My Bookish Ways

Blogoversary Giveaway #6: Retribution (Dark Hunter Series) by Sherrilyn Kenyon

For my 6th Blogoversary giveaway I’ve got 2 copies of Retribution (Dark Hunter Series) by Sherrilyn Kenyon up for grabs! Check out the description and giveaway rules below, and good luck!

About Retribution:
The vampires call it the Cross of Ardaich: a relic thought to have been destroyed in the war between the Federation and the rebels. But it has been found, and its incredible powers could signal the end of civilization…

Harm no human…

A hired gunslinger, William Jessup Brady lived his life with one foot in the grave. He believed that every life had a price. Until the day when he finally found a reason to live. In one single act of brutal betrayal, he lost everything, including his life. Brought back by a Greek goddess to be one of her Dark-Hunters, he gave his immortal soul for vengeance and swore he’d spend eternity protecting the humans he’d once considered prey.

Orphaned as a toddler, Abigail Yager was taken in by a family of vampires and raised on one belief—Dark-Hunters are the evil who prey on both their people and mankind, and they must all be destroyed. While protecting her adoptive race, she has spent her life eliminating the Dark-Hunters and training for the day when she meeting the man who killed her family: Jess Brady.

A gun in the hand is worth two in the holster…

Jess has been charged with finding and terminating the creature who’s assassinating Dark-Hunters. The last thing he expects to find is a human face behind the killings, but when that face bears a striking resemblance to the one who murdered him centuries ago, he knows something evil is going on. He also knows he’s not the one who killed her parents. But Abigail refuses to believe the truth and is determined to see him dead once and for all.

< Brought together by an angry god and chased by ancient enemies out to kill them both, they must find a way to overcome their mutual hatred or watch as one of the darkest of powers rises and kills both the races they’ve sworn to protect.

1. Fill out the Rafflecopter form below.
2. You must leave a comment with your email address (if you type your email address into the comment form, there’s no need to include it in the body of your comment)
3. Giveaway is for 2 copies of Retribution by Sherrilyn Kenyon to 2 winners.
4. Giveaway is open to US addresses only
5. Please include a valid email address
6. You must enter before or on Wednesday, Dec. 14th, 2011
7. I am not responsible for books lost or damaged in the mail. Please see my Giveaway Policy.
8. Giveaway books were kindly provided by Macmillan.

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Interview (& Giveaway): Amanda Bonilla, author of Shaedes of Gray!

I’m so excited to have Amanda Bonilla on the blog today as part of her tour for her brand new book, Shaedes of Gray! Amanda was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, and there’s also a copy of Shaedes of Gray up for grabs, so be sure to check out the giveaway details at the bottom of the post.

Please welcome Amanda to the blog!

Hi Kristin! Thanks so much for hosting me on my blog tour today which is also the official release day for SHAEDES OF GRAY! I’m so excited to be here!

Amanda, your brand new urban fantasy, Shaedes of Gray, is out today! Have you always wanted to be a writer? Can you tell us a bit about your journey?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was about 18. I’ve written on and off for years, but started writing with a goal of publication about three years ago. SHAEDES OF GRAY was the third book I’d even written. My first book crashed and burned in the query stage and the second book, which was a sequel, turned out to be more of a writing exercise. When I started writing SOG, Darian’s voice popped into my head loud and clear and I wrote the first draft in just under three months. I queried the novel for seven months and went through one major revision before I signed with my agent, Natanya Wheeler at the Nancy Yost Literary Agency, and then revised the novel twice more before putting it out on submission to editors.

What are some of your biggest literary influences?
There are so many! I love Anne Rice, and Bernard Cornwell. They write such dynamic protagonists. I’m in awe of J.R. Ward. She’s an amazing story-crafter. The way she interconnects plots and story-lines and weaves them through her books is so impressive. I’m also a huge fan of Jeaniene Frost, Ilona Andrews, and Darynda Jones. I love books with strong female leads.

What do you like best about writing urban fantasy?
One of my favorite aspects of urban fantasy is that everything doesn’t have to be tied up in a pretty bow. I love HEAs, but I really like to write happily for nows. The HEA doesn’t have to come right away in an urban fantasy. I love stories with a lot of action, and urban fantasy allows me to write intense fight scenes. Sword play and hand-to-hand are my favorites to write. I like to pretend that I’ve got mad skills, but really, I’m just good at visualizing. Most importantly, though, is the fantasy. I have a very over-active imagination and I finally get to put it to good use!

What’s your most unusual writing quirk?
I’m so boring! I don’t have any quirks. I work best in a quiet setting with no distractions. Sometimes when I’m writing, I get this crazy urge to snack, though. And I usually have a Coke Zero close by.

What’s on your nightstand right now?
Two bottles of lotion, sticky notes and colored pencils, the case for my glasses, a partial print out of a Shaedes manuscript, and Grave Dance by Kalayna Price.

What book do you wish you could read again for the first time?
THE WINTER KING by Bernard Cornwell. I was so blown away by that book. I actually own two copies: a reading copy and a shelf copy.

Have you ever “faked” reading a book? If so, which one?
In high school, I faked reading THE TAMING OF THE SHREW. My English teacher totally called me out on it. I did read it, eventually, and it’s one of my favorite plays.

It says in your bio that you love to sit by the lake in the summer and soak up the sun. How else do you like to spend your free time?
I’m a really laid-back person. In the winter, I’ll go skiing once or twice, and if the hubs is extra sweet, I’ll go out and keep him company while he ice fishes. I pretty much hate the cold, though, so I’m only good for a couple of hours. We have a huge garden and greenhouse, so in the spring and summer I’m working on that and we love to hike up in the woods behind our house. We pick mushrooms and berries depending on the season. But in the summer, I’m at the lake as much as I can manage. Our cabin doesn’t have phone or internet service and it’s the perfect place to relax and write.

What’s one of the most daring things you’ve ever done (that you’re willing to admit to?)
When I was younger, I used to go skinny dipping. My family’s cabin is pretty tucked away, and our neighbors aren’t around much. I love to swim.

Quick! Name something that makes you laugh out loud.
I absolutely love the “head” scene from So I Married an Ax Murderer. Just thinking about it makes me giggle. But you have to picture Mike Meyers speaking in a Scottish accent: “I’m not kidding, that boy’s head is like Sputnik; spherical but quite pointy at parts! Now that was offside, wasn’t it? He’ll be crying himself to sleep tonight, on his huge pillow.”

Is there any advice that you would give struggling writers?
Don’t give up; luck follows the persistent. You have to write and write and write some more. Read in your genre as much as you can. Keep querying agents, editors, whatever. Don’t be afraid to let your personality leak onto the pages, and remember that this is a business. No matter what stage you’re at, treat writing like a career.

Is there any other news of upcoming events or projects that you’d like to share with us?
A novella in the Shaede Assassin series, WHEN SHADOWS CALL, will be released in June as an e-book. It’s a prequel to SHAEDES OF GRAY and readers will get to see how Darian’s journey began. Book 2 in the Shaede Assassin series, BLOOD BEFORE SUNRISE, will be released on July 3rd, and I’m currently working on Book 3 which is as of yet untitled.

Thanks again so much for having me as a guest today!!
Keep up with Amanda: Website | Twitter
Click here for all tour stops!
Read my review of Shaedes of Gray!

1. Fill out the Rafflecopter form below.
2. You must leave a comment with your email address
3. Giveaway is for 1 copy of Shaedes of Gray by Amanda Bonilla to 1 winner
4. Giveaway is open to US addresses only
5. Please include a valid email address
6. You must enter before or on Tuesaday, Dec. 13th, 2011
7. I am not responsible for books lost or damaged in the mail. Please see my Giveaway Policy.
8. Giveaway book kindly provided by the author.

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Blogoversary Giveaway #5: The Cross (2 copies) by Sean McCabe!

