Monday, August 22, 2011

Guest Blogger: Augusta Li

I have fellow Silver Publshing author Augusta Li here with me today! She's got two releases to celebrate and that, of course, means two very lovely excerpts.

What is the best dirty joke you've ever heard?

A little penguin is driving across the desert when his car breaks down. Fortunately, a mechanic happens by a few minutes later and tows the car back to a small town. He tells the penguin to come back in half an hour, after he’s had a chance to look at the car.

The poor little penguin is burning up in the desert heat, and he wonders where to spend the half hour. Then he sees the perfect place: an ice cream parlor. He goes inside and orders a huge dish of vanilla ice cream. He’s so delighted to get to cool off that he scoops the ice cream up with his flippers, splashing it all over his face and chest. Before long it’s time for the penguin to return to the garage.

The mechanic is bent over the engine when the penguin arrives. He takes one look at the penguin and says, “Man, it looks like you blew a seal.”

To which the penguin quickly replies, “You’ve got it all wrong! This is just ice cream!”

What book that you've written so far is your favorite or the most meaningful? Why?

Honestly it’s whichever one I’m working on at the time. I get very obsessed with my characters and they stay in my head even when I’m not working. All of my books involve a great deal of internal and external conflict for the characters, even the lighter ones. My characters tend to be flawed, in some cases profoundly so, and I always find meaning in watching them overcome their struggles and find happiness in spite of their scars and shortcomings.

Do your stories tend to have a recurring theme? If so, what is it?

I suppose it’s rebellion and the rejection of traditional values. It’s the courage to find one’s own way in the face of adversity. If there’s anything like a theme in my work, it’s that the mold cast by society can be very oppressive and doesn’t fit everyone. My characters are often the people who have the nerve to say no to what others expect of them. They often exist on the fringes and are thieves, renegades, assassins, and just people who play by their own rules.

Food is a recurring theme in my books. I suppose its just another earthly pleasure to enjoy. Swords and sword culture pop up a fair bit.

Were your stories secret projects or were you able to be open with your family and friends about your writing?

I’ve never for a second tried to hide what I do. I’m proud of my work, and as far as I’m concerned if somebody has a problem with it I don’t need them. That being said, I’m a horrible perfectionist and NOBODY, other than my writing partner Eon de Beaumont, gets to see anything until at least the third draft or so. So I guess I’m not secretive about content, but I am very picky about quality.

I am fortunate enough to have two novels released this month! The first is Epiphany, available from Silver Publishing here:

Blurb: Epiphany

1974. When the residents of the backwater town of Epiphany, Nevada, drive off a hurt and hungry young man because he has long hair, timid diner cook Elijah Tupper can't find the courage to stand up to them. Later, both guilt and strong attraction compel Elijah to seek out the drifter who calls himself only Dust. He finds him camped in the Mojave, and Dust and Elijah agree to travel together, though Elijah can't possibly imagine the task that awaits them.

Dust's painful past has left him mistrustful of people and the world. He also possesses mysterious powers, though hunger and injury have left him weak. Elijah vows to aid and protect him, even if Dust can't believe that Elijah has no ulterior motives. A fragile trust slowly forms between them, despite Dust's cynicism and Elijah's insecurity. As they seek to recover the magic that will save Dust from the forces trying to destroy him, they must enlist the aid of the county sheriff who originally banished Dust from Epiphany.

Though Sheriff Sam Woodward doesn't approve of Dust or his blossoming relationship with Elijah, he agrees to help the young men to protect his town from Dust's enchantments. In order for the three men to succeed and survive their dangerous, magical journey, each of them must adapt and grow. They'll need all of their skills to survive the corrupt city of Las Vegas and the twisted, supernatural realms beyond.

Excerpt: Epiphany

The whole frigid, lonely time he'd spent walking from Epiphany, Elijah had imagined various scenarios. He’d pictured Dust hugging him with gratitude and inviting him to be his companion. He’d anticipated being greeted with happiness and surprise by the other man. Until now, it hadn't crossed Elijah's mind that Dust might not want to see him. After all, Elijah hadn't defended Dust when the townspeople drove him away hungry. Elijah had been too scared of his mother and the sheriff to speak up. What if Dust thought he was a coward? Elijah felt queasy. He was sure, now, that he'd misinterpreted the look Dust had given him and the way he'd stroked Elijah's hand. Nobody like Dust would be interested in somebody like him: an insignificant person from an insignificant place. Elijah had been fooling himself.

