NaNoWriMo 2018! Post 3

It’s been ages. it seems!

Here’s a dump of more of my NaNo novel:

nanowrimo2015-design-by-eric-nyffeler

Irena closed the door behind her and stood awkwardly before her mother. The Torssons were all the color of honey with bright amber eyes. Irena, on the other hand, had come out with skin and eyes as dark as carob fruit, which she’d always figured were traits gifted her from her father. Her mother had been the only Torsson to truly treat her like a member of the family.

“The Society is fine,” Irena lied. “But they’re sending me on a really big commission, and I wanted to sort of see you first.”

Her mother fluffed a pillow and sat on her couch. She patted the spot next to her, gesturing for Irena to come sit. “Is it a dangerous commission?”

Irena joined her on the couch. “It could be, because they’re sending me to an integrated city, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.” She gave her mother a tight grin, hoping it was at least a little convincing. “But it’ll pay really well, and the actual reason I decided to come over here was to tell you what I plan to do with the money.”

Her mother’s smiled faded a little, and her brows knitted in slight concern.

Irena continued. “I want to use the money to visit Kyra Forest, to visit my father.”

Her mother’s face softened, though the concern didn’t completely fade from her countenance. She placed her hand on Irena’s and looked as if she wanted to say something but didn’t know where to begin. Irena waited patiently. The evening light dwindled, and her mother turned on the lamp on the side table next to her. The bulb flickered to life behind it’s pink, rose-shaped lamp shade, bathing that corner of the room in its soft, warm glow.

“What brought this along?” her mother asked once she found her voice.

“He sent me a letter,” Irena replied. “I’m not sure how he figured out where I lived, though. I was thinking maybe he’d contacted you, too.”

Her mother said nothing for a while, though she looked deep in thought. Her eyes misted over, and she looked down at her lap. “I haven’t heard from him in twenty-five years.” She sniffed and wiped her face, smearing a little bit of the kohl lining her eyes. “I wonder how he found you.” She sniffed again. “What did the letter say?”

That he misses me, loves me, tried everything he could to find me…” Irena let her voice trail off and paused to gauge her mother’s reaction. It was clear to her that if her father had truly done everything in his power to contact his daughter, then he must have sent a number of letters to her mother. At some point, he must have made a trip to Wyrria — at least that’s what made sense to Irena. So what had stopped him? Had someone or something turned  him away? In the silence that followed, her mother remained quiet.

Irena continued. “He didn’t really abandon us, did he?”

Her mother closed her eyes and shook her head. “No, Irena. He loved you so much. He never would have left us.” She looked her daughter in the eye and sighed deeply. “No, he didn’t abandon us, dear heart. That was my story when I returned home.”

“Your story?” Irena frowned.

“I needed something plausible.” Her mother shrugged helplessly. “I was twenty, a child. And I had the nerve to run off with a fairy, and then we had you. It just went against the values my parents had taught me all my life — values their parents taught to them and values I tried to teach to you all on my own.”

Irena’s heart sank to her stomach.

“I’m a Wyrrian elf first and everything else second, Irena. I didn’t have a choice.”

“You didn’t have a choice?” Irena stood up. Even though she’d suspected such was the case, she knew she’d need time to process this, and she couldn’t it here. “Since your Wyrrian values are so important to you, aren’t you going to stop me from seeing him?”

Her mother looked up at her and shook her head. “No. You’re very nearly an adult now, and I don’t want to step in the way of you making your own decisions. But be wary, Irena. There are consequences for Wyrrians who stray. I was lucky to have been accepted when I returned home, and you know I’ll always love and accept you. But others… won’t be so kind.”

One corner of Irena’s mouth rose in a joyless smirk. “And that’s why you left and took me away from my father?”

“It’s a little more complicated than that.” Her mother’s kohl-streaked face in the pinkish red lamp light was a pitiful sight. It didn’t feel right to leave her mother like this, not after a six-hour ride, and not after her first visit home in months. But she needed to at least take a walk to clear her head a little. Not far from the cottage lay a path that circled a pond and a small field of lavender. It was one she’d often strolled on as a child.

“Mother, I’m going to walk the path a little. When I come back, why don’t we have some tea?”

 

Chapter 2

Irena’s carriage arrived at the campus temple a little after five in the morning. Hanna was waiting for her, sitting on the steps and reading a book by candlelight. When Irena stepped off the carriage, they locked eyes. As Irena had suggested, Hanna had left her gray robe at home and instead wore a drab, brown dress that looked more like a sack than clothes, but it looked comfortable and practical for travel.

“This is your first commission, isn’t it, Hanna?” Irena said as the coachman unloaded her luggage.

The girl nodded mutely. Even in the dark, Irena could tell Hanna was nervous.

“Have you ever been on a train?”

Hanna shook her head. When she spoke, her voice came out hoarse. “My family would never be able to afford those.”

The first trains, powered solely by steam, had always been a luxury. Since Air Elementalists began harnessing lightning to help power the engines some then years ago, steam-powered trains remained an extravagance reserved for the well off, but the electro-steam hybrids were reserved for the very rich… which, luckily for them, included the White Reaper Society.

Irena grinned. “Well, you’re in for a treat.”

*

Irena was amazed that the Society had booked for them a double-decker hybrid. Seats were so hard to come by since only really half of them were ever available. The only beings wealthy enough to afford the top seats were vampires — not the relatively newly turned, but the ones who’d been dead long enough to amass hundreds of years of wealth. As they waited in line to board the train with their tickets, it was all Irena could do to keep her composure. This wouldn’t be her first train ride, but it would be her first time on a double-decker. Beside her, Hanna openly gawked at her surroundings. All campuses of the White Reaper Society were tucked away from the bigger Wyrrian towns, so it was likely that she’d only ever seen elves, or an occasional fairy. Here, the passengers leaving the train included dwarves, humans, vampires, weredragons, werecats, and werewolves, most of whom were boarding an open-roofed tour bus that would take them around the nicest spots in town.

Hanna tapped Irena on the shoulder. “Is… is this safe?”

“What do you mean is this safe?”

“I mean,” Hanna looked around conspiratorially and lowered her voice in case someone might hear her, “I mean will we be safe?”

Irena laughed. “I don’t see why we wouldn’t be. Although, I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve never been to an integrated city before, so I’m excited. It’ll be an adventure.”

She hoped she sounded convincing. Her greatest fear was getting lost in a district in which no one spoke passable Elvish, in a place where all the signs were written in Vampyric or Felidaen. But, again, Elvish was the official language in all of Rowanston, so what was the likelihood of that happening?**** [add 9]

They boarded the train. Inside the double-decker, brown cushioned seats long enough to fit three passengers lined the walls. The seats were set in twos, facing each other. Whey they found their seats, Irena realized they were sitting among passengers heading home from their Wyrrian tour. A young Fairy couple sat across from them, gave Irena and Hanna a polite nod, and each busied themself with a book.

In the seats just behind sat a group of Werecats whose dialect marked them as urban Rowanstonians.

“Fel and fecking hell, I’m still mad they didn’t let us tour campus.”

“They’re all the same, yah. Secretive, like they have something to hide.”

“Well, if I’d just hacked off twenty poor yits and wanted to get away with it, I’d keep my doors closed, too.”

“No, they’ve always been like that, yah. I told you we  wouldn’t get to see it.”

“Well, I think it’s jah suspicious and a damn shame. What have they got to hide?”

Irena’s mood immediately soured. If they knew anything, they’d know that most Reaper societies host quarterly open houses for curious denizens wanting more more information on what Reapers do and how their campuses are run. These tourists had just missed the White Reaper Society’s open house by two weeks.

Hanna leaned over and whispered, “So that’s really what they think of us?”

“Yes, now hush,” Irena replied, glancing at the silent Fairy couple. “Someone could hear you.”

Hanna clamped her mouth shut and sat back in her seat. In front of them, one of the Fairies fell asleep on the other’s shoulder with ehr book lying open in her lap. As it slid toward the floor, Irena stooped to catch it before it fell and handed it to the other Fairy, a young man with warm, tan skin and frosty blond hair, lightly tousled as was in urban fashion.

He smiled and whispered in a lilty Faen accent, “Insufferable, aren’t they?”

“Pardon?”

“The tourists.” He nodded at the seats behind Irena and Hanna. “A bit ungrateful, don’t you think?”
Irena smiled. “Maybe a bit.”

*

The train sped east over the Great Elven Canal. At the end of the bridge, they stopped at a station, at which time they depleted Air Elementalist responsible for powering the electric components of the train completed his shift and switched with the Elementalist meant to replace him for the next shift.

“I used to want to be an Elementalist,” Hanna said.

“What’s stopping you?” Irena asked.

“Well, you know, our studies.

Irena nodded. “Fair point, btu what’s stopping you from having a hobby?”

“Oh, no.” Hanna sighed. “I don’t want to dabble. I wanted to be a professional Elementalist, you know?”

