Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

Blog

Winding up 2010

It’s the end of 2010.  And you know what’s new and different this year? Besides the fact that The Griffin Mage trilogy is on bookstore shelves everywhere, which is very nice, of course?

This is the first year I have ever kept track of the books I’ve read.

Here’s some interesting trivia to start with:  On March 1st, when I finished Book 3 of the trilogy and sent it off to Devi Pillai at Orbit (exactly on the deadline), I had 76 books on my “To Be Read” pile.

And now, having read 87 books this year (not counting anything I re-read) . . . NOW I have . . . sigh . . . 89 books on my “To Be Read” pile.

This is what is sometimes known as “backwards progress”, I guess.

Here’s what I read in 2010:

6 Nonfiction [I’m pretty sure I’m not remembering everything]
Europe’s Steppe Frontier (William McNeal)
Sea of Faith (Stephen O’Shea)
The Ottoman Centuries (Lord Kinross)
[You can probably guess I’ve been doing research on the         Ottoman Empire]

Reading Like a Writer (Francine Prose)
From Where You Dream (Robern Butler)
The Writing Life (Annie Dillard)
[I really recommend the one by Prose, btw)

7 Romances
Born in Fire (Nora Roberts)
Born in Ice
Born in Shame
Dance Upon the Air
Heaven and Earth
Face the Fire
[They were okay, but honestly, does every leading man  HAVE to be a brilliant, handsome multimillionaire?]

North and South (Elizabeth Gaskell)
[Never read such a badly copy-edited book in my life]

1 Classic
The Marquise of O- (Heinrich von Kleist)

8 Mysteries
The Cater Street Hangman (Anne Perry)
Callander Square
Paragon Walk
Ninth Daughter (Barbara “Hamilton”, aka Barbara Hambly)
Still Life (Louise Penny)
The Pericles Commission (Gary Corby)
My Name is Red (Orhan Pamuk)
The Janissary Tree (Jason Goodwin)

1 Mainstream Literary novel
The Lacuna (Barbara Kingsolver)

1 Difficult to Classify
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Annie Dillard)

9 Science Fiction
Ender in Exile (Orson Scott Card)
A War of Gifts
Deceiver(CJ Cherryh)
Fledgling (Sharon Lee and Steve Miller)
Saltation
The Breach (Patrick Lee)
Touched By An Alien (Gini Koch)
Cryoburn (Lois McMaster Bujold)
The Unit (Terry Dehart)

5 YA Science Fiction
Life As We Knew It (Susan Pfeffer)
Dead and Gone

The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)
Catching Fire
Mockingjay

26 Fantasy
Black Jewels trilogy (Anne Bishop)
Dreams Made Flesh
Tongues of Serpents (Naomi Novik)
Masque (Patricia Briggs)
In Great Waters (Kit Whitfield)
Oath of Fealty (Elizabeth Moon)
Blood of Ambrose (James Enge)
Magic Street (Orson Scott Card)
Enchantment
Mystic and Rider (Sharon Shinn)
The Thirteenth House
Dark Moon Defender
Reader and Raelyx
Fortune and Fate
The City and The City (China Mieville)
Under Heaven (Guy Gavriel Kay)
Celestial Matters (Richard Garfinkle)
Betsy the Vampire Queen (MaryJanice Davidson)
Silver Borne (Patricia Briggs)
Bone Crossed
Once Bitten, Twice Shy (Jennifer Rardin)
Tempest Rising (Nichole Peeler)
Devlin’s Luck (Patricia Bray)
Melusine (Sarah Monette)

23 YA Fantasy
The Thief (Megan Whalen Turner)
The Queen of Attolia
The King of Attolia
A Conspiracy of Kings
Plain Kate (Erin Bow)
Beka Cooper:  Terrier (Tamora Pierce)
Beka Cooper:  Bloodhound
A Certain Slant of Light (Laura Whitcomb)
Alchemy (Margaret Mahy)
The Winter Prince (Elizabeth Wein)
A Coalition of Lions
The Sunbird
The Lion Hunter
The Empty Kingdom
Pegasus (Robin McKinley)
Blood and Chocolate (Annette Curtis Klause)
A Crack in the Line (Michael Lawrence)
The Sherwood Ring (Elizabeth Pope)
Midnight is a Place (Joan Aiken)
The Magic Thief (Sarah Prineas)
The Deathday Letter (Shaun Hutchinson)
I Am Not A Serial Killer (Dan Wells)
Mr Murder

