Join The Crew!

Want to read my books for free?

Join The Crew!

The Crew is my advanced reader team, which helps me out by reading my books in advance (for free) and leaving reviews so new readers can find the books.

But more than that, The Crew is also a great way for me to reward hardcore fan with free books, giveaways, and other cool stuff.

What you get:

  • All of my Durga System novels and novellas before anybody else — for free!
  • Entry into quarterly drawing for print books and other great prizes.
  • Swag packet that includes buttons, bookmarks, and original art done by yours truly.
  • My eternal gratitude.

How it works: I send you an ebook copy of each new book, 2 to 3 weeks before it’s released. You then leave a review when you get a chance to read it.

(Ideally, close to the launch date. But I know were all busy — so just leave a review whenever you get a chance.)

I’ll be starting with my next book, Negative Return, which will be out at the end of June.

Interested? To join The Crew, just shoot me an email [jessie at jessiekwak.com] with a link to your review of one of my books. That can be on Goodreads, Amazon, or wherever.

A million thanks ahead of time!

Jessie

Celebrating Read Self Published Month with Cover Reveal and Giveaway!

This post is part of the blog tour for Read Self Published Month, when dozens of self-published authors band together to celebrate each others’ work. To find out about all the events — like readalongs and giveaways — check out the Read Self Published Month Facebook page.

Don’t miss my giveaway! Read to the end of this post to find out how to win ebook copies of all three of my books: Starfall, Shifting Borders, and the soon-to-be-released Negative Return.


Hi, I’m Jessie!

I’m a freelance writer and novelist, and this blog is mainly home to my writings about fiction and creativity.

As a reader, what you need to know about me is that I love writing characters who press each others’ buttons and have each others’ backs.

I’m fascinated by the family dynamic — both biological families and found families — and I mostly write stories about deeply flawed people who love each other deeply. Even when they hate each others’ guts.

What can I say — I have a sister.

My first book, Shifting Borders, is the story of two sisters dealing with the aftermath of the younger one’s truly, epically bad decisions. It’s a ghost story and a thriller, but my favorite reviews are the ones that say things like, “I normally don’t read this genre, but found myself hooked by the unfolding relationship between Valeria and Patricia.”

It’s dedicated to my little sister — but although I certainly drew on our childhood angst, it’s in no way inspired by her. If anything, she turned out to be the more responsible one.

My second book, Starfall, is the story of a jaded gangster bent on revenge, and the teenage girl who pulls him back from the brink. It’s a sci-fi adventure, but again it’s more a story about family. Jaantzen and Starla have both lost theirs, but life has conspired to bring them together into a new one — if they so choose.

My third book, Negative Return, is the story of a young bounty hunter who’s about to learn a hard lesson about who you choose to call your crew — and how the people you should trust aren’t always the ones you would expect.

Negative Return is on its way out to the world as we speak. Keep on scrolling to see the cover reveal, and sign up for my mailing list (or follow me on Twitter, @jkwak) to stay in the loop for when it’s released.

My books

Shifting Borders

When a resurrection goes awry in a cold Seattle cemetery, mother-of-three Patricia Ramos-Waites finds herself possessed by the ghost of her sister’s dead lover — and the target of a ruthless drug smuggling gang who are desperate to get their hands on the ghost she’s hosting.

As Patricia struggles to understand both ghost Marco and the danger she’s now in, she realizes this may be her only shot to heal the decades-old rift between herself and her sister.

Shifting Borders was shortlisted for Chanticleer Reviews’ PARANORMAL Book Awards for Supernatural Fiction 2016!

Read the first chapter, and get Shifting Borders in print and ebook here.


Starfall

A headstrong teenager. A world-weary crime lord. A dangerous prison break.

Starla Dusai is fifteen, deaf — and being held as an enemy combatant by the Indiran Alliance. Willem Jaantzen is a notorious crime lord about to end a fearsome vendetta — and most probably his life. When he learns his goddaughter has been captured by the Alliance, will he be able to save her? And her, him?

STARFALL is the first book in Jessie Kwak’s Durga System series, a fast-paced series of gangster sci-fi novellas 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 the first chapter, and get Starfall in print, ebook, or audio here.


Negative Return — cover reveal!

