A Break in the Clouds

I was shocked and relieved this morning to see that the latest ACA repeal effort failed last night. McCain came through for America in surprisingly actually sort of keeping his word from his much-lauded speech. More laudable are Senators Collins and Murkowski for sticking to their principles, and the entire Dem Senate caucus for their unified opposition to this parade of successively more terrible bills presented in ever-more-terrible fashion.

Most deserving of praise are the people of the USA. Everyone who called, emailed, faxed, wrote, rallied, marched, protested, and made their voices heard. The heroes at ADAPT deserve a special shout-out for their visible, powerful direct actions, as well as groups like Planned Parenthood, Indivisible, MoveOn, and more.

This is a big victory, and we should celebrate it. I don’t doubt that McConnell will try again, but we can win again, like we’ve won three times now in the Senate.

While we’re energized, let’s make sure to speak up in defense of and solidarity with our LGBTQIA countrypeople, especially trans countrypeople, who are being targetted by the president and his cartoonish racist asshole of an Attorney General. I will be making calls to push back on the President’s attack on the ability of trans people to participate in the armed services, and to oppose the re-interpretation of Title VII being made in order to exclude LGBTQIA people from civil rights protection.

Here’s a breakdown of the events of last night.

And information about the attacks on LGBTQIA rights.

Trans people in the armed services
Title VII

Ree Reyes series update

“So, When Is The Next Geekomancy Book?”

In the last couple of months, I’ve had several people have asked me a variation of this question. That’s great! It’s good to have people excited about your next book! And it makes sense that this is the series people ask about. The first book in the series, Geekomancy, is still my best-selling book (though 50% or more of those unit sales are at a deep discount). These books are what a lot of people best know me for, and they hold a very special place in my heart – they launched my career, they let me forge my passion for geekdom and pop culture into fiction, investigating what I loved and what I found troubling about fandom.

Unfortunately, while the first book has done very well, each successive novel in the series has sold less than half of the copies of the book before it, so that “best-selling of my books” numbers very quickly become “hard to justify continuing the series” numbers. Book #4 (Hexomancy) has been out for almost two years, and it’s sold less than 13% of what Book #1 (Geekomancy) has sold. Even if we just look at the first two years of Book #1’s sales and then the first two years of Book #4’s sales, Book #4 is not doing well.

And that’s despite Hexomancy being, in my opinion, the best-written book in the series. It’s often the case that later books in the series are better-written but don’t sell as well, due to reader attrition. There are a ton of different reasons later books might not do as well. Someone liked Book #1 but #2 didn’t do it for them, so they opt out. Or it’s too long between Book #2 and #3, so they forget about the series or miss the newer releases, etc.

Beyond the Geekomancy books, some of my other releases haven’t hit well, either. Neither Shield & Crocus and The Younger Gods sold well for the publisher to ask for sequels, despite works I’m very proud of and learned a lot from writing. A lot of books published don’t earn out their advances and/or don’t sell enough for the publisher to offer on sequels. Again, this industry is tough.

The Not-So Glamourous Writer Life

It’s not fun to talk about this. Writers are supposed to be eternally confident, never exposing weakness. Every book is spoken of only for its successes. The writer’s life is glamour and marvels, fancy cocktail parties in the Big City. I’ve been very lucky in my career so far, in having Geekomancy discovered on Book Country, in having an editor come back to me about Shield & Crocus, and in having a lot of help from friends and family.

But even with that luck and assistance, that glamorous version of the Writer’s Life isn’t the experience that I’ve had. And maintaining that illusion of Writer’s Career As Eternal Awesomeness At All Times obscures the hard realities of trying to build a career as a commercial fiction writer. Even very successful writers face challenges, doubts, and setbacks. I’ve gotten much stronger as a writer with each book I write, but there are more amazing SF/F books out there than any one person could ever hope to read, and competition is fierce. The political stuff this year and pushing myself in 2015/2016 has meant that this year I’ve had to take stock on a lot of things, and I’m trying to be kinder to myself and more open about the process, the business, and in life. So here I am, showing my cards.

