Sunday, July 9, 2017

Smashwords Summer Sale

In the fast-paced world of day jobs, writing novels, short stories, and blog posts, alongside a number of other home improvement and side projects, it's easy to forget what's been accomplished in the past. Just a couple of weeks ago, when my fourth novel, Lords of Kur, was published, I returned to the Smashwords publishing platform and realized that despite how much I may beat myself up over not having written as much as I'd hoped, there were more stories on the list than I gave myself credit for. But then, I have a history of selling myself short. So to get back in the indie author game, I joined the Smashwords July promotion program, and most of my novels are free through the end of the month. If you're looking for something new, check them out!  

The Free Books 

Use code SW100 at checkout to apply discount.  

Legend has it that the love of Prince Vlad Dracula’s life committed suicide during a siege when the odds of winning were slim. This is the story of Ecaterina Floari, consort to the Wallachian prince who served as inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. A ruthless warlord in the fifteenth century, Prince Dracula fought valiantly against those who would control the land of his ancestors. As his consort, Ecaterina accompanied him in the turbulent years of exile and discovered an ancient force influencing their lives. Her devotion to him was eternal, and she followed him into immortality… 

Known as “Granía of the Gamblers,” Granía O’Malley makes a high-stakes bet to buy her freedom and the ability to continue her livelihood as pirate queen on Ireland’s west coast. She enters into a dangerous agreement with Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, and soon finds herself caught up in a web of intrigue that is plunging her country, as well as her family, into chaos. At war with a cruel governor while serving as one of Walsingham’s many spies, Granía struggles to maintain stability within her family and fleet and provide an enduring legacy for her heir to the seas. A story full of adventure and passion, Dark Lady of Doona portrays the life of a formidable woman who defied traditions by commanding her own fleet of ships and leading her loyal followers into rebellion. 

A young noblewoman dreams of accompanying her beloved into battle and becoming a legendary heroine. The year is 1588, and King Philip II of Spain sends his armada on a holy war against Queen Elizabeth I. Despite her lover’s warnings, she schemes to join him on the Nuestra Señora del Rosario, flagship of the Andalusian Squadron. She wasn’t prepared for the harsh conditions, fierce storms, and ultimately, crossing paths with the queen’s most formidable privateer, Sir Francis Drakea man who carries her fate in his pocket. Through an enchanted mirror, a mysterious force from the New World is summoned, and Consuela waits, held captive on a foreign shore, in hope of rescue.  

The New Release 

Use code SW75 at checkout to apply discount and get for a mere $1! 

In the Sumer-Akkad Federation, false oracles cultivate selfish ideologies that lead to widespread corruption and oppression. Neglected gods send emissaries to find true oracles and set a revolution in motion. Two friends become a force for change in the ancient heart of the federation—and both make perilous journeys that shape the course of history. 

Friday, July 7, 2017


Callie wasn't sure of it was thunder or fireworks at first, then a piece of notebook paper rose up in a curl from the table and drifted through the air like a ghost. From her vantage point from the couch, she watched the paper settle on the dark dining room floor. The distant clashes came again. Rain splattered through the screens on the windows on the north side of the house. After a short while, the rain died down and a new, engineered series of booms followed. Fireworks kicked off the beach season in the next town over. As the concussive explosions faded, a woman's voice called out from a nearby yard. A pet was missing. There was a pause, then a screen door slammed shut. As the wind picked up, the leaves rattled, and a solitary meow filled the air.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Wolves of Sorrow

Dagmar stood on the wooden platform in the middle of the forest, waiting for the ritual to end. The rich scent of the earth’s awakening to spring brought anxiety to the forefront of her mind. I should be planting crops, not grieving. I don’t even know what to say about this…She wiped the tears away, catching a slightly disapproving look from the priestess, Birgit. No more tears. That time is done.

No tears.

They would not hand her the shield if she continued to cry. It belonged to her husband. It lay over his body when his companions brought him home. Birgit took the shield from his body and presented it to Dagmar with an invitation to join the Wolves of Sorrow. Her heart full of rage at the warriors across the sea who killed him, Dagmar accepted without a thought. Now she wondered if her courage would match her desire for revenge.

Her husband’s shield had been repainted with a depiction of a wolf’s face in dark purple. A single tear appeared under the left eye, the eye sacrificed for knowledge by Odin the Allfather. She accepted the redesigned shield with a grateful bow.

She was no stranger to battle. Everyone in the village could sharpen weapons and step through the basic attack and defensive movements. With Björn by her side, she fought in a skirmish to keep raiders from plundering their village several years ago.

