Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Wednesday Briefs: Waterlord Prequel Part 4

              As he did every evening, Tom ate in the mess hall. While those with families usually sat with them, sometimes others would join Tom at the children’s tables after grabbing their dinner. It was almost a separate room, partitioned off from the rest of the ship. Tom was ravenous, and got double helpings of everything. He intended this dinner to make up for the lost sandwich.

            It was lonely, with only Tom and another boy, Sam, sitting at the tables. Everyone was probably sitting with their parents because of the storm. Sam was young and childish, probably only here because he didn’t get along with his older sibling, but Tom appreciated having someone else here. He wondered where Nathan was.

             Nathan didn’t appear until Tom was nearly done with his food. Upon closer inspection, the older boy appeared to be limping, and had a stormy expression on his face. Tom laughed when it struck him. “Hah! Did you get hit by the teacher for skipping all the time?”

        Nathan looked up with a glare, pointing his fork threateningly at Tom. “Shut up, you little shit.”

        Tom raised his eyebrows, but took it as an affirmative. That was a fitting punishment for Nathan’s leaving him out in the storm. Sam giggled as he reached for another slice of fish.

Nathan banged the table with his fist, making the tableware jump. “Shut up, or you’ll regret it!” Sam only laughed harder.

                Nathan growled, and suddenly Sam’s plate shattered in front of him as Nathan slammed his fork through it into the table. The sound of the plate breaking finally made Sam hush, and even Tom froze. This wasn’t like Nathan. He played pranks, but he usually didn’t get this mad.

Nathan leaned over and enunciated very clearly. “Shut. Up.”

Sam squeaked in fear, and Tom froze, not knowing what Nathan would do. He didn’t think Nathan would hit him, but Nathan had never been so angry over something as trivial as this before. If it did come to a fight, Tom knew Sam stood no chance against the older, stronger boy.

            “C’mon, Nathan, he didn’t mean it,” Tom said. “He’s just—“

            “Why don’t you sit with your family and leave us alone?” Nathan growled at Sam. “You don’t belong with us.”

            Sam squeaked again and left, abandoning his plate. Soon it was just Tom and Nathan. The ship’s orphans, alone again.

“What’s with you?” Tom asked. The ship lurched, and he grabbed his plate before it slid. The broken pieces of Sam’s plate swept off onto the floor. “That was…mean.”

“Once we get old enough we’ll be off this stupid residence ship anyway,” Nathan said. “Why do you care? We’re orphans. Our parents are dead. Making friends with people who’ll stay here is dumb.”

Tom opened and closed his mouth. He wished he had known his parents. He had been abandoned, he knew, moved from one residence ship to this one when he was 10. He had lived in an orphan’s hold before, and it had hurt to leave it. But being independent and getting education was better, wasn’t it?

“But isn’t the freedom we have a good thing?” he said. “We can do whatever we want. Maybe…maybe even become mages.”

Nathan laughed out loud. “Sure. Right.” Sarcasm dripped from his words. “Good luck with that. Do you even have any idea how mages are chosen?”

“I…no. You know they don’t teach that.”

“Right. Because very few people can do it. You have to have the talent. Pass the test. And you won’t.”

“How do you know?” Tom retorted, pointing with his fork. “How do you even know there’s a test?”

“What else would there be?” Nathan put up both hands. “It’s innate ability. It’s not taught.” He grimaced, rubbing his arm. “And you have to obey the rules of the Fire Lord anyway. There’s no freedom in being a mage.”

“But you won’t be stuck here,” Tom said. “Riding on ships forever.”

“Yeah. Sure.” Nathan didn’t sound convinced. “Keep being young and stupid, Tom. You don’t know how good you have it.”

“What do you mean?” Tom yelled, but Nathan was already getting up. “Why are you being so mean to me?”

“Just…sleep well tonight, alright?” Nathan called back. “You’re better off the way you are.”

Tom was once again left alone at the table, staring at the wood and the silverware as it slid back and forth as the ship tossed. He and Nathan had been close once, the only orphans on the ship. But lately he was so hard to understand.

