Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Pump Up Your Book Blog Tour - Flying High by Kaylin McFarren


HIGH FLYING by Kaylin McFarren, Time Travel/Thriller


Title: HIGH FLYING

Author: Kaylin McFarren

Publisher: Creative Edge Publishing LLC

Pages: 280

Genre: Time Travel Thriller





 …ten minutes to survive the past.




Skylar Haines has struggled with personal demons most of her life,
going to dark extremes to subdue anxieties rooted in her tragic past. On
a perpetual hunt for the next adrenaline hit, she discovers a passion
for flying and becomes a hard-edged stunt pilot, verging on obsession.
In the sky, following her most daring airshow, she encounters a
mysterious storm and almost collides with another aircraft, sending her
into a perilous dive. Guided by a mysterious voice, she manages a safe
landing but finds herself transported to another time. Eight months
before she was born, one week before her father was murdered.




Though baffled by her circumstances, Skylar soon arrives at a single
certainty: Before her lies a remarkable chance to change her
family’s destiny drastically for the better — or possibly even worse
— depending on the choices she makes, before her window of opportunity
closes.

______________________











With renewed excitement,
Jake Brennen and Skylar Haines approached two silver Pitts high performance biplanes,
designed around Vedeneyev M14P engines. Their trusted mechanic limped wearily
toward them, wiping crumbs from his thick handlebar mustache. Ethan Edwards had
been named after the main character in The
Searchers
, an unlikely hero. But according to Ethan, he’d already become
one with the endless hours he put into keeping their planes in the air.
        Unfortunately, the grimace on his narrow face reflected the
concern in his voice. “Jake, I know Skylar is an excellent pilot and has been
going to airshows for years, but do you really think it’s a good idea to let
her tackle those stunts alone?” The forty-four-year-old grease monkey had
become a father figure to Jake after his dad died twenty-some years ago, and he
never minced words when it came to voicing his opinions.
        “Skylar says she’s ready to do it,” Jake assured him. “We’ve
been going over these stunts for several days now.”
        “In the air?”
        “Yes, of course. We went through the whole routine twice. I’m
pretty confident that—”
        “You of all people should know that it takes months to
perfect maneuvers.”
        “I realize that. But Skylar’s got her mind set on doing this,
and I believe in her abilities.” Jake glanced at her and smiled. “If I didn’t,
we wouldn’t be here.”
        Ethan followed Jake to his plane, shaking his head, and
Skylar trailed close behind. “Honestly,” Ethan grumbled, “I just hope you’re
not making a huge mistake.”
        “I agree with you there,” Jake said, settling into his seat.
        “Okay, fine…if that’s the way you want it. Come on, Skylar.
I’ll help you get strapped in.”
        “Thanks, Ethan!” Jake called out.
        A short, middle-aged woman with shoulder-length brown hair
approached Skylar, waving her hand excitedly. “Miss Haines! Miss Haines! Please
wait. I’ve been trying to reach you for two days now. I’m Samantha Jackson. I
can’t tell you how exciting it is to meet you in person.”
        “Exciting?” Skylar’s lips held a faint smile.
        “Why, yes. I read about you in the newspaper this morning and
understand you purchased one of my books. Women
in Flight
? I wrote it four years ago.”
        “Really? In the newspaper? Somebody actually wrote a story
about me? Was Jake mentioned too?”
        The kindly woman smiled. “Jake Brennen was interviewed about
the airshow and said you were performing today. I’m sure your family is very
proud of you, Miss Haines.”
        Skylar almost laughed out loud. Her grandfather had no
interest in any aspect of her life, especially after having her arrested for
stealing his motorcycle. Moreover, the hostility between them had increased
exponentially when he insisted she be sent away to reform school. At the time,
he claimed he was doing her a real favor and she did him a better one by
leaving town.
        “Anyway,” the writer added, “I want to wish you good luck
today, not that you’ll need it. Mr. Brennen said you’re one of the most
talented pilots he’s ever worked with.”
        “What? He actually said that?” The stupid smile, which had
left her face while the woman was speaking, reappeared.
        “Indeed, he did. You can see for yourself right here.” The
woman handed her a torn section from the local newspaper. “You can keep that if
you’d like.” The story she was referring to filled most of the page and
continued on the backside. Skylar took it, folded it, and slipped it into her
backpack, promising herself to read it later.
        “I also thought you might also like to know that I’m working
on a new book,” the woman added. “It’s all about female stunt pilots and—”
        Skylar was only half-listening. “You don’t say?” Her
attention had drifted to Jake in the neighboring plane. He had his sunglasses
on, covering his stunning green eyes, and was adjusting the headset on top of
his shaggy blonde hair.
        “When you have some free time,” the woman added, “I’d love to
sit down and talk with you. Maybe even include your story in my new book.” She
handed Skylar a business card and smiled.
        “Yeah, sure. Why not?” Skylar shook the woman’s hand. Then
she watched her walk away. She glanced at the ivory business card’s elegant
scrolled lettering and made a mental note of the woman’s name before adding it
to her backpack.
        Unbelievable. Skylar
smiled to herself. Jake was certainly full of surprises today. She’d have to
remember to thank him for the compliment—one that she was determined to earn
today.
        “Looks like you have a new fan,” Ethan said, reminding her of
his presence. His face was serious as always, but his blue eyes were
brighter than usual.
        “I can’t imagine why.” Skylar glanced toward the stands,
filled to capacity with spectators. The realization
of what had taken place made her cheeks flush. “Jake’s the one with all the
talent, not me.”
        “I don’t think so,” Ethan
said. “Far as I’m concerned, you’re both gifted.”
As they reached her
plane, he laid a hand on her shoulder. “I just hope you know what you’re doing,
kiddo.”
        “Yeah, so do I.” An unseasonal breeze had picked up, sending
a chill down her spine. Her hands trembled and her arms ached, reminding her of
her hidden obsession and Jake’s disturbing remark during breakfast.
        “I don't understand why
you wear long sleeves all the time…even when it’s unbearably hot. I hope you’re
not shooting up drugs or something.” He smiled, and she shook her head. She
tried to smile back, but failed miserably. She wasn’t about to tell him that
she was emotionally scarred by childhood abuse
and had anxiety-driven roadmaps on her arms to prove it.
        “You
okay, sweetheart?” Ethan brought her back to the present. “Cause if you’re not,
there’s no way I’m sending you up.”
        “I’m
fine…honest.” She could hear the scared little voice in her head disagreeing.
Eight maneuvers were not part of the original plan. At least, not until two
weeks ago. With very little preparation, a lot could go wrong, and Ethan knew
it better than anyone.
        “All
right,” he said. “I’m holding you to that.” She gave him a quick smile before
climbing into her seat. Apparently,
he sensed her fear as he continued
to reassure her, while strapping her in. “Just follow Jake’s lead and his
commands. Keep an eye on your airspeed and altitude. Stay a comfortable
distance away from each other. And break off if things get sloppy. Is that
clear?”
        Skylar whispered quietly. It’s
just you and me now, Roxy. Let’s do this right.
        “What’s that?”
        “Yes. I understand, Ethan.”
        “I’ll be listening.”
        “Okay. Sounds great.”
        He patted her shoulder and winked. “You’ve got this. In fact,
I bet you ten bucks no one’s going to be as incredible as you two. Just
remember that, Sky, and you’ll forget about all your fears.”
        She managed a weak smile. “Okay, you’re on. But you still owe
me six dollars from poker.”
        “What do you say? Double or nothing?”
        “You’re incorrigible.”

