There are no men like me. There is only me.

Like it or Not, Mexico Will Pay for Trump’s Wall

Published January 6, 2017 in Economics , Government , Politics - 0 Comments
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Mexico likely will pay for Trump’s wall. The mechanism has been bloody obvious ever since the idea was raised. Instapundit sums it up in one sentence:

DUDE, ALL IT TAKES IS A TAX ON REMITTANCES: Vicente Fox to Trump: When will you understand that I’m not paying for that f***ing wall? And you think there’s a political downside to taxing money sent from the U.S. to Mexico?

Mexicans working abroad sent $24.8 billion home in remittances in 2015. That’s more than their oil industry earned in the same year – an industry that once generated 80% of the Mexican economy. Let’s be honest: we all know that most of that comes from the United States. Slap a 10% tax on that and it’s more than $2 billion dollars a year. That’s plenty of money to pay for a wall – a big wall. And Mexico can’t do a thing about it, no matter what Vicente Fox says.

As Instapundit notes, it’s hardly going to be an unpopular tax. And when it’s done paying for the wall, American citizens (you know, the ones who can actually vote) will continue to find it popular. Why? The only reason anybody ever likes any tax: because it will tax someone else.

Interestingly, from a policy standpoint, the tax also helps with another issue. It discourages illegal immigrants. Remove the incentives and you reduce the behavior. Forget for a moment whether you agree with the policy or not. In terms of implementation, this kills two birds with one stone.

The new Congress has already found a legal mechanism to build the wall. The tax to pay for it is coming soon – mark my words.

Running a Successful Kickstarter Campaign

Published January 5, 2017 in Business , Marketing - 0 Comments
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Our Kickstarter campaign for Lyonesse not only met its goal, we very nearly doubled it. We had a plan going in, and we executed it. Still, we could have done several things better. Here’s an analysis of what we did well – and some thoughts on what we could have done better.

Use Kickstarter for Marketing – not Fundraising

First and foremost, Lyonesse’s success never relied on Kickstarter. Our business model is royalty based, not fixed fee. And our projected operational costs are extremely low (and we have some experience doing this sort of thing, so we trust those numbers). We can fund the operational costs out of pocket more or less indefinitely. That’s why we’re giving the Kickstarter proceeds almost entirely to our authors.

If our campaign had failed, we still could have launched Lyonesse. We could have launched without it altogether. We chose to run a campaign not for funding reasons but for marketing reasons – and I firmly believe that’s the true value of Kickstarter. If you have a strong enough brand – and strong enough reach – to raise huge amounts of money via a crowd funding campaign… you can probably raise that money relatively easily in other ways, too.

Our campaign was definitely successful from a marketing standpoint. First, we signed up enough subscribers to make it worthwhile. We reached a large number of people we wouldn’t have otherwise reached. We got substantial signal boost from certain quarters. People are now beginning to take the project quite seriously.

Set a Realistic Goal

It’s time for a moment of perfect candor. Although we didn’t need the money to launch the project, I would have preferred to raise even more than we did. We’re giving almost all of that money straight to our authors – and they’re fantastic authors who have written amazing stories and they deserve even more than we’ve paid them. But we did an honest assessment of our current fan base and reach and set a goal based on that. We had very high confidence that we could meet our goal.

Because we view crowd funding as a marketing tool, and not a fundraising tool, it was absolutely crucial that we meet our goal. We wanted (and still want!) the public at large to view this project as successful. But even if you don’t look at it that way, meeting your goal is important. Other crowd funding companies are different, but Kickstarter won’t pay you a single cent if you don’t meet your goal.

Warning: you must also set a goal that is enough to meet your needs. We’re lucky. Most publishing gigs these day pay absolute shit to authors. In the long run, we hope to pay them quite a bit more than this. But for now, the bar we had to clear to keep them happy was pretty low. If you’re relying on crowd funding to cover all of your startup costs, however, you’re going to need to ensure that your goal is realistic for that.