So I thought, given all those, it would be fun to pick a Top Five!  What in this list is an Absolute MUST Read?  Now, most of the time, I favor fantasy over SF and I prefer YA and Adult to Middle Grade, so those preferences color this list.

In no particular order:

A Certain Slant of Light (Whitcomb).  This YA is beautifully written, with wonderful characterization, an unpredictable plot, a lovely ending . . . this book is practically perfect.  I immediately ordered The Fetch, by the same author, and added it to my TBR shelves.  It’ll be perfect to curl up with one day.  Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the anticipation.

The Queen’s Thief (Attolia) series (Turner).  The Series That Has It All. If it’s not flawless, it comes close.  You’ll want to read the series in order, though, or else you’ll encounter serious spoiliers.

The Sunbird series (Wein).  WONDERFUL stories, if you can handle some fairly brutal plot twists.

The Hunger Games trilogy (Collins).  Amazing dystopian trilogy that isn’t a total downer but certainly isn’t a perky, lighthearted romp either.

Under Heaven (Kay).  Amazing worldbuilding, lovely writing.  Truncated ending, really needed to be a duology, but don’t let that stop you.

It also occurs to me that a lot of these books would also serve as a writing course for aspiring writers, so if you’re interested, here’s what they offer:

For studying points-of-view and 1st vs 3rd person, Turner’s Attolia series and Kay’s Under Heaven.

For amazing work with “voice” and a truly extraordinary protagonist, Wells’ I Am Not A serial Killer.  Compare to Tal Diamond in City of Diamond (Jane Emerson).

For YA for boys (people are always complaining that YA is almost always meant for girls, and they’re right) — I Am Not A Serial Killer, Hutchinson’s The Deathday Letter, Alchemy by Mahy, the Sunbird series by Wein (start with The Sunbird).  And, actually, maybe Magic Street by Card, though I wouldn’t actually say that’s YA.

For amazing worldbuilding, The Sunbird series and Pegasus by McKinley and Under Heaven by Kay and the Beka Cooper series by Tamora Pierce.

For historical fantasy, Under Heaven by Kay and In Deep Waters by Whitfield and The Sunbird series by Wein.  And, actually, Midnight Is A Place by Aiken, but that’s for younger readers.

For really remarkable settings, The City and The City by Mieville and Celestial Matters by Garfinkle.

For pushing the envelope in YA, The Hunger Games trilogy by Collins and The Sunbird series by Wein.

Now, the next project is to fit all those books I’ve been reading onto the already-full shelves in my library.  Sorting out what to keep, what to discard, and what to store out of sight may take about as long as reading them in the first place . . .

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

News!

If you’re into e-books, then here’s a deal!

http://www.orbitebooks.com/offers/the-griffin-mage-two-for-one/

That’s a two-for-one offer from Orbit — get both LORD OF THE CHANGING WINDS and LAND OF THE BURNING SANDS for the price of one.  Pretty good deal!

I actually — get this — saw a real kindle the other week!  (I know, yes, but it actually was the first time I’ve seen one.)  I let the proud owner show it off to me.  It really was a lot nicer to read from than I expected, though I don’t plan to rush out and buy one this minute, either.  Especially with a huge backlog of paper books already on my To Be Read stack.

Also, let me note:  CHANGING WINDS is also now available as an audiobook.  I’ve listened to most of it, which might seem a bit narcissistic, but what can I say?  Tantor Media did a great job with the book and it works really well in this form.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

Finished!

Yay!  I just finished the full rough draft of Black Dog, an urban fantasy (sort of) featuring werewolves (sort of).  Now, over to my wonderful agent,who will doubtless give me useful feedback over the manuscript and then (I hope) find it a home.