        Ethan checked her straps and gave
her a thumb up salute. She returned the gesture, confirming she was ready to
go. Then she heard Jake’s voice on her headset. “So, how’s my girl doing?”
        “As well as can be expected,” she said. In all truth, Skylar
was a jittery mess—anxious to get this show over and on with her life. She
closed her eyes and exhaled all the breath from her lungs for a count of five.
Then she repeated the relaxation technique, holding her breath. You can do this, you can do this, she
kept telling herself.
        “Heck, you’re far better than that,” Jake said. “You’re
friggin’ amazing…for a woman anyway.” He was grinning, motioning his head
towards the empty seat in front of him. “What do you say? Care to tag along?’
        She touched her necklace and smiled. “That’s the plan.”
        He mouthed the words I
love you,
and she instantly relaxed.
        There were moments like this when she was tempted to repeat
the words. When for three seconds, she didn’t believe in the notion that love
gave someone the power to destroy you.
        She was only six years old the day her mother asked her,
“What’s more beautiful than life itself…devours you inside…makes you laugh and
cry all day…and makes you do anything, anytime, anyplace?” Of course, the
answer to her riddle was love. But after everything her mother had gone
through, Skylar was frightened to say it.
        So is that why she was doing this now? Why she was willing to
risk her life to please the only man she truly cared about?
         Jake’s voice came back on the radio, directing
her step by step. “Okay, Skylar, let’s do this just like we planned.
Remember…pay attention to our distance. Do everything like we practiced. I’ll
count us through. You got this! And don’t forget, sweetheart…this is all about
timing and having fun too. Is that clear?”
        “Yes. Crystal clear.”
        “Okay. Ready to go?”
        “Ready.”
        “Then let’s do this. Nice and easy.”
        Jake taxied his biplane off the grass and onto the runway,
and Skylar followed close behind. Then the airshow announcer’s voice erupted
over the loud speakers in the stadium. “Our next act, ladies and gentlemen,
boys and girls, are the Twin Arrows from the Ace Flying Circus. Let’s give
these two a big round of applause.”
        A cheer rose in the air, and Jake’s voice came through
Skylar’s speaker. “Roger, Mitchell Tower.”
His plane rolled forward and Skylar trailed behind him, increasing her air
speed as she pulled the stick towards her. She looked at the tower and knew
that Ethan was keeping an eye on her from there. For the first time all day,
the announcer said nothing. The crowd hushed and even the children watched
silently as the two old war planes took off full throttle, one after the other.
They swooped upwards and their engines roared.
        The wings made it difficult to see, but Skylar witnessed bits
and pieces of Jake’s first maneuver—enough to know that they were perfectly
executed. He flew out of the spectator’s view allowing her center stage. Now it
was her turn. The plane responded instantly to her touch and she became a
sculptor carving the air. Spins and turns, drops and climbs. Her individual
routine had been flawless. To finish, she climbed high above the runaway. The
hangars, taxiways, and crowded tarmac became the size of miniature replicas.
When the plane could climb no more, it stalled and fell to one side, dropping
into a spiral heading straight for the ground. Instead of recovering and
pulling out of the dive, Skylar let the ground rush toward her until she knew
the crowd feared for her life. And because she had spent countless years
watching airshows, she knew the audience had exploded with cheers when she
added power and regained control. She climbed back into the sky feeling
electrified, brimming with adrenaline.
        Jake met her in his plane directly over the runway, front and
center for the cheering crowd. They climbed in unison, turned on their tails,
then stalled and dropped in opposite directions. They proceeded to fly the
identical acrobatic routine: tailspins, four-point rolls, flat spins, figure
eights, snap rolls and hammerheads. Flying together, they were a reflection of
each other—perfectly matched in speed, altitude, and control. 
        The other pilots could do these stunts too, skillfully even.
But each time Jake was in the cockpit, he became an artist. Everyone who
watched him knew they were seeing something remarkable. But this time, Skylar
was right there with him, matching every move. The feeling was pure energy and
naked spirit.
        They flew out and around to get enough distance and speed to
do their final stunt. Descending even lower, it appeared as if they were going
to land. Then Jake yelled, “Here we go!” He dropped even lower and did a smooth
barrel roll directly under Skylar. They kept the bellies of their planes in
perfection position from one end of the runway to the other—blasting by the
audience, a plane and its reflection.
        Jake called, “Clear out!”
        Just as they had rehearsed, Skylar broke off to the right and
went into a climb. She couldn’t see him, but she knew that Jake was completing
his barrow roll and would soon follow her into the sky. 
        The exhilaration she felt was beyond description, beyond
anything she had experienced before. Skylar could almost hear the cheers
erupting from the ground below, as she soared higher and higher. She was
heading straight toward a cloud bank that hadn’t been there before—not when
they started their routine. It was like a wall that reached higher than she
could see.
        Skylar heard a crackle on her radio and then Jake’s
reassuring voice. “Honey, that was amazing! I knew you could do it.”
        His praise was a salve for her soul. “Thanks for believing in
me, Jake.”
        “You would have loved this, Roxy,” she said quietly. “It was
just like we talked about.” All of her dreams were coming true, exactly the way
she imagined. With Jake’s help, she had accomplished a remarkable feat, and now
her name would be synonymous with female stunt pilots all over the world.
        The wall of clouds was getting bigger at a rate Skylar had
never seen before. Even intense thunderstorms didn’t grow this rapidly, and
there were no storms forecasted in this area.
        “Jake? Do you see this?” Skylar couldn’t believe the size of
this weather system in front of her. She couldn’t even begin to see the top or
either side.
        The radio crackled but he didn’t respond.
        “Jake? Can you hear me?”
        Static erupted in her headset but then cleared. “Baby,
listen. There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.”
        “Jake? Is that you?”
        “I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to say this out
loud—”
        “What are you talking about? Jake? Is something wrong?”
        “Skylar…I…you.” Static blocked out most of the words.
“Sky…do…hear me? …get what…saying?” The static was increasing. “…honest…love
you!”
        “Jake! I can barely hear you. Can you hear me?”
        He kept talking, obviously unaware that the call was breaking
up. “…Skylar…want…know…”
        “Jake! I can’t hear you! Jake! Repeat.”
        “Get…here…quick.” The static was getting louder.
“…proud…believe…long to…say…here…why…you.”
        The static ended and silence filled her ears. It was time to
get back on the ground. “If you can hear me, there’s a weather system
approaching and it’s a biggie! I’m on my way back.” Then she added, “Taking it
nice and easy.”
        However, nature had a different idea. It was as if the wall
of clouds had swallowed her whole, darkening the cockpit in an instant. The plane danced and swayed
in the turbulence, constantly buffeted by the increas­ing wind.
Skylar’s head hit the canopy and
her knees slammed against the sides of the plane. She had entered the eye of
the storm and was being thrown around like a toy plane. Lightning flashed across the sky, followed by the crash of thunder. She
tightened her grip on the controls and released a ragged breath.
        Holy shit. Skylar was in the bowels of a storm with no end in
sight. She could only hold on and pray that the plane wouldn’t break into
pieces. The turbulence grew wilder, tossing her around like a rock in a can.
She regained control of her plane for seconds at a time. When she could, she
started a turn in an attempt to break free from the storm—to exit the way she
came in. She kept an eye out on the windscreen to stay oriented, but it was
