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Colonial Authority: Chapter 21 – Outing

**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**

Cristina had been on the phone with this or that party for most of the morning, talking to her contacts and trying to get through to someone at Global Star, even if it was in the wee-hours of morning back in New Milan. When she finally reached someone, an underling of someone that she usually dealt with, he promised her that they were working with the Andromeda authorities that had imposed the embargo. At present they were intransigent on the issue, completely convinced that there were hidden messages in the music.

Cristina volunteered to meet with the local officials as she was already in their city, but the distribution company wanted her to hold off for the time being on any private efforts until they had exhausted all of their efforts and had discussed the legalities of the embargo. Global Star seemed to think it was more about New Milan vs. Andromeda than anything else.

When Alix woke he was elated that he had pancakes and sausage links waiting. He drank coffee and then some juice before plopping down on the couch along side Chase as the two of them engaged in a racing challenge video game on the main world viewer screen.

Julie shook her head as Cristina tapped her earlobe disengaging from her call and came into the kitchen to help her clean up from breakfast. “I’m sorry I have not been much help.”

“No, I completely understand. It’s such bullshit that they have banned sales of your music locally. I’m sure the root of it is our history and I’m personally sorry that it’s affecting you.”

“Global Star seems to think the same thing.”

“It’s all political crap.”

“My real concern is that the bullshit will spread to other cities and all of a sudden we will have a reputation that we don’t deserve and because of it we’ll cease to be a band.”

“Or the publicity will work in your favor, making you even more popular because you’re banned. The bad publicity can be spun to your advantage without allowing for any guilt,” Chase said from the other room.

Julie looked at her, and then lent her the support of a friendly hug. “I’m sure everything will work out. It’s just someone with a wild hair up his or her you-know-where.”

“I know but I feel so impotent here. It’s like whatever I do won’t matter. And they tell me to be patient, because they’re working on it and I know they are. But I know as well as any of them that the longer this goes on, the more harm it can do to our success.”

“Unless someone spins it in a favorable way,” Chase suggested, again from the other room.

“My fear is that after all the hard work we’ve done and the years the band has been performing together our fame will be fleeting, Chase. Regardless the spin, we haven’t established our reputation. Most people think we’re a new band and have only been together for a short while. It’s not fair that some bureaucrats want to take the potential of our fame from us over some stupid rivalry between two cities.”

“Let the guys and gals that are the experts in publicity take charge of it,” Chase countered. “You have the best people in the world working for you. You also have the best legal team to negotiate with all the bureaucrats.”

“We need to go out, do something to take your mind off of it,” Julie suggested. “Leave the boys here playing their game while we go shopping.”

Cristina laughed. “Well, I could use some new shoes. I know that is cliché but I really do need some new shoes. Touring with a bunch of guys for a year, when did I ever have a chance to shop for shoes?”

Julie laughed. “Let’s do it then.”

“I need a shower.”

“You first then,” Julie said.

It was not far from the apartment building to the nearest shopping square. Still, Julie decided to take the floater coach, in case they bought things that would be a burden to carry home.

It was a weekday. The square was not crowded. Almost every shop was busy but not nearly like it would have been on a weekend. The ladies went to five shoe stores before Cristina found a pair that fit perfectly. They were expensive but as she had not bought shoes for over a year. She felt she was over due.

They continued shopping, looking at the latest fashions from Emerald, New Paris, New London and of course Andromeda which in recent years had become associated with trends and fashion for the younger set. Julie and Cristina spend most of the afternoon trying on different dresses and ensembles, not buying but considering. Toward the end of the day they returned to one shop where both of them found a couple of dresses they liked and asked them to be held. They made their purchases and, because of the time, decided to call it a day and return to the coach to drive back to the apartment.

When they arrived Alix and Chase were still dueling with one another in the twenty-fifth round of the simulated racing game.

“We’re back,” Julie announced.

“Welcome home ladies,” Chase said.

“You’re missing it, “Alix directed to Cristina. “I’m killing Chase on points.”

Cristina leaned over the back of the couch and kissed Alix on the cheek.

“So, what did you get?”

“Shoes and a dress,” she replied. “I’ll put them on for you if you like.”

Alix laughed. “That would be like about the only thing I can think of that might end this duel.  It might distract me just enough for Chase to win.”

“Well maybe I should put on my new dress too, then,” Julie said. “Just to be fair.”

“Please, no!” Chase laughed.

“Well if you plan on playing that game all night, we need to interrupt you somehow. Then you guys need to take us out, dancing.”

Chase glanced at Alix and received a smile in response. “Uh, I don’t dance,” he said to Julie.

“You can dance, it’s just you have to be drunk to be brave enough to do it,” Julie corrected.

“What the hell, it will be fun,” Alix said, looking into Cristina’s sparkling eyes. “It will be a chance for you to show us this awesome music community that supposedly exists here.”

“Oh, it exists,” Chase said. “I think you will be mildly surprised at how good our local bands are.”

“But if we are going dancing,” Julie said.

“The clubs with bands can wait for another night,” Chase agreed.

Alix paused the game, saved the status and removed the interface module from his head as he stood and stretched. I probably need a shower.

Chase did likewise. “You can go first,” he permitted.

“Join me,” Cristina invited.

Alix laughed, and then focused on her eyes. “Why would I ever refuse an offer like that?”

When they emerged from the bathroom dressed in towels wrapped around them to conceal their private parts, Chase and Julie took their turn at the shower. Cristina and Alix dressed in the guest room. Then, he went out into the living room while Cristina worked on her makeup in the bedroom.

