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Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: Asylum, by Various Authors, Post No. 4

The special Boosting the Signal feature week for the 2015 NIWA anthology continues! Today’s post features another previous Boosting the Signal guest, E.M. Prazeman, who now offers us a bit of a prelude to the story “Travail”. See below for the author’s own intro, and a bit of backstory for the jester Pick, in which Pick faces the goal of not only acquiring a messenger boy—but also surviving keeping him.




Travail takes us back in time, about three hundred fifty years before the events in The Lord Jester’s Legacy trilogy. In this era, Jesters, the masked courtiers that do the dirty political work for the noble class, wear bells to warn of their presence, and knights in armor are given a piece of a king’s or queen’s soul and sworn to dispense the monarchy’s justice.

Pick is a jester to a minor lord. Strong, tall, and quick-witted, he has a somewhat undeserved reputation for skipping the bribery, scheming and trickery associated with his trade and going straight for the throat of the matter. Unlike most of his compatriots he prefers gaining the trust of people who have great skill, intelligence, learning, or preferably all three, regardless of accident of birth.


I made my way through the broad, cluttered alley where merchants store their empty crates and barrels that will later be filled with goods to be traded at the Amendsday market. In daylight this was an innocuous place, but I traveled at night with a lantern that burned too low to serve well. I had the wick set that way on purpose. If I thought I could get away with no light at all I might have tried it. It’s so much easier to intimidate someone when they can’t get a good look at you. I had height, strength and a good sword on my side, but that only really meant that whoever might try for me would either have me outnumbered or they’d ambush me. So much for height and strength.


The relief rushed out of me like a wintry gust. “Gary.” The artfully-named little boy, Gary Gray, moved into the light. My relief was short-lived. He had someone with him, someone burly. No. Two men, one close behind the other.


“You didn’t say he was a jester,” one of the men said.

“You didn’t tell me you were bringing friends,” I added. I turned my head just so and allowed the bells on my steel-beaked mask to ring as I did it. “Is there a problem?” I listened carefully, not to them but behind me. That’s where the real danger would come from. Two men in an alley I could handle. An axe through the back of my skull, on the other hand, would fell me. It’s a weakness of mine.

“You have him running messages and he’s no messenger,” the man informed me, as if I didn’t know. “So yes, there’s a problem, jester.”

“I’ve heard of you, Pick,” the other man said.

That wasn’t good news. “Gary gets paid for his trouble.”

“Will you pay his corpse when whatever you’re tangling him in gets him killed? He’s only a child, for pity’s sake.”

Hmm. That didn’t sound like concern. My guess? They found out he was getting money and they wanted him to get more so they could take it from him. The air in the alley didn’t carry much but I would have bet my bells that they smelled like wine and shit. The sort that took a small boy’s bread money usually did. “It’s better than begging, wouldn’t you say? But you’re right. I’ve been taking advantage and that’s wrong, so wrong of me that I should like to make amends. It is Amendsday, now that it’s after midnight. How does ten ar sound? And I shall never trouble you to carry messages for me again. Unless.”

They took in so much air in anticipation of my next offer that I wondered that there was any left for me to breathe.

“You would like to keep carrying messages for me. For an ar each?” I had no intention of paying that rate, of course. To a beggar boy? That, not my messages, would get him killed once word got out. Word usually did, too. I kept listening behind me. Someone was there, I was fairly sure. They hadn’t been there before. They must have hidden well away and had only now reached the alley to cut off my escape. My nerves lit like lightning inside me.

“Tell you what,” the first man said. “You pay ten ar now, for the trouble you’ve brought him so far, and he’ll run those messages for an ar a week. Won’t you, Gary?”

“Yes, please.”

“It’s one or the other.” I had to make some sort of show of resistance or they’d catch on too soon. It might have been my growing fear that I wouldn’t get out of this alive but I thought they tensed. Maybe they already knew. “Consider. Ten dangerously attractive ar now in ten silver coins, versus an ar, dispensed in cupru so that it doesn’t draw too much attention, at least once a week for as long as he cares to carry. You’re the boy’s father. Consider his future. That’s a decent living for him.”

“He’s not my father.” Gary’s small voice released the lightning.

In the end it was just Gary and myself left standing in pure darkness, for the lantern had gone out in the midst of my attacks. I bled, I hurt, but we were both alive. I braced against the wall, gasping for air, and he braced alongside me. He’s a smart boy, Gary Gray. He might have invited those men to rob me or coerce me. But he didn’t grieve for them, and it seemed we were friends, for now.

“An ar a message?” he asked.

“I have a better, truer offer,” I told him. “I’ll be your patron, if you’d like to become a real messenger.”

“They’re rich,” he whispered.

