Category Archives: Excerpt

Book Excerpt: Scourge: A Novel of Darkhurst

An Excerpt from Scourge: A Novel of Darkhurst
By Gail Z. Martin
Chapter One

A HEAVY IRON candleholder slammed against the wall, just missing Corran Valmonde’s head.

“Son of a bitch!”

“Try not to make her mad, Corran.”

Rigan Valmonde knelt on the worn floor, drawing a sigil in charcoal, moving as quickly as he dared. Not quickly enough; a piece of firewood spun from the hearth and flew across the room, slamming him in the shoulder hard enough to make him grunt in pain.

“Keep her off me!” he snapped, repairing the smudge in the soot line. Sloppy symbols meant sloppy magic, and that could get someone killed.

“I would if I could see her.” Corran stepped away from the wall, raising his iron sword, putting himself between the fireplace and his brother. His breath misted in the unnaturally cold room and moisture condensed on the wavy glass of the only window.

“Watch where you step.” Rigan worked on the second sigil, widdershins from the soot marking, this one daubed in ochre. “I don’t want to have to do this again.”

A small ceramic bowl careened from the mantle, and, for an instant, Rigan glimpsed a young woman in a blood-soaked dress, one hand clutching her heavily pregnant belly. The other hand slipped right through the bowl, even as the dish hurtled at Rigan’s head. Rigan dove to one side and the bowl smashed against the opposite wall. At the same time, Corran’s sword slashed down through the specter. A howl of rage filled the air as the ghost dissipated.

You have no right to be in my home. The dead woman’s voice echoed in Rigan’s mind.

Get out of my head.

You are a confessor. Hear me!

Not while you’re trying to kill my brother.

“You’d better hurry.” Corran slowly turned, watching for the ghost.

“I can’t rush the ritual.” Rigan tried to shut out the ghost’s voice, focusing on the complex chalk sigil. He reached into a pouch and drew a thin curved line of salt, aconite, and powdered amanita, connecting the first sigil to the second, and the second to the third and fourth, working his way to drawing a complete warded circle.

The ghost materialized without warning on the other side of the line, thrusting a thin arm toward Rigan, her long fingers crabbed into claws, old blood beneath her torn nails. She opened a gash on Rigan’s cheek as he stumbled backward, grabbed a handful of the salt mixture and threw it. The apparition vanished with a wail.

“Corran!” Rigan’s warning came a breath too late as the ghost appeared right behind his brother, and took a swipe with her sharp, filthy nails, clawing Corran’s left shoulder.

He wronged me. He let me die, let my baby die— The voice shrieked in Rigan’s mind.

Continue reading Book Excerpt: Scourge: A Novel of Darkhurst

Hawthorn Moon Guest Post with Gail Z. Martin

Gail Martin, Dreamspinner Communications

The Allure of the Outlaw
By Gail Z. Martin

What is it about bad boys, girls who break the rules, and outlaws that hooks us into stories over and over again?

Maybe part of it’s wish fulfillment–a chance to escape the confines of ‘appropriate’ behavior by proxy without fearing the consequences. Perhaps some of it is trying out our rebel wings before we fully commit to burning bridges. Often, it’s just sweet to see the outsider win, the outcast show everyone up, the misfit save the world.

Think about some of the outlaws we love the best: the crew of the Serenity, Captain Jack Harkness, Han Solo, the Winchester Brothers, Butch and Sundance, the Doctor, and even, eventually, the command team of Babylon 5 and many more. They do the right thing, even if it’s in the wrong way, even if their methods don’t fit with what society expects. We wish we had their courage, and sometimes, we do.

In my Chronicles of the Necromancer/Fallen Kings Cycle, we saw a couple of kinds of exiles. Prince Martris (Tris) Drayke became an exile along with his friends when Tris’s half-brother seized the crown and killed the king. Jonmarc Vahanian went on the run after raiders murdered his family and he double-crossed a vyash moru blood mage. Cam and Carina’s father threw them out of their home because of Carina’s magic and the bad luck thought to accompany twins.

The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga finds disgraced lord Blaine McFadden exiled to the Velant prison in the harsh arctic expanse of Edgeland for a murder he doesn’t regret. His circle of close friends–Kestel, Dawe, Piran and Verran–have been sent into exile for their own crimes. When they return to a devastated homeland where even magic no longer works, they find themselves strangers in a hostile land.

Scourge is the first book in my new Darkhurst series for Solaris Books (launching July 15). Undertaker brothers Corran, Rigan and Kell Valmonde become outlaws when they refuse to obey the laws forbidding them from killing the monsters that are murdering friends and neighbors, and that would kill or jail Rigan for his unsanctioned ability with magic. It’s medieval monster hunters in a corrupt and dangerous system. It’s Supernatural meets Game of Thrones.

One of the things I think we like the best about outlaws is that they take risks and defy the powers that be in ways we often wish we could in the real world. They actually tell off the bully, fight against the unfair system, and bring about a rough sort of justice. We cheer for their victories because those wins are so hard to make happen in real life. Watching them win gives us hope, and makes us believe there is a reason to continue resisting.

Sometimes, the heroes we read about inspire us to do the right thing even if society disapproves. Whether it’s standing up for something who is being harassed, voting against laws that unjustly target vulnerable groups, or refusing to go along with an institutionalized injustice, our fictional heroes give us courage to be our better selves. There’s a little bit of outlaw in all of us.

About the Author:
Continue reading Hawthorn Moon Guest Post with Gail Z. Martin

Book Excerpt and Giveaway: Wilders

About Wilders: Coryn Williams has grown up in the megacity of Seacouver, where her every need is provided for—except satisfaction with her life. After her parents’ suicides, her sister Lou fled the city to work on a rewilding crew, restoring lands once driven to the brink of ecological disaster by humans to a more natural state. Finally of age, Coryn leaves the city with her companion robot to look for her sister.

But the outside world is not what she expects—it is rougher and more dangerous, and while some people help her, some resent the city and some covet her most precious resource: her companion robot. As Coryn struggles toward her sister, she uncovers a group of people with a sinister agenda that may endanger Seacouver.

When Coryn does find her sister, Lou has secrets she won’t share. Can Coryn and Lou learn to trust each other in order to discover the truth hidden behind the surface and to save both Seacouver and the rewilded lands?

