Blatherings

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, Short Story

Casting Bones

Happy July! Here’s a short story about Amastan’s cousin, Azulay – gambler, assassin, and soft cinnamon roll extraordinaire.

Ao3 Tags: anxiety, angst, gambling, pretending to be bad at this, cinnamon roll, bad choices, only choices, everything’s Fine, how (not) to make friends
CW: Mild violence, domestic violence, heights, death

***

“Four skies, six sands, and two squandered,” announced the watcher.

The crowded table erupted with a mixture of cheers and groans, washing the air afresh with the reek of guzzled wine and bad breath. Azulay grit his teeth and forced a conciliatory smile as the man across from him pulled the pile of baats to himself. At least Azulay didn’t have to fake his disappointment.

It turned out that even when he threw the bet on purpose, losing still felt like shit.

Go figure.

He sighed dramatically—something else that wasn’t faked—and dug deep into his coin pouch. He found one last baat and dropped it onto the table with a clatter of finality.

The cheering stilled. Faces turned to him, their expressions hidden by their wine- and spit-stained tagels but their eyes still—always—telling all. Surprise. Confusion. Amusement. Mockery.

That last one hurt. He’d gambled with this same group—or at least a collection similar to this same group—on a hundred separate nights. They knew his name. They knew his preferences. And they knew he always won.

Sometimes, anyway.

Okay, often enough.

But all it took was a different tagel, a rougher voice, and a straight back and they didn’t even know him from Saben. And Saben habitually hit on the other gamblers, so really.

He knew most people couldn’t read a man as easily as he could, or at least he’d known that in principle. It was why he was so good at what games of chance. A man’s moods were as clear to him as the horizon to a stormsayer. He used to win every round of hands and downs, two games built around equal parts chance and deception. But after a particularly large win one night, he’d been caught in an alley and he’d been taught a painful lesson about men’s fragile emotions.

The worst part was that he could’ve taken all six of them. But that would’ve been suspicious and Tamella didn’t like it when they were suspicious. So instead he’d let them quench their anger through their fists, let them argue their point with bruises and blood.

He’d quit hands and downs after that, but he couldn’t quit gambling. It wasn’t the money that snared him, or the rush that came when a hand was called or a roll thrown, but the simple fact that he was so shards-cursed good at it. With three older brothers, he’d had so very few things to claim as his own, and even fewer that he received any praise for. Not that his parents would ever praise him for this. Nothing he did would be enough for them, so why bother? Azulay could shit wood and his parents would still fawn over his eldest brother writing his own dust-covered name.

It was freeing, if he could just look at it in the right way.

Of course, now he was good at other things. Tamella had seen to that. But being good at sneaking into someone’s room and taking their life wasn’t exactly the kind of accomplishment he could share with his parents.

Azulay picked up his drink and tipped it to his lips but swallowed only air. On the opposite side of the table, the mark mirrored his actions, but swallowed wine instead. Baby see, baby do, thought Azulay grimly. He had to focus on what was important here and for once at the table, for tonight, that wasn’t his pride. Well, maybe it was. Because if he shattered this, Kaseem would never give him another contract, and what was a cousin without contracts?

Plus the whole shunned and publicly humiliated and pro-ba-bly executed thing. Those could be problems, too.

The main thing was, if he broke this, he’d no longer be an assassin.

And he wasn’t about to let that go. Gambling was one thing—the roll of the tiddas bones, that held-breath moment before they settled and the watcher finished counting, when everything, absolutely everything, was up in the air. But it didn’t hold water compared to the thrill of a contract, the moment before a life ended.

Not that he knew how that felt. Not yet. Although he’d helped his cousin with two previous contracts, Dihya had always held the knife — both literally and figuratively. But he could imagine.

Beneath the table, he traced one finger along the edge of his knife as he met the watcher’s gaze. “Again.”

The watcher glanced around the table, met agreement, and nodded. He gathered up the tiddas pieces, a dozen and more carved bones, each a different shape, a different size, a different variable, and tucked them into his sack. Then he shook the sack—once, twice—before upending it across the table. As one, the gamblers leaned in. Azulay leaned with them.

The game was simple. The bone pieces were curved and could land in a variety of different ways. Each landing represented a different amount of points, and whoever placed their bets closest to the total points tossed, won.

There was no way to cheat at tiddas. No way, unless you knew a few things about the table’s surface, about the dealer, and about that particular tiddas set. And Azulay knew them all.

But so did many of the other players.

It was a game of chance only in theory. The trick was accounting for all of the variables. And there were other ways to play. If your bet was far enough off, you could push for double, keeping all bets on the table for a second throw. If two players were within a certain amount of the throw, you could call a triple, where everyone who held in could stay through three throws and whoever came closest two out of the three throws took a third of the pool. And there were other rules, too, rules that came with the particular dealer or the particular inn or the particular night.

So long as every player agreed, anything went.

Tonight, they’d agreed on wine. Or rather, Azulay had suggested it and the others had gone for it. And now the mark’s cup quite literally ran over, he could barely keep up. His eyes were red-rimmed with drink and his calls increasingly slurred, but he was winning, dust cover him.

Azulay closed his eyes for a moment while the dealer counted; if tonight went as it should, dust would.

“Five skies, two sands, four squandered.” The watcher paused for a heartbeat, then said, “One for G-d.”

The table erupted into a chaotic mixture of cheers and groans. Without opening his eyes, Azulay pushed his last baat across the table to the mark.

He’d get it back soon.

***

“The street is spinning—is the street supposed to be spinning?”

The mark squinted suspiciously at the stones between his feet as he walked—well, more like stumbled—and then he rested that squint on Azulay. Or at least he tried to. He couldn’t seem to find Azulay at first, then his gaze locked on with a sharp keenness, his fingers tightening around Azulay’s arm.

“It shouldn’t be spinning,” continued the mark.

