Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Madman's Dance Excerpt Three

Chapter One (Continued)

Satyr was uncharacteristically late for the breakfast appointment with his superior. That made him irritable. He grumbled at the hansom driver for the length of time it took the man to make change, and then stalked into the dining room on Rose Street, the usual meeting place. The staff immediately gave way as he entered the private room in the back. To his annoyance, the Ascendant was already well into his meal, a newspaper open at his elbow.

He noted without amusement that the leader of the Transitives still insisted upon the same “presentation,” as they called it. Satyr had repeatedly suggested that he shift form. What was the point of going en mirage if you did not alter your appearance every now and then? Changing some slight aspect kept your enemies off guard. Satyr employed that strategy, shifting hairstyle or eye color at whim. You did not become Lead Assassin by being lazy.

His superior looked up. “Ah, there you are, Mr. S.” He gestured with a fork toward the newsprint. “It appears you had an eventful evening, so I will forgive your tardiness.”

Better that you do. Satyr removed his hat and coat, placing them on the chair nearest the door. He rang the bell near his plate. A deferential waiter appeared instantly.

“More sausages, please.” The Ascendant had eaten the majority of them, and the remainder would not be hot. Sausages had to be the proper temperature or there was no reason to consume them.

His superior was studying the newsprint again. That was just as well. Satyr was not in the mood for light conversation. Where once there had been a respectful give-and-take between them, he’d noted a change in his leader’s recent behavior. More authoritative, with an inclination to meddle.

“Your sausages, sir,” the waiter announced, setting a colorful Majolica bowl in front of him.

“Thank you. That will be all.” The door closed behind the servant as the mouth watering aroma of spiced meat filled the air. Satyr repressed a sigh of appreciation.

“Well?” the Ascendant inquired, looking up from his paper.

Satyr ignored him, forking three links onto his plate and then carefully replacing the lid on the bowl.

“You are very subdued this morning,” the Ascendant probed. “Did something go wrong?”

Satyr paused in his precise dissection of a sausage. “No, matters went very well. I dispatched Effington inside one of his warehouses and then burnt it to the ground. Very satisfactory.”

“Yes, so I see,” the Ascendant replied, gesturing at the paper. “There is a particularly lengthy article about the fire and the discovery of the corpse.”

Satyr did not reply, savoring the taste of the hot pork. He knew what was coming.

“I trust there will be no repercussions of last night’s activities?”


“No witnesses?”

Satyr’s hand tightened on the knife. “No.”

“What of Miss Lassiter? I do not note an article regarding her demise.”

“That situation is under control.”

“Is she alive or dead?”

“Depends on how you look at it.”

A grunt of disapproval. “Satyr, you are my Lead Assassin. I would expect such distraction from one of your juniors. I have repeatedly asked you to remove this person, and you are ignoring my orders.”

“I am not distracted, sir. Miss Lassiter is dead, at least in the mental sense.”

“I am not in the mood for cryptic games!” the Ascendant snapped.

Satyr deliberately placed his knife on the table to avoid employing it on something other than the food. Then he looked deep into the Ascendant’s eyes. To the man’s credit, he didn’t look away. His predecessor had always blinked. That one hadn’t lasted long.

“At present, Miss Lassiter’s mental capacity is that of a child,” Satyr explained, holding his irritation in check. “She has no memory to speak of. She doesn’t even know her own name.”

The Ascendant settled back with a frown. “How did you accomplish this?”

“I do not reveal my techniques, sir. You know that.”

The frown deepened. “You assure me that she is no longer a threat.”

“No threat at all.”

“Why didn’t you just kill her?” his superior demanded.

“This seemed a better solution.”

“Where is she now?”

“In Bedlam.”

“Under her own name?”

“I am not stupid, sir,” Satyr hissed.

“Well, of course not. What if she regains her memories?”

“Highly unlikely.” He snatched up his knife and attacked the links with considerable annoyance. “If she does, I’ll promptly cut her throat.”

“No need to be petulant. My concern lies with the safety of my plan.”