As much as he wanted to turn back and save himself the hurt and humiliation, Elijah kept walking. The least he could do would be to leave the coffee and sandwiches. Dust would certainly appreciate the blanket. Elijah would set them down, apologize for what had happened at the diner, and start the long trek back home. Hopefully, he'd be able to sneak in the back door and through the mud room without his mother catching him, grilling him, and eventually pummeling him with whatever was closest to her hand. Whatever unpleasant thing befell him, he would accept as penance for not speaking up against what had been done to Dust.

The drifter sat in front of his tiny fire, hugging his knees. His dark hood covered everything but his nose, lips and chin. His frozen breath hovered in the stillness like a ghostly companion. Elijah took a deep breath and said, "Hello."

Dust turned his head quickly toward Elijah, the fire reflected in his eyes making them look like glowing embers against his shadowed face. His hand shot out in Elijah's direction as if he held a weapon, but his palm was empty. It groped the cold air, the way a person felt around for a pair of lost spectacles. He slid the hood back and squinted into the darkness. Seeing Elijah, he dropped his hand and relaxed.

"You're the cook from the diner," Dust said.

Elijah nodded. "I brought you some sandwiches and coffee."

Dust rose stiffly and walked over to where Elijah stood just at the edge of the ring of fire light. He looked amazed. "You mean you walked all the way out here to bring me sandwiches?"

"Yeah, it's no big deal," Elijah said.

"Thank you," Dust said.

Elijah slid the bag from his shoulder and held it out to Dust. "There's a blanket in there too. I thought you might be able to use one."

Dust seemed too stunned to even reach for the offered provisions, so Elijah set the bag down by the drifter's feet. "All right then," Elijah said, "guess that's it. I'm sorry about the way everybody treated you. It wasn't right, and I do apologize. Take care." He thrust his shivering hands back into his pockets and turned.

"Wait," Dust said, and Elijah faced him.

"You need anything else?"

"No," Dust said. "Why did you do this?"

"Well, you were hungry," Elijah said. "And it's cold out here."

"You mean that's it?"

"What else would there be?" Elijah asked.

"Come sit down," Dust said. "At least warm up before you walk all the way back to your town."

"Okay," Elijah said, and he followed Dust to the fire. They sat cross-legged on the hard-packed earth, looking at each other over flames. Dust unzipped the gym bag and stripped the foil from the sandwiches. He smiled at them as if they were priceless jewels before starting to eat. Then he silently tore pieces of bread and meat into chunks and shoved several of them into his mouth at a time, looking over his shoulder now and then as if Elijah’s mother might appear from behind a cactus and snatch the food away again. Elijah had never seen a human being eat like that. He was reminded of the stray dogs they sometimes had to drive away from the dumpster behind the restaurant. Dust's rapid swallowing, an occasional grunt of pleasure, and the soft crackle of the fire were the only sounds. In less than ten minutes, he'd finished three sandwiches. Elijah poured some coffee into the thermos lid and handed it to the drifter.

"Hope you like lots of sugar," Elijah said.

Dust took a long gulp. "You have some too," he said to Elijah. "To warm up." He held the little metal cup to Elijah's lips and tipped it forward. As Elijah drank from the cup in his hand, Dust slid closer until their shoulders touched. The sudden warm solidity against his arm shocked Elijah. When he realized that Dust had touched him, he almost choked. Dust lowered the cup but didn't pull away. Elijah wiped the coffee from his chin with his sleeve.

"You don't have a cigarette, do you?"

"No, sorry," Elijah said. Questions raced and collided in his mind like bumper cars. He wanted to ask Dust where he was going, where he'd come from, and why. He wanted to know how the drifter had been injured, how long it had been since he'd eaten. The biggest question also remained: Would Dust let Elijah go with him?

"You said there's a blanket in here?" Dust asked as he rummaged through the pack. He found the corner of the blue quilt that had been on Elijah's bed and unfolded it. He threw it over his shoulders like a cape and said "Well, get under."

Elijah hesitated and pulled away. He hadn't been expecting this level of familiarity so soon. It confused him and scared him a little bit. He had almost no experience with such situations, but Dust smiled sincerely, and Elijah took a deep breath, forcing himself to say, "Don't worry about me. I'll be fine."

"Come on," the drifter urged, holding the corner of the blanket out from his shoulder. "We'll both be more comfortable if we share."

