Author Archives: jflewis

Playlist Changes

By

 

J. F. Lewis

 

Maybe you don't read or write with your headphones on, but I often do.

 

When I first started, I wrote on college ruled paper with my “very special pens” and listened to iron Maiden. Every writing session was a free write with me attempting to go nonstop for two hours, pen always writing even if it was relating the same word until I had the next one. It was a very self-indulgent way to write. Later, I moved on to writing on a laptop, to cut out the need to transcribe things later. Then I moved on to an iMac, iPad, Scrivener, and cloud synching via PlainText. But the music stayed, blaring at me from nearby speakers or whatever headphones I had at hand.

 

Recently, my habits have been changing. For my Void City books, I have specific “go to” playlists. A lot of instrumental music mixed in with character specific songs or artists. Eric would get angry to music by Disturbed, Metallica, or Kamelot and romantic to crooners like Sinatra. Greta would rampage to No Doubt, Korn, or Epica and make her brand of unhinged, yet plausible decisions to Disney tracks.

 

With my epics fantasy series things have changed. For whatever reason my writing muse kicks into high gear to strange, unusual tunes. I find myself writing to Tom Waits… listening to one album on a loop while as the words flow. It doesn't seem to matter which album, so long as it's one I know well. The drunken sounding patter of Nighthawks or the experimental strains of Bone Machine or Mule Variations work equally well.

 

Is it knowing the characters in the Grudgebearer Trilogy better? Is it a change in my maturity as a writer? All I can tell you is it works… and that is an important ting to remember about writing. No one knows how you need to write your novel. Your method is YOUR method and the key point is that you get the words out. Get them on the page. Right now, it takes music for me… Most of the time.

 

How do you write? Do you have a playlist? A go to album or song? I'd love to know.

 

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Cover Art Alert

I have a confession to make.


(Note: If you are impatient, like me, you can click here to go ahead and check out the fricking amazing artwork for the cover to my new novel Grudgebearer…)

(Additional note: If you love me or are as excited about the new series as I am, you can preorder it from Amazon here or from Barnes and Noble here… I'd be happy to link to other preorder sites, but those are the only two of which I am currently aware.)

Are you back now? Isn't it great?! 🙂

Now back to our story…

Long before the idea for Void City landed in my addled noggin, the first book I can remember buying with my own money was the Hobbit. I remember it so distinctly because I used my lunch money to buy the book and kind of had to smuggle the purchase into the house. I still got into trouble (not much) and I will never forget the look on my mother's face when I said, “I know that money was for my lunches. I'm not asking for more lunch money; I'd just rather have books than food.”

I was nine.

My opinion on the matter has only slightly changed.

What attracted me first to The Hobbit was the 1982 cover by Darrell K. Sweet.

Much like Derek Riggs's cover art drew me to Iron Maiden, Darrell Sweet's cover art drew me firmly into the world of fantasy literature via the Hobbit and then The Lord of the Rings. I bought and read the Silmarillion that same year, but that another story for another time.

Covers draw in the reader. It's not about making the author happy, so much as it is about catching the eyes of internet denizen's and book store browsers. Making people pick up the book and flip through it… or click download a free sample to your e-reader of choice.

When an artist does both, it's a kind of magic.

Now on to the confession… eventually.

I love the Void City books. I want to write more of them, but long before the vampire-novel-which-shall-remain-nameless angered me to the point that I threw it across the room and started penning Staked, I wanted to write a fantasy novel. I simply didn't know how to go about it.

The world-building for the Grudgebearer Trilogy started in 1997. I started writing it the same year and failed. I wrote two and a half novels in the process of figuring that out, one set in the future and the other a kind of urban fantasy thing I'd like to revisit eventually. First I started with the wrong character. Then I started in the wrong part of the story… Then I had to do more world building…

It took writing well over a million words before I was ready to write the Void City novels and it took that million plus the roughly half a million word that comprise the Void City books to date before I could write a fantasy novel. Along the way, I have fantacized about having an awesome cover.

I got one.

