In Medias, Huh?

In Medias, Huh?

 

When Beginning in the Middle Doesn’t Work

In medias res. That’s the fancy Latin term I was taught in my English Lit courses for stories that start in the middle of things – in the action, rather than before it starts. The technique isn’t new. Homer used it in The Odyssey. It seems to come in and out of fashion, however.

Probably because of my love of adventure tales, I’m attracted to stories that begin in medias res. I want to be sucked right into the action. Tell me about how magic broke into our world or Faerie reappeared or mankind fell to the A.I.s in a chapter or two when I’m deeply invested in the main characters. Show me the characters’ initial peril now.

But there are some times when in medias res beginnings don’t work. I read a fairly short (200+ pages) modern romance recently. I’m not going to name the book, because I’m going to tank on it. But in thinking over why I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about it, particularly the beginning, I realized it was because the story started in the wrong place.

The story was a pretty classic girl meets boy, girl and boy fall in love, girl and boy overcome social obstacles to being together, girl and boy live happily ever after story. I liked the male main character (I’ll call him Boy) well enough to keep reading, but I didn’t like the female narrator (I’ll call her Girl), and it took me a while to figure out why.

Girl had issues, as female narrators in modern romances often do. She’d been done wrong, done a little time, and was trying to get back on her feet while protecting her very bruised heart. She wasn’t witty or snarky (unlike Marvel’s Jessica Jones, a similar character in some respects but I who found much more immediately engaging). She’d erected some very large barriers to other characters, particularly Boy, which kept them at a distance.

The story began by plunging Girl immediately into a situation of peril, in which she and her best bud (BFF) are threatened by some baddies to whom the BFF owes money. The resolution of this problem was the major plot hook for the rest of the story, so Girl couldn’t shine in resolving it there and then. In fact, she came across as weak and somewhat desperate. I don’t mind weak characters who evolve in the course of the story, but it can be hard to initially sympathize with them. The baddies (who turn out to be not very bad) were more interesting than either Girl or the BFF, so it was annoying when they then disappeared for twenty chapters. I’d have happily read more about them than Girl. Moreover, the BFF had done A Bad Thing in stealing from the baddies, so why would I sympathize with the BFF? Throwing a weak, emotionally-remote narrator and a morally-compromised secondary character into peril and expecting the reader to immediately care about them is a tricky proposition, and this story did not make it work.

Then the author committed the cardinal sin of following the unresolved initial peril with several pages of info-dump. The info-dump was all backstory – how Girl’s heart was broken, how she ended up in jail, how the BFF was the only person there for her after she pushed everyone else away. Because I wasn’t much liking Girl at this point (she hadn’t done anything to engage me), I’ll admit I skimmed the backstory. I went back and read it later, when Girl’s incarceration became relevant to the action, but I skimmed it on a first read because at this point, I wasn’t engaged. Fortunately, the author then introduced Boy, who was interesting enough on his own to keep me reading. That saved a book I might otherwise have put down.

Because I generally love in medias res beginnings, and because most of my own stories begin that way, I’ve been mulling why this modern romance didn’t work for me, and what I can take away from it. I’ve also re-read one of my favorite in medias res beginnings, Kate Griffin’s fabulous The Midnight Mayor, which starts memorably with:

The telephone rang.
I answered.
After that . . . it’s complicated

The Midnight Mayor then launches into an attack on the sorcerer-narrator by some of the scariest baddies I’ve read this side of the Nazgul. If you haven’t read Kate Griffin’s Matthew Swift series, you should – time very well spent.