For my 5th Blogoversary giveaway I’ve got 2 copies of The Cross (Vampire Federation #2) by Sean McCabe up for grabs! Today is its release day as well, so I thought it appropriate:) Check out the description and giveaway rules below, and good luck!

About The Cross:
The vampires call it the Cross of Ardaich: a relic thought to have been destroyed in the war between the Federation and the rebels. But it has been found, and its incredible powers could signal the end of civilization…

A cannibalistic serial killer becomes the perfect tool for the race of the Ubervampyr. His mission: find the cross. His reward: join the ranks of the undead. On his trail are Detective Joel Solomon and Vampire Federation agent Alex Bishop. Once lovers and now enemies, they must work together to prevent the ultimate disaster. Unless they can foil the vampyrs’ plans, salvation for the race will be just a dream gone bad.

1. Fill out the Rafflecopter form below.
2. You must leave a comment with your email address
3. Giveaway is for 2 copies of The Cross by Sean McCabe to 2 winners.
4. Giveaway is open to US/Canadian addresses only
5. Please include a valid email address
6. You must enter before or on Tuesday, Dec. 13th, 2011
7. I am not responsible for books lost or damaged in the mail. Please see my Giveaway Policy.
8. Giveaway books were kindly provided by Penguin Books.

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Release Day Review: Shaedes of Gray (Shaede Assassin #1) by Amanda Bonilla

Shaedes of Gray (Shaede Assassin #1) by Amanda Bonilla
 Penguin Group/Signet (Dec. ’11)
Urban Fantasy Romance
Shaede Assassin Series
Amazon|Barnes and Noble
Add to Goodreads

In the shadows of the night, Darian has lived alone for almost a century. Made and abandoned by her former love, Darian is the last of her kind-an immortal Shaede who can slip into darkness as easily as breathing. With no one else to rely on, she has taught herself how to survive, using her unique skills to become a deadly assassin.

When Darian’s next mark turns out to be Xander Peck, King of the Shaede Nation, her whole worldview is thrown into question. Darian begins to wonder if she’s taken on more than her conscience will allow. But a good assassin never leaves a job unfinished..

Shaedes of Gray was such a pleasant surprise! Everything about this book looked great, but you never know what to expect when trying out a new author. Turns out I had nothing to fear. Darian is a Shaede, able to shift into shadow and has spent her life working as an assassin, until her maker, Azriel, leaves her with no hint at whether he is dead or alive. She has continued her work as an assassin (it’s all she knows), and when she is hired by the King of the Shaede Nation (who she’s first hired to assassinate), Alexander, to take out an unknown victim, the you-know-what really hits the fan. Darian didn’t even know there was a King of Shaedes, much less anyone else like her, so the forthcoming events prove to be extremely eye opening for our heroine.

Speaking of our heroine, Darian isn’t your typical kick-ass, leather clad¸ urban fantasy star. Yes, she does kick-ass, but only up to a point. Her only training is as an assassin, and what does an assassin do? Preferably, they sneak up on their mark and kill them quietly, without ever engaging them in battle. Until about halfway through the book, Darian really isn’t up to any serious fighting, but that’s ok, because training from Raif (a fellow Shaede) takes care of that neatly. She begins to learn that not only is she not the only Shaede in existence, but there are all kinds of “others” running around, and her employer, Tyler, who she’s known for 5 years and wants her as more than a friend, may also be more than he seems. The sparks are undeniable between Darian and Tyler, but she’s very reluctant to draw anyone close that can be hurt because of her. It doesn’t help that Alexander is sniffing around too. Shaedes of Gray is told from Darian’s point of view, and I had great fun following her as she discovers her origins and as a whole new world opens in front of her. There’s also a diabolical evil at work that thinks Darian might be even more than she thinks she is, and is willing to do anything for that power. There’s lots of twists and turns in this one and while there is much emotional push and pull between Darian and Tyler, it’s not too heavy on the romance. For me, it was just right. Darian’s story is fascinating and I like her matter-of-fact attitude, although she does eventually soften just a smidge. But just. My only complaint (and it’s not really a complaint), is that I would have loved to explore Darian’s past just a bit more (she’s over 100 years old, after all), but a little birdy told me there’s a novella coming up that will do just that, so I’m looking forward to it. Shaedes of Gray is chock full of supernatural goodness and I love the unique world the author has created! Urban fantasy fans will love this one, and I’ll be anxiously awaiting the next book in the series!

Amanda Bonilla’s Website
Amanda’s Blog

New Releases: Week of Dec. 6th, 2011

Check out the new releases this week!  Most release Dec. 6th.  Also, there are some great Kindle steals, so be sure to check those out too! Enjoy!

Urban Fantasy/Paranormal/Fantasy/Sci-fi/Horror:
Eden by Tony Monchinski
The Necessary Hunger (reprint) by Nina Revoyr
Alien Proliferation by Gini Koch
Shaedes of Gray: A Shaede Assassin Novel by Amanda Bonilla
Bound by Darknes (Guardians of Eternity) by Alexandra Ivy
Cat Tales: Jane Yellowrock Stories by Faith Hunter | Only $2.99 (ebook special)
Angel of Darkness (The Fallen) by Cynthia Eden
The Cross: Vampire Federation by Sean McCabe
Daybreak (Dark Age Dawning #3) by Ellen Connor
That Old Black Magic (Living in Eden) by Michelle Rowan
Hellsbane by Paige Cucarro
Miss Minnie and the Brass Pluggit by Sahara Kelly
Obsidian (A Lux Novel) by Jennifer Armentrout
Left Hand Magic (Golgotham) by Nancy Collins
Human for a Day ed. by Martin H. Greenburg
Thirteen Hallows by Michael Scott and Colette Freedman
Reprisal (Repairman Jack) by F. Paul Wilson
Head Rush (Disillusionists #3) by Carolyn Crane

Murder Season (Lena Gamble) by Robert Ellis
Storm Damage by Ed Kovacs
The Last World (A Books by the Bay Mystery) by Ellery Adams
Dead Bolt (Haunted Home Renovation) by Juliet Blackwell
A Spirited Gift (Missing Pieces Mystery) by Jim and Joyce Lavene
Red Mist (A Scarpetta Novel) by Patricia Cornwell

Young Adult:
The Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare
Planesrunner (Everness Book One) by Ian McDonald
Melody Burning by Whitley Streiber
Shattered Souls by Mary Lindsey
Larkstorm by Dawn Rae Miller

Kindle Steals and Deals!
Urban Fantasy/Fantasy/Paranormal/Horror/Sci-fi/Steampunk:
The Hunter (The Legend Chronicles) by Theresa Meyers: $4.61
Silver Shark (Kinsmen Series) by Ilona Andrews: $2.99
Goddess With a Blade by Lauren Dane: $3.82
Dead, Undead, or Somewhere in Between (Rhiannon’s Law) by J.A. Saare: $4.99
The Renfield Syndrome by J.A. Saare: $4.39
Under Attack (Underworld Detective Agency) by Hannah Jayne: $5.38
Under Wraps (The Underworld Detection Agency Chronicles) by Hannah Jayne: $4.49
Dying Bites: The Bloodhound Files by D.D. Barant: $2.99
Blood Bound (Unbound Novel) by Rachel Vincent: $5.59
Stray (The Shifters) by Rachel Vincent: $5.40 (The entire series is the same price!)
Dark Kiss Of The Reaper by Kristen Painter: $3.99
Miss Bramble and the Leviathan by Kristen Painter: $2.66
The Evil that Befell Sampson (Tale from the Archives) by Pip Ballantine: $.99
Collision Course by Zoe Archer: $3.03
The Blades of the Rose Bundle: Warrior, Scoundrel, Rebel, & Stranger by Zoe Archer: $8.84
Gena Showalter’s Atlantis Series Bundle by Gena Showalter (5 Stories!); $8.84
Lord of the Abyss (Harlequin Nocturne) by Nalini Singh: $3.99
Once Bitten by Stephen Leather: $1.99
For I Have Sinned (A Charley Davidson Story) by Darynda Jones: $.99
Tooth And Nail by Craig DiLouie: $4.79

Young Adult:
The Dark Divine by Bree Despain: $3.99
Pirates! by Celia Rees: $1.99
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: $4.69
The Declaration by Gemma Malley: $2.99
Birthmarked (Birthmarked Trilogy) by Caragh M. O’Brian: $2.99
Unwind by Neal Shusterman: $5.99
Everfound (The Skinjacker Trilogy) by Neal Shusterman: $5.99
Everlost (The Skinjacker Trilogy) by Neal Shusterman: $4.99
Everwild (Skinjacker Trilogy) by Neal Shusterman: $5.99
Wither (The Chemical Garden Trilogy) by Lauren DeStefano: $5.99
Blood Red Road by Moira Young: $5.99
Possession by Elana Johnson: $5.99
Half-Blood (Covenant) by Jennifer L. Armintrout: $3.99
Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder: $6.66

Blogoversary Giveaway #4: Romance Package (6 Titles!!)