“I understand,” Irena said after some thought. “My mother’s an Earth and Water Elementalist, and one of the best botanists I know. Her green thumb is a force to be reckoned with…”

Her voice trailed off as she lost herself in nostalgia. When she was small, she could help her mother in the garden during the day and watch her study at night. She, too, had wanted to become a professional Elementalist, but as she grew older, she began to realize how little money her mother had to support them. Her mother hid her poverty well. Running off with a Fairy man and coming back without him but with a child hadn’t exactly sat well with the Torssons, so Alva was cut off, financially. Because of this, Irena hadn’t enjoyed the privilege of following her whims, all funded by her pristine and full-blooded Wyrrian elf family. Instead, she’d needed to find a way to make her own money, and the White Reaper Society paid quite handsomely. Now, sh glanced at Hanna and wondered why she’d chosen to be a White Reaper, but often, these reasons are quite personal, and Irena felt that asking would have been intrusive. Perhaps Hanna would feel comfortable to tell her some day.

“I have two sisters,” the male Fairy chimed in. “One’s a Healer, and one’s a Summoner.”

“And I bet you’re a Necromancer.” Irena grinned and crossed her arms. She’d intended it as a joke but was now worried it didn’t sound that way and tried to hide it by broadening her grin.

He shook his head, matching her grin, and said in a hushed voice. “Reaper, actually.”

Irena’s smile dropped. Hanna spoke up first. “You’re not joking?”

“I’m actually from the Royal Reaper Society myself.”

“The one in Valoria?” Irena asked in disbelief.

He nodded. “I figured I’d find friends in you two.” He offered his hand for a shake, which Irena and Hanna accepted. “I’m Wyren.” He pointed at the Fairy woman sleeping on his shoulder. “And this is my fiancee, Fredrika. We came to visit because the White Reapers are like our big sister, and we wanted to see it in person. It’s a beautiful campus.”

Irena and Hanna exchanged glances, and Irena said, “ My name’s Irena, and this is Hanna. We’re actually heading to Rowanston on commission, to investigate the incident. There are four of us, actually. We’re heading to New Gotha, and the other two are heading to Orsons Town.”

“Great Goddess, that sounds like an adventure. Have you been in integrated society before?”

“No,” Hanna blurted. All eyes turned to her, and she looked down at her hands, twiddling her thumbs. Then, she said in a smaller voice. “No, I haven’t.”

Wyren chuckled. “Don’t worry. Just about everyone speaks Elvish. I had to learn it when I was in school, along with Valorian. I grew up speaking Faen, though.”

Irena said, “I taught myself a little Faen. It’s a lovely language.”

Hanna’s eyes danced between the two. “Oh. I only know Elvish.”

“Ah.” Wyren snorted. “Thank your lucky stars for imperialism, then. Ah, yes! Excuse me!” He caught the attention of an attendant. “I’d like a coffee, please. Black is fine. Irena, Hanna, would you two like anything? My treat.”

Precisely six and a half minutes into enjoying their coffee, Irena heard one of the Werecats behind her turn in his seat and said, “Hey. Royal Reaper Society, yah?”

Hanna froze. Irena set her cup on the saucer, trying to force her rage down as far as it would go. This idiot was going to say something moronic, and this wasn’t the time or place to start a fight. Wryen, on the other hand, sipped his coffee, unbothered. Fredrika continued dozing peacefully on his shoulder.

“Ah, you overheard us, then,” he said.

“Yeah, fecking yit. So you’re a Reaper?”

Irena could feel Hanna’s body begin to tremble next to her. If this girl didn’t get it together, she wouldn’t make it halfway through the commission without suffering a heart attack.

Wyren replied, “Yes, but I have a brilliant idea. I think we’d all have a significantly better time if you turned back around in your seat and minded your own business.”

Another Werecat, a woman, chimed in. “Fecking body wielders, yah, got a lot of nerve. Is this one getting lippy with you, Aruk?”

Irena set her cup and saucer on her seat next to her, closed her eyes, and tried to count to ten. Now wasn’t the time to get angry.

“Mm.” Wyren took another sip of his coffee and set his cup and saucer down as well. “If you lot had half a brain, you’d know by now that what you’ve just described is a Necromancer. It’s Necromancers that reanimate dead bodies. But, I do like the concept of referring to us as wielders. You can call us soul wielders if you like. It sounds delightful.”

“This one’s having a jah go at you, Aruk.” The female Werecat growled.

Aruke rose from his seat and walked into the aisle.

Hanna clasped her hands together and whispered hastily under her breath, “Oh Great Goddess Wyrria, protect us from harm. We mean no harm. I beg you keep us safe from it. Oh Great Goddess Wyrria, protect us from ha-”

Irena elbowed her in her side. “There’s no need for all that, Hanna.” Then, she turned to Aruk. “Listen, we haven’t done anything to you, and we certainly haven’t done any harm to anyone else. I heard you talking about not being able to tour the White Reaper Society, but they had their open house not long ago. I’m sure you’ll be able to catch another one soon if you keep up on the dates.”

“I wasn’t talking to you, spoon. I was talking to him.” Aruk pointed to Wyren, whose impassive face showed not an inkling of care. Fredrika stirred a little but remained asleep.

Irena’s fists clenched. Her nails dug into her palms. “Call me a spoon, one more time, you-”

“Right then!” Wryren reached out and muttered a spell under his breath tethering Aruk’s soul to his hand. One flick of the wrist, and the Werecat’s soul would be ripped from its body. “I’m going to suggest to you one more time that you return to your seat and leave us alone. If this continues much longer, you’ll end up waking my fiancee, in which case there would be grievous hell to pay.”

Wyren closed his fingers into a fist and Aruk yelped. “Are we clear, Mr. Aruk?”

The Werecat nodded, Wyren released his soul, and Aruk — now sweating and hunched over — limped back to his seat. Irena didn’t hear from the Werecats for the rest of the train ride.

*

The train dipped south into the Kingdom of Valoria, where Wyren bid adieu. He woke Fredrika, thanked Irena and Hanna for pleasant conversation, and departed. New passengers boarded, and the Fairy couple was replaced with three petite, elderly elves, who kept to themselves and spoke what sounded like Valorian to Irena’s ears. When the train chugged off once again, they were still some ten hours from Rowanston. Irena fluffed her complimentary pillow and tried to find a comfortable position in her seat. Beside her, Hanna was stiff.

“Irena, I’m still kind of scared.”

Irena yawned. “That’s understandable.”

“But Wyren was nice.”

“That’s because he was one of us, I suspect,” Irena said.

Hanna nodded. “Well, yes, but he was nice all the same.” She paused for a few moments, then added, “But he wasn’t really going to kill that Werecat, was he?”

“Considering that would be murder, and murder is among the most heinous crimes,” Irena replied, “I assume not.”

“You’re right, of course not.” Hanna gave a tight smile.

*

The double-decker, at long last, pulled into the eastern New Gotha station, and the two emerged into the city. The roads bustled with speed-walking pedestrians, crowded carriages, and haggard beggars dressed in tattered, mud-caked rags. Wealthy vampires in chic, tailored clothes of the latest fashions strolled alongside Humans holding hands, Weredragons reading the newspaper, and Dwarves covered in oil from the day’s work. Above, sirens flew to their apartments at the tops of the tallest buildings. Each sign featured titles and directions first (in the largest, boldest letters) in Elvish, then translated underneath, in smaller letters,to Vampyric and a couple other languages Irena didn’t recognize. Not far down the road stood an elaborate, spired church run by The United Believers of Aeron. The building itself looked a couple hundred years old, built in the style of the Church of Great Goddess Wyrria before the fall of the empire.

Irena heard heavy breathing next to her and turned to see Hanna nearly hyperventilating and pressing both hands to her chest.

“Hanna, for goodness sake, we’re not going to die. Now get your luggage.”

While Hanna did as she was told, Irena pulled Headmaster Torrin’s notes from her vest pocket and reviewed them.

  • The incident occurred in Orsons Town, in Orson University’s courtyard during a sporting event.
  • The suspects are believed to have fled to New Gotha.
  • Though all the victims were Elves, it is yet unclear whether any of them were Wyrrians. Orsons University is largely attended by Elves, mainly from Kyra Forest, though there are decent Wyrrian and Valorian populations. In any case, the school is quite small, and the community is closely knit.
  • Shortly after after the incident, a group of men and women no one recognized boarded a train to New Gotha. This same group was seen earlier lurking around the courtyard before the sporting event during which the incident occurred.
  • None of the victims were athletes. All athletes have been accounted for. It appears, also, that the suspects were visitors from out of town.
  • Please send me a letter once you arrive in New Gotha, and continue to update me on your progress. I have arranged it so that you may rent P.O. Box 3031 for the duration of your stay in New Gotha, and I will send you whatever new information I acquire. As always, the cost of this service is taken care of by the Society and is of no cost to you.

Irena decided their first stop after settling in at the inn would be the post office, where she’d send Headmaster Torrin news of her arrival in New Gotha, and where she’d send the reply she’d written to her father.

*

The grandfather clock in their inn room struck midnight, and Irena still could not sleep. As much as she tried to hide it, being in New Gotha had ramped up her nerves. Hanna, on the other hand, slept soundly soundly in the other bed after consuming several sleep aids she’d bought to overcome her anxiety. Irena looked at the young Reaper-in-training with mild irritation. Why had Headmaster Torrin sent this timid, excitable rabbit of a an Elf to shadow on such a huge mission? This poor girl, who had only ever seen Elves all her life and who only knew small town Elf life, was forced into this big, integrated city, indefinitely. Irena would have to make it her mission to keep Hanna from developing an ulcer. In the meantime, though, the sleep aids were starting to seem like a good idea, and she was slightly upset she didn’t’ purchase any for her herself when they’d stopped at the pharmacy after dinner. Irena left bed, got dressed, and headed out into the night.

