Courting Darkness The Magicsmith Book 2
by L.R. Braden
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance
“A great story of murder, mystery . . . and well-developed characters.”—Margie Hager, Netgalley Reviewer on A Drop of Magic
“A Drop of Magic is a damned fun and original read, with sass, action, hot men, and a whole lot of magic.” --Diana Pharaoh Francis, author of the Diamond City Magic, Magicfall, and Horngate Witches series
Deeper into the shadows. . .
The paranatural community isn’t done with Alex. She’s been summoned to the fae court, and she's got her hands full trying to prepare. But her date with the fae will have to wait. There’s been a death at the gallery, and the man she hoped would be a part of her future is the prime suspect.
Bitter enemies pull her into the middle of a paranatural war for territory that has her dodging police, swords, teeth, and claws—not to mention the truth. The deeper she digs, the more secrets she uncovers, and the less certain she is about the innocence of the one man she wanted to trust.
She thought she was done with murder and monsters, but she’ll have to enter the belly of the beast if she hopes to save her friend.
MY BREATH PUFFED out in angry little clouds as I shivered under the star-streaked sky that stretched above my patch of frozen mountain. Jaw clenched, I shoved a key into the lock on my front door with enough force to jerk the purse off my shoulder. It slid down, snagging at my elbow, and the shift in weight jostled the dome-covered cake balanced in my other hand.
I couldn’t believe James had stood me up again. After all his promises. Twenty minutes standing outside his house. Then a quick call about unavoidable business at the gallery. Sure he’d apologized, given me his
usual line about making it up to me “another time.” But another time never seemed to come for James and me.
I twisted the keys. Those not in the lock dug into my palm. Another time. If he said those words again, I was going to run him over with my Jeep.
The door stuck, swollen by moisture. I growled and pushed harder, hissing when my weight settled onto the freshly re-knit muscles of my right leg. I gave the door another shove, and it finally gave way, slamming
into the adjoining wall with a bang, my keys still dangling from the lock.
I froze in the doorway. My living room was occupied.
I’d been looking forward to curling up with my cake and my anger. Habits formed through years of solitude were hard to break, and I still wasn’t used to having roommates. Company was going to put a serious crimp in my plans.
Kai and Chase were sitting across from each other on my faded furniture, cards and poker chips on the coffee table between them. Neither seemed surprised by my dramatic entrance.
“You’re home early.” Kai glanced in my direction, and his eyes were swirling galaxies of color rather than the deep brown of his glamour—the human disguise he wore less and less these days. He was a fae knight from the Realm of Enchantment who’d been living in my guest room for about a month, most of which was spent saving the world from a murderer with a magic, world-eating box. He cradled a hand of cards to his chest so his opponent couldn’t cheat. “Didn’t think we’d see you till much later.”
“Or tomorrow,” added Chase without looking up.
I’d let Chase into my home when I thought he was just a cat, before I knew he was actually a fae who could change form at will. I let him stay because he saved my life. Of course, when I made that deal, the understanding was that he’d remain the gray tabby I’d taken in last summer, but he’d been spending more time with fingers than fur lately.
“Call.” He dumped a handful of colorful plastic chips onto the pile already on the table.
“Yeah well . . .” I pulled my key out of the door and kicked it closed behind me. “Plans change.”
Chase glanced up and raised a silver eyebrow over one luminous green eye. “You’ve replaced James with a cake?”
The plastic dome I hugged gave a clear view of the decadent chocolate cake I’d picked up on my way home.
“This is my consolation prize.” I lifted my chin and carried the calorie-laden confection to the high counter that separated the kitchen from the living room. “Don’t judge me.”
“Let me guess.” Chase tossed his long silver braid behind his shoulder, making his pointed, slightly furry ears twitch. “Something came up.”
“Again,” Kai added. He spread his cards on the table. “Two pair.”
“Full house,” Chase said with a grin. He scooped up his winnings.
Kai looked over at me. “It’s important to know when to fold.”
I’d been thinking the same thing all the long drive home. I’d done my best with James. I’d really put myself out there. But after all the excuses, and conflicting schedules, and missed dates. . . . I’d been down this road enough to know where it ended. I’d had my fill of waiting for men who never showed up. Still, I wasn’t about to give Kai the satisfaction of an “I told you so.”
I crossed my arms and dropped onto the couch next to Kai. “That little tip just lost you a piece of cake.”
His smile went slack. Kai had the biggest sweet tooth I’d ever seen.
“You’ll get fat if you eat it all on your own.”
I gestured to Chase, who was stacking his winnings into neat little piles. “Chase can help me.”
