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For All Things Great and Small

Every year in the Cold, right around this time, I like to sit back and take stock of my life. Ponder all the things great and small that inspire within me joy, wistfulness, relief, a belly laugh, and most of all, gratitude.

A life without gratitude invites despair. Even in our most trying times, a mere acknowledgement of a person, circumstance, or event that brought something good into our lives is a seed of hope that can see us through to the other side. Grow into a bounty that can feed our souls for a long time to come.

I usually start my list of thankfulness right around the launch of the school year – that’s early September here in Virginia, USA. When you have school-age kids, the year begins in September, just when the leaves are getting ready to change, and the air begs for a sweater come nightfall. It’s my favorite time of year, so it’s an ideal starting point for me to take stock, Julie Andrews style, of my favorite things. And there is never, ever a time when creating this annual list fails to lift my spirits.

So, here goes.

I’m ever so grateful for my health. My body is strong enough that I can move furniture and nimble enough that I can touch my toes. My walks are long and painless, my breaths deep, and my vision, unless I’m trying to read close-up, crisp. I know very well that health, like weather, can turn on a dime, and I welcome every good day.

Speaking of good days, I love the fact that my home office, in which I spend most of my days, has taken on the popcorny, musty dog smells of my Boston Terrier. It’s become his domain as much as mine, earning him his moniker of “writing dog.” I love you, Barney. You snuggle next to me as I type, you patiently watch me pace up and down my frayed, old Turkish rug as I endeavor to solve plot problems and you chase down the summer wasps that enter our space through some kind of inexplicable devil’s magic. Thanks for keeping me company.

Barney is ready for his close up.

Want to know what puts a toothy smile on my face on even the melancholiest day? These goofy photos my daughters send me. Ones transformed by cheeky filters that superimpose big noses, mustaches, rainbow hairstyles and vampire fangs onto their beautiful faces. They remind me that no matter how busy and independent-minded, my girls still take the time to reach out to their mother from time to time. That is most certainly something to be grateful for.

Old photo albums – aren’t they the best? The edge-curled, yellowed snapshots of yesteryear that show our grandmothers as ingénues, our grandfathers as rogues, and best of all, our siblings in a plethora of haphazard Halloween costumes and weird, frilly holiday get-ups. With the convenience of the delete button, the hilarious, bad family photo has become a rarity and I celebrate the ones we’ve collected along the way.

Then there’s my youngest daughter’s spot-on imitation of Amy Winehouse. It is one for the ages and never fails to make my day (she’s got a killer, bluesy-jazzy voice). Let’s throw in any Amy Winehouse song sung by the mistress of self-effacing calamity herself! RIP, Ms. Winehouse. You left us too soon.

I savor with immense gratitude my romanticized memories of being the mother of young children. The way my son’s silly grin made me want to poke his tummy, how I actually used to get butterflies watching my girls play dress-up, and that all of them used to come in from the backyard covered head to toe in red clay mud – these things and more make me yearn for a time machine. Yet I am delighted by the people they are becoming. Their capacity for growth, even after a stumble is both humbling and deeply gratifying. A big thanks to my husband, Jack, for convincing me to give this motherhood thing a try.

Dinner with our best friends is as restorative as a good night’s sleep, and the crackling fire burning in our 1905 pot belly stove fills me with contentment. For these things I am much obliged, especially when they are combined to create a perfect night. We’ve had many of those and I feel truly blessed.

Not having to look for parking is surely something to feel good about, too, as is authentic Mexican food, the supreme satisfaction of scratching an itch, and really good hair dye. These are definitely in the small category, but who among us has not walked with a spring in our step after landing a primo parking spot?

What goes in the great category, however, is the comfort of being surrounded by a community who cares and knows they can rely on us. It’s truly one of the best things in life. Even better (and this one deserves a category all its own) is the black and white ultrasound image of a prospective new member of the family. In our case, it’s that of our nephew and his wife’s little girl, who will officially be joining the human race in April. Thank you, thank you, thank you. This list would be complete if that were the only thing on it.

My nephew and niece’s marvelous wedding last year!

Getting back to some of the smaller things in life, I am also ever so glad for the existence of a fine egg salad, stand-up comedy, sleeping naked, old Persian rugs, and rope swings. Of the latter, I especially like the kind that swing over a lake or other cool watering hole on a hot and muggy day. The “kerplunk” sound we make as we fall into the water is quite possibly the most refreshing noise in the world, and I’m just thrilled for its existence.

And while we’re on the subject of all things refreshing, I will never tire of floating down rivers in inner tubes, skating on frozen ponds, and jumping into a pile of autumn leaves. It’s the Midwesterner in me, I guess.

My daughter at our local watering hole – just as she lets go of the rope!

Stinky cheese! I, for one, think it’s divine. The faster it clears a room, the more I enjoy every, stinkin’ bite. I won’t hold it against you if you’re not quite as grateful as I am for a food that smells like it should crawl. My own husband and children can’t take it.

Reading a great biography, discovering the work of a new artist, and dreaming up a fresh adventure – preferably all in one day – is simply sublime and even better than the stinkiest cheese, I must say. As are the weekly Sunday dinners that we’ve made standard in our household this year. Even the two who have flown the nest try to make a show, and often bring a college friend or two.

As for aesthetic pleasures, I am simply rapturous over the golden, jewel-like beauty of byzantine art, charmed by the awkward poetry of little girls practicing ballet, and cheered by holding a beautiful, delicate wine glass between my fingers. Sigh-inducing – every single one!

But rediscovering why you love someone is a rush of emotions that is worthy of the gods, as is the pursuit of excellence, which is why I will end this missive here. Because it’s always best to wind things up when you know you’ve done your very best.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends. Until next time.

Vintage Macy’s parade! Never been. Always wanted to. Either way, I’m grateful for it.

Who Wants to Listen to “Of Sand and Bone” on Audible for FREE?

You Do!

The story of a girl, her lover, and a killer’s quest through time…

To ring in the month of November, which my family and I (try to) celebrate as gratitude month at our house, I’m giving away 10 promo codes for eager listeners to enjoy “Of Sand and Bone” on Audible for FREE! To add a cherry to that sundae, the lucky recipients of the OSAB code can also request promo codes for Breath and Savage Island, in the event that they haven’t listened to or read the first two books in the BREATH series, or just want to partake of the whole listening experience.

Why? Because I’m so very thankful for all of you who read my fiction, follow my blog, subscribe to the Cold newsletter, and listen to the Cold podcast. I love the sense of camaraderie we’ve created in our Cold forums, and that we can talk honestly, with nuance and great mutual understanding about common interests that include, but are not limited to stories, love, art, travel, family matters, faith, war, and humor.

It’s nothing short of magic in this highly polarized age.