Once Julie and Chase finished with bathroom, Julie went to her bedroom to fetch her makeup kit to work with it at the bigger mirror of the bathroom. When Chase was dressed, he went into the living room and joined Alix on the couch, taking over the remote to search the news channels.

By the time that she was finished, Cristina ventured into the living room, pausing until both Alix and Chase stood, looking at her and commented on her new dress and shoes. Alix complimented her on how wonderfully the dress accented her perfect figure. Chase returned to the couch sampling the news and entertainment channels, seeking anything about the embargo on Duae Lunae’s music.

“As far as I can tell, nothing has changed,” Chase said to Cristina as she sat down on the couch between him and Alix.

“I’m not sure what I can do. The distributor told me to let them handle it.”

“Then by all means let them handle it. They deal with this sort of crap all the time,” Alix said. “They have the experts working on it, just like Chase says.”

“Why us? Why now? No one else suffers embargos.” Cristina shook her head.

“Maybe this is extreme, but it is their thing not yours,” Chase explained.

“But they’re saying things about me and the band that simply aren’t true. That’s what pisses me off,” Cristina stated.

“It’ll blow over,” Chase promised. “I think it is just the local community is fearful of outsiders penetrating the music scene.”

“But we love Andromeda,” Alix said.

“I know; I know. But the city as a whole doesn’t know how great you are,” Chase replied. “We’ll just have to make sure we debut the next album here and begin your next tour here. Maybe it will even seem like Andromeda is your adopted home, then.”

“That’s a great idea,” Alix said.

“Except our fans in New Milan may take it the wrong way,” Cristina pointed out.

“Maybe we should record some of it here, then,” Alix suggested. “Maybe arrange to record a couple of live tracks in a club. We could feature some local talent as well.”

Chase smiled. “That could work well. Collaborating with some of the more popular bands here that are almost ready to break it huge… We could coordinate a promotional tour.”

Cristina kissed Alix on the cheek.

“What was that for?”

“For listening to me rant and caring about my concerns and coming up with a great idea.”

“How could I not care?” he asked. “It involves me too.”

“It involves all of us,” Chase said.

“You both were so involved in the game earlier that I wasn’t sure.”

“Games are games,” Chase defended them both. “Just because we were involved in the game doesn’t mean we were oblivious to all of that bullshit you were dealing with all morning.”

Cristina kissed Chase on the cheek. “At least you guys appreciated what I was up against and what I was trying to accomplish. I didn’t think you knew.”

“I think it’s a little bit of an over-reaction, and premature at this point,” Chase said. “But, having said that, if I was in your place maybe I would see it the way you do. Still, you really have to give the pros the time they need to work their magic with it.”

Julie finally emerged from her bathroom makeup session. She entered the living room, dressed in semi-formal attire and made up for a night on the town, having put on the special-occasion, pretty-face that Chase had been privy to only a few times, the few times that they had gone out to dinner at a formal restaurant.

“Wow!” Chase said only a fraction of a second before Alix joined in chorus.

“Are we ready to go?” Julie asked.

Alix hopped up, pulling Cristina to her feet by her hand. Chase rocked forward and stood, “Let’s go,” he said.

They took Chase’s floater coach because it was a little bit larger than Julie’s. Even if the club that they were going to was really within walking distance, they wanted to have the luxury of piling into a coach and allowing the auto drive function to guide them home.

When they pulled up at the common facility that served many different businesses in the area, Chase docked the coach and they walked directly to the club and waited for a few minutes at the door while the bouncer scanned their ID implants, and then after a few more minutes he allowed them to post the cover charges on their payment wands and enter.

The club was called ‘Options’, a place that rarely hosted live bands. It catered to people who wanted to dance to the current music of the times. As they entered the club Cristina paused, stunned to hear her own voice, their bands latest hit remixed especially for dancing, playing over the speaker system in the club.

She appraised the mood of people in the club who were dancing to a Duae Lunae’s single. As Alix grabbed her hand and led her in the direction of a table that Julie had spotted that was close to the dance floor.

“This is awesome,” Cristina said as Alix pulled her along behind him. Before they reached the table Julie was holding for them they were already heading for the dance floor. Caught up in the emotions of the moment, they were dancing to their own music.

The dance floor was packed with people having fun. Everyone enjoyed the fruits of something they had worked hard to capture in the studio over a year and a half ago. It was a song that Cristina and Keith collaborated to write. Alix recalled complaining about a couple of transitions, which, for whatever reason, were nearly impossible for him. Now, after having played them nearly every day or night and sometimes twice a day while on tour, he could play the entire song almost without thinking about it.

It was surreal in a special way that both Alix and Cristina enjoyed but did maybe could not fully appreciate. The local authorities had banned the sale of their song whether on single or complete Mod cards. Yet people were excited about it and dancing to the music.

Julie embraced Cristina as the song ended and they started to leave the dance floor. “See, they love your music.”

Alix grabbed Cristina’s wrist. “Stay, we can dance for a bit.”

“Really,” Cristina said with some mild surprise.

“Yeah, this is pretty damned cool.” He indicated the lighted dance floor that even responded to where each foot was placed, with different colors and effects.

Chase pulled Julie toward him, away from Cristina and Alix, seeking privacy for a few moments to kiss her and sit at their table. As the next song began, the foursome met again on the dance floor, continuing to dance to a song from Andromeda’s band, Overt Expression. Julie shouted over the music to tell Cristina that this band was reputed the best in the city. Cristina nodded, but then paid particular attention to the music, its structure and the transitions. After listening for a few minutes while she danced, the song was ending. She decided Overt Expression did things a little differently in shaping their sound, but she liked what she heard. She especially liked the singer’s voice and thought he might be a good candidate for collaboration like Alix suggested, perhaps singing in duet.