I’m very glad that more and more writers are throwing back the curtain and talking candidly about their careers and about the challenges writers face, commercially and creatively. Every writer that banishes the illusions makes it easier for other writers to do so, and makes it easier for new writers to come into the field with a better understanding of the realities we face.

So, What Now?

If I didn’t have other things going on, it’d be easier to write more Geekomancy stories on spec. But I have a novel to finish revising so my agent can sell it, more Genrenauts to write to build that promising series, a Sekret Collaborative Project that is taking off now, and trying to get into comics writing. That’s honestly already too much, without even getting into my idea of returning to my geeky roots and trying to assemble writers to play RPGs live on streaming channels like Twitch and/or YouTube.

I still have stories to tell in the Geekomancy setting and want to. I said in the acknowledgments to Hexomancy that I would keep writing if people kept reading, but the trick is that if only a few people are reading, the releases will be much shorter and less frequent. I have considered running a Kickstarter to see if there’s enough interest in another book. But right now, I am focusing on other projects to move my career forward, which I hope will then put me in a position to do more with Ree & company.

I have considered running a Kickstarter to see if there’s enough interest in another book. If you’d be interested in a Ree Reyes Kickstarter for more books, please let me know (comment below). By my calculations, I’d probably set my Kickstarter goal at close to $10,000 or more to justify writing a Ree Reyes book instead of the other projects on my to-do list.

Being able to run a very successful Kickstarter would re-arrange the lines of career and financial priority, but Kickstarters also take a *lot* of effort. I’ve also considered launching a Patreon for my writings about the business of publishing/being an author, but focusing more on non-fiction writing would require taking more time away from writing fiction. The only way that becomes a really good idea is if the Patreon $$$ becomes enough to justify working less on other stuff. And launching a Patreon is, again, something that takes its own effort.

So for right now, I am focusing on other projects to move my career forward, which I hope will then put me in a position to do more with Ree & co.

There have never been more opportunities for creatives to forge their own path in building their careers and their businesses. But everything takes time, and no one can do everything at once. Non-fiction writing time means less fiction writing time. Learning how to write comics means reading more comics and less fiction, which means I am less current on what’s happening in the fiction market. It’s a lot.

The more people buy and read and review the books, the easier it will be for me to write another book and continue the series. Right now the sales have halved with each successive novel, so continuing is not viable financially.

Timely Promotions

Geekomancy and the Ree Reyes books are discounted right now in ebook. This is convenient for those who haven’t read the series or are looking to spread the word by pointing friends at the series or gifting ebook/audiobook editions to friends/family.

Right now, you can get all four books in the series for just $10.96 in the US (Book #1 and Book #4 are just $.99 each at the moment)

Ree Reyes series covers

 

Also: I do want to make sure that folks have seen the free Christmas short story I released at the end of last year as a treat for Geekomancy fans: http://michaelrunderwood.com/2016/12/25/a-very-geekomancy-christmas/

Let Me Sum Up

I’m very honored to have the every reader for the Ree Reyes books and my other works. Thanks so much for your support!

Geek on!

CONvergence schedule

Next week I will be returning to CONvergence, one of my favorite cons of the year.

Most of the weekend, I will be running the Angry Robot Books booth at Space # 15 in the Dealers’ Hall.

But I’ll also be appearing on some programming as an Invited Participant.

Thursday, July 6th

8:30 pm
Squirrel You Know It’s True – Doubletree Plaza 1

The Squirrel Girl fan panel! Let’s discuss our favorite super hero. What makes her so compelling? Will she ever get her own movie?

Panelists: Sarah Barsness (mod), Michael R Underwood, Nicole LaBat, Elise Muellerleile, Squirrel “Beth” Jankowski

Friday, July 7th

2pm
99 Problems But a Pitch Ain’t One – Doubletree Atrium 4

So you’ve got a great idea, shot a video, wrote a comic/novel…now what? Join this panel of industry professionals and learn about prepping, packaging, and presenting your content to the right people, at the right outlets, in the right way.