In the meantime, MY job with it is over, or at least suspended.  I can now read Bujold’s CRYOBURN, which just arrived on my doorstep two days ago.  Can’t wait to settle down on the couch with the book and this interesting new dessert I just made, featuring toasted walnuts and dark callebaut chocolate . . . ummmm.  If it worked well, I’ll repeat it with hazelnuts when people arrive for Christmas.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

First Reviews Are Good Times

Or at least, we sure hope so.

Orbit just sent me Publisher’s Weekly’s review of LAW OF THE BROKEN EARTH — the very first review of the third Griffin Mage book.  What a relief when the first review is a good one!

Pub Weekly says:

“This vivid, satisfying conclusion to Neumeier’s Griffin Mage trilogy introduces Mienthe, a neglected girl raised by a gardener and indifferent relatives until she’s rescued by her cousin Lord Bertaud. . . . Then Bertaud’s griffin mage friend Kairaithin brings bad news:  the Wall between the fiery griffin lands and the human kingdoms is cracking.  The engaging spy Tan is kidnapped . . . Mienthe must discover her own talents and inner strength. . . . most of the conflicting characters are sympathetic.  Most compelling is the world and its magical laws, which invite further related stories.”

See?  Vivid!  Satisfying!  You go, Pub Weekly!

Tan is “engaging”, Mienthe is “well drawn”, and most everybody else is at least “sympathetic.”    Whew!    Glad to hear it.

And it”s nice that the reviewer would like further related stories, but I have to say, I don’t have any more planned.

In other news!

I’ve got my current Work-in-Progress finished!  There’s a fair bit of revision to do, but honestly that won’t take too long.  I really look forward to finishing the revision, settling down, and re-reading the whole thing from the top to see how it flows.  I’m in the stage right now of thinking it’s pretty good!

I’d like to have the ms. ready to go to Caitlin by, say, Nov 1st . . . but I also optimistically entered four dogs in a show Nov 6th and 7th, and three of them are entered in obedience as well as in the breed ring.  Those three are all puppies!  Two of them are still at the stage of learning about “sit” and “down”!

Can I train bouncy puppies in all the novice exercises in three weeks?  We will find out shortly!  Can I train the puppies AND revise a manuscript simultaneously?  I think I can . . . I think I can . . .

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

Good news from all sides —

Lots of great writerly stuff has been happening lately!

First, Book 1 of the Griffin Mage trilogy went to an additional printing almost as soon as it hit the shelves, which is very cool!

Second, nearly everybody turned out to like Book 2 even better than Book 1 (which makes me nervous about Book 3:  can I have a smooth upward curve right through the whole series, please?  Can’t wait to read the reviews in January . . .).

Then more cool stuff!  Tantor Media bought rights to do an audio version.  Very nice!  I listen to lots of audio books when I’m driving to dog shows and things.  There’s a serious, serious dearth of good fantasy novels to choose from in audio, people, at least at the library closest to me.  Or else, for a happier scenario, the SF / F novels are always checked out.  That’d suit me.

Also!  Even better!  The Science Fiction Book Club ALSO bought rights to the trilogy, too.  They’re going to bring it out as a three-in-one omnibus edition.  I’m looking forward to the thrill of seeing the Griffin Mage trilogy in an SFBC mailing — and yes, it will be a thrill.  I’ve been a member off-and-on for decades, and now use the SFBC to keep tabs on what’s going on in SF and F.  Plus, yes, I do spend more money buying from them than I usually actually meant to . . .

And one more Very Nice news item —  The Floating Islands, coming out next February, has been chosen by the Junior Library Guild as one of their selections!  This is a really nice feather in my cap, because being selected by the JLG is quite prestigious.  Go, ISLANDS!  I hope everybody agrees with the JLG (and me!) that ISLANDS is a great book!

And thanks to Michelle Frey, my editor at Knopf, who is such a perfectionist and helped ISLANDS be just as good as it could possibly be!