Cover Art by the incomparable Todd Lockwood for Grudgebearer by J. F. Lewis

(Yet Another Additional note: Did I mention you could preorder it from Amazon here or from Barnes and Noble here… ? Oooh! I bet you could ask your favorite local indie bookstore to order it for you, too. One of my favorites is https://www.mystgalaxy.com )

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The Magic of Magic-making

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J. F. Lewis

 

One of the best parts about working in a world of one's own creation is the ability to populate it with cool new powers and abilities. Not just monsters and magic, but the rules behind them, the internal consistency which lets readers know not just what your characters can and cannot do, but also serves to set your creations apart.

 

Take Atticus, the ancient (and awesome) Druid, from Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid series. He's powerful as long as he can make contact with nature, with the soil, but trap him in the middle of the street over lifeless pavement and he's in trouble. True he has ways to store power and there are trick up his sleeve, but the countdown to powerlessness has begun. As readers we know it and the tension is immediate.

 

Magic has to have defined costs and limitations, a balance which lets the mystical make sense… makes it ring true. It must seem like a tool, not a cheat. When I was writing A CORPSE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY, I knew that Zaomancy would need to fit those same rules. My main character, Richard, would literally be bringing the dead back to life and breathing the breath of life (zao, if we accept Richard's choice of Latin) into inanimate objects. For that to work, there needed to be a price… a balancer and a set of rules.

 

In the initial draft, that balance took a while to figure out and fine tune. I explored a fair number of options, but the one I kept coming back to was age. Each zaomancer only has their own life's breath with which to play and using their powers ages them, sometimes slowly, but always in direct proportion to how much death they are trying to overcome. It simple, the price of life is… life itself, just not all at once or the heroes would be pretty short-lived.

 

Once you have the rules, the framework, then you have to combine them with cool plots and fun characters. A Zaomancer, for instance, who has been lied to about the corpse he's about to bring back to life, a newly turned vampire who has just realized she can't have chocolate anymore, or maybe even a necromancer who is the hero rather than the villain (Hi, Gail!). The sky is the limit, but make them your own and your reader's will love them.

 

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Calling All Fangs

By J. F. Lewis

If you have been paying even a little bit of attention to my various feeds, you know that BURNED: A VOID CITY NOVEL is out today. And today or at least this week is when I need you to buy it. On previous book releases, I’ve kind of been a bit subtle. I snuck around to various bookstores (both the indies and the big guys) and stealth signed all the copies they had in stock. I have never been that comfortable with saying, “My books are awesome and funny and sweet and twisted. If you love them, buy ten copies each and pass them out to your friends.” I still don’t like to refer to my Facebook Fan Page as a “Fan Page”, though I’ve started to do so, because calling it a Reader Page was confusing people.

But the market is changing. And only the writers with die hard fans are surviving. I’m not good at blogging about every clever thing under the sun and making the every day seem magical. I do it when I can. Whether it’s talking about how The Elder Son complained about the turkey I’d packed for his lunch being the most horrible turkey he’d ever tasted. (It was roast beef.) Or posting parody lyrics of “(Meet) The Flintstones”.

What I do best on the writing front, however, is not the self-promotion part. It’s the writing part. I have no interest in talking about my politics or religion, beyond the ideas of everyone being fair and nice to each other. And okay, I wouldn’t shut up about getting excommunicated, but for the most part when I have the urge to write, it’s a novel or a short story that I start turning out. As a result, I need your help. 

If you love Void City and want to see what other quirky little worlds are inside my head, then buy my books and when you’ve purchased them and read them and enjoyed them, then spread the word. Review them anywhere you are comfortable doing so. If you can’t review them or are afraid to do so, then log onto Goodreads or iTunes or Barnes & Noble or anywhere else and give them five stars or “like” them or tag them or all of the above. 

Here’s why: last year, around October, the reading public in the U.S. lost a lot of brick and mortar stores and it looks like we are going to lose more. When that happened and every time that happens, physical book sales are taking a huge hit and it isn’t all being transferred online or to eReaders. Some of those sales simply vanish. Books that people would have purchased had they seen them in the mall just don’t happen, because those stores aren’t there anymore. 

So if readers want to make sure they get the next book by their favorite authors who aren’t always on the bestsellers lists (and even the ones who are), they are going to have to do their best to put their favrorite author on those lists and keep them there, to go beyond buying the book the day it comes out, but to making websites, or funny videos, or posting with obnoxious repetition on Facebook and Twitter, or buying copies of books they’ve already read and loved and passing them on to friends they think would enjoy the books, too, or even by simply making sure everyone they know understands how much they love the books they love. 

