Summer is in full swing

The temperature reached 98F here in Portland yesterday afternoon. Not nearly as scorching as Austin and other places in Texas have faced these past few days, and much “cooler” then when we were in fiery grip of the heat dome last summer.

Today is cooler, closer to the range of what I can consider perfect summer weather for Oregon. We’re currently at 86F. I spent time today out in my “zero gravity” chair in the backyard, shaded from the sun by a lilac tree, and working on A Shush Before Dying.

The forecast calls for even cooler temperatures over the next week. But I have no doubt that scorching heat will return next month, if not sooner. We often have a scorching week or two in August.

Meanwhile, stay cool where ever you are and remember to hydrate.

Sharing Secrets at the Library

When you’re a young child, everything in the world seems a secret. Why does it rain? Where do puppies come from? Why do the stars twinkle? How come I’m not feeling well?

Some secrets are revealed early. Your mother will point out a cloud and say that that’s where the rain comes from, or your dad will say puppies come from mommy dogs.

Then there are the “secrets”, like dinosaurs, fire truck, dump trucks, princesses and princes, sharks and so on. Grown-ups call that knowledge. They aren’t really “secret” in that they aren’t meant to be shared, except for the things grown-ups don’t want a kid to know, yet. Grown-ups might decide that this knowledge should be kept secret from children until they are ready for it.

But there are myriad “secrets” that are really things a young child simply hasn’t discovered yet.

The first time I remember going to the library was when I was eight years old. Our family had just moved down from Seattle and we lived in a tiny rental house. The city library was just five long blocks away. I remember the first time I walked in there, on a sweltering Oregon summer afternoon, to see all the books waiting for me in the children’s section. My mother or father must have accompanied me to get my own library card, but I don’t remember. What I remember were all the books.

Back then children were giving cards that let them check out age appropriate books, what later I learned were called “juvenile” titles in library speak. Books about horses, dinosaurs, the stars, the Moon, World War Two, and on and on. Suddenly I knew that all the things that seemed secret were really just things I didn’t know yet.

That fall, after I started third grade, I walked into the school library and saw so many more books waiting for me. Of course, I didn’t read about everything. I read what interested me. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Matthew Mooney, books about the planets, books about World War Two naval battles, things I was fascinated with.

Knowledge is “a state of knowing, of understanding. Actual secrets are things kept from you for various reasons. But knowledge secrets are only secrets because you don’t know about them. Books banish those secrets and help you comprehend.

Some books, like mystery fiction or a compelling memoir, take you on a journey of discovery to learn a truth, or share an experience, and the in the process, banish another “secret,” because the writer wanted to reveal what was secret and share it.

I’ll never know everything. None of us will. Nor do we have time to read everything.

But we can discover what was hidden from us, whatever we choose, when it comes to knowledge, and make it our own.

Better still, we can share that with others.

Make Mine A Mystery

On the hunt for the crucial clue
On the hunt for the crucial clue

Welcome to the new beginning for my author site. Changes have been afoot in my writing since fall 2020, and they are finally bearing fruit. I began as a fantasy and science fiction author, and eventually published seven novels, six fantasy and one space opera, as well as novellas in the 2018 Street Spells and last September’s High Moon. I am a long time fan of fantasy and science fiction.

I’m also a long-time fan of mystery. I started out reading a mystery every so often. Sherlock Holmes, Poe’s “Murder in the Rue Morgue,” Kinsey Mallone, Lawrence Block and on. I idly thought about writing an historical mystery series set during the age of piracy in the Caribbean. (I may still.) I used to joke with library colleagues about writing a library murder mystery, and they used to suggest it.

But it remained on the back-burner while I worked on learning how to write fantasy novels. I racked up five before finally getting the elements lined up and working together, thanks in no small measure to hiring my friend and writing mentor, Mary Rosenblum, to story edit Empowered: Agent and Empowered :Traitor and give me feedback on the outline for Empowered: Outlaw, in 2016-17. It paid off. I went on to write five novels in The Empowered series as well as the space opera and Gremlin Night.

