Wednesday, February 8, 2017

New Release: Mouse's Tale (An Alpha League Supers Novel)

At long last, the novel about Mouse - Kid Sensation's mentor - has finally been released. Mouse's Tale (An Alpha League Supers Novel) went live last night (and almost in record time).

Those familiar with my Kid Sensation series will probably notice one thing right away: the subtitle here is a little different than the one I used with Amped, the companion novel to the series that was released last summer (and which was aptly subtitled A Kid Sensation Companion Novel).  

Basically, I had a lot of ideas coming at me when I wrote this one, and some seemed better suited - and could be fleshed out in more detail - in other books.  (Truth be told, I've had numerous concepts popping into my brain about this book ever since the notion of writing it first occurred to me.) In short, this novel may also mark the debut of a new series that focuses more on the adult members of the Alpha League.

As always, however, I had fun writing this one and providing a little more detail about Mouse and his abilities, which is something I'm sure readers have been eager to learn more about, since he appears to lack any discernable super powers.

In other news, the audiobook for Terminus (Fringe Worlds #1) has finally been released. (I'm sure I've mentioned it a couple of times before, but I'm really enjoying the process of releasing audio versions of my work and wish I had done it sooner.)

I'm currently working on the second book in the series and hope to have it completed soon.  In the meantime, I have promo codes that I can use to gift free copies of my audiobooks, so if anyone would like audio versions of Terminus or Infiltration (Kid Sensation #3), please let me know and provide me with your email address.  (As usual, I'll give out the codes on a first come, first served basis.) Also please indicate whether you prefer the US Audible or UK Audible Store.  Thanks again for your support.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Delusional Authors Follow-up

So, a while back I wrote about Delusional Authors and posted about a friend and the book they wanted to release. The book had all sorts of problems (eg, no editing, massive plot holes, etc.), but - despite being a hot mess - did indeed get published.  The results were interesting enough to warrant a follow-up.

First of all, I think I only mentioned it in one of the comments to that prior post, but my friend actually has an excellent storytelling voice.  However, they aren't willing to do all the things necessary to make a book fit for human consumption.  Moreover, many of the same issues (lack of editing, and so on) were present in the second book in the series, which also got published.

Anyway, the books were limping along, getting middling page reads and minimal sales - nothing to write home about, but enough to make the potential evident.  So I came up with a book promotion plan which my friend acquiesced to.  The promotion went moderately well, but afterwards, the book went screaming up the charts.

Over the next month, my friend's publishing income increased exponentially, and they actually broke into the Top 1000 authors on Amazon. Needless to say, there were a couple of absolutely scathing reviews (which was to be expected), but overall readers were very generous and gave the books a big thumbs-up.  The first book now has an average of 4 stars on Amazon, while the second book has 4.6.

I was as shocked as anyone by the results.  I mean, the books seriously needed a lot more work to even meet minimal publishable standards, in my opinion.  However, the results speak for themselves.  I attribute the success to a) the willingness of readers to embrace a good story despite technical flaws in the book, and b) the fact that the story itself was truly engaging.  (Also, the books do appear to have good covers and well-written blurbs.)  However, I wouldn't advise any author worth their salt to publish a book like this.  In my opinion, readers are simply far too demanding of quality, and - although you'll occasionally hear about someone having success with a book like this (and writing that would give an English Lit professor a heart attack) - this type of thing is clearly the exception rather than the rule.

Now, of course my friend is getting ready to wrap up Book 3 in the series and get the audiobook out for Book 1.  Needless, to say, I'm really curious to see what happens.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Cover Reveal: Mouse's Tale

So someone just asked if there was a cover yet for Mouse's Tale.  As a matter of fact, there is.  I guess I just haven't really thought much about a cover reveal for the book.  I've done it once or twice in the past, but I suppose I should make it a staple of new releases on a going-forward basis.  Anyway, since I aim to please:

As to the book itself, it's back from the editor and once again in my grubby little paws.  I intend to review it as quickly as possible and then get it to my formatting guy.  With any luck, it will probably be released some time in the next week.