As he put his plate away and headed back to his small room, he just hoped Nathan wasn’t so mad in the morning.

The fury of the storm rocked the ship, but it only helped Tom to fall asleep. The falling rain couldn’t be heard this low in the bowels of the ship, but Tom could swore he heard it anyway, like quiet whispers.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Wednesday Briefs: Waterlord Prequel part 3

Tom had almost dozed off. Fishing was surprisingly boring.

“Hah!” Nathan’s voice jolted him out of his stupor. Nathan had caught something, and he quickly began reeling it in, backing up from the edge of the ship. Tom jumped up from where he was sitting, trying to gauge how big the catch was from the bend in the line. He had wanted to make the first catch!

Nathan seemed to be having trouble with it, though. He was pulled toward the deck by the fish, and for a moment his line rolled out again before he regained control. “Damnit…” His brow furrowed, and he jerked the line toward the ship. Another fisherman came over to watch, cheering Nathan on.

               “C’mon kid, you got it!” This seemed to spur Nathan on, and he pulled the line more, backing up and inadvertently bumping into Tom.

               “Move it, damnit!” he shouted, and Tom jumped backward, more annoyed than ever. Why did Nathan always have to do everything? He eyed the water intently, trying to see the fish that Nathan was struggling with. It’d be funny if it got away.

               With a twang, the line snapped, and Nathan stumbled backward, landing ungracefully on his rear. The other fisherman laughed.

                “Tough luck there. I really thought you had him.” He walked back over to the nets, leaving Tom to deal with an angry and embarrassed Nathan.

              “Um..” Tom began. “Too ba-“

              Nathan was up in a heartbeat, grabbing Tom by his collar. He stared into his eyes for a moment before yelling. “That was your fault!”

              “What did I do?! It was the fish!” Why was Nathan blaming him?

               “Humph.” Nathan half dropped, half threw Tom down. “You always get in the way.”

    Tom scrambled to his feet, irate. “I do not! And you’re the one who asked me to fish with you!”

  “I didn’t know you’d be bad luck!” Nathan shouted back, but he seemed to have lost his initial anger. Like a bird smoothing its feathers, Nathan seemed to suddenly relax, and a thoughtful, almost conniving expression came over his face. “Let’s see what you can catch.”

     “Huh?” Tom was caught off guard by Nathan’s sudden change of mood, but then, that was typical. He figured he should be used to it by now. He shook off the strangeness of his companion and picked up his fishing rod again, staring out to sea as Nathan restrung his line. He could feel the other boy’s eyes on him, probably willing him to screw up somehow. He didn’t know if he wanted to catch a fish and show Nathan up, or not catch anything and avoid his wrath.

               Tom decided to simply fish, and let luck do the rest. He heard the whirr of string as Nathan cast his line again, and he watched as the bait plunked into the water. The bobbing of the string and the motion of the ship was almost hypnotic, and Tom suddenly felt tired once more. He heard the wind whistling in his ears, which was odd because he hadn’t thought it was that windy before. His eyes drooped, and he heard Nathan snicker before he fell asleep.

             The ship listed badly to one side, and rain pelted it. The wood groaned and cracked as the flames consumed it, but Tom couldn’t move. He was out of his element, and couldn’t breathe. The air cut his throat. He tried to find ground, but couldn’t; he was floating. He felt he should have control, but didn’t. Fear caught his throat, and he couldn’t scream…

            Tom woke up, heart pounding. He was sitting by the deck still, but it was dark, foreboding clouds overhead. The wind kicked up, and the whistling hurt his ears. The details of the dream had faded into his psyche, but the uneasiness remained. It was quickly replaced with anger, however, when he realized that Nathan was gone, as were the rods they had used to fish.

