Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Interview with Mindy Klasky, author of the Jane Madison series

A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Mindy Klasky at Capclave. Now I'm proud to count her as a friend, but I'm not here to talk about her warmth, her disarming sense of humor, or her inexplicable faith in humankind.

About a year ago I read SORCERY AND THE SINGLE GIRL, the second in Mindy's Jane Madison series, without having read Book One, A GIRL'S GUIDE TO WITCHCRAFT. This is not something I would normally do or even recommend (books are in a certain order for a reason, after all), but I was getting ready to write Bad to the Bone and was studying second books in series to see how other authors pulled it off.

Not only did I enjoy Sorcery immensely ("fun and charming" says my book journal), but I absorbed the characters and situation instantly. It was a masterpiece of seamlessly introduced backstory. This is a particularly tough challenge when writing in first person narrative. There's always the "Why would she be thinking this fact right now?" issue, and in most books I just accept the seemingly inevitable awkwardness.

I actually marked up my copy with a pen, bracketing every place where Jane introduced another tidbit of her past, so that I could go back and study how it was done, because the overall effect was, "I really want to read Girl's Guide, but not until after I finish this book." I was so thrilled to find a Book Two that truly stood alone while at the same time felt like it was part of a larger narrative tapestry.

Anyway, the conclusion of the Jane Madison series, Magic and the Modern Girl, comes out today, and I can't wait to see if (please please please) Jane ends up with David.

Here's Mindy to tell you more about the book, the series, her exciting new project, and her plan to raise charity dollars by making us all fat:

Mindy Klasky is the author of nine speculative fiction novels, including MAGIC AND THE MODERN GIRL, the third volume in the Jane Madison series, about a librarian who discovers that she's a witch. You can learn more about Mindy at her website - www.mindyklasky.com - including reading chapters from each of her novels.

Available at Amazon and Powell's (and at most online and bricks-and-mortar bookstores near you!).

1. Why this book? What made you want to write this story?

I started writing the Jane Madison series because I wanted to play with a world that was light and fun, with a clearly defined supernatural influence. (I had just finished the dramatic, dark, magic-less Glasswrights Series, along with a trunked novel about a world-destroying conspiracy of evil-doers who torture children, murder scholars, and do other depressing dastardly deeds.)

Despite the lighter tone, Jane confronts some serious questions in the books - most often about the nature of friendship and family. MAGIC AND THE MODERN GIRL was specifically sparked by my interest in how friendships change over time, particularly as we get older and more settled, losing some of the angst that cements some ... younger relationships. I think that it's the perfect conclusion to the Jane Madison Series, wrapping up loose ends, while letting readers envision a future for their favorite series characters.

2. Which authors inspire you? Has that changed over time?

I have always enjoyed authors who build incredible characters, giving them realistic plots through which to navigate. Over time, my list of favorite authors has evolved to include more Young Adult authors (such as Justine Larbalestier and Scott Westerfeld.) I find myself veering away from authors who take political stances that I find distasteful, particularly when their politics stray into their storytelling. (Orson Scott Card? I'm looking at you!)

3. Why genre? Is there something special about science fiction or fantasy that draws you to write in the field?

I love the opportunity in genre to answer the "what if" questions. I could certainly write a searing indictment of contemporary culture, drawing on "ripped from the headlines" stories about spousal abuse, abandoned children, tortured prisoners, etc. I find it more intriguing, though, to structure my inquiries in speculative terms. Readers free themselves to think more broadly when the framework for their thoughts is patently impossible. Jane Madison readers can ask themselves about their relationships with their mothers, grandmothers, best friends, and romantic interests without needing to cut too close to the emotional bone. Readers are less defensive and more expansive when they are freed from the direct constraints of the real world.

4. What do you find most interesting about Jane Madison?

Jane is a bundle of contrasts and insecurities. Usually, she knows what she should be saying and/or doing; she just doesn't remember to state those words or take those actions in the immediacy of the moment. (Her judgment is even more impaired when the men of her dreams are around....) I enjoy structuring Jane's foibles - mostly because she is, at heart, an educated, eloquent, strong woman who acts in her own best interest and in the best interest of those around her. (That action becomes even more challenging in MAGIC, when Jane meets her true love, only to find that "the course of true love never did run smooth.")

5. You're a writer. What else are you? What are your interests? Hobbies?

I've been a lawyer and a librarian. I'm a wife, a daughter, a sister, and an aunt. In between juggling all of the professional and familial hats, I am an avid reader, a cat-wrangler, a baker, a quilter, a movie-watcher, a Boston Red Sox fan, and a scrapbooker. (Basically, I can't just sit and watch TV; I need to have something in my hands. I get most of my quilting done during the World Series.)

6. Did you have to do any special research for this book? What did you need to know in order to write it that you didn't know before? Do you have some special preparation you do for writing?

For each of the Jane Madison books, I've conducted a lot of "spot" research, doing quick online searches for information about specific crystals, individual runes, and other magical paraphernalia. Jane and her best friend often quote Shakespeare, challenging each other to identify the play, act, and scene. I usually start out knowing the quotation, but I need to research the specific reference. MAGIC is heavily tied to Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST, so I re-read the play in preparation for writing this volume. I can't write without a live connection to the Internet (although I have to restrain myself from checking my email every twenty-seven seconds!) In the rare times that I've tried writing without an Internet connection, I leave myself cryptic notes (e.g., "Find Stomach Crystal.")

7. I see a lot of food, especially baking, in this book. Is that something that really interests you? Or is it more driven by the needs of the story?

I've always enjoyed baking, although I am almost always dieting. Creating the Cake Walk bakery gave me a chance to indulge my sweet tooth in low-caloric ways!

This fall, my baking interest is going to grow beyond the four corners of the Jane Madison series: I'm launching a charity calendar that will include some of the Cake Walk recipes, along with favorite recipes from a variety of paranormal, urban fantasy, and mystery authors. All profits will go to First Book, a charity with the mission of getting underprivileged children their first books to own. (Details will be posted on my website shortly!)

8. Jane's best friend, Melissa, goes on numerous disastrous first dates throughout the series. Do you have your own share of first date disasters to tell?

