The next project is going to be FUN. I'm letting Exiles and Starbleached take a short breather (mostly because, now that I've got all my big players in place, it's time to let them all go, and that means I need to outline the next couple chunks of story) and serializing an older project. It's been code-named Project Dragon since I decided to publish it, because it had no name and I wanted to have the text fairly secured before I did that.
I forgot how much fun that story was. :D
It's title is now, officially, Dragonbreath. Tentative release date for the first part is July 17th. If it's as clean as it seems on my first read through and revision, and it does seem that clean, Part 2 will be released in August, and Pt. 3 most likely will come out in September. I guess it'll qualify as YA, because the protagonist is sixteen.
What's going to happen to Exiles and Starbleached in the meantime?
Well, the first big plan is to get the print books for Starbleached completely done. The Starbleached omnibus will be released in August, most likely. Exiles readers can expect the Exiles omnibus to drop July 4th.
I'm going to serialize both series from now on. Which means that we won't be alternating between the series anymore. I will probably do Starbleached first, and then do the next Exiles book.
As for Gray Prince, my poor neglected hero...there's one more chunk in this sequence, and then he'll get two more novels, too.
Starbleached is pretty open ended. There's at least another two books there, most likely three. Exiles, on the other hand, is leading up to The Book. I plan on there being only two more books in that series. It won't be the last you see of Casey Winter, of course.
Oh, and it's Friday. Buy my shit, Plz
...right. Oh, and somebody did point out to me that my editing has a lot to be desired. Well, no shit, Sherlock, I'm poor. (...that's a joke.) And when it comes time to post samples of things lately, it has usually been one week before drop date, the editing still is not finished, and I need to let you wonderful, awesome people know that yes, the book is still coming. If there was one thing I'd like to change, it's the fucking one-month turn around between books that I decided to do because I am a masochist and also bone-fucking insane.
I love you all and respect you, and I try to do the best job I can. My best, however, is not the best and I am very sorry when I fail to live up to your expectations. Eventually, when I have the cash, my books will be clean and lovely.
I have no idea when that will be.
However, that is neither here nor there. Consider this huge chunk of book an ARC.
This is Dragonbreath. July 17th. Be there.
The ground gave way, there was a burst of fire like dragon’s breath, and I fell.I don’t remember landing, only silence and darkness. We were in a cave, the ceiling lit by blue phosphorescence, and for a long time I just lay there. I think I was conscious, just too stunned to move or breathe. I remember coughing, drawing air into lungs gone tingly with pins and needles, then coughing again. Something nearby was drip-drip-dripping into a puddle near my head. There was other people breathing and a few sniffles.Two minutes ago we’d been seventeen highschool juniors on their way back from the Cahokia Indian mounds. A two day drive on endless asphalt ribbons. We’d row-row-rowed our boat in the round until I wanted to scream. We’d seen the mounds, trooped up to the top of the largest, made suitably lamentable sounds when we found out just how many of these hills had been carted away as filler soil for railroads and houses—we were teenagers; actual comprehension of history was expecting a lot--and then we’d all trooped back into the bus. Row-row-row your boat. Glare, glare, glare ahead. Ooh, look, another tree, mile-marker, Mcdonald’s sign, and let’s have a cramp in the lower back, just to add some spice to existence. Mrs. Peterson, our science teacher and theoretical chaperone, had us stop at a rest station so that Billy Bird could use the bathroom, and we’d all piled out because an hour in a vehicle with us would make the most calm of Zen masters go berserk.Then Mrs. P said she had something to show us in the woods. The difference between poison oak and poison sumac as learned by personal experience was my vote. We followed, good little teenage car-zombies enjoying the last field trip of the year, and the ground under my feet seemed to catch on fire.I fell.I sat up, pushed onto my elbows and looked around.The ceiling was a rock cathedral, vaulted by ribbons of limestone and decorated by a thin film, glowing blue. Cave moss, phosphorescent bacteria. Alien light. Some of it sparkled, some of it burned steady. Dark objects flitted about. I wasn’t sure if it were bats or my eyes still sparking from impact. All around me, my classmates came back to life. Groaning voices, people sitting up. I counted them. Maybe someone had fallen down a different hole, broken their leg, needed help. Maybe someone was still above us.Oh, how I wanted them to still be above us. Call nine-one-one, direct the well-meaning bystanders—Law of the Universe: there will be well-meaning