EXCERPT from Wilders:
Prologue

The city sang a song of humanity. People and their companions sat in rounded robotic cars and talked together as they sped through the city on smart streets. Others rode a nearly infinite variety of wheeled devices on paths that ran by or between roads and through parks. These they variously
pedaled and pushed or simply stood or sat upon. Singles and families alike walked through greenbelts stained orange and red with fall. Many delighted at the controlled chill that pinked their cheeks and the chance to show off their fall wardrobes. Most chose golds and greens and scintillating browns, but others fought the fall with pastel pinks and snowy whites. Some people chatted with other people, while others talked with their companion robots, with their dogs, or with their virtual coaches.
Many people moved less. They dove deep into the wells of themselves, painting and writing and searching for the next great idea, for the key to happiness, for the perfect body, the perfect fashion. Still others traversed the city’s data and pulled out threads of information, suggesting ways to make it even better.
Some walked alone and unhappy. These were left to their own devices as long as they followed the city’s simple rules and did not steal choices from anyone else.
Under the melody of humanity, the heartbeat systems of the city pumped water and waste, created oxygen, and ate extra carbon. The bones and structure started miles away, reporting and then damping extreme weather, controlling wind and rain and gloomy clouds from the snow-streaked
Cascade Mountains to the wild Puget Sound. Automated decision makers in the city filled the air, danced between sensors, and raced through a tangled mesh of fiber optics that infused every street and building.
News packed the city, a glorious cacophony of conversation and facts. The people who owned property or businesses voted on ideas in their neighborhoods, and made change upon change, sometimes to fix problems and sometimes just for fun. This same social experiment filtered through everyone for votes on city leaders and laws.
Greens and blues imbued the city with a natural brightness. Grass lawns covered roofs, some bounded by community orchards of miniature trees no more than five feet tall and festooned with ripening yellow lemons, red apples, and sun-colored apprines. Veins of blue water crisscrossed the city almost like the roads.
A seldom-visible dome of managed air met the ground all around the city; Outside stayed Outside.
People could leave. They could take high-speed sleek hyperloops between cities, which meant never really leaving the protected Inside at all. They could kayak away, walk away, drive away, and even fly away. Even though they could do so, very few people did.
Most who did so never returned.
The very old remembered the times when the barriers between Inside and Outside were naturally permeable, when humans maneuvered cars by themselves, when the great preserves were ripped into being by force as nations everywhere started the great rewilding. But to everyone else, those times were no more than stories, tales of another year, easily dismissed and forgotten.
Those not born to the city had to prove their worth to get in. The tests had become quite difficult to pass as the world inside the cities became more interconnected and quick, more dependent on skills that could only be learned by living them.
Cities held most of the world’s population. Human computing systems, blood and gut bacteria, vitamins and medicines, workouts, and infinite streams of data and entertainment flowed through the city like the milk of a mother’s teat. Objects customized themselves to meet every whim and need of the city’s many inhabitants.
Outside, the great wilding continued like a wrecking ball, encountering resistance from those who had been displaced, stalling in the still-wild weather, or failing, as human and machine alike struggled to comprehend the complexities of biological design and redesign. A dance of chaos and success, of tears and death and rebirth, orchestrated by a combination of NGOs, law enforcement,
scientists, and human workers. Assistance came from robots designed to enforce the rules of wild places, to do the heavy work, the destroying work, and the building work. All of these together culled invasive species and managed native ones, counted bears and cougars and bobcats and coyotes. The loosely federated North American cities funded this effort, in hopes of long-term survival.
As fall prepared to give way to winter, the city appeared to be infinitely stable.

