Darkly Never After: Fairytales for Adulthood — The Gold Witch, An Original Fairytale by Laura K. Cowan

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Hi guys! I’ve got an original fairytale, The Gold Witch, out in a new anthology called Darkly Never After: Fairytales for Adulthood. The paperback just came out last night, and I wanted to share my story with you here, because it means a lot to me. Also, I think you’ll really like some of the other stories in the anthology, so go pick up a copy for Gothtober or Christmas. I hope you’re having a great month. Blessings.

–Laura

Darkly Never After Fairytales

The Gold Witch
By Laura K. Cowan

From Darkly Never After: Fairytales for Adulthood

Once upon a time there was a boy made entirely of gold coins. Gold coins stacked to make legs and arms, a gold coin for a belly button, and particularly bright and big gold coins for eyes. He tried not to move too much in his cage, to keep from shaking himself to pieces. There was no reason to move around anyway, even if he could. The world outside his enclosure was dark and cold. Rock walls surrounded his hanging iron box, and the witch who fed him only came to see him once a day, when she would light a fire in the next room to warm him.
Every night the witch would come to the boy, and she brought him sumptuous feasts. The boy loved the sweets in particular, sticky rolls so light and fluffy they tasted of hardly more than sweet morning air. But the witch extracted a price from the boy. Every night she came to his cage, she demanded that he give her one of his gold coins.
“But they are all I am made of,” he protested. “What will I do if I lose the pieces of myself?”
“I need them,” the witch insisted. “I am dying, poor boy, and your gold coins are my medicine. I melt them in my cauldron at midnight each night and pour the paste onto my face, and it improves my health. You see?”
And the boy made of gold could see. The witch had a face that glowed with a golden light. She was beautiful, despite her black and tattered robes, and grew more beautiful and healthy-looking every day. The boy gave her a coin when she asked, though he had a rattling feeling in his middle about it. He did not want her to die, if she was sick. And she insisted that he was the only one who could save her life. And he did not want to be alone.
“That is why I have to keep you in this cage,” she told him, “so that we can be together and you can be safe from gold thieves until I recover and we can go away from here.” He believed her, because he could not remember a time when he had not been in the cage. It did feel safer than the dark cave around him. He gave her the coins, because he could not remember ever not giving her his coins. He worried sometimes. His legs seemed a little thin. But he could not remember if they had once been thicker, made of more stacks of coins than now, or not. The cave and the cage was all he knew and all he remembered.
The witch became more beautiful, and the boy became thinner. One day the boy began to count. He had to stop thinking of the witch’s sickness and her beautiful face in order to do it. She seemed unhappy with his lack of attention when she came to feed him, but he concentrated. If he kept just the number of coins he had given her in his mind, he could manage to keep track.
Ten. Twenty. Thirty. On the day when the boy gave the witch his thirtieth coin, his knee rattled and he had to grip it tightly to hold it together. “Surely you are beautiful enough now, dear witch,” he said that night as he handed over his coin. “Are you yet well?”
“Am I well? No, indeed,” said the witch. “I waste away and am terribly exhausted by it all, and these feasts I cook for you take so much of my energy I do not know when I will be fully recovered. This has been hard on me, this recovery. I was once twice as beautiful. But now, I am little more than a servant, cooking you these extravagant meals.”
“Oh, I am sorry,” said the boy, and sat down in the middle of his cage. He had the creeping rattling feeling again, that something was wrong, that the witch wanted to grab through the bars at him and take a fistful of coins from his chest instead of just the one. But she smiled at him and told him he was lovely, and she showed him her progress. And his limbs loosened once more.
“Am I not becoming more beautiful by the day?” she asked.
“Yes,” the boy agreed. “You look quite healthy indeed.”
“Health is just the beginning,” she snapped. But then she smiled at him again. “I wonder,” she said in her sweetest voice, “if you would give me a second coin tonight. Maybe if I could get better more quickly, I would have the energy to make you even more sumptuous feasts. And then we could both recover. If I give you more food, your coins will be replenished and we will both be whole.”
The boy’s coins trembled, and he held himself tightly around the middle. “I do not know that I have two coins to give,” he said quietly.
“Selfish boy,” the witch snapped, rushing up to the bars and reaching through. Her eyes were like fire, reflecting back the glow of his body. “You are made entirely of gold!” she said. “How could a boy so beautiful not be willing to share of his wealth with others? Especially a poor sick woman.”
The boy cowered away from her grasping hands. Her face was lovely, but her nails that scratched the cage floor were the color of the cave walls, ragged and smelling of wet rocks. She tore up the floor of the cage with her claws and sent the boy’s cage swinging. “Give me your eyes!” she demanded. “Your biggest and brightest two coins should be enough.”
“But then I will not be able to see!” the boy wailed. “You would not take my eyes.”
“You do not need them,” the witch insisted. “I am here to take care of you. I have loved you well, have I not? I have protected you from gold thieves and fed you the finest of foods and kept you warm with my fires. Help me. I need your eyes.”
The boy shivered and cowered in the back of his cage, and he would not speak to the witch any more.
Finally she stopped shaking his cage, and she gave the boy the coldest look he could imagine. He felt his gold feet begin to freeze. “If you will not give me what I need,” she said in a voice of smothered fire ash, “then I will take it.”
The witch left without feeding the boy that night, and he was hungry.
In the morning, the witch came back. Instead of being angry, she was smiling again. She had baked a whole pile of sticky rolls and held a mug of hot chocolate by the cage door. It steamed and reached out to the hungry boy with the scent of deep flowering things, releasing a sudden flash in his mind of bright flowers.
Flowers? The boy was surprised. How was it that he could remember something called a flower? They were the brightest red and climbed up a stone wall in a green glade. He had never seen a green glade. He wondered how he knew what a glade was.
He drew in his breath, and the witch looked closely at him. “What is it, my dear?” she said.
“It is nothing,” he insisted. “Could I please have some of that to drink?”
The witch drew the mug to her dusty chest. “First,” she said, “I want two coins. From your chest.”
“But I cannot!” gasped the boy. “I will be all used up soon! Please let me eat.”
“I brought you these wonderful foods to replenish your coins,” the witch insisted. “This way, we can both be made whole.”