*

Back home, the most places close by nine at the latest. Here, most restaurants and shops remained open until the late hours of the night — something Irena still couldn’t quite believe but would always be thankful for. When she entered, the only others in the pharmacy building were two cashiers and one customer perusing the same aisle from which Hanna had bought her sleep aids. The customer’s ear shape and lack of wings had clearly marked him as an Elf, but when she approached the aisle and he gave her a polite smile, she noticed his eyes were red — the tell-tale mark of a Vampire. Although Vampires were everywhere, usually inhabiting the wealthiest districts, this was Irena’s first time seeing one so close up in person. It helped that he was handsome, with full lips, caramel skin, and a light sprinkle of freckles across his nose. His kinky coal black hair was pulled back into a curly poof of a ponytail. He had a slender built with broad shoulders, narrow waist, and, from what Irena could tell from his arms revealed by his rolled-up sleeves, taut muscles. Her imagination was torn between taking him to bed and running far, far away. Presently, he was looking for blood.

Irena had been vaguely aware that different blood had different effects, but she never knew what those effects were. As she read the labels, she read that Fairy blood granted accelerated healing; Mermaid and siren blood granted extra energy (“Good for that midday boost!”); Werewolf blood increased strength; Wereunicorn blood (at 135 Elven Royals a bottle for how rare Wereunicorns are, nearly thirty times more expensive than the other bottles) granted both sun protection and accelerated healing; Weredragon blood granted resistance to extreme heat (obviously, but who needed this kind of resistance — Vampire firefighters?); Werecat blood increased precision and spiked the senses; and Dwarf blood was simply nutrient dense (“Miss a meal? Sip on Dwarf blood!”).

The bottle he currently held was Elf blood, meant to grant protection from the sun. This one, Irena noticed, was nearly out of stock. He looked from the bottle to Irena, who realized she was staring and immediately felt ashamed, and gave her a sheepish grin.

“I know it’s kind of awkward, us being Elves and all. I’ve been a Vamp for thirty-one years, and I never get used to it,” he said. “But that’s the price we pay for living in a place that thrives during the daylight hours.”

Irena cleared her throat. “I’m really sorry for staring.”

“I get a lot of stares from people who aren’t used to integrated society…” He raised his brows, making it a question.

“Oh, I’m from Wyrria.”

He nodded. “Well, that explains it. And I’m going to take a wild guess and assume you’re not looking for blood.”

“Oh, no!” Irena laughed nervously. “I was actually looking for sleep aids.”

“Ah.” The Vampire pointed further down the aisle. “They’re just there.”

“Thank you,” Irena said, but she didn’t move. She tried to will her legs to walk, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the Vampire placing three bottles of Elf blood into the basket hanging from his arm.

He smirked. “It’s a little weird, I know. But if you’re here long enough, you’ll get used to it.” He looked at her now that he’d taken what was left of the Elf blood from the self. “How long are you here for, little Wyrrian?”

“To be perfectly honest, I don’t know. I guess I’m visiting indefinitely.”

“That can’t be good for your wallet.” His smile broadened, revealing his fangs. Again, Irena found herself conflicted between wanting him to bite her and wanting to promptly leave the store without having bought a single thing.

Her face grew hot. “I’m here on commission, and commissions usually last a day or two, but this one… This one is a bit of an outlier.”

“Commissions?” The Vampire glanced at the cashiers standing idly at checkout and lowered his voice when he returned his attention to Irena. “You’re a White Reaper?”

“That easy to guess?”

“I’ve been walking this earth for fifty-six collective years. I know a thing or two.” He leaned closer and whispered. “And anyway, I’d always known the difference between Reapers and Necros. I’m from rural Valoria.”

“Thank the Great Goddess I ran into someone who understands here,” Irena said. “You never want to let the wrong people know you’re a Reaper. It almost caused a fight on the train.”

“That’s one way to start a trip.”

“It certainly is.” Irena’s face heated up more. All she’d come here for was a simple sleep aid. She could have been halfway back to the inn by now.

The Vampire bowed slightly and elegantly, like a dancer. “I’m Elrik Valhansson, by the way.”

“Irena,” she replied, smiling more broadly than she intended. “Irena Feyr.”******[add 2]

Elrik switched his basket to the other arm. “Well, Irena Feyr, are you ever going to get those sleep aids?”

Irena bit her lip, thinking of an excuse to continue talking to him. “I guess I do have a question about… the blood.”

He laughed slightly. “Go on.”

“Where do they…? I mean, how…? Is it… voluntary?”

He laughed more loudly. “Oh, it is one hundred percent voluntary, and the volunteers are paid well. Trust me. There isn’t a dungeon somewhere where we suck the blood out of kidnapped passersby.”

“Good to know. Thank you.” Irena grinned. “And, it was nice meeting you, Elrik. I guess I should be getting to the sleep aids if I’m to be of any use to my shadow tomorrow.”

“Your shadow?”

“My Headmaster sent a Gray robe to tag along,” she explained. “I’m surprised she hasn’t died of shock yet. The poor thing had only ever known small town Wyrria. Now, here she is.”

Elrik snickered. “Poor thing indeed. And you said this particular commission is an ‘outlier’?”

“Oh, yes.” Irena walked backward toward the sleep aids, still facing him. “This one isn’t the usual sending souls along. It’s an investigation of sorts.”

Elrik followed. “Do tell.”

“I’m not sure how much I can tell you, but I’m sure you’ve heard of the incident at Orsons University.” Irena grabbed a bottle of sleep aids.

“Ah, say no more.”

“Yes, so you see what kind of a situation I’m in.”

Elrik looked at the sleep aids, then looked at Irena. “You’re not going to get any sleep.”

“Probably not without shoving a handful of these down my gullet like my panicky shadow did.” She shrugged. “I’m not fond of the idea of putting my liver through so much work, but I need to at least try. With the intended dose, I mean.”

“Oh, the pills will make you sleepy, I’m sure. But you don’t seem like you’ll be getting much rest.”

Irena looked at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means,” he replied, “unless you follow in your shadow’s footsteps, your mind’s current state, I mean its near constant need to process your investigation and new surroundings, will keep you from getting any rest. You may not be as anxious as your shadow, but you definitely have your guard up.”

Irena set the sleep aids back on the shelf. “Well, aren’t you insightful?”

“I’m not sure if I can offer much in the way of helping with your commission,” he continued, “but I do own a telegraph machine. You could send me a message from the post office whenever you might need a local to brainstorm with, and I’ll meet you wherever you’d feel comfortable meeting. I’m personally a fan of a cafe not far from here, and the library next door to it.”

Irena’s head was swimming. Sending telegrams from the post office wasn’t exactly cheap, but this man owned his own telegraph machine? As far as she knew, only the most wealthy could afford one of their own, and Elrik wasn’t quite old enough to have amassed that kind of wealth, was he?

Elrik seemed to have read her mind. “It was a gift. From my Volte.”

“Really?” Irena didn’t know much about Vampires’ relationships with their Voltes, the ones who’d turned them into Vampires in the first place. Didn’t they hate their Voltes from taking their lives away? Perhaps there were more people than she thought who’d gladly give up their lives for a chance at immortality and becoming a member of the most powerful race on earth. Somehow, Irena didn’t quite think it was worth it.

“You’re on good terms with your Volte, then?” she asked.

Elrik smiled. “It’s more common than you think.”

“Did you want to be a Vampire, then?” Irena regretted the words as soon as they left her mouth. This was, perhaps, too personal a question to ask someone she’d just met. “Oh, Great Goddess, I am so sorry. You don’t have to answer that.”

“Well, that’s a complicated answer.” Elrik rubbed his chin in thought. “Although, I might be convinced to tell you all about it over coffee if you’d like.”

Irena’s heart stopped.

“Not now, obviously, because the cafe is closed,” he continued, “but if you find time during your stay here, and I’m sure you’re uncommonly busy, I wouldn’t mind at all.”

Irena thought back to Hanna sleeping like a log at the inn. Judging by the amount of sleep aids she’d taken, the young girl would sleep all through the morning, and Irena would have to get breakfast alone. Well. Now, she didn’t necessarily have to get breakfast alone.

“Tell me what cafe you’re talking about, and we can meet there tomorrow morning, around nine, perhaps?”

*

What had she done? Ultimately, Irena ended up buying the bottle of sleep aids, which is what she’d intended to do, so that was fine. But it was the other thing she was concerned about. Now wasn’t the time for dates, especially with vampires. What would Headmaster Torrin say? What what Hanna say if she found out? What was the point in this date, anyway? Once the investigation was underway, everything else would have to be pushed to the back of Irena’s mind, including meeting her father in Kyra Forest. After this breakfast date, she’d likely never see Elrik again, so what was the point? Irena took a couple of the pills and paced the floor as she waited for sleepiness to overtake her. What was the point? She had half a mind to walk right back out and to the post office and send Elrik a telegraph saying that, on second thought, she couldn’t make it to breakfast (sorry!), but it was closed at this ungodly hour of the night.

