Maggie Cartwright : Chapter Two

The strike squad remained tense and cautious as they escorted her through the exit, constantly checking and rechecking the tunnel behind her until she was through the gate and they were able to seal up the exit. Only once they were sure that the way behind them was well and truly impassable did they start to relax.

Maggie, on the other hand, was just pissed. “What the hell is going on?” 

A particularly tall commando with an upward tilt on his ears looked at her with just a touch of awe. “You killed one.” 

“I killed one what?” Maggie demanded. “And why did you send me to work on that when you knew those things were in there?” 

“I didn’t send you in, ma’am,” he said. “As soon as we heard you were in there, I got my team geared up. I’m just glad we made it in time. How did you kill it?” 

Maggie raised her knife, folding out the blade with her thumb. “With this.” 

Another of the commandos noticed her knife. “Is that Wayland steel?” 

She shook her head. “Cartwright steel.” He didn’t seem to understand, so she pointed a thumb at herself. “Maggie Cartwright. I made it myself.” 

“That’d do it,” the leader said. Sticking out his hand, he said, “Darius. Head of containment.” 

Containment?” Maggie asked, not accepting his offered grip. “What are you containing?” 

When she didn’t shake, he took his hand back and rubbed his neck, sheepishly. “It’s a new role. We’re still, uh, figuring that out.” 

“So those- things, they broke the carrier engine and you’ve had to shut off this whole section of the subway because of them?” Maggie asked. 

“That about sums it up, yes.” He pursed his lips. “Nobody was supposed to be down here without an escort. Why were you down here, anyways?” 

Maggie’s eyes narrowed. “That’s a damned good question.” 

Typically, Maggie didn’t mind doing negotiations and planning over the phone. Sometimes, though, an in-person conversation just couldn’t be beat. For example, you couldn’t kick a door in over the phone. 

Navigating through Kansas City Below was a bit of a maze to anyone who wasn’t native to them, with a design similar to many subway systems across the world, save for the fact that there were no simple, well-illustrated maps and signposts. Maggie chose to live above ground, but she knew the way around well enough to navigate, even if she couldn’t tell anyone the fastest shortcuts.

The tribunal offices were reasonably close, anyways. A twenty-minute walk if she took a main thoroughfare, pushing past other fae who might slow her down. 

The walk gave her time to build up a furious head of steam. 

The tribunal offices were carved out of stone in a wide circle, an aesthetic call to when they’d held council around a fighting ring. Trial by combat was out of practice these days, but much of the iconography still remained of their old ways, even if the hardwood moulding and design had more aesthetic similarities to expensive human offices than classic elf architecture. 

Maggie stormed in through the front door of the tribunal building, feeling like she wanted to bring the old ways back just long enough to kick someone’s ass. 

Noticing her, a secretary got to his feet, but she just stomped past. He sat back down and started quickly dialing a number; stopping her wasn’t his job. 

That’s right, call security, she thought. By the time they get here, I’ll be done anyways. 

There was one tribunal judge she was after in particular, and she made a beeline for his office. It was easy to spot, because the door was emblazoned with a brass hammer – a brass hammer that Maggie was preparing to kick in as she finished concocting in her head what she was going to say. She was undecided on just how many epithets to use, but there were a few particularly colorful ones she already had ready to go, and she was going to season the rest of her rant to taste. 

She got to the door, leaned back to sink her weight into a kick, and—

It opened.

“Maggie!” the willowy bureaucrat said, greeting her with a look of concern on his face. “By the earth, I’m so glad you’re okay. I was so worried when I heard what had happened!” 

Mich wasn’t a warrior, but he could do social judo with the best of them. His preemptive response deflated Maggie’s rant before she could even get started, though she tried anyways. “You- What the hell was that?”

“Come in, have a seat,” he said, stepping back so she could get through the door. His office was particularly garish, with a convincing illusion of a window overlooking Paris projected onto his back wall and a dry bar set to the side, set up with clear bottles full of expensive amber liquids. “Please, let me explain. I thought the monsters were all contained—I mean, we have a containment unit for cripes’ sake, I had no idea they were having such difficulty! If I’d been aware that there was still such a danger, I naturally never would have asked you to come down and work for us.” 

He seemed genuine. Even though Maggie suspected that he was probably bullshitting, she felt a twinge of guilt at the idea of calling him out on it. While she tried to decide what to say, now that her rant had deflated, Mich looked past her and gave the tiniest shake of his head. 

Maggie looked back, noticing the two burly security guards who’d walked in. Upon the signal from Mich, they nodded in reply, turning to step out of the office once again. 

“It’s just been a, frankly, hellish couple of days,” Mich continued, shutting the door behind her and walking back to his desk. “The tribunal’s been working overtime – I’ve barely seen the inside of my home except to go back and shower. We wanted to get this dealt with as fast as possible, and it seems that in all the shuffle, a miscommunication happened. I thought the problem was contained, and wanted to get the subway up and running ASAP, so… I guess what I mean to say is, I’m sorry for not confirming with my colleagues before hiring you.”