Every one of Melissa's horrific dates has a seed of truth in one of my own first dates. (In one horrific year, I went on 28 first dates - a record that convinced me that I was perfectly happy to live the rest of my life alone. A couple of years after swearing off dating, I logged on to match.com (in response to prompting from my concerned, married brother.) I reluctantly completed my dating profile, clicked on "match" and the first profile that came up belonged to the man I married 17 months later.)

9. What are you writing now?

I've started a new urban fantasy series, the As You Wish Series. The first volume, THERE'S THE RUB, will be in stores in October 2009. It's about a stage manager who discovers a magic lantern with a wish-granting genie inside. Alas, her wishes don't go precisely as she plans....

10. Anything else that we should know about you, your writing, and the Jane Madison Series?

In addition to selling the Cake Walk recipe calendar, I am raising money for First Book by auctioning off a stunning, handmade necklace-and-earring set inspired by the Jane Madison series. The glass jewelry was created by a prominent librarian and jewelry artist specifically for this First Book fund-raiser. Details (including pictures of the incredible themed jewelry) will be posted on my website on October 1; the auction will close on October 31.

Thanks for taking the time to ask these questions! I hope that people will stop by my website and/or email me any questions at mindy@mindyklasky.com.


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Now playing: Sad To Be Alone - Sonny Boy Williamson
via FoxyTunes

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Book giveaway updates

The winner of the Plot Synopsis Project giveaway is...Lisa Kessler Writer from MySpace! Yay Lisa! She won two signed books: Eyes of Crow and Voice of Crow.

There's no time to weep if you didn't win. There is time, however, for you to hop over to the blog of author extraordinaire Ann Aguirre, where she's giving away a free copy of any of my books (including The Reawakened, though you'd have to wait until November 1 for that one) to one lucky commenter. I believe the drawing will take place tomorrow night (she's posting the results Wednesday, so if I were you, I'd go comment now just to be safe).

Check out the sidebar for a link to all current and open contests. I'll put up a link on my home page soon so it's easier for people to keep track.

My posts will be getting briefer as the month goes on, as I'm descending into the Rewrite Cave for Bad to the Bone. It's a much happier place than the First Draft Cave. I'm having a blast dismantling this manuscript and rebuilding it into the Bionic Novel.

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Now playing: The Promise Ring - Pink Chimneys
via FoxyTunes

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Top Pick for The Reawakened

The third book in the Aspect of Crow trilogy, The Reawakened, just received a Top Pick from Romantic Times Book Reviews. This makes it three Top Picks for three for the trilogy--hat trick, baby!

Here's the review (and a link for subscribers--it'll be up for everyone in two months):
You don't want to miss the powerful conclusion to the Aspect of Crow trilogy. Smith-Ready tells the story effortlessly and from shifting perspectives. The tension increases and never lets up. Unforgettable characters portray every emotion in a heart-wrenching, hopeful tale. Multiple storylines and escalating conflict reach an uplifting conclusion.

Summary: In Rhia's world, everyone has magic bestowed by their animal spirits. Her gift, the spirit of the crow, shows her a vision of a future that fills her with terror. Her world is threatened by The Descendants, those who disregarded their Guardian spirits to embrace technology. The nonbelievers are determined to conquer Rhia's people and suppress their magic, and Rhia's crow spirit demands sacrifices that will change her life forever. (LUNA, Nov., 480 pp., $14.95)
—Gail Pruszkowski

I was thrilled to read this, because a) did I mention 3 for 3? and b) as I mentioned in my post yesterday, I went for broke with this book, so I wasn't sure how it was going to go over with current fans. Since this reviewer loved the previous two installments (and was partly responsible for Eyes of Crow winning the Reviewers Choice Award for Best Fantasy Novel of 2006), I was anxious to see what she thought.

Big whew!

The November issue of RT should be on newsstands on October 1. No doubt my issue will arrive in the mail much later.

(Read the Top Pick reviews for Eyes of Crow and Voice of Crow. If, you know, you want, and haven't got anything better to do, or maybe need convincing to check out this series NOW before it's ALL OVER!)

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Now playing: Architects of Sound - Government Salami - V/A
via FoxyTunes

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Crows rule, and last chance at REAWAKENED ARC

A new study shows that crows are the smartest non-human animal, including chimpanzees. Take that, you damned dirty apes!

As some of you know, I'm not fond of non-human primates. They freak me out. Maybe I'm particularly susceptible to the Uncanny Valley, an innate revulsion to things that are almost human but not quite. Like mannequins or clowns or [insert easy celebrity joke here].

But I was able to get past my pithikosophobia recently to read the Y: The Last Man graphic novel series. I loved it despite the monkey.

(I should add that I didn't like the ending, partly because my favorite character was killed, and between that and Harry Potter and The Dark Tower and The Sopranos and Deadwood and Twin Peaks and Six Feet Under, I am forever swearing off series. My favorite characters always always always bite it in the last few episodes or final book. Not that I have room to talk, but hey.)

Where was I? Oh yeah--I hate monkeys, but I'll still read about them if the rest of the story is good.

How is this relevant to The Reawakened? Well, when I wrote this book, I figured it was the last in the series, so I would go for broke, write it exactly the way I thought it should be written and not worry about what people thought. Some of you will love it, and some of you will hate it. I respect that.

One of the risks I took was making two of the lead characters have the Aspect of Snake. Many people don't like snakes. But I always try to subvert stereotypes in my work, turn traditional symbols of evil (like crows or snakes) into something redemptive, and turn traditional symbols of good (like the sun or the color white) into something oppressive (i.e., the Ilion nation).

The Snake Spirit's domains are fire and sex (and, to a lesser extent, memory). So when our two Snakes, Sura and Dravek, meet for the first time, things get figuratively and literally H-O-T. This is bad for a lot of reasons I won't go into in this post. But Snake is one bad-ass Spirit who will not be denied.*

So....for a chance to win an Advance Reader's Copy of The Reawakened, all you have to do is answer the following poll in the comments (or e-mail me at jeri@jerismithready.com if you feel shy):

Snakes are:

a) cool
b) gross
c) scary
d) sexy
e) more than one of the above (please specify)

That's it! I'll take entries through 11:59pm Eastern time Sunday night, then draw a random name to win an autographed ARC of The Reawakened. These suckers are pretty scarce, so it's a nice prize if you can get it.

If you comment as anonymous, make sure you check back to see if you won, or leave a way for me to get in touch with you.