CHAPTER ONE

On the last morning of the easy part of her childhood, fifteen-year old Coryn Williams stood on the top of the Bridge of Stars and watched Puget Sound shiver with winter. From the fenced observation deck, the seawall below looked thin and foreshortened. Whitecaps punctuated the waves, whipped up by a wind Coryn couldn’t detect. She knew what a breeze felt like, but not what wind that could whip creamed froth out of water might feel like. She imagined that it would pull at her skin and blow
her hair around her face and try to force her to move with it.
Paula stood beside her, taller by far, dressed formally in a black uniform with white piping and her sea-blue scarf. She squinted as she took in the view, her smile slight but genuine. Her unblemished skin and perfect features could belong to a model, but instead they showed that she was Coryn’s companion. In spite of her nature, she seemed be genuinely interested in the horizon, the white ferries that plied the choppy water, and the pleasure of standing on top of the highest spot in Seacouver.
Coryn had finished her last assignment of the year this morning and sent it off to be graded. It was good, and better yet it was done. She had written about the great restoration with the help of her older sister, Lou, who had her own rather strong ideas. Coryn had compromised with her on the paper, accepting that the rewilding wasn’t even halfway done but not that progress had stopped and perhaps even fallen backward. Standing here on this bridge, with the vast sound to look out over and, beyond all that water, the white-capped mountains of the peninsula, she was even more sure she had been right: the city would be okay.
The bridge under them had stood since before she was born, the tallest bridge in Seacouver, starting just north of historic Pike Place, curving up and over the city in graceful loops, and landing in West Seattle. Three midspan spiral ramps joined the bridge deck to significant old-Seattle neighborhoods, like ribbons falling onto the city. An artist had designed the Bridge of Stars, a scenic skyway designed for walkers and cyclists and runners.
Lou couldn’t be right. Surely Seacouver would continue forever, or at least for years and years into the future, more years than Coryn would ever see.
Up here, she felt like she could touch the roof of the world. She’d earned this perch; only the fit could get here on their own. Coryn’s thighs still trembled a little from the long climb up on bicycles.
Paula, as always, seemed to understand her unspoken feelings. “You are conflicted. Does it feel good to be finished?”
“Oh, yes!” It did feel good. The paper had been a fight—they’d moved in the middle of it, and all the packing and unpacking, while familiar, took time. Her mother begged her father to move them regularly, as if the next house would be just right.
Coryn had stayed up every night for the last two weeks to finish on time. “I thought it would feel entirely different to be in high school.”
Paula raised an only slightly too-perfect dark eyebrow. “Does it feel different at all?”
“Not really. Now I have two weeks off, and that feels good, but every other year I’ve had two weeks off after finishing up. Maybe they should give us a longer break. After all, high school’s a big deal.”
“Don’t get too full of yourself,” Paula replied. She leaned over the bridge as if contemplating the idea of freedom from gravity. The wind plucked stray strands of dark hair and blew them around while Paula tried in vain to tuck them back into her bun. “Did you know that you always come to
where you can see out of the city when a big thing happens in your life?”
“Do I?”
“You went to the edge of the seawall when you passed elementary school, you rode your bike all the way to the edge and back when Lou went to summer camp in Tacoma, and now you’re way up here, where you can see over and past the entire downtown. Where are you going to go when you finish high school? Space?”
“Silly robot. That would take years of school.” And money they didn’t have. She squinted, wondering if a largish black thing she saw might be a boat. “I’d like to see a whale.”
“They would appear very small from way up here.”
“There was a baby orca born last week. A girl, no less.” Coryn had printed a picture and pasted it on her bathroom wall beside a pic of wild horses running free in eastern Washington, and another one of a twentyfoot-long great white shark off of Guadalupe Island in Baja, California.
“You’re going to be late for your own graduation party.
Coryn didn’t respond. It would drive Paula slightly nuts—it always annoyed her when Coryn refused to do what was expected. But this was her day, not Lou’s. Besides, she wanted to burn the horizon into her memory.
Her mother hated the city, and so Coryn did most of her exploring with Paula. This particular bridge cost credits to access and she couldn’t just come up here any day she wanted. Her mom had given her the money for the trip, bending over her with a sweet smile. “Your first junior-high graduation present,” she’d called it. She had smelled of soap and medicine and unhappiness. But then, Mom always seemed to be unhappy these days. Dad, too. Coryn often felt like she lived in a different world than the one her parents inhabited. What was there to be afraid of, after all? The city
was full of fascinating things, and if she got bored of real life, there were a million virtual worlds. More.
She didn’t really want to go home, not even for a special graduation dinner. Her parents would find some way to ruin the evening.
While Coryn counted ten long, slow breaths, she stared at the joining of sea and sky, at the wind-torn waves, at the far land where Hurricane Ridge had been slammed by its first snowstorm a few days ago. Bits of white still sparkled in the sun, matching the whitecaps, and a pale sky hung
over the entire scene. “I want to watch this forever.”
“We have to go,” Paula insisted. “Your mother will be upset with you.”
Coryn turned to her, a slight spark of anger infusing her voice. “That’s not my fault.”
“Which has nothing to do with anything.”
Coryn stared out over the water, determined to remember the sharp ridges of the Olympic Mountains, the rippling white-caps, and the fascinating, unexpected gardens and pools on top of the biggest buildings. “I can’t wait until I’m eighteen and you can’t tell me what to do any more.”
Paula eyed her with the infinite patience of a companion robot. “Lou will be worried.”
Yes. And Lou would make her party fun. Even though she couldn’t depend on her parents to be in a good mood, she could depend on Lou.
She reluctantly turned away and pulled her AR glasses on. They were required for transportation, even biking. The city saw more clearly through her glasses than she did, always ready to keep her safe. Lines of travel and traffic began to paint themselves in a light wash over the real world, showing the foot and bike traffic on the bridge and, far below, the heavier city traffic. Green for cars, blue for bikes, yellow for peds, red for trains and other mass-transit. She swung her leg over her bike, settled her hands on the grips, and blinked twice to tell the city she was ready to go.
Maybe Lou would be home by now.
She pushed off into an opening in the bike traffic to glide down the long, gentle slope toward the South Seattle streets. The overlays on her vision sparked and changed as she moved, traffic control directing the complex dance of transportation. A blue light blinked to show her Paula had started down as well.
Wheels thrummed and wind pulled her hair back and whipped it against her cheeks. As she neared the bottom, the ramp plunged into the city, housing and stores rising around her as she powered down through skyscrapers.
At the bottom of the bridge she slowed precipitously, barely managing to stay on her bike, cutting it close enough for traffic control to scream in her ear. She frowned, slid right, and almost fell, then headed home at a more dignified pace. Down here in the crowds, the city would notice and record safety risks, and she hated drawing attention.
Fifteen minutes later, she turned onto her family’s current street, Paula right behind her.
Blue and red circles of light stunned her eyes, the primary-school colors of ambulances and police cars. Warnings flashed in her peripheral vision. She squinted and rode forward. The city allowed her through while it detoured others right and left.
As she drew closer to home, a deep dread made her want to stop. She didn’t, but her thighs felt as if she wore stones on her feet instead of neon yellow sports shoes with purple laces.
Cars had chosen to park at odd angles, blocking the street. Men and women and robots in uniforms padded in and out of her house.
Maybe it was just an AR hack.
She ripped the glasses off her face.
Blue and red light washed across her face, forcing her to squint.
Someone spotted her. Lou.
She stood on the sidewalk, shaking, fists balled at her side, her hair wilder than usual, some of it falling over her thin face. Her blue eyes looked bright and wide. Red handprints smeared her shirt.
Coryn’s bike clattered on the street as she raced into her sister’s arms. Lou smelled of blood and fear. She felt like metal in Coryn’s arms, like the unyielding bridge, even though tears ran down her face and fell onto Coryn’s cheeks. Coryn’s breath came fast and she shivered, rooted on the
street, nothing existing in that moment except her sister.
Paula grabbed both of their shoulders and hissed, “Stay here.” She marched straight into the house.
“What happened?” Coryn whispered.
“They . . . they died. Someone killed them, I think. I don’t know. I couldn’t stay. I came into the house and there was blood everywhere and blood on Mom’s face.” Her words stopped as she heaved for breath and clutched Coryn even closer. “Blood on her shirt and everywhere, everywhere,
oh Coryn, it was everywhere. I’ve got it on me.” She pushed Coryn a little away and looked down. “And now you’ve got it on you, on your shirt; we’re stained with it.”
Lou was still seventeen. In a few months she would be an adult. Lou’s head rested on top of Coryn’s and Coryn’s arms circled her lower waist, her fingers running along Lou’s backbone.
Coryn watched the crowd seethe with uniforms and onlookers. When Paula finally came back outside, she wore one of her strict robotic expressions. It was the same one she used when she was furious with Coryn or Lou. “You can’t go in. I’ll take you up on the roof, and we’ll get some food, and we’ll wait together. The police will come find us as soon as they can.”
Coryn didn’t want to see whatever Lou had seen. Lou never came undone like this, never lost it, never cried. As frightened as she was about her parents, seeing Lou cracked into pieces was . . . impossible.
Lou always led. Always. Except now Lou trudged behind Paula with her head down, shoulders drooping, one hand holding Coryn’s loosely.
Paula drove them slowly and inexorably through the gathering crowd and away from the sirens. She took them into the apartment building next door to theirs and up the elevators to the roof. She had them move like they had when the girls were little, all in a line: Lou in front, then Coryn, then Paula watching over them both.
Lou sobbed and sobbed, blowing her nose. Still, she led them carefully through the patio tables. Coryn tripped on a table-leg and Paula caught her halfway down, a graceful arm appearing for Coryn to grasp onto before she landed in a flowerbed. A short bridge joined two rooftops. As they crossed it, Coryn looked down to where the revolving colored lights illuminated the gathering crowds and saw her bicycle on the ground, unlocked and orphaned. She had a sudden urge to turn around and put it away.
A few of their neighbors had come up onto the roof as well, people Coryn recognized but didn’t know well. One couple got up as if planning to speak to them, but Paula blocked them, murmuring soothing words.
The robot directed the girls to a table in the middle of the roof and they sat silently.
A faraway look came over Paula, her eyes fastening on the horizon, or maybe on the thin ribbon of bridge far above them. Coryn knew the look; Paula was getting a lot of information and processing it. She’d notice if her charges left, or any kind of danger approached, but she probably wouldn’t demand anything from Coryn and Lou for a few minutes.
Lou looked even more lost in thought than the robot. A cat worked its way over to the girls, rubbing up against them both and head-butting Lou until Lou dropped her death-grip on Paula’s hand and touched the cat’s cheek. The cat stayed near them for a long time, circling and then stopping for pets and then circling them again. Its wide, golden eyes matched the brown and gold stripes on its tail and forelegs and contrasted with the brown fur that felt like silk under Coryn’s fingers.
“Be careful,” Paula admonished them. “That’s got to be someone’s pet gene mod.”
“Why?” Lou asked.
“It’s too perfect,” Paula said.
“Like you?” Coryn shot back, immediately regretting it.
“Of course.”
She didn’t call for an apology the way she usually did, but Coryn gave her one anyway. “I’m sorry, silly robot.” She had to work hard to get the word through her thick throat.
Paula smiled in approval and watched the girls entertain themselves with the cat until it appeared to get bored and walked off.
Even though she hadn’t known the cat, she felt bereft as it walked away and left them alone. They were lost. Alone. Everything had just changed.
Eventually, two policewomen made their way carefully through the crowded rooftop, one for each girl. The youngest one knelt by Coryn, a beautiful woman with the dark eyes and the old-amber complexion of an East Indian. “Hello,” she said in a honey-soft voice, a sad voice, “I’m Mara.” She knelt down so her eyes were even with Coryn’s. “You know that something happened to your parents?”
“They’re dead,” Coryn saw no reason to pretend she didn’t know. She’d known since she saw the blood on Lou’s shirt.
The policewoman’s eyes softened, and she bent her head and made notes on her slate.
“Why did they die?” Coryn asked.
“Do you mean how?” Mara asked.
She already knew that. Lou had told her they were killed. But they were just normal people, and that shouldn’t have happened. “No. I want to know why.”
Mara shook her lovely head; her thick, dark hair swished back and forth across her navy-blue uniform. She took Coryn’s hands in hers. Her long nails were painted a bright pink, and the little finger and the thumb on her right hand had started chipping.
Everything Coryn could see looked like that, colorful and crisp. The street lights shone unusually bright, with pale haloes around them. The cat stood on the edge of the roof, flicking its long tail back and forth. The beer in a nearby glass glowed yellow-orange.
Her parents were dead.
Mara reached for her, but Coryn turned away. Paula stood right behind her, opening her arms. Coryn leapt up into them. She gave the robot her weight as if she were still a small child, clutching Paula as if her life depended on it. She buried her head in the robot’s soft shoulder and
squeezed her eyes shut.
If only they were back on top of the bridge, with the wind blowing beyond them and the possibility of a whale.