Chase had already headed for the table that Julie reserved in passing. It was along a wall, close to the dance floor. First he and then Julie sat down to catch their breaths. He waved to Alix and Cristina who seemed to be searching for the table. As the four of them gathered at the table, a waitress arrived, introduced herself as Maureen, Mo for short and took their drink orders.

“This is a pretty cool place,” Alix said. “I mean how cool was it that they were playing our song when we entered?”

“That was a nice coincidence,” Cristina confirmed.

“You have to be a major act to get played in a dance club like this,” Chase said. “And to have someone remix the song for a dance version…well, that’s at least flattering, I think.”

“It means you’ve arrived in the local scene,” Julie amplified Chases words. “And all this crap about the embargo will only increase your fame.”

“It gives us a bad reputation,” Cristina protested.

“Which is not a bad thing with the counter culture, especially in this city. You know, your Mods are probably the hottest thing in town right now because no one has it and can’t get it because of the ban.”

“Someone will go on the railcar to New Milan or Star City and buy some copies and bring them back here to resell them at a scalped price,” Cristina offered her concerns. “Or worse for us, they’ll bootleg them and black market them.”

Chase nodded his concurrence then added. “But that happens anyway. The true fans that support the band don’t get their music that way. They never have. But in this instance, the embargo will force even the fans to get the music through illegal means. They authorities are taking some kind of strange stand for whatever reason. We need to know why they are doing it, but it really is pretty-much token as far as killing the song. The single and complete Mods have already sold well and will be played in clubs regardless of their efforts. They have to know that. As for the publicity, you couldn’t buy this level of attention.”

The waitress returned with their drinks and lingered for a few moments, seeming to be staring at Cristina. Then she turned away and started to go back to her duties, but abruptly wheeled around, whether from finally recognizing her or gaining the nerve to ask, “You’re her, aren’t you? You’re Cristina!”

Cristina smiled, “Uh, yeah.”

“I knew it! I friggin’ knew it!” Then she looked at Alix, “You’re that guy…the bass player!”

“That would be me.” Alix confessed. He was used to the relative anonymity of the role as well as the instrument he played in the band.

“I heard on the news you were in town,” she said.

She turned around looking for someone to tell, wanting to trumpet her find, but then decided that maybe that was not such a good idea. She turned back. “Look I’ll keep your secret because if I spread the word this club would erupt and chaos will ensue.”

“We appreciate that,” Chase said.

Cristina looked directly into the waitresses eyes, “We are just here to dance and have some fun. We appreciate your discretion.”

Alix leaned toward the waitress and took her hand. In his palm was a promo card with the band’s pictures and global network message addresses. “This is how to reach the band or us individually. Send us a note and direct it to me or Cristina and we’ll respond to you directly.”

She smiled in response. “No one is going to believe this. But it’s pretty cool. I’m such a fan!”

Julie pulled out a framecap from her bag and pointed it at Maureen, “Here, the three of you stand together.”

“Great!” Mo exclaiming, and then looked around to make sure she was not needed.

“I’ll send the picture directly to your Global network address,” Julie said as she captured two images.

“That would be wonderful,” Mo said.

“Here,” Julie offered the plane to her, “Key in your address.” When she had finished, Julie clicked send. “There you are. It should be waiting for you.”

“This is really nice of you, all of you.”

Cristina smiled. “I’ve known four other ladies named Maureen and every one of them was a good person and great friend.”

“I have to get back to tables,” Mo said. “I’ll be right back. Are you okay with the drinks?”

“Yeah, everything is fine,” Chase said.

“You can bring refreshes when you come back,” Alix said.

“You got it.” Mo smiled.

Cristina eyed Alix as the waitress walked away from the table. “You were flirting with her.”

“I was just being friendly with a fan.”

“I know flirting when I see it.”

“You’re jealous?” Alix laughed. “I don’t believe you’re jealous. Like there is anyone that could ever compete with you!”

Cristina looked away.

“I don’t believe it!”

“Come,” Julie said as she stood up and grabbed Cristina’s wrist. “We’ll be right back,” Julie said to Chase and Alix.

“What’s that about?” Alix asked.

“You were coming on a little bit strong to Mo, there.”

“Well, she’s cute. Don’t ya think?”

“Women always seem to be able to tell when a man is flirting. If the girl is cute it is always a very bad thing. That turns it into a threatening situation that you can’t win. And then you sort of denied it while playing incredulous that Cristina would ever think anyone could compete with her. That just compounded the wrongness of what you did.”

“I’m not used to being the focus of attention, I guess. I kind of like it, but I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s just I’ve never been famous. Maybe I’m not now, not yet or whatever.  But I was feeling that, mostly. I’d never think of hurting Cristina.”

“Well, when the girls get back you need to explain that to Cristina,” Chase advised.

“I’m fortunate,” Alix said. “I mean look at me. Who would ever imagine that Cristina would be with me? She’s the star. I’m just someone in the background.”

“You’re both stars.”

“Chase, even the waitress knew Cristina’s name. She called me the bass player. I’m okay with it because I understand it and I’m used to that. At least she got that much right, you know? So, that’s how it is. Cristina is the focus of the audience whenever she sings. I get it. I’m focusing on her when I’m playing. Hell, look at her! Who’s not focused on her? Even you, Chase.”