 And that’s not just my books. If you love Kelly Meding, Adrian Phoenix, Jennifer Estep, or any other author with a book out today, then let the word ring out. If you love Mark Hodder’s awesome Burton & Swinburne series (which came out last week), buy your copies now or as soon as you can. And if you can’t afford a book, then go to your local library and place it on hold or request it. But spread the word or the words you crave may stop flowing.

(Cross posted everywhere I have posting rights, because it’s THAT important.)

 

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The Doom That Came to Underpants

By J. F. Lewis

 

So, the title of this blog (inspired by the title of a H.P Lovecraft short story) really doesn’t mean anything. It does however make me smile and, to a certain extent, that is what writing is all about. A writer entertain’s themselves first and hopes their audience will come along for the ride. Or (and I should point out that this sentence is a fragment) that there will be an audience. Which is a scary prospect and if you’ve ever turned in a homework assignment or a report or business case and really hoped that your teacher or boss would be pleased…

 

Well, multiply that by a thousand or so and you might approach the insecurity level of some writers. We are such strange animals. Many of us are shy and reclusive, yet we also want people (millions of people, if we’re honest) to read, enjoy, and care about what we have to say. And some of us are better than others at making that happen.

 

Some writers are bloggers, Twitterers, Facebookers, etc and do well at all of it in a way that is seemingly effortless to their readers. Me, I struggle to blog once a week. I think part of the problem, for me in particular, is that what is running through my head when I sit down to write are the characters in my Void City series and the new adventures upon which they are going. Unfortunately, those adventures are usually a year or more ahead of what the reader has read.

 

Burned : A Void City novel, for example, is coming out on January 31st, 2012, so I should technically be talking about that and be making pithy statements about what happened in Crossed But, in he J-brain, the characters already had those adventures and are busy having the next one. As a result, any conversation can get very spoilery for readers, so I wind up discussing writing or comic books or trying to provide some insight into my wacky grey matter ( which may or may not be scary, because, let’s face it. There’s some freaky stuff hiding out in my noggin).

 

Hopefully it works. If it doesn’t, then say so. Writers live for feedback, even the negative kind. 😉

 

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A Resurgence of Baddassery

By

J. F. Lewis

It is official, my dysfunctional, murderous, and sometimes noble (but not too noble) vampires are of their way back to a bookshelf or ereader near you. In this volume, Eric has a plan that just might be crazy enough to work… and the thought of Eric with a plan should scare you.

If you want to see what I mean a little early, here is the first chapter of Burned: A Void City Novel by J. F. Lewis (due out January 31st, 2013):

Chapter 1: ALL A PART OF THE PLAN

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Antagonist or Protagonist

By J. F. Lewis

In most good stories there are protagonists and antagonists (often but not always, a main one of each), but in some of my favorite tales, it’s hard to say whether or not the characters filling those two roles are actually a hero or a villain. Life is not always black and white when it comes to depictions of good or evil. As the saying goes: Sometime good people bad do bad things.

And vice versa.

Having said that, one of my favorite moments in many movies is when the reluctant hero finally gets off the fence and comes out swinging. He has a plan. He may not have everything he needs to carry it out, but you can see it in his eyes that he won’t give up.

And in a way, that’s what BURNED, the next book in my Void City series is about. For three books we’ve seen my lead protagonist, Eric Courtney, the bad ass vampire with a terrible memory and a worse temper, try to get through life without really dealing with the world around him. After the end of CROSSED, however, he finally has hope and hope can be a very dangerous thing.

What does that have to do with the title of this blog post?

When one character has a “sea change” moment, or in Eric’s case, a reawakening of sorts of the man he used to be, it changes the dynamics of those around him. Almost everyone can think of a moment when a friend or relative changed in some way. Sometimes something as simple as a haircut or color can change the way the world views a person. At times the readjustment period is short. Other times, depending on the change, the adjustment can take a long time or even fundamentally alter the relationship forever. If your the one undergoing the change, the ones you love can suddenly seem like the antagonists in your own personal story.

