Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Pitch Wars Update and an Excerpt!

Hi darlins!

Okay, so this will not be a blog story week, let me just get this out there right now. No blog story. I've been staring at the same 300 words for so long they're burned onto my retinas, and I'm totally fine with that, by the way. My mentors and I are on the verge of turning in my Pitch Wars submission, which is AMAZING! I've been working like a maniac for the last three months on revising Magical Hazmat, with three rounds of revisions, cutting ten thousand words and adding in another fifteen, and generally getting the five-star treatment from my incredible mentors Janet Walden-West and Anne Raven. #TeamSubversive for the win!

The point is, all my energy has been directed solely at this book for the past week, solid. I've been cutting and shaping and bending words to my purposes, and I'm happy with what I've got, but what I don't have is The Tank today.

However, I do have an excerpt from a short story I'm going to be putting up for free for my lovely readers (YOU, you people, I'm talking about YOU). Some of you might recognize it from its original publication in a Riptide anthology. I also have a solemn vow that next Tuesday will be a story day. The day after that is the day my Pitch Wars submission goes live to agents and editors, so I can assure you that Tuesday will be productive, since Wednesday will be nothing but me staring anxiously at my computer while self-medicating with baking and whiskey. Yeah, I'm classy that way.

Anyhow, on with the excerpt!


The list didn’t change. Jon could see the whiteboard through the porch windows: bullet points written out in Alistair’s stupidly pretty cursive, black and stark and beautiful. Those rules governed the basics of his behavior, from eating to meds to when he should be in bed at night. Thanks to Alistair’s frequent absences for filming and promotion lately, Jon just about had those suckers memorized.
Usually he liked following them. For the most part they did exactly what Alistair had meant them to: they gave Jon a routine, a series of things to do that kept his day from devolving into a chaotic mess of introspection and lost time. Seeing them whenever he glanced in the kitchen prompted him to remember that Alistair wrote them out as a reminder of what they had, and to give him a way to obey even when they weren’t together. Usually they helped.
Today was not one of those times. Right now the rules felt more like a list of chores for a naughty child than guidance for a willing lover, and he was tempted—he was so, so tempted—to fuck off and ignore them. Just this once. As long as he followed the ones that required communication, Alistair would never know. How could he, when he was darting from press event to award ceremony to celebrity interview, so busy promoting Blessed Father that Jon hadn’t seen him for more than three days at a time since December?
It wasn’t fair to think like that. Jon could have gone with Alistair on plenty of the trips. In fact, he was in demand for interviews himself, mostly because he never gave them and he had a reputation for difficulty that made every producer and publicist that much more determined to be the one to get him. He could see the article now: Jon Jones, the playboy son of two renowned artists, fell from grace into addiction. Learn how he clawed his way back to the top, and why he credits it all to Alistair Fraser’s help.
The public wanted to see evidence of his gratitude. They wanted to wallow in his remorse. More than one paparazzo had gone out of their way to get into Jon’s face when he and Al were out together, snapping pictures and shouting questions. Screw them. Jon wasn’t an actor; he was the one writing the script. The only person who got to lay their expectations on him was Al, and he wasn’t here to enforce them in person because tonight was the Oscars. If there was one event Al had to be at this year, it was the Oscars. He was a nominee, after all.
But then, so was Jon.
Jon sighed as he finished his cigarette, out on the porch, of course, because neither of them wanted the smell of smoke in the house. He’d just earned an extra five swats for indulging, but he didn’t care; he needed the nicotine. He felt twitchy, too tight in his skin. He ground the butt into the ashtray and stood up slowly, pleased that he’d gotten away with no nausea this time. Nausea was the one side effect he couldn’t shake of the HIV meds, even with seven years’ practice. The lasting consequences from years of sleepless nights and heavy drinking probably didn’t help the situation, but food and cigarettes, formerly two of his favorite things, were now constant struggles in the disputed territory that was his body.
Jon headed back inside, locked the sliding glass door, and then lowered the blinds. Their house was two hours north of Los Angeles in a quiet, wooded area with few close neighbors, but he didn’t like to take chances with their privacy. There had been too many embarrassing photographic “revelations” over the years to get complacent just because Al was gone. He walked over to the whiteboard and put another check under the Vices column. Frankly, he’d argued vices should be changed to “indulgences” and mostly forgiven, because didn’t everyone deserve to indulge every now and then? Alistair hadn’t bought it though.
He glanced at the grandfather clock on the far wall. It was an enormous, ridiculous thing, with a clanging chime that never failed to wake him up when he didn’t have Alistair home to exhaust him, but Al loved the damn thing. Nearly four o’clock. Plenty of time to take the dog for a walk before the show started. Just because he wasn’t attending the Oscars didn’t mean he didn’t want to watch them, especially since his movie was up for four awards.
“Brutus!” The heavy-bodied black lab darted up from where he’d been napping on his bed and trotted over. “Walk time, dog o’ war.” He patted Brutus on the head and smiled. He still wasn’t quite over Alistair’s insistence on naming the dog Brutus. Alistair was an utter Shakespeare nerd.
Brutus was a new development in their relationship. Alistair had bought him, already two years old and thankfully well trained, at the height of filming Blessed Father when Jon had alternated between nerve-racking visits to the set and sleepless nights at home by himself. He was supposed to be company for Jon, something for him to care for when Alistair couldn’t be there to care for them both.
Goddamn him and his psychobabble, but it had worked, or close enough. Brutus was good company: not too demanding but lovable, and his schedule was as regular as clockwork. Four in the afternoon meant a walk outside, and therefore Jon had to put on actual clothes and act like an adult for half an hour. Not his favorite thing to do, but if it was something he liked doing it wouldn’t need to be on the list.
Did sweatpants count? No obvious stains, and his T-shirt was clean . . . “Close enough,” Jon muttered. “Let’s do this.”
He followed Brutus to the door, slid into a pair of flip-flops, and undid both the dead bolts and the key lock. “Have you got your ball?” Alistair would laugh at Jon asking the dog questions as though he expected an answer, but Jon got his revenge whenever Al slipped into baby talk. “Go get it!”
Brutus ran down the hall and came back with his worn toy.
“Good boy.” He opened the door and stuck his head out onto the veranda of their sprawling Spanish-style home. It was the biggest house he’d ever lived in, and he could have been happy with a lot less, but what this home offered them that so many others hadn’t was a bit of isolation, a buffer zone between their private life and the outside world. Before they’d gotten together, Alistair had lived in the heart of Los Angeles, and Jon knew that he missed the hustle of city life and the energy he got from being around so many people. This house was their compromise: close enough to the city that they could get there for work, but far enough away that Jon didn’t feel like he was suffocating. He could manage in a city—hell, he’d lived in New York for years—but he didn’t really enjoy it anymore. Time and circumstance had transformed him into a recluse.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Tank: Chapter Eleven, Part Two