I’m also massively grateful about the return of oral storytelling in general and want to share my enthusiasm for the medium. As an author (and former theater producer), it’s supremely gratifying to be able to bring my characters to life in this way. Having the opportunity to choose my own narrators and have real input into the process of creating a performance of my novels is nothing short of a thrill.

As a reader and lover of all things story, audiobooks have increased my book consumption five-fold. I listen in the car on road trips and family vacations, on the beach, while running errands or folding laundry. When a book is well produced, it’s a spectacular experience.

And I’m very happy to share this experience with you.

Especially since the whole OSAB audiobook team pulled out all the stops to make this a first-string, five-star experience. “Of Sand and Bone” is narrated by the incredible Emily Lawrence, who has not only voiced some 450+ bestselling audiobooks but is simply one of the best voice actresses working today. That’s neither an exaggeration, nor merely a subjective assessment of her talent on my part. She’s won a number of awards for her audiobook performances and has been praised effusively by Audiofile Magazine, which singled her out as one of the best narrators out there. In other words, you’re in for a treat!

To qualify for the drawing, all you have to do is email me at victoria@victoriadoughertybooks.com and specify whether you are in the US or UK.

You have one week to do so, after which I will place all names in a hat (assuming more than 10 of you are audiobook listeners) and pick them out one by one. I like to be dramatic about these things.

Speaking of drama and contests, I also want to announce the winner of our “Of Sand and Bone” launch contest! Deb H., who has been part of the Cold for some time, and is also a writer herself, will receive signed hardback copies of the BREATH series, some BREATH swag, and an excerpt from “The Record Keeper“, the next installment in the epic. All reviewers will receive the excerpt, even late ones, so once your review is up and running, please send me a link to it and I’ll shoot your story candy straight into your inbox.

In the meantime, I hope you had a wonderful Halloween. Sadly, we no longer have any active trick-or-treaters in our household, and no one ever, and I mean EVER rings our doorbell asking for candy (to find out why, read here), so I have to find creative ways of enjoying the mood. One of those is collecting photos of elaborate Halloween decorations, and here are a couple of my favorites from this year.

I’m wondering what’s in the Igloo.
The dead black cat is a nice touch

Pumpkin with a serious blemish problem. It now sits outside our front door.

Romance: A Love Story

Thoughts on the Wild, Wonderful and Weird Romance Genre

By Yours Truly

Heavy sigh

I want to begin the meat and potatoes – or flowers and candy, if you prefer – of this essay by saying that I’m not an expert on the Romance genre. I don’t write or read romance novels (with some exceptions) and my perspective comes mostly from being an observer. I certainly know several romance authors – gals I adore – but this post is not specifically about their perspectives either. It is, however, informed by a few things they’ve shared with me over the years.

Despite the above disclaimer, there was a time when I very much wanted to write romance. I felt inspired by the overwhelming response I got from readers when I wrote about love on this blog and my heart swelled from the kick-in-the-gut, novel-worthy love stories you all were so open and willing to share with me. It felt like a sign that thrillers and historical fictions were not the only genres I was destined for.

Romance was calling.

When I first started the BREATH series, I was certain that it would be a romance. There was no doubt in my mind. We’re talking Pride and Prejudice meets The Notebook meets any Gena Showalter novel! I even started a video channel on YouTube called Love at First Write, announcing my intentions of writing an epic romance that would have readers up all night biting their lips and clutching their hankies.

But as pages turned into chapters, which turned into finished drafts, my own dogged nature prevailed. Although Breath, Of Sand and Bone, and Savage Island most definitely have heart, true love, and truly romantic themes and scenes, I couldn’t seem to stop myself from adding ghosts, an ancient prophecy or two, swashbuckling adventures, real historical figures and events, even some sci-fi and thriller elements for the love of God.

Both my editor and my book cover designer, after reading the finished manuscript of Breath, the inaugural book in this ambitious new “romance” of mine, cleared their throats delicately and said, “Um, are you sure you’ve got the right genre?”

I was a bit flummoxed.

“What do you mean?” I snipped. “Is it not romantic enough?”

“Oh, it’s romantic alright,” my editor said. “But most genres contain romance. Some of them even have a romance that’s front and center, but that doesn’t mean they’re romances. Look at the Outlander series. I guess the first book can technically be called a romance, but it’s got so much more going on than that. I think Outlander belongs in fantasy. More specifically, historical fantasy, and so does Breath.”

Her observation bothered me. I mean really bothered me. So much so, that while I trusted her expertise on this matter, I simply couldn’t bring myself to call the Breath series a historical fantasy. At least not yet. I agreed that she was right about the fantasy part but decided that I was writing romantic fantasy, dammit. Maybe I wasn’t destined to write Romance with a capital R, but I was still writing in the romance genre!

“What’s the big deal,” you might ask?

I guess the big deal is that I’d fallen in love with the romance genre. I’d committed, invested my time in its chat groups, gotten to know several successful romance authors, and come to appreciate a style of storytelling that appeals to such a broad cohort of people. Think about it this way – the very same romance novel can be and is devoured with equal ardency by a Harvard PhD and a High School dropout, by a Gucci-clad housewife and an apron-clad cleaning woman, by people of every race and creed, on every level of the social hierarchy. Romance is the great equalizer for no other reason than love. Because love is an emotion nearly every human being craves, fantasizes about, would die for.

Takes my breath away.

This original romantic fantasy themed cover was wrong, wrong, wrong!

It took me over a year after Breath debuted, when I was nearly finished with Of Sand and Bone, to finally admit to myself that I wasn’t creating what most readers would consider a romance. This was after I’d entered Savage Island, a Breath companion novel, in just about every romance competition I came across, always getting the same response: that it was lovely and romantic, even beautiful, but not what their typical romance reader was looking for. I should definitely enter it into a contest for a different genre – historical fiction, maybe? Or fantasy.

Bartender, I’ll have another.

Fair enough.

I can accept that now.

Nevertheless, I still want to share with you some of what I learned about this fascinating, contradictory, at times preposterous, and yet marvelous genre. One that part of me still wishes I was better suited for.

I’ll start at the beginning.

My first foray into the world of love and its scribes was when I joined a private romance readers and writers Facebook group a little over five years ago. I arrived as merely a stalker, invited in by an author friend. Then, a few days into my membership, I felt confident enough to introduce myself and announce my plans to write a “love story.”

Almost immediately, a romance author in the group messaged me.

“Are you writing a love story or a romance?” She demanded. “There’s a big difference. A romance always has a happy ending, but a love story not so much. In a love story, one of the lovers can die or break off the relationship for some reason. Whale readers don’t like love stories. Keep that in mind when you’re writing. Love stories are a big no-no in the romance world, and you’ll have your head handed to you if you go down that road.”