(Published with permission from Prometheus Books 2017)
____________________________________________________________

Courtesy of Pyr, I have a copy of Wilders by Brenda Cooper for one (1) lucky winner!

Contest is open to US residents only. No PO Boxes please. To enter, just fill out the form below. Contest ends June 30. I’ll draw a name on July 1, and notify winner via email.

ENTER DAILY TO INCREASE YOUR CHANCE OF WINNING!

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Continue reading Book Excerpt and Giveaway: Wilders

The Third Book of Ore: Blaze of Embers Excerpt and Giveaway!

Cam Baity and Benny Zelkowicz are pleased to share an excerpt from Blaze of Embers, the conclusion to their Books Of Ore series. On-sale today!

Margaret Tanner already wished she hadn’t come home.

When she got the news that Micah had run away, Margaret had requested a leave of absence. It had taken an entire week for her submission to be processed. Tensions had spiked after President Saltern’s condemnation of the Quorum at the Council of Nations, so it was an “inopportune time” for an officer of the Foundry’s special engineering corps to be off duty. Nevertheless, she had managed it, and after a high-speed Galejet flight from Vellaroux, Trelaine, to Albright City, Meridian, she was home.

Yet international strife was nothing compared to what was waiting for her at Plumm Estate.

“Not like that,” Deirdre Tanner snapped, snatching the ornamental zigzag silverware from her daughter to properly pack it for shipping. “Fold the table linens.”

Accustomed to taking orders without question, Margaret moved with military precision to the other end of the giant brass table in the dining room. She adjusted the cuffs of her starched gray-and-gold Foundry uniform, brushed a strand of copper-blond hair from her heart-shaped face, and set about the new task. In their correspondence, her mother had neglected to mention that Dr. Plumm had fired the Tanners, and that he and Phoebe had moved out without so much as a thanks. Foundry officials had packed up all of the Plumms’ necessities, mostly files and personal effects, and shipped them to their new, undisclosed residence, leaving the staff to take care of the rest. Of course, Mr. Macaroy, Mr. Kashiri, and most of the others had abandoned ship at the first sign of trouble, leaving all the remaining work to the Tanners—namely Margaret and her mother, since Randall was utterly useless. So they had been at it for hours, working away into the night. Margaret wouldn’t have said no to a quick bite to eat, especially because a Televiewer in the kitchen was blaring with revelry from President Saltern’s campaign rally, and she was curious to hear his address.

