Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Real-life update and plotting rant!

 Hi darlins!

So, there is no story today for two reasons. First, I got my J&J shot on Friday, and while I'm thrilled beyond measure about that, I also lost most of Saturday to a fever and prepping for a (virtual, but I was running it) baby shower for my sister, which was what I spent Sunday doing. So my attempts at writing anything at all this weekend were basically shot.


 Second, and more directly involved in this delay, is the fact that honestly, I need to take a week or two to figure out the next part of this story. This is something I rarely do with blog stories, which I write in a pantser style, letting the muse move me as I stick to whatever loose outline I penned before starting. Right now, though, I'm working on a LOT of stories. Like...I've got a coauthored one going with L.A. Witt, I've got a Patreon story, a Radish story (it just wrapped but I'm plotting the sequel), I'm finishing the Luckless sequel Dauntless, I'm working on an M/M contemporary, I'm plotting TWO novels for IP properties, and I'm plotting a PNR trilogy which might potentially end up at Entangled. This, I must finally acknowledge, is too much, even for me. I love working on multiple projects at once, it's part of how I keep myself moving forward and not getting bored with any one thing, but right now I've overextended myself, and I either admit it and take a pause on a few of these projects, or start fucking things up.

I'm not stopping Rivalries--far from it! I was actually thinking I'd cut out some of the subplots and propel this baby faster to the end, but decided against it. It's a fun story with great characters and I want to do justice to it, which means really plotting it out instead of winging it from here on. So I'm taking a week or two for finishing other projects and really nailing the rest of this one down, then coming back swinging.

I'll still be posting things here over the next week or two, no worries! Just not Rivalries.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Rivalries: Chapter Seventeen, Part Two

 Notes: Wow, this didn't go quite in the direction I thought it would, but it fits. It FITS, so enjoy it, and I'll give you a battle royal soon :) I think...possibly...we're starting to wind down? Next up will be a Bonded universe-adjacent tale, so get ready for that!

Title: Rivalries: Chapter Seventeen, Part Two

***

Chapter Seventeen, Part Two

 


Despite the excitement of his morning of revelations with Johnny, Charlie still had a full day of school and dueling club in the afternoon to deal with. Classes were good, although when the seniors rolled in with an air of combined secrecy and expectation, Charlie knew he was in for a shitty afternoon. He recognized that air. The more people knew a “secret” the harder it was to keep, and some of these kids were terrible when it came to wearing a poker face.

“So,” Charlie said once everyone got seated. He had been planning on giving them a free-writing period for their essays, but he didn’t feel like sitting up here being the target of stares and snickering. “I think today is a great day for some extemporaneous speaking on the subjects of your upcoming essays. We’ve got time for…” He theatrically checked the clock on the wall. “About three minutes apiece. I recommend doing a brief overview of your subject and a slightly deeper dive into the angle you’re taking for your paper. Who wants to go first?”

No one raised their hand.

“Let me rephrase,” Charlie said. “Whoever goes first gets an extra percentage point on their final paper, gratis.”

Five hands shot up into the air. “Hooray, you all win.” He picked Kate, the girl with the emotional manipulation knack, to go first. She began to get up, but Charlie decided to be merciful. “You can speak from your desk.”

She nodded, looked down at her notes, then began reading the first paragraph of her essay.

“Extemporaneous, please. This is to give your classmates a feel for a subject they didn’t choose themselves, and might not even know exists,” Charlie added. “Here, answer this: What topic did you choose and why?”

“Um…all right. I chose the serial killer Milton Briggs.” All of a sudden, the rest of the class was listening intently. “Because he’s the most famous person in the United States to have a knack like mine,” she went on, “and he obviously abused it very, very badly, and that’s led to a stigmatization of people with mental knacks in general and emotion-affecting knacks specifically.”

Kate was warming to her topic now, really getting into it. “But I think that’s a shame, because there are people out there doing a lot of really good things with knacks like this, including running clinics that help people suffering from severe depression and PTSD to find and utilize coping methods without resorting to psychoactive drugs, and…”

Charlie’s gambit ended up being interesting for everyone—too interesting. He had to add a question and answer period to each presentation, and in the end only half of them got through their topics. “We’ll continue this tomorrow,” he said once the bell rang, grateful that the air of mystery enshrouding most of the class had dispersed. “If you haven’t talked yet, be ready to go tomorrow.”

“Are you having dueling club with the Stheno kids today, Mr. Verlaine?” Willard asked as he slowly packed up his bag, and—shit. There that “sneaky” air was again.