“No,” agreed Azulay. “That’s not very kind of it.”

“Not kind at all.” The mark nodded, but the motion was so overemphasized that he almost fell over. A giggle burst from him like a gasp. “But you are, sa. Thank you for helping me home, even though I took all your baats.”

That was the fifth time the mark had thanked him and they weren’t even a platform away from the inn. But Azulay smiled anyway so the warmth would reach his voice. “It was a fair game, sa.”

“Of course it was. It’s always a fair game.” The mark winked at him, his eye staying shut so long Azulay wondered if he’d forgotten to open it again. Then his other eye closed and Azulay wondered if the mark would just pass out here, on the street.

That wouldn’t do. The contract had been very specific. Azulay gave the mark a gentle shake and slowly, slowly, those red-rimmed eyes reopened.

“Huh,” he said distantly. Then, “What was your name again?”

“Saben.”

“You remind me of my son,” said the mark, ignoring the answer. “We used to play tiddas together, too.”

“What happened?” asked Azulay, despite himself.

“He’d always call the bet as it landed,” continued the mark, his voice brightening with a smile. “Never got it, bless, but he thought it was more fun that way. He wouldn’t ever listen to advice. Now I haven’t talked to him in years. Moved out. Apprenticed. But also doesn’t want to be around me any more.” The smile broke and his voice turned wistful.

Azulay felt a stirring of compassion for the mark and tamped down on it as hard as he could. He wondered if Dihya could hear the mark from where she was, if she was following as close as she’d promised. She’d been breathing the warm night air on a nearby roof instead of sharing the same breath as a bunch of drunk gamblers.

They’d agreed early on that the weight of this contract would fall on Azulay’s shoulders. He was more at ease amongst gamblers, at soft touches of deception. They’d planned this contract together, but ultimately it was up to Azulay to carry it out. This was supposed to be an easy one. But the mark was still talking.

“Lost my wife soon after that,” he said. “It’s been… it’s been a hard year. By G-d, I miss her.” His voice cracked and his foot caught on the stone. He stumbled, but caught himself on Azulay’s arm. A chuckle hissed from him. “She’d hate seeing me like this. Didn’t use to be this way. Didn’t use to be…”

Now the compassion hardened into guilt. It was mostly Azulay’s fault that the mark was so drunk, after all.

“What’s your name again?” asked the mark for a third time. Then, without waiting for an answer, “I’m Lamek. Azal name, I know. But I’m not Azali. I mean, I am. My mother was. Came with a caravan and stayed. She always complained about the camels, hated the noises they made. Said it reminded her of someone throwing up. Or maybe it was the other way around.”

The mark chuckled and then groaned, hand rubbing at his forehead again and again. “Oh shards — what’s she going to think when I’m hungover tomorrow? Like I’m the sands-cursed son she says I am, that’s what.”

“We’ll get you home and cleaned up,” said Azulay. “I know just the thing to prevent hangovers.”

Lamek’s gaze locked on Azulay like he was the King of the Wastes. “G-d be praised,” he said with no small amount of reverence.

“No praise needed,” said Azulay with a grin and a chuckle, but the joke went over Lamek’s head. “The important thing is to preserve your breath.”

But Lamek didn’t take the hint. As Azulay guided him down the street—first the wrong one, until Lamek finally realized they were headed the wrong way, then back and down a different street—Lamek kept talking. Apparently Azulay had nabbed himself a chatty drunk. Couldn’t he have been the belligerent sort instead? Azulay found himself reciting Lamek’s list of crimes in his head, the reason for his contract, but it was increasingly difficult to place them at the feet of this bumbling drunkard.

Theft, threatening with a weapon, harassment, emotional manipulation, financial manipulation, assault, disfiguration —

And all of that against his wife, Hazul.

No wonder she’d left. But that hadn’t stopped the mark. The disfiguration had come after she’d packed her trunk and moved back home with her family. He’d drawn a knife on her in searing daylight and pulled its sharp blade across her cheek. The healers couldn’t stop it from scarring; it was too late in season and there wasn’t enough water to waste on something that didn’t threaten her life.

But it did, Azulay had thought while he’d read the contract. It threatened her life every day. It was a reminder that he was out there still, the one who’d hurt her. Able to take more at any time. Unpunished.

Hazul had petitioned her drum chief, but she’d been given a few days’ escort by the watchmen and nothing more. Despite the attack happening in public, in a street, she’d found no one who would vouch for her story. And so, her plea had been dismissed. The watchmen had satisfied their duty. And the mark walked the streets of Ghadid without a care while she spent every moment looking over her shoulder.

Not for much longer, if Azulay had anything to do with it.

The mark stopped suddenly, finger pointing at one door among many. “That’s it. We found it!” He patted Azulay on the shoulder, or at least tried to; he hit Azulay’s bicep instead, palm slamming into the knife hidden there. Azulay winced, but the mark didn’t seem to notice.

“G-d bless you for all your help, friend. I’d’ve fallen off a bridge without you.” The mark squinted at Azulay. “Saben, you said?”

Azulay nodded. “I’m not finished with you yet.” He stepped around the mark and opened the door for him, “Remember that hangover cure I promised you?”

“A hundred blessings,” said the mark reverently, stumbling through the doorway.

Ahead, just as Azulay had known there would be, were the stairs leading up to the mark’s room. The contract had been very specific in how the act needed to be carried out. An accident, of course. Lamek—the mark, Azulay corrected himself—was known for drinking. Not excessively, not often anyway. But Azulay knew a half dozen ways to up the chance.

And if the mark happened to fall down the stairs and break his neck, well. Accidents happened.

Azulay hung close as the mark heaved his weight onto the first step, leaning forward as if all the world were trying to drag him down.