So, mulling these two very different in medias res openings, I’ve come up with five learning points (in no particular order):

  1. Engage. If you’re going to start in medias res, you have to have your reader engage with the story’s protagonist from the outset. Readers naturally empathize with the narrator, particularly if they’re in trouble and even more particularly if the author is working in first person point of view. So this shouldn’t be too hard. But the reader can be alienated by a narrator who seems dumb, dull or weak. Why should the reader bother? The narrator doesn’t have to be superwoman at the outset, but they have to shine somehow, even if only in their brilliant internal monologue. They have to be a character the reader wants to keep reading about.
  2. Show. I’m always a proponent of showing rather than telling, but it’s really, really important in these sorts of openings. The reader needs to get a crystal-clear picture of what the narrator is hearing, seeing, thinking, smelling and tasting in the initial scenes so the reader connects with the narrator. This is particularly critical if the narrator is going to make some questionable decisions (which Boy does several chapters later when he strikes a deal with the baddies, but by that point I knew enough about both Boy and the baddies to care and keep reading). That doesn’t preclude exposition entirely, but keep it snappy. The in medias res opening is all about action – the narrator better be doing something rather than describing a tree for three pages.
  3. Choose wisely, grasshopper. Pick the characters for that initial scene or scenes of peril carefully. Introducing fascinating baddies who then disappear for twenty chapters antagonizes your reader. (Kate Griffin uses the demon hoodies several times through The Midnight Mayor and each time we see them, the more terrifying they become since the protagonist can’t seem to decisively defeat them.) Use characters the reader can glom on to, and who are going to feature in the rest of the story.
  4. Have a resolution, even if it is only temporary. This is what really distinguished Griffin’s brilliant opening in The Midnight Mayor from the modern romance. The narrator-protagonist of The Midnight Mayor captures one of the baddies with the most amazing binding spell ever created (talk about the power of words!). The rest of the story spins off why the baddies attacked him and what has attracted them to him. From a plot perspective, the baddies attack in The Midnight Mayor and the threat by the baddies in the modern romance serve the same function: they set up the overarching conflict for the rest of the story. But what’s so satisfying in The Midnight Mayor ‘s opening is watching the protagonist shine as he binds the demon hoodie. It’s a temporary resolution, of course, since we know there’s a Bigger, Badder Baddie waiting in the wings. But it’s still very satisfying. By not having any resolution of the initial peril, the author of the modern romance denies the reader that satisfaction and makes the modern romance an unfulfilling read.
  5. Avoid the subsequent info-dump. What was so frustrating about the post-peril info-dump in the modern romance was that I could see it coming a mile away. The baddies tromp off, Girl makes sure the BFF is okay, and then, as Girl drives back to her apartment, she tells us her entire life story. It’s not just dull to read, it’s also unrealistic. People don’t review their entire lives while driving home after (what should have been) a perilous confrontation. They’re pumped up on adrenaline. They turn the confrontation over and over in their minds. They wish they’d acted differently or come up with a wittier retort. They consider the consequences. They don’t have a ten-page flashback to their childhood, high school romance, betrayal by their One True Love, incarceration and release. Sorry, no. Maybe, maybe, they consider the peril in light of their personal history – if it’s related somehow. But definitely not the entire character’s backstory, and definitely not in one chunk.

I’m still in love with the in medias res opening. I’ll still use it in my own stories, but I will think carefully about whether the technique enhances my story, and my readers’ crucial initial connection with my narrator, or detracts from it.

Any thoughts on in medias res openings and when they don’t work? I’d love to hear them!

(Featured image: copyright Ry Young, used under Freeimages.com licence)

A Relationship of Equals

A Relationship of Equals

Or, What Happened to Hermione?

I love the Harry Potter series, both the books and the movies. I don’t quibble with those who criticize J.K. Rowling’s writing style, or the unevenness of the movies. I enjoy them for what they are: magical.

There is something I don’t enjoy about them, however, and that’s the sissifying of Hermione through the two “Deathly Hallows” movies.

By “sissifying,” I mean the undermining of Hermione’s strong-willed, brave, intelligent character. Her strength is so evident in the first Deathly Hallows movie. The movie opens with her casting a charm on her parents so that they will forget her. She does it to protect her parents from the Death Eaters, but in doing so, she makes herself an orphan. Much is made in the series about Harry’s loss of his family, but Hermione’s loss is silent – reflected only on Emma Watson’s wonderfully expressive face when she has to cast the same spell later on a Death Eater. Hermione’s just that strong.