I’ve got another great bundle of books up for grabs for my Blogoversary celebration, and this one is for my romance fans. I try to do a little something for everyone, so I’m excited to have these books for giveaway! Check out the titles and fill out the Rafflecopter form below. Thanks again to everyone for making this blogging thing so much fun!


The Rocky Road to Romance by Janet Evanovich
Into the Crossfire by Lisa Marie Rice
Flirting With Forty by Jane Porter
Under Her Skin by Susan Mallery
The Welcome Home Garden Club by Lori Wilde
Devilishly Hot (ARC) by Kathy Love

1. You MUST leave a comment with your email address and fill out the Rafflecopter form below.
2. Giveaway is for the 6 Romance/Paranormal Romance titles listed above to 1 winner.
3. Giveaway is open to US addresses ONLY
4. Please include a valid email address
5. You must enter before or on Monday, Dec. 12th, 2011
6. I am not responsible for books lost or damaged in the mail. Please see my Giveaway Policy.
4. Giveaway books were kindly provided by the publishers of the above titles (Avon, Harper, Kensington Brava, Harlequin, and Hachette)

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Blog Tour and Guest Post: Kristin Miller, author of Vamped Up!

Courtesy of Goddess Fish Tours, I am so thrilled to have the lovely Kristin Miller back on the blog today, talking about her upcoming release Vamped Up (tomorrow, Dec. 6th!!) I asked Kristin if she’d would talk about the worldbuilding in her series, and she kindly obliged, so please welcome her to the blog, and be sure to comment for the chance to win a $25 Amazon Gift Card. You can comment on each tour stop, and I’ll have that link at the end of the post so you can keep up with the tour!

Thank you, Kristin, for having me on My Bookish Ways today! I’m thrilled to be back talking about the Vampires of Crimson Bay Series and the newest installment, Vamped Up.

The world I created—where vampires are born, not turned, and shapeshifters are not as evil as they appear—was complex, but surprisingly easy to write. The initial concept struck me as I was writing my first published novel. As I pounded away on the keyboard, I heard, “Behold! I send you out as sheep amidst the wolves,” blare from the television in the living room. I immediately thought how intriguing it would be to create a shape-shifter who was assigned to do the impossible: shift into a vampire—an incompatible life form. Slade, the shape-shifting assassin in InterVamption, was born.

Once I had the concept down, the world seemed to mold itself. I knew if paranormal creatures walked among us (vampires and shape-shifters, alike), we would be frightened. We’re a paranoid, afraid-of-the-different kind of society, after all. Following that logic, there would be places vampires could go to learn to fit in with “normal” humans, right? Right. ReVamp, the rehabilitation center for vampires, was founded. They help with bloodlust therapy and hold Drinkers’ Anonymous meetings. They bring vampires together, proving they can control their bloodlust and find acceptable ways to drink…like through Alvambra, Crimson Bay’s blood bottling company, for example.

In Vamped Up, I wanted to delve into Ruan’s story. He’s a tortured hero who has to go through hell and back to finally be deserving of the love he craves. (With a name that sounds like “ruin”, how could I not hold him under the fire?) Readers are introduced to him in InterVamption, and although it seems like he’s found his one true love in Eve, a mundane with unique blood, things take a wicked turn the moment they flee from San Francisco’s haven.

It took me two months to plot Ruan and Eve’s journey in Vamped Up, but once I had their story arc and character arcs completed, the story seemed to write itself. When I write, I’m more of a pantser (fly by the seat of my pants through the pages) than a plotter, but for this novel, there were a lot of loose ends to tie up. And I had to get them just right.

As for the intricate details of their world, (Crimson Bay’s popular rock band, The Reds, Mirage nightclub, local artists and philosophers, etc), those pieces come to me after the book is written. After the bare bones are in place, I go back and layer depth, adding more richness to make the world come to life. And I have to admit, it’s so much fun!

Click here for each tour stop and be sure to comment to win the $25 Amazon Gift Card! Thanks again to Kristin Miller and Goddess Fish Tours!

About Kristin Miller:

Kristin Miller has had a passion for language and literature her whole life. Born and raised in Small Town USA, she often made up stories about faraway places and edge-of-your-seat adventures.

After graduating from Humboldt State University with a degree in psychology, Kristin realized there is no scarier place than the warped human psyche. Wanting to combine her love of writing with her desire to paint twisted villains, Kristin wound up in the unlikeliest of places—the classroom. She taught high school and middle school English before giving in to the desire to create her own world, where villains can be sympathetic and heroes can be devilishly good.

She is represented by Nalini Akolekar of Spencerhill Associates Ltd. and writes dark paranormal romances and toe curling romantic suspense.
Keep up with Kristin: Website | Twitter | Facebook

Night Shade Books Holiday Countdown: Tooth and Nail by Jennifer Safrey

During all of December, the awesome Night Shade Books is touring around the web with special features and excerpts from new and upcoming books as part of their Holiday Countdown! Today is Day 4, and I’m thrilled to have an excerpt for you from the upcoming fantasy, Tooth and Nail (Feb. 7th) by Jennifer Safrey. Be sure to keep up with Night Shade Books on Twitter or subscribe to their newsletter for all of the events during the month!

About Tooth and Nail:
Gemma Fae Cross, a tough-girl amateur boxer whose fiancé is running for congress, has just made a startling discovery about herself. She is half faerie — and not just any faerie, but a tooth faerie! A hybrid of fae and human, Gemma is destined to defend the Olde Way and protect the fae — who are incapable of committing violence — from threats to their peaceful and idyllic way of life, which must be maintained by distilling innocence collected from children’s baby teeth. But when a threat to the fae mission emerges, Gemma is called upon to protect her heritage, and become a legendary fae warrior… even if it means sacrificing everything she knows about being human!
Pre-Order: Amazon | Barnes and Noble

