Yep, I’m launching a new, sweet PNR series on Kindle Vella, which I think launches this week. Four books, 17 episodes up so far; all in my own little mer world y’all know already. Check me out!
So… I noticed a little uptick in people following my blog, which I have neglected to the point of abuse so I’m sashaying in to offer SOMETHING new. I don’t understand “plug-ins” and other vagaries of this medium, so forgive me while I think about these things… and probably ignore them yet again…
Anyhoo, for all who are interested, here’s a pretty big excerpt from my WIP fourth, Crosstide:
Xanthe scanned the crowd for Peter, on edge because she assumed he was here somewhere. Despite having the man almost constantly in her thoughts – both here and while she’d ruminated on land – she’d successfully avoided him these past two months, and never mind how their years apart hadn’t ever seemed as consequential as the past eight weeks, the time between her revelatory visit to him in North Carolina and her return to Shaddox. She’d had to work hard to keep her focus away from Peter Loughlin.
The undercurrent established during their last exchange had altered their dynamic, however. Now she feared their progression was out of her control, which put her in an uncomfortable and unprecedented position of not being in control.
If she’d been able to avoid attending today, she would have.
But Aiden’s wedding to Maya had been cast as a state affair, a coming to terms by all of siren society with its new, more individualistic definition of normal. The celebration was to mark the ending of difficulties, community troubles resolved, and the advent of a happier future for all. If she’d declined to participate, she would have worried everyone, perhaps her friend, the queen, most of all. With difficulty, she’d set her selfish preoccupations aside and agreed to show up.
Even the invitation had rattled her composure. Because there she’d been, quietly brooding in the middle of some forest in Appalachia, tending to her existential issues under the shelter of solitude when a junior courier from the palace had appeared before her. She’d dropped into a defensive stance and hissed at him like a savage, hadn’t sensed him at all as he’d tracked her, and what did that say about the decline of her perceptions?
It said, she was sure, they were as dull as any human’s, which further underscored her lack of suitability as a senior siren government official, as if she needed more proof. The depth of her self-absorption surprised even her, though.
Apparently, having spent so much time alone, she longer recognized herself in company.
Her messenger, it seemed, had trouble recognizing her, as well. His expression alone told her everything she would have intuited had she been even a little aware – how wild she looked, how bizarre her affect. She reached outside herself enough to catch the nuances of his assessment of her… and she cringed. Her hair, she realized, was a tangled mess, her face and hands grubby. Her visitor’s eyes were wide, and he seemed unwilling to come closer. She realized he thought her crazed, unsafe.
She understood why: unable to fight the disintegration of her public persona, she fought a different convention, the one mandating a manicured and composed look no matter the circumstances. It was a petty stand, but she’d allowed her appearance to reflect the chaos roiling inside her and it had gratified her to do so, although she didn’t expect others to understand her logic. She’d also never expected anyone else to see her this way. She barked at her visitor to hide her humiliation.
“How did you find me?”
“P-Peter Loughlin sent me,” he stuttered.
Her distress escalated. She hadn’t been in contact with anyone, Peter least of all. Because after that last, excoriating self-review he’d gifted her with, she wanted nothing to do with him, reasoning in some dim part of her brain she could still, if she dissociated from him, un-have the epiphany he’d forced upon her. She frowned ominously at her messenger, reflecting on how easily their former prince had located her, and by proxy yet. What a galling obliteration, both of the front story she’d created to disappear, and of her belief in her own ability to stabilize.
She coached herself into a more graceful demeanor in spite of herself, meaning by the time the courier relayed the information he was sent to give her, he was slightly – slightly – less alarmed.
His news – Aiden and Maya were to be wed at the palace at the behest of the queen – hadn’t surprised her. The community needed such a celebration, and Xanthe’s presence was explicitly required for a show of bureaucratic unity. So of course someone had been dispatched to locate her. Given her unkempt exterior, she felt absurd as she did it, but she smiled regally, inclined her head… then swatted back a hank of matted hair as it fell forward. “Tell Carmen it will be my pleasure to attend,” she managed.
The courier had almost certainly reported to everyone back home the state in which he’d found her. Which meant Xanthe had taken extraordinary care with herself in preparation for today’s wedding reception.