Chase shook his head. “Cats don’t eat chocolate.”
“They don’t normally eat pizza either, but that’s never stopped you.” I “accidentally” nudged the coffee table with my knee, sending Chase’s carefully stacked poker chips cascading across the surface.
“Hey! Don’t get pissy at me just because your old stiff couldn’t follow through.”
“James is not an old stiff,” I said. “He’s refined. Something you wouldn’t understand.”
He snorted. “Whatever you say.”
I turned to Kai. “Back me up here.”
“Will it earn me some cake?”
“Ha,” roared Chase. “Spineless elf.”
“Mangy stray,” Kai shot back.
Chase took a bow and began to melt, shrinking and shifting until a gray tabby sat on the faded beige cushion of Chase’s chair.
Sighing, I lifted a blue poker chip and rolled it over my knuckles.
“What were you betting?”
Kai tipped his head to one side and frowned. “Little bits of colored plastic, obviously.”
I rolled my eyes and tossed the chip back on the pile. “The chips are usually backed by money, but I guess you and Chase aren’t exactly rolling in human cash.”
“Actually, I received my first paycheck last week.”
When Kai made the decision to stick around the mortal realm to instruct me in all things fae, he also started working part-time at a convenience store owned by a registered halfer who owed him a favor.
The job was dull, but necessary to get a work visa from the PTF—the Paranatural Task Force that policed interactions between humans and fae—which was the only way a full-blooded fae could legally stay in the
“I’ve been thinking about what to do with it, though I hadn’t considered rolling in it. I believe humans have a custom of paying a portion of the expense of shared living space, so I thought I might do that.”
“You mean rent?”
He thrust a finger at me. “Exactly. What do I owe you?”
I lifted one shoulder. “On the house.”
“Yes. What do I owe on the house?”
I rolled my eyes. “It means forget about it. I don’t need your money.”
“Are we not roommates?”
“Sure, but it’s not like this is a permanent arrangement. We haven’t even talked about what happens after my trip to court.” My breath hitched, as it often did when anyone mentioned my summons to the fae
Court of Enchantment. Kai had convinced the powers-that-be— namely my long-lost great-grandfather—that I wasn’t ready, hence his new job as my personal tutor. But we had no idea how long the arrangement
would last. Maybe I’d never be ready for life among the fae.
He frowned. “I still feel I should contribute.”
“How about groceries? Between you and Chase, the fridge is almost always empty.”
“Deal.” He thrust out his hand, and I shook it, trying not to laugh at his triumphant expression.
Chase, who’d been watching our exchange, perked up at the word “groceries.” Once the deal was struck, he sprang into my lap and nuzzled his head against my chin.
Without thinking, I stroked his back and scratched around his ears.
“You know that’s still Chase, right?” Kai watched us with a mixture of amusement and frustration. “You shouldn’t treat him differently just because he looks like a cat.”
I shrugged. “I can’t help it.”
Kai made a disgusted noise and scooped the cat out of my lap, dropping him unceremoniously to the floor. Chase gave an indignant hiss and sauntered off.
“If you can’t even deal with that riffraff, how do you expect to get by at court?”
I nibbled a piece of loose cuticle and hunched deeper into the sagging couch cushion, wishing for the millionth time that life could go back to the way it was before Kai showed up at my door. Back when I
thought I was human.
Most halfers—fae-human hybrids—returned to their regular lives after registering with the PTF, but that wasn’t an option for me. Unlike the vast majority of fae offspring, I wasn’t allergic to metal. Hell, it was
how I made my living. And according to Kai, there was only one bloodline capable of producing fae that could handle iron. That was why Kai was still there, why I had to take faerie protocol lessons, and why
Uncle Sol, the man who’d raised me since a car crash killed my mom, was doing his best to keep my name off the PTF registry.
I rubbed the intricate tattoo that wound its way up my right arm.
Learning I was the by-blow of a fae-human love affair untold generations ago had been a hard pill to swallow. Finding out I was royal had been a kick in the head.
“I still don’t see why I have to go. Your mission was a success, the killer was brought to justice, and gramps got back his magic death-box.
Why can’t we just leave it at that and all go our merry ways?”
Kai pinched the bridge of his nose. “We’ve gone over this. There is no going back. The gift my lord gave you to boost your powers also marked you as his blood-kin. There’s no hiding who you are now.”
“I could hide just fine if I stayed here,” I argued. “But parading around a fae court with the Lord of Enchantment is going to make me pretty damn conspicuous.”
