Monthly Review

November 2022 Wrap-Up Post

This month was a struggle, as November almost always is. Between getting a lot of papers and work to grade, the time change, anxiety, and holiday stuff, I feel like I did not get as much done as I would have liked to. I’m trying hard not to beat myself up over it because I did the best I could with what I had in my mental reserves. This might also be a bit of a wake-up call to me [again] about making sure to refill the creative well instead of trying to steamroller forward even when I’m mentally exhausted. I also got into a minor car accident (got cut off and popped a tire running off the road), which made my anxiety skyrocket at the end of the month. If this is my “worst” month this year, I still think I did pretty damn good. Anyway, let’s see what my goals for November were.

  • Read 8 books
  • Blog weekly and put out the monthly newsletter
  • Keep marketing The Reanimator’s Heart
  • Word count goals for “Flowers and Flourishing”
    • Minimum- 10k
    • Intermediate- 12.5k
    • Stretch- 15k
  • Shop for majority of the Christmas presents
  • Actually work on that spring class’s lesson plans
  • Do something relaxing- not sure what exactly but video games, drawing, crafts count

Books

My goal for November was to read 8 books, and I read 8 books.

  1. The Ancient Magus’s Bride Vol. 16 by Kore Yamazaki- 4 stars, I like that we’re finally coming to a head with the antagonist in this arc. It could be its own manga series with how long it’s been.
  2. The Stand-Up Groomsman (#2) by Jackie Lau- 4 stars, loved this one. The MCs don’t hit it off initially when standoffish meets high energy comedian, but the way they truly see each other is *chef kiss*
  3. Even Though I Knew the End by C. L. Polk- 5 stars, demons, angels, and collected souls in 1920s Chicago with a queer cast? Yes please. Very short but very good.
  4. A Gathering Storm by Joanna Chambers- 4 stars, loved the disability rep with the MCs voice issue and [potential] neurodivergence along with the interweaving of spiritualism and grief.
  5. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell- 4 stars, a fiction/nonfiction interweaving of Shakespeare’s dead son, Hamnet, and his character Hamlet where the supernatural infuses the essence of the family’s life. Really interesting, definitely edges into lit fic stylistically.
  6. The Solstice Cabin (#4) by Arden Powell- 4 stars, magical 1920s Canada where one MC follows the other nearly to the ends of the earth for love.
  7. Skeleton Song (#7.7) by Seanan McGuire- 4 stars, a short story showing how Christopher fell into Mariposa and met the skeleton girl.
  8. What the Dead Know by Nghi Vo- 4 stars, fake psychics get more than they bargained for when putting on a seance at an all girls’ magical school.

Admin/Behind-the-Scenes Stuff

  • Marketed The Reanimator’s Heart a lot during the month
  • Sent out more audio review copies of Kinship and Kindness
  • Made a temporary cover for Flowers and Flourishing
  • Made a Goodreads page for Flowers and Flourishing
  • Wrote the blurb for Flowers and Flourishing
  • Did the majority of my Christmas shopping (very happy about this scrambling in December stresses me out)
  • Graded so a shit ton of papers *laugh sob*
  • Got a new tire put on my car because I got run off the road (yes, I’m fine, just freaked out)
  • Made email adverts for the class I’m teaching in the spring semester

As a side note, I did not touch my lesson plans for next semester at all. It has been pushed back once again. If I get through half of my plans in December, I’ll be happy.


Blogs Posted


Writing

How did writing go? Badly, lol. The sad part is that the words were good. The vast majority of what I wrote won’t require major edits or rewrites. It’s just the quantity that went wrong. As mentioned in my blog post on NaNoWriMo, I hate November. It’s the month when my brain nosedives due to seeing high NaNo word counts, the weather/time change, and all the grading I’m doing. I had wanted to write at least 10,000 words. Instead, I wrote 8,000 words, and the process was torturous. Luckily, I’m writing a novella, so I’m really not that behind at this point and will have it out on time as long as I don’t totally tank in December.

  • Week 1- 0 words (6 day week)
  • Week 2- 4,000 words, 571 words/day, (didn’t write for 2 days)
  • Week 3- 1,300 words, 186 words/day (didn’t write for 3 days)
  • Week 4- 1,300 words, 186 words/day (didn’t write for 3 days)
  • Week 5- 1,400 words, 467 words/day (3 day week, didn’t write 1 of those days)

Hopes for December

  • Finish writing Flowers and Flourishing
  • Edit Flowers and Flourishing
  • Read 8 books
  • Blog weekly and send out my December newsletter
  • Finish Christmas prep
  • Have 6 weeks of lessons prepped/outlined for next semester
  • Set goals for Q1 of 2023
Writing

Why I’m [Still] an Indie Author

For most of my life, I’ve wanted to be a writer, and I have been. If you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and words flow out into story or poetry or screenplay form, you’re a writer. I never had dreams of being a traditionally published writer, at least not in the sense of doing book tours. I just wanted to be able to hold my book in my hands and know other people are reading it. Not long ago, I showed one of my friends my proof copy of The Reanimator’s Heart, and they said something along the lines of “It’s a shame no traditional publisher has snapped you up yet.”

It sort of took me aback because I haven’t had the desire to be traditionally published in a long time. I haven’t even tried because, frankly, I don’t want to. There’s a multitude of reasons as to why I haven’t tried to be traditionally published after self-publishing seven, almost eight books. I think a lot of people see self-publishing as a sort of last resort or desperation route, but for a lot of us, this is the way we have purposely chosen to go and will continue to go. If you’re curious as to why I have decided to forgo the traditional route, here are some reasons:

  1. Traditional publishing is imploding/turning into a monopoly. If you follow book Twitter or have read business news, you might have seen how the big 5 has become the big 4 and is inching toward the big 3. This is terrible for competition, editors, diversity, agents, and of course, authors. The whole trial regarding the merger has further soured my feelings toward publishing as the administrators are acting like they have no idea how the industry works, which could be them playing dumb or actual ignorance on their part. Neither of which fills me with hope. On top of this, smaller publishers or imprints get gobbled up or shut down in order to funnel money into the larger publishers.
  2. Advances are getting smaller and more spread out. Is the money in traditional publishing worth it? If I was able to not work between books, yeah. At this point, most writers are making less than money than they did ten years ago in terms of advances. They tend to be smaller and have gone from being in three parts to five parts, which means you get less money over a longer period of time. Unfortunately, bills do not wait for your five part advance. At this point, my monthly growing income from my books is more reliable, and in the future, the hope is that my monthly income will be enough to live off. The sad fact is that traditional publishing is also becoming less livable.
  3. Publishing with a small press can be a good way to screw yourself over. The biggest issue is they tend to implode. We saw this happen a lot during the mid 2010s with queer romance publishers. They started to fold, stopped paying authors, ghosted them, and then wouldn’t give them their rights back. I saw this happen to multiple people. The other issue is that some smaller presses don’t do a very good job. Someone I know published with a university press and the book cover was horrible. I am not a stellar graphic artist, and I could have done better. They looked like they were made in paint by someone who gave zero shits. I cannot imagine they did any marketing for these books, yet they still collected this author’s royalties and did them no favors by giving them an unmarketable product with a genre-ambivalent cover. Being set up for failure by someone else in order to be recognized as “traditionally published” by the establishment feels pointless.
  4. My book lives and dies by my choices if I self-publish. The big takeaway here is my choices. I pick the cover, I make the blurb, I market the book, etc. I don’t have to worry about someone else picking a hideously ugly cover or doing no marketing for my book. If the market changes, I can buy a new cover for my book, I can alter the blurb at a moment’s notice, and I can set up ads for my books whenever I want. I don’t have to have my marketing blessed by authorities, and best of all, I can rant about whatever I’m working on because I don’t have an NDA stopping me. Do traditional publishers have a longer reach in terms of marketing? Sometimes, but with new authors who aren’t being promoted as they next big thing, not really. Publishers are getting cheaper and cheaper with marketing and small presses don’t do a whole lot in that regard.
  5. The immediacy of self-publishing and lack of gatekeeping. I can literally finish proofing my book and slap it online as soon as I’m done. I don’t have to wait 1-2 years for it to trickle through the system and that’s after potentially waiting years for an agent to think I’m worthy of their time. Everything in self-publishing is on my schedule, and if I need to take longer due to unforeseen circumstances, I can. Part of why I initially started self-publishing was to avoid the gatekeeping in traditional publishing. Back in 2014, publishers were trying to straight-wash queer media, and while that’s less common in 2022, we definitely still see certain marginalized stories get pushed to the sidelines or not get marketing. If I want to write a trans character or an autistic characters, no one can tell me the character makes the book unmarketable.

