Four lessons from When Words Collide

For the fourth year in a row, I came away from When Words Collide feeling fired up and ready to go, so this weeks blog post comes early. A lot of things went right, I met a lot of great people, and I learned a lot. There are a few key lessons I want to remember going forward, so here they are.

1. Nobody has all the answers. 

This is a really key point. Nobody knows everything, and if they think they do, then you probably shouldn’t listen to them. During his two-hour talk on the writing process, Brandon Sanderson shared tips about things he wishes he’d known he started writing. First on the list? “Know when to ignore the person telling you what to do.”

This is a point that Brandon really illustrated well. There is no one true path to anything, no carefully guarded secret that will bring you success. A conference like WWC is all about sharing experiences, and there was a real wealth to draw on. I heard Robert J. Sawyer talk about his 7 netbooks, heard Jodi McIsaac speak about her impressive marketing methods, and enjoyed Hayden Trenholm, Ian Alexander Martin, Adrianne Kerr and Robert Runte’s perspectives on querying. None of them have The Answer, but having heard their opinions, I can decide my own path.

2. It’s hard to put yourself out there. Do it anyway.

No, really. We’re not writers because we’re social butterflies, but to get what you want, you’ve got to talk to people. You’ve got to get out and do it. I spoke with agents, editors, and above all, lots and lots of other writers, and every time I did, I learned something, even if it was just about my fellows.

It’s more than that, though. If you want to be published, eventually, you’re going to need to seek feedback on your work. Try a blue pencil session, or submit to a slush pile panel. This isn’t a thing that came naturally to me, but after pitching for three years in a row, I was only nervous for a few hours leading up to the pitch, instead of spending the weekend terrified of five minutes on the Sunday. You will learn to be more comfortable and to do more, and you don’t have to leap in and do it all at once.

3. Writing and publishing are always changing.

Be prepared for things to change, because they do. The market will change. The tools will change. Change, change. And not just Amazon-Hatchette big-time events. Trends will come and go, too. Last year, everyone I spoke to couldn’t stop telling me about trilogies. Pitch a trilogy, everyone said. This year, I heard in half a dozen places that the market is saturated with trilogies, and that single books are better. Should you let that change what you write? Probably not. Chasing trends means you’ll be left in the dust. But it should affect what you propose, and to who.

Maybe that’s why conferences like this are so important. By next year, things will be different. You can’t follow the day-to-day events, but if you’re writing for a market, you’d better know what’s going on in that market.

4. Don’t stop writing

Here’s a golden rule, one that I heard reiterated a dozen times. Keep writing. Brandon Sanderson told a very enraptured crowd about his writing schedule, in which he rises late in the day, writes, spends time with his family and children, and then writes more once it gets late. Even at a conference, he gets in some words, describing himself not as a fast writer, but as a consistent writer. Robert J. Sawyer has seven netbooks that he keeps in difference places so he always has access to them, so he can always keep writing. Jodi McIsaac’s top marketing tip was to keep writing, because new books sell old books. It’s easy to get caught up in the business and the networking and everything, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the writing.

A final note

My short story Aurel Stonegate received honourable mention in the Robyn Herrington Memorial Short Story Contest, and was published in In Places Between 2014. I was lucky enough to attend the judging panel with the other winning authors, and I want to congratulate them all on their wonderful work. Also, thanks to Calgary’s Imaginative Fiction Writers Association, Calgary Crime Writers, the Alberta Romance Writers’ Association and the Alexandra Writers’ Society for hosting the contest, to the administrators, and to the judges. The end result is wonderful. 

Seven reasons not to write novels, and why we should anyway

Spanish novelist Javier Marias has seven reasons not to write  novels. I highly recommend a read of them, because although they are a bit cynical, I can’t help but detect a bit of cheekiness to them. For brevity’s sake, here they are.

  1. There are too many novels and too many people writing them.
  2. Because anyone, whatever his or her profession, can write a novel, it is an activity that lacks merit and mystery.
  3. Writing a novel won’t make you rich.
  4. The novel is no guarantee of fame.
  5. The novel does not bring immortality, largely because immortality barely exists any more.
  6. Writing novels does not flatter the ego, even momentarily.
  7. Isolation, a fear of the blank page, the vast amount of alcohol a writer consumes, and so on.

Perhaps this is more than seven reasons, and perhaps there’s more than a bit of tongue in cheek there. But this leads Marias to one reason he can see for to write novels. From the article.

“Writing novels allows the novelist to spend much of his time in a fictional world, which is really the only or at least the most bearable place to be. This means that he can live in the realm of what might have been and never was, and therefore in the land of what is still possible, of what will always be about to happen, what has not yet been dismissed as having happened already or because everyone knows it will never happen.”

There’s a bit of temptation to get to up in arms whenever a published writer tells unpublished writers not to write. It smacks a bit of gatekeeping. But Marias is right in that if publication, fame and profit is the goal of writing, then the vast majority of writers will be disappointed. But there are a lot of writers who grind away at our works, odds be damned. Do we hope to defy the trends?

I’ve ruminated in the past about readership as a goal of writing. But I’m not sure that really gets at what this is about. We all write for different reasons, but as tongue in cheek as Marias may be, it’s easy to look at his list and feel a bit discouraged.

So I wrote my own damn list. Why I should write novels. It’s below.

  1. I enjoy the feeling of having written. Sometimes, I even enjoy writing.
  2. For me, writing is a social activity, and I hugely value the friends I’ve met through it, not to mention my fiancé.
  3. Because I’ve got so many stories that need telling.
  4. Taking something that exists only in your brain and making it real and tangible is a real joy.
  5. I love the feeling of knowing someone has enjoyed reading something I’ve written.
  6. Because while I know my writing has improved, I know it can get a lot better, and getting there is exiting.
  7. I’m certain that if I work long enough and hard enough, lots of people will enjoy my novels.

Sometimes, re-affirming why we do what we do is a useful exercise. If you decide to write your own list (and it need not be seven points long) then please share them in the comments below. Happy writing!

The Value of Heroic Effort, and writing as a career

I’ve had this article from David Farland sitting in my inbox for a few months. In it, he argues that “slow and steady” is for losers, and that only heroic effort is going to get you anywhere in the world of writing. Slow progress may get you further than you were, but you’ll never produce much at that rate. Indeed, if you follow a lot of writers on twitter or elsewhere, they’ll tell you that the only way to make a go at it is to write, write, write, and write more. Heroic effort.

There’s an interesting counter-argument here, and it comes from Robert Runte, the editor at Five Rivers publishing. He’s responding to one of Chuck Wendig’s posts, found here, about making a living as a writer. And Robert’s response is basically that, if you want to make a good living as a writer, you can’t. He offers some interesting anecdotes about the number of SF writers actually making a living off their work in Canada, an admittedly smaller market, but the number is very small.

Feeling discouraged yet? According to Dave Farland, you can’t get anywhere without heroic effort, and according to Robert Runte, even if you put in that kind of effort, you’re probably not going to be able to live off it. Of course, there are Stephen Kings and JK Rowlings, but their level of success is one in millions or billions. There are writers who do make a decent living off writing, but not a rich living, and quite often, as Robert notes, they supplement by teaching or speaking.

Robert’s suggestion is simple. Unhinge writing from financial success. If you write a good book, it will have an audience. Will that audience make you rich? Probably not. But that’s OK. After all, do you write because you want to make a buck, or do you write because you want to write? There are easier ways to make a buck.

We all want the lifestyle where we can write all the time, unencumbered by day jobs and other responsibilities, preferably when doing so is going to let you take vacations in Mexico and pay your mortgage. And there are no shortage of authors and other gurus for whom this has become in itself a business, the business of making money off other writers through books, speaking, and classes, whether it’s about how to write, or how self-publishing is going to make us all rich. And they’re not wrong. Self publishing has given a lot of people a vehicle to monetize their works in a way that didn’t exist before. Of course, only a few people are going to get rich this way, or even make a living without a second income, be it from a job or a working spouse.