              “That jerk!” Tom yelled aloud. He knew it wasn’t Nathan’s fault that he had fallen asleep, but the older boy could have at least woken him! He didn’t see the other fishermen either, and all the nets had been hauled up. Looking up at the sky, fear filled him again. Everyone was obviously below decks for an impending storm. If he hadn’t woken on his own…

             A drop of rain hit his arm, and he looked up just as the sky unleashed its fury. The decks were soaked in seconds, and Tom ran quickly to the door, trying to throw it open. To his horror, it was locked.

             “Let me in!” He was soaked to the skin now, his brown hair plastered to his forehead, and he beat his fists on the door in near panic. The wind howled, and he hit the door harder, terrified of being caught in a windstorm and blown off the ship.

               The door whooshed open, and an old man stood there. “Get in here, boy!” He shouted. “What were you doing out there?”

                Tom dashed inside, and the old man, an ancient head cook on the ship whose name Tom could not remember, slammed the door against the wind. Tom looked miserable, dripping water onto the planks of the ship.

              The old cook shook his head. “Anyone else out there with you?”

                Tom sort of hoped Nathan was out there, getting as wet and cold as Tom was now, but he doubted it. “I don’t think so.” He realized that not only was he freezing, he felt half-starved, and he mourned his lost sandwich. Damn Nathan.

               “Weren’t you supposed to be in class?”

Tom frantically tried to think of an excuse. None was forthcoming.

               “Feh.” The man ambled off down the stairs to the lower portions of the ship. Tom dashed down after him, hoping to change into different clothes, and maybe get some food. He didn’t know how long until dinner, but perhaps they would serve it early due to the storm.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Wednesday Briefs: Waterlord Prequel part 2

             Children were given their lunch in the galley rather than the mess on class days, but afterward took their food to whatever part of the ship they could find, given that they did not get in anyone’s way. Tom grabbed a sandwich, just meat between fish skins. He usually sat on deck, staring out to sea. It never changed, but neither did the interior of the ship he lived on, so it was more entertaining to at least be outside. It was a gray day today, and windy. The fishermen weren’t having much luck, and Tom watched them trail their nets, the water lapping against the side of the ship.

      “What are you looking at?” Tom turned to see a tall youth with platinum blond hair named Nathan. Nathan often skipped class. Maybe he was scared Tom would turn him in.

                “Nothing,” Tom said. Nathan rarely hung out with him anymore; he had grown distant ever since the older boy had hit a growth spurt. “What are you doing?”

                 “Hm. Fishing, of course. It beats sitting in that damn classroom. Why do you go there, anyway? Only the teacher actually cares.” He sat down next to Tom and draped an arm over his knee, lounging.

                 “I dunno. Maybe we’ll learn something cool, like magic.”

                 Nathan snorted. “You and your damn magic. If you ever get tested, which you won’t, you’ll probably be too scared to do anything.”

        “That’s not true!” Tom retorted. “How would you know, anyway!? You’re no mage!”

                Nathan raised an eyebrow. “How do you know I’m not?”

               “Because…because you’re stupid and never go to class!” Tom spluttered.

   Nathan threw his head back and laughed. Quicker than Tom could see, he darted his hand and grabbed Tom’s sandwich, standing up and holding it just out of the younger boy’s reach. “See? Magic!”

                  “Give that back! You know I can’t get more!” Tom jumped up to try to snatch the sandwich back, but in vain. Nathan grinned, taunting him, before throwing it several yards away-off the ship.

                “Oops…sorry. Guess it slipped.” Nathan grinned.

                 “You jerk! I was hungry!” Tom yelled. He tried to push Nathan, but the older boy barely moved, just laughing harder.

                “Then fish with me, obviously,” Nathan said. “You can eat what you catch.”

              “You have to cook it first!” Tom shouted. “You’re such a jerk lately!”

             “You’re just a stupid child,” Nathan said. “Relying on handouts.”

            “I’m only two years younger than you!”

               The bell signaling the end of lunch break sounded then, making Tom jump. Tom was still hungry, but dared not let Nathan know that, and began to walk back to the hold where afternoon classes were held. Suddenly, though, Nathan grabbed his arm.

               “You’re not actually going back to class?” Tom looked at him warily. What did he care?

