Misty_Mountains_AC4x6Happy belated New Year! I hope everyone’s 2015 is fabulous so far! I have a wonderful story excerpt for you today, but first let me catch you up on some important news.

This week finds me finally getting back into my regular writing and photography routine after taking a week to do my annual inventory, complete my annual review, and update my company business plan.

I’ll spare you all of the boring details. Instead I’ll just tell you that I wrote over 95,000 words of fiction in 2014, which was 20,000 words above my original annual goal and a new writing record for me. In practical terms, this number means that I finished writing a novel, a novella, and five short stories last year in addition to publishing my first short story collection and two other short stories. I also had a good year in terms of photography with 21 pieces of new art photos added to my website’s online galleries as well as multiple private shoots done for clients.

As proud as I am of 2014, this year promises to be the most ambitious and challenging writing year yet and now I can finally tell you why. I plan to publish three short stories, one novel, and at least two novellas this year. Yes, you read that right. By the time 2015 concludes, I’ll have a total of four major fiction books and nine short works published and available for readers.

Here is the tentative publication schedule for 2015:

I am so excited that these new writings will join Musings and my many short stories in e-book and print formats soon. I’ve enjoyed sharing excerpts of Captain Thorn’s adventures in Thorn and Thistle over the past few months, but today I thought I’d introduce you to one of my favorite characters from Skinshifter, Katja Escari (pronounced KAT-yuh ES-kar-ee). I hope you enjoy spending some time with her. I certainly have.

The dewy grass whipped wet against Katja’s hind flanks as she loped along the edge of the meadow. She sniffed the morning air; it was cool with the promise of rain. There was little hint of prey in the wind, hardly even a ground squirrel. That was an irritation. Katja needed to bring a large animal—perhaps a young buck—back to the den. She wanted to stalk and kill quickly before the storms came. The rain certainly would not spoil the meat, but being the proper werecat that she was, Katja hated getting wet. After all, it could take hours to lick all of the tangles out of her golden fur after a good soaking, and that was such tedious work.

The werecat adjusted her leather loincloth around the base of her long prehensile tail and focused again on the task at paw. She slipped toward the stream at the other side of the meadow hoping to find larger prey drinking from its cool waters. Dropping onto all four paws, she slunk low along the tree line and peered through the tangled trailers of a vine-cloaked shrub, her round, tuft-tipped ears twitching at every sound.

Ah, success! A fat ram was drinking at the bank less than five body-lengths from her. Katja crept around the shrub and scaled the thick trunk of an ancient oak. She uncoiled a sinew rope from around her waist and, after fastening one end of the rope to a sturdy branch, she looped the other end deftly around the ram’s curled horns. The ram bucked, but to no avail. The rope defied the erdeling beast’s every escape effort.

Katja jumped down from the tree, landed softly on her back paws, and slowly circled the vulnerable ram from just outside of the slack of the rope. With an enraged bleat, the ram rushed her. Katja sidestepped its charge in time to attack as the rope snapped its head back. The stunned beast fell against the ground. The werecat deftly broke its neck with her clawed forepaws before the ram had time to recuperate from the whiplash. She then climbed into the tree to retrieve the rope and wrapped its length around the ram’s legs to make it easier to carry.

She realized upon inspection that the rope was badly strained in one spot—too strained to hunt with again. She would have to make a new one, but that should not take long if Sephna could help with the project. Katja wished she were here now to help carry the ram back to the den. She had not seen her closest friend all day and Katja wanted to invite her to the den for her siblings’ evening eat. Hopefully she could get back to the village in time to see her before the meal tonight. Smiling, the Feliconas Clan member hefted the ram across her shoulders and bounded in the direction of home.

*

“You are late,” Keepha snarled.

“It took time to track, kill, and carry home my quarry,” Katja shrugged. “If you want to whine, do so when I come home empty-pawed.”

Katja’s older sister narrowed her chestnut-colored eyes and growled in retort. Keepha sniffed the carcass. “Well, at least the rain washed the fur clean.”