“I have water to spare,” the mark was saying, still talking, as if silence might condemn him if he ever stopped. “If you have time, I can make some tea. It’s so quiet here—I still get lonely. Don’t worry—we won’t wake my mother. She can sleep through a storm.”

The mark was on the third step now. There were twelve total. Azulay matched him, step for step, the heaviness in his stomach spreading to his limbs. Could he do this? The mark seemed like such a nice guy. The kind of friend Azulay would make around the tiddas tables. The kind he’d share drinks with, learn his life’s story, commiserate with and advise. Despite his cousins’ teasing, Azulay gave good advice. It was hard not to when he could feel a man’s emotions as well as his own.

And Lamek’s loneliness spilled into the air around him like smoke from a fire.

A life. Azulay couldn’t believe he was hesitating, now. Of course, his cousin Amastan was always hesitant, always worried about what it meant to take a life. But Azulay had always known it was necessary. He’d taken several before, without even thinking.

Now he wasn’t so sure.

This guy—maybe there was more to the story. The contract had come from a friend of the wife’s. It could’ve been partially fabricated. The wife could’ve done equally terrible things to Lamek. Did the man deserve to die over a single, impulsive moment?

“I might get to see my son soon,” Lamek was saying. “He’s a performer, now. One of those with the swords and the silks. He’s amazing. He wouldn’t ever let me come to one of his shows. Embarrassed, I guess, to see his dad there. But this one will be out in the streets, part of the end of season celebrations.”

Halfway up. The bottom floor fell away, empty space on one side of them, wall to the other. Azulay could do it now, shove Lamek hard and he’d fall—but he might not die. He might break a leg, an arm—wouldn’t that be punishment enough?

But Azulay would be botching the contract, he’d be screwing up any chances for another, and he’d only be proving to the others that he really wasn’t good at anything but gambling.

They took the next step together.

“Of course, his mother might be there, too.” Lamek’s tone darkened. “She poisoned him against me, whispering lies in his ear like a jaani, confusing him about what’s real and what isn’t.”

“What will you do if she’s there?” asked Azulay, equal parts hoping for and dreading the answer.

“Dunno.” Lamek shrugged, the motion exaggerated with drink. “Depends, I guess. If she keeps her lies to herself, I won’t have to do anything.”

Lamek’s hand tightened on the railing. He paused. He was over halfway up the stairs now. Azulay’s heart was in his throat; how could this stairwell be so long? But at the same time, he could see the street outside after season’s end, the dancers and performers filling it with color and movement. A boy among them all, deftly spinning in bright reds and yellows from the top of a ladder. Below, one woman among the many watching, her head tilted up and eyes on the boy, a wisp of a smile on her face.

But not for long. She’d glance around and check the crowd soon, worried, weary. The sun would catch her face, spill silver down the scar across her cheek. It’d highlight the fear that would spread her pupils, flush her cheeks, and catch her breath. And then she’d be gone, like a wisp of late-season cloud, blown away by her own terror.

All so Lamek could walk free, unpunished.

Azulay’s will hardened.

“We’re almost there now,” he said with a lightness he didn’t feel. “We’ll get you safely in bed and your hangover cured and you’ll never have a worry again.”

“That sounds lovely,” sighed Lamek.

Finally, his grip loosened. Finally, he took another step. Over halfway now. A few more steps would put him high enough.

“Tea, though,” continued Lamek. “You should stay long enough for tea. I owe you that much. There aren’t enough people in this G-d-spat town that would be so kind to a drunk. And people don’t talk to me like they used to, not since… well.” He shook his head. Another step.

“Since?” prompted Azulay, despite himself.

“Since the accident,” said Lamek. “And it was an accident,” he added fiercely. “The drum chiefs saw that, even if my own neighbors don’t. They shun me, like I’m a madman.”

“But you’re not a madman.”

“No! No, of course not.”

“You did what any reasonable person would do.”

A sigh. A step. Then, “You understand.”

Azulay did. He hated it, but he did. He could understand the anger of a moment, an act cast and too late reconsidered. The harm called, the bones what they were, what they always would be. Too late to take back a bet. Too late not to have taken a chair at the table, too late never to have set foot in the inn.

But then you dealt with the dust-cursed consequences.

Lamek took another step.

“I do,” said Azulay. “And I’m sorry.”

“Thank you,” said Lamek.

It was a simple thing. A nudge at the back of the knees. A pull on the shoulder of the wrap. A stumble. A stutter. A fall.

Lamek let out an “oh” of surprise before his legs betrayed him and the stairs took him. A crack, clatter, thud—and then silence. No movement, no sound, nothing but a body crumpled at the base of the stairs like so many cast bones.

Three squandered, thought Azulay. One for G-d.

He waited for a heartbeat, then two, his own blood roaring like wind in his ears. His mouth tasted like ashes and his chest felt as heavy as lead. Distantly, he heard voices next door, loud and concerned. But the body didn’t move. Slowly, slowly, Azulay did.

He didn’t remember climbing out the window. He didn’t remember how he got to the roof. But he must have. Dihya was waiting for him on the rooftop, her wrap a plain beige and her face bare. She uncrossed her arms and started toward Azulay, a hand out, a smile warming her features, then paused. She dropped her hand and her smile.

“His neighbors heard the crash,” she said. “I saw one leave to get a watchman. Someone will find the body soon. You did well, Az’.”

“Yeah.” Azulay kept walking past Dihya, unable to stop, unwilling to turn back. He’d done what he had to, he told himself. He’d thrown the bones and now he’d deal with the consequences.  “We’ll get a lot of baats for this one.”

“It’s not supposed to be easy,” called Dihya.

“I know.”

But knowing didn’t change the roll’s outcome.

***

The heat beat like a drum against Azulay’s skull, almost in time with the real drum that filled the street with thunderous reverberations. Color pulsed with the beat and between that and the crowd and the sun, it was all Azulay could do not to be sick. He’d told Dihya he was going to go fill his skin at the pumphouse and it’d only been half a lie to get out of the dark house and away from her postmortem.