I could go on about more minute reasons, but these are probably the top five reasons as to why I’ve decided to continue self-publishing and not really look at traditional publishing. It just isn’t worth the time and energy investment when I can do a lot of the same things myself and reap the benefits without having to pay a middle man. Plus, self-publishing is a viable option in terms of being able to live off your writing. Nothing is a guarantee, but it’s something to work toward, especially after seeing other self-published authors find success.

Writing

Why Authors Need Other Hobbies

I can already hear some of you saying, “But, Kara, writing is my hobby! It’s my one passion, my true love,” etc.

And, yeah, same, but that’s also part of the problem. For those of us who would eventually like to write full-time or think of writing as more than a hobby, writing can become an all-consuming activity. We spend hours upon hours of our lives staring at the screen, working on plots or outlines, posting on social media about our work, and of course, editing said work. Often, we clock in more time with our writing than we do with our day jobs.

But what happens when the words stop flowing for a while or we write something that isn’t well received? In the past when this happened, I caught myself falling into a mental health spiral because so much of my self-worth is tied closely to my ability to write and my productivity in relation to my writing. Part of this is certainly tied to the capitalistic notion of hustle culture and productivity = self-worth. Author and writer also become part of our identity, and when that part isn’t being stoked, we lose our sense of who we are, our self-confidence, and that leads to a lot of the mental health slipping.

What I found helped me to feel less mentally chaotic when stress or life made writing difficult was learning to crochet.

Parts 1 and 2 of the Letitia’s Garden CAL blanket I am working on for my mom. (Pattern by Rosina Plane on Ravelry)

What I love about crochet is that when I’m done with a project, there is an immediate pay off. I learn stitches, I follow a pattern, and I get a hat/scarf/blanket/produce bag/stuffed squid. Unlike writing where it takes months or years for a pay off, crocheting smaller projects can be done in an hour or two. It’s something I do to wind down if I’m feeling stressed by working on something simple or repetitive or to challenge myself by choosing something with an intricate pattern like the blanket in the picture. It helps keep me centered, especially when my writing isn’t going well.

Part of the reason this works is because I am a goal-oriented person who mentally gets off to ticking things off a to-do list, and a crochet pattern is basically a to-do list that ends in a product magically appearing. I can see the pay-off happening as I work the pattern, and that gives me the brain boost I need to counterbalance what’s going wrong with my writing. Does it help all the time? Absolutely not, and sometimes, I can’t bear the thought of picking up my crochet project and working on it.

But having a hobby that isn’t writing to give your brain that boost it needs to keep out of a downward spiral is really what is key here. If you’re athletic, maybe going to the gym and doing reps or having a pick-up game with your friends will do the trick. If you’re a crafter like me, maybe try crochet, needlepoint, knitting, plastic canvas, or even needle felting. Nothing like stabbing something a million times to get the frustration out. The good thing is, most of these hobbies don’t cost very much. You can get cheap yarn and a serviceable set of hooks/needles for $10 and there are tons of tutorials on YouTube, which is where I learned to crochet (I highly recommend HookedByRobin or JaydaInStitches).

If you are not crafty, then try video games. Much like crafts, quests give that bite size chunk pay off and seeing progression through a story or quest helps to refill the wells with serotonin. I greatly enjoy low stress games like Stardew Valley, Animal Crossing, and Ooblets, so if you aren’t a big gamer, those might be a good place to start to unwind.

The other thing I might suggest if you don’t feel like getting into a new hobby or playing a game is reading. I think most authors also tend to be readers, but I get frustrated when I hear authors say they don’t have time to read. You can probably make time for anything you truly want to do, even if it’s squeezing in a few minutes reading an ebook on your phone while in the bathroom. It still helps to refill those creative reservoirs.

Truthfully, I think doing something non-book related is the better option when you need to counterbalance writing angst. Doing something with your hands or playing video games, which helps to engage that hand-eye coordination and decision making anyway, are rife with pay-offs that might make you feel better if things are going wrong. Those small pay-offs that a hobby can bring add up and will ultimately lower your stress even if a pattern or project is frustrating in the moment. A side benefit is that I’ve often had plot epiphanies while my brain was busy chugging away a crochet project or plantings crops in Stardew Valley. It’s the repetitive, meditative nature of it that allows for your brain to run in the background and unpick the knots you’ve made.

If you’re feeling frustrated or stuck with your writing, I highly recommend trying a new hobby or picking up an old one.

organization · Writing

On Doing Things Wrong as an Author

Let me preface this by saying this is not a how-to on how to fix your screw ups. This is a post about things I screwed up that I didn’t realize were even a problem until I did them [repeatedly].

There is no right or wrong way to do most things as an author, especially in regards to writing. There will always be people who are really into your niche genre or dying for this very specific type of character you’re writing, but on the business end of things, there are, let’s say, less desirable ways of doing things. Things that don’t benefit you/the writer or the reader/your audience.

How I F-ed Up My Newsletter

I am incredibly guilty of doing those less desirable things because I’m either a) tired or burnout b) didn’t know better c) didn’t want to bother anyone. I bolded and italicized the last one because not wanting to bother anyone has been a lifelong mode of operation that I probably need therapy for, but we will not get into that. The problem with that mindset is that you treat everything you do as a chore for others. I only send emails to my newsletter occasionally because I don’t want to bother them. Or I don’t want to advertise my book because I don’t want to bother people. This means I am treating the books that I love and spent hours and hours of my life working on as something unworthy of attention, and in the long-run, I am setting myself up for failure because people don’t know I have books or think I’m only reaching out to sell them something, which is not a great look.