“And they live in nice houses, and travel to see the world. Unless you’d rather have the ten ar.”

“No. I want to be a messenger,” he said quickly.

“Good boy.” With my wind back, I stood back up. “Did you deliver my message?” I asked.

He gave me the answer into my hand.

I knew then he would serve me well.


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Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: Asylum, by Various Authors, Post No. 3

Welcome to the third post in this special Boosting the Signal feature week for the 2015 NIWA anthology, Asylum! This post is featuring NIWA member Madison Keller, who I hope to feature in another forthcoming post for her novel Flower’s Fang. Till then, she’s in the anthology with her story “Clary’s Asylum”. And if I had to hazard a guess about Clary’s goal, based on this snippet, I’d say she’s got a real tough time on her hands protecting a certain book!




Clary struggled against the straps of the gurney as the paramedics lifted her into the ambulance. The girl she’d saved, Rael, had already been taken away by another ambulance, which had sped off lights flashing and siren blaring, only a few minutes earlier.

Her friend Gunny, a retired Marine, watched from the dock, a broken cigar clamped in his teeth. Water still dripped from his diving suit and the spear-gun he still had a death grip on. Clary could see her watertight diving bag, which contained her spell book, potions, and protective amulets, lay abandoned on the dock behind him.

Gunny shifted, spat out the remains of the cigar into the ocean. “Clary, don’t you worry. These nice men will get you better, get you making sense again.”

The straps that held her arms thwarted most of her spells. She chanted anyway, feeling the magic surge through her like burning night. At the height of the surge she bit down hard on her tongue. The spell snapped out, inflicting the pain she was feeling ten-fold on the paramedic closest to her. He cried out and fell back, blood dripping from the side of his mouth.

“Gunny,” Clary screamed, twisting her head to keep his face in view. “Blue water black night hides their eyes. The stars are still right. Protect the book-”

While she’d been talking a paramedic had inserted a needle into her arm. Clary’s speech slurred and she drifted away into slumber. Her last thought before she went under was escape.


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Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: Asylum, by Various Authors, Post No. 2

The special Boosting the Signal feature week for the NIWA 2015 Anthology Asylum continues! Today’s post is a piece from author William J. Cook. In his story “The Last Refuge”, Qunbula, a splinter group from Al-Qaeda, has destroyed Seattle in a nuclear holocaust. A firestorm of anti-Islamic hysteria is sweeping the country, and the newly established Patriots Administration is rounding up Muslims on the west coast and confining them to prison camps in Montana and Wyoming. Hamza, the registrar at a community college near Portland, is on the run with a very straightforward goal: trying to survive as he grapples with the growing virulence around him, even from children. A very timely story, I feel!




Lunch in the Burger King was terrifying. He knew his American history. A dark-skinned man huddled in the corner with a suitcase? He imagined sitting at the counter of a whites-only diner in 1950 Alabama. Children were the worst. While grownups would usually look away when they saw his darker skin and hair, children would stare at him and point. They had already been taught profiling by their parents.

“He’s one of them, Momma, I just know it,” a tow-haired boy about his daughter’s age whispered loudly, while tugging at his mother’s sleeve.

Hamza hunkered down lower and rushed to finish his sandwich and fries. This is my country! he thought helplessly, eager to get out from under the watchful gaze of the unforgiving child. I’m an American citizen! I served in the Army! But something vital had ruptured, some organic kinship with this boy and his mother had dissolved. The threat these people felt from all things Muslim was projected onto Hamza. Soon someone would stand up and point an outstretched arm at him, shouting imprecations at the stranger in their midst. He envisioned uniformed Patriots crashing through the glass doors, guns raised.

Through it all he imagined his daughter’s confused face, her eyebrows arching, her lips quivering. “Why Daddy? Why don’t they like us anymore? I go to school with them. We play jump rope and volleyball together. They came to my birthday party.”

“Why Daddy?”

How could he have explained this dark secret, this violence at the heart of things, to a ten-year-old girl—or to his wife for that matter? Despite his grief, he was glad he would never have to.

In a moment, he was up and hurrying out of the restaurant. In his haste, he caught his suitcase in the double doors and the clatter drew all eyes to him. He saw several people reach for their cell phones.

Again he ran.


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Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: Asylum, by Various Authors, Post No. 1

Normally I run Boosting the Signal posts on Fridays when I have them to run. But since I’m a member of NIWA, and NIWA does a yearly anthology, I’m running a special feature week to highlight the 2015 NIWA anthology! It’s called Asylum, and features stories by both NIWA and non-NIWA authors, all along the theme of the anthology title. Today’s Boosting the Signal post features a piece from Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins to highlight their story “Bedlam Asylum”. Of this story, Jeffrey says that it’s set one month after their novel Foul is Fair, and it’s a strategic analysis of the emotional needs of disabled pixie Ashling. And as you might guess, Ashling’s goal is pretty much what the anthology says on the tin: asylum.




