Friday, October 12, 2012

Hero's Sword: Power Play - Excerpt 2

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

I leave for a fun-filled writing weekend in a few hours, but I leave you with a second excerpt from the upcoming ebook, Power Play: Hero's Sword Volume 2. In this scene, Jaycee facts a test with the sword - a test that could make the difference in proving that she is indeed Lyla Stormbringer.

If you missed the first excerpt, read it here.


We walked back to the manor grounds, the crowd following. I could hear bits of conversation, people debating whether or not I was Lyla Stormbringer. I took this as progress. When I’d arrived no one had believed me. At least people were wondering now.

The practice ring was a circle approximately fifty feet in diameter with a raised border. Roger stepped into the ring and motioned for me to follow. “Lyla Stormbringer is a fearsome blade,” he said, making sure the entire crowd could hear. “It is only fitting, therefore, that she have a strong opponent, someone who can challenge her - me.” Roger unsheathed the sword on his hip and bowed.

I fought to keep my face expressionless. I had to fight Roger? On the one hand, this was good because I was sure he wouldn’t kill me. On the other hand, I was also sure he was a pretty good swordsman himself, so he wouldn’t give me a break either. I flexed my hands, drawing in deep breaths and trying to calm the butterflies in my stomach.

I drew my own blade. The leather-wrapped hilt felt good in my hand, like it belonged there. The sword was neither too light nor too heavy, and the sunlight shone off the blade. I rolled my wrist a couple times, drawing circles in the air. It felt natural. I smiled, swung my sword up in a salute, the way I saw in the movies, and bowed. Roger also smiled and we stepped into a ready position.

This might be fun. Then Roger attacked and I changed my mind. This might be deadly. Roger hadn’t been kidding, he was good and it took all that I had to block his flurry of attacks. There were a couple of times that I thought he’d get me, but he didn’t. I was sure I was working on reflex alone, because it wasn’t skill.

I had never swung a real sword. The closest I’d gotten was when I played Zelda on Stu’s Wii. Believe me, swinging a video game controller is not training for swinging a real sword. Roger chased me all over the ring, blows coming at my head, side and feet. I was managing, but barely. It was just a matter of time before he scored.

Once again, the muttering started. Whatever street cred I’d earned at the archery range was almost gone. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the guy from the range elbow his neighbor and smirk. For some reason, that made my blood boil. A balloon rose in my chest and a ringing started in my ears. Enough was enough. Roger might beat me, but I wasn’t going to lose looking like a fool.

I went on the attack. The more I swung at him, the more Roger smiled. But I didn’t think it was the same kind of smile as the people watching. He looked pleased. I pressed him harder and sweat started to form on his brow, and the smile disappeared as he frowned in concentration.

I lost track of time, so I couldn’t tell you how long Roger and I stomped across that ring. He swung at my head and I ducked. I swung at his feet and he jumped. I blocked a wicked strike that would have carved a chunk out of my chest. I recovered quickly, faked a blow to Roger’s right and swung at his left side. He also reacted quickly and blocked my swing.

Sweat poured down my face, stinging my eyes and I could feel my shirt sticking to my back. I should have been terrified, but I’d never had so much fun. A fierce confidence that I’d never felt before burned in my chest. I still might lose, but I knew I was putting on a show.

After who knows how long, I saw my opening. I took a quick swing toward Roger’s head, but instead of swinging again when he blocked, I slid my blade down his and flicked my wrist in a circle. The move trapped Roger’s sword and twisted it out of his hands. It flew to the side and I held my sword inches from Roger’s throat. I was soaked with sweat and breathing like a sprinter after a race, but I smiled like I'd just been told I would be free of homework for the year.

Roger was also soaked, but his smile stretched across his face and his eyes twinkled. He nodded and I dropped my sword. He retrieved his own blade and we bowed to each other. I was breathing too hard to speak, but Roger held up my sword hand. “I declare this test passed,” he said, his voice ringing with something I could have sworn was pride. I bowed to the crowd.

“And now for the final test,” Roger said. “A test of wits.”

I was flying high. After the bow and the sword, I figured this would be cake. Boy, was I wrong.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Bouchercon 2012

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Just when I thought the weekend couldn't get any better, I got to meet Mary Higgins Clark.

Laurie Stephens, Martha Reed, me, and Annette Dashofy
The Pittsburgh SinC crew (that's me, second from the right)
When I made my hotel reservations for Bouchercon 2012 last spring, I had no idea what I was getting into. As the conference rapidly approached, I got excited. And nervous. And sometimes flat-out petrified. I had chosen one of the biggest crime fiction conferences to make my "industry event" debut. What had I been smoking? Yes, Bouchercon is primarily a fan event (that is, there were no times set aside for pitching agents or learning craft), but there were going to be some big names there. I joked that while I hadn't yet started dreaming that I was attending a panel stark naked, I was getting jittery. My biggest fear was that I'd be talking to some published author and he (or she) would say, "Honey, give it up."

Hank Phillippi Ryan channels Richard Dawson
I needn't have worried. I'm sure other genre authors will say the same, but the crime fiction community is the best. I knew good things were in store when the first person I saw was Hank Phillippi Ryan. Some poor footwear choices and bad directions had put me in some serious pain - and fortunately my friend Annette swooped in (I mean really - you know you've got a real friend when she literally gives you the shoes off her feet).