So what I’ve been working on is creating a monthly newsletter that will cover the following things:

Join my monthly newsletter for: sneak peeks, freebies/deals, book recommendations, life updates, pet pics, and book research
The background is grey with teal writing and there are 2 bats flying behind the words.

If you join my monthly newsletter, I’ll share things I’m working on, some cool research (and let me tell you, writing historically set books, there is a lot and it is weird), pics of my dogs, and books that I’ve read and loved and think you’ll love, too. When you sign-up, you’ll also get a free prequel short story, and over the next few months, I plan to send out another free short to subscribers. After the initial thank you emails, you will get monthly emails, which will be sent out at the end of every month.

I decided to change this to a beefier, monthly email because I was doing a disservice to my readers/subscribers by “not bothering them” except when I had book updates, and when I thought harder about that, it felt wrong to only send messages when I published. You could just follow me on Amazon or Bookbub if you wanted that kind of bare bones update.

How I F-ed Up my Back Matter

The next giant thing I screwed up is not keeping up with fixing my back matter. Back matter is the about the author, also by the author, newsletter/social media links, etc. that are found at the back of your book. Between changing laptops several times since 2014, switching writing programs, and just being overwhelmed at the prospect of going through like 10 Word docs, I put off updating all of these things for YEARS. This means that my first book had an “also by” list that only went up to like book four of the series. I facepalmed hard when I realized I hadn’t updated my back matter since 2017.

Something I would also recommend other authors doing is going back and formatting their docs, so the chapter headers are in a heading style and the body text is one uniform style. This makes it easier for the Kindle and eReader software to convert your book to something that makes sense. Guess who went back and properly formatted all 10 documents? And I was shocked to find that once I got going, it took significantly less time than I expected. I was able to do all of them over the course of a week and reuploaded the new files to my distributors. Amazon/KDP also has a new bit of free software called Kindle Create that is a lot like Vellum or, if you’ve used D2D, their autogenerated software, which will break your book into chapters and add pretty flourishes if you’re so inclined. Once again, very easy, highly recommend to make your books look spiffy.

If you’re an author, this is your sign to fix your back matter and formatting as it won’t take you nearly as long as you think once you finish the first book.

How I Forgot to Publish an Entire Box Set

The last thing I did to get my work back into shape is to add a new box set for the Ingenious Mechanical Devices series. A while ago, I made a box set for books 1-3, which is 20% off the cost of buying the books individually, but I thought I’d wait until a year after book 6 came out before I made the next box set. Well, then I got overwhelmed with life and then enough time passed that I forgot. A couple weeks ago, I reached out to my cover designer (Lou Harper at Cover Affairs), made the file, and got it all listed, so if you’re interested in getting a box set of books 4-6 for 25% off buying the books individually, now you can. Both sets are available on all major retailers, BUT I had a little hiccup with Apple Books and Kobo. They have the set as a preorder that releases January 29th. I’ve reached out to fix it with no answer, but the 29th isn’t that far away, so if it doesn’t get fixed immediately, you will get your books by the end of the month.

TL;DR

If you’re an author, research best practices instead of assuming you’re being annoying because you could be in a totally different way than you though.

You may also want to join my monthly newsletter as it starts up in earnest this month.

If you’re an author, fix your back matter and formatting.

Check out my latest release, which is a box set of books 4-6 in the Ingenious Mechanical Devices series for 25% off the cost of the books individually.


Let me know in the comments what kinds of things you like to see in author newsletters!

Book Reviews

Reading Rec: The Henchmen of Zenda

FYI: I received an ARC of The Henchmen of Zenda by K. J. Charles in exchange for an honest review.

henchmen of zenda

I absolutely loved The Henchmen of Zenda by K. J. Charles. If you’re into 1940s swashbuckling films or Victorian pulp fiction, this is for you.

If the title sounds familiar, you may have heard of Anthony Hope’s Victorian novel The Prisoner of Zenda. K. J. Charles originally wrote this story as part of Riptide’s Classics Queered series before Riptide’s ugly racist/prejudiced underbelly was revealed. Now, it is being independently published.

Before I talk more about the story, I need to say that I have never read The Prisoner of Zenda, and I purpose didn’t read it before reading The Henchmen of Zenda. I wanted the book to stand on its own without having my opinion (or mind) polluted by the original. It isn’t necessary to read Hope’s novel in order to understand the story line as Charles masterfully fills in any gaps while poking fun at the original narrator.

What I loved about The Henchmen of Zenda was our narrator, Jasper Detchard, swordsman for hire, Englishman, and a minor villain in the original tale. He tells the tale of how he ends up being roped into Michael’s (the Duke and brother of the legitimate heir) service and became entangled in a power struggle between Michael, Randolph, and Flavia (the princess and cousin of the two brothers). Detchard is utterly unflappable, in control, and sardonic. He’s basically Basil Rathbone in every swashbuckling movie he ever filmed, and he adds a grounding force when set against his foil, Rupert Hentzau.

Ah, Rupert. A young noble looking for adventure, a rogue with a good heart (who would most certainly be played by Errol Flynn), and a thorn in Detchard’s side who eventually grows on him to become something more. Their chemistry grows from sword fighting to sword fighting (*eyebrow waggle*). He’s witty, lively, and more complex than he is given credit for. Together with their ally, Toni (a courtesan turned mistress turned spy turned bad ass), they manage to turn the tides of battle and have a happier ending than would have been possible in a Victorian pulp tale.

The best part of The Henchmen of Zenda is how K. J. Charles was able to turn the original story on its head by turning heroes into villains, villains into heroes, weak women into the power behind the thrown, and yet, it all makes sense! I give her kudos for her ability to engineer a completely new (and better) version of a century old tale. Her take adds a new level of complexity to a pretty problematic story (by modern standards) and giving it a queer and feminist spin.

The Henchmen of Zenda will be out May 15th, so if this review piqued your interest, you can grab a copy here.

Writing

Shifting Focus

pexels-photo-287336.jpeg

You may have noticed that recently I have written more about reading or the book community rather than writing, and while that wasn’t on purpose, I have found that I have had an easier time writing those blog posts and enjoyed doing so. Because of that, I have decided that the focus of this blog will shift more to reading than writing. Obviously, there will still be posts about my books (it is my author website and I do have to do promo) and the occasional post where I talk about anxiety or whatever is on my mind. What I won’t be doing more than likely is discussing how one should write, writing techniques, or writing in certain genres.

That might seem odd considering I’m a writer and an adjunct professor who mainly teaches writing classes (academic and creative). But I think that is part of the reason why. I spend my days teaching my students how to write more effectively, so when I come home and settled down at my keyboard, I don’t want to talk about writing techniques. What I found each time I set out to write about writing was that I felt someone else could have written the post.

It’s strange. In my classroom, working one on one with my students during workshop, I feel like we can work out nearly any issue and figure out how to make a scene better. I can teach them techniques, speak for two hours on fight scenes and blood loss and how to create emotional impact, but online the things I love talking about in the classroom lose their appeal. Perhaps it’s because I can’t speak to you or ask you probing questions and actually receive answers. Or maybe it’s because I can’t pack these posts full of visuals like I do with my lessons or because a two hour lecture would be torturous to read online and brevity has never been my strong suit.