But things changed for me in the spring of 2020, during the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. During lockdown I began reading many more mystery novels, as well as watching mystery shows. In September, 2020, I decided to write my first mystery novel. I wrote a draft of sorts, finishing it in February, 2021. I then worked on rewriting it. I took a break from the rewrite that summer, writing an urban fantasy novella and returning to it in the fall. More revision followed, and then another interruption while I worked on a separate project.

But, as time went on, I became more and more passionate about mystery fiction. My library cozy had been titled, Death Due, but now it became A Shush Before Dying. Mystery is very much my jam now. I’ve read so many more, and watched a great deal of mystery television, everything from The Queens of Mystery and the new Father Brown to Midsomer Murders, classic shows like Perry Mason and Columbo, and now Murder, She wrote, and so many more.

One of my dear friends from my time in library-land, Jan, who I called our “mystery maven” because of her deep knowledge of that genre, told me she felt mystery must be the hardest genre to write in. I’ve learned this past year and a half that she is right about that. At the same time, writing mystery is irresistible for me, incredibly rewarding, and so very fun. I’ll talk about that more in future posts.

I may have chosen to write mysteries, but it was no real choice, since I felt so drawn to the form after years spent reading in it.

My site is going to have a different look in the not-too-distant future, but I didn’t want to wait on that to begin a new mystery-focused blog.

I hope you’ll join me as I do.

Empowered: Complete

I’m excited to annouce that the Empowered Complete Series collection is now out in all major eBook formats, on all the major eBook retailers, as well as platforms like Scribd. All five novels in the series, as well as the prequel Renegade and the linking story “Nullified,” which tells an episode from Mat’s time in Special Corrections, two years before the events of the first novel, Agent.

The Empowered began as a serial called Weed, back in 2012. In 2011 serialized fiction was being published on some of the online eBook platforms, including Amazon, and I was inspired to write my own, based on an idea for a novel the muse had given me. I spent months brainstorming, and then wrote three episodes, totaling about forty thousand words.

As much as I loved the idea, it didn’t work, so I put it aside for a couple of years while I worked on a six-guns and sorcery novel, The Hardscrabble. But Mathilda Brandt wouldn’t leave me alone, and in late 2015, I returned to the idea and fleshed out a new outline.

I hired a very talented editor, Mary Rosenblum (who was also a very talented, award-winning science fiction and mystery author) to story edit the novels, which proved to be a very wise decision on my part. Mary had a huge impact on the first three novels, Agent, Traitor and Outlaw. Tragically, she died while I was drafting Rebel, so she never saw the final two books.

Mathilda’s story means a lot to me, and I’m very pleased the entire series is now available in a single volume. Happy reading!

New Agents of Sorcery novella in an-all-new anthology

This summer I wrote a new novella entitled Lunaticking, featuring Elizabeth Marquez, magics good and evil, and more than one sort of werewolf, set in the Olympic rainforest. Writing it was huge fun. It was also emotional. My wife and I lost our long-time friend Rachel to cancer. She always believed in magic, and the novella is dedicated to her.

It will be exclusive to the new High Moon anthology, along with novellas by seven other urban fantasy authors also exclusive to the book: Aimee Easterling, BR Kingsolver, Jenn Stark, Becca Andre, Jenn Windrow, N.R. Hairston, and Marina Finlayson. The book will be released on September 14th. It’s already available for pre-order at three ebook retailers.

https://books2read.com/u/boaX0Z

Here’s the first two chapters of Lunaticking as a sample:

***

One

The howl shredded the silence of the Olympic Rainforest night, erupting from the canyon mouth, east of Tully and me. The hairs on the back of my neck stuck straight out. It sounded like something out of a horror movie.

“That’s our wolf-dude,” I told Tully. He loomed beside me in his leather duster, his dark face tight with concentration as he peered into his scry stone. He began chanting a Tag spell in Finnish.

I held my wand and peered into the darkness, brushing my bangs away from my eyes with my free hand. The waxing gibbous moon had sunk behind the wooded ridge west of us, plunging the canyon floor into darkness. Morning twilight hadn’t begun yet.

“Got you,” Tully said. A golden thread hung in the air, a glowing spell-line that connected him to the wolf-man manifestation.