Also, there's one more day to enter the drawing for autographed copies of Eyes of Crow and Voice of Crow. That's two free books for one lucky person. Read them now and get ready for The Reawakened's November 1 release.

Good luck!

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Now playing: Our Lips Are Sealed - The Go-Go's
via FoxyTunes

*Ask Indiana Jones and Neville Flynn if you don't believe me.

EDITED TO ADD: This just in: THE REAWAKENED just got a Top Pick review from Romantic Times--that makes it 3 for 3 for the trilogy! Hat trick, bay-bee! I'll post the review tomorrow.

EDITED TO ADD MORE: The winner of the REAWAKENED ARC is...flip! Flip, please send your mailing address to jeri AT jerismithready.com. Congrats, and thanks to everyone who entered!

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Spencer's story contest winner

The winner of the multi-CD Sun Records compilation disc is...Kay M.! Kay won by commenting/e-mailing me her thoughts on Spencer's 'turning' story, "Rave On." I drew a name at random from all the comments on my three blogs and e-mails I received. Thanks to everyone who entered--glad you found it enjoyable/fun/disturbing!

There's one more open contest, running through Thursday night. Read and comment on my synopsis for the Aspect of Crow trilogy from last Friday's post to be entered to win the first TWO BOOKS in the trilogy, Eyes of Crow and Voice of Crow. (The final volume, The Reawakened, comes out November 1, in case you're not sick of me telling you yet.)

Tomorrow I'll hold one last contest to give away the remaining ARC of The Reawakened.

But now, I must breakfast.

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Now playing: My Lover's Box - Garbage
via FoxyTunes

Monday, September 22, 2008

Brief NAIBA recap and musings from people who don't exist

Just got back from the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association Fall Conference in Cherry Hill, NJ. I love bookseller trade shows because hey, I love booksellers. But I also love them because I get a chance to mingle with people outside my genres, and because I get to see previews of books that aren't coming out for months. Oh, and I might have picked up a book or ARC or two. Or sixty.

My name is Jeri, and I'm a Bookaholic. {{hiiiii Jeriiiiii}}

Anyway, the work day is over for most people, but I've got a novel to revise, so I've got a full night's work ahead of me. So this'll be quick, another "They blog so I don't have to" moment.

In a post entitled "Eat your heart out, George Clooney," Ciara brags about a review in Green Man Review, which I have to admit is one of my favorites, too:
Wicked Game is clever, funny, creative, and way too much fun. Jeri Smith-Ready plays with a concept I always thought would work well with vampires, setting them up as nighttime radio DJs whose familiarity with the material comes from actual experience, and she does it well, throwing in a nice mixture of musical styles and character personalities. Honestly, this is a book I wish I'd written, so I'm glad someone went ahead and did it. Smith-Ready's treatment of vampires is slightly skewed from the average depiction; in her world, vampires need to find a balance between the time period in which they were alive, and the modern era, lest they become disconnected and unable to function. Moreover, they're essentially locked in to their "Life Time," unable to easily change or grow or learn new things as time marches on without them. This imbues this particular breed of vampire with a unique and satisfying vulnerability, which makes for some interesting complications in their society. She also plays with the nature of codependency between vampires and humans, showing various ways in which they each get what they want, be it sex, money, protection, or dinner (you guess which is which. . . .) Maybe it's not all entirely original, since there's only so much variation possible, but it's explored nicely here.

Ciara's a fun character in her own right, a natural con artist who's always looking for that extra angle to exploit, and that back door to escape through. She's pragmatic, and naturally skeptical at first when things get weird, reacting like any normal person would, but when the chips are down, she really shines. In fact, it's safe to say she's got some massive reserves of confidence to draw upon, and an amazing amount of chutzpah, given some of the plans she comes up with. It'll be interesting to see what she does next, after what she pulls off in this book.

Wicked Game is a sure-fire winner in my opinion, and the sequel will be one of my must-reads.

Delish. Read the rest and see if you can figure out Ciara's favorite line. By the way, I don't know why the last two paragraphs are italicized. Fun with Blogger!

Then in Shane's World, our favorite vampire DJ (well, my favorite, anyway) waxes nostalgic about 80s video games, and shares with us a clip from a hilarious spoof of "Pac-Man the Movie."

Off to eat my first real meal of the day and then get crackin' on the manuscript. Tomorrow I'll be back with the results of Spencer's story contest.



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Now playing: Calico Horse - Awake In the Clouds
via FoxyTunes

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Plot Synopsis Project Part Deux (and giveaway)

Today I'm undertaking a special project with some of my fellow SF Novelists authors. The Plot Synopsis Project was started by Compton Crook Award nominee Joshua Palmatier (author of The Skewed Throne, The Cracked Throne, and The Vacant Throne, the Throne of Amenkor fantasy series).

Joshua explains it here:
Essentially, I gathered together a group of authors who were willing to post an entry about their own plot synopsis writing technique as well as a sample copy of one of their own plot synopses OR post an entry about how they got published without using a plot synopsis, to show everyone how different people write their synopses, and that it isn’t necessarily required to get published.

So today I'm honored to take part in...Plot Synopsis Project II. Because in science fiction and fantasy, we loves us a good sequel!

At the bottom of this entry I've included links to the other PSP2 participants, whose synopses are undoubtedly better than mine, or at least shorter. But not self-deprecating-er, I bet.

I'll present the synopsis with which I sold the Aspect of Crow trilogy to Luna Books in February 2005. I sold the trilogy on proposal, which means I didn't write the entire book before selling it, but only three chapters and this eighteen-double-spaced-page synopsis.

It's fascinating (and rather hilarious) to see how much the eventual book changed from the original synopsis. With Book One, Eyes of Crow, the changes were relatively minor [and are presented in italics and brackets with self-directed snark].

With Book Two, Voice of Crow, almost the entire story changed from my original conception, because I came to my senses and decided, what the hell, let's NOT kill off the hero of Book One.

And the synopsis of Book Three (what eventually became The Reawakened, which comes out November 1) bears no resemblance whatsoever to the final version, other than the Descendant occupation and ultimate good-conquers-evil ending.

NOTE: It should go without saying that these synopses contain THE ENTIRE PLOT OF THE FIRST BOOK, which means HEY, SPOILER ALERT. I hope that even after reading it, you'll still want to read Eyes of Crow and its two sequels. (I swear, the books are better written than the synopses. Check out these excerpts if you don't believe me. Oh, and this one, too.)