He did need the water, but first —

The beat quickened. Fabric in reds and blues and yellows swirled, vibrant and blazing in the full light. Between and beneath, boys and men and others danced, their bare arms glistening with oil and paint. A ladder rose in the middle of the performers, hoisted aloft by half a dozen hands. A boy burst from the bustle of movement, climbing the ladder rung by rung until he balanced at the top. He couldn’t have been older than Azulay had been the very first time Tamella had broken into his room and held a knife to his throat.

The boy spread his arms and the fabric with them, thin enough to blaze with sunlight and wash the crowd in gold. Azulay scanned the crowd, found the one upturned face that glowed with love instead of light. Azulay didn’t see a scar, but he didn’t need to.

He didn’t know if the boy was Lamek’s son. He didn’t know if the woman was Hazul. It didn’t matter. It was enough to know that out of a thousand different casts, one could land correctly. It was enough to know that it was possible.

He didn’t have to wait for the watcher to call it.

 

Cover photo by fotografierende from Pexels

Uncategorized

When it Rains…

I’d been anticipating two exciting bits of news today, but turns out there are FOUR. I guess we’re having a Florida time of it – when it rains, it just straight up hurricanes, huh?

So instead of posting about each individually, let’s just toss them all into one big update post:

First off, applications for the 2020 Debutante Ball are open!

This is the collaborative blog I’ve been writing for over the past year, chronicling not only my own personal debut experience but also thoughts/advice on writing, craft, and other books. I and four other debut authors have been sharing the site, maintaining it, and basically partying nonstop since last August, but our time there is quickly coming to a close. And that means it’s time to select the next class.

So if you’re a female or non-binary author with a debut novel out any time between September 2019 and August 2020 – apply! I highly recommend the experience.

Second: I’ve been a part of the 2019 Debut Authors group since the very beginning and one of my favorite things I’ve done for that group is shout loudly and often about queer debuts on Twitter.

Now, the Bronzeville Bee has given me a spot online to shout about those books more permanently.

The first half of my extensive-but-in-no-way-exhaustive list went up today:
Queer Debuts from January to May 2019

The second half will be up tomorrow, so stay tuned!

Third: I did an interview over at Reads Rainbow!

It was a lot of fun! Go over and read me talking about fanfic, some of my favorite reads, the perfect gif for The Impossible Contract, and what song kickstarted the plot for The Perfect Assassin. Then keep checking them out all month because they’ll be featuring more interviews with more queer authors. !!

Fourth and last but by no means Least
THE FIRST CHAPTER OF THE IMPOSSIBLE CONTRACT IS UP AT TOR DOT COM

THIS IS NOT A DRILL

THIS IS JUST ME SCREAMING

AAAAAAH

Photo by Karen Cantú Q on Unsplash

promo, The Impossible Contract (Book 2)

Pride Month Pre-Order Extravaganza

It’s that time of year!

What, ant season?

No, it’s –

Oh yeah, hurricane season. Thanks for the reminder, I need to restock my –

No, I meant –

Oh! I remember now. Monsoon season. But that doesn’t start for another two weeks.

I mean, yes, all of those, but it’s also PRIDE MONTH. The time of year we queers celebrate how far we’ve come and reflect on how much further we have to go, when we remember that it takes standing up and making ourselves actually visible – however terrifying and dangerous that may be – to make any progress.

In that spirit of visibility, me and some other authors put together a special little pre-order campaign, just for Pride. We all know pre-orders mean the world to debut and small authors, and it means even more to marginalized authors. We’ve made some big strides in recent years when it comes to how many queer books are out there, but we’ve still got some ways to go.

So here’s what we got for you. For the month of June, for each of these four books that you pre-order, you’ll get a special, signed, Pride-themed bookplate. Each of us has made our own fancy bookplates just for this, and we’re excited to send them to you!

All you have to do is pre-order, and then fill out this form.

That’s it!

And here are

THE BOOKS

Lord of Secrets by Breanna Teintze
July 25th 2019 by Jo Fletcher Books
Magic is poison. Secrets are power. Death is . . . complicated.

A delightful necromantic romp through a dark and complex world with magic as boundless as it is painful, terrifying undead monstrosities, and secrets layered upon secrets.

Outlaw wizard Corcoran Grey is just trying to find his imprisoned grandfather. To do so, he’s just break out of prison, break into an ancient underground temple and avoid killing himself with his own magic in the process.

Oh, and handle a ego-centric, power-mad, necromantic demigod. You know. Easy stuff.

It’s also got some straight up gay necromancy and I loved this book so much.

Rep: M/M
Pre-order: Publisher | Dymocks | Amazon

The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith
October 1st, 2019 by Ace Books

A story about stories, ones we tell ourselves, the ones we tell others, and the ones buried so deep we hope no one ever finds them.

Hell’s Librarian is just supposed to tend to the unwritten books under her care, to keep the characters from escaping their stories, and mend any that manage to get away, only to inevitably be drawn back, battered and bruised.

She’s not supposed to let any of those characters stay free and she’s not supposed to leave the library for any length of time and she’s absolutely, 100%, No, Don’t, supposed to get involved a power struggle between Hell and Heaven.

Well, she tried not to. That should count for something, right?

Rep: F/F, Bi
Pre-order: Publisher | Indiebound | B&N | Amazon

Wild Life: Dispatches from a Childhood of Baboons and Button-Downs by Keena Roberts
November 12th 2019 by Grand Central Publishing

The memoir from the daughter of two famous primatologists, Wild Life describes an adolescence split between the wilds of an island camp in Botswana and the even more treacherous halls of an elite Philadelphia private school.