             “You’re hungry, right?  C’mon, fish with me. I didn’t meant to actually throw it off the side. Maybe we’ll catch your sandwich.”

Tom was unsure if this was a lead to another prank, or if Nathan was being sincere in his invitation. He also wondered briefly if it was possible to catch a sandwich. “Look, you don’t want to go back and get yelled at by the teacher, right?”

He had a point.

              “Fine, I’ll fish. But if we catch anything good, I get it first!”

               “Fair enough.” Tom wondered at Nathan’s sudden change, but decided to let it drop. Arguments never seemed to last long between them, no matter how annoying Nathan was. It came from both of them being orphans, probably. There weren’t many of them, and they had to stick together.  

      Tom followed Nathan to the bins that contained the fishing gear. Nathan grabbed a fishing pole and tossed it to Tom, who promptly dropped it after catching it. Nathan gave him a humorous look, and Tom defensively picked up the pole, trying to ignore the strain it put on his arms. He was annoyed when Nathan picked up another effortlessly, and did his best not to drop his or hit something with it when he followed Nathan to the prow of the ship where other fishermen were casting nets.

            “You know what to do, right?” Nathan asked.

Tom snorted. “Of course!” He knew how to put bait on a fishing rod.

             “Fine, fine. Just don’t lose the bait.” With that, Nathan deftly cast his line, the string unraveling and the bait dropping into the water. He fastened his end to the edge of the ship, and the motion dragged it along.

             Tom suddenly felt unsure, but wasn’t about to let it show. He tried to cast the same way Nathan had, but his line ended up in a huge tangle in the water. He glared at Nathan, daring him to say something, but the older boy only focused on his own line.

               After several tries, Tom succeeded in casting, and the two boys relaxed while their lines trailed. When Nathan wasn’t being a jerk, he was still okay to hang out with, Tom decided.

               They sat in silence for a while, Tom hoping that he would catch more fish than the older boy, when Nathan spoke up.

              “Storm coming.” His voice was almost a monotone, and Tom looked at him oddly. The day was perfectly clear, with not a cloud in sight.

             “What? How do you know?” Nathan looked over at him over his shoulder.

              “Magic.” His eyes twinkled with laughter, and Tom sighed. He hated it when Nathan made fun of him.

             “You wish!” Tom shouted. Nathan just laughed at him.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Love Wins released today!

Love Wins is a charity anthology of LGBT stories from Dreamspinner press, released today! You can get Love Wins at Dreamspinner or through Amazon!

With time comes healing, but Orlando and the LGBT community are still recovering from last June’s tragedy. To show our ongoing support for those affected by the Orlando shooting, our authors, editors, artists, and staff have volunteered their talents to create this second benefit anthology. All proceeds will be donated to LGBT organizations in central Florida. Join us as we reaffirm that no matter the obstacle, love always wins.

Below are brief descriptions of all the stories in the anthology.

Abstract Heart by Lucie Archer
Nick spends nearly every lunch break at the modern art museum, hoping to catch a glimpse of docent Kris. Kris has noticed the cute guy hanging around the exhibits too but never manages to approach him. It will take a matchmaking security guard to bring these two introverts together.

Cats and Christmas Trees: Trouble Waiting to Happen by M.A. Church
What’s a half human to do when Christmas rolls around? Kirk tries ignores it, but his shifter mates Tal and Dolf, being sneaky kitties, persist in finding out what’s troubling him so they can make it better.

A Chance for Hope by Deja Black
In the aftermath of tragedy, freelance writer Brad Truscott is drawn to ease Paul Bachman’s grief. But will Paul ever be ready to take another chance on happiness?

Changing Things by Nicole Dennis
Despite his allergies, Ryan puts up with the two rescue cats his boyfriend, Seth, adores. But when an especially severe asthma attack sends Ryan to the hospital, Seth realizes something has to give—either his relationship with Ryan or his guardianship of Fili and Kili.