***To raise those hopes, I'll give away one signed copy each of both Eyes of Crow and Voice of Crow to one commenter. I'll draw a name at random from my three blogs next Thursday at 11:59pm eastern time.***

Here we go--the synopsis as submitted to Luna Books in 2004. For those short on time, just read the stuff in italics.

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Aspect of Crow trilogy synopsis

by Jeri Smith-Ready

The trilogy covers the three major phases of the protagonist Rhia’s life and the coinciding evolution of her powers.

World background: Rhia lives in a pre-modern society [which is actually several thousand years in the future--can you believe I didn't even know that when I started? It can charitably be called 'improvisation.'] in which animals are revered, respected, and even worshiped in their iconic forms. Each animal has its own domain, similar to the members of ancient Greek and Roman pantheons. For example, Hawk is the messenger of secret truths; Turtle governs fertility; Bear and Wolverine are defensive and offensive warriors, respectively.

Each person, upon reaching adulthood, is bestowed a particular kind of wisdom and magic—their Aspect—depending on the characteristics of their own animal Guardian Spirit. One cannot choose one’s Spirit; the Spirit makes the choice, which follows neither lineage nor gender, but rather the needs of society. The powers evolve in three phases: the first phase lasts until the person becomes a mother or father, and the third and final phase begins when one becomes a grandparent. Some people manifest magic powers even before their bestowing but lack the wisdom to use them properly. One must possess and both parts of one’s Spirit power (Aspect): magic and wisdom.

Rhia’s village of Asermos has seen several generations come and go since someone possessed Crow magic, which influences the passage between this world and the next, particularly at the moment of death. In their youth, Crow people can sense if and when a sick or injured person is going to die or recover. Later, as their power grows, they can communicate with the dead. In the third stage of a Crow person’s life, he or she can cross over and bring back souls. While Crows are valuable to society, they are often isolated by others’ fear, as if they carry death with them wherever they go. On the other hand, people pay them tribute because they hope that someday the Crow will resurrect them or a loved one. [Mmm, not really. Resurrection is extremely rare.] Crows are also held in awe because the crow is the closest relative of the Raven, which represents the Spirit Above All Others, akin to a supreme god. No one has ever had the Aspect of Raven.

The people of Asermos fear the adjacent Great Forest. [Wow, I said that? Mostly it's Rhia who's afraid, because she's a scaredy-cat to begin with.] Particularly dreaded are the packs of wolves that lurk within and occasionally prey on livestock. The villagers hunt along the forest’s edges, but most only venture inside once: for the “Bestowing”—the time in each young person’s life when he or she must receive their Aspect from their Guardian Spirit.

The Asermons believe that the capacity for magic resides in every human being, not just those of their society and its kindred villages. Long ago, some of the Asermons grew arrogant in their humanity, splintered off and moved south to a gentler climate so that they could create a more “advanced” civilization, with bigger cities to hold their pride. In doing so, they lost their connection with the energy of nature—the source of all magic—and replaced it with their own works of technology, as well as a pantheon of human gods. The Asermons call these people the Descendants, a word with a double meaning—they are genealogical descendants, and in the Asermons’ view, they have descended or lowered themselves by spurning the old ways.

Book One: Crow Sees [Uh, actually, it's EYES OF CROW]

The novel opens as eight-year-old RHIA prevents her mother MAYRA from putting to sleep their sick dog. Despite all odds and signs to the contrary, she knows somehow that he will recover and even predicts the circumstances of his eventual demise, a prophecy that comes true a few years later. The villagers begin to ask her to diagnose their ill animals. Meanwhile, Asermons such as Rhia’s father LETUS [changed his name to TEREUS because a beta reader thought it could be pronounced "lettuce"] begin to worry that a war is approaching because so many young men are being called as warrior Bears and Wolverines.

When Rhia turns fifteen, the village shaman, GALEN the Hawk, comes to her family and tells them his suspicion that she has the rare Aspect of Crow. He tests her ability on his sick brother DORIUS. Rhia sees that Dorius will survive the illness, but then she receives a vision of his violent death, a vision she must keep secret. Galen asks her to journey to Kalindos, a forest settlement, to study with a Crow woman of another tribe. Though they share the same religion, Asermons consider the Kalindons wild and untrustworthy; for example, a Kalindon man named RAZVAN abandoned Mayra with twin sons several years before she married Letus.

Frightened both by her own powers and the thought of entering the woods, Rhia refuses. She resolves to shut down her mortality awareness, but the memory of her own near-fatal illness as a young child—when Crow visited her for the first time—haunts her still. The illness weakened her body forever, an effect exacerbated by her parents’ overprotectiveness and the chronic pain she still battles. Her years-long helplessness intensified Rhia’s desire to be useful to family and community, yet she is hampered by her sometimes inchoate fear.

On a late summer day two years after the incident with Dorius, Rhia is helping her best friend/lover ARCAS tend his flock of sheep in a secluded meadow. As predicted by his father Galen, Arcas has recently received his Aspect of Bear. [Or so we're told.] He possesses the strength, intelligence and acute senses necessary for a warrior, but also has an artistic side that he reveals only to Rhia. That afternoon, they make love for the first time. Afterward, her half-brother LYCAS arrives to tell her that their mother has taken ill. When she enters their home, Rhia’s awareness of Mayra’s impending death alights on her consciousness like a heavy bird. She finally accepts that she needs help coping with this power and decides to go to Kalindos for training.

During the half-year mourning period before Rhia can leave, Galen instructs her on the ways of Spirit. He teaches her to pray, meditate, and take spiritual journeys to prepare for her bestowing. These exercises, combined with her guilt over the fact that she could not help her mother cross over in peace, cause her to turn inward. Arcas begins to feel neglected. Fearing she will abandon him for another man after many months apart, he frees her of obligation to him. Rhia offers him a lock of her hair—now shorn close as a traditional sign of mourning—and a crow feather as a token of her faith, but he refuses it. Heartbroken, she leaves her home and enters the forest, with Galen as a guide.

Galen says that he cannot accompany her all the way to Kalindos, for she must fast and meditate for three days alone in the forest to claim her gift. She wakes one morning to find the shaman gone. The first night she spends sleepless, staring wide-eyed into the darkness, her empty stomach aching and her limbs stiff from the cold winter air. The second night an old, gaunt wolf approaches her, belly to the ground in supplication. She is terrified but takes pity and tosses it the last of her food. It accepts her offering and runs away.

