Author in the Spotlight: Karen Dudley

Today I welcome Karen Dudley as my author in the spotlight!

author photo 2012Karen Dudley wrote a short stack of wildlife biology books and four Robyn Devara environmental mystery novels before she had an epiphany . . . she wanted to write fantasy. So she did. Her first fantasy novel, Food for the Gods, takes place in ancient Greece, and has been nominated for an Aurora Awards, a Bony Blithe award (The Bloody Words Light Mystery Award), the Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher, and a High Plains Book Award in the Culinary Division. Karen lives in Winnipeg with her husband, daughter, and the requisite authorial cats. Kraken Bake, the sequel to Food for the Gods, will be released in Spring, 2014.



#1: Why do you write?

I write because … the voices! The voices! Why won’t they stop?? Seriously, I write because I’m compelled to, because sometimes I am pregnant with story.

#2: What was your earliest writing experience:

A really bad poem. I never write poetry now; that’s how bad it was. The next thing I tried was a short story. I struggled with that miserable thing for weeks until my husband said to me, “Why are you writing short stories? You never read them.” It was a bit of an epiphany for me, really. And that’s when I started writing novels.

#3: Describe a day in your writing life:

Get up, make tea, feed the cats, check email, dick around on Facebook, realize how late it is, write feverishly until I have to pick up my daughter from school. Sometimes there’s a nap too. And snacks.

#4: What authors influenced you and how?

Anne McCaffrey, Sharon Shinn, Jennifer Roberson. They influenced me mostly by being so very, very good, but also because they never seemed to write FAST enough for me. It seemed I was always waiting for their next story, and I might as well tell my own while I was waiting.

#5: What are some things you learned to help with your success?

NOT to dick around on Facebook! Apart from that, there are two books that I found particularly helpful. The first is Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies for Fun and Profit: How to Write Fiction. The other is Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel.

#6: Describe your writing method:

In short, I take Lawrence Block’s advice and apply bum to chair and fingers to keyboard. Apart from that, I tend to be both a plotter AND a pantser. I never write out my entire plot in a giant synopsis, instead I have a general idea of what I want to do with the story and then I plot out a few chapters at a time, writing by the seat of my pants and giving myself the freedom to go madly off in all directions.

#7: Tips for aspiring writers:

I can’t do better than to quote what Neil Gaiman once said, which was “Read more. Write more.”


FFTG front coverNow Available:

Food for the Gods is a historical fantasy, released by Ravenstone in 2012. Having been chopped up and served to the gods for tea, Pelops, Prince of Lydia, is kindly remade by the Olympian dinner guests and gifted with a talent for the culinary arts. But after heading for the bright lamps of Athens, Pelops discovers that life is not exactly golden for a celebrity chef in the golden age of Greece. Ruthless patrons and jealous rivals are bad enough, but when a couple of the less responsible gods offer to help him make a name for himself, Pelops begins to realize that when the gods decide they owe you a favour, you’d better start saying your prayers.


“Karen Dudley takes Greek mythology and gives it a wild spin. This giddy mashup of fantasy, mystery, comedy, cookbooks, and self-help column is bawdy, inventive, and just plain fun.” – Sharon Shinn, author of the Samaria series


More about Karen:


Author in the Spotlight: Eileen Bell

Today I welcome Eileen Bell as my author in the spotlight!

eileen-bellEileen Bell (also known as E.C. Bell) has had short fiction published in magazines and several anthologies, including the double Aurora Award winning Women of the Apocalypse (Absolute XPress) and the Aurora winning Bourbon and Eggnog.

The Puzzle Box, (EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing) a collaborative novel she wrote with Billie Milholland, Randy McCharles, and Ryan McFadden, came out in August, 2013. Her first “I wrote this myself” novel, Seeing the Light, will be available in November, 2014, through Tyche Books.

When she’s not writing, she’s living a fine life in her round house (that is in a perpetual state of renovation) with her husband, her two dogs and her ever hungry goldfish.


