writing

WIP Wednesday: My Sexual Superhero

By popular demand! Today’s WIP Wednesday brings you another snippet of “My Sexual Superhero,” which is very much a work in progress. The title, as I’ve already had to explain twice, is a bit of a misnomer as neither character is an actual superhero, though Jessan certainly thinks Felipe is talented between the sheets. I may end up changing the name just to avoid spoiled expectations!

At this point, I’m definitely fighting to keep the story throttled back under 20,000 words. I tend to do better character work, especially contemporary, when I have more room to stretch out and get under their skin. Will keep at it and see where these boys bring me!

    “Jessan Pierce would rather spend the night with his Doctor Who collection having tea out of the Tardis than go dancing, but his best friend Maria knows what he really needs is to shake off the doldrums and get out of his well-worn groove. Felipe de la Rosa is just his type, short, well-built, and as ready with a smart-mouthed quip as he is to take his shirt off. The chemistry that works great between the sheets seems to fizzle outside the bedroom, though, and Jessan may prove too chicken to take the chance to put himself out there with Felipe, as well as the other big leap he’s facing in his life.”

“Drinks?” Jessan asked, leaning forward to speak right into Marina’s ear. He did better not only with dancing but clubbing in general when he had a few drinks in him.

She nodded, altering course to head for the bar, which was packed and understaffed. There were only two bartenders, a dark-haired man at one end, a blond woman closer to them holding up a silver shaker and looking out over the crowd with a set, almost grim expression, the look of an overworked employee staring into the deep end of a long night.

“This is going to take forever!” Marina did an about face and shoved cash into his hand. “Get me a vodka cranberry, and I’ll find you!”

“Bullshi—” Jessan began to protest, but she was already gone. He cast his eyes up, caught sight of the dim mirror ball that was raised up unused for the evening, and shuffled forward to join the queue with a shrug.

While he was musing over whether he let himself get suckered into things because he wasn’t assertive, or he lacked assertiveness because he was constantly suckered into things, a hard shoulder collided with his and Jessan lurched forward.

“Shit! I am so sorry, man!” Hands reached out to steady him, and Jessan turned, brow gathering in a glare.

His squint shifted to one of instant appraisal. From the impact he’d expected someone taller, more muscular, but his assailant was close to his height, and his type in all the ways he hadn’t seen in a while. He was short, dark, and brown, though his features had a distinctly Asian cast. Jessan schooled himself to disinterest; all of the Asians on campus tended toward aggressive Christianity, clubgoing or not.

“No worries,” Jessan said. “So long as you didn’t do it on purpose.”

Short and Dark leaned in closer, flashing a smile that displayed teeth in stark contrast as his eyes went up and down Jessan. “And if I did?” he asked. His hand remained a warm presence on Jessan’s shoulder. “And was looking for an excuse to make conversation?”

Jessan’s brain was forced to backpedal on his assumptions, and he stood gaping like a flounder as he tried to come up with a response. He shook his head a little, laughed and decided not to accuse the guy of a terrible method of coming onto someone, and managed the very with-it reply of “Uhh …”

“Nice shirt!” Short and Dark complimented him, smoothing right past Jessan’s awkward non-answer. His eyes skimmed from Jessan’s chest and upward until he made eye contact again, and smiled.

That put Jessan on more familiar territory. “Oh?” he said, somewhat wary. People had recognized the pop culture references before, but tended to think they looked cool or missed the thrust of the shirt’s design.

“Yeah, Captain Jack’s my favorite—and having him cosplay Captain Sparrow is about five kinds of awesome. Makes you wonder which would be more slutty.”

Jessan beamed at him. Whether Short and Dark had knocked into him on purpose or not, getting the t-shirt’s visual pun had endeared him to Jessan forever. “Right?” he said. “My friend says I wear too much Tee Fury stuff, but I’m kind of an addict.” He shifted in place, wondering if he should turn around and make sure he maintained his place in line, or introduce himself.

The dilemma was solved when a hand was offered to him. “I’m Felipe.” Warm, dark eyes surveyed him.

“Jessan.” He took Felipe’s hand and shook it, enjoying a glow that had nothing to do with the drinks he’d thought he needed. An insecure corner of his head told him exactly what Felipe was seeing: the skinny half-black, half-Persian kid with cornrows and geek gear, too insecure to wear any of the more flattering clothes his female friends attempted to push on him. He was in a t-shirt and jeans and combat boots, and got mistaken half the time for a butch lesbian. Jessan took the conscious initiative to tell that part of his brain to buzz off; adults were talking. And if he hadn’t misinterpreted the interest, adults might be hooking up.

“Not a fan of club gear, then, Jessan?” Felipe asked, stepping into his space and guiding Jessan along with the flow of the queue shuffling toward the bar.

The move reminded Jessan of dancing, and he was caught between that and the notion he was being subtly derided. There was nothing mocking in Felipe’s face, at least, so he treated it like a question with no mean intent.

“I’m not much of a clubbing person, no.” Jessan waved a hand around to encompass the noisy, dark interior and wrinkled his nose at the cramped dance floor. Before he could go off on a rant, he caught himself and hauled his remarks into politer territory. “Uh, but, yours looks good!” He allowed himself to look.

On Felipe, ‘club gear’ wasn’t doing it justice. It was more like he’d walked out of Jessan’s wet dream catalogue. Besides being in Jessan’s height range, short by anyone else’s standards but perfect for him, Felipe had dark hair gelled up into wayward spikes, brown skin set off to advantage by a silver tank that bared his arms, collarbones, and a glimpse of belly, and skintight patterned leggings that weren’t underwear, but left very little to the imagination. It gave Jessan brief flashbacks to David Bowie in tights and his early realization of where his attractions lay.

“Likin’ the angle of the dangle?” Felipe asked, cocking his head.

“Did you just … quote The Losers at me?” Jessan was stupefied. He’d never known a guy with Felipe’s attractiveness index to have anything to do with that movie; at least, not the gay ones.

Felipe’s faint smile widened. “Yeah, I did. It was a sneaky way of letting you know I noticed you checking me out.”

Maintaining Visibility: How Often to Publish?

Conventional wisdom from authors attending the Gay Romance Northwest meet-up covered the subject of how often an author should publish in order to stay on the readers’ radar. The answer surprised me: there’s a push to publish quarterly to stay on top.

I am a prolific writer myself, but the thought of putting out something every quarter seemed pretty exhausting. After all, the process involves brainstorming, turning out a first draft, going back for the first edit, submitting, doing another, potentially more extensive edit for pre-publication that might involve re-writes, and galley approval. All of that for one manuscript–then the prospect of juggling four (or more!) manuscripts a year can be overwhelming.