Elijah spread the blanket across his back and tucked the satiny edge under his chin the way he did when he went to sleep at home. Dust's warmth beside him after his long walk acted almost as a sedative. He realized, to his surprise, that he felt completely safe and comfortable around this stranger. He poured another cup of coffee and laid his cheek lightly against Dust's shoulder.

"Dust," Elijah said, barely above a whisper. The drifter's blue-gray eyes stayed fixed on the fire.

"Dust?" he said again, a little louder.

The black-haired young man turned. He looked so beautiful and mysterious in the amber glow that Elijah inhaled sharply. "Dust, can I ask you something?"


"You said, at the diner, that you were Dust," Elijah said, blushing and feeling stupid. "What should I call you?"

Dust placed a soft kiss on Elijah's forehead that him tremble from his ears to his freezing toes.

"Call me whatever you want. Call me Dust if you want to, and ask me whatever you want."

Elijah swallowed hard. "I want to help you. Whatever you're trying to do, I want to help."



"It's okay," Dust said. He put his arm around Elijah and pulled him closer. "I'd like it if you came with me. It's pretty rough, though, as you can see." He pointed at his camp: a backpack for a pillow and a pile of burning twigs and brush.

"I don't know what I'll be able to do," Elijah said. "I don't really have any talents, except cooking."

Dust nestled his face into Elijah's thick hair and spoke softly into his ear. "That's not true. You have a pure, innocent soul. Real goodness is rare, rarer than riches, or power, or anything. It's a treasure. Besides—" Dust gripped Elijah's chin between his thumb and finger and inclined his head so their eyes met. "—you're really cute."

My second August release is an epic steampunk adventure written with Eon de Beaumont. It’s available at Dreamspinner Press here:

Excerpt: Boots for the Gentleman

Finally Querrilous saw the home of his employer. It stood on top of a hillock, a Classical-style mansion surrounded by so many sapphire roses that it appeared to float on a cloud of blossoms. The flowers also lined the stone walkway that led to the temple-like abode. As Querry passed the abundant foliage, a swarm of thumb-length sprites, naked and glowing every color, rose from the leaves. He swatted them away with his gloved hand. They bit.

Querry ascended the many white steps and walked beneath columns practically covered in vines. He could have sworn the porch they supported had curved the last time he’d been here. Now it was straight and square. It was hard to say, though. Whenever he left Neroche, Querry always felt like he’d just woken from a dream. The details departed just as quickly too. Sometimes, from the corner of his eye, Querry swore the grand house resembled nothing so much as a white mound perforated by irregular holes, like those dug by badgers or rabbits.

Querry knocked on the door, and a hunched man reaching only to the thief’s belt buckle opened it. He had greenish skin, a bald head, huge, bat-like ears and a long, hooked nose. He wore a butler’s suit and white gloves.

“Good evening, sir,” the servant said. “The gentleman is expecting you. You’ll find him in his study.”

“And what floor?” Querry asked. Like everything here, it fluctuated.

“The third floor, sir. At the end of the hall.”

“Thank you,” Querry said, heading through the eerie gloom for the staircase. The dusky light that let him find his way came from the walls themselves. Still, he managed to get to the study. Inside, he found his client sitting behind a desk of pale wood. Books lined the walls, reaching dozens of feet high. Between the shelves, silk curtains hung open, revealing windows of beveled glass. A lightning-blue fire crackled in the hearth. Perched on the end of a brocade chaise, a nude young man plucked a silver harp. His skin and hair were white and his eyes deep violet.

Shimmering wings flickered in and out of existence behind him. Though he should have been shocked by such a scandalous display, Querry had learned to ignore his employer’s eccentricities.

“Ah, Mr. Knotte,” said the man behind the desk as Querry entered the room. On cue, the pale harpist stood, bowed, and left the room. Querry watched his willowy, white body as he departed. The door shut softly behind him. “Please sit down.”

Querry took one of the chairs facing his client. The gentleman rested his elbows on the desk and stretched his long fingers into an arch, tapping the tips together. “A successful evening as always, I presume?”

“Um, of course,” Querry answered, reaching to untie the sack from his belt. The gentleman made it hard for him to think. He was stunning—waves of golden hair spilling over the shoulders of his mint velvet blazer, sparkling emerald eyes, and an angular face that looked both soft and devastatingly masculine—handsome, even by fey standards. Querry could see the svelte line of the gentleman’s long neck stretching toward prominent collarbones and a smooth chest that finally disappeared behind a thin silk shirt and paisley waistcoat with pearl buttons. Trying not to make eye contact, Querry passed him the bag.