#1: What was your earliest writing experience:

I vividly remember the first creative writing project I ever did that involved other people. I think it was in 5th grade (though it could have been 6th), and the assignment was that we all wrote the beginning to a story, and then handed what we had written to the person sitting behind us so they could finish the story. I decided to write about robbers crashing their car while speeding away from the bank they’d robbed, with the POV character in the car. (Yep. Dark, even then.) I LOVED what I’d written, and handed it off, expecting the girl behind me to keep the blood and screaming going. Not so much. She, quite properly, wrote in the police and an ambulance, and then, believe it or not, she had everyone live happily ever after. I was disgusted, and  I’m pretty sure she requested never to be stuck with me again. That’s when I decided I wanted to write — but I’d always write alone.

THAT didn’t work out, either.  Luckily, I found people who don’t mind writing with me, and who will at least listen to my endings, so it’s all right.  Though I have to say, I am pretty thrilled that I was able to sell a novel that I’d written on my own.

#2: Describe a day in your writing life:

On a good day, I get up, make coffee, watch the morning news (just to get my mad on), feed the dogs, answer emails, play far too long on Facebook, and then head upstairs to write. I apologise to my goldfish if I forgot to feed him the day before, and feed him. Write until the phone rings. Run back downstairs to find the stupid phone, and deal with whoever is bothering me (often it is my husband, so I have to pretend to be sweet and all that), then head back up and write some more. Run the dogs, either eat something or make more coffee, and write a bit more. If I get to the good place (where time disappears) I can write for hours. If not, I write until 3ish, run the dogs again (one dog is Border Collie, and REALLY good at guilting me) and then do some editing until about 5. Then my brain’s done, so I make supper and zone out until the next day. Zoning out is playing outside with the dogs (remember the Border Collie?), doing laundry (Where does it all come from?) and yelling at my sports teams as they fail. (It’s been a couple of really rough years in Edmonton. Seriously.)

On a bad day? I have stuff to do outside the house, and I’m stuck trying to write in the evenings. That never goes well, and I usually just end up editing or playing on Facebook… So I try to keep a lot of my days to myself, because I’d much rather have a good day than a bad day.

#3: What authors influenced you and how?

A.A. Milne – My mother used to read the Winnie the Pooh stories to us every night when we were growing up. This is how I learned that your words must sound as good as they look on the page.

Stephen King – His novels saved me during my “raising the kids” years. Scary and well written, they were my favourite Christmas presents year after year after year. And his nonfiction was almost like having a fantastic conversation with a fellow writer! Oh, and he taught me that sometimes you CAN write with someone else and have it work. (The Talisman, which he wrote with Peter Straub, was one of my favourites.)

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. — My husband introduced me to Vonnegut while we were dating, and that’s part of the reason why I fell in love with him. (My husband, not Vonnegut.) What did I learn? That funny works. And sometimes, it’s brilliant.

Margaret Laurence — She taught me that it’s all right to write stories based in Canada. Even in Western Canada.

Harper Lee — She taught me that writing unflinchingly  — even about god awful things like rape and racism — will bring perfection. (I’m not there yet, but it’s what I strive for.)

Robert J. Sawyer — He taught me how to think like a real writer. (See #4)

#4: What are some things you learned to help with your success?

I took a writing course some years ago from Robert J. Sawyer. He prefaced everything important he taught us with, “If you want to be a successful writer…” Believe it or not, that was the biggest single thing I learned in that exhausting, ego bruising week. I really truly did want to be a successful writer.

Now, before I make almost any decision, I ask the question “Will this help me be a successful writer?” It really helps me focus. (And no, not everything I do will make me a successful writer. Sometimes, what I do makes me a good citizen (volunteering during an election), or  good pet owner (playing with the Border Collie for hours, even in the snow), or whatever. And sometimes, what I do makes me a slacker… But I DO love my sports teams!)

I am not a naturally outgoing person, so I find all the promotion we do quite exhausting. However, I’m starting to learn how to have some fun while I’m doing it, because I have learned it is just as important as the writing itself. (And I’m learning to sleep for a couple of days after. That helps, too.)