Notes: Here we have Revelations: Aftermath Edition, plus the lead in to a soft moment I'll be gifting you with before I blow our sense of equilibrium all to hell again :)

Title: The Tank: Chapter Eleven, Part Two


Chapter Eleven, Part Two

Anton had to sit down. “I don’t…” He gulped and tried again, words fighting behind his lips for precedence. “It’s…but no one has ever positively determined a cause for the condition,” he said at last. “The affliction strikes with near-perfect randomness! One in a hundred thousand people, thereabouts, and a slightly, infinitesimally increased potential for it if you have it in your family history, but even that is potentially merely circumstantial due to faulty record keeping and, and…”

Camille lowered himself down beside him, which was when Anton realized that he’d basically just collapsed onto the marble floor. “All of that has been considered,” Camille said easily, as though he hadn’t just adjusted Anton’s entire worldview with a single phrase. “Everything you can think of, and probably numerous things you haven’t thought of yet, have been examined. The emperor has reached out—with a great deal of secrecy, admittedly—to authorities on everything from thaumaturgy to spirituality to street magic to physical medicine. He’s the first of the Bonaparte line to produce children with this defect, and every angle had to be examined.”

“And…and has anything been discovered?”

Camille sighed and leaned back against the wall. “Many things. None of them have been directly applicable to our situation, but quite a lot of them stand to do others like us some good. Currently the popular supposition is some sort of curse, something embedded in the body of the emperor himself. Two of the women he had bastards with went on to have utterly normal children with other men, so it wasn’t transmissible in that sense.”

