So far I’ve gotten feedback on Empress of Storms from two of my beta readers. These are people I trust to tell me when I’m fucking up, and apart from some spelling/punctuation errors they’ve been enjoying the story. One BR, who is gay, said that he was even kinda frustrated because his husband wasn’t home and my smut made him want to jump hubby and, I repeat, “bang him like a screen door in a hurricane.”
When a MF story has that effect on a gay man, you know you’re doing something right.
While I’m waiting for copyedits from the team I’m going through and doing a third edit/polish and setting up the ebook formatting. It will be available in all formats through Amazon, All Romance eBooks, and Smashwords, and will be available as a print book through CreateSpace by next week (I need to format the interior and get the page count to Jay so that she can calculate the spine size and do the front and back cover for me).
And of course we’re doing a release party on FB this Sunday, so make sure you come over and join in the festivities. The lovely and talented L.D. Blakeley will be joining me to cohost and we’ll be doing giveaways, posting pics, and generally having a grand old time.
Apropos of nothing, I got into a discussion about inspiration so I thought I’d share the pics that I’ve been staring at for the last six weeks while I wrote feverishly. The hilarious thing? I had no idea they’d been in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo together (why, yes, I’m kinda slow when it comes to popular culture).
I go by visuals and sometimes voices when I look for character inspiration, then I work out their backstory and how they behave as the story progresses. Actors work well for this because I know how they sound and can use them as mental paper dolls as I write. I already had Daniel in mind when I started writing Matthias (warrior king, tormented by his wife’s death, not thrilled about this new marriage, thousand yard stare, you do the math), so when I stumbled across a picture of Ms. Mara I thought, “Ooh, yeah, she’s got grit and determination, and she can pull off regal at the same time. She’ll work as Danaë.” It wasn’t until someone asked me if I was a Girl fan that I discovered what I’d done. I probably need to see the movie at some point.
Oh, I’ve also been asked why I’m using Nicola M. Cameron on Empress of Storms. I lifted the idea from the late, brilliant Iain Banks who wrote mainstream fiction as Iain Banks and science fiction as Iain M. Banks. It was a way of differentiating between the two genres without having to use a pseudonym, and I decided to use the same trick here, especially as I noticed the rather sharp falloff of sales with my MMF novel Deep Water. Nicola Cameron is pretty much associated with MM/MMM fiction by this point, so if you pick up a Nicola Cameron book that’s what you’ll get, whereas Nicola M. Cameron writes MF fiction with occasional forays into MMF. That should keep everyone happy.
Let’s say that I completely lost my mind and wanted to write an honest-to-Cthulhu high fantasy erotic romance (fuck me, I cannot believe those words just got typed by my fingers) starring a handsome but grim widower king and a young, blue-haired witch queen who was meant to be his daughter-in-law but was promoted to bride-to-be after his son and heir disappeared. There’s a building threat from a country that borders both their realms, a dark mystery surrounding the death of the king’s first queen, and a growing radical religious movement that threatens to throw both their countries into bloody disarray.
Oh, and despite her engagement to his son the witch queen has secretly loved the king since she was a child, but he’s still in deep mourning over his late wife. Can he ever bring himself to love her?
Would you want to read it? The working title is Navigator’s Star. Here’s a sample.
A tiny plume of dust grew out of the east, painting a line across the grassy plains that formed the heart of Ypres. The plume headed, straight as an arrow flight, towards the sprawling capital city of Kant and the rugged citadel that lay at its center.
A tall man in a russet tabard and cloak stood on the citadel’s parapet, watching the plume through narrowed eyes. There she is, Matthias IV, King of Ypres, thought. By his estimate the bridal cortege would be in the city in a few hours, if not before nightfall.
After that, there would be no more delays. All the preparations had been made, food and drink distributed throughout the city, the Temple of Aran readied for the ceremony. In the morning Queen Danäe of Hellas would don her bridal gown and he would escort her to the temple, where a priest would bind their lives together in holy matrimony.
If you could call it holy matrimony, he thought. As far as he was concerned, it was a necessary evil to hold their two countries together against the onslaught of their enemies. Oh, Hanne, I’m so sorry…
The other men on the parapet stirred. “If I may be so bold, milord,” the redheaded warrior on his right offered, “you don’t seem all that pleased about the approach of your bride.”
Matthias sighed. Ferdal Bardahlson was an excellent leader of men, but his understanding of women began and ended at the brothel door. “There’s twenty years between us, Ferdal,” he said. “She’s young enough to be my daughter. Chaos, she was supposed to be my daughter-in-law. Instead, I have to make her my wife. Is it any surprise that I’m not leaping for joy?”
The commander of the Ypresian cavalry shrugged. “There are men who would consider that to be a happiness, milord,” he rumbled. “A young wife to warm your bed at night is no bad thing, especially this close to winter.” He paused. “And hopefully, there will be an heir—”
“I already have an heir.”