Manu Juric is better at reading people than he is at killing them, but he’s managed to make life as a bounty hunter work so far. Until he goes after his most fearsome target yet: notorious gangster Willem Jaantzen.

After the attempt is horribly botched, Jaantzen spares Manu’s life in exchange for his help on one small heist. As Manu plunges into a web of uneasy dangers, he realizes he’ll need allies if he wants to get out alive — and that the one man he needs to trust the most is the man he’s been contracted to kill.

(Launch date to be announced shortly. Sign up for my mailing list to stay in the loop.)


Read Self Published Month Giveaway!!!

There’s already a massive giveaway in the works for Read Self Published Month (sign up here if you haven’t already), but I’m doing one of my own, too.

Leave a comment on this post, and I’ll randomly choose one lucky commenter to receive ebook copies of all thee of my books.

Thanks for stopping by to learn more about me! Be sure to hit the next stop on the blog tour. Zach Chopchinski started off the blog tour chain here, and Jeanne St. James is up tomorrow!

See all the stops here.

Cheers!

Jessie


Cover photo by Jane Ryder via Unsplash.

STARFALL: Print and Audio Now Available

I’m thrilled to announce that you can now find Starfall in both print and audio, narrated by the wonderful Scott Dai.

You know that thing where you haven’t read one of your stories for a while, and then you pick it up months later and hope it’s still good?

Well, the ebook version of Starfall came out last summer, and it’s taken me this long to get the print and audio versions sorted out. But when I sat down and listened to Scott Dai’s proof files for the audiobook, I was blown away! Both by his narration — he does a fantastic job at capturing the wry humor and cadence of my writing style — but also just by the story itself.

I mean, not to brag, but it’s pretty good.

See for yourself:

(PS, If you like reviewing audiobooks, I’ll have some free review copies to hand out. Leave a comment if you want one!)

A Little Creative Inspiration

I’ve been quite busy the past few months. Between working on some really fascinating projects for clients, I’ve also been cooking up some new stories to share with you all.

You may have seen hints of Starfall, a new novella set in the Durga System if you’re on my email list or following me on social media. That’s with my editor for the final cleanup round, and is scheduled to be published later this month.

I also just turned in a draft of the novel based on the short story Bikes to New Sarjun to Elly Blue at Microcosm — that’ll be on its way to you in 2017.

With those two projects (and one large client project) off my plate, I’m hoping to be around here a bit more to write about productivity and creativity. But if you’re looking for a little inspiration in the meantime, I’ve written several articles for other sites you might find helpful.

The second one – about discovering and protecting your most creative times – seems to have been especially inspiring to people based on the number of social media shares I’ve seen it get.

Happy creating!

News: Book launch party, print books, and giveaway!

I can’t even believe it’s December right now. I know I say that every December, and I’ll probably keep saying it every December for the rest of my life. But seriously, you guys, it’s December.

For me, December is a time of quiet contemplation – liberally seasoned with fevered dashes to finish goals, more events than one calendar can hold, and, normally, an Epic Eastern Washington Road Trip to see all the facets of the family.

This year the road trip will be a little mellower, and so far my calendar isn’t yet full to bursting. Maybe I’ll actually squeeze in some quiet contemplation after all.

So, while were on the subject, how’s your calendar looking?

If you’re not doing anything on December 9th, you should totally add this into it:

Book launch party!

When: December 9th, 2015, 7pm
Where: Alameda Brewing Company, 4765 NE Fremont St, Portland
What: A book launch party for Shifting Borders and A Vanishing Glow
Why: To hear us read, buy some books, drink some free beer, and make merry

My friend Alexis Radcliff, the author of A Vanishing Glow, and I will be hanging out at Alameda Brewing Company with some print books for sale and some pitchers of beer we hope you’ll help us drink.

Alameda Brewing has graciously offered us happy hour pricing on their yummy appetizers, so come hungry and prepare to have fun!

The Facebook invite is here.

Speaking of print books…

…they’re finally available!

Screenshot of Shifting Borders print edition on Amazon

I know some of you have been asking when you’ll have a chance to hold a print copy of Shifting Borders in your hot little hands – and folks, that time is now.

If you’re not too keen on paying for that print copy, though…

A giveaway!