“Your plan, as much of it as I am able to fathom, is on track, sir. Effington is dead. By serendipity, Detective-Sergeant Keats is the lead suspect in Nicci Hallcox’s murder, and the explosives are secure. I’d say you’re worrying too much.”

The Ascendant tossed his napkin on the table and rose. “I sense you are going to be difficult this morning, Mr. S., so I shall take the remainder of my breakfast at my club. When you cease being so tedious, feel free to join me again.”

The moment his superior was out the door and on the street, Satyr felt his appetite fade. In the end, he couldn’t cut Miss Lassiter’s throat or pierce her heart like he had Effington. That killing had been righteous; hers would have been heinous. It would have been like crushing a rare butterfly just to know what it felt like.

His hand sank into a pocket and retrieved the silver tube, the device he’d used to render her a huddled, blank-faced bundle of humanity. He turned it, studying how the light from the gas lamps glinted off the shining surface.

Such a simple instrument to cause such destruction.

An odd sensation stirred within him. Remorse? He doubted it, yet there was a tight band around his throat just the same.

(Copyright 2008 - Jana G. Oliver)

Today I'm on my way to Calgary and World Fantasy for the launch of this book. I can't wait!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Madman's Dance Excerpt Two

Chapter One (continued)

Dr. Alastair Montrose gingerly splashed his face with cool water from the basin, cleansing away the soot. Then he leaned closer to the mirror, studying the effects of the warehouse fire. His eyes were puffy and bloodshot; his nostrils stung with every breath and his cheeks were splotched with red where falling embers had scorched them. The suit was ruined, the shirt as well. There were even abrasions on his palms, courtesy of his dive for safety when the rum barrels exploded.

Given the magnitude of the blaze, he’d gotten off lucky.

But what of Jacynda?

Even now, he could still hear her frantic cries from inside that warehouse as he fought to tear open the locked doors. Hours later, when the fire had died down, he and Reuben Bishop had found a charred corpse amongst the ruins. It was not that of a slender female: a fact that gave Alastair cause for rejoicing, although it felt heartless.

The question remained—what of Jacynda?

Reuben observed him from a nearby chair, his feet propped on another.

“At least your eyebrows are still there,” he commented casually. “I think your moustache took the worst of it.”

Alastair studied his reflection again. “Indeed.” It was a measure of his mentor’s decency that he was trying to lighten the moment.

“Personally, I would be devastated if anything happened to mine,” Reuben joked, running a finger along his upper lip. That was a given. Reuben sported a moustache that would turn any woman’s head, along with sandy hair that made Alastair’s brown hair seem dull by comparison. He cut quite a figure for a man who spent most of his time conducting post-mortems.

“I’ll loan you one of my suits,” Reuben offered. “It won’t fit, but at least you’ll not smell like one of those fellows in the Fire Brigade.”

Alastair delivered a wan smile. “I appreciate that.”

“Put some ointment on those palms,” Reuben advised. “They look rather nasty. I’d offer you some, but I don’t have any. The dead don’t seem to require that kind of care,” he added with a wink.

“No, I suppose they don’t,” Alastair replied, betraying a hint of a smile at his boss’ characteristic black humor. He took his time patting his face dry with the cloth. He knew Reuben wanted the whole story, but he didn’t know where to start. He dropped into the chair near the kitchen stove. The room was chilly, lit by a single gas lamp on the wall. He took a sip of brandy. The liquor burned his raw throat, making his eyes water. He blinked to clear them.

“In the past,” he began slowly, “I’ve spoken to you of Jacynda Lassiter.”

Reuben nodded, his face brightening. “Ah, yes, the adventurous American who has captured your heart.” His jubilance instantly withered. “Good God, she wasn’t in that blaze, was she? Was that why you were so keen to ensure the corpse was a male?”

Alastair nodded, shifting his attention back to the brandy. “The last I saw her she was inside the warehouse, near the doors. We’d discovered a body and I had gone for a constable.” He put the glass down, struggling to keep his voice from breaking. “I should never have left her alone.”

“You did everything humanly possible to save her. Your injuries attest to your courage.”

Alastair was not so sure.

“How did the fire start?” Reuben asked.

“I have no notion,” Alastair replied with a distracted shake of his head.