“That’s good,” Anton said mechanically, but his mind had already begun to take shape around new problems, new angles seeking completion. “Camille…if this trait is discovered, if it is made public…it could mean terrible things for the empire.”

“Worse even than the tangle we’re already in, which is saying quite a lot,” Camille agreed. “The revelation would precipitate a crisis of faith at the very least. Rome might choose to split from the monarchy, and if that happens, then we begin to lose the people. There is no equivalent of the Church of England in the empire, after all—we are Catholic, Jewish or, on the fringes of the empire, Islamic. And none of these religions have anything but negatives to say about the soulless.” He gestured around them with a hand. “That is another reason for this place, of course—it is an avenue for investigation into the mystery that bedevils our emperor.”

Camille rubbed his fingertips across his temple. “He’s done fairly well, given the hand he’s been played. He is as devoted to Empress Matilde as any husband could be to a wife, and that has lent credence to the idea that she, in fact, is the trouble, not him. His bed partners have been circumspect. His children haven’t been exposed. He has a nephew who is a war hero and is a proper age to be the heir, so the line will stay intact, even if it has to branch out a bit.”

“How can you be so sanguine about this?” Anton demanded. “You’re a…you’re like something out of a fairy tale, a prince living under a curse, the son of the emperor, for the love of god. How can you speak of him with such remove?”

“Because he has never been my father in any way other than biological,” Camille said in a tone of great patience. “Napoleon Bonaparte is a busy man. It’s likely that even if I had come about in an entirely legal and laudable way, I would hardly ever see him. As it is, I feel like I see him more than I ought to. He’s aware of my abilities with detection—his influence helped set me on this path—and he uses me accordingly. In the meantime, my mother lives in a beautiful home in Avignon and wants for nothing, and I have purpose to my life. It is enough.”

“Purpose? What purpose?” Anton demanded, rather pettily, perhaps, but he felt as though he was being held underwater. He could still breathe, somehow, but every moment seemed to drag. “To protect the empire? To protect him? You could do either of these things, anything, anything you wanted to, on your own merits. You’re brilliant, and if he can’t understand that well enough to value you accordingly, to value your, your, your companionship, then—”

He waved his hands in the air between them, as though it could somehow jumpstart his ability to articulate. “Look at you,” he finished, exhausted and petulant and still reeling. “Look at you, and look at how clever your brother is, and yet look at how society dictates you must be treated because of something completely outside your control. You’re a person to be valued, and now to know that it’s not just that you were unfortunately afflicted but that you might have been targeted, it…” Anton ran out of breath, and thought.

Camille reached out and took his hand. “I have no regrets,” he said gently. “I’ve never known a life other than the one I began with, and I’ve had many advantages that others lack. My education has been excellent, my tutors far-ranging, and as I said, my mother is in good health and well-cared for. I enjoy what I do, and even who I do it for.” He glanced down as he twined their fingers together. “The only moment of doubt I’ve ever suffered on this path was the result of you. From the first moment I met you, you held my interest. That interest has only grown the longer I’ve known you.”

He looked out blankly at the expanse ahead of them, the light of distant Paris still enough to blot out many of the stars. “If I did have a regret, it would be…not abandoning my attachment to you when I had the chance, before you became drawn so deeply into this web. Because now there is no chance of it, I’m afraid. Even if you drive me away and want nothing more to do with me, you’ll never be completely out of my thoughts.”

Anton’s heart beat so loudly in his ears he could barely hear Camille, but he was quite certain he’d heard enough. He turned around until he was on top of his lover, sitting astride his thighs and leaning in, bracketing his head with his arms and running his fingers into the other man’s hair and just feeling him. That night together in Zurich felt like forever ago, and since then so much had happened, so damnable much, that Anton had thought it was over between them.

Even now, even with this confession still ringing on his lover’s lips, there was a chance it might not last. Wasn’t there? Wasn’t there a limit, an edge to what was tolerable and what wasn’t? They hadn’t found it yet, perhaps—not even the revelation that Camille was, in essence, royalty could do that, but if…no, when he discovered what Anton was keeping from him, when he learned about Caroline…

“What is it?” Camille murmured, pressing his mouth to Anton’s neck. “What is it, love? What do you want?”