Tooth and Nail by Jennifer Safrey:
Glove slammed into jaw. His glove, my jaw.
Back and forth, back and forth. Evenly matched, this still
belonged to both of us. A drop of sweat dripped into my
eye but I ignored the salty burn, never breaking away from our
locked gaze.
Glove cracked into shoulder. My glove, his shoulder.
Jab, jab, jab. We measured distance by inches, by fractions of
inches, pushing in, pulling away. His next punch only brushed
the side of my head but it still hurt.
Then I saw it, his twitch of anticipated control. I ducked the
confident punch and when I straightened my knees, I brought an
uppercut with me.
Glove slammed into chin.
He had nothing, and I came at him again with a left hook.
His head fell to the side with my blow, and over his shoulder, I
saw something.
In the fraction of a second it took me to glance at it, my
opponent drove into my gut. I exhaled hard and my knees
buckled. But I pushed at him again with another uppercut, my
momentum tilting me back upright. He swayed but locked his
gaze onto mine, and I had to unleash punch after punch to keep
him on the defensive, keep my advantage. A shout from below us:
“It’s over! Let’s go!”
Halting my fist halfway to its target, I backed off. And I had
to hand it to him—he held his ground until I turned away. I
wrestled with my head gear. “You all right?” I called over my
“I’m good.”
I collapsed on a stool in the closest corner of the ring, and
remembered the glimmering distraction. I half stood, searching
the spot where I’d seen something. Then I surveyed the dark
room, filled thick with sweat and ambition. No sparkles.
My sparring partner, Not-Rocky, walked over to me. A moment
ago he was someone I had to take down. But now he was my
friend again.
“I’ll probably need to suck up my dinner through a straw
tonight,” I said, moving my lower jaw from side to side.
He grinned around his mouth guard before spitting it out and
opening his mouth wide to let go of the hit to his chin. “I’m going
to be hunched over for a week if it makes you feel any better.”
“It does.”
“I knew it would.” He slung an arm around me. “Ow,” I told him.
“No, you’re not.”
“Yeah,” he said, “I’m kinda not.”
Something shimmered in my periphery. It moved.
I shoved my friend’s arm away and spun around, raising gloves
to my face. Ready to dodge, and ready to strike—
No, I thought, something. Something alive and formless and
there. It hovered around chest-level, then the air seemed to shimmy
into wavy watery lines. I put out my fat glove but it only slipped
through the apparition. I snatched my hand back and in an instant
the waves stilled, the life draining out, and it was nothing.
Of course, it had been nothing.
“What’s up?” Not-Rocky asked.
“I saw something. Just now. Out of the corner of my eye.”
“You saw stars, is what you saw.”
I blinked again, then squinted at still nothing. The air was quiet
and empty. I let out a breath. Much as I hated to admit it, he had
to be right. But I glanced back once as we walked away.
“Good thing you quit,” Mat shouted at Not-Rocky from the
free weights at the back wall. “You’se about to get your ass kicked
by a girl.”
“Bricks isn’t a girl,” Not-Rocky countered.
I was Gemma Cross to the outside world, the real world, but
not here. Here we turned into our own superheroes, and our realworld
names weren’t appropriate for the transformation. The guys
were nicknamed for their quirky personalities, but bewildered by
the ways of the female, they did the man thing and zeroed right
in on my appearance—christening me the oh-so-not-original
Brickhouse. I knew why. I was sort of Amazonian—hard and
muscular, but not lacking in curves, thank you very much. Fivefoot-
ten and often indignant, I was pretty sure I scared a lot of
other women. So I liked the company of my boys.
“I’m not a girl?” I asked. “What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”
“Ah, you know what I mean.”
I did. Every time I stepped into Smiley’s Gym, I left my
femininity at the door.
Smiley’s, nestled in D.C.’s Chinatown, was not your trendy gym
with generic dance mixes blaring from speakers on every wall and
buzzing blenders mixing up fruity power drinks at members-only
snack bars. No girls here in pink sweatpants with “Angel” splashed
across a tiny ass—no girls here at all, really. Once in a while, a
woman would walk in with a black eye or a split bottom lip, her
quiet request for lessons tinged with bitterness and vengeance.
These women punched hard but didn’t stay long, leaving me, as
the representative for my gender, a little bit sadder and angrier on
their behalf.
“Not bad for a chick,” Not-Rocky said as we walked slowly
away from the ring.
“Not bad for a puny little punk.”
The usual end to our practice bouts.
My buddy Not-Rocky was about my size, so we were preferred
sparring partners. He was our fair and blond Philly boy, and
he’d admitted that the one time he tried Rocky’s famous run up
the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, he’d made it only
halfway up before turning an about-face and jogging right back
down behind a beautiful redhead. Not-Rocky had a very crooked
nose—it tilted slightly to the viewer’s left—but he swore that
when he was born, it was actually tilted to the right. He claimed
there was a two-year period in junior high when it was knocked
straight, but he had yet to provide photographic evidence.
He’d been coming to Smiley’s for a few years. I’d been coming
here pretty much forever.
I’d thrown my duffel bag on a creaky, lopsided folding chair,
and now I pulled out the sports section of the Washington Post
that I’d folded inside this morning. I crumpled a few pages and
stuffed them into each of my gloves to absorb my hand sweat, then
shoved paper and gloves into the bag. I extracted a hand towel
from a side pocket, wiped away the tracks of perspiration sliding
down to my jaw line, then patted the back of my neck under my
ponytail. There was a TV on an unsteady rolling stand near the
free weights, and three guys were slowly lifting while watching
with half-open mouths. Keyed up and pacing, I wandered over
to the rickety TV stand as the guys simultaneously said, “Ohhh,”
and winced.
They watched a bit more, then all three boxers exhaled the
breath they’d been apparently holding. “Dude, I can’t believe he
did that,” he said.
The others agreed: “That was harsh.” “He slept with her sister?
I peered at the screen that held them rapt. “Oh, my God,” I
said. “Soap operas? Really?”
“Shhh,” they hissed. Then, “Oh, come on.”
Breaking News. The trio threw up hands and turned away.
“Always with the breaking news,” one said.
“Because,” I said, “no actual current event can be more
important than what happens to a fictional spurned woman.”
Sarcasm did a flyover of three thick heads. One guy muttered,
“Now we’ll never know what she says to him.”
I looked at the TV. A school shooting. Kids dead, teacher hurt,
gunman suicide. This was the second school shooting in the D.C.
area in six months, the news reminded the viewers. I watched
enough to know I didn’t want to watch more, and I stepped away
from the TV just as Not-Rocky reached my side. I shook my head
at him. “The world is really disgusting,” I said to him.
He stationed himself in front of the screen and I headed back to
my bag and stuffed the damp towel in a side pocket.
“I know that kid,” I thought I heard Not-Rocky say.
“What?” I called. “What are you talking about?”
“I remember him. He was here. It was a while ago.”
I joined him again and cut him a sideways glance. “You’ve been
knocked around so much, you don’t remember what you had for
breakfast this morning. How do you remember some kid?”
“I do,” he insisted, nodding and squinting to draw it out of his
mind. “Maybe about a year ago or something. He came in here,
little skinny kid. He wanted lessons. Smiley took one look at him
and asked him where he lived, where his parents were. I couldn’t
hear the kid but he musta told Smiley he lived in a nice house
in the suburbs with his mom, because Smiley told him to beat
it. He said, come back when you’re older and bigger. Chocolate
“That’s what I had for breakfast. Chocolate doughnut.”
“Breakfast of champions,” I said. “It’s no wonder I smacked you
He began to protest, but I shushed him to watch a little more.
The boy’s picture was now stationed at the bottom left corner of
the screen while they continued breaking the story.
Yeah, I thought, Not-Rocky’s vague testimony made sense.
Smiley was a saint, taking care of guys here who had no one and
nothing more than a little bit of talent. He wasn’t going to train
a junior-high kid unless that kid was on welfare or being beaten
up at home. He would send a nice suburban kid packing, just like
Not-Rocky said. It was the right decision; this place wasn’t for a
boy like that. This room was full of contenders. It was no place
for a lonely child who had anywhere else to go.
Of course, I knew Smiley had made an exception for me, but
he’d had his reasons and his promises and he knew who I was.
I’d acted out, I’d been angry, I’d had misplaced aggression, but I
was never violent for its own sake, and I was sure that even if this
gym hadn’t become to me what it did, I still wouldn’t have been.
“You know,” I said to Not-Rocky, “it feels like this kid violence
has become way more frequent.”
“Don’t know,” he said. “I don’t watch a lot of news.”
“I do. There was that kid a couple of weeks ago who pushed
her brother out their second-floor window. He actually survived.”
I thought a moment. “Wasn’t there a boy who took out his
grandfather or… yeah, his grandfather. I think that was in
Virginia. Right?”
“I told you I don’t watch news. This is why. All bad news.”
“Maybe I’m just paying closer attention these days.”
“Nah. This”—Not-Rocky gestured at the TV—“is nothing new.
There’s stuff like this all the time.”
“I guess.” I stood. “It’s depressing. Turn it off.”
He lifted the remote with his gloves and pressed the power
button with his sore chin. I laughed when he winced. “All bad
kids don’t grab shotguns,” he pointed out. “I mean, look at us.
This room is full of fuck-ups.”
“Not me.” I moved toward the chairs. “I’ve got my life in order,
I think.”
“Finally. Only took forty years.”
“I’m thirty, moron.”
“So that new boyfriend of yours straightened you out, huh?”
“Yes.” I slung my bag over my shoulder. “He’s a public figure.
So I have to behave in public.”
“Good luck with that.”
“Go home,” I told him, moving toward the door. “Lay off the
“What am I supposed to do with the whole box I just bought?”
“Feed them to the pigeons.”
“I don’t think that’s good for them.”
“Well, it’s not good for you either.”
I blew him a kiss and he laughed when my hand shot up to cover
my aching mouth. I waved him off and pushed the door open.
Gray clouds fat with threatening rain shifted across the sky,
throwing shadowy light tricks onto the street.
The shimmer tickled my periphery.
My body became very still. Wind brushed my hair into my
eyes, and caught in my lashes.
I didn’t know whether I wanted it to be someone or not. I’d lost
fights, and lost them badly, but I’d only suffered humiliation and
a few broken bones. Never weird sparkly hallucinations.
I stood in silence. It wasn’t hard to do. D.C. was a very quiet
city. I was sure there must have been more bustle here than any
other city in the country, considering this city ran the country—
and was the hotbed of scandal—but I could never hear it. Not
even now, when I was actively trying to hear something.
Nothing. But I saw it again.
I whirled, and my bag slammed me in the chest. Standing in
front of me was a woman.
She didn’t shrink back from my sudden confrontation. I wasn’t
certain she even blinked. She just looked at me.
Her hair was as blond as mine but far longer and thicker, made
even more luxurious by the fact that it framed a tiny little head,
attached to a little pixie body that was somewhere around size
double-zero. She was smiling, a bright beam piercing the stormy
darkness that was falling around us. I placed her at about forty,
reconsidered her to be closer to my thirty, then finally gave up
guessing. Each of her distinct features was something I’d seen on
someone else at some point, but her particular combination was
unique in a way I knew I’d never be able to describe.
Under her green-eyed appraisal, I had the uneasy—and
unusual—urge to squirm.
“Gemma,” she said.
I noticed she didn’t raise her voice on the last syllable in a
question; rather, it was a statement, as confident as if she’d added,
of course.
“Do I know you?” I asked. I’d recovered from her apparent
materialization from thin air, but I was genuinely puzzled at her
assumption of familiarity.
“Not yet,” she said, as if it had merely been a matter of time
until we’d crossed paths.
I raised a brow, not quite unfriendly, but intending to relay my
growing impatience.
If she caught my meaning, she didn’t bother to apologize. “I’m
Frederica Diamond,” she said. “I would like to talk to you about
a business opportunity, Gemma.”
“A business opportunity,” I repeated. O-kay. “I’m already
“Not at the moment, I understand.”
I thought. “You’re a headhunter?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“And you came to find me here? Kind of aggressive recruiting
techniques you’ve got there.”
“You don’t approve?”
Well, at least she’d done her homework and knew the sort of
person she was dealing with. Kudos for that. “Still,” I told her,
“seems extreme to track me down here.”
“It’s quite an important opportunity. It was my job to find you.
I’m very good at it.”
“Obviously,” I said, trying to process the creepiness of the
whole situation. “But I’m currently on hiatus from full-time
“Yes. To avoid conflict with Mr. McCormack’s race for
Congress,” Frederica said.
Okay, I supposed anyone at my office could have mentioned
that to her. But my uneasiness was growing. I had about half a foot
and forty pounds on this woman—not to mention I was dressed
to fight—but not only did I feel completely non-intimidating,
Frederica had the cool upper hand in this conversation.
And she’d never stopped smiling.
“It would really be worth your while,” she added, “to hear out
my proposal.”
“This is creepy,” I said.
“It isn’t.”
“No.” She looked deep into my eyes, down into me, and rattled
my core. “We need you, Gemma.”
Her delicate emphasis on “you” startled me, almost as much as
the door slamming open behind me. Two boxers, now in T-shirts
and with perspiration drying along their hairlines, nodded casual
goodbyes at me.
“See you tomorrow,” I said, forcing a smile. I wasn’t sure why I
waited until they rounded the corner to turn back around, but I
did. And she was gone.
In her place was a shimmer of wavy, liquid energy, and then I
blinked it away.