As evening falls on the third day, when Rhia has reached the end of her strength, the forest around her turns to a place of enchantment, and the great Crow Spirit appears. Before bestowing its powers upon her, it guides her into a glade where the cold winds cease to blow and her fear drops away. There stand two trees—one lush and vibrant, one barren and scarred. The healthy tree, Crow says, is her own inner wisdom, resilience, and love of life. The barren tree symbolizes her powers’ self-destructive potential, which will manifest if she surrenders to the illusion that death makes life bitter rather than sweet. Rhia herself will become like the barren tree if she allows death to take over her life. After she pledges not to make such a mistake, the vision clears, and her Aspect is granted. Peace and serenity overcome her, along with a sense that someone is watching over and protecting her. She continues on the way to Kalindos.

A cloudy, moonless night falls, and a young man appears without sound or sight. He reveals himself as MAREK from Kalindos, sent by the Crow woman to guide Rhia the rest of the way. He has Wolf magic, which allows him to travel in silence and become invisible at night—in fact, he has been following her for the last night and day. His lupine nature frightens her, yet she cannot resist her attraction to this man who seems to know her so well. Their mutual lust is instant and all-encompassing—they make love in the dark before she ever sees his face, and it takes several extra days for them to reach their destination. In the meantime, he helps her overcome her fear of the dark, an essential element of her Aspect. Her encounter with the old wolf, he says, was a test of her compassion and will help her in return one day.

Rhia learns that Marek’s Wolf powers are in the second phase already, which means that though not much older than she, he is already a father. He tells her he had a child and will speak no more about it, except to say that he has no wife. His short hair and haunted look, however, suggest that he has suffered a recent tragedy. [He actually does tell her his mate (girlfriend) and son died in childbirth.]

When they reach Kalindos, she meets her new mentor, CORANNA. Rhia is relieved to discover that the Crow woman is anything but a menacing harbinger of doom; Coranna’s gentle humor and lightness of spirit put her at ease immediately. She gives Rhia a few days to grow accustomed to her surroundings before training begins.

Magic permeates the everyday life of Kalindos more so than that of her home village. Compared to the bustling riverside port of Asermos, Kalindos feels like a place of spiritual retreat. The people there live in close communion with the surrounding forest, which Rhia learns to regard with reverence instead of trepidation. A friendship blossoms between her and a young Wolf woman named ALANKA, who turns out to be the daughter of Razvan, the Fox man who abandoned Rhia’s mother and brothers over two decades ago. The warm, charming Razvan clearly loves Alanka and regrets the reckless irresponsibility of his youth. He explains that he left Asermos because Mayra’s family disdained him for being Kalindon. Rhia still has trouble trusting him, but she dismisses her uneasiness as a result of her family’s old wounds and her perceptions of Fox people (who possess powers of stealth and invisibility similar to the Wolves, but are also great liars and have none of the Wolf strengths of cooperation and social cohesion—Foxes are basically individualists who look out for themselves [And if anyone suggests a connection between lying Foxes and the cable news channel of the same name, I'll deny it until the day I die]).

Through Alanka, Rhia learns more about the Aspect of Wolf, the first phase of which grants certain powers of stealth as well as the ability to read others’ moods through the subtlest of body language. The Wolf wisdoms of devotion and loyalty also impress her as her relationship with Marek deepens into the emotional realm.

Her training begins in a baptism by fire. Before Rhia can help the dying, Coranna says, she must learn not to fear and dread death, and the only way to do that is to experience it herself. They will travel up the mountainside the following day, where Rhia will freeze to death and Coranna will bring her back to life. Naturally, Rhia is terrified at the thought of dying, even temporarily, but she pretends to agree.

That night, she escapes the village with Marek’s help. They travel on foot until morning, when she discovers that he has led her to the base of the mountain, where Coranna waits for her. Marek apologizes for his betrayal, but says his loyalties lie not with what Rhia wants but rather with what she needs. He accompanies them to the summit, both for emotional support and to prevent another escape attempt. Rhia weeps bitterly all the way up the mountain, until exhaustion overcomes her and Marek must carry her to the top.

[Screeching halt! In the final version, Rhia decides on her own to turn back and go through with the ritual--she is not I repeat NOT tricked by Marek. Because that would've made him a complete dick.]

When they reach the peak, Coranna removes Rhia’s coat, then chants and prays while Rhia paces, shivers, and curses both of them for their cruelty. A full day passes before her body surrenders its battle for survival. She lies down and immediately falls into the embrace of a warm, peaceful slumber. The chants of the Crone are the last sound she hears as a large black bird gently carries her into a place of light and freedom. The Crone pulls her back, though Rhia does not want to leave the Other Side and its peace. She discovers that dying isn’t half as painful as coming to life. Angry at her lover’s betrayal but even more ashamed of her own cowardice, Rhia rejects Marek. [Obviously this last part isn't true, since he didn't betray her (not a dick, remember?).]

Crossing over has changed Rhia in many ways. Newfound courage leads her to take risks she never would have considered before, and Coranna must warn her to be careful with her own life. She accompanies her teacher to deathbeds and assists in the ceremonies to help people cross over without incident. She learns to offset her new fearlessness with sensitivity for the dying and their families. At burials, Coranna speaks for the dead to deliver a final message, allowing people in effect to attend their own funeral. [Most of this was dropped or compressed for length.] Rhia will be able to perform this communication after she enters the second phase of her life, when she has carried a child inside of her.

Tapping into her powers makes Rhia unstable, unanchored, in a painless, dreamlike state—a welcome relief from the physical discomforts that have plagued her since childhood. [Also dropped for length.] Marek offers himself as an anchor to this world, and they reconcile. [No breakup = no makeup.] He convinces Rhia that she doesn’t need to prove her courage with reckless acts, that he accepts her as she is. He also divulges the truth about his late wife and baby—they died during a difficult childbirth nearly two years ago, and Coranna was unable or unwilling to bring them back. In his ongoing grief, Marek cut his hair not once, but many times, against the usual tradition. Furthermore, he became a parent before he was spiritually mature enough to move to the second phase; thus he struggles to control his Wolf powers (e.g., he has trouble not being invisible at night) and has been something of a rebel within his tribe. [All true, except in the final version he tells her this the day after they meet.] Since meeting Rhia, however, he has settled down and gradually learns to forgive Coranna and himself for the death of his wife and daughter. He wants Rhia to stay in Kalindos always, but they both know that one day she will have to bring her gift home to serve her own people.

