The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of my novel This Creature Fair. Reviews and details for obtaining a copy follow the excerpt.
Morrigan wore a tight black skirt and knee high leather boots. Her hose were ripped to expose small bits of bare flesh. Her black baby-doll t-shirt was held together with safety pins and thick red thread. A picture of a crimson apple stretched taut across her small breasts. A leather collar was cinched around her throat and bracelets dangled around her wrists in grand profusion. She waved at the audience, then went to the mike-stand and leaned against it. She swayed as the music built, nodding her head in time with the drums. She was cool, and sensual, and in total control of the room.
She was more petite than Nick had assumed, smaller than he was usually attracted to; Paula was five foot eight, with long legs and full breasts. Morrigan was waifish and thin. He doubted she stood an inch over five feet. Black hair, shot through with streaks of scarlet and blue, fanned around her face as her head bobbed back and forth. Her lips were full and painted the same red as the apple on her shirt. She opened her eyes and Nick saw a flash of green. She exuded sexuality. Her every move and gesture seemed to be an invitation to the pleasures of the flesh. She wasn’t the most attractive woman he had ever seen, but there was something that drew him to her, and he wasn’t the only one to feel it. The energy washed over the crowd, the music serving as aural foreplay. Derby Girl leaned back against Nick and he heard a low moan of pleasure escape her lips. Morrigan waited for the tension to build.
She took a deep breath and launched into the opening verse.
The voice that Nick had fallen in love with enveloped the room in silk with a touch of sand. It was deeper, fuller than you would expect from someone so small. It was a Siren’s song, the words pulled from somewhere deep within the depths of the unconscious, infused with all of the grief and longing of the ages. She sang of hurt and you were in pain. She sang of anger and you were enraged. She sang of love and loneliness and you wanted to be with her forever.
“Thank you,” she whispered into the microphone when the song was through. She broke into a lop-sided smile, her lips a scarlet gleam around her large mouth. She swept her gaze over the audience, making eye contact with as many people as she could, welcoming them to her world. The crowd cheered and shouted out “I love you.” Morrigan was obviously pleased with the acclaim, yet demure in her acceptance of it.
“Thank you,” she said again. “This next one is a little slower.” She nodded to the fiddle player, a tall blonde woman with dreadlocked hair, and the music began.
She looked out over the audience as she sang, drinking in their praise and love. The individual forms vanished into a haze of color, swirling and dancing before her eyes. She could feel their energy washing over her, feeding her. She breathed in their emotion, felt it seep into her pores, flooding her body with vigor. It had been too long since she had felt this, too long since any music other than Ian’s had sustained her.
She tore her eyes away from the crowd and glanced at him, caught up in his playing, living entirely in the music. He had been a good lover, one of the best in her long life. But he was nearly empty now. She doubted he would make it through the tour. His music had been powerful and sweet, but it was losing its flavor. She sang the words, felt the notes, but their energy had been bled dry from overuse. She had hoped that playing live again, after so long, would inspire him somehow. But she could see that it wasn’t going to happen. It saddened her. It always did when her lover’s wells went dry.
Ian smiled at her, enjoying himself more than she had seen in months. He loved her still; she could see that in his faded eyes. Loved her even though she had taken so much from him. She could give him this at least; one last tour to play his songs. The energy of the crowds could help nourish her needs as his candle slowly went out.
And she could hunt.
The crowd pushed forward as Morrigan sang. Nick found himself pressed tightly against Derby Girl’s back. She didn’t seem to mind. She danced and gyrated, singing along with the lyrics. Nick couldn’t stop the erection as he felt her backside rubbing against his crotch. If she felt it--and he didn’t know how she couldn’t--her only reaction was to grind even harder. Accidental frotterism wasn’t Nick’s usual turn-on, but under the circumstances he just got into the music and allowed himself to enjoy the sensation.
The performance was everything he hoped for. Morrigan commanded the stage, sensual and forceful, her natural charisma inciting the crowd to more devotion. The more they cheered the more she performed.
Then, in the middle of a song, Ian fucked up.
