a collection of stars

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Five years before I started work on my current WIP, THE BONE HARVEST, I wrote a short story called A COLLECTION OF STARS. My original reason for writing it was in response to a call for submissions for an anthology titled, Defy the Dark. My story didn’t make the cut, but I did receive a completely unexpected and heartfelt response from anthology editor and author-extraordinaire, Saundra Mitchell, that remains some of the most-meaningful praise I’ve ever received. She said:

“I loved this story. Really rich science fiction can be a rare thing in YA, and I think you did a beautiful job here. The world building is fantastic, the characters are strong. Your language is evocative—I really did think this story was great. I had to put it aside because not because of its flaws, but because I already had a ship-bound science fiction story in the anthology.

As an editor, that breaks my heart. As a sister author, it drives me absolutely crazy. So I wanted to drop you a note and let you know, this story is *great*, and you really, really must submit it elsewhere. There's a home for it out there, and it so deserves to be seen by the world. I wish you the best of luck, and I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future.”

Responses like this can be heartbreaking for an author. But it made me realize I wasn’t alone in feeling this story was special. It’s one of my favourite pieces of my own writing. Maybe I wrote it for that anthology, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t belong somewhere else. So, I did as Saundra suggested and submitted it to a few places, but the response was always the same: Thanks, but not what we’re looking for right now. So, eventually, I filed it away. And that was that.

That is, until I stumbled across it again one day and my writer brain started firing on all cylinders. I’d been carrying an idea for a YA sci-fi in the back of my mind for a while, but I could never seem to fully flesh out the plot. Re-reading this short story suddenly made everything click. And so, THE BONE HARVEST was born into a universe directly linked to A COLLECTION OF STARS.

As I said, I never did find a home for this short story, so I figure it’s time to give it a home right here. Because I really do love this little story about a teenager’s first night on-planet after living his entire life on a passenger spacecraft, and I hope you love it too.

Here’s a snippet from the text, which you can read in full at the link below.

A few feet ahead, Natalie is nothing but a silhouette in a pale sheath of fabric. She’s walking faster than me, her pace confident and sure. I jog to keep up, terrified of losing her in this creeping dark, but the unthinkable happens. I stumble, tripping over a section of rutted ground, and though I don’t fall, I lose enough balance to send the torch flying from my grasp. My reaction is like the victim of a landslide—panicked, desperate and ultimately incapable. The torch lands in a puddle of muck that extinguishes the flame on contact.

“Dammit,” I hiss, the word a crumbling pillar. I crouch to the ground as though I can somehow retrieve the lost light, but every last ember has gone out.

My world is black and cloying. I’m choking on claustrophobic thoughts, my lungs filling with muggy air and this terrible thing called night. My breath hastens as I open my eyes wide, but I can’t see a damn thing and it makes me miss the stars. It terrifies me.

Please click here to check out A COLLECTION OF STARS in its entirety.

THE BONE HARVEST: opening scene

Hello friends and followers! I’m looooong overdue for a blog update, and plan to write a proper one soon! With the release of IT FALLS APART over the summer there is so much to reflect back on and celebrate—and look forward to!—but I’m also right in the middle of a big “day job” transition right now that’s taking up almost all of my time and attention. THAT SAID, I’m sad I haven’t had much time lately to write, or blog! So I’m going to do the next best thing and share an excerpt from my current WIP with you! I’m hoping it will inspire me to get back to working on this book ASAP and inspire you to want to read more of my writing! (Btw, have you read IT FALLS APART? Have you recommended it to a friend? Have you left a review? *wink*wink*)

Here, for your reading pleasure, is the opening scene from…

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Oxygen levels are low.

I ignore the comment as best I can, wishing the robotic voice emanating from the computerized self-preservation pack, or SPP, I wear on my back would keep his warnings to himself for once.

“Thanks, Spencer. I know.” I smack a hand against the airlock’s control panel to encourage it to open. 

Merely keeping you informed, Nina. Oxygen levels have dropped 0.37% since my last warning.

“It’s fine. I’ve got this.” I retrieve my multi-gadge from the back pocket of my charcoal jumpsuit and twirl it in my hand until the screwdriver head appears, then cram it into the crease of the console, popping open the cover.

“Got it,” I say. “Now to figure out what’s keeping this airlock from sealing properly.”

Perhaps you should have waited for Harley, like he wanted you to.

I roll my eyes. “I didn’t need to wait for Harley,” I say, remembering the caution from my mentor all too clearly. “Like I said, I’ve got this.”

I spin my multi-gadge to reveal the laser-head, then aim it into the console, tucking my chin-length hair behind my ear. I can see where the wires are frayed—a loose connection in the computer, enough of one that it can’t figure out how tightly to seal the inner doors.

You were supposed to check in at the Job Desk at 1730 hours.

This time I ignore Spencer’s comment. It’s not that I don’t appreciate him figuratively—and for the most part, literally—always having my back, I just need to focus and get this airlock fixed so I can prove to Harley I’m capable of handling these repair jobs unsupervised.

1730 hours was 10 minutes ago. 

Still ignoring, I twist the frayed wires together where they should be attached, trying to remember everything Harley taught me about wiring as I go.

Oxygen levels are still dropping. Do you know what will happen if you run out of Oxygen?

“I have a rough idea,” I say, working as fast as I can.

What about if the wires you are fusing malfunction and the outer doors open? Do you know what will happen then?

“That’s not going to happen,” I say, but even I can hear the uncertainty in my voice. “The outer door is fine.”

There is no pressure in space, Nina.  The air in your lungs would expand, ripping the fragile tissue open— 

“Okay, thanks,” I bite back. “I get the picture. Not helpful, Spence. Not helpful.”

I take a deep breath, which is probably a mistake. I’m starting to feel a bit lightheaded. With everything set the way I want it, I begin re-fusing the wires with my laser, but then my hair fans out to obstruct my view, causing me to reactively drop my multi-gadge onto the grated, metal floor of the airlock. “Shit.”

I scoop it back up, then clench it between my teeth while shrugging Spencer off my back, letting him slide to the floor so I can retrieve a hair elastic from my pocket. With the multi-gadge still in my mouth, I pull my sleek, black hair into a ponytail, its violet tips funneling out from the pinch like a crest of purple feathers.

I detect an abrupt plunge in elevation. Did you drop me, Nina?

With my hair fully off my face, I return my attention to the control panel. “No, I’m just giving you a five-minute break, Spence.”

Self-preservation packs do not require breaks.

“Well, then feel free to keep talking. Just not about lungs bursting open. In fact, the entire subject of bodily harm is off the table,” I say, continuing to work on the wires. “Tell me a story—or a joke.”

Alright. A structurally-modified self-preservation pack walks into a bar. "What can I get you?" the bartender asks. "I need something to loosen up," the structurally-modified self-preservation pack replies. So the bartender serves him—

A screwdriver,” I say, right alongside him. “Is that seriously the only joke you know?”

When a joke is that funny, you only need one. 

“Hmm.” I bite my lip, examining my work. “That’s debatable.”

I fiddle with a few more wires, then spot another connection that’s coming lose. What a rat’s nest. This airlock was due for an upgrade a long time ago. 

I am sorry for having to do this, Nina, but I am not programmed to have a choice.

“Having to do wha—?”

A blaring alarm overrides Spencer’s ability to respond, tearing my question apart before a robotic voice much deeper than Spencer’s relays a dire warning:

EMERGENCY. EMERGENCY. OXYGEN LEVELS ARE DANGEROUSLY LOW. EMERGENCY. EMERGENCY...

***

If you want to read more, you can find another small excerpt from THE BONE HARVEST here.