“No, no,” Deirdre said, slamming down the box of silverware and stomping over to Margaret. “The trim folds in. Like this.” She yanked the silversilk tablecloth away.

“Mother,” said Margaret.

Deirdre flattened the pleats of the tablecloth as if she were spanking a disobedient child. Margaret placed a firm hand on her shoulder.

“Mom?”

Strands of cobweb hair framed the gouges of grief in Deirdre’s face. Bruise-colored bags hung beneath her mudbrown eyes, which swam with tears.

“I just . . . What am I going to do, Margie? Where am I supposed to go?”

“It’ll be fine.”

“It won’t be,” Deirdre sniffled. “I’ll have to go back home to Oleander. Back to . . . him.”

Margaret stiffened at the mention of her drunken absentee father.

“You’re not going anywhere,” she stated. “We’ll figure it out. I’m here. We’re together now.”

“We’re not,” Deirdre whispered. “Not all of us.” Her round shoulders quaked. “My baby . . . My baby’s gone.”

Margaret handed her mother a silversilk napkin from the table. “Not the linens, Margie.” Margaret insisted, forcing the napkin into her hand. Her mother conceded and dabbed at her eyes.

“Go lie down, Mom. You need a break.”

Deirdre appeared eager for the opportunity, but she glanced with some concern at the mountains of valuables that still needed to be packed.

“I’ll take over here,” Margaret said, offering a soothing smile. “Don’t worry, you can redo everything I touch in the morning.”

Her mother smiled in return, a little embarrassed.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Deirdre said, kissing Margaret on the cheek. She took one last uneasy look around the cavernous dining room of Plumm Estate before shuffling off to her quarters.

Margaret breathed a sigh of relief. She loved her mother and would do anything for her, but the atmosphere in a room always felt lighter when she left it. A sudden spray of wet coughing came from the kitchen. Concerned, Margaret put down her folding and walked over to see. Her brother, Randall, decked out in his Military Institute of Meridian uniform, sat hunched over the counter, sputtering. Tennyson the chauffeur chuckled as he pounded the teen’s back. Between them sat a brown bottle of liquor.

“Tenny’s bailin’,” Randall managed, wiping his mouth. “Just havin’ a little farewell drink, is all. Don’t tell Mom.”

Margaret huffed. “A chip off the ol’ block, aren’t ya?”

Randall narrowed his beady little eyes at her.

“Go see if she needs anything,” Margaret ordered, and her brother obliged, breezing past her. Tennyson followed, offering Margaret a sly wink as he slipped away.

A tumultuous ovation on the Televiewer grabbed her attention. On the screen, three Razorback fighter jets flew in formation, blazing a trail of golden fire above a gleeful crowd packed onto the bridge to Foundry Central. Newscam drones swept over the bay, looking for the perfect angle of the Crest of Dawn, the titanic sunburst that towered over Albright City. There, thousands of feet above the crowd, emerging onto a platform festooned with bunting and ribbons in patriotic red, white, and gold, was President Saltern with his beautiful wife and children. The leader of the free world had never looked more youthful or vibrant.

An orchestra started playing “Our Shining Hearts.” The crowd sang, voices ringing throughout the glorious metal city. This was a celebration for the ages. The nation’s beloved first family sang along with the people.

“Meridian cast off all her bonds, when Creighton Albright forged the bronze.”

The sky crackled with fireworks, a frenzy of dazzling lights reflecting off the gleaming skyscrapers.

“With ball of lead and sword of steel, we’ll crush our foes beneath our heel.”

The Salterns laughed, squinting against the spectacular light show.

“So praise the gold, the brass, and chrome, of Meridian, our mighty home!”

A Newscam drone held the President’s proud visage in an iconic beauty shot. But something was wrong. His eyes went wide. His mouth went slack. Fear paralyzed Margaret as she too understood. Fireworks were speeding toward his platform. Not fireworks. Missiles. An explosion—a blinding white supernova. The gutwrenching screams of an entire city in shock. A strike against the legendary Crest of Dawn.

Thus the war began.

Excerpted from BLAZE OF EMBERS © Copyright 2017 by Cam Baity and Benny Zelkowicz. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Missed The Foundry’s Edge (The First Book Of Ore) or Waybound (The Second Book of Ore)? Found out more at http://www.booksofore.com.

About The Third Book Of Ore: Blaze of Embers:
Phoebe Plumm and Micah Tanner are no longer the spoiled heiress and naïve servant boy who first stumbled upon the fiercely beautiful world of living metal known as Mehk. They have rallied to aid the mehkans and risked their lives fighting the relentless greed of the Foundry, a corporation that harvests the metal creatures to sell as products back home in Meridian. But the kids’ mission to retrieve a mysterious relic ended in devastating tragedy and with Micah as a prisoner of the enemy. Shattered, he can only watch as an unthinkable new power rises in Mehk and international war erupts in Meridian. Trapped between the Foundry and this staggering mehkan threat, Micah has no choice but to work with dangerous humans and mehkans alike, each with their own agenda. As the path of destruction spreads and hope fades, Micah leads his unlikely allies in a desperate race back to Meridian, where the two worlds are about to clash. A terrible reckoning is underway, and this time, everything is at stake.

About the Authors:
Cam Baity is an Emmy Award winning animator, and his short films have screened around the world, including at Anima Mundi in Brazil and the BBC British Short Film Festival. His credits include major motion pictures like Team America: World Police and The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, and popular television shows such as Robot Chicken and Supermansion.

Benny Zelkowicz studied animation at CalArts and made the award winning film, The ErlKing. He directed and starred in the BBC/CBC animated series Lunar Jim, and worked on The LEGO Movie as well as several TV shows including Robot Chicken and Moral Orel.

Twitter: @CamandBenny
Hashtag: #BooksOfOre
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/camandbenny
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Courtesy of Disney Hyperion, I have a digital copy of Blaze of Embers by Cam Baity and Benny Zelkowicz for one (1) lucky winner!