I’ll be giving away one signed copy to a lucky person on my mailing list.

What, you’re not on my mailing list? Well, go put your info in the sidebar for a chance to win. At this point, my newsletter is mainly, well, news, and comes out once or twice a month. I’m currently working on a novella in the Bikes to New Sarjun world which I’ll be serializing exclusively for newsletter subscribers. So rest assured it’ll be worth joining.

Happy December, everybody!

What’s your favorite thing about this time of year?

Get Shifting Borders for $0.99! [through October 31]

It’s here! It’s finally here!

As of this moment, Shifting Borders is available on Amazon. It officially launches on October 31st, but if you pre-order, you can get the e-book for only $0.99.

Pre-order button

Head on over to Amazon to pick up your copy today, and it’ll magically appear on your Kindle on October 31st – just in time for Halloween.

Shifting Borders is a story of how a ghostly possession brings two sisters closer than ever before – perfect spooky reading for the season. If you’re curious to find out more before you bite, check out this blog post to read an excerpt from the first chapter.

Cover Reveal! Shifting Borders [plus excerpt]

I’m excited to announce that I have an official cover for Shifting Borders!

ShiftingBorders-679x1024

It was designed by Eloise Knapp from EK Cover Design, and I think it does a fantastic job conveying the mood of the book.

Writing Shifting Borders and working on the Four Windows project has been a long, exhausting process, and sometimes along the way I’ve forgotten that an actual, finished book will be the result of all this hard work.

This gorgeous cover is a reminder of that.

The manuscript is currently with my editor, Kyra Freestar, after which we’ll finalize the layout and get it ready to launch – appropriately just in time for my favorite spooky month, October.

Sign up for my newsletter to be the first to know when it’s ready to go (and to get biweekly writing prompts and reading recommendations).

In celebration of the cover reveal, here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the novel, wherein Patricia and Valeria quickly find themselves over their heads. I’d love to hear what you think – feel free to shoot me an email, or leave a note in the comments!


Shifting Borders [excerpt]

Patricia Ramos-Waites picked her way through the brackish puddles that passed for a sidewalk in this part of town. Reflected streetlight traced oily slicks in the pitted gravel, and a faint mist gathered on her cheeks and fogged her glasses. The neon sign announcing “Oh Pho” cast an orange hue in the premature evening gloom, but through the windows — papered with peeling, handwritten specials — the restaurant looked empty.

No, not empty. Her sister sat at a table near the door, shredding the label of her Tsingtao. Patricia waved, and Valeria scowled. Fantastic.

“Two small number sixes,” Valeria said to the waitress before rising to kiss Patricia. They were alone in the restaurant, no surprise for a Monday night, given how far it was from civilization. Oh Pho’s regular clientele of commercial truck drivers and warehouse workers had gone home for the night, and it was too far from the artists’ lofts and shops in Georgetown’s main strip to attract the few people that actually lived down here.

“I saw two of your buses go by already,” said Valeria. “You said you’d be here by 5:30.”

Patricia wedged her stuffed backpack into the plastic booth opposite her sister, then slid in beside it. “Work was fine today, thanks for asking,” she said. “We’ve been short-staffed this week, so things are extra busy. How are you doing, Val?” She searched her sister’s face for cracks there — it had only been two weeks since the funeral, and though she’d called daily, Valeria had been putting her off.

She’d be putting her off today, as well. “Jesus, Pati,” Valeria sighed. “Don’t be a bitch. You’re just never late.”

“I can’t make the buses run on time.”

“But you can call.”

So this was how it was going to go. “It’s 5:45, Val.”

“Yeah. And I’ve got places to be.”

“Then don’t let me keep you waiting,” Patricia snapped — and instantly regretted it, but didn’t apologize. Just another snipe-fest between sisters, she thought.

The waitress returned before any more friendly fire could be loosed, two massive bowls of soup balanced on her tray. Valeria set to plucking out her slices of beef while they were still pink, draping them over the side of her bowl. Patricia used her chopsticks to plunge her beef deeper into the boiling broth.

“I need a favor from you tonight, Pati,” Valeria said, shredding basil leaves into her soup without making eye contact. Patricia watched her with a sinking feeling, taking in her sister’s black clothes, the black gloves lying on the table, the faint scent of pungent herbs rising above the anise aroma of the pho.