Maggie sat down opposite from him, idly reading the engraved nameplate. ‘Tribunal Justice Michal Smith.’ The surname wasn’t one he’d gotten from his parents; it was another anachronism, more akin to a title that denoted his role on the tribunal as the Justice of Assembly. He didn’t do any smithing, and he really didn’t do any judgement either; he was largely in charge of zoning law, permits, and construction. As was often the case with fae, though, the old titles long outlived the point where they had any meaning. 

“I could have been killed,” Maggie said, though the words weren’t as angry as she had intended. “I nearly was.” 

“And it’s a blessing that you weren’t,” Mich replied. “You have no idea how relieved I was when we got word that you’d been escorted out safely.” 

“My truck and gear were all down there.” 

Mich nodded, marking down something on his notepad. “If it’s still down there once the creatures have been dealt with, I’ll make sure it gets returned to you.”

That almost sounded reasonable, and his tone was so placating that it took Maggie a second to realize that it wasn’t. For one, he was the one at fault. For two, her truck was already a wreck, and those creatures seemed to delight in tearing apart metal to nest inside – her truck was probably already scrap by now. 

“Now, wait a minute,” Maggie started, sitting forward. “This is your fault, and I need that gear to work. You need to reimburse me.” 

Mich pursed his lips. “I mean… I can put in a request with the Justice of Finance, but we’re in a budget crisis, and I can’t promise she’ll bend. Maybe, once the creatures are dealt with, but…” He sucked in a breath through his teeth, shaking his head. “It’s just a tough situation.”

Ah, anger. That’s where you went. Maggie leaned forward, jabbing a finger at him. “Now, you listen here—”

“I’m doing everything I can,” he said, leaning back quickly and putting up his hands. “I want you to be treated fairly, Mags, but—” 

“Don’t call me Mags.” 

“Maggie, then, I want you to be treated fairly, but I’m just one justice of nineteen, and the others aren’t going to go for this unless you give me something to work with.” 

He was good with words, but Maggie caught it when they reached the actual point he was driving towards. This whole thing was a setup. He wanted something that only she had, and everything—from asking her to fix the engine, to conveniently ‘misunderstanding’ what the containment squad was doing—was all done to get her over a barrel while remaining just blameless enough that she couldn’t pin it on him in any way that would matter. 

Maggie had a sneaking suspicion she knew what it was he wanted. 

“What sort of ‘something’ were you thinking?” she asked. 

He shrugged. “We need to deal with these errekin creatures before we do anything else. I’d hoped our containment team would be able to deal with them, but it looks like that just isn’t the case – we don’t have the sort of tools we need to—”

“You want my swords,” Maggie cut him off. “Stop bullshitting.” 

He chuckled. “Well, you suggested it. That would be a solution, though, if—”

“I’m not giving you one of my swords,” Maggie said. 

Mich nodded, reasonably. “I never suggested you should. But if you wanted to lend us a couple, just for a few weeks, they’d be returned to you after the fact.”

That was a lie. The swords would certainly be misplaced, or just appropriated and never returned. At best, she’d be reimbursed for a fraction of their value. 

Maggie kept the supply of her hand-forged swords limited for a reason. If she wanted to ramp up production, she could. Maybe not to industrial levels, but certainly to more than one blade a year. She didn’t do that, because they were never meant to be so common that they could be purchased by any two-bit sword fighter who wanted to show off. Her blades were for masters only.

That didn’t stop bureaucrats from trying to get ahold of them, to put them in a storage locker to be passed out like Halloween candy to anyone who asked. Maneuvering to get a few of her blades would be a nice feather in Mich’s cap, politically speaking – he’d be the one responsible for ridding their community of the monsters, putting him above the justice in charge of those matters, and he’d also have scored some tools that he could keep in his back pocket to use as a trump card whenever he pleased.

“You ass,” Maggie said, quietly. “You’d really risk my life to score a couple points in your political game?” 

Mich shrugged, the insult bouncing off him. “It was just a suggestion you’d brought up,” he said. “If you wanted to help out, I could ensure you were paid rental for your swords, and reimbursed for the cost of any equipment you lost.” 

“Who’s in charge of the containment team?” Maggie asked. 

“I don’t see why that’s relevant, seeing as you never engage in politics to begin with, and I can’t even remember the last open court you attended,” Mich said, continuing to suck the air out of the room. “But—” 

“Justice of War, or the Justice of Law? I know it’s one of them.” 

Hesitating for a second, he said, “The Justice of War, but—” 

Maggie shoved back from the desk, her chair scraping on the floor. Getting to her feet, she stormed out of the room, crossing the tribunal’s ring of offices. Mich followed, but not past the end of his office. If he’d pursued, Maggie would have strongly considered slugging him across the face. 

She marched straight towards the door that had a pair of crossed swords emblazoned on the front. Spite was fueling her; the very specific desire to make sure that Mich wouldn’t be able to gain any political favor from this crisis. 

Opening the door, Maggie ensured that the Justice of War was at her desk and spoke without preamble. “I’ve got a proposal for you. How’d you like for someone to deal with your monster problem and give you all the credit?” 

