a charter school, there is no bus. I bet if I added up the hours I spent in my car the last year or two I could have driven to Disneyland at least twice. But I don’t need to go that distance for a ride, I mean, my life is one giant spinning tea cup as it is.
I do love my kids’ school though—fine art, drama, music, and at least one opera…
…concerts during the day, concerts at night…are the tires smoking?
What day job?
Does anyone else get stuck behind the retiree driving 5-10 miles under the speed limit when they’re running late (Do they need to go shopping this early?)? On those days, I get to the school so late it takes 20-30 minutes of line-waiting to reach my kids.
But hey! We can read books in line, right? I read an entire anthology this school year while waiting in line.
At the end of the day, it’s worth the wait. The education C and N gets is invaluable, whether it’s in class, on stage or on the playground.
Speaking of waiting, people have been asking me about the progress of my book, the second in the City of Light Series. It’s coming, I promise. After a few final tweaks, it should be ready to go (Should anyone be interested in receiving an ARC, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org). The name, you say?
(that’s the opposite of waiting in line).
Happy Tuesday friends.
A publisher told a class I once attended that he could tell when a manuscript had been written by a teen rather than an adult. It isn’t the quality of writing that gives it away—copious amounts of formal education makes a storyteller not—it’s the human experience: falling in love, becoming a parent, losing a loved one; living long enough to have experienced the depths of life. It’s after experiencing the heart of what their story is about that a writer can take the science and art and weave it together with the kind of scars we received from boldly living.
“If you haven’t experienced your story in deep doses”, he said, “You better research the heck out of it to make it believable because readers want to connect with truth.”
So even though I haven’t lived in a dystopian society like I created in Wake where expressive art was outlawed, I have been undervalued by teachers because they hadn’t experienced art in its true form. There have been times when I painted a canvas with inspiration I know didn’t come from me—I’ve been in a class where a student refused to paint a particular subject because of the truth of what it might have revealed in him. I don’t know the power of art because of what a few authority figures have told me—I know it because I’ve lived it.
So when the elections rolled around, and our choices were limited to OMG! and YOU’RE KIDDING! I started mulling over the wisdom of the candidates—that’s how I vote, because an eloquent speaker or a horrible speaker are just speakers; I don’t care how well or how poorly they speak, I want to know what they KNOW. What have they lived through that makes me think they will lead with the fruits of their experiences?
When I had finally finished with my core subjects in college and was free to study art, my boss at the time commented on how I had no “real” classes left. Why then, I wondered, did she see the importance of hanging a particular painting where it was the first thing she looked at every day? Somehow, she had missed the connection. This is what I ponder when candidates discuss whether or not a fetus is a “real” baby, or if certain ethnic groups should suffer for the sins of a few because even the innocent are a “real” threat. If faith isn’t a factor for a candidate (it is for some, but we all know professing a faith is a campaign strategy), and science hasn’t gotten far enough to give answers to the hard questions…what kind of deep living do they draw their conclusions from?
What do you think? Let’s lend an ear during the debate tonight—maybe we’ll be able to discern the wisdom from the speech.
Our monsoons have gone into hiding. For anyone unfamiliar with this phenomenon, it’s the time of year when the western skies usually cry over us with mercy. Giant teardrops slice through the UV rays, cooling our skin from the constant high-temp bake.
How we miss our summer friend. Insidedom under the ceiling fan is interesting for only so long. How does one stay entertained within 1500 square feet?
The Son has acquired an addiction to Garfield, reading and rereading old Garfield books, telling anyone who listens how funny it is when Odie gets kicked off the table. We have watched the same library DVD of Garfield’s holidays for the last four days. BTW, it’s Christmas on the farm again. It doesn’t seem to rain there either.
The Daughter has decided she’s a chef now, and will attempt to cook anything she sees on TV. A few mornings ago, I woke to a malodorous cloud of burned egg. “It’s French toast, Mommy. But I couldn’t remember anything but eggs and bread.” And how to take a skillet full of egg off the burner. Too hot to air out the house too. It was 1500 square feet of nasal misery—all day.
Evenings are nice though—at least up high like we are. The skies blow cool kisses—just enough to air out foul smells, and release us from our walled confinement.
But I miss the rain (and the ten drops we got this morning does not qualify as a monsoon), and hope to feel its mercy upon my face before summer ends. Just the smell of it reminds me of childhood days, when a friend and I would curl up inside his screened-in porch and watch the storms roll in with hands full of popcorn and plastic cups of Kool-Aid. Rain is a wonder, a blessing, and downright good entertainment for those who grew up with eyes fixed on the skies rather than on a screen.
