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2016 Can Kiss My Sweet Ass: Anthologies and Rhinoceroses and Books, Oh My!

It’s been a crazy year, 2016.

Jokes about the election of a tangerine madman and this turn of the wheel’s fiendish assault on our stable of celebrities aside, 2016 has been a shit year on a lot of fronts for your ole Tia Claire.

Health issues. Relationship issues. Issues with the electronic version of Vogue, which I guess is technically a Vogue issue but then it sounds like I was dissatisfied with the magazine and not my ability to access it.

*cough*

BUT THAT IS NEITHER HERE NOR THERE.

Lots of good stuff happened, too. And that’s what I’m focusing on for 2017.

Case in point: There’s a NEW Cat Cruz story in the dazzling, daring pages of Absolute Power, an anthology of queer authors. Chockablock with queer ladies kicking ass, taking names, and generally getting up to no good, this collection of 13 amazing authors (well, twelve of those and then the Brain-Monkeys-infused nonsense from yours truly) is now available to pre-order.

Not for a billion dollars, or even a sawbuck, but a mere $8.99.

“What?” I hear you cry. “HOW CAN SUCH BOUNTY BE RENDERED UNTO US FOR A MERE PITTANCE?”

Because it’s an amazing time to be alive, that’s why.

Also, villains don’t exactly follow labor laws. You know who’s making these books? ENSLAVED ELVES WE STOLE FROM SANTA.

That’s how we got the binding so tight. Small hands.

Check out the blurb, then get your copy TODAY. The book ships at the end of December 2016, making it the perfect way to kick off your new year with a dose of AWESOME.

Absolute Power: Tales of Queen Villainy!

So what is evil? What makes a person a “villain?” Is it intent to harm…or is it something deeper than that?

Each one of the thirteen authors in this amazing collection has taken a completely different approach to answering this question. They have gone above and beyond expressing the idea of evil and supervillainy. They get to the bottom of why villains are the way they are, and what they hope to gain from it. These are dangerous women wielding Absolute Power… and they’ll be glad to let you know exactly why you should fear them.

This prose collection—with an introduction by lesbian comics tastemaker Erica Friedman—includes stories by Friedman, Tristan J. Tarwater, Missouri Vaun, Barbara Ann Wright, Audrey Chase, JD Glass, Emily Kay Singer, A. Merc Rustad, Claire M. Jackson, Jude McLaughlin, Leia Weathington, Susan Smith, and Mari Kurisato.

232 pages, 5.5″x8.5″. Black-and-white (prose) with color cover by Agnes Czaja.

Moving from perfidy to pachyderms, the other big project that spewed from my brain this year is a series of kids’ books. The first of which I have mentioned here previously, under the title of Preposterous Rhinoceros.

Unlike my first kids’ book, I have wisely stuck to scribbling and turned to an expert for the illustrations. Which is why I am insanely excited to share that the incredibly talented Angelina Greenwood is bringing my little book to life with top-shelf art like this:

Preposterous Rhinoceros
Damn, Angelina is as good at drawing as Tracy Jordan is at everything!

I have no words for the anticipation I feel for this book. I wrote it for all kids, because every kid’s felt a little “different” from time to time. I hope this book will bring kids and parents together for a talk about why it’s okay to be YOU, and not a lame copy of somebody else.

Look for it in Q1 of 2017!

And speaking of next year—that magical, mist-mantled country growing ever closer as we ride the silver-tinged waves of time’s tempestuous waters—I’m publishing a new standalone Cat Cruz novel in Q1 as well. Blood Ties is on hold for the moment, having become entangled in editing difficulties, but I was pleasantly surprised to find this newest Cat story sprang, like Athena from the grey brow of Zeus, nearly fully formed and ready for battle during NaNoWriMo 2016. So, some edits, some polish, and my usual hemming and hawing about actually publishing the fucking thing, and you should have it in your hot little hands before Spring.