“It is hard to tear my eyes away from Julie,” Chase confessed. “But when I do Cristina is where they end up.”

“I’m afraid to go to sleep. I fear waking up from this dream I’m living. If I open my eyes will it be just as it was before? Before a few days ago, Cristina hardly acknowledged me except when it was something pertaining to the band and my playing bass. I was content with that much attention. For ten years that was the extent of my relationship with her. But now that there has been something more, how can I ever want to return to how it was?”

Chase sat silent, feeling for Alix’s sentiments. He too was in love with Cristina, but at least he had another love in his life. Julie captured his heart before he met Cristina, and so he was immunized enough to the effect of Cristina’s charm. The attraction he could resist, and he had resisted, to his own amazement.

When Julie and Cristina returned to the table, they were both silent.

“I’m sorry I was flirting,” Alix said. “I’m not used to getting attention like that. Even so she didn’t know my name, so that’s how important I am to her.”

Cristina glanced at Alix, but then looked away.

“Look, I was having fun. That’s all it was. There’s nothing intended by it. She doesn’t begin to compare to you.”

“She’s cute,” Cristina said.

“Yeah, she is,” Alix admitted. “But I’m in love with you.”

Mo returned to the table with refills on their drinks, and set them down on the table and then collected the payment wand transmissions for them. “So, if you don’t mind me asking, where’s everyone else?”

“They are chillin’ in New Milan,” Cristina said. “We are taking a break before heading into the studio to record a new Mod in a few weeks.”

“A new Mod? That’s exciting news!”

“Most of the songs are written. We really just have a couple we need to hammer out the final details on. Everyone’s resting up for that.”

“I can’t wait to hear it. My boyfriend and I are huge fans,” she said. “We were both excited when we heard you were in town.”

“Yeah, well we met a couple at the airport. They were fans too. It’s nice to know we have support here. Apparently she or her boyfriend decided to spread the news that we were in town.”

“I’d never do that. You’re my friends, now.” Mo flashed a smile.

“Not that it is entirely a bad thing,” Chase said. “Considering what all is going on, being in the city is a good thing for the media to focus on and speculate.”

“Maybe it has some people worried,” Julie said.

“Hey, it’s what it is,” Alix said. “I have no problem with people knowing that we’re in town. I just have a problem with the town thinking we have done something in our music that we’ve not.”

“Yeah,” Mo said. “That’s total crap and the direct consequence of local paranoia. The youth scene scares older people. They think that it’s all the result of outside influences, like it carried subversive messages through music and the arts.”

“They think that a New Milan band cannot possibly be popular here unless they are doing something unusual and strange,” Chase offered his analysis. “So someone thinks that maybe they heard something strange in a song and mentions it to someone. Eventually the rumor spreads and the uninformed who have probably never heard the song decides to create an embargo, just in case.”

“There’s nothing hidden in the music,” Cristina stated. “I promise.”

“I know that,” Mo said. “I think most of the people who are into your band know that as well. It’s just a bunch of overly paranoid people stirring up trouble.”

“Thank you for understanding,” Cristina said and she slipped down from her stool and embraced Maureen, lingering for a few moments then as they parted Cristina smiled at her.

“You’re real people and that is friggin’ awesome!” she said as she laughed.

Cristina looked at her. “Of course we’re real people. What else would we be?”

“Well, I don’t know. It’s just I’ve never met anyone famous before.”

“We really appreciate you being a fan,” Alix said. “Even though I don’t think we’re quite as famous as you think.”

When Mo left to tend to other tables, Chase said had to go to the restroom and he excused himself from the table. As he walked he was still thinking about how close Alix came to straining his relationship with Cristina and how he would never want to do that with Julie. He entered the restroom, but immediately sensed something was unusual and inappropriate. Before he could react or take flight, two men seized him. They pressed him up against the cold porcelain tile wall, while a third man pounded a solidly delivered fist into his stomach. Then all three stepped back allowing him to collapse onto the hard tile floor.

“What…the…fuck?” Chase asked while struggling to regain his breath.

“You know what we need. Tell us what you know,” one of the three said. Chase looked up through sweat and tears, but he could not tell which one of his assailants had actually spoken.

“Tell you what?”

“You were with them.”

“Them?”

Two men grabbed him and again pinned him against the wall. “The Resurrection,” the third man said.

Suddenly, Alix entered the restroom. Immediately the third man turned and warned him, “Get out!”

“What’s going on here?”

“It’s none of yer concern.”

“Chase is my friend, so I guess that makes it my concern.”

“Have it your way then,” the third man slugged Alix up the side of his head, sending Alix flying back against a wall of urinals. Alix looked up at his assailant from the floor, rage filling him as he tried to stand up but received a kick in the stomach.

Suddenly, flames erupted from the hair of all three men. Individually they panicked as they attempted to apply water from sinks to douse the fires. In the meanwhile Alix crawled over to Chase and checked to see if he was okay before standing up and facing the three men, who having extinguished their hair now squared off before him. “Gentlemen, this is not over. We’re watching – both of you.”

They hurried out of the door, leaving Alix and Chase alone. “I guess growing up as a street urchin has some benefits, after all. I know how to bluff,” Alix said, and then laughed as he reached down, offering his hand to assist Chase in getting back to his feet.

“Thanks.” Chase stared at Alix. “The flames?”

“Yeah, well…I was playing with the orb the other day and a flame started dancing in the palm of my hand. I had no idea I could ignite hair. I guess it was the heat of battle so to speak. Literally.”

“Well, regardless of how, it came in handy. I’m glad you came along when you did.”