The boy looked at the hot chocolate and the sticky rolls. He looked at the witch. “Very well,” he said. “But only for today. I need to see that my coins come back when I eat those rolls.”
“All’s fair,” the witch cackled, and tossed the entire plate of rolls through the bars.
The boy sat there all day and late into the night, eating the sticky rolls one by one, until he felt quite sick.
His coins did not replenish.
The next morning the witch came back before the boy had even woken up for the day. She rattled the cage with her stone-nailed hands. “Boy!” she said. “Your coins did not work last night. Quick. I am desperate. You must give me three coins today.”
“But the food did not work either,” the boy said. “My coins did not return. I cannot give you three coins, I am sorry.”
The witch grabbed the cage bars with her hands. The boy could see now. Her skin was no longer smooth, even by her face. It was splotched with gray freckles. The golden sheen of her smooth face was fading. “Isn’t the gold working anymore?” he said. “Oh, I am sorry.”
“It will work,” she insisted, “I just need more to complete my cure. Give me the coins.”
“But I cannot,” the boy said. “I am falling to pieces. My legs are so thin I cannot stand anymore. My arms rattle all night.”
“Selfish, selfish boy!” the witch cried. “You are nothing but gold! How can you deny me? You care nothing for me, a poor old woman with no one in the world to take care of her. You care only for yourself!”
“Maybe if you let me out of the cage,” the boy said, “we could go look for another cure together.”
“Why? So you can run away and leave me all alone? I think not!” The witch hissed and struck the cage with her fist. “That is why I have to keep you in this cage,” she told the boy, “because you never were one to be trusted. If I let you out, you will run away, and I will die a terrible death, all alone. You are my only hope, boy. You must give me more coins.”
The boy was shaking now, and his coins rattled together so furiously that he could not stop them. The sound echoed off the walls, until the cave was full of the sound of jingling gold.
The sound only seemed to enrage the witch. She grasped at the boy through the bars of the cage. “Give me the gold!” she screamed.
Suddenly the boy found himself in her grasp, being pulled toward the door of the cage. She had grasped his face, and was pulling him by his eyes toward the door.
“You want out?” she growled. “I will get you out of there, then.”
The witch struck the cage and the door swung open with fiery sparks. She grabbed the boy by the throat with her free hand, and dragged him into the next room, where her fire was still smoldering from the night before.
“You are trembling, dear boy,” she said. “Here. Let me light a fire for you, to warm you.”
The witch held the boy with one strong hand, and with the other she heaped wood on the fire beneath her cauldron. The fire grew and grew, until it was a blaze that nearly swallowed the pot in the center of it.
“You want to be selfish? Gluttonous? Horrid? Cruel to an old woman?” the witch hissed at the boy as her hand tightened around the stack of coins that made up his trembling throat. “You want to keep back what is owed me? Very well. Then we shall put an end to this game. You will give me what I want now, or you will die!”
The witch threw the boy into the pot on top of the fire. He tried to jump out, but she was on top of him in a moment, stuffing him down into the cauldron, fitting a lid on top of him. He thought he would die of the steam, the heat. He was in a furnace, felt himself slowly melting down to the bottom of the pot.
It was dark, like the cave. Hot. Wet. Stifling. His eyes began to melt, and he felt himself running down, gold over gold liquifying in the pot.
It was then that the boy began to grow. He felt himself shifting, changing, growing and growing, until he could not fit in the pot. The witch screamed and pushed down with her whole weight on the lid of the pot. But he was rising, up out of the pot. He looked down at himself, at his spreading arms. He was not made of gold coins anymore. He was a boy. A real boy.
The boy grabbed the lid of the pot from his shoulders. He tossed the witch and the lid of the cauldron across the cave, where they crumpled against the far wall. He jumped out of the pot, afraid to look down, because he felt his feet and ankles burning. Without even looking behind him, the boy ran out of the room, and through the cave with his cage. His eyes were still melting. He swiped at them, and this time his hand came away covered in blood.
The boy ran past the cage and into the passage where the witch entered every night.
Behind him, the boy heard the witch come to. She screamed, and he heard her dive for the pot in the fire. “My gold!” she cried. He heard the impact as she dove headfirst into the blaze.
“I will use it all! I will live forever!” she cried. “I will be made of purest gold, the most beautiful woman the world has—.” But her words stopped there. The fire roared behind the boy, covering the walls in the dancing reflections of flames. He ran on.
It wasn’t long before the boy emerged from the tunnel. The mouth of the cave opened into a green glade, where there was a rose bush flowering over the entrance to the tunnel. He rushed out, suddenly full of the sound of things around him. Instead of cold wet walls there were trees. Birds flitted through the sunshine. The flowers. They were in every color he could imagine and remember, and they smelled so much better than sticky rolls. He wiped his eyes again, to clear them of the blood. His hand came away mingled in blood and gold.
The boy remembered now. He looked down at his body, in the tattered clothes of a much younger boy that barely covered his scarred skin. His legs were bleeding, gouged in a hundred places on either side, as if someone had taken a spoon to him and eaten his flesh raw. His feet were steaming. His clothes smelled like the witch’s fires.
“She wanted to eat me,” he said to himself, in a daze. “She was eating me. All for a beautiful face?”
The boy looked around the glade. He could feel something within his heart stop, suddenly, and cease running. He wanted to cry. He had been in the cage for so long, and yet the whole time he had felt himself running, never still, tearing back and forth inside, looking for a way out. He had known the witch was consuming him. That was the terrible thing he could now see. It had been too terrible for him to allow himself to see before, with his bright eyes of gold that she wanted to possess, to pluck out like golden grapes and devour in a single greedy gulp.
The boy took a deep breath of the rose-scented air, more fragrant than hot chocolate, fresher than a steaming feast. Instead of rattling and jingling, the boy’s chest heaved and relaxed. He wanted to run again, to be far away from this place. But he could not, because he looked down just then, and he saw the gold, melted into the soles of his feet, creeping up his legs to fill his wounds. They sealed over with a hiss, the last whisper of the witch’s greed.
He was whole once more. He remembered sunshine, and birds, and he remembered that he had had friends once, and a father and mother who loved him. The boy with the golden feet set off down the mountainside, out of the glade, to find his family, and everything broken that he touched mended with golden seams.