That led me to take a look at my own experiences over the past year and a half. I started out submitting three manuscripts right out the gate. By the end of the year I’d submitted two more and gotten them accepted. Fireborn came out last summer, Signal to Noise came out in autumn, From the Inside Out in December. This year, I’ve had the three volumes of Appetite staggered from March to May to July, and Courage Wolf Never Sings the Gorram Blues made its serial debut in May, and its anthology debut last week. Convergence comes out next week, and The Fall Guide will come out in December. In the meantime, I have Body Option, The More Plausible Evil, and Klaxon at the Core accepted and going through various parts of the editing process. And I’ll be starting Dragonspire next month! Not to mention, I have other short stories planned for anthologies or collections due at the end of the year and beyond.

No wonder it feels like writing is its own part-time job, on top of my already full time employment.

So, without intending to or planning for it, I seem to have positioned myself for that ideal “publish quarterly, or around that” philosophy. At least for the first couple of years!

Now I ask the question: is it really necessary? Are readers so fickle or easily distracted that an author needs to keep up with the demand and publish quarterly, or lose their readers?

When I was younger, I remember waiting years in between books for certain authors. Most notably, I think the longest I ever waited for an author was Melanie Rawn, and her next published title was a huge break from her previous work. It was more of a contemporary urban fantasy, where before she had been working on otherworldly epic fantasy, vast in worldbuilding and political scope and, I think, a trilogy that will remain forever unfinished. That aside, authors worked in the framework of years as opposed to the go, spend, buy consumer culture we have going on today, and I was accustomed to waiting at least two years between books for the “big name” authors.

The landscape of m/m fiction seems to come with different expectations. Regardless of what the big name authors say, I think it’s good advice for someone getting newly established, like myself, to make a push to get something published on a regular basis to get your name out there.

At the same time, in my opinion I think it’s also important to pace yourself, and make sure you and the people you’re working with are satisfied with the quality of the material you’re putting out there. When you rush something to an artificial deadline, no matter the reason whether it’s keeping your name out there or just a determination not to change dates, it’s all too easy to make mistakes in the process, whether re-writes are part of it or not.

When you feel rushed, stressed, or under the hammer to produce, that’s also when the quality starts to suffer. And that’s definitely when it’s time to take a break. Whether you’re getting yourself established or already at the top, telling the best story that you can is what really matters. Everything else falls into place from that.

What You Can Do (Yes, You!) to Grow the Genre, Part Two

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about what you, and everyone, can do to grow the gay fiction genre. And really by gay fiction genre I mean the entire QUILTBAG spectrum. You can visit here for a refresher if you need one, but the upshot is to request gay fiction at your local libraries. Yes, even if you’ve already read or own the titles! If you read and enjoyed it, so much the better–because someone else may, as well.

At the end of that entry, I promised to provide a follow up on what more you, and all of us, can do to keep growing the genre. And like Part One, it is almost too simple to be true.

Buy the books!

When you buy them, you’re showing the publishing companies with your dollars where you want to see more product. Do you love m/m romance? Buy more! Do you love genderqueer fiction? Buy it up when you see it! Looking for titles focused on lady-love, or trans* characters? Fork over that cash! And if you can’t spend your own dollars, ask your library to buy it for you. Put it on your wish list. Or get it with your Amazon gift card or birthday/holiday money or tax return.

Spending your money on something, or getting someone else to spend money, on books, results in the publishers turning right around and investing their dollars in more authors that write for that genre. So if you’re really digging post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction with bisexual heros and strong genderqueer sidekicks and you’re lucky enough to see one, snap it up! (And point me to it, I’d read the hell out of it.)

Okay, that’s going a bit far afield, but more generally: do you support f/f? Buy it! Do you want to see more trans* fiction? There’s an anthology coming out next year–buy it! Do you think we need more literature that’s generally inclusive of the entire spectrum? When you see it, buy it!

Supporting what you want to read with your dollars is only part of the equation, though. Because there’s more you can do to spread the word.

Read the books!

Uh, why do I even have this as a step? Isn’t that a given? You would think so, wouldn’t you! But if you’re anything like me, you have a pile of books on your e-reader and a pile of physical books lurking on that shelf over there. And the one over there. And maybe even the one upstairs in the computer room. What? I’m a book pack rat. I have books I bought years ago that I haven’t even read yet.

Hence me including this step. When you buy those books, read ’em! They’re not doing any good sitting there on the shelf–make the time! (Or skip the extra helpings of Cracked listicles. I may or may not have worked that reference in just because I like the word listicle.)

It’s important to take breaks from tasks, whether you’re a writer, a mom, a stockbroker, or a workaholic of any stripe. Take a half hour out of your evening and pick up a book.

Or heck, leave it in the bathroom for that particular daily trip. Only you and the book will know, and the book gets read regardless.

Review the books!

This is where you put your mouth where your money has been. Because there is, indeed, more you can do to support the genre than simply pouring your dollars into it.

Why rate the books?

So other people will see whether you liked them, and potentially get interested in new authors or books they may like, as well!

Your rates and reviews matter. They provide other readers with information that helps them decide whether they’re going to spend their hard-earned cash on someone’s book. People tend to look at ratings, and they also look at reviews as well.

You don’t have to write an essay. You can write a sentence or two. You can keep it simple, so long as you convey whether you liked a book, and what you liked (or disliked) about it. You can let other readers know whether there was something that should have been warned for, and wasn’t; you can let other readers know if there was something especially delightful, or something that grabbed you and wouldn’t let go.

How can this possibly help? By spreading the word! People find out about new books through word of mouth as much as stalking publishers and authors they enjoy. Why do you think Goodreads connects to Twitter? So you can let other people know about your three, four, or five star reviews, of course. (I’m looking at it optimistically, I like doing that.)

So keep calm. Buy the books. See also: get the library to buy the books. And spread the good word.

Because the more they hear about it, the more everyone hears about what we want to read, the easier it gets to buy it. I don’t think QUILTBAG fiction will ever be mainstream, no, but I do think the industry is getting big enough to give other publishing paradigms a run for their money. There is so much more variety, so many more incredible stories featuring non-straight characters than there was when I was a kid. I love that! But I think we can do better, and there’s a ways to go.

Buy the books.

Read the books! (Duh.)

And spread the good word.

Three simple steps to keep our genre growing in a diverse world that’s seeing the face of publishing change every day!