“What was that about?” Alix asked as he assisted Chase to the sinks where Chase washed his hands and splashed some water on his face even as Alix did the same.

“They think I’m involved in something I’m not. Have you ever heard of The Resurrection?”

Alix looked away then looked back. “I assume you mean the covert group.”

“You’ve heard of them.”

“Yeah, they are part of the underground,” Alix said. “You know how it is: music, counter-culture, being young and all that. Somehow a few people you know are interconnected, usually people you grew up with.”

Chase continued to clean up, using a damp towel to blot blood from his slacks and shirt. “You’re involved?”

“Me, no. There’re a couple of guys Pete and I used to hang out with when we were kids. They’re in a clandestine group, but it is not The Resurrection. But their group was approached for a sort of alliance.”

When they emerged from the restroom, Chase paused at a water fountain, and then swished water around inside his mouth and spat out bloody saliva into the drain. He consumed several gulps of water afterwards. Then, after Alix had done the same they both returned to the table.

“What happened to you?” Julie asked as she took a closer look at the bruises and cut on Chase’s face.

“The floor was wet,” Alix said.

“I don’t believe that,” Julie growled.

“Well it was a restroom, you know.”

“And what about you?” Cristina asked Alix.

“Muggers,” Alix admitted. “Three of them, but Chase and I fought them off.”

“No,” Chase said. “That’s not exactly what happened. Alix saved my ass.”

“It’s kind of hard to tell that. He looks almost as bad as you do,” Cristina said as she used a napkin to blot blood from a slight cut on Alix’s forehead.

“Did they take your payment wand?” Julie asked.

“No, I wish it was that simple,” Chase said.

“I think you need to explain,” Julie suggested as she was reaching for her purse to see if she had anything better than a napkin to treat a cut.

“What’s going on?” Cristina asked, first looking at Chase and then Alix.

“This is probably not a good place to discuss this, but I doubt there’s a better place. For all I know they have us under constant surveillance,” Chase prefaced, then paused.

“Who are they?” Cristina asked.

“Agents of The Colonial Authority,” Julie said.

“Yeah,” Chase agreed. “They’ve been following us for sometime now.”

“They can do that?” Alix asked.

“In their warped minds they think they have probable cause. But even if they didn’t, they can do whatever they want and justify it afterwards. We have no rights where they’re concerned. All they have to claim is that it’s a matter of colonial security and the public is threatened,” Julie said.

“And now we’re on their list too,” Alix said.

“It wasn’t like we weren’t already on it,” Cristina said.

Chase nodded. “I didn’t want to speculate, but now I think that the embargo has something to do with this.”

“This is about Paul, isn’t it?”

“It goes well beyond him,” Chase replied to Cristina’s query. “He sends his love, by the way.”

“He knows.”

“Yeah, he knows.”

“How long?”

“Since just after you met him in Haven.”

“You’ve lost me,” Alix protested.

“You know. Paul’s my twin,” Cristina said.

 

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Review of Rose Montague’s Norma Jean’s School of Witchery: Book 2 Ghost School

Rose

First, let’s get the disclaimer out of the way. Rose and I have a professional relationship as fantasy authors. We read and critique one another’s work and do it honestly, I believe. I enjoy her writing so much that I support her art by purchasing her books. I’m pretty certain that someday she will be well known in the field and I may actually resort to name dropping.

A few months back when Rose Montague began to tease publically about a new Norma Jean’s School of Witchery book, I was elated. I enjoyed reading book 1. How could I not? There’s a namesake character in it. Imagine that! So, because she made an announcement about book 2, I knew the next book in the series was being edited for publication.

I always enjoy reading Rose’s books because in her fictitious universe damned near anything is possible. Also, I’m not sure there is any issue she will shy away from in her writing. As a result, her characters feel pretty realistic. Despite the genre and the fact that most characters have some pretty outstanding abilities to change the world to suit them, they have situations, problems with relationships and they need a little help from their friends from time to time to resolve things. So, as I began reading this one I was wondering what new wrinkles Rose might introduce. And after reading Ghost School, Book 2 of the series, I am not disappointed. There is a good deal of unexpected in this book.

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to mention there are zombies. Lots of them. And, true to form, Rose’s zombies aren’t exactly your run-of-the-mill sort. Jewel, our returning heroine from Book 1, confronts several other challenges only one of which is figuring out what to do with a town or two filled with zombies and an evil, megalomaniacal necromancer who not only conjures them from the grave but also has stolen a piece of serious, super-secret military technology that is designed to amplify magical powers to a quantum level. Oh great! A bad witch on steroids! You get the picture.

There are other returning favorites from book 1 of the series and Jewel needs their help in dealing with the bad guy. Meanwhile, we learn all sorts of amazing new things about Jewel as she explores and defines her magical powers. Hint, she’s not just a pyro, folks.

The ending is surprising but necessary for what I think lies ahead and I can’t wait to read it. Also, there is apparently another spin-off in the works. Imagine that! Three series set in one highly imaginative universe. Gives me goosebumps.

If you’re reading this, stop after the next sentence. Read Book 1 first! Oops, you’re still reading, aren’t you? Well, you should never consider reading book 2 of a series before book 1. I mean, who does that?  So, first go get book 1. And, although this series isn’t written to depend much on Rose’s other series, its characters appear in this one from time to time. So, you may as well hop on over and start reading Jade and Jane, Rose’s two other published books about Jewel’s family members. There is a third book on its way in that series as well, so be on the lookout.