And lastly, I still use something I learned when I raced catamarans with my husband. What I learned was, follow the rules, but don’t follow the pack. When we were racing, if we weren’t in front, we’d look for ripples on the water away from the rest of the boats. Those ripples let us know there was wind no one else had seen. Sometimes going our own way wouldn’t work, and we’d lose in a fairly spectacular fashion. But more often than not, we’d use that clean air to win. So now, I’m quite willing to give something different or unusual a go, just to see what happens. (And sometimes, I win!)

#5: Describe your writing method:

For novellas and shorter fiction, I know where I want to start (usually) and where I want to end (definitely). Usually I have a few plot points I want to hit, and something I want to try. (For example, the original version of  “Seeing the Light” was a novella, and I wanted to write a building exploding with the point of view character inside. Fun!)

For novels, I know more or less where it will start and definitely where it will end. I research, and then I outline. I learn about my characters as I outline.  I usually start writing at this point, but if I still need more detail, I do a scene by scene. Then I write.

I LOVE working on the first draft. This is where the white hot writing from the gut lives for me — and it’s my favourite place in the whole world. However, editing has its own charm. I do like to see the raw story molded into something other people would like to read…

#6: Tips for aspiring writers:

Read as much and as widely as you can.

Be tenacious. You remember “Never give up! Never surrender!” from the movie “Galaxy Quest”? My motto.

Learn something new about writing as often as you can, and apply it to your own work. Because you actually don’t know everything. Trust me.

Be polite. Publishers and editors talk to each other.

Rejection is part of the deal, so do whatever it takes to thicken your skin.  Taking to your bed for three days because your latest novel/story/screenplay/whatever has been rejected is three days away from your writing. Which brings me to Rule 6. (And yes, this one’s a rule, not a tip.)

Write every day. No excuses. There IS time in the day. Trust me on that, too.

Yes, I sometimes break Rule 6. But I feel bad about it, and try not to do it often.


eileen-bell-coverNow Available:

The Puzzle Box, by Apocalyptic Four (AKA Eileen Bell, Billie Milholland, Randy McCharles and Ryan McFadden) is an urban fantasy novel published by EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing.


Archeology Professor Albert Mallory understands reality. He knows the way the world works. When he steals an ancient puzzle box to pay off gambling debts, he thinks the only mysterious thing about the artifact is how to get it open. But when a stranger appears at Albert’s door demanding to see the box, Albert is plunged into mysteries he never dreamt possible. Through the tales of four others who succeeded in opening the puzzle box — a musician named Warlock with a weakness for witches; photographer Autumn Bailey, with a strange link to the past; video store clerk Angela Matterly with those unworldly eyes; and a comic book illustrator called Sam, on a quest for his life — Albert learns that reality is transient and the way the world works is not found in text books.

Buy Links:


Eileen’s upcoming release:

Seeing the Light is a paranormal mystery novel to be released November, 2014, by Tyche Books ( The book is based in Edmonton — and the Palais office building is based on the Arlington Apartments, built in Edmonton in 1909, and home, briefly, to a serial killer!


Marie Jenner has never had much luck. Her job sucks. Her apartment–the one with the unbreakable lease–has a ghost. And worst of all, her mother won’t let up about her joining the “family business.” Since that business is moving the spirits of the dead on to the next plane of existence and doesn’t pay at all, Marie’s not interested. She wants a normal job–a normal life. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Apparently, it is. Even when she applies for the job of her dreams, Marie doesn’t get what she wants. Well, not entirely. She does get the job–but she also gets another ghost. Farley Hewitt, the newly dead caretaker of the building, wants her to prove his death is not an accident, and she’s pretty sure he’s going to haunt her until she does.

All she wants is normal. She isn’t going to get it.


Connect with Eileen:




Author in the Spotlight: Chadwick Ginther

Chadwick HeadshotToday I welcome Chadwick Ginther as my author in the spotlight.