“Hey! I have a dentist’s appointment tomorrow.” I jabbed
a finger into the wall calendar, free with our Peking
ravioli from Hun Lee’s up the street and depicting a
circular parade of Chinese zodiac animals.
“Wow!” Avery exclaimed, matching my incredulous tone.
“What a fun day!” He sat on the edge of the bed and took off his
“Shut up,” I said. “I didn’t mean it like that. I made the
appointment months ago for a cleaning and I forgot about it.” I
nodded. “Cool.”
“Should I be worried you’re getting excited about the prospect
of seeing your dentist?” Avery asked. He stood again, unbuttoned
his dress shirt and removed it, draping it on the top corner of our
bedroom door. “Most people dread going to the dentist. In fact,
some just never even go because they’re too scared. But you sound
like it’s the highlight of your week. Maybe I should go have a chat
with this hunky dentist with the magnetic personality.”
I watched him slide his black leather belt out of his pants in one
smooth motion. “A dentist with a magnetic personality would
not fare well in a room full of sharp metal tools,” I said.
Tooth and Nail + 11
“Excellent point,” he allowed.
“Besides, Dr. Gold is probably about eight years past retirement
age. Not my type.”
“Good thing. Because I have enough to worry about without
my girl running off with the dentist.”
“‘My girl,’ eh? Wouldn’t want your voters to hear you talking
such blatant possessive objectification.”
“You don’t like it?”
“It’s pretty hot, actually.”
I walked over to Avery and wrapped my arms around his nowbare
shoulders. I kissed him on the neck and lingered there,
breathing in his skin, for—well, not as long as I would have liked.
He had a meeting with his campaign manager and some other
people in the morning and I knew he ought to turn in early, so I
untangled myself.
“An hour in the dentist’s chair sounds pretty good compared
to the day I have tomorrow,” he said, pulling on an old T-shirt.
A really old T-shirt. Tour dates for Foreigner fell down the back.
“I feel like I’m treading on my own last good nerve. I don’t know
why I did this to myself.”
He crossed to the window and gazed out. I said nothing and let
him contemplate. From our brick-front townhouse in the Court
House section of Arlington, Virginia, we didn’t have a view of the
Capitol dome, but its imposing silhouette was out there across
the Potomac, representing everything Avery wanted to do.
Although we weren’t too far yet into our new domestic
arrangement, I’d witnessed his bouts of self-flagellation just
enough times to know when to intervene. So I let a couple of
well-timed minutes pass, then spoke. “You and I both know why
you’re doing this,” I said. “For truth, justice, the American way,
and purple mountain majesties. Plus, you’re the best-looking
House candidate out there right now, so it doesn’t take an
experienced pollster to assure you that you have the female 18–35
demographic. Now you just have to reach a few more voters and
you’re in. So spare me the crap.”
A smile played at the corner of his full, sexy bottom lip, and I
saw it reflected back at me from the night mirror of a window.
“Gemma, you always know the right thing to say. And then you
choose to say something else entirely. I can’t figure out why.”
“Listen, I wasn’t in polling for nothing. I know my stuff.”
“Besides, I already told you I’m happy to do a TV ad where I
threaten to beat the hell out of anyone who doesn’t vote for you.
The boys at Smiley’s will back me up.”
He pushed the window up a few inches to let in the April air,
and drew the curtain before stripping down to his Washington
Capitals boxer shorts. “Though I have full confidence that you
and your ‘Fight Club’ buddies could get the job done, I think
I might prefer to not run a political campaign in such a—well,
Mafia-esque fashion.”
“Fear is a powerful motivator,” I said, sitting on the bed. “The
offer stands when you change your mind.”
“You’re a scary broad.”
I picked up my cup of before-bed chai tea from the nightstand
and took a careless gulp. It scalded its way down my throat. I
never waited for it to cool. “Seriously,” I said with a slightly
scratchier voice. “you don’t need my help. You have to win. You’re
the good guy.”
“So was my dad,” Avery countered.
Avery’s father, Johnson McCormack, had been an outspoken,
charismatic shoo-in for office—until an ugly campaign money
scandal materialized and covered every newspaper’s front page
from here to the border. Johnson was exonerated, but his career
was a casualty that couldn’t be revived.
I knew Avery felt the eyes of the nation on him, on each thread
of his suits and ties, and on every move he made. To the voting
public, the younger McCormack had a dark and handsome appeal,
a bright mind, a can-and-will-do attitude and, a small handful of
cynical pundits insisted, was a train wreck waiting to happen.
How, they asked, could district attorney Avery McCormack be so
infallible in his campaign for the House of Representatives when
his old man went down like a tower of empty beer cans?
They knew politics, so they thought they knew Avery. But I
knew Avery. No skeleton had ever taken up residence in any of his
closets, and no scandal had ever sniffed its way around any of his
ethics. He was good, through and through. He was an idealist, a
hard worker, and would be beyond reproach—if politics played
honestly with him. And Avery didn’t trust that to happen.
“You’re not your dad,” I said now.
“I’m still the closest thing to it. If I make one wrong turn, no
one will give me an inch of leeway.”
“Why worry about that when nothing will go wrong? You’re
perfect. And I’m—well, I’m not, I guess, but I can be low-key.”
“Offering to punch people’s lights out as they leave the voting
booths is your idea of low-key, eh?”
“That was a joke, sir. Maybe I do, on occasion, speak without
thinking. Once in a while, I might have a small emotional
Avery slipped into the bathroom and turned on the tap, but he’d
left the door slightly ajar and I could hear his muffled laughter.
“What,” I yelled, “is so funny?”
“Nothing,” he called over his splashing.
“You lying politician. Or, I’m sorry, is that redundant?”
“Babe,” he said, returning with his face in a towel, “occasional
outburst? Half the time it’s like ‘Gemma, Interrupted’ around
I downed the rest of my chai and flopped back onto the pillows.
“I don’t know why you continue to mock me when you’re fully
aware I could crack your head open like a coconut.”
“That’s my girl. Solving conflicts with brute force.” He
chuckled. “What I don’t understand is how someone so numbersand-
concrete-proof oriented in her career could ignore logic and
reason in favor of her emotions the rest of the time.”
“I don’t do it on purpose,” I said. “I don’t know why I’m—I
mean, I know I should be—”
Avery kneeled on the floor, and I sat back up, swinging my
legs around to embrace his shoulders. “You’re exactly the way you
should be. An unpredictable puzzle, and that’s the best part about
you. I love you more than anything,” he said.
“I know,” I said, softening.
When he kissed me, I tasted minty-fresh toothpaste.
When we drew apart, I said, “The original point to this
conversation was that I’m happy about my dentist’s appointment
because it gives me something to actually do tomorrow.”
“I didn’t ask you to leave your job. Go back to work if you’re
“No,” I said. I shook my head with such emphasis, a strand of
my hair lodged itself under my contact lens. I rubbed at it, then
realized I’d forgotten to take them out. I hopped off the bed and
jogged to the bathroom. “We made a decision and I’m sticking to
it,” I said, filling each compartment of the little case with saline.
“It’s only until you’re Congressman McCormack. I didn’t feel
right doing polling work during your campaign.” I plucked out
my left lens and plopped it into the case, then looked at myself
in the mirror. Through only one lens, I resembled a blond, blurry
Picasso painting.
“Your work doesn’t have anything to do with my campaign.”
“I don’t want even one idiot to insinuate a possible conflict.
And,” I added, removing my other lens and sealing it up, “I need
a break anyhow.”
Which was the purest white of all lies. I loved my job. But I
didn’t feel bad about saying it, because I knew Avery was lying
right back at me when he said he thought I should go back to
work. It was true that he hadn’t outright asked me to leave my job,
but his protests now were weak and obligatory. I knew full I was
relieving him of one less worry.
I also white-lied by omission by not mentioning whatshername
who appeared out of thin air today—maybe literally?—with her
strange offer for some kind of job. I didn’t tell Avery about it
mostly because I was suspicious that I went unconscious for a
few seconds and dreamed her. I’d never gotten knocked around
so hard that it had caused me to hallucinate. I was willing to buy
that explanation. But the hallucination had a conversation with
me, and that was what worried me. I didn’t want Avery to worry
But I needed to know: “What is a migraine like?” Avery got
them sometimes and had complained about strange swirly light
crossing his vision.
“Well, for one, you get a headache like someone beat you over
the head with a club quite similar to the kind Captain Caveman
carries around,” Avery said.
“No. I don’t have a headache.”
“You’ve never had a migraine before,” he said. “Did you take a
few to the head today?”
“A few,” I admitted. “I’m getting those swirly light things you
said you have when you get a migraine. Not now, not since I got
home, but before.”
“Maybe it’s a concussion.”
“No,” I said, dismissing it with one hand. “I’ve had a couple
of those.” I blinked hard, keeping my eyelids closed until I could
feel wetness under my lashes. “When you get those little lights,
do they look watery and kind of … alive?”
I heard him pause. “Are we sure it’s not a concussion?”
“Positive. And I haven’t had it in a few hours.” I thought. “Not-
Rocky said I was just seeing stars, and he’s probably right. It was
right after a spar and as I was leaving the gym, the sky was kind
of weird so maybe my eyes just did the same thing.”
“Maybe,” Avery said, “you want to wait a couple of days anyway
before you get in the ring again.”
“Okay, maybe I want it.”
I sighed. “Fine.”
“Gemma?” he asked. “Can we back up a little in this
conversation? I need to tell you that I don’t want you to think
for a moment that I don’t realize your sacrifices or that I don’t
appreciate them.”
I stepped out of the bathroom and leaned against the door
frame. “Yeah, well, I’m okay with it because now you’re my bitch.”
I grinned.
“Let’s keep that between you and me for the time being.”
“I plan on it being you and me for a very long time.” I took
in his smile, then ran both my hands through my short, straight
hair, suddenly hot despite the cool spring breeze blowing through
the gauzy, raw-edged curtain. “Go to sleep already, before I jump
Avery stood and flicked off the bathroom light as I switched
off the lamp. He slid into bed beside me, but instead of settling
himself into the sheets, he leaned over me.
“What?” I asked, even though I knew very well what.
“Are those my choices? Sleep, or you jump me?”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“I cast my vote for,” he said with a grin I couldn’t see but could
hear, “jump me.”
I pushed up and flipped him over on his back, my knees
straddling his hips. I yanked my tank top over my head and flung
it away. He laughed.
I loved democracy.