“Like every Wednesday, yes,” Charlie said. “Why?”

Willard shrugged. “No reason.” He left with a little smile on his face, and as the last kid walked out the door, Charlie heaved a sigh. Great. It was coming, whatever “it” was, and he really didn’t want to be a part of it. He so didn’t want to be a part of it, but he also knew he probably wasn’t going to get a choice.

If he’d had a choice, he would skip club today and go back to his place with Johnny, and they would talk about what they were to each other, as painful as that seemed like it would be. The prospect of coming out the other side of that kind of talk with a person who…with a guy who was his…

Christ, Charlie was going to need to go back to his therapist just to find the words to get everything he felt for Johnny off his chest. But first…dueling club.

He got there about five minutes late, and wasn’t at all surprised to see the straight-backed, crew-cut, military recruitment poster boy Colonel Karlton Applegate standing in the gymnasium with his own dueling club in the bleachers. What did surprise Charlie was Debra standing in front of him, her arms folded, staring in a very unimpressed manner at the Colonel.

“—permission from Principal Cross herself to make this request of Sergeant Verlaine, Ma’am, and as it’s in the educational interest of both of our students, I—”

“Sir, you will be silent now.” Debra spoke quietly but powerfully, and the colonel stopped talking, looking surprised at himself.

Charlie was surprised too. Was this part of Debra’s knack? A knack for keeping a cool head seemed like something that would only help the person who had it, but maybe part of how it affected other people was by shutting them up so the user could stay calm.

“I don’t care if that woman declared you were God himself, you do not come into my space, which I have made as safe for my students as possible, and throw your weight around like you can give anyone here a command which they must follow,” Debra said, slow and firm. “I don’t care why you want to challenge Mr. Verlaine to a duel, I don’t care whether it’s for the students’ benefit or your own, I don’t even care if he wants to fight you. You will not be used as a cudgel against me or any of my students, do you comprehend that?”

Every person in the gym was transfixed by the scene playing out in front of them. Even Colonel Applegate had stopped moving, standing at attention like he was being inspected by a superior officer. “This is my time, and my space, and no one will move me from it or commandeer it for their own purposes without plenty of advance notice, and even then only if I agree,” Debra went on. “Nod if you understand me, sir.” He nodded. “Good. Then you will take your students back outside, and you will not speak to Mr. Verlaine on your way out, and if you want to arrange any kind of demonstration you will do so in your own time. Am I clear?” He nodded again. “Very good. Now leave.”

And the colonel just…left. He turned and walked right out of the gym, and after a second his dueling club picked up their stuff and hurried after him, with lots of backward glances but not a single word. Once they were gone, Charlie walked over to Debra. He had to resist the urge to salute. “Thank you.”

She took a deep breath, and the air of authority around her dissipated as she smiled at him, brown eyes twinkling. “Oh, you’re welcome. I figured you deserve some advance warning before being thrown into a crapstorm, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t figure I’d get it.” Charlie got an idea. “Would you mind starting club today by explaining a little more about you’re knack to the students? You’re the only person here with it, but it might give them some ideas.”

“Why, I’d love to.” As she turned to the kids watching raptly from the front row of the bleachers, Charlie went over to join Johnny.

“I think Colonel Applegate just got his ass handed to him,” Johnny said quietly.

“Yeah, but he’ll be back.” Charlie knew the type. “He’ll put in a formal request and I’ll have to say yes, or give Principal Cross more ammunition for firing me.”

Johnny scowled. “Why do they want to get rid of you? You’re doing a great job!”

Charlie shrugged. “I’m not to a lot of people’s tastes. It’s hard for them to justify keeping someone as bad with authority as me around.”

“Oh yeah?” Johnny nudged him with his elbow. “Well, you’re exactly to my tastes.”

Charlie grinned. “That’s good, since we’re boyfriends. Right?”

“Right.”

Best. Relationship talk. Ever.

 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Rivalries: Chapter Seventeen, Part One

 Notes: We're back to the blog story, woohoo! Have some surprising interpersonal revelations, courtesy of the emotionally constipated Charlie Verlaine ;)

Title: Rivalries: Chapter Seventeen, Part One

***

 Rivalries: Chapter Seventeen, Part One


At this point, a confrontation was inevitable. And Charlie fucking hated it.

God, the whole thing reeked of schoolboy, Jets vs Sharks, bureaucratic bullshit. It felt like a meme come to life, or one of those Reddit threads where the story was all about some fucker telling them how to do their job wrong. Charlie didn’t want to be part of a meme, for fuck’s sake. He just wanted to teach something useful!

