Sneak Peek of the next Caitlin Ross novel!

So…I kind of accidentally started working on the eighth book in the Caitlin Ross series, The Sun and the Moon. Here’s a brief excerpt to pique your interest! Remember, if you’re new to the series you have SEVEN books to catch up on before you’re ready for this one.That should get you through a major portion of your Goodreads challenge for the year! Enjoy!

(From Chapter Two)
“Timber.”
The sheriff stops to clear his throat, and now he’s positively terrified. They’re on the last-name basis of male buddies, MacDuff and Bruce to each other, seldom more. That Bruce has strayed outside the lines of their well-defined relationship means something is amiss. Still, no good comes of jumping to conclusions; it may not be personal. Perhaps Bruce needs his input on a professional matter. He has, over the years, and sometimes, then, when he has to admit things happen beyond his ken, his habitual composure cracks.
He’s lying to himself, and he knows it.
“Hank.” He grips the other’s hand, hard enough to make him wince. “What’s going on?”
“I need you to come with me, Timber. There’s been…an incident.”
The sheriff’s tone destroys hope. Images flood his brain: a car flipped, Caitlin and the bairn bleeding, dead. His throat dries at once.
“What is it? Caitlin…Sammie, are they all right? Are they—?” Alive, he wants to say, but he can’t get the word out.
“Your daughter is fine. Caitlin is….”
“WHAT?”
He’s aware that, behind his back, every head on the site has turned to look at him. With an effort, he lowers his voice.
“Tell me. Tell me now, fast.” Make the wound quick, like ripping off a bandage, so you can’t feel the pain of skin tearing.
Bruce shoves his hat up to scratch his head. “She’s had some kind of episode in the park, I guess. Hallucinating. Started screaming. Babbling about vines. Or that’s what the mom who called the ambulance said. They took her to Triangle Hospital in restraints.”
His heart sinks when he hears the word “episode;” he knows what this is. What triggered it, though? Surely She wouldn’t have had call to work a great magic in the park. It doesn’t matter; She needs him. Before Bruce finishes the last sentence, he’s halfway to the truck, pausing only at the door to ask after his child.
“And Sammie?” His voice snags on his daughter’s name.
Bruce scurries to catch up. “CPS has her for now. It’s not my jurisdiction, you know, but I knew you’d be working up here. So…look, follow me and I’ll get you to Triangle fast. Full siren all the way.”
The drive to Triangle takes forever, and he can scarce keep his mind on the road. What could have triggered one of Caitlin’s mad events? And Her alone with the wean and him not there to guide Her? Praise all gods for the kindness of strangers! But maybe not the one god. That god whose name it’s better not to speak. He doesn’t know, exactly, what it is between that god and his wife, but he’d have to be deaf, dumb, blind and stupid not to know there’s something. And he knows enough about that god to make a connection between him and Caitlin’s odd spells. Hasn’t he seen them often enough? And hasn’t he seen what the god can do with a drink or a tap of his staff?
Knowing he couldn’t have foreseen it, could not have been there, he still blames himself. Whatever comes of it is on his head, and whatever has to be done about it is his to do.
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Writing the Female Gaze

ThePartingMirror_ front_smallI’ve written seven novels in my Caitlin Ross series now, and unless the coming release of The Well Below the Valley changes things, the one that has prompted the most divisive opinions among readers is The Parting Glass. There are a lot of reasons I’d expect this to be the case–my PoC characters rely too much on tired tropes, for example. But that’s not what I hear. Simply put, reader response falls into two camps: Those who like Romance novels love it, and those who don’t, don’t. They see the entire second act, which focuses on Caitlin and Timber’s developing relationship, as a distraction from the main story. If they’ve started at the beginning of the series, which most have, they’ve read three books of magic and action by this point. They want more magic and action, not this icky love stuff, thank you.

This interests me.

When I started the series, I didn’t set out to write Romance. In fact, I set out NOT to write Romance. (I didn’t set out to write a series, either, but that’s beside the point, I guess.) I did, however, have two specific agenda. First of all, I wanted to portray a true-to-life Witch rather than a sensationalized one. As you’ll know if you’ve read the books, I did end up giving Caitlin some extraordinary powers because doing without them became far too complicated and adding them kept things interesting. For the most part, though, I stick to the thought process, actions, and world view one would expect from a long time practicing Pagan. I also wanted to present exceptional Tarot readings, because at the point where I began I was sick to death of every Urban Fantasy author inserting an obligatory Tarot scene when they obviously knew nothing whatsoever of the subject beyond reading the little pamphlet that comes with the deck.

