If you pre-ordered back in July, you should have* woken up this morning (awakened this morning? I never know which is right) to find a shiny new copy of FIVE DOWN, the Downside anthology, in your email inbox!
Yes, it’s finally here! I know, it seems like it took forever, and believe me it feels that way to me, too. But I’m really, really happy with how it turned out, and I hope you will be, too.
As the title implies (and the cover outright says), it’s five stories. They are:
RICK THE BRAVE (from the HOME IMPROVEMENT: UNDEAD EDITION anthology)
HOME (a Heroes & Heartbreakers original)
CLOSE TO YOU (a Heroes & Heartbreakers original)
KEEPING IT CLOSE (web original)
…aaaaaand a brand new novella (33k words) called PLAYING WITH FIRE, which has spontaneous combustion and divided loyalties and a confrontation and big decisions and a character or two who I’m pretty sure will be back again in later books.
Which does NOT mean that you MUST purchase and read the anthology in order to not be lost in later books. Think of PLAYING WITH FIRE as sort of like FINDING MAGIC: nice background, but not absolutely necessary. I dislike the idea of forcing people to buy extra content/previously published content if they want to understand later events, so I haven’t done that here. But I do think PLAYING WITH FIRE is a nifty novella, and Chess actually gets to have a little fun with another Church employee, which was kind of cool to do. Plus, again, spontaneous combustion!
I added a little intro to each story, just a note on where the idea or characters came from, or what influenced it, or whatever. I didn’t do much of that with PLAYING WITH FIRE, though, to avoid being spoiler-y.
I have begun the process of getting the book uploaded to Amazon and B&N. iBooks/iTunes is going to be quite a bit trickier, I’m afraid, since I no longer have a Mac–I actually have not even installed iTunes on this computer–and that seems to be a necessary part of the process. So we’ll see how that goes (we had some difficulty getting WRONG WAYS DOWN onto iTunes as well; it took like an extra couple of weeks).
This book is different, and the process is different, so here’s what I’m doing.
You may remember how we ran KEEPING IT CLOSE through Paypal, and then I sent out the completed story file to those who requested it? It worked pretty well, I think, so I’m going to do the same here. If you do not want to wait for the anthology to be loaded onto your ebookstore of choice (I may or may not do a print version, I haven’t decided, but I can’t get that going until I have a PDF, and PDFs are unfortunately not quite ready–see below * section, sigh), you can go ahead and use the Paypal button to, well, pay for the book, and I will send you your copy in your preferred format as close to Immediately as I possibly can. (With KEEPING IT CLOSE I managed to be pretty damn close with the majority of requests; I think a couple of people may have had to wait a couple of hours, and in rare cases it was overnight–time zones, you know–but overall turnaround was pretty fast.)
I realize this isn’t ideal, but it’s the only way I can think of to make sure everyone can get it in their desired format, right away. And you are welcome to wait, of course. (Again, if you want PDF please give me another day or two!)
The price for the anthology is $3.49 (that’s US dollars; Paypal is apparently set to GBP, in which case it’s about £2.20. So if it won’t let you submit a dollar amount, go for that).
*Or, well, if you pre-ordered AND included what format you prefer. A few of you did not specify, and I’m in the process of emailing you to ask which you’d like. Also, a couple of you asked for PDF, which is unfortunately taking me just a tad longer to put together. I’m so sorry about that!
Want another excerpt? Here you go!
Instead a new man—an Inquisitor Third, obviously the guy in charge since the others were uniforms—arrived, spoke to one of the initial responders, and then approached her with a hesitant smile on his pleasant face. “Chess? Do you remember me?”
The second he said it, she realized she did. Of course she did. It wasn’t easy to forget the brother of an Elder Chief Inquisitor, especially when that brother had been only a year ahead of her in Church training. “Well, hey, Will, how have you been?”
“Not bad, not bad. It’s good to see you.” He tipped his head toward Ella’s corpse, now being photographed by the Body Removal Squad. “You know, if you wanted to catch up, you could have just left me a note or something.”
She fought back her smile. Will always had been fun to talk to, though they’d probably only spoken a handful of times. “Nah, that’s boring.”
“A lot safer, though. What happened?”
She gave him a quick run-down, and agreed to hang on while he talked to the other witnesses. Which gave her time to think, too, about what the hell could have happened to that poor waitress. How had she burned up so fast? How had that fire started? It was so hard not to start talking to the witnesses herself, not to dig in and start investigating. No, it wasn’t a Debunking case, but it wasn’t like she’d been given a decent Debunking case in the last few months. And really, she’d done enough non-Debunking shit for Bump that it hardly seemed to matter anymore.
But she couldn’t. She especially didn’t think she could go shoving herself into a case being handled by someone whose family name carried serious weight in the Church, and who was himself probably on a fast-track to further glory. The fact that he couldn’t have been more than twenty-six and was already an Inquisitor Third told her that.
All of which meant she was going to have to sit this one out, and hope she got an update when it was all over.
She’d just come back in from having a cigarette when Will motioned for her to join him near the back of the room, by the soda machines and kitchen entrance. The smell of hot oil and bacon drifted through the gaps around the flimsy two-way door as she sat in one of the chairs that had been placed on the grimy floor. Hopefully somebody had turned the fryer back there off, because another fire was the last thing they all needed.
Will sat in the chair opposite and scanned the written statements in his hand. “So you didn’t see the fire start?”
“No.” It was unnerving to be the subject of official questioning, rather than the questioner. It had only happened to her a few times in her cases—she never closed a case without solid, inarguable evidence, and the Church almost always got a confession anyway—but even when it had, she’d been backed up by the Church, testifying on their behalf. This was not the same.
Nothing in Will’s demeanor indicated he thought of her as a suspect. Why would he? Everyone else had seen that fire start, too, and they knew she hadn’t been touching Ella or standing next to her or whatever. But she still had to fight the instinct to clam up, to tell half-truths or deny everything. Old habits died hard, she guessed, especially when there were other kinds of habits that had to be kept hidden.
“You just felt the heat and turned to see her on fire.”
Chess nodded. “I’d only just looked at her when the flames started to die, and then the other waitress threw water on her. That’s when she broke apart. The cook came out with the fire extinguisher but I managed to stop him from spraying everything.”
“Thanks.” Will had a nice smile; he was a decent-looking guy, actually, with short sandy hair and blue eyes. Way too preppie for her tastes even if she’d been remotely interested in any man but Terrible, which she wasn’t, but still not bad-looking. “Or, I guess Kevin should really be the one to thank you, since he’s the one who’d have to scoop up all that foam and go digging through it.”
“Kevin’s the fire investigator?”
“Yep.” Will hesitated. Like he was about to ask an uncomfortable question, or one more important than he wanted it to seem. Hmm. “Did you feel anything before the fire started, or notice anything strange?”
“She was really hot,” she said slowly. Why had he hesitated before that question? What was he looking for? “She came to drop off our drinks, a couple of minutes before it happened, and I noticed she looked really overheated. But she seemed fine, she was smiling and energetic.”
“No” was just about to jump off the tip of her tongue, when she remembered it wasn’t entirely true. “There was, actually. When she gave us our drinks…”
Shit shit shit, this was so fucking embarrassing. “I felt sick when she got close. But it didn’t feel like how magic usually feels, and my friend and I—I just thought it was the heat outside catching up with me, or something.”
Amazing. Lex could fuck things up for her by just being mentioned in a conversation.
“Do you think maybe you were picking up something from her? Her energy, I mean. Maybe something was wrong with her?” Will was looking at her very oddly. Very closely. What the—shit. Fuck, he could ask her to take a blood test, couldn’t he? He could search her bag.
Okay, now she was being ridiculous. Calm down. Yes, he could, but he probably wouldn’t. Why would he? Unless she started acting like she was nervous and high, of course.
“I don’t know,” she said, knowing it sounded cagey but really not sure how to change that. “I don’t know what happened.”