In Burned, Eric’s daughter Greta is cast in the role of antagonist for the first time. She loves her “Dad”, but doesn’t understand why he is acting strangely or what he is hiding from her (and teh other vampires in Void City). I won’t spill the beans on his secret, but Burned was incredibly fun to write because in this one: Eric has a secret to keep, a plan to win it all, and everything to lose. And the person most likely to blow all of his ans to hell and back is one of the people he loves the most.

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The Transliterated, Translated, and Transatlantic Vampire

BY J. F. Lewis  

 
You can’t use the F-word in Italian. 
   
Not the way we do it in American English. In English, we can have our characters drop the F bomb in all sorts of creative ways. They can apply it to a cellphone when the bleeping thing doesn’t have a signal. They can use it when talking about the best bleeping pizza they’ve ever smelled… They can ever threaten to bleep somebody up or use it a verbal bleeping punctuation.  
 
All sorts of ways. But (again), not in Italian.  
 
In Italian, one can (apparently) only use the F-bomb when one actually means the activity, but that, as far as my limited knowledge of the language goes, is all. Which means that Eric, the memory deficient vampire and lead protagonist of my Void City novels (and head potty mouth, too), is translated into Italian, he tends to “damn” things instead.  
 
 
(Evil authorial aside: And in Italian, Eric gets footnotes. Ha! 🙂 When I first saw that, I smiled bigger than you can believe.)  
 
 
Looking a the French version, I noticed similar differences. In neither French nor Italian, do they appear to use quotations marks. Instead, they use << >>.  
 
 
<< Burned: A Void City Novel comes out January 31, 2011,>> the author said aloud to himself so he would have an opportunity to demonstrate the wacky non-quotation marks. <<How funky are these brackets?>>
 
 
The titles changed, too. In Italian, STAKED became “Caccia al Vampiro” which I think translates roughly to VAMPIRE HUNT. In French, STAKED became “Un Pieu dans le Coeur” or A STAKE THROUGH THE HEART, while ReVAMPED turned into “Le Vampire et le Meilleur” which may mean THE IMPROVED VAMPIRE or THE BEST VAMPIRE… To be honest, I’m not sure.  
 
 
So the next time you click Google Translate and are informed that those toothpicks are “Not to be used for the other use”, remember how cool it is that we can get even those kind of rudimentary (and getting better every day) translations. Think about all the hard work translators do to take an author’s words, and make them, not just comprehensible in another language, but to try and preserve the style and the narrative voice.

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Vampires and Chocolate!

FWoC started as a blog post about how the vampires in my Void City series can’t eat and how that has driven them to participate in a sort of voyeuristic eating where they make humans dine on what they, the vampires, crave but cannot have. At the end of the post, I asked readers what food they’d miss the most if they became a vampire. Chocolate won hands down… which, given that I don’t really like chocolate, intrigued me.

Around the same time, I was invited to do a reading (I won’t say where) and *after* I accepted, the person in charge asked if I would please make sure to keep it clean. We’ve since laughed about it, but it seemed like a very odd (almost cruel) request at the time. My first novel, Staked, was the only book I had out, and to be frank, the main character is a veteran who runs a strip club and his language is… peppery at best. So, the week before the reading, I wrote the first draft of “For Want of Chocolate” as a vehicle for introducing the way my vampires work, with a fair dose of the humor folks have come (hopefully) to expect from the novels, but without the colorful expletives.

Obviously, the story became more than that… the characters became real and made their own choices and decisions, which is what I’m always shooting for when I write.

Haley, the main character in “For Want of Chocolate” is a newly turned vampire coming to the realization that she can’t eat chocolate anymore. Having her realize that simple fact while standing in front of a Godiva store is my little jab at the chocolate lovers out there and an attempt to awaken in chocolate lovers that craving which never completely goes away. The first time I read the story, people went out and bought chocolate. The second time I read it (at a convention) it was as part of a group reading and two of my fellow authors threatened to kill me if I ever again read the story in their presence when no chocolate was available… threats which made me glow inside, because that is exactly the reaction I wanted. Could the guy who doesn’t really like chocolate make people who do like it crave it? You tell me. 🙂

For Want of Chocolate

A Void City Short Story

© J. F. Lewis

Nobody warned me about chocolate, which is why I was standing in the mall right outside Godiva, and to be honest, I thought I was going to go berserk. The luxurious bitter scent of dark chocolate mixed with other odors that I’d never noticed before: a spicy flair, a fruity bouquet…

When I was human, those odors never sang to me the way they did now that my olfactory senses had received a mystical boost. Of course, no matter how good it smelled, I knew I couldn’t have any. Vampires can’t eat… and I’d known that. Hell, I’d been dating one, for over a year. But in the moment, when I got the news about mom’s illness and Jason made his offer, I hadn’t been thinking about food, my job…anything.