Especially in Orlando by Troy Storm
When bighearted mover Dalton is hired to haul away a hot young guy’s belongings after a breakup, he can’t help returning to see how the good-looking older man is dealing with the transition. George is happy to take Dalton up on his offer of solace. But then George’s ex, Peter—aka Mr. Prissy Pout—has second thoughts, and while George isn’t interested in taking him back, he and Dalton are willing to share their experience—and more.

Free to Love by Kris T. Bethke
Henry is tired of hiding their relationship, but Shane is afraid to risk losing his job and his parents by coming out as gay. When his worst fears prove true, Shane finds that life outside his parents’ repressive control is so much better than anything he could have imagined.

Happily Ever After, After All by L.A. Merrill
Once upon a time, Princess Aubergine dreamed of a fairy-tale wedding to the girl of her dreams. Things haven't exactly worked out that way. Locked in a tower for ten years, Aubergine managed to scare off all the princes coming to rescue her. Now it's up to her to do the rescuing—until a band of students from the local Ladies’ Academy happen upon her tower and devise a daring escape plan.

The Importance of Pride by Ravon Silvius
College history professor Patrick Levine is looking for a subject for a research proposal when he discovers his granduncle’s journal. To his shock, not only was Uncle Marty gay, but he’d been at the Stonewall riot in 1969. Will learning more about his uncle’s history help Patrick face his own fears about coming out?

The Insomniac Sommelier by Julie Lynn Hayes
Kirk Westmoreland dreams of owning his own restaurant someday, but for now he fights insomnia while working at family-owned Venezia with his control-freak older brother. After work he tries to de-stress at Sweeties, a small diner run by his sister and her wife. When Kirk meets the diner’s new server, Ashley, he ends up going home with him—to the best sleep he’s had in forever. If he can’t keep his life at Sweeties compartmentalized from his life at Venezia, Kirk will have to decide which one he’s willing to give up.

Looking for George by David C. Dawson
Betty’s innocent crush on actor George Clooney became something more when he saved her from a fall at the hotel she works at in London. When she discovers her Italian holiday trip will take her only a few miles from the actor’s summer villa… well, surely fate means for them to meet again.

Love Over Lotto by Jude Dunn
Craig Batson and Tom Rendelle have plenty of joy together but not so much money. Determined to improve their finances, Craig borrows a library book on the secrets of winning the lottery and empties their rainy-day fund to buy dozens of lottery tickets. Tom explodes when he finds out, leaving Craig to wonder if their love can survive.

More Than His Scars by Jana Denardo
Facing the anniversary of the day he lost his arm while serving in the Middle East, Aaron is understandably depressed. It’s up to his lover, Rhys, to plan a special day to help Aaron see how amazing he really is.

Overcoming Fear by Grace R. Duncan
In the year since a global pandemic ravaged their world, Duncan has done everything he can to ease Mark’s fears of losing him. When a minister and his wife seek out Mark for help, Duncan sees an opportunity to show Mark another level of commitment—if Mark will dare to take it.

Prevailing Zzz's by Tray Ellis
After eight months together, Greg wants Win to move in with him. But how can Win agree when Greg's snoring leaves him sleep-deprived and miserable?

Pushing Back Oblivion by Alicia Nordwell
Fighting a rapidly growing brain tumor, Cohen promises his partner, Jaime, that he’ll never give up. Through surgeries and setbacks, at times that promise and Jaime’s voice are all Cohen has to cling to.

Reluctant Valentine by Xenia Melzer
A best-selling thriller novelist, Dean writes romances as a relaxing hobby. But when writer’s block strikes, sexy handyman Morgan shows up to provide all the inspiration he needs.

Taking a Chance by Renee Stevens
Gabe and Toby work for the same company, Gabe in the US and Toby in London. After meeting at a convention, they spend nearly every moment of their time together, but when they both have to return home, their only option is to attempt a long-distance relationship.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Wednesday Briefs: Waterlord Prequel

Back when I wrote The Waterlord, it was in three parts--and Part 1, the part I ultimately discarded, was Tom's childhood on the ship and how he got his powers. The writing wasn't up to snuff and it didn't fit the book, but I still liked the story. Tom and Nathan are in it, and it introduces the world they live in very effectively. I figured it would be fun to share as a Wednesday Briefs for a while. I hope others agree!