She’s also brave in the first Deathly Hallows movie. Not fearless, but brave. She’s frequently scared, but she doesn’t back down. Not from the Death Eaters, not from the Horcruxes, not even from Harry himself. In some ways, I think that’s more admirable than Harry’s courage, which has a thoughtless, reckless quality. Hermione is smart enough to know what is stacked against the trio, and it scares her, but she still faces it.

Hermione has always been the “smart” one of the trio. She’s a great reader and characterized as something of a “know-it-all” earlier in the series, but by the first Deathly Hallows movie, she’s come into her own. What she knows saves the trio over and over. She plans ahead and brings the implements that allow the trio to set off in search of the Horcruxes. She figures out the reasons behind Dumbledore’s strange bequests which lead her and Harry on in their quest, even after Ron abandons them.

But after Ron rejoins the trio, Hermione increasingly becomes an adjunct. She has a bright moment where she figures out a way for them to escape from Gringotts, but after that, she faces nothing on her own. She solves nothing. She’s not even particularly instrumental in the Battle for Hogwarts. Her big moment in the latter half of the second movie is sharing a passionate kiss with Ron. What happened to Hermione the strong, brave and intelligent?

Without going off on too much of a feminist rant, I’d argue that Hermione’s relegation to irrelevancy is directly related to the culmination of her and Ron’s romance. Ron becomes a heroic character after he rejoins Harry and Hermione. He faces his fears when he destroys the locket Horcrux. He’s the one who figures out how to destroy the cup Horcrux after the trio loses the Sword of Griffindor (Hermione does the deed but in a particularly strange moment of characterization, only after Ron coaxes her to do it – WTF? – she’s confronted and attacked Horcruxes before). During the final battle, Ron fires curses at Nagini while Hermione runs and cowers. Everything Hermione does in the second Deathly Hallows movie showcases Ron’s heroism. While I have no quibble with the heroicizing of Ron’s character, it is incredibly disappointing that it comes at the cost of Hermione’s.

I haven’t read the books recently enough to remember if this characterization of Hermione in the movie is consistent with the book, but either way, why would anyone feel that a warrior-witch has to be reduced so the warrior-wizard can rise? Hermione’s heroism never threatens or reduces Harry’s. Why would it threaten or reduce Ron’s? Is it only because they’re romantically involved? Why can’t they have a relationship of equals? Both strong, both brave, both intelligent?

I love the Harry Potter series, don’t get me wrong, but the Deathly Hallows movies, particularly the second one, always left a bad taste in my mouth and after recently rewatching the whole series during Sky’s “Harry Potter” marathon, I think I’ve finally identified why. It’s because Hermione gets so short-changed, and because Ron and Hermione’s romance reduces and marginalizes my (second) favorite witch.

Something to keep in mind as I turn back to Blood Yellow.

Publishing Timeline

Publishing Timeline

Following an exchange with @Mansplanation on Twitter, I thought I’d post the timeline I use for the launch of my books.This is in clunky table format because I’m not cool enough to know how to translate my calendar into WordPress.

  Manuscript Legal Marketing
T -6 Engage editor

Manuscript to editor

Buy ISBN Compile newsletter mailing list
T -5 Write back blurb

Write character interviews

Write blog posts

T -4 Edits from editor – rewrite and final line edits

Engage cover artist

Engage formatter

Set up pre-launch page

Assemble street team

 

T -3 Give final page count to cover artist

Finished MS and cover art to formatter

Finished MS to US copyright office Post sample chapter on blog

ARC copies to street team and book reviewers

T -2 Formatted versions back from formatter (book final)

 

Set up pre-orders on Amazon

Newsletter announcement

Swag (biz cards, bookmarks)

T -1 Upload book final to Amazon

Street team cover reveal

Twitter and FB pre-launch ads

Launch FB launch party

Street team blog tour

I hope the elements of the table are pretty self-explanatory, but a few words of explanation might be helpful:

