Weddings and Seven Eight and chewing nails.

The wedding was great, such fun, and daughter and son-in-law are now getting thoroughly sunburned in South Africa, presuming they survived the dive with Great great whitesWhites which she’d set her heart on. I’m being very optimistic and assuming I’d have heard by now if they didn’t. They were going to be in a cage, after all, what could go wrong? (And yes, I saw Jaws too. Hush.)

So, once the excitement of the wedding weekend was over, and the hangover had finally subsided, I wasted a few days getting used to the silence and a few more listlessly doing some bits and pieces and have suddenly realized that my latest book launches in days and needs at least some help from me, eek. Apart from anything else, it had to go from the returned Edit-my-book version into Jutoh format, so the weekend has been spent doing that, and reading the Kindle simulation, and making changes, and re-reading, and making more changes, and today is the final final read-through and it gets loaded on Amazon tomorrow. How scary is that? Frankly, terrifying. I’d recruited more beta readers than ever before and two of them fell by the wayside. That’s not a good start! The ones who finished it, liked it and think it’s the best so far. Really? Five Six will always be my favourite, but then right at the moment Seven Eight is so familiar to me I have to do all the editing tricks in the book (reading it backwards, changing the font size, putting it in columns) just to prevent my jaded eyes from saying yeah, yeah, we’ve read this before, can we move swiftly on?

seven eight finalI do love the Festival, and the book is partly a celebration of the Festival. And Fiona Bentwood swears and smokes and is bitchy, she’s the antagonist but I sneakily rather like her. I really did enjoy writing the final third of the book more than any of the others, but I broke some writing rules with the opening scene and I nervously suspect that will come back to bite me. Keep it simple, the experts say, and quite rightly. The Festival is crowded, and lively, and the opening scene is crowded and lively, and those two beta readers faded on me (just never responded at all) and my nerves are shot. I’ve included the opening on its own tab in this website, and if you read it, and have some useful advice (other than, you know, ‘scrap the whole scene’ because it sets up most of the activity in the book so I can’t) you should definitely feel free to let me know. Preferably before I load it tomorrow night.

I’m doing a soft launch at a lower price up to the official launch, in the eternally optimistic hope of getting a couple of reviews on there, and will soon be twisting beta reader arms to post reviews, but the rest of the pre-launch promotion has pretty much been torpedoed by the wedding. Five Six got a proper planned detailed launch and outsold both the previous books in their respective first weeks so I have no-one to blame but myself if poor Seven Eight falls flat on its colourful little face. It is a book born in my first (and last!) NaNoWriMo, but most of the fifty thousand words written then had to be stripped away ruthlessly, scrubbed, and slotted back in new ways; if not discarded altogether. Writing under a deadline was absolutely horrifying and lends itself far too much to quantity over quality, the editing was a nightmare. It is still the longest book in the series so far and definitely rambles a bit too much in the Exposition but that’s to lull the reader into an easy doze as they are ushered gently past clues and red herrings. I want alert readers to spot the murderer, of course I do.  That makes the traps more exciting. But it can’t be too easy. Moving swiftly on . . .

(Ah, just seen the good news on Facebook—they survived the shark dive. Phew.)

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Ask Not – February entry in SF microstory competition

Theme: A crime is being or has been committed
Required Element: Reference your favorite author (By name, quote,etc.)
Required Element: First person narrative (I had also decided it was time to try my hand at present tense. Hmm)

woman weeping
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man is, in Goona, a precious resource. A virile, fertile, single man. When there are only three men to every twenty women of child-bearing age, the competition is fierce, and the fiercest are ovulating and mean business. A woman’s power and influence when old are directly related to the children she bears when young, and we have but ten years of fertility. Partner a sterile man and you waste two years, fail to partner in three successive mating Games and you’re either too old to produce young at all, or the resented outrider in an older man’s pack and wondering whether he can impregnate you before he drops dead. Men don’t last long here.

Lin stumbles into the square, looking distraught, as I go out to take down my finery ready to dress for the dance, the start of the Game, and I cross to her instantly, because although she is, right now, the enemy, we are friends between Games. She’s on her second Game and has sultry experience and one child already at heel. This is my first Game and I have youth and novelty. She shakes off my first attempt to catch her arm but bursts into gusty sobs.

‘Carl. CARL,’ is all I can hear between the sobs, enough to make my blood chill. Carl is my choice for the Game. He’s young, merry, a father four times over, a good hunter and, I have been watching him covertly, a good partner. Most of us want him but he watches me and this year, my first year, all the men want me.

‘What about Carl?’ I pinch her fiercely and she wails, eyes huge with grief.

‘Where?’ She just points and I run, fleet as a deer, heart pounding with terror. He’s lying by the path, only minutes from the village, and he looks as dead as a man can, his throat gaping open. I fling myself on my knees by him anyway, shrieking his name and my shaking fingers on his neck next to that obscene and bloody grin. The blood is already drying, and the skin under my fingers is already tepid. My Carl, my mate, my hope and plan for the future, is gone and I raise my face and howl like a wolf as others hurry up the path and crowd round.

‘He was never yours.’ Anol, his recent partner, objects, paper-white, spots burning in her cheeks. ‘We were going to re-partner for another two years. We bred sons together, and he loved me.’

At this, Lin’s tears abruptly stop. ‘You lie. Re-partnering isn’t allowed, it breaks our laws on consanguinity. He wanted me, he told me so.’

‘He wanted me,’ I want to say; but he never said it. Just watched me. Many of the village men watch me, and try to draw me aside to discuss Game strategy, but Carl—Carl and I would have needed no strategy. Raw with loss, I ask instead, ‘who did this?’

‘What is done is done,’ Anol whirls on me, harsh and abrupt, but I hardly hear her, tears pouring as I look despairingly from face to face, seeing shock, horror, sorrow; on one face they look fake. Jake’s face. I blink, re-focus, and he feels my stare and looks away, and I know. Jake has been watching me for seven months, always ready to wink, to smile, to come over to me at any encouragement whatsoever. I rise to my feet like an avenging Fury. ‘Jake!’ my voice breaks and I have to clear my throat, start again. ‘JAKE murdered Carl!’

He breaks and runs, and after a frozen moment of shock the other hunters pound after him. The older men look stunned, but the women, young and old, are glaring at me with fury in their eyes and it takes me a moment to realize what I have done. I have robbed us of another man for the Game.