Notes on a book release: Failsafe

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Every time a book is published, it’s a labor of love (and blood, and sweat, and tears, and–you get the idea), but in this case there are a few extra nerves to add to the twisty bundle because it’s the first story I’ve put out in the young adult category.

I did a lot of reading in YA before I wrote Failsafe to reference what’s out there and the debates as far as content. What are these debates? Well, young adult books have become somewhat more gory and, erm, more graphic when it comes to sex scenes. I’m not knocking either side of the argument but I will say that there should be some advisories in the description so such things don’t shock the crap out of unsuspecting parents encouraging their teen to read.

Failsafe does have a love story in it, something I included very intentionally. My main character, Sol, is disabled. Recently diagnosed with epilepsy, she struggles to come to terms with who she is while at the same time navigating through the dangers of her world and an ableist society. She’s a strong girl, but even strong girls doubt themselves when they frequently deal with messages of diminished worth because of their physical condition. The correlation between ability and desirability is, unfortunately, not a fictional issue, and it seems like stories with disabled characters rarely, if ever, include a romance.

Love story subplots are typical with young adult (hold your eye-rolling!), though whether or not you care about the relationship itself has a lot to do with pacing and building the bond between them. Don’t get me started on insta-love. Now, mutual admiration, trust, respect, someone you can be yourself with, someone who sees you for you–that’s hawt. I aimed high with the relationship in Failsafe and I’m really happy with the result.

For you parents out there, it’s a clean romance suitable for teens, no swearing (unless you want to count the occasional “Gears curse it!”), and a strong heroine out to save humanity.

I’m keeping the book at 99¢ until the end of the month. Pick up your copy on Amazon before the sale ends:)

Failsafe_FC

There is only one rule: Never leave the settlement

Nobody remembers when human civilization fell to the living computer known as the Interspace. Trapped within its massive expanse, what remains of humanity struggles to survive. There are no maps to the outer grids, and drones patrol the network. Escape is impossible.

Except seventeen-year-old Sol can access the network’s secrets in her dreams. The information comes at a physical cost, but with food and medical shortages threatening her community, it’s a small price to pay for survival. The supply runs are also the best way to prove she can still contribute, especially after her recent epilepsy diagnosis took away the role she’d been training for.

When a grave mistake alerts the drones to her trespassing, Sol finds herself running for her life. She never expects to encounter Echo, a stranger who may hold the key to humanity’s freedom.

Together, Sol and Echo will attempt to reach the central core of the Interspace and shut down the system. To survive the journey, they will need to evade drones, signal towers, and a dangerous enemy known only as the Override. Even with Sol’s access to the network and Echo’s incredible abilities, they may still fail. The Interspace is always watching, and if they’re discovered, it will mean the final extermination of all mankind.

Available now on Amazon!

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Failsafe: Chapter One

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Failsafe is releasing this Sunday, May 20th!!

*breathes into paper bag*

Below I’ve got all of chapter one for you–and of course, another look at the awesome cover by the amazing and talented Jenny at Seedlings Design Studio. The book was up on Netgalley for a full month and her design didn’t get a single down vote.

At the moment, Failsafe is a standalone novel, though several early reviewers have asked if there’ll be a sequel and the answer is…There could be. I have a plot outline for a second book to make this a duology so if you love the story and want it, let me know!

Failsafe_FC

There is only one rule: Never leave the settlement

Nobody remembers when human civilization fell to the living computer known as the Interspace. Trapped within its massive expanse, what remains of humanity struggles to survive. There are no maps to the outer grids, and drones patrol the network. Escape is impossible.

Except seventeen-year-old Sol can access the network’s secrets in her dreams. The information comes at a physical cost, but with food and medical shortages threatening her community, it’s a small price to pay for survival. The supply runs are also the best way to prove she can still contribute, especially after her recent epilepsy diagnosis took away the role she’d been training for.

When a grave mistake alerts the drones to her trespassing, Sol finds herself running for her life. She never expects to encounter Echo, a stranger who may hold the key to humanity’s freedom.

Together, Sol and Echo will attempt to reach the central core of the Interspace and shut down the system. To survive the journey, they will need to evade drones, signal towers, and a dangerous enemy known only as the Override. Even with Sol’s access to the network and Echo’s incredible abilities, they may still fail. The Interspace is always watching, and if they’re discovered, it will mean the final extermination of all mankind.

* * * * * * *

Failsafe

Copyright 2018 Anela Deen – Fine Fables Press
All rights reserved

Chapter One

If the world hadn’t ended generations ago, the broken stabilizer on my hoverbike wouldn’t have been a life or death problem. Sure, I’d gotten myself in this jam through a delightful combo of pride and stupidity, but it still didn’t seem fair.

