A Theft of Magic

theftofmagicebook05

Coming October 17, 2016

A Theft of Magic

A woman sworn to truth. A man who deals in lies. A passion lighting the way to love…or loss.

Sorcha Fay, known to the world as the reclusive Seeress of Skye, lives alone on the Fay clan properties in Scotland. Beneath the veneer of mystery is a lonely woman who has learned to live for duty.

Ronan McCarrick is a thief, smuggler, spy, and Irish republican. The new Duchess of Fay hires him to secretly retrieve some relics from the vault in Fay House on the Isle of Skye.

When Ronan arrives on the island, he stumbles into one of Sorcha’s wards and tries to free himself with magic. A defensive spell triggers, incinerating his clothing and everything he’s carrying—including the letter that would have told Sorcha why he has come to Skye.

Despite an instant attraction to the naked and furious Irishman, Sorcha believes that Ronan is an interloper who has been attacking her wards for months. She binds his magic and puts him under a spell until she can find out the truth. But while she has him in custody, someone else steals the most powerful and dangerous artifacts in Clan Fay’s possession.

Now Sorcha needs Ronan’s help to steal them back. But the longer they’re together, the more she fears that what he’s stealing is her heart.

PREORDER ON AMAZON

Other books in the series:

essentialmagic10

 

Essential Magic, The Fay of Skye book 1

A Merge of Magic, A Fay of Skye prequel

  • Part One eBook $0.99 – COMING SEPTEMBER 26

Building a Mindreader’s World in Jessica Knauss’s Awash in Talent

DSC09257

Awash in Talent is made up of three interrelated novellas. In this alternate version of Providence, Rhode Island, about ten percent of the world population has one of three Talents: telekinesis, firestarting, or psychic powers. Psychic powers are the rarest Talent, between 1.5 and 2 percent of the general population, leaving at least 8 percent to be firestarters and telekinetics. But these figures may result from underreporting, because psychics also have the hardest Talent to detect and control.

Impartial critics have called the third novella of Awash in Talent the most poignant and some of my best writing. It’s narrated by Patricia, a therapist who can read people’s thoughts—whether she wants to or not.

Please enjoy this excerpt, which introduces Patricia and a little bit of the reasoning behind her decision not to register with the government as a psychic. See more about Patricia’s dilemma here.

To my husband:

It comes through the eyes. You have a technical bent of mind, so I think you’d like to know how it works first of all. It’s a sensory experience something like sound, but muted, like the voice in your head. You can tell it’s not passing through vocal cords and over teeth. It only took me until I was five to figure that out. But it’s also a little like watching a movie that flashes and jumps. Psychologically complex people can send me pictures with a muted soundtrack that has nothing to do with what I’m seeing. I married you because you’ve never done that to me. Despite your outward histrionics, you’re a one-note sensory experience.

But I became a therapist so I could act on the information people sent me without registering as a psychic, not so I could describe my experience as a psychic accurately. Let’s call it “thought energy,” to which I and other psychics are sensitive, while most humans are less so.

Because thought energy comes through the eyes, they’ve made special sunglasses “for any psychic who registers,” according to the public service announcements. I don’t know if you’ve noticed them—Soul Stoppers, they’re called. They’re supposed to encourage registry in a population the government can have no real control over—those of us with this, the most reviled of all Talents. They should have spent more time on the design of the glasses, because they draw so much attention to the wearer. Attention is the last thing I want. Those strange slats over the lenses—I think it’s so we’re prevented from looking into people’s eyes while still able to see where we’re going. I can only imagine everyone in the street looks headless. I’d much rather close my eyes and look away if I get an intolerable beam of thought energy, though I’ve sometimes wondered if that makes me look even stranger than the glasses would.

I had a friend in grade school, Danielle. One day in the middle of art class, where we were learning about papier-mâché, she just started screaming. She didn’t stop screaming her wordless terror until they decided to take her to the special school for psychics, where they found out that she was one of them. I didn’t want to be taken away, so I kept my eyes to the floor. Later, Danielle visited our school, obligated by the authorities, who wanted to show children that psychics aren’t dangerous. Any fears I had about her new school were confirmed in the ugly glasses she had to wear and her new demeanor. She was too quiet. You might think it would be a nice contrast from the screaming, but her silence, which went all the way down to her slow-moving, abnormally uncluttered thought energy, terrified me.

Although I never scream, it doesn’t take long for all the thoughts to become too much, too stimulating. I decided to become a therapist because looking into one soul at a time is easier to handle and helps me feel I’m making a difference in people’s lives…

It wasn’t long after I got here that I noticed that in Providence, Friendship is a one-way street. I was comfortable with that, because for me, it really has been. And continues to be.

 

As I built Patricia’s lonely world, I had to employ all my own powers of empathy to imagine what the characters’ thoughts look like to Patricia as well as how their encroachment into her psychic space affects her. In the first draft, I found myself using the usual language to show what other characters might be thinking, and my beta readers called me out on it. I had to remember that with Patricia, it’s not typical empathy. Imagining concrete images and sounds and what feelings they would conjure in order to make her psychic Talent authentic was often terrifying, which helped make the story dramatic. I almost feel like I need some therapy sessions with Patricia after seeing the world through her eyes.

Patricia’s biggest challenge comes in the form of the narrator of the first novella, Emily. Because she’s attempted to kidnap a married graduate student, the courts have required Emily to undergo psychological evaluations and treatment. Patricia should be the perfect person for the job, but she finds that where everyone else transmits their thoughts too freely, Emily shows Patricia only static. How can she evaluate Emily, much less help her, when she has to treat her using the primitive methods of un-Talented therapists? Patricia has never been confronted with this problem before: How can you help someone who doesn’t want your help?

Knauss Awash in Talent

Jessica Knauss’s Awash in Talent was released by Kindle Press on June 7 to praise from readers who love something different.

This is the second stop in a week-long Awash in Talent blog tour. Don’t miss the crazy character interviews and writing advice at the blogs of A.J. Culey, Andi Adams, J.L. Gribble, and Jennifer Loring!

Author Photo Small

Born and raised in Northern California, Jessica Knauss has wandered all over the United States, Spain, and England. She has worked as a librarian and a Spanish teacher and earned a PhD in Medieval Spanish Literature before entering the publishing world as an editor. Her acclaimed novella, Tree/House, and short story collection, Unpredictable Worlds, are currently available. Her epic of medieval Spain, Seven Noble Knights, will be published by Bagwyn Books in December 2016. Find her on social media and updates on the sequels to Awash in Talent and Seven Noble Knights and her other writing at her website: jessicaknauss.com. Feel free to sign up for her mailing list for castles, stories, and magic.

 


Links and Contact Info for Jessica Knauss

Grief

canstockphoto5773289

I was going to post a cover reveal for A Theft of Magic this week and announce the release date and pre-orders, but my grandfather died on Wednesday and I have spent the last several days existing in a sort of numb haze and not getting much work done.

This is the grandfather who grew up on Roan Mountain, where Etta (the main character of Essential Magic) is from. In fact, Etta Mae Cook is named for his mother, my great-grandmother–Ella Mae Tipton Cook. Much of Etta’s past is based on my own family history (magic and duchesses aside), and my grandfather was a living conduit to that history that is now forever closed.

I don’t know what to do with this grief that suffuses me. I can avoid it, can distract myself by reading books or redecorating my bathroom (I did that yesterday), but when I sit down to write, I can’t. I can write when I’m tired, and I can write when I’m depressed, and I can write when I’m happy, but I’m having trouble writing when I’m lost. The creative well of emotion I have to access is mired in sorrow.

Perhaps if I were working on a different project, or at a different stage of this one, or writing poetry that allows me to more directly channel that anguish into words, I would be more successful. But I’m working on the final revisions for A Theft of Magic and that requires both an analytical eye for details and a sense of the overall emotional arc of the story. I can’t quite achieve that mix of dispassion and connection right now. All I want is to disconnect, to not feel.

The funeral is tomorrow. I am hoping that will help, will force me to engage with the yawning chasm that I have managed not to stare into so far. But it is going to hurt, and once I fall down there I am going to have to find my way back up.

But maybe the truth is that I’m already falling, and I’m just not opening my eyes to see the edges rushing past, or the jagged pieces already tearing at me as I go, or the sharp rocks awaiting at the bottom.

I will manage to climb out. I always have before, and I will again. But I am going to need a little while to move through this before I can focus on my story and helping my characters through their pain toward their happy ending.

Making Time to Take a Break

takingabreak

This week I’ve been pushing hard toward the end of the second draft of A Theft of Magic. I turned in the draft to my editor on Wednesday and now have a few days off until she comes back with the next round of notes. It’s also the last weekend before my son goes back to school, so we’ve decided to slip away for a short trip to the beach.

I love going to the ocean. My favorite thing to do is rent a house right on the beach for at least a week, so that I can go down to the sand and the surf whenever I want. This year, my family and I can only manage a long weekend at a hotel, so I won’t have that same sense of spontaneity available, but it will be nice to be there all the same. I need some time away from my story and away from my desk to recharge my creative batteries.

This brings me around to the inverse principle of “make time to write,” which I promoted in my Making Time blog post a while back. Because, as important as it is to take a break from any job, taking a break from creative tasks is almost necessary. After a while of pouring bits of your heart and blood and soul into your art, there’s nothing left inside you.

And, at the same time, you can never really take a break from your creativity. I see it as a sort of input-output relationship. Those times you spend away from your keyboard (or easel, or dance studio, or onstage, or INSERT YOUR ART HERE), whether you’re going on a hike or relaxing with a book, are refilling your creative well.

There are also people who can’t stand the thought of not doing something with their art every day. Nora Roberts famously writes for at least several hours a day, even on vacation. And if that’s you, great! But if that’s not you, don’t worry. Find the pace and the balance that works for you, that keeps you on track with your long-term goals.

While you’re taking your breaks, don’t forget to consume your art, as well as producing it. If you’re a writer, read. If you’re a dancer, go watch other people dance. If you’re an artist, go to a gallery or browse online. If you’re a musician, listen to music. If you’re an actor, go to plays. If you make handcrafts, go to a craft show. If I haven’t mentioned your art here, you know what you do! Go look at some other people’s examples in your field.

And then go cross-pollinate yourself with all of these other art forms just to broaden your horizons.

Then get back to work and make good art!

Good Mistakes

Good Mistakes Blog Post

I made a pretty silly mistake in my August newsletter. I pulled average temperatures from a weather website for Scotland, and the original temperatures were listed in Celsius. Most of my subscribers are American, so I decided to convert that number to Fahrenheit. Only, when I changed the digits, I forgot to change the label. So I just claimed to my newsletter recipients that the average daily summer temperature in the Inner Hebrides is 136°F!

I immediately posted a status update to Facebook about the gaffe, half because I wanted to make my subscribers aware that I do know the difference between Celsius and Fahrenheit, and half because I think it’s silly and sometimes it’s good to poke fun at ourselves. I will also mention it in the September newsletter, for similar reasons.

Mistakes happen all of the time, but it’s how you handle the error that matters. The best thing is to own up to the mistake as soon as you know that you’ve made one. It’s OK to be wrong, and it’s OK to fail. It’s part of being human. Sometimes your mistakes will be embarrassing, and sometimes you will inadvertently hurt someone. Admit you’re wrong, say you’re sorry, and do better next time. And when you fail, try again.

We should all also be a little more understanding of other people’s mistakes, as long as they are open to change and to fixing whatever they got wrong.

My kids and I like to listen to “Try Everything” by Shakira from Zootopia when we go for car rides, because the message of the song is the same as this blog post. Try things. Fail. Make mistakes. Make new mistakes. Try again. Be open to the universe and possibilities, and don’t be afraid to change.

 

Evolution of a Book Cover

Independent Publishing Blog Header

In traditional publishing, authors have almost no say in what goes on the cover of their books. On a few occasions, they can correct outright errors or misrepresentations, but often by the time authors see the cover image, it’s far too late in the publication process to change more than superficial details. This lack of control is one of the reasons I chose to publish my series independently (although, as I’ve noted before, I would very much like to be a hybrid author-I’d give up some of my authorial control for bigger distribution and bookstore presence!).

Many independently-publishing authors choose to purchase ready-made covers, or commission an artist/designer for their covers. Others make their covers themselves. There is something of a stigma against doing the cover yourself, because the product tends to be…bad. Most authors aren’t graphic designers or artists, and the results of their efforts, while well-intentioned, look unprofessional because they aren’t trained to do that kind of work. For anyone who is in that position, I suggest that if you really want to do your own cover, you get lots of feedback from people you trust to give you an honest opinion before you move forward with the cover. And if it doesn’t work, you can always go buy a ready-made cover for $50. Chances are, that cover won’t capture exactly what you had in mind, but it’s possible to find one that matches the spirit of your book.

Fortunately, I have a background in art, design, and graphics, so I’m coming from a stronger position in terms of creating my book covers. But that doesn’t mean I get everything right from the beginning. My experience is entirely in digital art and web graphics, so I was shocked when the first proof came back and my cover looked like it had gotten a wash of red paint.

And even before I got to the proof-copy stage, I had trouble settling on a design that I liked. My first one looked like this:

essentialmagic02

You’ll note that some of those elements made it through to the final design. The stones in the background are still there, and the text elements are in pretty much the same positions (although the fonts have changed). I’d played with the text and settled on this layout before I even saved the first file.

But there were some problems with this version, so I played around with minor additions and changes, trying to get it right.

I added a shadow effect to the text, and the swirl of magic, but it still wasn’t working. My husband said it looked like a Star Trek cover, and that the model had too much makeup on for the look I wanted. A few other people noted that the fact that I’d faded out her body (which happens often on book covers—take a look at a few, especially in speculative fiction, and see what I mean) looked weird. So I went on a hunt for a new Etta stand-in.

That brought me to this version:

essentialmagic

I never intended this as a final cover, but it was a proof-of-concept version that showed the layout, text, and basic design premise was sound. It went through MANY versions after this, where I tried a whole bunch of things to make it look less like a few layered photographs and more like a composed image. First I played with vignettes. Then I tried blurring the images to see if that helped. I also found fonts that I liked better. Finally, I ran the cover through one of Google’s new picture tools to texturize the image and found that it gave me an awesome, almost painted look, and really made the background pop with depth and shadow.

The next few versions don’t look very different to the untrained eye, so I won’t put them up, but I did clean up some of the edges, played with the magic effects, and fixed a few details on the model. I tried one version where the model’s dress was obscured to make it look more late-nineteenth century (because I had zero luck finding an appropriately-garbed woman who wasn’t completely wrong for Etta). But that version just looked wrong, so I decided that it was good enough to have the high collared blouse and I would just pretend that the overdress was something ceremonial handed down in the Fay clan.

Then I had two “final” versions. The only difference is the font for “Magic.”

My test audiences preferred the cleaner look of the version on the left, so that became the final cover design!

Then I sat down with a print layout template and made the print cover.

I decided to do a partial wrap-around for the spine based on a survey of trade paperbacks I have on my shelves at home. I thought about adding a different image onto the back cover, but honestly by that point I didn’t have much time left before the book needed to go to proof, so I used a technique I’ve seen in lots of romance and SFF books, and just copied a slice from the cover and put it on the back. Then I input the cover copy, put in two versions of my publishing company logo (Stars and Stone Books), the ISBN, price, and a blank spot for the barcode.

essentialmagic5x8CMYK300DPI

Ta-da! Except for the redshifting, my work on Essential Magic’s cover was done!

I hope everyone likes it as much as I do. And if you want to get the first look at the cover for A Theft of Magic when it’s revealed in my newsletter August 1st, now’s the time to subscribe. Everyone else will have to wait until mid-month, so sign up now!

Book Soundtracks – A Theft of Magic

canstockphoto32687368

My first post about book soundtracks was more of a “what a book soundtrack means to me” or “how I craft my book soundtrack” type of post. From here on out, the posts in this series are going to be specifically about songs from the soundtracks.

I should probably start with Essential Magic, since that’s the book that’s available now, but I just finished the first draft of A Theft of Magic and music was a big part of the drafting process, so I’m excited to talk about it!

Early on in the outlining stage, I was driving around, listening to music, and brainstorming. I was a little late to the Sara Bareilles party because I didn’t really like “Brave,” and that was the only thing that pop radio played of hers. (Note that I love the message and lyrics of “Brave,” but the melody/production quality is not my favorite).

But then when Outlander the TV show was announced, fans started cutting together pieces of the trailer to music, and I saw this:

And I thought, “holy shit, that’s an amazing song. Who sings that??”

And then I went on a journey through Sara’s albums and found many, many amazing songs that will never be played on a top-40 station because they aren’t “pop” enough. But that’s fine with me! “Breathe Again” still hasn’t quite made it into a novel, although I did outline a story that meshes with the lyrics.

When I started brainstorming A Theft of Magic, at first the only thing I knew about the story was the main romantic pair. Sorcha, my heroine, has a magical affinity to light, and is the kind to fall in love deeply and only once. Ronan, my hero, has an affinity to water and at the start of the story had deliberately altered his personal magic into something that is more like salt water, but not the kind in the ocean. His is more like what you’ll find in Utah, or the Dead Sea- so salty nothing can live in the water.

So I’m driving, and on comes “Islands” by Sara Bareilles. Here it is if you’ve never heard it:

The actual song is about the end of a relationship with someone she loved but who was no good for her. But when I gave some of the lyrics to one character, and some to the other, it suddenly fit with the story. In a romance, there is a story beat called “The Breakup.” Sometimes, it’s a symbolic breakup, where the characters are on different sides of an issue or can’t reconcile something about their relationship. But often it’s a literal breakup, and that’s what happens in A Theft of Magic. So while I wrote that part of the story, I had this song on endless repeat.

Islands and isolation are a big theme in the story. The book takes place in the British Isles, particularly on Skye in Scotland and then in London. Sorcha lives alone on Skye, and while Ronan works with other people, he has isolated himself emotionally from almost everyone in his life. It is difficult for either of them to change those habits and look forward to a future where they are no longer alone.

But this is a romance, so through trials and difficulties, of course they do!

That’s where the second song, also by Sara Bareilles, comes in. It’s called “The Light.”

Again, some of the lyrics would be from Ronan’s perspective, and some from Sorcha’s, but this song was the one on repeat when I got through the climax and into what Gwen Hayes in the book Romancing the Beat calls “Whole-Hearted.” (Note – If you are just starting out as a romance writer or want to add a romance plot into your book, you should totally buy this book).

As I mentioned above, Sorcha has an affinity for light. Ronan repeatedly refers to her as “a solas,” which is Irish for “my light.” The song also talks about love being transformative, and how we can change and become better people because of love. That is definitely what happens, on both sides, for Sorcha and Ronan (but more dramatically for Ronan).

There are other songs on my soundtrack for A Theft of Magic, but those are the two that spoke most closely to the plot, characters, and themes of the book.

Next week, I’ll be back to talking about Essential Magic with a discussion of the process of creating the cover art!