first lines

First lines are always important because they are, you know, what the reader reads first. And if they don’t like it, they might stop the novel and you don’t get another chance to make a first impression. So it’s good to spend more time than I spent writing this when working on the first line. So while almost no though whatsoever went into this paragraph, I did devote more time to the beginning of Black Cats and Bad Luck.

I’m sharing the opener of this M/M paranormal romance with you today. As a feline familiar, Horatio is connected to magic. That link is strained when he gives up his magical side to become human for a shot at love.

The Ward house rarely held such quiet. Sound always existed, from the voices of humans to the low hum of magic. Even the pixies in the garden were silent. Perhaps this warranted investigation.

Laying in a column of sunlight in the master bedroom, the cat raised its head to investigate— creatures such as him always stretched, just a little, past their limits. Seeing not only what there was, but what could be. Seeing with more than the eyes, reaching out to touch the swirling cosmos and twinkling stars, to—then again, it would be such a shame to waste this lazy afternoon on anything other than a nap. The cat rested its head back on the hardwood floor.

Awareness hovered somewhere, an insubstantial thing, easily batted away like a stray strand of yarn. He stretched, black tail swishing once in the air, before getting comfortable again.

Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com

An ordinary day can shift so quickly. After all, to go from idea to creation it only takes a spark. The being in the otherwise empty house who currently wore black fur and moved on four legs knew all about that. It was his purpose. Mostly. Except for the tiny piece of other. The call had been there for so long, a whisper echoing in his mind. He had never been able to answer. A force kept him in place, always with the same song he understood instinctively: not yet, not yet, not yet. A melody he’d long since grown accustomed to.

After a nap in the sun, the perfect next step was up and to the right. A nap atop the comfy pillow on the big bed. He moved, curling up on the softer surface. Perfectly content, he could stay there for-oh. Something was different.

Lifting his head, ears perking, no sound reached him from the still house beyond. Internally, no sound either.

The melody had stopped.

A noise… perhaps fingers snapping. A distant strike of lightning. The scent of jasmine lingered in the air. He felt a flicker of heat. The shift began.

-the rest of Black Cats and Bad Luck. is available for only 99 cents. It’s also available on Kindle Unlimited.

The world of magic

The course of true love may never be smooth, buts it’s especially bumpy when witches, familiars, and shadow monsters are at work. Here’s some info about the world of my magical fantasy novel, Black Cats and Bad Luck. This post is about how magic works.

How does magic work? Nobody knows! Magical is powerful. That much is sure. And like all powerful forces, it has the potential to be dangerous. Witches and warlocks can use magic, but things like the exact how, why, and what are something of a mystery.

Here’s two opinions about magic from main characters in this series, Horatio and Avery. As a human, Avery’s answer is more practical. As a magical being, Horatio’s answer is more abstract.

Avery explains the fundamentals of how magic is used:

The most common ways to bring about magickal manifestations included spells, potions, enchantments. Illusions and glamour as well, making a person perceive the world differently. Most of this? Limited time occurrences. Enchantments were the exception, many items would stay enchanted but need a charge after a while.

Glamours and illusions could create the appearance of anything for a short time. Spells and potions could make things happen that normally wouldn’t. Every spell and potion had its own rules and wore off after achieving the desired result.

Achieving any kind of permanency unintentionally would be extremely difficult. And while there weren’t official governing bodies, Pagan communities often policed themselves. With high priestesses like Miranda on the lookout and strongly advising against more extreme forms of the craft.

Horatio on magic:

Magic. The word did not do it justice. Humans labeled it impossible and unknowable and mystical because they could only grasp a tiny piece.

Magick created light but preferred to dwell in the shadows. Try for more, try to understand it and know it as a whole, well, it never led to success. Which was why seeing it in a pure form wasn’t easy. In early days, people thought the mystery might be hiding something nefarious. These days, most agreed it was the opposite. That knowing and understanding the root of magic, what it was or where it came from, was just too much power for any person to have. The temptation of using that knowledge for selfish reasons, for trying to control or change magic would be too great.

One might develop an affinity, a deeper sense after years of practicing. But familiars were tried and true. Familiars could sense and see magick in a way humans couldn’t. Though they didn’t wield it.

There were whispers in the circles I used to frequent, cautionary tales. The most whimsical, elusive force without a name, we call it magic. A being could know this power or use the power. Not both. Either option was a gift. All gifts came with a price.

Meet Stella

Stella Ward is a pre-teen witch who shows promise when it comes to magic. Her other skills? They’re a work in progress. She’s a character from the Ward Magic Series who is first introduced in Black Cats and Bad Luck.

One area where she lacks is interpersonal skills and experience with those outside of the magical community. For example, when explosions occur at a family gathering for no known ordinary or supernatural reasons, Stella assumes their guest Jonah is panicking. Her older brother, Avery, who invited Jonah, knows his friend better than that.

~

Avery

“Should we freak out?” Jonah asked. “Everyone seems kinda freaked out.”