Her return swim to Shaddox had relieved the better part of her dirtiness, and she’d worked through most of her hair with a skeleton comb along the way. She still entered the palace by stealth, choosing an infrequently used tunnel while most of the inhabitants were asleep. The night guards noted her presence without interest as she exited the central pool, and she proceeded unquestioned to her private chambers.
After a delicious bath and ten hours of undisturbed sleep in a real bed – she’d slept on everything from a rickety cot to a pile of leaves on the forest floor while on land – she arose better resembling the woman she’d once been. She ordered her favorite breakfast: cold-water oysters; poached eggs over black bread; and the darkest, richest cup of coffee the palace kitchen could brew. She savored the meal even as devoured it as if starved. When she finished, she dropped her napkin on the tray and reclined in her chair, feeling her worries lighten.
She summoned the palace tailors.
They arrived reluctantly, already crushed with demands from the other wedding guests. They begged lightly for her indulgence. Wouldn’t one of the many pieces they’d prepared for her in the past be suitable? She bullied them without compunction into service, and threatened them should she see another woman wearing so much as a scrap of the same material used in her own gown.
She questioned the palace hairdressers closely as well, planning her appearance with all the attention to detail she would have given a high-level diplomatic meeting. She was, after all, solving an image crisis, albeit one of her own making. Her appearance, at least, was one area of her life she could fully direct.
In the end she’d chosen a simple coiffure, a partial up-do secured with tourmaline pins gifted to her by the former queen, Kenna Loughlin. Xanthe had considered the merits of a more formal style that would reveal the graceful line of her neck, but her staff reported everyone else had that same idea. Her hair, outrageous even by siren standards, would show best if allowed to cascade down her back.
After her assistants proclaimed her ready, she inspected herself in the mirror and was glad for the trouble she’d put everyone through. No one who saw her tonight would accuse her of sartorial laziness or shoddy personal habits. Her gown, hair and make-up were impeccable.
She’d declined to attend the ceremony in order to ready herself for the after-bash… and to avoid Peter Loughlin for as long as possible. She’d also waited to enter the grand hall, hoping to blend in with the crowd and thereby avoid attention. Since peripheral entrances had been closed to maintain order, she’d had no choice but to approach publicly, however.
In spite of her discretion – and the ad hoc, occasionally distracting adornments sported by those who’d participated in the underwater portion of the day’s festivities – she still caused a stir, one she found superficially gratifying even as she hurried to remove herself from scrutiny.
The room quieted around her when she first appeared, the guests making way as she walked toward the throne, offering hushed compliments along with a heavy solicitation for interaction as she passed. She wondered if she shouldn’t have met selectively with some of them prior to today’s event, even though she suspected much of the awe she received was for how she looked, not her sudden return. Still, perhaps she could have demystified her absence better, maybe avoided some of the curiosity pouring her way now.
She couldn’t diffuse everyone’s focus on her, however, so she sidestepped it instead, setting her sights on her longtime friend, the queen. Xanthe knew her composure wouldn’t hold up under group questioning no matter how perfect she looked on the outside.
Carmen stood to greet her and shooed their onlookers away. “Back to celebrating, everyone,” she commanded. She extended her hands for Xanthe to grasp.
“Xanthe, my friend! You look magnificent. I’m firing the courier who said he found you a mess.” Xanthe laughed politely as they kissed each other’s cheeks.
“Don’t fire the poor boy. I wasn’t prepared for him. It was my fault.”
“But you’re back? And you’re well?”
“I’m well,” Xanthe assured her, and in one respect, she wasn’t lying. Carmen’s affection for her, as well as the familiarity of her surroundings, gladdened her. “I’m not prepared to resume my duties, but I have come to some conclusions.” Wariness colored Carmen’s regard. “Nothing for you to worry about, Carmen.” That was a lie, but one Xanthe needed to say given the occasion. “We’ll discuss these things some other time, not tonight.” She tilted her head toward the party underway.
Carmen’s expression relaxed. “You’re absolutely right – no business talk here. Tell me what you’ve been up to.”