hard to keep her head still long enough to see clearly.
        The dark ominous sky
revealed glimpses of white clouds sliding behind fast-moving black curtains,
giving her a sliver of hope. Then, from out of nowhere, a red and white plane
descended from above, headed straight at her. We’re gonna crash!
        Skylar gasped and veered her biplane to the left. They were
bulleting past each other, but there wasn’t enough time to get out of the way.
Her right wing clipped the tail of the other aircraft, sending her plane into a
nose dive.
        “Oh, my God!” she yelled into her radio. “We collided!”
        The radio was quiet.
        “Jake! Can you hear me? It’s Skylar! I’m going down!” She was
spiraling and plunging straight down, holding on for dear life.
        Why wasn’t he
answering? Where the hell was Jake?
        Skylar had the stick close to her chest pulling up for all
she was worth. “Ethan, are you there? Ethan, it’s Skylar! Why isn't anyone
responding? I’m going down!”
        A man’s voice came through the speaker. “Skylar. Let go.”
        Who was that? It was an unfamiliar voice.
        “I can’t recover the controls!” she yelled. “I collided with
another plane! Help me! Please help me!”
        “Skylar, listen. You know how to do this. You just need to
let go.”
        “I can’t! The controls were damaged. I’m going down!”
        The man’s voice remained calm. “You can do this. Your plane
is fine.” He might as well have been ordering dinner at a restaurant. “Listen
to me. You’re in a stall. Let go of the stick. Let the wings do their job.”
        Her knuckles were white.
        “Skylar, listen to me,” he repeated. “You know how to do
this. Let go!”
        She blew out a deep breath. The ground was getting closer by
the second and her nerves were jumping. She needed to act before it was too
late.
        Against everything her brain was screaming, she followed
stall protocol. She pushed the stick away from her and shoved in the throttle,
increasing her descent into the ground. As soon as she heard the power of her
engines, relief poured over her. She pulled back on the stick and felt the
gloriousness of her wings taking hold, creating lift and allowing her aircraft
to fly.
        I’m going make it!
        “Nice one, Skylar! You did it!” The stranger cheered.
        She leveled off and the sky around her lightened, allowing
her to see the runway below. She had fallen a long way. “Thank you.
I…couldn’t…I have…”
        “Just land and be done with it,” he said. “That was quite a
ride!”
        “Coming around.” She headed for a final approach and used the
time to breathe and wipe the tears from her eyes. There was nothing she could
do about the shaking. Her whole body was trembling.
        “Jake? Ethan? Are you there?”
        The radio remained silent.
        Skylar touched down with a gentle bounce. She taxied off the
runway and pulled around to a stop in front of a black hanger that she didn’t
recall seeing before. But then after that harrowing experience, everything in
the world seemed new.
        She shut off the engines and the airplane shuttered. The
propellers slowed and stopped with a jerk. Silence. She started to remove her
headset but stopped and said into the mic, “Are you still there? I can’t thank
you enough.”
        “It was nothing. Glad to help.”
        “I don’t know what got into me. I’ve never panicked like that
before.”
         “No problem. Happens
to the best of us.”
        “But I’m used to emergencies. I’ve done it a thousand times.
I do stalls for a living!” She hesitated, embarrassed to admit such a thing.
“Well, thank you. I really can’t thank you enough.” Then she realized she
didn’t have the foggiest idea who he was—this guardian angel who saved her.
“Can I ask who this is?”
        “The name’s Haines,” he said. “It was my plane your clipped
up there. But I managed to bring her down safely.”
        “That was you! I don’t know how that happened. You just
appeared and I only had a second to react. I’m so glad you’re okay. That I’m
okay too…thanks to you.”
        “Like I said, glad to help.”
        “Wait a minute. Did you say Haines?” She must have misheard.
Or perhaps it was the near-death experience confusing her further.
        “Yep, that’s right. Dylan Haines.” He paused, then he asked,
“Have we met before?”
        “Um…I…” Skylar looked around and realized that she wasn’t
sure where she was. None of this was making sense. She pulled off her headset,
thinking she could see better without them. She looked around for Jake. Where
was Ethan? The airshow was still going on and groups of people were gathered
here and there, filling the open spaces outside.
        Leaving her backpack behind, she climbed out of her seat and
hopped to the ground. Where was everyone?
Where was Jake?
She was having trouble believing her eyes. A short distance
away sat the brick traffic control tower and administration building. People
were milling about, going in and out of the buildings. And she knew these
buildings well. She saw them every day. She also knew that they had been
remodeled a few years ago. But the building in front of her had clearly not
been remodeled. It had the old windows and doors, and the addition that gave
them more offices wasn’t there.
        What was going on here?
        Draped across the
black fa├žade was a huge white banner with black letters. She couldn’t believe
her eyes.
        Welcome to the ’98 Reno National Championship Air Races & Air
Show!
        What? 1998? Was this
some kind of joke?
Skylar looked around, half expecting someone to jump out
and yell, “Gotcha!”
        All the buildings around her looked the same but different.
Everything was just a little bit off. She took another look around. The hangers
were there, but where was the shed? She used that shed daily for tools and wash
pails. The small maintenance building was there, however, the large newer side
wasn’t. It was just a parking lot.
        Skylar scanned the
whole airport and realized it wasn’t making any sense. This wasn’t right. None of it was right!
        Antique planes of every make and model were lined up in neat
staggered rows. Pilots were checking engines, climbing in and out of cockpits,
and studying the reader board for their positions. Red and white checkered
canopies had replaced the black vendor tents that had been there this morning.
The grandstands were still filled to capacity, yet none of the faces looked
familiar. Not even the faces in the “Employee Section.” And there was still no
sign of Jake and Ethan. Plus Jake’s biplane wasn’t there and his hanger was
nowhere in sight.
        Was she losing her
mind?
        A striking man with wavy brown hair and an athletic build
strode up to her, wiping his hands on a rag. “So, you must be Skylar. It’s good
to meet you. And all in one piece.” A bright smile stretched across his face.
        She returned his smile and realized that she recognized him.
Her brain started filing through faces and names, searching for something to
remind her who this man was. Then a picture came to mind. She knew a picture of this man. That was it! Skylar had seen his
face in her grandfather’s album. Only, that album was filled with photos of her
father.
        He looked exactly like a picture of her father. But that was
impossible. Wasn’t it?
        Skylar looked at him a little closer. Same hair. Same sea
blue eyes. If her father had a twin, this would be him. But wait…it couldn’t be. He didn’t have a twin and this man looked
to be 25-years-old.
        The world came to a standstill. It was 1998. Her father would
have been twenty-five in 1998. This was crazy, and so was being here, in this
place—in the same year and place where her father had died.
        Skylar kept her clammy hands clenched at her sides and
squeezed her eyes tight. This is all a
dream…just a dream
. Either that or she was dead. She must have crashed and
died on impact. That was it! She was…dead. She opened her eyes again, but
everything was the same. Still 1998. 
        She broke out in a
cold sweat. A tingling sensation began in her hands and feet and then quickly
spread to her entire body.
        Her father stepped forward and reached out a hand. “Skylar?
Are you all right?”
        She simply stared, mystified. “This…this isn’t real. It…it
can’t be,” she stammered. “It’s…a dream. Just…a dream.” He was tilting off
center before her eyes, blurring into fuzzy grayness, disappearing as the world
went black.




