Second, I wanted to show a realistic relationship between a stable, long-term couple who, though they disagree and even argue from time to time, actually communicate pretty well. That’s why I started the series with Caitlin and Timber several years into their marriage. I wanted to avoid the inevitable “sorting out” period every relationship goes through. In fact, I didn’t want the book to be about their relationship at all. I wanted the relationship to be part of the setting, like the house or the town: an interesting backdrop for events, rather than an event in and of itself.

I had numerous reasons for wanting to do this. I enjoy the occasional Romance, especially those that are well-written and/or have an interesting premise. However, stand-alone Romance novels tend to rely on certain tropes I’m not fond of. Even those with “strong” heroines often fall back on traditional gender roles. The hero may start out as kind of an asshole, at least on the surface, and it’s up to the heroine to pierce his soft center and get him to recognize her equal standing. Disagreements can usually be traced to lack of effective communication. I find this frustrating. I don’t mind when characters have secrets like “Honey, I’m from the future,” or “I conned my way into this social position.” Major revelations require a level of trust not usually present at the start of a relationship. But refusing to share pertinent information because the author needs to sustain the conflict is a sure turn off for me.

I created Timber MacDuff as a man who specifically does not balk at communicating. He has his share of flaws and secrets, sure. But when it comes to his relationship with Caitlin, he talks openly and honestly. He has to, because Caitlin is more than normally sensitive to nuance and hidden subtext. If she fails to call him on obfuscation, it’s because she has her own issues clouding the matter. More, they’re both self-aware enough that they don’t need the constant release of fighting over trivial matters to prop up avoidance of underlying conflict. If Caitlin reminds Timber to please rinse the sink after trimming his beard, he doesn’t take it as a personal affront and need to escalate to the point of a power struggle. He just rinses the sink. On the other hand, if Timber recommends against a course of action, Caitlin may not like it, and she may do it anyway, but she doesn’t question his motives. She trusts he has her best interests at heart, and isn’t trying to exert dominance by controlling her. I made their partnership as equal as I possibly could while grounding it in reality. Caitlin’s forthrightness and practicality balances Timber’s occasional emotional outbursts, and Timber’s wisdom tempers her tendency to take risks.

So what does all this have to do with the topic of this post, writing the female gaze?

With the exception of Demon Lover, which alternates between Caitlin’s point of view and Timber’s, I write the series from the Caitlin’s first person perspective. Being inside her brain, as it were, it doesn’t take long to see that she’s Timber’s equal sexually as well as intellectually. Getting back to The Parting Glass, the first time she lays eyes on him she goes weak in the knees. She thinks he’s hot. She wants him. We see this in other books as well. When the series begins, they’ve been together almost eight years, and the fire hasn’t burned out. She likes looking at him. She makes no bones about it. He has a fantastic ass; it turns her on. It’s not a huge part of any of the books except for The Parting Glass, but it’s there. And I’ve received more than a handful of reader comments leading me to believe that people find this uncomfortable. Things like “Caitlin objectifies Timber too much” and “Timber only exists in this book as a sex object.” None of this feedback, by the way, came from male readers, of which I have several. They all came from women.

Now, I’ve read a great many books where the male protagonist thinks or voices similar opinions of the female protagonist, and unless it’s taken to extremes, very few people comment on this behavior when it’s coming from a man. From a man, it’s flattering, expected, even admirable. I’ve never been criticized for Timber expressing his desire for Caitlin. He can throw her over his shoulder and carry her to bed or say outright that he wants her and means to “have” her, and no one raises an eyebrow. This leads me to wonder if the underlying reason for people’s discomfort is not the expression of desire and attraction in itself, but the fact that it’s coming from a woman.

We all know–or at this point we should know–that most entertainment media caters to the male gaze, the cisgender, heterosexual male gaze in particular. Female characters possess a specific kind of beauty, the big-boobed, small-waisted variety, with or without a shapely booty, depending on preference. Most leading women are under the age of thirty. Even those marooned on mysterious islands without modern amenities or stuck in the middle of the Zombie Apocalypse have mysteriously smooth legs and armpits. Male writers of “strong female characters (TM)” dwell on details like the sensation of moving breasts and the slide of silk over newly-washed skin in a way real life women seldom do. Men can be loud, dirty, and combative without much personal consequence, but women can’t. Not and remain “attractive.” A dirty, loud woman is presented as flawed. A woman stepping outside the role of peacemaker is ridiculed; a woman reaching for power falls; a woman acting upon her sexual desires is punished.