The back-half of the bike sagged to the ground under the faulty stabilizer and I crouched beside it, examining the cracked casing along the cylinder with a deepening sense of dread. The tools dangling at my waist wouldn’t save me this time. I spotted the problem immediately—towing too much weight in the container hooked to the other end. What was I thinking? I’d let my excitement over finding that cache of supplies and foodstuffs override all engineering sense. As if the settlements’ desperation could convince an inanimate object to hold out longer than it had the capacity to do. Idiot me.

Solution-based thinking, Sol. Come on, girl, you can do this.

Right. As if my plucky optimism would fix the thing.

A string of profanity my mother would have been shocked her seventeen-year-old daughter had knowledge of stampeded through my thoughts. Not a peep slipped past my lips. Not out here in the network where the Interspace’s drones terminated any human they found.

I scrubbed shaking hands over my face as I considered my options, careful not to bump the cortical node affixed to my right temple. Wouldn’t want to add more flavor to this craptastic situation by throwing off its alignment and aggravating my condition. Halfway back to my home settlement, I’d marooned myself in grid one-thirty. Towering structures of dark metal and blinking circuitry surrounded, power conduits as tall as the skyscrapers in the cities of the Time Before. They reached toward the decking and interconnect bridges of the higher levels, and somewhere beyond that, the roof that sealed us all inside with the machine. Cables neatly embedded in the deck crisscrossed the broad rail paths I traversed like roots in a cybernetic forest.

The mind-numbing maze of the Interspace defied memorization, even for a photographic memory like mine. My dreams of the network—or visions since they were as accurate as holding a map—displayed the innards of a horizonless superstructure too immense to fully absorb. The solution? Narrowing my focus to the only grid that mattered; the one containing the twelve separate human settlements. Still massive, but doable.

I coaxed the memory of this area forward. Had there been somewhere I could hide until the drones completed their circuit and moved on? The gear didn’t matter. They wouldn’t pay attention to that. After three months of doing these supply runs, I had their directive figured out: Patrol the area, scan for life signs, and extinguish any found. This meant I had to get my pulse out of their way. On the other side of the rail path, I spotted a recessed panel on a circuit tower with an access door to a maintenance alcove large enough to slip behind. That would do perfectly.

I grabbed my pack and quick-stepped it toward my hiding place. The rubber boots quieted my steps, the threadbare fabric of my patchwork trousers hissing between my legs. I shivered, having forgotten to grab my jacket off the bike, but I wasn’t going back for it. The network always held a chill. Leithan, my community’s physician, and a talented engineer, taught me that even small electronic devices exuded heat while activated. Too much and things malfunctioned. For a machine as massive as the Interspace, whose network compound might well encompass the entire world at this point, the brisk environmental levels made sense but they bugged me all the same. I wondered if the mechanical sentience behind the Interspace could feel the temperature too, if the chilly air kept its sprockets and gears comfy while the remains of humanity withered in their designated settlements.

I set the thought aside. Anger and fear made you reckless. Besides, if my mysterious dreams of the network meant one thing for sure, it was the Interspace didn’t control everything. Too bad I still hadn’t figured out where the dreams came from or how and why only I got them. Yet another topic to ponder later.

I’d nearly crossed the wide swath of the rail paths when a shiver that had nothing to do with the chilly air went down my back. My gaze went to the silent towers surrounding me, my skin prickling with the sensation of being watched. Oh good. Paranoia. Drones did the watching for the Interspace, and if they knew I was here, they’d be on me in a flash. Humans were prohibited from wandering around the network. Rule number one of the Armistice my ancestors established with the machine and an edict I violated every time I did these runs. But what choice did we have? The Interspace had stopped delivering the supplies we needed to survive months ago.

I did a quick check of the countdown on my wrist patch. Plenty of time to get hidden. The situation wasn’t ideal but still manageable. I had no idea know how I would haul the supplies home without my bike. I’d figure something out. Everything would be—

Behind me, the puff and grind of failing machinery cut through my thoughts. I swung around. The front stabilizer on my bike gave out with a death-wheeze, and the whole contraption crashed to the ground with a deafening bang.

Sun, stars, and sky, I’d forgotten to power it down.

Above that terrible realization came the high-pitched whine of drones speeding this direction. I whirled and sprinted for all I was worth, the panic so sharp in my gut it was as if I’d swallowed shards of glass. A shrill alert went up, echoing across the network. They’d spotted me. I groaned, a scared, pleading sound. It’d be impossible to get away now. I might as well stand there and wait to be incinerated.

Instead, I threw myself behind the access door and slammed it shut. In the darkness, I crawled into the far corner and curled into a ball. The space was only a few meters deep, and that flimsy panel wouldn’t stop them. Crushing futility made me ill inside.