That night, I had the dream again. The dream that kicked my ass; the dream that was always an omen, a warning to me that life was about to spin into confusion. I crawl out of bed and stumble, and my hand goes to my mouth, which hurts. It hurts from the inside of my lips to the back of my throat and all around. I press my back teeth together and instead of feeling the comforting close of molars, it’s shaky in there, like a city sidewalk moments after an earthquake. I blink hard and grab the door frame, pulling myself into the hallway. I let go of the wall and try to take one step, but setting my bare heel down on the thick carpet is too jarring for my fragile mouth, and a small, smooth tooth drops onto my tongue. It slides around, sticky, salty, metallic, and I spit it out. It hits the carpet with a physically impossible but distinct echoey tinkle, and the sound and horror of looking at my own tooth weakens my knees and I fold down onto the floor. I fall hard and struggle against my fear and fatigue to prop myself onto my forearms. My jaw is on fire but I can’t open my mouth—I won’t open my mouth. I don’t want another tooth to drop out. I seal my bloodsticky lips together until it fills up, my mouth fills up with it, the pressure building behind my lips until I can’t breathe, and I open wide, gasping like a guppy from an overturned bowl. In a gush of blood and saliva, my teeth fall out. All of them. I press my chin to the scratchy rug fibers and stare at the macabre, wet little pile. My mouth is still hanging open, and as I breathe, I can feel cold air whistling through the new holes in my gums. A warm stickiness trails from my jaw line down my neck and pools hot into my collarbone. I collapse onto the mess, and my freed teeth push sharp into my skin, biting my cheek. Then I abruptly scramble to get up and grab at the teeth. I have to get them. I have to put them in my pocket. But every time I get a fistful, they slide from between my fingers and fall away again. No! I have to collect them, save them, keep them, I need them… But now I hear whispers, musical laughing whispers. I can’t make out the words, yet I know what they’re saying: Grab the teeth, get them all, don’t lose them… I woke up sweaty, blurry, disoriented. I flailed an arm out and my knuckles thumped a sleeping Avery. He clasped my hand and held it still against his hard chest. I poked my tongue against my front teeth, testing their fortitude, and stopped upon realizing they weren’t going to pop out in front of my face. I slid my hand out from underneath Avery’s and went to stand naked by the window. I stared through the transparent curtains as they blew into the room, kissing my forehead, sliding against my nose. I wondered, and worried. Stupid dream, stupid nightmare. I hadn’t seen this punch coming. In the boxing ring, I had to know how to land a punch, but to win, I also had to know how to evade one. And I was pretty good at the landing and the evading. Boxing was a dark kind of dance, moving in and out of invisible boundaries, touching while remaining untouchable. When I was fighting evenly matched, I won more than I lost. But this dream was never my fair opponent. It waited—sometimes for years—until its chosen night, when I was asleep and vulnerable, when I’d surrendered my physical ability and my mental control. Then it held me down and unleashed one sucker-punch after another. I couldn’t fight back and I couldn’t pull away. I could only scream into a black void until the dream chose to release me, and I awakened sweaty, blurry, disoriented, and afraid to stand. Tonight, I hadn’t seen it coming. I knew recurring dreams weren’t an unusual phenomenon, and I’d began extensive research on the dream, oh, maybe the third or fourth time I had it, years ago, and I learned teeth-falling-out is one of the most common dreams that people have. I collected all the different interpretations and so-called deep meanings. There were a lot of them: anxiety about outward appearances, fear of embarrassment, feelings of powerlessness, fear of uncontrollable events, fear of getting old. The one time I told my mother about the dream, she seemed strangely alarmed for a moment, but then told me that she’d heard the losing-teeth nightmare signifies a loss of childhood innocence. I surmised at the time that she was digging for information the way wily single moms do, so I said nothing further to incriminate myself. Eventually, I decided I might never narrow down the meaning as it pertained to me personally, but I did pinpoint a pattern to the dream’s occurrence—always immediately preceding a significant life- and attitude-altering event. Example: One week before I graduated high school, I had the dream. It kicked off a week of insomnia, in which I panicked every moment I spent in the dark, wondering how I would eventually pay off my college loans, find a great man, deal with the pain of childbirth—maybe more than once—on top of doing my own grocery shopping and laundry. The prospect of adulthood crushed down on me, pinning me to my bright yellow sheets and daring me to struggle against it. I did finally fall asleep—at the graduation ceremony, during the speeches, my head dropping down. My mortarboard landed on the scuffed gymnasium floor. Another example: I had the tooth dream, then three days later, my college sweetheart-slash-fiance informed me that he was trading in the previously unbreakable love that we shared for a woman he met on the subway and had sex with within the hour. And the first time I had the dream was the night before the day my father left us. So now, I stood shivering in the warmth of the dark. It had rained while I dreamed, and I breathed in blossomy fresh water evaporating off the steaming sidewalks. I worried more, and I wondered more. Was it possible that this time, this one night, my omen dream simply had the timing wrong? That it was just a little late? Because my life-altering event had just happened last week, when I’d moved in with Avery and taken a leave from my polling job. It marked the first time in my adult life that I wouldn’t be working, 20 + jennifer Safrey the first time I’d be a “domestic partner,” and the first time I had offered up such a commitment to—anyone. And I hadn’t been scared to do it. I had been confident and sure, even upon leaving the office with my box of desk supplies, even upon collapsing on my end of the sofa after we hefted it into our new living room. Especially when Avery had slammed the door and we both jumped into the sofa to make love, a still-open U-Haul on the street with half our belongings inside. In my personal history book, this was a life-changing, noteworthy event. I was about to become a full-time stay-athomer, helping Avery in his campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives. Going to fundraising parties and getting my picture taken. Watching daytime TV and reading magazines. Training at the gym. A temporary life of leisure. Still, a very big change. He was having a great run. We were having a great run. I shook my head, took a deep breath and pushed the curtains aside to smile at myself. My white teeth grinned at me in the window, my form a darkening shadow against the brightening dawn. I nodded at myself, acknowledging the familiarity of my own face. That’s all, I told myself, before turning around, peeling back the damp sheets on my side of the bed and sliding back beside Avery’s warmth. The dream was just a little late. Maybe even a good sign, confirming this important milestone for me— for me and Avery. My worry took a few more minutes to dissipate, minutes in which I allowed the sound of my breath to overtake the lingering sound of those sweet, teasing whispers. They faded away, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to clearly recall their laughing entreaties until the next time I heard them, another night. Tonight had to be a mental blip, an aberration, a break in the pattern. Nothing more. Convincing myself that I’d just convinced myself, I soon fell asleep again.