Chadwick is the author of Thunder Road (Ravenstone Books), a fantasy in which the larger-than-life personalities and monsters of Norse mythology lurk hidden in Manitoba. Its sequel, Tombstone Blues, just released this week and I had the pleasure of attending his riveting reading.

His short stories have found a home in On SpecTesseracts and the Fungi anthology from Innsmouth Free Press; his reviews and interviews have appeared in Quill and QuireThe Winnipeg Review and Prairie Books NOW. A bookseller for over ten years, when he’s not writing his own stories, he’s selling everyone else’s. He lives and writes in Winnipeg.

Here are Chadwick’s answers to my seven spotlight questions.


#1: Why do you write?

Because I have to. I’ve always loved stories, and storytelling. When I was growing up I had two uncles (one my great-great uncle, the other my great-great-great uncle) who invented original Tarzan and Lone Ranger stories to keep me amused. They set a love of adventure fiction into my bones from my very beginning. From those stories I leaped to comics and then to fantasy novels, but as voraciously as I read, I still wanted to make up my own stories. Since I tend not to be an outliner, if don’t write up my ideas and shape them and get to the end, I’ll never get to read how they end.

#2: What was your earliest writing experience:

I’m sure there were probably earlier stories, but the one I remember best was my “novel” project for Grade 5. I wrote a 43 page science fiction story shamelessly stolen from the Robotech cartoon, which was airing at the time, called The Robotron War. I haven’t been able to go back and read it, but I do still have a copy, and for many more years, that would be the longest piece of fiction I had written. The writing I did with an eye for publication was a short story that I submitted to In Places Between The Robyn Herrington Memorial Story Contest ( This was my first peer critique, and it was this story that became the foundation for the first novel I ever finished.

#3: Describe a day in your writing life:

A day in my writing life usually depends upon just which day we are talking about. If I’m fitting my writing in around my dayjob during a weekday, I wake up early, try to transcribe any handwritten notes I may have collected, or work on a blog post, and then dash out the door, running for the bus after a quick gulp of tea. I check my social media feeds while I’m on the bus, trying to catch up before my breaks. I answer writing related emails on my coffee breaks, and spend my lunch writing as many words as I can, often joining in with some of my writing friends on Twitter for a #writingsprint. On a weekend, I still try to get up early and write until at least after lunch, all the while trying to ignore the siren call of the internet. My evenings are spent doing some critiquing (either my own work, or for my writing group) as I find I’m a little more critical at the end of the day.

#4: What authors influenced you and how?

They are too numerous to easily list. I’d like to say every author I’ve ever read has been some kind of influence…but I’ll try to narrow it down to a manageable level. Guy Gavriel Kay was the first writer I ever knew to be Canadian. The fact that his Fionavar Tapestry novels had Canadian protagonists being thrust into a fantasy world didn’t hurt my interest either. I love his writing, but just knowing a Canadian was out there writing fantasy was my first inkling that being an author was something I could strive towards. Robert J. Sawyer, in addition to being a great author, maintains a vast amount of writing resources on his website (here’s a link:, and I read every essay he’s ever posted on the topic when I was getting started. Those essays taught me to engage critically with my own work, and later Rob would give me a critique on the first chapter of Thunder Road while he was writer-in-residence at the Canadian Light Source in Sasktaoon. Comics were the first things I ever read on my own, and Chris Claremont’s epic run on The Uncanny X-Men was a huge influence. It was my gateway to serial storytelling, and mythic, yet flawed, human characters. The D’Aulaires, who wrote numerous books on mythology, but most notably for me, D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths. That book was my first introduction to the Norse pantheon, and began a lifelong love of those characters and stories. I owe a huge debt to Gary Gygax, creator of Dungeons and Dragons, D&D was the means by which I first tried getting inside the head of another character, and the first vehicle  I used to tell stories. Finally, Winnipeg crime writer Michael Van Rooy, who passed away far too soon. He was one of the first professional authors to read my work, and he knew I was ready to start submitting fiction long before I believed it to be true.

#5: What are some things you learned to help with your success?