In Africa, Keena slept in a tent, cooked over a campfire, and lived each day alongside the baboon colony her parents were studying. She could wield a spear as easily as a pencil, and it wasn’t unusual to be chased by lions or elephants on any given day. But for the months of the year when her family lived in the United States, this brave kid from the bush was cowed by the far more treacherous landscape of the preppy, private school social hierarchy.

Wild Life is ultimately the story of a daring but sensitive young girl desperately trying to figure out if there’s any place where she truly fits in.

Rep: #Ownvoices lesbian
Pre-order: Publisher | Indiebound | B&N | Amazon

The Impossible Contract by K.A. Doore
November 12th 2019 by Tor Books

In this not-exactly-sequel to The Perfect Assassin, Thana’s got a huge reputation to live up to as the only daughter of the Serpent. When the opportunity to finally prove herself arrives in the shape of a particularly dangerous contract, she doesn’t think twice. Of course she’ll do it.

Even if the contract is on a foreign diplomat with the ability to bind a soul under his own control. Even if somebody else wants her mark dead, and doesn’t care who gets in their way. Even if it means pursuing her mark across the desert and into the heart of the Empire itself. Even if she’s got to tamp down on these feelings she has for the healer who’s come along for the ride.

Even if it turns out the man she’s supposed to kill might be the only one who can stop something far more evil?

Even if…

Rep: F/F
Pre-order: Publisher | Indiebound | B&N | Amazon

 

Pre-pub

8 Practical Tips for the Debut Author

Recently, I shared five tips to help you survive your debut year (I mean, they helped me, so).

It was pretty touchy-feely, because, well, have you met me? But I know how much people need something concrete when they’re lost at sea and flailing about for anything solid, anything at all.

So I thought a a bit more about what advice/knowledge I wish I’d had last year and came up with these eight somewhat random but wholly practical tips for debut authors:

1. Don’t read the reviews.
We’ve all heard the warning. At some point, people you don’t know will start reading your book and they’ll share what they thought about it. This is great! But also harrowing. But great! But aaaah. Because even the smallest critique can feel like someone’s insulting your flesh & blood child and can take the wind out of your Second Book sails.

Reviews are for the reader, not you. Your chance to learn and make changes came during the beta read and during developmental edits. You can’t go back and fix all the things readers will pick up on, and you shouldn’t even try. Some will have wanted a faster pace; some will have wanted more details. Some will have wanted more stabbing; some will have wanted less. You can’t please everyone. You should only ever try to please yourself and maybe your editor. Scratch that: definitely your editor.

Reviews are for the reader. An angry one star review about the gay content will convince more people to read the book than to skip it. A glowing five star review might turn off an equal number of potential readers, because maybe they don’t like long self-reflective scenes about starfish as much as the reviewer does.

One or five stars doesn’t ultimately say anything about the effort you put in, the many mornings or late nights you yanked sentences out of your heart and carefully smoothed them onto the page, and they don’t reflect that one person who so needed your book in that moment. And that’s ultimately who you’re writing for, right? Those people who need your book.

So: don’t read the reviews. Easy, right?

2. If you read the reviews, glut yourself on them.
Okay, maybe it’s not that easy. There’s a second camp of writers who appoint a trusted friend to read reviews and pass along the best. An excellent and sane strategy.

So of course I set up a tent in the somewhat lonely third camp aka Camp Just Give Into Temptation and Read Them All.

The first few bad reviews will be painful, like ripping off a bandage on the same area of skin over and over and over again. But at some point, the skin gets numb and it won’t hurt as much. The reviews will blend together into a general, seamless whole that gives you a bigger picture of what readers think, and maybe some areas you could work on in your writing for next time.

But you have to read all of them. Not just the bad ones. Not just the good ones. You have to read the head-scratching ones, the “are you sure you read my book?” ones, the “wait why two stars when you said you loved it?” ones. Because only then will you understand how truly subjective reviews are. And only then will you be able to let go of reviews and be free.

You’ll finally understand: reviews are for the reader.

3. Pick one social media platform and have fun.
It’s easy to feel like you need to be on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook and Snapchat and Goodreads and Bookbub and WordPress and Dreamwidth and Tumblr –

Oh goodness, I’m getting anxious just listing them all out. Let’s stop there.

It’s been said again and again: it’s better to use just one platform well than to try to use a bunch poorly. And you’re going to do best on the platform where you feel most comfortable.

For me, that’s been Twitter. It doesn’t take much thought, it’s conversational, and it’s easy to find and connect with other writers and readers. I also have an Instagram, but Instagram’s refusal to play well with desktops has been like running into a brick wall for me. Call me old, but I like using a laptop instead of my phone.

Once you’ve picked your favorite platform(s), the second most important thing is: have fun. Be yourself, even! If everybody else is doing something a Certain Way and you feel uncomfortable doing that – don’t! If you see advice that you should Do a Thing, but that thing fills you with anxiety bees – don’t! Self-promo is hard enough without feeling sick to your stomach about it the whole time.

Instead, promote other authors/writers/artists/cool stuff. Yell happily and unabashedly about those things and you might just find it gets easier to yell about your own stuff.

Pro-tip: Sometimes, if you absolutely need to Do a Self-Promo, try scheduling it in advance.

4. Everything takes foreeeveer – until it doesn’t.
It’s very normal to feel like you’re waiting and waiting and waaaaiting. There will be whole swaths of months where nothing at all is happening – at least not that you can see. And then a bunch of stuff will all happen at once – cover! copy edits! proofs! ARCs! – and just as you’re getting into the grove of handling all those things, you go right back to months of nothing.

This is normal. Trust me. Appreciate the quiet while you can and use it to work on something new.

Because before you know it, you’ll be in over your head again.

5. Use a productivity app.
Funny thing about being a debut – you’re still checking your email as often as you were while querying. You also might find yourself online more often, haunting the same circle of three or four websites. When your phone is always within reach, it’s easy – too easy – to just pick it up without thinking.