You must balance these competing issues. If your audience and reach isn’t enough for you to raise the amount you actually need for your project… it may be time to rethink it.

Get the Word Out

Get it on your social media. Tell all your friends about it. Send it to your e-mail list. Tell strangers about it. Use everything at your disposal. Marketing your campaign is absolutely critical.

We talked about our campaign on social media a lot. I talked about it on this blog a lot. Quite a few of our friends talked it up and spread the word. Chris Lansdown had me on his YouTube channel. Get the word out.

Hands down the number one problem nearly all small business owners face is that their customers don’t know they exist. And they’ll continue not knowing until you tell them.

We did OK at this. But it’s the area where we could have had the most improvement. There are several avenues of marketing that I didn’t pursue, and more that I didn’t pursue as aggressively as I could or should have. All I can say is that this is a game I’m still learning.

Do the things we didn’t do: enlist more influencers to talk about your project. Get good artwork – and lots of it – for promotion. Consider paying for ads.

Grow Your Audience First

We’ve been building our audience at Silver Empire for two years now. It’s still rather small – but it’s far larger than it was at the beginning. Two years ago we couldn’t have run this campaign successfully. But a few days ago we nearly doubled our goal. Timing is everything. Don’t be impatient. Run your campaign when you’re ready to run it.

Good luck!

I wish you the best of luck in your own crowd funding endeavors. It’s a great tool, and it opens up many possibilities. I can’t wait to see what you do with yours!

Rogue One – MOVIE REVIEW

Published January 4, 2017 in Movies , Reviews , Science Fiction - 0 Comments
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I couldn’t muster much excitement for Rogue One. I tried – I really wanted to. In my younger years, I was a massive Star Wars fan. I was known for it. I camped out overnight at the theater for The Phantom Menace. Heck, I was the fourth person in line at our local theater. I camped out again for both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith – mainly because despite the disappointing films, the experience itself was an absolute blast.

But by the time The Force Awakens came out last year, I’d already lost much of my excitement. Everyone knows the prequels were disappointing films – I don’t need to go into detail on that here. And the initial trailers for TFA just didn’t do it for me. In fact, I maintain that the first TFA teaser wouldn’t have excited anybody if it hadn’t had Star Wars theme music to go with it. It was a bad trailer, period. The film itself left a decidedly mixed taste in my mouth.

On the other hand, I’d read a lot of opinions on Rogue One before I saw it – and even the doubters conceded that it was generally a decent film. So I went in with rather moderate expectations. With that context, the film managed to exceed those expectations. The other reviewers have it basically right – it’s a moderately good film, but far from perfect.

The good

Unlike The Force Awakens, this film has its own plot. In fact, this is probably the most unique plot in a Star Wars film since Empire. That gives the franchise a bit of much needed fresh air.

The characters are much better this time around. Jyn Erso is not the Mary Sue that Rey was, and that helps. The secondary characters are far better than they were in TFA. The reprogrammed military droid steals the show. He’s definitely the best character, but Donnie Yen’s Force monk pulled a close second. The rest of the misfit crew of rebels fleshes out the film nicely, however, and each character has a good moment to shine in the story.

The film absolutely nails the look and feel of A New Hope, and it’s really fun to return to that universe. That’s the one thing that both the prequels and TFA completely failed to deliver. Rogue One brings it.

But the film also borrows heavily (without directly using any characters) from the Extended Universe – especially the games. Cirsova has already gone into great depth about how much is borrowed from the Star Wars tabletop game:

In fact, it dawned on me when the blind Force Monk showed up: Rogue One is “Some Guy’s Star Wars d6 RPG Campaign: The Movie”, and I mean that in the best way possible.

He’s very correct. The film also heavily borrows from the Knights of the Old Republic video games (which themselves are based on the D6 tabletop game). This clearly intentional choice pays off, and the film benefits.

This felt more like a Star Wars film than TFA did, and that really helps.

Darth Vader is awesome. ‘Nuff said there.