There was a time I would have been happy to have a long-lost relative come and claim me, as any orphan would, but I held no delusion that he’d found me out of kinship or caring. I was one of only three
living imbuers—a rare gift. No fae would pass up his claim to an imbuer, regardless of how tenuous the connection or how weak the blood of the halfer.
Kai rolled his eyes—an expression I was pretty sure he’d picked up from me. “You’re a member of the court now, like it or not. If you don’t go to them they will eventually come to you, and I guarantee you would not enjoy that experience. In either case, learning our customs and traditions is the best way to protect yourself. Besides, there’s no one in this world or any other who can instruct you in the art of imbuing as well as my lord.”
I crossed my arms, frowning. “My abilities are fine the way they are.”
Truth be told, there was a lot I still had to learn about my powers, and magic in general, but that was the one subject Kai had steadfastly refused to cover. Mostly our sessions consisted of mind-numbing etiquette
and history lessons, although he’d recently begun teaching me how to fight with a sword.
“It’s important for you to understand how the fae world works before you take your place in it. To that end . . .” He picked up an old leather-bound book from a pile on the floor and held it out. “A little light
reading before bed.”
“Haven’t I suffered enough tonight?”
“It’s the chronicle of your family tree. I thought you might be interested to see where you came from.”
“I know where I come from,” I snapped, but I took the proffered tome just the same.
“You know less about yourself than anyone I’ve ever met.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Never mind.” He waved his hand as if wiping the words away.
“I’m turning in. I have an early shift at the store tomorrow.”
“How’s that going, by the way?”
He shrugged. “I play tricks on the customers to entertain myself when it’s slow.”
My jaw dropped. “If someone reports you, your visa will be revoked.
You’ll be deported back to the reservation.”
“Don’t worry.” He grinned. “Humans haven’t got a clue.”
I scowled. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
A Drop of Magic The Magicsmith Book 1
The war isn’t over . . .
With the world clinging to a fragile peace forced on the Fae by humanity after the Faerie Wars, metalsmith Alex Blackwood is plunged into the world of the half-fae who traffick in illegal magical artifacts. Her best friend’s murder and his cryptic last message place her in the crosshairs of a scheme to reignite the decade-old war between humans and fae.
Worse, violent attacks against her and the arrival of a fae knight on a mission force Alex to face a devastating revelation of who and what she is. To catch a killer, retrieve a dangerous artifact, and stop a war, Alex will have to accept that she’s an unregistered fae “halfer” with a unique magical talent—a talent that would change everything she believes about her past, her art, and her future.
Her world is crumbling around her, and Alex will have to decide who to trust if she and the world are going to survive.
“A Drop of Magic is a damned fun and original read, with sass, action, hot men, and a whole lot of magic.” --Diana Pharaoh Francis, author of the Diamond City Magic, Magicfall, and Horngate Witches series
METAL DUST CLUNG to the sweat on my arms, glittering like shining scales. Even with the studio door propped open behind me, the uncommonly warm October air did little to temper the heat of the forge. A shower of sparks erupted as I plunged the carbon steel rod back into the annealing embers and dragged an arm across my forehead, taking care to avoid the bulky, blackened welding glove. I’d probably still end up with sooty streaks decorating my otherwise pale face. I always did.
Lost in the beat of my old MP3 player, I started belting out the lyrics of Robert DeLong’s Don’t Wait Up as I prepared the next rod. Then a touch settled—light and tentative—on my arm, and the bottom fell out of my stomach.
Tongs clutched in one hand, hammer in the other, I spun.
“Whoa, whoa.” His lips formed the words, though I couldn’t hear them over the music blaring through my headphones.
An inch shorter than I was, wearing jeans and a polo shirt, I had no reason to think the man was anything but human. But then, who could tell these days? He took a step back, hands raised, either to show he meant no harm or to ward off the blow he thought was coming.
Behind him, near the open door, stood a second man. He wore a rumpled brown suit that matched his hair and eyes. Average height, average build, average looks. Nothing remarkable about him.
Moving to put the anvil between us, I set the hammer down and pulled off my headphones, but kept a white-knuckled grip on the tongs. The higher-than-average number of violent crimes this summer had me on edge—along with everyone else—though none of the violence had come so far as my neck of the woods. It seemed unlikely a murderer would get my attention before attacking, but my heart raced a mile a minute as I faced the strangers. “Who are you?”
The man nearest me lowered his arms. “We announced ourselves, but it seems you didn’t hear.”
I scowled at his attempt to put the blame back on me. This was my studio, and they were uninvited guests.