“Jrer’ir, please don’t remind me,” Katja growled irritably. She set the ram down on the large, flat eating stone that jutted from the cave wall opposite the entrance and shook out her soggy fur. The action sent water droplets flying in every direction.

“Katja!” Keepha lunged at her youngest sibling. “Get out of the eating hole before I twist your ears off!”

Katja dodged with ease. “Fine, I’ll go dry off somewhere else.”

“Sniff out your brothers and bring them back with you to eat.”

“Very well. Oh, please leave me some of the ram’s stronger tendons. I need to make a new rope.”

“Fehgin arshirin to you and your ropes. Did the last one snap on you?”

“No, it held.” Katja tossed the rope to Keepha. “It’s too strained to be of much use on another hunt though.”

“Good, I’ll use it then to tie down the carcass for our eat. Is Sephna joining us?”

“No, I didn’t see her to ask about tonight.”

“Ah, pity. I doubt we’ll have enough left of this to feed five tomorrow. Very well, you can invite the whole family over after your next successful kill. For now, go hunt down your brothers!”

Without a reply, Katja sprang out of the den in search of Kayten and Kumos. She and her three older siblings lived together in the same den where they were born. Their parents had died in a rock slide six summers earlier. Because of this, the siblings took turns catching food, cleaning the den, or taking watch to protect their mountain home.

The brothers were both on watch-rounds for the clan, so Katja had to sniff around for a time before she located either sibling’s scent. That only added to her irritation because her nose was beginning to lose some of its usual sensitivity thanks to the retched full moon. To make matters worse, her fur had begun to dry into a myriad of little coiled knots. Katja growled about not moving fast enough to avoid the afternoon shower.

Katja found both of her brothers wrestling more than watching. They were grappling at one of their favorite lookouts—a high ridge sliced out of the northern side of the mountain. She crouched and watched them a moment and then pounced into the middle of their fray.

“Katja, don’t do that! It’s rude to jump in on us when we’re in the middle of a match!” Kayten panted.

“Angry that I startled you, Sälme?”

“We knew you were there the whole time. Didn’t we, Kumos?”

“Oh, of course we did.” Kumos looked dubiously at his younger brother.

Katja’s lion-like face formed a look of contrived innocence. “What? You don’t prefer it when I approach on the leeward side of the wind? After all, what fun is slinking when my prey can smell me coming?”

Kayten grunted and changed the subject. “Did you find food?”

“I did. Keepha sent me to find you two. She wants all of us to come eat.”

“Then Sephna is coming as well?” Kumos asked his youngest sibling while scratching one tawny-furred shoulder.

“I did not see her today to ask.” Katja surveyed the forest below them and saw something odd. Perhaps it was some trick of the late day’s light, but she swore she saw a smoky haze drifting toward them from the northern horizon against the wind.

“Kumos, what is that?” She pointed a claw toward the haze.

“I’m unsure. We’ve watched it hover in that valley all day. Perhaps some beings are burning brush at the edge of the forest again.”

“A fire with smoke that blows against the wind?”

“They probably have a fireforger mage with them.”

“Most fireforgers don’t have the power necessary to fight nature’s laws like that; only members of the Ring of Sorcerers can perform such miracles.”

“Several mages then?” Kayten shrugged. “It does not affect us, so why brood about it? I wish Sephna could join us, but I’m also glad to have less eating competition. She eats more than I do, and right now I’m hungry enough to eat a basilisk. Come, let’s go!”

“I’m for that!” Kumos exclaimed. “I will race you both to the den!”

With that, he sprinted down the mountainside with the other two in close pursuit.

Skinshifter is the first novel in the Sylvan Cycle series, which chronicles Katja and her packmates’ adventures as they battle the invading deadwalkers, political intrigue, and even themselves to try to bring peace back to the war-torn world of Sylvaeleth. You can read more about it, HERE.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better!

Alycia


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!