WIP Wednesday: My Sexual Superhero

Today’s excerpt is the story I just started, My Sexual Superhero, which I intend to submit to the Satisfaction Guaranteed call–that is, if I can rein it in and keep it under the submission limit! Already I’m side-eyeing the outline and wondering if I can manage to fill it in less than 30k.

Without further ado! I have a summary I came up with just yesterday, followed by the first thousand words that I wrote just today.

    “Jessan Pierce would rather spend the night with his Doctor Who collection having tea out of the Tardis than go dancing, but his best friend Maria knows what he really needs is to shake off the doldrums and get out of his well-worn groove. Felipe de la Rosa is just his type, short, well-built, and as ready with a smart-mouthed quip as he is to take his shirt off. The chemistry that works great between the sheets seems to fizzle outside the bedroom, though, and Jessan may prove too chicken to take the chance to put himself out there with Felipe, as well as the other big leap he’s facing in his life.”

“Oh my God, you are such a huge geek.”

Jessan leveled an irritated squint at his friend Marina and raised a hand, casually displaying his middle finger before using it to tuck a braid of cornrowed hair behind one ear. The Tardis-blue bead at the braid’s base clicked against its mates. “Which part of me? What was your first clue?” He covered the mouthpiece of his headset and frowned at Marina. “And why would you bust in making announcements when I’ve got my headset on? I could be taking a call.”

Marina flicked her pointer finger toward Jessan’s Bluetooth. “It’s not lit up.” She folded her arms and smirked at him. “And, another TeeFury shirt? Really? You know that no one gets those obscure jokes—”

“Except the people who are into that stuff; yeah, I know,” Jessan interrupted. “But I like it. And we don’t have a dress code in the cubicle farm, which is the one good thing about it, so I’m going to wear what I like, and you can wear your clown suits.” He gestured to her immaculate pinstriped pants.

“It’s not a pantsuit!” Marina exclaimed, tugging on the hem of her white blouse and shooting him a mock glare. “It’s dressing to impress, because I’m moving up in the world. And I barged in because it’s time for break.”

Jessan lifted his head to catch a glimpse of the clock. “So it is.” He scooted his chair forward far enough to look up and down the aisle, scanning a wary eye in all directions for their supervisor, Darnell. “He won’t like it if we go at the same time.”

“Balls to what he likes.” Marina waved a hand. “Let’s go. I’ll beg forgiveness—”

“And I’ll be the one who’s sorry,” Jessan muttered, but he pushed up from his chair and fell into step behind Marina with the feeling he was slinking out rather than taking his duly allowed break time.

Behind the call center building, there were two areas for employees to take their breaks: the sheltered haven beneath an awning, right beside the door, and the smokers’ pavilion further out, a mandated thirty feet from the building entrance. In colder weather, people could be seen huddled singly or in groups, shoulders hunched miserably against the elements as they got their nicotine fix. It was a muggy spring evening right then, and everyone outdoors either taking a walk or standing around chatting or checking their phones.

Jessan’s phone cleared his pocket the moment he was out the door. He almost bumped into Marina as she turned to give him an amused look.

“Anything good?” she asked. Her own phone was in her hand.

“Atelier Geek is having a sale,” Jessan said, half to her, half to himself as he considered the benefits of the BOGO against the relative weak performance of his bank account. He had rent, bills, and his stomach to consider, and wasn’t sure if he was up for another month of ramen and tuna fish.

“Jessan Pierce!” Marina exclaimed, and Jessan jerked his eyes up, mouth dropping open to object at her tone. “Why don’t you stow the phone and pay attention to the person beside you for five minutes out of fifteen?”

“What? You were checking your texts.” His tone was defensive, but Jessan slipped his phone into his back pocket.

“Yeah, because I was waiting to hear back from Blanca, but she’s out,” Marina said. She leveled a painted finger in his direction. “So you’re in.”

“In for what? No,” Jessan said. He didn’t need to hear an answer to be sure he wasn’t interested in Marina’s plans. They would involve going out, and he was a ‘staying in’ sort of guy.

“Come on, Jessan; wouldn’t you rather come out and have fun instead of staying in and playing Minecraft all night?” Marina clasped her hands together and aimed wide eyes at him.

Jessan returned the look with a skeptical expression. “I came out years ago, so that’s not an issue. Playing Minecraft is fun for me, even if it’s not for you, so trying to nerd-shame me, again, isn’t going to work.”

Marina stuck her tongue out. “Fine.” She abandoned that line of attack for another. “When’s the last time you got laid, Jessan?”

He slumped and looked out across the pavilion beside the building, not ignoring her so much as stalling for time. It was hard to explain to Marina, so pretty and outgoing, that it was more than introversion keeping him from a night out at a club, party, or whatever venue she had in mind. It was hard for a short, skinny, geeky half-Jamaican, half Persian kid to get a date on a good night, but any place where people were in it for looks and unable to hear witty repartee over the bass reverb, Jessan was out of luck. He would strike out before he got his hand stamped.

“A while,” Jessan replied. He folded his arms. “And it’ll probably be a while longer.”

“With that attitude, you’re damn right!” Marina swatted the back of his shoulder with a light touch. “Come out with me. I need a wing man.”

Jessan sighed, glanced Marina’s direction, and rolled his eyes. She had her lips pursed in what she probably thought was a cute pout, but looked more like a duck-lipped selfie.

“I’ll buy you drinks.” She hung off his shoulder, her tone wheedling. “Come on, I can’t go alone.”

That, at least, Jessan could not dispute. It was risky for any of his female friends to go alone, but twice as worse for Marina, who wasn’t white and was leery not only of overeager fratboys, but getting shaken down if the cops cruised by and were in a profiling mood.

“Ugh.” Jessan refused to make a verbal response that sounded like a concession. “You’ll buy me drinks until you go off with some hot hook-up and leave me at the bar.”

Marina huffed. “Would I do that?”

“If you knew the guy and wanted to get into his pants, yeah,” Jessan said.

___________________________________________________

See something you like? Let me know what you think!

No Plot? No Problem!

My early days of productive writing took place during a proliferation of what people fondly referred to at the time as “PWPs,” short for “Plot? What Plot?” The stories were thinly-veiled excuses for the two characters to get together and do the deed.

And I was good at them! I’m not going to stand on false modesty, here. I had mastered the art of getting two characters together through a variety of creative means–one memorable instance involving a gun and a shot to the head–then delving into the erotica and leading out with a moment either poignant or humorous, hopeful or lascivious.

Over the years, the enforced regimen of Nanowrimo after Nanowrimo, and developing certain skills through project management work, I got better at adding in plot. My focus gradually shifted to telling a larger story where two people getting together were a part, rather than the driving mechanism of the whole. Conflict existed, deeds were done, tension flourished, and the fabric of the plot consisted of more than the relationship weaving two people inextricably together.