That was about the only question Anton felt capable of answering right now. “You,” he said hoarsely. “I want you. Come inside with me, stay with me. Just for the night.” It was dangerous to be as free as they were allowing themselves right now, even given Camille’s odd status, but… “Please.”

“Anything, Anton.”

That was the right answer.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Tank: Chapter Eleven, Part One

Notes: FINALLY! New content for The Tank is here, praise be. We're about to learn some BIG secrets, folks, hold onto your carryalls.

Title: The Tank: Chapter Eleven, Part One


Chapter Eleven, Part One

What is this place? Really? The thought preyed on Anton’s mind for the rest of the day, long after he’d left Hrym, that brilliant, child-like man behind and rejoined his party, even after he got a moment alone with Caroline, long enough to berate her for drawing attention to herself.

“You’re supposed to be bland and unobtrusive, not drawing attention to yourself by showing off your knowledge of theoretical thaumaturgy,” he whisper-hissed at her over post-dinner coffee that evening.

Her hands tightened around her cup, and the corners of her mouth quivered with excitement. “But Byron Atwood is here! Atwood! He’s one of the most brilliant thaumaturges England has ever produced, one of the greatest minds of the last century! He’s been out of the country for decades now, people thought he was dead! I had no idea he was here, and he could be a font of valuable information as long as I can interest him in speaking with me. That’s why I had to encourage him, to seem interesting to him. Otherwise, he would dismiss me completely.”

“Why has he been out of the country for so long?” Anton asked. For all the time he’d spent among the offspring of the upper crust, he couldn’t bring much about the man immediately to hand.

“Oh. He, um…” She sipped nervously at her coffee. “He, ah, fell rather publicly in love with the French ambassador to England. It was quite a scandal at the time. There was talk of…ah, censuring him, and so he and the ambassador fled back to France.”

Anton frowned. “Why was it such a…” Then his rationality caught up with the rest of his mouth. Ah. Byron Atwood shared his inclinations, then. “How did he dare to be so public about it?”

Caroline shrugged helplessly. “He’s brilliant, Anton, I can’t tell you how much. They’ve never even erased his boards in the classrooms he taught in, there’s so much knowledge left to be gleaned from his notes. He was so brilliant, he felt he could live as he pleased. Our society was not ready for that.”

“They still aren’t,” Anton noted glumly. All of a sudden the evening had palled. He excused himself a bit later, and after ensuring Dr. Grable was comfortable, he headed for his room. He needed to be alone with his thoughts.

No. That’s the last thing you need.

Anton stepped into his room and tensed immediately. Someone was here, he could feel it in the shiver of his passive wards, glyphs worked into everything from the stitches of his clothes to the leather of his shoes and carryall. He looked around the sitting room, but there was no one there. Nor in the bedroom, nor the bathroom, but—ah. One of the doors leading out to his small, fenced-in patio was cracked open. He stepped up to it, one hand moving to the inner pocket of his jacket, where he kept one of his spirit globes close to his chest. God only knew what it would turn up here if he set it off in such a place—perhaps nothing, since apparently death itself was a novelty, but still—

He recognized the set of the shadow man’s shoulders a second later, and exhaled in relief. “You could have found me earlier,” Anton said, joining Camille beneath the elegant little portico a moment later. “There’s no need to sneak into my chambers.”

“I preferred not to endure the party this evening,” Camille replied solemnly, glancing at Anton but keeping his hands firmly on the wrought iron rails. “It has been a day of many revelations, a number of them unsettling.

“More on Deschamps?” Anton asked, resisting the urge to reach out and touch. If Camille wanted to let him in, he would give some sort of sign. Honestly, at this point Anton was rather invested in not being distracted by the other man—he had questions.

“Among other things.”

He didn’t immediately continue, and rather than press, Anton took the opportunity to direct the conversation where he wanted it. “What is this place for? Really?”

Camille stared at him, interest quickly overtaking the fatigue in his face. “Why do you ask?”

“Because there’s no way this is simply an institute for high-level research.” Once he began speaking, words flowed from his mouth like music from a choir. “I mean, it is, I know that, there is the research and productivity to prove it, and obviously the laboratories here are conducive to that, but I met a young man today, an intelligent and innovative young man, and he asked me how long it took before a dead man began to smell.”