My boyfriend Jason laughed at me. He leaned over the fourth floor balcony rail, by the DVD store next to the escalators. His long black hair cascaded past his hard muscled shoulders, and he tossed it back as he laughed. He whispered his words, but I heard him clearly. “What? You forgot vampires can’t eat?”

An older woman brushed past me, purchase made. She didn’t wait until she was out of the mall to open her chocolate. She discarded the bag, removing the multi-colored ribbon from the matte gold box. I felt like that rat in the Pixar movie, the one that can cook, because when she opened the box, the world faded away and the scent canceled out everything else. The nearby food court, the woman’s own body odor, even the siren call of blood itself, were replaced by this cornucopia of rich, dark wonder.

I’d always laughed at Jason for the way he’d stared at me whenever I ate a bag of Cheetos. He’d focused on every nuance of what was such a simple action, eyes locked in on each individual Cheeto as it went into my mouth. Now I knew how he’d felt. The sensation was overwhelming, like hang-gliding… or really good sex.

Jason laughed again as I began to stagger, but I didn’t look up at him. My eyes were on the chocolate. I recognized each piece, from the Coffee Feather to the Raspberry Caramel Duet. My fangs came out, tearing through my gums. It was only the second time they’d ripped free of their hidden sheaths; already the pain was more tolerable.

“Careful.” Jason was next to me in a blink, right hand on the back of my neck. He forced me back against the glass of the shop, left hand on my abdomen. “Just watch.”

I’d have gone for the Dark Ganache Heart, the Pecan Crunch, or the Dark Mint Medallion, but she didn’t. She sat at an abandoned table at the edge of the deserted food court, the metal chair’s creak inaudible to humans, but loud as the clatter of high heels on tile to me and to Jason. She lifted a brown square, the 72% Dark Demitasse, and unwrapped it with blasphemous abandon.

I wanted her to break it in half to savor it, but she chewed it recklessly, without thought, without care.

“She’s not even tasting it,” I said with a snarl of outrage.

The woman glared up at me with a scowl, her lips drawn up into a look of porcine self-importance. What must I have looked like to her? A skinny little bitch,dressed in black? Did she envy my hair, my pale perfect skin? Or did she look at the blue lipstick, the eyeliner, the tiny gold stud in my nostril and dismiss me as trash? Jason laughed again, a gentle laugh, a pitying laugh, and I could see it in the woman’s eyes… she thought he was laughing at her.

As if to spite me, she grabbed the Pecan Crunch and stuffed it in, staring me in the eyes. I willed her to stop, screamed it in my head. To my surprise, she froze, gaze locked with mine and I felt our minds touch. She was a petty little thing. Her thoughts thrashed against mine, but there was no real fight in her, no spark.

“Did you just lock minds with her?” There was wonder in his voice, tinged with fear.

“She does not get to hork down the Pecan Crunch without even tasting it.”

Jason’s eyes narrowed. “Is it possible you’re a Master? Most Soldiers can’t instinctively lock minds with a human.”

There are four levels of vampire, and Jason is only a Soldier, second from the bottom. If I turned out to be a Master, I’d be more powerful than him. But I didn’t care about that; I cared about the woman and the woman’s chocolate. Her green eyes were still locked with my brown eyes. I smiled.

“If she eats the chocolate and then I drink her blood…?” I let the question hang.

“It doesn’t work that way.” Jason released me and I took one step toward the lady with the chocolate. “I tried it with Cheetos and this homeless dude outside my old apartment. Even after I made the guy eat eleven big bags, I couldn’t taste a thing.”

“Damn it!”

But there’s more to chocolate than the taste right? I told myself.

Layers of chocolate melted in the woman’s mouth, revealing the pecan pieces within, the nuggets of crisped rice, and I watched as a bead of brown drool escaped the edge of her mouth and slid down her chin. An urge to leap upon her and lick the drool from her face roared up from deep inside me and I looked away.

In that instant, she was in control again and she threw herself away from me with such force that she fell out of the chair. I wanted to walk across the dull tile and lift her over my head, break her, smash her, because she could have what I craved and she didn’t even have the decency to savor it. As if stuffing her face with fine chocolate was acceptable.

Jason was restraining me again, but not for long. I elbowed him hard and he went flying, arms and legs stretched out in front of him, his face a comical mask of surprise as he hurtled toward the glass window of the Godiva store behind me like an umbrella caught in the wind.

I’m strong.

He caught himself at the last possible second, hands flat against the marble above the window. Using the momentum of my blow, he rolled backwards up the wall, caught the iron rail behind his head, and hung there for an instant before dropping back to the ground. The funny thing was, no one noticed it happened except for me, Jason, and possibly the woman. It had all happened that quickly. Vampire speed.

Whether she’d seen Jason’s vampire-acrobatics or not, the woman was preparing to make a break for the parking deck. And taking her chocolate with her. There must have been forty bucks or more of Godiva’s finest, and she wasn’t just going to leave it behind. As she looked toward the escalator, I tested my own speed, appearing before her in a blur, head cocked to one side. Our eyes met and before she could look away, I had her again.

Sit. Back. Down. I thought at her. She followed the order. Again the metal of the chair creaked beneath her weight. I looked beyond the extra pounds, beyond my own casual, judgmental assessment, and really saw her. She was pretty in her way. Her make-up was inexpertly applied, but she was trying. With a better dye-job and a few make-up tips she’d be cute.

“What are you doing, Haley?” Jason whispered.

“I just want her to do it right,” I hissed.

My name is Haley, I thought at her. Say it. Say hello.

“Hello, Haley?” she asked in a weak, frightened, yet pleasant voice.

I’m not going to hurt you, I thought at her again. Not if you follow my instructions.

“Can you do that?” I asked aloud.

She nodded, and I crossed the space between us and sat in one of the two unoccupied chairs at the food court table, resting my leather-jacketed elbows on the smooth, whitish surface.

“How can you do this?”

“I’m a vampire,” I told her. My fangs were still out, and she started to draw away from me. I caught her wrist in a grip stronger than Mike, my trainer at the company gym, had ever had.

The company gym. I went to work on Friday, still human. Today is Saturday and I’m undead now. What do I do about a job? I work mornings! Who has time to worry about chocolate?

I did.

Nothing was more important to me right now than chocolate. I couldn’t even muster the effort to lie to myself about it. Nothing, not Jason, not the woman across from me, not my mother in the hospital bed back home in Utah. Nothing was more important than the chocolate!

“What’s your name?”

“Liz,” she said. Her eyes were locked on my painted blue fingernails, which dug into the skin at her wrist. I let go.

“Liz.” I rolled the word around in my mouth, feeling the strangeness of the fangs there, listening to odd way they affected my voice. “That’s a pretty name.” A bit of red spittle hit her cheek as the fangs slurred my sibilant. I wiped it away.

“Sorry, Liz.” I handled the sibilants more carefully that time, speaking the words in a slow measured cadence. “Blood is the only fluid I have now and I’m not used to speaking around the fangs, yet.”

“You’re really a vampire?”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t believe you. This is some kind of trick.”

Believe me, I thought at her, catching her eyes with my stare again. Her panic almost forced me out, but my personality, my will, was stronger than hers. You’d think a vampire would win a mental contest automatically, but we don’t. Jason had once described it as the undead version of the old Jedi Mind Trick: it’s only one hundred percent effective on the weak-minded. After a second, after my mind had forced hers to submit, she believed me.

“Are you going to eat me?” She blinked back tears.

“Oh, come on,” Jason whispered, the soul of impatience. “I thought you might want to go to the mall, buy some new boots or something. Eat a tween. I didn’t think we were going to get stuck here all night messing around with some middle-aged office chick. I still want to see what kind of animal you can turn into.”