Needless to say, I'm super-excited about the book and hope readers will enjoy it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Excerpt from Efferus (Fringe Worlds #2)

So the Mouse book is in the hands of my editor now, and - as I've mentioned in a couple of comments on this blog - I anticipate publishing it this month.  In the meantime, I've turned my attention back to the second Fringe Worlds novel (working title Efferus), which  I actually started quite a while ago, but then pushed a little further back in the queue as the ideas for other books starting hitting me fast and hard.

For those who are interested, I will reaffirm my commitment to finishing the book and getting it published asap.  In the meantime, I thought it might be fun to publish the excerpt below. (The usual caveats apply: not yet edited, etc.)


Captain Ward “Warhorse” Henry – commander of the Space Navy vessel Mantis Wing – was sitting at a table in his meeting room when a sturdy knock sounded at the door.
“Enter,” Henry said loudly. A moment later, the door slid open and Marine Lieutenant Arrogant Maker strode into the room, right on time for their meeting.
Maker marched towards the captain, stopping when he was about a foot away from the table and then snapped his hand up in a crisp salute.
Henry returned the gesture and then grumbled, “Be seated.”
The captain eyed Maker warily as the Marine sat down. Frankly speaking, Henry still hadn’t decided yet whether or not he liked the lieutenant, who had spent something like fifteen years as enlisted man and then a couple of years as a civilian before being commissioned as an officer. It wasn’t that the lieutenant was difficult to deal with – quite the opposite, in fact (although the same couldn’t be said of the Marines under his command). He’d been on his best behavior during the past two months – ever since that wretched debacle on Terminus, when Maker had almost blown up the Mantis.
  Somehow, despite a laundry-list of felonious acts – disobeying orders, constructing and detonating a banned weapon, disabling (and almost destroying) a Navy ship in the middle of combat, etcetera – Maker had escaped court-martial. Moreover, Maker’s original mission (which was to find an alien race called the Vacra) had been extended, with the crew of the Mantis being put at his disposal. In short, despite outranking Maker by a mile, Captain Henry (and his crew) was subject to the lieutenant’s commands.
A lot of senior officers would have chaffed at this arrangement, but not Henry.  This wasn’t his first rodeo; he’d actually had a number of engagements in which his ship was used to ferry lesser-ranked officers on various missions, and quite often the nature of those assignments put Henry at the beck and call of someone below his pay grade. Thus it was that he didn’t have any issue with the fact that Maker pretty much decided where they went and when.
Thankfully, Maker wasn’t a jerk about it. He didn’t try to lord his authority over Henry like several others had done in the past. Outside of dictates about his mission, Maker left the running of the ship to the captain. Moreover, he always showed Henry the respect and deference due his rank – such as when he’d entered the room and saluted a moment earlier.
Maker took a moment to get comfortable in his chair before asking, “Where would you like to begin, sir?”
“The woman,” Henry said. “She dislocated the shoulder of one of my engineers.”
“Permission to speak freely, sir?”
“Always,” Henry answered with a nod.
“Thank you, sir,” Maker said. He placed his hands on the table with fingers interlaced and leaned forward. “Sergeant Diviana is a highly-trained operative and an intelligence agent. Your engineer got fresh with her – touched her in an ungentlemanly fashion – and she reacted.”
Overreacted is more like it. Granted he shouldn’t have touched her, but he didn’t break anything.”
“Well, from this point forward he’ll understand that “No” means “No.” That said, I’ll remind Diviana that we’re all on the same side and ask that she respond less aggressively if the situation arises again.”
Henry harrumphed at that last comment and Maker smiled to himself. After the job Diviana did on that engineer, the odds of a recurrence were slim indeed.
“Moving on,” Henry said. “Apparently one of my crew had a run-in with the doctor assigned to your squad.”
“I wouldn’t describe it that way, since the doctor really didn’t do anything.”
“And yet my crewman ended up with almost every bone in his hand broken.”
“With all due respect, sir, the guy’s an idiot. He punched an augmented man in the jaw. Need I say more?” Maker asked with a shrug.
“I understand your point,” Henry replied. “But still, if that Augman provoked him into throwing that punch, goaded him in some way…”
“Then you should be thanking us for revealing his stupidity. Everybody knows that Augmen are tough as nails, and throwing a jab at one is like trying to punch a steel girder. In essence your crewman should have known better.  Trying to blame my doctor for a broken hand in this instance, just because he’s an Augman, is ridiculous.”
“Fine. I’ll make sure my crew knows that striking the good doctor with their bare hands is a bad idea.”
Maker frowned, not liking the implications of the captain’s statement, but before he could comment Henry moved on the next item on his agenda.
“Finally,” the captain said, “your companion.”
Maker smiled inwardly, pleased at Henry’s choice of words. Most people had a tendency to categorize Erlen – the exotic alien creature to whom the captain was referring – as a pet. It was a label Maker loathed (although Erlen himself didn’t seem to mind), and in the past he’d gotten into more than one altercation because of it.
Erlen was rarely far from his side, although these tête-à-têtes with Henry were an exception. Not because the captain had an issue with Erlen, per se, but more so because the alien’s presence served no purpose in the meeting. If a person – terrestrial or alien – had nothing to offer, Henry didn’t see the need to have them taking up space.
At the moment, the captain was launching into the current issue related to Erlen.
“It seems your friend,” he said, “had a brush with Lieutenant Kepler.”
Maker let out a slight groan. Kepler again.  That guy was constantly finding a way to be a thorn in his side.
“There was an incident,” Maker acknowledged, then began struggling to keep a grin off his face as he remembered the particulars.
“As I understand it, your alien confederate spat some kind of compound on Kepler’s shoes. It immediately glued him to the spot. It adhered so completely, in fact, that my crew had to cut away that section of flooring in order to remove Kepler’s footwear.”
Maker finally gave up on trying to contain the smile that had been slowly overtaking his features. “But on the bright side, there was no violence involved.”
“Maybe by your standards, but I consider any act that harms this vessel as violence with respect to my ship.”
“Yes, sir,” Maker acknowledged, sobering almost instantly. “I’ll make sure the incident isn’t repeated.”
“I think that would be best – unless you want your friend confined to quarters.”
“Understood.  Will there be anything else, sir?”
“No, we’re done. Dismissed.”