Xanthe chatted easily with Carmen and several other members of the Blake family. She stood with them when the bride and groom entered the hall to applause, and she shared everyone’s delight in their freshly made commitment, her joy on their behalf genuine. She even embraced the couple and offered her sincere best wishes, which she could tell endeared her to Maya if not Aiden.
Peter seemed not have come… although he cloaked so well, he could be beside her right now and she’d never know.
After she’d nibbled her way through caviar-laden crudités and was pleasantly careless from two flutes of champagne, the orchestra began to play, drawing dozens of couples to the middle of the hall. She eased herself against a bar at the periphery, secure in the knowledge she’d acquitted herself well tonight. Her obligation was met. She would stay for two songs, then sneak off.
Peter stepped into her field of vision from several yards away. Xanthe. His unspoken call commanded her attention. Meaning she could not now pretend to have missed him, drat it.
He looked glorious, of course – he always did – although tonight his beauty struck her differently. He’d been raised in a milieu where a flawless presentation was habit… so the picture he presented should not feel remarkable. Or assault-like. In the moment she met his eyes then looked away – to protect what she suspected was about three more seconds of self-directed choice – she felt as if he’d issued a personal challenge.
She drained the last of her champagne, intent on making an exit.
Peter was before her by the time she lowered her glass. He removed it from her fingers and set it on the tray of a passing waiter. “If I didn’t know better – and to be honest, I do know better – I’d say you were avoiding me, Xanthe.” She gripped the railing at her back but kept her posture casual.
“Why ever would I do that?” she asked coolly. She pretended to take an interest in the couples gliding around the center floor. She couldn’t bring herself to look at him.
“Because our last encounter was…” and here he leaned forward, “intimate.” He straightened and finished crisply, “Also, you are still at odds with yourself.”
Time to go. She pushed off from the railing and smiled blandly at a spot to the left of his face. “A pleasure as always, Peter.” She pivoted away.
“Moonflower,” he said quietly. “Stay. Talk with me.” She stopped, enthralled by the pleasure his entreaty birthed within her, the joy she took in his desire to be with her. They were both emotionally hungry, she most of all, perhaps; and she closed her eyes, let herself relax into the companionship of someone who cared for her, someone she’d known her entire life and who craved her company specifically. Not with any of the capable luminaries around them, not just for the common connectedness they all sought. She also intuited his indecision where she was concerned, about how their relationship might or might not proceed… and she pondered the futility of avoiding him.
Curiosity – his and hers – gnawed at her.
He deserved better treatment from her, she knew. Xanthe faced the man who had become synonymous with her inner lack of resolution and returned to stand in front of him, although she kept a greater distance. Peter frowned but folded his hands in front of him, staying back. She regretted disappointing him yet would not commit herself further to their interaction.
Still, she apologized. “I’m sorry, Peter. That… that was rude of me.” She studied his lapel. “And you’re right. I am out of sorts.” She hesitated. “I don’t know what to make of our last conversation. Aspects of it, anyway.”
“Is that the reason for your shining beauty this evening?” he teased. “Are you playing a part?”
She bristled. “Well, yes. Not that I wanted it to be obvious.” Once again, she found herself off-balance in Peter’s presence, and once again, she yearned to deflect the confusion he evoked. She cast a covetous glance toward the door, envisioning the safety of her suite. “Now I feel vulnerable, which I do not enjoy.” She met his eyes. “As I’m sure you know.”
He tilted his head, considering her, perhaps kindly. “No one else sees anything amiss, Xanthe, just me. And I expressed myself poorly, so allow me to rephrase.” He stepped back and bowed before her, then spoke with unnerving sincerity. “You are breathtaking, and I am mesmerized.”
She blushed. Blushed!
She hadn’t blushed in… she couldn’t remember how long. Decades.
She checked his expression… and lost herself in it. He kept her gaze as he extended his palm, a request for her hand. She gave it. “Will you dance with me?”
She opened her mouth to decline…
…and found herself in the circle of his arms, moving among the throng of other couples.
It’s Release Day!
Yes indeedy, today’s the day for the debut of the third installment of my own little PNR suspense series. Share amongst yourselves…
Barnes & Noble: https://tinyurl.com/y9o4gjn2
Book Depository: https://tinyurl.com/yxvfr7zv
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.
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.
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.