As a writer, I felt pressured to write about writing, and I ended up walking away from my blog for a while except to post book promo and the occasional Kara-is-having-a-meltdown-and-hates-feeling-human post. Then, I wrote a few posts about reading and the words seemed to flow more freely than they had in months. It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. Reading is one of my favorite activities, and in real life, I don’t have a consistent outlet for discussing what I read. It makes sense that my blog could serve as that outlet, especially since people who read might read my books and vice versa.

So in the future, expect to see more posts about reading, books of nearly every genre, perhaps something about whatever drama is rocking the publishing industry (like the shit show that just went down at Riptide), and a monthly wrap-up of what I’ve read each month. I don’t like to write reviews as I hate the trend of panning books for attention, so instead, these posts will act as recommendations or commentaries rather than good/bad reviews.

In the future, I might compose more posts about writing now that I’m giving myself the space to not write about it. I hope that makes sense.

So for now, I will follow my fancy and write about reading.

The Wolf Witch · Writing

Cover Reveal: The Wolf Witch (IMD #6)

Can I get a drum roll, please? May I present the cover of book six of the Ingenious Mechanical Devices, The Wolf Witch.

WolfWitch_v1

After three months abroad, Emmeline Jardine has returned to England ready to start her life anew as a free woman. That is, until a suitor from her mother’s past arrives looking for her help, but the gentleman is more than he seems. He’s Emmeline’s father.

There’s one person Emmeline can turn to: Nadir Talbot. A writer, unrepentant decadent, and all around busybody, Nadir is everything Emmeline has been taught to avoid. But when she needs to escape her family’s past, she convinces Nadir to follow her to an estate deep in the wild of the woods.

When guests go missing and turn up savagely murdered, Emmeline, her new found family, and Nadir must join forces to stop an awakening evil with not only the power to destroy their lives but bring the empire to its knees.

I can’t wait to share this book with you. Emmeline is a… unique individual, and in The Wolf Witch, we come to know a different side of her as she discovers has family’s past and moved toward finding who she is. The question is how does Nadir Talbot factor into this? Why are they on their way to an estate in the woods? What does Emmeline’s father want? And of course, who is he?

The current estimate for The Wolf Witch’s release date is May if all goes well. I will keep you updated, and stay tuned for more tidbits and teasers in the coming months.

If you would like to add The Wolf Witch to your Goodreads to-read list, you can find it here.

selkie cove · Writing

Selkie Cove: Chapter Three

SelkieCoveLH

With Selkie Cove coming out July 25th, I’ve decided to post a chapter a week until it comes out. That’s how excited I am for you to read it. I’m still copy-editing, so please pardon any typos. If you’re interested, you can pre-order it here.

Catch up on:


 

Chapter Three

The Curiosity

On the walk back to the museum, Immanuel replayed what had happened at Benekey’s over and over, looking for a way he could have made Adam stay. He had been looking forward to his lunch date with Adam all week, so why wouldn’t it somehow end badly? Reaching the museum’s familiar Gothic façade, Immanuel stared at the masses of people tittering within. He swallowed against the tightness working its way from his throat to his chest and ducked around the side to take the servants’ entrance in. As he climbed the back stairs up to his office, he dreaded running into another curator as much as what awaited him at home. Adam was angry, and rightly so, yet the thought of wrangling with Adam’s vile stubbornness was more than Immanuel could bear. Whatever the solution, it would have to be Adam’s idea.

At the top of the stairs, Immanuel froze with his hand on the worn door. Someone was in his office. A shadow passed behind the mottled glass, disappearing near his desk. Immanuel’s heart pounded in his temples as the urge to run overtook his muscles and set every hair on end. Drawing in a steadying breath, he tried to banish all thoughts of Lord Rose. It had been months since he was attacked and Lord Rose’s soul was sealed in a lead tomb in the bowels of Interceptor Headquarters. Lady Rose supposedly shared a similar fate, but as the shadow paced past the glass again, Immanuel caught the unmistakable shape of a corseted waist. Could she have gotten free and come after him?

Slowly ducking back into the stairway, Immanuel fumbled through his leather satchel for his vivalabe. The moment his fingers brushed its cool, brassy surface, a wave of calm passed over him. The brass ball was the size of a compass and weighed twice as much. If he took it out at night, he could hear the steady cadence of its clockwork heart, ticking in time with his own. With two clicks of a hidden button, the ball’s lid fell back to reveal an etched face lined with minute chips of colored stone. In an instant, the marbles scattered like billiard balls, leaving only three clustered together: a white, a green, and an amber. Immanuel released a tense breath, letting his head fall back against the cold stone in relief that Lady Rose’s red stone was nowhere to be seen. He stared at the amber stone and bit his lip. Why would Judith Elliott come to see him at work?

Stuffing the vivalabe back into his bag, Immanuel smoothed his heavy wool coat and pushed a wet blonde curl from his forehead. Even if Judith would ultimately discern something was amiss, he didn’t want her to read it on his face. If she wanted to know, she would have to work for it. In three long strides with his eyes cast to the floor, Immanuel reached his office and slipped inside. Judith looked up from behind his desk, her hazel eyes meeting his without hesitation. With a knowing smile, she studied his latest sigils with a gold magnifying glass hanging from a chain around her neck. No matter where he saw her, Judith Elliott was unmistakably American. Where the British embraced etiquette to the point of meekness or passive aggression, her intentions were always as straight and loud as a gunshot. If he hadn’t known any better, he would have assumed it was her office by the glint her eye and the self-assured way she stayed rooted in his seat even as he hung up his bag and coat.

“Your sigils are quite interesting, Winter. Very complex for someone who has only begun. Did you know that no two sigils are exactly the same? Every practioner leaves their mark, their own mental baggage. Did the books I lent you help at all?” Judith asked, her blonde hair glinting in the electric lamps as Immanuel switched them on.

“Somewhat,” he replied, shifting uncomfortably beside the veiled specimen. “I’ve been trying to expand my knowledge outside of life and death magic, and it’s given me plenty of ideas. Some… some I can barely read. It doesn’t seem to click no matter how hard I try.”

“Too many archaic rules?” A smile quirked across her lips as she looked from the water-stained paper to Immanuel’s downcast brows. “Don’t be sheepish. It happens more often than most of us would care to admit, especially in the beginning. Some things won’t work for you. You’ll find magic is more of an art than a science.”

“The strange thing is, the techniques… It felt like a lot didn’t apply.”

“You’re an evolutionist, so it stands to reason that magic has also evolved over the centuries with human need and understanding. It morphs with geography, time, beliefs, and of course, the practioner. What worked then, doesn’t necessarily work now, and plenty of practioners made rules to prevent novices from getting any farther than the basics. I know some of the writings are dense, but I thought they might, inspire your work rather than act as a guide. Stop by Interceptor headquarters, and I’ll have the librarians give you some texts more suited to your interests.”

Immanuel stood at the end of his desk, watching Judith study his work. “I don’t mean to be rude, Miss Elliott, but what are you doing in my office? Does the director know you’re here?”

“Sir William was more than willing to let me speak to the curator who will be handling my prized specimen,” she replied with a flourish toward the creature.

His eyes widened. “That was you?”