  • This timeline is actually a month longer than the one I used for Neon Blue. I learned my lesson. I didn’t give my editor enough time and I got really crunched in months T-3 and T-2. In future, I will give myself six months and the editor at least a month, six weeks if possible.
  • Not every author uses a professional editor, cover artist or book formatter. I have no issue with folks who don’t, but I think it’s good to know your limitations. Writing novels does not make me an editor. Sketching occasionally (or playing around with Photoshop) does not make me a cover artist. Having a rudimentary knowledge of Calibre does not make me a book designer. Had I done those things myself, I would have saved some money, but my books would have been poorer for it.
  • I buy ISBNs. I know this is a divisive issue among self-published authors. You do not need to buy ISBNs in order to publish your ebook. If you do a paperback version through Amazon, Amazon will assign an ISBN to your book for free (although you’re only supposed to use it on Amazon for the paperback version). But, hey, I’m a lawyer and having an ISBN means my books are included in the market research cool people like Kris Rusch do on the ebook market. I also think, although I have no proof, that having an ISBN is why a couple of libraries have bought my books (or librarians love me, either way, still cool).
  • You do not have to send your book to the US copyright office in order to copyright it, but, again, lawyer.
  • Some authors have street teams; some don’t. I haven’t seen any stats on sales via street teams, but I’ll say that having a street team on Snowburn made my first publishing experience so much easier. There were several published authors on my street team who generously gave me the benefit of their experience. They also formed the core of the book’s early reviewers, which helped drive initial sales. (Critical for a first book.) I didn’t know what a street team was when I published Snowburn, mind, nor did I call the kind folks who supported me a “street team” but they were and I will always be very grateful to them.

This timeline doesn’t take into account anything other than the run-up to the launch of the book itself. It doesn’t address “building your author platform” or reviewing other people’s books or solving world hunger. All of those things are important, too, but too much for this timeline (or this blog post). I hope you find this helpful, @Mansplanation, and anyone else who reads this!

Dealing With Mid Story Writer’s Block With Cynthia Sax

I’m delighted to welcome the wonderful Cynthia Sax to my blog today!

***

I found EJ’s post on techniques she’s using to finish Throwing Fire so interesting. I thought I’d share my own tricks for defeating mid story writer’s block.

This is a common problem for ALL writers. If we’re fortunate to have long writing careers, we will all experience what I like to call word constipation. It’s always great to have a toolbox full of techniques to try when this affliction strikes. I usually keep trying techniques until there’s a break-through and the words flow once again.

The number one reason why words stop flowing for me is because I’ve made a wrong decision for a character somewhere in the story. I’ve forced a character to do something he or she wouldn’t do. When this happens, I move backwards in the story, reviewing every key decision from the point of blockage to, if I have to, the start of the story. Often changing one wrong (for the character) decision is the solution.

If the blockage isn’t a story issue but rather a “my brain is dead and I can’t revive it” issue, I’ll change things until my muse is kick-started. I might write long hand in a notebook for a few pages. If that doesn’t work, I’ll change the ink colors of my pens (colors stimulate different parts of the brain).

I might change the music I listen to (again, different types of music stimulate different parts of the brain) or not listen to music at all. I might change the physical location of where I’m writing. Sometimes my muse is waiting at a bus stop bench. (I think this has to do with my brain associating the bench with change, with travel, with leaving.)

Flash fiction also helps, especially with an issue like “Oh lord. I’m washed up as a writer. I’ll never finish a story again.” I will pick a photo at random and write a 100 word ‘story’ based on that prompt. This proves to my brain that I CAN finish stories. I have the ability.

Usually one of these techniques will work for me.

What techniques work for you?

***

Want to see Cynthia’s techniques in practice? Take a look at Releasing Rage!

Releasing Rage_Compressed

Half Man. Half Machine. All Hers.

 Rage, the Humanoid Alliance’s most primitive cyborg, has two goals–kill all of the humans on his battle station and escape to the Homeland. The warrior has seen the darkness in others and in himself. He believes that’s all he’s been programmed to experience.

 Until he meets Joan.