bystanders and they will be utterly gormless. Someone will call down to us soon, I thought. Billy Bird, or Fester, or Samantha or… Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen … eighteen.Oh, bleeding hell. Mrs. Peterson was with us, too.List of people I would NOT like to be stuck in a dark cave with for hours on end, number one: Mrs. Sylvia Peterson. She stood beneath that alien blue light, and my gut sank slowly like an imploding building settling into a hole. I liked her as a teacher. As a person, she left a lot to be desired. She didn’t take anything from us kids, and she dished out her share of bitchery. You could admire her for that, but do it at a distance. Every day this year she would stand at the front of class, wearing a cardigan or blouse that perfectly matched her too-blue eyes. Piece of chalk between perfect nails, blood red lipstick, hair in this 1940’s updo. She had this way with arms and wrists and elbows, as if every moment in life were ballet. The boys would sigh, and she’d turn around and give one frost-tinged glare, and you’d hear another sigh as all the evidence of teenaged admiration shriveled up.And of course, she was smart enough to see right through me.“Mrs. P.,” I said, and my choked voice echoed through the cave. My stomach appeared to be doing P.E. Gymnastics. Cartwheels, summersaults, triple axles. I was not going to lose my lunch, I decided, no matter how much lunch wanted to lose me.She didn’t look back at me. Instead, her hands flicked out from her sides. Grime covered her skirt and blouse, same as it did the rest of us. The floor under my fingers felt gritty. A droplet of water hit my cheek. My teacher shook her arms out and spread them over her head.“Where the hell are we?” Billy muttered. He was three over from me. One nubby hand ran through his chestnut hair, and his grin was missing two teeth. We’d been in the same class since grade school. I’d knocked those teeth out in second.“Did we fall?” A girl. Mary Ann Aimes. Second violin in school orchestra. Likes drama class. Once helped me rig an exploding roach motel in the teacher’s lounge.Mrs. P was standing now. I leaned over and vomited up my last hamburger and fries. I could hear the other kids doing the same thing. I hit my head too hard, I thought, but it didn’t feel true, feel right. I’d fallen feet first, the way you were supposed to. My ankles still tingled. I hadn’t hit my head.“It always troubles the stomach,” Mrs. P said.Voices invoke imagery. Mrs. P’s words were Swiss truffle dark chocolate mousse. No trace of an accent at all, and she used the same colloquial English the rest of us did, sans profanity. She said, “It always troubles the stomach,” and suddenly her accent was all hard consonants and knife-sharp R’s. It was like molten steel.A man laughed. We were not alone.I looked through the kinks of my dirt-blond hair. I could smell my own illness, and it was somehow profane in this cool, blue place. The cathedral effect of this cavern was upheld by the many large tunnels branching off from it. Darkness lay beyond, but Mrs. P’s voice, and the unknown’s laughter, these both echoed as if we were in some outdoor pavilion. And there were men at each wide opening. Mrs. P. walked to one of them, and even filthy, even covered in the grime I smeared around beneath my fingers, she was beautiful. How does she do it?I’d always wanted to be beautiful. Not the milk white skin bit. Mom and Dad put up with enough garbage for me to be proud of being cream-in-coffee beige. Having kids when both your families hate your spouse makes children into something like battle scars. I got this one at the Bulge, I got this one at Da Nang. I got this one at Thanksgiving, and now she’s sixteen. This one, Christmas. He’s ten. Being ashamed of any part of my genes would be like spitting on my parents’ lives.But grace and force of presence were two things I knew I’d never have. I walk into the room, I have to make something blow up to get someone to turn around. Mrs. P. just grabbed you and never let go.She reached the man as Mary Ann called out to her. “What’s going on? Mrs. P? Where are we?”“Damn,” this was Robby Bangkok. “We’ve got no cell reception in here.”His words, our words, all echoed through the chamber. So did Mrs. P’s slow, sensual footsteps as she walked up to the stranger. She was a black shadow, every curve outlined in soft blue.Her blouse bunched strangely on her shoulders, and I realized she was taking it off.Everything is wrong, I thought.“Seventeen,” Mrs. P said, to the man. She untucked the shirt and dropped it to the cavern floor. The cool blue from overhead shone over her bare white shoulders and the straps of her bra. I watched those beautiful fingers reach around to the fasteners.“So few?” said the stranger, the one that had laughed.Robbie Bangkok stood up and pointed his cell phone at the ceiling. “Jesus, we’re in a dead zone. Somebody needs to—”“Hey, Mrs P!” this from one of the other kids. Harry Fester, who we all called Uncle. He had that baldness disease that sounds like onomatopoeia. Alopecia. He’s the one who started the “Uncle Fester” business. Sometimes childhood is all about preemptive strikes.