“Are you sure you don’t want to be part of a meme?” Johnny asked when Charlie made this complaint to him as they got ready for school. It felt…strangely normal, getting ready for school with Johnny. Better than that, because before getting ready they’d been in bed together, and while they were in bed together they’d… He forced himself to focus on what Johnny was saying.

“—ause there are some super cute ones out there we could fit you into right now. The dog—you know the dog face one? Or the Spongebob one? Or the one with the guy walking with the girl but the guy is looking at the other girl—”

“These are all ancient memes, you’re dating yourself,” Charlie told him.

“What about the one with the kitten and the toaster?” Johnny asked as they filled his travel mugs.

“The—what?”

“The kitten and the toaster! You know, where the kitten is watching the toaster and then it pops and the kitten goes—here, I’ll show you,” he said, pulling something up on his phone. Charlie looked over his shoulder and—

“Oh my god, you dork,” he groaned as a familiar song began to play. “Rickrolling? Seriously?”

“Hey, you’re the one who didn’t know there’s no such thing as a kitten and toaster meme, blame yourself.” Johnny looked smug, and also too cute to resist. Even as Charlie leaned in to kiss him, he wondered when he’d become the kind of guy who had to kiss his boyfriend whenever he did something cute.

Kiss…his…

His…

What? Wait, no, what? Charlie’s body reacted to his intense moment of startlement by coughing, which was especially gross when you were in the middle of kissing someone. He hunched over the table, leaning on his hand and coughing into the opposite shoulder, waving away Johnny’s concern. “I’m fine,” he managed after a second, groping for his coffee and taking a huge drink. It was too hot, but at least the liquid did the trick of burning away the cough. “Jesus Christ,” he croaked afterward.

“Oh yeah, you’re totally fine,” Johnny said, part sarcastic and part concerned. It should have been such an irritating combination; Charlie hated it when people were concerned about him, he’d had enough concern to last him a fucking lifetime. So why did he want to lean into the emotion when Johnny was the deliveryman?

Because you love him, idiot. Because he’s your BOYFRIEND! You’ve been healed up for weeks, you don’t need a ride to school anymore or help getting ready except you’re too lazy to get a car and you CAN be lazy because you’ve got a fucking BOYFRIEND who drives you everywhere and loves spending time with you and sleeps over at your shitty apartment because, oh yeah, he’s your BOYFRIEND!

“Shit.”

Johnny sat down at the table next to him, pushing coffee and phones and everything else farther back. “Talk to me,” he insisted. “What’s going on? What’s wrong?”

“Um.” How did he even bring this up. “Are…okay, are we dating?”

“Are we…dating?” Johnny raised one eyebrow, and Charlie cursed him a little inside for being able to do that even as he continued his now-quieter freakout. “What brought this up?”

“Are we?” Charlie persisted. “Is that what you’d call this? Are we boyfriends?”

Johnny blushed. “I mean…do you want to be?”

“So you don’t know what the hell we’re doing either?” Great, neither of them was in the driver’s seat.

“I mean, I think we’re having a good time together,” Johnny said, keeping his voice slow and calm even as his face glowed pink. “I think we share a lot of, y’know, interests and we enjoy each other’s company a lot, and we have a little bit of a history together and really, after putting each other in the hospital ten years apart I feel like the only way this story can end is either in a fatal showdown or a big romantic gesture. Or something.” He winced. “Does that make any sense?”

“No.” Charlie felt like he was on the verge of hyperventilating. “How are hospitals romantic? They’re not!”

“No, it was…I was kind of making a joke, and I can tell it didn’t hit, and—” Johnny’s phone began to beep, and he silenced it with a frown. “We’ve got to get to work. We can talk it out on the way, okay?”

“Do we have to?”

Johnny looked wounded. “Is the prospect of being my boyfriend such a terrible thing?”

“No.” No it wasn’t, and he had to get that out there because the last thing he wanted was to make Johnny feel bad because of his anxiety. “No, it—it might be fantastic? I don’t really know though, I’ve never had a boyfriend before. So.”

“Oh. Oh!” Johnny nodded, his eyes getting that distant look they sometimes did when he was contemplating something.

You know his weird looks, you’re so dating this man.

“That’s—that’s totally fine,” Johnny finally said. “I’ve had boyfriends before, but every relationship is different, so you don’t need to worry about not…well…” He quirked his lips. “What exactly are you worried about?”