Maker stood, coming to attention. He gave the captain a snappy salute which was hastily returned, then turned and strode from the room.  

Monday, December 19, 2016

Comparing Book Promotion and Marketing Sites

I've been blessed up to this point to have sold a decent number of books while conducting minimal advertising. In that regard, I'm somewhat a victim of my own success:  my books started selling well right out the gate (something like 10,000 in the first six months), with practically no marketing, so I didn't really see the need to promote. (I did, however, eventually start a mail list, which should really be on the first page of the self-publishing playbook.)

Of course, I was more prolific in terms of writing my back then as well - starting in March 2013, I think I wrote six books during the first 9 months of my indie career. Since then, I've gotten much busier with the day job, and my writing has suffered from a productivity standpoint. (Needless to say, it's a lot easier to stay top-of-mind with readers when you're publishing a new book every two months or so.)

Oddly enough, although I didn't do a lot of advertising historically, I did have a monthly marketing budget; I just rarely used it. Recently, however, I've started looking more and more at book promotion as a way to expand my readership. I mean, I'd already seen the benefits firsthand: I had a BookBub ad in early 2014 that catapulted Sensation back to the #1 spot in multiple categories and into the 300s overall in the Paid Kindle Store.  And just a few months ago, some effective marketing got Warden (Book 1: Wendigo Fever) to a #1 ranking.

In short, it's clear to me now that book promotion is not only a powerful tool but an arrow that most indie authors need to have in their quiver. The problem, of course, is that there seems to be a nigh-limitless number of book promotion sites out there, not all of which are necessarily effective. About the only sure thing is BookBub, which is undoubtedly the gold standard. Unfortunately, they are highly selective, and getting a slot with them seems to rank right up there with winning the lotto in terms of odds.  Thus, most of us will have to look elsewhere for promotion purposes, but it's a lot like picking a tight end in fantasy football: there's Gronk, and then there's everybody else...