“Technically yes, though it really belongs to the Interceptors. We heard from our sources off the coast of an interesting specimen that was to be sent to the Royal Zoological Society. The box mysterious disappeared and ended up at the museum with special instructions to have their resident seal expert examine it.”

“Fantastic.”

Judith chuckled at Immanuel’s grimace. “Finding a scientist who has a foot in both worlds is incredibly difficult. You should be flattered that we chose you, especially when you don’t officially work for us. I had to fill out a lot of paperwork to get an exception to involve you.”

“You believe the thing is real?”

“Despite what Sir William told you, there is more in this world than what your books lead you to believe. You of all people should understand that. What we need you to do is study the specimen, analyze it, dissect it, and tell us how it died. The latter may require you to use unconventional means. Before I leave you to it, I need you to sign the paperwork promising that you will not divulge what you find to anyone outside of the Interceptors, including Sir William.”

“Don’t worry, I have no intention of telling him any more than I have to.” Being the laughing stock of the department was the last thing he wanted to be if the thing turned out to be genuine.

Reaching into her reticule, Judith retrieved a folded wad of paper and smoothed it across the desk. She handed the pen from Immanuel’s blotter and pointed to each place he should sign. Immanuel released a soundless sigh at the magazine-sized stack. He should have read it, but he had neither the time nor the patience on a good day. Near the bottom of the fifth page, Immanuel paused. Any party involved may be recalled to carrying out a further investigation on behalf of Her Majesty’s Interceptors if Her Majesty sees fit. As he reread the minute type, Immanuel felt the nudge of Judith’s energy caressing the edge of his mind like the invisible arm of a jellyfish. If he let her, she would slip into his mind, probing through his thoughts until she found what she sought.

“You could have asked first,” he replied, ripping his mind away from her grasp with a turn of his head. Hastily signing the last of the documents, Immanuel pushed them back to her and dropped his pen into his breast pocket. “Will that be all?”

“My apologies, Winter,” she said, her eyes traveling over his scar before lingering on his crooked frown and faraway gaze. “I didn’t mean to offend you, but you don’t seem yourself. Is everything all right or have I come at a bad time?”

“I received some bad news at lunch, but I will have my report to you about,” he paused, trying to picture the creature trapped within the glass coffin, “whatever that is, by the weekend.”

With a nod, Judith tucked the contract into her bag and slipped past him. At the door, she stopped to watch Immanuel collapse into his chair. “There’s one thing I have been meaning to ask since we last spoke. Have you given any thought to becoming an Interceptor? You never gave me an answer.”

Immanuel stared at the pages of sigils littering his desk alongside his acceptance letter into the Royal Zoological Society. His nights were spent trying to manipulate cups of tea when he should have been knee-deep in research. He had a career now, one that he was actually decent at, and yet— He frowned, averting his eyes from Judith’s. Yet he still felt out of place at the museum. Every day he feared that at any moment he would be unmasked for the imposter he was. Something was missing. At times he wondered if it was the absence of fear now that Lord and Lady Rose were gone, but there was a bigger void that research and recitation, or even Adam, couldn’t hope to fill. And that terrified him.

“I fear I still don’t have an answer for you, Miss Elliott. I haven’t ruled it out, but I don’t know if I’m ready to take that step.”

“Fair enough. If you should change your mind, you know where you and Mr. Fenice can find me.”

Immanuel licked his lips and hesitantly asked, “Your… Your offer is still open to both of us?”

“Of course. Your earnest relationship makes you stronger than the sum of your parts.” She flashed a good-natured smile even as her power nudged at his mind. “Good day, Mr. Winter, and give Mr. Fenice my regards.”

With a final nod, Judith slipped into the hall and disappeared. Immanuel melted deeper into his chair, letting his head fall over the low wooden back. As his chair lazily spun, his eyes fell upon the dirty sheet covering the crate. Peace had sounded like a wonderful thing to have, but with most of his life, peace was fleeting. It had been foolish of him to expect that Judith Elliott wouldn’t come barging back into his life after all that happened. But did peace even matter now that Adam lost his job? Equilibrium had been destroyed by the time the creature reached his office.

Tucking the sigils back into his desk drawer, Immanuel withdrew the pair of gloves he kept tucked beside his sigil journal. He slipped on the elbow-length leather gloves and stood beside the crate. Immanuel drew in a long breath, steeling himself against whatever nightmare he was about to uncover. In one swift motion, he ripped off the canvas and tossed it aside.

Staring back at him from beneath the bath of embalming liquid was a seal with a human’s face. For a moment he merely stared at it, his mind unable to grasp how the mismatched pieces fit together so seamlessly. While the body retained the shape and grey spotted fur of a seal, the creature’s face appeared out of place with its sharp cheekbones and Cupid’s bow lips, but what held him wholly was the creature’s eyes. They were wide and round like the seals he had studied the past few years, yet they retained the colored rim of a human. Hers were the steely blue of tossing waves, now unnerving in their stillness. Immanuel lowered his gaze, following the curve of the creature’s body until he reached its hands. Hands. Where there should have been bow-legged fins, there were fine fingers jutting from a meaty furred palm. Backing up, Immanuel looked at her feet to find only a tail and nothing more.

Carefully opening the lid of the steel and glass box, Immanuel leaned closer until the embalming fluid bit at his eyes and left the unforgettable tang of death and alcohol on his tongue. With his nose scarcely a breath above the surface, Immanuel’s gaze probed the monster’s fur for any sign of stitches or manipulation from a charlatan. The Fiji Mermaid had been the talk of the scientific community until they realized Barnum had sewn a fish to a monkey in an attempt to dupe the public and scientists alike, but this was different. This wasn’t some poorly crafted hybrid freak, no matter what Sir William thought. Gathering his tools, Immanuel threaded tubes through the glass case, letting the preservative fluid drain into a large bucket until the creature beneath was laid bare. He locked eyes with the creature as he hesitantly squatted at its side. At any moment, he feared it would turn toward him with its sightless eyes and release some ungodly sound he only knew in nightmares. Carefully removing his gloves, Immanuel let his hand hover over the beast’s brow. He bit his lip, knowing that in a moment, he would see the last moments of a seal or a human or some strange life form in between. Drawing in a constrained breath, skin and fur met.

Water flooded every orifice, filling them with the cold salty murk of the sea as he hung weightless. His mind fought the unnatural sensation, but the body whose eyes he saw through merely twisted toward a dull hum thrumming somewhere nearby. He and the creature glided effortlessly toward the vibration. In the distance five massive  brown contraptions rose through the silt. He thought it could have been a sunken ship or the remains of some ill-fated dirigible from its steel frame and wire umbilical cords running up to the surface. As they grew closer, fear bubbled in her breast. Someone was supposed to be there. She had sworn she heard the call crying out to her beneath the waves with its hypnotic resonance. Watching the swirls of silt, a soft note wrapped around their mind. It spoke to a part of her so deep she felt it in her core and drew her closer to the forest of metal.