Nighttime favors meant Resurrections.

“I have to help Ava with her science project,” Patricia said automatically. She reached for the Sriracha, but hesitated when she saw the nozzle’s tip: crusted over and black. Jalepeños would be — Patricia sighed. Would have been fine. Valeria had dumped them all into her bowl, and was busy doctoring her soup into a nuclear accident of gloppy brown plum sauce and safety-orange Sriracha. Chili oil formed a greasy slick across the top.

“It’s important.” Valeria finally looked up. “It’s Marco.”

Patricia’s heart broke for her sister. “Oh, no. No no no.”

“Please, Pati.”

“Do you have a permit? A court order? Because how will you explain to my kids that their mom has to go to jail over an illegal resurrection? Val, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry he’s gone.” She reached across the table, took Valeria’s cold hand in hers. The nails were ragged, chewed to the nub like Valeria used to do when they were girls. They were painted a cafe con leche color which nearly matched her own skin, a subdued tone that worried Patricia. Everything about Valeria had been more subdued since Marco’s accident.

And then the hand was gone. “Wouldn’t you have brought Joe back if you could have?”

That stab, unfair and unexpected, sliced neatly through six years of emotional scar tissue. “Joe is in Heaven,” Patricia said quietly. “Why would I bring him back from that?”

“What if you knew he wanted to come?”

“You can’t speak to the dead in their graves.”

“You can if they want to be spoken to.” Valeria met her gaze, eyes fierce and tear-bright, smoky eye makeup smudged around the lids. The restaurant’s neon open sign called out the reddish tones in her dark hair, but her curls hung limp, and her lips were chapped under the silver gloss she wore. “When I go out to his grave, I can sense him, just a little bit. He’s waiting there. He wants me.”

“But do you have the legal paperwork?” Patricia stabbed at her soup with her chopsticks. Legally, a few ghosts were allowed to come back, mostly to help solve unsolvable cases or clear up disputes over wills. Illegally…. Patricia didn’t want to know. Valeria had been selling her body for years to a local Mexican Resurrectionist, acting as a Host for the spirits he brought back. Valeria claimed that they only worked the lucrative court contracts, but Patricia knew her better than that.

Valeria hesitated, and Patricia could see her practicing the lie. But then she sighed. “No. I don’t. This is entirely for me.”

“Then I can’t help you.”

“Patricia, is it a crime to bring back the man I love? When he wants to be with me?”

“You said you were done with the illegal stuff. I’m not bailing you out of jail again.” Patricia struggled to get a grip on a slippery piece of tendon, but her hand was shaking too badly to hold the chopsticks steady. Droplets of broth spattered the table when the morsel hit the soup’s surface. “I won’t help you.”

“I’ll be careful,” Valeria said. “No one will ever know.”

Patricia sighed. “Why do you need me? What about your Mexican guy?”

“Lucho’s a businessman. He won’t do a resurrection for free, and I can’t pay him.”

A chill traced itself down Patricia’s spine. “So you’re going to—“

“I’ve done it before. I’m not just hosting for him now — he’s taken me on as an apprentice. I’ve done the last few resurrections on my own.”

“Val.” Patricia almost reached to take her sister’s hand again. “Come over tonight. Adrian’s at an away game, Ava’s got her science project to keep her busy, and I think I might even have a bottle of wine somewhere. You can stay over.”

“I can’t, it has to be tonight.” Valeria slurped a quick spoonful of broth, coughed on the chili sauces.

In the kitchen, the waitress and the cook were talking loudly in Vietnamese, pots banging as they cleaned up from the day. Calling this Monday night a bust, Patricia thought. Ready to go home to their own families just as soon as the Ramos sisters finished their meal. Patricia was suddenly very tired. “He’s dead, Val,” she said after a moment. “He won’t be the Marco you loved.”

“You haven’t seen them, the way people are when they’re reunited. The spooks are just as thrilled as the clients. I’ve made so many people happy, Pati. When do I get to be happy?”

“Val, this is stupid. You have to move on.”

“Yeah, like you did? You still wear Joe’s goddamn ring, Pati.” She dug into her purse, and threw a ten dollar bill on the table. “Forget it. Forget I ever asked you anything.”