Contest is open to US residents only. To enter, just fill out the form below. Contest ends April 28. I’ll draw a name on April 29, and notify winner via email.

ENTER DAILY TO INCREASE YOUR CHANCE OF WINNING!

Good luck!

Continue reading The Third Book of Ore: Blaze of Embers Excerpt and Giveaway!

Days of the Dead Blog Tour: Gail Z. Martin Guest Post: Paths to Publication

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Paths to Publication
by Gail Z. Martin

In today’s market, authors have more choices than ever before on how to bring their book to readers. Traditional big publishers, small press, self-publishing–what’s an author to do?

Each path to publication has pros and cons. There are a few considerations to factor in as you’re looking at options. What do you want out of publishing? If you have your heart set on becoming a New York Times bestseller, that’s more likely for a book put out by a big traditional publisher (and even then, it’s far from guaranteed). Likewise, if you’re hoping to pay all your bills with your advance check, a big publisher is the way to go. Large traditional publishers have national (and sometimes international) bookstore distribution, still a factor with today’s readers. You may also find more marketing resources with a big press, though that is debatable as staff cuts continue.

On the other hand, if you want someone else to handle the details of publication (editing, layout, cover design, some marketing) but you’re not worried about fame, bookstore placement or an advance, a reputable small press could be a good fit. Small presses can put out books of equivalent (or better) quality as large publishers, and tend to invest more editorial time in working with authors. Their marketing clout might not be as substantial, but marketing is an iffy proposition even for large publishers. Bookstore distribution and lack of an advance are the biggest drawbacks, but even big houses are paying smaller advances nowadays and bookstores are not as plentiful as they once were.

If you enjoy total control, self-publishing (also called indie) might be a good fit. Or, if you believe in a book and haven’t found a home for it, self-publishing with today’s online tools and Amazon can still make sure your book reaches the right readers. Self-publishing no longer carries the stigma it used to when the only choices were unscrupulous vanity publishers. A growing number of authors who have enthusiastic fan bases are finding it possible to make a living with self-published books (though it is still not guaranteed, even for established authors). The biggest caveat is that when you self-publish, you are both author and publisher. You write the book, hire the copy editor and proofreader, arrange for the cover art and the layout, handle the audio rights, set up the accounts with Amazon, Nook, Kobo, etc. A lot of behind-the-scenes work goes into bringing a book to life after the writing is done, and the type of work required is not everyone’s idea of ‘fun’. Succeeding with self-publishing takes a lot of effort and attention to detail, but it’s more possible now than ever before.

Most of us pursue ‘hybrid’ careers, meaning that we play in all three arenas. If you can snag a contract and an advance with a big publisher, grab it. If a small press wants to include you in an anthology or bring out a niche novel, do it. And if you want to bring out some series on your own or self-publish short stories/novellas tied in to your series with other publishers, go for it. Working with big publishers, small presses and some self-publishing makes you more resilient to fate, since you don’t have all your eggs in one basket. I’m seeing more and more authors going this route, and it’s the path I’ve personally chosen because it allows the greatest range and ‘security’ in a highly volatile business.

The greatest thing about your writing career is that you get to chart your own way, making the decisions that are best for you and your books. Know your options and then pick what works for you. And be sure to enjoy what you do every day!

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Continue reading Days of the Dead Blog Tour: Gail Z. Martin Guest Post: Paths to Publication

Blog Tour: Moon Chosen Excerpt!

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Moon Chosen: Tales of a New World by PC Cast

CREDIT: From Moon Chosen by PC Cast. Copyright © 2016 by the authors and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Griffin.

Mari braced herself, and as she had so many times before, felt her mother stiffen while energy surged through Leda and into Mari, sizzling through her palm, down her arm to swirl around and around inside her, growing in power with each second that passed. Mari’s heartbeat began to hammer and her breathing suddenly increased until she was panting as hard as was the pup. In her arms, Rigel whined uncertainly.

“Focus.” Her mother’s voice was only a whisper, but Mari could feel it through her whole body. “You can do this. The power is not yours to keep – your body is merely its channel. Borrow serenity from the image of the Earth Mother. Though you may be surrounded by chaos or sickness or injuries, find the true you within. Release that which belongs to the world –fears, worry, sadness, so that the silver stream may wash unimpeded through you. It is a waterfall at night. Rigel is the basin that must hold it.”

Mari stared at the beautiful image of the Earth Mother that Leda pruned and cared for so lovingly. But, as always, the figure was only foliage and art to Mari. She couldn’t feel the divine presence her mother revered. She could not find her true self – her center. “Mama, I c-can’t. It’s s-so c-cold. It- it hurts.” Mari stuttered through chattering teeth.

“Only because the healing power is not meant for you. Release the fears of your body, Mari. Focus! Find your grounding and become a channel for the moon’s energy. Tonight you must succeed. If you do not, your Rigel will surely die.”

Her mother’s words exploded through Mari’s body. “No! He can’t die. I won’t let him.” She gritted her teeth against the cold and tried to focus past the pain – to release the cacophony of emotions that swirled through her body unimpeded – and to be the channel for the moonfall of water. Yet, still the power was a whirlpool within her. It terrified Mari and threatened to suck her down to drown in its freezing depths.

This was when she usually failed. This was when she dropped her mother’s hand and allowed sickness to claim her so that she vomited, dry heaving misery and moonlight while Leda stroked her back, consoling her with calm, loving words that reminded Mari there would be a next time – she would do better the next time.

But there was no next time for Rigel, and Mari refused to lose him. Think! Focus!

“Mari, slow your breathing. Calm your heart. This is no longer practice. You either heal Rigel, or fail and he dies from shock and blood loss. This is your reality.”

“That’s it, Mama! I need to make this my reality!” Mari squeezed her eyes closed. Could that be the answer? Could it really be that simple? Mari imagined that she was in their burrow, alone, sitting at her desk preparing to create a sketch. Her gulping breath slowed. Her hammering heart quieted. Mari found her grounding as she envisioned a blank sheet of paper. On that paper her imagination began to quickly, easily, sketch an image of herself, sitting crossed-legged with Rigel spread across her lap. From above her silver light cascaded into her lifted palm, washing through her body in a glistening wave to spout from her other palm, which was pressed against the pup’s bloody chest. Eyes still tightly shut Mari worked on the scene, creating a picture of Rigel’s body that was washed clean of blood by the liquid light, leaving behind wounds that were neatly closed and already healing.