The Bad

Jyn Erso is not a Mary Sue… but she’s one of the weaker parts of the film. Her character arc from hating the rebellion for bringing her nothing but pain to suddenly giving the inspiring speeches and being the only one who holds true… they didn’t sell it to me. Her motivation doesn’t feel quite strong enough. I went with it because the rest of the film was good, but it detracted from the film.

Still, Cassian the pilot saves her from a harsh fate as the weak link of the film. I liked his character. Still, he felt strongly underdeveloped – especially given how much screen time he has.

The biggest issue, however, is a core story issue. If this film existed in its own universe without the strong attachment to previously existing films, it wouldn’t satisfy me. It works – but it only works because of the context that A New Hope gives it. Don’t get me wrong – the plot would hold up fine. It just wouldn’t hold much interest or pack much punch. It relies heavily on prior work.

Now, in and of itself that doesn’t hurt the film – not for me, anyway. Empire wouldn’t work as a stand alone film, either. Worse, Empire kind of requires both A New Hope and Return of the Jedi for its satisfactory payoff. Rogue One only requires the former film.

However, the filmmakers compounded this issue with two wrong choices. I say “wrong” and not “bad” on purpose. I totally understand why they made the choice they did, and I understand their thinking. But at the end of the day, it turns out that they chose incorrectly.

First, the film barely uses any pre-existing Star Wars themes in the score. The composer sprinkled small touches throughout the film, but no more. The score we get doesn’t suck. And given how much of the Star Wars scores are character themes, the original scores shouldn’t have been over used. But they went too far. Especially the opening and closing music should have kept to the series theme.

Second, they’ve eliminated the opening crawl. The film simply jumps right into the story.

The filmmakers made these choices consciously, in an attempt to separate these “anthology” films from the “main” films of the series. I get that. In another context it might have been the right choice. But given how much this film relies on those “main” films, this turns out to have been the wrong choice. Rather, they should have gone the opposite direction and tied it into those films as concretely as they possibly could.

None of these issues brings the film down, however, and its still quite enjoyable. It’s easily the strongest film overall since the original trilogy. I give it four strong stars out of five.

AKA It Didn’t Quite Suck – TV REVIEW

Published January 3, 2017 in Comic Books , Reviews , Television - 1 Comment
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I spent the last of my holiday painting the bathroom. That turned out to be a complete waste of time – the color that looked good on a color swatch doesn’t look so good on the wall. Such is life. On the other hand, I did drag the laptop in there and finally finished watching Jessica Jones on NetFlix.

As I mentioned in my review of Luke Cage, the first few episodes of Jessica Jones left me feeling a bit empty. The show has solid production values and generally strong writing. Unfortunately, it also suffered from one major drawback: the main character, Jessica Jones herself.

Jessica Jones simply isn’t a sympathetic character. At one point about midway through the season, Luke Cage (who remains one of the best characters of the show) directly calls her out, telling her she’s a “piece of shit.” At that point in the show, I couldn’t disagree with him. Over the remainder of the season, the show finally did present some sympathetic elements of her character. But up to that episode, it really hadn’t – or, at least, it hadn’t made her sympathetic enough for a scene like that. She simply wasn’t very likable at all. And lest you wonder, she really had done something pretty terrible to Cage. She earned that.

What the show does have, however, is a truly compelling villain. David Tennant’s Kilgrave is truly one of the more interesting villains I’ve seen out of any film or TV Marvel property. His powers are interesting, and he uses them in interesting ways. His history with Jessica is interesting – and just morally gray enough to make you question her interpretation of events. Tennant owns the show whenever he’s before the camera. And his back story gave me true empathy for the character. He is most assuredly not justified in doing what he’s done. But you can understand why “Kevin” became “Kilgrave,” and sympathize with it.