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

Important tips

Important tip about summer gardening:  When you get an inch and a half of rain in late August in Missouri, that is God’s way of telling you it is time to weed.  Especially when it is  relatively cool and pleasant.

Besides the nice weather, the other interesting thing about this week is that I’m babysitting my brother’s two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.  Along with *my* Cavaliers, counting the puppies that are for sale and also counting my ‘old man’ Papillon, that gives me . . . let’s see . . . *eleven* dogs.  That’s a lot even for me, way above my theoretical personal maximum.  Cavaliers are so easy to live with, though, that it’s not actually that much trouble to have a lot.  Especially now that the puppies are basically housetrained.

This also gives me a chance to find out how many Cavaliers can fit on the couch at one time (seven, five if I’m also on the couch — plus two cats).  Actually, mostly the dogs are clever enough to lie on the floor in front of the air conditioner vents, so the couch is seldom that crowded.

Important tip for living with a million dogs:  store the vacuum cleaner someplace handy.  And if you’re going to clip your brother’s dogs, do it outside because, honestly, no vacuum cleaner needs that kind of challenge.

Really important tip for gardening with dogs:  Try not to watch while the puppies dig holes in, wrestle on top of, and chase dragonflies through the flower beds.  When you hear the ominous swish-crash-thud of puppies battering down the butterfly lilies and rudbeckia, remind yourself that no plant without a sense of humor is worth growing.  Except Himalayan blue poppy, and you can’t grow that anyway.

Merlin beating up his Aunt Adora

But thankfully not in the middle of a flower bed.  This time.

Elin with Adora

Adora is usually very tolerant of puppies!  Now that they’re four months old, I’m kinda leaning toward keeping Merlin unless a show home appears . . . he’s looking very nice!  Elin has some cosmetic features (freckles!  on her nose!) which mean she is heading for a pet home, when the right home appears.

Oh, and we’ve had SUCH an advance for puppies!  The youngsters now go to sleep at eight o’clock just like the older dogs.  This is almost as nice as having them housetrained because it gives me some nice peaceful hours to write.  Or read Mockingjay.  Whatever.

I am about half finished with the ‘werewolf’ book — not that they are werewolves exactly.  260 pp, yay!  I hope that is actually significantly more than half done, since I’d like to bring the ms. in at under 100,000 words, definitely under 120,000, and right now it’s a tad over 70,000.  As always, I am going to overshoot and have to cut.  Hopefully I will not wind up writing a hundred extra pages, this time.

I’m in the slooooow annoying middle section, but nevertheless I expect I will probably finish the rough draft sometime in October.  Probably not later than November, anyway.  I know roughly what happens for the rest of the book, though some important questions remain about details (what weapon is this one character going to make?  Why isn’t it going to work?  Exactly what is this other character do to pull victory from the teeth of defeat?).

After my first revision is done, I’ll send the ms. to my brother to read for logic — if any of my characters miss anything obvious when coming up with various plans to deal with the bad guys, I want my brother to spot it!  He’s really good at this.

And I need a friend of mine to read the ms. and check my Spanish, since I personally can’t even count to ten in Spanish.

Then I’ll send the ms. to my agent . . . I told her to expect it before Christmas because it ought to be possible to get it all the way done by then and a deadline helps me get through the slow part.

Good thing my part-time job gives me time to work on writing plus work in the garden plus train dogs for the Fall obedience and rally and conformation shows I’ll be hitting.

Important tip for training dogs:  Go ahead and spend money to enter those shows that are coming up in two weeks!  THAT’LL make you get on with the training!  The dogs will dance for joy when they see the training leads come out and the jumps appear and (most important) the liver brownies come out of the oven.

Oh!  And also!  While more or less on the subject of my actual job!  SUPER IMPORTANT TIP for parents!  Make sure your kid LEARNS THE MULTIPLICATION TABLES IN THE FOURTH GRADE LIKE KIDS ARE SUPPOSED TO.  When a student in college reaches for a calculator to multiply three times six?  NOT A GOOD SIGN.  This problem is way more common this semester than it was even three years ago.  Trust me on this one:  no multiplication tables means you will not make it through college algebra.