The benefit of being a part of a larger writing community is probably the biggest thing. Through that community I’ve met many great friends, learned tips not only on the craft of writing but the business of writing. And let’s face it, writing can be a very solitary activity, so when we all come out to play at one conference or another, it’s very energizing. Working in a bookstore for the last twelve years gave me a lot of insight into the business side of the writing industry, and let’s face it, even if you don’t have the inclination or option to work in the stacks, you need to know more than just how to string words together to be successful these days.

#6: Describe your writing method:

In the simple dichotomy of pantser vs. plotter, I am a pantser. I like to discover the story as I go. But the truth of my method is a bit more complicated than that. The one concession I make to an outline is that I make a soundtrack of twenty or so songs that feel like how I want the book to feel before I start writing. Once the soundtrack feels right, I’m off to the races. Should I ever get stuck in the word mines, going for a drive or a walk and listening to the songs on my soundtrack is usually enough to nudge me in the correct direction. I have tended to write the  novels in the Thunder Road Trilogy mostly chronologically in chapter order, but when I’m working on a multiple POV story, I tend to jump around not just from character to character, but to various moments in time. I stitch it all together once I’m done. I always carry a notebook, and if I think of a scene or an idea for a future point in the novel (or a future book in the series) I file it away for use later. Now that I’m drafting the third book in a trilogy, I can’t just throw in whatever I want. The series has accrued structure from the previous books. There are things foreshadowed that must be resolved, etc.  but beyond those points, every other detail comes out in the writing. Once I have a draft I let it sit (time dependent on how close my deadline is) before revising it to my satisfaction and then I send it off to my first readers. After they give me their notes, I do another round of revisions and then read the entire book aloud trying to catch typos and awkward phrasings that slipped through (particularly in dialogue) once I’m done with that, (and drinking a lot of tea and honey) the book is out the door.

#7: Tips for aspiring writers:

You know, there are so many great tips on the craft out there, that I hesitate to throw my hat into the ring. Robert Sawyer’s website, and authors like Chuck Wendig break down process and have so many great tips, that I think I’ll just point your readers in their direction. Everyone’s process and growth as a creative person is different, but if you look at how others have succeeded you should be able to cobble together your own Frankenstein’s monster of a writing process from the parts, and that will be something unique to you. However, one thing I’d like to add, is that while you need to be serious about your craft, and work hard, try to also have some fun with it. Once the contracted deadlines start looming it can be easy to forget why you started putting words on paper (or type on screen) telling the stories you want to tell.



About Tombstone Blues:

After beating back the might of Surtur, Ted Callan is getting used to his immortal powers. The man who once would stop at nothing to rid himself of his tattoos and their power might even be said to be enjoying his new found abilities.

However, not everyone is happy the greatness of the Valhalla has risen from the ashes of Ragnarök. With every crash of Mjölnir, Thor, former god of thunder, rages in Niflheim, the land of the dead.

Now that Ted’s woken the dead, there’s going to be hell to pay.

The sequel to Thunder Road, Tombstone Blues is an urban Fantasy novel now available through Ravenstone Books (an imprint of Turnstone Press).

Chadwick makes soundtracks for all of his books, and you can listen to the songs from the Tombstone Blues sound track here:

And here’s a listing of the soundtrack for Thunder Road, and an essay on how and why he uses music in his writing.


Buy Links:



Other(s): iTunes:

(SINCE it’s a series I’ve included the Thunder Road links, include or disregard as you see fit…)

Thunder Road Final


Connect with Chadwick:


Twitter: @chadwickginther


Fan email address: justonewick [at]

Author in the Spotlight: Marie Bilodeau

MarieToday I welcome Marie Bilodeau as my author in the spotlight.

Marie’s space fantasy series, Destiny, (Destiny’s Blood and Destiny’s Fall, published by Dragon Moon Press) was a two-time finalist in the Aurora Awards and won the Bronze Medal for Science-Fiction in the Foreword Book Awards. She is also the author of the Heirs of a Broken Land (EDGE Science-Fiction and Fantasy), a fantasy trilogy described as “fresh and exciting” by Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo award-winning author of WAKE. Her short stories have appeared in several magazines and anthologies and have also been nominated twice for the Aurora Awards. Marie is also a professional storyteller, telling adaptations of fairy tales and myths, as well as original stories of her own creation. She’s a passionate advocate for paper airplane contests, peach desserts and caffeine consumption.