“Valeria, wait.” Patricia grabbed her wrist, and Valeria didn’t try to pull away. “Promise me…”

“Promise you what.”

Promise me you won’t disappear without a trace this time, Patricia wanted to say, but that would only spark a fight she didn’t have the energy for. “Promise you’ll talk to me before you do anything rash.”

Valeria pulled away. “I am fucking talking to you, Pati.” She shrugged her purse over her shoulder and slammed the door as she left.

*

Forest Lawn Cemetery was a ten minute drive from Patricia’s house in White Center — less, the way Valeria was driving. “Slow down,” Patricia hissed, gripping the door handle with all her strength. “If you get pulled over, I don’t know how you’ll explain that to them.” She gestured at the duffel bag in the back seat. She had only a vague idea of what it contained, but it smelled sweet and foul as rotting fruit. “What’s the hurry? He’s not going anywhere.”

Valeria’s jaw tightened. “No hurry,” she said, but she glanced once more in the rearview mirror, and the speedometer crept slightly higher.

They parked a few blocks away, where no one would remark on an extra car, and stepped past the heavy chain that blocked the cemetery’s driveway. The earlier mist had shifted to a light rain, which was already soaking through the black Highline Pirates hoodie Patricia’s oldest son had left at home. Her only rain jacket was baby blue, and had been summarily vetoed by Valeria.

Rows of flat headstones tufted the well-manicured lawn, following the gentle contours of the hills. Trim Japanese maples dotted the grounds, and a few oaks stretched dark silhouettes against the low clouds. Persistent clouds meant Patricia hadn’t seen the moon for over a week, but the city lights infused the fog with the faintest of glows, illuminating their way. Barely.

Marco’s grave was in the northeast corner — far from the road, Patricia saw with relief, tucked near the strip of wild brambled forest that covered the ridge’s steep eastern shoulder. 

A waist-high fence separated the civilized dead from the disordered urban forest, and overhanging branches afforded them just enough cover from the rain. The toes of her sneakers squelched in sodden fresh turf.

Patricia shivered, realizing she was standing on Marco’s grave. She stepped aside.

Valeria’s duffle bag clinked as she set it down. She stooped to brush the leaves and grass clippings off the stone:

Marco Caruso

1975 — 2014

“Who will Marco be when you bring him back?” Patricia whispered, and Valeria stiffened but did not answer.

Valeria’s face glowed in the flame of her lighter; her jaw was set, her eyes flashing steel. She lit a pair of candles on the headstone, then a propane camping lamp. She shook a pair of coals onto a grate over the flame. “Stop looking over your shoulder. You’re making me nervous.”

“I thought the cops were cracking down on illegal resurrections.”

“The cops around here have drug deals to watch for. They’re not out patrolling the cemeteries.” Strain as she might, Patricia couldn’t see the gate over the rise of the hill — still, she felt exposed and nervous. Valeria looked up from her careful arrangement of…bones? Patricia shivered. “It’s fine, Pati. I’ve done this dozens of times. Hold this.” She handed her the flask of vile smelling liquid, and Patricia held it at arm’s length. She tried to force herself to relax.

The candles on the headstone sputtered as fat raindrops splashed down through the branches. It was never any use to talk sense into Valeria when she had a plan. When they were kids she’d nearly drowned after breaking into a neighbor’s swimming pool in Managua — Patricia had refused to go with her, and Valeria had snuck away to go on her own.

Their father had been angry with them both, but it was Patricia who’d gotten the spanking for not watching out for her little sister. Granted, Valeria had been in the emergency room, but the injustice still smarted.

Patricia had seen that same determined look in Valeria’s eye tonight. “What do you need me to do?” she asked, afraid of the answer.

“I’ll do all the ritual, don’t worry about that. I just need you to hand me things when I need them, and to break the circle if anything goes wrong.”

“Scalpel, stat,” Patricia said, trying to laugh. She shivered instead.

“Normally the Resurrectionist summons a spirit into a Host, but I’ve been reading about modifications to the spell that let a Resurrectionist call the spirit directly into herself.”

“Reading?”