So try a productivity app. My go-to has been Forest, a handy little app that lets you set a timer and then encourages you to put down your phone with a happy little tree. You can still use your phone, but if you do, it kills the tree. Every time you successfully avoid using your phone and let the timer run out, a happy little tree shows up in your plot. Enough trees, and you have a forest.

Ah.

6. Get on panels!
Aside from Tucson Festival of Books, I’d never attended any book-related convention or conference until after my contract was signed. And if it hadn’t been for my agent-siblings’ encouragement, I wouldn’t have signed up for any panels until well after my book had come out.

I didn’t understand how most cons worked. I used to think every single panelist was invited or otherwise solicited, but that’s not the case. Honestly, I’m still learning, but I do know now that most of those panelists actively asked to be included and put on panels. Smaller cons thrive on volunteers and panelists and if you have a book coming out or if you know anything about publishing or even if you’re just an avid reader, you should check out the requirements at your local con.

Sirens Conference, for example, accepts proposals from any attendee; you don’t have to be published, you just have to know something about what you’re presenting. And ConFusion, my home con, was totally cool with me being on a few panels even though it was January and my book didn’t come out until March.

So: look! Ask! Propose! It’s excellent practice for talking about your book and also a great way to meet other people in the publishing community.

7. If you want to do it, do it.
This is kind of a weird piece of advice, but if you want to Do a Thing, this is your permission to Do It. Did you want to run a pre-order campaign? Do it. Did you want to go say hi to your local indie? Do it. Did you want to write some articles for a website you really admire? Send them an email and do it. Did you want to do a cover reveal? Set it up. Did you want to order a bunch of stickers and stick them everywhere? Yeah, do that too.

Just as long as you want to.

Don’t feel obligated to do any of that, though. Pre-order campaigns are a lot of work for often minimal return. Writing essays gets your name out there but doesn’t usually sell a lot of books. Stickers are cool but, well, sticky. It all costs money or time or both, and that’s going to be in short supply. And your publisher might do some things, but if you really, really, really want to Do a Thing:

Do it.

8. Use Media Mail for sending books.
Last, but certainly not least, if you live in the U.S. and want to send a book to someone else in the U.S., go to the counter at your local USPS and ask for media mail. As long as all you’re sending is a book, and not any related swag, you will save so much on postage. And keep the receipts for all those mailers you’ll be buying – these do count as a business expense (hashtag I am not a tax advisor, so this is not advice, but).

 

I’ll share more advice as I get further along in this whole Author Thing, but for now, I’m curious:

What’s been your favorite / most useful piece of advice for debuts?

Uncategorized

2019 Nebula Conference

This is just a quick post to let y’all know I’ll be at the Nebula Conference in L.A. next week – from May 16th through the 19th. Feel free to say hi if you see me, and/or do as I do and stand at an awkward distance and pretend to commune with the nearby fake plants instead of getting up the courage to actually say anything. But then know that if I do notice someone communing with fake plants, I’ll probably say hi. 🙂

If you’re going, check out the schedule here.

I’ll be on Writing on the Side at 5pm on Thursday, where I’ll chat with some other awesome folk about how to be a productive writer when your life is already time-starved, list-bound and career-committed. I can’t guarantee my 25% of the panel will be anything other than me mainlining espresso and shouting YOU CAN SLEEP WHEN YOU’RE DEAD and also SELF-CARE IS GOOD, ACTUALLY, but. Well.

See you there!

Pre-pub, Writing

5 Tips for Surviving Your Debut Year

It’s been over five weeks since my debut novel The Perfect Assassin came out into the world and I’ve been spending most of that time decompressing. Relaxing. Reading. Sleeping (!), even, when the Toddler allows.

But me being me, I’ve also been thinking about the past year – and beyond. It’s been a bit of a wild ride and goodness, am I glad it’s over. I wasn’t sure whether or not the other side of Being Published, No For Real My Book’s On That Table Over There would feel much different from pre-pub, and it didn’t for the first few days/weeks, but now that things have settled a bit and the confetti’s turned to dust, it does feel different.

More chill, for one. More concrete, for another.

I lived with a lot of anxiety last year, which seems obvious in retrospect but kinda hit me like an invisible bus at the time. Of course I was going to be in a state of perpetual worry when I had no idea what was going on or what to expect and I didn’t want to trip over my own feet and make an absolute fool of myself.

The debut year is a lot like that first day at a new job, when you’re not sure what their version of business casual is (are sleeves necessary? can I wear boots??), whose desk is where (Carol in HR to whom I must return this important form: WHERE ARE YOU), whether or not you should bring silverware (is there even a sink?), where the stairwell is (what about this door – nope: brooms), who takes a lunch and when, or – most importantly – what you’re actually supposed to be doing.

You’re hecka excited to be there – of course! it’s a new job!! you applied and interviewed and hoped for this!!! – but those first few days you come home exhausted and overwhelmed. You don’t even know what you don’t know and everyone else just seems so much more competent and on it. And you know making mistakes is just a part of the learning process, but every one of them feels like a personal failure.

Yeah, exactly like those first few days, but stretched over a year.

It makes sense that on the other side, things might be a lot more chill and relaxed. Sure, there’re still a lot of things to worry about, but just knowing what those things are brings the anxiety down to a reasonable amount. The road might yet be windy and full of fog, but I’ve come far enough that I know it’s a road and, well, that can be enough.

Also now I know where Carol is.

So here, from the other side of things, are five tips for surviving your own debut year:

1. Find your tribe.
I’m putting this first because it’s just that important. Join a debut group. Go on Twitter and find other baby or recently published authors. Find your agent siblings, your editor cousins. Follow them. Read their blogs, their posts, their tweets.

More importantly: talk to them. Embrace them. Support them and let them support you.