“There was a lantern in there, maybe it tipped over.”

His host put down his glass, then tented his fingers in thought.

“Hmm…Tell me more about the corpse you found.”

Alastair took a deep breath. “His name was Hugo Effington, a warehouse owner who lived in Mayfair. He’d been stabbed, a single thrust between the ribs that must have nicked the heart. When I returned with the constable, the doors were locked and the building ablaze.” He added, “Jacynda has been investigating Effington for some time.”

“Why would she do that?” Reuben asked.

“It all began with an attempted assassination at a dinner party earlier this month. Effington was the host.”

“Who was the intended target?”

“It’s hard to tell. The Prime Minister was in attendance as well as the Prince of Wales, amongst other dignitaries.”

“Why in heavens were they there?”

Alastair’s eyebrow rose. “I don’t follow.”

“You say this Effington chap was a warehouse owner, no doubt a prosperous one to live in Mayfair. While I understand that the prince loves a party as much as anyone, still it’s a bit…down market.”

“I hadn’t thought about that.”

Reuben chortled. “Of course, if Effington has a wife or daughter who’s a beauty that would explain it. The prince is always looking for a new conquest.”

Reuben tended to view most matters in terms of human frailty. “Mrs. Effington is quite handsome,” Alastair allowed.

“Aha!” his mentor exclaimed. “I knew it.”

“Jacynda foiled the assassin. From what Chief Inspector Fisher told me afterward, she just leapt on him before he could shoot. Knocked him to the floor. She has been involved in the case ever since.”

“You make her sound like a professional sleuth.”

“In many ways, she is. She told me that she works for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.”

It was a passable fib, one that he knew Jacynda used with others. Far better than attempting to explain to his mentor that she was a time traveler from the future.

“How did you meet this remarkable person?” Reuben quizzed.

“She was rooming at the boarding house for a time. I treated her for an illness. I found her quite…unique.” Irrepressible, quick-witted, and prone to occasional oaths.

Reuben’s face burst into a smile. “I must meet this woman. What verve!”

Then the smile dimmed as he added, “Of course, her boldness is what put

her in the middle of that fire.”

She’s not dead. She can’t be.

“I haven’t seen any mention of this botched assassination in the newspapers. Certainly such an event would have been hounded into the dirt by the Fourth Estate.”

“It was kept very quiet.”

“It won’t be when the fellow is brought to trial.”

“That may not happen. He…vanished from his jail cell the same night he was arrested.”

Reuben snorted. “Now you’re sounding like a Penny Dreadful.”

Alastair looked away, unable to explain further. He had no idea if his friend knew about the Transitives, the shape-shifters who could mimic any form. Or the Virtuals, who seemed invisible. How easy it would be to shift into nothingness, wait for the cell door to open, and take a quick stroll to freedom…

“What sort of man was this Effington?” Reuben quizzed.

“He was an arrogant bully, one of Nicci Hallcox’s paramours. From what I gather, he was being blackmailed by her.”

“Like most of London, it seems. She had a vast number of men in her bed. If the calling cards we found in her room are any indication, she was well connected in society.”

“No doubt blackmailing every one of the men she’d seduced,” Alastair added darkly.

Reuben shook his head. “I still do not understand why Chief Inspector Fisher summoned us to the murder scene rather than one of the Home Office coroners.”

“Sheltering my friend Keats, no doubt. He’s very fond of him. Fisher hopes that he will someday take his place at the Yard.”

“Well, that’s not likely to happen now,” Reuben mused. “Even if your friend comes forward and is found innocent, his behavior has tainted his reputation.”

Unfortunately, Reuben was correct. Keats’ decision to remain on the run was at odds with what was expected of a detective-sergeant of Scotland Yard.

“I am astounded at how his life imploded,” Alastair observed. “One

moment he’s a rising star, and then the next a wanted man.”

“Fate can be very cruel to the best of us,” Reuben observed.

Alastair had been so proud of his friend that night in Green Dragon Place. Keats’ daring attempt to arrest a dangerous Fenian anarchist had resulted in his recovery of a wagonload of stolen gunpowder. The papers had lauded his triumph. Now he was known as the Mayfair Slayer.