“Let’s go then,” I said and started back down the trail at a half jog, my wand out, point down. I pulled a Link spell from memory. I’d cast it in German. Not much elegance, but plenty of sure strength, enough for this wolf-man manifestation, especially out here in the boondocks.

“Liz, wait up,” Tully called behind me.

I looked over my shoulder at him. “Come on, old man, better keep up.” Tully was thirty, four years older than me, and I never wanted to miss a chance to tease him about the age difference.

He broke into a run, and I ran faster to stay ahead of him, but Tully had longer legs, was former US Army, and a big-time gym rat. He passed me in seconds.

My breath burned as we ran. My boots felt like they weighed a ton each. Maybe I should have worn hiking ones instead of Doc Martens. We crested the rise in the middle of the canyon and then I could see the mouth, and the distant mountains, lit by the nearly full moon sinking in the west of us.

Tully stopped and I did likewise, bending over and gasping for air. He uttered a command word and purple mana pulsed along the golden thread of the spell.

The air shimmered, and a window of silver light appeared in front of Tully. He gestured and we finally glimpsed our target, after a night spent wandering through this forsaken forest.

The supernatural’s gray fur was shaggy. Its jeans bulged and ripped, going down to just below the knees, with the tattered remains of a checkered shirt hanging from its broad shoulders. The eyes glowed red. It sniffed the air, mouth open, short fangs shining in the moonlight. The manifestation was right out of a Universal monster movie from the Nineteen Thirties. Manifestations modeled themselves on human ideas and self-conceptions. Everything from myth and folk lore to urban legends.

“Now that’s a classic wolf-dude,” I said. It looked like a stunt double for Lon Chaney Jr.’s wolf man.

Tully gestured with his hands and the golden spell-thread brightened. “Anthro-wolf, to use the correct designation.” face narrowed in concentration. “It’s a Level Three.”

I blinked. That was a permanent on the Residency scale. “That was fast. We only picked it up yesterday.” How could it solidify that quickly? Manifestations took time to coalesce.

“And why is it out here in the boondocks?” Tully asked.  

“Good question,” I said. This part of the Olympic Rainforest was deserted. There shouldn’t be any here. “Maybe it wandered away from a populated area.” I shook my head. To exist, manifestations needed people. Supernaturals flickered into existence from the interaction between mana and the human subconscious. Mana was the fuel for magic. It flowed through everything and everyone, invisible except for the few of us aware of its existence. There were very few humans out here, and supernaturals typically needed a large collective subconscious. Which meant there should only be the very rare fleeting manifestations, not a permanent prancing about.

I searched my memory for the ranged binding spell I needed. The Spinning Chain, I’d go with that. Ensnare him at range, and then attach the Link spell. Two spells in quick order. Despite the long night, I could do it.

I began slicing the air in front of me with my wand, warming up. The wolf-dude was a hundred yards distant. It turned and ran off, shoulders rolling, long arms nearly scraping the ground.

I chanted the Spinning Chain spell in Spanish. “I cast forth my hand and ensnare you from afar.” My skin tingled as a spinning loop of golden light appeared before me. It turned to a muddy gray glow with steel glints, mimicking a real chain. “I bind thee!”

As I pulled back my arm for the windup, a chorus of howls echoed behind us. I couldn’t stop the spell, but my aim went all skewed and the chain missed the lens and spun into the trees. My right tricep muscle suddenly cramped.

In the arcane lens, the image of the wolf-person disappeared into the trees, the lens dissipating a second later as Tully lost concentration.

We turned and peered back up the canyon. Moonlight washed the tops of the trees with light, but the forest beneath was dark. The chorus grew louder.

I massaged my arm. “More? How are they materializing out here in this deserted forest?”

Tully snapped his wand, flinging a quick spell in that direction. “Reveal!”

We waited. And waited.

Nothing.

“No mana. No magic.” Tully said, after a minute.

“You’re kidding.” I flexed my arm. Still a bit cramped. “You’re telling me those howls are not supernatural?”

“There’s nothing magical there,” he said.

“Maybe that supernatural can throw howls. You know, like a ventriloquist.”

He gave me a side-eye.