If you’re enjoying this, consider supporting me on Patreon! A chapter of this story is going to come out every week, and Chapter Three is already out so you can skip waiting and find out what happens next right away!

Maggie Cartwright : Chapter One

“Alright, sweet thing,” Maggie said, resting her hand on the copper plate. “Just talk to me, and we’ll get you all better.” 

The towering engine didn’t say anything in reply. They never did, not with words, but sometimes Maggie would swear that she could hear the metal sing. 

Today, all she got was a quiet grumble. 

Maggie shook her head. “Don’t be stubborn. This is for your own good.” 

The machine was huge. Eight feet tall and twice as long, bristling with copper coils and runes. When it ran, it could hold a fifty-seat passenger car in the air or accelerate it down a subway tunnel at great speed, handling two kilometers of subterranean tunnels. It was the sort of technology that humans had been struggling to develop for decades. Her people, with a bit of magic, had perfected it a century ago. 

It had stopped running, and since public transit through this part of the tunnel was unable to run without it, Maggie was getting paid top dollar to diagnose its problem and fix the damage. 

A cool breeze wafted up the tunnel, and the engine shuddered slightly, its many metals contracting. 

She rolled her eyes. “Don’t give me that. You’re too young for joint pains. What are you, five years old? Ten?” 

The metal still glimmered as she looked it up and down. The only iron in the whole construction, a polished flat plate on top to conduct the magnetic lift, looked almost brand new. Given that, it was probably a construction error, some fault by the engineer who’d installed it, leading to undue stress and wear on its internals. 

So, Maggie walked back to her truck, where her complete set of tools were waiting to deal with any issue she might face. She’d been able to drive right down into the subway from a maintenance entrance half a kilometer up the tunnel, which was a blessing – it meant she didn’t have to schlep her hundreds of pounds of gear down by hand. Plus, she could use the light rack on her truck instead of setting up a dozen work lights, at least to get started. 

Sifting through options, she picked up her flashlight and a thirty-inch crescent wrench. It was steel, but her heavy-duty leather gloves ensured that she wouldn’t break out at the touch. There were non-ferrous tools that were strong enough for the job, but with proper PPE, Maggie never had an issue with iron. 

Her tools selected, she put the flashlight in her pocket and walked back to the engine, getting to work on the access panel so she could see what was going on inside. 

Maggie had to put in some real grunting and effort, putting her weight into the wrench to free each seized bolt. It was harder work than it should have been, just to get open the access panel, but that gave Maggie a theory of what was wrong. Metal warping could have a lot of causes, and it could cause a lot of malfunctions, from overtight bolts to loose valves to completely nonfunctioning engines. 

“Now, let’s see what secrets you’re keeping,” Maggie said as the fourth bolt came free. She set down her wrench, pulled the access plate free, and took out her flashlight to peek inside. The light was magic powered, and with a hint of effort and a word, she brought out a bright point of light. 

She blinked. 

The inside was torn apart. It looked like a rat had gotten inside and chewed everything up to make a nest, except that rats generally chewed up old linens, not hardened metal gears and conductors. 

“What on earth happened to you?” she asked, looking up at the engine with concern. This couldn’t have happened by accident, the engine’s contents were absolutely shredded

Raising her light, she looked in more carefully, and from deep within, she saw two little red points. An indicator light, perhaps, except… indicator lights didn’t have blinking eyelids. 

Pest damage, Maggie realized. A shamworm, maybe, though it’d have to be a particularly big one. Whatever it was, it’d taken up a nest inside the engine, and she’d need to coax it out. 

“Hey, there, little guy,” she said, willing the light from her flashlight to get brighter so she could get a better look at it. “What are… you…” 

It wasn’t a shamworm. Shamworms didn’t have armored plates of chitin, they didn’t have claws, and they couldn’t scream. 

The thing, whatever it was, screamed. Then it lunged, out of the engine and straight towards her face. 

Maggie ducked to the side of the access panel before it could take her head off. She dropped her flashlight, spinning to face the thing. 

It was cast in silhouette in front of her truck, visible only as a dark outline the size of a wolf, chittering and yowling angrily. Its glowing red eyes were narrowly placed, giving it an almost comical grimace on its oversized body. 

Maggie bent her knees, slightly, feeling for- 

The creature lunged at her again, and she seized her wrench from off the ground, swing all thirty inches of high carbon steel at its head. The beast had a lot of momentum, but her impact knocked it out of the air mid-leap with force that reverberated up the heavy steel tool, through her gloves, and into her joints. 

It didn’t even seem fazed, and as Maggie recovered from the shock of the attack, it came at her again. She raised the tool in a defensive gesture, putting the steel between her and the thing’s gnashing teeth. 

It bit at the wrench, ripping it out of her hands and knocking her back into the engine. Hitting the ground on all fours, it shook the tool like a dog with a bone, bit down, and broke it in half with one good chomp. 

Maggie decided, then, not to let the creature bite her. 

She bolted to her truck. The keys were already in the ignition, half turned while she kept the lights on, so she grabbed them and twisted, revving the engine to life. 

