Shopping For Characters

Casting Director

In my last post, I told you that I visualize my characters before I flesh them out on the page. So I pretend I’m the casting director for the movie about my book.

Hunting Season

When I’m  in this developmental phase, I do a lot of people watching. I’ll sit at the mall, I’ll eavesdrop on conversations, I’ll eyeball parents–grandparents– at the soccer fields. Any seasoned hunter will tell you that opportunity only knocks once and you have to be alert at all times. After all, you never know when your next victim, umm, I mean character, will emerge from the shadows. Take that Sunday at church…

I’d been hunting for Newcomb: storyteller, man in his fifties, wise, confident, white hair, medium build. I had just about conceded defeat until an elderly gentleman several rows in front of me caught my attention. The lighting made his white hair glow. I perked up and watched his every move, noted how the light caught every strand of hair, imagined him in the tunic he’d be wearing in my story… I don’t remember the sermon but I’ll never forget discovering Newcomb.

Let ‘Em Have It!

Annoy WriterI love this mug’s saying, not only because it’s funny but because it’s true! Channeling one’s anger (or any emotional experience) into a character is a GREAT way to add depth.  I purposefully made DeMorley (a conniving minstrel lacking musical talent) my Nashville music biz punching bag. I poured my negative experiences-the filth, the lies, the BS-into DeMorley. Not only was this refreshing and fun to do, but it saved me from paying a psychiatrist or being arrested for assault.

I hope this helps and good luck writing!

 

 


Character Crafting

Quandary

In my third book, When Kings Clash, I encountered a snag when re-writing the prologue from omniscient author to third person limited POV.

How do I introduce a new primary character (the Gor King) without revealing his identity/background?

The obvious answer was to tell his story through another person, but this too was a challenge. Books I & II are full of characters, so I had to make sure that a new voice was not only warranted but captivating.

In my noodling, I decided to take a people group I’d used previously, the Wurmlins, and develop them beyond what I’d established: nomadic tribe; hunt in groups of three; excellent trackers; ruthless thieves.

Now what?

Next, I needed a new character. Since my audience is YA, I opted for a 13-year old boy I named, Mälque.

How’d I come up with that name? I made sure I didn’t have too many other characters with the letter “M,” wanted it to be one syllable (I think short names sound strong and are easier for readers to grasp) and chose the umlaut because, well, it looked cool. Boring answer but there you have it.

But who is Mälque?

When I create a character, I have to visualize them first. I don’t use a character fact sheet (although I see the merit of doing this) but instead, mull over their psyche for quite some time. For me, this IS the nuts and bolts, the gumption, that drives them through the story. In other words, I’m more interested in my character’s home life than in his favorite color. In the case of Mälque, who is our example today, the fact that his mother was very superstitious had a huge impact on him. Although he denied her influence and even tried to navigate life by denouncing her beliefs, like gravity, he was unable to pull away from her power. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Borrowing From Another

Around this time, I watched a spooky-good Indie film called Winter’s Bone, based upon the chilling book by Danielle Woodrell. In his novel, Woodrell captured the Ozark language and family dysfunction and made his characters jump off the page.

What if Mälque and the Wurmlins were similar?

An image of Mälque popped into my mind…long, greasy, disheveled hair (perhaps in a mullet!) soot covered face, hardened personality (to avoid getting hurt again), a survivor instinct whose weakness, that only the reader sees, is that he’s very vulnerable.

Rules Are Meant To Be Broken

In regards to dialect, the rule of thumb is to infer it. For example, if your character is a Cajun, then you inform your readers he talks with this accent and let their imaginations do the rest.

I tossed this rule out the window. Why? The other rule of thumb per fantasy, and I would argue trumps (not Donald Trump!) the dialect rule is that you NEVER break the fantasy spell. So for me to let the readers know that Mälque talks with an Ozark accent would jettison them from the fantasy world. Besides, I was having way too much fun writing this way!

