The Fourth Book I’m Not Writing.

As I usher Outrush, the third book in my PNR series, through editing and production, I confess to having set up a love story and drama for a fourth within it. I’m going on record as saying I’m not going to write it – I’m just not, people, so don’t pay any attention to these little asides I throw out that suggest otherwise. This development of scenes is an exorcism, and any minute, I’ll be purged and free, just you watch.

With that, here’s an excerpt from the book following Outrush (which again, I refuse to write!):

From Crosstide, Book Four of the Mer Chronicles by Errin Stevens

“Xanthe. Come back to me.”

She knew that voice, had been in these arms before… but maybe not. Maybe she was dreaming she was in a better situation than she actually was. She looked apprehensively over her shoulder toward the room she’d just left, the glow from the chandelier too bright, its illumination still touching her.

Like a prison searchlight when all good inmates were in bed, and she was an escapee in the yard.

She bolted deeper into the night shadows, pulling so hard on her companion, they both stumbled, and how odd for the laws of gravity to work in a scenario that didn’t really exist. Her phantom Peter steadied them.

“Moonflower.” His voice was gruff with emotion. He contained her struggling when all she wanted to do was run, flee to the ocean as fast as she could and find the deepest, darkest sea cave to hide in. “What did they do to you?”

Not that negotiating with a ghost would get her anywhere, but she decided there was no harm in responding. “You must be new here. If you show sadness, if you withdraw and dim yourself, they will kill you.” She checked over her shoulder again and frowned. “I don’t know why they aren’t coming for me…”

Peter shook her, pulling her attention back to him. “Xanthe. You’re safe. And they’re all dead. No one will chase you.”

God, but his anger was glorious, as was the unlikely assertion he’d done away with her captors. Still, she reveled in the reprieve, in the idea she had a true friend at her side. She studied his face, his ethereal beauty, then took in his confidence and self-possession, two attributes that would never survive in this place. He was so vital, so real. “What new trick is this?” she murmured, touching his cheek. He felt warm and solid, and yet couldn’t be. He flattened her palm against the side of his face.

He was too physically vibrant, too enticing. He was in fact a desperate hope she couldn’t afford to indulge, because to believe in him was to invite her own execution. She fought to get away, but he held her firmly… and even his strength, his illusory hold on her, was a solace. She stopped, leaned into him. Perhaps she’d snapped and her mind was forcing her into the conclusion she needed so badly, that she was loved and protected. But she still turned her head away, gazed toward the sea glittering under the high moon. If she could imagine Peter, she could imagine getting away from here.

Peter began to hum. The tune tugged at a memory, one she’d buried because it had made her too homesick.

A ball in a grand palace among her own people. A prince in fine dress bowing before her, his admiration evident as he paused over her hand to request a dance. Her worry at the time seemed absurd now, how she’d stewed over his interest in her and what she risked by allowing him to lead her onto the floor.

He swept her into a waltz.

The sights and sounds of that faraway time blended with the present, her old memories darkening as she and Peter glided and turned along the stone corridor. She relaxed against his hand at her back for every spin, trusting him to contain their momentum. And at each step, the music from their earlier encounter also bled away… until soon, all she heard was the deep, resonant voice of her partner, his breath intimate and warm in her ear.

The vivid hues from that long-ago celebration – the gowns, the floral arrangements, the garish towers of hors d’oeuvres – went last, their brilliance fading into a colorless but deeper, more private display. She and Peter performed alone here in moonlight and shadow, like a silent movie they enacted between the arches of the arcade. She began to watch Peter’s face, looking for further evidence of his actuality. His features appeared and disappeared, never displayed long enough for her to know.

At the end of the gallery, he stopped humming but kept her in his frame, as if they might dance again. He stood so close she could see nothing else, his chest heaving slightly from exertion. She watched the movement in fascination, reminiscent as it was of the waves she so longed for, the swelling, the contraction. She set her ear against his heart and let its rhythm absorb her. He cupped the back of her head.