Rhia begins to suspect Razvan in the recent sudden death of ETOR [ETAR], a Kalindon man, whom she had seen Alanka’s father threaten. She asks Coranna to communicate with the dead man to find information. Coranna remembers that Etor’s soul seemed restless and reluctant to let go of this world during his funeral. Because of his untimely death, his spirit still lingers enough to speak with Coranna when she tries to contact him. Etor warns of a “treacherous fox” before slipping away to the Other Side. [Etar is a little more direct than Etor--he comes right out and accuses a young Bear named Skaris, the brother of Marek's dead girlfriend.]

Coranna and Rhia decide to gather more evidence before confronting Razvan or revealing their suspicions to anyone else, mostly to avoid hurting Alanka. Rhia finds an opportunity to follow him alone through the forest, and is stunned when he meets with one of the Descendants to discuss the invasion of her home village. Razvan has long harbored a hostility towards Asermos for that community’s rejection of him. The Descendant takes the information Razvan offers, then slays him in cold blood. [Not really--he freaks out when Razvin shapeshifts into a fox in front of him. Also, Razvin tells the Descendant that Skaris tried to poison Rhia but accidentally got Etar instead.] Rhia feels his death and cries out. The Descendant chases her through the forest and easily catches her. She tries to fight him off, and he breaks her arm [dislocates her shoulder]. He is drawing his sword to kill her when they hear a low growl. The old wolf, the one she fed the night before her bestowing, leaps upon the Descendant. As they struggle, Rhia flees, her arm stabbing with every step. She is about a hundred yards away when a yelp, followed by silence, reaches her ears.

Panic and sorrow threaten to paralyze her, but she overcomes these feelings and acts to preserve her life, since her entire village depends on her survival. Realizing now that she can’t outrun the killer, Rhia evades him using her familiarity with the environment and the methods of stealth Alanka and Marek have taught her. Eventually the Descendant gives up and heads back to the river to return home.

Rhia runs to Kalindos and proclaims what she has just witnessed. Alanka is heartbroken at her father’s betrayal and death, but she alone vows to accompany Rhia back to Asermos. The rest of the village displays typical Kalindon isolationism and refuses to risk their paradise by getting involved in the upcoming war. Marek is torn between love for Rhia and loyalty to his tribe. Ultimately he decides to stay behind, infuriating Rhia. [No no a thousand times no. He takes off after Skaris to avenge the attempt on Rhia's life.]

After the village healer sets Rhia’s arm, the two women set off at full speed for Asermos. Along the way, Alanka’s horse is bitten by a poisonous snake, injuring her in its fatal fall. [This was removed for length.] Rhia uses all her strength, and then some, to lift her unconscious friend onto her own horse and continue on. They reach Asermos in time to save Alanka, who is overjoyed to meet her half-brothers Lycas and NILO for the first time. Upon Rhia’s warning, spies and scouts are dispatched to gather intelligence on the Descendants’ troop movements.

The people of Asermos prepare for battle, including the reluctant Bear warrior Arcas, who despite his vows to do otherwise, has remained faithful to Rhia in her absence. He gives her a beautiful wooden crow that he has carved in secret. Her bitter longing for Marek makes awkward the reunion with her former love. They turn their thoughts toward the upcoming conflict.

A major challenge is the enemy’s use of war horses, a concept that scandalizes the people of Asermos because it endangers the creatures. They want to disable the enemy horses without harming them, though Wolverines like Rhia’s brothers show little interest in fighting fairly or showing mercy. While the warriors work on tactics to remove the horses from the battlefield, Rhia devises a more innovative plan: tranquilize the horses before they even enter battle. On foot, the two sides will be better matched. But to steal into the Descendants’ camp requires someone with courage, stealth, and the willingness to sacrifice himself if necessary. Marek appears in time to declare his love for Rhia and volunteer for the assignment. He has brought with him dozens of Kalindons, including Coranna, who pledge their powers to aid Asermos. That night Marek sets out on his mission. [Some of these events are scrambled, but basically, yes.]

The Descendants invade the following day, without horses, yet Marek has still not returned from the enemy camp. Because the wounded outnumber the healers, Rhia and Coranna must perform battlefield triage, making instant judgments on who has a chance to live and who will die with or without help. Rhia’s brother Nilo is one of the fallen who cannot be saved, as is Dorius, just as her vision had shown her years before. She insists that the healers aid a few of the Descendants’ soldiers who would die otherwise. At last she comes upon a wounded Arcas, and a swelling of emotion clouds her ability to discern his chance at life. She tells the healer to save him, knowing that she may have given up hope for anyone else in his condition.

The two forces reach a stalemate until the Descendants reveal that they have taken Marek prisoner and ask a ransom of all the horses of Asermos. The villagers demand that the enemy prove that Marek is in their capture and still alive. He is brought forth, badly beaten and tortured, and Rhia must determine whether he will survive. When she faces him, he signals to her that he won’t be traded for such a high price, a price that would surely debilitate Asermos. She lies and tells the Asermons that he will die, anyway. The ransom is refused and the standoff continues.

Overwhelmed by the death and suffering around her and guilt-wracked over her complicity in Marek’s self-sacrifice, Rhia drifts into despair. [No! Over and over I planned to have her 'drift into despair' throughout this series. But when I tried to write it, it was depressing and lame. Anyway, she and Alanka and Lycas sneak into the Descendant army camp and rescue Marek.] But that night Crow delivers the vision of the two trees again, reminding her to fight for life. She wakes with a plan to free Marek from the enemy camp. When the rescue party arrives, Marek assists in his own escape, having exaggerated his condition to instill complacency in the guards.

On the way back to Asermos, they encounter Descendant troops, including the man who broke Rhia’s arm. In the skirmish, he tries again to kill her. Lycas knocks the Descendant’s sword to the ground. As they fight, Rhia picks up the sword and turns to her attacker just as he lunges for her. He impales himself on his own weapon, and feeling his death, she shrieks as if the sword had pierced her own body. [Mm, no. Marek stabs him while he's strangling Rhia.]