“Okay, I admit, that’s ridiculous. Maybe those howls were fleeting manifestations, Level Zeroes?” Level Zeroes were supernaturals that only lasted for minutes, sometimes just seconds. Most manifestations were phantasmal Zeroes, only a few solidified enough to become even a Level One, which might last an hour, or a day at most. Level Twos, perhaps a few weeks. Level Threes, like the wolf-man manifestation I’d failed to ensnare, were the lowest level of permanents.

“Multiple Level Zeroes?” Tully’s tone told me he thought I was nuts.

“What else could it be?” I asked.

“How about actual wolves?”

I squinted at him. “There aren’t any real wolves here in the Olympic peninsula.”

“Actually, there is a wolf sanctuary here. Not close, but still here.”

“You’re suggesting that maybe an actual wolf left the sanctuary and happened to end up here, right when a manifestation outbreak occurred?” I asked.

Tully shrugged. “Okay, so it does seem pretty unlikely.”

“There are no coincidences, just connections not yet found,” I said, quoting our RU.N.E. field manual. The Regulating Union for Normalizing Enchantments loved to spell everything out, especially procedure.

His eyebrows rose. “You’ve actually read the field manual?”

“Hey, I’ve read it. I just don’t read it for fun like you do.” I put my wand away. Tully couldn’t cast another scry until after dawn, and then it was going to be very difficult to locate any supernatural. Day magic was much more subtle than night magic, and manifestations usually went to ground once the sun was up.

“There’s only one thing we can do,” I said. “Go find breakfast.”

Two

Chloe stood at the edge of camp. Her skin tingled in the glow of the nearly full moon that hung low in the west, taking the edge off her anger at Russ. He and the others had been gone for hours, out on his latest “lope-about.” Despite her annoyance at him, his expression made her smile. She shook her head. He seemed to do both to her on a regular basis.

Grass rustled behind her, and the familiar scent of a packmate filled her nostrils. It was Calvin. She turned to greet her friend. He smiled and adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses. She’d bonded with him on that ill-fated tour bus, when she was with her grandmother, and he with his grandparents. Before the terrible accident that changed the survivors forever.

Behind him the coming dawn had begun to smear the eastern sky.

“They still haven’t returned?” Calvin pushed his glasses back up his nose. Despite everything, poor Calvin was still near-sighted and needed his glasses. It wasn’t his fault.

“Not yet.” She suppressed a grin. 

“The moonlight gives your coppery hair a silver tinge,” he said.

“You only now noticed?” She grinned. “Making a pass at me, Calvin?”

He blushed. “No, no, I’m not,” he said hastily. “I wouldn’t want to get between you and Russ.”

“I don’t belong to him,” she said.

“Well, I didn’t mean it like that, but you guys are a thing, right?”

They’d become a couple. Chloe and Russ hadn’t committed to each other. Not yet. After the accident, they had been the first ones to shift and become wolves. Her human and wolf sides had both felt the attraction between them. It crackled like summer lightning.

For a time, they had been happy in the deep forest. The others learned to shift, and they bonded as pack. Then Russ began having dreams, dreams about another place, a better one. A month ago, they came to this place, near a fishing resort, not far from the highway, and not much farther from a town. They were able to get supplies, more clothes and shoes and other gear. But it also put them at risk of being discovered for what they had become.

Staying deeper in the forest was best. Chloe was sure of it. But Russ was certain being here was the best for the pack. He told Chloe he now dreamed of new members joining them. So, the pack had to wait here for the new members. She was still drawn to him, and she thought he was to her, but his dreams kept getting in the way.

She said they needed to move on. He said that they must wait.

Now the disagreement over what the pack should do next threatened what the two of them had together. She told him the entire pack needed to discuss staying or going. Russ agreed to it, reluctantly. He had agreed, saying it was only right, though she could sense the compulsion to just order them to stay. What was it about this place that made him so stubborn? When they’d been deep in the wilderness, he’d agreed that the pack needed to stay away from civilization and move as necessary. But these dreams now convinced him otherwise.

A chorus of howls echoed faintly to the east.

She shook her head again. “Russ and the others.” The fishing resort lay west, but only a couple of miles. Too close to be howling.