Gears whirred and screeched as the drones came in close. Laser bolts punched holes in the door and seared the wall over my head. Terror locked the screams in my throat and I tucked my head under my arms. The shine of their sleek oblong shapes and the red light of their targeting eye glared in at me.

This was all my fault. My parents hadn’t wanted me to do this alone. Here, at the end, I could admit I’d been trying to prove something. To my family and to everyone else. It wasn’t only about ferrying goods between the settlements. I’d wanted them to see I wasn’t just a glitchy brain. I wasn’t defective, no matter how many murmurs and stares said otherwise. Now I would never see home again. I was so stupid. And so dead.

The force of the next bolt blew the access door open so hard it smacked the inner wall and banged shut again. Mostly destroyed, it hung off its hinges. Red beams focused on my huddled form. I squeezed my eyes shut. Nothing noble came to me for my last thought, only a prayer I wouldn’t feel it.

A thunderous explosion shook the plating under me. My eyes snapped open. Beyond the drones, flames erupted, coiling and curling with black smoke. They turned, clacking and trilling, and for a wondrous moment, I thought they’d take off and forget my execution. Two departed to investigate. The third turned back to me.

What admirable delegators.

This time I didn’t try to hide. If this was the moment of my death, I wouldn’t face it cowering in a sad little ball. I sat up and stared right back at the thing.

“Go on then.” I spread my shaking arms, teeth chattering.

Its targeting beam painted my chest. The hum of a charged weapon reached my ears. I realized it hadn’t come from the drone a split second before an amber beam streaked in from the side and ripped through the machine’s body. Circuits blew from its bulk like brain matter and it clunked to the ground. The red eye flickered and went out.

Dazed, I stared at the incomprehensible sight, then lurched back in alarm when a figure sped past the door. Tall. Dark clad. What the—Was that a human being? I didn’t get a better glimpse before the dark shape disappeared in the direction of the explosion.

The explosion. Where the drones went. I wrangled the broken door open, kicked away the remains of the destroyed drone, and crawled out. Smoke hazed the air, acrid in the back of my throat. I edged my way alongside the rail path, a circuit tower at my back. The drones remained airborne, swooping left and right over the pocket of flames, dragging tendrils of smoke with them like snagged curtains. They fired toward the ground, but their targeting systems hadn’t locked on, the beams spread wide searching. The fire must have distorted my rescuer’s heat signature.

An amber beam sliced through the smoky veil and impaled one of the drones. It quivered, electrical bolts sizzling across its length. It split in half and dropped to the ground. The other zeroed in on the point of origin, sending a barrage of focused bolts toward the ground. My shoulders slumped. No one could have evaded those shots. I should get out of here and find another hiding spot in the distraction. That drone would sweep the area in a minute.

Yet…it didn’t seem right to run off. Someone had risked their life for mine. What if they were injured? I had to help somehow. Whoever this person was, they’d come equipped with a powerful weapon. Maybe if I diverted the last drone’s attention, it would give the stranger the opening they needed.

I dug my slingshot out of my pack and readied a bolt in the pocket. As I drew back the cord and fixed the drone between the prongs, I had trouble believing I meant to do this. The slingshot was enough to stand up to a Wraith—an exiled human condemned to death in the network—but not a drone.

“This is really dumb,” I whispered and released the bolt.

It ricocheted off its armored hide with an adorable plinking sound. Instantly, it whirled my direction. And there I stood, completely in the open. My survival instincts were absolute junk today. Nothing stirred between the flames. Of course not. The machines always won.

It glided away from the fire, targeting beam honed in on me. The slingshot fell from my hand. A shape blurred through the swirling smoke and a man catapulted from the ground onto the back of the drone. My jaw dropped open. He held on as the thing swiveled and bucked, thighs clamping on the smooth, metallic surface. His arms rose above his head, a glowing amber blade in his hands. He drove into the machine. It whirred and screamed, careening in a downward spiral. The man slid off and landed nimbly in a crouch, the glowing blade swept out to one side. The drone collided with the ground in a burst of sparks and metal shards.

I stood there, plastered against the tower wall, unable to absorb what had just happened. No one could move like that. Backlit by smoke and flames, my rescuer seemed like a figure out of a mythic tale of heroes from the Time Before. He stood slowly, the amber blade retracting into a black cylinder with a hand grip on one end. He didn’t appear to have another weapon. Did that thing have multiple functions? Dressed all in black, it was the only thing he carried but for items he had strapped, stored, or clipped to his body.

He secured his weapon to his side, turned, and looked right at me. My shoulders stiffened, fear still flush in my adrenaline-soaked system. If he’d wanted to hurt me he could have left me to my fate, right? My heart picked up speed anyway as he strode toward me.