And anyway, she didn’t really want to cancel her breakfast date with him.

Why not enjoy the one morning she’d have to herself before delving into the mysterious deaths and disappearances of twenty Elves? Irena sat on her bed and started at the ugly, brown wallpaper. A green vine pattern crawled from the floor to the ceiling. The grandfather clock struck the second hour after midnight.

Indeed, Irena wasn’t going to be getting much sleep.

[[To be continued…]]

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NaNoWriMo 2018! Post 2

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Wow! I didn’t expect such positive reactions to the last NaNo post! It makes me feel really good, since I didn’t think anyone would care much about it at all.

That said, I guess I’ll keep doing what I’m doing and continue the story where I left off in the last post.

(If you’re just now joining me, hello! You can get caught up by reading the first part of the story here.)

 

“The Society is fine,” Irena lied. “But they’re sending me on a really big commission, and I wanted to sort of see you first.”

Her mother fluffed a pillow and sat on her couch. She patted the spot next to her, gesturing for Irena to come sit. “Is it a dangerous commission?”

Irena joined her on the couch. “It could be, because they’re sending me to an integrated city, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.” She gave her mother a tight grin, hoping it was at least a little convincing. “But it’ll pay really well, and the actual reason I decided to come over here was to tell you what I plan to do with the money.”

Her mother’s smiled faded a little, and her brows knitted in slight concern.

Irena continued. “I want to use the money to visit Kyra Forest, to visit my father.”

Her mother’s face softened, though the concern didn’t completely fade from her countenance. She placed her hand on Irena’s and looked as if she wanted to say something but didn’t know where to begin. Irena waited patiently. The evening light dwindled, and her mother turned on the lamp on the side table next to her. The bulb flickered to life behind it’s pink, rose-shaped lamp shade, bathing that corner of the room in its soft, warm glow.

“What brought this along?” her mother asked once she found her voice.

“He sent me a letter,” Irena replied. “I’m not sure how he figured out where I lived, though. I was thinking maybe he’d contacted you, too.”

Her mother said nothing for a while, though she looked deep in thought. Her eyes misted over, and she looked down at her lap. “I haven’t heard from him in twenty-five years.” She sniffed and wiped her face, smearing a little bit of the kohl lining her eyes. “I wonder how he found you.” She sniffed again. “What did the letter say?”

That he misses me, loves me, tried everything he could to find me…” Irena let her voice trail off and paused to gauge her mother’s reaction. It was clear to her that if her father had truly done everything in his power to contact his daughter, then he must have sent a number of letters to her mother. At some point, he must have made a trip to Wyrria — at least that’s what made sense to Irena. So what had stopped him? Had someone or something turned  him away? In the silence that followed, her mother remained quiet.

Irena continued. “He didn’t really abandon us, did he?”

Her mother closed her eyes and shook her head. “No, Irena. He loved you so much. He never would have left us.” She looked her daughter in the eye and sighed deeply. “No, he didn’t abandon us, dear heart. That was my story when I returned home.”

“Your story?” Irena frowned.

“I needed something plausible.” Her mother shrugged helplessly. “I was twenty, a child. And I had the nerve to run off with a fairy, and then we had you. It just went against the values my parents had taught me all my life — values their parents taught to them and values I tried to teach to you all on my own.”

Irena’s heart sank to her stomach.

“I’m a Wyrrian elf first and everything else second, Irena. I didn’t have a choice.”

“You didn’t have a choice?” Irena stood up. Even though she’d suspected such was the case, she knew she’d need time to process this, and she couldn’t it here. “Since your Wyrrian values are so important to you, aren’t you going to stop me from seeing him?”

Her mother looked up at her and shook her head. “No. You’re very nearly an adult now, and I don’t want to step in the way of you making your own decisions. But be wary, Irena. There are consequences for Wyrrians who stray. I was lucky to have been accepted when I returned home, and you know I’ll always love and accept you. But others… won’t be so kind.”

One corner of Irena’s mouth rose in a joyless smirk. “And that’s why you left and took me away from my father?”

“It’s a little more complicated than that.” Her mother’s kohl-streaked face in the pinkish red lamp light was a pitiful sight. It didn’t feel right to leave her mother like this, not after a six-hour ride, and not after her first visit home in months. But she needed to at least take a walk to clear her head a little. Not far from the cottage lay a path that circled a pond and a small field of lavender. It was one she’d often strolled on as a child.

“Mother, I’m going to walk the path a little. When I come back, why don’t we have some tea?”

 

Chapter 2

Irena’s carriage arrived at the campus temple a little after five in the morning. Hanna was waiting for her, sitting on the steps and reading a book by candlelight. When Irena stepped off the carriage, they locked eyes. As Irena had suggested, Hanna had left her gray robe at home and instead wore a drab, brown dress that looked more like a sack than clothes, but it looked comfortable and practical for travel.

“This is your first commission, isn’t it, Hanna?” Irena said as the coachman unloaded her luggage.

The girl nodded mutely. Even in the dark, Irena could tell Hanna was nervous.

“Have you ever been on a train?”

Hanna shook her head. When she spoke, her voice came out hoarse. “My family would never be able to afford those.”

The first trains, powered solely by steam, had always been a luxury. Since Air Elementalists began harnessing lightning to help power the engines some then years ago, steam-powered trains remained an extravagance reserved for the well off, but the electro-steam hybrids were reserved for the very rich… which, luckily for them, included the White Reaper Society.

Irena grinned. “Well, you’re in for a treat.”

*

Irena was amazed that the Society had booked for them a double-decker hybrid. Seats were so hard to come by since only really half of them were ever available. The only beings wealthy enough to afford the top seats were vampires — not the relatively newly turned, but the ones who’d been dead long enough to amass hundreds of years of wealth. As they waited in line to board the train with their tickets, it was all Irena could do to keep her composure. This wouldn’t be her first train ride, but it would be her first time on a double-decker. Beside her, Hanna openly gawked at her surroundings. All campuses of the White Reaper Society were tucked away from the bigger Wyrrian towns, so it was likely that she’d only ever seen elves, or an occasional fairy. Here, the passengers leaving the train included dwarves, humans, vampires, weredragons, werecats, and werewolves, most of whom were boarding an open-roofed tour bus that would take them around the nicest spots in town.

Hanna tapped Irena on the shoulder. “Is… is this safe?”

“What do you mean is this safe?”

“I mean,” Hanna looked around conspiratorially and lowered her voice in case someone might hear her, “I mean will we be safe?”

Irena laughed. “I don’t see why we wouldn’t be. Although, I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve never been to an integrated city before, so I’m excited. It’ll be an adventure.”

She hoped she sounded convincing. Her greatest fear was getting lost in a district in which no one spoke passable Elvish, in a place where all the signs were written in Vampyric or Felidaen. But, again, Elvish was the official language in all of Rowanston, so what was the likelihood of that happening?

[[To be continued!]]

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NaNoWriMo 2018! Post 1

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I’ve been pretty radio silent on this blog for a little while, largely because I’ve been overwhelmed with things to do, and partly because it’s National Novel Writing Month.

Originally, I was just going to not post here until after November, but what fun would that be?

This year, I’m a NaNo rebel. My beta readers have repeatedly suggested that I expand my short story “Rapunzel, the Night Maiden,” so that’s what I ended up doing for the first six days of NaNoWriMo.

Now that that’s done (I expanded the story from 10 pages to 29 pages; I realize I’m going to do a lot more crowdfunding to be able to afford editing for my anthology… alas…), I have to start writing my NaNo novel, which I started today! It’s an epic high fantasy called The Wyrrian Reaper Chronicles. Before starting on it, I’d added 10,537 words to “Rapunzel, the Night Maiden.” Now, after my first day of writing The Wyrrian Reaper Chronicles, I’m at 12,382 words total (37,608 to go!).

So, what I guess I’m going to do is post what I’ve written in The Wyrrian Reaper Chronicles, for your reading pleasure.

The thing that drives me nuts about NaNo is that I have to ignore my inner editor. It hurts my soul a little to know I’ve just written a clunky sentence, but I don’t have time to go back and rewrite another three times.

That said, what I’m about to post isn’t going to be perfect. It is a first draft in the most literal sense.

And I still hope you enjoy it. 🙂

 

Chapter 1

There was great unrest in the White Reaper Society. Irena Feyr shouldered on her hooded white robe and glanced at the mechanical clock ticking audibly above her worn wooden writing desk. The meeting had started twelve minutes ago, but she wasn’t overly eager to sit through three hours of the Society Headmaster droning on about the miseducation of the poor, ignorant big city folk. What a shame it was that as the urban regions grew, so faded the collective memory of culture and tradition. Irena shook her head. She could think of a million better things to do than brainstorm ways to educate the urban public on the differences between Reapers and Necromancers. They deal with bodies. We deal with souls. Meetings like this occurred every time new of a mysterious death spread like wildfire across the lands.

Anyway, she wouldn’t be able to focus enough to pay attention in that meeting. The letter sitting on her writing desk was all she could think about. The name adorning the front of the envelope was written in handwriting befitting the scribes of old — Alond Feyr. This man had claimed to be her father, who she hadn’t seen since she was three years old. Though her mother had never spoken ill of him to Irena, she was aware of the fact that her mother had initially told everyone in their town that Alond had abandoned them, forcing her mother to take Irena and move back home. Now, twenty-five after Irena had last seen her father, he’d sent her a letter. How had he found her in the first place? The letter had made no mention of that.

A knock at her apartment door yanked her from her thoughts. She pulled her thinly locked hair into a ponytail (kinky new growth was starting to show at the roots, and she made a mental note to tend to that soon), smoother out her robe, and answered the door. Hanna stood shivering in the doorway, her gray novice robe so drenched that water dripped from her hair, down her robe, and formed a puddle on the floor around her feet.

Irena raised an eyebrow and frowned. “They couldn’t have at least sent you over with an umbrella?”

“Irena, you need to be at this meeting.” She spoke through chattering teeth. “I mean, you really need to be here.”

“The meetings aren’t as mandatory as they make them out to be.”

Hanna shook her head. “No, didn’t you hear what happened?”

“No, but do I really need to at this point?” Irena said. “I mean, the story is always the same, isn’t it? Some damn Necromancer wreaking havoc and someone blaming it on the Reapers.”

When Hanna didn’t reply right away, Irena took note of the younger girl’s slightly widened eyes, which hadn’t blinked much during their encounter. The more she thought about it, the more she began to realize the circumstances must have been dire. They must have sent her in a hurry, no time to even grab an umbrella.

“There were twenty bodies, all young, healthy, and fit.” Hanna looked like she might cry. “There were no marks, no scratches, nothing. It’s as if they all suddenly dropped dead, like someone had pulled their souls, simultaneously.”

Irena’s jaw slackened at the news. Now even the strongest Reaper alive could pull that many souls at once. Had a group of Reapers gone rogue?

“What in the seventh hell?”

“They’re sending the top White Reapers to investigate,” Hanna said. “You’re being assigned to Rowanston.”

“So they just involved me without asking.” Irena couldn’t say she was surprised.

Hanna nodded. “And I’m supposed to shadow you.”

Great. Not only was Irena being sent to the largest existing integrated country in the world, she had a novice to tag along, too. The good thing about integrated nations, though, was that their official language was Elvish (a remnant from the long fallen Wyrrian Empire), and no one would look at her funny for being born of a fairy father and an elven mother. Rowanston was full of half-borns.

She sighed and grabbed her umbrella. “Where in Rowanston?”

*

When Irena arrived at the largest conference room at the main campus temple, everyone present turned to look at her as she opened the door. The meeting was so silent, the only sound to be heard was the pelting of rain against the stain glass windows. Irena and Hanna both bowed and took seats at a table near the back of the room. The red rug matched the red cushions on the chairs, which matched the crimson robes of the Headmaster. Presently he glared at Irena from his lectern at the front of the room.

“I’m glad you found it convenient to join us,” he said.

Irena bowed again in her seat. “I couldn’t find my key, Headmaster Torrin.”

His eyebrows raised up as far as they could go. “Your key?”

“I didn’t want to leave my apartment unlocked, sir.”

“Twenty innocent elves are dead, and you’re worried about your apartment door being unlocked?” Headmaster Torrin scowled.

Irena looked down at her hands. She wasn’t any good at lying, but simply saying she didn’t feel like attending wasn’t an option. “I wasn’t aware of the gravity of the situation until Hanna told me. My deepest apologies.” And to be fair, this last part was true.

Headmaster Torrin closed his eyes and ran his fingers through his long, graying hair. “Right, then. Did Hanna tell you I am dispatching you to Rowanston?”

“Yes, she did, sir.”

“Good, good.” He gestured to another White Reaper sitting toward the front. “The incident happened in Orsons Town, where I’m sending Kaldr here, but the suspects are believed to have fled to New Gotha, which is where I am sending you.”

New Gotha, the second-biggest city in Rowanston. Irena would need to leave her white robe at home if she wanted her time there to go smoothly in any way.

“And we know for sure that these suspects are Reapers?” Irena asked. “Are they from the White Reaper Society at all?”

“We’re not sure yet,” replied Helís, another White Reaper sitting in the middle of the room.

Headmaster Torrin cleared his throat. “It’s highly likely, considering New Gotha often requests our services.”

Irena leaned forward to rest her elbows on the table. So then, she had to help solve this bizarre mystery and clear the White Reaper Society’s name, unless, of course, the perpetrators had indeed been White (or Gray) Reapers. She tried to picture a new batch of Gray Reapers or a seasoned faction of White Reapers traveling all the way to Rowanston only to bail on their commission in favor of murdering twenty fellow elves. It didn’t make any sense to her. The White Reaper Society had always taken good care of its residents and only bred the highest caliber of Reapers. Few recorded cases throughout history involved Reapers who had gone rogue, and to Irena’s knowledge, none of those cases involved the White Reaper Society.

“What do we know about the victims?” Irena asked.

“We don’t know much,” Headmaster Torrin replied, “but collecting information is part of the reason I need you to investigate. What we do know is that the bodies were found lying around a fountain in a school courtyard after an athletic event, and they mysteriously disappeared after they were discovered.”

A few attendees gasped quietly. Apparently this piece of information wasn’t only new to Irena. Next to her, Hanna covered her mouth with her hand.

Irena asked, “They faded away?”

“No one knows how they disappeared,” the Headmaster replied. “The guards who discovered them alerted their precinct, but by the time they returned, it was as if the bodies had never been there.”

“That smells like necromancy to me,”  Helís said.

“I was just about to say the same thing,” Irena said. “How else would the bodies have disappeared like that?”

Headmaster Torrin gave the meeting attendees a pointed look. “How else would the bodies have dropped dead without illness or injury?”

“It could have been a vampire?” Hanna spoke up in a small voice. “Bite marks are sometimes easy to miss.”

The Headmaster left his lectern to pace the front of the room. “No, no, especially not in integrated society. Besides, bite marks are rather stand-out telltale signs, even for untrained eyes, don’t you think? I highly doubt any trained guard worth his salt would have missed such a detail.”

It could be that a group of Reapers and Necromancers had decided to work together, but why? Who would stand to benefit from something like that?

“In any case,” the Headmaster continued, “the nation of Rowanston is prepared to reward you a handsome commission for solving this mess. And whatever they pay, the Society will match it, for helping to clear our name.”

Irena thought back to the letter on her writing desk. However much she would be rewarded would be more than enough to visit her father at his home in Kyra Forest, where she was born. She looked at the Headmaster.

“How soon should we leave?”

*

Irena figured she wouldn’t need much on her trip and decided to pack light. A tithe-funded stipend would sustain Irena and Hanna on their journey for at least two months, three if they lived frugally. All that was left was to tell her mother she was going away for another commission, the most important one in a long time.

The carriage ride from campus to her mother’s rural home outside the Capital took about six hours, and she made this trip alone. Undoubtedly, Hanna had embarked to inform her family as well. They’d agreed to meet at the Temple the next day and depart together from there. Somehow, for a trip as big as this, it didn’t seem proper to write a letter. She needed to see her mother in person. Although this most probably had more to do with wanted to see her father than traveling to Rowanston. As the horses trotted spritely down the dusty road, all Irena could do was gaze at the woods in the distance and think about her father in Kyra Forest awaiting her reply.

The carriage reached her mother’s cottage before sundown. The neat little garden surrounding her mother’s home flourished, providing evidence of her Elementalist mother’s green thumb and near-mastery over Earth and Water. Irena followed the little path to the door, knocked, and waited. It didn’t take long for her mother, Alva Torsson, to answer.

“Hi, Mother.”

“Irena!” Alva stepped aside to let her daughter in. “Come in! I wasn’t expecting you. You didn’t send a letter or anything. What a most pleasant surprise. How’s the Society?”

Irena closed the door behind her and stood awkwardly before her mother. The Torssons were all the color of honey with bright amber eyes. Irena, on the other hand, had come out with skin and eyes as dark as coconut, which she’d always figured were traits gifted her from her father. Her mother had been the only Torsson to truly treat her like a member of the family.

 

[[Uh, sorry this ends like this. This isn’t the end of the chapter, I promise. This is just all I’ve written today. I promise there will be more soon!]]

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Thoughts on institutionalized creative writing…

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Literary Magazines

This post is going to seem a little more informal compared to the others because this wasn’t planned in the least. I happened to come up with this idea for a blog post while researching graduate school options…

So, let’s go back to the academic year 2008-2009. I was 16 years old and simultaneously a junior in high school and (technically) a freshman in college (I was a full-time college student at this point — I took absolutely no high school classes and all my college classes counted doubly for high school and college credit.)

This was when I took my first creative writing class. I’d always wanted to be a writer, but this is when I truly fell in love with the idea of being a writer and an author as a young adult. This was also the beginning of a long period of confusion.

It wasn’t until later that I realized academic English departments aren’t exactly huge fans of genre fiction (in general). They frown on fantasy, science fiction, and horror — the three genres I loved to write and would have loved to study more in school. Unfortunately, other than the one Sci-fi and Fantasy Lit course my university offered, which I also took when I was 16, what we mainly studied was literary fiction.

I can certainly appreciate lit fic. It’s artsy. It’s all about craft. But, after a while, it can get profoundly boring.

I graduated with my BA when I was 20.

I’m 26, and I’m just now starting to realize just how behind I am on fantasy and science fiction. And I began to realize this after watching vlogs and joining writing groups. Fellow writers and readers would talk about their favorite fantasy and science fiction writers, and I would have no idea who they were. I didn’t even hear about Ursula Le Guin until I was 24. I didn’t learn who Brandon Sanderson was until a month ago.

And to be honest, I (largely) blame the academic institutions teaching creative writing.

Wanting to write and submit genre fiction was beaten out of me pretty early on, and pretty much all we studied was literary fiction. I was told that I wouldn’t get accepted into MFA programs, nor would my stories be accepted into literary magazines, unless I wrote literary fiction. So that’s what I wrote. (Of course, I still wrote my genre fiction on the side. I just didn’t know where I could submit it.)

I got the impression that academia doesn’t think genre fiction is smart. It’s not considered to be as clever as literary fiction, which I think is bullshit.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret my experiences in undergrad or grad school. I read some pretty great stuff — in both undergrad and grad school — such as Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, Sea Oak by George Saunders, Lolita by Vladimir Nobokov, and Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, which have all become some of my favorite works of fiction of all time.

But Oryx and Crake will always hold a special place in my heart because it gave me hope. It’s a work of speculative fiction that had earned a spot in academic studies. It’s good and smart enough to be studied in the classroom. Atwood doesn’t like to call it science fiction, but it totally is. It 100% is. And that was my hope.

I studied this book in grad school for an Atwood independent study with the English department head (who is one of my favorite people on the planet, but who also told me she dislikes things like dragons and magic — that broke my heart), and I got so inspired. If Atwood could simultaneously write genre and literary fiction, then, damn it, so could I!

But how?

Each story I wrote attempting to marry genre and literary fiction turned out to be a Frankenstein’s monster of a mess — definitely nowhere near Atwood’s level of expertise.

Eventually, I gave up on thinking my writing would ever be good enough to enter an MFA program. Well, more like, I psyched myself out and found reasons not to apply to any MFA programs. The problem now was — what to do?

For a while, I continued trying to submit my stories to literary magazines, in vain (though I did manage to  get two of my horror flash fiction pieces published on an award-winning horror website — that was cool). And notable fantasy/sci-fi magazine don’t really accept unsolicited works.

I entertained the idea of using my Japanese language skills to be an interpreter or translator. I danced in ballroom competitions and showcases for two years. But writing was always in the back of my mind, and abandoned and unfinished stories nagged at me.

Then there came a period of two years (2013-2015) where I tried to get my first novel published — first traditionally, then via self-publishing… which is not a topic that was ever touched on throughout my entire schooling. No one ever taught us how to publish! We learned how to write query letters to editors of literary magazines, but no one had ever taught us the differences between traditional publishing and self-publishing. No one had ever taught us about agents. No one had ever taught us about hiring professional editors and cover designers. I had to learn all of this myself, mostly through trial and error. And there was a hell of a lot of error.

Anyhow, I published my first book in 2015 and had completely put MFA programs out of my mind forever. Or so I thought.

It wasn’t until within the past year or so that I finally started to see teaching (at the college level) as something I’d be into. As an English major, I was vehemently against the idea of teaching, and my aversion to this idea only grew as people would say stupid shit to me like, “Oh, you’re majoring in English. So you’re going to be a teacher, right?” And I would retort, quite indignantly, “No. I’m going to be a literary editor.

SIGH.

Anyway. It’s 2018, and I’ve been getting that academic itch. I graduated with my MA in English literature three years ago, and ever since I’ve started teaching Comp I at a university (this is my first semester!), I’ve been thinking more and more about how happy I’d be teaching creative writing at a university.

Since I already have a Masters, I figured, why have two Masters degrees under my belt when I could just go for my PhD? (That’s right. A PhD in creative writing.) But then I ran into the same problem. Would my writing be good enough? Submitting to these programs is hella expensive. Would it even be worth it to waste the money? I have such precious little money, living paycheck to paycheck as I am now. I’ve been told I should at least apply to six programs. If I save and tighten my belt a little (and ask for a little help), I could maybe afford to apply to two or three programs. I’m currently leaning more toward getting my MFA, mainly because there are way more of them to choose from, but that doesn’t make any of those problems go away.

I could apply to three MFA programs, and then what? Not only are most of my stories genre fiction, but MFA programs receive hundreds of applications a year. I know Brown University receives upward of a thousand. And yet, these programs only choose maybe three or four fiction writers.

Three or four out of hundreds.

Will I actually be accepted? Or will I have wasted a bunch of money on a dream that could never be?

But I can’t teach creative writing at the college level without at least an MFA under my belt, so I have to at least try… right?

 

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On World-Building: Rapunzel, the Night Maiden

First, some background info on this story:

Three years ago, I wrote stories for friends and family as Christmas presents. I wrote them for anyone who asked… I didn’t expect so many to ask. So, December 2015 was truly a month of writing through the burn out.

What helped was that I had no particular aspirations for these stories. I wrote them with no intention to revise, edit, or publish.

And yet, out of the 10 stories I wrote that month, one of them turned out to be a gem — “Rapunzel, the Night Maiden.”

For nearly three years, it sat in my Google drive, collecting metaphorical dust. Revising it for publication never crossed my mind until I wrote my Snow White reboot some weeks ago and decided to collect a group of my short stories in an anthology, Fairy Tales and Space Dreams. And when I re-read “Rapunzel, the Night Maiden,” it was like I was experiencing its magic for the first time. I was looking for short stories I’d abandoned, hoping to give them new life in my anthology, and I was happy to include this Rapunzel retelling.

Little did I know how popular and beloved it would be.

So far, 14 out of 16 beta readers have listed “Rapunzel, the Night Maiden” as one of their favorite (or their absolute favorite) out of the Fantasy portion of the my anthology. (Fairy Tales and Space Dreams will be divided into fantasy stories and sci-fi stories.) Apparently, it is (so far) the most fleshed out, developed Fantasy story in the collection, with the most engaging characters and dialogue. I’ve also been told the world-building was actually… well done.

Was it? Was it?

When I originally wrote the story, I had no idea that world-building was what I was doing (and if I’d known then, I might have tried to turn it into a novel). I’d organically revealed parts of the world, meaning aspects were brought up naturally and when they were relevant — as opposed to explaining everything to the reader in an info dump.

That’s all well and good, but the main critique I’ve been getting is, “More! More! This sounds like the beginning of an adventure!”

What I’ve resolved to do is delete the least-liked and least developed stories in order to make room for expanding the best-written, best-developed stories, most loved stories. (I am, most naturally, a novel writer, so the most common critique I get on my short stories in general is that I need to add more. So many of my short stories sound like the beginnings of novels, and I’m trying so hard to fix that.)

All right, let’s get to the world-building:

So then. I’m going to expand “Rapunzel, the Night Maiden,” but how? How do I continue this flawless world-building (because now I’m definitely going to overthink it), and how do I expand this story without turning it into a novella?

First, I’m going to revisit what I’ve already built.

The original “Rapunzel” is a German fairy tale, so I stuck with that when imagining my setting. It isn’t Germany exactly, but it’s modeled after Germany. Therefore, the knight of the story has a very German name, Richard Ludwig.

I don’t’ want to reveal too many spoilers (because I hope to publish Fairy Tales and Space Dreams relatively soon, and I want you to discover the surprises for yourself), but Rapunzel discovers a race of women who are magic healers called the Idanko, and who have names like Oriyomi. These words, with their Yoruba roots (“idan” means “magic,” and “Oriyomi” is a Yoruba name), hint at West African inspiration, mainly the Yoruba ethnic group residing in Nigeria and Benin.

(Quick digression: I originally named them the Majokko, which means “magical girl” or “witch” in Japanese… Mostly because Japanese is the foreign language I’m most skilled with. But that didn’t seem to make sense when I re-read it. So I changed it to “Idanko.” Although, I kept the Japanese “-ko” suffix, meaning “child,” often referring to girls or young women.)

This means that if I’m going to expand this world, I’m going to have to pinpoint an era (a time when knights would have existed in Germany) and research what Germany was like at that time. Now, I’m not writing a historical fiction — remember, this part of my world isn’t Germany itself. It’s modeled after Germany. But the research would certainly help with consistency.

As far as languages, my characters will speak Something-Close-to-Yoruba and Something-Close-to-German (actually, I might just use real German. I’m a native English speaker, and learning Swedish was fairly easy for me, so how hard could German be?).

Next, what were the Yoruba people doing around this time? What were some of their customs? And, this will be the trickiest, how did the Idanko come in contact with Richard’s people, and how did they come to settle in Richard’s people’s land? Perhaps Richard’s people colonized the Idanko, and some of the Idanko decided it was well within their rights to migrate North to inhabit the homeland of their colonizers. Or maybe they were slaves and won their freedom. It could also be that some of the Idanko were fleeing some sort of badness (war, disease, famine, general socio-political unrest) and took refuge up North.

All of this information doesn’t have to actually be in the story, but having it in my notes will help me shape the story.

I need to flesh out how  the Idanko will differ from Richard’s people, culturally. But perhaps a more interesting question is: how will the Idanko who migrated North differ from the Idanko who stayed back home? This is especially important because I want to paint the Idanko who migrated as people who, after many generations, deviated from their home culture until they became an essentially lost people.

The idea of a “lost people” is near and dear to my heart because I’m African-American, and we are a lost people, far removed from our West African ancestors. Once stolen and sold as slaves, we were stripped of our language and culture. My ancestors were forbidden from speaking their mother tongue. They were brought to this unknown land and made to wear strange clothes, speak a strange language, eat strange foods, and follow a strange religion.

So, what do we get? We don’t get to be African, and we don’t get to be fully American, either. We get to be African-American, and more or less 100 years after slavery (I know, it’s technically 153 years on paper, but if you think some masters didn’t keep slaves even after 1865, I’ve got some reading material for you), we’re still trying to figure out what that means.

(Wow, I teared up a little writing this.)

So how will the idea of Idanko as a “lost people” play as a factor in this story? And what does that mean for Richard, Rapunzel, and her mother? (If you’re dying to know more, you could always beta read for me, or you could help my GoFundMe along to speed up the publishing process. I am still trying to raise money to afford a professional editor and a professional cover designer. 😉 )

If you’re also in the beginning stages of world-building, I hope some of the questions I’ve asked myself have given you something to think about in regards to your own world. ❤

At this point, I still don’t know how I’m going to expand, and eventually end, “Rapunzel, the Night Maiden,” but I do know that I now have a mission and a host of discoveries before me.

I’ve got a world to build.

GoFundMe, to help me cover the costs to publish my anthology of fantasy and science fiction short stories, Fairy Tales and Space Dreams.

Twitter: @BGBFS

Facebook: Black Girls Belong in Fantasy and Sci-fi

Website

3 Things They Don’t Tell You About Self-Publishing (When You’re a Poor Nobody)

If you’ve been keeping up with my journey, then you likely have an idea of how this blog post is going to do down. If you’re new here, then hello and welcome! ❤ Thank you for joining me on my quest to self-publish my science-fiction and fantasy anthology, Fairy Tales and Space Dreams.

So I’m going to talk about the early issues I’ve run into while trying to get this baby published (so this does not include marketing — but trust me, if I ever get this project off the ground, there will definitely be a post on marketing later).

  1. Recruiting Beta Readers

    After a couple rounds of self-edits and revision, your manuscript is ready for the next step, which is seeking out beta readers.

    Now, beta readers are precious unicorns who take time out of their day to volunteer by reading your book and giving you their honest thoughts.

    Some people struggle with finding good beta readers and instead end up with people who provide useless answers such as, “That was good. I liked it.”

    One way to remedy this (and to be nice to your beta readers) is to provide specific follow-up questions, and ask your readers to explain why they feel a certain way.

    But my personal issue pops up before I even get to this point. My problem is getting people to care enough about my project in the first place. Whenever I turn to YouTubers for advice, I am painfully reminded of the fact that they already have hundreds (or thousands) of followers. So even though they may not be famous, they have tons of willing volunteers to choose from and are able to recruit about 20 or 40 beta readers per round (at least).

    I, on the other hand, am a nobody. I don’t mean this to be self-deprecating. I mean that I’m still a newbie in the world of publishing and social media. And since no one knows who I am, it’s nearly impossible to get people to care about my writing projects — let alone get them to care enough to beta read for me.

    So, what I’d like to know from self-published authors who’ve sold a decent amount of books is — how did they get started? No one ever really talks about this. How did they recruit beta readers when they were still relative nobodies?

    I’ve managed to nab 17 volunteers — 10 of them are my friends, and the remaining 7 are complete strangers from Twitter and Facebook that decided to give me a chance.

    The good news is that this is progress.

    When I published my first book, I couldn’t have had more than five beta readers, all of whom were my friends. And I had no system going, so all kinds of friends signed up to beta read and then never actually got back to me.

    This time around, I’ve learned it’s good practice to make your expectations clear, to set up a timeline, and to give specific follow-up questions that you’d like answers to. It’s also good practice to send your manuscript chunks at a time and make sure your readers actually have the time to read it (if you ask someone to beta read and they’re honest about being too busy, thank them for being honest and move on). For those who tell me they can beta read, I do ask that they let me know if, at some point, they can’t meet my timeline for whatever reason (some people get busy and life just gets in the way sometimes) so that we can negotiate an extension or so that I can find a replacement reader.

    And make no mistake — if you plan to publish, the beta reading process is 100% necessary. You might think your book is good, but before you start spending a fortune on revealing it to the world, you need to make sure others think it’s good, too.

    If you don’t really know what beta reading is or you don’t know how to go about facilitating the process, I recommend watching this and this for useful information from one of my favorite YouTubers.

    I’m still in the recruiting process myself, and I’m trying to remain positive. Everyone has to start somewhere.

  2. Hiring a Professional Editor and Cover Designer

    After the first round of beta reading, you make the appropriate revisions and initiate the second round of beta reading. Then you make more revisions and initiate your third. After that, you’re ready to look for an editor!

    Once again, if you plan to publish, professional edits are a must.  When I published my first book, I couldn’t afford an editor, so I skipped this step altogether and brought my book baby into the world unedited and unformatted. Don’t do this to your story. If you love your story, you will have it polished the way it deserves to be.

    If you go through the traditional editing route, this part (both editing and cover design) is taken care of for you (I have my reasons for not going this route, though, and maybe I’ll write about those reasons in a future post). If you go the self-publishing route, then you need to find your own editor(s) and pay for their services yourself.

    Some people pay $800, some pay $4,000, and some pay $7,000. It depends on the length of your manuscript and what sort of edits you’re receiving (and how many rounds of edits you’re paying for). Either way, it’s expensive, especially for someone like me, who literally (not figuratively) is living paycheck to paycheck. (After paying bills last month, I was left with $15… And then I spent $10 putting gas in my car.)

    You hear authors say, “Yes, editors are expensive, so you’d better start saving up.”

    But what about those of us who literally cannot save up?

    I’m not going to lie. This has taken some of the fun out of writing for me, and writing is my oldest and deepest passion. If I don’t write, I feel like I lose a large chunk of my identity, and the fact that money is strictly the only thing stopping me from publishing is unendingly frustrating.

    I feel alone in this, and it sucks. So, if you are currently experiencing this, I hope this serves to let you know that you’re not the only one going through this apparent impossibility.

    This also applies, on a smaller scale, to hiring a cover designer. (My first book has stunning artwork on the cover drawn by a friend for $135, but the title itself was created… by me… and it’s not even aligned correctly. Ugh.)

    I’ve seen $600 to be a typical price for a cover (for a cover meant for both print and ebook), but I’ve found an artist who’s quoted me at $450-500. So that’s nice.

  3. Crowdfunding Sucks Ass

    First of all, I hate asking for money. It makes me feel like a beggar.
    What helped ease my aversion to starting a crowdfunding campaign (at least a little) was reading The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer some years ago. If you’re any sort of artist (and especially if you’re feeling like a fraud — you aren’t a fraud, by the way), I highly suggest giving it a read.

    That said, crowdfunding is still rough. And I still hate it — not only because it makes me feel like a beggar, but because people have bills to pay, children to care for, and their own dreams and hobbies to fund. There are people who need help finding a place to stay or need help acquiring food, and how dare I ask for help funding my book (again, there’s that feeling of being a beggar and a fraud).

    But it’s my passion and my dream, and I have to at least try.

    My current goal is $1,600 to pay for edits, cover design, and the costs that accompany ISBNs and IngramSpark.

    Posting my GoFundMe campaign on Twitter has yielded zilch results (again, I’m a relative nobody), and I haven’t gotten any results from posting it in my Facebook group, Black Girls Belong in Fantasy and Sci-fi, either. Although complete strangers ignoring me on Twitter isn’t something to be upset about, I thought I was building a brand and an audience and a platform when I created the BGBFS Facebook page. But I’m learning quite quickly that my page is seen by its followers as nothing more than a source for pretty pictures of black women in sci-fi and fantasy settings (never mind my call for beta readers, or my asking them what sort of content they’d like to see in this blog, or my request for donors to fund a book that actually features black girls in fantasy and sci-fi).

    Maybe the page isn’t the platform I thought it was. It’s disappointing, but you live and you learn.

    44050731_413482965848766_4319125567916998656_n
    This is a taste of some of the art I showcase on the FB page. This particular piece is “African Magical Girl” by StarZhelli
    https://www.deviantart.com/starzhelli/art/African-Magical-Girl-651233087

    Alas.

    It’s a huge world after all, and I am but a small voice in it.

    Most days, I’m tempted by the idea of giving up.

    But, other than not letting down the few individuals who’ve already given me their support, the only thing that keeps me going is that before most things, I am a writer, and my need and desire to show my work to the world burns too hotly to let me quit.

    I know there are people out there who need my stories — just as there were stories I’ve read that I’ve needed.

    GoFundMe, to help me cover the costs to publish my anthology of fantasy and science fiction short stories, Fairy Tales and Space Dreams.

    Twitter: @BGBFS

    Facebook: Black Girls Belong in Fantasy and Sci-fi

    Website

Writing While Young, Black, and Nerdy

I want to begin this post with an excerpt from the essay “Positive Obsession” from Bloodchild and Other stories by Octavia Butler:

My aunt and I were in her kitchen, talking. She was cooking something that smelled good, and I was sitting at her table, watching. Luxury. At home, my mother would have had me helping.
“I want to be a writer when I grow up,” I said.
“Do you?” my aunt asked. “Well, that’s nice, but you’ll have to get a job, too.”
“Writing will be my job,” I said.
“You can write any time. It’s a nice hobby. But you’ll have to earn a living.”
“As a writer.”
“Don’t be silly.”
“I mean it.”
“Honey… Negroes can’t be writers.”
“Why not?”
“They just can’t.”
“Yes they can, too!”
I was most adamant when I didn’t know what I was talking [about]. In all my thirteen years, I had never read a printed word that I knew to be have been written by a Black person. My aunt was a grown woman. She knew more than I did. What if she were right?

This conversation would have taken place in 1959 or 1960, but it’s 2018, and I’m sure most, if not all, black writers have had conversations similar this. Especially those of us who write fantasy, science fiction, horror, and magical realism.

In fact, toward the end of my senior year in high school, my math teacher had a sub one day who happened to be a black lady. I told her I was salutatorian, and she was so impressed. But when she asked what I was majoring in, I told her I’d be majoring in English with a concentration on creative writing. Boy, her face screwed up so fast, and she was quick to tell me that someone as smart as me should be majoring in some kind of science. I gave her a nervous smile, but that really hurt my feelings.

Why do so many of us give in to the notion that black people don’t write? That only perpetuates the notion that black people don’t belong in books (including the things that come from books, like movies).

So, unsurprisingly, when I was quite young (I mean elementary school), nearly all my characters were white because that’s what I read and saw, which is something Tomi Adeyemi also experienced:

“I had a lot of different reasons for writing [Children of Blood and Bone] but at its core was the desire to write for black teenage girls growing up reading books they were absent from. That was my experience as a child. Children of Blood and Bone is a chance to address that. To say you are seen.”

— Tomi Adeyemi, The Guardian

Later on, around 5th and 6th grade, I added Japanese characters when I discovered anime and manga. At this point in my life, I was more into drawing manga than writing stories, and I can remember my earliest inspirations to be Sailor Moon and Card Captor Sakura.

One of my friends in 6th grade looked at one of my drawings — magical girl characters of mine who were clearly Sailor Moon knock-offs — and asked, “How come you only draw white characters?”

Indignant, I replied, “They’re not white. They’re Japanese.”

But it wasn’t until then that I actually questioned why a Japanese girl like Usagi could naturally have blonde hair and blue eyes.

usagi

By the age of 12, I added more black girls to my stories because I wanted them to be the representation I was lacking. But the funny thing was that I was adding them one at a time. There was never more than one in a story.

I wrote my first novel when I was 15 (the most horrible vampire and werewolf novel ever, and this was before I’d even heard of Twilight), and out of the seven main characters, one of them was black. I forgot what I named her, but she was pretty much the only black person in the entire book. Although, in my defense, that’s what my life looked like at the time. Everyone in my friend group was white, except for one Asian guy, and I was still butt hurt from being teased by the black kids at my junior high for liking anime and rock music (I was on a steady diet of Green Day, Evanescence, MCR, The Used, Fallout Boy, and Panic! at the Disco).

A few years later, when I was 17 or 18?, I wrote another terrible horror novel that I eventually abandoned. Of the five main characters, there was one black girl, one white girl, one white guy, and two Asian siblings. I remember this black girl’s name. Mina Moon. (Ugh.) She relaxed her hair, and now that I think back on it, she was kind of annoying. Even though I wrote this nearly ten years ago, I can still remember the personalities of the other four characters, but for the life of me, I can’t remember anything specific about Mina except that she cried at the very beginning of the novel  (and I must say, with cringe, that I wrote the most cliched horror opening — Mina running through a dim hallway with flickering lights from some ghost or creature, and then sliding into a room in the nick of time).

So, strangely enough, even though I realized I wanted to see more characters like me, I was still rebelling against blackness super hard. I’m sad that the fact that my high school English teacher taught Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston was wasted on my naive, stubborn, low-key self-hating ass.

And when I reached late undergrad/early grad school, I straight up refused to write about blackness. I was still firmly rooted in the shallow notion that all blackness was, was color. Learning Black History was a nuisance to me. One of my white friends in high school scowled at the mention of a minority cultural event and called it “some stupid seminar for minorities to get together and feel good about themselves.”

So then. All that said, prepare to say “yikes!” because I’m about to share an excerpt from a blog post I wrote four years ago, during my first year of graduate school:

Hello! Happy Sunday once again, lovely blog readers.

Today, I wanted to talk about explicitly not writing the “ethnic story.” I don’t think it’s as big an issue these days, but authors of color are often expected to write the “story of their people.” It’s kind of similar to what I learned in my Victorian Women Writers seminar: anything written by women was supposed to have conveyed the “woman experience,” and/or reflect the female writer’s life. Likewise, for example, I would be expected to write about “the black experience.”

Not to disappoint you guys, but writing about being black sounds horridly boring.

I remember reading in my first Fiction Workshop class a short story written by a Vietnamese writer whose name escapes me. It’s basically talking about him trying to write a story, and how he doesn’t want to sell out by writing the ethnic story – but then that’s what it turns into anyway. It’s the most pretentious, sneaky thing… Hated it.

I don’t understand why people expect us to be spokespersons. [….]

I’m most naturally a writer of fantasy and horror. I love science fiction (though I’m horrible at writing it); I can’t imagine what Octavia Butler must have endured growing up in a time when blacks weren’t supposed to write things like science fiction. Have you read her short story “Bloodchild”? I love it! Science fiction with a literary flare.

I wanted to write about her nearly seamless blending of literary elements and genre elements, but I couldn’t find enough sources. You know what I find a lot of though? “Bloodchild” is clearly about slavery. Are you kidding me? Butler even said herself that it had nothing to do with slavery. You know what else I kept finding? Race and gender in Butler’s “Bloodchild” or something of the like. Well, she’s woman writer and a black writer, so she must be writing about the woman experience and the black experience. [….]

Although it doesn’t seem to be that big of an issue these days, it still kind of is, and it’s one of my fears as a black writer of genre… being the black writer of genre. If I continue to work hard at my writing and am ever lucky enough to be remembered for my work, I want to be listed among great writers and great fantasy writers and great horror writers.

I don’t want to be excluded from these groups but then added, as an afterthought, to a list of great female writers and great black writers.

Thankfully, by the time I reached my second year of grad school, I’d developed a deeper appreciation for black writers in literature (and thank Odin I’d finally learned there is far, far, far more to being black than skin color and ghetto-ness). I didn’t get to revisit Their Eyes Were Watching God in the classroom, but I did have the pleasure of studying Beloved by Alice Walker — one of the most artful pieces of magical realism I’d ever laid eyes on. It was beautiful. And it was beautifully black.

“In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. and all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver–love it, love it and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.”

― Toni Morrison, Beloved

And then Winter was born. Winter Yllda Al’Wen Žu.

winter cropped
This is my character, Winter, from The Adventures and Shenanigans of Bastien Falcowhich I published in 2015. My talented friend, Joye Cho, is responsible for this stunning image.

Even though I started writing my humorous fantasy novel, The Adventures and Shenanigans of Bastien Falco, when I was still in my last semester of undergrad, I didn’t finish it until a few months after I received my Master’s. This gave me time to fully develop Winter and her surroundings. This gave me time to write about Sandy’s xenophobic reactions to people who weren’t Northern (read: European) like him. And this was the first time that I was okay with writing a black woman who was dark skinned with natural hair.

It was a god damn breakthrough.

Now, not only have I discovered that I could emulate the wonderful, colorful diversity of the world in my writing (there are all sorts of ethnic backgrounds that also deserve representation! LGBTQA+ individuals deserve representation! It’s not always just about black or white! And not everyone in the world is straight, so why is that what my fictional world looks like?), I’m all about representing blackness as well as black characters in my stories, including, and especially, fantasy. Because I need to.

So, then, I write science fiction and fantasy for a living. As far as I know I’m still the only Black woman who does this. When I began to do a little public speaking, one of the questions I heard most often was, “What good is science fiction to Black people?” I was usually asked this by a Black person. I gave bits and pieces of answers that didn’t satisfy me and that probably didn’t satisfy my questioners. I resented the question. Why should I have to justify my profession to anyone?
But the answer to that was obvious. There was exactly one other Black science-fiction writer working successfully when I sold my first novel: Samuel R. Delany, Jr. Now there are four of us. Delany, Steven Barnes, Charles R. Saunders, and me. So few. Why? Lack of interest? Lack of confidence? A young Black woman once said to me, “I always wanted to write science fiction, but I didn’t think there were any Black women doing it.” Doubts show themselves in all sorts of ways.

— Octavia Butler, “Positive Obsession,” Bloodchild and Other Stories

There are more of us now — me being one of them — and I’m trying so hard not to let you down, Ms. Butler. I really am.

GoFundMe, to help me cover the costs to publish my anthology of fantasy and science fiction short stories, Fairy Tales and Space Dreams.

Twitter: @BGBFS

Facebook: Black Girls Belong in Fantasy and Sci-fi

Website