How quickly they’ll turn on you.

“It’s pure fiction to believe that he would spend a night in sexual congress with that Hallcox woman and then strangle her in an insane rage,” Alastair protested. “Keats would never do such a thing.”

There was the creak of the kitchen door. A woman in a navy blue dressing gown entered the room, her hair lying across a shoulder in a long black braid.

“Reuben?” she said. “I didn’t hear you come in.” Then she stared at Alastair, mouth agape. From what he’d just seen in the mirror, he couldn’t fault her.

“I’m sorry we woke you. Sometimes I forget how loud I am.” Reuben gestured toward Alastair. “This is Dr. Montrose, my new assistant, the fellow I’ve been telling you about. Alastair, this is Mrs. Henrietta Forrest, my housekeeper.”

“Madam,” Alastair replied politely, rising, though it wasn’t required. The housekeeper quickly regained her composure.

“Dr. Bishop has spoken very highly of you, sir.” Before Alastair could respond, she asked her master, “Do you wish me to light a fire? Perhaps some tea?”

“No, I think we’re just fine. The brandy is sufficient to cure our ills.” He turned his attention to Alastair. “You, however, are running on sheer nerves. I prescribe rest and a good meal. I have a comfortable guest room that you are welcome to use. When you rise, we will have a hot breakfast. Henrietta is an excellent cook.”

“I don’t wish to be a burden,” Alastair began, touched by the offer.

“If you were, I’d just chuck you out the back door. Besides, my guess is your day is going to be a full one. If you return to your boarding house now, you will get no peace until the coppers have asked every question they can put to you.”

“I suspect you are correct.”

Reuben clapped his hands together. “So that’s the plan. Henrietta, please light a fire in the guest room and, ah, leave him one of my suits, will you? His appears to be a loss.”

“Certainly, sir.” Then she was gone.

Alastair opted for praise. “A very handsome woman,” he remarked.

Reuben stared into his drink, his expression melancholy. “She is.” He blurted, “We are lovers. Does that arrangement shock you?”

Alastair finished off the liquor before answering, taken aback at Reuben’s personal confession. “I had a similar arrangement when I was in medical school, though we were not in love. We saw it as being to our mutual benefit.”

“Precisely! Unfortunately, being smitten complicates the issue.” Reuben rose in a fluid motion. “Now come along. I’ll show you the way. Sleep as long as you like. I’m sure if the coppers want to find you, they’ll pound on my door.”

(Copyright 2008 - Jana G. Oliver)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Madman's Dance Excerpt

As a lead up to the launch of Madman's Dance, I'll be posting excerpts from Chapter One through Wednesday. Enjoy!


Wednesday, 24 October 1888


Even emptiness has an echo.

She heard it in her mind, fighting for primacy. As time passed and the fire in her head dimmed, she became aware of movement. Creaking leather, the sharp click of horses’ hooves. Each jolt of the carriage set off new reverberations in her head, causing her stomach to churn. Someone was talking. It only made the echo worse.

An eternity. The movement stopped. More voices. She felt someone help her to the ground and then walk her forward. Each step felt as tenuous as the last. She kept her eyes jammed shut. It hurt less that way.

“Stairs here,” a deep voice warned.

She forced open her eyelids to find herself dwarfed by an immense stone building. Huge alabaster columns loomed upward into the night, so tall she couldn’t see the tops of them. The columns spoke of strength, of permanence.

She pulled free, wanting to touch one. It was cool. She laid her left temple against it, relishing the sensation. It numbed the pain.


“Leave her be for the moment,” a voice commanded. It was the one that had been with her since the emptiness began.

Eventually, she straightened. The inferno between her eyes reignited, causing her stomach to heave. She vomited near the base of the column.Couldn’t they hear the roaring? Why didn’t it hurt them like it did her?

Someone handed her a piece of cloth, a handkerchief. She wiped her face with it and then clutched it to her chest as she was led inside.

There were more voices. They rose and fell like the wind on a winter’s night.

As they talked, she tied the handkerchief into knots. Knots were real.

Brain fever. Laudanum. Papers. Committal.