If you are new to Rose Montague’s work, she’s a gifted storyteller with a vivid and sometimes wild imagination. Her work sparkles with the magic she binds to the pages with spells that only she knows how to create. She has a great feel for characters and setting up challenges that leaves readers wondering how in the hell do you overcome that? Her target audience is Young Adult. She is unabashedly a writer as well as an avid reader of the genre. If you look, you’ll see her reviewing the works of other YA writers. Although I’m no longer technically in that chronological mix, I’m still hanging in spirit. The trick is to never grow up, right? I know I never will. Just ask my kids. Anyway, I enjoy a good YA book every now and then, and Rose never disappoints.

I give this a strong 5 for imagination, content and storytelling but a 4 for editing. In one place the POV shifts from Jewel to another character named Louise. A chapter break segregates it, so just be aware that toward the middle of the book that is coming. The shift is necessary and it does portend to some future things. There are a few missed typos. C’mon, every book has some, right? My overall rating is still 5.

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Review of Chrissy Lessey’s The Hunted Book Two of The Crystal Coast Series

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The Hunted focuses on the interactions of the characters Chrissy Lessey created in The Secret Keepers and The Coven. The inherent conflict between the good witches of the coven in the small, picturesque coastal town of Beaufort, NC and the evil ones who are descendants of Blackbeard the pirate is extended in a thoroughly engaging way.

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First, Lessey reveals more of the backstory, allowing the reader to know about 17th Century events that precipitated the coven’s hasty departure from their homes in Salem, Massachusetts. As you will remember, under the leadership of their new queen Lucia, the founding members of the coven establish their own colony. Lucia’s daughter, Charlotte and two other young witches are sacrificed to deflect the interest of Blackbeard the pirate in their island home. The young witches are taken aboard Blackbeard’s ship and, in due course, transported to the North Carolina Coast.

Susan Moore and her daughter Vanessa are direct descendants of the notorious pirate. Queen Lucia’s lineage carries to the present as Queen Patricia, her daughter and heir, Stevie, and the five-year-old Charlie, Stevie’s son, who struggles with both autism and his emerging magical powers. Patricia possesses the fabled amethyst amulet that, in the past, Queen Diana entrusted to her daughter Lucia on the fateful night that Puritan Reverend Samuel Parris precipitated the witch hunts. Diana sacrificed herself so that her coven could escape.

The Hunted picks up shortly after the conclusion of The Coven as Stevie, Dylan and Charlie attempt to make a future together. But Stevie has yet to tell her ex-husband, Sam, about her new relationship. We also learn more about what happened to Vanessa Moore in the aftermath of the explosion of the boat she was on. And finally we visit with Susan Moore, Vanessa’s mother, who the local coven has stripped of her powers and had her committed to an insane asylum.

Susan befriends Chaplain Benjamin Parris, the proud direct descendant of Samuel, intending to use his interest in eradicating witches from the world to focus on the coven. Lessey sets the key players in place for the fiery confrontation ahead.

Despite Vanessa’s failure in The Coven to secure the amethyst amulet for her mother, Susan still covets it for its ability to enhance its bearer’s powers. If she can secure the amulet her bound powers will be restored and she will become the most powerful witch in the world. She plans to use her newly restored and enhanced powers to seize control of the coven and force those who banded together against her to bow down to her as their queen. In Chaplain Parris, Susan finds a willing, if at first unwitting, assistant.

The Hunted is very well-written, fast-paced and engaging. Lessey advances the storyline masterfully, more than fulfilling the promise of The Coven. The characters feel as real as their North Carolina hometown. You expect to be able to go there and meet these fictional people who are members of The Historical Society. At the conclusion there is little doubt where the tale is heading for the third installment. I look forward to reading it.

The Hunted is due out in the Fall of 2015 from Pandamoon Publishing. Review is based on an author supplied Advance Readers Copy.

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Reading Other Author’s Books

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A fellow author, Rose Montague, author of Jade, posted an open query yesterday on one of her social media pages concerning reading other writer’s material. Since making a brief post on that thread yesterday I’ve been giving the matter some additional thought.

Let’s start off with a qualification. Writers may seem the natural sort of person to approach for feedback on something you have written but if you submit your manuscript to an author for review be sure you have a thick skin. You see, your fellow writers can be brutally honest sorts. Also the more experience we have in dealing with editors, the more little quirky things we pick up and hone in on. In other words, be prepared to be told your baby is ugly. That manuscript you have labored over for the past weeks, months or even years may need some cosmetic surgery before it is ready to put out there for the world to see.

Over the past few years I have acquired a disproportionate number of authors as friends (not exclusive to social media) when compared to non-authors. I suppose the birds-of-a-feather thing may prevail there. More likely I’m drawn to other creative people because I seem to have a number of friends who are artists. That’s not a problem. I like being around creative people. The rub comes when one of the authors asks me for a professional opinion on something. Most of my friends know me well enough by now to expect some frank feedback. Those who have never asked before I warn in advance. I will not publicly post a bad review of something, though, unless the author is aware of it. I offer feedback directly to them. And I always qualify it with a general understanding that I am not a professional editor or book critic.

Here’s the problem writers have with other writers reviewing their stuff. We are creative but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are attuned to the same creative flow or our muses speak the same language. In other words, I may or may not get the message, the point or whatever about your masterpiece. That doesn’t mean it is not art or worthwhile as a piece of literature. It means simply, I didn’t get it – nothing more than that. It happens. I like what I like and I tend to write in a few genres with which I am comfortable. I may venture outside of my comfort zone to read a good book, but generally I read sci-fi and fantasy. For some reason, over the course of the past couple of years, I have read several paranormal novels and some romance, mostly historical.