 









KAYLIN MCFARREN has received more than 45 national literary awards,
in addition to a prestigious Golden Heart Award nomination for
FLAHERTY’S CROSSING – a book she and her oldest daughter, New York
Times/USA Today best-selling author, Kristina McMorris, co-authored in
2008. Prior to embarking on her writing journey and developing the
popular THREADS psychological thriller series, she poured her passion
for creativity into her work as the director of a fine art gallery in
the Pearl District in Portland, Oregon; she also served as a
governor-appointed member of the Oregon Arts Commission. When she’s not
traveling or spoiling her pups and three grandsons, she enjoys giving
back to her community through participation and support of various
charitable and educational organizations in the Pacific Northwest, and
is currently the president of the Soulful Giving Foundation – a
non-profit focused on cancer research, care and treatment at hospitals
throughout Oregon.




Website: www.kaylinmcfarren.com


Blog: https://kaylinmcfarren.blog


Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/4kaylin


Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AuthorKaylinMcFarren








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Pump Up Your Book Blog Tour - Knightmare Arcanist by Shami Stovall


KNIGHTMARE ARCANIST 
by Shami Stovall, YA Fantasy


Title: KNIGHTMARE ARCANIST

Author: Shami Stovall

Publisher: Capital Station Books

Pages: 360

Genre: YA Fantasy






In a world populated by mythical creatures, those who bond with them
are known as arcanists—their magic stemming from the connection they
forged. Phoenix arcanists gain flames and healing, unicorn arcanists
speak with horses and manipulate poison, or even basilisk arcanists who
control flesh and stone.


But those wishing to bond must first prove themselves.


Gravedigger Volke Savan, desperate to leave his tiny home island and
impress the most beautiful girl he’s ever known, breaks every tradition
of the bonding ceremony just to become an arcanist. But when the only
creature who will bond with him has a sinister requirement, Volke is put
to the ultimate test of worth.


A fast-paced flintlock fantasy for those who enjoy How to Train
Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell, Unsouled (Cradle Series) by Will Wight,
and Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan.