“It sure sounds like it,” agreed Calvin.

They stood there in silence, waiting for the pack to arrive.

Tyler returned first, still fastening his jeans as he walked out of the trees west of them. Barefoot as usual. His sleeveless flannel shirt was unbuttoned. His chest muscles flexed as he buttoned it, stopping two holes short of the top.

“Where’s Russ?” Chloe asked him.

He brushed his long blonde hair away from his eyes. “He’s still scouting.”

Which meant he was still in wolf form. “Now?” She frowned. “He knows we have this meeting.” She’d finally agreed to the discussion, and he stayed away?

Tyler shrugged. “He said he wanted to check out a possible intrusion.”

Worry poked at her. “Intrusion? How many and where?”

“I don’t know, that’s all he said.”

She frowned. Just like Russ to be the hero and investigate on his own.

Angel appeared next, pulling her black tank top down over her naked breasts. Her hair, which had been shoulder length when they’d all been on that tour bus three months ago, was now cropped close to her head.

Kat and Max walked behind her, both dressed in wool shirts and jeans, holding hands.

Chloe crossed her arms and stared up at the lightening sky. “Russ needs to be here.”

“He’s the Alpha,” Tyler said. The rest of the pack gathered in a circle around Chloe, beneath a sequoia.

Calvin adjusted his glasses again, and smiled. “Pirate Code, Tyler, remember? We decide together. Russ decides in a crisis. This isn’t a crisis.”

Tyler bared his teeth, took half a step toward Calvin, who bravely stood his ground.

“You aren’t the alpha,” Tyler growled. “You’re not one of the betas, either. Me and Chloe are. You’re in the back of the pack, man, where you belong.”

“Don’t speak to him like that,” Chloe said, putting a low growl into her own voice.

Tyler flinched, then lifted his chin up defiantly. “You aren’t the alpha,” he repeated, but there was less force in his words the second time.

Chloe uncrossed her arms “How about you shift and find our fearless pack leader and let him know we’re waiting for him?” He shouldn’t be chasing down intruders. The rules stated they must avoid outsiders.

Out of the corner of her eye, Angel smirked, but didn’t say anything.

Tyler pulled his shirt off as he stalked into the trees. Angel headed to her tent.

Chloe plucked a long blade of grass from the earth, twirled the stem. A flood of scents filled her awareness—the sharp, sour tang of the grass itself, the dirt traces tangling from the roots, the moistness that sheltered earth worms, wriggling insects, the trace of a bee that had brushed against the grass blade, the almost metallic taste of a dragonfly that had perched on the blade not long ago.

She shook herself. Lately, the world had begun opening up to her in a flood of sensations while she was still in human form. Not like it had been for the first two months.

“Are you all right?” Calvin asked.

She blinked. She had forgotten he was still there. “I was distracted,” she said. “So much to drink in here.”

“You’re more aware of everything now, aren’t you?”

“I guess. Why?” she asked.

“Because I am, too. In all sorts of ways. I notice sounds far differently than I did a few weeks ago. Smells and tastes, too. But it’s more than that.” He fell silent.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

He tilted his head, looking at her. “Haven’t you noticed tiny glints of gold and silver light, sometimes, when we transform? Have you seen how some rocks and hills have a really faint purple aura around them?”

She tugged idly at a strand of her hair, struggling to recall. “Maybe once or twice, but I thought it was just a trick of the light.”

“I’ve seen it more than once or twice, but only because I’ve written it down in my journal. I have four entries. But the thing is, I can’t actually remember any of them. I only know because I wrote down that I saw it.”

Chloe shivered. “That’s spooky. What do you think it means?”

“We’re changing. I don’t know why. Is it this place? Or just our wolf sides developing further?”

“I think it’s this place. We need to move on,” she said. “It’s too risky to stay here.”

“But this is something different,” Calvin replied.

She nodded. “Another reason to leave.”

“If only we knew why our senses are altering.” He got to his feet. “Another reason to leave, I guess. I’m going to get something to eat. I’ll keep an ear and an eye out for Russ and the others.” He left and she leaned back on her arms.

The Moon had disappeared behind the wooded ridge. She could go and look for Russ, but they’d argued before he took the others out on the run.