It is the bane of being a writer to be asked to read something for comment. I do some of that too, approaching my friends with a new manuscript. Some will read it others will not. Many will post reviews when a book is published, some won’t. Sometimes a review isn’t posted for the simple reason that writers do not like trashing the hard work of others in a public forum. Privately, well, that’s another matter.

I hate assigning stars to reviews as a means of rating. It is a way of quantifying something that is subjective and therein is the rub. My 3-star may be someone else’s 5-star. Why? We key on different things. So there really isn’t any standardization for the ratings unless one considers the source. Even then, do you, as a reader, pay more attention to an author who has reviewed another author’s book than you do to someone you don’t know – and for all you know they might be the author’s uncle or best friend? Would it be best to focus on what other readers say about a book as opposed to a writer? Each reader and potential buyer must decide who to listen to and perhaps once you find a reviewer who seems to share your interests in books you follow that person’s reviews in the future.

Star ratings are particularly misleading when one considers this: Amazon.com, the largest domestic venue for buying books online, considers 1, 2 and 3-star reviews ‘bad’ while 4 and 5-star reviews are ‘good’. Amazon will headline the most popular ‘good’ review directly next to the most popular ‘bad’ review to give some contrast for the reader to make a buying decision. The glaring inequity of this is when a ‘book troll’ posts a purposefully negative review for no other reason than to trash an author and his or her work. All an author can do is post a complaint to Amazon but it is almost impossible to get Amazon to remove the unfair review. After all, a review is just an opinion. Everyone has one.

Also, readers who look only at the star ratings without reading the content of the review do not understand that in the mind of the reviewer the star rating equates to a specific point on the following scale: bad=1-star, fair=2-star, good=3-star, very good=4-star, excellent=5-star. Some reviewers offer a rare 6th star – meaning outstanding. I have also seen a couple of reviewers assign a 0-star rating meaning awful.

Knowing the system at Amazon I refuse to post a ‘bad’ review without the author’s knowledge. My 3-star review means I liked the book but there are things that could be improved that would have made the book more appealing to me. I will never post a 2-star or 1-star review because I know what that does to an author’s overall rating. There may be something I don’t like about a book that is just me and totally because I am a writer. If I rate something lower because of something the average reader wouldn’t notice then such a rating would not be fair. However, I will provide feedback to the author concerning what I did not like about the book and what I think could be done to improve it.

Having said all that, there are professional reviewers, bloggers and critics out there who rarely give 5-star ratings. Their rationale is persuasive, though. They consider the highest rating reserved for a book that truly exceeds expectations, an instant classic, or something so cutting edge that it will set a new standard for everything that follows. Some use established, best-selling authors in a category as a benchmark, pegging their work as 5-star and measuring every book against that. I don’t have a problem with this method except that so many others do not do it that way and so the value of a 5-star rating has been diluted to the point that an honest 4-star from a critical reviewer – which is a very good review – makes a potential reader think there is something wrong with a really good book.

For a couple of years I actively posted on a writer’s website called Fanstory and found it most helpful to receive almost immediate feedback on my writing. Receiving the opinions of ten or twenty other writers was beneficial, especially when they spent the time to mention things that worked and didn’t work for them as a reader. The problem I had with the site was that they also used star ratings. And, just as with the Amazon.com situation, there was inflation of the ratings rendering them meaningless in most cases to the point that an honest reviewer’s critical rating would severely impact the author’s overall ranking. That is one of the reasons I no longer post there. However, I do read and comment on the submissions of authors I have followed for a few years, now. In the process of belonging to the site I have learned that there is a wide variance of opinion on whether something is or is not good.

It’s hard to take criticism but it is absolutely essential that you learn to do so if you intend to become a professional writer. Your goal must always and ever be to improve you craft and the quality of the work you produce. Even if you don’t agree with what a critic says you  need to pay attention and determine whether it is valid and might make your story a better reading experience. The reader is the ultimate critic for every writer. And so, it becomes moot whether a critic liked your story or even how you feel about your work.

#writing #criticism #reviews #authors #Amazon

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Integrity in Life and Writing

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These days the word ‘integrity’ may have lost a lot of its meaning for most people. After all we are lied to constantly from every direction until we come to accept that nothing is really as it seems. We suspect everyone and everything, even expecting that our institutions are not always honest with us. But one of the many good lessons I learned from my father years ago was to be honest and truthful. My dad taught me to have integrity because, as he said, you have to be able to sleep at night with a clear conscience.

I bring this subject up because over the course of the past couple of weeks I’ve learned a lot about the modern state of affairs in the publishing business and a lot of what I have learned disgusts me. Maybe what is going on hasn’t infected all levels. I hope that is the case. Certainly no one associated with my publisher condones the activity. And as far as I know all the authors with whom I associate do not participate in any unethical activities regarding the promotion of their books. None of them would risk losing their credibility with their readers and fans. Still I’m appalled that what I have heard is going on and is perhaps a lot more widespread than I might think.

For some of it I suppose Amazon is partially to blame. It wasn’t intentional as I can’t see why any business would support such a thing. But here it is, bold faced and out in the open. A short time ago I was asked in a quid pro quo sort of way to post a review for a book that I had not read in exchange for someone doing the same for me and my latest book. Of course, I declined the offer for reasons of personal integrity. If I review a book I have read it. And I expect the same of others who review my books.