Panelists: Catherine Schaff-Stump, Lee Harris (mod), Michael R Underwood, Taylor Cisco, Madeleine Vasaly

5pm
Michael R. Underwood – Sheraton Ames

It’s a reading! I am working on bringing in some friends to share the time with.

Saturday, July 8th

9:30am
How To Attract an Audience – DoubleTree Atrium 7

Marketing professionals and artists with a proven track record for generating buzz share their dos and don’ts when it comes to marketing art and convincing potential audiences to pick up your book, attend your show, or follow your podcast.

Panelists: Anj Olsen, Harris O’Malley, Michael R Underwood, Tania Richter, Echo Martin

3:30pm – 6pm (I will probably leave at 5pm to get back to the booth)
Group Signing – DoubleTree Garden Court – Southwest

This signing is for Invited and other Participants to sign their work.
3:30pm-5:00pm
Panelists: Jay Gallentine, William Leisner, Tex Thompson, Adam Whitlatch, Briana Lawrence, Jessica Walsh, Joan Marie Verba, Axel Kohagen, Harris O’Malley, Michael R Underwood, Taylor Cisco, Anthony Eichenlaub, John Heimbuch, Henry Walton
5-6pm
Panelists: J. Boone Dryden, Jay Gallentine, Roy C. Booth, Catherine Schaff-Stump, William Leisner, Tex Thompson, Adam Whitlatch, Briana Lawrence, Jessica Walsh, Joan Marie Verba, Axel Kohagen, Harris O’Malley, Michael R Underwood, Henry Walton

Sunday, July 9th

9:30am
A Comprehensive Guide to Independent Publishing – DoubleTree Atrium 2

There are a lot of guides to self-publishing, independent publishing, and small presses. However, those guides may not cover everything. The purpose of this panel is to cover issues and challenges that may not be covered elsewhere. Panelists: Linda White, Harris O’Malley, Michael R Underwood, Joan Marie Verba, Ty Blauersouth (mod)

11am
When Nerd Niche Goes Mainstream – Doubletree Atrium 4

With superheroes all the rage these days, self-described old-school nerds talk about what it was like back when enjoying comic books would get you beat up in school and the pros and cons of when your niche interests go mainstream. Panelists: Dave Margosian (mod), Harris O’Malley, Michael R Underwood, Allyson Cygan, Derek Mahr

The Data Disruption launch

The new Genrenauts story is here!

Cyberpunk is one of my very favorite genres. Movies like Ghost in the Shell and Blade Runner were formative for me growing up, as well as The Matrix. I played the hell out of Netrunner card game growing up, as well as Shadowrun and Cyberpunk 2020. In school, I got to take a SF/F class from a professor whose specialty is cyberpunk.

I was a bit young to read Cyberpunk when it was first emerging in film and fiction. But as a Millennial/Gen Y/Oregon Trail generation kid, I grew up in an ever-more Cyberpunk world, with global communications technology, global mega-corps, consolidation, ever-more-impressive medical and technological breakthroughs, automation, rising corporate influence on government, and so on. It’d be pretty easy for me to argue that Cyberpunk is the genre most reflective of the world I’ve known growing up. It’s given me many of the tools I use to see and analyze the world, in terms of the social impact of technology, how labor, corporations, and politics intersect, and humanist questions about androids, robots, and so on.

Also, it’s got cool fight scenes.

So it’s little surprise that the majority of my non-novella short fiction is cyberpunk. “Kachikachi Yama” and “Can You Tell Me How To Get to Paprika Place” are both cyberpunk stories, though their focuses are very distinct. Cyberpunk aesthetics show up in the Ree Reyes series as well, especially in Hexomancy.