Casual fiction can be a great method for learning how to tell overarching story arcs. I wrote a five-part original series, After the Rising, over the span of several years where I started out fumbling through a relationship story focused on three brothers, and somehow by the time it was done, told an epic tale about demons versus humans, and the battle for a particular artifact that could shift the balance of power between warring factions. Looking back through those masses and masses of words I wrote, I can spot a lot of flaws. There’s a drag in certain installments–the middle child suffers that most horrible fate where a great deal of words were wasted to cover very little ground. And by the second or third book I finally realized not everyone can be gay men. At least I got in some good, strong females who were there to do their jobs, and diversity was a part of the story from the first installment.

Overall that casual fiction effort can’t be considered a complete loss. It was compelling enough that one of my friends asked me to send them the entire series, to see if they could help me work it over into a shape approaching publishable. (After having been through the editorial process with seven manuscripts now, and currently engaged in two more, I can say that particular original series needs a lot of hard work before I’d submit it.)

At the core of it all, however, no matter what deeds take place and however strong the world-building of the places I envision, one thing I’ve realized is I am still, at the heart of it, telling stories where two characters get together and do the deed. And that means I will probably always be considered a romance author, and I’m good with that.

To me, that’s where a great deal of the interest, the joy of telling a story, lies. It’s not only the plot twists, or the clever mechanisms. The heart of the story, the part that I love reinventing with every new set of characters that I write, is taking these two people (or more, if there are multiple couples) and finding out who they are, and how they come together.

Two people meet, and there’s something in each of them that reacts to the other, whether that’s positive or negative. Subsequent encounters, or repeated exposure, bring out more tension, whether it’s personality or attraction-based. I love writing the unfolding relationship, and I’ve seen mixed reactions from authors on this next item, but I love to write the erotica. My sex scenes vary from light to detailed depending on the story and what’s happening with the plot, but I look forward to, and enjoy, writing that part of the story too. If I’ve made my characters (and the reader) wait for it, then everyone deserves the payoff for sure.

Stories, especially novels, can’t subsist on sex scenes alone, however. I did learn to plot my stories around the bones of the relationship, starting with my very first Nanowrimo back in 2002. Knowing that I was going into a thirty-day writing sprint, expected to come out of the other end with a 50,000+ word manuscript, and determined to succeed, I approached the project with my first-ever comprehensive outline. Prior to 2002, I’d completed novel-length works before, both fannish and casual original fiction endeavors, but my approach was completely laissez-faire, totally by the seat of my pants, and typically took months. I would start out writing with vague ideas, and found out more as I went along. I invented everything the story needed in terms of world-building or supporting characters on the spot.

That wasn’t going to work for an endeavor like Nanowrimo. I needed to have enough material planned so that I could write through each and every scene and get through the day having met my word count by the end of it. So I penned out my ideas for “Not Another Regency Romance,” roughing out a cast of characters and two romantic storylines unfolding side by side: May, the novel’s heroine, and her younger brother Tor, who incidentally fell for the older man who was intended to be May’s suitor.

It might not have been completely terrible? A good handful of people read it, and at least one person whose opinion I trust told me it was well-told and they enjoyed it. I never ended up editing or trying to submit it anywhere, because I didn’t think the story would have a market. Too gay for straight romance, too straight for gay romance, and I had no interest in editing out either of the romantic storylines. Those dual storylines were what really made the plot.

The important takeaway from that early effort was how to outline, and it gave me the confidence that I needed to continue with that format. 2002 was like a writing exercise in which I learned which parts of my outline to stick to, which to scrap for the sake of the story, and where I could improve upon it during the writing process, always allowing for inspiration or characters becoming so much more.

That’s how I write from my outlines, in the end. The outline is the framework that the story is built upon, but I’m free to change or tweak as needed, add extra characters when they’re called for, accommodate a dramatic twist when the opportunity presents itself, and let the story play out the way it wants to be written. Sometimes the characters surprise me, and I like it when that happens–if I can get caught up in writing it, hopefully others will get caught up reading it, too.

For Nanowrimo 2003, I dove into it with the same mindset, but started with an unfinished outline. Little did I know, once November was over and I’d turned out over 85,000 words, without an outline or a clear path to the end I would lose momentum. It took me nearly ten years to finish From the Inside Out. When it was accepted for publication, the epilogue got axed, and many of the storyline details changed during the editing process. I believe this is partly because my outline, penned back in 2003, was weak in plot and the relationship story I tried to tell wasn’t right for the characters I developed. Since then, in my meager opinion I think I’ve gotten better at those elements.

In terms of the outline process itself, I always start with the characters first. I have a general idea for a story, which I may or may not write down right away. I form an idea of the main characters in my head: what they look like, their personalities, what they do. I’ll often use actors as character bases, but not always. Sometimes their names come to me easily; other times, I do research based on ethnicity/nationality, personality traits, when they were born and what names were popular at the time, and personal preference. Once I have their names down, I commit that to paper or electronic file and start jotting down ideas about them. At this point of the brainstorming process, I may or may not rough out a general idea of the storyline itself. “Convergence” started out as “Indiana Jones with vampires,” so you can see I had a long way to go from there. In fact, my original short story idea for the Proud to be a Vampire call was going to be something else entirely, then instead of shifting the scene I’d mapped in my head to the end of the story, I realized as the characters developed that the scene in my head wasn’t the right part of the story to tell, at all. I developed an entirely new story from there–and it’s one I like a lot better. “Appetite,” which ended up a sprawling three-part tome, began its life as the teaser sentence “competitive chefs with a passion for cooking…and each other.” I start with building blocks, and the idea grows until I have to write it all down. Usually the story name comes in at some point during my outlining process. Sometimes, the name is a placeholder and I change it at the end. “Body Option” and “Fireborn” both had different working titles; I can’t even remember what the original titles were anymore.

Right now, I’m at the beginning stages of outlining two new manuscripts, and the process is so different for each of them! “My Sexual Superhero” is a short story I’ll be submitting for a fiction call. All I know about it, at this point, is the two characters get together at a club, and one brief encounter ends up turning into something more when they actually open up and start learning about one another. One of the main characters is tentatively named Jaden, but I might change it. His best friend is Marina. The other guy would be Chris if I hadn’t already named another character Chris, in Convergence. I have a snippet of dialogue already written, but that’s it! Oh, and I know what they look like.

…and I came back from lunch and “Not Chris” became “Felipe” and all my nascent ideas about him have changed, and I like him even better than my original concept for him. I have more ideas about where the story is going, but not how it ends.