A chitinous claw slammed through the ceiling. The first creature was visible in front of her, stalking towards the truck, which meant…

There’s two of them.

Heart racing, Maggie slammed the truck into drive, hit the gas, and accelerated as fast as she could. 

Two impacts. First, a solid whump as the front of her truck slammed into the creature. Then, a loud, crunchy WHAM! When the truck and creature both hit the solid metal engine that it had been nesting in. 

Her truck had an aluminum frame and was fairly lightweight, but it was still solid and carried plenty of mass, and it was going nearly thirty miles an hour when she crashed, wrapping the front of the truck around the first creature and flinging the second from her roof. 

 A second too late, the car alarm began to wail, and the airbag kicked in. Maggie flipped out her pocketknife, slashing the inflated bag and shoving it out of the way so she could get free of the truck and see what was going on.

The creature she’d hit was pinned. It didn’t seem injured in the slightest, and was more annoyed at being stuck. 

What does it take to kill these things? 

The other one pounced, not at Maggie, but onto the hood of her truck, claws ripping to free its friend. Like the thing’s teeth, its claws shredded steel like tissue.

Head ringing, Maggie ran. 

The creatures pursued. 

Deep in the tunnel, every sound was amplified by echoes, coming from all directions. Her hearing was acute, but with all the noise coming at her—the scraping, the chittering, the wail of the alarm—she couldn’t tell how close they were behind her. 

She stole a look back. They were thirty feet behind, but gaining. She put on the speed and stopped looking back. 

The maintenance entrance was barely in view up ahead, lights peeking through the open service gate on the left of the tunnel. If Maggie could make it through, close it behind her, and… 

Will it even stop them? Those claws…

She could see the light up ahead, peering through the open service gate that she’d driven through not half an hour ago. She was closing on it, but her speed was capped by the limits of muscle and bone. 

It seemed that her pursuers didn’t have those limits. When she stole a glance over her shoulder, she could see the red eyes coming closer, too close. 

She wasn’t going to escape. Fighting the creatures seemed like a fool’s errand, but they seemed to only have animal intelligence. Maybe, just maybe, she could scare them off. 

Legs still pumping away, she considered her options. First, she still had her knife, a trusty tool she never went anywhere without. Second, she had her flashlight, which was really a handle with a crystal and a simple glowing charm. Third, she had…

Is that really it? 

It was just those two things, and she scolded herself for not bringing along any real self-defense tools. She’d left herself without much to work with.

Fumbling in her pocket, she got out the flashlight. Thanks to its magical properties, it could shine either like a spotlight or a lamp with equal illumination, and as she flicked her wrist, she called up as bright a werelight as she could, raising it up like an Olympic torch carrier.

The shrieking got louder, and she looked back again to see both of the creatures following behind her, emotions inscrutable on their alien faces. 

They were fifteen feet away, running on all fours like horses at a full gallop. She could see their bodies, now, armored in chalky white plate from tip to toe, like soldiers. The only way that these beings could be this fast with chitin that hard is if they were errekin. Magic was reinforcing their muscles, or the bony plates that protected them.

Maggie hoped it was the plates. If the chitin really was just stone-hard, she couldn’t do much about it. 

Either way, she had about two seconds before they caught up to her, so she had to act fast. 

Pulling the knife from its pocket on her belt, Maggie flipped out the four-inch blade from its handle. Thus armed, she dropped the light from her hand, skidded to a stop, and fell into a solid horse stance.

The creature on the left had visible scrape marks on its chitin from her truck, and either it was more aggressive because she’d hurt it, or maybe it just got a head start on its buddy. Either way, it lunged first, leading with its mouthful of razor teeth, confident that the small knife wouldn’t be able to pierce its armor.

It was wrong. 

Maggie had forged the knife herself, decades ago, when she was still learning the art of metalworking. It wasn’t her finest steel, but it was made from starmetal and imbued under the light of a solstice moon. What it lacked in size and refinement, it made up for in the ability to pierce magic like tissue. 

She shifted her grip, bracing her body and holding out the blade. She didn’t need to stab, she just needed to absorb the shock of the blow and let the creature do the rest. The blade caught it just above where the heart would be on a normal animal, and all its momentum and weight were enough to crack its chitin chest plate in half. 

Its teeth made it to only a few inches from her throat before her hand hit the creature’s chest and her low, braced position won out. Her hand smarted with pain similar to that of punching a stone wall, and she thanked her stars that she was wearing gloves. 

Maggie had been wrong before. Up until now, the creatures hadn’t been screaming. This was a scream, the kind that made her pointed ears ring in pain, until the blade caught something vital and the creature suddenly stopped making noise. 

Her knife was buried halfway up the handle, and she couldn’t yank it free in time to duck the second creature’s attack. Maggie dropped and rolled, mind racing to come up with a plan as it skittered to a stop and whirled to face her. 

Even one on one, she couldn’t fight this thing, not without a weapon. Even if she had her knife, the second one wouldn’t just throw itself on her blade. 

In the full light, she could see its razor-sharp claws were only a few inches long. It didn’t have inhuman reach, at least. And, though it was fast, it wasn’t pixie quick, darting to and fro quicker than the naked eye could see. 

She glanced back at the gate. Maybe- 

She almost missed the creature charging at her, and if she hadn’t dodged to the side to put the first one’s body between her and its friend, it would have bowled her down in an instant. Instead, it skidded to a stop, avoiding touching the pooling dark ichor that was spilling out of the other creature. 

It panted for a moment, red eyes darting between Maggie and the fallen monster. 

Good news. Panting meant that it needed to breathe.

Bad news. Maggie was never much of a wrestler. 

It beats pushing up daisies. 

She put herself in a fighting stance, waiting. 

The creature eyed her, wary of another trick, like the knife. It had a certain level of cunning. That was good. If it were ruled purely by baser instincts, she couldn’t pretend to have another knife up her sleeve, or something similar. 

Still, once it came at her, she was going to have to choke out something that was faster than her, stronger than her, and armed with as many knives as it had fingers and teeth. It didn’t look like a winning prospect. 

One other option.

“Do you understand me?” she asked. 

It tilted its head. No English, but… it recognized speech. Maybe it didn’t understand language, and was reacting like a dog hearing familiar words without understanding the base meaning. But maybe…

She tried again, slipping into the old tongue. “Do you understand me?” 

It tilted its head the other way, curious. Then, deciding that the sounds Maggie made were unimportant and she was no longer scary without the steel in her hand, it lowered its body and got ready to finish her off. 

Pop-BAM! 

A piece of chitin on the side of its head chipped away, followed by the boom of hypersonic rifle fire. Another shot rang out, then, and another, pelting the creature with bullets that pitted the bony armor, piece by piece, exposing its flesh beneath. 

Maggie turned, surprised to see a team standing in the service entrance, half a dozen of her people dressed in tactical armor and acting with military precision. She was too far away to make out precisely the weapons they were carrying, but they were clearly some variety of sniper rifle, and with six of them firing, the shots sounded almost like that of an automatic weapon. 

They weren’t perfect shots, but their aim was deadly, raining down fire on the creature as it turned, running for its life as bits of ichor began spraying from nicks and cuts that made it through its chitin. 

Scrambling clear of the line of fire, Maggie let the squad do their job. It made it halfway back to her truck before the shots finally overwhelmed it and the creature fell to the ground, motionless.

Ears ringing from the screeching and the hail of echoed gunfire, Maggie watched as one of the snipers set aside their gun and started jogging towards her, shouting something indistinct. 

They probably wanted her to come along and get to safety. She was more than happy to comply, but first, she needed to do one thing. Walking back to the slumped body of the creature she’d killed, Maggie pushed it over and planted her work boot on its chest, tugging her knife free. 

Wiping it off on her ichor-splattered shirt, she started jogging towards the exit. 

This was supposed to be a simple repair job. Go in, fix the engine, pocket a check. Nobody had said anything about monsters that needed a firing squad to fend off. 

Someone had a lot of explaining to do. 

Chapter Two of this story is already up on Patreon, if you can’t wait to read it! I’m trying to get out a chapter a week, so if you’re patient you can read it here in a few days.

Author Spotlight: R. Lennard

For today’s Author Spotlight, we’re talking to R. Lennard! If you missed last week’s spotlight, check it out here!

M. N.: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What genres do you write in?

R. Lennard: I’m an author, librarian and cosplayer who writes YA epic fantasy. I’m currently writing an eight book series, with book two due out later this year. I got into writing in a very different way to most authors – namely because I couldn’t read properly for the first ten years of my life. My eyesight isn’t great, and it took a new optometrist before I could make out what the squiggles on the pages meant. After that, I devoured the whole library (pretty much – anything fantasy or sci-fi, at least).

M. N.: Cosplaying is fun! What has been your favorite character to cosplay as?

The Girl in the Fireplace

Lennard: My favourite cosplay was Madame De Pompadour from the Doctor Who episode, The Girl in the Fireplace. The dress was made in three days, with lots of blood, sweat, tears and swear words – mostly when I put a sleeve on upside down and had to re-do it. The dress is quite heavy – it’s known as a ‘backsack dress’ and there’s a great fall of material that hangs from the shoulders to the floor. The character was great – but the dress was constantly getting stepped on.

M. N.: Getting stepped on is no fun, but that dress looks great!

On the subject of Doctor Who, who’s your favorite Doctor and why is it David Tennant?

Lennard: Thank you. *laughing* David Tennant has a depth of character and energy that is very compelling, but my favorite Doctor is Matt Smith, actually. Although I have cosplayed as Tennant. Smith was my first doctor – I love how youthful and crazy he is.

The best Doctor

M. N.: What do you feel are the biggest challenges you face when writing?

Lennard: Time – both my own and keeping the characters timelines straight. In my latest book (that’s with betas at the moment) there’s a whole cast of new characters to keep in order.

M. N.: Do you have any tricks or methods you use to keep the timeline on track? Or to keep your timeline on track, for that matter?

Lennard: Once the book is done, I go through and save a copy under each character’s name, and then delete all the scenes that they aren’t in to make sure that their timeline is working. That’s usually after the beta read-through, and in the second stage of editing.

My timeline – that, I’m still working on. I’m a casual librarian, so my writing is fit around my day job. In the drafting stages, I usually get up around 5am to write before the day starts, and again after 8pm if I’ve been working. I have a set amount of words to write by the end of the week, and so long as I meet that, I’m happy.

M. N.: That’s a really good idea! I might steal that when my own casts start to get too out of control.
You mention that your beta read-through happens before your second stage of editing – Does that mean you do this during your second draft, or your third draft?

Lennard: I may have adapted the idea from another author, so steal away! I draft then edit, creating the second draft. The second draft gets beta read, then I edit again. The third draft goes to an editor, and when it gets back to me, I edit again. The fourth draft goes to a proofreader, then I edit for the fifth draft and format the manuscript, then the final proofread before it goes out into the world.

M. N.: What about your books do you feel is the most special or unique?

Lennard: When I started writing Ronah, there weren’t too many YA fantasy books around with strong female protagonists. That’s no longer the case. I would say that my main character’s lack of a love interest is the most unique part of the book. The series is special because of the world it’s based in – full of magic and possibilities, monsters and heroes, the likes of which hasn’t been seen before.

M. N.: Was the lack of a love interest a deliberate choice from the start? A lot of authors feel like they’ve got to include one whether or not it suits the story they’re telling, so it’s refreshing to see that not everyone has.

Lennard: Yes, and no. In the first cringe-worthy drafts of Ronah, Shari was paired up with different characters, but it felt so forced. She literally doesn’t have the time or energy to attempt to maintain a relationship, and she doesn’t want to either – so why force it? There are other characters who are intrigued by her, or who want to form a connection because of her power, but – spoilers – she’s never going to take them up on it.

M. N.: I’m sure there are plenty of shippers out there sad to hear that, but it’s refreshing to see a character that’s too busy for a relationship who then actually doesn’t get involved in one.

Lennard: Thank you. It’s a pet peeve of mine, so it’s nice to be in control of the story.

M. N.: Was there any particular book or author that made you want to write?

Lennard: I loved fantasy books growing up, but I ran out of things to read. Sometimes, the stories didn’t quite end the way I wanted them too, or the plot was too predictable, so I wanted to change it, but write my own story at the same time.

M. N.: Do you remember the first book where the ending didn’t sit right with you?

Lennard: Not really. I do remember the first book I was never able to finish – one by Dean Koontz. I love his writing, but one of his books messed with my head and I had to put it down and couldn’t pick it up again.
I was also used to reading a lot of different series, and there’s a book by the name of Aida’s Ghost by Patricia Bernard that’s a stand alone – and I desperately wanted more of the story – of all books, that’s probably the one that made me want to write my own the most.

M. N.: Do you have a favorite book, or a list of favorites?

Lennard: Anne McCaffery, Isobell Carmody, R.A. Salvatore and Sara Douglas were my favourite fantasy writers, but I also love Matthew Rielly and Andy McNab. I’ve got a few new favourites now – Jodie Lane, Lynette Noni and Casandra Clare to name a few.

M. N.: Tell me about your current Work In Progress.

Lennard: Rakemyst is book two of the Lissae series, and sees Shari dealing with the fallout of announcing she’s the saviour of their Realm, Lissae. There is, as I mentioned before, a host of new characters, as well as a new Shifting Island to explore and new enemies to defend Lissae from. The biggest lesson for Shari in the book is that people aren’t always what they seem.

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M. N.: A Shifting Island and shifty characters? That sounds like a good combination.

Lennard: I think it is 🙂 There are seven Shifting Islands on Lissae, and they’re all sentient. There are a few shifty characters, one of whom is my favourite. He’s getting his own novella – so stay tuned!

M. N.: I’m curious about your names – Ronah, Rakemyst, Lissae. Do they have a special meaning?

Lennard: Ah, names. My nemesis. Can I share a secret? I’m dyslexic, some of the names in my book are harder to pronounce because my brain jumbled the letters up. Ronah is meant to be the ideal place to live, and I was looking for a name that meant idealistic. The word Lissae is meant to slide off your tongue. Rakemyst is the home of the Ilutri – winged beings, who named their home because the towers rake the clouds. My main character also carries the title of Altoriae, which is a dyslexic version of Latin’s ‘deep sanctuary.’ Fun fact: I studied Ancient Latin for a semester at Uni.

M. N.: What does your writing process look like? Do you outline, do you invent the plot as you go, or do things land somewhere in the middle of that spectrum?

Lennard: Oh, my writing process for Rakemyst looked quite different from Ronah. With Ronah, I was very much a ‘pantser’ – plotting by the seat of my pants. That book took 17 years to write, and went through almost as many drafts. With Rakemyst, each chapter was outlined, and there were plot points that carried over from Ronah. I’m about to outline book three as well, which I’m super excited to start on.

M. N.: That’s a long time! Did you decide to outline so that you would be able to write it faster, or for another reason?

Lennard: To be fair, there was a big chunk of time in there that I wasn’t writing. I started outlining because the story kind of poured out of me. I knew where I wanted it to go, and I knew who the main players who be and what they needed to do. It’s a little hard to get 120’000 words out in one go though.

M. N.: Do you have an good idea what’s going to happen in book three, or are you going to find that out when it comes time to outline?

Lennard: *Cue evil laughter* My biggest stumbling block for Rakemyst was figuring out the antagonist. I know exactly with the antagonist is for book three (and four), and the base outline is in my head – it’s just getting it down on paper and making sure the timelines are right.

M. N.: Can you give us any hints what it’s going to look like?

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Lennard: I can say that the antagonist for book three is not what you’d expect, but I can’t say anything else without spoilers, sweetie. Sorry!

M. N.: If you could go back and give yourself any piece of advice when you first started writing, what would it be?

Lennard: Don’t be afraid to be different. Remember to listen to your gut – and if it feels right, you will remember it.

M. N.: Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve written, or a recommended “starting point” for people looking to get into your work?

Lennard: I currently have a short story in an anthology, The Evil Inside Us, a novella, Guardian, and Ronah available. If you’re wanting to explore the Realm of Lissae and follow Shari on her adventures, I’d start with Guardian.

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M. N.: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Lennard: I feel really honored to be able to write – to not only put words on the page, but to spin a story that people want to read. It’s corny, but true. Please, don’t ever underestimate how much your support means to a writer. There are so many people that have helped me with my journey. Without them, I wouldn’t be writing today.

M. N.: Thank you for joining us today!

Author Spotlight: Kelly Blanchard

As part of a new ongoing project, we at M. N. Jolley Writing are going to be conducting weekly interviews with authors from around the country to talk about their stories and their writing process. First up, we’ve got Kelly Blanchard, a Sci-Fi/Fantasy Author from Texas!

M. N.: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What genres do you write in?

Kelly: My name is Kelly Blanchard. I live in Texas in the middle of nowhere with my husband (who’s also my co-writer), our Doberman, and our two cats. I write a blend of fantasy and science fiction. Currently I am publishing my series, The Chronicles of Lorrek, but I’ve already written it completely, so while I continue publishing the rest of that series, I am co-writing with my husband another series in my story universe called ‘The Ceralian Gambit’.

M. N.: What is co-writing like? Do you both write chapters, or does one of you do the writing while the other works on plotting and editing?

Kelly: Each of us have certain characters that we write although sometimes we share characters (depends on who all are in the scene). A lot of people have compared it to RolePlaying, which I suppose it may be. I’ve honestly never done any roleplaying, so I wouldn’t know the comparison. Sometimes there are chapters that involve only the characters that one of us write, so we’ll write it solo, but most of the time we co-write, writing our character’s response and then waiting for them to respond as well. It’s addictively fun!

Someday I'll Be Redeemed [Link]
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M. N.: In my experience, roleplaying involves a lot more yelling at plastic cubes and begging the other players not to walk into obvious ambushes. That sounds like a wonderful process, but is it very time consuming to wait for your partner to respond like that?

Kelly: We don’t yell at each other about them walking into an obvious ambush or anything. It’s a bit more planned than that, and we agree on how things should unfold. What we don’t know is what exactly the character will say in response to what our own character says. Sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes it’s hurtful, which can change the tone of the scene, but usually the scene progresses more or less how we imagined. As for waiting for my co-writer to reply, well, we only manage to write together on his days off (he works as an EMT in the ER of a Level 1 Trauma Center), and it’s a rather swift process when we do get to sit down and write. We tend to average 10k words a day. This is how we managed to finish our second book in less than two weeks!

M. N.: That’s an incredible average! And that’s a cool job for him, too. Do you handle the publishing business and marketing, or is that also a cooperative effort?

Kelly: I handle all the publishing and marketing. He’s far too busy!

M. N.: Do you ever disagree on where the story should go?

Kelly: How the story should go? No. How a scene should unfold, yes, but it’s rare. Once we had this one scene that we had to brainstorm for almost four hours until we came to an agreement because how it unfolded really affected major parts we wanted later on in the scene. We finally figured out a way to make it unfold with the results that we wanted, and it turned out great.

M. N.: Can you tell us what book that scene was in? I always enjoy getting a peek behind the curtain to see what was going on in the authors’ minds while they were working.

Kelly: I can’t say much without spoiling a major scene, but basically my husband’s character had to go in and slaughter a bunch of people. The character didn’t want to do it, but he had no choice because of different factors I can’t go into. We had to discuss how the scene would unfold. I had a specific idea, but my husband had another idea, and so we had to hammer away at both until we found a compromise that allowed the following scenes to unfold the way we needed them to. It worked out quite nicely.

M. N.: What do you feel are the biggest challenges you face when writing?

Kelly: Honestly, it’s not writing that gives me a challenge as it is marketing.

M. N.: On the subject of marketing, do you have any trouble selling a series that’s a fusion of multiple genres?

Kelly: Some people aren’t sure what to think when I say it’s a fusion of the two genres, but they tend to give them a chance without too much issue, and their concerns of the fusion of genres disappear. However, getting the books in front of people to discover it always a unique challenge!