Purchase Darkly Never After: Fairytales for Adulthood

Darkly Never After: Fairy Tales for Adulthood

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Darkly Never After Fairytales Hi guys! Just a note to tell you I’ve got an original fairy tale called “The Gold Witch” in the new charity fairy tale anthology Darkly Never After. Proceeds go to help people, lots of original modern and classic fairy tales. Only $2.99. What’s not to love? :) But seriously, this story actually means a lot to me because it deals with abuse and healing–subjects near and dear to my heart and work–so if you pick this up I hope you really like it. Let me know what you think!

I’m busy editing my first psychological murder mystery! Big job, so complicated I could only wrap my head around the basic plot line for the first draft. :D But it’s going well and I’ve got a big fantasy novel coming up after that that I’m hoping can be done by the end of the year. Be back later! Hope you’re all having a great fall so far.

~ Laura

Supernatural Psychological Romantic Story of Healing, Lone Cypress, FREE For 5 Days

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Lone Cypress, ballerina, abuse recovery, psychological thriller, magical realism, contemporary romantic fantasyLone Cypress, the story of a ballerina running from an abusive marriage while trying to figure out if she’s possessed or insane, is out today, and it’s free for 5 days on Kindle. I hope you enjoy it! I’m working on editing up two more books to release later this year, but it may be a few months this time. Hope you’re having a fabulous summer!

Lone Cypress

What does it mean to be possessed? By a person, by a dream, and by your demons? Shana knows. Shana was a ballerina. At least that was what her mother told her when she moved them to New York so she could pursue the dream. But after Shana was kicked out of school for experimenting with new dance forms and escaped her stage mom only to fall into a dangerous marriage, all she has left is a list of things she thought she was. The only thing still alive in her spirit is the ballet she wanted to choreograph, and suddenly it has taken on a life of its own. Shana runs, from her husband, from her life, and from the terrifying dreams that insist she make a change–until she runs out of time and must face not only her husband’s hired gun but the monster in her mind.

Magical realism, supernatural, psychological, spiritual contemporary fantasy romance. Lone Cypress is all of these things, at once a love story and a story of emotional healing, though it won’t ever let you rest on one conclusion for too long. Just how literal are the events of this story–possession, mental illness, symbolic nightmares, visions, mystical voices and magical objects that guide a young woman to a new love and community–and what is their source? Lone Cypress invites the reader to decide for him or herself how deep the rabbit hole goes, because all events point in the same direction, but just how far you suspend your disbelief will determine where the story ends for you.

Available Today! Permanence & Choice, a Speculative Fantasy Novelette Trio

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Permanence & Choice, The Scent of Yellow Flowers, The Day The Cows Came Home, Twilight in the Firmament, fantasy, novelette, magical realism, paranormal, fiction, ya paranormalIt’s launch day for Permanence & Choice, a trio of speculative fantasy novelettes about the nature of choice and permanence in the universe and what it is to be lost and found. This one is available not only in Kindle and paperback on Amazon and through bookstores but also on Nook and through Sony, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers. You can use the coupon code BC75P on Smashwords to get the book for just 99 cents now through July 5th. I hope you enjoy it! Here’s the full description.

Permanence & Choice: 3 Fantasy Novelettes

A young girl chases down clues in a dream maze, shrunk to a tiny size and running for her life from burning dollhouses and flying projectiles at night, while evading the mob’s watchful eye by day. Some most unexpected family friends help her and her mother finally make a break for freedom. Short, sweet, and unbelievably imaginative, The Scent of Yellow Flowers is a story for anyone who has ever been lost and needed to be found.

In the animal fable The Day The Cows Came Home, the farmer’s wife has died, the farmer sells the farm, and the world falls into war. At the abandoned farmhouse, deep in the Finnish wintertime when nothing ever seems to change, the animals are on a quest to understand if time is at an end and they with it–only to discover time itself is not what they assumed.

