Saturday, December 26, 2015

Call for Beta Readers -- Urban Fantasy (with sneak peek)

I'm finishing up the first draft of To Call Ye Forth, the first installment in the Witches' Rune series; and I need your help!

Synopsis: Summoning a long-dead Witch King to be a real-world lover and protector was easy for Rose and her covenmates. Overcoming a murderous dark coven while dodging a fanatical minister and his rabid congregation may present more of a challenge.

 I am looking for beta-readers for this urban fantasy novel. (It has some paranormal romance features, but the love story isn't the primary focus.)

If you want to beta-read this story for me, please email me laurelei@asteriabooks.com. I'm looking for readers who are fans of this genre, and I would be doubly excited to have readers who are ALSO writers. I'll be looking for feedback, and I'll provide a questionnaire to help you with that. You'll get a PDF copy to work with.

Now for your sneak peek. I've already posted an excerpt at my NaNoWriMo account that you can read. So, how about something different. This is a full chapter (before the mid-way mark):



There are more Pagan and Witches in Indianapolis than you’d think. Hell, there are more in my little bedroom community than you might guess. I know of at least three, not counting Grace and me. She had met several when she worked at the local library before making the move to give Tarot readings in Indy. A library patron would recognize her triskelion necklace or the Goddess charm on her bracelet and ask in hushed tones if she was like them. A Pagan.
            The code, before our time, had been to ask, “Are you in the family?” If the person in question looked confused and asked which family you meant, you could always play it off like you thought they were a second cousin you had seen at last year’s reunion. If they knowingly said that yes, yes they were in the family, you both knew you’d found a brother or sister witch. Anyone overhearing this exchange thought nothing about it.
            Because witchcraft had come so far into the light of day, into a tentative public acceptance, this custom and the caution it bespoke have been all but lost. Now that we are feeling a little heat again, we are caught midway between the broom closet and the courthouse lawn. Hundreds of us were standing together with local ministers of liberal denominations. Hundreds of us. That was still hundreds less than I saw at our last Pagan Pride Day.
            Most of the time you can’t tell a witch from a Baptist or a Catholic or a Mormon by her clothes. We look like soccer moms and dentists and attorneys and telemarketers because that’s exactly what we are. Well, some of us. Others are a little more non-traditional in both profession and appearance. Psychics, herbalists, midwives, life coaches sporting shawls and fringe and patchwork. A few of the “witches” assembled at the courthouse were wearing pointy hats and cloaks, leaning on tall staffs with crystals on the ends. These folks always made me groan a little. I never knew if they were real adherents of the old ways who were also very flamboyant and silly, or if they were mildly delusional, socially awkward coots who simply reveled in being odd.
            We had the whole spectrum out for the rally. I was making my way from the table of free coffee to where I saw Robin and Evaline. My progress was slow, as friends I normally only saw once or twice a year at Pagan Pride and the annual charity ball said hello and gave me hugs.
Robin and Evaline were in the thick of the crowd, very near a loud woman in her late-fifties who was directing the show. She was holding a sign that read “Harm None.” Two other women about her age were passing signs out to newcomers. I knew the leader from the local shop I use for hard-to-find spell supplies.
            “Alright everyone,” she shouted to the assembled group. “I want to thank all of you for coming out to support the Indy Wiccan Alliance and the Heartland Inter-Faith Ministers Coalition in showing the media and the justice system who we are.”
            There was only one news crew on hand today, it seemed. I guess a plea for peace and reason isn’t as newsworthy as a sensational murder.
            “We are joined by Allison Sheffield of the Covenant of Solitaires, the group to which Sondra Little belongs,” the rally leader explained. “Together, we can show this city, this state, and this country that Wiccans are peaceful, productive, non-violent members of this and every community in the U.S. The central ethical belief in Wicca is the Rede. It says, ‘An it harm none, do what thou wilt.’ A Wiccan wouldn’t murder. A Wiccan doesn’t do harm. Our local police need to look elsewhere for their murderers. Sondra Little is innocent.”
            She started the chant of “harm none” as the assembled crowd pumped their signs in the air. My covenmates, I noticed, did not have signs that echoed the chant, and I knew why. Their sign said, “Free Sondra Little.” I was sign-less.
            Evaline and Robin didn’t have “harm none” signs because most traditional witches find the Wiccan Rede to be a little fluffy. It’s a sweet sentiment, and it serves as a good starting point for evaluating your own ethics. We certainly don’t believe, for example, that an ethical witch would actively seek to harm another person for her own personal gain. But we try to be honest with ourselves about the ramifications of all our actions, both magical and mundane. Someone at my old office got a promotion because I was fired. Does that make that person unethical? No, of course not. What if they prayed really hard to get a promotion just before I got fired? I am most certainly harmed by being unemployed, but it isn’t my replacement’s fault. What if, instead of praying, my replacement had done a spell? Since spells are just active prayers, you can’t claim the magic was any more unethical than the prayer.
            This example is relatively benign, but you can probably see where it would get tricky with things like prosperity spells that take form by grandma dying and leaving you an inheritance. Most witches of my coven’s ilk see the Rede as an attempt to wash a witch’s hands of responsibility for an unexpected outcome. We generally face our responsibilities head-on by doing some divination to see what sort of sacrifice or exchange is needed for the magic at hand.
            All magic comes at a price. Energy moves in waves. There is an ebb and flow to it. A balance. More of something here means less of something there. The universe maintains its own balance, and very often a witch is already in touch with the flow. When she’s not, and she wants to perform a bit of magic that creates a bigger ripple in the pond than was expected, there is a sacrifice to be made. She can make that sacrifice before she does her spell, or the universe can take it from her however it sees fit later. But there is always a price.
            Sounds like sacrifice, yes? You’re right, it is. But here’s the caveat about sacrifice: It isn’t a sacrifice if it doesn’t cost you something dear to pay it.  You have to feel it. You have to need the thing so badly that you are willing to give up something you value to get it. Your blood is your life force. That is one of the most potent sacrifices you can make. It doesn’t take much, though. A few drops, at most. One drop of blood contains your entire genetic code. You don’t have to spill a bucket. And it has to be yours, given freely. It costs you nothing to spend someone else’s money, nor does a stranger’s blood satisfy the need for sacrifice. Not within witchcraft, at least.
            This is why I was so sure that Sondra Little was innocent. For one thing, she probably believed in the Rede so ardently that she wouldn’t have hurt a fly if it meant winning the lottery. For another, being a witch alone meant that she’d probably never even been taught about the need for sacrifice in the books on Wicca she’d purchased from the local shops. The shopkeepers tend to keep their books and wares as non-threatening to the general public as possible. The idea of sacrifice, especially blood sacrifice, has been so misrepresented through the ages that it just isn’t discussed among non-initiates.
            The final thing that told me Sondra Little was innocent was the nature of the sacrifice itself. Yes, I know that human sacrifice – the offering up of another person’s life, another person’s blood, another human being’s spark – has happened in the past. Yes, I fully understand that the demon being summoned by the woman in the picture is quite pleased with the killing of that poor homeless man. But it isn’t because she sacrificed in the way witches do. No. It is because she has sacrificed her own purity to do this thing. She has stained herself by cruelly taking his life. She has marred her own soul. That is price she is paying. Sondra Little, the mousy pre-school teach cum solitary witch, doesn’t seem at all capable of paying that price.
            Evaline spotted me through the crowd and waved me closer. I’d almost made it to where she and Robin stood when a voice boomed across a loud speaker. Reverend Sewall had arrived on the scene, along with a portable amplifier and microphone, two more news crews, and no less than two hundred of his followers.
            “Indianapolis demands justice,” he shouted. His projected voice drowned out the stunned chanters. “You cannot spread your lies and your filth here. We have seen the harm done by witches in the photos the authorities received. We have felt the harm of witchcraft and magic creeping into our children’s lives, their entertainment. You would have our young people buy into your pagan propaganda and get Harry Potter to waive his magic wand to help them with their troubles instead of falling to their knees in prayer and seeking the aid of Jesus Christ.”
            I blinked. What?
            “The law enforcement personnel of this city have PROOF that it was Sondra Little, a known WITCH, who committed the heinous ritual murder,” Sewall continued, relying more on the passion of his conviction than any rational proof available to the police or anyone else. “Sondra Little and at least two other members of her coven did this, and the good people of Indianapolis won’t sit idly by any longer.”
            One man among the rally participants shouted, “But she was a solitary. She wasn’t in a coven.”
            Sewall didn’t hear him, or pretended not to hear him. He held up a small stack of papers in his gloved hand. “I have here a petition to the lawmakers of this God-fearing state, signed by no less than two-thousand men and women, demanding the outlaw of witchcraft in the state of Indiana. That’s two-thousand Indianapolis Christians, Jews, and Muslims signing in the last three days who want to see the liberal laws protecting witches repealed immediately. We’re going to be working hard to get that number up to 60,000 in the next couple of weeks. That’s just 1% of our population, folks; but it should be enough to get the repeal of witchcraft protections into the hands of our law-makers. And then we will be free from the pernicious ministrations of diviners and necromancers. Free from the spell-casters who would most certainly harm us, if given the chance. ”
            Sewall’s people cheered and shouted.
            “But we aren’t stopping there!” he escalated. “No, we mustn’t stop there.  It isn’t enough to clap the witches into a jail cell for their deceit and devilry. No. Ones like this Miss Little, ones who have committed horrific murder under the auspices of idolatry and hellish intentions, these harlots of the devil must suffer swift and fearful punishment for their crimes. We must not suffer the witch to live.”
            As if in cue, his followers took up the cry “Suffer not the witch!”
           
            Well, holy shit.
            Again.





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