It had been a bad fight. She clenched her fists at the memory. He left to lead the others. He should come back to her, not expect her to chase after him.

She exhaled slowly.

“We need to decide, together, as a pack,” she said aloud.

The World Outside

Four years ago today I published Empowered: Agent, the first novel in the Empowered series. In honor of that, I’ve written a flash fiction story which takes place when Mathilda Brandt is still in Special Corrections, nearly three years after the event of “Nullified.”

***

The World Outside

Copyright 2021 Dale Ivan Smith

Rain popped and sizzled on the force dome above my garden in the Yard. My tomato plants withered in the heat, but the sudden rain outside Special Corrections would do them no good. San Diego got doused but it was still a desert inside Special Corrections, thanks to the damn force dome.

I frowned. My watering can was nearly empty. Even with the null cuffs on, I could still hear the faint moaning of the plants, craving water.

Another female inmate appeared from behind my tomato plants. My jaw tightened. She must have been waiting for me. She was a redhead, slender, maybe five ten, so four inches shorter than me, wearing the same white coveralls we all wore inside, and the same nullification cuffs that blocked our powers. 

I didn’t see either of the armored Corrections Officers that were on duty here in the Yard. My garden was near the forty-foot-high wall dividing our section of Special Corrections from the men’s section, which meant it was in shadow in the afternoon, since the men’s section was on the west side.

The woman held a watering can in her hand. “You’re Mathilda, right?”

I narrowed my eyes. “And you are?”

Concern flashed across her face. I didn’t know why. I didn’t get in fights, or bully anyone. But she must have been new, so she didn’t know that.

“I’m Lexie,” she said, blurting out her name. “I just got here a couple of days ago. I’d heard that you were having trouble with your garden.” She lifted the can. “I have more water for you.”

“You do know that helping another inmate in a proscribed activity is considered a Class Three infraction,” I pointed out. Warden Fulbright regularly drilled the rules into us during assemblies in the cafeteria.

Lexie’s gaze darted around and then back to looking at me. Her eyes were green. “No one’s watching. I’m sorry, I just wanted to help you.” She held out the can.

It looked identical to mine, right down to the dent in the side and the rust stains. That was weird. “Where’d you get the duplicate?” I asked her.

She glanced down at her feet. “Sorry, I can’t tell you.” She glanced off to the south. “CO Reiner will be headed this way any moment.” She took a step toward me. The water in the can sloshed over the top as she moved closer, droplets splashing on the bare earth just beyond a tomato vine. The plant keened in my mind. For an instant, I actually tried to reach out with my power. 

I sucked in a deep breath of air. I couldn’t use my power, even if I weren’t wearing the null cuffs.

“No,” I said.

Lexie’s voice changed, becoming insistent. “Come on, you feel it, don’t you? Take it. No one will know. I’ll take your can and you can finish watering your plants with mine. The COs won’t have a clue.” She thrust the can at me, sending more water sloshing over the edge and spattering on the ground. 

The tomato plants all began keening in my mind. I raised my fist. “Damn you, leave me alone!”

Her face hardened. The uncertain newbie was gone; instead, I recognized the menacing look I’d seen dozens of times in the nearly five years I’d been inside. 

Her lips curved up into a vicious grin. “You don’t know me at all. I can make things very rough for you.” She held the can like a weapon. 

I laughed. “Give me a break. Make things rougher for me? Maybe, but so what? I know what I’m going to do.”

“What’s that?” She asked. Her voice had turned dangerous.

“Get back to my work.” I turned my back on her and walked down the line, sprinkling drops where I could. I didn’t try to wall my mind off from the plants’ cries. Instead, I heard them, felt the echo in my body, and didn’t try to fight the tears filling my eyes.

The water was gone. I reached the end of the garden.

Clapping sounded behind me. I turned. Lexie had disappeared. Instead, a short, gray-haired woman in a black suit, white shirt, and black tie, stood there.

A Support agent, one of the normals who worked for the sanctioned Empowered in the Hero Council. I’d seen them here a few times, but it had been a while.

I put down my can and crossed my arms. “What happened to Lexie?”