The Man in the Moon holds on while the grumpy moon tries to shake him off. His friends the stars urge him to jump, but something holds The Man in the Moon in the Twilight in the Firmament. But soon, the universe begins to change, and The Man in the Moon is off on a fabulous adventure to discover the beauty of the existence around him, and how his choices and those of other beings shape space and time.

Permanence & Choice is a collection of contemplative fantasy stories all about what it is to be lost and found again, and how our own choices shape the world.

Millennials Leaving The Church: The Story of The Child of Evangelicals (Guest Post for Bruce Hennigan)

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Music of Sacred Lakes Book Cover, free books, free, discount books, literary, supernatural, spiritual, magical realism, ghost story

The heretic book. If you’re evangelical, you’ll think it’s syncretic. If you’re progressive, you’ll think it’s obvious. If you’re atheist, you’ll realize it’s a freaking work of fiction.

My millennial friends ask me all the time: why don’t Christians speak out against the crazies like Westboro Baptist Church, or evangelicals who strong-arm a Christian institution that feeds hungry children into continuing to discriminate against gays in their employment process at penalty of un-adopting children? Even writing that sentence makes my heart hurt. This is not the religion of my youth, and yet it is. Controlling, abusive, narcissistic, bullying. It was all there from the beginning, and now it’s raging full-blaze. Writing Music of Sacred Lakes was not just a novel for me: it encapsulated a major change in my worldview, in which I finally discovered how to reconcile my Christian faith with the mystical, creation-loving sides of myself I had always known were okay but didn’t fit Christianity, according to everyone I grew up with. But that’s not where most of my peers, whom I serve with my writing, end up. So, a friend of mine asked me to write up a guest post on this topic to complement the perspective of a millennial atheist on his blog, which is also focused on speculative fiction and spirituality, like mine. Because I honestly have had my life so torn up by this dynamic, the evangelical craziness, I have had my fill of the conversations of why millennials are leaving the Church, why gays are right/wrong/loved/hated, and so this will be my only full post on this subject, laying out from beginning to end what happened to me and what I think is happening to the corner of Christianity where I grew up. And how it affects us all. I’ve already been called just about every name I can think of, and I trust my own audience will largely be more respectful than the average in discussing these sensitive topics, but if you must send me hate mail for this, please know I’ve already heard it, so make it tell-Oprah creative. I grew up being treated that way. I’m a professional-grade bullied millennial Christian. Give it your best shot because the opportunity won’t come again. :) Thanks. Here it is.

Millennials Leaving The Church: The Story of the Child of Evangelicals

Amazon vs Hachette: Like Most Wars, They’re Not Fighting Over What They Say They Are

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Permanence & Choice, The Scent of Yellow Flowers, The Day The Cows Came Home, Twilight in the Firmament, fantasy, novelette, magical realism, paranormal, fiction, ya paranormal

My next book, out June 26, will be available from multiple retailers like Amazon, bookstores (if you order it), B&N, iBooks, and Kobo via Smashwords. As an independent author, I can test different bookselling options at will instead of spending years suing my way out of abusive contracts if I want to change how my book is sold, though nearly all retailers will refuse to stock my paperback books, even on their websites, regardless of the thousands of downloads and rave reviews. Lucky for me it’s those retailers about to go out of business for their lack of stock, not me for refusing to play ball with a coercive industry. Amazon is not the bully in this fight. Could they turn around and abuse this or turn this into a race to the bottom so that no one makes any money out of books anymore like Walmart does to small town economies? Yes, but that’s not what’s happening now. What’s happening now is publishing asking you to prop up their abuse in the present market to prevent Amazon from abusing you or authors in the future, and ignoring the fact that the lowering of book prices is a natural evolution resulting from technological advances such as e-books and print-on-demand paperback publishing. In short, publishers want you to pay more for books so they can make money, not because books should cost that much anymore.

This is a long post. I’m going to say what I have to say about the war between Amazon and Hachette, and only say it once, but there is a lot to say that isn’t being said in the mainstream media. So here goes, largely addressed to the buyer of books.

Has someone told you to boycott Amazon recently? Don’t swallow that so easily. Like most stories in the news that are really a PR war, it’s much more complicated than that, more analogous to auto unions walking off the job during negotiations than anything it’s been compared to in the mainstream media (most particularly you should ignore The New York Times, Publishers Weekly and similar New York-publishing friendly operations that aren’t even attempting to report on the story in a balanced way). Eisler is spot on in this Guardian article about what’s not being said in the mainstream media on this fight over control of bookselling and pricing, mainly that this is big publishing’s 1% moment, totally ignoring their own bullying business tactics and disregard for the small presses and independent authors in the industry and insisting that they’re being persecuted, when they operate like a corrupt cartel (no really, they do: the U.S. government slapped them down for colluding to artificially raise e-book prices just last year), forcing out anyone who won’t play the game by their rules, in which they keep most of the profits for very little work these days.

Here are some questions Eisler raises in his article:

  • “If it’s evil, malignant and bullying for Amazon not to stock Hachette’s books (assuming this is even what’s happening; common sense suggests the truth is otherwise), why is it OK for Barnes & Noble and various independent booksellers (which are are actually thriving) to refuse to stock Amazon-published and self-published books?
  • Why was there so little outcry a little over a year ago regarding a similar dispute between Barnes & Noble and Simon & Schuster?
  • No other bookstore on earth offers Amazon’s selection. So isn’t every other bookstore by definition refusing to stock more books than Amazon does? Why is this OK?
  • Why was it OK a few years ago when the Big Five all threatened to pull their books from Amazon (collusively, as it turned out) if Amazon didn’t agree to raise its prices? Amazon is evil for refusing to buy some books from publishers, but it’s still OK for publishers to refuse to sell Amazon any books at all?”

I’ve noticed a lot of high-profile established authors acting really crazy lately, flailing around and not making any sense, mostly because they have been ignoring how publishing is changing related to technology and don’t know how to adapt, by their own admission. I agree with everything but the last sentence of Eisler’s article. For once, it’s big publishing’s authors that are being hurt by this, and that’s something they’ve never had to deal with before (hence the despair from the less established ones and the entitled tantrums from the high-profile ones). But is that grossly unfair to them? In some ways yes, and some of my own friends are affected, and I sympathize with them and hope their careers aren’t too heavily dragged down by these wars. The signs of this coming fight have been there to see for years now, so if someone signs a contract with a big publisher knowing they behave like a greedy abusive corporation that is failing to innovate and adapt to technology, there is some responsibility that falls with authors for signing those contracts and ending up caught in this long-brewing war between publishing and Amazon, though most of the responsibility still falls on the publishers for forcing them into a bad choice between going it alone in a hostile environment that threatens to ruin them if they don’t play ball or sign a contract with poor terms that in most cases won’t allow them to make a living from their writing. Nope, basically we’re back to this being the fault of the heads of big publishing houses, who have already been penalized by the U.S. government for conspiring to keep book prices artificially high, and who were recently found out knowingly taking the profits off the thicker margins of e-book sales and not passing along the profits to authors (e-books make more profits even at lower prices because they cost less to produce and distribute, and instead of celebrating this as the new glory days of publishing having some margins again, publishers have hidden their margins and paid even lower royalties relative to profit margins to authors, telling them to be happy that it’s a higher percentage royalty overall). This isn’t a new fight, at all, in fact. It’s just round two of the same war publishers lost last time, not because they’re being persecuted but because they’re finally being called to the mat for illegal practices.

Getting back to Eisler’s final statement, I’m not sure indie authors are being harmed by this. It’s everything up to this point, led by traditional publishing conspiring to keep indies out of the marketplace to stifle the competition and keep contract terms exploitative so authors have to put up with poor terms, that has been abusive and damaging to all authors, indies in particular. (Everything from booksellers refusing to stock indie titles to review institutions refusing to review indie books or charging exorbitantly for something that is supposed to be a free or near-free service, to Bowker charging indie authors something like 100 times more for ISBNs in the U.S. when publishers can buy them on the cheap and authors in other countries pay nothing at all, to awards refusing to allow indie authors to compete and book bloggers largely ignoring indie titles–all under the guise of protecting quality, even while traditional publishers have started publishing mostly books that make money, regardless of quality [Snookie's memoirs, anyone?], and don’t even offer most of their authors any marketing support like they used to.) Publishing considers itself the gatekeepers of quality, when they actually function more like a dam, pulling all the energy out of the industry and keeping it for themselves while only letting a few authors through to viable careers. This is in some ways how they have functioned all along (I just read last week about how Agatha Christie got taken for a ride on her first publishing contract nearly a century ago, and thereafter was very shrewd in dealing with publishers), but it has become much much worse in the last decade, as the changes in technology prompted publishers to condense into mega corporations to compete against the new opportunities of technological innovation rather than flowing with them. Think it’s just competition in a tough business? Then why are big publishers pulling in something like $10bn a year, while only a very tiny percent of authors can making a living from their writing? That’s exploitative.

If publishers take their marbles and go home, possibly propping up Barnes & Noble from bankruptcy or trying again to build their own online bookselling portal or turning this into an indie bookseller vs. indie author PR war, we might be facing either fewer buyers finding us authors on Amazon (or more, if there’s less competition where people already like to shop?) or a more diverse bookselling market, but I’m pretty sure indie authors for once aren’t the losers in this war. Not yet anyway. And if they are squeezed out or taken advantage of in some way, Amazon knows they will jump ship at a moment’s notice. There will be no years of suing their way out of contracts. Indie authors are the gypsies of the publishing world. You give them a bait and switch, they pull up stakes and move on, and if it was your circus they were working in, your circus is looking a little empty now. They’re running their own circus now, and it’s a doozie, because they’re free to run things as creatively as they like. Have we forgotten that it’s authors who create the content that drives this industry? Why is it acceptable to treat them like dirt? (Don’t believe the industry looks down on authors? Hang out around the industry water cooler of #queryfail on Twitter for a while and tell me what you think of literary agents’ attitudes toward the clients they serve. Or check out the lists online of offensive rejection letters to famous authors by dismissive publishing houses. The arrogance is stifling.) They don’t have the uniform clout of big publishing, yet–author collectives are forming and growing–but they do have collective clout, and it’s growing. More than half of genre fiction published this year was indie published. These are not the old vanity-published authors of yore with terrible covers and bad writing. Well, some of it will still be bad in an open marketplace with no barrier to entry, but increasingly indie authors are hiring their own editors and cover designers so they can keep 5 times the royalties publishers will pay them and act as their own publishers. And traditional authors are jumping ship to become “hybrid” authors that are somewhere in the middle, half traditionally published and half indie. Many of the major breakout hits driven by popular demand in recent years (Bella Andre’s romance, Hugh Howey’s sci-fi hit series WOOL, E.L. James 50 Shades of Grey [forget what I said about quality on that last one for a second]) were indie published titles. You can’t close Pandora’s box. What’s happening here is a fracturing of the control big publishing held over this industry, driven by technology, and it can’t be stopped because it’s the natural flow of things. Indie authors aren’t just authors: they are functioning as their own publishers, offering up new and disturbing competition to the Big 5. Because technology levels the playing field, and that is the war publishers are really fighting. Against technology that’s been around for a couple decades already.