#1: Why do you write?

Because there are so many stories to tell.  Too many for one lifetime, I suspect, but that’s okay.  I’ll get as many out as possible during this busy life gig.

#2: What was your earliest writing experience:

I was about six years old, writing on my dad’s TRS-80 (quick, guess-timate my age!).  I’d written, very slowly and painstakingly, this retelling of Little Red Riding Hood.  It might have actually been Little Riding Hood exactly as I’d heard it, as I now suspect it was, but at the time I felt quite clever.  After writing “La fin” (The End in French), I hit the Enter key.  Turns out I was in the command prompt and not in an actual word processing software, so the whole story just vanished.  I cried, sure, but I’d also learned that I liked making up (rewriting, whatever) stories.  And I also learned never to trust computers.  Two invaluable lessons.

#3: Describe a day in your writing life:

My alarm goes off around 5:30.  If the sun is up (which it usually is at that time for about one month where I live), I get up a lot faster than if there isn’t.  I stumble downstairs, avoid tripping on cats, make coffee and start writing until I have to leave for work (I get dressed and brush my teeth somewhere in there, too).  On a good day, I get 2,000 words.  If my week isn’t progressing well, if a deadline is coming up or just if I’m realllly into my story, I’ll dedicate most of my Sunday to writing, as well as evenings. I don’t do edits in the morning – not awake enough.  Evenings or during airplane rides are my best times to edit.

#4: What authors influenced you and how?

I won’t even try and form a list of authors whose books have influenced me.  Every book does, in a way, either in a “I want to be as good as this!” or a “wow, let me never suck this much” way.  Anne Perry sat down with me once and read a page of my then work-in-progress Destiny’s Blood.  She looked up and said “This is actually quite good.  It doesn’t suck at all – I would keep reading this.”  That worked for me.

#5: What are some things you learned to help with your success?

Honestly?  Your definition of success will keep shifting, so it’s a difficult thing to achieve.  So that fact that your happiness shouldn’t rely on your perceived success has been my main takeaway in this writing journey. Don’t focus on the mythical outcome, because in writing, you will never know it. Seriously.  There’s always something more to be achieved, something more to strive for, another goal, another publishing contract, another commercial or critical success hurdle to be crossed, so there will never be an end or an outcome. Just keep on working and stop hinging expectations on things that aren’t in your control.  All you control is what you write.  So, make that as good as it can be!

#6: Describe your writing method:

I remember once, when I was maybe 14, my cousins dragged me to this steep, private hill somewhere in Montreal for some downhill sledding.  It took us half an hour to bundle for the journey, which seemed like forever. It was dark and snowing, and I didn’t know where we were.  We jumped a fence and I ripped my snowsuit.  We climbed the hill in at least half a metre of not yet packed snow, fell over a few times and struggled back up.  My legs hurt and my lungs complained at the cold. Then we positioned ourselves on our giant toboggan and we pushed off.  It was slow until we cleared the top of the hill, and then we plummeted down, hooting and hollering, until we hit a slight, hidden incline and went flying up. My cousin flew off the toboggan first and kicked me in the head. I was suddenly airborne and didn’t know what was up or down anymore, everything was white. I landed with a crash and kept tumbling down the hill until I landed at the bottom, on my back.  A moment of stunned silence, and we all jumped back up laughing and started scaling the hill again.  My writing method is kind of like that.

#7: Tips for aspiring writers:

When you climb that hill, try and remember it’ll be followed by a fun and breakneck ride down.  You don’t know when, but you’ll never experience it unless you keep on climbing.