Broad shouldered, lean muscle flexing beneath the dark clothes, he cut an imposing figure. He looked unlike anyone from the settlements, a fact which had me gaping in outright astonishment. With so few humans left, our bloodlines had mixed and remixed over generations, resulting in mostly everyone possessing the same thick brown locks, prominent brown eyes, and copper skin.

Black, tousled hair fluttered over the stranger’s brow, his skin a tawny-beige with deep-set eyes shaped like teardrops. Although his face remained expressionless, intensity burned in the dark green gaze he leveled at me. He called out no greeting as he approached. In other circumstances, I might have thought his angular face handsome but his demeanor intimidated me.

I put my hand over the laser cutter on my tool belt, ready to pull it free and defend myself if necessary. He’d saved me, yes, but that didn’t mean I could trust him. His gaze flicked to the cutter in my white-knuckled grip, then back to me.

“What is our current network location?” The quiet voice had a slight gravel to it as if he didn’t use it often.

I blinked up at him. “Our location? This is block one-thirty.”

“Which sector? Which grid?”

Was he serious? There was only one sector and grid for the human settlements. I rattled it off to him, then fidgeted under his relentless stare before I realized he wasn’t looking at me but through me. Puzzling over the information I’d given him?

His gaze refocused. “I seek grid one, block one, alpha sector.”

“The ICCS? The Interspace Central Command Space?”

“Yes.”

It was my turn to stare. “Are you…asking for directions?”

“Yes.”

My brow furrowed incredulously. “No one knows where that is. Buried someplace deep in the network where no human has ever been since the End War.” He continued to watch me. I shifted uncomfortably. Did he expect me to say more? “Uh, thank you. For saving me. I don’t know why you did it, but I’m grateful to not be a pile of ash right now. I’m Soleil, by the way. Sol for short.”

He didn’t reply or offer his name. Officially weird. Had he been expelled from his settlement? It didn’t happen often and usually only for a capital crime. He seemed a tad too well provisioned to be a Wraith, however, and um—my gaze flitted over his solid form—too healthy as well. If he was out here looking for the flipping ICCS, he’d obviously lost his mind. Did he think he was going to stroll in there and singlehandedly deactivate the system that’d ruthlessly overrun the world countless years ago? Even if he’d bested those three drones, it seemed a good bet anywhere near the central core would be crawling with them. And speaking of drones…

“Hey, it’s probably a good idea to get moving while we can. Only three drones were assigned to sweep this area today but I’m sure they sent off an alert to the ones a few grids over.”

It would take several hours for them to get here and I’d need all that time to cross the remaining distance.

His keen gaze sharpened. “How do you know this?”

Oh, right. How would I explain why I knew such oddly specific details about drone locations? Definitely wasn’t about to reveal my network dreams to a stranger.

“Er, just a guess.” Smooth.

“I observed you leave the path before the drones arrived. You knew they were coming. How?”

So someone had been watching.

Slowly, casual-like, I bent to retrieve my slingshot. “I had a gut feeling?”

“A gut feeling.” The hint of a question there.

“Yeah, you know, sixth sense. Instinct. That kind of thing.” I took a step away. He followed.

“Your pulse is elevated and your cortisol levels indicate increased stress. You’re lying.”

Huh?

“Well, I did almost die a couple of times there. Everything’s elevated right now. Just look at my hair.”

Something was off about this guy. His speech held no inflection. Between the impossible physical feats he’d just performed and his now eerie stillness, it didn’t take a genius to see he wasn’t entirely human even if he looked it. The sooner I put distance between us, the better.

Inching away, I said, “It sounds like we’re headed different directions, so I’ll just be on my way. Again, thanks for the help.”

I moved off at a stately trot—no, this didn’t count as running—and slowed as I recalled the supplies I’d abandoned by my bike. Crud. I couldn’t leave those behind. Too many people were counting on them.

A hand clamped around my arm. “Stop.”

Startled, I didn’t think. I whipped around and swung a fist with my free hand as hard as I could. I aimed for the guy’s jaw but he anticipated this and leaned back. My knuckles missed his face entirely and hit his shoulder with a wet smack. Something spattered my cheek. I flinched, then gaped at my blood coated fingers. That wasn’t mine. My gaze found the wound on his shoulder, the bleeding soaked into his dark clothes.

“Oh. Oh no.” Impulsively, I pressed my hand to it. “You’re hit. You were hit.”

Not that one could tell by the way he stood there. No hint of pain creased his face. He tilted his head to look at my hand on him.

“The injury is negligible.”

“Are you crazy? You’ll bleed to death if this isn’t tended.”

“You will tell me how you became aware of the drone maintenance schedule.”

“The what? Are you a robot or something? Doesn’t this hurt?”

His jaw twitched. “I am not a robot.”

“Who are you then?”

“Echo.”

“Is—That’s your name?”

“Yes.”

Totally did not make him seem less robotic.