Next, I decided to give Mälque a key phrase, one he utters to reflect his cynical heart as well as to bolster his courage:”Ain’t nothin’ but dyin’ around here.” And like a chef using a strong spice, I used it sparingly so as to not overpower the story.

Proof Is In the Pudding

As I wrote and crafted Mälque, I became excited. My gut told me I was on to something; Mälque was taking on a life of his own. If you’ve ever experienced that as a writer, you know exactly what I mean. It’s WONDERFUL!

But would my readers like him?

The first test was my publisher, a former Green Beret, who is not one to shy away from brutal honesty. He too loved Mälque and felt he was a great addition.

So we published the book and I waited…

Although When Kings Clash has only been out a short time, the initial response for Mälque has been a big thumbs up. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant, but as a writer, it’s a great feeling to have your gut instinct confirmed.

I also received praises for another new character, Phinnton, as well as the Worms of Bal-Malin.

But that’s for another time!

 

 


Are You Crazy or Just An Author?

So your book is published. Great! And now you’re trying to promote it. Welcome to Fight Club! But what works?

If you search the web, you’ll be inundated with info, promises, sworn testimonies…

I found one company that claims a book trailer is the key to success, never mind the fact that they produce videos for a living.

Others promise to tweet your book to thousands for a small fee.  I decided to try one since they have 44,000 followers. I even went in with a realistic expectation: sell 2 books and get some new followers on Facebook or Twitter. Fail. Waste. Moving on…

And then there are the gurus offering free videos. I watched several but found the info commonplace and felt like I was stuck at an Amway convention. Sure enough, at the end of the freebie, they get to the point of their spiel: sign up for their not-so-free courses for the REAL secrets to success. Maybe it’ll work. Maybe I’m a fool for not buying.  I guess I’m a cynical tightwad who’s not willing to toss in $500 +/_ to find out.

Frustrated, I asked two friends, D.Alan Lewis & Teal Haviland, what their experience has been marketing books. Their candor was refreshing and if nothing else, confirms I’m not going crazy. Not yet.

Have Paid Promotions Increased Sales?

“I have paid for 2 different ads on Facebook and saw zero sales for the books being promoted during the sales drive. I’ve paid for small ads on various websites and have seen little to no sales from the effort. So far, I’ve not found anything that really works well. I know some folks have had success with various social media platforms, but most authors that I talk with are still struggling with sales.  Social media is a great and mostly free way to advertise, but it doesn’t translate into big sales.  Still, everytime I push books on Facebook, I do see a few sales, so it does help.” Alan

“I have paid for advertising on Facebook. From what I can tell, I’ve had little success from it and feel it’s been a waste of my money. I do, however, have author friends who’ve paid for advertising on Facebook and they say, if done right, that it can be very effective. I haven’t tried the things they’ve suggested, yet, because I’m waiting to pay for further advertising when I have my entire series done and released.” Teal

Do You Use Social Media?

 “I do use social media, namely Facebook,Twitter, and a personal blog. Because of the tools available through these sites, I’m able to automatically send every post on Facebook to my Twitter account.  My Amazon Author Page is set to display all my Twitter messages, so everything on Facebook is sent all over the place. I have a blog on Google which is automatically shared on my website and on my Amazon Author page, so again, the word is shared through multiple venues. Since Facebook only allows 5% of your friends to see any kind of marketing post on your page, I found that having multiple pages helps to increase the number of folks seeing an ad.  In my case, I have a personal page, an author page, and 3 other pages that are dedicated to different books/series.” Alan
“I have used social media for marketing, mainly Facebook and Twitter, but I’ve been taking a hiatus from any marketing right now.” Teal

What Has Helped Sales?

“So far, I’ve not found anything that really works well. I know some folks have had success with various social media platforms, but most authors that I talk with are still struggling with sales.  Social media is a great and mostly free way to advertise, but it doesn’t translate into big sales.  Still, everytime I push books on Facebook, I do see a few sales, so it does help.” Alan

“I think the key to the marketing conundrum so many authors find themselves in, is to realize that there are things that will work one time, that you’ll then do for the next book and it might not work at all. Even if you do everything the same. Our industry and what readers consider “hot” are constantly changing and we, as authors, have to be willing to go with the flow. We need to just write the stories we want to write and release them to the world, then do our best to let the readers out there know our book is there.” Teal

Any Sage Advice?

“Write. Rewrite. Edit. Release. Do your best to market, and let it go. Then, rinse and repeat. Your readers will find you, eventually. Make sure they have a lot to get their hands on when they do.” Teal


You Can Sell More Fiction Books!

The Pitch

Okay, let’s be honest. You’re reading this because my title hooked you which means you’re probably an author (fiction) who is trolling the web for the secret amulet that will make you a NY Times success.1

Sorry to disappoint or even mislead, but I’m not your messiah.

So why would I bait you into reading? Do I want to vent and pout and demonize those that are more successful? Is it to manipulate you into buying my books?

I simply want to take an honest look into the marketing dilemma we face as authors and thought that maybe, just maybe, you might want join the discussion.

Prophets

When I first began, I jumped on the latest trends to find a way to cut through the hoopla of the marketplace.  Remember buttons for FB or your web? How about the crap of “like my book and I’ll like yours” even if we hadn’t read it yet?

2Currently, the market is saturated with authors desperate to try anything to cut through the noise. Supply and demand has created sales gurus waving shiny tickets to the promise land. We join their mailing list, chant the mantra, maybe even shell out some cash. The only thing that changes is they’re a little richer and we’re discouraged, until a new prophet arises, and off we go like a lemmings, hoping that beyond their promise isn’t yet another cliff.

Are You Mad?

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Now that my third book is out, I’m re-evaluating my marketing plan…if nothing more than to find sanity. 3

I recently asked several author friends to reveal their trade secrets, their insights into how to navigate the maze of marketing.

Their answers were candid, vulnerable and insightful.

They also revealed sane minds.

Next Steps

In my next post, I’ll dive into what they shared as well as what I’m going to try next.

It probably won’t help you sell more books but you’ll at least realize you’re not alone…or going crazy.


Free Fantasy Chapter (conclusion)

WhenKingsClash_6x9cover_revised02

Blue Skin

Mälque, while awaiting more loot to clean, scanned the surrounding woods. “So you’re certain that crazy man and his gors won’t come back to eat us,” he asked, his voice cracking ever so slightly as his imagination conjured gors devouring people…alive.

As a Wurmlin, he had been trained to the traits of every animal in the woods. Gors were scavengers who feared men and prowled in small packs. That description changed three summers ago when men from their tribe witnessed a village being mauled by the beasts. A baldheaded man mounted atop a massive bull led the slaughter. His assembled gors – a mystery unto itself – were an army of ravaging predators. Jaws snapped arms or legs clean off while paws swatted bodies this way and that with ease. When Mälque asked what had caused the shift in the gors’ disposition, the Wurmlins hushed him with a swat to the head, or wagged their heads and mumbled to themselves.

But he knew the answer. His mother had forewarned about such sightings the summer before.

The Awakenin’.

“Yep, that crazy fool is long gone,” Olke answered, snapping Mälque from his reflection. Olke continued to swat the corpse up and down, listening for the thud or clink of loot or jewelry. “We been followin’ them now for…” he stopped tapping and scrunched up his lips to calculate the amount of time. Unable to do simple mathematics, and not about to let the boys belittle him for such ignorance, he dismissed the problem with a loud huff and blurted, “…a long time…a very long time.”

“Do we always have to steal like this,” Vonn asked in a dull voice. “It ain’t excitin’.”

Olke stopped, leaned back and gave them both a stern look. “You want excitement.”

“Yeah,” Vonn answered with a glint in his eye. “We’re Wurmlins, ain’t we? This ain’t stealin’.”

Olke folded his arms across his large chest and cocked his head. A greasy lock fell over his face, which he cleared with a violent shake of his head. “Well, these kind folk ain’t exactly handin’ their loot to us, now is they?”

Mälque pulled away from his gaze and took in the ash, the blood, the severed limbs, the mangled bodies. “But this…this is…” He once more became overwhelmed by the sights and smells, and could feel his stomach rumbling. He covered his mouth and nose with his sleeved arm.

“Look,” Olke fired, irritated by their tirade about how to make a living as a Wurmlin. “I don’t like it much neither, but what choice do we have? When this Gor King and his army started attackin’ villages, most folk sought refuge at Min Brock. The ones that didn’t,” he used his dagger as a pointer to highlight the death and destruction all around them. “Well, that crazy fool destroyed ‘em all. Even our own kind have scattered or been killed.”

His last words pressed down hard on Vonn and Mälque as they recounted the day their father died, followed soon after by their mother’s demise. From that day forth, per Wurmlin custom, they lived with Olke since he was their only living relative, even if he was a distant cousin. And unfortunately for them, Olke held to the custom that the boys were property – not adopted sons.

Wild dogs lived better lives.

Their mother’s warning echoed in their minds; “Don’t trust no one. Not even other Wurmlins.”

“So now,” Olke continued, “we follow his army of gors, wait ‘til they’re gone and rob the dead. Still thievery. Accordin’ to my codes, anyways.”

“We could go to Min Brock,” Mälque offered, eyes fixated on a child’s mutilated body and longing to see life beyond thirteen summers. “Ain’t nothin’ but dyin’ everywhere.”

Olke’s eyes narrowed; slits of anger burned at Mälque. “I’ll tell ya why not, yung-er.” He held his answer until he had their full attention. “Because we’re Wurmlins!” He thrust his blade at them and spittle flew off his lips. “We’re nomads,” his dagger darted from boy to boy as his tone became more impassioned. “Thieves. Highwaymen. And this here,” he waved his dagger at the woods, “is your home. Always has been. Always will be. You don’t need no castle.”

Olke’s eyes flared with anger as he whipped his hair to intimidate and remind them of his power over them. “Besides,” he added with a smile that was as greasy as his hair, “I’m the only family ya got.”

His last words struck the boys like jabs to the gut and Olke savored the misery that coursed their faces and the despair that weighed down thin shoulders. “Have you no respect for Wurmlin traditions,” he asked as the veins on his forehead pumped with passion. “You should be ashamed. I didn’t have ta take ya in and feed ya, or teach ya how to survive, but I did. You know why? ‘Cause I’m a Wurmlin!” He pounded his chest with pride. “I take care of my own. So never ask such a thing again. Ya hear me? Be proud of your heritage…your bloodline…your….”

Too flustered and perturbed to continue the lecture, he waved them off with his dagger and returned to his task. As he knelt over the body, he mumbled to himself about yung-ers not appreciating the sacrifice of kin.

An odd sound made all three freeze in place.

Training took over and they snapped their heads toward the woods. Without a word, Olke rose and the boys took up positions on either side, daggers drawn, ready to kill or be killed.


Free Fantasy Chapter (pt. 3)

WhenKingsClash_6x9cover_revised02Blue Skin (pt. 3)

Olke caught the scent of burnt wood. It was faint, barely noticeable, and most people – whether Allsbruthian or even Ebonite – would have missed such a clue. But he was a Wurmlin, a nomadic thief who read the woods, the winds and the streams for the slightest of signs and clues leading to their victims’ whereabouts. Like wolves, Wurmlins could follow a scent for days.

Energized that he was closing in on their target – the village of Tellendale – he increased his pace. When the trees thinned, he hid behind a fat hickory tree and surveyed what lay ahead.

Beyond a grove of saplings sat Tellendale, or what was left of it.