That said, I was able to get good results with my Warden promo without benefit of a BookBub ad.  In other words, there are indeed other fish in the sea.  But assuming most self-published authors are like me, they found other book promo sites mostly through positive word-of-mouth and maybe a little research.  Still, there always appeared to be an element of randomness when it came to ads.  One person might have good results with a particular site, while another might do poorly.  Although there are all kinds of reasons why that might happen (failure to discount the price, marketing to the wrong demographic, etc.), it occurred to me that there had to be a way to screen on the front end for sites that were more likely than not to give positive results.  (This is especially important when you consider how the price of book marketing has skyrocketed, as I wrote about in an earlier blog post here, although one of the exceptions to this is eBook Hounds, which has remained $10 for a while.)   

With that in mind, I made a list of various book promotion sites and started brainstorming on how to separate the wheat from the chaff.  In other words, which were likely to give me the most bang for my buck? Plainly speaking, it struck me that it should be the one that puts the most eyeballs on my writing.  Working from that premise (and focusing on factors such as Alexa ranking and newsletter subscribers), I ended up with the following spreadsheet:

Needless to say, there are a lot of moving parts to this thing, so before going any further it's probably worthwhile to give a bit more of an explanation about what this spreadsheet contains, starting with the headings:

Sites - This one is self-explanatory.

Alexa US - This column provides a site's Alexa ranking in the U.S.  For those who may not know, Alexa ranking is essentially how popular a site is based on web traffic.  As with book rankings, a lower number is better when it comes to Alexa. Unsurprisingly, BookBub has the best Alexa ranking (U.S.) of all the sites I looked at.

Alexa World - This simply gives a site's global Alexa ranking.

Newsletter - This column indicates whether a book promotion site has a newsletter.  This is of particular importance to me because of my own habits: when it comes to book promotions, I'm much more likely to open an email with a list of books than I am to visit a website (or Facebook, etc.) to see what bargains are out there.  That's not to say that other methods are ineffective, but based on my own gut instinct and information gleaned while putting all this together (which I'll get to below), promoters with newsletters would seem to offer a greater return on investment.

Subscribers - Refers to the number of subscribers to a promotional site's newsletter.  Any numbers in this column came from the book promoters themselves - either from their website or a direct email communication.  If there is a question mark in this spot it means that (a) I couldn't locate the info on their site and (b) either the promoter did not respond to my query (and I wrote them all when I couldn't find what I was looking for on their website) or simply refused to provide the information.

Visitors - The average number of monthly visitors a site gets. In most instances, this is a number that I obtained from SimilarWeb, which provides web traffic and marketing info. Plainly speaking, most  websites were reluctant to part with this information.  (Those that are blue in this column are numbers that I obtained directly from the book promoter - again, either from their website or in response to a direct query.  In some cases, I was given a range, which led to me extrapolating a final number; for example, if a site reported that they get 30K - 50K visitors per month, I'd list 40K as the number of monthly visitors.)

U.S. % of Visitors - Per Alexa, this is the percentage of a website's visitors that come from the United States.

2nd % Nation - Again based on Alexa info, this is the country that has the most visitors to a particular site when you disregard the U.S. In short, it gives an idea of who you might be reaching abroad when you advertise with a certain site.

(The tabs along the bottom show how the listed sites rank when sorted for the various elements - Alexa rank in the U.S., number of subscribers, etc.)

Just to be clear, this is not a "Best Of" list.  These are just some of the book promotion sites that are out there. (You can find several lists of these sites on my Book Marketing and Promotion page.)  I've used a good number of them in the past, others I am interested in with respect to future promotions, and some I just came across while researching.  I was mostly focused on trying to come up with a methodology that would allow me to do an apples-to-apples comparison (or as close an approximation as possible) of the various websites that can be used for book marketing and promotion purposes.

In a lot of instances, the task was somewhat tricky because there simply isn't a lot of transparency, which leads to difficulty in determining, say, how much traffic a site gets.  Truth be told, with regard to that particular figure, even asking the question directly was of minimal effect, since most book promotion sites either didn't respond or basically gave me other stats (like the number of subscribers).  In fact, for this project, the number of visitors that their website gets was the single most difficult statistic to get from book promoters.  They seemed almost more willing to discuss how their wedding night went than to part with that information.