But women have sexual desires and urges. Women look at men they find attractive (Disclaimer: I’m speaking specifically of het women). They like butts, and abs, and shoulders. They like bellies and beards and feet. Anyone who’s spent any amount of time around a group of women knows this. Anyone even peripherally aware of the many, many fandoms revolving around shows with gorgeous male stars–Outlander, Supernatural, and Arrow, to name a few of the current ones–should know this. Men can be beautiful. Their beauty takes infinite forms, just as women’s beauty does. People in sexual relationships are attracted to one another. Isn’t it about time to admit it goes both ways?

Caitlin thinks Timber is beautiful. Sure: It’s the first thing she notices about him. Haven’t you ever seen a stranger and thought, “Wow, what a hottie!” I know I have. It’s Caitlin’s first impression, and it’s all she knows. As they come to know each other better, however, she adds to that first impression. He’s smart, talented, a craftsman, a shaman. Caitlin’s attraction doesn’t cause her to discount those things, as it would if she saw him as no more than a sexual object. And familiarity, if anything, deepens her attraction rather than diminishes it. After years of marriage, she still thinks he’s hot. It’s as much a part of their relationship as the magic.

It may be that women critique Caitlin’s sexuality and the way she views Timber because women are more overtly aware of sexual objectification, being more subject to it. I think, though, that there’s an aspect of internalized sexism in the act. All too often we still cram women into the virgin/whore dichotomy. We expect our female characters to behave certain ways around sex, to be the one acted upon rather than the actor. A woman who’s up front about her sexuality, who picks and chooses and directs instead of going along, is a challenge to our self concepts and our own relationships with carnality. In claims that Caitlin treats Timber as a sex object, I hear the echo of a patriarchal standard warning us that if we own our bodies and our desires, we must necessarily treat the men in our lives the way women have been treated: as lesser beings, unfit to be equal partners.

When you release a book into the world, you lose control over it. People interpret stories differently than you intended. They project their own issues onto your characters and read deep meaning in the most innocent actions (One reviewer had a real problem with Caitlin not wearing makeup on a regular basis because it was “obviously meant to show she’s superior to other women” and decided that despite Caitlin’s relative insouciance about her appearance “the reader is supposed to know she’s always the hottest girl in the room.”). I know this, and yet the claims of Timber being objectified because his wife likes the way he looks and enjoys having sex still bother me. They show we have a long way to go before women’s points of view become normal and women’s sexuality, in all its many forms, becomes as acceptable as men’s.

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Cover Reveal: The Well Below the Valley!

Those of you who follow the Caitlin Ross Adventures have been waiting a long time for the seventh book in the series, and I have news at last! As you may know, this was an exceedingly difficult book for me to write. Over the last two years, I’ve started and stopped many times, and discarded half a dozen potential plots and tens of thousands of words. Even after I stumbled on the right plot, I had to rewrite over and over to integrate all the various elements. Now I can tell you The Well Below the Valley will be released this coming August 2nd, which is, by strange coincidence, the date the book itself begins. Let’s see what it’s about.

Six months after the birth of her daughter, Caitlin Ross’s life is in a tailspin. Still suffering from what he endured at the hands of his former lover, her husband, Timber MacDuff, has drawn away. The gods have stopped speaking, except for vague hints in bad dreams. Unwilling to face reality, Caitlin goes about her daily routine as if nothing has changed while deep inside she longs for distraction.

When the county sheriff asks for help with a puzzling situation, Caitlin believes her prayers have been answered. A rancher has drowned in the middle of a desert, and the means appear supernatural. The case is right up Caitlin’s alley, but her interest pits her against Timber, who insists getting involved is too dangerous now that she’s a mother. Neither he nor Caitlin realizes a greater danger awaits. Strange events in Gordarosa have brought the area to the attention of a group known as Shade Tracers. Mundane mortals, they’ve taken it upon themselves to protect humanity from magic—with deadly force, if necessary. One holds Caitlin responsible for a personal tragedy, and will stop at nothing to see justice done.

Past and present converge in Caitlin’s darkest adventure yet. With her own life at stake, she must journey through time to uncover the truth behind the Shade Tracer’s obsession. Success could provide the key to solving the local mystery. Failure will doom her to a life on the run, forever hunted.