______________________








CHAPTER
ONE
THE DAY OF
PHOENIXES

            I outlined a fresh grave for the cemetery as bells rang
from the isle’s tower, signifying the start of the celebrations. The soil
reeked of ammonia and rot, but the crisp morning breeze washed the scent away,
dispersing it over the ocean. I removed my shirt, allowing the wind to cool me
while I worked.
            Every ten years, the people on the Isle of Ruma gathered
to watch the fledgling phoenixes bond with a few chosen mortals. Lamplighters
did their duty despite the glorious sunshine, each lamp’s fire representing the
flames of phoenixes. Merchants cleared their horses and carts from the main
road in anticipation of the crowds.
This
was my second Day of Phoenixes. A decade ago, on my fifth birthday, I missed
the bonding ceremony to attend my father’s trial. He was convicted of murder,
but because he hadn’t been born on the island, he was taken to the mainland for
final judgement. That was the last time I saw him.
            Although the last Day of Phoenixes had been inauspicious,
I intended to change that. Once I had finished digging a shallow grave, I would
make my way into town.
I
slammed the shovel’s head into the dirt and scooped deep. The cemetery sat near
the edge of the island, far from those gathering to observe the hopeful
students trying to win the favor of the phoenixes.
            Tradition stated that anyone who handled sewage, waste,
and dead bodies wasn’t allowed to attend the bonding ceremony, which was just
my luck. After my father was sent away, I could’ve been given to any profession
for apprenticeship. I could’ve gone to the carpenter and learned the craft of
woodworking, or I could’ve gone to the silversmith and learned the art of fine
metal work, but misfortune hounded me like a shadow. I was given to the
gravekeeper, slated to dig corpse-holes until the end of time, forever exiled
from the festivities.
            I still intended to go. Even if it meant ignoring the
traditions of the isle—something unheard of on our tiny spit of land—no one
could stop me from proving myself to a phoenix. No one.
I
scooped another mound of dirt and tossed it to the side.
            “You look deep in thought, Volke,” my fellow corpse-hole
apprentice, Illia, said. “What’re you planning?”
            “I’m waiting for the trials to begin.”
            “And then what?”
            “You’ll see.”
            Illia sat in the shade of a cypress tree, her legs
crossed and her chin in both hands. Most people hated the thought of sitting on
graves, since it was supposed to bring bad luck, but Illia wasn’t like most
people. She leaned back on a headstone and exhaled as the ocean wind rushed by,
catching her wavy brown hair and revealing the scars on the side of her face.
            She held a hand over the marks, like she always did. The
moment the wind died down, she pulled some of her hair around to cover her
scars, hiding the old knife wounds that had taken her right eye.
            I finished one half of the grave and huffed.
            Illia and I lived in a tiny cottage on the edge of the
cemetery, apprenticed to Ruma’s sole gravekeeper. We both held the glorious
title of gravedigger. Like me, she
had no family. Well, we had each other, and Gravekeeper William, but he hardly
counted.
            For ten years, Illia and I had considered ourselves
brother and sister, and siblings always know each other’s mood. Illia displayed
all the telltale signs of irritation—narrowed eye, rarely blinking, her mouth
turned down in a slight frown. She hated the fact I was keeping secrets from
her. If I didn’t explain myself quick, she’d exact her revenge.
            “I don’t want to become the next gravekeeper,” I said as
I threw a mound of dirt off to the side.
            With an eyebrow sarcastically raised, Illia asked, “So
you’re going to impress a phoenix and leave this place, is that it?”
            “That’s right.”
            “Only two phoenixes were born this year,” she said,
wagging her finger. “And the schoolmaster has already picked his two favored
disciples to win the right to bond. No one wants you to take a phoenix from
either of those try-hards.”
            “I don’t care.” I scooped out another clump of dirt, my
grip on the shovel so tight it hurt. “Bonding with a phoenix is too important.
Besides, no one on this isle likes me anyway. Why should I start caring about
their opinions now?”
            “Hmph. I should’ve known you’d say that.”
            Of course. Anyone who bonded with a mystical creature,
like a phoenix, became an arcanist—a
powerful wielder of sorcery, capable of great magic based on the creature they
bonded to.
            Arcanists were the pinnacle of society, the most
influential people, and revered by everyone. Some arcanists could control the
weather, or devastate armies, or make the land fertile. Even the weakest and
laziest of arcanists were well-thought-of and important members of powerful
guilds, shepherding humanity to greatness with a mere flick of their wrists.
            What I wouldn’t give to become an arcanist. They were
things of legend.
            More significant than a gravedigger, anyway.
            “You’re not the only one with plans today,” Illia said.
She waited a minute before adding, “Aren’t you going to ask me what I’ll be
doing during the bonding ceremony?”
            I shoveled another chunk of dirt, taking some weeds with
it. “All right. Tell me. What will you be doing?”
            “It’s a secret.”
            She stood and brushed herself off with a few gentle pats
to her dress. Then she crossed her arms and stared at me, no doubt waiting for
me to pester her about the secret just so she could say, see how annoying it is when you do it?
            “I’m sure you’ll have fun doing whatever it is you have
planned,” I said with a shrug.
            “You’re not the only one who wants to become an arcanist,
Volke,” she replied, saying my name
as though it were venom. “But there might be easier ways than embarrassing
yourself in front of everyone.”
            I finished carving the outline of the grave, determined
not to be sucked into asking her what she meant. I had too many things on my
mind to get into an argument. Besides, I knew she was right. It was irksome
being excluded from secrets, especially by family. But I didn’t want to run the
risk of her trying to dissuade me.
            Another round of bells sounded in the distance. I threw my
shovel to the side and turned toward the cemetery cottage. “I have to go.
Whatever you do, don’t get into trouble.”
            Illia replied with a smile. “Never.”
            Something about her sarcastic tone told me she had
trouble planned, but there wasn’t any time to go into it. I jogged into the
cottage, ran up the rickety stairs, and then dashed straight into my room. It