So in this scenario, is Amazon acting like Walmart to drive down prices, or is the Big 5 acting like a cartel-run corrupt industry where it’s pay to play? Amazon can be seen as a Walmart-like figure in reference to driving indie booksellers out of business if you like, but it’s these indie booksellers that literally laugh in the face of indie authors wanting their books stocked or signed in their stores (happened to me, twice) and refuse to carry better stock even on their scalable websites. So… that’s kind of like your grocer laughing in your face for asking if he might consider carrying a bigger selection of food, which drives you down the road to a bigger store. Except grocers don’t laugh at customers, or suppliers, pretty much ever, right? And if Amazon is supposed to be driving publishers out of business so then who is going to create quality books boohoo, then how is it that they give authors their best opportunity to make a living at writing? Indie authors are quitting their day jobs as we speak, profits are up even as prices are down. This is not Amazon vs. publishing. It’s technology vs. a bloated industry that has already hit its natural peak and is now in contraction, and isn’t taking it particularly well. And if Amazon does use its new-found clout to abuse authors and exploit them like traditional publishing already does? Well, then they’ll be the next business in contraction. Because for the first time in publishing’s several-century history, power is shifting in favor of the authors, the creators of content. Even though it’s still really fecking hard to be seen in this industry, because it does not have a functional marketing and distribution system. Except for Amazon, that has been working hard with the flow of technological innovation for nearly 2 decades now to bring you books in a better way.

Is that a bad thing to you that authors are on the rise and that publishing, the middle men, are on the decline? I didn’t think so. You can expect more creativity from this, which is at times messy and hard to sort through, yes, but more art, more books, more diversity without artists forced into pre-existing bestselling super-genres. You can expect to pay less for books and have more direct contact with your favorite artists who now operate largely online through social media. You can expect authors to write more books for you more quickly because they don’t all need day jobs anymore. You can expect more bookselling portals and cross-media formats for storytelling to pop up, and they already are. In short, this is a creativity explosion, because the dam is breaking. My condolences to all the good and hard-working people who work within the publishing machine. In fact I was one of those people early in my career, but couldn’t find much work as an editor because already the layers of editors were being pushed out of the publishing houses to save costs. There are many ways to look at this, all of them incomplete because the situation is so messy, but don’t just boycott Amazon and cut off your own favorite channel for bookselling because someone tells you they’re the bad guy. They’re just a guy. There will be other guys. But this guy is bringing you cheap, plentiful, oftentimes even more high-quality books than you have been getting up till now, and they’re not exploiting authors. Go buy an e-book and hug an author, indie or traditional. We’re all just trying to create art here. This is war, but it’s not your fight, unless you want to get involved and support authors on either and every side of the issue. Because you’re a reader, right? And readers love good books. And good books come from authors, not warring CEOs with an agenda. Just go buy a book, all right? Wherever it makes sense to you to buy it. Because you’re not an idiot who needs to be told how to purchase goods. Because the sweatshops are not at Amazon.com, they’re behind the scenes of publishers taking 90% or more of the sale of each book and leaving the scraps for their beloved authors. And it isn’t natural, and it doesn’t have to be that way, which is why it is changing. But those authors deserve your support, too. So just go buy a book you like! :)

I can see Amazon becoming a portal for indie and genre books and the major seller of e-books, which everybody has now stopped laughing about now that they prop up everyone’s bottom line, big publishers included. This could easily turn into a paperback vs. e-book war instead of just trad pub vs. Amazon, but… young people are the next generation of book buyers, and they don’t care to purchase overpriced hard copies of books. And they don’t have any long-standing associations with traditional publishing and quality, because that quality has been on the decline in their lifetime: they vote for the content they like wherever it comes from. So, basically, you can’t fight technological evolution, and you can’t trick people forever into being loyal to a corporate machine that has turned into an empty profit machine. You’d be much better off learning how to make a better automobile (or e-book, or quality title) than throwing your life’s energy into propping up coach makers. Coach makers whose union behaves like a cartel. So, my condolences again to the good hard-working editors, agents, authors, and other pieces of the publishing machine that are collateral in this war. They are the real victims of contraction and technological change, just as the skilled craftspeople of the coach-building era were out of work when the assembly line and the automobile came along. Maybe hug them too.

That is all. :)

P.S. This kind of post could actually keep me from getting a traditional publishing contract, because that’s how this industry works, based on loyalty instead of level-headed business decisions. And do you see how I’m not caring? That’s not because I want anyone to fail or because I’m happy things are in upheaval. This is a big messy challenge for all authors to navigate. It’s simply because 1) I was raised by and worked for people in the past who bullied me and wouldn’t let me flinch, and I won’t have any more of it in my life for any cost, 2) any publisher I work with in the future will not be a bully, and will bring something to the table other than bully clout to help me get great books out into the world. I believe that could happen, once this contraction of the industry is complete. I’m looking forward to it. It will be a breath of fresh air to be able to focus on great books instead of defending against abuse. And 3) there is already a publisher/platform offering me unprecedented opportunity and great distribution options and fair royalties. I have a way around abusive contracts and being someone’s collateral damage now. It’s called Amazon.