Suddenly the cold tide within Mari was controllable. Instead of drowning her, it used her as a conduit, passing through her harmlessly as she let go of the energy. I’m doing it! I’m doing it! And just that quickly her concentration shattered. The picture she’d been creating disappeared along with the tide of power within her.

“No! No! Get it back! I was doing it – it was working,” Mari gasped, gripping her mother’s hand like a lifeline.
“It’s too late. The sun is fully risen. Even with your help I cannot call the moon back to me,” Leda knelt beside Mari, gently disentangling her daughter’s hand from hers. “But it was enough. You did it, sweet girl. I knew you could. Praise the Earth Mother and the blessed Moon! You have saved him.”

Feeling dizzy and disconnected, Mari looked down at Rigel. The pup wagged his tail animatedly and sat up, licking her face. Even though she felt light-headed, she laughed weakly and put her arms around him. He nested there, curled against her body and, sending her waves of contentment, Rigel fell sound to sleep in her arms. With a trembling hand, Mari brushed aside the blood-matted fur on his chest. What had only moments before been deep, seeping, whip-like lacerations were now pink lines of newly joined flesh that had ceased bleeding.

“I knew it was true. You do have my powers and more.”

Book Excerpt: BURY THE LIVING

Bury the Living by Jodi McIsaac

“Can I help you?”

“Do you work here?”

“I’m one of the volunteers, yes. My name’s Suzanne. How can I help you?”

Nora thrust the picture of Thomas into her hands. It was time for complete honesty, come what may. “Right, Suzanne, I know this is going to sound crazy. I’m not off my head, I swear it. But I’ve had several dreams about this man. He told me to come to Kildare so I could talk to a woman called Brigid. And then I found this photo of him. See, it says here he died in 1923. And I keep seeing visions of the past, knowing things I shouldn’t know. So I’ve come here, just like he asked.” She stopped, unable to believe she’d confessed all of that out loud to a complete stranger.

The woman glanced at the photo for a moment, then handed it back. “Are you looking for prayer?”

“No! I’m trying to find out how a man who’s been dead for almost a century is getting into my head.”

It was clear from Suzanne’s expression that she thought Nora was mentally unstable. “Have you checked at the heritage center? They might be able to—”

“Yes, and they sent me here. I’m not making this up! Someone must know—”

“Is there a problem?” Another woman emerged from a door at the side of the church. She was short and on the plump side, with closely cropped coarse brown hair and an uneven fringe. She wore a long green shawl with a gold brooch.

“May I?” Suzanne said, taking the photo from Nora. She passed it to her colleague. “She’s trying to find out about this man. He’s called Thomas Heaney. Do you recognize him, Mary?”

Mary’s mouth opened, then closed, then opened again. “Yes, I do,” she said slowly, her eyes drinking in the photograph. Finally, she stared up at Nora. “You’re the one looking for him?” Her voice held a hint of incredulity.

“Aye,” Nora said warily. Was this woman having her on? Or was she really about to find some answers?

Mary pressed her hand over her heart. “It’s a fine day. Why don’t we take a walk outside? Thank you, Suzanne, I’ll help this young lady from here.”

Nora followed Mary past another stone coffin and a display of Kildare in the fifth century, back into the churchyard.

“Well,” Mary began once they were well away from the front door. “I’m not exactly sure how to proceed, but I’ll do my best. You see, we’ve been waiting for you.”

“You’ve been waiting for me?” Nora repeated, dumbfounded. “Why?”

“Are you a religious person, Nora?”

“Yes, o’course.” They were behind the cathedral now, wandering among the tombstones. The round tower loomed overhead.

“That’s good to hear. So many young people have left the church these days. If they only knew how it sustained us in days gone by. But I digress. I belong to an order called the Brigidine Sisters.”

“A Catholic order? But isn’t the cathedral Church of Ireland?”
“It is now, but that hasn’t always been the case. The church you see now was built in the thirteenth century, but it rests on the site of the church Saint Brigid herself had built in the fifth century. Before that, it was a site of worship to the pagan goddess Brigid. So I count it a privilege to volunteer at the cathedral as part of my devotion to the saint.”

“Makes sense.” They had walked to the base of the round tower, which was surrounded by gravestones.

“But it may surprise you that a few months ago, several of us experienced the same vision while praying at Saint Brigid’s Well. Have you been there?” Nora shook her head. “It’s down on Tully Road. It was here that Brigid herself appeared to us. She told us a young woman would come looking for a man with gray hair called Thomas Heaney. And that she wished to bestow upon this young woman a very special gift.” Mary’s face shone with excitement as she leaned toward Nora.

Nora stopped walking. “Are you saying Saint Brigid appeared to you and told you I would be coming? I didn’t even know I would be coming until this morning.”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying. And it wasn’t just me. My Sisters all had the same vision. Many of us work or volunteer in some capacity at the cathedral. She must have wanted to ensure one of us was there to greet you when you finally came looking. I’m just so glad I overheard your conversation with Suzanne. She’s not a Brigidine Sister, you see.”

Nora chewed the inside of her lip. She was Catholic, sure, but the idea of saints actually appearing to people wasn’t something she’d considered before. It had certainly never happened to anyone she knew. The logical side of her rebelled. “And you all had the same vision?”

“I know how it sounds,” Mary said. “But you yourself said you’ve seen visions of the past, have you not? And dreamed of a man who is long dead?”

“Yes, but . . .”

“It’s hard to fathom, I won’t deny it. If Brigid hadn’t told me herself, if I hadn’t seen her with my own eyes, I’d not believe it.”

“Right, so, you said she wanted to give me a gift. What is it? And who’s this Thomas Heaney? You’ll forgive me for not understanding what this is all about.”

“Think with your heart, not with your head,” Mary said. “When you had this dream of Thomas, how did you feel?”

Longing. But she couldn’t say that out loud. She hardly wanted to admit it to herself. “Like I wanted to help him. More than anything. He begged me.”

“And these visions? Do you believe they were real?”

What if she did? Would it mean she was going mad? “I don’t know. They felt real.”