And now she stood with the widow-warriors, about to voyage across the sea to protect the settlements and hunt the men who broke the treaty. Her husband’s friends told her that he had been killed by the king himself.

The priestess held up a sword to the crowd of women surrounding the platform. “We know this belongs to one of King Cuthbert’s soldiers. They may not have been wearing the armor of their kingdom, but they still carried the king’s weapons. They are no more than well-paid bandits, and we’ll show them what it means to rob us.”

The resounding cheers swept her up and she held up the shield, mimicking Björn’s battlecry. As the women marched down the hill from the forest and through the village, they beat their axes against their shields, each bearing the same wolf face. Villagers paused in their tracks for the procession. Onward, thought Dagmar as she raised her axe and shield and shouted. Onward to war.

They reached the shore and waded out to the dragon ships. The Wolves of Sorrow took up three boats, followed by the vikings who made their lives by exploring and raiding other lands. They pushed out with their oars and slowly rowed out of the narrow bay.

Clouds played among the mountaintops as they passed down the bay to the open ocean. The evergreen trees towered over each other and the occasional cry of golden eagles soared over the water. Dagmar shivered suddenly at the world around her. Rarely having left the village, she now realized the vast beauty around her in a new way. That Björn didn’t return standing at the prow of the dragon ship still seemed surreal to Dagmar. For days, she expected to see him walk by the hearth and sit next to her on the bench, and share a story from his travels or offer her some mead. Alas, his side of the bed remained cold. Cold as the light breeze that came down the bay. As placid as the water that stretched out on both sides of the ships. His blanket untouched, though she longed to wrap herself up in it and sleep to forget the world without him.

No storms accompanied them across the sea. The priestess said it was a blessing. “They favor the Wolves of Sorrow,” she said. “They’ll guide us right through the king’s front gates. Cuthbert will fall to his knees and beg us for mercy. We will grant him none.” The widow-warriors shouted in agreement. Steadily and with unflagging determination, they reached the shores of Northumbria, where dark clouds began to gather.

Low thunder rolled across the sky, as though the gods grumbled in impatience. The warriors made camp near the windowless citadel where the petty king resided. A nearby monastery bustled with activity. Monks tended their gardens and loaded barrels of ale onto wagons.

Like the gods, Dagmar was growing impatient. The moment came when the king led a hunting party out of the citadel’s front gate. Accompanied by a couple dozen friends and guards, they rode out into the woods in a column.

A while later, a young scout, Askr, appeared with his bright eyes through the leaves where the warriors hid and watched. “They’re far enough away from the citadel! They’re busy setting up tents and drinking—now is the perfect time!”

The ambush happened quickly. The Wolves of Sorrow led the charge into King Cuthbert’s distracted encampment with raised axes and shields. The Northumbrian men were taken aback at first, bewildered by the sight of the women in armor. A man with a black and white striped beard laughed. Others joined him. The laughter turned to a bellow of disbelief and agony when Dagmar’s axe cut into his shoulder and almost severed his arm from his body. The men gaped and fumbled for their swords. Unprepared, they scrambled as the warrior-widows tore through them in flashes of steel and blood with the rain pounding down on them all. Lightning cracked overhead, illuminating the steel.

Dagmar advanced on the king with her axe held high. “It was you.”

She saw that he didn’t understand her words, but he trembled slightly, his path blocked from any weapon. Her lip twitched in a smile as he held up his hands. His words trembled too.

She plucked the crown from his head and hitched it on the end of the scabbard on her belt. “My son will wear this. We will make him king of Northumbria.” She drove the blade into the side of the king’s neck and it was done. Dagmar turned to the other warriors, emerging into the camp now that the Wolves of Sorrow slaked their thirst. The widows howled and bayed, their prey conquered, their pack ever stronger.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Smell of the Apocalypse

The 10-alarm blaze displaced 125 people. Several cars exploded as the fire spread from house to house. Local news reports showed plumes of smoke drifting for miles away from the fire. The following morning, Callie paused on the walkway on her way to the bus stop. The acrid odor of smoke hung heavily in the air. On this quiet morning surrounded by silent houses, it conjured an eerie sensation.  