Immanuel felt it before they saw it: the thrust of water crashing into them followed by the sudden blossom of pain that started at their armpit and spread to every cell in their body. They thrashed, catching sight of a long pole and the faceless brown beast at the end of it, its face caked with mud and weeds. An indescribable feeling pass through their body. Something beneath the surface peeled away as pain tore through their arms and crept into every bone until their body screamed once more. In an instant, where there had been grey flippers upon the pole, now there were hands, but before Immanuel could stop them, they tore it out. Blood dribbled out, flooding their vision as a weight fell over them. Their mind reeled at the disorienting constriction of the net as their body seized with the current and they sank beneath the mass of their misshapen body. Their heart sputtered and their vision spotted. He was coming. The brown beast was coming for them, looming over them with its hooded, faceless head and hook at the ready. They drew in a breath, lungs convulsing against the alien burning of salt water. The others, she thought as the world darkened to a pinpoint of dim light.

Immanuel fell back, landing hard on his side as he gagged and wheezed. His lungs tightened as he released another dry heave despite tasting the brine of the ocean on his lips and deep in his throat. His stomach and lungs spasmed while his mind sought to save him from drowning on land. Resting his head against the cold planks of his office floor, Immanuel swallowed and fought to slow his breathing until the urge to vomit passed and all that was left was fatigue. The strength had been sapped from his body as if he had spent the entire day fighting the tide. Raising his gaze to the door, he made certain no one was coming before closing his eyes. His hands shook as he rubbed his forearms to silence the burning that had flooded his body accompanied with the deep cracks of tissue restructuring. He was fine, he reminded himself over and over until his body quieted enough that his mind could believe that what he had seen had happened to someone—something—far from himself. It had seemed so human. The thoughts felt more like his own than any cattle or chicken’s ever did.

Immanuel slowly climbed to his knees, fighting his trembling limbs as he used the desk for support. Squeezing his eyes shut, Immanuel wished Adam was there to anchor him to reality, to rub his back and make him tea to help the shakes subside, but then he heard the chatter of the curators outside his door and remembered there were hours to go before he could see Adam again. He staggered forward and knocked the lid of the glass coffin closed with the back of his hand before tossing the sheet over it to hide the creature’s lifeless features and half-human form. Sinking into his chair, Immanuel grabbed his pen and quickly scribbled out the details of the vision.

If he waited too long, there would be no proof of the beast who killed her, and Immanuel wasn’t going to let that happen.


Thank you for reading! Please let me know what you think, and if you’re interested, you can pre-order Selkie Cove.

selkie cove · Writing

Selkie Cove: Chapter Two

SelkieCoveLH

As you have probably seen in early posts, Selkie Cove (IMD #5) will be out July 25th. I’m super excited for you to read it, and if you would like, you can pre-order it here. Paperbacks will be available before the release date.

If you missed chapter one, you can read it here.


 

Chapter Two

Sigils and Seals

Immanuel closed his eyes, drinking in the crisp autumnal air as it blew in from his window and ruffled the page that contained a sigil he had been working on to conjure wind. For most of the morning, he had barely gotten a stir of air. It wasn’t until he stopped picturing hurricane-force winds and replaced them with birds soaring and the smell of rain that he felt the kiss of Hyde Park’s earthen perfume brush his cheek. Opening his eyes, Immanuel found a loose Celtic knot beneath the nib of his pen. A smile flashed across his lips as he quickly jotted down his thoughts and results beside the sigil before they could sink beneath the sea of the research he was doing. For hours he had been gathering information on Arctic mammals from half a dozen books from the museum’s library, and he desperately needed a break from penguins and whales. Immanuel shuddered at the thought of having to dissect the latter beast and studied the new sigil’s form. While magic had only been part of his life a short while, it was proving to be as interesting a discipline as science.

Immanuel eyed the tea cup resting at the edge of his blotter and chewed his lip in thought. He had at least fifteen minutes before Sir William Henry Flower finished his weekly meeting with the heads of the museum’s departments. Anyone with any authority would be in the Shaw Room, which meant there would be time to try a trick he had been working on. Placing the cup before him, Immanuel drew in a slow, steady breath. With his eyes locked on the cold tea, his finger traced a whirl that grew into a deformed star on the tabletop. For a moment, nothing happened. He pictured water rolling over his back, the sensation of water dripping across his skin, the call of the ocean lapping against the shore. A ripple passed from his mind to the tea’s surface. The harder he stared, the rougher the waves became until the tea nearly sloshed over the edge of the china. When it reached a peak in the center, Immanuel’s mind snagged it. The sigil evolved beneath his hand, twisting into a lattice of peaks and valleys as the surface rose high above the cup until—

“What the devil do you think you’re doing!”

Immanuel jumped and the peak of liquid plummeted into the cup, shooting tea across his blotter and papers. Scrambling to keep the ink from bleeding into an indecipherable blur, Immanuel looked up to find Peregrine Nichols glaring back at him from the doorway. The junior botany curator’s sharp brown brows furrowed as he slammed the door shut with his foot and stood at the end of Immanuel’s desk. Despite being over a head shorter than Immanuel, the Peregrine had a commanding air he couldn’t hope to emulate. He had seen Peregrine take down a revenant with a pry bar and an incantation when he could scarcely will his body to move. Carefully, mopping his notes with a handkerchief, Immanuel avoided Peregrine’s gaze.

“Are you out of your bloody mind, Winter?” Peregrine hissed. “What if someone saw you? How would you have explained your levitating tea to them?”

“It wasn’t levitating, I was merely experimenting with— I didn’t think anyone would barge in.” Immanuel’s face reddened against his will as he held the handkerchief over his paper and hoped he hadn’t ruined the wind sigil. “Sir William always knocks.”

“But not everyone does. That’s the point. If you’re looking for a way to get on Elliot’s bad side, provoking a modern Inquisition by being careless is a good way to start.”

“I didn’t mean any harm.”

“It doesn’t matter. One slip up and we’re all pyre fodder. So, have you come to an answer yet? She’s even started nagging me to find out.”

A wave of guilt rippled through Immanuel’s gut as he broke from Peregrine’s hard gaze to shut the window and put the wet pages on the radiator to dry. He still didn’t have an answer. After discovering he had extranormal abilities and helping to foil a witch hell-bent on bringing an otherworldly creature to London, he had been offered the chance to join Her Majesty’s Interceptors, a sort of Home Office to deal with England’s overlooked world of magic. It had been tempting, but— Immanuel wasn’t certain what the “but” was. With all that transpired since he had been given a second chance at life, he was tired, and he savored the peace that had finally fallen over his life. His job as a junior curator and his relationship with Adam were all he could have wanted. Becoming an Interceptor would change all of that.

“I will get back to her soon. What is it you need?”

“For you to not do magic at work,” Peregrine snapped, keeping his voice low. Releasing a sigh, the impish curator stepped around Immanuel’s desk to inspect the drowsy pink orchid blooming on his shelf between an ammonite and a sea urchin’s shell. “This is Hexalectris colemanii. Where did you get it? They’re exceptionally rare. I tried to get one, but it arrived dead.”

Immanuel met Peregrine’s umber eyes before quickly averting his gaze back to his papers. “I— I didn’t think you wanted it anymore.”

“So you fished it out of my rubbish bin?”

“I… Well, yes. I thought it might be pretty, and I wanted to see if I could revive it. It was an experiment, really. You can have it back if you want.”