Anton had to move, to walk, even though there wasn’t much room for it on in the small space. “He has never seen a body before! Never! Not the funeral of a relative, not a homeless man in a street—probably, judging from the sheer ignorance at play, not even the carcass of a dog or cat! He may be clever, but he is so sheltered that I don’t think he would survive beyond this place, where everything is handed to him and someone comes around to sweep away the, the dead spiders so he doesn’t have to confront them!” He lowered his voice a bit. “And there is an admitted homosexual here! England has a great many flaws, but France is not so removed from the hold of the Catholic church that it would cease to care about such things. I do not begrudge Byron Atwood falling in love, far from it, but I am terribly curious as to why he found a place here, of all places! The heart of the empire’s intellectual war machine!” He threw up his hands. “What is this place, Camille?”

Anton was not prepared for Camille to look at him with as broad a smile as he’d ever seen on the other man’s face. “You are terribly clever yourself,” he said lowly, and it was almost—almost—enough to distract Anton. Camille was kind enough not to leave him in suspense. “You’re right. This is more than an institute of learning. It is a…call it a safe haven, of sorts. The emperor adapted the previous Institute to his needs half a century ago, and since then this place has served two purposes. The first is the obvious one, the front presented to the world. The second?” Camille shrugged. “It is a home for the…inconvenient. Particularly the inconvenient of the upper classes.

“It is a place that provides structure and learning and focus, while also getting an indiscretion out of sight. The young man you met was born out of wedlock to a powerful nobleman in the south. To protect him from inter-familial retaliation, he was sent here. He was given a new name, and told nothing of his origin, and now he is a servant of the empire and nothing more.”

“He is like a child,” Anton protested. “Why—”

“He was born different,” Camille explained. “Surely you know of such people. He can understand vast concepts and create magnificent thaumaturgy, but his mind has never grown at the same pace as his body. Just another reason he is better off here, than in the hands of those who might use his misunderstandings to hurt him.”

Anton wasn’t so sure of that, but… “What about the rest of the staff? The engineers, the thaumaturges, are they all like this?”

“Most of them,” Camille said. “There are exceptions, of course—DaVinci is one of them. He had a long career in Italy before coming here, but he also had his enemies, and their reach is long. The pope in particular had some harsh words for the master craftsman, and he felt his best chance at keeping his head a while longer was here. But most, yes.”

“Even Lord Jourdain?” Anton asked, and was surprised when Camille nodded. “What is so special about him?”

“Can you guess?”

Of all the times for one of Camille’s little tests. Anton considered it earnestly, though. Jourdain was an administrator, neither thaumaturge nor engineer. He was clearly quite powerful here, yet Anton had never heard of him before. He was middle-aged…wait. “Is…is he the reason for this place? Its inception, I mean?”

“Indeed he is.”

“Then he must mean something to the emperor.”

Camille nodded. “You’re almost there.”

“Is he another…” Oh lord, to be speculating on the private life of Napoleon the Third, it was sordid enough to make him shudder. “Is he illegitimate?”

“No, Lord Jourdain is quite legitimate.”

“And he’s clever,” Anton said, narrowing his eyes. “And capable. So why isn’t he the Dauphin…” But, of course, there was no Dauphin. It was said that the Empress had been unable to carry a child to term. But if he was legitimate, yet not viable for the crown… “Is he soulless?” Anton breathed. “Like you?”

Camille nodded again, a wry little smile on his face. “Very like me.”

“But it is such a rare condition! It’s only barely traceable in families, what are the odds of…” Anton felt as though the floor had just vanished from beneath his feet. Oh my god. “You are also his son,” he breathed. “You’re a prince.”

“I’m a bastard conceived out of desperation,” Camille corrected him, not seeming perturbed. Presumably he’d had his whole life to come to terms with his reality—for Anton it was nevertheless quite shocking. “I was meant to be proof that our emperor could give birth to a normal child.” His smile twisted a bit. “I was his fourth attempt, in fact.”


“Yes, Anton. Every one of our emperor’s children has been born like me. All of them, all of us, are born soulless.”