“Take it off, take it off, take it aaaaaaall off!” this from Christine Martinez. She sounded drunk. Dazed from the fall. She leaned over and vomited into the hollow between her hands. My own gut churned. Everything felt glazed with unreality. I would wake up any minute. We were lying on the floor of a cave that glowed an attractive light blue, and our homeroom science teacher was stripping naked right in front of us. There went the bra, and her high heeled shoes.“It was the best I could manage. Upworlders are too careful with their children.”I went cold.I had to have hit my head, I thought. I can’t be seeing this. I can’t be.There’s an experiment that involves a beaker of supersaturated liquid and a small crystal no bigger than a grain of salt. Mrs. P’d had to get creative after the third week with me in chemistry class—smoke bombs in the other football team’s locker room. We won. You’re all welcome—made it clear that flammable ingredients were no longer an option. So she’d set up the beaker of supersaturated liquid instead, dropped the crystal into it, and the whole thing solidified in the time it took for us to inhale.My mind did that. She said upworlders, and something went through me like an ice bullet. It couldn’t mean anything good. Either Mrs. P had gone nutzo or…or…“The Egg-mother will not be pleased,” said the man.Mrs. P dropped her skirt. One of the other boys hooted. She gathered all of her long blond hair over her head. I got onto my hands and knees. Two young boys stood in an archway, nothing but black beyond them, and they weren’t classmates of mine. Too young, probably my brother’s age. They held a bulk of fabric, shook it out into a robe. It glittered. It was expensive, beyond prom night, beyond Nordstrom and Vera Wang. It sparkled like it was made of stars. This was the kind of thing royalty wore, the thing movie stars and glamour queens borrowed to make a splash because even they couldn’t afford it.“The Egg-mother can live with it.” Mrs. P. took a long stick from one boy and wound it through her hair. As she did this, as I saw her do this, I climbed to my feet slowly. I was dead center in this strange cave. Dim blue light suddenly felt like spotlights on a stage, with me being dead center. My knees were trembling, my head was spinning, and I wanted oh so very much to vomit again. I couldn’t swallow. My heart was beating too hard.My homeroom science teacher gave the stick a twist and let go. Glittering chains fell from it, lying against her bare back. She was naked now. You could see the mole on her left hip.Upworlders. The Egg-Mother. These words were not Mrs. P.Mrs. Peterson was the kind of person who had no first name, even when you knew it. She came to school in cardigans and blue crewel work sweaters, or blouses with undershirts and the kind of bra that make your boobs feel like they’ve just been locked in Fort Knox. Shoes were penny loafers or white pumps that came with low heels and the word “sensible” in the advertising copy. She was the teacher who screamed “No running!” in the halls. She looked at you, took your measure, and then used the precise pressure needed to grind you back into the crowd. Now I watched her take the glittering robe, and as she languidly put it on I could see the mole on her ass.“We have been out of touch for too long, Moranas,” my homeroom science teacher said. The robe molded itself to her body as if it were tailored just for her. The collar was high, stiff, and lacy. For an instant I thought it was lace, but it reflected the light too well. With her bare neck and shoulders and her hair all piled up like that, it looked like filigree teeth biting down. “The Egg-Mother will have to re-think her tactics. Our claim will not go unnoticed. It will be…difficult…for us to return.” And then she turned around.The robe’s neckline came together somewhere near her naval. Yards and yards of fabric spilled down from her belt. Because the lighting was so abysmal, all I could see were light blues and blacks, and the glitter of gemstones everywhere. Maybe these were real. I tried to imagine how much that many real gemstones would cost. Her cold eyes met mine, bluer now than ever. There was something coldly uniform about that insane robe, as if it were a badge of office.“Well,” she said, sounding surprised.The man, Moranas, laughed. “It seems there’s some life in our breeding stock after all.”The grain of salt spinning into the supersaturated solution, the straw sifting slowly onto the camel’s back. Pick your metaphor; they all mean the same thing. When you’re primed, it doesn’t take much to make you break.I ran.Chapter Two. I’m the sci-fi nerd.I’m the girl who came to school with three or four novels with scantily clad women on the covers, who would trade those covers to the boys for the right to read unmolested. Prom night, everyone else comes dressed in long pretty dresses. I came as Katness Everdeen, complete with working bow and arrow.I’d just gotten off detention for that.Well, not so much the Hunger Games thing as for filling the bubble machines with a glue-based solution dyed hornet yellow. It got everywhere.