“It’s alright,” Stella reassured instantly. “While we don’t know what happened, there is an explanation. Things don’t spontaneously explode, even in the magical community. There’s no reason to be afraid.”

“Oh, is that why you’re all shocked? Because I would have thought you’ve all seen stuff like that before.” Jonah deflated a little. “Nothing ever blows up? I always pictured real magic being more…” he trailed off, realizing there wasn’t an un-offensive way to finish his sentence.

“I didn’t say magick couldn’t produce explosions,” she defended, annoyed he was doubting. Then she remembered what she was doing. “I just don’t want you to be afraid things are going to blow up whenever you’re around Witches.” Stella’s voice did an impression of our mother’s voice. “Getting used to the magical world can be a big adjustment.”

“Don’t think that’s what’s happening here, Stell,” I said before she could try to ‘comfort’ him anymore.

“I know how to do this, Avery,” she insisted. “We have to take a class about explaining our gifts to nonbelievers.” True, though the odds of her passing Introducing Laymen to Magick with anything higher than a C seemed low.

“Um, I’m not alarmed,” Jonah said. Called it.

I shot a smug smile her way, told you so. She made a face back, and Jonah waved a hand to get our attention because he was quickly getting used to our dynamic and could tell we were about to start squabbling.

“My first reaction to witnessing real life magic would be clapping and begging for an encore,” he drawled, glancing around the room. “Going by other people’s reactions, it wouldn’t be appropriate, so I’m putting in all the effort to refrain.”

“Appreciated,” I said.

~

The full LGBTQ fantasy novel is available here for only 99 cents. Check it out!

The magical mystery of magic

My original idea for the Ward Magic series included magical realism, and I took out some of the ‘realism’ to add more sorcery and adventure to Black Cats and Bad Luck. So magic in this universe is sort of like that old song by Meatloaf: I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that. Except the ‘that’ is always changing because it seems like magic can’t permanently distort the laws of the universe or alter reality simply by waving a wand, but no one’s really sure how far magic can go. Then something mystical upends everyone’s perspectives and they say, ‘oh okay, magic can go this far and no farther.’ And then magic can only go that far… until it goes farther.

Horatio is a mystical being who has more insight into the universe and magic than most, Except becoming a human has dulled his senses somewhat. Here’s a few of his thoughts on the mystery of magic.

Magick could create light but preferred to dwell in the shadows, which it could also create. At least among humans, magick preferred mystery. Those who wielded the power could understand it on a personal level, but efforts to unlock the mysteries on a grander scale almost always failed. Some used to fear something nefarious hiding behind the mystery. These days, most agreed it was the opposite. That knowing and understanding the root of magic, what it was or where it came from, was just too much power for any person to have. The temptation of using that knowledge for selfish reasons, for trying to control or change magic, would be too great.

Black Cats and Bad Luck

Meet Miranda

In the world of Black Cats and Bad Luck where magic exists, familiars are especially mysterious. Obviously, they’re connected to magic. They take animal form, but they’re more than animals. Where they came from or what they are exactly is unknown. Witches can’t ask these animal companions since they take animal shapes and therefore don’t talk. And it isn’t as if they morph into humans and start living a new life. Not usually. Except in Horatio’s case.

Horatio isn’t interested in providing answers about familiars. He’s already bent some rules of the universe and isn’t keen on doing more damage.

Mason is a human who has dreamed of Horatio for years without knowing where to find him. When he’s checking on Horatio’s story, he talks to his best friend Miranda, who has some trouble processing the information she’s given.

~

Mason

“WHAT?” Miranda yelled despite being in a public lobby. “ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW?”

“Miranda.”

“Sorry,” she said to me, raising a hand towards the guy at the front desk too. “Sorry, I’ll use my indoor voice.” She turned to me with urgency as we made our way further into the hotel. “Horatio the familiar? The cat who works with Stella on her magic, he’s your Horatio?”

“So this doesn’t happen everyday, huh?” I tried to make it a joke, but the words felt strangled.

“Yeah, you could say that. Are you serious?” she hissed the words, quieter than yelling but with force. “Are you joking or are you being serious right now? Tell me the truth.”

“For real, I’m being serious.” At the elevators, I hit the button to call one.

“Okay, because it’s not wise to get into a prank war with a witch.” Heed my words or beware, her tone indicated.

“I’m not—”

“At least, it’s not wise to legitimately get one over on a witch in a prank war because that just makes the stakes higher for you.” She wiggled her fingers menacingly, perhaps threatening hexes or curses, if those were different things.

“Miranda, I’m not kidding.” Ding, an elevator arrived, and we stepped inside.

“Just checking.” She hit the button for our floor as she spoke. “Okay. Alright… no, one more time. Is this real?”

How the hell should I know? I tried to be patient. “I was hoping you would tell me.”

“Honestly, this does not happen often.” Oh god. “Or ever.” Oh god. “At least not that I’m aware of.” Oh god.