I attended some great panels (Family Feud Jungle Red style, and a rip-roaring Sunday event on red herrings top my list). I spoke to great people, other writers and fans (shared a cab with a retired Cleveland Housing Authority officer who insisted on buying me a drink when she learned I was a writer), including a chance meeting with the lovely Rhys Bowen. I drank my first chocolate martini. And no, it won't be the last.

And did I mention that I met Mary Higgins Clark?

Not once did someone say, "Give it up." To the last, everyone was encouraging and friendly. Hallie Ephron (go get her books, now) recognized me from a chance meeting last spring. Hank (go get her books, now) recognized me from Twitter - and may I say she gives great hugs? The message was always, "Don't give up. Keep writing. Keep learning. You'll make it."

The lovely & elegant Rhys Bowen
And that's why I go to these things. I've written before that a writer's life can be lonely. We sit for hours, days, weeks, in front of a screen, pouring out our hearts and souls. Yeah, we can connect with others through email, or Facebook, or Twitter. But somehow, none of that quite compares to a hug, a smile, a conversation.

Nothing on social media compares to hashing out ideas over lunch with a friend. Virtual enthusiasm pales compared to the energy of like-minded others. Yeah, social media introduced me to a lot of people I wouldn't otherwise have met, but to meet them in person? Wow. I came away so energized, so enthusiastic, so ready to jump right back into writing and really make it work.

I'll get more of that this weekend when I attend the "Retreat to the Woods" writers' retreat with my local Sisters in Crime. But after Bouchercon, I really feel confident using the word "sib" to include authors such as Hank. Because the people I met this weekend are my sisters - and brothers - in this wild, wonderful, sometimes hair-pulling, adventure. I'm grateful for all of them and could not be happier I found them. As soon as those hotel accommodations are announced for next year in Albany, I'm there. More than ever, I feel like a writer. This is my community, my "family," my tribe.

And did I mention I met Mary Higgins Clark?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Brava, JK Rowling

By Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Note: I have not read A Casual Vacancy. I might not. What follows is not my opinion of the quality of that book, but my thoughts on JK Rowlings' decision to write it.

Even if you aren't a book person, chances are you've heard of JK Rowling and Harry Potter. If nothing else, the fantastically successful movie franchise has almost guaranteed that. And maybe you've even heard that Ms. Rowling recently (last week, in fact) released a book that is very much NOT for the Harry Potter demographic - A Casual Vacancy. You may or may not be aware of the book's pricing (a whopping $35 USD for the hardcover and $18 USD for the ebook), or the snafu surrounding the ebook formatting error from the publisher.

So, as an author, I've got to wonder: How did Ms. Rowling feel about this book?

She has flat-out said that she wrote it because she wanted to do so. Was she nervous? Most likely. Not in the nail-biting "Oh-my-god-I-need-this-money" kind of way. Her earnings from the Harry Potter franchise have made her an incredibly wealthy woman and she probably doesn't need to write another word in her life (speaking financially).

But any writer who says, "Oh, this is just for me and I don't care what others think" is probably lying to some degree. Every author wants people to like her work. I mean, why else bother publishing it? If it's truly only for you, you can enjoy it without trying to land a traditional publishing deal or forking over the cash to put out a quality indie-pubbed volume. So yeah, I don't have any problem believing that Ms. Rowling was a little nervous about how folks were going to receive A Casual Vacancy.

Some people liked it. Some didn't. That's okay, because that happens. And I bet Ms. Rowling is okay with that too. Not everybody loved Harry Potter (yes, hard to believe maybe, but true).

See, here's the thing. Until now, Ms. Rowling's brand, her "platform" to use the most popular jargon-speak, has been Harry. I won't diminish her success by calling it "overnight" (because it wasn't), but it was her debut work. And for debut work to become that wildly successful is not the industry standard.

And not every author of a popular series has left it behind to author another mega-hit. The Internet buzzed with stories of how many authors, including Judy Blume and Dr. Seuss, had tried to make the "childrens' book to adult book" leap and failed.

To me, it doesn't matter. I say "brava, Ms. Rowling" for one simple fact.

She did it.

Seriously, think about it. Here's the author of what is probably the most successful book series for kids of all time. What does she do? Rest on her laurels and redecorate her lovely home? Never put pen to paper again?

Hardly. She went out on a limb and tried to push herself as a writer. I've got to admire that. To not be content to relax, to try something different - that's part of being an artist. That means you're trying to grow. I read a blog post this morning from Susan Meier about how we all should be works in progress - always learning, never being content to stand in one spot.

Using that as the criteria, I think Ms. Rowling can count A Casual Vacancy a success. It is, by all reviews I've read, most definitely not Harry Potter. She's not doing the same thing to death. Undoubtedly, she could pen more Harry books. But would the reading public eventually feel about Harry the way the movie-viewing public feels about the unending Rocky films. That tired, weakly-done sequels have undermined the brilliance of the original?

Me, I think so. I applaud Ms. Rowling's original objective with Harry. She had a story arc. She wrote those books, a fantastic example of plotting over seven volumes and a decade of publishing. And when the story was done, she ended it. No, "wait, there's more!" gimmicks. No milking the cash cow with Harry Potter #27.

I hope I can do the same, someday. I hope I can have a wildly successful series. And I hope I have the good sense to end it before it gets tired.

And I hope I have the nerves to never stop trying something new.