Artist Matt Davis* has outdone himself with the cover for this one. I know you’ll love it as much as I do. And here it is!

well002

In case that hasn’t got you excited enough, here’s a brief excerpt.

Just then, some odd flickers from the BLM land adjacent our property caught my eye. Shading my brow with my hand, I squinted into the distance. A flash. A beat, and then another. No regular rhythm. They seemed to originate from the low hill from which we often watched the moonrise.

Some kids dicking around with a mirror. BLM land was public property, and this section lay convenient to town. Bored local teens partied there. Timber and I combed the ground a couple of times a month, picking up the trash they left behind.

I bent to retrieve my basket. As I straightened, the light flashed again, this time with a distinctive quality hard to define. Less like a mirror. More like a flame. I’d just settled on the difference when something whizzed past my left ear, and a cluster of berries fell off the rowan tree at the center of the garden. A split second later, a sharp CRACK! rang through the air.

My jaw dropped. What the hell? I lifted my eyes from the rowan berries to the hilltop in time to see the light flash again. At the same time, panicked voice shouted not three feet behind me.

“Jesus Christ, Caitlin! Get DOWN!”

A heavy object struck my back, knocking me to the ground. My basket flew from my hand, spilling my harvest. I hit the earth with a shock that drove the wind from my lungs. An I lay there, cheek in damp soil, the intense, green scent of bruised tomato vines clogged my nose. A foot from my head, a pepper plant exploded. CRACK! Understanding washed over me, and I began to shake.

Someone was shooting at me.

Who’s shooting at Caitlin and why? And who may her mysterious savior be? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

*For more information on Matt Davis’s work, follow @GreyDevil13 on Twitter, or contact him at rockandhillstudio@gmail.com.

When Heroes Kill: Character, Culture, Context

Like everyone else on the planet (it seems), we’ve been watching the adaptation of Marvel Comics’ Daredevil on Netflix. It’s an excellent series, with great acting, great writing, character development for EVERYONE, even the villains, and better treatment of women than any of the other comic adaptations, big or small screen, that I’ve yet seen. (Netflix did not pay me to say this.)

I never followed Daredevil the Book, although I must have seen the character around in other books or read about him or something, because when the Ben Affleck movie version came out (I liked it. So sue me.), I already knew the basics of the character. In fact, I must have learned his origins early on, because when I read the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles origin story, my first thought was “OMG, they came out of the same accident that made Daredevil!!!!”

Anyway, one thing I didn’t know was that a central theme of the Daredevil mythos is, “Is it okay for the hero to kill, or does that make him as bad as the villains? How do you accomplish your mission without crossing that line?” I’ve nutshelled the idea here, because it’s a complex question that would take me many more words to properly express. In comic books, as well as in much literature in a contemporary setting, the heroes DON’T KILL. It’s part of what defines them, the reluctance to take a life and the willingness to turn criminals over to the law. They might beat the crap out of them first. They might maim and mutilate. But they don’t kill.

In the mid-eighties, when I was doing my heaviest comic book reading, several heroes crossed this line. Green Arrow and Batman both come to mind (I was mostly a DC reader), but there may have been others. There may be others now. And for the purposes of this post, I’m talking about straight-up superhero books rather than darker anti-heroes or horror books, where people got killed all the time.

I started thinking about this again, watching Daredevil, because it’s a question I had to face in my own work: Can the hero take out the villains and still be a hero? When I was writing A Maid in Bedlam, it was one of my central problems as an author. I wanted him to do it, without question. I wanted him to do it because I’d given him a sword and I wanted him to use it. Because the idea of staging a giant bloodbath on the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder tickled me. And, frankly, because a big, well-built guy competent with a sword is a huge turn on. But it made me queasy, because the bad guys were humans, not supernatural entities. I didn’t know if letting Timber kill them would be okay.

Except, if he didn’t, the problem would remain. You couldn’t keep most of these people in a jail; I established that early on. Not unless you denied them any kind of human interaction pretty much forever, which would be inhumane. Well, long story short, I had my bloodbath. My central issue became keeping my protagonists out of prison. And none of my readers rose up to complain about my choice.

Why not?

“Violence isn’t always the answer, he knows. Some would say it’s never the answer. “Violence begets violence,” goes the old saw. It feeds on itself and is never satisfied. When you’ve had your revenge, wiped out your enemies, what then? It’s a letdown, a disappointment, coming off that energy. Like after sex, when things go dark for a time, and you feel as if there really should have been more to it. So you keep after it, keep after that transcendent feeling, until you wear yourself out, and then, at least you can sleep.