Frustrated at the loss of their bargaining chip and daunted by the villagers’ magic, the enemy warriors retreat, vowing to return. A few of the more seriously wounded enemies remain in Asermos.

Rhia and Coranna preside at a mass funeral. After reciting prayers for the departed, Rhia hears her dead brother Nilo’s voice. At first she mistakes it for that of his twin Lycas, but he is silent in his mourning, holding onto his sister Alanka for comfort. Rhia realizes that she has moved into the second phase of her powers, signifying that she’s pregnant with Marek’s child. She and Marek journey back to Kalindos together to marry and begin a new life.

Book 2: Crow Speaks [Voice of Crow]

[Here it's easier just to italicize the things that actually happened. IF IT'S NOT IN ITALICS, IT DID NOT HAPPEN. Look at this crazy tragic crap. You know, it's so bad, I'm just going to strike it through, lest anyone glance at it and think I actually wrote this.]

Rhia continues training with Coranna. In her conversations with the dead, she learns that the peace she experienced during her brief death is only part of the dying process—a temporary serenity to lull the person into leaving the old world behind. It can also be terrifying and unbearably lonely for some. Rhia confronts Coranna with this knowledge and accuses her of deception. The crone acknowledges that she only imparted a half-truth to her protégé, and explains that part of the wisdom of a maturing Crow person is knowing how to protect others from truths that would paralyze their lives. Rhia struggles with an internal battle between honesty and compassion and becomes fiercely protective of her newborn son DAMEN.

In retribution for assisting Asermos in the previous battle, the Descendants from Book 1 attack and overwhelm Kalindos, killing Coranna and Marek. Rhia flees back to Asermos with Damen, Alanka, and several other surviving Kalindons. She nearly wastes away, spending most of her time communicating with her dead husband, and becomes addicted to the pain-free death trances. Damen’s needs and the efforts and devotion of Alanka and Arcas eventually drag her back to reality. Later she marries Arcas and has a son by him as well, named THERON.

Book 3: Crow Flies [Wings of Crow and then eventually The Reawakened]

Enemy forces now occupy Asermos. They suppress the expression of the old, animal-based religion and force the Asermons to worship the humanlike gods they have constructed. Asermons continue to practice magic in secrecy, in defiance of the Descendants’ death penalty for doing so.

As they grow up, Rhia’s two sons Damen and Theron develop a burning animosity towards each other, and eventually the half-brothers fight over a woman and die from the wounds they inflict on each other.

[MY GOD, WHAT WAS I THINKING? HER CHILDREN KILLING EACH OTHER? WHO DID I THINK I WAS, SOPHOCLES?]

[Anyway, the rest of the synopsis for The Reawakened is also inaccurate, but it includes my original answer to the big Who Is the Raven? question, so if I tell you it's wrong, that eliminates one person.]

Aspect series possibilities: Other characters in this world could become the focus of later books, with titles such as Aspect of Wolf, Aspect of Eagle, etc. Many features of this world could form the basis for further volumes—issues such as:

What happens when someone strongly resists their Guardian Spirit and the Aspect it tries to bestow? [Covered to some extent in all three books.]

What happens when someone lives long enough to become a great-grandparent? [Nothing.] Is there a fourth-level power to these Aspects? [Nope.]

What happens when parents pressure their own children to reproduce before they’re ready, so that they themselves can achieve third-level powers? [Addressed in The Reawakened. Dire times call for dire measures.]

What happens when two people with the same Aspect fall in love? (When Rhia exhibits jealousy over Marek’s closeness to Alanka, he explains that sharing an Aspect makes two people more like siblings than sharing a parent.) [Addressed in The Reawakened. Hot stuff!]

------

And here are my fellow PSP2ers:

Alma Alexander (Will post on the 20th instead.)

Sam Butler

Diana Pharaoh Francis

Daryl Gregory

Simon Haynes

Jay Lake’s comments and his synopses

Kelly McCullough

Joshua Palmatier

Jennifer Stevenson

Edward Willett

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Monday, September 15, 2008

New Aspect of Crow story sold!

Starting November 17, one of my publishers will be posting eight weekly installments of "Storm Reaper" (tentative title), a short story in the same universe as my Aspect of Crow fantasy trilogy. It takes place a couple of years before The Reawakened and features several characters from Voice of Crow (Alanka, Kiril, Filip) who mostly didn't make it into The Reawakened, due to my publisher not wanting the novel to be 1,000 pages long (go figure!).

Naturally, I'll remind you when it starts. The story will be completely free to readers online. Basically, it'll be just like "The Wild's Call", except the installments will be longer and only once a week. Oh, and with a completely different story.

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Now playing: Hole - Asking For It
via FoxyTunes

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Friday, September 12, 2008

THE REAWAKENED contest winners

Thanks to everyone who e-mailed me guessing the identity of the Raven child, a mystery proposed in Voice of Crow, the answer to which will be revealed in The Reawakened (coming November 1).

The prize was an Advanced Readers Copy of the new novel, and the winner was...Janice Y.! I'll have another ARC contest next week, so stay tuned.

Also, thanks for all your comments on the amazing cover for The Reawakened. I drew three names from the commenters to win cover flats:

TT (Lena)
Nozomi429
MEME

Yay!

Patricia is getting ready to draw a name from her Wicked Game giveaway, so that just leaves the Spencer story contest open...for now. Check back next week, like I said, for another chance to win a Reawakened ARC.

Have a great weekend, and if you're in southeast Texas, don't be stupid--do what the authorities tell you to do. If you're in Galveston, get the hell out. This may be the first and last time I ever quote Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff (emphasis mine):

Chertoff also urged people not to succumb to "hurricane fatigue," referring to concerns that authorities were overestimating Ike's potential impact.

"Unless you're fatigued with living, I suggest you want to take seriously a storm of this size and scale," he said Thursday.

Stay safe, people.

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Now playing: ... But Home in Nowhere - A.F.I.
via FoxyTunes

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Spencer's story, "Rave On," is now live!

As promised, I’ve posted the second story in the how-the-Wicked-Game-DJs-became-vampires series. So now, for your absolutely free reading pleasure, I present "Rave On".

On the Day the Music Died (February 3, 1959), Spencer literally meets his maker. For the first time, we get to see what happens to a brand-new vampire as he deals with the transformation into an immortal being. It doesn't involve Valentines and teddy bears, that's for sure.