There was no traffic. The combination of smoke and silence triggered a survivalist impulse. The lyricism of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road came to mind, bringing forth images of charred trees and a world laid to waste. The post-election newsfeed on her phone promised a bleak future. A worldwide dystopia run by a coalition of dictators was to come, and the time to plan for revolution is now. It feels like it’s already over, and the sixth extinction has come to pass, Callie thought as the bitter tang of soot settled around herThis is what the apocalypse smells like

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Dinner and a Movie, 1977

You walked up the stairs with your dad and stood in the hallway. My grandmother’s chihuahua terrified you. You decided to call him Pringles instead of Gringo. “Pringles, despite the name change, still growled at you and tore at the cuffs of your corduroy pants. You clung to your dad. My grandparents and great-grandmother stood around us, seeing my mom and your dad off on this “first date with the kids.” Curiosity shone in our eyes, but after a brief glance, we stared at the floor with all the attention being focused on our introduction 

We sat quietly on the blue bench seat of my mom’s white Dodge Dart. Car windows still had fins to open and stick your hand out to be pushed by the wind. Back in those days, you could crawl up over the back seat and lay in that flat space under the window, breathing on the glass and drawing with the tip of your finger. The music of the flower children played on the radio.  

At the Chinese restaurant, you only ate bread rolls and refused to touch the fried rice or the pork tinged with bright pink dye. The first spark of mischief ignited when we slid under the table together because the adults were taking so damn long with all their flirting and talking. We had no idea the adventure ahead would change our lives.  

I was seven and you were six. I loved Doctor Who and Star Trek. I wanted to design space ships that could travel across the galaxy. When words in that yellow font scrolled up the movie screen against the background of space, I sat right up. What followed was that epic battle scene with imperial ships gunning down the rebels. Then came the lady in white with the weird hair-do, like she wore donuts on each side of her head. She didn’t collapse like the damsels we knew. She watched as her homeworld was destroyed, and resolved to fight the empire.  

She was funny and stood up to anyone. I loved Uhura, but they rarely seemed to let her off the ship. I had no doubt she’d roll up her sleeves and fight, too, but with Leia, we saw it. She was kick-ass and smart in the way I wanted to be kick-ass and smart. By the time the movie was over, we begged to see it again. Immediately.  

 On the way home, we were not quiet. The back seat of the Dodge Dart became the Millennium Falcon, and we were the heroes. As future step-siblings, the foundation for our friendship was laid out. From then on, you encouraged me to the leading heroine in D&D and LARP games. In the years that followed, we sought out others like Uhura and Leia—you, the burgeoning artist, drew all of them, and I started writing the stories for our own worlds that were populated by women who could be admired for their courage, wit, and brillianceNo weeping or swooning allowed.  

In June of 1994, you told me to watch The Crow. I told you I don’t watch stupid love stories. A month later you were gone, struck down on a sidewalk and killed by an irresponsible asshole who had no business driving. Your best friend gave me a VHS copy of The Crow. It was a bittersweet way to show me how wrong I was. The film was amazing, and all the more poignant knowing Brandon Lee was gone, too.  

Our relationship was bookended by films that changed my life, and you were an integral part of each. You fed my Star Wars dolls to the perpetually barking “Pringles” and I laughed. (Though now when I see how much those dolls are worth, their indignant demise as chew toys is no longer funny.) How many hours did we spend riding our bicycles to go climb trees, or hang out in the colonial-era graveyard across the street, and reach out to our childhood muses?  

We had no idea the actress playing Leia was being bullied about her weight, or the other pressures and struggles she coped with over the years. She was more of a heroine in real life than we knew. Like you, Carrie Fisher left us far too soon. The memory of that first date shall remain with me forever, and it gives me solace to know it was a starting point for so many stories that came to be

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Losing 20 Hours a Week

The realization of how much lost time factors into my week came as a bitter revelation. It’s an inflection point that made me evaluate everything: my career, the location of my job, the job itself, trying to balance writing and publishing novels, maintaining blogs, managing a household, and somewhere in there, find time for family and friends. Since I moved a bit further away from downtown Boston in 2015, my commute has increased considerably. If things are going well with the MBTA, which isn’t often, my commute is 15 hours a week. It’s usually closer to 20. One horrendous night when the OrangeLine was on fire and the Red Line was experiencing severe delays, and every bus and Uber driver was overloaded, it took nearly 4 hours to get home, making for a total of 6 hours of commuting that day. The subway stop closest to home is three miles away, and the bus that takes me there runs sporadically after 7 p.m. Walking is a dicey idea in this not-so-pedestrian-friendly town.

We can consider ourselves fortunate that smartphone give us the ability to do many things while standing around and waiting for the next packed bus to pass us by without stopping. But do I really want to look back at the age of 70, no doubt with chronic neck problems, and wonder why I chose to spend my time like I did, hunched over my phone in an angry crowd, or can I make changes now to shift the latter half of my career into a more positive direction?