“Thanks,” he replied tartly as he stood on tiptoe to pull the plant down. Hugging the orchid to his chest, he turned on heel to make for the door. “Oh, Sir William wants to see you in the loading dock, and may I suggest you put your papers away before you go.”

The moment Peregrine shut the door behind him, Immanuel released a slow breath. Carefully moving the drying pages behind his desk, he blocked them from sight with a stack of books. He rushed down the hall and hoped to god Sir William hadn’t been waiting long. The last time he did, he became the liaison between his boss and the British Museum, which really meant a month of being a glorified errand boy. Darting down the back steps, Immanuel nodded to the archivists at the front desk before slipping into the storeroom’s maze of dusty wooden shelves. His heart thundered in his throat as he crossed the boards, focusing his attention on the shelves of specimens and bones. It had been months since he was attacked between the stacks by Lord Rose, but each time he ventured into the vast storeroom without a companion, he found his mind grasping to relive those dark moments. More than anything, he wished he knew how to make it stop.

As he grew closer to the loading docks, an unintelligible mix of men’s voices rose through the stillness. Ahead, a crane swung, dangling a long box the size of a coffin. Sir William stood near the controls, watching the crate with an eagle eye as he fed the crane-operator directions. Spotting Immanuel step from the shadows, Sir William stared down his patrician nose at the lanky young man, his gaze lingering on Immanuel’s scar and blotted eye. Immanuel shifted beneath his gaze before clasping his hands behind his back to stop his fidgeting form.

“I beg your pardon, sir. I got caught up helping Peregrine.”

Ignoring him, Sir William turned and gestured for Immanuel to follow him the way came. “A specimen has arrived that I need you to examine. I know it to be a the work of a mountebank, but it came from a well-respected benefactor who claims it to be genuine. We obviously cannot have forgeries in the collection, which is why I would like you to give it the time and attention it deserves. Very little. But make the report detailed, so I can present it to them with little conflict. Do you understand what I’m asking of you, Winter?”

“Yes, sir. I believe so, but what is it?”

“A charlatan’s creation.” Stopping beside man-sized crate covered with a canvas sheet, Sir William released a huff. “Here it is. Put the report on my desk when you’re finished, so I can review it. No matter how foolish this is, we must take care not offend our donors.”

The breath hitched in Immanuel’s throat as the director tossed back the sheet and his eyes fell upon the creature. Floating within the glass-walled case was a seal-like beast. While the skin retained the smooth, grey speckled fur of a harbor seal, the face and body had the unmistakable profile of the human form. Its arms were short, as if stunted, and ended in a webbed hand tipped with sharp claws. Spotted hooded lids covered the creature’s large eyes, which peaked out beneath long lashes, but the longer Immanuel stared at it, the more he feared it would turn its gaze to him. A twang of recognition rang through him, touching the deepest parts of his mind. All thoughts escaped him as he took in the creature’s bisected tail and elongated human torso. With a tut, Sir William tossed the sheet back over the glass coffin, hiding the creature from view as a dockhand passed.

“Take this up to Mr. Winter’s office and let no one else see it.”

Before Immanuel could speak, the direct snapped his fingers for one of the dockhands to fetch a cart. Whatever the creature was, Immanuel had the sinking feeling it wasn’t as unbelievable as Sir William thought. The director turned and headed back to the dock, leaving Immanuel standing mute as two rough dockhands swept in. The wooden dolly yawned beneath the weight of the beast and the gallons of fluid surrounding it. Immanuel flinched as the gruff men rammed in the cart into the doorframe on their way to the upper floor before shoving the corner further into the elevator with their scuffed boots. Following close behind them, Immanuel stood silently in front of the elevator doors, staring down at the shoes Adam had polished for him the previous night. The men beside him spoke of a new freak show opening in Piccadilly one of the other men had seen. Immanuel’s scarred eye burned as he clasped his nervous hands behind his back. Would they call him a freak if they knew what he truly was? That with a touch of his hand, he could see the last moments of the creature at their feet’s life, if it really was a creature at all and not some amalgamation of body parts, or that he taught himself to manipulate water. Would they call for his demise if they knew all the ways he went against nature?

With a ding, the elevator doors creaked open, and the men rolled the box down the hall to Immanuel’s office. Immanuel inwardly sighed, standing out of the way until, with a few more bangs, they left him alone with the veiled creature. Ignoring the glass box taking up most of the space between his desk and door, Immanuel shimmied behind his desk to gather up the papers and fallen books the men had scattered in their wake. His eyes roamed over the sigils and notes. The ink had bled in a few places, but overall, his work appeared to be legible. He carefully tucked his the papers into his notebook and turned his attention to the pile of letters sitting on his blotter. As he turned over the first envelope, his eyes lit up; the seal was from the Royal Zoological Society. Immanuel’s hands shook as he ripped open the seal and pulled out the letter.

 

***

 

Adam watched from the threshold as Immanuel scanned the letter in his hands. His bichrome eyes widened, and a wide smile brightened his features. Immanuel bit his lip and reread the letter again, the look of glee refusing to leave his face. Swallowing hard, Adam lightly wrapped on the door with his knuckles. Immanuel jumped, but upon seeing Adam, relief spread washed across his face only to be replaced with the previous unbridled happiness.

“Adam, I got in,” Immanuel said, beaming. Standing, he held the letter out for Adam to take, but his companion didn’t move from his place near the door. “Look! I got into the Zoological Society. Read it. Tell me I’m not imaging this.”

“Congratulations. I’m very proud of you,” Adam replied, his voice tight.

“Thank you. I can’t believe it. I was certain my paper wasn’t good enough. Walrus evolution isn’t exactly interesting, but—” Glancing at the clock above his door, Immanuel paused as he stuffed the letter back into the envelope with trembling hands. “You got here quickly. I wasn’t expecting you for another few minutes.”

“Mr. Bodkin let me out early.”

Immanuel gaze drifted to the letter again but caught himself. “That was very nice of him.”

Stepping out the way of the coat rack by the door, Adam kept his eyes locked on the knotty floorboards. How could Immanuel not notice the strain in his voice or the tightness in his features? Immanuel walked toward the door but returned to grab the letter of his desk. Adam drew in a breath and steeled himself. Happiness could blind as much as anger, and it wasn’t his place to ruin Immanuel’s day. It wasn’t his place to ruin anything for anyone. Clearing his throat, Adam turned to the cloaked crate inches from his ankle.

“What’s this?” he asked, nudging the box with his foot.

Immanuel glanced toward the window for any sign of rain before grabbing his top hat. “A specimen Sir William wants me to take a look at after lunch. A seal of some sort.”

“Great. The flat will stink like dead fish.”

Adam turned at a gentle squeeze of his arm. Immanuel let his hand linger as he met Adam’s gaze, a fleeting embrace before they had to pretend they were nothing more than friends. Most days he would have relished such an allowance in public, but today he wanted nothing more than to peel his lover’s fingers off. His coat.

Staring into Adam’s eyes, Immanuel whispered, “It’s nothing a bath for two can’t fix.”

He should have smiled, he should have done something, but all Adam felt was the gnaw of dread hallowing his chest.