Okay!  It’s time for all the dogs to take a nap while I haul myself out of Mockingjay and actually get some work done on my’werewolf’ book!

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

Mockingjay!

I wasn’t EXACTLY counting down the days to Mockingjay.  But on the other hand, I was pretty consistently paying attention to blogs that WERE counting down the days, so I knew I should arrive home after work yesterday to find my preordered copy waiting for me.  And there it was!

Did I bathe dogs, pick apples, cook anything fancy for dinner, review the exercises Bree and Adora will need to know if I enter them in Rally Excellent at that show in two weeks?  Did I work on my very own current manuscript in progress?  Obviously silly questions!  No.  Of course I, like no doubt lots of other people, took off the entire  evening and read Mockingjay instead.

And it was great! 

I expected characters to die . . . including characters I loved.  I expected losses and blood and sweat and tears and moments of despair.  I totally expected Katniss to have a really tough time.  But I also expected, in the end, for the Capital to lie in smoking ruins and President Snow to get his.  I knew that in the end, all the struggle would prove to have been worthwhile.

And they did.  And it was.

Mockingjay was a fitting conclusion to one of the all-time great YA trilogies.

And though I ordinarily hate prologues, I love epilogues, and I’m grateful to Collins for including the one that finished off her trilogy.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

What’s your book about?

You know how the most common question a writer is supposed to get is:  Where do you get your ideas?

I actually don’t mind this question because I can usually answer it, more or less.  Pretty often I actually do know what image sparked a book, what secondary plotline in somebody else’s book I borrowed to create a major plot in mine, what minor character in ditto led to a protagonist of mine. I don’t even have to refer to Schenectady, usually. 

But in fact, this question is not at all as common as the one above.  And the question, “So, what’s your book about?” is really much more difficult to answer.  This is because you want a one-sentence answer which might make the questioner want to buy your book, and explaining what you’re book’s about in one sentence is really, really hard.

Now, Nathan Bransford, an agent who has a great blog, is the guy who posted about this in the way that was most helpful to me (http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/05/one-sentence-one-paragraph-and-two.html).

What Bransford suggested is that you structure your answer this way:  When OPENING CONFLICT happens to CHARACTER, he OVERCOMES CONFLICT to COMPLETE QUEST.

Turns out it is actually more or less possible to use this structure!  So here are my attempts to do this for my books:

1.  THE CITY IN THE LAKE

“When a curse falls across the Kingdom so that all babies are stillborn, Timou must find the courage to discover and defeat the source of the curse — even when she finds that she herself is intimately tied to the Kingdom’s greatest enemy.”

2a)  LORD OF THE CHANGING WINDS

“When the beautiful but terrible fire-griffins are driven out of their desert, both Kes and Bertaud find themselves torn between the desperate need of the griffins and the safety of their own people and country.”

2b)  LAND OF THE BURNING SANDS

“The conflict with the griffins allowed Gereint to escape from servitude, but now he finds himself a pawn of the last cold mage — and poised either to save the country that enslaved him or allow it to be destroyed.”

2c)  LAW OF THE BROKEN EARTH

“After a stranger arrives in Mienthe’s home, she comes to suspect he may be the key to protecting her country from the griffins — but only if she can harness her own emerging gifts to protect him from his enemies.”

3)  THE FLOATING ISLANDS  — coming in Feb. 2011

“After Trei’s family is destroyed in a natural disaster, he finds his way to the dragon-haunted Floating Islands — but when war threatens to erupt between the country of his birth and his new home, Trei must decide where his final loyalty lies . . . and what he will risk to prevent disaster to both.”

Wow, does that leave a lot out.  This one sentence thing is a killer.  Here’s a two-sentence version I like better:

“After Trei’s family is destroyed in a natural disaster, he finds his way to his mother’s kin in the magical, dragon-haunted Floating Islands.  But although he wins a coveted place amont the elite corps that uses dragon magic to fly, when war threatens to erupt between his father’s people and the Floating Islands, Trei must decide where his final loyalty lies — and what he will be willing to risk to prevent disaster.”