In the presence of the chocolate, the idea of turning into a bat lost its appeal. I wanted to fly, true, loved the idea of soaring on wings of my own. It had even been part of Jason’s pitch. And it had hit home at the time, bringing back memories of hang gliding with my dad, out at The Point back in Utah. Flying had been the only thing the two of us had ever really done as a father-daughter activity. It had been years, but I could still close my eyes and feel the freedom of gliding through the air. The idea that of doing that, flying, without gear — truly soaring — was a dream come true. But the chocolate… to give that up to be a squeaky little bat? I had serious buyer’s remorse, and undeath came with no right of rescission.

“So go eat a tween,” I told him.

He cursed, threw his hands up in the air. I could smell his frustration, but he wasn’t angry.

“Just hurry it up, okay?”

“I’ll make it up to you,” I told him and he softened, grinning the grin that make him look like a dark angel, the grin that had talked me into joining him in undeath when I got the word about mom last night.

“Cool,” he said. “We’ve got about thirty minutes before the mall closes. I think I’ll go check out the video games or maybe the roleplaying game store.” He’d gone from upset to realizing he could go to all the places I thought were a waste of time. He walked away, whistling the theme to The Andy Griffith Show like a True Nerd.

“What do you want from me?” Liz asked.

“I want you to eat a piece of chocolate.” Her eyebrows raised and she opened her mouth to interrupt. But something stopped her. The fangs or the angry look in my eye, I don’t know which. I said, “I want you to eat it properly. Enjoy it. Savor it.”

“And then?”

I laughed. “And then, I give you some make-up tips and I let you go.”

She laughed with only the slightest touch of hysteria, trying to roll with it, to keep calm. Liz had a pretty laugh, a high pitched but pleasant titter. She wasn’t a snorter like me. “Don’t get me wrong, Haley, but you and I don’t exactly have the same fashion possibilities. You’re gorgeous. You look like that Trinity woman from the Matrix movies, but with better hair and nicer features.”

“I also used to work the make-up counter at Macy’s.”

“Really?” Her eyes brightened and her voice only cracked a little when she spoke.

I nodded. “Yes. So please, do this for me. Take a piece of chocolate.” Her hand moved toward one of the Dark Mint Medallions and I realized that I’d kill her if I had to watch her enjoy that particular piece.

“No!” I batted her hand away with such force that it brought tears to her eyes. “Sorry.” I took her hand. Pressed my cold hand against her warm one. The warmth of her body was like a beacon. If I hadn’t eaten before the mall, I’d have been at her throat. “Please. Let me pick.”

I let my hands linger on the pieces, caressing the molded chocolate shell of the Open Oyster, the rich brown profile of the Dark Lion of Belgium, the sinuous curves of the Midnight Swirl, before settling on the 50% Dark Demitasse. That, I could bear to watch, I thought. I removed the light brown wrapper and held the hard square of chocolate between my thumb and forefinger, its shiny gloss smooth beneath my fingers. A scent like toasted bread wafted up to me. Unable to resist, I put pressure on the chocolate and it broke clean with a crystal-clear snap.

Liz was mesmerized. “You’re serious about chocolate.”

I handed her the larger of the two pieces. “Smell it.”

She did.

“Put it in your mouth, but don’t chew it. Let it melt.” Liz did as I commanded. Her eyes closed, but mine widened, watching her for every little twitch.

“Wow,” she said after several seconds had passed, “And you gave this up?”

“Don’t push me, Liz.”

I slipped the other half into the pocket of my jeans and we headed to Macy’s to give Liz the tips I’d promised. I stumbled slightly as we walked and leaned against her for support, my legs trembling in the same way they might after flying, or sex. The only thing missing was the racing of my pulse, the pounding of my heart… which no longer beat.

Changing Liz’s look took no time at all. She’d been using the wrong foundation and concealer for half a lifetime. That by itself made a huge difference. I said goodbye to Liz and went back to the Godiva store, feeling empty. I watched through the window as the employee counted down the till. When Jason caught up with me, he was swinging a GameStop bag in his hand.