Ferdal gave a gesture somewhere between a nod and a shrug. “Yes, milord. But there is still no word of Prince Michel. You must assume—”
“What?” the king snapped, turning. “Pray tell, lord commander, what must I assume?”
The commander stood his ground. “That Prince Michel does not wish to come back,” he said. “Or cannot come back. In which case you must sire a new heir for Ypres. Forgive me, milord, but you aren’t growing any younger. You must look to the future of your country, for the good of your people.”
“I have,” Matthias said flatly, nodding at the far plains. “And there it is. Why won’t that be enough for you?”
“Perhaps, Lord Bardalson, you should see to the preparations at the gate,” a baritone voice said gently.
Ferdal looked at the fat priest who had appeared with his usual stealth, then nodded reluctantly and left. “He’s only trying to help, you know,” the priest added.
“I know. And you needn’t start in on your own reassurances, thank you very much,” Matthias said.
Patriarch Deniel sighed. “Am I that much of an annoyance?”
“Yes. One of the reasons why I agreed to this damned marriage in the first place was to stop your nagging, priest.”
As a member of the King’s Council, Deniel had been one of the driving forces between the proposal to link the two countries by matrimony. Matthias was fully aware of the priests’s secondary hope that this new marriage would stop him from brooding over the death of his first queen, Hanne.
Now the priest chuckled. “Oh, it isn’t damned, believe me. I performed all the sanctifying rituals myself,” he said. “There won’t be a god or goddess who frowns on you and young Danäe tomorrow.”
Matthias leaned on the stone balustrade, staring out at the plains where fields of tall grass bent in the wind like a golden sea. “Young Danäe. And the gods will bless us,” he muttered. “So why do I feel so cursed?”
“Because you enjoy torturing yourself, I suppose,” Deniel said, his tone mildly reproving. “Really, milord king, I had hoped that you would be more amenable to the idea by now. It’s hardly as if you’re marrying a foul-tempered crone.” He leaned next to Mattias, thick arms resting comfortably on the honey-colored stone. “Danäe’s supposed to be quite pretty, and she’s an excellent ruler. King Cresus would have seen to that, of course. And it’s been three years since we lost Queen Hanne—”
“Hanne will forever live on in my heart,” Matthias said, quiet but firm. “And no woman will ever take her place, is that clear?”
“Yes, milord king.”
“This is a marriage of political convenience. I understand it, Danäe understands it. It will never be anything more.”
Deniel bowed his head. “Of course, milord. Forgive my impertinence.”
Matthias snorted. For Deniel, impertinence was the element in which the priest thrived. “Besides, we only have her envoy’s word that she’s pretty,” he said. Even to him it sounded petulant. “She couldn’t even be bothered to send a portrait. And I haven’t seen her in person since she was a child.”
“What was she like then?”
Matthias thought. “Fat, mainly. A little partridge of a girl. Sweet enough, I suppose. I didn’t really spend much time with her.”
He never thought he’d have to. The agreement with King Cresus was that Michel would marry her. She would then become Matthias’s daughter-in-law, the mother of his grandchildren. And once it came time for Cresus and Matthias to move on to the Summerlands, Michel and Danäe would rule Ypres and Hellas together.
But that plan fell to dust the day Matthias had argued with Michel about the death of his mother. His only child and heir promptly disappeared into the corrugated landscape of the Aiseau Mountains. Three years gone, and there was still no word of his son. And now it fell to Matthias to do what was necessary to hold both countries together.
He stared off at the plains. The tiny plume of dust grew closer.
“My rump feels like it’s been beaten with oars,” Queen Danäe, Ruler of Hellas and Empress of the Eastern Seas, muttered to her brother. Underneath her, the bay mare snorted, as if in contempt for its rider. “Do the Ypresians really ride horses all the time?”
“It’s the only way to get around the countryside with any sort of speed, sister dear, “ Darius said, his eyes crinkling. “You spend far too much time in the palace.”
“As if I ever have a chance to get out, brother dear,” Danäe reminded him.
Her twin brother grinned. “Yes, but you handle the tedium of queenship so well. It’s a good thing you came out first, otherwise I would’ve been stuck in your position. And we both know what a disaster that would’ve been,” he said.
Danae bit her lip to smother a smile. She loved her brother dearly, but he had nothing of a king in him. Their father King Cresus had understood this, as well, and encouraged Darius to act as a roving ambassador while Danäe was tutored in the art of ruling. As a result, the study of statecraft, debate, economics, and warfare filled her days while Darius made a name (and something of a reputation) for himself at the other Continental royal courts.
The brisk plains wind tugged at the curls escaping from her headpiece, tickling them across her nose. Against her black hair, one curl of deep royal blue stood out, the sign of a water mage. When the blue lock had appeared in her eleventh year, Cresus had been beside himself with pride. The Family Pelaeus hadn’t produced a water mage in five generations. Training in the magical arts became part of her schedule along with her education in statecraft, and she was sanctified as an Adept when she turned twenty-five. After five more years of training interspersed with her duties as King’s Heir, she would have become a full Mage.
And then Cresus died, and everything changed.