Acknowledgments 

I want to thank John Appel, Devan Barlow, Beth Cato, and A.F. Grappin for their great beta reader feedback on this story. Richard Shealy’s copy edit helped me say what I want to say with clarity. Thanks also to Sean Glenn for keeping the visual style of Genrenauts going with his cover design, and to Meg White Underwood for being my first reader and final proofer, as well as a marvelous brainstorming buddy. And once again, thanks to everyone who backed, promoted, and otherwise supported the Genrenauts Season One Kickstarter.

So without further ado, here’s The Data Disruption! It’s free on all ebook platforms. Check below for more information about the story.

Amazon * Barnes & Noble * iTunes
GumroadKobo

The Data Disruption cover. Design by Sean Glenn

Design by Sean Glenn

 

When Stories Break, You Send in the Genrenauts!

The Genrenauts are a group of story experts who travel to parallel worlds. Each is the home of a narrative genre—Science Fiction or Romance, Fantasy or Western—populated by archetypal characters and constantly playing out familiar stories.

The Genrenauts’ mission: find and fix broken stories. If they fail, the ripples from the story worlds will cause havoc and devastation on their home world.

In the world of Cyberpunk, D-Source, a noted hacker, has disappeared, leaving his team’s storyline to grind to a halt. Angstrom King leads the Genrenauts on a mission to find out what happened to D-Source and how to get the cyberpunks back in the action.

World-spanning megacorporations…suspicious mercenaries living on the edge…lethal computer programs designed to tear your mind to shreds…the Genrenauts will face all these and more to get the story back on track—before it’s too late.

A short story in the world of Genrenauts (a finalist for the r/Fantasy “Stabby” Award for Best Serialized Fiction.)

Those links again:
Amazon * Barnes & Noble * iTunes
GumroadKobo

The Data Disruption cover reveal

Hello, everyone! I spent the last three weekends at the Nebulas, Balticon, and then DC for a Sekret Project (which I’ll be telling you more about, soon).

But today, I am excited to bring you the cover for the new Genrenauts story, The Data Disruption!

Since Genrenauts is strongly informed by the structure and feel of television, I decided it’d be fun to write a “Lost Pilot” episode to release as a freebie prequel. It’s about 1/2 the length of a normal Genreauts episode (~15K words rather than the average of 30K).

For Genrenauts veterans, The Data Disruption takes place immediately before The Shootout Solution, taking King, Shirin, and Roman to the neon-and-chrome world of Cyberpunk. It is designed to serve as an introduction to the series, which I’ll use to invite more people into the worlds of Genrenauts.

Without further ado, here’s the cover for The Data Disruption, designed by Sean Glenn!

 

The Data Disruption cover. Design by Sean Glenn

Design by Sean Glenn

 

About The Data Disruption

When Stories Break, You Send in the Genrenauts!

The Genrenauts are a group of story experts who travel to parallel worlds. Each is the home of a narrative genre—Science Fiction or Romance, Fantasy or Western—populated by archetypal characters and constantly playing out familiar stories.

The Genrenauts’ mission: find and fix broken stories. If they fail, the ripples from the story worlds will cause havoc and devastation on their home world.

In the world of Cyberpunk, D-Source, a noted hacker, has disappeared, leaving his team’s storyline to grind to a halt. Angstrom King leads the Genrenauts on a mission to find out what happened to D-Source and how to get the cyberpunks back in the action.

World-spanning megacorporations…suspicious mercenaries living on the edge…lethal computer programs designed to tear your mind to shreds…the Genrenauts will face all these and more to get the story back on track—before it’s too late.

A short story in the world of Genrenauts (a finalist for the r/Fantasy “Stabby” Award for Best Serialized Fiction.)

The Data Disruption will be published on June 13th across all major ebook platforms for the low price of free!

Pike’s Peak Writers Conference

This week I will be appearing as a faculty member for the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs, CO. This will be my first time appearing as faculty at a multi-genre writers conference, and I’m excited to share my experience and ideas with up-and-coming writers.

Here are the workshops I’ll be teaching at the conference:

BE THE RISING TIDE THAT LIFTS ALL BOATS:  Networking in the Book World

Writing compelling work is the most important factor in succeeding as a writer, but who you know makes a big impact as well. This workshop will describe and explore methods of networking and building connections in your industry/genre in order to benefit others as well as yourself.