The other manuscript I’m plotting is going to be my 2013 Nanowrimo, and I’m trying out “Dragonspire” and “Dragon’s Nexus” for WIP titles. After searching for novels titled the same or similarly, I’m sure I’ll scrap those and come up with something else. The three characters I’ve got so far are Gideon Stahl, intrepid photographer engaged in a major life change; Chrysania Vallorum, high priestess and princess of Callar-dune; and Echo Glaive, a powerful dragon whose actions threaten the livelihood of Callar-dune’s citizens. Tagline for the story is “Gideon went to save the maiden. He pledged himself to the dragon.” At this point, I’m concentrating on the world-building details while the general storyline comes together in my head. When I start outlining things scene by scene, that’s usually when a lot of things start to shake out into specific form and structure. For longer stories, I tend to decide early if there will be different “parts,” or story arcs, divide the outline into those sections, and work on those. I think that Dragonspire will be two parts, possibly three, but I don’t want it to be much longer than 100k altogether, because I want this to be a standalone fantasy work. That’s going to help dictate the complexity of the outline.

Once I have all the general pieces, I start writing scene by scene. This varies from extremely general–“Jaden goes clubbing with his friend Marina”–to very specific, with some scene-setting or world-building details that may get incorporated into the manuscript. I outline in a relatively linear fashion, but jot down bursts of inspiration as they come. Often, I know how the story will end before I have the middle nailed down, for example. Or I’ll get a scene in my head that takes place in the story, and I write it all down and figure out a place for it when I’m going through the linear plotting.

Ultimately, most stories can be deconstructed to a single element: conflict, and resolution of the conflict. Whether that takes place as relationship conflict, or external conflict through opposing forces, it’s all up to the author and what they want to achieve, and how they want to get there. Some people work best when they jump right in with those vague ideas, and work their way through it during the writing process. For me, the story works better when I start with those vague ideas, and work their way through it during the writing process. For me, the story works better when I start with the ideas and give them greater substance with the structure of the outline, however loose or detailed. We tell the stories we want to tell–the ones that want to be told. If you don’t have a plot at first, it’s not a problem. Put your characters down on paper, maneuver them into the same space together, and figure out what makes the sparks fly from there. Above all, don’t be afraid to experiment and find out what methods work best on an individual basis. I used to think that I had to have every single world-building detail figured out, and I was failing some criteria of being an author if I didn’t–then I discovered not everyone works that way! The great, fun, endlessly inventive thing about writing is that everyone does it differently. And we all find our best way.

WIP Wednesday: The More Plausible Evil

The excerpt of the day is from The More Plausible Evil, which is still very much a work in progress–I haven’t finished my second draft, which is undergoing expansion before I send it to the publisher for editing. I’m posting at the urging of Jamie Sullivan, another talented author to check out!

This means the manuscript is likely to change quite a bit between now and the final draft! Even this excerpt is unlikely to remain untouched. Even the blurb will most definitely be transformed! And I don’t have a cover for you, but I do have a summary. The More Plausible Evil will be released some time next year, to be determined.

    “During his confession pending the night before Evan’s execution, he reveals the details of a lifetime’s worth of killings that shed light on his motives, and brings forward the curious short-lived claim that a vampire is at the heart of his salvation.”

“Are you even sure it’s Rafe?” Evan clenched his hands into fists as he looked through the windshield. His jaw was tight. He was beginning to doubt the necessity of frequent abandonments of everything they had, since he hadn’t seen so much as a golden hair from Rafe since he was a child.

“It’s always Rafe,” Alastair replied tensely, gloved hands taut on the wheel of his fast, expensive car. He pushed the accelerator and shot them forward at even greater speed. “I know the signs by now, pet; he’s only been catching my trail and dogging it for the past two centuries or so.”

“Why does he want to find you so badly? What’s he hoping to accomplish?” Evan pulled in a huff of breath, expelling it in a brief, angry noise. “My laptop … all my notes on the study of criminal psychology … not to mention, I liked the set of clothes I have now.” He folded his arms and looked out the side window into the darkness that wrapped around the car. He wasn’t going to mention that he’d lost certain gifts that Alastair had gotten him, small keepsakes but important to him because they’d come from Alastair, and he’d never get those back now. Even if Alastair was to re-purchase anything—and one ancient dagger, at least, had been one of a kind—the sentiment connecting Evan to the object would be gone, lost with the original.

“All of your things can be replaced.”

“Maybe I wanted for us not to have to, for a change! Even my cell phone …”

“You’d need a new one anyhow,” Alastair reminded him. “We always change numbers when we move. New place, new phone. No bridges left behind.”

“Right.” Evan set his jaw again. He’d noticed Alastair dodged the question of Rafe, and he was too proud to revisit the topic in an attempt to drag some answers out of him.

“I need to keep you safe, my pet. Things can be replaced. You know that. And I am … sorry … that we must do it so often, but better to ensure you’re still alive and beside me than lost forever.”

Evan couldn’t reply to that. He was still too angry, slumped in the passenger’s seat and stinging over the loss. Instead, he attacked the choice of words. “I’m not your pet. I’m a person. Or is that really all I am to you?”

The aggressive statement was answered with long silence. The only sound in the car was the hum of the engine and the distant throb of the wheels hitting irregular patches of highway.

“Vampires become fixated on those things, places, or people that are most important to them.” Alastair spoke up at length, his voice almost lower than the engine noise that filtered through to the cabin. “Rafe is obsessed with the idea of me. And I … I have that capacity for attachment as well. Once an attachment is formed, it becomes more important to us than almost any other thing beyond survival. And with mine, the two are intertwined.”

Evan settled on his side, finding a more or less comfortable position for his head, and didn’t know how to respond. Instead, he pretended to sleep.

The next city they settled in was more than halfway across the nation. It was of a sizeable population; that was always Alastair’s first criteria, a place with sufficient urban density to support good schools and high enough crime rates so that he could prey unnoticed.

They went through the familiar, well-oiled mechanism of re-establishing their lives again. Alastair took him on a lavish spending spree, but Evan was listless through most of it. He had the latest, best laptop on the market. He had the newest model of smart phone. He had a newly refurbished library of books and graphic novels, and a brand new room. Instead of being excited over the fresh reinvention, as Alastair billed it with each move, Evan found himself thinking of the things he’d left behind.