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Mermaids: Myth or Fact?

(originally published 7/28/2017)

Every time Animal Planet runs its 2011 mockumentary, “Mermaid: The Body Found,” their web site heaves under all the views they get. It was the most successful series Animal Planet has ever run, and repeat airings still pull in a crazy level of public attention according to Nielsen.

And if you haven’t checked it out, you should. It’s this fabulous blend of myth and supposition that feels perfectly real, presented in a cinematographic package of wonderfulness. But. Should we all go on a mermaid hunt?

As a writer of stories containing mermaids, my opinion is ‘yes’… but not in the actual ocean, where sharks could eat you or jellyfish poison you or hypothermia cause you to drown. (Picture me wagging a motherly finger in your face and warning you to keep that wet suit in the closet.) Scientific evidence, the fanciful exposition by Animal Planet notwithstanding, is overwhelmingly against the possibility… and again, the research could kill you!

Mermaid MYTHOLOGY is a different proposition, however, and it will not actually deep-six you to consider it. Independent populations all over the globe have rich, developed, gratifying narratives absolutely worth our attention as reader/thinkers. In addition to my own novels – Updrift and Breakwater – there are so many riffs on the theme out there for those interested, from Carolyn Turgeon’s “Mermaid” to the “Of Poseidon” series by Anna Banks; to the classic lore contained in Brazil’s “Sirena” or Guam’s “Lara” stories. Or (of course) the widely read Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.

So, by all means, be a believer, and happy exploring… but I think we should put our belief in the “true” stories here, which are in books, not the sea.

(The link to the Discovery Channel feature – and it’s pretty fun – is here if you want to take a peek: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1L4oCVj-vM )

Writing on the Sly.

(originally published 7/19/2017)

I’m not going to write a fourth. I’m just not, even though I’ve been thinking about it for six months and have opened up what I call a “slushy pile” of notes and bits of narrative – and even though I’ve already picked out a name for it and have an outline. Because writing books is a pain in the a– and I refuse to do it and will stop right after I launch the third. Yep.

HOWEVER, just to keep this little lie I’m telling myself afloat, I’m including a tiny bit of set-up for the fourth in my third. By doing this – and by sharing an excerpt here, I shall exorcise myself once and for all of this ridiculous endeavor! So let the exorcism begin:

***SPOILER ALERT ***
PROLLY DON’T WANT TO READ THIS IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE SECOND BOOK, BREAKWATER ‘CAUSE DEAD CHARACTERS SHOULDN’T TALK.

Chapter Whatever

Xanthe approached Griffins Bay – and the real object of her visit, Peter – from the ocean, having decided to search out her former colleague for a chat about her unrelenting work problems. No, that wasn’t true. She hadn’t decided anything, was following this particular urge on instinct, not reason, although she thought a conversation with the former prince might resolve her ever-deepening anxiety over the shifting center of her life. And Peter knew her and her professional commitments as well as anyone.

Earlier that day, she’d sensed he was near the Blake home, and this thread of perception, slight though it was, had given her adequate impetus to leave her offices on Shaddox and undertake her current swim. She’d had to be sneaky in her escape from the palace since others there continued to ask her about him, hadn’t stopped since they’d learned of his resurrection seven years earlier. Peter apparently didn’t want to communicate with anyone, which stopped none of them from trying to wheedle a meeting with him out of her.

They were kind of cute, often inventing some weak but plausible need for reconnection with their one-time regent – would he like any personal items from his life before exile? So-and-so had been an intimate and was frantic with worry for him, and could he or she get in touch? Surely she, Xanthe, could facilitate an encounter.

She couldn’t, but she didn’t blame any of them for trying. She understood their artless attempts, which were a combination of genuine concern and rabid self-interest none of them could help, both of which would be alleviated if Peter would deign to visit the seat of siren government and show his face. He wouldn’t and didn’t.