FROM WORLD TO STORY: Science Fiction and Fantasy World Building

Science Fiction & Fantasy are famous for their settings – imagined futures and fascinating invented worlds. Many writers get bogged down in worldbuilding or struggle to move from setting to a specific story. This workshop will provide tools and example processes for developing a setting in a way that will enrich character, support plotting, and help avoid falling down the hole of endless worldbuilding.

HOW TO HAND-SELL YOUR BOOK

Author and publishing professional Mike Underwood shares lessons from seven years of hand-selling books to readers, booksellers, and sales reps.  Learn how to put your work into a market context, showcase what makes it special, and connect with readers when selling at conventions, festivals, and more.

Read Geekomancy for Free!

From now through February 16th, you can read the entirety of my debut novel Geekomancy for free on XOXOAfterDark!

About Geekomancy:

Ree Reyes’s life was easier when all she had to worry about was scraping together tips from her gig as a barista and comicshop worker to pursue her ambitions as a screenwriter.

When a scruffy-looking guy storms into the shop looking for a comic like his life depends on it, Ree writes it off as just another day in the land of the geeks. Until a gigantic “BOOM!” echoes from the alley a minute later, and Ree follows the rabbit hole down into her town’s magical flip-side. Here, astral cowboy hackers fight trolls, rubber-suited werewolves, and elegant Gothic Lolita witches while wielding nostalgia-powered props.

Ree joins Eastwood (aka Scruffy Guy), investigating a mysterious string of teen suicides as she tries to recover from her own drag-your-heart-through-jagged-glass breakup. But as she digs deeper, Ree discovers Eastwood may not be the knight-in-cardboard armor she thought. Will Ree be able to stop the suicides, save Eastwood from himself, and somehow keep her job?

Praise for Geekomancy:

Geekomancy is a glorious blender of genres, like a sweet candy shell filled with pop culture and high heroism. Absolutely stellar.”
– Seanan McGuire, New York Times bestselling author of Discount Armageddon

“Magic in geekery, mysticism in celebrities, the Ree Reyes series by Mike Underwood is a celebration of everything that makes being a geek cool. Can’t wait to read what he has in store next.” –Stephen Blackmoore, author of Dead Things

“If Buffy hooked up with Doctor Who while on board the Serenity, this book would be their lovechild. In other words, Geekomancy is full of epic win.”
– Marie Lu, author of the Legend trilogy

“If you took wish-fulfillment, ground it into a powder, and shot twice the recommended dosage into your eye socket, the result would look a lot like Geekomancy. I want to live in this world, where all the books and shows and movies and games I love are a source of power, not only in psychological terms, — which they already are — but practical, villain-pounding ones.”
– Marie Brennan, award winning author of A Natural History of Dragons

“Modern, sleek, and whip-smart, Geekomancy is a wonderful blend of geek and pop culture — you’ll find yourself grinning knowingly at least every other page. And Ree is the perfect protagonist to navigate Geekomancy’s world — geek enough to hold her own, yet human enough for me to be deeply invested in her struggles. I can’t wait to read the next one!”
– Cassie Alexander, author of Nightshifted

“Underwood’s Geek Fu is strong-and he’s not afraid to use it. Geekomancy is fun, fresh and full of geek culture references that will have you LOLing to the very last page. This book is one hundred percent pure awesomesauce and totally FTW.”
– Mari Mancusi, award winning author of The Blood Coven Vampire series

r/Fantasy “Stabby” Award Finalist!

 

Genrenauts Season One cover - art by Thomas WalkerI’m very pleased to share the news that Genrenauts was a Finalist for the r/Fantasy “Stabby” Award for Best Serialized Fiction. The winner was the amazing comic series The Wicked + The Divine, so I’m very happy for them, and honored for Genreauts to have gotten enough support to be a finalist.