The woman looked to be in her fifties. She wore her gray hair short. Her hazel eyes looked me over. “She left.”

“Just like that?”

The Support agent smiled. “Just like that. She’d served her purpose.”

“Which was?”

“A test.”

So, this had been another test. There had been so many of them since I’d arrived. Usually, Warden Fulbright set them up. But there had never been a Support agent in one of her little tests before. Fulbright used other inmates, like Tricksie, who had tried to get me to break out when I turned eighteen. The first test she’d set for me. Her tests were really snares to get you to become one of her stooges.

My fingers dug into my arms.

The agent watched me, not saying anything. Weighing me with her eyes, waiting to see what I’d do next.

I’d be twenty-one in a couple of weeks. Eligible for parole, since I’d been convicted of being a rogue Empowered when I was sixteen. I didn’t want to be Empowered. I just wanted to be released and take care of my grandmother and my twin sisters, who were going on seventeen. God only knew what trouble they had gotten into since I’d been inside.

Eligible for parole didn’t mean I’d be paroled. I could still end up a lifer here. So, I had to stay out of trouble, especially not fight or mouth off to the COs. 

I shrugged. “What’s next?” I asked the agent.

Her gaze bored into me. “The biggest test of all,” she said.

I tensed, then uncrossed my arms and rolled my shoulders. “Okay. I’m ready,” I said.

“No, you’re not,” she replied.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because the test will be the world outside.”

Those words clanged together in my brain. The world outside

That was how I learned I was being paroled. They were giving me a chance for a new life.

I was grabbing that chance and not looking back.

It wasn’t until I’d been released that I realized what the Support agent had meant. I’d dreamed that I once I was out, it would be easy to walk on the straight and narrow and keep my head down.

But I hadn’t reckoned with the world outside and what it wanted.

The end of the vine

Nine years ago an image came to me–a young woman, discharged from a prison for super-criminals, trying to start a new life, and being approached by those who wanted her to use her superpower and return to her own life.

That was the start of Mathilda Brandt’s story. She was once a rogue Empowered, nick-named vine, because of her affinity for creating mutant blackberry vines. She was captured and sent to Special Corrections at sixteen, paroled at twenty one, and only wanting to take care of her ailing grandmother, Ruth, and her two younger twin sisters.

But, the world wouldn’t let her.

After several tries, I finally wrote the first novel, Empowered: Agent, in 2016, along with the sequel, Empowered: Traitor. In 2017, I published those two novels, along with the third in the series, Empowered: Outlaw. In June 2018, I published Book Four, Empowered: Rebel, thinking at the time that I’d close the series with that novel. Only, truthfully that was not the end of Mat’s story.

It took longer than I’d planned, but the final novel, Empowered: Hero, is now finished and out in the world. I’ve learned so much during my time with Mat. I’ve learned the importance of trusting in your imagination, and in listening to feedback from beta readers and editors, knowing how much to plan ahead of time, and how much run comes to me as I write. (Quite a lot, in fact).

Most of all, I learned to listen to Mat, and tell her story.

Don’t Panic

“Don’t panic” is advice from a favorite book of mine, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and applies doubly so right now, in the midst of the 2020 COVID-19 global pandemic. We have to be patient, as we stay-at-home, and vigilant. Those who have to go outside to work are all heroes, especially the healthcare workers and first responders, but also the delivery people and grocery and warehouse workers.

The least I can do is not panic, and I’m working on that. I even have a new fez to help me stay calm.

Words to write by, and words to live by, especially now.

I’m a huge fan of Doctor Who, and love the latest Doctor, played by Jodi Whittaker. I love her even more after this short video she did, in character, to comfort us right now.

“Brave heart,” the Fifth Doctor said, and we all need brave hearts, right now. We can do this. We really are all together, members of the enormous, raucous, strong-willed human family, brilliant in our individual and shared creativeness, passionate, caring, loving, and kindness. It’s said that patience is a virtue; right now, it’s more than that, it’s necessary, as most of us stay at home, and wait for the viral transmission to drop.

We can do this. And, even though it feels like we are alone as we do, we are altogether in this. Hang in there, and remember, don’t panic.