“Then they were. It doesn’t matter if it was just inside your head, or if you were seeing something that was really there. What matters is that Brigid was trying to speak with you.”

“Yes, but why?”

“I don’t know why she chose you. Or how exactly you’re supposed to help this young man. Or why she even wants you to help him. But she has made it possible.”

“How? He’s been dead for eighty years.”

“For this, we must go back to the church.”

Nora bit her tongue and followed Mary into the cathedral. Suzanne popped her head around the corner as they entered. “Everything all right?” she asked.

“Grand, thank you,” Mary answered. “We’re just going to have a peek at the records downstairs.” She led Nora down a narrow stone staircase into the basement of the church. They passed walls lined with bookshelves and stacks of boxes labeled in minute handwriting. Then they entered another small room, which was empty save for a dark fireplace set into the wall. Mary turned so quickly Nora almost ran into her. “You must swear to never reveal this to anyone.”

“Reveal what?” Nora was beginning to think this was some elaborate hoax . . . or a cult. She eyed the door nervously.

“What I’m about to show you is one of the greatest kept secrets of the church. Brigid, in her wisdom, has chosen to share it with you. You’ll be the first outside our society to have this knowledge.”

Nora narrowed her eyes. “What kind of society is this?”

Mary gave an apologetic shrug. “The complicated kind. To the outside world, we are the Brigidine Sisters, an order committed to service and harmony in the spirit of Saint Brigid. We were nearly destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. We survived, underground, until we revealed ourselves in the eighteen hundreds. All of that is true, but we’ve also kept this sacred knowledge secret and protected for centuries. And if you do not do the same . . .” She let her threat hang in the empty air, but Nora was not so easily cowed.

“Right, I’m beginning to think this is all a joke. Someone’s acting the maggot with me, so they are. Forget it.” She turned to leave.

“Wait!” Mary called. “I’m sorry. It’s just . . . It’s precious to us. We’ve guarded it for so many years.”

“What it is, then?”

Mary counted the stones around the fireplace. Then she pressed hard against one with the heel of her hand. On the other side, a stone popped out about an inch. Mary pulled at it until it loosened, then reached inside the hole. When she withdrew her hand, it held a small red box with gilt edging. Nora stepped closer. “What is it?” she asked.

“’Tis the only true relic of our precious Saint Brigid,” Mary said, holding the box as though it might trickle through her fingers if she looked away for a moment. “A church in Portugal claims to have the blessed saint’s skull, and they’ve sent fragments to Killester and Kilcurry, but we Sisters know that this is the only true relic.”

“Why don’t you display it? Why keep it secret?”

“Because it has power,” Mary said, still speaking in a hushed, reverent tone. She gently opened the decorated lid and handed it to Nora. “Do not touch it. Not yet.”

Nora looked into the box. It was, as she had expected, a bone. Only an inch long, it was polished white and smooth, nestled on a ruby-red cushion.

“It was from her finger,” Mary explained.

“Is this the gift? What am I supposed to do with it?” Nora asked, closing the lid.

“No, my child, that is not the gift. But the power of Brigid’s relic will bestow on you the gift she wishes you to have: the ability to travel through time.”

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Excerpted from BURY THE LIVING © Copyright 2016 by Jodi McIsaac. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

About the book:
“McIsaac puts plenty of history and a little fantasy and romance into this entertaining time travel tale. McIsaac has an undeniable talent for immersing the reader in the plight of the Irish in the 1920s, at the height of the Irish Civil War. Comparisons to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series are inevitable.” —Publishers Weekly

Rebellion has always been in the O’Reilly family’s blood. So when faced with the tragic death of her brother during Northern Ireland’s infamous Troubles, a teenage Nora joined the IRA to fight for her country’s freedom. Now, more than a decade later, Nora is haunted by both her past and vivid dreams of a man she has never met.

When she is given a relic belonging to Brigid of Kildare, patron saint of Ireland, the mystical artifact transports her back eighty years—to the height of Ireland’s brutal civil war. There she meets the alluring stranger from her dreams, who has his own secrets—and agenda. Taken out of her own time, Nora has the chance to alter the fortunes of Ireland and maybe even save the ones she loves. In this captivating and adventurous novel from Jodi McIsaac, history belongs to those with the courage to change it.

About the Author:
Jodi McIsaac is the author of several novels, including A Cure for Madness and the Thin Veil Series. She grew up in New Brunswick, on Canada’s east coast. After abandoning her Olympic speed skating dream, she wrote speeches for a politician, volunteered in a refugee camp, waited tables in Belfast, earned a couple of university degrees, and started a boutique copywriting agency. She loves running, geek culture, and whiskey.

Links:
Website: http://www.jodimcisaac.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jodimcisaac
Twitter: @jodimcisaac

Arabella of Mars: Q&A, Excerpt, and Giveaway!

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Q&A with David D. Levine

How do you make world-building choices when writing alternate history?

All of the pieces have to make sense together. Given the alternate-history premise, how would economics, politics, and warfare change? How about fashion and sports? How would these changes affect each other? I try to think through the implications of the initial change, and every change that results from it, until I come up with a fully-realized world where the reader can say “ah, of course that would follow.” I also pull in a lot of unexpected details from real history, which is weirder and more surprising than anything I could make up.

What inspired you to write Arabella of Mars?

Like many great successes in life, this one came from failure. I was shopping my first and second SF novels and working on a third, but editors and agents kept telling me categorically that “SF doesn’t sell.” I didn’t really believe it, but if the editors and agents did that was a sufficient obstacle. So I looked through my ideas file for something that was sufficiently SF for my own self-respect (and to hold my interest through the two years it takes me to write a novel) but close enough to Fantasy to match the market’s tastes. The idea I settled on was this: “What if the sky were full of air?” The answer, eventually, was Arabella of Mars.

What is your favorite quote from the book?

Wow, that’s a toughie. But I’m quite fond of this paragraph from the prologue:
Some day, Arabella thought, perhaps she might take passage on such a ship. To sail the air, and see the asteroids, and visit the swamps of Venus would be a grand adventure indeed. But to be sure, no matter how far she traveled she would always return to her beloved Woodthrush Woods.


EXCERPT:

ARABELLA OF MARS Continue reading Arabella of Mars: Q&A, Excerpt, and Giveaway!