At first, she’d tried to persuade him by contending he’d be left alone sooner if he’d cater to his former subjects in this matter, if he’d let himself be seen and answer a few questions to allay everyone’s curiosity. “You’ve been the center of our common life for over a century, and the drama surrounding your return is too seductive,” she’d argued. And it was true: even the most stable among them yearned to ferret out for themselves the truth in this part of their collective history, to establish a more definitive resolution than the one they’d been given. Or at least come up with a palatable way to consider all that had happened since his faux suicide.

Peter hadn’t disagreed, but neither did he comply with his community’s requests for an audience. “I’ll think about it,” he’d answered off-handedly, in a way that made Xanthe believe he couldn’t care less what anyone else wanted, her included. After her attempts to lure him into a public appearance failed, she hadn’t known what to say to sirens who solicited her for a connection. At this point, she just wished they’d stop pestering her.

“I have no influence on him,” she’d stated again and again. “I don’t know when – or even if – he’ll visit Shaddox. Ever.” Their eager nods were not acknowledgments because they acted as if she hadn’t spoken. She continued to be approached by folks who thought she had a unique in with Peter Loughlin.

She suspected she had more of an in than Peter let on, though, since while she never had any indication where he was when others asked, she did sense him when she wished to locate him herself. Perhaps because he allowed her this access? She wondered.

“Why can I always find you?” she’d inquired.

“I will talk with you anytime,” Peter replied… and that was all he’d say on the subject. She studied him to determine what he might be hiding.

She couldn’t tell if there was anything, couldn’t be sure of his motivations. Although he’d confessed he’d been lonely for his own kind when she’d come upon him murdering their viceroy all those years ago. He drew her attention back to him. “You have nothing to worry about from me, Xanthe,” Peter claimed. “We’ve known each other a long time, and talking with you is a pleasure of mine. My motives are that simple.”

“If you say so…?” Since she also felt the easiness between them, she was inclined to believe him. Although she couldn’t help but feel wary around him given his past, epic deviances.

“Truly. You are always safe in my company,” he insisted.

“Mmm,” she responded uncertainly.

But back to her current personal crisis and the reason behind her impending visit to her one-time boss. She’d elected to search for him in Griffins Bay on the same whim that brought her to him every time, no matter where he was, although she was aware he often dropped by the Blakes’ to check on Gabe, Kate, and little Henry. And sometimes Carmen and Michael when they were beachside, which they usually weren’t since they’d moved to Shaddox.

Just outside the reef protecting the bay, Xanthe grabbed a waterproof pack with land supplies from one of the designated caches in the rock face.

She saw Peter from underwater just before she surfaced… and she felt his grin, his anticipation. He sat on the end of the dock by the Blake house in Griffins Bay, shirt unbuttoned, pants rolled up as he dangled his feet in the sea. “Ah, moonflower, it is lovely to see you,” he told her when her face broke the waves. She hooked an arm around one of the dock posts to anchor herself.

The overhead sun left his face in shadow, making her unable to read his expression. But this time, she didn’t need to rely solely on her observational skills to determine his frame of mind, because she absorbed his emanations cleanly. Peter’s emotional output today, usually missing altogether, was almost like that of a normal siren.

And he really was pleased to see her. She was awash in the loveliest tenderness from him, a restorative balm that blanketed her and soothed away the worries she wore these days like a second skin. When she reacted with her own sweet outpouring – an automatic response usually not possible with Peter Loughlin – she perceived a freeness within him she’d never felt before. He was relaxed… and almost open.

This was not anything she attributed to their rogue, duplicitous prince, so she stilled, combing him with her intuition for evidence of deceit. She inquired within herself as well, checking for the backlash of emptiness, the sour echo of loneliness she considered a trademark of any interaction with Peter. His usual impediments weren’t there this time, or maybe they were, but penetrable for once.

“You’re happy,” she remarked with surprise.