“They had the new…”

I kissed him, stopping the flow of words. I didn’t care what new video game they had, even if it was one that I’d want to play, too. I didn’t care. I was hungry. I wanted food. I had a sliver of chocolate in my pocket and it wasn’t melting because my body wasn’t warm enough, and I knew that if I put it in my mouth not only would I not be able to taste it, but it would make me sick, very sick, and have me vomiting blood all over the tile floor of the mall.

“You said we can turn into animals,” I said, breaking the kiss. “How? What kind?”

Please let it be more than bats, cats, dogs, and rats.

“Well. Drones can’t turn into anything and Soldiers usually only get one. Masters and Vlads can do several…”

“I don’t care about all that, Jason.” I squeezed his arm. “Just what kind and how do I do it?”

“You concentrate, picture yourself as the animal, but be careful. I think you’re a Master, but if you’re a Soldier, then the first one you pick might be the only one you ever get to choose.” His eyes crinkled in amusement. “There’s a stripper I heard of who can only turn into a frog.”

“I didn’t know vampires could turn into frogs.”

“Oh, yeah, we can turn into anything pretty much. But choose wisely,” he said the last part with an accent, trying to mimic the grail knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

The mall was closing, but I didn’t care. I was going to turn into something with feathers. It didn’t matter if the bird was sensible for a nocturnal predator or not. I just needed something, a guilty pleasure to replace the ones I’d lost. I perched on the metal rail of the balcony and pictured myself as a hawk, a bird of prey. I might not be free to eat, but I would be free to fly. Flight would be a consolation.

The transformation hurt, like I was being forced into a tiny rubber ball as my bones twisted in on themselves, poking my insides, but then I had feathers rising out of my skin. The pain stopped and I fell. I was a red-tailed hawk and I flew, my cry echoing through the mall.

Gliding to the top of the five-story atrium and down again to brush my wingtips against one of the mall’s fountains, I re-evaluated my choice: I didn’t give up chocolate to be a vampire. I can’t think of it that way. I gave it up for wings — real wings, with rich brown feathers streaked with tan; tail feathers a deep rich red, dotted with dark black bars. That trade I can deal with. It still hurts, but with every wing beat, I know that it’s enough.

Barely, but it’s enough.

If you dug that, be sure to like my fan page on Facebook to keep you up to date, or check out me out on Twitter @JF_Lewis. Heck, you could even try out one of my books. 🙂

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Life Happens and ya gotta roll with it…

By J. f. Lewis

Almost everyone has heard the song “Don’t Stop Believe’n”. And there are many days that is what writing is all about. If you’re a Pantser, like me, you believe that all the little things you are writing, the seeds you are planting in the plot will grow together like topiary magic into a cohesive sculpture. And the more you do it, the more confident you become. You start to see patterns and trust that those vague ideas about how the story will end are right and that the theme of the novel will be what you think it is going to be… And if they don’t, then you will fix it and shape it and prune it in the second draft until it is a shiny new novel ready to have your editor point out the flaws you’ve missed so you can fix them, too… At which point the copyeditor will catch things you and your editor both missed (or meant to look up and double-check later) and then the readers will continue to think you, the author, are super cool and smarter than you actually are.

But it takes a lot of faith, trust, and pixie dust to get there.

And speaking of flying and editors… Editors, good ones, are kind of like half of a flying trapeze artist act. In the act, there are two performers: the flyer and the catcher. I think the writer and the editor change up roles from time to time, but usually the writer gets to be the one performing the cool tricks and the editor makes sure that they don’t fall. There is a lot of trust. If the relationship is a good one, it starts to feel like a team. When you meet at conventions there may not even be much shop talk at all, it’s about keeping touch and maintaining the relationship.

Confused yet?

All the changes I’ve spoken about on various blogs were events in the past or a process about which I had an idea how it would end: Fan mail… Hate mail… Good reviews… Bade reviews… Getting kicked out of one church… Being welcomed into a new one… I’ve rarely spoken about a process that was still underway.

All my Void City books have been edited by the same wonderful editor. She has a really cool job opportunity and has chosen to take it. I wish her well and am totally excited for her. But I’m getting a new partner in crime and I haven’t met them yet. I’m looking forward to it, though. I’m hopeful, but I’ll admit there are a certain amount of “blind date” jitters. I’ll let you know how it goes. Wish me luck. Does this prose make me look fat? 😉

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