 Joan, the battle station’s first female engineer, has one goal–survive long enough to help the big sexy cyborg plotting to kill her. Rage might not trust her but he wants her. She sees the passion in his eyes, the caring in his battle-worn hands, the gruff emotion in his voice.

 When Joan survives the unthinkable, Rage’s priorities are tested. Is there enough room in this cyborg’s heart for both love and revenge?

Releasing Rage is available now!

On Amazon US

On Amazon UK

On ARe

On B&N

About Cynthia Sax
USA Today bestselling author Cynthia Sax writes contemporary, SciFi and paranormal erotic romances. Her stories have been featured in Star Magazine, Real Time With Bill Maher, and numerous best of erotic romance top ten lists.
Sign up for her dirty-joke-filled release day newsletter and visit her on the web at http://www.CynthiaSax.com.

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Superheroes, Small Cuts and The Pain Diary

Superheroes, Small Cuts and The Pain Diary

I’ve written before about my adoration of C. J. Sansom’s writing and how I particularly appreciate the realism he injects into his medieval detective stories. Sansom’s narrator, Matthew Shardlake, is a middle-aged hunchback, and he battles fatigue and pain from his deformity as often as he battles the bad-guys. When the battles become external, Shardlake gets injured, and has to keep pushing on despite injury and loss. That makes Shardlake an extremely sympathetic character to me as a reader. I’m much more interested in reading about an everyman who rises to the heroic, despite adversity, than a superhero who just does what I expect him to do.

I’ve tried to carry the lessons I’ve learned from Sansom into my own writing. My characters get hurt, fatigued, and stressed. Their struggle to overcome adversity, internal and external, is what makes the story interesting to me to write.

I’ve thought a lot about this struggle, particularly in relation to injury, over the last week. I cut my hand a few days ago (while slicing avocados – never underestimate the perils of Mexican food). It was a pretty bad cut and the NHS solution of “gluing” it (and please don’t try to convince me that’s not superglue they’re using) didn’t take. I decided to let it heal on its own, and to keep a little diary for the next time I have to write about a character’s injury (which my husband dubbed “The Pain Diary”). This is unedited and a little graphic, so if you’re squeamish, stop reading now.

Day 1

Cut the fuck out of my left hand. Note to self: do not sharpen the good knife before de-stoning avocados. 2nd note to self: wounds are kind of interesting once they stop bleeding. Lots of “stuff” in there – pin-points of capillaries, pinky-white bubbles of fat, and a white stringy thing that might be a nerve. Cut flesh looks like underdone steak. Blood is redder than in movies. Antiseptic wipes sting worse than a hornet. Also, shock? Extremely light-headed and weak at the knees within a minute or two of cut. Child says my lips went white. Took about 20 minutes lying down on couch for feeling to pass. 3rd note to self: avoid the NHS. 45 minute wait so they could spray it with more antiseptic (OUCH) and pour superglue on it. I should have stayed home.

Day 2

Hand throbbed unmercifully all night, despite 1,000 mg of paracetamol before bed. When I finally fell asleep, banged my hand against the bed frame. Superglue split and cut started bleeding again. Took an hour of holding it elevated above my heart with firm pressure on it to stop. Felt feverish and light-headed while lying down. This morning, hand is swollen and sore. More paracetamol. Started bleeding again when I got hand wet in shower. Stopped after a few minutes with pressure. Getting dressed was a trial. No shoelaces in my immediate future. Typing is out today. Also, I’ve banged it on EVERY available surface. Surely I don’t bang my hand this often when it’s not injured?! Driving one-handed was interesting. Bunnies don’t like smell of blood/bandage and thumped at me when I tried to pet them. Fell asleep on couch before dinner. Got take-out for dinner – no way I’m cooking with one hand and I swear that knife is leering at me from the butcher block. Changed bandage before bed. Cut Day 2 much less interesting: dark red scab and pissed-off flesh. No sign of infection, so maybe the antiseptic wipes that stung so fucking much did their job.