was technically a storage closet that Gravekeeper William had converted into a
sleeping space so that Illia and I wouldn’t have to share the second bedroom.
            The cramped room fit my cot, a chair, and a trunk for my
clothes. That was it.
            I squeezed myself in, ripped off my dirty trousers, and
then dressed in a clean white shirt and black pants. Although I owned nothing
fancy—everything in my trunk had been Gravekeeper William’s at some point—I
still wanted to make an effort. The phoenixes bonded with individuals they
liked the most after the Trials of Worth were over. I needed to impress them,
and I couldn’t do that with grave dirt on my clothes.
            Once dressed, I combed my disheveled hair, even though it
never cooperated. For some reason, it always puffed out and tangled at the
ends, defying gravity just to make me look foolish. And the blackness of it—an
inky hue taken straight from the
midnight hour—wasn’t common on
the isles. Everyone else had red or blond hair, so other kids made fun of me.
            Coal head. Ink brush. They weren’t clever kids—any
dumber and you’d have to water them twice a week—they were just mean. No one
harassed me after I grew tall, however. Six feet meant I stood out in the
group, and not in a wimpy way.
            When I finished the last of my brushing, my hair puffed
back out.
            Satisfied I had made myself halfway presentable, I laced
up my boots and headed downstairs to the kitchen. I grabbed a small canteen of
water and the cleanest rag we owned before rushing out the front door.
            The vast ocean sparkled in the distance, so blue it put
the sky to shame. The winds brought waves, but nothing strong enough to reach
far inland—just the melody of water lapping across the white sand beaches.
            With the breeze in my face, I ran down the dirt road
until I came to the cobblestone streets of the city. I pushed my way through
the crowds of people swarming toward the town square.
            Our small island didn’t have much flatland, so the one
city—creatively named Ruma, like the
island—was the only place to live. The two-story houses were smooshed together,
most with stores downstairs and homes above. Despite the congested living
arrangements, people went out of their way to keep the place lively. Potted
flowers, colored cobblestone for the roads, wrought-iron fences in the shape of
fish for the balconies—Ruma had a special beauty waiting in every nook and
cranny.
            The crowds made their way to the Pillar to watch the
bonding trials begin.
            The Pillar—nothing more than a sheer column of pointed
rock jutting straight up into the sky—was well over one hundred and twenty feet
tall. It could be seen from anywhere on the island, the reddish stone
shimmering in the sunlight. A single tree grew at the top, its branches forever
swaying in the ocean winds, its roots laced over the rock, its fruit rare and
delicious.
            That sole charberry tree was what had attracted the first
phoenixes to our island centuries ago. The spicy fruit tasted like a chili
pepper, but sweeter and juicier. Phoenixes loved them.
            The base of the Pillar was the starting location for the
Trials of Worth—the tasks given to the wide-eyed hopefuls wanting to prove
their value to the phoenixes. I continued through the crowd, my head tilted
back, my gaze locked on the Pillar. A staircase wrapped around the column of
rock, all the way to the top.
            “Hey,” someone yelled as I shoved my way deeper into the
excited masses. “Isn’t that one of the gravedigger kids?”
            I ignored the remark, sidestepped the slow-moving
families, and nimbly maneuvered through a group of schoolchildren. If I bonded
with a phoenix, I wouldn’t have to stay here anymore and listen to their
whispers. All new arcanists traveled to the mainland to join a guild for
training.
            A third round of bells chimed, and my pulse quickened
with each step. I didn’t want to be late for the trials.
            The whole population of Ruma packed the streets, shoulder
to shoulder. No one missed the Day of Phoenixes unless they were specifically
excluded, like the garbage men. Everyone wore their best attire, children
tossed red flower petals, and the theater troupe wore costumes made of bird
feathers while they pranced around pretending to be phoenixes. It took all of my
willpower not to crane my head to get a better look as I ran by.
            “—and today is a day of glory,” the schoolmaster’s voice
boomed across the town square.
            Schoolmaster Tyms was a naturally loud
individual—Gravekeeper William described him as a regular blowhard in love with his own voice.
            I slipped between two elderly men and stayed off to the
side, making sure to remain in the shadows cast by the morning sun. Hundreds of
people crowded the center of town, but their gazes never turned in my
direction. They all kept their attention on a wooden stage near the Pillar—a
platform only a few feet off the ground—where Schoolmaster Tyms stood squarely
in the middle, his arms raised.
            Whenever he glanced in my direction, I ducked.
Schoolmaster Tyms didn’t care for anyone except those who attended his
lectures, and he especially hated those with “unsavory” professions.
            “I’ve mentored two extraordinary people,” Tyms said.
“Both are talented beyond their years and worthy of a phoenix.”
He
walked to the edge of the stage, lifting his arms even higher, his wrinkled
face pulled back in an unnatural smile. I had seen corpses do a better job at
conveying emotion.
But
I didn’t stare at him for long because on either side of him, perched on ornate
bird stands, were two phoenixes.
            I stood transfixed, taking in their lustrous scarlet
feathers and golden eyes. They had the build of herons, delicate and sleek, but
every time they moved, soot fell from them and drifted to the ground. Fire
flashed underneath their wings as though their whole bodies were made of flame.
Their tails hung down two feet and twisted a bit at the end, like a peacock.
            They were young, not even a year old, but that was old
enough for them to leave the island. Mystical creatures didn’t reach maturity
unless they were bonded to a person—I was certain they were giddy for the
ceremony as well.
            “We’re honored to be here today,” one phoenix said, her
voice sing-song and brilliant.
            The other added, “We can’t wait to see our potential
partners.” He lifted his head as he spoke, his voice soft but distinct.
            I wanted to hold one in my arms and feel the warmth of
their magic coursing through my body, but touching a phoenix was forbidden.
Only once they bonded with a person were they allowed to be handled.
            The phoenixes tilted their heads as two individuals
walked forward. The two were around my age, fifteen, the age of adulthood. They
wore robes of glistening white, tied at the waist with silver ropes made of
silk. Fancy outfits made on the mainland, betraying their wealth.
            Tyms motioned to the rich newcomers. “On this Day of the
Phoenixes I’ve selected Zaxis Ren and Atty Trixibelle to take part in the
trials.”
            Of course they
would be picked. Ever since we were kids, they were always favored by the
schoolmaster.
            I cursed under my breath as Zaxis walked to the base of
the Pillar.
            He stopped under the metal archway, a century-old
artifact which had been shaped into a phoenix and gilded. The arch signified
the start of the trial. Anyone who passed beneath it would become a
participant.
            Zaxis smiled at the crowd with the smuggest expression a
human could muster. His red hair shimmered in the sunlight and fluttered about
with the wind. It wasn’t long enough to tie back, and I took a small amount of
pleasure in watching him clumsily pat it down every few seconds, only for a
stray hair to poke him in the eye again.
            Zaxis’s family, the Ren House, stood at the front of the
crowd, their personal soldiers keeping the “riffraff” a couple feet back. They
cheered for Zaxis and threw flower petals. I had never been cheered for
anything, yet all he did was show up.
Life wasn’t fair sometimes.
            “Thank you,” Zaxis said as he flashed a toothy smile.
“Thank you. Once I’m bonded with a phoenix, I’ll make all of Ruma proud with my
many accomplishments. I’ll become the world’s most renowned arcanist, loved by
all.”
            I balled my hands into fists and gritted my teeth. He
already assumed a phoenix would choose him and
that he would make one of the world’s greatest arcanists? Of course he did—he
wasn’t expecting any competition.
            Then Atty stepped forward, and the crowds hushed.
            Unlike Zaxis, whose insufferable attitude knew no bounds,
Atty held herself with regal sophistication. Her long blonde hair, tied in a
neat braid, didn’t twirl in the winds. She held her head high, her slender neck
adorned with a silver necklace depicting a charberry tree. I had always admired
her poise and grace, like a pauper admires a member of royalty, even when I was
young.
            If things had been different—if I wasn’t a
gravedigger—maybe I could’ve courted Atty. No doubt she would be disgusted to
have someone like me approach her now. But once I bonded with a phoenix,
perhaps I’d have the courage.
            “Thank you, Schoolmaster Tyms,” Atty said, her voice a sweet
relief after a long day’s work. “It’s a privilege to prove myself worthy of a
phoenix. If I become an arcanist, I swear to dedicate myself to becoming a
helpful ruler, one all of Ruma can be proud of.”
            Atty’s family, the Trixibelle House, owned most of the
buildings on the island. They sat on nearby balconies, each of them poised on
chairs and cushions, cheering for Atty, along with everyone else on the island.
            Although I wanted a phoenix for myself, I almost joined in on the clapping. Her
answer was perfect, and when the phoenixes exchanged glances, I knew they
thought the same.
            No one else stepped forward.
            While other people could
offer themselves to the phoenixes, it was frowned upon. The schoolmaster knew
best, or so they said—for centuries the keepers of knowledge were deemed the
wisest and most capable of determining who would become the best arcanists. It
was tradition. And for the last few decades, the schoolmaster hadn’t even made
it a competition. He simply chose the exact number of students equal to
phoenixes, ensuring his recommendation carried more weight than gold.
            And the Isle of Ruma knew the importance of picking the
right people to become arcanists. If the competition was open to everyone,
someone with ill intents could gain vast magical power. The schoolmaster was
supposed to weed them out and put forward only the best, most deserving people.
That was why no one else entered the competitions. Following traditions is the way of the isles! Our island’s motto.
            But even if I was noble of spirit, Atty and Zaxis studied
and trained eight hours a day under the care of Schoolmaster Tyms. Everyone
else, myself included, had work and chores. Atty and Zaxis were lucky. I
wasn’t. How could I ever hope to match their knowledge and skills?
            That didn’t matter, though. I wouldn’t make excuses. The
phoenixes could, in theory, bond with anyone they found worthy. And I would
show them just how worthy I was by passing each of the three trials.
            “Once our hopefuls walk through the archway,” Tyms said,
gesturing to the gold phoenix arch, “they will officially become participants
in the trials. For the first task, each hopeful must walk up all one hundred
and twelve steps of the Pillar to the charberry tree. Then they will pick a
fruit to present to the phoenixes and return down the stairs.”
            Every Day of Phoenixes had the same three trials. The
charberry tree was the first. Only one stairway led to the tree—the spiral
stairway made of stone steps that wrapped around the Pillar. The steps were
hundreds of years old and worn smooth from use. Oh, and no railing, which was
why I never felt safe standing on them, as falling from anything past the tenth
step meant serious injury, possibly death.
            “And with that, you may begin,” Tyms shouted.
            Both Atty and Zaxis bowed to the crowd before turning and
walking through the archway.
            This was it.
            My moment.
            I ran through the crowd, pushing people out of the way
when I needed to, even knocking over a few men of the Ren Family as I dashed
toward the arch. My heart beat so hard I almost didn’t hear people screaming
for me to stop.
            “Hey!” a woman barked.
            “What’s he doing?” someone else shouted.
            “Stop him!”
            But before anyone could grab me, I raced through the
archway, dashing past Atty and Zaxis.
            “What do you think you’re doing, Volke?” Zaxis growled.
“Good-for-nothing gravediggers can’t enter the trials!”
            I had my foot on the first step of the Pillar when I
glanced over my shoulder. “I already passed under the archway. That makes me a
participant.”
            “What? That’s not allowed!” Zaxis glanced over his
shoulder. “Right, Master Tyms?”
            Tyms blubbered and flailed his arms. “How dare you,
Volke! You walk back through that archway this instant. You’re disgracing all
of Ruma with your disrespect!”
            I ran up the steps, taking them two at a time despite the
lack of railing.
            Today I would prove myself to a phoenix. I would prove
myself to all of Ruma.
            I was more than just a gravedigger.
I
wouldn’t stop. Not now, not ever.

