Marie’s book:

Marie Bilodeau’s featured book is Destiny’s Fall, a finalist for the Aurora Awards. It is a science-Fiction novel published by Dragon Moon Press and releases November 2013. It also has someone with two left legs in it, and Marie say when her editor talks about her book, she talks about that, which makes her giggle.



A broken tradition. A hunted child. A rebellion that threatens to topple the very fabric of the universe.

When Layela Delamores gives birth to her first child, the ether immediately rejects what should be its only heir. A wave of destruction sweeps the ether races and sparks Solaria’s ire and rebellion on Mirial. A new heir rises to take the throne of Mirial, one who wields tainted ether.

Unable to access the flow of ether, Layela is left with little choice but to flee Mirial, seeking answers that may no longer exist, prepared to sacrifice everything to free herself and her daughter from the clutches of the First Star.


Avienne Malavant clutched her drink as though it were the last water left in the universe. It wasn’t water – was too precious to ever be called that – but rather a mix of ales she had come across on her latest caper. Two portions of something-aquiesque, one shot of some pink thing and two pinches of carefully weighed astium, which could otherwise easily be a poison.

But it wasn’t when mixed this way, and turned out it was delicious. Of all the ways to go, Avienne thought, astium might actually prove the most pleasant.

She clutched the drink and leaned forward heavily, mesmerized by the pink and green hues swirling in her thick glass. She wasn’t sure if she should down the drink or just stare at it. The bar around her was bustling with activity and she wanted no part of it. She was known in these parts, so no one would bother her – unless they were interested in bleeding, of course – but the problem was not with her entourage.

If she drank this stuff, which she loved, she’d get friendly. She’d laugh, she’d slur a few jokes, possibly make out with some ugly trader, possibly throw a knife to show her finesse, and then possibly kill someone. It had happened on Thalos IV, which was why she now avoided that planet like the plague. Thankfully the man she had practically swallowed, kissing him so hard (a one-eyed fuzzy half-naked middle-to-late-aged man with a belly she could use as a mattress) turned out to be the same one she had showed her prowess to, neatly embedding her knife in his forehead as a “show of her ability.” His death had been a small blessing, since at least it meant he couldn’t brag, but she still flushed red at the thought of enthusiastically making out with that man in front of everyone, and then missing her shot. Not just missing a little bit. She had been targeting a glass of ale on the opposite side of the room from him, but her fingers had been loose with drink when she had swung back to prepare her throw.

The missed shot was much worse, she decided. She didn’t mind having her taste in lovers questioned, especially since she questioned it herself, but for her ability to throw knives to be questioned was not something she could live with.

Avienne sighed and leaned back, still clutching the swirling drink. A large man sat with a Slont nearby, winking at her when she looked his way. He was missing most of his teeth and she was pretty certain that, although it was difficult to tell in this light, one of his ears was missing, too.

Just my type. She pushed the drink away untouched and looked up at the dark ceiling. She would definitely not be drinking tonight.

She wished she knew where to go next. Well, she knew where she was going next – to Mirial, where her niece/nephew or what have you should be born by now, or Layela should be really large and downright cranky. She wanted to see her brother badly, but she didn’t, at the same time. Every time she saw him it was the same story. He was settled, happy, fulfilled. And now with a bouncing baby he would be even more insufferable, she imagined.

She didn’t begrudge him his happiness. Part of her, a petty, small part she tried in vain to keep locked up, was angry with him for having left her. They had been partners forever, watching each other’s backs, going on adventures, and he would never do that again, she knew. Yet a long time ago she had been the one wanting to settle and he hadn’t even been able to fathom the idea. Not until meeting Layela, anyway. Of course, the Destiny was long gone by the time he settled with Layela to grow Mirial and their relationship.

And, she admitted, the two had tried. Layela had taken her in, allowed her to design her own quarters in the palace as they rebuilt, welcoming her like a sister, even though Layela still reeled from the loss of her twin sister, Yoma. And Avienne had tried, too. It had been thrilling at first, living on such a beautiful planet, marking days by sunrises and sunsets and making a new family. But something had been missing.