Lots of heroes kill. They kill the villains in Epic Fantasy and Historical Fiction, in Science Fiction and Thrillers and Paranormal. Luke Skywalker and Han Solo killed Stormtroopers and TIE fighter pilots. Jamie Fraser kills his uncle and numerous English. Rand al’Thor kills people (though at times he feels really bad about it). So why not the heroes of Contemporary and Urban Fantasy? Why not those heroes who are larger than life, who populate THIS world? Oliver Queen spent the entire first season of Arrow putting down criminals and getting vilified for it. Then he had a change of heart. But has it made him any more effective in pursuing his mission? Has it made him any more popular? Current events in the series point to no.

There are several good reasons not to kill your villains off. In serialized fiction, the obvious one is you might need them again in another story arc. Creating a good villain is hard work! Don’t dispose of them unless you absolutely have to. Another reason not to kill your villains would be that it doesn’t serve the story. I’m still mad that Lursa and B’Etor were summarily dispatched in the travesty that was Star Trek: Generations. But why balk at getting rid of horrible people you don’t need?

By the way, I’m not proposing any definitive answer one way or the other. I’m just looking at something that interests me.

One question that comes up when you raise this topic is: “How long can you keep doing that before you become the thing you’re trying to stop?” Another is, “Can violence lead to lasting peace?” (And thanks to Kris Holt for raising both of those on Twitter when I was exploring this question there.) My personal answers are, I don’t think anything leads to a truly lasting peace, because everything is ephemeral. It’s probably no good to stir up conflict or to go looking for it, but being prepared to meet it? Sure. Of course, this raises the question of “How do you know when you’re prepared enough?” which can lead to arms races and all kinds of tricky stuff when you take it into a larger sphere. But I’m talking about a personal level, rather than a governmental one. As for the first question, I personally don’t believe it follows that one thing necessarily leads to the other. All kinds of things make a difference: Motivation, Ego, Mindfulness to name a few. It’s true that when you train in a martial art, MOST of the practice is learning to balance the Art with the Martial. Learning to cross the street when you sense danger, rather than take on the gang. Or so my Sensei used to say.

I’ve also got a cop-out answer: The question isn’t really applicable in my books, because my hero isn’t a vigilante.

 He’s pretty sure Caitlin would tell him violence isn’t the answer at all. She has a soft heart. She feels bad about killing slugs in the garden. But Caitlin never had the experience of the world that he had. She  turns inward; he turns outward. Everything he is, he shows to the world, even if the world finds it an affront. She has secrets at Her core that no one can penetrate. She protects Herself from the world, and he flies in its face. So he’s learned that there must be violence, sometimes. After all, the slugs in the garden must be killed. They’d take over, else.

Of course, context matters. In a historical novel, we can say that killing each other in the year 1233, or 1842, wasn’t uncommon. People lived closer to death. In Science Fiction, in Epic Fantasy, we get to define the terms. Plus, those villains we choose for our heroes to kill could often be replaced with cardboard cutouts. We know them only as antagonists, not as people. I’ve noticed when authors delve into their villains as people, examine what motivates them instead of simply saying “Bad Guy,” the characters are much less likely to meet their Fates at the hand of the hero. Because then the hero would be killing a human being rather than a trope. And it’s not okay to kill human beings, or to “humanize” the alien species we mean to kill. We know the Cave Troll in Lord of the Rings is a danger. We never hear about the Cave Troll’s childhood or the Cave Troll’s mother.

I do this myself. It’s hard for me, because I never have been able to subscribe to notions of absolute good and absolute evil. One reason I like my first book less than others is that the antagonists are less fully developed (and I still had a problem with disposing of one of them). I do believe that people aren’t inherently one thing or the other, but that circumstances make us what we are. So, in order to justify getting rid of them, I have to dehumanize my villains. I don’t explore them enough as people. And I still have a horrible time coming up with actions bad enough to merit a death sentence.

I believe that we like to think of our contemporary culture as more civilized, and that in civilized societies we don’t go around killing people out of hand. Not up close and personal. War doesn’t count. The rhetoric of war allows us to dehumanize vast numbers of people, be they of a different culture, religion, race, gender, or what have you, the better to slaughter them. When you kill someone up close and personal, it’s “murder,” no matter what your justification. Now, I don’t have a problem with this (I’d hope it would be obvious that I’m not encouraging terminal solutions to arguments). I’m not even a supporter of “capital punishment” (lovely euphemism). The justice system is, in my opinion, too flawed in many regards to hand out death sentences. If new evidence comes up afterward, it’s too late. If a capital charge is proven beyond doubt, the appeals process is so drawn-out that it becomes its own punishment. I do believe that some criminals probably need to be removed from society on a more or less permanent basis. I also believe their numbers are smaller than we think, and even of those possibly quite a few would do well on some kind of frontier planet, where “less civilized” actions might be an actual life skill. Pity we don’t have one.