Oh, and if you were wondering, it involves Cat finding something for a lost love, despite her reservations. Oh, and there’s a pissed off unicorn named Erik. Oh, and some wombears, which are not bears with uteruses attached, but wombat-bear hybrids. SO DON’T GET FUNNY.

I’m still vacillating on the title. But here’s an excerpt, taken from the prologue.

“Susan! Susan, enough’s enough! Come on out.” The man doing the calling looked uneasily at the darkening sky, cursing his decision to let Susan talk him into wandering through the ruins like a couple of half-wit teenagers. Given that Robert Jonas Templeton’s own teenage years were two decades in the rather dusty and straight-laced past, his fiancee’s ability to lead him into such foolishness was a constant source of both frustration and, to his eternal surprise, enjoyment.

He wasn’t enjoying this, however. Picking through the rubble left by the Old Worlders, tripping over broken bits of wall and discarded objects he couldn’t even give a name to, let alone a purpose. Crawling atop the rusted carcass of one such monstrosity, he brushed the dust from his knees and tried again to raise a response.

“Susan! SUUUSAAAAN! Come on, honey, you know the law! This site is off-limits, especially after dark! SUSAN!” Knowing his luck, the Territorial Army really would show up, guns at the ready, angry wombears snarling for a taste of trespasser tuchas. No thanks.

“Goddamnit, Susan,” he muttered. Gods only knew what kind of fines he’d have to pay if they were discovered here. The money didn’t bother him—a few hundred credz to some puffed-up martinet in manager pants didn’t mean much when you owned and operated the largest commercial freight company in three territories—but it was the principle of the thing.

Robert (“Call me RJ! Robert’s my old man.”) was a great one for principles. How could anyone decide where to go, he was fond of saying to no one in particular, if they didn’t know where they stood? It was an outlook he’d inherited from the elder Mr. Templeton, and like his father’s massive wealth and their shared stone-headed persistence, had served him well over the years.

Susan, however, was different. She’d come into his life, light as eiderdown, and twice as flighty. His immediate irritation with her—she’d wandered in front of his carriage in the middle of a busy Queen City thoroughfare, head in a book—had persisted until he leapt from the carriage, patting the flank of his champing Kelpies, a scathing lecture about idiots who wander around public thoroughfares already percolating in his head.

But then the diminutive redhead had looked up from her book (his near-death experience having failed to register on her distracted radar) and smiled at him, and his anger fled, replaced by sort of helpless, world-tilting love he dimly remembered from adolescence but had never expected to feel again. The sudden departure of his rage left him off balance, and before he’d quite realized what was happening, he was giving the girl a ride to a nearby cafe, listening to her endless stream of chatter with a slightly poleaxed expression. “I’m Susan, like in the lady who made the flag. The old flag, I mean. Did you know that? A woman made the Star Banner. From, you know, before. My mother was a seamstress. She loved that story. I guess that’s why she named me Susan. Boy, you don’t talk much, do you?”

They were engaged within a month.

His family didn’t approve, but then again, when had they ever? Mother thought he should have a wife designed, like his cousin Reginald did, and his Father was, having been married to Mother for the better part of fifty years, rather unenthusiastic about the idea of marriage altogether.

Regardless, RJ was determined to marry Susan, principles be damned. In theory, anyway. It wouldn’t do for a Templeton to be caught out on some schoolboy adventure, not at his age. Or any age, if he was being honest. But for all his high-minded talk, RJ was something of a stick in the mud. Another thing, he thought ruefully, he’d inherited from his father.

SUSAN!”

RJ reached the end of the rusted-out hulk he’d climbed and cupped his hands, shouting into the growing dark. “SUSAN!”

Nothing. He didn’t know what to do, and if she’d fallen into some out-of-the way sinkhole, or been pinned under debris…

There. A moan, clear as day, but faint. Weak. The sound of distracted pain.