Also, a reminder that you can still get the Genrenauts omnibus for $6.99, $3 off from the original price. And if you bought a paperback copy on Amazon, you can get the ebook edition now for $2.99 with Kindle Matchbook.

Next up is the audiobook edition of The Cupid Reconciliation (performed by the amazing Mary Robinette Kowal), coming very soon.

A Very Geekomancy Christmas

Hello, all!

Here’s a special present from me to you – a short fluffy return to the world of Ree Reyes and the Geekomancers.

 

“A Very Geekomancy Christmas”

By Michael R. Underwood

Most days, Rhiannon Anna-Maria (aka Ree) Reyes (Strength 10, Dexterity 14, Stamina 13, Will 18, IQ 16, Charisma 15 – Geek 7 / Barista 3 / Screenwriter 3 / Gamer Girl 2 / Geekomancer 3) slept in. Since she lived a co-running-a-magic-game-slash-bar-while-protecting-the-city-as-a-magical-superhero life, which came with late nights as standard. That meant sleeping in whenever possible. Though there were a lot of days where she’d be woken by some magical alarm Drake had posted around the city, or when her dad would call early about something weird or wonderful, claiming to have forgotten that yes, Pearson was still three hours behind Indiana.

But today was Christmas, and on Christmas, there was a damned good reason to wake up early. The earlier she woke up, the longer she could make the day in order to stuff in as much joy and love and peace as she could manage. Because on the 26th it’d be back to the magic and mayhem.

Ree snuck out of bed, leaving Drake snoring under the covers, muttering formulae in his sleep. She tip-toed through their apartment (lovingly dubbed “The Shithole,”), which was done up with lights and tinsel and the best in gaudy seasonal decorations that money could buy from the Dollar Store and use for years and years until they became a fire hazard. Sandra had outdone herself with the tree, decorated not just with Ree’s geeky ornaments but with papercraft snowflakes, houses, and more.

Approaching the tree, Ree smelled coffee. Glorious coffee.

Already used to waking up at six each day for her office job, Sandra Wilson (Strength 15, Dexterity 13, Stamina 13, Will 12, IQ 13, Charisma 13 – Geek 3 / Scholar 3 / Professional 3 / Dancer 1 / Teacher 1 / Waitress 1 / Chef 1) leaned against the kitchen counter, holding a steaming mug.

“Merry Christmas,” Sandra said at a whisper. She slid to the side and gestured to an empty Grognard’s Grog & Games mug, over-sized for maximum caffeination.

“Merry Christmas,” Ree answered. She picked up the coffee pot and poured herself a massive cup. “Darren up?”

She nodded. “He’s been writing for an hour.” Sandra’s boyfriend’s dissertation was due on the first day of the semester, and he had only just now started his bibliography. So his and Sandra’s holiday had turned into a series of writing dates. Shopping and writing, wrapping presents and writing, baking and writing.

“He is going to stop long enough for you to shower him with food and presents, right?”

“That’s what he promised,” Sandra said. “Drake still out?”

“And deconstructing the principle of special relativity in his sleep, from the sound of it.”

Ree and Sandra chatted for several minutes over coffee as color returned to Ree’s world thanks to the power of java. It’d be the first of many cups today, but not out of necessity for fighting back-alley monsters or tromping through the sewers after homicidal gnomes, but because she could. And the lack of urgency made the drink all that much sweeter.

***

An hour later, Drake had emerged from slumber and Darren finished his writing quota for the day. Anya and Priya arrived with armfuls of presents and food, and the six of them crowded around the tree on couches and tables and the expandable ottoman that Drake had made Priya for ease of crafting anywhere and everywhere.

Anya gestured to the tree, present-lust in her eyes. “Presents first! I’m tired of waiting to find out what’s in that huge box,” she said, pointing to a box Drake had secreted away the morning before. Anya Rustova (Strength 7, Dexterity 12, Stamina 16, Will 15, IQ 16, Charisma 15 – Musician 5 / Geek 2 / Scholar 4 / Opera Diva 3) wore a gloriously gaudy Christmas sweater in green and red and gold, her one fashion concession to the season.