M. N.: What about your books do you feel is the most special or unique?

Kelly: I believe my books are unique in how they are told. They flow like movies. There are subtle but powerful descriptions, strong characters with immersive stories, witty one-liners, and confident pacing. I take the usual fantasy and science fiction tropes, turn them on their heads, and make them different in a way that they stand out.

M. N.: Playing with tropes can be a lot of fun. Is there an especially interesting twist you’ve done on a trope, that you can tell us about without spoiling your book?

Kelly: In fantasy, there are often the idea of elves. However, I’ve created a new race called the ‘kelliphs’ that are roughly based off elves, but they are unique in that, in addition to their longevity, they have multiple lives. So, even if you manage to kill one, they won’t stay dead for very long. They are very difficult to kill permanently (which is actually a major plot point for Book 5). They also have a unique magical ability to change one material into another (like water into fire or stone into bread or flesh into dust, etc). There are shapeshifting dragons that prefer the shape of a human, and they are not evil and don’t hoard things. They also have magical abilities that are unique to them such as mind magic and magicking (teleporting with magic) to other worlds, and so forth. They usually stay within their own kingdom rather than trying to destroy the surrounding lands, but they tend to aid the humans actually as they are the only other race that has longevity–almost to the point of immortality. And then there’s the whole mix of magic and science too–that’s a lot of fun.

M. N.: Was there any particular book or author that made you want to write?

Kelly: Not really. Stories have been a part of my life since before I could even write.

M. N.: Do you have a favorite book, or a list of favorites?

Kelly: As a rule, I don’t do favorites. I hold Lewis and Tolkien in high regard, and I am friends with a ton of fellow authors, but I have no absolute favorite.

M. N.: Tell me about your current Work In Progress.

Kelly: My husband and I literally just finished the second book of our series the other day, and we are now plotting the next book and will begin writing it soon. Even though this series is in the same story universe as my other series, The Chronicles of Lorrek, it does not have the science fiction elements but is mainly fantasy. It all began with the assassinations of the king and prince of Ceraleo. For too long, Princess Ensula has been a pawn in a political game–being sent away to a strange land for her own safety and betrothed to a foreign prince–but no longer. Now, she returns to introduce a new element to the game and show those in power that she is not a pawn in this long game but rather a queen.

M. N.: I really enjoy stories that blend sci-fi and fantasy elements together. How does that work in your setting?

Kelly: It’s hard to explain how it works. It just does. On this one continent, most of the kingdoms are more medieval and have magic whereas another kingdom has highly advanced technology. Later in the series, there is even space travel, but it all really works together in a way that I am pleased with.

M. N.: Is the technology magic-based, then?

Kelly: On the surface, no. There was only one land that had magic-based technology, but what happened to that land is a long story. But when you pull back the curtain, you realize mathematics, equations, and calculations are a form of magic–just viewed, understood, and applied differently.

M. N.: Since this new book doesn’t have the sci-fi elements, is that because of where it’s set, or because of when it takes place?

Kelly: It’s because it’s on a different continent than the Chronicles of Lorrek. They actually have a different system of magic, and the LORE of magic is so much fun to explore, and it is greatly explored in the series ‘The Ceralian Gambit’. It shows how all different systems of magic and even math and science and really any inspiration all stem from the same magic realm. It’s so interesting.

M. N.: What does your writing process look like? Do you outline, do you invent the plot as you go, or do things land somewhere in the middle of that spectrum?

Kelly: Usually I plot out the most major parts of the story and then wing it from there.

M. N.: Have you ever been surprised by something that happened in your own story?

Kelly: Oh yes! Off the top of my head, I can’t think of an instance right now, but things have surprised me. It’s fantastic.

M. N.: If you could go back and give yourself any piece of advice when you first started writing, what would it be?

Kelly: I would tell my younger self that I might never get a mentor, but that’s okay. I’ll find a lot of support online in the writing community.

They Must Be Stopped [Link]
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M. N.: Are there any specific people or groups you’d like to give a shout-out to?

Kelly: Well, there are J. E. Mueller, A. R Harlow, Nan Sampson, Megan Hay, Allen Cheesman, Katie Davis, Annie Twitchell, Jessica Kirkpatrick, Jacquie Tuck, J. R. O’Bryant, Daryl J. Ball, Sarah Elisabeth, and so many more! All of these are writers (not all published yet), and most are superfans of mine. Some are even reading the rough draft of the books my husband and I are writing because they are so enthusiastic about the story universe we’ve created. It is so much fun! So much support and encouragement.

M. N.: Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve written, or a recommended “starting point” for people looking to get into your work?

Kelly: I’d recommend the first book of my Chronicles of Lorrek series, ‘Someday I’ll Be Redeemed’, as a starting point. After my husband and I complete and publish The Ceralian Gambit, the first book of that series would be a good starting point since it takes place a few decades prior to the Chronicles of Lorrek.

M. N.: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Kelly: Not that I can think of. Thanks so much for interviewing me! It is a wonderful opportunity!

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