“SUSAN! Susan, I’m coming, darling! Hold on!” RJ scrambled down the front of the metallic wreck, giving his arm a nasty slice on a dangling metal plate reading CHOOL BU in the process. Cursing roundly, he paused to tear off his now-shredded sleeve and wrap his wounded arm with strips of fabric.

Field triage complete, he headed toward the shadowy assemblage of broken buildings where he thought the sound of Susan’s voice had originated. “Susan? Susie B? Honey, can you hear me?” RJ found himself whispering, his Gammy Templeton’s half-remembered warnings against angering the spirits or drawing the Fae floating above the other, more frantic thoughts in his head.

He paused, listening to the night wind, straining to catch even the slightest…

There it was again. The faintest moan, carried on the cool breeze from somewhere beyond the crumbling arches of an abandoned…temple, he thought it must be. Full of icons and statuary. Some of them even still had paint on them, for a wonder.

RJ crept toward the fallen brick building, head low, trying to appear appropriately obeisant to whatever gods held sway in this place. One never knew with the Old Worlders, after all. His brother Jeremy had run afoul of an elder god during his time in the Territorial Army—well, what was left of its followers, anyway—and had needed years of therapy, and dieting, to recover from the deprecations he’d suffered as their captive. The poor man still twitched if he ran into a man with red hair or smelled cooking meat. RJ didn’t know if this place was sacred or not, but he was 1,000 percent positive he didn’t want to run into any Children of Ronald.

Reaching the outer entrance of the nearest building, RJ stepped through the now-glassless doors and carefully picked his way across the buckled floor. The warped floor was surprisingly empty, littered here and there with debris but otherwise clear. Around the perimeter, however, shattered booths lined the walls, the aged vinyl coverings brittle and split by rusted iron springs the color of old blood. The statues he’d spotted from outside the ruin were terrifying up close; one depicted an enormous, bulbous monster of some kind, its white eyes staring into nothing as shaggy, misshapen followers pranced at its feet. Across the room, a tall figure crowned in a mop of scarlet curls and a gleaming yellow carapace leered down at the offering of strange ceramic foodstuffs laid out on the altar before it.

RJ shuddered, hugging himself despite the warmth of the summer evening. Whatever went on here, he didn’t want to know about it. Or, worse yet, end up a part of it. Several of the figures painted on the walls seemed eerily similar to what his brother had described seeing during his captivity, and RJ didn’t even want to imagine Susan falling into the hands of fanatics. Please, Lord, let Susan be all right, and I promise, I’ll spend enough credz to build that ridiculous library she’s always nattering on about. Please. RJ was not especially good at praying, but his heart was in the right place, he reckoned. That ought to be worth something.

Another moan floated toward him, breaking RJ’s reverie. He turned his head, searching in the dim building for some sign of his fiancee. The far end of the building was dominated by some kind of enormous stage or platform, a dusty mural of Old World foods and scattered plastic letters floating in the dark above the filthy dais at the front of the stage. Deciding to risk a light, RJ tapped his left earlobe twice and activated the ReadyTorch™ built into his NeuroSync.

Twin beams of blue-white light shot out of the dermal implants just above his brows, throwing a wide field of dazzling light across the broken remnants of the old temple. RJ narrowed his eyes, and the implants responded, modifying both the brightness and color of the beams to comfortable levels as his eyes adjusted. With the ‘Torch activated, he could make out finer details on the murals, as well as various cryptic phrases pressed into the plastic mats.

_RGER……………$4.99
SH_K_……………$2.49
_PP_ M_AL………$3.99

RJ knew the sign for money (the Templetons had been wealthy for a very, very long time) but he couldn’t quite puzzle out why these prices, or their accompanying, perplexing glyphs, would be doing hanging in a temple. Tithes, perhaps? Ritual fees, like the indulgences Gammy Templeton had told him about as a kid? He examined the machines built into the surface of the platform, but their cryptic surfaces, carved with plastic pictographs and more numbers, revealed nothing.