“Excellent!” the gentleman said, clapping twice. Why he was so excited with another gentleman’s old boots, or why he’d pay Querry twenty pounds to steal them when he could buy them for a few shillings, the thief had stopped trying to figure out. A growing pile of things the gentleman had commissioned Querry to burgle sat in the corner: a broken phonograph, a wooden box of old pencils, a cart wheel missing a few spokes, a porcelain doll with only one eye, a matching ladle and fork, a tangled wig and a set of lace curtains. While the thief suspected himself to be a piece in some unfathomable game, twenty pounds was still twenty pounds.

“My payment,” Querry said, feeling vulnerable. He’d started not to trust himself, his reactions and responses, and needed to leave. The helpless sensation came quicker each time he visited this house.

“Indeed, indeed,” the gentleman said, opening a drawer and sliding a bag of coins across the desk.

Querry snatched them greedily, and found himself embarrassed by his desperation. “Nice doing business,” he said, standing and extending his hand.

The gentleman just stared at his proffered palm. Then, slowly, he got to his feet and came around the front of the desk. His steps, the twist of his waist, and the movement of his hair mesmerized Querry. Querry wondered at how such simple gestures could contain such perfection. How could something as simple as a fingernail be so sublime? The two stood very close now. The gentleman’s chest grazed Querry’s shoulder. He smelled like crushed grass.

“What a fascinating creature you are,” he said in a whisper. He reached up and traced the line of Querry’s brow. The thief felt powerless to resist leaning in to the touch. Querry’s eyes fluttered shut. His breath faltered.

Get a hold of yourself—

“You’re far too beautiful for a common thief.” He stretched his neck, so that his floral breath washed Querry’s cheek and his lips rustled Querry’s hair, turning Querry’s muscles to quivering porridge.

“I’m an exceptional thief,” Querry said, fighting for lucidity. He should step away.

A musical giggle escaped the other man. Querry felt it reverberate up his spine. His pores contracted and his cock skipped. “Exceptional, certainly. Even more so, I’m certain, beneath this cumbersome gear and all of these silly machines. What are you like under there?” His fingers moved down Querry’s face and neck, over his heart and to the buckles of his padded vest. He tapped them one by one, as if he tickled the keys of a piano. Querry felt the faerie’s erection against the side of his thigh, next to his pistol. He felt himself turning to face the other against his will.

“You deserve fine, soft clothing. The best food and wines. Nights of revelry and dance. A life free from toil of any kind.” The gentleman’s hands went to Querry’s hips, pulling their bodies together. Querry curved against him and let his head fall backward so that the gentleman could pull his cravat aside and kiss up his neck. Fire bloomed in his cheeks, and a tingle spread across his pelvis. “You could stay here with me. Would you like that?”

Yes! In that moment, it was all Querry wanted. Nothing else mattered beyond the gentleman’s lips, his hair, and his body. Those sparkling eyes that, in spite of the acceptable clothing, the outward trappings of civility, betrayed something wild. Querry wanted to strip slowly and stretch out naked across the desk. He wanted to lay complacent while the gentleman used his body any way he chose. But he also knew that the desire would fade when he left this place. He knew it just as he knew that if he gave in to this lust, in time he’d stop dressing at all. He’d wander the halls nude. He’d stare out the window at the flowers for days on end. He’d forget his name, stop eating—

“No, I can’t.” He pulled away. Predictably, the gentleman looked at him with even greater awe. “I’m afraid I’ve got to be going.”

The fey lifted his chin and feigned indifference. “If you must, then you must. My offer stands. And if you find yourself short on money, there’s a house on the corner of Tinkerton Street that you may want to visit. Tinkerton Street and Grace Lane.”

“You have another job for me?”

“No,” the gentleman said, turning his back to the thief and resting his hand on the surface of the desk. “I have all that I require, for now.”

“Then what—”

“I said, I have what I require.”

Querry stood staring at the golden sheet of hair flowing over the gentleman’s back, fighting down the urge to touch it. He knew better than to ask why his client suggested the address. He could tell when he was being toyed with. Later, free from the dizzying effects of Neroche and the gentleman, he could try to work it out. Now, though, he needed to leave or he never would.

Augusta's Links:

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