“Can we eat first? I might have been up late finishing this coat. You know, hypothetically.” Priya Tharakan (Strength 8, Dexterity 13, Stamina 12, Will 16, IQ 17, Charisma 15 – Geek 3 / Professional 3 / Seamstress 4 / Steampunk 4 / Goth 2) had gone all-out, sporting a green leather Christmas elf costume, complete with a jingling sonar bell on her felted hat.

“I’ve got enough food to feed an army, and unlike the presents, this stuff will get cold,” Sandra said.

“Let’s do both,” Ree said, taking charge like she was back at Grognard’s and directing traffic. “Drake, you and Anya divvy up presents, Darren and I will serve food. Priya, can you take notes for thank you cards?”

“Certainly.” Priya whipped out her tablet, which she carried in a gear-laden carrying case, which she dubbed the “Portable Babbage Engine” model. It had become the most popular non-clothing design on her shop, copies shipping across the country and around the world. Her business was so bustling she’d hired an assistant-slash-apprentice to help with the leather-work.

“Hosts go first,” Drake said, setting the massive box on Ree’s chair, then depositing a long rectangular box at Sandra’s spot on the couch. It was heavy. Like, What the Hell Is In Here and Is it Going to Explode? heavy.

Ree speculated as to the box’s contents as she returned to the kitchen to grab the rest of the food. She emerged with three plates full of scrambled eggs, sausage links, re-heated pasteles from last night’s Nochebuena dinner, and Sandra’s picture-perfect hash browns, all stacked on her straight arm, using Veteran Server Skills. Sandra followed with a tray full of drinks – mimosas and lambics from Grognard’s new line.

Drake Winters (Strength 12, Dexterity 15, Stamina 14, Will 15, IQ 16, Charisma 15 – Inventor 6 / Gentleman 2 / Steampunk 7 / Fae-Touched 3) accepted a plate and sidled up next to her, preparing to bask in her appreciation. Drake was a thoughtful gift-giver, but most times, it seemed like he got as much joy out of the giving as Ree got out of the receiving. It was a pretty handy arrangement, especially since Ree took about as much joy figuring out weird and wonderful gifts to give him.

They were still an odd couple par excellence, Ree all hyper-modern and esoterically geeky, Drake all propriety and otherworldly tech magic, but they’d found the tools they needed to work with one another’s faults and foibles, which meant that real fights were infrequent, short, and just about always ended with laughter. And other fun things.

Ree sized up the box, lifting it (which took some effort). “Is the shakey-shakey kind of box?”

Drake’s instant look of horror was hilarious, even if Ree knew she shouldn’t torture him so. “Please no. You’ve repeatedly said that you have renter’s insurance, but it’d hardly be fun to spend the day in a hotel after the resulting fire.”

“No shaking, got it.” Ree set the box down and proceeded to tear the wrapping to shreds, revealing a carved wooden box.

“It’s a box. Presumably with a thing in it.”

“Did you carve that?” Priya asked.

“I did, in fact. Berian Balsam, procured a few months ago at the Midnight Market. It is quite sturdy and might serve well as a container for any magical implements you wished to store at Grognard’s. Though the true present lies within.”

Ree beamed, and opened the box with a flourish.

Inside was a chrome-and-brass contraption that looked like a cross between a chemistry set, a wand, and a fireplace poker.”

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “What is it?”

Drake smiled. “It is a phlogistonic flat iron. Calibrated to drastically reduce the time necessary to achieve the desired straightness of hair. Its heat is only transferrable to hair, so there should be no random burns. However, the preservation of forces means that the central chamber it’s attached to does get very hot, and should only ever be used with the chamber properly secured.”

It was bizarre, but thoughtful. And incredibly useful, considering the awesome burn she’d given herself on her ear trying to flat-iron her hair for a super-fancy dinner out with her mom two weeks previous. “It’s awesome, thank you.” She leaned in and kissed the man-out-of-time, who looked like he was the cat that had caught the canary in an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine.