There, is that cheating?

4)  HOUSE OF SHADOWS  — coming in 2011, probably.

“After their father dies unexpectedly, Nemienne and her seven sisters must find some way to survive — but Nemienne never guessed that she wuld apprentice herself to a mage, nor that her new master might prove to be a deadly enemy to everything she loves.”

And that also leaves out a lot.  A LOT.  Also, maybe it gives too much away?  Although the reader finds out that the mage is maybe not a good guy pretty early, so this isn’t too much of a spoiler.

Okay, as first drafts go . . . not terrible?  Now just gotta commit these to memory so they’ll be there when somebody asks . . .

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

Romance!

So, I’m reading a Nora Roberts romance.  First one I’ve ever read.  BORN IN FIRE.  It’s a perfect book!

By which I mean, perfect for my purposes:  I can read a few pages and then put it down without a twinge to work on my own current project.  It just isn’t at all compelling, and I have concluded that this is because nothing at all is happening in the book.  Other than the romance, I mean.

By which you can conclude, accurately, that I’m not used to romances.

Here’s the plot of BORN IN FIRE:  Girl meets boy, romantic sparks fly, and then Maggie finds herself weaving the cryptic prophecies of an ancient Atlantean seer into her glass sculptures, while Rogan begins to see eerie movements out of the corners of his eyes in the shadows of his art gallery . . . except, no.  This is a straight romance.  No prophecies, no Atlantean seer, no eerie shadows, nothing.  No heraldic creatures, either.  Not even any werewolves!

I think I have been trained by other genres to expect . . . well, more.  I feel like shaking the book and demanding, “But where’s the PLOT?”  In mysteries you get a dead body, in thrillers you race against the clock to Save The Day, and while anything goes in horror/fantasy/SF, you would be safe to expect Maggie and Rogan to be faced with SOME kind of problem besides working out their (yawn) personal relationship.

This is kind of a revelation for me.  I guess, because mysteries and fantasies almost always involve romance subplots, I sort of thought that romances also included REAL plots as well as a romance SUBPLOT.  Who knew the romance could be, like, the whole thing?

I can now say with absolute assurance that, though I might someday write a mystery, I’ll never write a romance.  But, on the other hand . . . how useful to discover a whole WORLD of books out there that I can actually read while working on a book of my own!

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

And . . . changing directions

So . . . last week, I finally sent Caitlin, my fabulous agent, seventy pages each of two new works in progress and basically said: Pick one.

I thought it was about time, since when you’re seventy pages in, it’s about time to fish or cut bait — or in this case, press ahead or set the WIP aside.  I wanted to press ahead with one or the other, but which?

Naturally Caitlin picked the one I was afraid she wouldn’t like. That was fine by me!  I sort of thought she might say, “Okay, yes, I know it’s the fad right now, but werewolves?*  Don’t you know werewolves are a dime a dozen?  Go with the other story, ’cause there’s no way this one will catch an editor’s eye in all the clutter.”

But she didn’t!  She said, “Great, a fresh look at werewolves!  Editors will love this!  Get ‘er done!”

Well!  Nice to know I’m doing something different enough to count as a ‘fresh look.’  It’s harder than you might think to be sure.  Plus, added bonus, I had a couple of good scenes in mind, so it was easy to pick this story back up.  And I know the ending!  The middle’s a little vague at the moment, I admit, but that will work itself out.

Here’s how the story starts, more or less:

*     *    *    *

Alejandro tried to decide whether Natividad was all right.  She smiled at him out of the engulfing fur-lined hood of her coat, but he thought the smile took a deliberate effort.  His little sister’s dark Mexican eyes were still bright, but her round, pretty face looked pinched and . . . not exactly pale, for of them all she most had the look of their Mexican mother.  But there was a subtle ashy tone to her skin that he did not like.

Miguel, hovering protectively at his twin’s elbow, did look fine.  Miguel had spent his whole life trying to keep up with Alejandro.  He was not tall, but he was sturdy and strong for an ordinary human, and though he, too, had his hood pulled up around his face, the cold did not seem to bother him very much.