She bowed over, the storm in her head raging anew.

“Name?” an older woman asked, looking down at her like she was a lost child.

“Doe…Jane Doe,” her companion replied.

(Copyright 2008 - Jana G. Oliver)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Clothes Make the Woman?

I'm not a clothes horse. Somehow I didn't inherit that gene. I wear nice clothes every now and then for business, but for the most part I'm very happy in a pair of jeans and a tee shirt. But even I know there are times you just gotta look good.

So where I agree that Ms. Palin needed to doll up a bit from her Alaska "chic" to take on the national stage, I do feel her handlers didn't do her any favors. $150K? WTH? That's over four times the average U.S. salary ($720/week according to the Bureau of Labor). Even in good times it would be excessive. With things going south, it reeks of eating cake while folks lose their houses and their jobs. Worse yet, it goes against The Brand (hockey mom who shops at Wal-Mart.)

No I don't completely fault Ms. Palin for this, though some of the onus should fall on her. Where she might not have known exactly how much all those high end clothes cost, questions should have been asked. I know I would have asked when something from Neiman Marcus landed in my lap. When she did find out about the prices, she should have shook her head and demanded a trip to J. C. Penneys or Dillards. They sell business clothes. Nice business clothes, and the purchases would have reinforced Palin's image of the average mom.

You don't go against the brand (unless you're Madonna who can get away with it). You can't claim to be for the little guys if you're wearing shoes that cost as much as their paycheck. Just don't fly.

So what would I have recommended? Well, the suit at the top of this blog costs $59.99, not counting shipping. I picked a red one as I know that's what the Gov favors. Add a lace top underneath to counter all those folks bitching about showing a little cleavage and she's got it. $60, not $2000 and above. (Note to all those who are combat shoppers -- I know you folks woulda got better deals at Neiman Marcus and Saks.)

So to all those handlers who did the actual shopping: what were you thinking? Are you that out of touch with the message that you just fly on autopilot? Apparently so. That seems to be the case with the entire McCain/Palin campaign. How sad.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Why Bigotry Has No Future

I admit to reading many of the more right wing blogs. I like to know what people are thinking, even if I can't agree with them. Over and over these blogs continue to invoke Barack Obama's middle name (Hussein) as if it were a curse, because that means he HAS to be a terrorist bent on destroying this country.

I finally snapped the other day and replied in the comments field on one of these blogs, politely but firmly pointing out that in the Middle East Hussein is as common a name as Sarah, Joe or John is here in America. Not surprisingly, my comment was never posted on the blog. Go figure. It's easier to shovel the red meat to the bigots than actually use one's brain.

So to you folks who insist on hammering home the fact Obama's family has Muslim antecedents, are you going to tell this mother her son was a terrorist just because his name is different?

Such a loss. I know I'll remember this young man's sacrifice for a very long time, if nothing more than to honor his memory. The only thing a bigot sacrifices is their heart.

Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan


Thursday evening found me at a comedy club, of all things. The Funny Farm was hosting Gary Gulman and one of the warm-up comedians was a friend of mine (and a fellow Ripperologist) from Scotland. So journeyed over to cheer Alan on. And it went well! Stand up comedy takes a lot of guts. I don't think I'm made that way. Cheers, my friend, for taking on America!

I had the opportunity to be a guest blogger at Pink Fuzzy Slippers on Oct. 16th. It was fun and interesting to find out how many former nurses there are out there. I give a shout to to Mary for inviting me over! I'll be blogging at a couple more sites in the coming weeks and will let you know when that occurs.

Spent part of yesterday at the Gwinnett Reading Festival. It was very well attended and best of all, it was free! I got to talk to all sorts of folks, both readers and authors, and we sold a few books. The longest lines were for the kids to get their faces painted or to get a balloon sculpture. I picked up some tips for new authors to read and had a good time in the process.

And right now I'm on a reading marathon. I zipped through C.E. Murphy's two gargoyle Urban Fantasies, Jim Butcher & Kim Harrison's latest offerings and then took a step back to the Victorian Era with a couple of Anne Perry's works. The first was The Cater Street Hangman, the debut novel in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt Series. I always wanted to read how the two of them met. Then I popped over to the Monk Series (also set in Victorian London) for a couple of reads (Shifting Tide and Dark Assassin).