May our floors soon be covered in muddy footprints. Blessings for your Monday.
What better way to finish a good book than having the opportunity to interview the author? I’m talking to YA Author, Annie Douglass Lima today. Check out the end of this interview for a chance to win a gift card or digital copy of The Collar and the Cavvarach. It’s a hard book to put down!
S: Give us a brief description of The Gladiator and the Guard.
Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is desperate to see his little sister freed. But only victory in the Krillonian Empire’s most prestigious tournament will allow him to secretly arrange for Ellie’s escape. Dangerous people are closing in on her, however, and Bensin is running out of time. With his one hope fading quickly away, how can Bensin save Ellie from a life of slavery and abuse?
And now for The Gladiator and the Guard:
Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is just one victory away from freedom. But after he is accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he is condemned to the violent life and early death of a gladiator. While his loved ones seek desperately for a way to rescue him, Bensin struggles to stay alive and forge an identity in an environment designed to strip it from him. When he infuriates the authorities with his choices, he knows he is running out of time. Can he stand against the cruelty of the arena system and seize his freedom before that system crushes him?
S: Take us into the world of your book. What goes on here that we should know about?
A: The stories take place in a world almost exactly like our own. Although most aspects of the culture are just about what they are currently on Earth, a few sports are different, such as the martial art known as cavvara shil. The main difference, however, is that slavery is legal there.
The Krillonian Empire rules much of the world. An emperor, who is never named, governs from the capital city, Krillonia, on the continent known as Imperia. Eight separate provinces (independent nations before they were conquered) can be found on nearby continents. Each province, plus Imperia, is allowed to elect its own legislature and decide on many of its own laws, but the emperor reserves the right to veto any of them and make changes as he sees fit. This seldom happens, however, and to most people the emperor is merely a vague and distant ceremonial figure.
The prevalence of slavery is probably what would stand out the most to visitors from Earth. There are nearly as many slaves in the city of Jarreon, where both books take place, as free people, and they are easily identified by the steel collars they are required to wear locked around their necks. From each collar hangs a tag inscribed with the slave’s name, their owner’s name, and a copy of their owner’s signature. On the back of the tag is their owner’s phone number and a bar code that can be scanned to access additional information.
Many families own one or more slaves who do their housework and yardwork. Businesses often own a large number of slaves, usually for manual labor, though some are trained for more complex tasks. Those who don’t own their own slaves may “hire in” one belonging to someone else. The accepted rate for an hourly wage is two-thirds the amount that a free person would earn for equivalent labor (the money goes to the slave’s owner, of course).
To read more about the culture of the Krillonian Empire, take a look at this post on my blog.
S: What makes The Gladiator and the Guard stand out from other books in this genre?
A: I don’t know of any other books that take place in a world so similar to ours, and yet so disturbingly different in just a few key areas.
S: How did you get the idea for this book series?
A: I’ve had the idea growing in my mind for the last few years. It started as just a picture of the setting and its culture (with legalized slavery), and the plot and individual characters emerged little by little. The martial art of cavvara shil, which Bensin is proficient in, didn’t enter my imagination until just before I started drafting.
S. Does it relate to anything going on in our world today?
A: Not directly. I hope this story will make readers think about the value of human life and perhaps take a second look at some of the practices we accept or choose to turn a blind eye to in our own culture. Legalized slavery sounds so impossibly wrong that it’s easy to think we could never let it happen in this day and age, but how many other wrongs do we overlook just because it isn’t convenient to do anything about them?
S: What do you do when you’re not writing?
A: Besides writing, I enjoy reading (especially fantasy and science fiction) and scrapbooking. Hiking and other outdoor adventures are high on my list as well as travel (especially internationally). Oh, and my day job: I’m a 5th grade teacher.
S: What’s next for you after The Gladiator and the Guard?
A: There will probably be one more book in this series, though I’m tossing around ideas that may eventually lead to other stories set in the same world. In the meantime, I’m working on a final book in my Annals of Alasia fantasy series, which should be ready to publish in the next few months. I also have a science fiction novel that I drafted for last year’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, in November). I hope to have that one polished and ready for publication in another year or so. Lots of irons in the fire!
If you want to connect with Annie, click on the links below: