Crossfire (Bulari Saga 2) [Excerpt]

Unlike my Durga System novellas, which are designed to stand alone, I wrote the Bulari Saga to be one overall story arc — though each book is meant to be a satisfying read on its own.

Don’t worry. I hate cliffhanger books, too. 🙂

I normally share the first chapter or prologue of a new book when I launch it — but since Crossfire begins a day or so after the climax of Double Edged, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find a section that wasn’t super spoiler-y.

Fortunately, one of my favorite scenes made the cut.

I edited the following section to avoid a couple of spoilers, but please enjoy the gloriousness that is Starla’s girl gang blowing off steam. I’ve just finished the draft of Bulari Saga 3, and am plotting out Bulari Saga 4 — and it’s been fun to watch these ladies take up more of the spotlight.

Read on for the excerpt.


CrossfireFinal

Trouble is dead. Long live trouble.

Killing the leader of a violent cult was supposed to make the city a safer place, but instead it created a power imbalance that’s left a deadly war raging in the streets of Bulari.

When Willem Jaantzen is approached for help by local casino magnate Phaera D, he has the sinking feeling the only way to end this war is to betray the people he loves the most. And he’s starting to suspect that Phaera wants more from him than just his help.

Whatever decision he makes feels like the wrong one. And as his goddaughter chips away at the mystery surrounding their latest discovery, bringing peace back to the Bulari underground is quickly becoming the least of his worries.

Preorder Now Button

Starla

Music thrums through Starla Dusai’s chest, beating like a fever through the packed dancers. 

Simca’s incandescent in hot pink, sequins shimmering off her minidress, stacks of rainbow neon cuffs glowing on her brown arms. Her black hair’s in a thick queue, braided through with strands that spark in the light like starbugs, and the spikes of her stilettos flash a different color with every step. 

Leti’s in liquid turquoise from the band of her black fedora to the fine weave of her suit to the sharp-ass points of her gleaming dress shoes. Her tie drinks up the light, luminous black silk. 

Starla’s in silver that probably makes her pale skin gray and ghostly, but she loves the feel of the flounced skirt swishing against her thighs, loves the way it makes her look like she actually has curves. 

And it must be working, because she’s had no shortage of guys to dance with tonight. A Ganesh-class transport, the Maria Elena III, is still in orbit, and every nightclub in the city is flush with travelers and crew. 

The beat transitions to double time, the bass picking up to a low rumble that pulses once on one and twice on four and Starla loves this song, she claps and raises her hands with the rest of the crowd, lets her hips move how they want. The latest guy yells something to her but she’s left her lens at home tonight and she closes her eyes to bask in the rhythm, ignoring him. Whatever he’s trying to tell her doesn’t matter. She’s not going home with anyone. 

The beat transitions again a few minutes later and the guy’s gone. Leti is dancing in his place, her moves light-years beyond the grind he’d been attempting. Starla grins and takes Leti’s proffered hand. Simca shimmies her hips through a gap in the dance floor to join them, and the whole world shrinks down to this moment: sweat and color and light and bodies against bodies, all shot through with the pulse of the music. 

“Water,” Simca signs after a moment, and Starla nods — she’s been parched for ages, but having too much fun to leave the floor. 

“You must be boiling alive,” she signs to Leti. Starla’s overheated in her skimpy dress, but where she and Simca are both gleaming with sweat, Leti is dapper as ever. 

“Girl’s gotta look good,” Leti signs back. She pulls out a silk handkerchief and dabs at her dark brow, tucks it back in her pocket. “Sorry I ruined your chances tonight,” she signs. “Every man on that dance floor thinks you’re with me now.”

“Good,” Starla signs. “I’m not in the mood. But Simca . . .” She lifts her chin and Leti glances back to see Simca at the bar, trios of waters and shocking blue cocktails lined up in front of her. Guys on either side of her are trying to get her attention. 

Leti laughs, elbows her way between Simca and one of the guys, gives her a Hey, babe look and a wink. She starts handing drinks back to Starla. 

They find one of the few reasonably lit booths where they can see to talk. “Hopefully now I’ve ruined both your chances to go home with a boyfriend-of-the-week,” Leti signs with a smile. “Tonight’s supposed to be girls night.” 

It’s a weekly chance for them to blow off steam, and after the events of the last few days Starla has plenty of steam to blow. Simca, too; she’s got an air of wild abandon about her tonight that’s stronger than her usual, stronger than past times they’ve cheated at cards with Death and walked away grinning. Someone on their team didn’t walk away this time. And following the initial numbness, that knowledge makes the crush of bodies more captivating, the cocktails sweeter, the beat more intoxicating.

Starla almost feels like she’s in a trance, and when she catches Simca’s eye and sees her intensity, her fever, she knows Simca feels the same.

Leti works in media, some complicated consulting job helping vid stars and politicians and night club owners with messaging and news appearances. Starla understands just as much about her job as Leti understands about Starla’s work designing security systems for Admant. Leti knows Starla’s godfather is Willem Jaantzen, but she has no idea the nature of the jobs Starla sometimes hires Simca for.

Leti’s only aware that something happened at work this week, and she accepted the usual brush-off when she asked about it. Tonight, she’s slipped into the role of chaperone, letting her girlfriends work out whatever they need to on the dance floor and putting up enough guard for three. 

And they need her tonight, god knows — this club is thick with horny single dudes from the Maria Elena III. Starla and her friends have barely claimed their booth when a man elbows up to the table, leans in with a conspiratorial smile to say something to Leti. Leti frowns at him. “I’m deaf,” she yells. It looks like he’s shouting louder — or maybe it’s just loud in the club, because Simca yells back at him across the table. 

The man abandons Leti and leans towards Simca. Starla can’t read his lips, and Simca’s angled away from her, but she recognizes the drug-pusher’s gesture of one hand flashing open to reveal the glittering blue tab in his palm. Shard. He pops the tab under his tongue with a glassy grin, then pulls a bag from his pocket for Simca. 

Simca’s shaking her head, shooing him out of the booth. He gives her an apologetically wounded look — Hey, just trying to offer a good deal — and sidles off, ignoring Leti and Starla. 

“Fucking pushers,” Simca signs. She takes a drink and makes a face after the man’s back. 

Leti waves a hand to dismiss him. “Hey, did you end up signing with that new agent?” she asks Simca, and Simca rolls her eyes, the conversation swirling back to her latest search for a wrestling agent who’s not scammy. It’s not a night out without fending off at least one shard pusher, these days. 

Starla follows along with the latest dramatic twist in Simca’s agent saga, but only half-heartedly; talk isn’t doing it for her tonight, and as soon as the last drops of cocktail are emptied from their glasses, she drags Leti and Simca impatiently back out to the dance floor.

Only now the energy is different. The beat is still steady, but a knot of people at the far edge of the crowd have stopped dancing, stillness rippling out from them as heads turn to see what’s happening. 

Starla elbows her way through — it’s not her job, but sometimes there are fights, and if she can help she will. Plus, throwing a few punches might feel almost as good as dancing tonight. 

She stops at the edge of the crowd, eyes wide. 

Everyone’s staring, and no one’s helping. There’s nothing to help. 

The shard pusher from earlier is convulsing on the floor, mouth split open like he’s screaming, tears of blood streaming from his eyes, black ichor leaking from his nostrils. His fingers claw protectively over his chest; bloody blisters form on the backs of his hands, his neck, his hairline as Starla watches in horror.

A scatter of his product has fallen out of his hand and is glittering on the dance floor. Starla hadn’t been paying attention earlier, but now she sees his shard looks different from what she’s used to seeing in clubs. Something about the color, the shape of the package is oddly familiar, and she realizes with a start where she’s seen it before: in the drug-cooking operation that had been working out of the warehouse her godfather, Willem Jaantzen, is purchasing. 

Others are pocketing the shard even as the pusher spasms in death. Starla signs for Leti to give her her handkerchief, then scoops up one of the strange shard tabs herself. She tucks it in her purse. No one seems to notice, not with the screaming man acting out his dying moment on the dance floor. 

Starla grabs Leti’s and Simca’s hands and drags them to the exit. 

She’s not going to stand around and watch yet another person die this week.


Durga Logo skull and crossbones with fedora
Pre-order now button


We Successfully Read Space Cocaine

A few weeks ago I told you about Space Cocaine.

Some of you came to check it out last night at Belmont Books in Portland — thank you! (And a huge thank you to Joe at Belmont Books for the hospitality.

For those of you who couldn’t make it, briefly, it was a riot of a good time.

We had simple rules.

  1. Whoever was reading had to wear the head bopper (so you knew who was reading).
  2. Each reader had ten minutes, as timed by a chicken kitchen timer.
  3. As soon as the timer rang, you stopped reading — even if it was mid-sentence.
  4. If the audience wanted to know what happened next? Well, they’d just have to buy the book.

Left to right: Grá Linnaea, Andrew McCollough, and Mark Teppo. They were such good sports when I informed them about the head bopper.

Here’s the recording of my reading (thanks to my writer friend Elizabeth Mitchell for recording!)

The Space Cocaine anthology will be available for sale soonsoonsoon — check out spacecocaine.com to find a link when it’s live.

(An aside — can you believe no one owned spacecocaine.com? Well, I do now.)

If you’re in Portland and sad you didn’t get to experience Space Cocaine in person, you should definitely come to my launch party for Double Edged, June 6 at 7pm at the Lucky Lab on Killingsworth.

I guarantee you’ll have an equally good time — plus there will be live music and cupcakes.

Get more details at www.jessiekwak.com/party.

How — and Why — to Recommend a Title to Your Library

As a child, I devoured books.

In the summers, I sucked them down like Otter Pops from my grandmother’s freezer, tucked in the crook of tree branches or sitting on swingsets or lounging on the couch or under my blankets at night.

During the school year I carried them onto the playground or read them under my desk thinking the teacher wouldn’t notice. My fifth grade teacher — tired of telling me to put my book away — once kept me in at recess as punishment.

My punishment? To stay inside and read?

It was heaven.

We lived out in the country, so in the summers, when the school library was closed, a stop at the library was a mandatory part of our weekly trek into town. I remember scooping books up by the armful and carrying them joyfully to the check-out stand, each week pushing against the upper limit of what I was allowed to check out.

And each week, I read every one of those books before we brought them back.

I remember growing older, starting to venture beyond the aisles of brightly colored chapter books. Wandering upstairs to grown-up fiction section to seek out dragons and mystics and murders. Agatha Christie and Terry Pratchett and Patricia C Wrede and Mercedes Lackey and Frank E Peretti and Ursula K Le Guin and anything else that caught my fancy.

I would have bankrupted my parents if it weren’t for the library.

For that matter, I’d bankrupt myself now if not for the library.

I want people to get my books at the library

As an author, I love libraries. I love that places exist where people can get books for free. Where the ability to experience the joy of a story isn’t limited by your bank account.

(Though I’ve paid my fair share of late fees, let me tell you!)

A month or so back, I asked my newsletter subscribers what are some of the tropes or themes that make them automatically buy a book, and I got back a significant response from people who say they read so much they’re only downloading free books these days.

That’s possible to do — especially with so many indie writers offering free newsletter magnets and first-in-free series. But what happens if you fall in love with a series and want to support the author — but are still on a budget?

Libraries!

I’m telling you, getting books from the library is a fantastic way to support an author.

BUT.

Most indie authors aren’t automatically distributed to libraries. You’ll see more showing up as ebooks, but finding an indie book in print is tough.

Here’s where you can help! If you want to see a book from a specific author, you can recommend your library purchase it.

How to recommend a title to your library

Indie authors can distribute ebooks to libraries through Overdrive, a fantastic app that lets you borrow ebooks and audio books from your local library.

(If you read ebooks or listen to audio, seriously you should use Overdrive!)

Once you’re logged in with your library card, do a search for, hypothetically, “Jessie Kwak”.

More than likely, your local library will tell you they can’t find this “Jessie Kwak” person.

Overdrive screenshot 1: how to recommend a title to your library.

Never fear!

Just scroll down in the app, and you’ll see search results that aren’t owned by the library:

Overdrive screenshot 2: how to recommend a title to your library.
Overdrive screenshot 3: how to recommend a title to your library.

Hey, hey!

There’s my books.

If you want to recommend a title to your library for purchase, click the “Recommend” link at the bottom of the book card.

(From that screen you can also read a sample of the book, add the book to your history, or view other books in the series. Just click the three vertical menu dots.)

For more information on how to recommend a title to your library, check out this helpful post on library recommendations over at OverDrive.

Why aren’t all indie books available to recommend to the library?

Super good question. It has to do with how a book is distributed.

Basically, if a book is in Kindle Unlimited, the author has to exclusively publish it at Amazon — which means no library distribution. My Durga System novellas are all published wide, which means you can get them on any ebook platform (and at libraries).

The publisher of my first novel, Shifting Borders, has kept it in KU — which makes it “free” for paid KU subscribers, but not available to libraries.

If you’re curious and want to learn more, Lindsay Buroker just wrote a detailed post about why some books are in KU and others are widely available.

(And why some authors would make that choice. Full disclosure, I’ll be releasing the Bulari Saga exclusive with Amazon for the reasons Lindsay outlines, but I’ll make it more widely available as soon as I can.)

OK!

That’s what I’ve got for you.

I hope that was helpful, and — if you’re in a library ebook recommending mood I’d greatly appreciate you recommending my books. 😉

Oh — and if libraries have been a big part of your life, I’d love for you to let me know in the comments!

BONUS POINTS if you had to use a card catalogue to find the book you were looking for! 😉

Double Edged (Bulari Saga 1) [Excerpt]

Ever since I released the first Durga System novella back in 2016, I’ve heard the same thing from readers:

I loved it, but I want MORE!”

With every Durga System novella I wrote, I got the same praise/complaint combination. Reviewers kept talking about how they could sense a larger story behind the books I was giving them. Friends texted me asking what’s the deal with this character, or when they’re going to get a novella with that character.

Through all these years, I’ve been plugging away at a series of full-length novels set in the Durga System universe, and I’m excited to announce that IT’S ALMOST HERE!

Double Edged is the first book in the Bulari Saga, set about 20 years after Negative Return, 15 years after Starfall, and 10 years after Deviant Flux.

It’s coming out May 31st.

Mark your calendars, or sign up to my newsletter to get a reminder when it’s published.

(I’ll also be doing a giveaway or two for my newsletter, and offering fun sneak peaks leading up to the launch — don’t miss it!)

Read on for an excerpt.


Double Edged (Bulari Saga 1)

DoubleEdgedFinal

Thala Coeur—Blackheart—is dead.

Willem Jaantzen has been waiting to hear those words for almost twenty years. But he was also hoping they’d hold more satisfaction. Because it turns out his arch enemy has died as she lived—sowing chaos and destruction—and when a mysterious package arrives on his doorstep, he realizes she’s sent him one last puzzle from beyond the grave.

As Jaantzen and his crew are plunged back into a game he thought they’d left far behind, one thing becomes painfully clear: Solving Coeur’s puzzle could be key to preventing the city from crumbling back into another civil war—or it could be the thing that destroys them all.

Because this secret isn’t just worth killing for. It’s worth coming back from the dead for.

The Bulari Saga series is part of Jessie Kwak’s Durga System universe, a fast-paced series of gangster sci-fi stories set in a far-future world where humans may have left their home planet to populate the stars, but they haven’t managed to leave behind their vices. And that’s very good for business.

Read on for an excerpt.


Oriol

Busting up a casino has never been at the top of Oriol Sina’s bucket list, but here he is, standing in the middle of the Dorothy Queen dressed for trouble in a suit he’d much rather be admiring on another man.

From the outside, the Dorothy Queen looks like a golden top orbiting New Sarjun, glittering levels faceted like a cut stone surrounding a tapering spindle. On the inside, it’s one hundred and fifty levels of gaudily themed hotels, overpriced restaurants, dubious recreation spaces, and raucous gambling. You don’t get on the Dorothy Queen without a work permit, a vendor license, or a bank account large enough to turn the Demosga family’s eyes vivid green with greed. And the first two won’t get you on the casino floor unless you’re young and look good in a dress. 

Oriol is neither, and his bank account is definitely lacking. What he does have is a contract with a woman who’s got far more secrets than he prefers in an employer.

Pays well, though. 

Oriol drums his fingers against the sensitive pressure plates of his thigh, stretches calves both real and manufactured, scans the casino floor. He’ll be glad to leave. He can see the fun if there’s a paycheck in it, but damned if he’d spend actual cash on the pleasure of visiting the Dorothy Queen again. 

Jobs he usually takes these days, they’re the low-intrigue, high-pay type that help him afford the ever-increasing bills for his aging mech prosthetics. Which means he spends most of his days knocking back whiskey with working folk and fighting the occasional scrapper, not fending off insistent waitstaff and pretending rich people have a sense of humor. But Oriol’s a professional. He can manage any gig so long as there’s a definite end date with a return ticket to New Sarjun attached, and in two days’ time he’ll be home and working his tan back up.

He loses another ten New Sarjunian marks of his employer’s money at Devilier before he finally gets the message from the woman who’s code-named Frog:

“Target’s here. By the alien, I’m going in.”

Her voice is routed through the scrambler they’re all using, flat and distorted in Oriol’s earpiece. The words crawl across the bottom of his vision as well. He’s running an ops lens, which he hates. The disorienting overlay flashing in his peripheral reminds him too much of the darker work he did in Alliance special ops, those days when anyone back in the home office could jack in and take whatever they want from him: vital stats, sensory inputs, fears, dreams. He’s been batting away low-level flashbacks tonight, flashbacks reminding him why he should stick to his rule of taking only tech-free jobs, jobs that rely on instinct and training alone. 

But right now he’s got a voice in his ear and a glowing lattice of lines across his vision, and at least the flat voice in his ear isn’t the nameless ops tech who was his most constant companion in the Alliance — for the morning wake-up call, for the evening check-in, in the bathroom, in those rare times he had a spare moment to visit someone else’s bed. 

There’s no feeling in the world like the inability to unplug from your masters. And none quite like the joy he felt waking up in the hospital with no leg and realizing he was too damaged to go back in, that he would be decommissioned with enough salary and savings to buy out his own indenture and do whatever the hell he’d always wanted to. 

Turns out, what he wants to do is crime for money. It pays well, you get to see the universe, and you meet the most fascinating array of people. Like Frog and Rabbit, his co-heisters. Like their boss, the woman in the white suit. Like that man over there by the “alien.”

The alien Frog was referring to is an oversized blinking sign advertising a drinks bar. It’s a cartoonish imagining of what aliens would look like if they existed: gangly and green-skinned, with an array of lumpy appendages and tentacles sprouting from its head. Stereotypical, of course — the Demosga family has no imagination Oriol’s heard of, except for famously in the secret-level chambers where they take cheats and thieves. No, this creature’s something out of a horror vid with the copyrights filed off. 

Or not. Who’s going to sue someone like Aiax Demosga for copyright infringement?

The target’s hovering at a low-roller’s table like he’s deciding whether or not to throw out some coin. He’s tall, with a paunch born of beer and worry and thinning, nutrient-poor hair. He’s got the wide-eyed look of a first-timer to the Dorothy Queen and the cheap suit of someone who’s been told to dress his best even though it’s still levels below what the rest of these rich asses throw out as too threadbare for work clothes. Even if Oriol didn’t know why the man was here, it would be clear he doesn’t belong in this crowd.

Oriol blinks three times to mark him, and a floating star appears above the lanky man’s head. It tracks him without delay even as he decides against the low-baller’s table, gawks at the alien, and weaves through the crowd to the cashier. Oriol can see the star out of the corner of his eye as he scans the room for Aiax Demosga’s security guards, each marked with a red exclamation point like he’s in a goddamn video game.

Never again with a job that requires an ops lens. 

Frog’s neon-blue exclamation point, superimposed above her sleek bun of silver hair, passes by the target’s star; even watching for the drop, Oriol doesn’t see her pause. 

“Package is away,” she says. “I confirm he’s got the ring.”

“Copy package away,” says mission control. “Starting clock now.”

A clock appears in the corner of Oriol’s vision, counting up. The three-minute mark is the time when the drug Frog slipped into the target’s drink should take effect. 

It’s go time for Oriol. 

Oriol places another losing bet on Devilier, sighs with unfeigned remorse — he would’ve welcomed a few more marks in his pocket — then tosses his last few chips to the dealer and twines his way through the glittering crowd, following the star.

“I see him,” Oriol murmurs. “Rabbit take the Gold entrance; Frog take Platinum.”

They call him Tiger. The code names were assigned by the bosses; Oriol doesn’t ask if it’s not going to get in the way of his work. He sees his teammates begin to move through the crowd. They’re already coded into the tracker overlay, Frog in the blue and Rabbit — a man — marked by an exclamation point in sizzling green. 

The graphics may be cheesy, but damn, this ops lens is the good tech. Almost Alliance military grade. Oriol’s dying to know who’s backing the lady in the white suit, but he doesn’t make it a habit to ask where his employers get their funds. He didn’t when he took the Alliance’s offer of food and family as a kid, and he isn’t going to start now. 

The target’s star bobs towards the cashier, then abruptly changes direction, making a straight shot towards the bathrooms.

The clock reads 03:07.

Oriol feels his body get loose and ready for action; it’s a feeling better than any drug. 

“On it,” he murmurs. 

* * *

The lady in the white suit had found Oriol on his shore leave on Maribi Station, just off the back of a security job that had been disappointingly uneventful. No space pirate battles, no lasers, no explosions — and no hazard pay. His former crewmates had been off drinking away their earnings; he’d gone for tune-ups to his prosthetic leg. He and it both were getting on in life, requiring a little more maintenance and a little less partying than in years past. 

The job came across his comm while the fake leg doctor had him plugged into a diagnostics harness: Wanted, security for a short trip to the Dorothy Queen. Excellent pay.

His thumb — hovering a moment over reply — hit Send on the message without a second thought when the diagnosis came in. The biomechanical interface at his hip joint would need to be completely replaced in the next six months.

With that on the horizon, Oriol could use a little extra cash before he headed home. And the Dorothy Queen would carry him back to New Sarjun. 

He’d met his new boss: an olive-skinned woman in a simple white suit with three stars pinned to the lapel and smooth black hair bound tight in a bun. The man and woman flanking her wore gray suits, no stars. She’d introduced herself as Sister Kalia; she’d not introduced them at all. 

They needed a simple job done — a criminal job, she was careful to warn him, with the plainspoken concern of someone who’d never hired a mercenary before and didn’t want to offend him. 

They wouldn’t be robbing the casino itself, she said — probably for the best, given that the stakes for robbing a Demosga casino, including in the Dorothy Queen, the Lucky’s Double, or the Little Brother, were a visit to Aiax Demosga’s private family jail. 

No, his job would merely be to intercept a critical item before the carrier had a chance to complete its sale. 

“So you’re with the OIC?” Oriol asked, and got a cool look. “NMLF? The Coda?” Three strikes, but he wasn’t surprised. Sister Kalia and her friends didn’t look like they were working with one of the many anti-Alliance resistance groups; they looked well-fed and even more well-funded. 

His next guess was going to be that they were corporate spies, until a chime sounded softly through the room and Sister Kalia informed him they’d finish the conversation later; now was time for prayer. He was welcome to join them if he liked, she said, with one perfectly plucked eyebrow raised in question. 

He’d declined. 

“Your soul burns pure,” she said as he turned away. “It wouldn’t hurt you to spend some time refueling the flame before it begins to sputter.”

He stopped with one hand above the palm lock, turned back to look at her, intrigued despite himself. “What do you mean?”

“Your true human soul. We’ll need all the bright ones when it comes time to pass the test.” 

“I’m good at tests,” Oriol answered, but the intensity of her smile had churned his gut like poison. 

* * *

Oriol props the target as comfortably as possible in the bathroom supply closet, then slips the ring off a pudgy finger and into a lead-lined zippered pocket in his suit vest. He riffles through the man’s pockets for anything that seems valuable.

“Sorry,” he mutters, but this will play so much better if it looks like a basic robbery. After all, who would steal such a chintzy ring?

There’s not much, just the man’s scant winnings and a black plastic ID badge; turns out the target’s some breed of bioengineer working for an Arquellian agricorp. Agricultural tech can be worth its weight in gold on arid New Sarjun, out in Durga’s Belt, and even on fertile-yet-crowded Indira. And the Demosga family still makes a good portion of its fortune from food production, so it makes sense that he’d be trying to make a deal here.

Not the sexiest intel Oriol’s ever stolen, but it’s probably worth good money to the right buyer. 

“I’ve got it,” he murmurs as he shuts the door to the supply closet. Hopefully the target’ll wake up with only a headache, plus lighter a few New Sarjunian marks. “Heading back to base.”

“Copy.”

His job had been to take care of the target somewhere private and let Sister Kalia’s tech team handle the surveillance monitors, but he’s having trouble walking calm. Any moment now one of Demosga’s thugs is going to land a meaty hand on his shoulder and the whole game will be over. But he coaches his posture into relaxation, tosses out smiles and congratulations and winks as he crosses the casino floor, then leans casually against the gold-plated wall of the elevator while it whisks him to level ninety-seven.

Level ninety-seven is one of the full-floor suites, no worries about your neighbors down the hall wondering why so many people are coming and going from a single room. In another time, Oriol would’ve taken the time to appreciate the room’s luxe amenities. But this job hasn’t given them much time to explore — and they’re not about to linger now that they’ve got the goods. 

He can smell the blood and ozone the instant the elevator’s doors slide open. 

A pistol whines, warming to the palm of its owner. 

“Out of the elevator,” commands a voice. 

It — and the plasma pistol — belong to a pale-skinned man Oriol’s never seen before. He’s not simply a new addition to the crew, Oriol notes. Sister Kalia’s two gray suits are both dead, and she’s bound in a chair beside the bed, gagged. Her white suit jacket blooms deep red.

Another armed stranger is sitting at Sister Kalia’s ops desk, monitoring the feeds from his, Rabbit’s, and Frog’s ops lenses. 

Fucking ops lenses. 

“Rabbit, Frog, come on home,” the woman says into her headset, her voice echoing flatly in Oriol’s ear. The same scrambler that was meant to keep Sister Kalia’s team’s identity obscured hid the fact that they were being fed direction from an unfamiliar voice.

A third stranger, another man, is sitting on the bed beside Sister Kalia. Tanned complexion, shaved head, eyes blue as ice. An old scar bisects his cheek, twisting his lips down as he smiles. 

“You thought you could beat the Dawn to this, Kalia?” says the blue-eyed man. He watches her as though expecting her to speak. Sister Kalia’s eyes go wide, then her eyelids flutter back down. The red stain on her suit is spreading. She’s not long for this plane if she doesn’t get medical care in a minute or two. 

“I’ll take the ring, please,” the man says.

Oriol’s mind is racing. They didn’t kill him right off the bat; they may not be planning on it — or maybe they just don’t want to risk firing a plasma pistol on this ship. Looks like the gray suits were both done with knives. 

Oriol holds up his hands, but the man with the pistol’s not going to get close enough to him to pat him down. 

The man gestures with his gun. “Get it. Slow.”

“I got no part in this, man,” Oriol says. Sister Kalia’s eyelids flicker open at that. “I give somebody the ring, I get a payday. That’s what I’m here for.”

But Oriol can see in the gunman’s eyes that he’s not doing deals with mercenaries. Whatever Sister Kalia and this new band of thugs both want, it’s not just about greed. There’s something deep-seated and calculating in the terrible gaze the gunman turns on Oriol. 

Oriol is split seconds from reacting when the elevator door opens once more with a stream of profanity. The man with the plasma pistol spins and shoots, burning a hole in Rabbit’s chest. 

Oriol may be paid like a merc, but he still fights like an Alliance special ops soldier. He pivots and kicks, the blow from his prosthetic foot snapping the shooter’s wrist and sending the gun flying. A second kick breaks the man’s sternum, and he collapses, blood in his mouth and gasping for breath. 

The desk operator flings herself at him. Oriol snatches his karambit from its sheath at his groin, blocks her left arm with his right as she tries to get a clear shot, twists to hook the curved blade into the meat above her elbow and bring her screaming to her knees, releases to slash the abdomen. A prosthetic knee to her chin and the woman’s head snaps back. She slumps to the ground. 

“Drop the knife.”

Behind him, Frog has scooped up the pistol, and she’s got it aimed squarely at his head. He doesn’t even have to turn to know: her feed is still running to the ops desk and he can see the back of his head just beyond the sights. 

He’s got another view, too. Rabbit lying in the elevator, the doors trying repeatedly to shut on his body, his dead eyes rolled up to see Frog with her military-styled silver bun, her mercenary’s muscles, her double-crosser’s right arm straight and sure. 

“You can have the ring,” he says. “I really don’t care.”

“Drop the knife,” she says again. 

He loosens his grip on the karambit, letting it dangle by its ring around his index finger. 

The man with the ice-blue eyes is watching him. Sister Kalia is watching him, eyes open and aware, with the peaceful calm of a woman who’s accepted the warm silk of death winding around her body. She meets his gaze and hers sharpens suddenly, ferocious. Her chin dips — decision made — and Sister Kalia lets out a low, guttural keen, her body racked and shivering. 

In the feeds, Oriol sees the exact moment Frog’s attention wavers to Sister Kalia. The moment the sights of the pistol sway off-center. 

He pivots to the left and steps into her outstretched arm, bringing the karambit in his right hand under and up, slashing the curved hook back down again past ear and neck and shoulder and clean in a spray of her blood. She’s already tripping forward, and he uses the rest of her momentum to fling her at the blue-eyed man standing by Sister Kalia’s body. 

Oriol leaps over Rabbit’s body and pushes him out of the elevator; the doors finally sigh closed. He slams his hand on the panel; he doesn’t care where it opens so long as it’s not on level ninety-seven with Frog, the blue-eyed man, and far too many bodies. 

He pinches the lens out of his eye between two fingers, crushes it to a sizzle of smoke. 

He’s got no clue what’s on this ring, but one thing’s for sure. It’d better not be tips for growing soybeans. 

* * *

For such a svelte casino, its escape pods are shit. Oriol must’ve blacked out in the rocky reentry, because he wakes with a start, gasping for breath and choking on what air he finds. Hot, arid atmosphere sears his sinuses with the sharp bite of pollution, the odor of hundreds of millions of humans crammed together in a volatile brew.

Oriol laughs with relief, breathes deep once more. 

He hopes wherever Sister Kalia’s religion has taken her is peaceful. But him? He’ll take New Sarjun, thank you very much. 

No feeling in the universe is quite like coming home to the city of Bulari.

Durga Logo skull and crossbones with fedora

Sign up to my newsletter to be notified when Double Edged is published.

Introducing Space Cocaine: an Anthology Reading

TL;DR version:

What: A reading with Jessie Kwak, Grá Linnea, Andrew McCollough, and Mark Teppo
When: May 17th at 7pm
Where: Belmont Books (3415 SE Belmont St, Portland, OR)
Why: Because it could be done

A couple of months ago, my local sci-fi writer-friend mastermind group (the Tiara Club) decided we should do a reading.

Mark Teppo, an overachiever, decided that we should produce a physical collection of the short stories we’d be reading in order to sell at the event.

He started coming up with poignant literary covers. They were lovely.

But I was starting to get a little nervous they would give readers the wrong idea about, well, how high-brow the stories were.

“I wouldn’t want people to get confused when they read my story about space gangsters and space pirates fighting over space cocaine,” I wrote on Slack.

And Mark came back with this:

Space Cocaine anthology cover: Image is a dramatic dragon breathes fire behind a hooded sorcerer standing on a mountaintop with a glowing orb in his hands. The title reads Space Cocaine.

Perfect.

Introducing Space Cocaine. From the back cover:

It’s not literary. It’s not a themed anthology. Though, it definitely staggers across all sorts of interstitial slip-streamed speculative fringes.

Look, there are space pirates. There’s cocaine. There might be dragons. And stuff blows up.

You’re welcome.

On May 17th, the four of us (me, Grá Linnea, Andrew McCollough, and Mark Teppo) will be doing a reading from this ridiculous collection at Belmont Books in Portland.

(My story is from the Durga System universe — it’s titled Rogue and is currently only available to newsletter subscribers.)

The anthology will be available to purchase at the event.

Will it lead to other, equally ridiculous anthologies?

Don’t tempt us.

See you there.

Cover Reveal! Double Edged (Bulari Saga 1)

I’m going to make this quick, because you have books to read and I have books to write.

I’ve broken free from revisions for a minute to say hello, and to share with you some super exciting news.

I know I just released Deviant Flux, but the next Durga System book is coming soon.

That’s right — I have an official release date for the first book of the Bulari Saga, Double Edged.

Yep.

May 31st.

Mark your calendars — or JOIN MY MAILING LIST to get the alert.

Durga Logo skull and crossbones with fedora

The Durga System novellas I’ve been releasing are just the appetizer for this series. For those of you who’ve left reviews on Starfall like…

“I enjoyed this peek into the hopefully amazing and long sci-fi series author Jessie Kwak is building. I’m excited to read more.”

“I got the sense that events set in motion here will get more interesting in later installments.”

“This is a great novella, it shows you a glimpse of a fully realized universe and leaves you wanting to explore it more.”

…YOUR WISH HAS BEEN FULFILLED.

DoubleEdgedFinal

Double Edged

Thala Coeur—Blackheart—is dead.

Willem Jaantzen has been waiting to hear those words for almost twenty years. But he was also hoping they’d hold more satisfaction. Because it turns out his arch enemy has died as she lived—sowing chaos and destruction—and when a mysterious package arrives on his doorstep, he realizes she’s sent him one last puzzle from beyond the grave.

As Jaantzen and his crew are plunged back into a game he thought they’d left far behind, one thing becomes painfully clear: Solving Coeur’s puzzle could be key to preventing the city from crumbling back into another civil war—or it could be the thing that destroys them all.

Because this secret isn’t just worth killing for. It’s worth coming back from the dead for.

Join my mailing list and be the first to know when it’s out.

How to Woo Me

(A version of this post originally went out to my newsletter. Photo by Katarzyna Pe on Unsplash)

My sophomore year of college, my boyfriend at the time surprised me with a sweet Valentine’s Day evening. He invited me over for a home-cooked meal, and he rented a couple of movies:

Serendipity, and Brotherhood of the Wolf.

Brotherhood of the wolf and Serendipity movie covers
One of these is a proper Valentine’s Day Movie.
One was the proper Valentine’s Day Movie to pick out for me.

Serendipity was one of his favorite movies, a charming romcom about the surprising little moments that can bring two people together.

He wanted to share that movie with me — but he also knew I hated romcoms.

Hence Brotherhood of the Wolf.

Now, Brotherhood of the Wolf is my kind of movie: Ridiculous king-fu fight sequences, gory murders, dark secrets, religious cults, werewolves, gritty French period costumes… 

Bring it on.

Over the years my stone cold heart has softened to appreciate a romantic storyline. I’ve voluntarily watched romcoms since. I’ve picked up — and loved — romance novels. 

And, to the horror of my younger writer self, I’ve even written romantic subplots into my books. 

(To everyone who’s read Negative Return and said you want to know what happens to Manu and Oriol, you’ll see plenty more of them in the upcoming Bulari Saga.)

But I still like my romance a bit weird. And with speculative elements.

For example: Behold the One-Minute Time Machine, a short romantic comedy (existential horror?) I could watch again and again.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBkBS4O3yvY

How about you? 

Given the choice between Serendipity or Brotherhood of the Wolf, what’s your pick? Or do you have another fave?

Let me know in the comments.

Looking for Some Hopeful Science Fiction?

Lately, I’ve been in the mood for hopeful science fiction.

Maybe it’s the new year, maybe it’s being in the throes of winter, or maybe it’s just that I’m a bit over SF/F shows and books where everyone stabs everyone else in the back, and the moral is that life’s tough and then you die.

I’m craving hope. Trust. The prevalence of justice. Friendship against all odds.

If you’re craving that as well, this blog post is for you.

These books aren’t necessarily light reads,  but they are the sorts of books where you can expect things to turn out all right at the end. Times may be tough. Hardships may need to be endured. It may be the apocalypse.

But the good guys will probably win, and justice will probably be served.

I’ve included some of my favorite hopeful science fiction books/series here, and I also asked a few friends who are book bloggers/podcasters to help.

If you have any favorites you don’t see on this list, please please let me know in the comments! I love recommendations, so don’t hold ’em back.

Paradox Trilogy by Rachel Aaron

(3-book series)

Paradox Trilogy by Rachel AaronThese books are a ton of fun. Fascinating worlds, a badass main character, and a great will-they-won’t-they love story that races alongside the fast-paced plot.

I devoured this trilogy when I first came across them years ago!

From the description:

If Sigouney Weaver in Alien met Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica, you’d get Deviana Morris — a hot new mercenary earning her stripes to join an elite fighting force. Until one alien bite throws her whole future into jeopardy.

Amazon | IndieBound | Powell’s | Kobo | Nook | iBooks

The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey

(8+ book series)

Expanse by James SA CoreyThe Expanse is another series I fell hard for when I first came across it. If I recall, my husband brought home the first three books as an impulse buy from Powell’s, and we both devoured them, then binged the TV series when it came out.

From the description:

Two hundred years after migrating into space, mankind is in turmoil. When a reluctant ship’s captain and washed-up detective find themselves involved in the case of a missing girl, what they discover brings our solar system to the brink of civil war, and exposes the greatest conspiracy in human history.

Amazon | IndieBound | Powell’s | Kobo | Nook | iBooks

Fallen Empire by Lindsay Buroker

(8-book series)

Fallen empire trilogyI’ve always loved Lindsay Buroker’s writing, and the Fallen Empire series was no disappointment. But what really drew me in was the chemistry of the two main characters, enemies who are forced to work together and eventually develop trust and camaraderie.

From the description:

The Alliance has toppled the tyrannical empire. It should be a time for celebration, but not for fighter pilot Captain Alisa Marchenko. After barely surviving a crash in the final battle for freedom, she’s stranded on a dustball of a planet, billions of miles from her young daughter. She has no money or resources, and there are no transports heading to Perun, her former home and the last imperial stronghold.

But she has a plan.

Steal a dilapidated and malfunctioning freighter from a junkyard full of lawless savages. Slightly suicidal, but she believes she can do it. Her plan, however, does not account for the elite cyborg soldier squatting in the freighter, intending to use it for his own purposes. As an imperial soldier, he has no love for Alliance pilots. In fact, he’s quite fond of killing them.

Alisa has more problems than she can count, but she can’t let cyborgs, savages, or ancient malfunctioning ships stand in her way. If she does, she’ll never see her daughter again.

FYI — the first book is free as an ebook!

Amazon | IndieBound | Kobo | Nook | iBooks

The Indranan War series by K.B. Wagers

(3-book series)

Indranan war trilogyThe instant I saw the cover of Behind the Throne, I desperately wanted to read it. And then I saw this description:

Behind the Throne begins an action-packed new series with a heroine as rebellious as Han Solo, as savvy as Leia, and as skilled as Rey.

Yes, please!

Behind the Throne is dark and violent at times, but what made me love it was the intense bonds of loyalty and trust between the characters. The world may be bleak, but the characters don’t have to face it alone.

Add in a splash of space gangsters, plenty of twisty politics, and detailed descriptions of fashion and meals, and it pretty much hits all my “instant-buy” buttons. So much so that my mom noted Behind the Throne reminded her a lot of my own Durga System books.

Amazon | IndieBound | Powell’s | Kobo | Nook | iBooks

Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers

(3-book series)

Angry planetThe Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers has been making waves for the past few years — and I love this description:

Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space—and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe—in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star.

I have yet to read them, but Cylia Amendolara of BookBarkerSFF highly recommended this series.

Here’s what she had to say:

This is about chosen family (I am a target market for these) and the choices we make when things are hard. It gets to the root of why I love speculative fiction, a fantastic setting to showcase the deep morality of people choosing to do the right thing.

Amazon | IndieBound | Powell’s | Kobo | Nook | iBooks

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

(Standalone novel)

Station ElevenStation Eleven was recommended to me a few years ago by my friend Andrea Rangel, a knitting pattern designer with whom I share a love of good science fiction.

For a novel about the end of the world, it takes a suprisingly optimistic approach about the human capacity to do good in the world, and the importance of art.

I highly recommend it.

From the description:

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

Amazon | IndieBound | Powell’s | Kobo | Nook

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

(Standalone novel)

Space OperaThe first time I saw the cover of Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente, I screamed “Yes!” at my computer. Because I love Valente, and I love Eurovision, and I love a good book title pun.

Space Opera came highly recommended by Cylia Amendolara of BookBarkerSFF. She says:

“Aside from the fact that I did an entire twitter rant on my personal account on why this book is amazing (thread starts here), this book gently feeds you heartbreaking truth and hope in the midst of glitter and pageantry and song (and the possible annihilation of the human race). Cat is a friend and this book is the truest true version of her and I want everyone to love it as much as I love it and her.”

From the description:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy meets the joy and glamour of Eurovision in bestselling author Catherynne M. Valente’s science fiction spectacle, where sentient races compete for glory in a galactic musical contest…and the stakes are as high as the fate of planet Earth.

(Um, what’s not to love about that?)

Amazon | IndieBound | Powell’s | Kobo | Nook

Waypoint Kangaroo by Curtis Chen

(2-book series)

Waypoint kangaroo

If you’re looking for an incredibly funny romp, may I point you toward Waypoint Kangaroo by Curtis Chen? You’ll find Kangaroo, a quirky, vaguely incompetent super-hero spy, alongside a charming cast of characters committed to saving the world.

Plus, it’ll make you laugh out loud.

(Oh! And Curtis has cleverly designed a puzzle into the cover — can you solve it?)

From the description:

Kangaroo isn’t your typical spy. Sure, he has extensive agency training, access to bleeding-edge technology, and a ready supply of clever (to him) quips and retorts. But what sets him apart is “the pocket.” It’s a portal that opens into an empty, seemingly infinite, parallel universe, and Kangaroo is the only person in the world who can use it. But he’s pretty sure the agency only keeps him around to exploit his superpower.

After he bungles yet another mission, Kangaroo gets sent away on a mandatory “vacation:” an interplanetary cruise to Mars. While he tries to make the most of his exile, two passengers are found dead, and Kangaroo has to risk blowing his cover. It turns out he isn’t the only spy on the ship–and he’s just starting to unravel a massive conspiracy which threatens the entire Solar System.

Now, Kangaroo has to stop a disaster which would shatter the delicate peace that’s existed between Earth and Mars ever since the brutal Martian Independence War. A new interplanetary conflict would be devastating for both sides. Millions of lives are at stake.

Weren’t vacations supposed to be relaxing?

Amazon | IndieBound | Powell’s | Kobo | Nook | iBooks

The Murderbot Diaries by Marsha Wells

(4-book series)

MurderbotFor as grim as the title sounds, the Murderbot novellas are truly delightful. The story is told from the point of view of a bored SecUnit who’s hacked its governor module after a traumatic last mission, and who’s determined to keep its humans safe this time around.

Though, it’d much prefer if its humans would just stop doing stupid things so it could watch its soaps instead.

If you haven’t met the Murderbot yet, please allow it to charm you to bits.

From the description:

“As a heartless killing machine, I was a complete failure.”

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid – a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

Amazon | IndieBound | Powell’s | Kobo | Nook | iBooks

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

(5-book series)

hitchhikersLevi Ergott of book review site Epic Grit recommended one of my favorite science fiction series from when I was a college student — if you haven’t already read The Hitchhiker’s Guide, I really recommend you put it on your list.

As Levi says:

“So Adams is pretty cynical, and Earth is blown up in the beginning of the book; but there is a hopeful message despite all of that. With determination, a positive mindset, and a whole lot of highly improbable luck you can fix anything.”

Plus, you’ll learn where all the dolphins went, what to take with you at the end of the world, and what might go through the mind of a bowl of petunias during its final moments.

Oh — and the answer to the question of life, the universe, and everything.

Amazon | IndieBound | Powell’s | Kobo | Nook | iBooks

The Martian by Andy Weir

(Standalone novel)

MartianThis last recommendation comes from Luke Elliott, co-host of the Ink to Film Podcast, a fantastic podcast where writer Luke Elliott and filmmaker James Bailey discuss science fiction and fantasy books along with their film adaptations.

(They have an excellent few episodes where they dissect The Godfather with Fonda Lee, author of Jade City.)

Though Luke admitted to me that he loves grimdark, he says of The Martian, “It’ll leave you feeling optimistic about the future of space-travel and the human spirit!”

Levi Ergott of Epic Grit also recommended The Martian as “one of the latest and greatest takes on the modernist vision — science, human ingenuity, and force of will overcoming all obstacles.”

Amazon | IndieBound | Powell’s | Kobo | Nook | iBooks

Still looking for hopeful science fiction?

Durga Novella CoversMight I humbly suggest you take a look at my Durga System books? They’re full of plucky protagonists, found family, conflicted people making tough choices, rollicking adventures, delicious food, and — of course — plenty of gunfights and explosions.

And you can trust that everyone’s got each others’ backs.

For even more good book recommendations, please also follow the bloggers/podcasters who helped me out with this list!

Cylia Amendolara — BookBarkerSFF (Twitter | Instagram)

Levi Ergott — Epic Grit

Luke Elliott — Ink to Film Podcast

Got hopeful sci-fi recommendations of your own? Leave them in the comments!

What I Learned in My 5th Year as a Freelance Writer

Welcome to my annual review post, where I take a look back at 2018 to see how I make a living as a freelance writer. Read about Year 4 (2017)Year 3 (2016)Year 2 (2015) and Year 1 (2014).

Cover photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash

January 2019 marks five years since I went full-time as a freelance writer.

I got in the habit of cataloging my yearly lessons early on, when I realized so much of the advice that I was seeing out there was from freelancers who had been in the business way longer than I had. I figured this annual series would be a good way to pay forward all the advice I’ve been given to others who are a few steps behind me on the path.

It’s also been an eye-opening exercise for me, personally.

It’s so easy to just go with the flow, keeping your head down and hustling as fast as you can without taking much time to notice where you’re going and how far you’ve come.

Doing a yearly check-in allows me to take a quick breath and check both my progress and my direction.

For example, I didn’t reach many of the goals I set for myself at the beginning of 2018. Some because they were overly ambitious, others because they were part of a business plan I shifted away from.

That’s why I never see my yearly goals as my benchmark for success. They’re more of a roadmap that I plan to follow.

Unless those plans get derailed.

Maybe a project will take way longer than you think it will. Maybe life will get in the way. Maybe a new opportunity presents itself, and it makes more sense to pivot and take advantage of it.

Whatever happens, the goal of a yearly check-in is to take a thoughtful look at the map, and plot the next leg of your journey.

2018: A Year of Production

rawpixel-569600-unsplash
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

For me, 2018 was finally the year that I felt balanced in terms of the amount of time I was able to spend on freelance work versus fiction. I didn’t split my days 50/50 — instead, I was able to carve time around the natural up-and-down flow of client work to write 250,000 words of fiction across three books and a variety of other projects.

That’s 100,000 more than I did in 2017, which is a big boost for me.

Despite my January 2018 goal to publish four novels last year, I didn’t publish a single thing. However, I did get myself set up to a position where I can publish four Durga System novels next year, along with my creative productivity book, From Chaos to Creativity.

(From Chaos to Creativity is coming out with Microcosm Press in Fall 2019.)

As part of boosting my fiction production, I learned how to write faster and more efficiently. In 2017, I had only a single day where my fiction wordcount exceeded 3000 words. In 2018, I had at least a few of those days a month.

2018: The Year of Stress

I may have felt more balanced in terms of the amount of time that I spent on fiction versus freelance work, but I put more hours behind the computer screen in 2018 than the year before.

Back when I was starting my freelance business, I worked full time as a copywriter, then part time in two jobs as a waitress. I did all my freelance work on the side, hustling as hard as I could until it had grown enough to support me.

It was exhausting.

Right now, my fiction business is that side hustle. I’ve become more efficient (and commanded higher rates) in my freelance business, which allows me to go down to about 3/4 time, and gives me some breathing room to grow my fiction business alongside that.

But until my books are successful enough to shoulder some financial burden, I can’t afford to cut down my hours of client work any more.

(Plus, I like my client work!)

So in 2018 I learned to be more efficient with my time, said no to more things, and spent more evenings and weekends writing fiction.

The result is that I felt burned out and exhausted on a regular basis, but I went into 2018 knowing that would be part of the hustle.

For 2019, I don’t want to reduce the amount of time I spend writing fiction, and I can’t reduce the amount of time I spend on client work. But I also know I need to build more leisure time into my schedule if I don’t want to burn out completely.

I’m still working on that one.

Client Analysis: How I Make a Living as a Freelance Writer

I have made my living as a full-time working freelance writer for five years now. It seems incredible to me that I could build a business from scratch and have it sustain me — and not just pay me, but give me the freedom to live the lifestyle I want while making more than I ever did at a desk job.

How I’ve made a living writing has shifted over the years. I don’t love every single client project I say yes to, but I love 90 percent of them — and that’s pretty wonderful.

Here’s where my writing income came from last year

  • Ghostwriting: 37%
  • Website copy: 25%
  • Bylined blogging: 14%
  • Ebooks, white papers, and case studies: 11%
  • Educational guides: 6%
  • Fiction: 1%
  • Teaching: 1%
  • Knitting pattern descriptions: .07%

My goal for several years has been to take on more ghostwriting projects, and as you can see from the percentage above, I’ve been successful. Much of that has been ghost blogging, where I interview a client or a subject matter expert and write a blog post from their perspective. But I also took on my first business book ghostwriting project in 2018.

My total fiction sales doubled from last year, but because my total revenue also went up, the percentage of fiction sales only crept from .07% to 1%. Steadily climbing, which I like to see!

I expect that percentage to jump quite a bit in 2019, since I’ll be releasing at least five books.

Ideally, ghostwriting and fiction would make up the bulk of my income, allowing me to spend my days working on books — whether mine or someone else’s.

How blissful!

How Clients Found Me in 2018

The last few years, I’ve broken down where my clients come from.

From year one, the trend has steadily been from outbound prospecting and answering jobs ads towards inbound leads getting in touch with me.

This year, every single client except for one (who I’ve been working with since Year 2) was an inbound lead.

My marketing tactics in 2018 were primarily to attend networking events and to build my LinkedIn presence so that when people went there searching for a B2B SaaS copywriter or ghostwriter, they found me.

That more than anything has freed up the time I used to spend prospecting and hunting down clients to work on my fiction.

How Much Hustle is Too Much Hustle?

One of the big lessons I learned in 2018 is that I can really only hustle one “side business” at a time. Last year one of my goals was to grow my freelancing ghostwriting business at an aggressive rate while also writing and publishing fiction.

The problem is that I really only have the attention to force growth in one area. If fiction was going to be my side hustle, I needed to be content with where my freelance ghostwriting business was at, rather than pushing myself to tackle that, too.

My ghostwriting business has grown, with new clients reaching out to me via my inbound marketing breadcrumbs, and I have done more ghostwriting this year than in any year past — including my first ghostwritten business book.

But I didn’t have the energy to put into creating intricate content marketing funnels and products, into maintaining an email list, or building up my profile is a thought leader in my industry.

I could instinctively feel that I was spreading myself too thin when I tried to do both. It simply made more sense to concentrate my creative energy in one area and push there as hard as I could, rather than spreading my creative energy scattershot at a bunch of different projects.

That said, I did publish a nonfiction book designed to attract clients, as well as creating a SkillShare course about writing a business book for the same reason.

Screenshot of my SkillShare course, a video still of me talking

Goals for 2019

Learn to ask for help

I’m going to publish at least five books in 2019. Which means that instead of keeping my head down and blissfully writing without telling other humans much about my work, 2019 will be the year I push myself out of my comfort zone and learn how to market — without losing my forward momentum writing new books.

My solution has been to look at ways to outsource. I hired a virtual assistant at the beginning of January to help me with common tasks like transcribing interviews for client work or marketing tasks that I would know I will need to accomplish this year. It’s too early to tell exactly how that’s going to work for me, but I can tell you that since I’ve made the decision to hire a virtual assistant, I’ve felt stressed less already.

Hiring someone doesn’t seem that scary to me. But you know what is?

Asking for help from my network.

Asking a friend to read my book and review it.

Asking my newsletter to share my book with their friends.

Asking a colleague to keep me in mind if they need a copywriter.

2019 is going to be the year I practice asking for help.

Focus my energy

For 2019, I know that my biggest hustle needs to be in marketing the books that I have already written, as well as continuing to put out new words.

As it is, my freelance business is it staying stable, which means I’m fairly confident I’ll have a steady flow of clients and projects even if I don’t do an intense marketing push. If I keep it my usual level of networking and marketing, I should do fine.

But if I let myself get distracted by shiny new projects, I’ll diffuse my creative energy too much to accomplish what I’ve set for myself in 2019. That’s why my goal is to focus my energy on what matters the most this year.

Learn to celebrate

Another lesson I’m taking away from 2018 is to celebrate accomplishments.

In my freelance business, it can like I’m trapped in a cycle: working for the same clients, picking up a new client, being ghosted by an old client, turning in a project then starting work on the next project.

Writing fiction is the same way: finish draft one of the book then send it off to my beta readers and begin draft two of the next book, head into revisions, send it off to my editor while beginning the next book….

I realized I need to start celebrating milestones, otherwise it can feel like it never ends.

For fiction, publication is obviously a great milestone to celebrate. But there’s also the moment when you finish the damn book.

But wait.

Is the book finished when you have a complete first draft? When you send it to your editor? When you get the final copy back from your editor? When you’ve put into the design process? When you are holding the print proof in your hand?

I decided to start celebrating my book as “done” when it gets sent to the editor. That’s because up until that point it doesn’t matter if I have 20,000 words written or three chapters left to revise, the entire process feels amorphous and insurmountable. Creative, confusing, and messy.

But once I have a draft that goes to my editor, the hard work is done. Sure, I’ll have to get my creative brain back out for the edits, but beyond that it’s all procedural. Accept changes, reject changes, put the manuscript into Vellum, upload the files to the distribution sites.

Of course, publication deserves celebration, too. I did a book launch party for my very first novel, Shifting Borders, but haven’t done anything since. It feels too weird to ask a bunch of people to come together with you and to look at this thing you created.

(See “asking for help from my network,” above.)

My husband convinced me I need to throw myself a full-on book launch party with beer and cake and friends and wine and readings, sometime in April to celebrate the release of The Bulari Saga.

If you’re in the Portland area, sign up to my mailing list to learn details when I’m ready to announce the date and time.

2019: The Year of Being Bold

Every year I take a theme. For example, in 2017 my theme was Development, and I poured energy and resources into developing my freelance and fiction skills and business networks.

In 2018, my theme was Production, and I put my head down and did the work.

For 2019, after conversation with fellow writer Kate Sheeran Swed, I decided that this is the year of Being Bold.

Being bold in asking for the help I need.

Being bold when it comes to celebrating the fact that I poured sweat and tears onto the page and have written a series of books I’m incredibly proud of.

Being bold in promoting my work.

Being bold and asking for the freelance rate that I deserve.

Being bold in putting myself in situations that terrified me and saying yes to things I think I’m not qualified for and to introducing myself to people I think I’m not good enough to meet.

All right, 2019.

Let’s do this.

I’m ready.

How was your 2018? Let me know in the comments below.

Read about my Year 4 (2017)Year 3 (2016)Year 2 (2015) and Year 1 (2014).

Deviant Flux [An Excerpt — Chapter 1]

To everyone who’s been asking when I’ll be releasing my next book in the Durga System Series — I have an answer for you:

March 8, 2019

(AKA my birthday.)

That’s still a ways out, so here’s a sneak peek at the first chapter of the sequel to Starfall.

Be sure to read to the end — I have a really exciting offer you won’t want to miss! (Especially if you think March is too long to wait to read the whole thing!)


Deviant Flux cover: A young South Asian woman with magenta hair, looking over her shoulder against a background of a space station

Deviant Flux

A Durga System Novella

by Jessie Kwak

She thought nothing could come between herself and her new family. She was wrong.

It’s been five years since Starla Dusai’s home station was destroyed by the Alliance, and she’s spent every minute searching for evidence that she wasn’t the only survivor.

When she receives a tip that her beloved cousin Mona is alive and well on an astroid station out in Durga’s Belt, she drops everything to find her. Thrust into an unfamiliar world of crime cartels and union politics, Starla soon realizes Mona is caught up in a dangerous plot — and that saving her might just mean giving up the new family she’s come to love.