“I’m leaving,” Avery said softly into my ear. “I have that early
I rolled over and got a mouthful of pillow. “Why didn’t the
alarm go off?” I asked, muffled and confused.
“It did. You were dead to it.”
“I had a bad dream.” As soon as it was out of my mouth, I wished
I’d held it in. It was childish, frightened, wimpy. But my face was
still smooshed into the pillow. Maybe he hadn’t heard me.
“What was the dream about?” he asked.
I flipped over and looked at him.
I could have told him. I could tell Avery anything. But the
timing was no good. I would have had to explain not only the
dream but its place in my history—that it was my harbinger of
difficult times of change. Given his tendency to worry about his
campaign anyway, he might buy into the omen theory, and he
didn’t need that now.
“I don’t remember,” I told him. “It’s already gone.”
“That’s the way with dreams,” he said, and disappeared out the
front door.
I didn’t like the sound of that.
I lay staring at the ceiling, then realized after a few minutes that
I was actually trying to decide what to wear to the dentist’s office,
as it was my big outing of the day besides the gym. Pathetic.
Yesterday, my highlight had been staring at the TV, hypnotized
by Rachael Ray as she manipulated ground turkey for thirty
minutes. The day before that, the digital cable telemarketer and I
discovered we had a soap opera in common, and after twenty-five
minutes of chat, I was kind of obligated to sign up for the deluxe
package. I didn’t think Avery was yet aware of our new nudie
channels, but I thought it safe to assume it wouldn’t lead to much
of an argument when he did figure it out.
That was the way it was going, day after day. I did miss my
job. I missed crunching numbers, making phone calls, seeing
my work published on our online site, and sometimes cited in
newspapers and on TV. More than ninety percent of the polling at
the company was market research, but there was a small amount
of political polling, and it was enough to worry both Avery and
myself when he announced his candidacy.
I would go back soon. But I’d never been out of work, not since
I was fourteen and earning paper route cash. In college, I was a
scholarship student, but I needed to work during my non-class
hours to buy my hefty statistics textbooks for both undergraduate
and graduate courses. I worked to pay for my membership at
Smiley’s. I didn’t realize until recently that I really didn’t know
how to not work.
Complaining was pointless because I took the leave from work
out of love and support for Avery—the most important reason.
But I had to face it: After three weeks, I was isolated, teetering
on the precipice of ennui.
I needed something to do with myself. Soon.