 

***

 

Immanuel wouldn’t stop rambling. It was a habit Adam normally found endearing, that his happiness could send his mouth and mind spinning out of control, but after the day he had, Adam wished he would shut up.  Sitting in a leather-backed booth at Benekey’s, Adam rubbed his brow as Immanuel prattled on about walrus anatomy between bites of fried fish. His head pounded with clank of glasses and silverware, the din of voices all around them, and the haze of cigarette smoke drifting in despite the high walls of the booth. A plate of roast beef sat untouched beside a glass of wine he hadn’t intended to order. It would turn his face red, if it wasn’t already, but perhaps it would make denial that much easier.

Adam snapped out of his thoughts as Immanuel’s hand brushed against his under the guise of chasing a loose chip.

“What’s wrong? You’re very quiet today,” Immanuel said softly, his mismatched eyes wide with concern. “Tell me about your office. Any interesting clients?”

Resisting the urge to scratch his wrist, Adam tapped his nail on the base of the glass and kept his gaze on the merlot within. Ruin it, his mind whispered. “I was fired today.”

“You were wha—?” Immanuel’s mouth wordlessly opened twice before he shook his head and put his hand over Adam’s. “Mein Gott, why didn’t you say anything? I’m so sorry, Adam. If I had known, I wouldn’t have—”

Adam ripped his hand away and picked up his knife. “It’s fine. I don’t want to make a thing of it.”

“Can you fix it? Can you prove to Mr. Bodkin that whatever it was, was an accident? You always seemed to get on so well, so maybe he would listen after given the chance to rethink his decision.”

He swallowed against the knot in his throat and tried to keep his voice level. “It wasn’t due to a mistake. They needed to make room for the boss’s son, so they gave me the ax.”

“Oh.” Immanuel’s expression lightened as he leaned back in his seat. “Then, it shouldn’t be too hard to find new employment. You didn’t do anything to deserve it. There must be other offices looking for accountants.”

“Yes, but Ellis… Ellis owns half of them. The others are either friends of his or they wouldn’t hire me because I don’t think he will give me a reference. Bodkin never mentioned it and I forgot to ask. That’s what happened when Reynolds was fired last year. He was blackballed. Last I heard, he had to take a position in Edinburgh,” Adam replied, his voice alien, tighter but calmer than he anticipated.

“But— but why wouldn’t they give you a reference if you were let go due to nepotism?”

“Because I don’t fit their aesthetic,” he spat as he turned to watch his reflection in the smoked glass mirror beside them.

“What do you mean by ‘aesthetic’?”

His henna-red hair and blue eyes flared, taking on an unworldly hue under the dim electric lights. “I think you know what I mean.”

Dropping his voice, Immanuel pushed aside his plate and leaned closer. “That you’re— you’re,” the word escaped him, “schwul? There’s no way for them to know that for certain. You’re so careful.”

Ignoring Immanuel’s doe eyes upon him, Adam ground his jaw and began hacking his roast into cubes. “Apparently, they suspect it. It seems no matter what I do, people still see through me.”

“Even so, I’m sure you’ll get a new position before you know it. You’re pretty perfect to me.”

“Unfortunately your opinion matters very little.”

Adam looked up from his now blood-ringed plate to find Immanuel glaring at him. His blotted blue eye glistened with moisture while his lips sealed in a hard line. On the table beside his fork, Immanuel’s finger itched with the urge to draw a sigil. For a moment they merely stared at each other as Adam waited for something on his side of the table to go flying with a twist of his lover’s finger. Let him, he thought bitterly.

“I understand that you have had a very trying day, but could you please not take it out on me. I have done nothing to you, Adam.”

“My apologies. It’s just that while I was on the train, I realized I can only be without work for two months before we’re in the red. My sister’s toy business has been slow since she married, and I only have a little over a month’s worth of pay in reserve.”

When Adam’s gaze returned to his plate, Immanuel asked, “Have you spoken to Lord or Lady Dorset? I’m certain they—”

“I’m certain they would too, but I’m not going to sponge off my brother-in-law for the rest of my life,” he snapped.

“It would only be for a little while.”

“I said, no.”

“Then, what do you plan to do? You act like you won’t be able to find work as an accountant, but you couldn’t possibly ask your sister for help when you need it. If your fears are correct, you may not have an income.  Then what will we do? My wages at the museum…” Immanuel drew in a tremulous breath. He liked living on Baker Street in their own flat where they could do as they please without fear. “I suppose I could ask Sir William for a raise… or an advance. If I tell him the circumstances, then—”

“Don’t you dare. I don’t need everyone knowing my business.” No one would discuss how far the countess’s brother has fallen behind his back.

“Adam,” Immanuel pleaded, shaking his head, “what do you expect me to do? You act like you won’t be able to get work, but you act like we should do nothing to stay afloat. I’m certain Hadley—”

“Don’t bring up my sister. I don’t need help.”

Immanuel sat back, watching Adam stab a piece of beef and twirl it on the tip of his fork without bringing it to his lips. “Are you really going to let your pride sink us? This doesn’t only affect you, Adam.”

For a moment, Adam merely scowled at him, but in an instant, his hand was on his coat and his hat was on his head. Immanuel scooted out of the booth after him, calling his name as Adam cast a burning glance over his shoulder. Standing next to their table, Immanuel watched Adam cut through the crowded restaurant and disappear onto the street. Tears burned the backs of Immanuel’s eyes at the sudden sensation of falling. He blinked until his clouded eye cleared, stuffing his hand into his pocket for coins. The cool metal with its familiar striations and reliefs brought his mind back to the smoke-hazed room clattering with men. Drawing in a long slow breath, Immanuel released it as the panic momentarily receded.

Paying their bill, Immanuel slipped onto the street hoping to see Adam leaning against the brick façade waiting for him, but when he reached the corner, he knew for certain he had gone. Fear welled in his breast, compelling him to run home to make certain his lover was all right. Immanuel stood very still until with each breath and droplet of rain pattering against his face, the feeling finally relinquished its hold. Adam would be fine. He was a reasonable man, who had shown no sign of wanting to hurt himself. He would be fine. Pulling out his pocket watch, Immanuel clicked open the cold brass face. Even if wanted to, there was no way he could make it to the house and return to the museum without arousing suspicion at his tardiness. There was only one thing he could do: go back to the museum and carry on as if Adam Fenice’s troubles weren’t his own.


Thank you for reading! Please let me know what you think, and if you’re interested, you can pre-order Selkie Cove.

dead magic · Writing

Dead Magic Comes Out Today!

Dead Magic Cover by Kara Jorgensen

It’s here! It’s finally here! I feel like I have been waiting forever for Dead Magic to finally be out, and now that it’s out in the world, I don’t know what to do with myself. It took about nine months to produce from start to finish, and it’s beyond rewarding to know it’s in my readers’ hands. It’s out for Kindle and in paperback.

Because release days are a special occasion, I’ve marked the rest of the series down, so if you haven’t read the Ingenious Mechanical Devices. Now is the time to catch up.

The Earl of Brass is FREE.

The Winter Garden is 99c

The Earl and the Artificer is 99c

and you can get Dead Magic here.


Around release dates, I get a lot of questions about how to help an author out. Here’s how:

  • Share this post on social media
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  • If you’ve read my books, leave an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads or where ever.