All of the tomorrows were the same. The same chambers, the same people, the same sunrises, the same gardens with their slowly growing flowers. Avienne had always wanted to stay in one place and to breathe unrecycled air for long periods of time, but once she was there, she felt bored and restless. Layela and Ardin had understood her desire to leave, of course. Ardin had been supportive.

Almost too supportive, bloody bastard.

Avienne leaned in and chugged the drink, wincing as it burned all the way down. She turned the glass upside down, banged it on the table and burped loudly, leaning back on her chair and winking at the large man who smiled a wide toothless smile back at her.

Blood and bones, that stuff’s fast! Avienne stood, the room swaying pleasantly around her. Before she could take a step the door banked open and sunlight poured in. Was it really still day? What was wrong with this wretched planet?

Avienne’s mind cleared at the sight of two Solariers — Solarian soldiers were hardly a usual sight in this smuggling port. Only the sun-symbol of Solaria distinguished the colour of their uniforms from the smoky bar. She heard a commotion outside. Something was going on. Avienne shook her head in an attempt to clear it, only to make herself more dizzy.

She could hear some shouting and screaming. The Solariers ignored her and headed to the table with her future lover and the ether creature, a blue-skinned Slont. She looked down. The man was wearing his regulation gloves. That didn’t stop the Solariers from walking up to him and grabbing him, slamming him hard into the table as they cuffed his hands.

“I didn’t do anything,” the man said, his thin voice calm despite the mistreatment.

“And we’ll make sure you never do,” one of the Solariers responded in a sneer. Avienne took a step closer. She didn’t like the sound of that, one bit. Adrenaline pumped through her body, clearing her head.

“Leave him alone.” Her targeted lover stood. He was tall and had a deep, booming voice, which pleased Avienne and surprised her, all at once. The men here didn’t usually have any redeeming quality, much less two. Without a word one of the Solariers pulled out his gun and shot the man in the chest, sending him flying against two other tables, blood smearing the patrons as they fell under the dead man.

Avienne pulled out two knives and let them fly, making sure to keep her grip firm until it was time to let them go. One of the Solariers fell screaming with a knife embedded in his eye, but she missed the other and hit the wall beside him.

She jumped sideways as a bolt warmed her cheek, and another shot rang out as she fell. She quickly stood back up, knives in hand, but the Solarier was dead, shot from behind. The bartender spat a big glob on the floor.

“No’ne kills ma custamers,” he said, spitting again, his grease-ridden clothes catching the glob. Avienne smiled at him and sighed as she looked at the stunned Slont. She winked at the barkeeper. “Another day, perhaps.”

He horked again as she bent down and quickly stripped one soldier of guns, ID cards, mission box and a set of handcuff keys. The patrons were making swift work of the other Solarier, taking much more than Avienne would ever even consider.

She was apparently soft for these parts.

“The streets are crawling with them,” someone said from the door. “They’re taking the ether creatures away!”

“Great,” she mumbled as she fumbled with the guard’s keys, trying two before one finally clicked open the Slont’s handcuffs.

“Where do I go?” the Slont whispered. His eyes were desperately blue, matching the hue of his skin. She looked down at the mission box, quickly going through the latest orders. Her skin turned cold and the last of the booze was washed away in dread.

– Bring all ether creatures to detention chambers. Use extreme caution. –

She grabbed the Slont by the upper arm and pulled him up. She doubted any of Solaria’s intentions were good.

“You’re coming with me,” she said, dragging him behind her as they headed out the back, the barkeeper nodding to them before turning to pour another drink as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. She grabbed an encrusted tablecloth and threw it on the Slont.

“Cover yourself. My ship is a ways from here.”

She sent a message to her ship, ordering her crew to get ready for departure, but not to make it obvious. The Slont followed quietly and unquestioningly, still looking dazed. She could hear shouts in the distance, some shots and screams… She wished she could save more ether creatures, but there were too many Solariers. One would have to do. One’s plenty for a smuggler, really!

She stepped out into the streets, sharpened her senses to the treacherous daylight, and sought the shadows that would see them safely back to her ship, the Desiccate.


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