Humans mistake pixies for butterflies and sprites for moths. Pixies travel and work in glimmers; sprites, in murmurs.

Pixie magic focuses on locations, and sprite magic focuses on events, but the important thing is that it’s always done together.

Ashling’s wings were torn years ago. She relies on a service crow just to fly at all. Her glimmer left her behind a long time ago. She’s worked mostly alone with her crow, or with people fifty times her size. She says she’s fine. She’s lying. Who knows if her friends can tell, but any pixie or sprite could.

An outcast sprite and an outcast pixie will understand each other in ways a half-human sidhe princess and a half-menehune will never fathom, no matter how good of friends they all are.

But Ashling is friends with the princess. The princess whose little clique in Seattle is safely off-limits from Faerie conflict for the rest of the season.

Ashling needs not to be alone anymore, and that’s all the ‘in’ a sprite looking to be granted asylum could ask for.


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Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: Vicious Circle, by Elle E. Ire

If you pay regular attention to my postings, you know I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for female assassin characters (two words: Black Widow). And if you’ve been following Boosting the Signal, you also know that QUILTBAG books are highly relevant to my interests as well. What happens when you put these two things together? You get today’s featured book: Elle E. Ire’s SF romance Vicious Circle. The author has an excerpt from the work for your consideration today, introducing the assassin Cor–whose goal is to decide between fleeing her Guild, and seeking a life with the woman she’s coming to love. But things are complicated, for Kila’s hired Cor to kill her abusive brother, and surely she won’t want a relationship with the woman who carried out that death for her. Or will she? Check it out!


Vicious Circle

Vicious Circle

I spent a restless night on the too-firm couch with a couple of neon pink throw pillows under my head. In the darkness, the house creaked and groaned with each gust of wind off the bay, and I wondered how many generations of her family had lived here. Kila left the window open, and the smell of salt air carried on the breeze. Desert-raised as I was, the ocean attracted me as any novelty would, and I strained my ears to hear each lapping wave against the village docks.

The moonlight shining through the shutters lit the entire suite in shades of bluish white. Kila’s shadowy form tossed and turned on her wide mattress, and I resisted the urge to go to her and offer comfort from her nightmares. After all, there was a good chance my upcoming mission here caused them. She might reject or resent my concern. At last, she settled and snored lightly in a most endearing manner.

I strangled in my own needs, inner voices of reason and desire arguing amongst themselves until I wanted to shout them down regardless of waking the household. What in all religions’ hells was I thinking, anyway? Suppose Kila did want me, with all my violent traits and psychological failings. Suppose I slipped into bed beside her right now. What then? I came to do a job. Though I didn’t intend to be seen or get caught, once that job ended, I couldn’t exactly take off with the girl in tow. She didn’t deserve a life of running with me, hiding from the Guild’s punishments.

And I certainly couldn’t stay on Lissex.

Could I?

For years, I belonged to the Guild. They provided a sense of family and stability. I needed that, wanted that, and hadn’t had it since I’d left. Kila’s parents might accept me if I proved myself to them. It was just another type of trial, not so much unlike those the Guild subjected me to. Less painful, less physical, but no less challenging.

I stood and paced in the darkness, bare feet sinking into plush carpeting. I’d lost my mind. I couldn’t stay here. Kila wouldn’t want me after I killed her brother, no matter how much relief that act gave her. I’d still be a painful memory. And what if the Guild found me here? They’d out me as an assassin, make it obvious I was the one who killed her brother. They’d ignore Kila. They didn’t harm innocents. But she’d watch them hunt and capture me, perhaps kill me before they could haul me back to the underground fortress to execute me there. I didn’t want her to see that.

Throwing myself on the couch again, I buried my face in the pink pillows and covered my head with my arms.


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Boosting the Signal

Special Boosting the Signal announcement!

As y’all know, Boosting the Signal posts usually run on Fridays (when I have them to run). However, next week I will be running one every weekday, because I want to give some special love to this year’s NIWA anthology!

The anthology is called Asylum, and it features stories by both NIWA and non-NIWA authors. I’m not in it, but since I am a NIWA member, I’m helping out by doing that signal-boosting thing. If you like short fiction, I hope you’ll come check out the posts I’ll be running, and that you’ll consider snarfing up a copy of the anthology for your reading.

Meanwhile: stick around for today’s Boosting the Signal post, which is imminent!