The bad note sliced through her head like a rusty nail pounded into her skull. Anger flared as she whipped her eyes from the audience and turned them on Ian. His rhythm was off. The notes were jumbled. His face looked wan. Stage lights reflected from the sheen of sweat that coated his panicked face. His eyes met hers and he flinched when he saw the rage in them. His fingers continued to fumble over the strings. His eyes pled with her. In that moment she hated his weakness, hated him for being frail, hated him for failing her like all the others.
But then her eyes softened and she remembered the love. Losing his music was killing him more surely than it was hurting her. She looked deep into him, where the music lived, where she had bathed in ecstasy for years. There was little left, and what remained was chaos. She sang then, in a voice meant only for Ian. If the crowd noticed the change they only loved it more. She found the thread he had lost, coaxed it out of him and spun it into song. His fingers found the notes, his body found the rhythm. Once again he lived the music that was buried just beyond his reach. He smiled at her, grateful and fearful. He knew it was almost over as well.
She treated him to a smile of approval, and then turned back to the audience.
In a pause between lyrics Morrigan’s eyes locked onto Nick’s. She smiled and winked at him, then returned to her song.
He loved moments like that whenever he went to a show. It was childish idol worship, he supposed, but he still got a thrill from it. For a brief moment he had been recognized by someone he knew only from afar. The relationship between artist and fan was a strange affair. Because of their public life there was an illusion of intimacy. Fans always believed they knew the object of their affection, even though that was never true. When taken to extremes fans could become obsessed. The news was full of stories of enthusiasts who had become stalkers, often with deadly results. But for most, a brief moment of contact--a handshake, or an autograph, or eyes meeting across the room--was enough of a connection. For just a second the fantasy of knowing the person was fulfilled.
Nick was an old hand at this. He knew Morrigan had forgotten about him the moment her eyes left his. Tomorrow he would have a story to tell Chris and some of the other people at the store, and then it would be over.
The show ended with a heated musical exchange between Ian and the fiddler. His guitar stole fire from the realm of the gods while she called up the shrieks and moans of hell. As the strings clashed for supremacy, Morrigan’s voice rose over the din. It started as a low moan, barely heard, but increased in volume and insistence, an ululating howl that continued into the sudden silence as the band abruptly stopped playing. The shriek reached its apotheosis, the sound of all ecstasy, and then wound down into a sigh of contented bliss.
The room fell silent. Only when Morrigan opened her eyes and said, “Thank you, good-night!” did the bar erupt in cheers and applause.
Morrigan was called back twice for encores. She performed a new song that was a disappointment. It lacked the power, the depth and intimacy, of her other work. Nick saw a look of frustration cross her face as she finished. At the end of the second encore, she whispered “Thanks,” into the mike and took a bow. She blew a kiss to the audience, winked at Nick, and then left the stage.
This Creature Fair is now available in a variety of ebook formats. To purchase and download a copy click the following links, or for Kindle, look for the widget on the right side of the screen.
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Cover Marcel Walker - http://www.marcelwalker.com/
This is the first unsolicited comment I have received from someone I don't know. This isn't a full review obviously, but took the form of a Tweet:
The paperback edition of This Creature Fair prompted a great, well-thought out review. You can see it at: http://readingchallenged.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/book-review-this-creature-fair/
The entire text of it follows...
book review: this creature fair
Disclosure: The author is a friend of mine. I’d considered not reviewing the book, due to my obvious bias, but here’s the thing: I’ve also studied literature for about ten years, and been a librarian for ten more, so I think I can give you a working guide to this book without descending (too far) into fangirl squee.
Title: This Creature Fair
Author: Wayne Wise
Genre: Literary urban fantasy
Length: 397 pages.
Challenge: Embarrassment of Riches TBR Challenge, Platinum level
Summary: An unexpected encounter with celebrity changes the course of one fan’s life, and an entire city’s heartbeat.
There are two broad strains of community structure in contemporary urban fantasy. One consists of a divided kingdom, a world in which there are supernatural creatures and/or an organized system of magic, a world that coexists with a mundane reality that is blissfully unaware of the other community’s existence, even though both are anchored in the same physical geography. Then there’s the community in which some “mundane” folks are aware of the fantasy community, but interact with it uneasily, forever conscious that there are two worlds that don’t play nicely together, but, of necessity, sometimes overlap. In the former kind of book, the narrative relies on the fantasy community preventing a threat within its ranks that could ripple over into the mundane community, to the ruin of both. In the latter kind, the mundane and fantasy communities work to lay aside their differences and resolve a problem, for the mutual benefit of both.
This Creature Fair is singular in that it takes neither of these roads, forging instead a middle path that opens up a new way to think about both fantasy and community in urban settings, which makes it the kind of book you read and think about, and discuss with your genre-fiction-loving friends.
The plot revolves around Nick, a serious music fan, who travels to Washington D.C. to see the enigmatic Morrigan Blue perform. Morrigan takes a liking to Nick on sight, and they strike up a rock star/groupie relationship. Unbeknownst to Nick, however, Morrigan is actually one of the leanan sidhe, a fae creature who can only exist in our world by feeding on human artistic energy; in Morrigan’s case, that energy is musical, which makes Nick, who has steeped himself in sound all his life, the equivalent of a three-course meal at a five-star Michelin restaurant. Having almost exhausted her previous energy supply, Morrigan insinuates herself into Nick’s life and invites herself to Pittsburgh so she can more easily feed off of him.
So far, so normal, for a fantasy yarn. But it’s when we get to Pittsburgh that things get interesting. Nick may be the nominal hero of the tale, but Pittsburgh is its great lady, and the novel’s excellence rests heavily on its author’s ability to bring the city to life, as if it were a separate character. The city, and the people who live in it, are painted with loving, detailed brushstrokes by a person who has clearly lived in it a long time, and knows how to make it sing–if you’ll pardon the pun–for people who’ve never been here. Morrigan can tell, almost instantly, that feeding off of Nick will be more difficult than she’d bargained for, as Nick is one very important strand woven into a tapestry of people–both family and fictive kin–who care for each other deeply, and won’t let evil win without a fight.
This, of course, brings us to the problem of evil in the novel, which is not so much a problem as it is an interesting twist, in Wise’s hands. Morrigan is not evil, as the Big Bad of the typical urban fantasy might be: she’s simply a creature whose needs conflict with her environment, forcing her to do things she wouldn’t have to do back home. Alas, she cannot go home, the door to faeryland having been closed to her by a tragedy not of her own making. And so, as the body count starts to mount, you find yourself in the curious position of having sympathy for the “devil,” who, at heart, just wants her homeland back, and kills only to survive in a world that, ultimately, cannot be other than hostile to her and her kind.
Another element that makes This Creature Fair a dark horse in the urban fantasy pack is its approach to magic. No fireballs or incantations here: in Wise’s world, magic is something all humans have, a fact of which they are rarely cognizant. Some of Nick’s friends–characters who also appear in Wise’s other novels–have had interactions with other worlds in which magic operates differently, and are aware (as much as any human can be) of both their own magic and that of other realms. It is they who first realize something is wrong with Nick, and subsequently figure out a way to save him, and Pittsburgh, from Morrigan. And while this particular strain of magic is steeped in sound, you could also argue–as I think Wise is, here–that love is the greatest magic. Not the cardboard hearts and pink candies kind, but true love: the kind that’s rooted in blood, sex, arguments, candor, and–most importantly–time.
The book’s other appeal factors make it difficult to compare to other books, or peg into a neat little genre box. Like much literary fiction, the pacing is slow and deliberate, with a heavy emphasis on characterization and relationships, making the best author comparisons Jonathan Carroll (overall) and Charles de Lint (pacing, attention to detail, characterization). However, the language choices are clear, simple, and precise, which will appeal to those who are reading more for fun than for lit analysis. Readers who like psychological fiction will, on the whole, appreciate the emphasis on introspection and reflection, while those who enjoy naturalistic fiction will appreciate Wise’s ability to communicate really complicated things in very simple–but not simplistic–ways.This Creature Fair is, in short, a tale well-told, for the kind of reader who either seeks out unusual tales in the first place, or is open to an author doing something differently with established tropes.
So, please: try this. Report back. Call me on my bias, and point out things I missed. And then try King of Summer, Bedivere, Scratch, etc.
Recommended for: The fantasy reader who’s read everything else, avid readers open to a singular experience, Pittsburghers hoping to recognize themselves or people/places they know, people who believe in magic, and people who secretly want to.