Progressive-minded companies understand this. Remote working and flex time are becoming more common. There’s an amazing array of technology out there that makes this easy. So why are so many others reluctant to catch on? Why are optics favored over productivity? Does it really matter if a desk jockey stuck in a grubby cube dyes their hair purple? Individuality shouldn’t be crushed by inane conformity. Numerous studies have shown the negative effects of open office spaces. More lost time, increased stress, and feeling like you’re in a micromanager’s peeping paradise serves no one well. Some executives cite “that one bad apple” who ruined the trust for everyone else, but is that the real story, or do some people simply have a hard time transitioning from a traditional mindset?

With today’s sky-high rents in places like downtown Boston, you’d think a key goal would be to reduce overhead costs. A smaller space with desk sharing would be far more economical, and time can be set aside for meetings requiring larger groups. People feeling like their time is valued and who are able to get more done are more likely to stick around.

A number of things have delayed my fourth novel: moving and renovations, family issues, transforming my career from editor to digital strategist by earning two certificates and studying relentlessly. It’s wonderful to find my calling, albeit at midlife, but it’s also given me time to reflect on what values I attach to my identity and what I need to do to nurture my career. It’s been an epiphany to conclude they’re not mutually exclusive. Yes, I need to pay my mortgage, but is sacrificing quality of life necessary? An essential aspect of digital strategy is digital transformation—the online world is our world, and everything is evolving. Businesses that are slow to adapt risk falling into obscurity as disruptors and innovators from all industries create replacements for what refuses to change.

We’ve crossed the threshold of a new era. It’s exciting and anxiety-inducing. What happens if our robot overlords push us into pod hives to serve as living batteries for the Matrix? Self-driving cars are on the horizon. Smart homes are going to do our shopping for us. Data analytics/business intelligence is a massive opportunity for growth. Schools must be better at preparing students for the future. In order to do that, new leaders have to guide the process. Old-school attitudes about education and employment must transform for us to remain in the game in terms of innovation in all areas of life. While there has been good reason to be really stressed out and angry lately, the badly bruised optimist within me believes there’s still hope. Let the creative spirit flourish, allow for a progressive work environment, and let’s all enjoy more time to pursue the ideas that can make the world a better place. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Old Tin

It was Beth’s favorite thing to do whenever they visited second-hand shops. There was always an old tin filled with vintage jewelry. Usually a trove of tarnished, gaudy baubles, there was invariable a treasure that made it worth purchasing the whole thing.

Beth opened the blue cover decorated with butter cookies and pushed through the broken strings of beads and heavy brooches. Single earrings that have long since been separated from their pair lay like fallen sentries.

Beth grinned as she tugged on a long necklace. “And there it is. Bingo.” The large tootsie-roll like beads were lacquered in red and black. Carved in a Chinese pattern of dubious authenticity, the beads clacked together under the shop’s fluorescent lights.

“It’s hideous,” Callie said.

“It’s perfect.”

Beth’s intention suddenly dawned on Callie and she laughed. “For the lamp with the red velvet shade?”

Beth held up the necklace. “Cut them into three or four piece segments, and hang them around the bottom of the shade. It’ll be the best ugly lamp I ever made.”

It was another of Beth’s passions. On trash days, she searched the neighborhood’s sidewalks for abandoned lamps. Only the tackiest or most bordello-worthy would do. Once refurbished, Beth gave the lamps to friends and family who had a wry appreciation for her art. Beth and Callie’s Somerville apartment featured a small octagonal living room that was impractical for furniture. It became their shared art studio, where they got buzzed and critiqued each other’s projects. The lamps stood in the center of the room on the paint-speckled floor, illuminating the space with rainbow hues when colored light bulbs were used. Rubenesque cherubs adorned the tops, plastic beveled gems sparkled, and random objects were pasted on the shades. They never ceased to draw amazed reactions.

Callie plucked a gold pin in the shape of a heron from the tin. “Put this on the side. Its shadow will be cast on the wall. Fits with the theme, don’t you think?”

“Definitely,” Beth said. She put the pieces back in the tin and closed the lid. “Five dollars well spent!”

As Beth paid for the jewelry, Callie looked at the clumps of jewelry strewn on a nearby counter. An array of neons, pastels, and heavy Goth pieces from the 1980s filled a tin of her own at home. Callie perused these high school-era relics from time to time, with memories drifting over the decades. It was a strange sensation to look at the collections of jewelry offloaded to a second-hand shop by surviving relatives and wonder how her own would look on a similar counter years from now. Some of the pieces in Beth’s tin reminded her of her great-grandmother. It was a fugue of generations, threaded together with shiny trinkets precious to interconnected hearts.