“My apologies.” This came from Mr. Unremarkable. The monotone of his voice matched his appearance, revealing nothing. “You may call me Smith. My associate is Neil. Am I addressing Alyssandra Blackwood?”
A muscle under my right eye twitched. Most people only knew me as Alex. Alyssandra hadn’t existed anywhere but legal documents since I was twelve and traded the name in for something stronger, more
“We’ve come to purchase an item from you, an engraved silver box.”
My shoulders dropped as the tension in them eased a little. Customers didn’t often stop by the studio unannounced, but it wasn’t unheard of. People sometimes got my address from the Souled Art Gallery
in Boulder where I showed my work, or from previous customers, and came to commission pieces. Most were courteous enough to call ahead.
“I’m booked on orders right now. I could maybe get to it next month.”
“You misunderstand. We are looking for an object already in your possession.”
“Oh. Well, sorry to disappoint, but I don’t have an item like that in stock.”
“We know the box came your way. If you hand it over, we can make it worth your while.” Neil had the slick, sleazy tone of a used car salesman. Curious though I was about this box, and why they thought I had it, I’d had enough of the conversation. Even if they weren’t killers, they gave me the creeps. I shook my head. “You were misinformed.”
“Ms. Blackwood,” Smith said. “Be reasonable. We’re willing to pay handsomely, and considering the other parties involved, you’re not likely to get a better offer. Surely it isn’t worth the risk?”
My breath caught as the thinly veiled threat hit me like a punch in the gut.
“You need to leave, now.” My voice trembled slightly. The studio only had one door, and they were between it and me. I was trapped. Shifting my stance, I tightened my grip on the tongs, willing them not to shake.
Smith raised his hands in a placating manner. “I think we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot. You might not even realize you have the item we seek. It would look quite common, like a jewelry box.”
“I told you, I haven’t got anything like that. Now get out of here before I call the cops.” It was a bluff, of course, I’d left my cell phone in the house. Even if I could call, the police would never arrive in time to help. That was the downside of living so far from town. I was on my own.
“Enough of this.” Neil stepped around the anvil and reached for my arm.
I didn’t like to fight, I avoided confrontations when I could, but if he thought I was going to roll over, he was wrong. With a guttural howl, I twisted my wrist out of Neil’s grip and swung the tongs into his face. His skin split apart like newspaper peeling back from a fire, scorched black and crinkled around the edges. An unearthly shriek filled the studio, and I stumbled back, shocked at the damage I’d done.
Neil shimmered and seemed to melt. His skin became transparent, and a network of blue veins crawled beneath its surface. His nose spread and sank into his face, leaving two flared slits. Below that, the mouth emitting that horrible sound elongated until the gaping, needle-lined hole grew so large I could have put my whole fist in without scraping my knuckles. When he reached up to cover his face, his fingers had nearly doubled in length, the webbing between them connecting all the way to the tips. His fingernails stretched and thickened to claws. The creature before me was straight out of a horror movie, and I added my own scream to the cacophony.
Wielding my tongs like a baseball bat, I backed away from the writhing shape which had been the man Neil seconds before. Even at the best of times, my stomach cramped when someone mentioned the
fae. Seeing one in the flesh was like having a bucket of ice water dumped on my head. I shivered from head to toe, and fought the urge to throw up.
Smith crossed the space between himself and Neil in two steps and pulled Neil’s arms down to expose the hideous gash burned across his cheek. My stomach lurched at what I’d done. White glinted where bone showed beneath charred flesh. The eye above had swelled shut and was rapidly turning a sickly greenish color. Smith placed one palm against Neil’s forehead, and the horrible wail abruptly cut off as Neil sagged in Smith’s arms.
“It seems we were mistaken.” Smith spoke as he had before, without inflection or emotion. Nothing to show surprise or concern that he was holding an unconscious, injured faerie in his arms. “Good day, Ms. Blackwood.”
My mind went blank as I fumbled for words.
Smith took my stupefied silence in stride. Hefting Neil without visible effort, he gave a small parting nod and carried his companion out of the studio.
I remained where I was until the sound of car doors closing and the crunch of gravel told me I was alone. Then, still clutching my tongs, I inched to the door and took a deep breath of the outside air. The
driveway was empty, no cars in sight. No faerie goons either. My knees gave out under the weight of the panic I’d been keeping in check, and I sank to the ground, tongs still clutched in my shaking hands. The tea I’d had for breakfast felt like acid in my stomach, threatening to come back up.
A gray tabby with yellow-green eyes peeked around the corner of the shed with a questioning, “Meow?” Cat had appeared on my doorstep a few months back, begging for scraps, and I’d made the mistake of giving him some. He’d come around every day since. Despite the fact he’d already stuck around longer than most of the guys in my life, I’d steadfastly refused to name him.