Wow. I appreciated her candor. A “love story” was, to me, simply a story about love and lovers and I had no idea that there was so much hairsplitting going on in Romanceland, but it made sense. The “whale readers” she was referring to are basically superfans who burn through romance novels like nobody’s business, often buying whole series upfront. These kinds of readers exist in other genres but are especially powerful in romance because they take the time to write thorough reviews and join multiple powerful reader groups who have a tremendous influence on which books make it to bestseller status. Word from these groups can spread like wildfire and generate a groundswell of excitement about a various author or title. Often both.

I was truly grateful for the advice, as this writer could’ve let me prattle on about my love story, essentially making me box office poison. She nipped my faux pas in the bud, allowing me to edit my introductory post only minutes after I’d penned it. I eliminated the dreaded “love story” element and made it clear that I wasn’t intending to leave readers sobbing into their Chardonnays, or more likely, hurling my book at the wall and writing a scathing review.

After, I made a mental note to investigate all of the other potential no-go storylines and character tags that might send my novels straight into the whale reader garbage bin.

What I found was a bit head-spinning. There are so many sub-genres and strictures in the romance genre, that cataloging them all was like studying for final exams. Sweet romance, small town romance, contemporary romance, historical romance, young adult, new adult, adult, erotic, paranormal, suspense, regency…the list goes on and on and on. In other words, while it’s imperative that a romance has a happy ending, there are infinite ways of arriving at that place.

But, and this is a big but, there’s a very specific way of how you get to ever after within a specific subgenre. For the most part, romance readers want to be delighted, but not surprised, and it’s important to match story content with its corresponding subgenre. Is there kissing, but not passionate kissing? Is there sex, and if so, how is it presented? With the bedroom door wide open, so to speak, or with the lights dimming and the scene fading at just the time when our lovers are about to…um, you know? At which chapter does the first kiss happen (yes, some subgenres are very specific about this)? Is it a “bad boy” romance, and if it is, how bad can the boy actually be before he’s reformed by his true love? Most romances have a deep moral core. In other words, murderers and cheaters are probably not appropriate for redemption, unless you’re in a very specific subgenre.

Darth Vader, for instance, could hang up his black cape and became a Jedi again, but he still couldn’t make the cut outside of certain dark subgenres, most of which trend towards the erotic.

He’s a helluva heavy breather, though.

Being something of a genre-bender by nature, this was my first indication that the world of romance writing was probably one I might have a difficult time inhabiting successfully. I love surprises and find them beguiling. I like pushing the envelope as a writer. As a reader, I want to wonder whether or not the lovers I’ve become so invested in will end up walking down the aisle or running like hell from an interstellar spirit.

Still, I couldn’t help myself. I was drawn like a fan girl to the monstrous success of the genre. Romance, more than any other, made Indie publishing into a dominant force, helping authors make real money after breaking free of the Harlequin stranglehold. It demonstrated that ethnic and interracial romance were powerhouse subgenres that appealed to readers of all races, and it was a huge catalyst in the success of eBooks overall. Kindle owes its life to romance.

And then there was the romance of being a romance writer. It’s like telling people you’re a chocolatier! Everyone gathers around you, genuinely interested in what you do, peppering you with questions, giggling involuntarily, begging for samples.

The reader and writer interactive component is uniquely vibrant, too, and not just among the “whale” types. Not only are romance readers evangelists for their favorite authors but love to chat them up on social media, and have been known to form spontaneous fan clubs, even conferences that center around their favorite authors, characters and series.

The Wild, Wicked Weekend in San Antonio is a romance reader’s paradise!

Romance writers, at least in my experience, don’t disappoint either. They’re fun, naughty, supportive as hell of their colleagues, and completely unlike the cliche presented in movies like “Romancing the Stone.” That of the lonely woman who sits at home with her cat on her lap, all while penning the sorts of stories she only wishes she could inhabit.

Most of the romance novelists I’ve gotten to know have very happy, fulfilling love lives. They gush about their husbands and reflect on how they want to write stories for the lovelorn – to show them what a great relationship can be like. To assure readers that the fairytale love affair isn’t some cynical invention that preys on the hopeful. It’s as real as the scent of perfume, the taste of a pair of lips, the glance that lingers just a moment too long, the ring that gets slipped on a finger.

Will you?

But alas, despite being enthralled by the Wild, Wicked Weekends, the wildly diverse fan base, the dirty jokes in the chat groups, and the unapologetic, gushingly romantic air of it all, I was not meant to be a romance novelist.

I write about love, yes, and with my whole heart. I believe in love as strongly as any romance writer I’ve ever met. I’ve lived my own love story, one that informs how I write about love and that I look forward to telling my grandchildren one day.

My fictional tales of love, however, are something between a love story and happily ever after. They occur within a much larger frame of intrigue that can read like a breathless rush down a battlefield. My murderers and cheaters can be redeemed, given the proper motivation. And I put my lovers through hell. I can’t help myself.

But I won’t lie. I do it all with just a tiny tear of regret for the romance that might have been.

And I love my covers and the stories that inspired them best of all.

The Breath Series

We’re Having a Launch Party (and Contest) for Of Sand and Bone!

What’s a book launch without a party and contest?

Of Sand and Bone is up, available and ready for action! 470 pages of ancient curses, vicious assassins, mystic priests, mysterious legends, time-travel, enchanted archaeological digs and yes, even true love await you!

If you haven’t gotten Of Sand and Bone yet, click here!

But before we break out the hats and hooters, I want to take a moment to thank you all. Thank you for following my stories, reading my novels, writing reviews, and telling your friends. The special relationship between an author and her readers is golden, and I’ve made real friends here in the Cold. I can’t tell you what that means to me.

It’s the real reason why I like to have a contest with each of my book launches. It gives me an opportunity to make this fun and special for you, especially since I’m a “slow lit” kind of girl, and you all have to wait a fairly long time for each of my offerings.

The good news is that I work really hard to make my novels as extravagant and spellbinding as they can possibly be. I want you to feel as passionately about the characters as I do. I want them to stay with you long after you read the last page. I really, truly hope I accomplish that.

We had one more day of enchantment and shadows in Theves. Of feeling the eyes of a phantom upon us. That flicker of movement in the corner of an eye, the sound of footsteps. No one there when you turn around. Yes, I felt it, too, although not as keenly as Ripley. This sensation of being stalked seemed to disappear entirely as we returned to the Valley of the Kings to bid adieu to Howard Carter. We boarded the night train to Cairo without further incident.

“I wonder if it wasn’t just a thief,” I tell Ripley as we arrive at the Shepheard Hotel the evening of our return. “You do, after all, cut the figure of a very fine tourist.”

Ripley smiles. “Perhaps.”

But I can tell that he doesn’t believe it for one second. –Of Sand and Bone

Click here to get the whole series!

So, apart from this brand new epic saga of a novel, what’s all this literary bling I’ve been dangling before you and what have you got to do to get it?

The answer to the latter question is – probably not much more than you’re already doing. Just purchase your download (at our launch price of $4.99) or print copy of Of Sand and Bone, read it, give it an honest review, and shoot me an email with a link or screenshot of your review (victoria@victoriadoughertybooks.com). Then I can put your name into my black bowler hat (if I can find it – damn those kids of mine – otherwise it’ll be a St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap) for your chance to win…

  • Signed, hardback copies of the BREATH series
  • 4 BREATH series magnets
  • Sneak peek into Book 3 of the BREATH series, with an excerpt from the WIP (that’s Work-in-Progress) The Record Keeper

The big winner will be announced on Friday, October 14th, but everyone who writes a review will receive the sneaky peek into the next book in the series!

Now here’s a sneaky peek!

And everyone, even those of you who are mere bystanders, will get this original Of Sand and Bone cocktail recipe that my husband, Jack, cooked up for our little launch party! It can be made as a mocktail or a cocktail and is equally delicious however you choose to mix it.

8 ounces Vodka

1 cup Fresh Pink Grapefruit Juice (roughly two juiced)

¼ cup Lime Juice (roughly one juiced)

12 ounces Club Soda

½ cupSugar

¾ cupWater

a thinly sliced hot chili pepper – 1 slice per glass or so

add Additional Lime And Grapefruit Slices (optional garnish)

Combine with ice, shake it up, and strain it into the fancy glass of your choice!

Cheers!

Heads Up on a Savage Sale!

Of Sand and Bone is THIS CLOSE from its launch!

So close, that next time you hear from me, I’ll be sharing purchase links, contest info (yes, there will be a contest for y’all to be eligible to get some fabulous story swag), and maybe even a sneak peek or two at some thrilling future fiction magic I’ve been working on.

No rabbits were harmed in the creation of any Victoria Dougherty novels.

In the meantime, while we all wait for the OSAB debut, I want to share some serious sale news to whet your appetites for epic Book 2 of the series.

Savage Island, the companion novel to the BREATH series, will be available on Amazon and all the usual suspects for a mere $.99 – this weekend only!

If Savage Island has been on your to-read list, this is your chance to get it at a steal. If you’ve been waiting for a great opportunity to recommend the BREATH series to someone special in your life, this is a great way to get them started.

On the remote, South Pacific island of Niue in 1944, Angelie is dying of boredom and eager to get involved in the war effort. Then she meets Will. As a series of vivid dreams about ancient deserts and long forgotten prophecies ensnares them, Will and Angelie not only discover love, but a powerful fate that began for them at the dawn of civilization.

Savage Island on Amazon

Savage Island everywhere else

Isn’t this just a gorgeous new cover?

Reading Isn’t the Only Way to Enjoy a Great Story

For those of you who do not subscribe to Audible but would love to see what all the fuss is about regarding audio books, I want to offer you a few, free minutes of Breath. It’s narrated by Emily Lawrence, who is just outstanding and has voiced over 450 audio books, winning several awards for her efforts. She’s been praised as one of the best audio book narrators in the business, and I second that!

“Emily Lawrence delivers an expert narration… Fans of fantasy and mystery will appreciate Lawrence’s ability to ratchet up the suspense with each shocking revelation.”

Audio File Magazine

Click here to listen!

For those of you who do subscribe to Audible and are looking for a wonderful, substantial story experience, “Breath” is a great use of one of your credits.

Here’s what listeners are saying:

A very different kind of romance book. I LOVED it, it was one of those where the characters stayed with you for days and days after you finished it and you have a NEED to hear how their lives go on and how they find each other again!! Jest WOW.

Stacey Rineer, Audible listener, “Breath” lover.

Fabulous!

I definitely enjoyed Emily Lawrence as the narrator. She made this fantasy story come alive and hook you until the end.

Jackie T, “Breath” Audible enthusiast, “Breath” fan.

Click here for “Breath” on Audible

Take me on a camel ride thru pink sands any day!

This super sale and audio snippet should get you all good and ready for Of Sand and Bone, and definitely provide you with plenty of story material to share. Word of mouth is like gold to both authors and readers. It is by far the way most story lovers choose their next novels and audio books, so your recommendations really do matter.

And fiction lovers will have just enough time to finish both Breath and Savage Island before Of Sand and Bone becomes available! it’s a win-win!

And speaking of Of Sand and Bone!

Coming soon…pages upon pages of lovers, killers, curses and destinies! Of Sand and Bone is dripping with Victorian Egyptomania during the Golden Age of Archaeology!

brown rock formation under blue sky during daytime

The story of a girl, her lover, and a killer’s quest through time.

Cairo, 1902. The Golden Age of Archaeology is in full swing. Leila Saber Wellington and her father, Lord Wellington, are back in Egypt after several years in London.

On the night of her arrival, she encounters Ripley Davies, the charismatic son of a prominent British archaeologist working at the Museum of Antiquities. Leila at first tries to resist her attraction to Ripley, but the two grow closer as they become embroiled in a series of mysteries that turn stranger and more dangerous by the day. Ones of baffling disappearances, an ancient, arcane statue, and a succession of vicious and ritualistic murders.

But as Leila and Ripley resolve to track the killer in their midst, they also begin to uncover the astonishing truth of their own destiny. They are a pair of lovers called Nin’ti, who are trapped in an endless cycle of death and rebirth and must endeavor to save humanity from the same fate that befell their ancient civilization. Only in this life, they are being hunted by an enemy from their very first lives together: a broken man and fallen warrior who has stalked them through time and is intent on having Leila for himself, even if it means destroying all of civilization…again.

Sunset at the Pyramids

Just a taste of Of Sand and Bone

“A small wooden Ferris wheel, cranked by hand, is set right in the middle of the road, forcing us to go around it. Only about four benches on it, each fit for one, rocking and jerking with every turn. Makes the riders—men, of course—chuckle. When each of them reaches the top, they spit over the side, prompting a strong rebuke from Horus.

Lines and lines of merchant stalls, their proprietors dressed in skull caps and tunics striped like pajamas. Each and every one of them has a bushy mustache as thick as a fur collar. Except for one. He is clean shaven and catches my eyes as we pass. He looks right at me like he knows me and holds up a small statue barely the size of his hand. It’s a rather distinctive looking thing, and I notice its lion’s mouth straight away, along with its eyes, which feel as if they’ve caught my gaze and won’t let go. I raise my head up and clutch the frame of the window, trying to get a closer look.

An ox cart passes between us going in the opposite direction and I strain to keep my sights on the man, but it’s no use. By the time the carriage has passed, the merchant is gone and I feel as alone as I felt on the day Mother died.”

Thank you for reading. Stay tuned.

Cold Men and the Cool Women Who Love Them

If you’ve been around the Cold long enough, you’ve probably heard the story about why a girl like me, who writes a lot of gritty, historical stuff loaded up with battles and murders and dangerous hijinks, gets all mushy when it comes to love.

You may have read a Cold essay or two about the hero of my own love story, or about my son’s dreams of love and honor.

And you may also know your own roles in influencing what I write, how I write it, and why. Especially you guys out there.

I’m a sucker for a guy who reads fiction

My singling out the guys in the Cold might seem like a bit of a head-scratcher on the surface of things. Not so much because of the actual content of what I write about here, but because I am, after all, mostly a fiction writer, and according to recent statistics, women account for about 80% of all fiction readers. Just wrap your heads around that – 80%.

I won’t get into why I believe that’s a travesty in this missive. I’ve already done that here, so go ahead and read my diatribe about men and fiction if you want. I stand by every word, and even offer a nice, long fiction reading list tailored just for those blessed with an X chromosome.

What I will get into is how 20% of the fiction reading public (here in the Cold, men actually make up about 30% of my readers) have managed to have such an impact on the way I approach my stories, plots, characters and general atmospherics.

“Could you please chew with your mouth closed?” I tell him.

He stops, looking me up and down. Amused at me this time. The archer crosses his arms and finishes chewing at leisure.

“You’re not a princess-in-waiting anymore – a mala,” he says. “I’m not sure what you are.”

“I was never a princess,” I say, moving further away. “Any more than your leader is a prince.”

He scoots closer and I move again.

“Are you afraid I’m coming down with Vara?”

I shake my head, kicking a stone. “You smell.”

The archer slides right up to me and raises his arm, pushing its sweaty underside into my face. I shove him away and gag.

“I think you’re right,” he says, sniffing himself. “I might have to bathe after we pack up tomorrow.” —a decidedly masculine scene of flirtation from Breath

Nif and Sherin as illustrated by Alex Eckman-Lawn

The reason I’m influenced by the male sensibility is simple and may seem counterintuitive. The fact is that whenever I write about history, faith, personal struggles, and especially love, my male readers are the ones who tend to write back most prolifically. “My guys,” as I’ve come to call them, have come to me with some of the most beautiful, romantic, raw and painful confessions I’ve ever heard. Long, poetic letters that have made me gasp and tear up at times, to tell you the truth.

And guys, it is such an honor for me to receive your trust in this way. Thank you.

You’ve helped me understand my husband, my son, my brother, my dad and my male characters so much better. You’ve inspired me to write men that feel real to you, yet remain solid, interesting, and swoon-worthy for the ladies. Or conjure ones who are wounded, cruel, even frightening, yet never completely unredeemable. It’s thanks to you that I’m able to write cowards who manage to tug at our heartstrings, and heroes who are indelibly human, no matter how handsome they are or what fantastic feats they might perform.

It’s also why, as I create my female characters, I endeavor to make them worthy of your love and admiration.

Thank you for that, too.

A decidedly Cold gal

As for the women here in the Cold, many of you have written to me about the men in your lives. You’ve blessed me with your love stories and told me in no uncertain terms what makes you give your heart to a man, to trust him with your life – whether that man be a father, a dear friend, or your lover. You’ve given me your confidence about your most profound heartbreaks and disappointments, too. Your grief and reluctance. How you recovered from faithlessness to find the meaning of true love.

From nearly the moment of his death, Nif feels the urge to be born just as I do.

But in the meantime, however brief, we are here.

Here there is no night sky. We are the night sky. We can take the moon in our arms, shoot arrows with Sagittarius.

Love with the power of a universe that is ever expanding.

“Soon I’ll have hands and can touch you again.”

A body has its own pleasure.

“And a heart that flutters like an angel tern each time I see you.”

That fire will be lit again. The fire of birth. Our ongoing quest. But until then, we have this. — a more feminine depiction of love from Savage Island

Nif and Sherin on the Arches of Talava of Niue, as illustrated by Alex Eckman-Lawn

And in a few short weeks, I’ll be debuting a new novel from the Breath series…another I owe to you. All of you, but especially “my guys.” Not because I wrote these stories for you, exactly. It’s more that I wrote them because of you. They are whole thanks to your imprint upon them.

You showed me how a man thinks about love. That in answering his call for adventure – to travel, to go to war, to go to work – he’s making himself ready for commitment. Worthy of a good woman and the children they might raise together. You’ve shown me your hopes and dreams, your hearts, and I hope I’ve done them justice in my stories.

A low chuckle comes from Ripley’s side of the table.

“Then what about you?” Edna says. “You were going to tell us what you love, Ripley, before Leila’s homage to her mother.”

One can’t help but smile at Edna. She has such a thoughtful, obliging nature, and her every word is sincere. She strokes my cheek, then gives it a sweet kiss. It’s a gesture of friendship that touches me.

“What I love?” Ripley says.

I take a good, hard swallow of my ale and meet Ripley’s eyes. They have been waiting for me all this time, and quite nearly take my breath away.

“I love my destiny,” he tells me as if it’s he and I alone.

“But how can you love it if you don’t know where it’ll take you?” Edna says. “What if it’s a terrible place where you find yourself bound to a rock with an eagle swooping down and eating your liver every day?”

“Ripley as the god Prometheus!” Cornelius exclaims.

Ripley entwines his fingers with mine. It is not the tender-hearted gesture we had witnessed minutes ago between the other lovers at the table. His hand grips mine, pressing our palms together as they grow hotter.

“Then I should savor the journey all the more, and the one with whom I am destined to travel it. My liver be damned.” –Coming soon…Of Sand and Bone

Nif and Sherin gazing into a campfire in the dessert, as illustrated by Alex Eckman-Lawn

A Cover Reveal! And Other Sublime, Mood-Setting Story Candy.

Of Sand and Bone by Victoria Dougherty

Of Sand and Bone, BIG book 2 of the BREATH series, is launching this September! It’s got war, ancient cultures, enchanted archaeological digs, and a smart, captivating pair of eternal lovers who even my uber-macho “I’m here for the thrillers” readers have embraced. To quote my husband, “Somehow you manage to keep the man in the romantic elements of your stories.”

No shortage of warriors in this epic

Of Sand and Bone, which certainly has a lush, ethereal element, also has a helluva lot of real history and serious atmospherics for those of you who are into an immersive story experience that goes well beyond reading the map of a clever plot.

I’m hoping to share some of that with you here today.

Probably my favorite part of the pre-launch of any new novel is when I get the finished cover in my inbox. I shared some of the artwork with you last time – as you know, I’m having the whole BREATH series redesigned – and today I want to show you a finished product.

For me, a book cover is a work of art, and its composition must reflect the heart of the story. But the cover must also communicate quality, years of passionate story writing, plus the world-building and fine-tuning that’s built into every novel, series, or epic. I’m a slow-lit girl who takes her time and wants to bring her absolute best to the table. That’s why I stalk not just great, but the perfect book cover designers and illustrators for my genre. People who I believe “get” my work, have an affinity for the cultures I’m bringing to life for readers.

Because I believe we must fall into stories the way we fall into our dreams. They have to feel real and beautiful, take you to places you never want to leave, introduce you to characters who you wish you could pull from the page and bring into your life as friends or lovers.

That first step into a story needs to cast a spell, giving a sublime taste of what awaits. The burn of the hot sun and the sand beneath your feet, the comingled aromas of flowers, spices and sweat, the glimpses of memories and histories, blood, magic and horror and love.

Without further ado, I give you Of Sand and Bone!

Voila!

A young woman, her lover, and a killer’s quest through time.

Cairo, 1902. The Golden Age of Archaeology is in full swing. Leila Saber Wellington and her father, Lord Wellington, are back in Egypt after several years in London.

On the night of her arrival, she encounters Ripley Davies, the charismatic son of a prominent British archaeologist working at the Museum of Antiquities. Leila at first tries to resist her attraction to Ripley, but the two grow closer as they become embroiled in a series of mysteries that turn stranger and more dangerous by the day. Ones of baffling disappearances, an ancient, arcane statue, and a succession of vicious and ritualistic murders.

But as Leila and Ripley resolve to track the killer in their midst, they also begin to uncover the astonishing truth of their own destiny. They are a pair of lovers called Nin’ti, who are trapped in an endless cycle of death and rebirth and must endeavor to save humanity from the same fate that befell their ancient civilization. Only in this life, they are being hunted by an enemy from their very first life together: a broken man and fallen warrior who has stalked them through time and is intent on having Leila for himself, even if it means destroying all of civilization…again.

And here is some more visual candy for Of Sand and Bone, and the BREATH series.

The interior of Leila’s family home in Cairo, Egypt

I wanted to keep it authentic, but comfortable, reflecting Leila’s rich family heritage more than her wealth.

Mmmm

The Shepheard Hotel in Cairo was during its heyday at the turn of the 20th century, a place of international intrigue, where history was often decided over a drink and a handshake. Leila and Ripley frequent the hotel, making their own histories. In fact, they enjoy this very meal there.

Nearly as old as death itself

The City of the Dead in Cairo. A necropolis filled with tombs that house poets, priests and kings as well as the most common of commoners. It’s where the living was only starting to encroach upon the dead as the Gold Age of Archaeology thrust Egypt onto the world stage again. Families moved into the actual tombs; markets sprang up. Today, the City of the Dead is a bustling part of Cairo, but in 1902, its transformation was just beginning. It was still a quiet place of mystery then.

Spooky, isn’t it?

The Tibesti Mountains in the central Sahara. Black, craggy, volcanic…often called the most remote and least explored mountain range in the world. Nif and Sherin visited these mountains in their first life together thousands of years ago, as chronicled in Breath, and Leila and Ripley are drawn to them in Of Sand and Bone.

Leila and Ripley as Nif and Sherin

Stay tuned, watch your inbox. There will be so much more to come in these next few weeks. Excerpts, more covers, more artwork, photographs, gifts, contests, and finally…Of Sand and Bone.

In the spirit of mood magic, I’m also offering Cold readers a chance to become listeners and get a FREE promo code on Audible for Savage Island, the teaser novel to my BREATH series. If you want a free Audible promo code for Savage Island, I only ask you do two simple things. First, give me a follow on this blog (if you’re not a follower already). Next, email me at victoria@victoriadoughertybooks.com and write “I want to listen to Savage Island!” in the subject line.

*As a bonus – below is an extra cover reveal for the new cover of Savage Island. It’s just sublime, isn’t it?

Be a savage!

I’ve Got a Great New Word You’re Going to Love!

For my birthday, my husband did something unconventional this year. Instead of a material gift – a pretty top, a little bling, a nice dinner – he gave me some inspiration. It came in the form of a five-year-old NYT Magazine article, printed out on plain paper and placed into a clear binder. No frills, no professions of eternal love, not even a card.

On the cover was a picture of a grizzled and intellectual-looking Slav. The kind of man who writes novels, then gets put in prison for it. His eyes seemed to burn with subversive thoughts.

A. Doba

His name was Aleksander Doba, and he was not a writer, or any kind of artist for that matter. He wasn’t even really much of a thinker, at least not in the classical sense.

What he was, was a man of action with a mission. A nearly deaf, retired mechanical engineer who had kayaked alone across the Atlantic Ocean three times – the last being in 2017 at the age of seventy.

In his quest for conquering the ocean, thumbing his nose at all the nay-sayers out there, and vanquishing his own fears, he was forced to confront disasters that rank on a Biblical scale.

Like hailstorms of flying fish – “Do you know how fast they go? This does not feel good.”

Getting thrown from his kayak during a fierce storm (one of many he’s survived, sometimes barely, on the high seas) – “I woke up on the shore to the sound of screaming – my own.”

Hunger, sunstroke, sleep deprivation, salt-induced blisters and rashes, hallucinations, loneliness, and a level of fatigue that defies description – “I did it with no stuntman.”

You may be wondering, as I did, why my husband thought I would find kindship in Doba’s adventuring. I’m not a kayaker or extreme sports enthusiast of any kind. I’ve had a lifelong fear of deep water, and the thought of spending weeks alone, in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by sharks, gives me the heebie-jeebies. “Scaredy-cat” probably best describes my approach to anything from finding a spider crawling up my leg to partaking in quasi-life-threatening activities like riding rollercoasters.

And I would never, ever be so ridiculous as to claim that I could conquer my chicken-heartedness enough to do even half the things Aleksander Doba has done. He has a level of grit that’s present in only the true heroes among us, and I’m not one of those.

Hell, I’m not even Polish.

V. Dougherty
V. Dougherty

But there was something about the word Doba used to describe his outlandish journeying that holds the answer to why he and I may share more in common than it would appear.

That word was katorga. It’s a simple-sounding word, as far as Slavic words go. Three syllables, lots of hard consonants. The kind of word that forces your jaw open and pulls your face down when you say it. In Polish, it’s also the word for forced labor in Siberia. And over the years, as gulags in arctic climates have largely faded from memory, katorga has also taken on another meaning. Roughly, according to the NYT piece, it is an experience of suffering repurposed as contrarian self-determination, and one that gives an existential thrill.

When put this way, my husband’s unorthodox birthday gift begins to make more sense.

You see, I do have my own katorga. Mine begins every time I start a new novel – especially one that’s part of a series. It ends…well, it really never ends if I’m to be honest. Because like Aleksander Doba, I’m already thinking about my next odyssey before I’ve finished my last. I’m rewriting the bleak memories of my trials and tribulations as deeds of brain busting daring-do, existential thrills of the imagination.

Like when I invented a mind-blowing plot twist that I almost couldn’t write my way through, threatening to lay waste to hundreds of finished pages. That one took months to figure out.

Or when I decided a beloved character needed to die a horrible, agonizing death, thus risking the ire of readers. The wrong editorial decision can destroy years of work, putting into peril future books in the series.

I’ve run out of creative juice on some days and experienced a paralyzing crisis of confidence on others. At times, the monotony of editing and the line-by-line fixes of persnickety continuity problems has gotten to me. Errors that seem small, like when I discovered my heroine’s shoes were cream-colored at the beginning of a chapter, but lilac-hued by the time I described them again in the next chapter, can take a reader out of the story. Then it’s on to the next novel on their nightstand.

A finished product

I recognize that while harrowing to me, these are hardly the sorts of audacious feats that would inspire The National Geographic Society to bestow upon me its annual People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year Award, as it did in 2015 on Mr. Doba.

But in the place of such a distinction, I’ll happily accept simple encouragement from readers who seem to genuinely love my work. I’ll take pride in the reviews that spring up on Amazon and other platforms.

“I know I’m not the only one in your Cold Club, but I always feel like you’re writing something personal just for me.”

–Roger B.

Even when one of my books is by all objective financial measures a bomb, there is a psychic income I get from trying to figure out why more readers weren’t enticed to buy, from attempting to take corrective measures. Or from defiantly making the decision to continue with my original vision, hoping to slowly bring people on board.

“The writing is of great quality, beautifully descriptive when required, sparse when not, but the plotting displays a crepuscular style which risks leaving 50% of readers none the wiser as to what’s just transpired. It is possible to have hidden meanings and unforeseen plot twists without this much obfuscation – just ask John le Carre.”

–Tepid, 2-star Amazon review for Welcome to the Hotel Yalta
Artwork for “Yalta”

As for Aleksander Doba, his own sense of motivation comes not from awards, or even pats on the back from admirers, but from a common expression in Poland: “I do not want to be a little gray man.” It is a reminder to himself that he has no interest in dying in his bed.

With this ethos in mind, he begins the process of redesigning his kayak to withstand bigger waves and more violent storms, he makes lists of extra efficient foods to take with him and tries to invent new ways of exercising his legs, so that he doesn’t lose muscle tone (in the past, he’d tried swimming, but that attracted sharks). As he tackles the problems that vexed him, nearly killed him on previous expeditions, his fears and frustrations actually begin to subside. They’re replaced by a deep longing for the turtles he liked to commune with, whose shells he would tap as they swam by, and the birds who would land on his kayak, refusing to leave. Friends on the open sea.

He starts to look forward to seeing them again.

It is exactly this kind of re-imagining of our drudgery as triumph that makes those of us who are perhaps a little obsessive continue the fight. Katorga is a tyrannical mistress for sure, but we can’t help but love her, and wait like fools for the kind word, the wink, the nod she throws our way.

Doba with Olo, his custom-made kayak

As for Aleksander Doba, one of his katorgas did end up having her way with him. In February of 2021, he died while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was not in an avalanche, or from exposure during a freak storm, or from a fall. After summiting, he asked for a brief rest before posing for a promised photo op. Then, according to eyewitness reports, he sat down on a rock and “just fell asleep.”

He did not die in his bed

I expect my katorga will have the last word on me, too, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Me in a very dangerous book store

Please indulge my katorga for a moment.

It is so exciting for me when the artwork for a new novel – or in this case, the redesign of an entire Historical Fantasy series – starts dribbling in. Especially after an epic fail.

The genre I thought I’d nailed in my original book covers – Epic Romantic Fantasy – turned out not to be so on the nose after all. The Breath series, with its themes of war, ancient cultures, enchanted archaeological digs, and yes, a pair of eternal lovers is so obviously Historical Fantasy when I look at it now.

This may seem like a trivial mistake – after all, Historical Fantasy is pretty much just a mix of Historical Fiction and Fantasy – but it’s critical that genres and sub-genres are communicated properly in the cover art. Otherwise you risk alienating readers who might have been looking for something more specific, as well as not identifying the readers who are hungry for your particular style of fiction.

New BREATH illustration

Endeavoring to get this right is exhilarating. It’s also a strangely vulnerable act – this empowering of a stranger to interpret a massive flight of fancy, turning ideas into a series of images that will hopefully capture the essence of a fantasy drama and beguile a potential reader.

Here’s a new on for SAVAGE ISLAND

That will capture the subtle, the romantic, and the mysterious. Enough, but not too much. If the art overdetermines the aura, it robs the reader of their own interpretation of the way a character looks and feels. Of how they walk through the universe of a story – its topography, its cities, its kitchens and bedrooms.

And finally, for OF SAND AND BONE

OF SAND AND BONE

Book 2 of the BREATH series (Book 3 if you count SAVAGE ISLAND)

Coming soon.

A Texas Sized Birthday Gift!

red Texas store signage

First, yesterday was my birthday. Admittedly, that is neither here nor there, except for the fact that Voyage San Antonio Magazine has devoted some space to me this month, and that’s the kind of birthday present a writer always welcomes.

You may be asking why I’m being featured in a publication called Voyage San Antonio when I have no connection to Texas – other than the fact that it’s in the United States and I happen to live here as a citizen. Let alone the city of San Antonio – a place I’ve never even visited.

The truth is, my connection with Voyage San Antonio magazine has everything to do with my connection to one particular Texan, my friend Michele Gwynn (check out Michele’s writing here). Michele and I have had a mutual admiration for each other’s creative endeavors for some years now. I love her Berlin based mystery series about a German dominatrix turned police detective, and she’s a fan of my Cold War Chronicle books, including The Bone Church and The Hungarian. I think it helps that she knows how much I like Texans, too. Truly every Texan I’ve ever met has been just delightful. Friendly, funny, comfortable in their skin, and rarely fitting neatly into the stereotype of highly partisan, social progress hating, gun-toting cowboy or cowgirl.

An aspiring Austin ballerina

One stereotype is most definitely true, however. Texans are an independent bunch and have been for a long, long time. Risk-takers, good campers, rough and tumble good-timers, too. There’s a reason why companies are moving to Texas from (former) start up hubs like California, and why so many small businesses pop up all around the state. It’s considered to have “uniquely collaborative entrepreneurial ecosystems” and that sort of ethos comes from somewhere.

I think we need no further than to look right here.

man riding brown horse during daytime

Texans are also magnanimous, and eager to fold you into their “republic.” I guess that’s one more reason why Voyage San Antonio would want to feature me in their gung-ho for Texas publication. Maybe, they figured I just might be the kind of girl who would fit in, or even be inclined to move there.

And they’re not wrong.

So, in honor of the Lone Star State, I’d like to share some of the Texas staples I love most:

Cowboys. I have a thing for them.

I love cowboy boots and cows, too, for that matter.

“Dallas” was one of my favorite shows when I was growing up.

Lyle Lovett is just the best! Listen to Lyle’s “That’s Right You’re Not From Texas (But Texas Wants You Anyway) right here!

I own a “Where the Hell is Possum Kingdom?” t-shirt from a (great) vacation I took in…wait for it…Possum Kingdom, Texas!

And I’m going to write that epic Western thriller one day. Swear!

In the meantime, please click on the link below and have a read!

San Antonio, here I come!

Me and my husband trying out being Texan

A Dispatch from the Middle

Quotes, in general, are a bit like little prayers for me. These bits of wisdom from people who are far more accomplished than I am, who have been through the wringer and have come out on the other side, help me look at things outside of my own headspace, talking me out of my tree one foothold at a time.

They are especially useful when I’m stuck, unsure of whether my big idea was ever a good idea or when I’m trudging my way through the middle of a story.

“If you’re in the middle of the ocean with no flippers and no life preserver and you hear a helicopter, this is music. You have to adjust your needs to the moment.” –Tom Waits

The middle is a notoriously thorny place to be. We rarely talk about hitting middle age, going to Middle School, being mid-route, the Middle Ages in glowing terms. Rather, the middle seems more often than not to conjure images of strife, darkness, confusion, and a general slowing down of progress. It’s the waiting place Dr. Seuss writes about in his ultimately optimistic children’s classic, Oh, The Places You Will Go.

“You can get so confused that you’ll start in to race down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space, headed, I fear, toward a most useless place. The Waiting Place…” he writes.

For a writer, the middle, “the waiting place,” is that stage in a manuscript where we no longer feel the wind at our backs, the way we did when we launched our tale or see the light at the end of the tunnel, the way we do as we’re marching towards our fireworks of an ending. The middle of a novel, trilogy, or series is a place that’s hard won, chapter by chapter. Because it is such a slog, so filled with intricacies that must tie the characters and plot points together in a way that makes sense, the magic that lights up the words, makes the world come alive for a writer and reader, can feel as if it’s fading away.

The middle is, after all, when most first-time fiction writers kick their dreams to the curb and give up on ever completing their novel. And when a reader might struggle to make it through a narrative that seemed promising at the start but got weighed down.

But the middle is so worth it. If we are conscientious and dedicated to remembering what made us fall in love with a premise, a theme, a story, a hero or heroine, the middle is where all the real growth happens. It’s the place and time where our characters discover who they really are, what they’re made of, and which potential lovers are worthy of their hearts. It’s where they fall down and make colossal mistakes, then have to figure out how to fix them. It’s where they lose their innocence and not only have to make peace with their discoveries, but must endeavor to turn trouble, even tragedy, into triumph.

“It is unthinkable for a Frenchman to arrive at middle age without having syphilis and the cross of The Legion of Honor.” –Andre Gide, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature

In my case, the middle has involved finishing the second BIG book in the “Breath” series, titled “Of Sand and Bone.” I won’t pretend; it’s been a daunting task. Not only does OSAB have to work as a stand-alone novel with its own beginning, middle and end, but it has to serve as the middle point for the series, pushing forward the machinations of the plot without losing the framework of the epic, and continuing to develop the characters who have a purpose and objective in all of the books. I have felt a bit like one of those variety show acts, where a guy comes on to spin plates with one hand, juggle with the other, all while skateboarding.

I think it’s been worth it.

Ultimately though, it’s you, the reader, who will be the judge. So, I leave you not with another quote, but a dispatch from the middle.

Cairo, 1902, deep in the middle of “Of Sand and Bone.”

By Yours Truly

“I have to get out of here,” I blurt out before Ripley or his father can even utter a greeting. “I’m going to go see my father in Aswan.”

Even I can see how jagged my movements are as I make my way through their sitting room, intent on going up and packing my things.

“Leila,” Ripley says. “What on earth?”

As happy as I am to see him, even Ripley cannot console me. “Nothing. Everything. I just miss him and, with all that’s happened, I think it would be best if I go.”

Dr. Davies looks to Ripley in distress, and I let my face fall into my hands. I’ve made a mess of this already, I can see, and the two of them must think I need an alienist. Steeling myself, I put my arms to my sides, trying my best to keep my lips from quivering. Poor Ripley steps toward me, but I put out my hand for him to stop.

“You should never have let her go to that hotel with you and the Lieutenant General, for goodness sake!” Dr. Davies says. “A woman, particularly of Leila’s delicate age, shouldn’t be subjected to—”

“Oh, Dr. Davies, for the love of God, I’ve seen more blood and death than you ever will in your one measly life!”

I gasp and bite down. “I’m sorry,” I mumble. “I don’t know what came over me.”

“Dad, if you’ll excuse us, I’m going to take Leila upstairs.”

I feel Ripley’s hands upon my shoulders and know instantly how wrong I was. I walk into his arms, needing every bit of his comfort, and he holds me better than anyone ever could.

“Yes, yes, of course,” I hear Dr. Davies say. “She needs to rest.”

That’s the last thing I need, I want to say. I breathe deeply into Ripley’s chest, where his heart beats, wishing it could be bare and that I could feel the raw warmth of it.

Ripley stoops down and hooks his arm beneath my legs, lifting me up. He carries me up the stairs and takes me to my room, laying me down upon the mint coverlet. Sweetly, he removes my shoes and places them next to my bed.

“What happened?”

“I don’t know.”

He takes my hand and sits at the edge of my bed just as I had done to poor Edna’s mother.

“I wish it was just that I was going mad,” I whisper. “A frightened girl who has seen too much for her sensitive nature.”

Ripley’s finger touches the hollow in my neck and my whole body comes alive to him. “A sensitive nature?” he teases. “Hardly.”

I tell him everything that happened at Mrs. Watson’s, the whole story coming out in a torrent. He listens carefully, stroking my head, and holding my hand.

“I feel as if we’re being haunted,” I tell him. “Like the stories in my books.”

He leans over and kisses me so tenderly. My temple, my cheek, my lips.

“What if we’re not the ones being haunted, but those doing the haunting?” I whisper. “What if, somehow, all of this is our fault?”

Ripley unbuttons his shirt and holds my hand to his heart. I want to bore through his chest and hold it, red and beating, in my hands. I want to crawl inside him and shelter behind his bones. But his eyes give me strength. The rivers of amber and blood within them rush and glimmer.

“Then I shall make it right. If it’s the last thing I do.”

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