It's more of a typical story-story than Monroe's "Crossroads," which was largely a mood piece. "Rave On" features fight scenes, cheatin' hearts, and a cameo by one of the other WVMP DJs. I hope y'all like it.

There’s a playlist at the bottom of each page for you to listen to, featuring tunes that inspired the story and/or appeared in it.

BONUS GIVEAWAY: Everyone who e-mails me at jeri@jerismithready.com (or just comments on this post) with a comment on Spencer’s story will be put into a drawing to win a Sun Records 50th Anniversary multi-CD collection, featuring artists like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash in their primes. Great stuff! The drawing will take place at 11:59pm Eastern on Wednesday, September 17.

If you subscribed to my newsletter, you could've read the story a week ago. I'm just sayin'.

Jim's story, tentatively titled, "When the Music's Over," will be posted in late October/early November, depending on my other deadlines. His will probably be a little weird. Maybe more than a little.

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Now playing: Wolves, Lower - R.E.M.
via FoxyTunes

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

New Interview and Wicked Game giveaway!

You thought the Wicked Game Blog Tour was over? Ha! After twenty-some stops, it's just getting started.

Actually, it is almost over. Soon you'll have to give up on getting a free copy and go buy your own.

But not today! Patricia's Vampire Notes is posting an interview with me, and a name will be randomly drawn from comments today through tomorrow night to win a signed copy of Wicked Game.

Patricia reviewed Wicked Game for Library Journal in May, saying that "A colorful premise and engaging characters make the author's latest a fun read."

I'll be sitting close by throughout the day to answer any questions or comments, so it'll be almost like a chat. In the same way that telegrams are almost like phone calls.

NOTE: to enter, you must make your comments at the interview post, not here, because Patricia will be doing the drawing. Also, you can get extra entries by asking me a question or linking to the interview from your own blog, and possibly by standing on your head while reciting the preamble to the Constitution, but I could be wrong.

ANOTHER NOTE: You have until 11:59 tonight to enter the contest for an ARC of The Reawakened, the last installment of my Aspect of Crow trilogy.

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Now playing: Science Killer - The Black Angels
via FoxyTunes

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Over our dead bodies

According to an article in the New York Times, a Philadelphia Poe scholar wants to dig up the remains of Edgar Allen Poe from the city where he died (Baltimore) and move them to the City of Brotherly Love.

Edward Pettit argues that Poe wrote much of his best work in Philadelphia and "that city’s rampant crime and violence in the mid-19th century framed Poe’s sinister outlook and inspired his creation of the detective fiction genre."

“So, Philadelphians, let’s hop in our cars, drive down I-95 and appropriate a body from a certain Baltimore cemetery,” Mr. Pettit wrote in an article for the Philadelphia City Paper in October. “I’ll bring the shovel.”

Not so fast, mister. We've got the Poe Toaster, a mysterious figure who visits the author's grave every year on his birthday and leaves three red roses and a half-bottle of cognac. We even named our football team in honor of his most famous work, "The Raven." Poe is ours--or rather, we are his.

“Philadelphia can keep its broken bell and its cheese steak, but Poe’s body isn’t going anywhere,” said Jeff Jerome, the curator of the Poe House in Baltimore. He'll be debating Pettit on January 13 at the Philadelphia Free Library.

Mr. Jerome added that everything would be settled at the debate, and in exactly the way that Poe would have wanted.

“I will argue the other guy down with grace and facts,” Mr. Jerome said. “Then I will walk over to him like a gentleman and punch him square in the nose.”


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Now playing: Nine Below Zero - Sonny Boy Williamson
via FoxyTunes

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Win an ARC of THE REAWAKENED!

Here's the first of two chances to win an Advance Review Copy of The Reawakened. Here's a new image--now with bonus back cover!




(Click image to embigulate.)

As I mentioned in my post last week (where the cover flat giveaway is going on for one more day), The Reawakened is the final installment in my award-winning Aspect of Crow trilogy.

For those who've just joined me since Wicked Game, a little more about this trilogy:

Aspect of Crow takes place in a world where everyone has magic bestowed by their Guardian Spirit Animal (what some might call a "totem" or "power animal"). Sort of X-Men meets Clan of the Cave Bear.

It began in November 2006 with Eyes of Crow and continued last October with Voice of Crow. More information, including excerpts of all three books, can be found on my website by following those links.

The main character, Rhia, has the Aspect of Crow, which in her first phase gives her visions of people's deaths; and in her second phase, gives her the power to speak to the dead.

Charles de Lint called Eyes of Crow "a delightful coming-of-age novel" in his review in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which pretty much made my life. That novel also won the Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award for Best Fantasy Novel, and was nominated for two Rita Awards.

In addition to the three books, there's an urban fantasy prequel story online, "The Wild's Call." It takes place roughly mid-21st century, thousands of years before Eyes of Crow, and depicts the first Reawakening. It's completely free, so check it out!

Now for the ARC. I’d like to see them go to current fans of the series, the ones who are really salivating for it, so to enter, please e-mail me with your best-guess answer to the following question:

Who is the Raven?

Everyone who sends me a character name will be entered in a random drawing to take place at 11:59pm Eastern Daylight Time on September 10, 2008. All entries will be eligible for the drawing, not just the correct ones.

BONUS entry opportunity! To double your chances to win, tell me WHY you think this person is the Raven.

(Note: I'm disabling comments so that people e-mail me directly with their guesses instead of dropping hints in public. Spoiler-free blogging ahoy!)

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NEW RELEASE!

This Side of Salvation

This Side of Salvation, Jeri's new contemporary YA novel!

Now available in hardcover and ebook.

“A smart, well-rounded, and unpredictable tale...bringing to light issues of belief versus free will, spirit versus body, and family versus self.” —Booklist, **Starred Review**

More about THIS SIDE OF SALVATION

Order from Indie Bound, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.com.

NOW AVAILABLE!

Shattered

"Shattered," a Shade novella!

Available here on this website as a free download in all major ebook formats, as well as a printable PDF (now with photos!).

More about "Shattered"

About the author

Jeri Smith-Ready

Jeri Smith-Ready is a Maryland author of books for teens and adults.

Learn more about Jeri...

Photo © Geoffrey C. Baker

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