Day 3

Slept much better but Hub rolled over on hand in middle of night. Pain so sharp I actually screamed. Agreed to swap sides of bed tonight. Feverish again in night – pillow and sheet damp. Ears ringing this morning – probably OD-ing on painkillers. Needed help getting dressed again. Deodorant proved a challenge. Hub had to tie shoelaces. Right hand, arm and shoulder aching. Overcompensating? Took a long walk in the afternoon. Hand swelled and began throbbing. Came home and elevated it until throbbing stopped. Whoever said that big pains prevent you from feeling small pains is a liar. Cut hurts, but I feel the aches on the right side just fine. Hub still feeding rabbits but Boy Bunny let me pet him today. Changed bandage before bed. Cut still oozing blood and clear fluid (lymph?). Crusty. Skin around cut looks bruised – too much pressure? Some of bandage has gotten stuck in scab. Ick. Cut around stuck bit and put fresh bandage over it. No sign of infection.

Day 4

Slept better but woke several times feeling out of place (wrong side of bed). Going back to own side of bed tonight. Pillow and sheet dry. Pain today much duller – only noticeable when I flex fingers or bang it against something (am I really this clumsy?!). Going to try to go without painkillers today. Dressed myself and tried shoelaces, but gave up after first knot. Able to type a little today. Also faced down evil knife. Noticed several people staring at bandage while doing grocery shopping – have they never seen a bandage before? Took shower before bed and let bandage get thoroughly soaked before changing. No sign of bleeding/oozing but it could have been washed away in shower. Most of bandage came out of scab once wet. No sign of infection.

Day 5

Slept through. Feel awake and fresh for first time since cut. Smaller bandage put on last night is letting me flex fingers. Still no shoelaces but dressed myself without trouble. Typing and driving without pain. Thinking about avocados for dinner. No sign of bleeding/oozing when changed bandage. Bruise fading to yellow-green. No painkillers today.

Day 6

Slept through. Cut feels like it’s really healing. Using hand normally. Went for short run and cut throbbed a little, but stopped as soon as I cooled down. Managed own shoelaces (ta-da!).

So, six days before I felt the cut was really healing and I had normal use of my hand again. This was, let me say, not a serious wound as wounds go. It was a long, deep cut, across the side of my hand, over the knuckle and up my index finger, but the NHS didn’t even feel it warranted stitches (do they do stitches anymore or do they just throw superglue at everything?). It was in a place that I use a lot so it probably bothered me more than a similar wound on a less mobile part of my body. I was surprised at how much it hampered my every day activities, and how much the pain disrupted my sleep.

While I wouldn’t advocate injury as a writing tool, cutting myself like this has been really instructive. In creating everyman characters who are thrust into situations where they get hurt, fatigued and stressed, I need to think through every way those factors would effect their lives. It’s not enough to describe the pain – I have to follow the ripples. What does the injury prevent them from doing? What do they need help with and who provides that help? What impact does the injury have on their sleeping and eating patterns? How do other characters react to the injury? The answers to these questions provide richness and realism to my fiction which, following the example of the mighty Sansom, is what I aspire to.

Local Inspiration

This is going to be a picture-heavy post, for which I apologize in advance.

This place I call home, the Moors of North-West England, is an amazing place. I forget that – too often – in the midst of my daily grind. It’s easy to overlook the natural beauty that surrounds me while I’m rushing along the M60, late to a meeting, or plodding through traffic into town on a Sunday, dreading the weekly grocery shop. My mantra has always been carpe diem, but it’s easy to lose my focus on living in the moment when I’m thinking about the things I need to do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.

Yesterday I took the day to just breathe, and walk, in the natural beauty of the Moors. This is what I saw.

Looking back at Anglezarke Reservoir.
Looking back at Anglezarke Reservoir.

It was a misty day, or as my British husband calls it, “gloaming.”

Twisted trees on Rivington Pike disappearing into the gloaming.
Twisted trees on Rivington Pike disappearing into the gloaming.

The low mist made the burnt umber colors of the heather and grass glow.

The tor at the top of Rivington Pike.
The tor at the top of Rivington Pike.