“Fat lot of good you were.”
Lifting his nose, Cat swished his tail and stalked away.
It was silly to take my anxiety out on Cat, but it was easier than dealing with the panic and adrenaline threatening to overwhelm me. Anything to distract from the flesh seared to the tongs in my shaking hands.
I couldn’t imagine forging more, so with a wary eye on the door I dampened the coals and stored my tools, each in its marked place on my pegboard. The gooey tongs went on a shelf, I’d throw them in an acid bath later.
Born and raised in Colorado, L. R. BRADEN makes her home in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains with her wonderful husband, precocious daughter, and psychotic cat. With degrees in both English literature and metalsmithing, she splits her time between writing and art.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
According to most people I’ve met . . . pretty much everything.
One of the big ones that gets people to go “ooooh” is that I’m a metalsmith. (Yeah, that’s where I got the idea for Alex.) It was my first major in college, and I spent a lot of long hours in the studio learning how to forge, cast, enamel, solder, polish, and all the other skills necessary to work metal into pretty much any shape and style a person could want. Unlike Alex, I don’t make grand sculptures, but I have sold my work in a couple galleries and consignment shops, and I’ve done a few commissions.
I also make chainmail. That does NOT mean I write unwanted letters to people. It means I spend hours hooking tiny loops of metal together to form intricate patterns. Lots of people say I’m insane for staring at something so small and so complicated for so long, but I find it relaxing. If you want to see some of what I’ve made, you can check it out on my etsy site: https://www.etsy.com/shop/WimsiDesign .
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
When I was a kid (about 5 or 6), there was a huge snow storm. My brother and I built a big ramp in the area between our apartment building and the garages where the tenants parked. The ramp faced the driveway that let to the parking area, but the driveway itself was blocked from view by the apartment building. (I bet you can guess where this is going).
I laid on my stomach on a sled and my brother pushed me down the ramp. As I came in line with the corner of the building, I saw a car coming up the drive. Now, there’s not a lot a kid on a fast-moving sled can do to avoid an oncoming car, so I just held on tight. The front wheels of the car past right in front of my face. Then I was under the car. I remember looking up and thinking, “Huh, so that’s what the underside of a car looks like.”
I watched the back tire approach with dread, but I passed out the far side of the car right in front of it. I slammed into a snowbank on the other side of the driveway, totally untouched. The whole thing couldn’t have taken more than a couple seconds, but it was one of my first experiences with the phenomenon of time slowing down when something exciting or scary is happening.
I’m not sure what it says about me as a person, but I’ve experienced that sensation quite a lot over the course of my life.
What are some of your pet peeves?
It drives me bonkers when people explain things really slowly, or repeat simple concepts over and over like I might not understand.
Where were you born/grew up at?
I’ve lived in Colorado my whole life.
What kind of world ruler would you be?
A reluctant one. The idea of having that many people relying on me to make life-affecting decisions makes me sick to my stomach.
What are you passionate about these days?
I’m a big believer in equal HUMAN rights, meaning everyone, regardless of gender, race, sexual preference, age, religion, country of origin, or any other distinguishing factors you can pin on a person.
I’m a fan of renewable energy and finding alternate power sources that help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. I recently took a trip to Alaska where I saw the effects of global warming on glaciers first-hand.
Since becoming a parent, I’m pretty passionate about the quality of early education, literacy, and student support.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
If I’m relaxing on my own, I read or play video games. If my family is with me, we go for hikes, play board games, or watch movies.
How to find time to write as a parent?
When I first started writing, my daughter had just been born. (Wow! Has it really been that long?) I was working at the library, and my husband was working on a variety of tech contracts, so I’d drive my daughter down to her grandparents’ house, go to my shift, pick her up, then write with her in my lap until my brain shut down.
After a while, I reduced my hours at work so I could focus on raising my daughter, then I mostly wrote during her naps. At this point, my daughter has started school, so I write between when I drop her off in the morning and pick her up in the afternoon. Summers are a little trickier. I usually end up waking up crazy early to get a couple hours of work in before she wakes up.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I guess I didn’t really take myself seriously until I finished the first draft of my first book. Then, like so many writers just starting out, I assumed I’d written a terrific story and sent it off straight away to my favorite publisher assuming they would also love my book and want to print a million copies of it right away. Yeah, that didn’t happen. Then came a long period of revision and self-doubt. Every time I got a rejection letter, I rewrote the book. I can’t even count how many different versions there have been. Still, somewhere in that mess of rejections and re-writes, I began to identify as a writer. When people asked me what I did, my answer morphed from “I work in a library. Oh, and I write books.” To “I’m an author, and I work in a library.”