“Can’t you feel there’s a hole in your shoulder? Where did you come from anyway?”

“Answer my question.”

Okay, a change of tactic was called for here. I had to get myself and the supplies back to my home settlement on the other side of this block before more drones showed up. Somehow, I had to convince this idiot to come with me and be treated for a laser wound. I didn’t know precisely what he was but he couldn’t be a tool of the Interspace if he had no idea how to reach the central core. He hadn’t even known where he was. Besides, he’d saved my life. I owed him.

“I have a better idea. You come with me to my settlement and I’ll tell you how I knew where the drones would be.”

His green eyes cooled. “You will tell me now.”

His grip on my arm was firm but not painful. As much as I didn’t appreciate being grabbed, my instincts said he wouldn’t hurt me.

“A compromise then. I’ll answer one question here on the condition that any others have to wait until we get to safety.” He stared at me blank-faced and didn’t reply. “You know, a non-robot would see the benefit of compromise in this situation.”

Did his eyebrow twitch ever so slightly? He released me.

“Very well. Tell me how—“

“I knew because I saw it. I saw the schematics for this grid and the schedule the drones would follow. I saw the access codes of the other settlements for entry and departure. I can see everything. Every detail.”

And each time I did, I risked my life.

End of Excerpt

Release Date: Sunday, May 20th

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Pre-order Failsafe for 99¢ on Amazon or add it to your Goodreads shelf

Thanks for reading!

Huge 99¢ Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book Sale!

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Dropping a quick note to let everyone know there’s a gigantic Sci-Fi/Fantasy book sale going on right now. All books are 99 pennies, so get yourself an e-reader full of speculative fiction while the promo is on.

promo

All the genres and sub-genres you love:

Military Sci-Fi

Adventure Sci-Fi

Space opera–where my Insurrection omnibus is featured:)

Steampunk

Fantasy

Paranormal

AND MORE!

The sale only lasts through the weekend. By Monday they’ll all be back to regular price. Don’t miss out!

 

 

Movie Review: Infinity War *No Spoilers*

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Full Disclosure: There are no spoilers in this review about the plot but I am including a couple pictures from the trailers. If you didn’t watch any trailers (which I now notice they were careful to avoid putting spoilers in) and prefer not to see ANY pictures, including from said trailers, then stop here. Otherwise, it’s safe to read on:)

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I don’t usually run out to see a movie right after its released. Couple of reasons there: FULL theater (ehhggg) and I kinda like to see some reviews first. After the Star Wars movies, I try to brace myself a bit so my hopes and expectations are so utterly crushed by gut-wrenching disappointment (No, I’m not over it.)

But with Infinity War, the hubs and I didn’t wait. We lived in terror over the weekend of some bozo posting spoilers or spoiler pics and ruining a movie that we’ve been building up to for years. So yesterday night, we went.

And guys?…YES.

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It was everything we hoped it would be. Perfectly paced. Just the right balance of action to dialogue scenes. The funny was funny, varied depending on the character, and timed (and delivered) exactly right. I worried with such a big cast of main characters that they wouldn’t be able to pull this off or that some would overpower the others. Granted, there’s extra focus on some, but for those with less screen time they were given truly memorable moments. All of it gelled together seamlessly.

But the jewel of this movie absolutely is Thanos. Which I didn’t expect!! What they utterly missed when they threw a half-baked version of Ultron at us, they redeemed themselves with this guy.

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Ruthless, implacable brutality, yes.

Nuanced, surprisingly burdened…that too.

He was a relentless madman whose motivations I came to understand–even when I could never agree with any of his logic. That is some spectacular writing. Wow.

No movie is perfect and there were a couple of nits, but really just a couple and they paled in comparison to the enormous emotional charge throughout this story. We were riveted, seriously. My heart was pounding so much from the action and the tension I started to worry about my cardiac situation. They set the bar HIGH with this one, giving us a movie written with care and attention and a clear devotion the characters.

If you’ve been worried, let me put you at ease. They did good, folks. Go see it.

Trailer below. One last thing: Stay until all the credits are done. There’s an extra scene waaay at the end. It’s worth the wait.

Release Day: The Insurrection Omnibus!

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Hello! Hi! I’m super excited!!

Today is the release day of the Insurrection Omnibus! (And I’ve already used WAY too many exclamation points for a Sunday morning!)

A little over two years ago I published the first installment of this story with Subversive. It’s hard to describe how I feel to see the completed novella series head out into the world at last. A sense of accomplishment, yes, along with a weird sense of joyful sorrow. The end of one thing is always the beginning of another, but I’ll miss this universe and the people in it.

I’ve decided to leave the omnibus on sale today through May 6th. Grab your copy on Amazon for only 99¢ Also available on Kindle Unlimited.