That same self-publishing revolution, though, means it’s easy for anyone to be a writer, though. Anyone can write something and make it available for reading. Maybe Robert is right, and we should disconnect our expectations of financial success from writing. Maybe the joy of writing should be in being read. That isn’t to say that writers ought not to be compensated for their work, because they should. But are you writing because you want people to read your work, or because you think you’ve got the next Harry Potter or Fifty Shades of Grey and it’s going to make you rich?

Me, I’m writing because I love writing. And if I just so happen to turn a profit, well, then that’s OK as well. Of course, I want to be the kind of writer who turns out 5 books a year, and I want people to read those books, and buy them. That’s going to take heroic effort. And that’s fine. But I’m not the sort of person who’s going to quit writing if my first book isn’t a financial success, or my second, or even my tenth. I write because I love to write. Getting paid is a goal, but not the end game.

Book review: Unearthed

Unearthed is a book that I think you should read. It’s a book that made me want to write good things about it.

This cover is gorgeous. I love the intricate style.

This cover is gorgeous.

Let me back up a step. I met Karen Seymour at the Night of Writing Dangerously in 2012. Late last year, we connected via Facebook when I was looking for someone to give me some feedback on a novel draft. She offered to send me a copy of Unearthed, and I offered to review it.

Unearthed is a rewarding book. It’s a book that rewards you for persevering. It’s a book that made me like it.

It follows the story of Gemma Alexandra Pointe. Gemma is in many ways the anti-Katniss Everdeen. She’s needy, she’s uncertain, she’s introspective to the point of inaction. And yet, she is a character who is forced by events to grow tremendously in the course of this novel. I found her difficult to connect with for the first hundred pages or so. She was very much a reactive character, caught up in events and the things going on around her. And yet, slowly at first, she begins to change. By the end of the book, she is different, and yet still very recognizable. All characters should grow, but Gemma is an example of it done well.

Character in general is something that this book excels at. When I was reading it, I felt for them, I felt sorrow with Gemma, I felt annoyance with Malakai, I felt Jonny’s frustration, and more. It is not every book that I feel the depth of emotion that I felt while reading Unearthed. It is the kind of book that I kept thinking about even after I put it down, and even after I’d finished the last page.

Another thing Unearthed has done fantastically is step away from the standard tropes of urban fantasy. The Essen, and the world Seymour has created around them, is wonderfully unique. Better yet, Seymour isn’t afraid to throw the reader some curveballs, and gets into some wonderfully complex ideas. This is a big, meaty, serious book, and it constantly took me in directions that I didn’t expect, but it was always satisfying to get there. One of the reasons I struggled with the first hundred pages or so is that, at first, it led me to believe that events would turn out one way. Imagine my surprise when what I expected did not come to pass. As a reader, I found that rewarding.

Should you read Unearthed? I recommend it. I loved it when I didn’t expect to. If you want to read something that breathes fresh air into the overdone genre of urban fantasy, I think you’ll like this book. If you liked The Hunger Games (I didn’t reference Katniss without purpose), I think you’ll like this book. If you want to read a book with some serious character growth and development, I think you’ll like this book. It’s the first book in the Pactem Orbis Legend, and I’m looking eagerly forward to the next one.

Five steps to stop being discouraged about writing

So let’s say you’re feeling discouraged about writing. I have been, in the last little while. There’s a lot of reasons you can feel this way. Maybe you got a submission rejected. Maybe you got some negative feedback on something you were pleased with. Maybe you looked at just how far you have to go, while lots of other writers are cranking out books and getting deals and making sales. There are lots of reasons you can end up this way, and really, if you wrote a novel for National Novel Writing Month and you’re now staring at the colossal task of turning it into something good, you might well be feeling like this.

Here are some steps. I hope that once you’ve read them, you’ll feel a little less discouraged.

1. Know that everybody feels discouraged

Novels or stories or poems don’t spring fully formed from the forehead. Writing, editing, rewriting, all of this takes a lot of time and effort as you not just write your material, but learn the art of writing itself. I talk a lot about the 10 000 hour rule, the idea that to master a skill, it’s going to take that many hours of practice. That shouldn’t read like a minimum to success, because maybe your goal isn’t mastery. Maybe it’s just to finish a book or some other project. But nobody achieves their goal with 0 hours spent, and probably not at 50 hours or 100 hours either. So at some point or another, everyone is going to be staring down that path with a whole lot of work left to do, saying to themselves “This feels like too much. I can’t do this.” So you’re not alone.

2. There’s nothing to stop you from quitting except you

If everyone reaches the point of discouragement, then clearly there are those who made it through those feelings. So how did they do it? They didn’t let themselves quit. Maybe you have someone in your life who keeps you encouraged, and if so, that’s great. But if you just stopped working one day, nobody can’t make you pick up the pen and force you to keep at it. Only you can do that. So ultimately, you have to recognize that if you have goals, the only way to achieve them is to pursue them. That may seem pretty basic, but if you’re feeling discouraged, you may need the reminder.

3. Get to the root of the problem

You’re probably still feeling discouraged. That’s why there are five steps. Why are you feeling this way? This is a big deal, because if you don’t know why, you probably won’t stop. So think back. Was there a certain event? What got you started? Something has shaken your confidence or destroyed your determination. Or maybe you never had it in the first place. If so, why not? Figure it out.

4.  Remind yourself why you want to write

Why is it that you want to do this crazy thing of putting fingers to keyboard or pen to paper? Do you have stories to share? Do you want to inspire emotion and feelings? There’s probably a reason, so reminder yourself of what it is. In my experience, one of the best ways to do this is to go back to a book or author you love. Something that inspired you to do what you do. Don’t be afraid to crack open your favourite book and immerse yourself. Experience those feelings again, and let them guide you back to your goals.

5. Start with something easy

So maybe you’re feeling a bit better. You know why you’re feeling discouraged. You understand that everyone feels this way, and that you’re the only one who can push yourself out of it. And you remember the goal that got you fired up to do this in the first place. That’s well and good, but are you really over being discouraged? The problem, whatever it is, hasn’t changed.

You need to get back to work. Start with something easy. If you’re banging your head against a novel, take a break and write a short story. If you’re stuck on a scene, move on and write another. If you’re feeling discouraged because you have so much more work to do, start by doing a little bit every day. It’s okay to ease back into things, get your confidence back, and start feeling good about it all again. Don’t use this as an excuse to abandon your project or get distracted, but sometimes a break from what’s giving you problems is important. Don’t be afraid to take one.

Six reasons not to get discouraged if you’re behind in your first week of NaNoWriMo

So here we are. NaNoWriMo has begun. If you’re shooting for 50k words, you need to have about 6600 by the end of today.

Have you got all those words? A quick glance at my writing buddies seems to indicate a lot of people don’t. But don’t get discouraged. Don’t quit! All is not yet lost. Here’s why.

1. There’s still all of November left. Right now, that’s 27 days. Even if you haven’t written a thing yet, that’s just 1852 words a day to win. That’s a little more than 1667, but not by much.

2. If you haven’t done any planning, starting can often be the hardest part. But as you write and develop your plot, it should get easiest as you learn about your setting and characters.

3. You’ll build the habit as you write. The first day, getting in your words can be a giant slog, especially if you’re starting from zero. But you can do it, and if you make an effort to write a little bit more every day, you can soon catch up, and even keep going.

4. Have you been to meet-ups yet? Connected with your local chapter, or with your genre on the forum? If not, it’s a good way to kick-start your writing. The company of other writers helps. Don’t be afraid to get in touch with them!

5. You’re not that far behind! In my local chapter, we have an event called Marathon, where we meet and write for 8 hours. People quite often manage 10 000 words on that day, with a lot of socializing. Not everyone writes that fast, but the point is that you can write a lot of words in one day. One good day, maybe on a weekend, and you’re caught up.

6. Still more words than you had before. If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, then your goal must be to write. And even if you’ve only got 400 words, or 4000 words, that’s still more words than you had when November started. November is a crummy month to write a novel in. There are exams, Thanksgiving (if you live in the US), Christmas is coming, etc, etc. So maybe 50000 words is unrealistic. So what? Write anyway, and if you don’t reach that goal, it isn’t as if you “lose” NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is as much about setting goals and deadlines as it is about word count. So don’t feel like you’ve failed if you’re behind, and keep writing!

Ten essential tips for NaNoWriMo

Everyone knows that National Novel Writing Month is a deadly grind which few survive. 50 000 words in a month? Unpossible. Perhaps even inconceivable!

But fear not, I am here to offer these great tips that will power you through the month to victory and probably a publishing deal that will make you at least as rich as Stephen King. Probably not as rich as J.K. Rowling, though. She’s pretty rich.

Anyway, I recommend reading through them all before beginning your implementation.

 

1. You must write all the time

It is a well known fact that for NaNoWriMo, you must write all the time. There is no time for anything else in the month of November. You’re trying to write 50 000 words. That is so many words. How can you ever achieve it without lugging your laptop everywhere as a reminder of your burden? Going to the bathroom? you’ve got time to tap out a few words. Brushing your teeth? Balance the laptop on the toilet and type with your toes. Let the warm glow of the laptop soothe you to sleep until you pass out over it. The bus? Watching TV? You must write, write, and when you have written everything you can, write some more. Not gifted with a portable laptop? Do you have a smartphone, or even a small notebook? You can be writing. Don’t have those? Consider a tattoo gun and your own flesh. The world is your manuscript! But you must never stop writing. There simply isn’t time.

 

2. Don’t tell your family and friends what you’re doing

Your family and friends are subconsciously jealous of your future success, and may even try to sabotage you by interfering with your frantic, furious typing. Deep down, they want to hold you back or distract you. Don’t let them. Deny that you’ll be attempting NaNoWriMo. When asked about November, explain that you’ll be spending the month in isolation, meditating on the secrets of the universe, or maybe that you’ve taken up World of Warcraft or something. Under no circumstances should you let your friends and family know what you’re trying to accomplish. If you’re confronted about your lack of availability, consider knocking out the questioner with the secretion of the Maji-Maki frog. They’ll come to 12-24 hours later with strange, tiger-like marks on their bodies, but they won’t remember a thing.

 

3. Compare yourself with others

Everybody knows NaNoWriMo is a race. A race to finish first. What isn’t well known is that the non-profit that puts on NaNoWriMo offers secret prizes for those who finish first. They include, but are not limited to, a lifetime supply of coffee enemas, a golden statue of a naked Chris Baty, and a publishing deal with Penguin Random House. How do you win them? By writing the most words, the fastest, of course. That’s why it is essential that you constantly compare your word output to others. Otherwise, how will you know if you’re winning?

 

4. Focus, focus, focus

Are you operating heavy machinery, or undergoing surgery, or otherwise unable to put finger, toe, or chin to keyboard? If by some chance you are unable to be writing, you must focus your attention slavishly on your novel, to the exclusion of all other thoughts. You must let your novel consume you like the fires of the sun. There is always something to be thinking about. Always. Should your hero succeed in his madcap quest to consume every cheeseburger, or will your villain halt their progress by garnishing the last quarter pounder with kale? Should the space ship’s flux capacitor fail, or should the hydrospanner? Should you use a comma or a period? There are always things to decide and heaven help you if you arrive at them without knowing what you’ll do. The process of writing this novel must consume your life.

 

5. Edit as you go

Everything that you write in NaNoWrimo must be good. It must be better than good. It must be perfect. Or else, how will you be ready for the mass acceptance of nano novels by publishers in December? It is a little known fact that publishers sit around, staring at their inboxes, for most of the year. Only in December, with the influx of nano-novels, do they have things to publish. Thus, once you’ve written something, be sure to go back and edit it. There won’t be time later. Doing it while it’s fresh in your mind is the only way to ensure that it is suitably perfect.

 

6. Follow the rules diligently

Did you know that you can be kicked out of NaNoWriMo for failing to follow Chris Baty’s draconian commandments? For example, you must write exactly 1667 words a day, or you’re doing it wrong and could be disqualified (missing out on the chance for those coffee enemas). You may not work on an old project. It must be new. Failure to adhere to these rules are the real reason that so few people finish NaNoWriMo. Don’t let yourself be one of them!

 

7. Let inspiration guide you

You can’t force writing. In order for your masterful work to flow from your fingertips, the muses must take you by the hand and lead you delicately forward. Compared to that, the work you do when you’re not inspired is mud. Literally, mud. Why would you want your novel to be mud? Await your inspiration. It will be worth it.

 

8. Wait until the end

YOU HAVE LOTS OF TIME. Of course you should spend the first week of November in a Breaking Bad marathon. You have time to catch up!

 

9. Only write during NaNoWriMo

One month of writing a year is enough, especially if you want to take your writing further. The other eleven months are for other things. Like not writing. And Breaking Bad.

 

10. Don’t follow any of these tips

Really. I’ve done NaNoWriMo for a long time, and these are all examples of behaviour that I’ve seen (or sometimes done myself). Ultimately, there are a lot of ways to win NaNoWriMo, and it’s really a personal challenge rather than a race, but engaging in the above behaviour is really just a way to sabotage yourself. Don’t do it, and happy writing!

How to build and grow an online audience

I recently attended a panel by Robert J Sawyer at When Words Collide, and he had some fascinating thoughts on the subject. He argued that the best way to do this was to find your audience, be it lovers of science fiction or fantasy or erotic furry start trek fanfic, and that it was dangerous to market your book to someone outside your audience, because they’re probably not going to like it. He suggested that most people are unable to distinguish between “this was not to my tastes” and “this was bad.”

Is this llama your audience? Then why do you think he's going to read your blog/book/comic/whatever?

Is this llama your audience? If not, why do you think he’s going to read your blog/book/comic/fanfic whatever?

Once you’ve found your audience, he had two suggestions. One, determine what your “mission statement” as a writer is. That is, what do you, the writer, provide to your readers? If you don’t know it, they’re certainly not going to.  Second, he said, intrigue people so they want to spend time with you. The best way to do this, he suggested, was to be genuinely interested in your audience and try to spend time with them.

Robert was an excellent speaker, but it was in no small part due to this talk that I went “Oh yeah, I have a blog.” And it led to a shift in the way that I’ve been blogging. So far, I’ve kept my politics, my beliefs, and my opinions about a lot of things to myself, precisely because I didn’t want to alienate potential readers (and so I don’t look like a loon, like a certain hard-right science fiction writer who had a movie coming out soon, who will remain nameless). But Sawyer had an excellent point. If you don’t like who I am, he said, you’re probably not going to like the kind of book that I write.

And he has an excellent point. Now, this doesn’t mean I’m about to go spewing insane opinions and lurid details about myself  all over the internet, because I have a professional career that has nothing to do with my blog and my writing, but I can’t appear faceless. I’m a writer of, and a fan of, science fiction and fantasy, of parkour, of politics and history. These are things that I enjoy talking about, and some of them have been very absent from this blog. Also I do bring what I would argue is a Canadianness to my writing, and if you don’t like that, you’re not going to like what I write.

In short, I’m going to spend more time writing about those things here. If you enjoy some of the same things, then perhaps you’ll like what I write. If you don’t, then perhaps you won’t. And that’s fine too.

Flash Fiction: Based on a true story

I haven’t done any flash fiction in a while, so here we go. This is from Chuck Wendig’s A Game of Aspects flash fiction challenge. In it, you choose three things, a subgenre, an element to include, and a theme/motif/conflict. Mine are Sword and Sorcery, Hotel Bar, and Love Square (because love triangle isn’t enough). One of these aspects that make up this flash fiction is based on a true story. It happened to me! I am not saying which one.

Timothy dove away from the table just as the azure bolt of arcane power shattered it into a thousand flying splinters. He hit the ground and rolled forward, then came up running. Alana would need a minute to begin another spell and the smoke and haze would make it difficult for her to see him. He made it behind a stack of boxes without being hit.

It had begun so innocently, with just a bit of kissing. Now the tavern was on fire. Most of the patrons had fled and no doubt someone had called the watch. Timothy thought he could hear a few people across the room, trying to fight the fire. It wasn’t a big blaze yet, they might still succeed and save the building from burning down. He hoped they would. This was one of his favourite taverns.

There was the sound of feet pounding the floor and Timothy poked his head up over his hiding place, just in time for someone to come diving over the boxes and crash into him. The impact blasted the air from Timothy’s lungs. At least the fleeing patrons had flung open the doors and windows in their efforts to escape; it meant he wasn’t going to die of smoke inhalation while struggling to catch his breath. He managed to focus on who had struck him. Was it…

No, it was Jayden, the one person he didn’t have to worry about. “This is all your fault,” the tall, skinny bladesman told him. His goatee was singed and his wavy hair was had ash in it. There was also a sizeable hole in his green cloak.

“My fault?” Just then, there was another crackle of arcane energies. It didn’t kill him, so Timothy ignored it. “You’re the one who got Alana so drunk.”

“And if you’d properly resolved your relationship with her, she wouldn’t be tossing magic around while sobbing. How was I to know she can’t handle her liquor?”

They glared at each other for a moment before Timothy shrugged. “Maybe we both have points. Have you seen Luke?”

Jayden shook his head. “He’s either hiding from you, or hunting for me.”

“He kissed back. How was I supposed to know he’s interested in you instead?” Timothy muttered, more to himself than to Jayden. Luke was the one who’d actually stared the fire in the first place, with one of his damned smoke bombs. Apparently this one had had not enough smoke and a little too much bomb.

A sound made them both look up. A first, Timothy couldn’t place the noise. Then it devolved into a high pitch whine. He had half a second to glance at Jayden; his friend’s panicked expression must have compared to his own. They took off running in opposite directions.

It was just fast enough to avoid the beam of solid, blinding light that eradicated the boxes, searing everything down into a cloud of dust. Timothy took cover behind the bar. Many bottles lay shattered and the harsh smell of strong alcohols filled his nostrils.

“Alana!” He called, regretting opening his mouth the second he did so. “Don’t you think you’re going a bit far? That one would have killed us both!” He blood was pounding in his ears. Perhaps it was from all the running, but his last drink was really hitting him hard, and there had been too many.

“You pulled your sword on me!” Her voice wavered as she spoke.

“I’m sorry! It was a mistake.” It had seemed like a good idea at the time. She had raised her slender hands towards him first. He’d seen lightning and fire burst from those hands, to the detrimental effect of both beasts and men. His sword wouldn’t have done him much good against such magic, but a lot of things had seemed like a good idea tonight. “I’m going to come out. Please don’t kill me.”

He slowly raised his head above the bar. If he stayed down there any more, the fumes were going to get him before the magic did. Alana was standing there, her arms partially raised. A spilled drink had stained the front of her tunic and her coppery hair was ragged around her shoulders. She seemed to sway as she stood. Damn Jayden, how much had he given her? He knew from the look on her face that the tears were coming.

“Why don’t you want me anymore?” She sank down to her knees and buried her face in her hands.

“I’m sorry, but things weren’t working out.” Timothy protested as he glanced over. Her last spell had put a large hole in the wall, and cool air was streaming in from the night outside. “Why don’t you come outside and have some water? We can talk about it?” He had no intention of talking about it. He could have made a run for it, but even after everything else, it didn’t seem fair to leave her in the burning building. Plus, there was nothing left to hide behind between him and the exit. She might still fry him.

She looked up and for a moment he thought she was going to argue. Then she just nodded. Timothy left the bar and came over to her. It looked like they had the fire under control, so he offered her his hand and she took it and stood up.

Jayden and Luke were waiting when he got Alana outside. Luke was sporting a growing bruise on one cheek, and Jayden was standing well away from him. Beside him, Alana’s eyes were drooping.

“Well. I guess we’d better find another tavern. Let’s all get separate rooms tonight, shall we?” he said. Everyone nodded. All in all, it wasn’t the worst night of drinking with his adventuring mates he’d ever had.