But that only serves to underscore how sympathetic the main character isn’t. In fact, about halfway through the season I made a mental shift in how I watched the show. Instead of thinking of Jessica as the hero, I decided in my own head that I was watching a show about the tragedy of Kilgrave. Rather than focusing on Jessica, I focused on the story of a boy whose parents tried to save him – but who mucked it up horribly. He grew up, alone and aloof from the world – unable to interact honestly with anyone. His isolation slowly pushed him into madness. Then he fell honestly in love with a girl (for good reasons that I can’t give away without spoiling the show). But she rejected him utterly. Grief pushed him into madness, and he tried to pull the world down around him. Then she killed him.

Viewed that way, it’s a far better show. It’s truly Shakespearean in its depth. Unfortunately, that’s not actually quite the show we got. But it illustrates the underlying problem, and provides a strong rule of thumb for aspiring authors. Never make your villain more sympathetic than your hero.

In the end, I have to settle on three and a half stars out of five. Jessica is so unsympathetic that I might have given it two stars. But Tennant’s amazing turn as Kilgrave and strong supporting roles throughout the show bring it back up. In fact, they bring it up enough that if someone mildly edited the show and repackaged it as The Tragedy of Kilgrave, it could pretty easily become a five star show. Instead, we get a show that doesn’t quite suck… yet isn’t quite amazing, either. This is definitely the weakest of Marvel’s NetFlix offerings.

Automation Is Coming… For Your Job

Published January 2, 2017 in Culture , Economics , Philosophy - 0 Comments
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As I’ve been warning for some time, automation of everything is coming.

Most of the attention around automation focuses on how factory robots and self-driving cars may fundamentally change our workforce, potentially eliminating millions of jobs. But AI that can handle knowledge-based, white-collar work are also becoming increasingly competent.

One Japanese insurance company, Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance, is reportedly replacing 34 human insurance claim workers with “IBM Watson Explorer,” starting by January 2017.

Emphasis is mine.

We think of many white collar, knowledge tasks as being the kinds of tasks that computers aren’t good at. Historically that’s been true. That understanding is rapidly becoming obsolete. Computers are becoming very good at these kinds of tasks after all.

We’ve long since relegated blue collar, factory work to robots. The most menial of office tasks have already been delegated to computing hardware. Who has a real personal assistant anymore? Only the richest of the rich. Everyone else uses a electronic device to handle all of the work the human would have once done.

Even the term “computer” itself tells us of a white-collar job replaced by the machine. The word once described a human employee who crunched numbers all day – often for accountants or engineers who oversaw them and told them what math to do. The machines have long since destroyed those jobs in the name of productivity.

Your job isn’t safe, either. It’s only a matter of time. The software keep getting better and better. But the key point is how fast it’s getting better. In the next few years we’re going to see software replace humans in more and more jobs. Some are obvious. Fast food workers are going the way of the dodo – especially in an era of $15 an hour minimum wages. Truck drivers are going away, soon to be replaced by automated vehicles.

This will come much faster than critics like Megan McArdle predict. To be clear, she’s absolutely right about the hurdles the technology faces. What she misses is just how far along the tech already is – and how rapidly it’s advancing. There is one simple factor that will drive rapid adoption of self driving vehicles: deaths. Tens of thousands of Americans die every year on our roads. It’s the fourth highest killer in modern America. Self driving vehicles will virtually eliminate those deaths. The public will clamor for them, with torches and pitchforks if they have to.

But I digress. We all know self driving cars are coming because Google, Apple, Tesla and BMW want to be sure that we know. Don’t think that your job is safe because you happen to do intellectual work. It’s not. Software programming other software? It’s coming. Computers teaching your kids? It’s coming. Programs writing books and scripting movies? They’re already here. The time is rapidly approaching when we can even eliminate the actors.

Quit Whining

Published January 1, 2017 in Psychology - 0 Comments
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A few years ago I made a conscious decision to quit whining. And I’m here to tell you that it’s life changing.

Life.

Changing.

I haven’t been perfect at it. So one of my New Year’s goals this year is to double down on that decision and eliminate even the last of the whining. Because the simple truth is that whining is for losers.