But the question remains to me: Does the choice to apply terminal justice make a person less of a hero? In the case of Timber “He-Man” MacDuff, I don’t like to think so. He’s not arbitrary. He does what he has to and no more. When he’s killed, it’s been to protect those less able to protect themselves, and it’s always the last possible solution (except for those couple times when he was younger and more hot-tempered). He remembers every face.

As far as writing goes, I think you can choose one way or the other and still make your character sympathetic. It’s a matter of balance, in the character and in the story. Timber is both a swordsman and a healer. His blade has two edges: One to harm, and one to heal. Sometimes surgery is necessary. I expect the question of who made him Judge, Jury, and Executioner will come up again in a later book (actually, I know it will). For now, I thought it through and gave him leave to do what he felt necessary.

Some people think they have no right to judge. To label this one a slug, and this one not. To make the choice between life and death.
He’s not one of them.

(All block quotes taken from “Summoning Scáthach,” in the collection Fits o’ the Season, © 2012 by Katherine Lampe)

Character Profile: Timber MacDuff

Last week, I did a “Meet My Main Character” blog profiling the heroine of my supernatural adventure series, Caitlin Ross. Since then, a number of people have requested that I do a follow-up profile focused on the hero of the series, Timber MacDuff. I told my friend, Jennie Davenport, that I’d do Timber if she did Henry, the hero of her upcoming novel, Hemlock Veils. (Obligatory plug: Hemlock Veils is NOW AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER FOR KINDLE!) Well, she did. So I guess I’m obligated to uphold my end of the deal.

Say hello to Timber MacDuff.

Say hello, Timber.
Say hello, Timber.

I’m going to skip the questions of “is this a fictional or historical character?” and “What’s the setting?” because Timber shares these things with Caitlin, so you can look at her post if you like. Some stories covering bits of Timber’s early life, a few of which you can find under the “Timber MacDuff” menu in the sidebar of this blog, are set outside of the universe of the novels, in Portland, Oregon; San Francisco; and Los Angeles, California.

Moving onward.

What should we know about Timber?

It’s funny, but sometimes, writing mostly in the first person, I feel like I know other characters better than I do Caitlin, whose point of view I’m voicing. I think this is because when you write in the first person, you take on your point of view character’s thoughts and sensations, so you end up spending a lot of time describing what she sees and feels. More than you generally do addressing your POV character’s inner world and attitudes. In this way, it can be a challenge to paint a distinct picture of your POV character except inasmuch as she views the world around her.

Take that, all you people who think writing first person is for amateurs.

Anyway.

Timber Alasdair MacDuff was born in Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. He’s the oldest of six siblings, all of whom his woodworker father, with a peculiar sense of humor, named for trees. “I got the generic,” Timber says of his own name. He grew up speaking Gaelic until he was seven, and in fact was named in Gaelic: Fiodh. About that time, his family decided to emigrate (his mother’s brothers already had), and the family started speaking English exclusively. Timber doesn’t remember a lot of his childhood language, except for bits hanging around in his subconscious and a rather extensive vocabulary of profanity (which his uncles took care that he should remember).

Timber had a lot of trouble adjusting to the United States, with the result that he got in a great many fights and was kicked out of school on a regular basis. He started running away at twelve, and at fourteen left home for good. For the next three years, he lived on the streets of various cities. Shortly before his eighteenth birthday, a family friend tracked him down and dragged him back to Oregon. This family friend was a shaman, and he took it upon himself to train a reluctant Timber in the shamanic practices of healing and making spiritual journeys. He also insisted Timber complete his education and go to college.

After this intervention, Timber did straighten up and fly right for the most part, although he still has a temper and has been known to take a flexible stance when interpreting the law. At heart, he’s a good guy. He’s good with children and animals–in fact, he has a remarkable ability to communicate with “creatures.” He gets along with most people, and can be exceptionally charming when it suits him. An attractive man, he likes women and women like him; these days, however, he is devoted to his wife, Caitlin, of whom he is fiercely protective. A risk-taker himself, he finds it infuriating when Caitlin puts herself in danger.