Extra Goodreads Giveaway for Music of Sacred Lakes

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Music of Sacred Lakes Book Cover, free books, free, discount books, literary, supernatural, spiritual, magical realism, ghost storyDue to the popularity of Music of Sacred Lakes during its two Goodreads giveaways and free promotion on Kindle, with 600 entries in each giveaway and over 9,000 copies downloaded during launch to make it a top 50 Kindle free bestseller on all of Amazon during launch, I’m offering a bonus giveaway of Music of Sacred Lakes for those of you who haven’t read it yet.

magical realism, laura k cowan

This is for a signed paperback, and will run the next 3 weeks. Share it with your friends and if it’s popular too, I might offer one more. This book has proven to be extremely popular among people who like mystical or metaphysical novels, with its blend of spirituality and fantasy. I hope you like it too.

Enter The Music of Sacred Lakes Giveaway

music of sacred lakes, laura k cowan, book reviews

Mystical Fiction and Social Justice

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Stranger Things, Erin Healy, Christian fiction, supernatural fiction, social justice, sex traffickingI’ve got a novel Lone Cypress coming out in July that is a unique blend of supernatural fiction–mystical visions and nightmares woven through a story of an abused young woman seeking healing and truth for her life. There’s a lot about the story that is hard to pin down. How much of these events could be purely psychological, how much of it is a spiritual theme running through the story, and how literal are the magical events that finally lead her to a new home and love?

I thought this book was so hard to categorize it stood alone, but recently two acquaintances of mine published books that seem to follow a similar trend: mystical fiction + social justice. I am loving this trend, seemingly more popular today with the increased interest in the supernatural and more consciousness of global social issues. Here are the books by my friends Jane Davis and Erin Healy, plus my novel out in July, in case you also are interested in this blend of social and spiritual issues, but let me know in comments and on Facebook if you know of other books like this. I would love to compile a Goodreads list along these lines if this really is a growing trend.

Stranger Things by Bestselling Author Erin Healy

Stranger Things by bestselling Christian suspense author Erin Healy is a story in which different characters see different things when viewing the same place with a past. It’s definitely mystical, a type of allegory for the sacrificial death of Christ, but it’s also a social justice piece on sex trafficking. I’m just loving that unique books like this are being published today, and believe it or not this was published by a traditional publisher, and a Christian one at that. This gives me hope that unique and spiritual books can make it in today’s publishing marketplace. If this is your sort of thing (like Ted Dekker or Frank Peretti with an updated awareness of social issues) I hope you enjoy this one. It’s got a genre thriller feel to the language. Here’s the blurb.

In the burnt-out hollow, a house of dark secrets and an eerie beauty beckon.

Serena Diaz’s life is imploding. A troubled student has accused the young biology teacher of sexual misconduct, cutting off her promising career just as it was starting to blossom. But that’s just the beginning of Serena’s problems.

When a therapeutic walk in the woods leads her to a ruined house overtaken by criminals, Serena is assaulted and finds herself witness to the senseless murder of the one man who tries to help her.

Hurled into a world of false accusations and hounded by the press, Serena must confront evil itself to unravel the mysterious visions—and terrifying danger—that pursue her. But she can’t ignore the most haunting question: Why would a mysterious stranger give his life to save hers?

The answer, if she can find it, will point the way to her freedom from evil men in a lascivious trade.

“With her typical flair and eloquence, Healy takes readers through an incredible journey that will leave you thinking long after the last page closes.” —Lifeisstory.com

“Healy’s latest is thought-provoking and engaging, and becomes even more so as the story progresses. The author uses courageous characters to address the sex trade crisis. Themes of hope and redemption are seamlessly woven with spiritual elements and a touch of the supernatural.” —RT Book Reviews, 4 stars

Stranger Things is available on Amazon or wherever books are sold. I did receive a free review copy of this book in order to review it here.

An Unchoreographed Life, Jane Davis, sex trafficking, ballerina, fiction, book reviewAn Unchoreographed Life by Jane Davis

In An Unchoreographed Life by award-winning author Jane Davis, a girl investigates her mother’s profession to unravel the mystery of who she is. This story is a little lighter on the mystical side and is more a story with, as it says in the blurb “a deeply flawed and inimitably human cast,” but still involves a blind clairvoyant with mystical visions, which gives it a sort of Oracle at Delphi feel. It kind of speaks for itself, so here’s the blurb.

At six years old, Belinda Brabbage has amassed a wealth of wisdom and secret worries. She knows all the best hiding places in her Worlds End flat, how to zap monsters with her pig-shaped torch and that strangers will tempt you into their cars with offers of Fizzy Fish. Even so, it’s impossible to know how to behave when you don’t really understand who you are. Mummy doesn’t like to be plagued with questions about her family but, when she isn’t concentrating, she lets small nuggets slip, and Belinda collects them all, knowing they are pieces of a complicated jigsaw.

Exhausted single mother Alison hasn’t been able to picture the future for some time. Struggling from day to day, the ultimatums she sets herself for turning her life around slip by. But there is one clock she cannot simply re-set. Deny it though she may, Belinda is growing up. Having stumbled across Alison’s portfolio that mapped her life as a prima ballerina, her daughter already has a clearer idea of who she once was. Soon she’ll be able to work out for herself who she is – and what she does for a living.

With options running out, Alison travels to London’s suburbs to consult a blind clairvoyant, who transports her to a past she feels exiled from. However unlikely they sound, his visions of pelicans and bookshelves appear to herald change. A chance meeting with an affluent couple affords a glimpse of the life Alison desperately wants for her daughter. But can their offer of friendship be trusted?