I’ve been a part of Debut Authors ’19 since the very beginning and they’ve been a lifesaver. Every time I felt like I was going crazy, I had a place I could check in where I knew they wouldn’t judge me. And that’s important – getting an agent, a contract, is kind of a privileged thing, right? It’s cool and amazing and awesome. But it’s a bit like suddenly owning a dragon. It’s super cool and not very common but also who are you going to talk to when it starts eating the neighboring village’s sheep??

That said, there are downsides to being in a debut group. You do get to see all the possibilities of publishing, some of which you never would have dreamed of. And seeing them, you know better than to dream, but you do, a little. If you’re a competitive type, the comparison game can become overwhelming. And even if you’re not competitive, it’s hard not to see something cool and wonder “why not?”

(The answer to this is, of course, because That Is Not Your Book. Your book is different and unique and other things will happen for it, many you can’t even imagine now.)

There’s something to be said for being able to go through the whole debut process in blissful ignorance of those other possibilities. But then, the community you build in those groups is a community that will persist for years after. These are your peers, your colleagues, your coworkers, your friends. I’m ride or die for a number of them, and there’s nothing sweeter than cheering on a friend’s success – or yelling loudly about how great they are.

That community is priceless.

2. Be kind.
Be kind in your words. Be kind in your actions. Be aware that someone, somewhere, is looking up to you as a Real Author. Your actions will carry more weight, whether it’s encouragement or a review or a smile emoji. Ignoring that weight isn’t being humble – it’s doing that person a disservice.

So be kind. Be thoughtful. Be the kind of person you’d want to meet and the kind of person you want in your community.

3. It’s okay to feel other emotions than excitement or elation.
We humans are complex and contradictory creatures. We are also highly predictable. You are the same person you were yesterday, and a book deal doesn’t change that. It can certainly be validating, but you’re still you and your life is still your life.

And that means every day ain’t gonna be a complete picnic.

In fact, sometimes it could be worse, because you might have a little voice in the back of your head berating you for being tired, exhausted, depressed, or just generally blah when you have so much to be grateful for and excited about.

But if anything, you should allow yourself even more leeway for extreme emotions on both sides of the spectrum, because this is something you have been working toward for years and decades, because this is something you care deeply about. The fact that you get a bit overwhelmed or upset or worried sometimes isn’t a failure – it means you are thoroughly and completely invested. It means that this is important to you.

4. Excitement is physiologically indistinguishable from fear.
And it’s just as exhausting.

Both fear and excitement cause a spike in adrenaline, which rushes through your system causing your hands to shake and your pulse to elevate and 100+ other stress responses to occur. And there is a lot of excitement as you get to see your cover, as other authors start reading your words, as you start seeing your book on lists and in reviews.

I was really confused at first why an amazing email or bit of news would cause me to short-circuit and need some downtown, but after realizing it’s that same shock of adrenaline you get when you’re scared, it made a lot more sense.

Enjoy, but also remember to take care of yourself. It’s a lot.

5. This is only the beginning of your career.
There’s a lot of waiting and waiting and… waiting… when you’re a debut. Case in point, I signed my contract in 2016 and my book didn’t come out until 2019. So I get it – it can feel like you’ve been at this a while, and it can also feel like everything has been done and it’s all over once you actually hit pub date.

But in reality, it’s only the very start. You did the equivalent of a PhD program and survived, which is no small feat, but you’re only just now entering the job market and the beginning of your career.

Everything you do now is another step along that path and it will take you places you have never been before and you will meet so many new and amazing people.

Just keep your feet on the warm stones and move forward.

Bonus: One thing I wish I could tell myself a year ago.
Find a therapist. Now. Find a psychiatrist, too, and get yourself on anxiety medication. It’ll make a world of difference. You’re welcome.

Aside from that, I would tell her it’s fine. It’s going to be fine. Feel all the feels, wallow in the emotions, take a walk, take a run, take a hike – and keep writing.

Life

All Quiet

It’s been a Quiet on the Outside, Busy on the Inside kind of month. I’ve been burning the candle at both ends to get copy edits for book 2 done and in and just shy of perfect. Funny thing: when the book you’re fixin’ was written five years ago, there tends to be a bit more to fix. It’s a good thing, though, even as it’s frustrating; it means I’ve been growing as a writer.

But they’re in now and I feel a bit more confident in the book than I did two weeks ago, although it’s still hard to shake the feeling that it’s going to disappoint everyone who read book 1. That’s only natural. I’m lucky enough to escape the crushing yoke of Book Two Syndrome by being done with all three, but that doesn’t mean the expectations aren’t still there, the doubt and uncertainty.

But without book 2 there would be no book 3, and I am still fiercely proud of that one.

What now? What next? A few things. But first

Between starting a new, fulltime job in January and finishing a second round of edits on book 3 and surviving the Toddler’s transition to Less and Less Sleep (why now, why) and releasing a book and copy edits on book 2 and trying to keep up with my reading and deadlines at work and family in town and a house that simply refuses to upkeep itself (srsly, rude) –

I think it’s time for a break.

As I mentioned over on Twitter, I’ve heard it said time and again that this publishing thing – well, this life thing – is a marathon, not a sprint. But, you see, I run 5ks. I sprint. I am an all or nothing kind of person. And that works, too. As long as I remember that the nothing part is just as important as the all.

So I’m going to bow out of Twitter and whatnot for the month, try to avoid thinking about how my book is doing (sidenote: please please please never ask an author this), and just enjoy this unseasonably warm weather. Go for a few more plot!runs. Sleep in past 4am. Stare at the Toddler in awe. Read. Write when the mood strikes.

You know. The stuff that is 99.9% of this life thing.

The Perfect Assassin (Book 1)

It’s here!!

The Perfect Assassin is out in the world!!