They were at the mall, finishing up their last purchases, and Alastair slid out of the dressing room in a brand new pair of jeans and a finely tailored cashmere blazer that made his tall, lean form elegant. One thing that constantly rendered anonymity more difficult was Alastair’s looks; he was gaunt and striking, his high-cheekboned face turning heads wherever they went. His black hair had been styled into an impeccable coif resembling a pompadour. As always, he had remodeled himself more thoroughly than their latest apartment.

“Ta-da,” Alastair trilled, skidding to a halt in front of Evan.

Evan looked up from the browser on his phone to survey Alastair with critical eyes. “Fantastic,” he said in an unenthusiastic tone. “Acid washed jeans went out about thirty years ago.”

Alastair’s expectant face fell. “Yes, but … it’s back in style again. So they tell me. And I know when it was in style—I was there.”

Evan shrugged. “I wasn’t, but I’ve seen pictures of the eighties, and they want your jeans back.”

“I think it looks good.”

“So buy it,” Evan replied. “Not like my opinion matters.” He turned his attention back to his phone’s display and swiped a finger, switching applications and calling up a game he’d been playing when Alastair had gone into the dressing room with a pile of clothes in his arms.

Alastair turned and vanished.

In his wake, Evan regretted the harsh words but was still too choked with frustration he couldn’t voice to make any attempt to take them back. He was deprived of a choice, of any say in how they did things, and he wasn’t an equal. He was a pet, and no matter how fond Alastair was of him, he would always be a pet to him.

Right-sizing your novel

Let’s call today “topical Tuesday,” and get right into it! My initial goal was to post around three to four times a week, now I’m scaling back to two, with on the spot updates as opportunity arrives.

Between tl;dr and brevity being the soul of wit, there’s a proper length for everything, from blog entries to listicles, from serial stories to traditional novels. In our modern society, where mass consumption and getting to the point often seems to be favored over a full-course meal and taking time to explore and develop ideas, I wonder if we’ll ever see a counter-movement from Tweets and reblogs back to engagement through discourse again.

Still, there is an optimal length for just about every message you’re seeking to convey, and it’s important to select the right tool for the story you’re trying to tell.

Conventional wisdom holds that novels ought to be around 100k-175k words, but it breaks down in trying to pinpoint the difference between a novel and a novella. National Novel Writing Month, in which I’ve been a participant since 2002, sets the bar for a novel at 50k or greater.

As a writer, most of my stories tend to be longer, with a slow burn relationship that unfolds over the course of the work. I like to show who the characters are separately before I throw them into a new dynamic that will hopefully reveal even more about them as people. On that basis, my novels tend to start at 50k and go on up. Sometimes, way up.

I find it really difficult to tell a complete story, plot and relationship arcs, and any important sub-plots, in 50,000 words maximum – that’s why that range tends to be my starting point rather than the end goal. Signal to Noise, one of my most tightly-plotted works to date, is 65k.

From the Inside Out, at 165k, falls in that “standard” range for a novel mentioned above, but one of the frequent critiques from readers is that it’s too long, and should have been edited more tightly. I could probably agree with that, but it also raises the question, what’s too long for a relationship story that starts from the ground up, and has its own plots and sub-plots, supporting characters playing important roles and standing on their own as characters, and the logical progression of a first-time relationship?

Appetite, compiled in its full weighty glory, is 192k words. And I really don’t think I could have told the story and done it justice and pared out any more than I did. (As it is, I trimmed out about 20k and added some new material at my editor’s direction.)

Conversely, when I try to keep a story down to brass tacks, I received an editorial opinion that, rather than trying to cut The More Plausible Evil below 50k, I ought to expand it by an additional 20k-30k to better flesh out and develop the characters and their relationship. Every story is different. And that made me pull my hair out, because the one time I tried to keep it lean and mean, that worked against it!

I’m going by my own stories as example because it all boils down to opinions, and discovering what works best for your story, depending on the genre, and maybe even the intended readership. What might work for a serialized story might be more frustrating and overmuch when compiled in a massive volume. (Though fans of Arthur Conan Doyle might argue.)

Sometimes I start out plotting a story, expecting it to be a certain length, and discover that the first draft ends up far more than planned. I started a young adult novel last November, and the first third ended up a hair shy of 55k. I had three arcs planned! I still haven’t finished that novel; it started out a promising idea, but ended up boring in execution for me. I think I need to revamp certain things about the story and the heroine before I make another go at it. At the rate it was going, each arc was going to be around 50k, and that’s not standalone. For a young adult audience, 150k as a single novel is definitely too long unless I tried to break each arc into its own individual novel and make them self-supporting enough for that to work.

It kind of comes down to attention span, doesn’t it? Young adults go for the shorter reads and slimmer volumes. “Serious” fiction is expected to be longer. As for gay and queer fiction, I suppose I’m still finding my way. Convergence and Body Option could both be considered novellas, I think; they’re around 20k each and I managed to get in there, tell the story and develop the romance, and conclude without making it any longer.

Then there’s others that grow tentacles and rise up out of the ocean to consume you. I tapped one of my old Nanowrimo stories to edit for potential submission, and was shocked to realize it’s around 160k. It’s a mystery/suspense with some horror elements, and takes place at a fictional boarding school. There are two relationship subplots. And I shake my head at my younger self, realizing here and now that I’m going to have to trim a lot of fat out of that story before I even think about submitting it to a publisher. (I already know I’m going to chuck one of the relationship subplots, which is going to make some of that story’s first draft readers very unhappy.)

What’s the optimal novel length for a standalone work? Does it depend on the subject matter? The plot? The author?

To me, it’s a combination of all of those elements. Genre and intended audience definitely play their parts. The simple, obvious example is the young adult genre–more than 60, 75k is pushing the attention threshold to keep your story marketable.

I’m starting to wonder if that holds true for a lot of m/m romance readers in that they want to keep their stories around 75k – get in, get the payoff, get it neatly wrapped before bedtime. For me, though, the thing that dictates the length of my story are how the story wants to be written, and I’ve always believed stories, as well as individual chapters within them, should be as long as they need to be.

As a reader, I seek stories on that basis, too. Long or short, it doesn’t really matter to me so long as I’m engaged and interested in the story that they have to tell.

As a reader or a writer, what’s your take on it?

WIP Wednesday: Klaxon at the Core

For today’s WIP Wednesday, I scrounged up a snippet of Klaxon at the Core, the sequel to Signal to Noise, so new I don’t have a blurb drafted up for it yet. So here’s one on the fly.

    “At the close of Signal to Noise, Bastian and Theo Kautzer were headed for Central on The Lighthammer for a new life, safe from the Armors that hunted them during the three years since their planet was overtaken by the Incursion. However, Central brings with it new challenges, and the Kautzers soon discover their trauma-honed instincts serve them well even though they thought they’d left their battles behind.”

