• Parasitic Souls: what if there was a tech bubble, but for magic?

    This novel was inspired indirectly by a book about chemists in the mid-20th century, when someone bold enough and lucky enough could discover a new element and win glory. I then thought about the tech boom of the late nineties and early 21st century. Remember when you could start a website which could become huge overnight and make you and your techie startup founder friends all millionaires?

    What if there were a similar boom for magic? And what if, as with technology, new magical advances happened faster than laws could keep up? People could do really horrible things that weren't technically illegal yet (such as put a soul into another's body.)

    In Parasitic Souls, magic touches everyone's lives in the same way that technology touched everyone's lives at the beginning of this century. It's a new world, and mages young and old are trying to find their place in it.

    The characters are in that liminal almost-adult period after they have moved out of their parents' house, but still haven't quite achieved perfect independence. It's a very appropriate book for teens, who are probably quite curious about life after high school, but adults can empathize too. There's very little violence, very little swearing, and no sex, but a few tense scenes, some romance, and a tight plot. In short: this is a great book for anyone who likes magic or romance or adventure.

    -Kater Cheek

    Fiona was twenty-four years old, a little taller than average, a little heavier than average, with a mane of hair which she'd dyed magenta. She wore black slacks and a black mesh top over a cami that had felt barely chic enough to pass back in LA but made her feel simultaneously underdressed and overdressed here in Clementine.

    The familiar dusty desert smell hit her as soon as she got out of the car. Clementine tried to bill itself as the new Napa, and they did have one winery, but she'd lived here long enough to recognize it for what it was—a dry, sleepy town tucked up into the hills. She heard some mourning doves cry out, heard the flutter of wings, and then it was silent except for a slithering breeze carrying the scent of juniper down from the mountain. Carlotta said Clementine had changed a lot since Fiona left, but from the street outside Carlotta's new condo it smelled and sounded exactly the same as when she was a teenager.

    That morning, Fiona had been living in L.A., and she thought she had her life all planned out. She would work morning and afternoon shifts as a prep cook at the local steakhouse to pay for her rent, and then at a seafood restaurant at night to pay for everything else. It didn't leave much time for sleeping, but she was young, she was ambitious, and there'd be plenty of time to sleep when she was a famous professional chef with her own restaurant.

    But now that she was here, sleep-deprived and worried, on a leave of absence from work that she already suspected would be permanent, based on a phone call from a girl she'd never met. Carlotta needed her, the girl said. Please come. She'd told her bosses she had to go home to help her mother, the lie coming easily. To say that Carlotta was her dad's ex-wife whom he'd divorced ten years earlier wouldn't carry the same weight.

    Fiona would do anything for Carlotta. Fiona wasn't even sure she'd show up to her real mother's funeral.

    Once, Fiona asked her dad if she could spend summer vacation with her mom instead of trekking around from hotel to hotel with him while he did his sales presentations, which she'd done before, and which was a lot less glorious than it sounded. She was fourteen at the time, and since her dad had recently divorced Carlotta, Fiona had sunk into a deeply lonely funk that her father would likely have been unwilling to deal with, even if he had noticed.

    She had begun to fantasize about living with her mother again. She hadn't seen her mom since she was a child, but she imagined that surely her mother must be the warm and affectionate parent she had always needed and never found. Her dad acquiesced, as he usually did when her requests involved no effort on his part beyond paying a bill.

    Her first clue that West Texas wasn't the wonderland that her fertile imagination had conjured came when her plane arrived without a parent waiting at the other end. Fiona waited at the airport for three hours, while irritated airline workers repeatedly called a useless phone number hoping someone would answer. Fiona sat on her suitcase, filled with presents she made or bought with her allowance and wrapped, carefully labeled with the names of relatives she hadn't met.

    After the sun began to set and the tiny airport began to close for the day, a beery middle-aged man who said he was her uncle showed up. He belched and lurched, and if he'd shown up at Fiona's school, the teachers would have called all the students inside to keep them safe, but here in the dusty airport, this frightening stranger was her Uncle Roy. Her ride.

    He didn't apologize for being late, or explain why he had come and not her mother. Later she learned that her mother didn't drive any more. Not couldn't, but didn't, for reasons no one cared to elaborate.

    The summer she spent in her grandparents' house was like a descent into hell. Roy and Grandpa and her mom parked on the couch all day. The television was never, ever turned off, its cacophony barring even the slight escape that sleep might have offered. They had no room for her, no bed, nor any chair. They unwrapped the presents and tossed them aside without a word of thanks. Fiona's mom treated her with the same lack of care. She never asked her a single question, made any effort to get to know her, or said anything at all to her except "down in front!" when Fiona stood in front of the television.

    Fiona looked for a spark, some sign that this empty woman shared anything in common with her except the shape of her mouth. She couldn't imagine a less-motherly woman. She couldn't even imagine why her dad had sex with this woman and stuck around long enough to learn her name.

    Grandma demanded Fiona sit in the spot between the coffee table and the china cabinet. She slept there, and sat all day watching the same television shows that they did. They watched talk shows, and the shopping channel, Antiques Roadshow, and of course any football game that came on.

    She wasn't allowed to leave.

    "Where you think you're going?" Grandma brayed, when Fiona crept towards the door.

    "I'm just gonna step outside, you know, get some fresh air," she said, only to be informed that she wasn't allowed to go farther than the end of the drive.

    Not that there was anywhere to go, or anything to do. She'd left her skateboard back in California, and she didn't see anyone around who had one she might borrow. She met a couple of kids, and had gone up to introduce herself, but in lieu of asking her name, they asked, "What church do you go to?"

    When she failed to produce the correct answer, they left instead of hanging out with her. She'd been crying when she came back. Instead of asking what happened, Grandpa just shouted "Shut the door!"

    Fiona had taken her place between the coffee table and the china cabinet. She imagined them as robots, guarding a television for all eternity, punished by being chained to this dreary place. She imagined she herself had been imprisoned, sent to this smoky hell of television, of the incessant noise of the window air unit, of canned chili and baked macaroni day after day. She risked Grandma's fury by calling her dad, long distance, intending to beg him to let her come home early, but of course her dad never answered.

    She wondered if she would ever escape, or if she, too, would be stuck here like the rest of these horrible strangers who dared to be related to her, growing fat on the couch while the world never changed and the windows never opened.

    But summer eventually ended, and Uncle Roy took her back to the tiny airport. She flew home, and her dad came to pick her up on time, wearing a suit and talking on his cell phone with barely a nod to acknowledge her.

    "Did you have a nice trip?" he asked, between calls.

    "No," she said.

    Her dad didn't ask any more questions, because he was already on another call. To her surprise, instead of taking them home, he drove her to Carlotta's house. Fiona didn't bother to hide her surprise. Since Carlotta and her dad had divorced, she assumed that she wouldn't see Carlotta more than on special occasions.

    Inside Carlotta's foyer was a mountain of cardboard boxes labeled with Fiona's name.

    "My company is transferring me to Hong Kong," he said. "I'm leaving Monday. You're going to stay with Carlotta until I find a school for you."

    "Fiona! Sweetheart! How was your trip?" Carlotta called out. She had been wearing old clothes that were splattered with paint. She'd hugged Fiona tightly, and Fiona had realized it was the first hug she'd gotten from anyone since the divorce. "I was hoping your room would be done before you got here, but your dad didn't tell me about Hong Kong until last weekend. Go look at the color I picked." (more…)