A carpenter by trade, Timber enjoys fly fishing and shooting pool. As well, he’s a mean hand with a broadsword and practices daily. When inactive, he gets bored easily and fidgets, which drives Caitlin up the wall. (And now this sounds like an on-line dating profile, so I’m just going to stop.)

Not in a good mood.
Not in a good mood.

What’s the main conflict? What messes him up?

Timber’s main conflict is finding a balance between the two sides of his personality, the warrior and the healer. He’s a larger-than-life personality, who should really have been born in an earlier time, when mayhem, bloodshed, and edged weapons were more the rule. He often feels too big for his surroundings, and he has a hard time keeping his inner violence in check. He hates to admit defeat or lack of ability, and this tendency has gotten him into trouble more than once.

Timber has a great many things messing him up. He doesn’t feel he fits in the world. He despises the injustice he sees all around him and feels powerless to address it in any meaningful way. During the course of an eventful life, he’s done things he wishes he hasn’t had to do. He doesn’t precisely regret them, but the memories torment him.

As the series progresses, we learn more details about Timber’s past and the true source of his conflict. When he was a child he almost died from a severe illness. During his delirium, he experienced a vision of his future which greatly disturbed him, in which he saw himself doing something he does not want to do and facing something he does not want to face. To date he has never told anyone but his shamanic teacher about this vision. Not even Caitlin, although he expects she’ll have to know about it sooner or later. (Right now, I plan to resolve this situation for Timber in what will be book ten, tentatively titled “Over the Sea to Skye.”)

What is Timber’s Personal Goal?

Timber’s not a very goal-oriented individual. He lives almost entirely in the moment. At most, he plans a little way ahead, to the next battle, the next job, the next confrontation. If he could have anything for himself, it would be to escape the future he saw, but he has little expectation that will be possible. In the meantime, it’s enough for him to love and care for his headstrong wife–as much as she lets him.

That’s as much as I can say about Timber without revealing too many of his secrets. If you want to find out more, read the Caitlin Ross series. Timber also has his own collection of short stories, The Fits o’ the Season, available here.

I hope you have enjoyed this profile. Thanks for taking the time to read it!

Timber by WolfenM
Timber by WolfenM

 

 

The Work In Progress Writing Tour

Hello, and welcome to another Blog Tour post! This week it’s the “WIP Lines” tour. My friend Sonya Craig tagged me to follow her post from last week. Sonya is one of the foundations of my Twitter crew, a funny, talented, and creative lady who writes Old School Science Fiction with a spunky and snarky heroine. She’s also an amazing artist and you should definitely check her out.

Sonya Craig's take on yours truly.
Sonya Craig’s take on yours truly.

So, what is this WIP tour? Well, it’s a chance for me to tell you about what I’m working on at the moment and share some lines–the first line or two of each of the first three chapters, to be precise–to get all you fans excited, so that you, in turn, can haunt my Twitter feed and encourage me to keep going. Or possibly make scathing comments about how I don’t write fast enough, but I’d prefer the former.

I happen to have a special treat for all you readers: I’m working on not just ONE WIP, but TWO!!! So I’m going to tell you a bit about each of them.

The first thing I’m working on these days is a trio of novellas about everyone’s favorite Scottish shaman, Timber MacDuff. Depending on whether or not you’ve read any of the Caitlin Ross novels–and depending on which ones you’ve read–you may know our estimable Scot was rather a problem child in his youth, who started running away from home at the age of twelve and left for good at fourteen. For the next three and a half years, he lived on the streets, until the man who would become his teacher dragged him 0ut of squalor by the ear and knocked some sense into him.

Timber as a character has always fascinated me. I find that writing primarily in the first person, as I do, the stories become as much or more about the people the POV character interacts with and how she feels about them as they are about Caitlin herself. So, in a way, we come to know Timber very well. And yet, he retains a certain mystery. I’m not one of those authors who sits down and writes a huge back story for every character; I let the back story reveal itself as needed. And although I knew Timber had had a difficult time as a young man, I never knew quite why someone with a loving family like his would go the way he did. I wanted to explore this in more detail, so in May of 2013 I started writing.  I’ve been working on this project in fits and starts since then, and am currently about halfway through the third novella, tentatively titled “Eyes Full of Stars.” Early versions of the first two novellas, “How He Left” and “Into the Void” are available under the Timber MacDuff sidebar of this blog, in case you’re interested. The three stories explore the circumstances that caused Timber to leave home in the first place, a series of events that shaped the person he would be for the next few years, and, finally, Mitch’s rescue and Timber’s decision to embrace the shamanic path.