You should be able to find it anywhere books are sold. Also libraries!! In fact, people’ve been sending me photos of it in the wild, face-out, at Barnes and Nobles and their local indies, and honestly, that’s been so, so cool.

People have been asking me how this all feels and mostly just: normal? I guess? I’ve been waiting for this day in general for most of my life and in specific for about two and a half years, so it’s all been one long transition. I treated the Day Of like a birthday and went for a run and just generally let myself chill – which was great, A++, best way to celebrate.

And then I went back to work the next day, both dayjob and also writing. A project I’ve been noodling on for almost three years now is slowly coming together and my hope is that once Book 3 is officially, 100% done I can finally focus on the new project. One thing I’ve learned in the last few years is that I am no good at multitasking.

Or at least, I thought I could focus on dayjob and new!WIP, but even though the Day Itself is past, people are only just now sending me photos of my book in the wild and that’s just… that’s been wild. It’s one thing to know your book is out there, it’s another for your high school and college friends to be excitedly sending you photos of them finding it in their local bookstore. I have teared up so many times over the past forty-eight hours.

It’s something that for so long I’d hoped would happen, and even something for some time I’d known would happen, but knowing and hoping are pale things to the reality of it actually happening.

And now I get to see things like this:

Bookshelf with prominent SFF titles face-out

It took me 20+ years to get here. I guess it’s okay to need a few more days to process it.

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, The Perfect Assassin (Book 1), The Unconquered City (Book 3)

Less Than a Week

How did we go from two and a half years to less than a week??

Oh right, the passage of time.

Well aside from flailing, I haven’t much to say. But I’ve got a lot of links!

First off, if you want to learn about dunes – or some of my research behind the Perfect Assassin and its world, you should check out my essay over at Tor dot com, How Do You Fight an 80-Foot Sand Dune?.

Second off, the introduction to March got TPA featured on a bunch of lists, which is exciting.

The Nerd Daily’s March Book Releases: Fantasy + Sci-Fi

Barnes and Nobles The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of March 2019

io9 Gizmodo’s 39 Amazing New Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books to Check Out in March

And my little book even somehow snuck into Amazon’s best books of the month for March:

Yeah okay, that’s all cool.

But you know what’s even cooler?

I turned in book 3 edits this weekend!

[Sound of kazoos and party poppers]

Gotta wait yet to see if Book 3 is actually, well, done done, but at least, at the moment, I am free of the edit mines. So I’m gonna kick back, relax, maybe take a break and enjoy this whole Book Coming Out OMG thing, yeah?

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, Pre-pub, The Impossible Contract (Book 2), The Perfect Assassin (Book 1)

January Recap (Madcap?)

It sure has been a month. I don’t even know how to begin, so let’s just run through it, shall we?

I started a new job. Winter finally showed up. I moderated my first panel and gave my first reading at ConFusion in Detroit. I wrote a bit more of my WIP. The cover for book two entered the world. Book one got two excellent trade reviews. Our laundry machine broke. A Polar Vortex shut down our city –

Wait, wait, WAIT – you say. Book two’s cover?? Went live???

Oh yeah. I guess that’s important.

Okay that’s an understatement. It’s pretty important and I’m REALLY EXCITED about it. If you’ve been following my posts for any length of time, you know Book Two was once Book Only and I poured my heart and soul into it. Then I wrote Book One and poured my heart into that too, but Book Two will just always have that place in my heart as the First.

There’s just something about writing a book for just you, never knowing if it’s going to get an agent’s attention let alone reach the light of day – or the hands of readers. I love all of my book children equally, in their own ways, but The Impossible Contract just feels different. For The Perfect Assassin, covers and blurbs and reviews weren’t daydreams – they were expectations. I had a contract, after all. But for TIC, well. They were dreams.

And when I got to see TIC’s cover for the first time in December, it was literally a dream come true.

And now that it’s live elsewhere on the internet, I can finally share that dream with you:

The purple! The gold! That expression! That garrote! It’s THANA. My Thana, who started out as a lone figure on a rooftop almost five years ago and now has a whole family to rely on. She has come so very far and I can’t wait to talk more about her and share her with you in November.

But BEFORE THAT I have a whole ‘nother book coming out.

And The Perfect Assassin has been getting some awesome reviews.

But Kai, you say gently, You just dropped a cover on us. You can tell us about the reviews later.

I mean, yes technically, I could but in reality, this is probably the only blog post I’m going to make for the next month or two, so you’re getting this now.

Here – if it’s any easier, you can take a break and come back in a week or so and pretend this is a whole new blog post. Good?

Good.

Welcome back!

I’ve already flailed and hyperventilated about this elsewhere, but The Perfect Assassin got a starred (!!!) review from Publisher’s Weekly! You can read the whole thing here, but if you want to avoid some very light potential spoilers, here’s the choice quote:

“Doore is a force to be reckoned with, blending a stirring plot, elegant worldbuilding, effortless style, and diverse, empathetic characters.”

!!!!

!!!!!!

I might have shouted “a force to be RECKONED WITH” every chance I had for a week straight. Honestly, I’m still riding that high.

And then there’s also this amazing review from Booklist. It’s behind a paywall, so if you don’t have access, here’s another good quote:

“Doore’s thrilling fantasy debut is a suspenseful murder mystery wrapped around a coming-of-age story […] Ghadid, set on platforms hundreds of feet above shifting sands, is vividly described, with a fascinating history and culture that Doore folds in naturally. This author is one to watch.”

WATCH ME.

IF YOU DON’T, WHO WILL.

AND IF NO ONE DOES, DO I EVEN EXIST?

Anyway: *flings confetti*

I guess this means I can’t pretend I’ve just been bribing/threatening everyone for good reviews. Or maybe it does and these are two flukes that will never happen again! Who knows! I sure don’t! You might find out in just 48 days!

 

Photo by Georgia de Lotz on Unsplash