Boosting the Signal

Boosting the Signal: Getting It Back, by Elizabeth Harmon

I meant to have this post ready to go earlier today–but if you follow me on the social networks, you’ll probably have seen that we had a windstorm in Seattle earlier this week, and I was without power for a couple of days. THAT SAID: neither wind nor rain will stand in the way of boosting a signal for long! Particularly if a fellow Carina author is involved. I had Elizabeth Harmon on the blog earlier this year, and she’s back now for an early look at her next Carina release, the contemporary romance Getting It Back. This is book three in her Red Hot Russians series, and she’d like you all to meet her hero Misha, who has very firm ideas about what he wants to do in the world of figure skating! Pre-order links for the book are below!


Getting It Back

Getting It Back

Imagine sacrificing everything to achieve your dream…and falling short.

Since leaving competitive figure skating, Mikhail “Misha” Zaikov, the hero of Getting It Back, my upcoming contemporary romance, and the third book in the Carina Press Red Hot Russians series, has been haunted by what might have been.

Once Russia’s top male figure skater, Misha was the favorite to win gold at the Lake Placid Winter Games. But an unlucky fall cost him victory. Though he hoped for another chance…a devastating injury brought a too-early end to his skating career.

He’s tried to turn his back on figure skating, but Misha is unmoored and drifting—until he decides to return to competitive ice.

Misha is sure a successful comeback will help him get back everything he’s lost—fame, fortune, and the love he’d thought was gone forever. But if the stakes are high, the risks are higher. Another injury could prove catastrophic, and he needs the help of Amy Shepherd, a young American athletic trainer, who is the only woman he’s ever loved. Amy wants to help Misha reach his dream…but is just as determined not to risk her heart.

Read on, as Misha shares a little of his story.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a figure skater.

That might sound like exaggeration, I know. How can a little kid be a skater? But in Western Siberia where I grew up, skating was as natural as running or jumping. I started, wearing my cousin’s old hockey skates. But when I was five, I got brand new black figure skates for New Year. From then on, there was never doubt of what I would be.

A skater, just like my papa.

You see, my father was Ilya Zaikov, one of the best men’s singles figure skaters in Russia, if not the world, in early 1980s. He competed in many championships and would have skated at Sarajevo in 1984, but was injured and forced to retire. His life after skating didn’t go as planned. Ilya hoped to coach in Moscow or St. Petersburg, working with our country’s best skaters. Instead, he was sent to work as skating instructor in the poor, coal-mining town where I was born.

His life was filled with hardship and disappointment, but there was nothing I loved more than watching him skate. When he gave me his old medal from Soviet National Championship, and said that one day I would win one too, I swore to make him proud.

But the years after Soviet Union fell were hard for many in Russia, and my family was no exception. Both my parents lost their jobs, and when Ilya could no longer afford medicine to relieve pain in his knees, he turned to vodka. Out of work, he put everything he had into coaching me.

When I was twelve, I competed for first time in Russian National Championships. It was exciting to come to Moscow and when I placed fifth, I was very happy. Unfortuantely, my father wasn’t. Drunk, he confronted some of the judges in the hotel bar. It was humiliating, and the best day of my life became the worst. One fortunate thing did come of it, though. My performance attracted interest from great coach, Yuri Bogdanov. When Bogdanov invited me to train with him in St. Petersburg, I left everything else behind, including my father.

For the next ten years, skating was what I lived, ate, and breathed. At seventeen, I skated in Winter Games in Oslo and four years later, was favored to take gold in Lake Placid Games. I took bronze instead. Most people see that as an accomplishment to feel proud of. But considering everything I sacrificed, it’s never felt like enough.

Even so, skating was my sport, my identity, my life. And then one day, it was gone.

I tried other jobs…I was coach for a time in Chicago, but it didn’t last. I was short order cook for an even shorter time. That didn’t last either, thanks to beautiful and fearless woman I like to call Tiger. Amy Shepherd was my athletic trainer, and she is the one person who makes me question whether going back to the ice is really what will make me happy.

But just as Amy uses ice to soothe aches and pains after training, for me, the ice is the only thing that seems to soothe the ache deep inside. I know that I’m becoming my father in a way I never wanted to be—a broken man, tormented by what he lost. I don’t want that to be the end of my story. That’s why I’ve decided to return to competition.

Amy fears I’ll be injured again. With two fused discs in my spine, another injury would be very bad. Catastrophic, some doctors say. Others in the skating world say at twenty-seven, I’m too old, and can no longer master the quadruple jumps I’ll need to compete against up and coming teenagers. Do you know what I say?

Watch me.

You see, I am skater. It’s what defines me. It’s what I’ve sacrificed everything for. Would winning gold make those sacrifices seem worth it? Between you and me, I don’t know. All I know is that I have to try.


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