Anne Perry is the reason I first became interested in the Victorian Era, besides Jack the Ripper. Her books are very heavily grounded in the social world of the time period. Some of that I do not find interesting, so often I do a bit of skimming until I reach the action. Other readers adore that kind of in depth worldbuilding. Each to his own. I still do like to pop back every now and then and see how the books are progressing. I think she's somewhere near 40 novels over her multiple series. Incredible.

To probe an idea I have for an Urban Fantasy, I've begun some research into Atlanta's history. I know, I live in a town full of monumental events, but when you live somewhere famous you sorta go "meh." Hubby suggested that it might be a lot cheaper if I set a few books here rather than across the pond (ever sensible, the husband) so I decided to see what might fascinate me about Hot*Lanta. I do know that Ilona Andrews has an Urban Fantasy series set here, so I'm trying very hard not to inadvertently duplicate any of her & co-author Gordon's themes. Still, the town does offer some plotting options.

Many things under the dough hook. Hopefully something will come of it. Only one thing matters right now -- getting past the election. This one is way ugly folks. But that's another post down the line.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Deadline? What Deadline?

It's been a fun few weeks as I come off the high of finishing Madman's Dance. As I immerse myself completely in a book, it's also a lot like coming off a drug. Withdrawal is always ugly. So to get myself out of deadline mode and into real life, I took a trip to Kentucky.

Bowling Green is home to Western Kentucky University. There an author friend of mine, Dr. Sandra Wales, teaches a Creative Writing class. Given her background in the publishing world, these kids get a dose of reality. So I popped up to teach a class on Genre Fiction and whether it's truly formulaic or not. It was fun. They asked all sorts of probing questions and I had a blast. That night I conducted a reading courtesy of the university, and was surprised to have about twenty people there, especially since Obama and McCain were due to have Debate #2 later in the evening and it was raining. Lots more probing questions, which I enjoyed.

Usually I bitch up a storm about I-75 (which heads north out of Atlanta to Chattanooga). It's always jammed bumper to bumper and is my least favorite route out of the city. Not now. The gas prices have truly cut down on the amount of traffic and I found it a joy to make the trip up in the sunny weather.

The trip home wasn't that much fun as it was raining. Now KY sorely needed the rain (and so did Atlanta) but what was supposed to be a 5-1/2 hour trip went an additional 2 hours. Wisely I bailed off Interstate 75 as soon as I reached Atlanta and took one of the state highways. I got lucky as the heaviest rain hit after I'd taken that route. I wouldn't have been able to see a thing on the interstate.

The rest of the time has been spent mucking out the house and doing a lot of vegging. I've managed to watch the entire first season of The Tudors. I was a history major way back when and I spent a lot of time studying Tudor and Elizabethan England. The show did a pretty good job, though they mucked around with characters and events quite a bit. I'm not used to see that much sex in a TV series, however, but that just shows I don't watch much TV. Though sometimes the sex seemed a bit gratuitous, it wasn't over the top and certainly would fit into the one track mind of the times. Eat, drink, fornicate. Oh, and try to get the best of those French and Spanish bastards.

I've also been reading like a fiend. I'll talk more about one particular book (The Ghost Map) in another post because the book had some interesting insights about our time vs. 1854.

Starting to gear up for my trip to Calgary and World Fantasy. I'll finally get to meet my publisher, Gwen Gades, and launch the new book into the world, and get into some mischief with my roomie, Jean Marie Ward. She is always known for mischief. I'll be sure to do a full post on the con when I return. Not taking my computer this time. This would be the computer that contains detailed info on Irish anarchists, gunpowder and nitroglycerin manufacturing, the layout of London's Docklands, etc. Until our 4th Amendment Rights (see below) are back on track, I have no desire for Customs to go through that puppy. I suppose I could just hand them a copy of Madman's Dance. Or better yet, show them the copy of the Constitution on my iPhone. Yeah, I know. Then they'd have to read it.

Amendment 4 - Search and Seizure. Ratified 12/15/1791.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.