From the top of Rivington Pike we walked down, down, down into the ruined Terraced Gardens.

Late season blackberries, Rivington Pike's Terraced Gardens.
Late season blackberries, Rivington Pike’s Terraced Gardens.

Returning home, we found the mist hadn’t lifted, but autumn beauty could still be found, even on the neighbor’s garage.

Crimson kudzu.
Crimson kudzu.

It was a lovely day, full of beauty to soothe my eyes and fill my soul. I hope I’ll remember it for a long time.

That Creeping, Skin-Crawling Sensation

That Creeping, Skin-Crawling Sensation

I’m probably the last person on the Internet to have seen the creepy short film “Lights Out.”  It made my skin crawl, and had me jumping at every creaking floorboard.

It also reminded me of my favorite demon.

I haven’t been writing much in Neon Blue’s sequel(s) of late. Tsara and her demon are seasonal characters for me. I don’t tend to write them in the lighter months. Summer is for scifi and the sun-blasted world of Hale and Kez. It’s when the days get shorter and I begin seeing werewolves, ghost dogs and demons in the shadows that I feel the urge to write about them again.

It was dark before 7 p.m. last night, and I spent the evening writing nightmares.

So here’s an excerpt from Blood Yellow, the next book in the Neon Blue series. I can’t hope to match the sheer creepiness of “Lights Out,” but I hope I’ll give my readers a little of that skin-crawling sensation.

Harvard Square is crowded. In addition to the weekend shoppers and tourists, there are clots of students wearing worn hoodies and baggy shorts – which it’s not quite warm enough for – on every street corner. Before we reach the madness of the Cambridge Street intersection, Shirri directs us into the commons. We wind our way across the green – which is already quite green, even though there might be three more months of winter ahead – around students lounging in the grass and a shirts verses skins game of Frisbee that I have to literally drag Mel away from. At the Garden Street end of the commons, Shirri spots Will. We join him in watching a couple who are playing ball with a slender silver shadow of a dog.

Shirri unlinks from Mel and tucks herself under Will’s arm. He gives her a tender kiss that carries the promise of heat, and I feel my cheeks warm, remembering the demon’s kisses.

Mel leans into me. “Gimme a smooch, I’m all jealous.”

“Get real.”

After Shirri comes up for air, she looks around and points at the couple playing with the dog. “That’s my brother Tomas and his girlfriend, Holle.”

I could have guessed who Tomas was without Shirri telling me. He looks very like his twin – taller, his dark curls cropped to the back of his neck, but recognizably related. His girlfriend looks like a model. She’s an inch or two taller than Tomas, even in her canvas flats, close to six feet. As whipcord-slender as the dog she’s playing with. Her hair’s pulled back into a long, chestnut-brown braid, which glitters in the sunlight like it’s dusted with gold.

As she twists to throw the ball the dog’s brought her, the air around her shimmers. A furnace blast of heat, like August sun on asphalt. Her body shreds away and I see the bones beneath, blackened like they’ve been burned. Her skull grins at me, the fanged jaw unhinging. A torrent of dark wings spills out, darkening the sky. They break over me in a wave of nightmares.

“Hey, you okay?” Mel shakes my arm.

I blink. The wings are gone. I’ve turned away from our small group and thrown my arm over my head. I’m shaking all over and my brunch is an inch away from making a dramatic reappearance. I lower my arm and take several deep breaths. Push my sunglasses back up on my nose and hope that everyone’s too blinded by the bright day to see the sparks jumping from my fingertips.

“Tsara, are you okay?” Mel’s peering at me a little too closely, and there’s something in her blue eyes that I don’t like at all. Other than her relationship with Click, Mel is totally normal as far as I know and I’ve loved having a ‘straight’ friend who doesn’t treat me like a freak.

“Too much sunshine,” I say.

Mel wraps her arm around my shoulders. “Makes me sneeze. C’mon, let’s get that coffee.”

Hope you enjoyed, or at least got a little shiver!

(Image courtesy of Unsplash. Used under License.)