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Excerpt: The People's Police by Norman Spinrad - and Giveaway


The Qwillery is delighted to share with you an excerpt from The People's Police by Norman Spinrad.



Excerpt: The People's Police by Norman Spinrad - and Giveaway




Chapter 1


Some folks are still bitching that the Eternal Mardi Gras is a Disney version, what with the traditional Krewes’ parading limited to the traditional lead-up to Fat Tuesday while the big budget corporate floats from Hollywood, Bollywood, and Pornywood parade all year, all long, all over New Orleans, which is sort of true, given that it was Disney I brought in first.

But whining that the Mouse has gone and done to the French Quarter what it did to Times Square, and oozed out into the rest of New Orleans like the annual dose of mud during the Hurricane Season, and calling yours truly, Jean-Baptiste Lafitte, a swamp rat traitor to the true soul of the city is going a tad too far, seeing as how the Quarter had fallen far off its fabled glory days even before Katrina.

You expect me to apologize for saving the city from drowning to death?

Oh yes, I did!

Everyone knows New Orleans had been on its economic ass for decades, barely able to pay the cops to keep the Swamp Alligators down in their lowlands swamps and out of the New Orleans Proper high grounds.

And the Hurricane Season wasn’t going away, now was it, and what the Dutch were demanding in order to save what was left of the Big Easy from finally going under would’ve been about the total budget of the city government for the next decade or two. No high-priced, high-tech Hans Brinker seawalls and solar windmill pumping stations back then, need I remind you?

I guess I do.

Amazing what short memories ingrates have.

New Orleans featured itself as the Big Easy since before Mickey Mouse was even a gleam in Uncle Walt’s evil eye, but just because the truth wouldn’t look so good in the tourist guides doesn’t mean we don’t all know that it’s always really been the Big Sleazy, now does it?

This city was making its living as a haven for pirates and slavers and the riverboat gamblers, saloon keepers and whorehouse impresarios like yours more or less truly, rollers high, low, and medium, who serviced their trade since before the Louisiana Purchase.

The Big Easy was born as the Big Sleazy. Easy?

Yeah, sure.

Born between a bend in the mighty and mighty ornery Mississip and a briny marsh presumed to call itself Lake Pontchartrain serving as an overflowing catch-basin for tidal surges when the major hurricanes hit and a giant mud puddle in-between.

Easy?

First built precariously on the natural levees of the Mississippi, expanding greedily and stupidly into the back swamps. Tossed around like a beachball between the French and the Spanish. Finally sold to the Americans by Napoleon on the cheap because he knows he’s gonna lose it to the British anyway if he doesn’t. Flooded every few decades even before Katrina, before there even was an annual Hurricane Season, squeezing what remained onto what high ground was left to it after the sea level rose. The population cut almost in half, forced to live off the tourist and entertainment trade alone when the Gulf oil dried up, just about surrounded by the Alligator Swamp and what crawled up out of it if its back was turned.

You call that Easy?

Those who adapt survive, like the Cajuns from icy Quebec said when they found themselves in the steamin’ bayous of the Delta, like the Alligator Swamp nutria hunters turning a plague into protein. Those who don’t ain’t been heard from lately. So making legal what the Big Easy always was to pull our terminal condition from the mud is not “selling out the soul of the city” or “whoring ourselves to the mavens of show business.”

Because the Big Easy has always been a whore, a charming, sleazy, free-wheeling, good-natured hooker with a heart of gold and an eye for the main chance, which is what makes her easy, and bein’ easy is the name of the game in this business, which has always been the main game in town. And let an old bordello impresario tell you, who would ever hire a hooker who wasn’t all of the above, and good-lookin’ too?

In case you’re forgetting, the Big Easy wasn’t exactly looking as appetizing as a platter of Oysters Bienville back in the day before Mama Legba and Her Supernatural Krewe. She’s all spiffed up and lit up and giving herself the star treatment now, to the point where ingrates and ignoramuses and Creole romantics looking back over their shoulders can afford to complain about how New Orleans is peddling her previously jazzy derrière to less than the genteel bohemian trade of their absinthe fantasies.

Whoever wrote that song about there being no business like show business sure got it wrong. As things stand now, there’s no business but show business and we all are in it. Not that we haven’t always been. The only difference now is that it’s making the good times roll again after all those years in the deep dark shit, and that’s good enough for me, and if it’s not good enough for you, this ain’t your town, you’d best leave and go somewhere more to your tight-assholed liking.

But y’all come back on vacation from the salt mines, y’hear! Whatever your pleasure, we got it, and if we don’t, don’t worry, no matter how pervo it may seem to your sweaty vestigial morality, we’ll get it for you. Here in the Eternal Mardi Gras of the Big Easy, we make no such judgments, we’re impossible to scandalize, de gustibus non est disputandum.


What pays here, stays here, and never fear, we do still want your money.


Copyright © 2017 by Norman Spinrad





The People's Police
Tor Books, February 7, 2017
Hardcover and eBook, 288 pages

Excerpt: The People's Police by Norman Spinrad - and Giveaway
Norman Spinrad, a National Book Award finalist for his short fiction collection The Star-Spangled Future, has now written The People's Police, a sharp commentary on politics with a contemporary, speculative twist. Martin Luther Martin is a hard-working New Orleans cop, who has come up from the gangland of Alligator Swamp through hard work. When he has to serve his own eviction notice, he decides he's had enough and agrees to spearhead a police strike.

Brothel owner and entrepreneur J. B. Lafitte also finds himself in a tight spot when his whorehouse in the Garden District goes into foreclosure. Those same Fat Cats responsible for the real estate collapse after Katrina didn't differentiate between social strata or vocation.

MaryLou Boudreau, aka Mama Legba, is a television star and voodoo queen—with a difference. The loa really do ride and speak through her.

These three, disparate people are pulled together by a single moment in the television studio when Martin, hoping for publicity and support from the people against the banks, corporate fat cats, and corrupt politicians. But no one expects Papa Legba himself to answer, and his question changes everything.

"What do you offer?"





About Norman

Norman Spinrad is a science fiction icon and the author of more than twenty novels which have been translated into over a dozen languages. His 1969 novel, Bug Jack Barron, was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula Awards and his short fiction collection, The Star-Spangled Future, was a National Book Award finalist. He has also written screenplays for American television series, including the original Star Trek. He lives in Paris. For more information, visit normanspinradatlarge.blogspot.com.

Twitter @normanspinrad





The Giveaway

What:  Two copies of The People's Police by Norman Spinrad from Tor Books. US / Canada Only

How:
  • Send an email to theqwillery . contests @ gmail.com [remove the spaces]
  • In the subject line, enter “The People's Police“
  • In the body of the email, please provide your name and full mailing address. The winning address is used only to mail the prize and is provided to the publisher and/or The Qwillery only for that purpose. All other address information will be deleted once the giveaway ends.

Who:  The giveaway is open to all humans on the planet earth with a US or Canadian mailing address.

When:  The giveaway ends at 11:59 PM US Eastern Time on February 17, 2017. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules and duration are subject to change without any notice.*

Review and Excerpt of The Seventh Plague and Q&A with James Rollins


The Seventh Plague
A Sigma Force Novel 12
William Morrow, December 13, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, 448 pages

Review and Excerpt of The Seventh Plague and Q&A with James Rollins
In a breathtaking blend of scientific intrigue and historical mystery, #1 New York Times bestselling mastermind, James Rollins, reveals an ancient threat hidden within the pages of the Bible, one that threatens the modern world in The Seventh Plague

If the biblical plagues of Egypt truly happened—could they happen again—on a global scale?

Two years after vanishing into the Sudanese desert, the leader of a British archeological expedition, Professor Harold McCabe, comes stumbling out of the sands, frantic and delirious, but he dies before he can tell his story. The mystery deepens when an autopsy uncovers a bizarre corruption: someone had begun to mummify the professor’s body—while he was still alive.

His strange remains are returned to London for further study, when alarming news arrives from Egypt. The medical team who had performed the man’s autopsy has fallen ill with an unknown disease, one that is quickly spreading throughout Cairo. Fearing the worst, a colleague of the professor reaches out to a longtime friend: Painter Crowe, the director of Sigma Force. The call is urgent, for Professor McCabe had vanished into the desert while searching for proof of the ten plagues of Moses. As the pandemic grows, a disturbing question arises.

Are those plagues starting again?