Darren got Sandra fancy paper for her newfound papercraft hobby, and then the rest of the crew tore through a round of presents. For Priya, heavy needles for her leatherwork (from Sandra). Anya got a new scarf (enchanted to let her mimic voices), a present from Ree and Drake, part of their ongoing experiments in combining Ree’s geekomancy and Drake’s Fae-powered magical engineering. Darren got capacitive touch gloves from Sandra.

“So you can keep reading even if we get another ridiculous winter like last year,” Sandra said. The same winter of the blizzard and Lachesis, the second of Lucretia’s Fate Witch sisters, who’d tried to kill Eastwood. In the end, Eastwood had sacrificed himself to save them all, mostly Branwen, aka Sionnan Reyes, Ree’s mom.

Who was due to arrive in about an hour. Ree had invited her to join them for Christmas first thing, but Sionnan wanted Ree to keep her traditions, “to let the younger generation keep your fun without an old lady around to embarrass everyone.”

Ree had argued that there would be no embarrassment, but she also guessed that the play might be for her mom’s sake as much as anyone else’s. Sionnan’d had a long, hard time, imprisoned by the Thrice-Retconned Duke of Pwn, and was still getting back into the swing of the whole Living Around People and Not Demons thing.

And finally, Drake opened Ree’s present, which she’d made with her mother’s help. Drake produced a pair of rubber gloves. But not thick, clumsy rubber gloves. These were doe-skin thin, fitted perfectly.

“These are remarkable!” Drake said. “They are non-conductive, I assume?”

Ree smiled. “Not just that, they’re also temperature-proof. Mom helped me with the enchantment, and Priya cut the material with the instruments we made. This way, you can do repairs in the field, work without a ground, and whatever else you can think up on the fly.”

“They’re fabulous, my love. Thank you.” Another kiss (chaste, because company), and they were back at the top of the gifting rounds, with a break for food.

There weren’t too many presents for each person, since even as a partner at Grongard’s, Ree wasn’t swimming in money any more than her other friends. The real gift was a day free of magical interruption, free from dark magic, and spent with the people she loved most in the world. Her mom would be over later, and then they’d all head down to Grognard’s for the Christmas Day Tournament & Banquet. Ree imagined Grognard in his festive apron, the one item he wore at work that wasn’t basic black.

A few minutes later, her phone lit up with a call.

Ree stood and walked over to the kitchen to talk.

“Merry Christmas, dad.”

And it was, in fact, Merry. The whole day.

That night, as Anya led a few of Grognard’s irregulars in some caroling while Ree’s Eldar (including Harlequins in Christmas colors) Ree reflected on the day, which had turned out even better than she’d imagined. She took pictures in her mind, and thought,

 

Dear Geeky Jeebus,

               Thank you for a real, honest-to-goodness break of a holiday. A+ navidad-ing. Would Christmas again.

 

“Hey Ree,” Grognard shouted from the bar, still wearing the festive apron, sporting a leather-clad but still jolly Santa. “Looks like we need to tap another keg!”

“On it!” Ree answered, humming a song and getting back to work.

THE END

Upside Down is here + Genrenauts discounts

I have a new story out today!

 

“Can You Tell Me How To Get To Paprika Place?” appears in Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling, out today from Apex Publications.

As you might be able to guess, it’s a riff on a beloved children’s show. But it’s mostly an anti-corporatist cyberpunk story that ruminates on childhood, friendship, and re-working beloved characters into something very different. It’s the darkest short fiction piece I’ve written, but one that is ultimately hopeful.

There are a bunch of other stories and essays by fabulous writers in the collection, so I hope you’ll check it out.

 

Additionally, I’ve marked down a couple of Genrenauts ebooks. You can get The Cupid Reconciliation for just $.99 right now, and the Season One Collection is marked down from $9.99 to $6.99.

Genrenauts Season One cover - art by Thomas Walker