More ‘What Maisie Knew’ than ‘Belle de Jour’, Davis’s unflinching new novel of a mother who turns to prostitution is populated with a deeply flawed and inimitably human cast, whose tumultuous lives are shored up by carefully-guarded secrets.

An Unchoreographed Life is available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback.

Lone Cypress, ballerina, abuse recovery, psychological thriller, magical realism, contemporary romantic fantasy

Lone Cypress by Laura K. Cowan

Lone Cypress is actually a love story, a contemporary fantasy romance about a former ballerina trying to figure out if she’s possessed or insane, but while following the story of this young woman the book also dives deep into issues of abuse recovery. In the end, the reader can decide just how much they can suspend their disbelief to follow the story through its psychological storyline, or its magical events, or all the way into the spiritual unknown. Again, let me know if you know of more books along these lines and I’ll put together a Goodreads reading list. Hope you like these!

What does it mean to be possessed? By a person, by a dream, and by your demons? Shana knows. Shana was a ballerina. At least that was what her mother told her when she moved them to New York so she could pursue the dream. But after Shana was kicked out of school for experimenting with new dance forms and escaped her stage mom only to fall into a dangerous marriage, all she has left is a list of things she thought she was. The only thing still alive in her spirit is the ballet she wanted to choreograph, and suddenly it has taken on a life of its own. Shana runs, from her husband, from her life, and from the terrifying dreams that insist she make a change–until she runs out of time and must face not only her husband’s hired gun but the monster in her mind.

Magical realism, supernatural, psychological, spiritual contemporary fantasy romance. Lone Cypress is all of these things, at once a love story and a story of emotional healing, though it won’t ever let you rest on one conclusion for too long. Just how literal are the events of this story–possession, mental illness, symbolic nightmares, visions, mystical voices and magical objects that guide a young woman to a new love and community–and what is their source? Lone Cypress invites the reader to decide for him or herself how deep the rabbit hole goes, because all events point in the same direction, but just how far you suspend your disbelief will determine where the story ends for you.

Lone Cypress will be available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback on July 26, 2014. Stay tuned for a Goodreads giveaway and more info.

Next Up: Dimension-Shifting Mice, Farm Animals on the Edge of Time, & An Adventure With the Man in the Moon

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Permanence and Choice, fantasy, novelette, novella, short stories, fable, speculative, spiritual, portal fantasy, literaryWell The Thin Places: Supernatural Tales of the Unseen has been pushed out of the nest, so it’s on to the next book launch, Permanence & Choice! I’ve got a final Goodreads giveaway starting in a week for this, and the launch will be June 26, in just a few weeks. Stay tuned on social media.

This one is a little different, a trio of fantasy novelettes that are all imaginative, but are also on the speculative side. Here’s the scoop.

Permanence & Choice: 3 Fantasy Novelettes

A young girl chases down clues in a dream maze, shrunk to a tiny size and running for her life from burning dollhouses and flying projectiles at night, while evading the mob’s watchful eye by day. Some most unexpected family friends help her and her mother finally make a break for freedom. Short, sweet, and unbelievably imaginative, The Scent of Yellow Flowers is a story for anyone who has ever been lost and needed to be found.

Permanence and Choice, Permanence & Choice, fantasy, novelettes, contemplative, spiritual, magical realism, Sarah Lowry, book review

In the animal fable The Day The Cows Came Home, the farmer’s wife has died, the farmer sells the farm, and the world falls into war. At the abandoned farmhouse, deep in the Finnish wintertime when nothing ever seems to change, the animals are on a quest to understand if time is at an end and they with it–only to discover time itself is not what they assumed.

The Man in the Moon holds on while the grumpy moon tries to shake him off. His friends the stars urge him to jump, but something holds The Man in the Moon in the Twilight in the Firmament. But soon, the universe begins to change, and The Man in the Moon is off on a fabulous adventure to discover the beauty of the existence around him, and how his choices and those of other beings shape space and time.

Permanence & Choice is a collection of contemplative fantasy stories all about what it is to be lost and found again, and how our own choices shape the world.

Coming June 26 in paperback and e-book.

Congratulations To The Winner of the Thin Places Goodreads Giveaway!

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The Thin Places, Laura K. Cowan, fairytales, mythic fiction, book cover, supernatural fictionCongratulations to the winner of the Goodreads giveaway for The Thin Places: Supernatural Tales of the Unseen, Maryssa S.! Maryssa your signed paperback copy of the book is in the mail as soon as I go find a burger somewhere on this fine Memorial Day. :) Thank you for entering, everyone! We had almost 500 entries for this one, which is way more than I expected on a holiday weekend for a supernatural short story collection. Thanks!

the thin places review a real page turnerRemember The Thin Places: Supernatural Tales of the Unseen is FREE for 5 days on Kindle, and I’m hoping you will push it to the tops of the Kindle free bestseller lists again like you did last month with Music of Sacred Lakes, which had 9,000 downloads and hit the top 50 of Amazon’s free Kindle downloads during its launch. Your support and help spreading the word is one of the best ways for people to find this weird fiction I write, so thank you so much! It means a lot to me and to other people who wouldn’t find the book otherwise. Every book launch so far I’ve had people say my books changed their lives, and that’s so incredible knowing that it’s just people loving these spiritual supernatural fantasy books and passing them along. Thanks! (Oh, I already said that, didn’t I?) :)

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