Insurrection

For twenty years Inquisitor Gemson Agaton used torture and interrogation to root out subversives undermining the Establishment. He earned his cold, hard reputation, setting morality aside in the name of a strong state. Now he’s on the subject’s side of the interrogation table, duty to the regime he believes in pitted against loyalty to the one person he always protected.

Gemson isn’t the only target on the Establishment’s radar. An insurgency challenges its authority. Every attempt to capture the Albatross, the rebels’ enigmatic leader, has failed. To the oppressed, he epitomizes freedom from tyranny. But behind the symbol is a man haunted by his past. Not even his closest allies know his true identity, and he’s careful to keep it that way.

As the Albatross rallies Earth’s citizens to resist the regime’s dictatorial rule, many are listening, including one of the Establishment’s most talented operatives. To find and betray him is her directive. To fall in love with him is treason.

In this universe, there are no easy answers and secrets cloud the truth. When a new threat emerges, these unlikely few must overcome their discordant history and forge alliances among enemies. The survival of mankind depends on it.

At over 100k words, the Insurrection omnibus brings all five books from the novella series together. An action-packed space adventure, it’s a tale of redemption and sacrifice in the struggle for humanity’s ultimate fate.

Buy it for 99¢ on Amazon or Add it to your Goodreads shelf

Flash Fiction Friday

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Happy almost weekend, everybody!

Some time ago, I submitted a flash fiction story to Daily Science Fiction–an online magazine that sends out Sci-fi short stories to its subscribers for free. And hey, they published my piece:):):) So, if you have a minute (literally), I’d love if you could head on over and give it a read:

The Farewell

Sci-fi city

By the way, I’m also told this is National Prime Rib Day, a fact which makes today’s Friday doubly awesome. Just sayin’, look for thine silver linings where they shine, right?

Guest Post: The ESSENCE of Writing Serial Novelle

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JK-BW-headshotToday I’m excited to have indie author and friend J. K. Ullrich as a guest on the blog! An award-winning Science-Fiction author, she’s recently finished an awesome Sci-Fi series called Syzygy and is here to talk about her experience with the novella story form. Enjoy!

The ESSENCE of Writing Serial Novelle

What do Of Mice and Men, Animal Farm, and The Metamorphosis all have in common? Besides a reliable spot on English class syllabi, each of these classics contains less than 40,000 words, technically a novella. While these famous novelle (that’s the plural, thanks to how the Italian language declines feminine nouns) probably wouldn’t have landed a deal with modern publishers, who rarely consider manuscripts under 70,000 words, readers find a lot to like about the format. Lauded author Ian McEwan praised short fiction that can be read in one sitting, “like enjoying a three hour movie or opera”. If bingeable streaming TV is more your taste, however, consider a novella serial. Earlier this year I completed Syzygy, a science fiction novella hexalogy. Fun yet challenging, the project taught me the ESSENCE of writing a serial novelle: Evaluate the master plot, Structure the component parts, use Suspense, Echoes, and Negative space to Concentrate storytelling, and plan an Endgame for publication.

Evaluate

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America define a novella as fiction from 17,500 to 39,999 words (70-160 standard pages). That doesn’t leave room for meandering tales that take chapters to hit their stride. Advance planning is essential, especially if you intend to release each novella as you complete it. Plot the master arc just as you would a novel, and don’t skimp on the details. I learned this the hard way when I reached Pt VI: Right Ascension and discovered that my notes, so precise for the early titles, contained little more for the final installment than “Heroes confront antagonist. The end.” That put me in the awkward spot of reverse engineering scenes that fit with everything I’d already established. Having a comprehensive outline from the start would have saved me a lot of agony!

Once you’ve worked out the big picture, subdivide it into individual novelle. If I framed the entire Syzygy story (about 160,000 words) in three-act structure, the first two installments would be Act I (about 40,000 words total) books three through five would be Act II, ending with the peak crisis (about 70,000 words total) and part six is the climactic Act III (about 40,000 words). Each episode builds on the previous one, adding tension and advancing the story.

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Structure

Component novelle are more than just arbitrary slices of the broader arc: each needs its own internal structure. Let’s zoom in on the plot outline above….

Plot

In the scope of the entire Syzygy saga, Transient Phenomena is only half of act one, but as a standalone, it still reflects classic plot mechanics with its own beginning, middle, and end. This helps every piece feel complete. But not too complete. The key to any good series is tempting the audience irresistibly onward.

Suspense

Notice something different about the Transient Phenomena outline compared to the series outline above? There’s no drop at the end to represent denouement; the action keeps rising. I drew readers through the series by ending each novella with a question or twist that would send them scrambling for the next story right away. Part I leaves Ash’s decision and Skye’s fate unresolved. Part II concludes with a revelation that turns everything upside down. And so on. Identify the suspenseful points in your master plot and divide up the story around them. (I went a step further and tried to end every chapter with a hook as well!) Is it a little cruel to leave readers hanging? Undoubtedly. But is that not an author’s prerogative?