Before Director Crowe can investigate, a mysterious group of assassins leaves behind a fiery wake of destruction and death, erasing all evidence. With the professor’s body incinerated, his home firebombed, Sigma Force must turn to the archaeologist’s only daughter, Jane McCabe, for help. While sifting through what’s left of her father’s work, she discovers a puzzling connection tying the current threat to a shocking historical mystery, one involving the travels of Mark Twain, the genius of Nikola Tesla, and the adventures of famous explorer Henry Morgan Stanley.

To unravel a secret going back millennia, Director Crowe and Commander Grayson Pierce will be thrust to opposite sides of the globe. One will search for the truth, traveling from the plague-ridden streets of Cairo to a vast ancient tomb buried under the burning sands of the Sudan; the other will struggle to stop a mad genius locked within a remote Arctic engineering complex, risking the lives of all those he holds dear.

As the global crisis grows ever larger, Sigma Force will confront a threat born of the ancient past and made real by the latest science—a danger that will unleash a cascading series of plagues, culminating in a scourge that could kill all of the world’s children . . . decimating humankind forever.



Qwill's Thoughts

The Seventh Plague by James Rollins is only the 2nd Sigma Force novel that I've read. I have to ask myself why I haven't read them all? The Seventh Plague is fabulous. It weaves together science, history, historical figures, and myth into a breathtaking thrill-ride.

The Seventh Plague is beautifully researched. The focus on the biblical plagues and what could have caused them and allow them to happen again is thoughtful and well-done. It all makes sense and is seemingly plausible, which is what I look for in an historical mystery. It works even when Rollins stretches things more than a bit because the historical and scientific foundation for the story is so well set out. There are maps and drawings and nuggets of historical fact that are just tantalizing. The places in the story are all easy to picture as Rollins is masterful in his descriptions.

Rollins does his research whether biblical history, locale or cutting edge science which lends great depth to the story. But equally important, Rollins does not skimp on characters and their stories. The personalities and depth of emotion that fill the pages are wonderful. From the head of Sigma Force to the misguided villain to the operatives out in the field, each character is distinct and an integral part of the story. Each of the main characters' struggles are laid bare along with their worries and concerns, their loves and hopes. There is a large cast of characters but you will remember each of them. If you've never read a Sigma Force novel you needn't worry - everything you need to know is here.

I enjoyed every minute reading The Seventh Plague. This is a deeply engaging novel with well-researched historical and scientific underpinnings, a thrilling mystery, terrific characters, and nail-biting excitement.

Don't skip the Author's Note to Readers at the end where Rollins lays out science, history and his fabrications, but read that after you read the novel.





EXCERPT FROM THE SEVENTH PLAGUE BY JAMES ROLLINS

9:34 P.M. EST
March 2, 1895
New York City
          Now this is more like it…
          With his goal in sight, Samuel Clemens—better known by his penname Mark Twain—led his reluctant companion through Gramercy Park. Directly ahead, gaslights beckoned on the far side of the street, illuminating the columns, portico, and ironwork of the Players Club. Both men were members of this exclusive establishment.
          Drawn by the promise of laughter, spirits, and good company, Twain increased his pace, moving in great, purposeful strides, trailing a cloud of cigar smoke through the crisp night air. “What do you say, Nikola?” he called back to his chum. “According to my pocket watch and my stomach, Players must still be serving dinner. And barring that I could use some brandy to go with this cigar.”
          Younger by almost two decades, Nikola Tesla was dressed in a stiff suit, worn at the elbows to a dull sheen. He kept swiping at his dark hair and darting glances around. When he was nervous, like now, the man’s Serbian accent grew as thick as his mustache.
          “Samuel, my friend, the night is late, and I still have work to finish at my lab. I appreciate the tickets to the theater, but I should be off.”
          “Nonsense. Too much work makes for a dull man.”
          “Then you must be exceptionally exciting…what with your life of such extreme leisure.”
          Twain glanced back with an exaggerated huff. “I’ll have you know I’m working on another book.”
          “Let me guess,” Nikola offered with a wry smile. “Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer get into more trouble.”
          “If only those two bastards would!” Twain chuckled, drawing the eye of a passerby. “Then I might be able to pay off my creditors.”
          Though Twain kept it quiet, he had declared bankruptcy last year, turning over all of his copyrights to his wife, Olivia. To help pay off his debts, he was due to head out on an around-the-world lecture tour over the next twelve months.
          Still, the mention of money had soured the moment. Twain kicked himself for mentioning it, knowing Nikola was struggling as much as he was with financial hardships, despite his friend being a veritable genius, a polymath who was equal parts inventor, electrical engineer, and physicist. Twain had spent many afternoons at the man’s South Fifth Avenue laboratory, the two becoming great friends.
          “Maybe one drink,” Nikola conceded with a sigh.
          They headed across the street toward the portico under the hissing gas lamps. But before they could reach the entrance, a figure stepped from the shadows to accost them both.
          “Thank God,” the man said as he ambushed them. “I heard from your doorman that you might end up here tonight.”
          Momentarily taken aback, Twain finally recognized the fellow. Surprised and delighted, he clapped his old friend on the shoulder. “Well met, Stanley! What are you doing here? I thought you were still in England?”
          “I only arrived back yesterday.”
          “Wonderful! Then let’s celebrate your return to our shores by raising a glass or two. Maybe even three.”
          Twain moved to draw the other two men inside with him, only to be stopped by Stanley at the threshold.
          “As I understand it,” Stanley said, “you have the ear of Thomas Edison.”
          “I…I suppose I do,” Twain answered hesitantly, knowing all too well of the deep-seated friction between Edison and his companion this night, Nikola Tesla.
          “I have a matter of urgency to discuss with the inventor, something to show him, a task given to me by the Crown.”
          “Truly? What a tantalizing bit of intrigue.”
          “Perhaps I could help,” Nikola offered.
          As the two men were unacquainted, Twain made proper introductions, acting as a potential matchmaker for this strange affair. “Nikola, this is Henry Morton Stanley—soon to be Sir Stanley if the rumors hold true—famed not only as an explorer in his own right but also regaled for his discovery of David Livingstone, a fellow explorer lost in the darkest heart of Africa.”
          “Ah,” Nikola said, “I remember now, especially how you greeted him. ‘Doctor Livingstone, I presume?’
          Stanley groaned. “I never said those exact words.”
          Twain smiled and turned to his other friend. “And this is Nikola Tesla, as much a genius in his own right as Edison, perhaps more so.”
          Stanley’s eyes grew wider upon this introduction. “Of course. I should have recognized you.”
          This drew some color to Nikola’s pale cheeks.
          “So,” Twain began, “upon what dire mission has the British Crown assigned you?”
          Stanley wiped a damp palm across his thinning gray hair. “As you know, Livingstone was lost in Africa while seeking the true source of the Nile. Something I’ve sought myself in the past.”
          “Yes, you and many other Brits. Apparently it’s a quest on par with finding the Holy Grail for you all.”
          Stanley scowled but did not discount his words.
          Twain suspected that the drive behind such a concerted search by the British had less to do with geographical curiosity than it did with the country’s colonial ambitions in Africa, but for once he held his tongue, fearing he might scare his friend off before the night’s mystery revealed itself.
          “So how does the source of the Nile concern the British Crown?” Twain pressed.
          Stanley drew him closer and pulled a small object from his pocket. It was a glass vial full of a dark liquid. “This was only recently discovered among the relics of David Livingstone’s estate. A Nubian warrior—someone whom Livingstone had helped by saving the man’s sick son—had given David an ancient talisman, a small vessel sealed with wax and carved with hieroglyphics. This vial holds a small sample of the water found inside that talisman, water which the tribesman claimed came from the Nile itself.”
          Twain shrugged. “Why’s that significant?”
          Stanley stepped away and raised the vial toward one of the gas lamps. Under the flickering flame, the liquid inside glowed a rich crimson.
          “According to Livingstone’s papers, the water was said to be thousands of years old, drawn from the ancient Nile when the river had turned to blood.”
          “Turned to blood?” Nikola asked. “Like in the Old Testament?”
          Twain smiled, suspecting Stanley was trying to set him up. The explorer knew of his personal disdain for organized religion. They’d had many heated discourses on that very subject. “So you’re claiming this came from Moses’ Biblical plague, the first of the ten he cast upon the Egyptians?”
          Stanley’s expression never wavered. “I know how this sounds.”
          “It can’t possibly—”
          “Twenty-two men are dead at the British Royal Society. Slain when the Nubian talisman was first opened and its contents tested in a laboratory.”
          A moment of stunned silence followed.
          “How did they die?” Nikola finally asked. “Was it a poison?”
          Stanley had paled. Here was a man who had faced all manner of dread beast, debilitating fever, and cannibal savages with nary a sign of fear. He now looked terrified.
          “Not a poison.”
          “Then what?” Twain asked.
          With deadpan seriousness, Stanley answered, “A curse.” He closed his fist around the vial. “This is indeed a remnant of God’s ancient wrath upon the Egyptians—but it’s only the beginning if we don’t stop what is to come.”
          “What can be done?” Twain asked.
          Stanley turned to Nikola. “You must come to England.”
          “To do what?” Twain asked.
          “To stop the next plague.”





A Dozen Questions about THE SEVENTH PLAGUE by James Rollins

(1)     Can you tell us a little about The Seventh Plague, your latest Sigma thriller? What’s it about?

The story starts when an archaeologist—who vanished along with a survey team into the Egyptian desert two years prior—comes stumbling back out and dies in a small village. But what’s strange is that his body is already partly mummified, as if someone had forced him to undergo the painful and gruesome ritual while he was still alive. Unfortunately when he came stumbling out of the desert, he wasn’t alone. He was carrying a plague organism, one that traces back to Moses’s ten plagues from the Bible. As this disease spreads and threatens to trigger the other nine Biblical plagues, Sigma Force is called in to search for a way to stop it. From there the story blows up into a global adventure spanning from Africa all the way up to the Arctic Circle. It’s one of Sigma’s biggest adventures yet.


(2)     Is it actually possible for people to mummify themselves while still alive?

Shockingly it is. Sokushinbutsu—or Buddhas in the flesh—can be found in Japan, where the practitioners underwent great and excruciating lengths to preserve their tissues after death. This involves fasting, consuming special bark and teas, and swallowing stones—then as death nears, they entomb themselves while still alive. You’ll also find similar practices in China and India.


(3     Back to those ten plagues from the Bible…could they really happen again?

This novel deals with an alternate timeline for the events featured in the Book of Exodus—the story of Moses, the plagues, and the flight of the Israelites from Egypt. It proves that these were historical events, not mere myths or legends. It’s a view well researched by Egyptologist and archaeologist David Rohl. Likewise, the plagues themselves have a rational and scientific explanation that not only shows they could have happened—but that they could indeed happen again.


(4)     Speaking of those plagues, you also tie this book to the current crisis involving the spread of the Zika virus. What does Zika have to do with your story?

The Zika virus originated in a monkey in Uganda, yet it’s grown into a tragic disease spreading around the world and now into the United States, causing crippling and deadly birth defects. Yet, as you can see from the media, we’re struggling to address it as it hits our shores. The organism in my novel is in the same family of viruses and causes birth defects and death, but only in male children, very much like Moses tenth plague—the deaths of the firstborn sons. So this novel serves as a cautionary tale about Zika and about our inability to face such crises.


(5)     Your novel also features “electric bacteria.” Those can’t possibly be real, can they?

They are very real. They’ve only recently been identified, but over a dozen different specimens have been found. These are microbes that feed directly on electricity, sucking electrons out of the environment and using them as an energy source. They’re so unique that a slew of labs are exploring practical applications for them—from growing them into living biocables that could conduct electricity to using them to power nano-machines capable of all sorts of industrial uses, including cleaning up the environment.


(6)     During this adventure, you also raise concerns about climate change. How does that play out in your book?

While I don’t intend my novel to be a diatribe about climate change, it’s hard to deny that the Arctic is getting warmer, the ice caps are getting smaller, and it’s opening up the entire north to exploration. Cruise ships are already plying the Northwest Passage, a trek once considered too hazardous to even contemplate and led to the deaths of countless explorers. Even more concerning, the whole region has become a political hotbed because the extensive melting is allowing easier access to the Arctic’s rich resources. Russia, Denmark, and Canada are fighting to divvy up the territory found under the Arctic Ice cap, with lots of butting heads, and Russian submarines are already patrolling under the ice, trying to stake a claim. It’s a powder keg waiting to explode.


(7)     You also look at a unique way of combating climate change, something called geo-engineering. What’s that?

These are massive projects, basically Hail Mary passes to save the planet. Most climate scientists believe we are near, at, or past the tipping point to do anything. So looking beyond just lowering carbon emissions, researchers are contemplating projects much larger: like enclosing the earth in a solar shield, or flooding Death Valley, or even wrapping Greenland in a blanket. The only problem—beyond the feasibility of funding or accomplishing them—is the danger of unintended consequences, disasters that no one could predict because the number of variables is so huge when talking about a global-wide engineering project. So, of course, I wanted to explore what might happen if someone actually attempted one of these projects.


(8)     The project featured in your book is tied to something actually up in the Arctic already.

It does. It ties to an Air Force installation called HAARP, which is an elaborate antenna array shooting energy up to the earth’s ionosphere, the electrically charged layer of our atmosphere. The installation has been the focus for many conspiracy theories, believing it might be a weather-control device or used to read minds. There were even concerns that is might set the sky on fire. So in my story, I built a larger, scarier version up in Canada—and make those fears come real.


(9)     As usual, you also fold some intriguing history into your novel, like featuring Mark Twain and his friendships with other historical figures, like the inventor Nicola Tesla.

I’ve always found it fascinating that so many bigger-than-life historical figures not only knew each other, but were involved in each other’s lives. Like how Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla were great buddies. Twain even spent time in Tesla’s lab, helping with experiments, and I’m sure being a general nuisance. I love one anecdote. Twain wanted to test Tesla’s “earthquake machine” to help with his constipation. Twain stepped onto the inventor’s large oscillating device and had to promptly and hurriedly excuse himself to the restroom. It’s such a fun relationship that I wanted to give that pair—a writer and an inventor—a great adventure of their own. And that’s what happens in this novel.


(10)     Besides Mark Twain, you even have Donald Trump’s uncle connected to Tesla’s story. Was that true?

Yes, and it ties into a great mystery surrounding Nikola Tesla. Tesla was a visionary genius, and later in life in The New York Times, he made the bold claim that he had discovered a new, and never-before-seen energy source, one that would change the world. But he never revealed his secret, so when he died, the U.S. government cleared out all of his papers and research journals, including notebook that Tesla had warned his nephew to secure upon his death. All of Tesla’s confiscated work was reviewed by the National Defense Research Committee, a group led at the time by John G. Trump, the uncle of a certain New York real estate magnate. Eventually, pressured by Tesla’s nephew, those papers were returned to his family, but not all of them. One conspicuous piece was missing—that notebook. In my book, it’s found.


(11)     Your stories are known for featuring animals in prominent roles. Is that the case with The Seventh Plague?

As a veterinarian, I love to fold animals into my story, and this book is no exception. I feature a young lion cub named Roho, but the emphasis is on the ingenuity of elephants. Elephants have the largest brains of any land mammal. In fact, they even have the same number of neurons and synapses in their cerebral cortexes as we do. And they put all that brainpower to good use. They use tools, are excellent problem solvers, show altruistic behavior, even self awareness. They are great painters, with a canvas done by a Picasso elephant named Ruby at the Phoenix Zoo selling for $25,000. They are also tremendous mimics, able to imitate other animals’ vocalizations, even surprisingly the sound of human speech. So I wanted to feature these great big beasts in my book, to highlight their majesty and intelligence.


(12)     Finally, as I understand it, this book is also very personal for you. Would you care to go into it?

I dedicated this book to my mother and father, who both recently passed away from complications secondary to Alzheimer's. In fact, my dad passed away while I was writing this book. In my series, the main character—Commander Gray Pierce—has been dealing with similar challenges of aging parents, including a father whose Alzheimer’s has been steadily worsening throughout the series. In this book, all of that comes to a head, as Gray tries to balance his professional and personal lives. It’s something we all struggle with in varying regards, so I think Gray’s struggle—and his shocking decision at the end of the novel—is something that will resonate with readers long after they close the book.





About James Rollins

Review and Excerpt of The Seventh Plague and Q&A with James Rollins
Credit James Rollins
JAMES ROLLINS is the New York Times bestselling author of international thrillers, translated into more than forty languages. His Sigma series has been lauded as one of the “top crowd pleasers” (New York Times) and one of the “hottest summer reads” (People Magazine). In each novel, acclaimed for its originality, Rollins unveils unseen worlds, scientific breakthroughs, and historical secrets--and he does it all at breakneck speed and with stunning insight.


Website  ~   Twitter @amesrollins  ~  Facebook





JAMES ROLLINS will appear in the following venues to promote
THE SEVENTH PLAGUE

Please check http://jamesrollins.com/appearances/ for additional appearances

Review and Excerpt of The Seventh Plague and Q&A with James Rollins

Spotlight and Excerpt - Ninth City Burning by J. Patrick Black


The Qwillery is thrilled to share an excerpt and more from J. Patrick Black's debut novel - Ninth City Burning!



Ninth City Burning
Ace, September 6, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, 496 pages

Spotlight and Excerpt - Ninth City Burning by J. Patrick Black
Centuries of war with aliens threaten the future of human civilization on earth in this gripping, epic science fiction debut...

We never saw them coming.

Entire cities disappeared in the blink of an eye, leaving nothing but dust and rubble. When an alien race came to make Earth theirs, they brought with them a weapon we had no way to fight, a universe-altering force known as thelemity. It seemed nothing could stop it—until we discovered we could wield the power too.

Five hundred years later, the Earth is locked in a grinding war of attrition. The talented few capable of bending thelemity to their will are trained in elite military academies, destined for the front lines. Those who refused to support the war have been exiled to the wilds of a ruined Earth.

But the enemy's tactics are changing, and Earth's defenders are about to discover this centuries-old war has only just begun. As a terrible new onslaught looms, heroes will rise from unlikely quarters, and fight back.




Excerpt

The Valentine War, Earth 500 Years Ago

It starts with the world how it used to be, with countries and billions of people living everywhere. Back then there was no such thing as thelemity, and people built houses and machines sort of like they have in settlements today, but all of that changed when the Valentines came.

The reason we call them the Valentines is that the day they first attacked, February 14 on the old Western Calendar, was called “Valentine’s Day”. We still don’t know what the Valentines call themselves, because we’ve never been able to talk to them. We don’t even know what they look like. People had all sorts of different names for them early in the war, but “Valentine” is the one that ended up being the most popular. It used to mean something totally different, but not many people remember that now.

We never saw them coming. All at once cities just started disappearing. A city would be there, everything totally normal, and then it would be gone, nothing but rubble and a cloud of dust. By the time we figured out we were under attack, half the cities in the world had already been destroyed. We tried to fight back, but the Valentines had thelemity, and our strongest weapons were next to useless. They probably would have killed every single person on the planet, except for one thing: It turned out we could use thelemity too.




Cast of Characters

JAX: A cadet at the Academy and the youngest fontanus in Ninth City. With the ability to harness thelemity, Jax must stand for all citizens during Valentine attacks and act as the only defense between the city and complete destruction.

NAOMI: The youngest sister in the Ochre family, and a member of the nomadic Walker tribe. Naomi longs to be a scout like her older sister, Rae, but her undiscovered gifts will take her down a different path, far away from the life she knows.

RAE: The beautiful, impulsive leader of the Ochre family and a scout for the Walker tribe. Rae’s penchant for bravery and lack of fear plunge her into a new world, where her strength will be tested in ways she never imagined.

TORRO: A factory worker in Settlement 225, which provides supplies and soldiers to the Legion’s war effort. Torro’s uncomplicated life is suddenly disrupted when he finds himself drafted as cannon fodder and shipped away to the horror of the front lines.

VINNEAS: Procurator of the Academy, responsible for every cadet at the school of Grammar and Rhetoric. Part of being Procurator is being prepared for command in combat, but an unwelcome promotion sends him to active duty sooner than he expects.

IMWAY: The top ranked warrior in the Equites Aspirant, the most elite fighting unit in the Academy. Highly skilled in combat, Imway’s power stems from a suit of armor called ‘equus’ and the ego that comes with it stands the chance of ruining any relationship he has.

KIZABEL: The most sought after Artifex—a creator of artifices—at the Academy. Her most recent project violates many rules, and Kizabel faces expulsion or incarceration if caught. But her project will revolutionize equus design, if she can only get it running.


Together, this unlikely group of allies will face a mysterious enemy and a war that has brought their world to the brink of destruction.




About the Author

Spotlight and Excerpt - Ninth City Burning by J. Patrick Black
Photo by Beowulf Sheehan
J. Patrick Black has worked as a bartender, a small-town lawyer, a homebuilder, and a costumed theme park character, all while living a secret double life as a fiction writer. While fiction is now his profession, he still finds occasion to ply his other trades as well. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts, where he likes to visit the ocean. NINTH CITY BURNING is his first novel. Find out more about J. Patrick Black online at www.jpatrickblack.com












Interview with Sarah Fine


Please welcome Sarah Fine to The Qwillery. Reliquary, the first novel in the Reliquary Series, was published on June 14th by 47North.



Interview with Sarah Fine




TQWelcome to The Qwillery. You've written over a dozen published novels. Has your writing process changed (or not) over the years? What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Sarah:  I'm more aware of story structure than I was when I started to write, so now, as I consider a story, I think about the inciting incident, the midpoint, the break into the third act, etc. I think it helps with pacing and focus. In terms of challenge, I'm learning to write messier first drafts. I used to edit extensively as I wrote, but nowadays I need to be a bit more efficient, which means more willingness to go forward with the plan to go back later instead of obsessively needing to fix everything as I go along.



TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Sarah:  I plot. I always need to know where I'm going. That said, I think it's necessary to be flexible. Often I find a better route that I couldn't have possibly seen at the beginning of the journey.



TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Sarah:  I find that I'm often moved to write or ponder a theme for a story after reading excellent nonfiction. For example, I'm writing a novel right now that's inspired in part by In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson.



TQDescribe Reliquary in 140 characters or less.

Sarah:  To save her fiancé Ben, Mattie journeys into an underworld of addictive magic & forms a tense partnership with Asa, Ben’s estranged brother.



TQTell us something about Reliquary that is not found in the book description.

Sarah:  This book is seriously fun, but it goes to unexpectedly dark places in terms of the romantic, sexual, and psychological aspects. Also, Asa is a strict raw vegan who carries magic floss in his pocket.



TQWhat inspired you to write Reliquary? What appeals to you about writing Urban Fantasy?

Sarah:  Reliquary is a story that I wrote at a time in my life where I was making some really tough decisions and in desperate need of true escape, and the story was definitely the playground I needed. In general, UF provides the opportunity to dwell in a real, contemporary world but to preserve a sense of magic and possibility that too often dies in adulthood. It's like grown-up fairytales, basically, which is why I love it.



TQDo Reliquary and the Servant of Fates series (Marked, Claimed, and Fated) share anything thematically?

Sarah:  I guess I could dig around and try to come up with something, but to me, the only thing they have in common are that they were extremely fun to write. The worlds are seedy and colorful and wild, full of possibilities and rabbit holes.



TQWhat sort of research did you do for Reliquary?

Sarah:  Probably the most research I did was for a certain scene that's set in Bangkok that might catch some readers by surprise, but to me made complete psychological and narrative sense. I did a lot of Internet research but also consulted with a specialist colleague of mine to get the details right. I don't want to say more than that for fear of spoiling it.



TQIn Reliquary who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Sarah:  Asa is a challenge because I usually write "good guy" male protagonists who are tough but not jerks. Asa IS kind of a jerk at times, though with good reason, and I had to keep reminding myself of who he was and what he goes through on a daily basis to remain true to his character.

Gracie was the easiest. Probably because she is a dog.



TQWhich question about Reliquary do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Sarah:

Q: Everyone hates love triangles. Why is there one in this book????

A: I know it seems like there is a love triangle, but to my mind, that is just not the focus of the relationships in Reliquary. This series is about Mattie going through a process of becoming what she was always meant to be, and that means she has to decide whether she's willing to let go of the familiar and safe in favor of entering the big, dangerous world. That's not easy for her, and the relationships she has with Ben and Asa are emblematic of that struggle, but not always about the men themselves. And this isn't a romance novel, even though it has romantic elements. I won't promise that she ends up with either one of them!



TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Reliquary.

Sarah:  "Hope, Mattie," Asa said. "You’re an addict. And I know a thing or two about addicts. You’re gonna chase that high all the way to the end.”



TQWhat's next?

Sarah:  Next comes Splinter, the sequel to Reliquary, which was possibly the most fun I've ever had writing a book.



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.





Reliquary
Reliquary Series 1
47North, June 14, 2016
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 288 pages

Interview with Sarah Fine
Mattie Carver’s engagement party should have marked the start of her own personal fairy tale. But when her fiancé, Ben, is violently abducted the next morning, her desperate quest to find him rips her away from small-town life and reveals a shattering truth: magic is real—and Ben is hooked. It’s not the stuff of storybooks. It’s wildly addictive, capable of producing everything from hellish anguish to sensual ecstasy almost beyond human endurance.

Determined to find out who took Ben and why, Mattie immerses herself in a shadowy underworld and comes face-to-face with the darkly alluring Asa Ward, a rogue magic dealer, infamous hustler…and her missing fiancé’s estranged brother. Asa has the power to sense magic, and he realizes Mattie is a reliquary, someone with the rare ability to carry magic within her own body, undetected. Asa agrees to help find Ben on one condition: Mattie must use her uncommon talent to assist his smuggling operations. Now, from magic-laced Vegas casinos to the netherworld clubs of Bangkok, Mattie is on a rescue mission. With Asa by her side, she’ll face not only the supernatural forces arrayed against her but the all-too-human temptation that she fears she can’t resist.



An excerpt from Reliquary


         The night before everything fell apart was the best of my life—the last purely happy, uncomplicated hours I would ever have. Looking back, I’m amazed by how lies can soothe the soul, quell every fear, blind you to reality in the most pleasant of ways. Not forever, of course. And only if you really want to buy into the illusion. But back then, I did. Even as the truth sharpened its knives and hunted me down, I refused to see it.
         I was too worried about whether I’d made enough deviled eggs.

“We really could have had this catered,” Mom said, stopping to rub my back as I balanced each egg half on the platter and then sprinkled them all with paprika.
           I blew a lock of curly hair off my forehead. Outside I could hear laughter and the faint caress of Lake Michigan against the shore. “How many people are out there?” I asked, ignoring her comment. “Should I do another dozen?” It’s my engagement party and I want to feed people, I had said. Just appetizers and beer. I’ll be done with plenty of time to spare.
           Ugh. My mother was right. Again.
           Her soft hands closed over my wrists. “We’ll have plenty. But Mattie, you need to be on the deck with Ben, not stuck in the kitchen. Your guests want to congratulate you—that’s the whole point of the party! Let me finish this up.” She held up my hands and glanced at my fingernails, short but coated with a bright-orange polish that set off my mustard-yellow dress and strawberry blond hair. “You’ll ruin these if you keep this up.” Smiling, she grabbed a dishrag and wiped a smear of mayonnaise off my ring finger, and the diamond that now lived there sparkled in the light. “Look—you’ve already done all the prep on the perperoncini wraps and the bruschetta. I’ve got this covered. Go.”
           I glanced out to where my fiancé (fiancé!) was standing, a bottle of beer in one hand, flashing that smile that could melt glaciers. His hair ruffled in the breeze off the lake, the sun glinting off golden strands. I bit my lip and stared. Seriously—how had I gotten so lucky? “You sure, Mom? I feel terrible leaving you with all this work.”
           She chuckled and shook her head. “Honey, that’s my job.”
           My mind skipped through memories of all the times she’d rescued me from my own ambitious schemes. Like when I’d taken on decorations for the senior prom (DIY string chandeliers are harder than they look, damn you, Internet!), or the time I’d decided that I totally had time to make three hundred cupcakes for my sorority’s homecoming party despite the fact that I had to cheer in the actual homecoming game. “I guess I’m the queen of biting off more than I can chew.” I sighed. “Sorry.”
           She pulled me into a hug, brushing my unruly hair off my face. “It’s just one of your many charming qualities.” She inclined her head toward Ben, and when I turned, he was watching the two of us, his honey-brown eyes full of affection and invitation. “And clearly Ben thinks so, too.”
           “Remind him of that after he takes a look at the supply closet at the clinic, okay?” I nodded as he beckoned me to come outside. “I might have tried to install a new shelving system while he was fishing with Dad yesterday.” Ben had told me that it was my practice, too, even though he was the vet and I was just the lab tech and assistant. I’d wanted to show him I could pull my weight. And I could…but unfortunately, the new shelving system could not.
           I explained the catastrophe that had once been Ben’s tidy closet. Mom just said, “We can get Dad over there to take a look at it tomorrow morning. He gets a kick out of fixing other people’s messes.” One of the reasons my dad was the most popular real estate agent in Sheboygan was that he actually seemed to enjoy patching holes and installing crown molding, and it certainly helped with sales.
           “You guys are the best parents. I don’t deserve you.”
           Mom handed me the egg platter. “Pay me back by making sure Grandpa’s having a decent time, okay?”
           “You got it.” I grinned. “I’m a ray of sunshine. I even dressed the part.” I kissed her cheek and scooted through the open sliding door to the deck, where I set the platter on a table already crowded with food.
           A warm hand closed over my arm. “Finally,” Ben said, his voice full of gentle teasing.
           I leaned my head back and let him kiss me, savoring the taste of taste of beer on his lips. “Mm. I think I read somewhere that anticipation is a fine aphrodisiac.”
           He laughed, and it accentuated the adorable dimple in his right cheek. “Is that what this is? I thought maybe you were avoiding me because of the supply closet.”
           “You weren’t scheduled to go in until tomorrow!”
           His arm slid around my waist, and he pulled me against his muscular body. “I had to go pick up some eyedrops for Barley.” His aging golden retriever was falling apart at the seams, but Ben was determined to give him a good life for as long as possible. “And it’s okay, really. It’ll be easy to fix.”
           I buried my face against his shoulder. “You are amazing.”
           He tipped my chin up. “And I’m marrying an amazing woman. Come on. Your friend Chelsea’s just gotten here, and I know you haven’t see her in a while. Also, a couple of your aunts and uncles have already asked me when you’ll appear. We need to greet your guests.”
           Your guests.
           I laced my fingers with Ben’s and looked out over my parents’ sprawling backyard, crowded with my extended family and everyone from my mother’s book club to my preschool gymnastics coach. Chelsea, my best friend from college, lifted her glass and grinned from her spot at the makeshift bar next to the pool.
           “They’re not all mine,” I said quietly. Feeling lame, I waved toward Franz, one of a handful of Ben’s patients (or, rather, the family members of Ben’s patients) I had invited to beef up his part of the guest list.
           Ben laughed as Franz waved back enthusiastically, looking a little lost and desperate as he stood among a group of my parents’ church friends. “I’m really flattered he decided to come,” Ben said. “He’s much more comfortable surrounded by books and wine.” A professor of anthropology at University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan, Franz had invited us over to his home a time or two, where I spent the evening playing with his dachshund, Lemmie, and Ben and Franz huddled in his library discussing lofty topics they claimed were too boring for me to sit through.
           “I’m glad he came, too.” I bit my lip. “But he’s not your family. We could have invited Asa, you know.”
           Ben’s grip turned to iron. “You can’t be serious.”
           “Come on, Ben. He’s your brother.”
           “Listen, even if we could find him, and even if he were sober enough to show up, trust me—you don’t want my brother here.” His jaw clenched over the tremble in his voice. “And I don’t, either. He’s a criminal. A lowlife. He’s—”
           “Ben, he’s the only family you’ve got left.” My heart ached for him. His mother had taken off when Ben was only a toddler, and he and Asa had been raised by their father, who had died a few years back. “Weddings bring people together!”
           “But with some people, that’s more of a curse than a blessing.”
           “You don’t think he’d be happy for you?”
           “Mattie, the last time we saw each other, he threatened to kill me.”
           “What?” My eyes went wide. “You never mentioned that before!”
           He bowed his head and shrugged. “It was a long time ago, and I don’t like to talk about it. But Asa’s just…he’s messed up. He’s got rage inside of him. And he’s always been jealous of me. Do you think it would help if he got a good long look at all of this?”
           I leaned my head on his shoulder. “I just wish you two could find your way back to each other. Family is important.”
           “I’m building a new family, Mattie. And there’s no one I’d rather do it with.” He shoved his left hand in his pocket, and I knew his fingers were running over his lucky agate. Just one of the odd, endearing habits that had made me fall deeper in love with him. I watched his face as he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. And when he opened them, he smiled down at me. His hand rose from his pocket to stroke my cheek. “You are so beautiful,” he murmured.
           I shivered with sudden pleasure. His touch was like a drug to me, and I was the happiest of addicts. As his fingertips trailed down my throat, my entire body tingled, and my hands balled in the fabric of his shirt, barely keeping me from sliding my palms up under it to feel his bare skin. “Do you think anyone would notice if we disappeared for a few minutes?”
           My old bedroom was a few steps away, and I was already envisioning myself on the bed. His grip on my hips would be bruising and delicious. My body was already slick and soft and hot. It felt like I was one deft touch away from having an orgasm, right there on the deck. Ben’s hand spread across my back, steadying me, and he glanced down at my flushed cheeks with an appreciative grin. “What were you saying about anticipation?”
           “Screw it. Or, wait, screw me. That would be even better.”
           “If someone doesn’t bring me a damn plate of food, I’m going to starve!” said a gravelly voice to my left.
           Ben released me instantly and clasped his hands behind his back, like a little boy caught stealing. My reaction wasn’t much better—I slapped my hands over my warm cheeks and turned toward the source of the complaint. “Grandpa! I-I was just coming to find you.”
           Grandpa looked up at me from his wheelchair. Dad had parked him in the corner of the deck so that he could look out over the lawn. His wide-brimmed straw hat shaded his watery, red-rimmed eyes, and his gnarled hands were clawed over the armrests. “Yes, that much was obvious.”
Great. Grandpa had probably heard every word of my scheme to sneak in a quickie with my boyfriend (fiancé!). I blushed from my forehead to my toes. Could I just control myself for once in my life? “What would you like, Grandpa? Summer roll? Deviled eggs?”
           “Surprise me.”
           Grabbing a plate and a napkin, I listened to Ben doing his best to make nice—and to Grandpa having none of it. I scooped up a few appetizers from each platter and turned just in time to see Ben reaching out to shake Grandpa’s hand. When my grandfather didn’t let go of the armrests, Ben saved face by giving Grandpa’s hand a friendly pat.
           Grandpa jerked away like he’d been burned, first glaring at the back of his liver-spotted hand and then up at Ben. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he snapped.
           Ben blinked down at his fingers, the shock on his face similar to my own. “I’m…sorry?”
           “You should be,” Grandpa growled. “Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to, boy.”
           “Try the eggs!” I said, rushing forward with the plate and nearly tripping in my strappy sandals. Stepping between my gaping fiancé and the tight-lipped old man who for some inexplicable reason had chosen the occasion of my engagement party to lose his mind, I put the plate in Grandpa’s lap because hey, snacks can fix nearly anything. (Despite everything that’s happened, I still believe that.)
           “Mattie, I think I’m going to…um…I’m going to go make sure Franz is having a good time,” Ben said.
           I threw him and apologetic look over my shoulder. “I’ll be there in a few.”
           Grandpa didn’t touch the food. His hands were shaking as I knelt next to him, my sunny skirt fanning around me. “Grandpa,” I said gently. “Are you okay?”
           “Don’t take that tone with me,” he said, though his voice had lost its edge. “My hospice nurse uses the same damn voice when I dare to express an opinion about anything other than whether I would or would not care for raisins in my oatmeal.” His tremulous fingers clutched at mine, and he sighed. “Never get old, Mattie.”
           “I won’t.” My chest squeezed with regret. Just a few weeks ago, the doctors had announced he only had months to live. He looked okay—apart from the rattling cough that kept him up nights and fatigue and pain meds that made him groggy during too many of his waking hours—but lung cancer was taking him down. After the doctors’ verdict, my parents had shipped him all the way to Wisconsin from his home in Arizona so they could take care of him until the end. They’d said it was the best thing for him, and to my surprise he hadn’t objected. But he didn’t seem happy about it—especially because everyone was tiptoeing around him like he was going to keel over any second. I tried to take a different approach. “Hey. In exchange for not using the you’re-a-crazy-old-man voice, I want to know what just happened with Ben.”
           He grunted. “It was nothing.”
           “Nothing? You refused to shake my fiancé’s hand! I mean, if you overheard us just now, that was as much my fault as—”
           “Mattie, how much do you know about him, really?”
           “We’ve been together for three years!”
           “That doesn’t mean you know his secrets.”
           I frowned. “How about you tell me what you’re getting at?”
           Grandpa rubbed at his chest as he looked over at the lawn, where Ben was mingling like a pro. “Ask him.
           Frustration began to creep in. Seriously, he had to pick this night to get all protective of my virtue? They’d spoken for two minutes. What could have gone that wrong that fast? “Grandpa, what did he say to you that has you this upset?”
           “Find out everything you can about him. You owe it to yourself.” He turned back to me, his chin trembling. “You and I haven’t spoken much since your grandma died.”
           I looked away, ashamed. “I’m sorry. I should have written more.” Or called. Or visited.
           “Come have lunch with me tomorrow?”
           “I have to work.”
           “Tuesday, then.”
           “Okay.” I’d have to arrange with Jan, our practice manager, to cover the waiting room during what was usually her lunch break, but that wasn’t anything a box of Girl Scout cookies couldn’t fix.
           “Mattie?” Ben called from the lawn. “The girl cousins are here.” His tone said, Help.
           My aunt Rena’s four teenage daughters were a handful. I stood up and smoothed my skirt. “I’d better get down there before they stick one of their iPhones in Dad’s speaker dock and turn this into a rave.”
           Grandpa squinted at me. “Are you speaking English?”
           “Never mind.” I rubbed his shoulder. “Enjoy those eggs.”
           I floated over to Ben, the incident already behind me. This was my engagement party, and I was marrying the love of my life. Nothing—and especially not my cranky old grandpa—was going to ruin it.

Re-printed with permission from 47North, copyright © 2016 by Sarah Fine





About Sarah

Sarah Fine is a clinical psychologist and the author of the Servants of Fate and Guards of the Shadowlands series. She was born on the West Coast, raised in the Midwest, and is now firmly entrenched on the East Coast.

Website  ~  Twitter @finesarah  ~  Facebook

A Toxic Trousseau by Juliet Blackwell - Excerpt


In this excerpt from Chapter One of A Toxic Trousseau by Juliet Blackwell, Lily Ivory's day does not start off too well!  A Toxic Trousseau, the 8th Witchcraft Mystery, will be published on July 5th by NAL Obsidian.



A Toxic Trousseau by Juliet Blackwell - Excerpt




Chapter One

Small business owners have their morning routines. Some people switch on the lights, brew a cup of coffee, and read the paper before engaging with the day. Some count out the money in the register and tidy up the merchandise. Some sweep and hose down the front walk.
       Each morning before opening my vintage clothing store, Aunt Cora’s Closet, I sprinkle salt water widdershins, smudge sage deosil, and light a white candle while chanting a spell of protection.
       Such spells can be powerful, and for a small business owner like me they serve an important purpose: to help customers maintain their composure in the face of fashion frustrations, keep evil intentions at bay, and discourage those with sticky fingers from rummaging through the feather boas, chiffon prom dresses, and silk evening gowns and then trying to shove said items into pockets or backpacks or under shirts.
       But protection spells aren’t much good against litigation.
       “Lily Ivory?” asked the petite, somber young woman who entered Aunt Cora’s Closet, a neon yellow motorcycle helmet under one arm. She had dark hair and eyes, and I imagined she would have been pretty had she smiled. But her expression was dour.
       “Yes?” I asked, looking up from a list of receipts.
       She held out a manila envelope. “You have been served.”
       “Served?”
       “You are hereby notified of a lawsuit against you, Aunt Cora’s Closet, and one errant pig, name unknown. By the by, not that it’s any of my business, but is it even legal to own livestock in the city?”
       I cast a glare in the direction of said pig, my witch’s familiar, Oscar. At least, I tried to, but he’d disappeared. Only moments earlier Oscar had been snoozing on his hand-embroidered purple silk pillow, resting up for a busy day of trying to poke his snout under the dressing room curtains while customers tried on vintage cocktail dresses, fringed leather jackets, and Jackie O pillbox hats. Now only the slight rustling of a rack of 1980s spangled prom dresses revealed his location.
       “My pig’s being served with legal papers?”
       “Not so much your pig, as you. Your property, your worry. At least, that’s how it works with dogs, so I assume . . .” The woman trailed off with an officious shrug as she headed for the front door with long strides, already pulling on her helmet. “But that isn’t any of my business; I just deliver the bad news. Have a nice day.”
       “Wait—”
       She didn’t pause. I followed her outside, where someone was revving the engine of a large black motorcycle. The woman jumped on the back and they zoomed off.
       “Duuude,” said Conrad, the homeless young man who slept in nearby Golden Gate Park and spent the better part of his days “guarding” the curb outside of my store. In San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, many young homeless people lived this way, panhandling and scrounging and generally referring to themselves as “gutter punks.” Over the past year, Conrad—or as he liked to call himself, “The Con”—had become a friend and the unofficial guardian of Aunt Cora’s Closet. “You get served?”
       “Apparently so,” I said, opening the envelope to find some scary-looking legal-sized documents filled with legalese, such as “party of the first part.”
       My heart sank as I put two and two together. My friend Bronwyn, who rents space in my store for her herbal stand, had filled me in on an incident that took place a couple of weeks ago while I was out scouting garage sales for resaleable treasure. It seems a woman came into the shop and started flicking through the merchandise, pronouncing it “unsuitable—too much of that dreadful ready-to-wear.” Bronwyn had explained to her that Aunt Cora’s Closet doesn’t deal in high-end vintage; our merchandise consists mostly of wearable clothes, with the occasional designer collectibles. The woman then turned to my employee Maya and started grilling her about the ins and outs of the store, making none-too-subtle inquiries about where we obtained our specialty stock.
       Oscar started getting in the customer’s way, making a pest of himself and keeping her away from the clothes. Bronwyn tried to call him off, but he kept at it, almost as though he was trying to herd her toward the exit. Finally the woman picked a parasol off a nearby shelf and started whacking Oscar, and there was a scuffle.
       The woman had screamed and flailed, lost her balance, and fell back into a rack of colorful swing dresses. Maya and Bronwyn hastily extricated her, made sure she was all right, and offered profuse apologies. The woman had seemed fine at the time, they both said, and she stomped out of the store in high dudgeon.
       But if I was reading the legal papers correctly, the woman—named Autumn Jennings—was now claiming she had been “head-butted” by an “unrestrained pig,” had been injured in the “attack,” and was demanding compensation.
       It was a mystery. Oscar had never herded—much less head-butted—anyone in Aunt Cora’s Closet before. He wasn’t the violent type. In fact, apart from a few occasions when he intervened to save my life, Oscar was more the “let’s eat grilled cheese and take a nap” type.
       He was also my witch’s familiar, albeit an unusual one. Oscar was a shape-shifter who assumed the form of a miniature Vietnamese potbellied pig when around cowans—regular, nonmagical humans. Around me, his natural form was sort of a cross between a goblin and a gargoyle. A gobgoyle, for lack of a better word. His was a lineage about which I didn’t want to think too hard.
       “Bad vibes, Dude,” Conrad said with a sage nod. “Been there. Dude, I hate being served.”
       “You’ve been served?” I asked. Conrad was in his early twenties and lived such a vagabond existence it was hard to imagine why anyone would bother to sue him. I could easily imagine his being picked up by police in a sweep of the local homeless population, but how would a process server even know where to find Conrad to serve him papers?
       He nodded. “Couple times. But at least yours arrived on a Ducati. That’s a nice bike.”
       “What did you—” My question was cut off by the approach of none other than Aidan Rhodes, witchy godfather to San Francisco’s magical community. His golden hair gleamed in the sun, a beautifully tailored sports jacket hugged his tall frame, and a leather satchel was tucked under one strong arm. As he strolled down Haight Street with his signature graceful glide, strangers stopped to stare. Aidan’s aura glittered so brilliantly that even nonsensitive people noticed, though they didn’t realize what they were reacting to.
       This is all I need.
       I girded my witchy loins.
       Things between Aidan and me were . . . complicated. Not long ago I’d stolen something from Aidan, and I still owed him. And when it comes to debts, we witches are a little like elephants, bookies, and the Internet: We never forget. Even worse, Aidan feared San Francisco was shaping up to be ground zero in some sort of big magical showdown, and he wanted me to stand with him for the forces of good. Or, at the very least, for the good of Aidan Rhodes. It was hard to say exactly what was going on—and exactly what role I was willing to play in it—since the threat was frustratingly nonspecific, and Aidan played his cards infuriatingly close to his chest.
       “Good morning,” Aidan said as he joined us. “Conrad, it’s been too long. How have you been?”
       Despite their vastly different circumstances and lifestyles, Aidan treated Conrad with the respect due a peer. His decency sort of ticked me off. My life would be simpler if I could dismiss Aidan as an arrogant, power-hungry witch beyond redemption. His kindness toward my friend was difficult to reconcile with that image.
       The two men exchanged pleasantries, chatting about the beauty of Golden Gate Park when bathed in morning dew and sunshine, and whether the Giants had a shot at the pennant this year. And then Aidan turned his astonishing, periwinkle blue gaze on me, sweeping me from head to foot.
       Suddenly self-conscious, I smoothed the full skirt of my sundress.
       “And Lily . . . Stunning as always. I do like that color on you. It’s as joyful as the first rays of dawn.”
       “Thank you,” I said, blushing and avoiding his eyes. The dress was an orangey gold cotton with a pink embroidered neckline and hem, circa 1962, and I had chosen it this morning precisely because it reminded me of a sunrise. “Aren’t you just the sweet talker.”
       “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” my mama used to tell me. Did this mean I was the fly and Aidan the fly catcher?
       “Is everything all right?” Aidan asked. “Am I sensing trouble? Beyond the norm, I mean.”
       “Dude, Lily just got served,” Conrad said.
       “Served? I fear we aren’t speaking of breakfast.”
       “A lawsuit,” I clarified.
       “Ah. What a shame. Whatever happened?”
       “Oscar head-butted a customer.”
       “That’s . . . unusual.” Aidan had given me Oscar and knew him well. “Was this person badly injured?”
       “I wasn’t there when it happened, but according to Bronwyn and Maya the customer seemed fine. But now she’s claiming she sustained ‘serious and debilitating neck and back injuries that hinder her in the completion of her work and significantly reduce her quality of life,’” I said, quoting from the document I still clutched tightly in my hand.
       “That sounds most distressing. Might I offer my services in finding a resolution?”
       “No. No, thank you.” The only thing worse than being slapped with a slip-and-fall lawsuit—the boogeyman of every small business owner—was being even more beholden to Aidan Rhodes than I already was. Besides . . . I wasn’t sure what he meant by “finding a resolution.” Aidan was one powerful witch. If he got involved, Autumn Jennings might very well wind up walking around looking like a frog.
       “You’re sure?” Aidan asked. “These personal injury lawsuits can get nasty—and expensive, even if you win. As much as I hate to say it, you may have some liability here. Is it even legal to have a pig in the city limits?”
       “Don’t worry about it; I’ve got it handled,” I said, not wishing to discuss the matter any further with him. “Was there some reason in particular you stopped by?”
       Aidan grinned, sending sparkling rays of light dancing in the morning breeze. He really was the most astounding man.
       “I was hoping we might have a moment to talk,” he said. “About business.”
       My stomach clenched. Time to face the music. I did owe him, after all. “Of course, come on in.”
       The door to Aunt Cora’s Closet tinkled as we went inside, and Bronwyn fluttered out from the back room, cradling Oscar to her ample chest. She was dressed in billows of purple gauze, and a garland of wildflowers crowned her frizzy brown hair. Bronwyn was a fifty-something Wiccan, and one of the first—and very best—friends I had made upon my arrival in the City by the Bay not so very long ago.
       “Hello, Aidan! So wonderful to see you again!” she gushed.
       “Bronwyn, you light up this shop like fireworks on the Fourth of July.”
       “Oh, you do go on.” She waved her hand but gave him a flirtatious smile. “But, Lily! Our little Oscaroo is very upset, poor thing! Maybe it has something to do with the woman with the motorcycle helmet who was just here—what was that about?”
       “She was serving Lily with legal papers,” said Aidan.
       “Legal papers?” Bronwyn asked as Oscar hid his snout under her arm. “For what?”
       “Remember when Oscar”—I cast about for the right word—“harassed a woman a couple of weeks ago?”
       Oscar snorted.
       “Of course, naughty little tiny piggy pig pig,” Bronwyn said in a crooning baby voice. “But I have to say, she really was bothering all of us. But . . . she’s suing you? Seriously?”
       I nodded. “I’m afraid so.”
       “Well, now, that’s just bad karma,” Bronwyn said with a frown.
       “You said she wasn’t hurt, though, right?”
       “She was fine!” Bronwyn insisted. “She fell into the rack of swing dresses. You know how poofy those dresses are—there’s enough crinolines in the skirts to cushion an NFL linebacker, and she’s, what, a hundred pounds soaking wet? I saw her just the other day, when I brought her some of my special caramel-cherry-spice maté tea and homemade corn-cherry scones, and she seemed fine. As a matter of fact, when I arrived she was up on a ladder, and she certainly didn’t seem to have any back or neck injuries. She was a little under the weather, but it was a cold or the flu.”
       “When was this?”
       “Day before yesterday, I think . . . I thought I should make the effort, since you weren’t even here when it happened. I just wanted to tell her I was sorry.”
       “How did you know where to find her?”
       “She left her business card. . . .” Bronwyn trailed off as she peeked behind her herbal counter. “I have it around here somewhere. Turns out, she’s a rival vintage clothing store owner, which explains why she was so interested. Her place is called Vintage Visions Glad Rags, over off Buchanan.”
       “Really. That is interesting. What’s it like?”
       “Very nice inventory, but if you ask me not nearly as warm and inviting as Aunt Cora’s Closet. She had some ball gowns that I’m sure were from the nineteenth century. But those are more museum pieces than anything someone would actually wear. The whole place was too snooty for my taste, by half. And expensive! Too rich for my blood.”
       “Did anything happen while you were there? Did she say anything in particular?”
       Bronwyn frowned in thought, then shook her head. “Nothing at all. She didn’t seem particularly bowled over by my gift basket, but she accepted it. But like I say, she told me she was a little under the weather, so maybe that accounts for her mood. She did have a very sweet dog, and I always say a pet lover is never irredeemable.”
       “Okay, thanks,” I said, blowing out a breath. “If you think of anything else, please let me know. Aidan and I are going to talk in the back for a moment.”
       “I’ll keep an eye on things,” Bronwyn said, lugging Oscar over to her herbal stand for a treat. Oscar was a miniature pig, but he was still a porker.
       In the back room Aidan and I sat down at my old jade green Formica-topped table. I bided my time and waited for Aidan to speak first. In witch circles, simply asking “What may I help you with?” can open up a dangerous can of worms.
       “I have to leave town for a little while,” he said.
       “Really?” Even though I knew perfectly well that he had lived elsewhere in the past, including when he’d worked with the father who had abandoned me, in my mind Aidan was so associated with San Francisco that it was hard to imagine him in any other locale. “How long do you think you’ll be gone?”
       “And here I was rather hoping you would beg me to stay,” he said in a quiet voice, his gaze holding mine.
       “Far be it from me to dictate to the likes of Aidan Rhodes.”
       He smiled. “In any case, I need a favor.”
       Uh-oh.
       “First,” he said, “I’ll need you to keep tabs on Selena.”
       Selena was a talented but troubled teenage witch who had come into my life recently. She reminded me of myself at her age: socially awkward and dangerously magical.
       I clenched my teeth. It wasn’t Aidan’s place to tell me to watch over Selena; she needed all of us with whom she had grown close. But it was true that Aidan and I had both been helping her to train her powers. In her case, as in mine, the biggest challenge was learning to keep control over her emotions and her magic in general. But even as he was asking me to partner with him, Aidan still fancied himself the head of the local magical community—me included. It was very annoying.
       “Of course,” I said. “I have been.”
       “Of course,” Aidan repeated. “And Oscar can come in handy with that as well.”
       I concentrated on reining in my irritation. It wouldn’t do to send something flying, which sometimes happened when I lost my temper. Proving that Selena and I weren’t that far apart in some areas of our development.
       “You’re not Oscar’s master anymore,” I pointed out.
       He nodded slowly. “So true. Alas, I will leave that in your more than capable hands, then. Also while I’m gone I need you to fill in for me and adjudicate a few issues. Nothing too strenuous.”
       “Beg pardon?”
       He handed me a heavy, well-worn leather satchel tied with a black ribbon. “You’re always so curious about what I do for the local witchcraft community. Now’s your chance to find out.”
       “I never said I wanted to find out. I’m really perfectly happy being in the dark.”
       Aidan smiled. “Why do I find that hard to believe? In any event, find out you shall.”
       I sighed. As curious as I was about Aidan’s world, I hesitated to be drawn into it. However, I was in his debt and the bill had come due. “Fine. I’m going to need more information, though. What all is involved in ‘adjudicating issues’?”
       He shrugged. “Little of this, little of that. Mostly it means keeping an eye on things, making sure nothing gets out of hand. Handling disputes, assisting with certifications . . . Valuable job skills that really beef up the résumé, you’ll see.”
       “Uh-huh,” I said, skeptical. At the moment I didn’t need a more impressive résumé. I needed a lawyer. “What kind of certifications?”
       “Fortune-tellers and necromancers must be licensed in the city and county of San Francisco. Surely your good friend Inspector Romero has mentioned this at some point.”
       “He has, but since I’m neither a fortune-teller nor a necromancer I didn’t pay much attention. So that’s what you do? Help people fill out forms down at City Hall? Surely—”
       “It’s all terribly glamorous, isn’t it? Resolving petty squabbles, unraveling paperwork snafus . . . The excitement never ends,” he said with another smile. “But it’s necessary work, and you’re more than qualified to handle it while I’m gone. You’ll find everything you need in there.”
       I opened the satchel and took a peek. Inside were what appeared to be hundreds of signed notes written on ancient parchment, a business card with the mayor’s cell phone number written on the back in pencil, and a jangly key ring. I pulled out the keys: One was an old-fashioned skeleton key, but the others were modern and, I assumed, unlocked his office at the recently rebuilt wax museum. “Aidan, what are . . . ?”
       I looked up, but Aidan was gone, his departure marked by a slight sway of the curtains. Letting out a loud sigh of exasperation, I grumbled, “I swear, that man moves like a vampire.”
       “Vampire?” Bronwyn poked her head through the curtains, Oscar still in her arms. “Are we worried about vampires now?”
       “No, no, of course not,” I assured her as I closed the satchel and stashed it under the workroom table. “Sorry—just talking to myself.”
       “Oh, thank the goddess!” said Bronwyn, and set Oscar down. Whenever Aidan was around, Oscar became excited to the point of agitation, and his little hooves clicked on the wooden planks of the floor as he hopped around. “Never a dull moment at Aunt Cora’s Closet.”

Excerpt used with permission.





A Toxic Trousseau
A Witchcraft Mystery 8
NAL Obsidian, July 5, 2016
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 352 pages

A Toxic Trousseau by Juliet Blackwell - Excerpt
The New York Times bestselling author of Spellcasting in Silk continues as witch and vintage boutique owner Lily Ivory cracks open a Pandora’s box when she investigates some alarming apparel…

Even the most skilled sorceress can’t ward off a lawsuit, and Lily is not at her enchanting best with her hands full as the temporary leader of San Francisco’s magical community. So after her potbellied pig Oscar head-butts rival clothier Autumn Jennings, Lily tries to make peace without a costly personal injury case.

But any hope of a quiet resolution is shattered when Autumn turns up dead. As one of the prime suspects, Lily searches for a way to clear her name and discovers a cursed trousseau among Autumn’s recently acquired inventory. Lily must deal with a mysterious dogwalker and spend the night in a haunted house as she delves into the trunk’s treacherous past. She’s got to figure out who wanted to harm Autumn fast, before the curse claims another victim…





About Juliet

A Toxic Trousseau by Juliet Blackwell - Excerpt
Joseph Schell Photograph
Juliet Blackwell is the New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Key. She the also writes the Witchcraft Mystery series and the Haunted Home Renovation series. As Hailey Lind, Blackwell wrote the Agatha-nominated Art Lover's Mystery series. A former anthropologist, social worker, and professional artist, Juliet is a California native who has spent time in Mexico, Spain, Cuba, Italy, the Philippines, and France.



Website  ~  Twitter @JulietBlackwell  ~  Facebook  ~  Pinterest

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