Mounds of white and gray ash sat where cottages, shanties and barns had been. Littering the ground were dead bodies that he assumed were the villagers. Aside from a large bird pecking a corpse, the village was void of life.

Without taking his eyes off the grisly scene, he cupped his hands together, brought them to his mouth and blew through the opening. He fluttered several fingers to create an owl-like sound. In a flash, the boys were by his side.

“Look at ‘em,” Olke half-whispered as he slapped Vonn’s shoulder. “Ripe for the pickin’. Time to go to work, boys.”

With a final glance about the clearing, and a sniff of the wind to make sure that whoever destroyed Tellendale was gone, Olke rose and strutted out into the clearing. Long, dark hair swayed in time to his bold stride, and when a strand fell across his face, he whipped his head to set it free. Broad, determined steps brought him to the closest body where he knelt with dagger in hand and prepared to go to work. He glanced back at the brothers who were lollygagging toward the bodies. Olke snarled his lips and squinted at them.

“Get a move on,” he barked. “Who knows how much time we got.”

Mälque reached him first. As instructed from previous undertakings, he assumed his position near the body. Disgusted by the mutilated flesh, the tunic stained black with blood and death’s sick scent permeating the air, he turned away. “I hate this work. Too much dyin’ everywhere,” he blurted over his shoulder. “I wanna do honest Wurmlin work, like stealin’ or robbin’ or cheatin’.” Bile rose into his throat. It was all he could do not to throw up.

“Sure ya do,” Olke countered with a snort as he patted the dead man’s pockets with the flat side of his dagger. “But that’s ‘cause you’re young, and like most yung-ers, you’re just plain stupid.”

Mälque glared at Olke. He hated the word. Although it was what Wurmlins used to describe boys of his age, Olke used it like a cuss word.

Vonn, unfazed by the gore, plopped down beside Olke who backhanded the boy. “Next time, don’t be late. Now help me find the treasure this dead fool’s tryin’ to take to the grave.”

As he tapped the man’s last pocket, the blade struck something hard. He hit again, producing a muted thud. “You know what that sound means, don’tcha?”

Vonn knew the only answer that would spare him from being whacked again was to do his job. With tongue poking out of the side of his mouth, he slid his fingers into the blood-soaked garment.

“Well,” Olke asked, impatient with his progress.

“Hold on,” Vonn answered while swishing his tongue from side to side as fingers probed the sticky pocket. “There’s too much blood.”

Olke was about to punch him when the boy yanked his hand free and held up the prize for all to see.

A collective gasp rose from all three. Clutched between Vonn’s bloody fingers was a coin, stained with crimson.

“There you are,” Olke sang to the coin, his voice sultry and smooth, as if addressing a lover. “Come to me.” He stretched his hand toward the money. Vonn dropped it into his palm.

“A golden giln,” Olke gushed as he held it up to the light of day between thumb and forefinger.

Stained with blood, it was a shocking reminder of the manner in which they found it as well as its owner’s horrible demise. Yet all three were oblivious to such calamity and instead, gawked in awe at the coin. It promised better days ahead.

“Here, yung-er.” Olke flipped it into the air. “Make ‘er shine.”

Mälque, who had anticipated such an action, had already removed a cloth from his pocket. With eyes riveted on the end-over-end flight of the giln, he caught the coin in the cloth and started wiping the blood off. In no time, the gold glistened; sunlight danced across its surface.

“So, boy,” Olke asked as he pushed himself up from the ground, “what were you sayin’ about an honest trade?”

Mälque shrugged off the question and stared at the coin he twirled between his fingers. Maybe Olke was right. The giln meant hot meals and warm beds in a tavern, a far better life than chewing on rabbit gristle and sleeping in the open, using leaves as a blanket.

Olke held out his palm.

Mälque smirked, and for a brief moment, thought about pocketing the giln and dashing off for the woods. After all, thievery was in his blood, even if it meant robbing another Wurmlin. But when he felt the prick of a dagger through his tunic, and caught Olke’s evil expression, he thought better of his idea. With a heavy sigh and a parting glance at the giln, he surrendered the coin.

“Thata boy,” Olke said as he withdrew his dagger. He flashed the boy a wry smile. “Never rob a robber, I always say.”

He pocketed the coin and led them to the next corpse. They dropped the banter and went back to work robbing the dead.

 


Free Chapter (pt 2)

Blue Skin (pt 2)Nothing Dyin'

(From When Kings Clash, by J.E. Lowder)

The bluish light from the two firesticks burned a hole in the dark. Despite Vonn and ’s skepticism in their mother’s beliefs, the shadows still sent shivers through them. They pressed close to her side.

“Your father came to me…in a dream.” She shoved the firestick this way and that. “All I could see was his face.”

The boys snickered. Tonight, like all the others, was just another exercise in craziness.

“He was ghostly pale. Said we was to bury him so he wouldn’t wander these woods forever.”

She led them up a hill and they continued to laugh.

“Then the vision opened up, like someone takin’ a sheet off a corpse, and I could see everythin’.”

At the summit, she stopped and held her firestick overhead. Mälque copied her.

Two dead bodies lay in the ravine.

The boys gasped. Mälque fumbled his firestick and Vonn dropped his shovel. As Wurmlins, they’d seen their share of dead bodies, but nothing prepared them for this. Arms jutted skyward, frozen in place; fingers hooked as if digging to escape, but from what they could only wonder.

“Ain’t laughin’ now, are you?”

They took in her expression. The bluish light from the firesticks made her already wild eyes pulse. A faint smile twitched at the corners of her mouth as if discovering morbid bodies at night was commonplace.

“Still think your mom’s crazy?”

Young heads wagged as they focused once again on the corpses.

“Now pick up that shovel and come on.”

She led them downhill with long strides and stopped beside the bodies.

“Look,” Vonn half-whispered from around her side. “Their skin’s blue!”

Mälque stuck out his firestick for a better look. Despite the men’s grimy faces and hands, a bluish tint could be seen. But it was their twisted arms jutting straight up, their gnarled fingers reaching for the unknown, and their legs lying every which a way that made his skin crawl.

“Why are they all twisted up like that?”

“Hush up!” She lowered her light to the bodies to identify them. “I recognize these two. They were part of your father’s pack. But where’s he?”

She swept her firestick searching for any sign of her husband’s body. “He aint’ here,” she mumbled to herself. “But I already knew that, ‘cause I had the dream.” And then to the boys: “I sense he’s close by. He’s already walkin’ the woods as a spirit…whisperin’. Ya hear him?”

She pushed her face close to Vonn and Mälque. The glow from the firestick cut deep shadows into her face making her feral eyes all the more terrifying. They leaned away from her. “Can you boys feel him; hear him,” she asked, eager for them to join her on her supernatural journey. “Gotta believe. Gotta listen.”

Unable or unwilling to connect with their father’s ghost, they shook their heads, spooked by the night’s portents as well as her expression.

“Don’t ya worry,” she offered with a half-smile. “One day, you’ll hear whispers too. I promise. Now come on.”

She spun away and resumed her quick gait deeper into the woods. When they skirted around a huge tree, Vonn and Mälque froze in place.

They found another body.

His lower portion – from his waistline down to his boots – stood erect, as if awaiting their arrival, while his upper half lay nearby.

Their mother approached the upper torso lying in the leaves, not the least bit distraught by the macabre scene.

“It’s just like I dreamed,” she mumbled, more to herself than to her sons. “But what sorta monster kills like this?”

She knelt for a better look and thrust her firestick close to identify the face. A death mask of blue skin surrounded glossed over eyes; mouth – agape with leaves stuck to pale lips – locked in what undoubtedly was his last scream. “Yep, that’s him.”

Vonn dropped his shovel and turned to throw up.