“I’ve done the original spell before, and the variation isn’t tricky. You’re here just because if anything goes wrong, I’ll need you to break the circle. Here.” Valeria dumped the now-lit coals into a censor like they used in Catholic churches, and handed it over to Patricia with a pair of tongs and a baggie full of some sweet-smelling herbs. “If anything goes wrong, just dump the herbs onto the coals, erase part of the circle with your foot, and put a coal in each of my hands.”

“Val—“

“Nothing’s going to go wrong. But if it does, you just dump the herbs, break the circle—“

“And put a burning coal into each of your bare hands,” Patricia said. She swallowed.

“Right. And keep an eye out.”

“For the security guard?”

“Sure.” Valeria swung her gaze over the cemetery, searching. When she seemed satisfied that they were alone, she lay down over the grave, her head resting just below the stone. She began to whisper at first, in Spanish oddly accented from years forgetting their native tongue, and then relearning it at the hands of her Mexican Resurrectionist. She seemed tense at first, hands clenched on her belly, but as she spoke she slowly relaxed, drawing her palms down over her hips, smoothing her dress in a way that seemed both self-conscious and sensual. Water began to seep up out of the fresh turf, darkening Valeria’s dress, cradling her hips like ghostly fingers. Patricia shivered.

Valeria’s voice fell to a whisper, and then she fell silent though her lips still moved. Patricia leaned closer, trying to make out the words. The salt ring glimmered a brief moment, then went dull once more. A faint play of light flashed over the wall of foliage beyond the edge of the cemetery.

Patricia looked up, startled.

Valeria’s hands clutched the grass, fingers worming their way into the fresh soil, her back arching, shoulders writhing against the headstone.

The light came again, stronger.

It could be the headlights of a car, maybe, someone turning down a residential street? The foliage above them lit up again. Flashlight.

Patricia’s mouth went dry.

“Valeria,” she whispered, but her sister didn’t seem to hear. “Valeria.” A breeze stirred the grass inside the salt circle, toyed with the ends of Valeria’s hair. The air around Patricia was still.

The beam of light came again, stronger now. The police. Patricia’s mind whirled as she thought up excuses, but there was no excuse that could explain away what they were so obviously doing. Oh, Lord, her job, her kids. The church. “Valeria!”

Her sister moaned.

Patricia glanced back over her shoulder and caught a glimpse of a small group in the distance, rough voices, laughter muffled by the fog. A hint of cigarette smoke drifted on the breeze before them.

Not the police.

“Valeria, we have to go.” Patricia hesitated, her foot poised over the line to erase it. What would breaking the circle right now do to her sister?

As if in response to the thought, Valeria’s body arched violently away from the ground, her face screwed into a silent scream. A trickle of black blood seeped from one nostril, and when she opened her eyes, the whites were colored an unholy pink.

Patricia fumbled for the brazier. She dashed her foot across the salt line, feeling a hurricane force of wind tear into her as she did. Her hair whipped across her eyes. She grabbed for Valeria’s hand, plucked a fiery coal from the censor.

The stench of burned flesh stung her nostrils as she dropped the first coal into Valeria’s hand — her sister gasped, flinging it away to hiss in the wet grass.

“Can’t take him,” Valeria whispered. “I almost—“

“Hey, hey, what you doing?” A shout came from behind them. “Ramos?”

The men were running, now, the glowing butt of a cigarette flicked into the grass, the silhouette of a handgun against the fog.

Patricia grabbed Valeria’s hands, tugging desperately against her sister’s dead weight. “No, no no nooo,” Valeria gasped. Her body arched again, wrenching violently as her heels dug into the fresh turf above Marco’s grave. She screamed, piercing the night.

Patricia pulled once more with all her might, dragging her sister’s writhing body past the salt line.

She gasped as an ice-cold wind rushed through her, then searing heat; her body suddenly felt too tight.

Too tight, yet surprisingly strong. She yanked her sister to her feet and half-carried, half-dragged her toward the cover of dense brush at the edge of the cemetery.

A gun shot rang out. Bark splintered off the oak above them. Someone let off a stream of curses. “Don’t kill her, pendejo!”