It’s not that whining is something that losers do. It’s that whining turns you into a loser. Whining doesn’t help you. Ever. Rather, it just gets in your way. It only gets in your way, and prevents you from doing those things that can actually improve your life.

Worse, it makes life more annoying for the people around you. Usually those people are your friends and family – the people who might actually help you with your problems, if you let them. Think about it. There’s no way whining ever could actually improve things.

That is my challenge to myself this year – and it’s my challenge to you, as well. Stop whining and fix it. You’ll be ten times happier for it.

My Top Blog Posts of 2016

Published December 31, 2016 in Navel Gazing - 0 Comments
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Here they are, in order from least to most popular: my top ten blog posts of 2016. Silver Empire calls for submission proved very popular, but they couldn’t beat out scandal and sex appeal. Go figure!

2016 In Review

Published December 31, 2016 in Navel Gazing - 0 Comments
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By any metric, 2016 has been a great year for me. There were some hiccups, but altogether the good overwhelmed the bad. Here’s a look back on the year.

  • My fourth child was born.
  • Our fourth annual Extra Life event raised nearly $2000 for Children’s Miracle Network.
  • Book sales for Silver Empire are up almost 10x over 2015.
  • I merged my old dojo, Madison Martial Arts, with my Sensei’s dojo, Spirit Made Steel. The resulting dojo has 3x the student base of Madison Martial Arts. Our new facility is 3.5x larger. I have a strong base of wonderful assistant instructors helping now, and our classes are better than ever.
  • Blog traffic for 2016 is up more than 7x over 2015. My best month was May, which approached the peak traffic levels of previous incarnations of this blog.
  • Blog revenue from Amazon Associates sales increased 5x over 2015.
  • My grandmother passed away after an amazing 95 year run.
  • Silver Empire published its first novel.
  • And we published our first audiobook.
  • I finished the first draft of my own first novel (read a sample chapter).
  • Our Kickstarter campaign for Lyonesse nearly doubled its goal.
  • I set new personal records on all major lifts at the gym.
  • I earned my 4th Degree Black Belt
  • Some of my favorite authors sent me free books to review.
  • I got interviewed for the first time.
  • My Twitter feed crossed 1000 followers.
  • I’ve made many wonderful new friends through the author community, social media, my dojo merger, and many other areas.
  • I published 216 blog posts this year.

2017 is looking to be an even better year.

  • After more than three years, I expect my dojo to finally start operating in the black.
  • I expect to publish both my first novel and my first novella.
  • Blog traffic will likely grow by around 3-4x.
  • Based on our upcoming lineup, Silver Empire book sales will likely grow by around 5x.
  • We plan to launch Lyonesse in the early part of the year.
  • My goal for 2017 is to publish at least one blog post every single day, including holidays and weekends. That will more than double the content on this blog.
  • And… I have a few more surprises in store for the year. What, you wouldn’t want me to reveal everything ahead of time, would you? 😉

Lyonesse Author Spotlight and Free Story – L Jagi Lamplighter

Published December 29, 2016 in Fantasy , Lyonesse , Silver Empire - 0 Comments
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Thank you to all who have contributed so far to the Lyonesse kickstarter project! We have just over 24 hours left on our Kickstarter and we’ve reached 144% of our goal! If you haven’t already, stop by and contribute. A $7 contribution gets you an entire year’s subscription – including at least 52 stories (one per week, plus the occasional bonus story) from some of the most amazing up and coming science fiction and fantasy authors. And if you’re interested in one of our lifetime subscriptions, keep in mind that this will be your last chance to get one. They are only available through our Kickstarter campaign – when it ends, they will disappear!

Meanwhile, we also have a handful of more established authors on our list, and today I’d like to talk about one: the talented L. Jagi Lamplighter. Some of you may also know her as the Mrs. John C. Wright. Mrs. Lamplighter is the author of the Books of Unexpected Enlightenment series (which I have previously reviewed here, here, and here). She’s also the author of the Prospero’s Daughter series, and the editor of Brian Niemeier‘s Soul Cycle series (of which I have reviewed books one and two, and will get around to book three very soon!). I can also say that I have the great privilege of having contracted her to be my own editor for my upcoming novel Post Traumatic Stress.

Finally, as a special thank you to all of our backers for helping us with our successful Kickstarter project, I present our first Lyonesse bonus story, Mrs. Lamplighter’s, Four Funerals and a Wedding. This is but a small taste of things to come from Lyonesse, and I hope that all of you find the story as delightful as I did.


Four Funerals and a Wedding

by L Jagi Lamplighter

This story is dedicated to
Matthew and Eugie Foster,
Who deserved better

Cassandra leaned against the shovel and wiped her brow as a flock of geese flew across the face of the moon. Beside her, Archie dug steadily, unearthing the grave dirt above his fiancée’s coffin.

“You know,” the young woman picked up her shovel again, “this was not where I had expected this to end.”

“Let’s just hope it doesn’t end here,” he grunted back. “Or worse, with us both in jail.

*     *     *

For the first funeral, Cassandra wore her sunglasses. They were huge and dark and made her look like a blind owl, but they covered her high cheekbones and her eyes. Nothing showed but the nose and chin she had inherited from her Jewish father—not unattractive but unremarkable. No one ever gave the lower half of her face a second glance.

She chose a slim black dress and low black suede boots. The silver and turquoise cat necklace she had worn whenever she left the house for four years now—Jeremy’s last present to her on her last mother’s day—was a bit cheery for the occasion, but she could not bear to leave it home. She tucked it inside her gown.

Seated in the back pews of St. Timothy’s, she gazed surreptitiously at the crowd. Ahead, the family paraded slowly by the open casket, saying their last goodbyes. An old woman in black and a middle-aged man were crying loudly, but the dead man’s wife was sitting with her back straight, a look of desperate hope in her eyes.

Maybe she read the newspapers.

Cassandra pulled Nicholas’s old handkerchief from her purse and pressed it against the corner of her eyes. After four years, it embarrassed her that she still cried. But they had been four lonely years—without Nicholas, without her little Jeremy.

No one understood what it was like to have been a mother and then not be one anymore. The worst was when her friends commented on her having the freedom to spend her hours how she pleased. She would given anything to trade her freedom, her prestigious career as a photographer, and her hobbies for the mess and toil of having her family back.

The door opened, and the reporter from Channel 9 evening news came in, his camera man beside him. Cassandra jerked her head away. If he saw her, he would know. He had been at the last funeral, too.

Should she leave? Her eyes flickered to the face of the widow.

Steepling her fingers and pressing them against her lips, she closed her eyes and quieted her heart. Life. It was eternal. Nothing could be put to it or be taken away from it.

The lately-deceased man sat up in his open coffin, blinking. The rafters of the small church echoed with screams of terror and then with screams of joy.

*     *     *

For the second funeral, she wore her hair down. It fell midway down her back, like a solid black waterfall. She hid Jeremy’s necklace beneath her black silk blouse, which she wore over gray slacks. Her sunglasses still hid her eyes.

This one was held at the Presbyterian church outside of town. Calhoun from Channel 9 was there before her, a big, heavy, scowling man. Cassandra shuddered and averted her head. She had been reading his columns, and they were vile. The man poured out vitriol and bile on every subject he covered.

It made her heart ache for humanity that people paid to read such vileness.

Beneath Jeremy’s necklace, her heart beat rapidly. Would he recognize her? If he did, what would happen?

It was not herself she was worried about. What did she have to lose? It was the folks who she could help if everyone left her alone.

She had tried going to the hospital, but she felt like a harpy, waiting around for people to die. Besides, hospitals made her nervous—too many bad memories. And when she was nervous, nothing happened. Same thing if she bragged or allowed even the slightest hint of pride.

If she wanted to help grieving families and lives cut short, she had to do it quietly, privately.

If Calhoun from Channel 9 outed her—put her in the public limelight—would she ever be able to help anyone again?