Mälque buckled to the ground and also puked. When their convulsions ended, they wiped mouths with their sleeves. Vonn retrieved his shovel and offered Mälque his hand.

“Look at her,” Mälque whispered as he was pulled to his feet. “Not a tear or even a scream.”

“I know. This ain’t right.”

She rose and made her way to the erect half and sized it up like they’d seen her do a slab of meat at the market. She ran her hand back and forth over the torso’s top as if to make sure it wasn’t a mirage.

“Cut clean in two,” she half-marveled as she continued sweeping her hand back and forth, “and ain’t a drop of blood no where. But how?”

She jerked her hand away as if stung by a wasp and hopped away from the corpse.

“Boys, come here!” Fear was in her voice as she waved them over. “Hurry.”

Her tone told them they were in danger, so they ran to her side.

Mälque eyed his father’s corpse but when the bile returned, focused instead on his mother’s face. Her twitching smile was gone, replaced by taut lips stretched across yellowed teeth; her eyes were narrow slits that searched for danger. 

“What’s wrong,” he asked.

“Shh!” She backed them away, her firestick darting this way and

that, probing the darkness – for what, the boys could only wonder.

When she felt they were far enough away from the grisly scene, she knelt and took in their confused looks. “You boys listen, and listen good.”

They could hear the fear in her voice; smell it on her sweat.

“You don’t tell no one what you just saw, you hear?” She shook them to make sure they understood.

Vonn nodded.

Mälque squinted at her in confusion.

She zeroed in on her youngest son. “No one, Mälque. No one.”

“But who cut him in…”

She covered his mouth with her hand.

“Ain’t seen this kinda thing since the Dark War.” She paused to make sure he would be quiet.

“Boys, listen to me.” She released her hold on Malque. “An Awakenin’ has occurred. Dangerous creatures you’ve never seen before prowl about, or make their dens in dead trees. Those are called fea dracas – tiny dragons that’ll swarm and eat ya alive. Never go near trees like that, I don’t care how brave ya feel. Understand me?”

They nodded. She continued.

“Stay sharp. Whatever killed your dad is still out there.” She eyed the darkness surrounding them. “These woods are cursed. Cursed.”

She turned her attention back to her sons. “You’ll hear whispers, and I ain’t talkin’ about voices from the grave, neither. They might come from Claire or Ebon. Sweet as songbirds. Might even sound the same, promisin’ this or that. Ignore them. Stay true to the whispers in your head.”

She tapped their foreheads to make her point.

“You’re gonna see things ya never seen before, too. Crazy things. Don’t pay them no mind neither.”

Her eyes narrowed, she pressed closer, her nose touching theirs, hot breath vaporizing before their eyes. “‘Cause chances are…” Her eyes darted left then right to make sure they were still alone. Zeroing in on their wide-eyed expressions again, she finished. “Storytellers from Claire are on the prowl.”

The boys gasped, well versed by their mother on the horrors she ascribed to the tellers of tales.

“Conniving men and women.” Yellowed teeth were gritted now, words sharpened by painful memories cut open the night’s stillness. “Magic herbs that can ease pain and heal, or kill. Stories that can open the ground like a grave or,” she wet her lips, “make ya wish ya was dead.”

She wiped the snot running from her nose as if to clear the memories of the past. “No matter what happens to me, you two stay together. Don’t trust no one. Not even other Wurmlins.” Softer still. “Especially other Wurmlins.”

She snapped her head away, either spooked by something nearby or merely checking their surroundings. Convinced they were still safe and alone, she looked back into their frightened faces.

“Now help me bury ‘em. Don’t need our tribe knowin’ about the Awakenin’. Not yet, anyways.”

She marched to her husband’s body but the boys didn’t follow.

Vonn and Mälque exchanged worried glances.

“Boys!” She flashed them a hot look and waved them on.

They swallowed the bile rising into their throats and crept forward, the only sound coming from Vonn’s shovel that he dragged through the dead leaves.


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