If it doesn’t get the both killed first.

Read on for the first chapter.


Chapter 1: Starla

The air here is thick with memories.

Starla Dusai breathes deep the sharp tang of oil and sweat, the sweet musk of antifreeze and unwashed bodies passed through the recycler too many times to count: Maribi Station smells like home.

At least, it’s the closest she’s found since she watched Alliance missiles shatter her family home into stars five years ago.

There are differences, of course. For one, there are too many people here, bodies crowded into every corner, in every corridor and doorway, brushing past her from every direction. The air is more electric than in her childhood home of Silk Station, too, geared towards entertaining the thousands of travelers who arrive here to catch shuttles deeper out into the black or farther into Durga’s Belt, or who are waiting for the bigger transports to shuttle them back to the surface of one of the two sunward planets, Indira or New Sarjun.

On Silk Station there was breathing room — even when her parents’ ship was in port and Silk Station swelled with crew, it was all family. And in her new planetside home on New Sarjun, Starla can go for hours without seeing another soul if she wants. In a way, her godfather’s home ebbs and flows just as Silk Station did, especially in the past few years with his soldiers and hired mercenaries flooding in and out, thudding footsteps and the tang of blood in the dry air waking Starla more than once in the middle of the night.

She’s taking the long way to meet Gia at the boxing gym, through Terminal A, which is doubly packed with people this close to the shift change. Starla hopes this will give her better odds of finding the one person she’s desperate to find — even if the press of people is making it more difficult to actually pick an individual out of the crowd.

She hadn’t counted on the newcomers. Terminal A isn’t just packed with station inhabitants today. A ferry from elsewhere in Durga’s Belt has just docked, judging by the glut of travelers shouldering duffel bags and stopping in the middle of the passage to frown at the station transit maps and mouth questions to each other.

Starla slips through them, ignoring the few that seem to ask her for directions.

Her comm buzzes with a message from Gia.

You skipping training?

Starla’s beginning to regret coming this way. She thought heading through a large swath of the population would give her a better chance of spotting her target, but it’s just chaos, a constant swarm of people.

It’s hard to take it all in.

The terminal’s length is lined with shopping and entertainment, callers beckoning from the neon-clad doorways of casinos and brothels and bars — a heady pulse thrums through Starla’s chest as she passes one, and she catches a glimpse of a room packed with bodies and smoke and flashing lights, the mass of people dancing. For Starla, it’s just after lunch. But in such a transient place, you can choose your own time.

So long as you keep moving, it seems. In the stream of Terminal A, she can’t find a single spot to just stand for one second and type out a reply to Gia without being in the way. Somebody always needs to get by, or set something where you’re standing, or open the door you didn’t notice behind you.

It makes her skin crawl. Silk Station didn’t use to make her skin crawl — it fit like a glove. Is it this station in particular? Or is it that she’s become used to wide open spaces after five years living on New Sarjun?

Gia’s message blinks insistently at the edge of her field of vision.

She sidesteps a hawker in religious headgear who clutches at her arm and tries to hand her a saint token, saying something to her around blue-painted teeth. Starla brushes the woman back and slips into the lee of a pile of crates for a second’s breather, grabs her comm.

Be there in 5.

She pushes Send; Gia’s message disappears from her heads-up.

Gia has a thing about timeliness that Starla should probably try to emulate, but she can’t be bothered this trip. Despite being comfortable with the station’s layout, she keeps misjudging the time it will take her to get through Maribi’s labyrinth — and she’s always hesitant to leave off her search.

Because her cousin Mona is here, she knows it. And in her imagination, every instant she turns away from an open doorway, Mona walks past. Near misses, it has to be — she’s been all over this damned station.

And she’s running out of time.

Be here in 2. Had any luck?

Gia’s response blinks on the bottom of Starla’s heads-up. Starla swipes it away without responding, because, no, she hasn’t had any luck. Anyway, Starla can tell Gia in person when she gets to the boxing gym. In five.

Starla stops to scan the terminal, turns to find a woman in a forklift suit yelling at her. Probably to get out of the way so she can get to the crates; words blink at the bottom of her heads-up, the unit’s attempt to transcribe the forklift operator’s diatribe. It’s coming out garbled — maybe she’s got an accent, maybe it’s too loud for the unit to work properly.

Or maybe she’s using too many expletives. One thing Starla has realized on this trip with Gia is that the software isn’t programmed to transcribe swear words. She’ll have to fix that.

Starla waves both hands at the forklift operator — All right, all right. — and ducks back into the throng. She keeps scanning the people passing, out of habit, but doesn’t see anyone who looks like her cousin.

After five years of searching, she’s seen nothing of her family but obituaries. Auntie Faye’s ship was shot down shortly after the attack on Silk Station. Amit was picked up by the Alliance and has since disappeared. Uncle Ro was cornered on the volcanic moon Pele, shot himself before he could be arrested. Deyva hasn’t been heard from in years and is presumed dead.

Her parents and countless others died in the initial attack.

So when one of her godfather’s smuggling contacts saw someone matching the description of Starla’s cousin, Mona, working on Maribi Station, Starla had to see for herself — and fast.

There are still a few bounties on the boards for missing members of the Silk Station diaspora, and others are out there hunting her cousins, her aunts, her uncles. It’s what worries Starla the most, that maybe the reason she hasn’t found any of them is because they’re being snatched up by bounty hunters first, trundled into cargo holds and whisked off into secret Alliance prisons.

Like she’d been shipped off to Redrock Prison right after the attack. She’d had the help of her godfather, Willem Jaantzen, to escape, and now she’ll do anything she can to help the others.

If she can find them.

But there are dozens more Alliance prisons throughout the Durga System.

And a hundred more hub stations like Maribi bored into Durga’s Belt and Bixia Yuanjin’s moons.

It doesn’t matter. Starla will find Mona, even if she has to open every door in this place.

A change in the current of foot traffic catches her attention. Somewhere up ahead, the crush of people is getting more packed on the edges, and individuals are looking up and turning back around, slipping into open doorways, making themselves scarce.

Starla’s been paying so much attention to the faces of the people around her that she’s nearly in the middle of it before she realizes what’s going on: an Indiran Alliance squadron marching through the center of Terminal A, five soldiers with hands on weapons like they think Maribi is theirs to police — or like they’re expecting to stir up trouble. Their riot visors are down and scanning the crowd, and Starla’s mouth goes dry.

She knows what they’re scanning for. Known criminals. Terrorist group members. Exiled freedom fighters. The daughters of notorious pirate families.

She tries not to look frantic, tries to blend in, but she’s caught at the edge of the crowd — even those who aren’t on an Alliance wanted list aren’t too keen to mix up with a troop like this. If she runs, if she pushes through, she’ll only attract more attention.

But in a second she’ll be face to face with the soldiers, and that close, their facial recognition will uncover her for sure.

She’d rather run and look suspicious than get caught — but as she tenses, someone grabs her from behind, pulls her through an open doorway and out of sight.

A hand clamps over her mouth, though Starla doesn’t think she’s cried out. Gia’s been training her well, though, and Starla breaks free in seconds, spins to meet her attacker.

She doesn’t recognize the woman’s face at first, not with the wild mane of magenta hair and the scar slashed across her nose and cheek. But she would recognize the way those hands formed her namesign anywhere.

“Starla,” she signs, “it’s okay. It’s me.”

Mona.

Durga Logo skull and crossbones with fedora


Want More Deviant Flux?

As I mentioned above, Deviant Flux is on its way. In fact — drumroll please! — I’ve set an official release date of March 8th.

Which, you know. Is still a few months out from the actual book getting into your hot little hands.

That’s why I’m SUPER EXCITED to let you, my awesome newsletter subscriber, read it early.

I’ll be serializing the rest of Deviant Flux to my newsletter, sending out a chapter a week for the next 15 weeks.

Want to get in on this action?

CLICK HERE.

You’ll be signed up for the Deviant Flux serial list, and be the first to read the book.

Happy reading!

Jessie

(P.S. What do you think so far? Let me know — I’m so excited to finally be able to share this story with you!)

(P.P.S. Here’s that link again to sign up to get new chapters of Deviant Flux delivered to your inbox.)