It makes me wonder, though. How many of the reviews others have posted on Amazon are real? I’d like to think the vast majority are and those that aren’t the author knew nothing about. But now I have some doubts because some authors are writing their own reviews and providing the verbiage to others to post just to pad-out their totals with five-star reviews.

I don’t agree with all of Amazon’s policies or practices but, as the 800-pound gorilla that they are in the publishing world, everyone has to deal with the reality that they account for upwards of 80% of all books sold. They have acceptance criteria for reviews that sometimes allow for mistakes and people taking advantage of the system. Every author is exposed to the possibility of people posting nasty and untrue things about their books and it’s a long, difficult process to get Amazon to remove a review once it has been posted. So, for the most part, you live with the unfair criticisms as well as the honest ones.

However, I’m appalled that not only are some authors writing reviews for others to post on their behalf but also some reviewers charge fees for the service they offer, whether or not they actually read a book. This smacks in the face of credibility for both the author and the reviewer. I’m sure if Amazon had proof of such things going on they would remove the reviews and perhaps ban the reviewer as well as the author. But how do you prove such a thing is happening?

I’m only aware of the practice because I was approached and ensured that it is done often. It was explained to me that there is additional promotional support offered to books having many favorable reviews. Gained attention for a new book may push it into the ranks of a best seller in a genre or category, which will help push the book even higher on recommended lists. Apparently 50 reviews is a magical number that opens a lot of doors for authors in getting recognition. As I’m not there yet I can’t say directly if this is the case but what was explained to me makes some sense of how the process works.

I’m reporting this to make others aware that some reviews may not be true and honest appraisals of a book. Be especially suspicious of reviews that gloss over details or seem especially slick as if they are promotional pitches. Also, I want to assure everyone that every review posted for my books has been the legitimate result of someone reading the work. With Fried Windows I sent out a number of advance copies to fellow authors and reviewers. At no time did I pay any fee to anyone or make any arrangement other than the customary ‘I’ll read your book if you’ll read mine’. That is totally legitimate and highly ethical. The reviewer receives a free copy of the book in exchange for the review and there is no guidance or expectation of the review rating.

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When I post a review for something I had read it is an honest appraisal. The reason my reviews are mainly in the four and five star range is a reflection of two things. First, I do not post any reviews for any work that I feel does not merit at least 4 or 5 stars. It’s a personal thing. I know how hard it is to write a book a publish it. If a book needs serious attention in editing or structural revision I will inform the author separately and decline to post a review. I offer to review the book again once the problems have been fixed. Second, no one pays me for my reviews. I don’t consider myself a professional book critic. I tend to find the good in every story and give far more weight to the quality of storytelling than the mechanics of language. I ignore a lot of wrong words and mistakes, though I will note them and mention them to the author so they can be fixed.

I don’t post reviews for books I don’t want to read. Generally I will read a variety of genres, but there are some types of books that I do not prefer and generally I don’t read those. If I am not familiar with a genre I will mention it in my review and judge the book on its merits as a story not how well it fits into a specific genre. As my own work tends to span several genres I hate the necessity of categorizing books especially since Amazon and others require a book to be assigned one or a very few genres. Labels serve as an aid in searching for books of similar subject matter. I get that. A reader wants to know what he or she is getting in advance of purchasing it. I’m just saying that all fantasy or sci-fi books are not the same and the fact that mine are considered in those genres may not reflect the actual content of the book. My stories contain romance, mystery and many other things as well.

I’m not sure how Amazon can effectively police the review process. That’s up to them. I don’t want to see them go to an extreme where they require verified purchases for the posting of reviews because that will prevent legitimate reviews based on author/publisher supplied advance readers copies (ARC’s). That would be unfair to the author who is operating within accepted industry standards for receiving critical attention for a new book prior to its official launch.

The matter rests with each individual author and his or her artistic integrity. Rest assured that to the best of my knowledge every review posted for any of my books is a real review from someone who has read the book.

#reviews #integrity #authors #Amazon #books

 

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It’s Going To Be A Good Day

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It’s nice to wake up to a five-star review for Fried Windows In A Light White Sauces, especially come from Rose Montague, an author I respect and whose writing I enjoy. So, whatever today throws my way, it’s going to be a good day.

In case you missed the notice but have been thinking of reading Fried Windows, here’s your chance. There is a free sample promotion going on. Send me an email to my authors email at elgon.williams@pandamoonpublishing.com and you’ll receive the first six chapters for free. That’s over 15% of the book – more than you can sample at Amazon.com. Of course I think that once you start reading the book you’ll want to continue:

Leave your world behind and enter an adventure forever lost but never forgotten, where only magic is real, and anything is possible.

When Brent Woods, a middle-aged computer technician delivers a new system to Strawb, an eccentric lady who lives in a house with no windows, she offers to reconnect him with his childhood dreams and fantastic imagination. Alongside his best friend Lucy, Brent explores the seemingly infinite possibilities of the “Inworld” where she lives, a place where everything about anything can change with a thought. But in the process of remembering his past as Carlos, Lord of Bartoul, Brent exposes a dark potential that threatens his family, and his home.

After his youngest daughter is attacked in her dreams by the very forces that took away his kingdom, and Lucy’s, Brent seeks answers that lie somewhere in the truth of what happened in his past, and how he lost his connection to the Inter-Realm. He must find a way to correct his mistakes and solve the puzzle of his best friend’s life.

Fried Windows (In a Light White Sauce) is an unforgettable journey into imagination. It is a feast of delightful characters whose perspective of their worlds will change the way you think about yours forever.

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#fivestars #friedwindows #reviews #freesample #promotion