“I don’t know! Fucking it up? Doing everything wrong?” It wasn’t that Charlie had never gotten interest before, he’d just never gotten to the boyfriend level with anyone because he was a) uncommunicative, b) distant, c) never home, d) overly devoted to his work, on and on all the way up to z.

“You haven’t fucked anything up so far,” Johnny pointed out.

“I mean, don’t undersell me, it hasn’t been that long,” Charlie retorted. His boyfriend sighed.

“We’ve really, really got to get going to school to be on time, but we’re talking about this tonight. Okay?”

Ah, great. Something to…look forward to.

“Okay.”

Friday, March 26, 2021

Dauntless excerpt!

 Hey, darlins! I promised you something to read this week, so have a quick excerpt of Dauntless, the sequel to Luckless :) A short and largely unedited scene, but still fun.


***



They left from the outer wall of Forge instead of the stadium. Ladon was enormous, even for a dragon, and when he changed in the stadium it tended to send the youngest dragons scurrying for the safety of their mother’s bulk. On the wall, though, there was no fear. The people who guarded it knew them—many of them knew Evan from before he and Ladon had bonded, and the years had made them friendlier.

“He went northwest!” Oliver shouted after them from his perch on the tall concrete turret, where he manned one of Forge’s two working machine guns. “Toward Long’s!”

Evan nodded his thanks as Ladon began to bank, raising great clouds of dust with his wingbeats as he turned them in the direction of Long’s Peak. It was one of the tallest mountains on the Front Range, a flat-topped icon and guidepost for travelers. It was also one of the stupidest places for a man and a dragon to think about trying to take shelter, a place with no shelter from the elements, no significant sources of game, and plenty of spaces for a patient monster to hide. Evan hoped for his sake that Wayde was easy to find, but if he found that pair of idiots on top of Long’s Peak he’d be hard pressed not to shout both of them deaf.

Ladon sent a thread of amusement through the bond to Evan, keeping his bright eyes trained below them for any sign of the missing rider and his dragon. Evan watched too, relieved that the worst of the dust had finally settled. Visibility was still poor, though—the sun had just begun to set behind the mountains, and as the shadow of the Rockies spread out across the plains, Evan resigned himself to settling in and waiting to be useful.

You’re always useful.

Evan chuckled. You’re the only one who thinks so.

Humanity sets too much importance on utilitarianism. Even in this difficult time, there should be a place for existence without justification, without having to meet arbitrary standards of necessity.

I wish it were that way.

Ladon was quiet for a moment before thinking So do I. Perhaps Jason would experience fewer difficulties then.

Oh, Jason. The reminder of what he’d gone through today was enough to quiet Evan’s mirth, and they kept flying in silence, tension growing minute by minute as they still failed to find Wayde and Feron.

Fucking Wayde, who’d flown off in a huff without the barest supplies—no signal flares, a bow but no more than three arrows ready to fire, none of the cold-weather clothes he’d want if he got stuck out here overnight. Evan was going to give this guy a piece of his fucking mind when he—

Fire!

Ladon extended his head in the direction of the slopes a dozen or so miles south of Long’s where, sure enough, a flame was spreading. Spreading fast. Had Feron set the entire hillside ablaze? Dragons were taught to control their flame better than that from the time they were hatchlings.

Ladon banked down, and in the light of the fire Jason could see hulking black shapes darting back and forth along the edge of the flames, which spread out in a broken ring from a central spire of rock. Feron was perched on that rock, flapping his wings hard to fan the burn even as he breathed more fire. Crouched just below him was Wayde, holding his bow but—as expected—out of arrows.

Wayde looked like he was yelling something at Feron—maybe telling him to fly away, judging from the way he threw his arm toward the sky. The dragon didn’t seem wounded, so the likeliest reason he hadn’t taken off yet was because he was too tired to carry both himself and his rider somewhere safe. Because he was only twenty, and would likely double in size over the next ten years if he didn’t get killed off through sheer stupidity before then.

There’s too much fire already to add more, Evan thought at Ladon as he squinted down at the black shapes. Dog-like, but far bigger than any dog, yet with curved spines and hulking shoulders more like what you’d see on a hyena than a wolf…it was a pack of ringdocus. They were menaces in the foothills, fast and vicious pack hunters that were far cleverer than crix. The only good thing about ringdocus was that their packs didn’t get as large as crix—too much competition, too much of a need for meat. They reached a certain size, then began fighting amongst and cannibalizing themselves to sort out the hierarchy of needs.

Do you want to shoot them from the air or the ground?

A few passes from the air, Evan decided, already freeing his bow and nocking an arrow. Then we try to go in and grab Wayde.