Water: Part 1

            “Are you paying attention?!” The ruler snapped down on Tom's desk, who had been staring at the map on the wall. The boy jumped at the sound, and looked up into the face of the irate navigator.

            “If you ever want to be more than a ship hoveler, you will pay attention!” The navigator shook the ruler once more before turning back to the board, where she had drawn numerous star charts. The class copied them down, all aware that the Ship Lord required them to know at least rudimentary navigation. Compasses were rare and expensive, owned only by the lords themselves, so the ship dwellers had to make do.

               Tom turned to the board, trying to make sense of it. The stars and constellations drawn with kelp powder seemed to swim in his vision, and he frowned. He didn’t want to be a navigator, so why did he have to study this? The maps of islands, real land, were what intrigued him. Most of the children in the classroom with him now had been born on the ship, but not him. When he was four, the captain had brought him here onto the ship. Before that, he imagined he had lived on one of the Ship Lord’s islands, maybe a son of a minor Lord. One day, his parents would come back for him, he hoped, and he would have his own ship to control…

              The ruler hit him squarely between his shoulder blades, and he yelped aloud. “I see threats aren’t enough for you, wave dreamer!” The navigator scowled at him as she wrenched him out of his chair. “Now you will stand in front of the class as I work!”
Grabbing him by the ear, she marched him up to the board, and placed him to the side. “Now stay there, and if you drift off again, I’ll throw you off the ship!”

              A day did not go by when the navigator did not threaten to throw one of them off the ship. In reality, though, no one could be thrown off without being judged by a Ship Lord himself, and rarely did a child do something heinous enough to warrant the ultimate punishment. Tom had been put up in front of the class enough times to know that by now.
             “There are several constellations that can be used for navigation, but single stars can be used as well. The most important of these is the rust star…”

               Tom did not care about the rust star, or any other star, for that matter. The head navigator on the ship had a device that he claimed he could use to see stars with in detail, but Tom had never bothered to try it. He was far more interested in the world they actually lived on. He remembered little of living on land; his memories were filled with days at sea, nothing in any direction but water, the only sound the whistling of wind that he liked to imagine was conjured by the air mages and the cries of albatross. When the ship passed close to one of the islands of the Ship Lords, however, Tom was first on deck, hoping to catch a glimpse of trees in the distance. The only ones invited to the islands were mages and captains, however, and Tom was neither of those. He had not set foot on land for nine years, and couldn’t remember what it was like.

             That would change, he assured himself. If he was discovered to be a mage, then he would get off the ship, and go to an island to be trained. Earth mages were always prized; if you were an earth mage you almost never stayed on a ship. Air mages almost always became co captains, powering the ships for the Ship Lords. And fire mages…That is what Tom wanted to be, a fire mage. They were rare, rarer even then earth mages, but they absolutely could not stay on a ship. Their element would not agree with it, obviously. It was said that fire mages usually went on to become Ship Lords of their own, and that was what Tom wanted more than anything. 

               Mages themselves were rare, though, and the tests for a given ability were never clear. Tom wasn’t sure how they were done, but he felt sure that he would be one. He felt determined to get off the ship, and if that meant developing magic power, he could do that. He had tried manipulating fire before, with no success, but didn’t magic abilities come later in life? He was sure he would be able to do it eventually.

               “Isn’t that right, Tom?” The navigator was speaking to him about something, and he jerked his head up to meet her gaze. He had no clue what she had just asked, so he simply nodded.

               The class burst into laughter, and the teacher sighed. “No, Tom, stars are not made of coral. I knew you weren’t paying attention. What am I going to do with you?”

               The lunch bell rang then, clanging down even to the bowels of the ship where children were instructed. The children ran out of the room, laughing happily, and Tom followed, darting around the navigator. Had he learned anything, it was forgotten in the rush to get their lunch.