Echoes

A good hook may pull readers through your series, but it takes more than a core plot line to fuse separate installments into a cohesive, satisfying whole. One way to cultivate connection is to draw parallels between the pieces. Plot and character development accomplish some of this, but I found it was the nuances that really pulled the story together. For example, Ash and Skye’s quips about their respective name meanings in the first book establish an inside joke between them, and variations on it play across the series. Offhand dialogue from early installments, echoed later at a critical point, resonates with new meaning. This technique adds thematic depth and facilitates narrative cohesion. It’s like the baseline in a piece of music, a common rhythm beneath the changing melody. In novelle, even the background is important!

Negative Space

“Negative space” in visual arts describes the sometimes-empty area around the main subject of an image. Narratives have negative space, too, in the ambient details surrounding major events.  Novelle writers can use it as a canvas for implications, making the most of their limited pages. In the opening scene of Transient Phenomena, Skye steals equipment from the Colony and detects a radio signal emanating from Earth. Two simple plot points, right? A lot more appears between the lines:

  • The harsh living environment of lunar dwellers (and the presence of rival settlements, at least one of which is struggling to survive);
  • Skye’s status as an outsider in her community (and the existence of a leader who would punish her for disobedience);
  • Her habit of talking to herself (suggesting chronic isolation);
  • Her skill with telemetry and electronics (which she’s been prevented from using); and
  • A previous discovery of the same signal, ignored for unknown reasons.

By integrating all these clues into the background, I avoided exposition and saved precious wordage. (Transient Phenomena is available free for Kindle and Nook if you want to read the whole scene and judge for yourself.) Leveraging negative space helps writers get the most out of every paragraph.

Concentration

The prologue I just described introduces a protagonist, implies parts of her backstory, establishes key world-building elements, and poses questions that keep readers turning pages…in only 566 words. Concentrated storytelling like this helps maximize impact in the pithy novella format. As you edit, appraise the manuscript with economical eyes. Can you condense any sequences, combine any scenes? Can any characters do double duty? For example, the supporting character Violet is Hazel’s mother and Ash’s father’s work partner and the mechanic responsible for the Colony’s plot-entangled power grid. I could have created a separate person for each of those roles, but combining them makes for a more interesting character (and helps keep the cast from becoming unmanageably large over the course of the series). Once you’ve streamlined the narrative, pare down the prose. My prolix English major habits struggled at first, but I came to appreciate the brisk elegance of novelle.

Endgame

Your novella may be as fast and trim as a well-engineered spacecraft, but don’t launch it just yet. Publishing a novella serial involves a few more decisions than publishing standalone work. Will you release each installment as you write it? A steady flow of new titles can build a reader base hungry for more, and but you risk continuity errors or writing yourself into a corner if you haven’t planned the story well. What about completing the whole series first? That enables comprehensive revision, but it might take years to complete the entire thing, and having your name off the market that long can be problematic (especially for Indies).

Whichever path you choose, Novelle are a hard sell—people are already reluctant to pay a few dollars for “full-length” novels, much less shorter works—but serials enjoy the advantage of various marketing options.

  • Make the first story “permafree” to entice readers to give it a try (hopefully all those suspenseful hooks will drive them to buy the rest).
  • Once all the installments are available, Amazon allows authors a series page where shoppers can buy all the books in one click.
  • Release the complete series in a single-volume edition. Bonus content, like a new epilogue or spinoff story, can make the omnibus an especially appealing purchase.

With swift storytelling honed to its ESSENCE, novella series offer a unique and rewarding experience for authors and readers alike!

Anela says: Many thanks to J. K. Ullrich for an insightful look into the structure and execution of writing a novella series! Check out her website to learn more about her work and find other great articles about speculative fiction and more. 

You can grab the first installment of her Syzygy series for FREE on Amazon! It’s a fast-paced story with plenty of twists and awesome characters, so don’t miss out!

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Ash was never supposed to visit Earth. After a genetic engineering catastrophe wiped out civilization, the survivors—inhabitants of a lunar mining colony—planned to rebuild on Mars. That was before a group of rebels seceded to the dark side of the moon, taking critical data with them. Now conscripted teenagers scavenge the ruined planet for species to use in terraforming. At fifteen, Ash is the best diver in a generation. But when tragedy strikes, he vows to end his colony’s dependence on its old homeworld at any cost.

Skye has never set foot on Earth. It’s not even visible from the moon’s far side, although the exiles’ mystic leader promises they will return home someday. Skye has discovered something that could realize this long-awaited dream, but she’s an outcast among outcasts, and no one will listen to her plan. To save her people, she might have to betray them.