“Why would you do that?” Mrs. P had asked me. I could see by the jut of her chin the only reason she hadn’t slapped me silly was because she’d be fired. Her robin’s egg blue dress was ruined. She, and most of the other kids, looked like she had a bizarre form of pattern jaundice. Her hair looked like a rat’s nest. It was great.I’d also just gotten off detention for writing half a report on the first woman in space, and then writing the other half on women’s rights with focus on their treatment in European asylums. Specifically female genital mutilation. Which I recorded, and then slipped into the school PA system so that the more salacious bits got broadcast instead of the music for the Prom Queen announcement. They tried to shut it down before we got to the “cure” for feminine hysteria, but they did not quite make it. The whole school found out about the invention of vibrators.“I wanted to have some fun,” I said. Because the real reason would take too long.Here’s the real reason: I didn’t want to come to school in some dowdy little girl dress, and I didn’t want to wear one of those strapless, backless slit-up-the-thigh things so popular right now. I didn’t want to waste yet more time trying to find a bronzer that actually worked with my skin tone. I didn’t want to iron out my hair. If I did those things, I might as well have breeding stock stapled to my forehead. The whole game is stupid, and the boys have it just as bad. The girl birds spread their feathers and showcase their genetics and their ability to carry and feed a baby, and the boy birds spread theirs, showcase their ability to build a nest and provide for the young once they exist. The female version of you look so hot is you look so rich.I dressed up as a fictional girl, rather than a fictional me, to say I am not like you. I’m not more special or more brilliant or more rich or beautiful or whatever. But I am not like you. I am not a tool. I am not a breeder.Then I put glue in the bubble machines because making a statement blows when no one’s looking.I considered telling Mrs. P this, for about two seconds. But you know how sometimes dogs flee a city right before the earthquake? It’s like they can hear it coming. I heard the earthquake with Mrs. P. I always could.Sometimes I wonder if maybe things would have been different if I had said that. Because when you mouth off to Mrs. P. she doesn’t just go after you, she goes after your whole clique. Disruption of the prom had not been a one-girl show. Eric Masters, my best friend, had gone as Darth Vader, and his task was to replace the punch bowl with a fishbowl full of goldfish. The water had been dyed to match. I heard one of the cheerleaders actually swallowed Nemo. One of the other members of our coterie replaced the school playlist with alternating songs by hard rock screamer bands and Weird Al. But the idea—concentrated social guerrilla warfare—had come from me. Saying those things to Mrs. P would have made this clear.But I didn’t.The field trip. There were fifty kids in our class and this field trip was our reward for making consistently good grades. Half the kids never made it to school. And when I got on the bus I found it sparse. Most of the other students were running errands for Mrs. P. I sat next to Eric. We had no plans for the trip, but we made it look like we did. We wanted to watch our chaperones squirm.Mrs. P’s voice rang out over the bus. “Masters,” and those cold laser eyes are on us. “There are fifty bottles of water in my office. Go and get them.”“But—”“Go and get them.”You knew with Mrs. P you could protest once and she might listen. Protest twice and it was detention. Eric got off the bus. I remember seeing a few rays of sunlight dance off his black hair.“Sanderson.”I looked up. There were three minutes until we left, and I already knew everybody not on this bus would be left behind. So she’d make me go get sandwiches, or the coat she left in the teacher’s lounge, or something else that would make this petty vindictiveness look good for the other grown-ups.Damn. I’d really wanted to go.And then she smiled, an old, cold smile. The forerunner of the cave look. The moment her mask started to slip a little bit. And the moment went on. And on. And on.“Nevermind, Joanna. You may stay seated.”The engine started a few minutes later. Three quarters of our class stayed home.“So maybe there is life in our breeding stock,” Moranas said, in the cave, and I ran.I ran because I understood. I understood why she made all of us get off the bus. Eric and Ursula Chambers and Lenny Clark were compatriots in social guerilla warfare. Troublemakers. Kids who were good at organizing rebellion on a small scale. We might be good doing it on a bigger one. Couldn’t have that. And the kids who never made it were the ones who were fat, or who got straight C’s and then went home to Playstations and X-boxes. And there was Lizzy Sheffild, who sat in the electronic wheelchair and stared at the ceiling all day with a look of such beautiful glassy-eyed joy, it made you want to hug her and hold her and never let go. Lizzy had looked forward to the field trip all week, and I hadn’t understood why she wasn’t there. Now, in one blazing revelatory flash, I knew. Not good breeding stock.I leapt over Billy Boyd, who was captain of the football team and who got a B average, but who would never make it as a pro because he didn’t like hurting other people. Suzanne Henning, head cheerleader who got good grades but spent more time styling her hair, lay in a puddle of her own vomit. These were the good kids. Not the exceptional ones. I thought about helping Suzanne up for about two seconds. But the men around the cave were running for me now, and Mrs. P’s laughter echoed off the walls.