*     *     *

For the third funeral, she wore a very large black and white hat. Its large brim dipped down, making it easy to hide behind. Between that and her sunglasses, her face was hardly visible. This was a good thing because the despicable Calhoun looked right at her as she left the church. His assistant pivoted the camera and pointed the blank, black lens right at her. She had only enough time to duck her head and block her face with the hat.

By the time she arrived home, her whole body was shaking.

*     *     *

For the fourth funeral, she left her sunglasses home. Without them, she became a whole new person. All heads turned when she walked into the funeral parlor as people stared at the young Asian woman, so lovely she could be a model. But no one, not even Calhoun who was positioned at the door, hunched like a vulture, recognized her as the person had been when the upper part of her face was covered.

It was a disguise she could only use once.

She also took her work camera with its zoom lens.

There was a lone chair against the wall. Cassandra pushed it into a back corner, behind a large urn containing a palm. The smell of smoke and chemicals made it hard to concentrate. Her heart was beating so loudly, she could not hear herself pray.

She closed her eyes and tried to quiet her thoughts, but the angry, leering image of Calhoun kept imposing on her peace. His latest piece on the mysterious “zombie-maker” had been so hateful that it had made her sick to her stomach to read it.

Who hated a person for resurrecting the dead?

In her imagination, she kept picturing the moment when he found her out, the finger pointing, the clammy hands grabbing her by the arm and yanking her in front of everyone. She felt lightheaded.

Only the sight of the two children weeping beside the casket kept her run fleeing the premises.

She closed her eyes and breathed, but she could not clear her thoughts.

What was it with this man? Why was he so angry? Why…

Why had she not prayed for him?

The funeral proceeded. A preacher gave a blessing. A brother gave a eulogy. Children wept. Cassandra tried to pray for the bloated, angry reporter, but her words were empty. In her heart, she did not wish him well.

There must be something about him, something that could break the spell of disgust he had cast over her, some quality, however small, that she could admire.

Nothing.

The gathering was beginning to break up. People were rising, milling, laying a silent hand on the shoulder of the sobbing widower. And Calhoun still stood there, scouring the gathering, scowling at each person, as if they were personally guilty of having murdered the dead woman. Did he never give up?

Ah, that was a quality Cassandra admired. She had to give Calhoun that.

He was dogged.

Like a spell breaking, Cassandra looked at the reporter as if for the first time. How tired he looked, how bitter, his eyes were bloodshot. He looked…like a very miserable soul indeed.

That was enough. Her thoughts calmed. She closed her eyes. She kept them shut until the children began to shout.

Outside, the Channel 9 man was standing by the front walk, interviewing the happy family. People were crying and laughing and hugging. The woman’s husband, no longer a widower, clung to her, weeping with joy and relief.

The camera was pointed right at the door.

She should have worn her sunglasses after all.

Cassandra looked around. Did she dare cut through the vestibule to find another door? Her hand brushed against her camera. Raising her head, she walked over to loathsome toad of Channel 9, whom she really could not think quite as badly of as she had before, and stuck out her hand.

Heads turned as she walked. But neither the toad nor the no-longer-a-widower paid attention to her appearance.

“Hi there, Cassandra King Crossing.” She patted her camera bag, where hit hung at her hip. “I do some freelance work for the Mystic River Press and The Westerly Sun, among other places.

His hand was big and meaty. “Archibald Calhoun. Channel 9.”

Despite her nervousness, she flashed a big smile and gestured at the crowd. “I gather we’re looking for the same thing? Maybe we could compare notes?”

“You mean the person responsible for this circus?” he snarled. “Yeah, I’d like to find that bastard.”

“What would you do if you did?” she asked casually.

“Punch the S.O.B. in the face. Repeatedly.”

“For resurrecting the dead?” Her voice rose so high it broke.

“What kind of low human being hides the fact that they can resurrect the dead? Where was this bastard when my Effie…” His voice broke.

“O-oh,” breathed Cassandra.