The Lines

How He Left

“For the Lord’s sake, Timber! Will ye not at least get a haircut?”

He scowls up at his mother from beneath the lock of hair that always seems to be falling into his eyes. It annoys him, but he’s never going to let her know it.

“I dinna believe Jesus Christ gives a damn about the length of my hair,” he says, watching her cross from stove to sink.

Into the Void

He stares in the mirror and thinks about how he’s aged.

It’s not in his face so much. He’s thinner, so his face is thinner, too. But that’s only made his features finer. His cheekbones stand out like blades. A pimp in the Tenderloin broke his nose last month. He caught the bastard threatening one of the girls he knows and called him on it, which was stupid because the bugger was armed and could have done him worse damage if he’d cared to.

Eyes Full of Stars

Summer in LA: Hot and dry, with a dust-filled wind whipping around the corners of buildings and ripping crumpled newspapers from overflowing trash bins, sending them skittering down the streets like artificial tumbleweeds. A smell on the air of gasoline and baked asphalt mixes with the brown fug of exhaust and smog. Somewhere to the west, the ocean rolls in ceaseless breakers up to beaches where sun-warmed girls in bikinis flirt with the waves and bleached studs play volleyball, showing off for the girls.

My first Fan Art: Timber as seen by Sonya Craig
My first Fan Art: Timber as seen by Sonya Craig

The other thing I’m working on is the seventh book in the Caitlin Ross series, Death and the Lady. It’s October, eight months after the events of Demon Lover. Timber is still trying to cope with the trauma of having been imprisoned and raped, Caitlin is tearing her hair out over Timber’s reluctance to confide in her, and both of them are dealing with the realities of being first-time parents. When a wealthy acquaintance approaches Caitlin about putting a band together to play at her autumn wedding, Caitlin doesn’t feel she can refuse. And it turns out to be a good thing she and Timber are there, because when a friend collapses on the dance floor, Timber’s able to bring him back from the dead. What neither of them know, though, is that saving their friend is the beginning of a series of events that will reunite many of the supporting characters from previous volumes in a rush to solve a series of bizarre crimes before the energy of the Samhain season fuels a vendetta with Caitlin as its target.

I’m not very far into this one. In fact, when Sonya asked me to participate in this blog tour, I hadn’t yet written chapter three! But I got it done, I’m into chapter four now, and so, for your enjoyment, here are some introductory lines.

Death and the Lady

Chapter One

It began at a wedding.

It began with a death.

Autumn exploded through the Gordarosa valley in a burst of crimson and gold. The Harvest Festival at the end of September made way for an October of brilliant, warm days and crisp nights. The summer’s hay and corn had all been gathered in, signaling the season of yellow pumpkins and trees bent under the weight of apples and pears. All around town, anxious gardeners plucked tomatoes bursting with juice and crossed their fingers against the first frost, praying for the green globes yet on the vine to ripen before it arrived.

Chapter Two

Timber roused enough when we got home to heave himself into the house and stumble upstairs, where he fell full length across the bed and passed out again without removing his boots. After the long day and its spectacular end, I felt like joining him. My energy had plummeted as soon as our house had come in sight, leaving me shaking in every limb, with black spots in the corners of my eyes.

Chapter Three

I hadn’t seen Zee—nobody used his legal name, Josef Zdrojkowski, for obvious reasons—in seven or eight years. A wanderer who never stayed in one town longer than it took for him to figure it out, he’d left Boulder a few months before Timber and I had. We wrote, but rarely; keeping track of him was too hard for regular correspondence. Now and again a postcard reached us from some far-flung region of the North or South American continent, and once he’d sent a package from a village in Peru. But he’d never visited.

So there you have it: My two works in progress. Are you excited yet?

Next up on the WIP Lines Blog Tour is Angelina Williamson. A bleeding liberal and expert at using power tools moderately well, Angelina writes a variety of things including YA Dystopia. In addition to her Better Than Bullets personal blog, she keeps an urban homesteading blog at Stitch and Boots, and sells neat stuff in her Etsy store, for which I unfortunately don’t have a link at hand. She’s an amazing gardener who knows what herb will save you in case of a Zombie Apocalypse, and if she were a man, her balls would be skinned peaches. Just sayin’. Next week she’ll be sharing her WIP Lines with you, so be sure to check her out!

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