Book Excerpt: The White People and Other Weird Stories by Arthur Machen ed. by S.T. Joshi

Ever feel like you’re totally behind on the classics? I do. Frequently. So when I received a copy of The White People and Other Weird Stories by Arthur Machen (edited by S.T. Joshi and with a forward by Guillermo del Toro), I thought it was time to dive in, and what better book to start with than one who’s author’s work has been compared to H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe? Hopefully you’ll think so too, and give this one a try.

Excerpt from “The White People and Other Weird Stories:”
Arthur Machen’s own life is perhaps his greatest creation; for it is exactly the life we might expect a poet and a visionary to have lived. Born in 1863 in the village of Caerleon-on-Usk in Wales (the site, two millennia earlier, of the Roman town of Isca Silurum and the base of the Second Augustan Legion), Machen was fascinated since youth by the Roman antiquities in his region as well as the rural Welsh countryside. He attended Hereford Cathedral School, but in 1880 he failed an examination for the Royal College of Surgeons; he felt he had no option but to go to London to look for work, where he hoped that his ardent enthusiasm for books might land him some literary work. But only poverty and loneliness were his portion. Dragging out a meager existence as a translator (his translation of the Heptameron of Marguerite de Navarre [1886] long remained standard, as did his later translation of Casanova’s memoirs), tutor, and cataloger, he knew at first hand the spiritual isolation that his alter ego, Lucian Taylor, would depict so poignantly in The Hill of Dreams (1907). In his first autobiography, Far Off Things (1922), he speaks of this period with a wistfulness that scarcely conceals his anguish. Consider the description of his attic garret on Clarendon Road:

It was, of course, at the top of the house, and it was much smaller than any monastic “cell” that I have ever seen. From recollection I should estimate its dimensions as ten feet by five. It held a bed, a washstand, a small table, and one chair; and so it was very fortunate that I had few visitors. Outside, on the landing, I kept my big wooden box with all my possessions— and these not many— in it. And there was a very notable circumstance about this landing. On the wall was suspended, lengthwise, a step- ladder by which one could climb through a trap door to the roof in case of fire, and so between the rungs or steps of this ladder I disposed my library. For anything I know, the books tasted as well thus housed as they did at a later period when I kept them in an eighteenth- century bookcase of noble dark mahogany, behind glass doors. There was no fireplace in my room, and I was often very cold. I would sit in my shabby old great- coat, reading or writing, and if I were writing I would every now and then stand up and warm my hands over the gas- jet, to prevent my fingers getting numb.

Although Machen published a few works during this period—The Anatomy of Tobacco (1884), an owlishly learned disquisition on various types of tobacco, and the picaresque novel The Chronicle of Clemendy (1886)— they were commercially unsuccessful and today are not highly regarded. But the death of Machen’s father in 1887 suddenly gave him, for the next fourteen years, the economic independence he required to write whatever he chose, without thought of markets or sales. And yet, one of his first works of fiction of this period— “The Great God Pan” (1890)— created a sensation, especially when it appeared in book form in 1894. It shocked the moral guardians of an enfeebled Victorian culture as the diseased outpourings of a decadent mind; but the reviewers who condemned it as sexually offensive could not know that Machen shared the very inhibitions he seemed to be defying. This tale— as well as the infinitely superior “The White People” (1899)— succeeds largely because Machen himself, as a rigidly orthodox Anglo- Catholic, crystallized his horror of aberrant sexuality by giving it a supernatural dimension. That Machen chose to work in the literature of the supernatural— one branch of what has come to be called weird fiction, which also encompasses fantasy and psychological suspense— is of interest in itself. Canonically, the supernatural in literature commenced with Horace Walpole’s short novel The Castle of Otranto (1764), which ultimately ushered in the age of the Gothic novel, whose most notable exponents were Ann Radcliffe, Matthew Gregory Lewis, and Charles Robert Maturin. It is not paradoxical that this literature emerged in a century typified by the rationalism of Alexander Pope and Samuel Johnson, for the supernatural can only manifest itself in literature when a relatively stable and coherent idea of the natural has been arrived at. In this sense, the supernatural must keep pace with science: Although it draws upon myth and folklore in its exhibition of ghosts, vampires, werewolves, haunted houses, and other such elements, it can only do so at a time when these elements are generally believed to defy what are commonly understood to be the laws of nature; for only in this manner can they constitute the imaginative liberation that many writers and readers seek. At the same time, the best weird writers understood that supernatural motifs could serve as metaphors for the expression of truths about the human condition (the vampire as social outsider, for example) in a more vivid and pungent manner than in conventional mimetic realism.

Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from the introduction of The White People And Other Weird Stories by Arthur Machen. Introduction and notes Copyright © S.T. Joshi 2011

Blogoversary Giveaway #2: Green and Endurance by Jay Lake

For my 2nd giveaway of my Blogoversary 2011 event, I’ve got gorgeous copies of Jay Lake’s Green and Endurance (Green Universe series 1 & 2.) Please check out the book descriptions and fill out the Rafflecopter Form below to enter! Thanks so much to Tor for providing the giveaway books.

About Green:
Her exquisite beauty and brilliant mind were not enough to free her from captivity. That took her skills with a knife, plus the power of a goddess.

She was born in poverty, in a dusty village under the equatorial sun. She does not remember her mother, she does not remember her own name–her earliest clear memory is of the day her father sold her to the tall pale man. In the Court of the Pomegranate Tree, where she was taught the ways of a courtesan…and the skills of an assassin…she was named Emerald, the precious jewel of the Undying Duke’s collection of beauties. She calls herself Green.

The world she inhabits is one of political power and magic, where Gods meddle in the affairs of mortals. At the center of it is the immortal Duke’s city of Copper Downs, which controls all the trade on the Storm Sea. Green has made many enemies, and some secret friends, and she has become a very dangerous woman indeed.

About Endurance:
Green is back in Copper Downs. Purchased from her father in sunny Selistan when she was four years old, she was harshly raised to be a courtesan, companion, and bedmate of the Immortal Duke of Copper Downs. But Green rebelled. Green killed the Duke, and many others, and won her freedom. Yet she is still claimed by the gods and goddesses of her world, and they still require her service. Their demands are greater than any duke’s could have been.

Godslayers have come to the Stone Coast, magicians whose cult is dedicated to destroying the many gods of Green’s world. In the turmoil following the Immortal Duke’s murder, Green made a God out of her power and her memories. Now the gods turn to her to protect them from the Slayers.

Jay Lake brings us an epic fantasy not “in the tradition of Tolkien,” but, instead, sensual, ominous, shot through with the sweat of fear and the intoxication of power.

1. Fill out the Rafflecopter form below.
2. You must leave a comment with your email address
3. Giveaway is for 1 copy each of Green and Endurance by Jay Lake to 1 winner
4. Giveaway is open to US addresses only
5. Please include a valid email address
6. You must enter before or on Friday, Dec. 9th, 2011
7. I am not responsible for books lost or damaged in the mail. Please see my Giveaway Policy.
8. Giveaway books were kindly provided by Tor.

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