His face had taken on a haggard dullness that she knew as well as she knew her own name. It struck her like a blow to her solar plexus.

“I’ve been looking for him for weeks. Thought maybe he could save…s-she’d been so healthy just three months ago. We thought the cancer had been beat. Then, wham.” The big, ugly brute, who was beginning to look dear to her, rubbed at his eyes with the back of his sleeve. “Our wedding was set for tomorrow. She had bought a lovely dress—the nurses had promised to help her put it on—and her brother was going to fly in from Chicago. But things took a sudden turn for the worse. And Effie….” He swallowed, his big Adam’s apple jiggling. “Her brother ended up flying in a few days earlier, for the funeral.”

Cassandra could hear the man speaking, but she could not see him. All she could see was the glare of headlights from a car coming directly at her on a slick rainy night. She felt, again, the lurch of the car as Nicholas put the driver’s side between the danger and his family. In the heat of the moment, he forgot that Jeremy, so recently free of his booster seat, had moved over to sit behind the driver, so he could talk to his father.

If only…if only Nicholas had swerved the other way.

Cassandra yanked out the silly silver and turquoise cat from inside her dress and gripped it tightly. Her life was hard enough but… Not to have ever been Nicolas’s wife? Not to have ever held Jeremy, or see him take his first step, or win his first soccer game? Even this, even all the pain and agony of loss, was better than that.

Tears streaming down her cheeks, Cassandra grabbed the reporter’s arm. “Your fiancée, where did they put her body?”

*     *     *

For the wedding, she wore a wide straw hat with flowers tucked in the band. She even went up into the attic and took out a blue and green dress she had not worn since the last time she and Nicolas went out to dinner. The silver and blue cat looked lovely resting against the silky material.

She also left her sunglasses home.

The ceremony was held at St. Timothy’s. The press was there, not just Channel 9, but all the local stations and a few national ones as well. She could already foresee the running caption: Revenant Woman Weds.

Effie looked lovely in her white gown, her face aglow. Archie Calhoun stood beside her, proud as a bridegroom could be in his handsome tux. Looking at his round, beaming face, Cassandra could not remember why she had thought it anything but kindly and dear. The bridegroom turned his head. Across the crowded church, their eyes met.

Archie Calhoun winked.

Cassandra winked back—which never could have happened had she still been hiding behind her sunglasses.

 

The End

NEW RELEASE: The Cinder Witch by Morgon Newquist

Published December 29, 2016 in Announcements , Fantasy , New Releases , Silver Empire - 0 Comments
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Months ago, Alis joined with her new friend Cahan to fight a dragon beneath the School of Spells and War. Now she fights something altogether different: fame. Worse, her newfound notoriety has resulted in a mission to the far north. As if it weren’t bad enough that it’s so cold, she also finds herself in a tiny village whose residents innately distrust spellcasters of all kinds. Yet they tolerate her because she comes with Cahan – and because something is threatening their children. Can Alis and Cahan save them?

THE CINDER WITCH is the is the third story of the The School of Spells & War series. following the adventures of the sorceress Alis and her companion Cahan the warrior.

The School of Spells & War Tale Three, THE CINDER WITCH, is 45 pages, DRM free, and $0.99. If you enjoyed Mrs. Newquist‘s DOWN THE DRAGON HOLE, or A MIDSUMMER’S PARTY you will definitely enjoy the third story in The School of Spells & War.

The School of Spells & War is an ongoing collection of old fashioned sword-and-sorcery adventure stories following a wizard and warrior duo as they galavant across the continent of Thillon. Good-humored, powerful warrior Cahan and intelligent, skilled wizard Alis work together to serve their university, the school of spells and war, by battling dragons, investigating plots against the king, hunting witches, and dealing with the ongoing threat of the ancient and mysterious Formless.

As an added bonus, the first tale of The School of Spells & War, DOWN THE DRAGON HOLE will be free on Amazon from tomorrow, December 30th, 2016, through New Year’s Day 2017 for those who have not yet begun this delightful series.