Worlds collide when Ash and Skye meet, blurring the boundaries between enemies and allies, deception and truth. Their choices could win a future for humanity…or finally drive it to extinction.

Grab it on Amazon!

 

The Insurrection Omnibus is Coming!

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Were you waiting for all five books of the Insurrection series to be offered in a single volume? Of course, you were;) Right now, you can pre-order the whole thing for just 99¢ on Amazon. The release date is April 29th. Grab your copy while the sale is on!

The awesome new cover:

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For twenty years Inquisitor Gemson Agaton used torture and interrogation to root out subversives undermining the Establishment. He earned his cold, hard reputation, setting morality aside in the name of a strong state. Now he’s on the subject’s side of the interrogation table, duty to the regime he believes in pitted against loyalty to the one person he always protected.

Gemson isn’t the only target on the Establishment’s radar. An insurgency challenges its authority. Every attempt to capture the Albatross, the rebels’ enigmatic leader, has failed. To the oppressed, he epitomizes freedom from tyranny. But behind the symbol is a man haunted by his past. Not even his closest allies know his true identity, and he’s careful to keep it that way.

As the Albatross rallies Earth’s citizens to resist the regime’s dictatorial rule, many are listening, including one of the Establishment’s most talented operatives. To find and betray him is her directive. To fall in love with him is treason.

In this universe, there are no easy answers and secrets cloud the truth. When a new threat emerges, these unlikely few must overcome their discordant history and forge alliances among enemies. The survival of mankind depends on it.

At over 100k words, the Insurrection omnibus brings all five books from the novella series together. An action-packed space adventure, it’s a tale of redemption and sacrifice in the struggle for humanity’s ultimate fate.

Pre-order for 99¢ on Amazon

Book Release! Syzygy: The Complete Novel

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A century after a genetic engineering disaster eradicates human life on Earth, two young rebels risk everything to save their struggling lunar outpost: Ash, reluctant champion of a DNA archive effort that runs dangerous missions back to Earth; and Skye, a cunning scavenger from a tribe of outcasts. Their fractious alliance reveals shocking truths concealed for generations and sparks one desperate hope for the future of their species.

This complete edition unites all six installments of the Syzygy hexalogy—Transient PhenomenaOpposition EffectRetrograde MotionEscape VelocityRed Shift, and Right Ascension—along with a previously unpublished prequel novelette.

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Anela says: I’ve read all six installments of this thoughtful and thrilling Sci-Fi series, and can’t recommend it enough!

Book one of the series is free so grab it today, or better yet, download the full omnibus! The eBook is available for $4.99 on Amazon or via Kindle Unlimited.

Book Trailer!!

Right Ascension (Syzygy Book Six)

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Title & Author: Right Ascension (Syzygy Book Six), J. K. Ullrich

Genre & Publication Date: YA Sci-Fi/Cli-Fi, January 30, 2018

Book Description: *Spoiler, sorry*

First Line: *Also spoiler*

My Take: This book was provided to me by the author for review.

I’ve been reviewing installments of this series for some time and I’m happy to report the finale brought everything together, delivering an awesome conclusion to an incredibly unique story.

Reviewing the last book of a series is tough because I don’t want to spoil any of the twists or reveals. Just know there are plenty of them. Plenty of action too, and the experiences Skye and Ash (our main characters) went through, together and separately, in the course of these adventures felt true and real. Bit by bit, they got to know each other, and found there was plenty to learn even from someone they thought was their enemy: Trust and acceptance. Confidence and loyalty. The lesson of blind belief. Survival comes not in a vague sense of purpose and a fuzzy concept of the future, but in accepting hard truths with a willingness to change direction because of them. That’s real courage.

The Magical: The science! This author excels at putting the ‘Science’ in Science-Fiction. From atmospheric realities, to DNA sequencing, to the components needed to create a viable ecosystem, all of this amazing info is expertly folded in with a fictional story in such a way that it feels incredibly real. Not to say that I’m rooting for the apocalypse here, but if it happened, I am now totally up on facts I need to know:)

The Mundane: Just a small nit: One of the characters was on a mission that isolated them from everyone for a really long time. I’d anticipated more readjustment when they returned and were around people again, like discomfort to the noise and nearness of others, especially groups of them. This person seemed to roll back into the swing of things with an ease I doubted. I can barely stand crowds even without long bouts of solitude.

Summary of Thoughts: Well researched, full of thoughtful themes and developed characters, this is a marvelous Sci-Fi series that I think everyone will love, from YA to adult. Grab the first installment free on Amazon.

I really can’t wait to see what new ideas are coming next from this author.

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Many thanks to author J. K. Ullrich for providing a copy of the book to review.

Want to know more about the author and her work? Check out her website here