Patricia boosted Valeria over the fence, then vaulted it herself, tumbling into a clutching Oregon grape that clawed at her baggy sweatshirt. She grabbed Valeria’s arm, propelling her through the underbrush like a reluctant toddler, heedless of blackberry thorns and slapping wet ferns, sliding ever downward through the sloping underbrush.

Now running, now tumbling, until Patricia’s shins hit against the trunk of a fallen tree and she dropped, stifling a cry. She wriggled her way between the tree and the sodden earth, hugging her sister tight to her, hand clamped over Valeria’s mouth.

Valeria shook uncontrollably, but whether from fear or cold — or from the spell — Patricia couldn’t tell.

The crashing pursuit continued a few minutes longer, the men calling to each other, the beams of their flashlights streaking terrifyingly close to where the Ramos sisters lay. After a long while the sounds faded to silence.

Patricia stayed still, unsure if they had actually left; the chorus of rushing blood in her ears and her sister’s ragged breath muffled all other sounds. A stone dug into her ribs. When she could bear it no more, she lifted her weight onto just one shoulder, shifting so her hand could brush away the stone.

A twig snapped. Less than ten feet away.

She froze, her heart pounding.

“Val. Valium, baby.” The same man who had shouted earlier was wheezing now, his voice raspy from liquor and smoke. “I know you’re in here somewhere. I know you can hear me, and you know what I want. I’m gonna send one of my boys to see you tomorrow. Call me in the morning, we talk and I’ll send Charles. But sweetheart, you think you’re smart, you try to lay low? I’ll send Javier.”

He waited as though expecting a response, but damned if Patricia was going to give him one. Valeria’s breath came ragged and hot under Patricia’s hand.

After what seemed like eternity, Patricia heard him clamber, swearing, back through the underbrush.

Patricia gripped her sister tight a while longer, her cheek wet with Valeria’s tears, Valeria’s fingers curled in her hair, her own fingers digging into the wet thin fabric of Valeria’s dress. Valeria was shivering, flighty tremors that slowly grew into sobs.

The rich black earth reeked of decay, the slick mat of waterlogged leaves beneath them rotting back into soil. Something crawled over Patricia’s hand. It had started to rain in earnest now, gathering in the leaves, dripping in fat drops onto Patricia’s back.

“We should go,” Patricia said finally, but she couldn’t make herself move. She should be afraid, she should feel cold, but the only sensation Patricia was aware of was joy, elation at finding herself in Valeria’s arms. :val, valvalval:

Something stirred deep within her, its attention pulsing toward Valeria. She stroked her sister’s back, brushed her lips against her cheek.

“I failed, Pati,” Valeria said after a long moment. “There’s no second chance. He’s gone forever.”

Patricia kissed her sister’s forehead, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. Warm, vital blood rushed in her veins. “It’s OK, babe,” she heard herself say. “I’m here.”

A pressure, like the pulsing ache of an anxiety attack, began in Patricia’s chest, like her ribcage was too tight, her lungs carved of stone. She forced herself to take deep breaths, pushing against the pain.

“They wanted Marco,” she heard Valeria say. “And they probably got him.”

“What?” The pressure inside her chest swirled, fluttering against her ribcage. A wave of clammy heat broke over her, and she tugged at the throat of her hoodie, trying to breathe. Nausea, throbbing head, hot flashes, Patricia ticked off the symptoms, trying to remember if she’d hit her head. She pushed Valeria away from her and scrambled out from beneath the fallen tree, just in time to revisit her earlier meal of pho.

Patricia wiped her lips on the sleeve of the now-filthy hoodie. Sorry, Gabe.

“You OK, Pati?”

Valeria’s voice swam to her as though through water. “Who were they?” Patricia asked, and Valeria started to answer, in that hedging way when she was trying to lie without lying. Patricia couldn’t make out her words — they sounded muddled, echoey, and Patricia fought down her rising panic. I think I have a concussion, she tried to tell her sister, but her lips wouldn’t move. I think. . . . And the pressure — the presence? — in Patricia’s chest stopped fluttering. It shifted, just ever so slightly.

:who?:

“I’m Patricia,” she whispered. “Who are you?”

Valeria stopped mid-sentence. “Pati? Oh, shit. Pati?”

Patricia could feel her sister’s hands on her face, hear her frantic voice, but all she could focus on was the swirling voice in her head. :whowhowho?: The world went black.


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Pedal Zombies Kickstarter – get your copy now!

I was on a road trip with my husband last summer when I checked email on my phone, and saw Elly Blue’s latest call for submissions. It was for her third volume of feminist bicycle science fiction, Bikes in Space, and the theme was zombies.

I groaned. Zombies? I hate zombies. I had stories in both Bikes in Space Volume 1 and Volume 2 (you can read my stories for free on my free stories page), but . . . Zombies?

“Just imagine all the cool zombie-fighting bike gear you could have,” said my husband, a bike company rep. “You could have bikes with flame throwers, and pedals with spikes on them, and. . . .”

By the time we got to our destination, I’d sketched out a rough draft of my story, cracking myself up the entire time. I turned it in to Elly a few days later.

You see, as a former catalog copywriter, I couldn’t help but ask myself,

How would the Creative Department of a catalog company weather the Zombie Apocalypse?

My story is titled: “Notes to Creative on the Fall 1 Catalog: Zombie Apocalypse Special Edition,” and it’s dedicated to the entire creative department of Chasing Fireflies – Cathy, Jeff, Mechas, Amy, and all the rest.

It’s told in the form of a series of emails from the head of Creative to her team, who are diligently working their asses off to put out the best Fall 1 Special Edition catalog they can as things slowly go to hell around them.

I had a ridiculous amount of fun coming up with new products, such as the XLC LazerBlade® Mini U-Lock, Burley BearCub Armored Baby Trailer, and Showers Pass Zombies Pass FlakJacket.

If the zombie apocalypse ever does come to pass, let it be known that I expect a cut of profits made from the ZAP-13 UltraVolt, a gravel grinder bike where endurance race geometry combines with the latest in long range electroshock weaponry for a high-voltage, high-adrenaline off-road bike. (Colors: Citrus, Aqua.)

Are you prepared to read about the zombie apocalypse?

Check out the for Pedal Zombies Kickstarter here, and hear an important message from the Zombie-Living Alliance (ZLA)

The official description of the book:

In the not-so-distant future, when gasoline is no longer available, humans turn to two-wheeled vehicles to transport goods, seek glory, and defend their remaining communities. In another version of the future, those with the zombie virus are able to escape persecution and feel almost alive again on two wheels. In yet another scenario, bicycles themselves are reanimated and roam the earth. A talented array of writers bring their diverse visions to this volume: sometimes scary, sometimes spooky, sometimes hilarious, always on two wheels.

The zombie apocalypse will be pedal-powered! And feminist! Watch out!

Edited by Elly Blue and featuring an exciting and talented collection of new and returning authors. Scary zombie cover by Amelia Greenhall.

Advice for new freelance writers

I am so behind the times on this,

but Carol Tice of Make a Living Writing and the Freelance Writer’s Den has a new ebook out:

Start Here: 40 Freelance Writers Share How They Find Clients, Stay Motivated and Earn Well Today

It’s a collection of blog posts from Make a Living Writing, all by new freelancers and the lessons they’ve learned while getting started – including an essay by me!

My post, How One Freelance Writer Broke Into Her Dream Niches is all about my strategy to break into new niches by strategically leveraging the experience I already have.

There’s a lot of information out there from old hat freelancers who’ve been doing this forever – and while I think that’s helpful, it’s way more inspiring to me to read about how people at my level are making things work.

You can read my full post at the link above – and if you’d like more of the same advice, I highly recommend you buy the ebook. It’s only $3.99, and you can get it by scrolling down.


Start Here: 40 Freelance Writers Share How They Find Clients, Stay Motivated and Earn Well Today

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Start Here: 40 Freelance Writers Share brings together the best success stories featured on the Make a Living Writing blog over the past three years – including one by yours truly!

This e-book brings you more than 150 pages of advice from over 40 freelance writers, most of whom are new to the field. It’s a compendium of practical tips on how to find those first gigs, move up to great-paying clients, negotiate a better deal, use social media to find clients, and much more.

P.S. When you purchase Start Here: 40 Freelance Writers Share, I’ll send you a bundle of all three popular e-book formats with your purchase — PDF, Mobi and ePub. Read, use, and enjoy on the device of your choice.

Just $3.99!

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