Harperpages

The blog of author Harper Alexander


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Restraint – Wonderland Excerpt

It’s excerpt time! Taken from today’s 1,000-word progress on the almost-finished Wonderland! A little mushy, but hey – I’m a sucker for that stuff.

***

It was a strangely meaningful concept – someone with the power and aptitude to wrestle sharks, to shred her where she stood if he wanted, but who would never touch a hair on her head. There he was, muscle and power and instinct and blood on his hands, but the ferocity bypassed her. His killer hands rested by his sides, not touching her.

But she recalled a time when they had touched her. When he had taken those beaten-up fingers, capable of anything, and trailed them over her skin with warpaint sentiments. And they had been gentle.

Like a butterfly straining against its cocoon, something nudged inside her, wanting to feel that touch again. There was something in the restraint, in the fact that he could ravage her like a rabid wolf and then his touch registered with the lightness of a feather. It was surprising, confusing, intriguing.

Made her curious what he was holding back.

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A Creature at the Door

Days of Twilight and Mischief Blog Banner 1 Lowres

An excerpt from Days of Twilight and Mischief, due out next month!

***

That night, something else came to the door. We were unaware, as we slept, but later – much later, after my time in Dar’on – I would become acquainted with the creature and how it operated. Thus I can paint a clear account of its visit.

It came out of the shadows and shuffled across the field on all fours. Not as something normally meant to crawl on all fours, but like a human who chose to do so for some reason beyond common comprehension. So long had it chosen this method of travel that its back had stooped severely, becoming a hunched, deformed thing, and it moved in a swift, distorted fashion across the field. Somewhat ape-like, somewhat spider-like. Every motion twisted and flicked to create a freakish shadow that tricked the eye, appearing as often like an extension of the creature itself as it did a mere impression of it.

Around the manor and up to the door it scuffled, where it carefully opened the screen, raised a stringy, clawed hand and dragged a diagonal pattern of scratch marks across the face of the door.

It might have stopped there, leaving your average signature of claw marks to be attributed to any number of wild creatures. But it was only the first of four swipes. The second, it dragged diagonally across the first to create a many-layered X. The third went horizontally across the middle of the X, and the fourth vertically as if to connect the last compass points.

Yet it was not the symbol of a compass that would greet those who came to the doorstep of Manor Dorn from that day forward, but the likeness of a web. One final flourish of the creature’s claws, a perfect circle around the middle of the symbol, finished the representation.

Then, rather than dropping back to all fours to scurry away into the night, the creature looked upward into the acrid midnight sky and placed its strange hands against the face of Manor Dorn, and scurried straight up the side of the house and over the rooftop, down the other side, and disappeared in a ripple of field grasses.

In the morning, when I saw the symbol of a spider web scratched across our door, I would think to myself it was like Fate sealing Tane into our fold, sealing all of us together into the same house. I had brought him into our midst against my better judgment, and now we were all caught in the same web, strung together in an irrevocable binding of fate.

An ill feeling settled in my stomach, but there was nothing for it. I gazed a moment longer at the disquieting mark and then left it to its reign on our manor, not about to meddle with it lest I get further caught up in its snare.


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Fresh Edits and Halfway Milestones

Today is a good day. I have two announcements which reflect that I’m doing January right so far. Announcment #1 – the Paradise manuscript is off to its new editor, which will hopefully bring great and necessary things to the series. Announcement #2 – the Wonderland manuscript, which I’ve been working on for far too long, has finally surpassed the halfway mark! Possibly even more than the halfway mark, because I’m planning on it being a bit shorter than Paradise. (Who knows, though – when Paradise comes back from the editor, I may end up cutting half of it out. Okay, probably not half, but some.) Still, I plan on Wonderland being shorter than Paradise was initially, so I’m on the downward slope now for sure. And yesterday night I got to writing so fast that my hand was cramping, which is always a good sign. Inspiration like that used to be the norm, and now I long for the rare break-throughs that get me that excited. Ah, to always be that engrossed in the world and story, that wrapped up in the characters’ lives and emotions.

Here is an excerpt from last night’s progress on Wonderland:

Leeches, Shiloh thought in dismay at the sight that greeted her deeper in the woods. I wanted LEECHES.
Not hummingbirds.
Through a ruinous arch, she had come upon the explosion of red flowers. And buzzing about the wild crimson garden were dozens of the little winged creatures, their ruby throats dark and matted as if stained by the blood they drank rather than the shimmer of natural beauty.
Beady eyes darted in her direction, little gazes black as drops of ink. For a crazed moment, Shiloh actually considered their thirst as a possible means for purging the toxin from her veins. But something about the keen way they eyed her, wings revving to a daunting crescendo like an army syncing up to attack, reminded her she was far too often entertained by stupid ideas.


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‘Don’t Look Back’: Excerpt and Promo

One of the promo posters I just made for ‘Paradise’, and the accompanying excerpt to go with it:

Paradise Promo 1

The slash of a branch against the girl’s cheek as she ran. Petals falling silently from the trees like flakes of ash. The lurch of the world as she stumbled.

The rasp of breath in the tranquility.

The warm, wet thud of her heart in her throat.

The musky smell of her fear piercing the heady pollens and nectars that saturated the air.

Run. Faster. Don’t look back.

Ducking under bows draped with frilly moss. Jerking free of the lacy tangle that reached after her like tentacles.

Through a clearing of dusky wildflowers.

Into a maze of mossy tree-trunks, the canopy above a-twitter with birds of twilight.

Don’t look back.

The wet crash as she cut through a glade of floating cherry blossoms. Panting as she dragged herself up the opposite bank.

Through the dormant grove of gray-limbed mystery trees. Sparrows scattering like bats dispersing from the nooks and crannies of the world.

The flutter of wings swallowed into the sky, and the eerie silence of abandoned ruins that fell over the grove.

Silence was good. Silence was golden.

No feet close behind her.

Under the low-hanging barren branches. Try not to startle at the skeletal entities that flashed by. Trees more frightening than scarecrows.

If only crows were what chased her…

Don’t look back.

Billowy pockets of mist. Sweet-smelling and tinted with soft color. The faintest of lavenders.

Swallowed into the haze. Slower pace, hands outstretched to feel the way.

Leafy branches giving way to her probing. Ripe, heavy apples bobbing in her wake.

Mist parting like tattered curtains.

Run. Faster.

Ahead was the bridge. She just had to make it to the bridge.

Open ground. Tripping feet. Heartbeat spiking to a crescendo. The pit of her stomach tightening like a snake around its prey.

Just focus on the bridge. Don’t. Look. Back.

Blurring steps.

Pock-marked vision.

The sweet sting of mist still in her nostrils, drug-like, making her stumble.

Don’t look back.

Don’t look back…


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Paradise – Chapter 1

As usual, I’ve been overtaken by a string of rebel inspiration. Queen of Spades is just shy of being finished (I need to relocate a certain paper with important notes on it before I can actually wrap things up on that front), and I still have great ambitions to blaze through the fourth and final Breathtaker book and get back on the horse where Starless is concerned as well (and, speaking of horses, what about the sequel to Whisper, you might ask? Oy. Yes, that too. Hard to find the inspiration for that one when I feel like the first needs a rewrite…)

In the meantime, the string of rebel inspiration in question is for a book that’s been on the back-burner for years. I’ve been excited about it for years, have wanted to buckle down and write it for years, but have had two conflicting plot ideas to choose between that wouldn’t let me move forward. Well, I finally figured out how to make both of them work rather than choosing between them, and the story just clicked into place, punched me in the face and opened up before me all the way to the horizon, so I had to jump on the inspiration-wave and get to it.

So today I’d like to share with you the first chapter. It’s unedited, since I just wrote it last night, but I’m pleased with how it’s flowing. The book is called Paradise, and this is how the thrilling, fantastical dystopian adventure begins. Enjoy!

***

Chapter 1 – Shore of Hope

The murky tide dragged itself back out toward the ill-colored sea, bubbling and hissing over a broken mosaic of decaying shells. They prattled like shivering clams in the rivulets of bubbles, always pressing closer, always crawling over one another like a horde of ivory beetles. Now and then a crab walked the carnage, click-click-clicking across the shards, and was quickly snatched off the beach by a dirty-nailed hand and stuffed into a bag of other motley tricks.

The people crawled over each other like beetles as well, up beyond the sloping shore and jutting cliff-sides that sequestered the cove. The once-quaint dwellings nestled about the hillsides had been crowded out by secondary shacks, full-up with refugees who had made it across the Badlands to the coast. There was hardly room to breathe, anymore, not that anyone was overly enthused to fill their lungs with the stuff that passed for air. It was difficult to tell if you passed your friends, or neighbors, in the streets, thanks to the gas masks that rendered everyone a similar wasp-like creature.

Shiloh never wondered if she passed her friends in the streets. She didn’t have any. Friends were a burden and a risk when survival was such a fierce issue. She knew well that backstabbing was a way of life, when times were desperate, and she had no desire to culture relationships that might compel her to want to care for others besides herself. She was barely getting by as it was.

Hoisting her sack over her shoulder, she began to scale her choice cliff-side toward the shelf that hosted her shack. She could feel the crab she had collected moving inside the sack, prodding her in the back as she climbed. A strand of red-tinted dark hair stuttered across the eye pieces of her mask in the sea wind, but she had made the climb too many times to need the crutch of sight to find the foot- and hand-holds. Habit saw her shimmy up the ascension like a spider, and then she was weaving in and out of a cluster of shacks to home-sweet-home.

We meet again, you wretched cluster of boarded-up rot, she thought as her rickety door came into view. You had to talk to yourself – and things – when there was no one else to talk to. When friends were few and far between and family was as dead as the crab in her sack was about to be.

Shiloh remembered her family vaguely, but they had all been dead by the time she was six. She remembered the struggle to keep a mask on her claustrophobic mother – the panic attacks that kept seeing her mother strip the apparatus off, exposing her too often to the tainted air. Eventually the exposure had taken its toll, her mother’s lungs and body giving out from the radiation and pollution. After that her older brother had fallen while scaling the same cliff Shiloh scaled every day, and her father had wandered grief-stricken into the sickly waves.

No doubt those keeping their vulture eyes out for dwellings freeing up expected Shiloh to be next, and soon. But when days passed and Shiloh realized no one was coming back to feed her, she had risen on wobbly legs, crossed the room to where her mother’s mask lay discarded, and exchanged it with her own, whispering into the muffled, masked chamber:

“I’ll show you how to do it, Mama.”

I’ll fill your shoes. Don’t worry. I’ll be what you never could.

And though the panic attacks gripped likewise at Shiloh now and then, a similar case of her mother’s condition running through her veins, Shiloh kept her mask-free indulgences to brief sessions on the rooftops every other night, where she liked to sit beneath the sickly stars and gaze seaward, a scarf tied tightly around her face to filter what it could.

With crab in her belly, she sat there now – dark eyes scanning the darker horizon. The ocean fog was a strange color. Gray, but tinged also by a color you could never quite put your finger on. At times brown-ish, sometimes almost violet, and other times still an eerie green hue. Ever-changing, perhaps. Or multi-colored, like a bruise.

Bruised air.

A cold breeze gusted over the rooftops, and Shiloh felt her nostrils flare with the rare opportunity to catch the scents of the world. Her mother had always said she had ‘fierce nostrils’, which flared every time she was angry, or incensed, or determined…

The world smelled of rotting fish and despair. But also…also vaguely of something sweeter. A prick of something that Shiloh could only ever identify as ‘hope’.

Because hers was a shore of hope. People braved crossing the Badlands every year to get to the coast, where they might merit an invitation across the sea to the legendary Paradise. All you had to do was end up being one of the lucky souls to stumble upon a fateful message-in-a-bottle granting you passage, washed up on shore from across the Utopian Sea.

Only a certain number of people could be allowed into the gates of Paradise every year, of course, but deliverance from this dystopian world was an allure that had been drawing people to the coast for years, now. Ever since the first lucky soul had taken a chance on his mysterious message-in-a-bottle and sought to escape the doom and despair, and sent back his own bottled memos of the wonders he had found.

Those that had followed in his wake had upheld the tradition of sending back accounts of their deliverance, of their newfound pleasures and good health, feeding the hope of those who still waited, stranded on this far wretched shore, for their chance.

Shiloh was one such dreamer. Her parents had crossed the Badlands before she and her brother had been born, and so she had grown up on the Coast of Hope. Had grown up watching the sea for incoming vessels – little glass ones that carried with them scrolls of sweet deliverance.

Twice, she had gotten her hopes up when she stumbled upon corked bottle-necks protruding from the sand, only to discover the contents were accounts from those who had made the crossing.

But it was enough to keep her hoping. To keep her hoping and praying that one day, if she watched the troubled waters carefully enough, it would be her turn to secure an invitation across the sea to Paradise.


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A Grand Entrance – Queen of Spades Excerpt

When I took a deep breath and entered the ballroom, all eyes turned to me, a hundred or more people peeping through their masks at the arrival of the guest of honor.
   I had thought my own mask a great bother up until that point, but was suddenly very thankful to be wearing it, to be hiding behind whatever I could for my grand entrance.
   And grand it was. The hush that fell over the room sent goosebumps down my arms, and a draft came in from the balcony just then, hissing with the ghostly chuckle of joker gargoyles and making the heart-lanterns flicker as it swept through the chamber. Confetti wasn’t the only thing strewn across the floor – there were cards interspersed as well – and as the breeze issued forth from the opposite side of the room, a dozen aces of spades overturned across the floor before me to line my path. The train of my gown was like an ocean stretched out behind me, dragging the floor clean of confetti in my wake.
   I stopped in the center of the room. Let everyone stare at the grand spectacle that I created. Tried to endure the self-consciousness, the sound of my heartbeat rising to a crescendo in my head.
   And then, all at once, there came a whoop from the balcony – a couple, in fact – and a company of jesters materialized from behind the joker gargoyles, jumping down from the balustrade and tumbling into the ballroom.
   Their acrobatics fanned out and spilled through the gathering, until one of them initiated a series of back-hand-springs in my direction and ended with a back-flip directly in front of me, exploding into a rain of cards that fluttered to the marble floor at my feet. No sign of a human presence remained.


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A Breathless Prologue

I’m pleased to announce I’ve started the fourth and final book in the Breathtaker series. I also have plans to do a quick rewrite of the first two books and add a bit of excitement (and polish a few other things up), but I’m trying to maintain forward momentum where completing the series is concerned, in order to keep the fans happy.

So to celebrate the beginning of this final installment, I’d like to share with you the prologue that officially begins the end.

I give you…the prologue of Breathless:

***

If you knew a breath would be your last…would you hold it?
For centuries, those who have had a brush with death have been saved by the graces of instinct. The natural, compelling instinct to survive has long been poised to jump in, to intervene, to do what it can to preserve its host.
But it is an unconscious preservation. And a brush with death is an entirely different creature than a pact with fate.
So what if you knew? Knew and welcomed the moment.
Would you have it in you to go peacefully, without a fight? To shake Fate’s hand, and walk off into the unfathomable beyond without glancing back?
Or would a piece of you still resist, clinging to all that you know and love? And if you love nothing in this world, would you fall prey to that final disease that is the human capacity to hope, and cling to all that you could come to know and love, if you held on just a little longer…
If you knew your moment had come, would you lie beneath the stars aligned for your death, and hold your last breath?