When Horatio and I went our separate ways, I immediately sought out Miranda so she could confirm his story. It wasn’t that I really thought he was lying. His story was just so incredible, it had trouble sinking in. I kept thinking it would eventually. Sink in. Not yet.

From all accounts, Miranda mastered the craft quickly. I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen her baffled by something witch-y. Great. This was just fucking great.

“Wait, is this impossible?” she asked rhetorically. “No, I don’t think so. It’s… wow. Him showing up is a trip in itself, but being a familiar? Wow. Just wow. Wo—”

“Miranda.”

“Sorry.” Shaking her head, she snapped out of it. “How are you?”

“I have no idea,” I answered with feeling.

“Yeah, that sounds right.”

~

The rest of the novel is available here.

Wood…

Black Cats and Bad Luck is a magical fantasy novel with witches and familiars. And magic! Obviously. While one of the main characters, Mason, has strange dreams that might be magical, unless he’s crazy, Mason himself isn’t part of the magical community. He does have one strange power in this deleted scene from the novel.

~

Mason

Different elements resonated with different people. Some possessed the fiery temperament of a raging inferno. Others were steady and calm as a peaceful river. Many Pagans were at home in the forest, the earth welcoming them in while birdsong created a melody, the perfect natural soundtrack.

Mason Lewis wasn’t any of those things.

If I guessed my affinity, I’d go with… wood. Which either sounded boring or suggestive. Though if wood spoke to me, then the message it delivered was extremely specific. Maybe because I worked with wood often or because the jobs I did on the side had a magical component, the first time I rested my hand on a wooden piece, I could get a sense of its creation. Here in the reception area of the hotel, I rested my palm on the tall counter at the front desk and a clear sense of mass production filled my mind.

Heh, this place came across as rustic and woodsy, all the furniture resembling pieces someone could hypothetically craft with their own two hands. There were spacious, oversized wooden coffee tables, desks, and chairs, all polished until gleaming in dark browns. No woodworker in a secluded forest hideaway made any of it. I touched it and heard ‘assembly line’ loud and clear.

These were my idle thoughts as I waited for my guests. At this relatively early hour, the place still smelled strongly of wood polish with something fresh in the air too. An older couple leisurely made their way in, and the man checked in while the woman with him walked right over to me. Her honeysuckle perfume couldn’t be detected until she wrapped her arms around me in a hug.

Instead of saying hello, she greeted me with, “Aren’t you going to shave your beard?” A hand moved to pat my cheek and rub at the scruff there as if it could be scrubbed away with a little elbow grease. “The pictures from this event will be with us forever.”

“Good to see you too, Grandma,” I greeted, unable to keep the smile off my face as we separated.

~

Former Feline Familiars (is this a tongue twister?)

For my new novel and series, I put together some posts that are an introduction to the world and characters of Black Cats and Bad Luck. This paranormal romance is available for free. It’s a new adult gay romance about magic, familiars, dreams, and monsters.

One of the main characters is Horatio, a former familiar who is seeking his true love. You know how shapeshifters are a hot trend in fiction now? This is kind of like that, except it only works in one direction and only once. He spent some time in cat form, though he isn’t really a cat. Because when I try to write shapeshifters, apparently my brain cooperates to a point and then does its own thing.

In this scene, Horatio meets up with the young witch he lived and worked with, her older brother Avery, and his friend Jonah.

~

Avery

“Horatio is a cat.” I went over the facts, seeking comfort from them. “He eats from a black dish with little stars decorating the outside. He gets hair all over my pillows, he smacks me in the face with his tail. Because he’s a cat, our—”

“I hope you weren’t going to say pet,” he interrupted sternly.

“He’s right, Avery,” Stella said. Great, they were both glaring at me. “We don’t own him, we never did.”

Rubbing my face with both hands, I groaned. What the hell I did not even believe in? What the hell? All I could say was, “He’s not Horatio.”

“I am Horatio,” the guy argued.

“And you were lonely, so you followed us here?” And also grew human parts.

“No, you’re where I need to be, and I can sense you strongly. You’re my bridge between worlds.”

Not sure what to do with that, I only weakly said, “Horatio is a cat.”

“I was,” he agreed. “But no longer.”

Everyone had gone insane. I did not have enough sanity on my own to bring them all back to reality. So I did the only thing I could. I gave up, falling back on the bed, closing my eyes, and wishing the world a fond farewell. It would have to get along without me.

“Oh my god.” Jonah laughed. “Awesome! Are you serious?”

Distantly, a reasonable part of myself tried to mount a defense. It argued I shouldn’t allow a naked, possibly deranged guy to waltz in here just because he guessed the name of our cat.

 If anyone else showed up out of nowhere buck-naked claiming to be a family pet, or a rough equivalent, they would be full of shit. But this guy? I believed him. While the shape of him changed, he was still Horatio.

— the rest is available here. For free!