Alejandro himself, of course, did not really feel the cold, as he did not really feel the effort of breaking a path through the knee-deep snow.  First he broke the path and then Miguel widened it, so Natividad might not get too tired.  But Natividad was thinner and more easily wearied than she had been before – well, before.  Sometimes she tired more quickly than her brothers expected, and they had all discovered over the past days that she suffered from the cold.  And of course the Puro, the Pure, could freeze to death as easily as normal humans.  Alejandro suspected it was cold enough for a normal person to freeze to death right now, no matter how brilliant the afternoon sun.

Natividad gave Alejandro a look that was at once wry and amused and patient.  She said “I’m fine.”  Her breath, like Alejandro’s, hung in the air, a visible echo of her words.

“She’s fine,” Miguel said, falling back a step to put an arm around his twin’s shoulders.

She leaned against him, her smile taking on a quirk of humor.  “See?” she said to Alejandro.

Alejandro said nevertheless, “We could stop, rest.  We could make a fire.  You have those cerillas?  Matches?”  He looked at Miguel.  “We could boil water, have coffee.  Eat something.  Then you would have not so much to carry.”

Miguel grinned, a flash of white teeth in his dark face.  His smile was their father’s.  Just recently, as Miguel had shot up in height and lost the plump softness of childhood, Alejandro had began to see echoes of their American father’s bony features emerging in his younger brother’s face.  “I’m fine, too,” Miguel said.  “But I wouldn’t mind carrying some of this weight on the inside instead of the outside.”

Alejandro nodded without comment.  Miguel, though young and human and much less strong than Alejandro, was the only one of them carrying a real burden. They had not known how long it might take to walk out to the Lanning house in the middle of Dimilioc territory, so they had brought the things the twins might need for several days of cold hiking.  And more than that, they had not wanted to abandon every last trace of their past.  Buried in the middle of Miguel’s pack, Alejandro knew, was also Natividad’s one photo of their mother, and her wooden flute, both wrapped up in Natividad’s favorite dress, the one with all the ruffles.

They had not had to argue out who would carry the heavy pack.  Last year, when the twins had been fourteen, they might have argued.  Natividad would certainly have argued.  Miguel might not have complained out loud, but they would both have thought Alejandro should carry the pack because he was the biggest and had black dog strength.  But they had all gotten much older over this terrible past year.

They all knew Alejandro could not carry any burden because he needed his hands clear.  Alejandro carried only a knife.  If worse came to worse, he would fight.  If he was strong enough, good enough, maybe the twins would be able to get away, back to the car they had left hidden near the highway turnoff, get all the way off Dimilioc territory.

The truth was, if worse came to worse, probably they would all die.  But that had been the truth since the day their father had been killed.  Since before that, in fact, though they had not known that when they were younger.  When they were younger:  last year, so short a time ago, when they had all been children, before the Dimilioc war with the blood kin, and Papa’s death.  Last year, when the world had changed.

“I’m not too tired,” Natividad said.  “I can go on.”  She looked at her watch, a cheap one with a black plastic strap and a pink face, with a white kitten to point out the hours and minutes.  She put back the hood of her coat and looked at the sky, where the sun stood high above the horizon.  She shook her head.  “That’s not the same sun that shines in Mexico,” she said, giving voice to a thought Alejandro had also had, repeatedly, while traveling north.  How could it be the same sun when it put out so little heat?

The coat was the best and warmest they had been able to find for her.  It was a good coat, better than Miguel’s; neither cheap nor pink.  Buying it had taken nearly all the rest of their small store of American money.  Alejandro remembered how rich they had all felt when they had counted that money, before they had left Mexico.  It had seemed like so much, then.  He said, “You are not too cold?  You two should eat something.  Is that not what you said, Natividad?  People need to eat more in the cold.  You told us that.”

“I’m not –”

“You did say that,” said Miguel, so placidly that Natividad could not argue.  It was not a knack Alejandro had ever mastered, but Miguel was very hard to argue with.  Miguel said now, “Of course you should eat something.  Some jerky, maybe.  I’ll take one of those nut bars with the chocolate, if you’ve got any more.  And we should drink some water.”

