Guest Post: Dominic Green

Hello. It’s me, Dominic Green. I write things. Mostly I write things in Interzone, a British magazine, and one of the things I wrote in it was once nominated for a Hugo award (Clockwork Atom Bomb, 2006). A Hugo is a shiny thing won by other people <sob>. I am British. I am more British than Winston Churchill (whose mother was American), the Queen (who is essentially German) and my dog George (whose father was French, and who is ethnically Canadian in any case. Following Brexit, I’m thinking of reporting George to the authorities).

One of the newest things I have written is called Warlords of Llantatis, which you should buy a copy of for every member of your family, including your elderly Puritan aunt Temperance. She’ll dig the bit where the guy shoves the game console up his bottom. You can find it on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

llantatiscropped

Warlords is set in a near-future online roleplaying game – an old one, bypassed by more modern products, and now only favoured by older players playing it out of sheer nostalgia. In this game, a character has appeared who has no name. Not just no player ID, which the game mechanics shouldn’t allow in any case – his player has no idea what his real-world name is either, or even where on the planet he lives. He claims to be living in one room, held against his will, his only means of communication a games console one of his jailers has foolishly given him without realizing it connects to the outside world. In order to find out where and who he is, it will be necessary to keep his character alive for long enough to ask a great number of questions. Luckily, the players he has fallen in with, though two overweight middle-aged men in real life, are in the game the mightiest warriors Warlords of Llantatis has ever seen.

Let’s play a game. Let’s imagine that you just asked me how long it took me to write the book, what prompted me to write it, and how I write books, and that you care about my answers. I’m glad you asked me all that, and I’d like to structure my answer into eighteen separate parts. Okay, I’m kidding, put down all those sharp objects and stop aiming them at my head. It took me five years to write the book, but only because I was writing parts six and seven of a series of YA science fiction novels (Ant and Cleo) and a novel (Smallworld) at the time. I wrote the first couple of chapters of Warlords in 2009, then waited till 2013 before I started on the rest of it. The first couple of chapters are rather different from the rest of the book, being the Silmarillion part of the story that comes before the Lord of the Rings part. This Silmarillion part comes before the action and describes the creation of the world of Warlords, not by Iluvatar, but by a gaggle of jobbing programmers (fun fact – the book J R R Tolkien always wanted to write was The Silmarillion, but his publishers forced him to write four books about tiny people with hairy feet before reluctantly agreeing to publish The Silmarilion after his death, the miserable bastards).

What prompted you to write the book, Dominic?elder-shepherd

The same thing that makes most people want to either write or game – a feeling that I wanted to be on the inside of the story, looking out, the same feeling you get at the moment where you finish the book and think to yourself: ‘Tomorrow morning, I will wake up, and I will once again be in a cheap hotel in Euston, not in a log cabin in the Misty Mountains.’ So you make your own story. That’s the reason why I started tabletop roleplaying in the 1970s, and it’s the reason why I have World of Warcraft and The Secret World accounts. Warlords of Llantatis has a cast of thousands of characters who are all in the game of the title because they want to feel they are the heroes of their own story, rather than cops, insurance salesmen or IT managers.

How do you write your books, Dominic?

Well, shucks, ma’am, I just plumb sit at the keyboard and durn it if stuff doesn’t just come out of my head. I don’t have difficulty writing. I have literary diarrhoea. I don’t just have it, I can spell it too.

I do plan books out beforehand. Sometimes I even draw maps of castles and deck plans of starships. The Ant and Cleo series, in particular, is now getting complex enough for me to have to keep detailed data files reminding me who everyone is, what planet they come from and what colour their skin goes when they’re embarrassed. In Ant and Cleo, the main characters usually age about a year per book, so I also have to keep track of everyone’s ages.

I find volume is easy to do – a two-hundred-page book will flop out of me onto the page in no time at all. The big problem is making sure it makes sense once it’s there (I’ve read White Shark by Peter Benchley, and P.B. definitely didn’t do that last step with that one). If the weather’s fine, I write sitting outside a café with George sitting next to me. He provides an unbiased critical viewpoint. The only negative point is that I frequently have to wipe his drool off the laptop screen. Hell, sometimes I have to wipe my drool off the laptop screen.

ws-saucerers1_sized_for_smashwordsI’m going to pretend now that you asked me What Gives Me Inspiration To Write. Well, that’s a very interesting question. This particular novel contains elements of cyberpunk, elements of object-oriented programming, and huge unashamed chunks of Dungeons and Dragons and World of Warcraft, seasoned with cartoon violence and genuine real-life weirdness perpetrated on me by friends and enemies in the roleplaying hobby. If you feel any of the characters in this book are too weird for real life, just log on to a MMORPG server some time. I once walked into a bar in Stormwind and was greeted by a dwarf (a player character) dressed as a maitre D. He greeted me, showed me to my table, asked me if I’d like to see the menu, served me a very nice virtual meal, stood dutifully by the table while I ate and drank, and then bade me a good day. I have absolutely no doubt that he did this to everyone who ever walked into the bar. Some people want to vanquish dragons. Others just want to serve you a glass of Dalaran Noir.

Here’s a link to Saucerers and Gondoliers, the first Ant and Cleo book, which is suitable for children:

Here’s a link to Elder Shepherd. I’ve just published this, and it’s my take on the James Bond genre. It is not suitable for children, and contains class A drugs, guns, lesbians, Christians, explosions, tax accountancy, literati painting and cars being driven unsafely from the outset and throughout.

Guest Post: How My Book Came To Be by Ian Lahey

Today on the blog is Ian Lahey talking about how his book, The 45th Nail, was written. Thanks for stopping by, Ian!

“Words is just words without the place.”

That’s what Uncle Jim, the co-protagonist of my book, “The 45th Nail”, says. And, when writing his story I too took his advice.

Jim has a story to tell, and this story is made of different events which happened to him during his life as a soldier and later, as a deserter. He needs his nephew, Robert, to know where he’s been and what he’s done, but Jim will not just sit on a park bench and mutter it all off at once. He needs to be understood, and for that he needs to take his nephew where those events took place. He needs the rocks and walls and grenade holes to testify his words, else they will just be that…words.

The stones speak. This is what my father, Michael, used to tell me, when we ourselves were traveling around Italy. I was just a child and I’d stare stupidly while he placed his hands on an ancient column somehwere in Rome and closed his eyes. He’d make me try and then he’d tell me something about Roman history, like how they used to march war prisoners past that same column. The day after that he made the entire family squat in a ditch in a field under the abbey of Montecassino in Frosinone, south of Rome, just to explain why the abbey, a beautiful monument, built by St Benedict himself, had been turned to rubble by an Allied airstrike. We saw it with the eyes of the American soldiers who were trying to advance towards Rome, and my Italian mother, reluctantly, had to admit that it loomed like a fortress over the entire area. It did. Of course you’d have to be there to understand.

Thirty years later I found my dad’s notes about that trip. There were sketches, journals about each monument we’d visited as well as me and my brother’s misbehavings, and there were interviews. My father had met and spoken to the many people who had been there in 1944, when the American troops had landed in Anzio and had started pushing up North. Italian people who had lost relatives to one side or the other, who had survived impossible odds and who had found themselves surrounded by German soldiers when the radio had declared that Italy and Germany were not allies anymore. I had seen all those places, and met all those faces, and I could tell Jim’s story. Jim is a fictional character who connects all those true stories and real places together. Jim insists that Robert visit those places too because that is where those stories still live. As a writer, I feel the book has done its job since my readers have told me how much Jim’s story has made them want to come to Italy. They may have heard the whispering of the stones from afar and want to experience more than just the words. I remind them about the squat part.


ian-laheyIan Lahey teaches English Language and Literature in Italy. An incessant traveler, he has visited the country from coast to coast (which doesn’t take much), and from head to toe (which is somewhat longer).
Florence, Naples, Rome, and then Venice, Verona and Genoa are his second homes but he will never admit this in the presence of a tax agent. Although he’s visited many times he never tires of them and of the stories, both ancient and modern, which these places tell.
These stories he re-tells, sometimes as they were, other times hidden beneath the veil of imagination and scientific speculation, but always with a good sprinkle of humor.
He can often be spotted taking long walks with his wife around his hometown near Udine, and can be easily led astray with offerings of fresh beer or Dr. Who marathons.

He is also grateful to his editor at www.sandhbooks.com for getting the book out in time for his father to hold a copy in his hands before he too became a part of history, earlier this year. 

The book, “The 45th Nail” has its own website at www.45thnail.com and is available both as paperback and e-book on Amazon.com

Ian Lahey’s author page is at ianlahey.wixsite.com/author

Guest Post: How Twitter Saved My Novel by Ashleigh Bonner

Today we have Ashleigh Bonner on the blog talking about the things Twitter taught her about writing. I can definitely relate to that frustration at the number 140!! Thanks for stopping by Ashleigh🙂


HOW TWITTER SAVED MY NOVEL

Have you ever been frustrated by the number 140? Have you ever wished images weren’t included in your character count? If you’ve been affected by either of these things, you’ve been tweeting. When I joined Twitter I lamented the tiny word count, but after two months I can now say Twitter is the reason my first draft is nearly done.

I didn’t learn to write succinctly until I started tweeting. I’d ramble. In my mind and in my writing. Twitter forced me to know my point and get to the point. In the beginning, I didn’t want to twit, twut, or tweet anything. I didn’t see the use of Twitter, just that everyone said it was needed. But eventually, at the advice of others, I took the short but wild roller coaster ride that is joining Twitter.

After scrounging up two email addresses and two phone numbers, I had two separate accounts. I’m so glad I signed up because Twitter saved my writing life. It could save yours, as well.

By forcing you to express yourself in 27 words or less, including spaces, Twitter can help your manuscript in the following three areas:

ORGANIZATION/CLARITY

With such a limited amount of words at your disposal, you can’t waste any of them. There’s a long-held saying in the writing world, “Make each word count.” While using Twitter your words are literally being counted, and as you approach 140 characters you organize as you go. Twitter makes you consider whether or not there’s a better word for what you’re trying to say. It makes you consider the overall message. It makes you consider each separate thought, and whether or not it flows into the next. As you watch the character count drop until it goes to negative one and turns red, your brain is working hard to find your message, and fit it into the narrow space.

As you type, you think:

How can I get my idea out?

Is the meaning correct?

Will the readers retweet and like my message?

After obsessing over these three things, you reread your post to make sure it’s organized, clear, and concise enough to be sent out.

And finally, when your message (novel) is as close to right as possible, you hit post. Similarly, you hit publish, or drop your manuscript in the mailbox. And then wait to see if someone resonates with it.

You, like every author, want to be heard. You, like every author, want to convey what you see in your head. You want to be read and understood. Writing your masterpiece is like writing a Twitter post, except on a much larger scale.

Twitter benefits your writing in ways that will help get your first draft written by not allowing edits. The advice is to “Turn off your inner editor and just write.” By threatening you with having to start a post over, Twitter helps you turn off your editor until the post is written, and edit when it’s complete. This stream-of-conscious writing gets words on the page, quickly. Which is good news for you because it’s impossible to edit something that doesn’t exist.

Trust me, you have to write it. I tried editing my novel in my head. It was a disaster filled with a perpetual headache.

All of these strategies: weighing the importance of words, organizing sentences, rereading and editing, and turning off your editor and just writing, play crucial roles in a book, poem, short story, or memoir. Twitter encourages (forces) you to consider these every time you put finger to keyboard.

DIALOGUE

When quoting someone else I get a lot of training listening to the flow of their words. I focus on getting the quote correct first, then hearing the beauty of it. Finally, I interpret it.

Twitter can help your dialogue because you get to hear many different voices. Whether you’re writing or reading someone else’s quote you’re hearing their tone of voice and mood. Sarcasm, humor, joy, anger. All these are in the posts that people share. Each quote has emotions, and body language, behind the words. Every time you stop and read you collect another person’s mindset.

OUTLINING/STORY ARC

I’m a pantser. I’ve never written a full outline in my life. After joining Twitter I finished an outline of my entire book. Through Twitter’s 140 characters I learned to break the big picture into small chunks and tie those chunks together.

As I write a post I can feel my brain reorganizing my thoughts. The videos that play in my head smooth out as I type on my phone’s keyboard, and I can rewind and fast-forward them easier. Having to restrict my communication length and put a deadline on my imagination helped me rise above my novel and see it from many different angles.

Twitter can help you see your character’s story and emotional arc through its small bits of information. Each hunk of knowledge melds with another hunk to create a conversation. This skillset can be translated to an outline, which strengthens your manuscript because scenes that you setup must get paid off later.

Twitter saved my novel. I hope it saves yours, too.

Thanks for reading.

Good luck, fellow world creators!

ashleigh_bonner_image1Ashleigh Bonner can be found on Twitter at @AshAnAuthor

Her website is Post It Note Dreams

 

Guest Post: Stan Lee and Nan Klee by Nan Klee

Today we have Nan Klee, author of the Dreagan Star Saga, telling us about the times she met her idol, the great Stan Lee.


Can you picture the great hall that convened the Republican National Convention in San Diego in the late 90s? It is one Big room.

One afternoon my former husband, Douglas, and I stood in THAT massive room, which was now the San Diego Comic Con’s trading and sales floor. This was my first ComicCon. Doug had attended every Con since his mom let him ride public transportation when he was a kid. This was all new to me.

I was looking in a showcase of original Mike Biasi statuary when Douglas nudged me and pointed over my head, behind me.

“See that man over there in the white jacket?” He whispered. “That’s Stan Lee.”

Straightening, I spun and gawked.

There he was: The Great Stan Lee!  My hero! A Founding Father of my comic book world! The man who had a cameo in every Marvel comic film (except one).

Stan the Man Lee and his comic company had shown me as a child that reading brought adventure. I had loved the action/adventure genre ever since. He had inspired the many Spider Man and Man from U.N.C.L E. stories I had written as a child.

“Be right back,” I muttered to my spouse, as my feet got me moving and in 20 feet I was standing a respectful distance for the thin, gray haired celebrity, who was concluding business with some Suit.

Mister Lee glanced at me as the other man went away, and then he smiled at me. Stan’s fans know that twinkle-in-his-eye smile. I was a slim fangirl in my forties, a young woman to him.

“Can I help you?” he asked in a good-humored tone.

“It’s all your goddamned fault,” I replied strongly as I grinned like an idiot.

“Excuse me?” was Stan Lee’s response as he looked around the hall, concerned and confused.

“I started reading your comics when I was 8 years old.” The words spewed out of my mouth.  “And now I am not only qualified to but I do  teach Shakespeare.”

Stan Lee focused on me, amused and speechless. He started to grin.

Much to my dismay I finished up with “And it’s all you’re goddamned fault.”

And Stan Lee kissed me.

 

Fast forward five years.

Alone, I systematically worked my way through the same massive San Diego Comic Con’s trading and sales floor. At the wide end of a long, long aisle, I discovered that Stan Lee was signing autographs and pictures, and the line of waiting fans snaked around and into the next aisle.

Not a collector, I made my way around the turmoil, until I was parallel to Mister Lee’s table which was ringed by fans and a few security jacks.

Finding a spot to stand above the crowd, I drew a deep breath, and shouted in my big-crowd-voice:  “GOD. BLESS. STAN. LEE!”

Stan the Man looked up from his signings, caught my eyes, grinned, and then yelled back.  “Hey! Hello!  I know you!  You teach Shakespeare.”

You can find more information about Nan Klee and her novels at her website.

Review: Night Spots by Tori Knightwood

night spotsTitle: Night Spots

Author: Tori Knightwood

Series: Hotel Safari #2

Genre: Paranormal Romance

Summary (from Goodreads)

She knew she’d fall in love with Nairobi, but not in Nairobi.

Tara Murray is an Aussie on a mission to see the world. Her gap year has been enlightening, but gets much more exciting when she meets a Kenyan-American heartthrob with a killer smile. But she’s not in Nairobi to meet guys, not even to help her get over the unrequited love she left behind.

Nelson Kimani isn’t looking for a serious relationship. He’ll only be in Nairobi for a couple of months, following a semester working at a safari lodge, and then he’ll head home to the U.S. to finish his graduate degree. But Tara knocks this leopard shifter off his haunches. He wants to get to know the bold, curvy Aussie better, physically at first, and see where things go. But she won’t let him in.

What will happen when Tara discovers Nelson’s biggest secret, the wild animal inside?

Review

I really enjoyed this. Short and sweet, it doesn’t give you a great deal of time to get to know the characters, but there’s enough relationship development to leave you feeling satisfied, and enough romantic tension to keep things a bit spicy.

What I think I liked most is the setting – which might sound like an odd thing to say about a romance, but I can’t say I’ve read many romances set outside of America or Britain, so it was refreshing to have a completely different environment. I’ve never been to Nairobi, so I can’t speak to how accurately it’s portrayed, but the sense of it was well crafted – giving flavour of a different environment enough to make it interesting without wasting precious space with too much world building.

Nelson as a romantic lead was great – I love a confident guy. And Tara’s back and forth battle with herself about her feelings for Nelson was enough to keep things tense, without becoming irritating.

The paranormal element seemed almost like it could have been taken out completely, and the same story pretty much could have been told, but then I like a bit of paranormal in my stories, romantic or otherwise, so it was just an added layer of interest for me.

Overall, a great little read that might just leave you feeling like you’re on the warm African continent, rather than watching the winter nights close in, with a cute romance to give you the warm fuzzies to boot.

Rating: 4/5

Sampler Round Up #6

Last one! Finally made it through all the samplers I picked up at YALC. Which means I have my desk back. Yay!

Stranger of TempestStranger of Tempest by Tom Lloyd (Out now from Gollancz)

While this had a lot of the elements that I like about the modern style of epic fantasy – grizzled soldier type lead character, war torn world, morally grey areas – there was nothing particularly in it that made me want to lift it from obscurity onto my TBR pile. That’s not to say it’s bad, it just wasn’t enough. I’m not a big reader of epic fantasy. It’s too long, generally. It’s too much of an investment if it’s not going to be amazing. And nothing in this told me that, for me, it would be amazing. 2.5/5

Heart of GraniteHeart of Granite by James Barclay (Out now from Gollancz)

This was another DNF. I tried, I really did, but the constant military dialogue just confused me. It was about a flying unit who fly Drakes (think dragons) by sitting in their pouches and communicating with them sort of psychically. Which is a great premise, but all the formations and manoeuvres just bored me and disoriented me a little too quickly. So I moved on to the next sampler rather than drag myself through it. This is definitely a personal taste thing – there was nothing wrong with the writing. A lot of the Goodreads reviews describe it as Top Gun with dragons. If that sounds like your kind of thing, you’ll probably enjoy this. 0/5

strange the dreamerStrange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor (Out March 2017 from Hodder and Stoughton)

I love Laini Taylor’s writing so much. It’s effortlessly lyrical and beautiful (which must mean so much hard work went in to making it that way – my writerly admiration knows no limits) and sweeps you up in its magic. I actually made the conscious decision not to read the extract of part two, because I knew the more I read, the more I’d want the rest of the book now, dammit, and with it not being published til March next year, well, I’d rather not know what I’m missing! So excited for this. 5/5

Smut Party: Stars

Recently, one of my siblings has just confessed that she’s writing a saucy novel. Inspired by this, the writing (and some of the non-writing) members of my friends and family decided to have a ‘smut party’ where we each brought a short piece of erotica written from a (very) random selection of story cubes.

The fact that Carole Heidi has cubes ranging from clues to prehistoric made for some interesting combinations, but everyone took away their cubes and, in a week, wrote a short story.

Reading them out was equal parts mortifying and hilarious, but I’ve decided that I have a blog, so why not share the story I wrote with the world?

My cubes were: A caveman, an owl, a magnifying glass, a skull, a mirror, some gears and a cryogenics chamber. An eclectic mix, but with the exception of the skull (which is included symbolically in the story as death) I managed to get all these words in. Here’s the resulting story (contains graphic sexy times, obviously)


Stars by Liberty Gilmore
(August 2016)

The first bit of advice Lena always gave her green recruits was to find themselves a fuck buddy. It was never advice that went down well – most of them had pictures of their girlfriends, husbands, life-partners tucked in their breast pocket, as if placing it close to their heart would protect them from harm, and though all of them must have had a meaningless shag before, there was something about being told you’d need one that brought the prude out in most people.

They soon learned – nothing makes you horny like a stint in a cryotube.

Lena had her theories about that. Maybe it was the fact that the tubes didn’t close with a cool pneumatic hiss like every science fiction program ever had made them believe. Maybe it was the way those tubes closed with the mechanical clunking of gears that sounded too old fashioned, too… rudimentary for a device that would flash freeze their bodies, ready to be hurtled through space at faster than light speed. Maybe the terror she never failed to feel at that sound got frozen too, ripping through her body afresh when she woke, combining with a potent relief that left her with an undeniable need to rip someone’s clothes off.

This deployment was no different. They came out of hyperspeed just outside the Aurelius sector three days before they left Earth. Lena could study the science manuals with a magnifying glass and still not understand that one, but what the hell. She’d done this sixteen times now and the exact hows of faster than light travel were of less concern than the burning need between her legs.

She climbed out of her cryotube, her eyes scanning past the greens – who looked to each other with confusion and desire – and found Elias. His brown eyes burned when she met his gaze and without speaking, he marched through the greens and kissed her.

His hands slipped beneath the loose t-shirt she wore in the tube, his palms rough against the smooth skin of her back. As his hands rose to her shoulders, fingers working the cold-stiff muscles there, she could feel her t-shirt riding up, exposing her midriff to the likely gawping greens. Lena normally wasn’t one for public displays of affection, but she was their Captain, Elias their Lieutenant. They had to lead by example. Distracted soldiers were dead soldiers. Tomorrow, they’d be fighting the Scourge, and no one would be able to concentrate if they didn’t see to their primal urges.

Elias’ hands went to her backside, and he lifted her, her legs wrapping around his waist. She wasn’t a petite woman, but Elias had a heavyweight’s frame and his muscular arms made light work of her. Without pausing in their kiss, he carried her to her quarters, leaving the greens to figure out the rest for themselves.

Once inside her rooms, Elias set Lena down. He stood back from her, hooking his thumbs in the neck of his t-shirt and pulling it off in one movement. The sleeve of tattoos on his right arm now extended to his chest, a soaring owl taking flight just beneath his collarbone, not quite finished.

“That’s new,” Lena said, tracing her fingers over the intricate feathers.

Elias caught her hand and directed it down to where his erection strained against his boxer shorts. Lena slipped her hands beneath the elasticated waist and pushed them down. She took him in her hand, stroking along the length of him. His cock twitched, and with a grunt of frustration, he pushed her hand away so he could pull her t-shirt off. Lena pulled her underwear down, stepping out of them as Elias manhandled her into the bathroom.

The first blast of water on her back was icy cold, but it did nothing to dim the ardent fire that burned between her and Elias. He kissed her, their tongues tangling as he positioned them both under the jet of warming water. Lena could feel the aches that had nothing to do with sexual desire start to fade, the last of the cryotube’s chill chased away by the warm water and Elias’ searing kiss.

He grabbed her breasts, dropping his head to nuzzle between them, running his tongue over the sensitive skin. His teeth grazed over the tight bud of her nipple before he sucked on it, hard, sending a jolt of liquid fire straight to Lena’s groin. She moaned, and Elias took it as invitation to lift her up, positioning his hips against hers, and thrust himself inside her.

The wall of the shower was cold against her back, the water and Elias’ skin burning hot by contrast. Lena ran her hands over his military short hair and hooked her legs around his waist again, urging him closer, deeper.

Elias was an artist, and a gentleman, but in the throes of cryo-induced passion, he was rough with her, taking what he needed from her body, indulging all his caveman urges. And Lena loved how he surrendered himself to desire, pistoning his hips in to hers until her fingernails dug into his shoulders hard enough to draw blood. His hands gripped her hips, but his mouth explored her neck, her chest, until his own release was so close that he just pressed his face against her shoulder, lips touching a sensitive point just above her collarbone.

Lena closed her eyes, head thrown back as pleasure built inside her, a white hot star. A few more strokes and the star burst, a supernova ripping through her body, a flood of pleasure so intense she cried out. Elias’ release followed a moment later.

For a while, they remained tangled together, breathing hard, arms wrapped around each other as the final ripples faded. Then the reality of Lena’s shoulder blades against the shower wall, the gradually cooling water, worked their way back in to their awareness. Elias stepped back, lowering her to the floor, a roguish grin on his face.

“Welcome to the Aurelius sector,” he said, then spun her round and began massaging her shoulders.

***

Lena ran her fingers through her damp hair as she watched Elias working, the buzz of his tattooist’s needle a familiar sound. He was finishing the owl, holding a mirror in his right hand, angling it so he could see the space on his chest where his left hand moved the needle with sure strokes.

“Why an owl?” Lena asked.

“They’re predators,” Elias said, angling the mirror so he could see her over his shoulder. “Highly evolved to hunt their prey. Their feathers are soft so they don’t make any sound when they’re flying. Mice don’t stand a chance.”

“If only we were fighting mice,” she said.

The buzzing noise changed as Elias held the needle above his skin, paused a moment. Then, the sound resumed the tone of the needle against skin. Lena crawled down the bed towards him, kissing the top of his neck down to his shoulder.

“Mm, don’t do that,” Elias said, raising the needle off his skin again.

“Why, ticklish?” Lena said, trailing a finger lightly down his back.

“Definitely,” he said, turning his head enough to kiss her lips. “Fetch my bag for me?”

Lena stood up and crossed the room to the drawers where his bag was. As she headed back to him, he added the final strokes to the owl’s wing. Like the rest of his tattoos, it looked alive, ready to leap out of his skin.

She sat next to him, pulling the ointment from his bag. She smoothed it over the freshly tattooed skin, before covering it with a gauze and taping it down.

“When are you going to let me do you?” he said, raising the needle in her direction.

Lena raised an eyebrow. “You can do me any time you want, just not with that thing.”

Elias grinned, taking the bag from her. He crossed the room, letting his towel fall to the floor, treating her to a view of his finely sculpted backside. He came back to the bed and lay down, pulling her into his side so her head rested on his shoulder.

“I would start,” he said, “with a constellation of stars. The first one, the biggest one, would be just beneath your hair, behind your ear.” He touched the spot with his finger, sending a delicious shiver through Lena’s skin. “Then I’d go down from there,” his finger traced the line, “each star smaller and smaller until the last was just a tiny little thing right here.”

His finger rested on a spot between her collarbone and her shoulder.

“Why?” Lena asked.

Elias looked at her, his brown eyes darker than she’d ever seen them. “I’ve known battle hardened men lose their minds,” he said. “People like us who’ve seen and done it all, and one day something just snaps. They can’t even remember how to tie their own shoelaces. If that ever happens to me, at least I’d have instructions for how to kiss you.”

He placed his lips against each of the points on her neck, finishing on the point of the smallest star – her favourite place to be kissed.

“Okay,” Lena said.

“Okay?” Elias echoed.

She pulled her hair back, exposing her neck. “Do it,” she said.

Elias fetched his kit, prepared it. He sat behind her on the bed, one hand slipping beneath her neck to brace it. She felt the strength in his fingers, how easily he could squeeze the life out of her.

“Are you sure about this?” he asked.

“I love you,” she answered.

Elias kissed her cheek, then switched on the needle, and began etching his love for her on her skin.