“There’s always one!” said Moranas, the man laughing beside her. “I’ll give a kesol to whomever catches her!”Upworlders. Kesol. But I was wrong. I had to be. I was just the sci-fi nerd. I had hit my head too hard falling down this hole. These were firemen come to rescue us. These were police. Paramedics.My body knew better than my brain. I punched one who tried for me, a good jab to the nose. His skin was pale and gleaming under the blue light, his chest bare. There were weird plated metal things on his hands. Gauntlets. Blood flowed from his nose. He missed me. The next one came at me like Billy would, trying to tackle the point guy for New Harris High, our sworn rivals.“Fake left, Jo!” I heard him shout from behind me. “Fake left!”The last time we fought New Harris High, someone had sent us all the plays their captain would run, and one of them involved a fake left and then a straight run for our goal line. Billy heard this play called and he aimed at that point guy, aimed and let at him like a freight train because he knew where that guy would be now. But they’d fed us the wrong book of plays. He dropped, and Billy went over him and fell flat on his face. He’d have lost more teeth if I hadn’t taken the ones he had.I dropped, rolled, and felt the guy go flowing over me like water.And now it was a clear straight shot out of the cavern and into the strange darkness beyond. I didn’t hesitate. I ran with my kinky not-blond hair flowing out behind me. My legs ended in hot-pink converse sneakers and I could hear them squeaking over the damp stone. My t-shirt had Darth Vader on it, and who’s your daddy? written in red right below him. In the dim blue light only the highlights showed up, and you couldn’t tell it was Darth Vader at all. I felt someone catch at the hem, but it was too late. I was running. I was through the opening. I was gone.Our little cavern was a pavilion-like outcropping in the center of a much, much larger cave. That blue growth was even dimmer, the ceiling vanishing into blue haze, the ground swallowed by darkness. Ribbon-like pathways wove through it all, intersecting at our pavilion like a wagon-wheel. I ran down the nearest path. Pebbles skittered off into blackness as I kicked them away. As my eyes adjusted to the dimness I saw columns where stalactite met –mite and became one great thing of stone. Ribbons of limestone formation curled away from me. The roar of whitewater drifted out of the dark, like a scream from a skeletal throat. If I made one misstep I would fall all the way down, go into that water and vanish forever.The men ran behind me, sure-footed. Of course they were. This was their home turf.Something boomed over my head, like a table cloth snapping itself out. Low, slow, rhythmic. And then a breeze over my face and arms. I heard shouts from behind. Jubilant, but also fearful. The men stopped running. And overhead…beat. Beat. Beat. I kept running. Kept going. Kept—Red light, bright as the sun, and then fire spilled over the path right in front of me. I couldn’t stop in time. I fell into it. It played over my face and hands like—Dragon breath. I saw this. When we fell, this was what I saw.--a roar over my head, sudden and animal. There were words in it, “STOP!” but I was through the fire. It only singed me. I could keep—WHAM!Four feet landed in front of me, each big enough to crush my head. Each limb scaled and glittering with long talons at the end of each digit. Muscles rippling under a combination of scale and feathers. A size I could not properly discern because the wings (oh god it has wings) were spread wide, another strange mingling of bat-ness and feathers. Eyes that were golden and glowing, the brightest thing in the cave until it opened its mouth and exposed the hot white center of its throat, its long forked tongue. And the heat, oh god, the heat.Dragon’s breath. That was exactly what it was. Dragon’s breath.I turned mid-stride and dove off the bridge. I would fall forever and die when I hit the water. But there was a chance I wouldn’t, right? A chance I would make it through? Make it home?Or maybe by jumping off I would fall out of this nightmare and wake up back on the bus, halfway to the Indian mounds. And I would go home to Larry and Liz and Ursula and Eric and my family. My mother always sat right beside the door when one of us wasn’t home at dinner. Always—The talons closed around me, as gently as if I were made of eggshells, and I was jerked back up to the path. Back to the nightmare.Back to the cave.