 






How I Sell All My Books at Con and Book Fairs

If you’ve ever gone to a book convention or book fair, you know there’s a fierce competition between authors. Sure, the other authors are friendly, and it’s not like they’ll stab you the moment your back is turned, but everyone basically has the same goal: sell their novel.
And the customer only has so much money, time, and attention.
The real question becomes—how will you stand out in a sea of authors all fighting for the same $10? I agonized over this dilemma the first time I ever went to a convention. I figured there was no way people would want to read my stuff. This was my debut novel! They didn’t know my writing history, or how much work I had put into the book. All the convention goers knew was that I was some schmoe peddling a book. Why was I worth their time?
My solution: I drew caricatures for free. The only caveat was that they had to read my book while I worked. This way, I could get them hooked with the first chapter, and then they’d be dying to know the rest. Or, on the other hand, they get a free drawing and feel indebted to me, so they buy the book anyway as a sort of “tip.” The latter isn’t my ideal (I want to gain fans, after all) but it still helps me recoup costs.
My caricatures aren’t special (they’re cute and chibi). Here’s an example:

 But giving something away for free entices people to your booth.
I can already hear some of you screaming, “But I can’t draw! This doesn’t help!”
Anything can be used as a hook. Can you make bracelets? Can you play an instrument? A simple hook that doesn’t involve selling your book will make people think higher of you when they approach. Never start with, “Let me sell you something” because people are bombarded with ads and sales pitches all the time. Start with, “Let me entertain you for a moment” and your potential audience will be thrilled to engage.
Just for reference, I tend to sell about 10 books an hour (1 for every 6 minutes) OR IF IN A SERIES, 20 books an hour. That means I sell a couple hundred every weekend, making my money back on a booth and some profit.
If you can draw—Great!—I totally suggest you do what I’ve done. Give away small (and fast) pieces of art to help “lure” people to your booth. If not, pick a skill you can do and roll with it. Be creative!
And now that I’ve hooked you with some free advice for selling, maybe you wouldn’t mind checking out my fantasy novel, Knightmare Arcanist! Trust me, if you read the first chapter, you’ll be hooked. I’ve seen hundreds of people always fall into the same glorious trap.
Happy writing!




Shami Stovall relies on her BA in History and Juris Doctorate to make
her living as an author and history professor in the central valley of
California. She writes in a wide range of fiction, from crime thrillers
to fantasy to science-fiction. Stovall loves reading, playing video
games, entertaining others with stories, and writing about herself in
the third person.




Website: https://sastovallauthor.com/


Blog: https://sastovallauthor.com/blog/


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