Who could know? And why did it matter? Save the dime-store archaeology for the weekend, Robert Jonas, he chided himself. None of this was helping him find Susan.

He gave the platform (which turned out not to be a platform at all, but some sort of counter space blocking access to a dimly-lit room full of stainless steel hulks that reeked of old grease and even older mold) a cursory examination, just to make sure Susan wasn’t sprawled behind the dais.

Nothing.

RJ sighed in frustration and scanned the room again, wincing as the statues seemed to come to lurching, hateful life in the beam of his ‘Torch. Where was she? He walked to the far side of the counter/platform and stopped at a heavy metal door set into the wall beside the counter. He peered through the reinforced glass, trying to see what lie on the other side, but the window was too filthy, and the room beyond too dark, to make out anything clearly. RJ sighed again and stepped away from the door, wondering if he should try to vault the counter and investigate the strange room full of machinery when he heard Susan’s voice, clear as a bell, coming from the nearby wall.

“RJ? Bobbby? Bobby, honey, help. Help me. I…I can’t…”

What the hell?

Robert walked over to the wall, which was not only suspiciously intact, but gleamingly clean in the beam of his ‘Torch. There was no sign of a door, only two small blue and white signs, each featuring a small figure carved into the plastic. A man and a woman, he decided, although he’d never seen a triangular woman before. He chalked it up to Old World nonsense and ran his finger over the wall, to the left of the woman glyph, testing it. The wall felt like warm brick under his fingers, but it also made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. What was this? Magic?

“RJ? Honey, please, I’m in here!”

Susan’s voice, more alert now. “Suze? Susan? There’s…there’s a wall here. I can hear you, but I can’t…”

“I…I know,” Susan said, then burst into a fit of wet coughing. “It’s…it’s some kind of Old Worlder thing. Magic, maybe? Robots? You have to..to…” More coughing. Robert pounded on the bricks in frustration.

“The men’s, baby. It’s a…it’s a comfort room. They…they kept them inside. You have to…” Susan coughed again, voice cracking in frustration.

Robert looked at the wall in front of him with a critical eye. A comfort room? Inside the building? But that was disgusting! Who in their right mind would…
Curious, Robert moved his hand to the wall to the right of the little white “man” glyph, gasping as his arm disappeared to the elbow. “What the fuck?!?” he swore, lurching back, clutching his arm as he checked it for damage. Other than the wound he’d received climbing through the wreckage earlier in the day, his arm was, as far as he could tell, intact.

Witchcraft, he thought darkly. Old Worlders and their bloody tinkering. He poked at the wall in an expanding arc, eventually mapping out a large space roughly the size of…

It’s a door. A hidden door, one that what, only lets in men? RJ scowled and took a step back, shining his light over the bricks. Up close, he could make out a faint shimmer to the bricks, as though they, too, were infused with light. Probably some bastardly trick of the Fae, harnessed for gods-know-what.

Another round of coughing from Susan decided the issue. RJ didn’t care how many demons or devils or Old World fanatics might be lurking in the strange room. Looking around, he spotted one of the shaggy creature statues, fallen on its side. One of the legs had broken off, topped with a curious shoe of Old World make.

Hardly Excalibur, but a handy enough club if he ran into anything ugly.

RJ hefted the makeshift weapon, gave it a few exploratory swings, and then, holding his breath and narrowing his eyes, walked into the wall.

Crazy, right?

I’m also resolving to blog more in 2017. Given my spotty record this year, literally three posts could fulfill this resolution. AIM HIGH, CLAIRE!

Happy Holidays to you all, wherever and whatever you celebrate. Let’s put this bastard of a year to bed, and wake up to a brighter tomorrow, full of fighting tyranny, free ice cream, and Marie-Claude Bourbonnais finally getting around to accepting my marriage proposal.

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One Comment

  1. I think you should blog more. Says she who doesn’t blog at all.

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