Excerpt:

Without visuals, they had to find their destination on foot. They walked through the dormitory, and though Theo was alert for it, they weren’t the subject of any curious stares. He supposed that studied lack of curiosity was part of being a psionic. They were all special, in some way or another. And he and Bastian weren’t going to flaunt themselves by walking around hand in hand, anyhow. They had the right to be together, no one could stop them, but objectively they were both aware it was considered ‘weird’ and they ought to be discreet.

There was an entire telekinesis wing along one of the outlying walls of the Institute’s enormous compound. Bastian was complaining by the time they were halfway there along the silvery path that wound through the green grass and hedges.

“Suck it up,” Theo advised. “Dr. Rashad said it was ostentatious for psionics to jump everywhere.”

Bastian glowered. “Maybe I like ostentatious.”

“You sure do have a talent for the dramatic,” Theo teased, tugging on a lock of hair.

The front of the telekinesis wing was imposing, nearly three stories tall, and the door had a sign over it with a name that Theo recognized as one of the famous early telekinetics in history. He, along with other founding members of the Institute, had established psionic ability as science rather than myth.

“The Grant Ishida wing, huh?” Bastian said aloud, draping a hand on Theo’s shoulder. “There’s a bit of ancient history.”

“Probably more like a reminder,” Theo said. “Of where we came from, and how far.”

“Central’s a long way from Old Terra.”

Theo slanted him an annoyed look. “From levitating bobby pins and shifting crates.”

“Oh, right.”

Inside the building, they stood together in front of a directory before setting a course for Bahir Anwar’s office. There had been an astonishing array of options on the directory. Theo had never heard of micro-kinetics, and wondered if they would be tested at some point for that ability, too. Dr. Rashad had seemed keen to test them on all the psionic axes of power.

Their destination was one story up, and against the far wall of the building. It turned out to resemble an open gymnasium, skylights above letting in full sunlight, than the stuffy office either of them had been expecting. A man of medium height and darkly olive complexion rose to greet them. He had a ruggedly handsome face—Theo slanted an irritated glance at Bastian, because that was his twin’s observation—and close-cropped black hair.

What? I have eyes.

Theo ignored that. They had already reassured one another, on multiple levels, but it was different with other people around. He noticed Bastian noticing, and hoped they could leave it at that.

“Welcome to the Institute, I’m Bahir,” he introduced himself, inclining his body but not offering his hand, the way all psionics they’d met so far had done. Theo could understand; he’d never enjoyed physical contact from anyone but his family, or Bastian, who had always been part of his personal space.

“Theo.”

“Bastian.”

“Yes, I’ve been expecting you.” Bahir rubbed his hands together briskly, and gestured to the wide-open space to their left. “Shall we begin?”

The floor space was covered in mats, and there was a great deal of equipment against one wall, a few machines, what looked like a workout bench, a number of terminal display banks, and what appeared to be crates, boxes, and various weighted items labeled with numbers.

“I’ve heard that you shifted a great deal of hydronium the other day,” Bahir began. “Any idea how much?”

Theo shrugged. “Sixty pallets?” He glanced to Bastian, who quirked a brow and corrected, “Seventy-five.”

Bahir nodded and he stepped up to a terminal display, pulling up a program, fingers dancing nimbly over the surface. “Quite a payload.” He gave a low, impressed whistle. “That’s several tons. I hope you ate a good meal afterward.”

“We ate like pigs for dinner,” Bastian said happily. “It was amazing. I can’t remember the last time we got so stuffed.”

A brief smile flickered over Bahir’s mouth. “Yes, that’s the only way to avoid kinetic debt.”

“Right, that’s when you use more energy than you replenish, right?” Theo asked shrewdly. “We did a lot of research after we teleported for the first time.”

“Was teleportation your first kinetic action?”

Bastian shook his head. “No, we’d done other things, little things, without even really noticing before then. Our parents sure did, though.” He sidled closer to Theo with a brief, woebegone look.

Theo folded his arms. “We’d shifted some small stuff,” he replied. “We call it ‘pulling.’ When we lift something, you know, but don’t port it.”

Bahir nodded. He picked up two thin silver bands that resembled circlets, and offered them up. “These are biometric monitors,” he said, holding one and donning the other. It circled his head from forehead over temples and around the back of his skull. “I’d like for each of you to wear one, and go through a number of tasks, after which we can have a lunch delivered from the refectory and I’ll answer any questions you like.” He pulled the circlet from his head.

Theo shrugged.

“Sure,” Bastian chirped.

Theo wrinkled his nose and put his hand out for one of the circlets. He fitted his on first, and kept a watchful eye on Bastian when his twin donned the other.

Two side by side vitals appeared on one of the displays, and Bahir moved to bring up more information.

“Theo, if you could press your thumb here?” Bahir requested, and Theo complied. His name appeared in green over the green vitals.

Bahir turned to Bastian, who did the same for the blue vitals.

“Good strong brain activity,” Bahir commended. “Shall we begin?”

Free for all Friday: Romance or Plot?

Trying out regular blog content, today’s is “Free for all Friday,” where I choose whichever topic I like, then maunder over it for a little while before opening it up to comments.

The topic that struck me today was: Do you prefer romance to take the forefront, or do you want your story to be plot-driven?

Let me first elaborate on the question before presenting my viewpoint. When reading, or writing, do you prefer it to be a romance-driven story, focusing on the unfolding feelings between the main characters (and/or supporting cast), or do you prefer it to be it to be a plot-driven narrative, focusing on the details that keep events rather than relationship moving forward?

For my own part, I began my creative writing endeavors focused on the relationships between people. It was a strength of my writing that was commented on by my professors, peers, and later on my readers. It was also my area of interest, honing in on what happens between two people when they begin to notice each other, whether that’s to create sparks or even rub each other the wrong way. My stories tended to be relationship-focused, in turn, and any plot that happened was either off-screen or incidental.

As time went on, relationship became a vehicle for plot. It took me a while to get there, maybe, but the plot points became as interesting to me as telling the story of the relationship itself. In a way, I credit this to a reader essentially challenging me to make my stories more than “these two characters get together.” And with some practice and refinements, I think I’ve managed to get there.

My preference as a reader is for a relationship story that is as important as, and ideally intertwined with, the plot points throughout. Accordingly, I find this is the kind of story that I seek to write.

A lot of people seem to seek out their stories for very particular reasons: they’re reading it for the sex (including the relationship), or they’re reading it for plot. Of course, there are those that seek both, in varying mixes. And of course, both are equally valid. Sometimes I’m in the mood for plotty, and sometimes I’m in the mood for sexy.