Natividad shrugged.  “Matón,” she said, but without heat.  Then she remembered her rule about English and corrected herself: “Bully.”  She swept out of her face several wisps of raven-black hair that had worked out of her neat braid and began to search through her light pack for something to eat.  Miguel walked a little aside from the trail they’d been following, kicking knee-high snow out of his way, and swept more snow off a fallen tree so she could sit down. “I really don’t need to rest,” Natividad protested, but then shrugged.  “But I suppose I wouldn’t mind coffee.”  She followed him, peeling the wrapping away from one of her nut bars and handing her twin another.

“Well,” said a new voice, sharp and quick and nasally American.  “Black pups trespassing.  Do you know, when I caught your scent, I walked out in the middle of supper.  If I’d known it was a pack of puppies, I’d not have troubled myself.”

Alejandro swung around and took several quick steps to put himself between the newcomer and his younger brother and sister.  He did not dare turn his head to see what Miguel and Natividad were doing – he had to trust they were doing as they had agreed, that Miguel had shed the pack, that both his younger siblings had got back on the snowy road, ready to run.  He could hear them behind him: the quick rush of their breath, the rapid beating of their hearts, the crunch of snow as they moved – yes, back toward the road.  He did not look back, but stared directly into the newcomer’s face for a breath and then made himself lower his eyes.  Even then he continued to watch the other man covertly through his lashes.  The newcomer was a black dog; Alejandro could scent the bitter ash of his shadow.  But then he had already known that.

The newcomer was a tall man: taller than Alejandro.  Taller even than most Americans.  He had a very American face:  bony and narrow, with a thin, unsmiling mouth and an expression that was desdén – disdainful, as though nothing he looked at pleased him and he didn’t expect it to.  There was no color to him.  His hair was pale as bleached straw.  His light blue eyes seemed to Alejandro to be the color of the winter itself.  The lines around those eyes spoke of impatience and an inflexible temper.  It was a bleak, hard face.  It was not the face of a man who would be easily touched by anger or fear or grief.

But Alejandro had already known that, too, about this man.  He took another step forward and then dropped to one knee in the snow, trying to strike a balance between respectful acknowledgment of the other man’s superior strength and his own pride.  It was harder to find that balance than he had expected.  He did not allow himself to reach for the knife he carried.  That, too, was harder than he’d expected.

“Well,” said the American, looking them over with leisurely derision, “It’s a little late for courtesy – and that’s a rather half-hearted courtesy, isn’t it?  What is this?  One black pup and a human boy and a girl Pure as the white snow – is that right?  One doesn’t expect to find such a mixed pack of strays in the winter woods.  Still less walking straight into Dimilioc territory.  There are quicker, kinder ways to find death, if you seek the fell dark.”

“We ask to speak to Grayson Lanning,” Alejandro said, fighting to keep his tone meek against a dangerous edge of rising temper.  “We ask for that, and is it your place to call the fell dark if we ask for a proper entrevista?  Audience?”

The tall American tilted his head to one side, his thin mouth crooking in ironic condescension.  “Oh, it is.”

Alejandro hesitated.  Behind him, Miguel said unexpectedly, “Of course it is, but, Ezekiel Korte, would the Master of Dimilioc thank you for exercising your prerogative?”

The tall man’s winter eyes went, unamused, to Miguel.  “You know me, do you?”

“Everyone knows you, sir.”

“Black dogs.  Not human youngsters, generally.”  Ezekiel’s pale gaze shifted back to Alejandro.  “Your brother, is he?  And the girl’s your sister, I expect.  She’s pretty.”  His tone was perfectly indifferent.  “You think you can fight me, pup?  Give those children time to run?”

“She’s Pure,” Alejandro said sharply. “Why should she need to run from you?”

*    *    *    *

*  This one is Patricia Briggs’ fault.  She’s the one who made me enthusiastic about werewolves — I love her books.  Fair warning, though:  my werewolves are NOTHING like hers, so don’t expect that!

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail