This week at the SFF Seven, we’re sharing our scariest book or scene. No, mine isn’t from DARK WIZARD, although I love how creeptastic that image is. The thing is, I can’t yet share what I think is the scariest thing I’ve ever written.
See, I never think of myself as writing all that scary. James is the horror writer. KAK delves into the twisted psyche. Usually I see my books as being occasionally dark, but not all that creepy. Readers may disagree. But in general I’m kind of a fragile flower. I don’t like being scared. I don’t watch or read horror. I’m the one who leaves the room during the scary scenes in a movie, or – far worse! – the gory ones. You guys know me – I’ll write all the sex scenes and I advocate for closed-door violence.
Why can’t that be a thing?
But this New Thing I’ve written, the Sekrit Project, is pretty scary. It’s tense and twisted and… I already told you I can’t share it yet!
Yeah, I hate violence, but I love a tease.
So, though it’s not all that scary, and because I couldn’t resist using this creepy image with DARK WIZARD, I’ll share an unsettling scene from that book. Enjoy!
Having to deal with the inn, the askance stares at his appearance, the averted gazes when they took in his wizard-black eyes, the shocked ones at his white hair—all of it broke him out of his circular thoughts. He tipped the stable girl well to walk Vale cool, rub the gelding down thoroughly, and give him an extra portion of feed. And he tipped the boy in the pub well to bring himself an extra portion of feed, also. Gabriel sat alone in a shadowy corner, using a simple moon spell to reflect curiosity away from himself.
He was more tired than he’d realized, feeling sleepier by the moment as warm food settled into his stomach. He wasn’t used to winter’s bite. And he’d pushed hard to reach House Elal, thinking he’d have days of rest after the wedding. Sopping up the last of the rich mushroom gravy with the excellent fresh bread, Gabriel settled back to savor the rest of his wine—an excellent, robust Elal red, though not as good as Veronica’s special reserve—and watch the room.
Thus, he was in the perfect position to see the hunters arrive.
He knew them for inhuman even before they fully entered the busy tavern. The air seemed to bend before their passage, adjusting to the presence of that which should not exist in this world. There were six of them, slinking into the room like an amalgam of a jackal and a weasel in vaguely human shape, arching like hounds to sniff the surfaces they passed. Nobody else seemed aware of them, so Gabriel made sure to look past the hunters also, focusing on the minstrel blithely singing a song nearby, exhorting the crowd for coins.
He needn’t have bothered, for one of the hunters lifted its snout in the air as if scenting something interesting and fastened one eye on Gabriel. It slunk in his direction, pausing to steal a handful of coin from the oblivious minstrel’s tip basket. It tossed one on the table before Gabriel, an insolent sneer on its distorted face.
“Wissard,” it hissed, revealing inhumanly sharp teeth—several rows of them.
“Hunter,” Gabriel returned. He readied himself, though his water and moon magic seemed unequal to dealing with a creature like this. The books in the House Phel library, at least the legible ones, were short on spells for martial application. Under the table, he loosened his sword in its scabbard, a far more reliable defense.
“You know what I am. Good. I ssseek a familiar, on behalf of the Convocation. Have you ssscented one?” It pushed the coin toward him with a sharp, curving claw.
“This place reeks of sweat and ale,” Gabriel replied. “I’m sure any good familiar would turn tail and hide in their room.”
The hunter sniffed the air all the while Gabriel spoke, barely listening. “You have no familiar.”
“Unfortunately, no. I am but a minor wizard.” Gabriel drew more moon reflections around himself, just in case any of his power leaked through. On the advantage side of being a moon-based water wizard, it was a quiet magic, and often overlooked.
The hunter fixed one ochre eye on him—the length of its snout making looking forward with both eyes at once impossible—and made an unpleasant choking sound. Laughter? “Why are you here, wissard?”
Gabriel gestured at his cleaned plate. “Best mushroom gravy in all of Elal.”
The hunter eyed him for another excruciatingly long few moments. Without another word, it slunk out again, its cohorts streaming to join it, pouring out the door again like smoke. Gabriel blew out a breath, quaffed his wine, and went to his room for the night—dropping the coin, plus a few more, back in the minstrel’s basket.
I’m working away on my novella for the FIRE OF THE FROST midwinter holiday fantasy romance anthology! The story takes place in the Bonds of Magic world more or less at the same time as the events in DARK WIZARD. You can preorder now for the December 2 release!
Also, this is really cool! THE ORCHID THRONE is on this amazing Book Riot list: 20 OF THE BEST ENEMIES-TO-LOVERS FANTASY BOOKS. Fair warning! This list might have you click-buying. It sure did for me.
At the SFF Seven this week we’re talking censorship. Charissa and KAK already provided excellent discussions of the difference between censorship and blocking disinformation and hate. So, I’m going to take the topic in a slightly different direction, which is looking at the ways we censor ourselves.
A perennial problem for writers – perhaps for all creatives – is getting rid of the other voices in our heads. Something new authors often seem to ask is how to write about topics their families consider off limits for one reason or another. They can be concerned about dealing with sexual topics or gender-related ones, politics, family secrets, etc. It’s not easy to free ourselves to write when there’s that persistent worry that someone we love will read it and be angry. And so we censor ourselves, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously.
On a larger scale, we live in an era of loud voices. In an attention economy, where businesses thrive or fail based on clicks, the loudest, most persistent voices can be the most lucrative. This kind of environment isn’t conducive to the silence creatives need in order to coax new art into being. Those loud voices can drown out the quiet whispers of something fragile and newly born to the world. The voices can also leak into our thoughts and dictate what we should and shouldn’t write. Thus we censor ourselves, killing those new sprouts before we even have time to discover what they are.
What’s the solution? There are no easy answers. I can offer that I have a poster hanging over my desk, one I made myself. It says:
What would you write if you weren’t afraid?
I look at it often when I hesitate, when voices leak into my head, when I start worrying about the final story and how it will be received. It keeps me going.
Write through the fear. You can always edit later.