Most often, though, I seek the best of both worlds. What’s your preference?

WIP Wednesday: Body Option

First things first! Less Than Three Press has released a discount code for the first lucky 30 customers, see their Facebook for info: https://www.facebook.com/lt3press/posts/10151535051610988

My launch for WIP Wednesday is Body Option, my recently-completed story for the mecha anthology “Loose Screw.” Story summary:

For five years, Grant Badu has been part of a solid fighting team with the Gemini Suit, Trefoil Argent. Together, they fly and fight so effectively, their combat record so impressive, that they’ve become informally known as the Infallible Duo. When a case containing classified military innovations is stolen and shot down in the foothills of disputed border territory, Grant and Argent are tapped for its swift recovery. The spoke in their gears is the fact that the mission requires pilot Argent to take on the one cybernetic option he’s been avoiding, for reasons even Grant doesn’t know. When their enemies close in faster than expected, Grant and Argent need to put aside the sudden tension between them in order to complete their mission, but the overwhelming odds facing them push them right up against the critical threshold, from which there is no return.

Excerpt:

The wind screamed past the reinforced glass of the cockpit, sheltered between the two sleek shoulder tines of Trefoil Argent as the Gemini Raptor dropped low toward the jagged teeth of the mountain range studding the near horizon. Grant Badu winced as the glare bounced off a tine at the precise angle to reflect into his eyes, and he squinted at the rapidly growing cliffs rising up in the forward view.

“Careful,” Grant cautioned his pilot. “We need to fly low enough to avoid the Bah’zeth sweeps, but there’s no need to clip your tail feathers.”

“This isn’t my first flight mission,” Argent’s voice sniped through his earjack. “Or my tenth, for that matter. If I so much as see your fingers twitch for the override controls, I’ll spin you into a blackout.”

Grant flicked his eyes toward the blue heavens visible overhead, and held back a comment on insubordination. His rig in the cockpit afforded him a near three-sixty view, if he were to rotate his suspension clear around, but it was only on one dimension. Argent had eyes in every direction, because he wasn’t merely the pilot for the Gemini Raptor Suit. He was part of it.

“Wasn’t impugning your flight pattern, Argent,” Grant replied, containing his amusement to a low rumble within his voice. “Nor have I reached for those controls in the eight years I’ve been working with you. Old habits die hard, is all.”

“Sure, and you still fly solo on weekends.”

“Why, Argent, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you sound jealous.” Grant cocked a deliberate glance over his shoulder at the impenetrable central column that housed Argent’s physical body.

Silence was his only reply.

Grant shook his head, mouth quirking, and turned his attention to the display panels and various readouts at hand. They were dropping low over the Cressian mountain range that bordered his and Argent’s homeland of Crestovia, and it was time to cut back on the idle chatter. The mission required their concentration. Argent would rib him that it took Grant the greater share of his, seeing as he was without Argent’s enhanced advantages.

Crestovia’s enemies had been legion ever since the split and redistricting of nations that had followed the Thirty-year Poison War. They were surrounded on all sides by countries and kingdoms that remained at war, both with Crestovia and one another, and kept building bigger and more deadly machinery following the World Nations’ ban on chemical or foot-soldier warfare of any kind. As the only land with a fertile valley and seaport access on their embattled slice of the map, Crestovia had poured their best resources into finding a military solution to keep their enemies off their necks. Grant’s own piloting expertise had come into play with the rise of the Gemini Suit program.

Trefoil Argent was not a machine. He was the brain at the center column of a giant cybernetic suit with flight capabilities, fully equipped with a number of weapons that Grant could wield from his suspension rig in the protected cockpit.

Where other countries used robots, or long-range drones, Crestovia had chosen a different, drastic solution. They had offered their young, bright, disabled children the option for body repair, or a crack at the Gemini Suit program. Many had opted for reconstruction, and served their country in other ways from military defense to diplomacy. Argent, and those like him, had opted to fly.

Grant had never seen anything like it in his years of piloting, or military service. At first, when he’d been redeployed to the Gemini Suit program, he’d thought it cruel. How could they encase a human, a living being, within a buffered support column and relegate them to the status of a brain, a human computer that powered a mobile suit? Argent didn’t see it that way, though. He had taken to his cybernetic peripherals like Mozart to arranging chords. He flew the suit, walked through its giant legs, and fought with its state of the art mechanical limbs. Grant, for his part, controlled the weaponry, from forearm gatling cannons to precision laser knife, and sat with redundancy “override” pilot controls in the rare case a Gemini Suit overextended themselves and hit the critical break threshold. Many of the “brains” of the Gemini Suits had hit critical break since the inception of the program, and been decommissioned for other types of civil service. Argent, one of the first to don a cybernetic suit and one of a handful of the Raptor class still in action, had never hit critical.

In fact, Argent had taken to the cybernetics so well, he was unique among his peers.

Trefoil Argent, Argent’s Raptor suit, was one of the first-run Gemini Suits. It was built on roughly human-shaped but aerodynamic lines that allowed the suit to double functionality as a flight-capable unit, and a war machine that could stride into battle and dispatch its enemies more nimbly than any tank or drone. Argent had chosen the designation Trefoil, and the distinctive triple split tines of his symbol were etched onto the arms of the suit as well as Argent’s central column.

“We’re getting close,” Grant observed, scrutinizing the topography map on one of his readouts. They didn’t have an exact location fix from the Raptor, but a Bah’zeth robot had downed one of their fighter pilots a few days prior, and it had caused an immediate scramble in the upper ranks. Grant and Argent had been tapped as the best team for the recovery job, even though they’d been further out from the border at the Pegasus Eyrie.

“Acknowledged,” Argent said. He had been curt ever since the mission orders had come in.

Grant shrugged, suppressing his instinct to glance over his shoulder at Argent’s column again. He would notice, and it might make an already-tense situation worse. Still …

He couldn’t help himself. “You going to be ready?”

“Of course I’m going to be ready!” Argent snapped in his ear. He altered course, dipping an aerodynamic arm that doubled function as a wing, causing them to scream through the narrow gap between two close-set peaks. “It’s just like any other peripheral. I’ve been using those all my life.”

Grant didn’t bother to disguise the frown that pinched his brow. Argent’s participation in their upcoming mission was nothing like any of the other peripherals he’d used before, but Grant didn’t know how to breach the topic without pressing Argent in a number of already sore spots. There was a crucial difference in Argent’s latest, and he refused to discuss it.

Once they made landfall, it would be Argent’s first time using a body option.