Do you have a favorite movie?
My “favorite” anything changes constantly, but I really like the first Lego Movie. I think it’s a great message delivered in such a unique way. Plus, I love Legos, so I was totally geeking out over the awesome constructions throughout the whole thing.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
Actually, the novel I think would make the best movie hasn’t been published yet. It’s a young adult science-fiction adventure set on Mars called The Price of Tomorrow. It has car chases, space travel, espionage, criminal organizations, street gangs, first love, bio-engineered disguises, and more. I’m hoping to find representation for it soon, but YA sci-fi is kind of a hard sell right now.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
When I was in my last year of college I had a roommate who loved to draw furries. For those who don’t know, a furry is an anthropomorphized animal character, an animal with human characteristics. Anyway, this roommate loved to create furries to represent all of her friends. One day, she presented me with a beautiful sketch of a fox-woman and explained why she thought a fox matched my personality. Foxes are shy, clever, agile, curious, resourceful, etc. Now, I’d never considered what animal might best represent me before that, but I fell in love with my fox picture that day. So, without a doubt, my avatar is a fox. :)
By the way, you can see some of Rea’s furries on deviant art at: https://www.deviantart.com/rea2mill/gallery/
What inspired you to write this book?
I knew from the beginning of my Magicsmith series that I’d be writing multiple books. This second one, Courting Darkness, was inspired by Alex’s need to open herself up, which she starts to do at the end of Book 1, A Drop of Magic. This time around, Alex is trying her best to let people into her life, but (of course) there are a lot of things that get in the way of that.
What can we expect from you in the future?
The Magicsmith Book 3, Faerie Forged, should be out before the end of the year, and I have at least two more books planned for this series.
Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
A couple, but I mostly have side stories about the world. I’ve created short stories of the creation myths of various species, and I wrote a story about a pair of sisters set during the time right after the fae came out, before the Faerie Wars. I also plan to write a short story about a demon-beset sorcerer and his paladin during the war. My intention is to eventually have all these stories available to read and/or download from my website.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters inCourting Darkness?
The main character, Alex, is an independent, reclusive artist in her twenties with trust and abandonment issues. Her father left to fight in the Faerie Wars and never came back. Her mother died shortly after, leaving her an orphaned teenager. Alex has since made a couple good friends, and that’s all she needs or wants. She avoids politics, especially involving the fae, and enjoys the solitude of her mountain home. At least, until the series starts…
Alex’s fae roommate Kai once again plays a major part in Alex’s (mis)adventure. He’s been assigned by the Lord of Enchantment to prepare Alex for her debut at fae court and he is eager to prove himself up to the challenge, but he has his hands full just keeping Alex out of trouble.
James Abernathy is the gallery owner where Alex shows her art. He plays a much bigger role in this book, as his budding romance with Alex from book one grows and becomes more complicated.
There are many other characters to flesh out both the world and Alex’s life, including her small circle of close friends and a handful of coworkers and regulars at the bookstore where Alex works part-time. I’ve been making character sketches and short bios for the characters and posting them online, so you can see my basic concepts for Alex and her friends on the bonus features section of my website: https://www.lrbraden.com/p/magicsmith-character-sketches.html .
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
Alex was easy. She was a shadowy version of me shaped by different life experiences --- someone who shared many of my personality traits so I could make her feel authentic, but living in different circumstances.
As for the concept, at the time I thought of this story I’d just read a whole bunch of urban fantasy books where the main characters already knew who they were and what they could do. Yes, they still grew and changed over the course of the books, but these were people confident in their powers. I wanted to create a similar story, but from the beginning, about a person who wasn’t quite sure who they were or what they could do. I wanted Alex to experience the discovery of a new reality, and share that with readers. In the first book, Alex learned she is a part of the paranatural community. In this one, she gets to dive a little deeper.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I had a lot of fun writing the action sequences. It’s great when I can be swept up in the moment and just watch the story unfold on the page like watching a movie.
How did you come up with the titlefor this book?
I settled on the title Courting Darkness because Alex is both considering a relationship with a man who turns out to have a very dark side indeed, and because Alex ends up letting some of her own darkness come out to play as she struggles to find her footing in the paranatural world.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Yes and no. I’m a perfectionist, so even if I love something I will always find something to change. This was never more clear than when I had to approve the page proofs, meaning I had to read through the whole book but I wasn’t allowed to change anything. Not move a comma, not change a word, nothing. It drove me insane.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
Oh yes. I learn a ton with every book I write, and every revision. Courting Darkness will be my second published title, but it’s actually the fourth book I’ve written, and I learn and grow with every attempt.
One of the biggest learning points for me with this series has been to make my protagonist take the reins of the action as often as possible. Yes, some things must happen to her, but anywhere I can give Alex the opportunity to decide her own fate, I try to give it to her.
If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Emma Stone. I think she could pull off the right combination of sass and serious for Alex.
Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
I write for the same reason I read: for fun. I’m not trying to teach, or preach, or convince. I just want to share a story that entertained me when it played out in my head. Hopefully it will entertain you too.
What is your favorite part of this book and why?
I think my favorite part of this book is when Alex realizes that even the people she thinks of as “good” have as much capacity for darkness as the people she thinks of as “evil,” and that accepting a person means accepting all of them… something she’s not sure she can do.
Are your characters basedonreal people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
Alex is based loosely on me. Other than that, the characters all came from my imagination, but imagination is influenced by real life. Some characters share specific traits with people I know, many are a mish-mash of such traits, but none match enough characteristics to represent an actual person from my life.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story?
For the most part I’ve got a pretty good handle on my stories. Sometimes scenes move around, and sometimes they take me in unexpected directions, but I always find my way back to somewhere near where I thought I’d be. The one place where my characters get free reign is in dialogue. Sometimes while I’m writing, I’ll find my characters have started chatting, or arguing, or they’ve gone off on some tangent, and I have trouble figuring out how to get them back on task.
Convince us why you feel your book is a must read.
Maybe it’s because I don’t like being told what to do, but I don’t think any book is a must read. I think of books as get to read and supposed to read. A get to read book is one that I pick up because it looks fun or intriguing, and I keep turning the pages because it holds my interest. But not all people will be pulled in by the same books. Some people hate reading drama. Some people hate reading fantasy. Some people hate reading historical fiction. So to say a book must be read feels like pushing it into the supposed to read category. What I can say is that if you like fun, fast, fantasy stories, I think you will want to keep turning pages in my books.
Have you written any other books that are not published?
Yep. I’ve written a total of five books to date. Three are in the Magicsmith series. The other two are young adult stories, one of which is done and waiting for me to pay attention to it, and the other of which is still a draft that needs some work.
What did you edit out of this book?
Surprisingly, most of the original scenes stayed in this book, though some of them changed quite a bit. I rearranged the entire first half of the story to change the sequence of events.
One of the few scenes I did end up deleting entirely might make an appearance in another book because I really liked it. It was originally the opening scene for Courting Darkness in which Alex and James were in the middle of a much-delayed date. The police arrived just as things were heating up, and Alex was left hugely frustrated and borderline homicidal. Here’s a little snippet of it:
James hovered a breath above me. His lips blazed a trail along my jaw, neck, collarbone, and I arched closer, eager to erase the distance between us. Ding-dong.
James’s head jerked up.
I gritted my teeth. “You have got to be kidding me.” Ding-dong. This time the ring was followed by a persistent knock and a shout.
“Mr. Abernathy? This is the police. Please open the door.”
James settled back on his heels, tipped his head up, and closed his eyes with a sign.
Whatever happened next, our evening was over. The spell of blind desire we’d been acting under was broken, and for that, whoever was at the door deserved to die.
Is there a writerwhosebrain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why?
Bradon Sanderson. I love the unique worlds and magic systems he creates, and I’d love to get a look at his brainstorming process.
Behind the Scenes:
When I’m working at my computer, my cat likes to lay on my arms so I can’t move them. A lot of my work has been typed in this awkwardly restricted position because I just don’t have the heart to chase the little fuzzball off. Similarly, my daughter likes to snuggle in my lap while I work, so I end up typing with one hand off to the side because I can’t have my computer in front of me. Honestly, it’s amazing there aren’t more typos…
What are your top 10 favorite books/authors?
Off the top of my head…
What book do you think everyone should read?
People are too different. A book that strikes a chord with one person and really makes them think might seem trite and uninspired to another. Don’t believe me? Just look at all the reviews of your favorite book. I guarantee someone hated it.
How long have you been writing?
I scribbled out stories as a child and teenager, but I never finished any of them. It wasn’t until 2012 that I actually sat down with the intention of writing a complete novel. Since then I’ve taken classes, read books, and submitted to contests to get better. To date, I’ve written five novels and seven short stories, and I have outlines for many many more that are just waiting for me to get around to them.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
I start with a set of essential characters, but new characters are popping up all the time. Sometimes they come completely out of the blue, filling some hole I hadn’t even noticed in my story, and sometimes I create a small character for a single roll, but that character morphs into someone who gets fleshed out and integrated into the larger story.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
I do most of the world building before I ever start writing, but for fantasy a lot of that comes straight out of my head. Since I set the Magicsmith series in a fictional version of a real place, I did make sure I was familiar with all the areas Alex would be visiting.
Beyond that, I do research as it becomes necessary, sometimes taking hours out of my writing time to track down a particular piece of information. I’ve had to research things like how long it takes before rigor mortis sets into a body and when it fades, the death rates and record homicides for various areas, gun types and ammunition counts, what happens to an unclaimed dead body, how to mail human ashes… Huh. Apparently I spend a lot of time researching stuff about dead people.
Do you see writing as a career?
Yes and no. While I’m definitely pursuing writing as a career, I’m not in it for the money. Even if no one buys my books, I will keep writing them.
Do you read yourself, and if so what is your favorite genre?
Absolutely! I’ve had to slow down now that so much of my time is taken up with reading and revising my own work, but I still manage a few books a month. I mostly read fantasy in all its sub-genres. I also like science fiction and young adult, and I’ll read any book so long as the story holds my interest.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
Silence, definitely. I’ve tried writing with music, but I always end up singing along to the lyrics instead of focusing on my story. And trying to write while my daughter is fighting for my attention is just impossible.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
Several, but I try to keep them at different stages. I’ll usually only write one first draft at a time, but even that doesn’t always happen. Right now I’ve got one ready to publish, one in revision, one on query, one first draft, and two in pre-writing.
Pen ortypewriteror computer?
Computer. I like being able to make changes easily, and my writing would be a mess without spell check.
Adviceyouwould give new authors?
Writing is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Pace yourself and remember to take breaks when you need them. Otherwise you won’t reach the finish line.
Describe your writing style.
I generally have an idea of what scene or scenes I hope to write when I sit down at my computer. Then I just start typing and see where I end up. Sometimes everything goes smoothly and I hammer out scene after scene and I love them all. Sometimes I agonize over a single scene for hours and never seem to make any progress. Either way, I let the story shift and change as I write because sometimes things don’t come together until I’m mucking about in the details.
What makes a good story?
There are hundreds of books and courses trying to answer this question, but in a nutshell I’d say: Compelling and believable characters faced with interesting challenges, both inside and out.
What areyoucurrently reading?
I’m between books right now, having just finished Into the Still Blue by Veronica Rossi, but I’ve got a *huge* pile of to-be-read books waiting for my attention. I’m thinking I might read The Desert of Souls next, or possibly Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues.
What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?
Once I come up with the idea for a story, I spend a couple months rolling it around in my head. If it sticks around, I jot down notes of important factors, characters, plot events, etc. Since I’m usually in the middle of another project, those notes often sit around for a long time before I can get back to them. (For example: I’ve got notes on a great story I want to write that I thought up about three years ago.)
When I’m ready to start working on the project, I make an outline of where I think the story will go and major landmarks along the way. Sometimes I mark where I think chapter or section breaks will be, but those often move around after I’ve finished the first draft. Then I flesh out the main characters and figure out how they fit together and interact, usually making files for each including backstory, physical appearance, personality traits, etc.
By the time I actually start writing, I’ve got many pages of notes. Then I sit down and write the first draft, beginning to end. I can’t say I never go back and edit a previous section, but I try not to. If I find something that needs to be changed, I make a note about it and move on.
After the first draft is done, I go back and address any major overhauls I made notes of. Then I set it aside for a bit so I can come at it again with fresh eyes. After that it’s all about revision and fine-tuning.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Family time. I will always choose doing something fun with my family over sitting alone in my office, so I have to exercise a great deal of self-control when my husband or daughter asks me to join them.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I try my best to deliver a story readers will enjoy. If people like a certain kind of story, they will read others like it, and every story will have original aspects just because every writer is different.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
“Don’t obsess.” But I wouldn’t listen.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
To actually “write” the book? About three months. But then I have to revise the book. And edit the book. And then do it all over again. I will say that from start to finish, my work time is getting shorter because I’m making fewer mistakes in the early drafts. I’d say my current turnaround time for a book is about six months of actual work (which doesn’t include taking breaks to work on other projects.)
Do you believe in writer’s block?
No. Sometimes I don’t feel like writing, but sometimes I don’t feel like doing anything. That’s just a natural part of being human. If I take a day off to relax, sometimes a couple, I can get right back to work once I feel better.
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