(For those interested, here's a pic of the Top 20 sites on my list based on Monthly Visitors)

This reluctance to share the number of visitors left me more than a little bewildered, because - to be honest - I'm not even sure it's a meaningful statistic for book marketing purposes. Frankly speaking, some number of visitors to these sites is always going to be authors looking to promote as opposed to readers looking for deals.  Unless they draw a line of demarcation between the two (and it's entirely possible that they're doing that), I'm not sure how to assign a value to it.  Regardless, many book promotion sites appear to regard the number of visitors as proprietary information.

In all honesty, I don't really have an issue with them designating the number of site visitors as confidential information in the abstract.  My problem is that, in many instances, part of the marketing package that is sold to us authors is that our books will appear on the book promoter's website.  Much like Nielsen ratings are used to sell television ads based on the number of viewers, if part of what I'm buying is ad space on your site, it seems to me that there should be greater transparency regarding the number of people who visit that site.  Basically, if a promo service is offering you prominent placement on their site, newsletter, etc., then they should be telling you exactly how many people your dollars are letting you reach (and it shouldn't be some ambiguous number like "thousands").  Otherwise, how do you really know what you're paying for?

In defense of their position, a number of book promoters communicated to me that the quantity of site visitors isn't particularly important, because being on the book promotion site doesn't have a powerful marketing effect.  The general consensus seems to be that the websites aren't driving sales and downloads; the item reported as having the greatest effect in this arena was the newsletter/mail list.  Of course, this dovetails neatly into my own theory about the importance of newsletters, but it still doesn't obviate the need for sharing the number of site visitors if that's visibility that we're paying for.

That said, not everyone was a miser with their data.  Several sites were very generous and shared tons of information.  Moreover, while I mentioned that some sites weren't willing to divulge their numbers, I need to point out that everyone who responded to my queries was professional and courteous.  No one was rude or uncivil, and I appreciate the time they took to answer my questions.

Outside of monthly visitors, other data - such as number of subscribers - was somewhat easier to come by. Bearing in mind the importance of newsletters, this is obviously a critical piece of information.  For the sites I looked at, here at the Top 20 based on number of subscribers:

As with so many other stats, BookBub - with 8 million subscribers - is #1 in this category by a large margin.  Undoubtedly, this level of reach is one of their major strengths.  Of course, the difficulty in being accepted for a BookBub ad means that most of us will need to evaluate other options. Fortunately, there would seem to be quite a number of sites out there with an adequate subscriber base.

It's also worth remembering that even sites with smaller mail lists can be helpful to your marketing efforts.  By way of example, if you're promoting over, maybe, a 5-day period, you may find a gap in your marketing calendar that you haven't been able to fill for some reason. Under those circumstances, a book promoter with a smaller number of subscribers can still help you maintain momentum.

Anyway, in compiling all of this data, I tried to identify the book promotion sites that scored highly in all of my categories. At the end of the day, I came up with 8 that managed to be in the Top 20 in all of the areas I focused on: subscribers, Alexa ranking, monthly visitors, and so on. They are, in no particular order (except BookBub, of course), as follows:

     eREader IQ
     Robin Reads
     Free Booksy
     Many Books
     All Romance Ebooks
     Read Cheaply
     eReader News Today

A number of other sites, such as Digital Book Spot (run by BKnights at Fiverr) and Kindle Nation Daily should probably get honorable mention because they came up shy in only one category.

That said, the numbers don't always tell the whole story, and you sometimes have to peel back another layer of the onion. For instance, Book Barbarian didn't make the Elite Eight here, but they have a very focused niche (Scifi/Fantasy) and are generally acknowledged as providing a great return on investment.  Thus, if that's your genre, it would be a mistake to exclude them from your marketing efforts.  Likewise, there are other sites that specialize in particular categories, so their across-the-board ranking here may not fully reflect the value that they offer.

In retrospect, I like to think that I've developed an approach that will serve as a yardstick and allow me to gauge the likely effectiveness of a promotion before I plunk down any dollars.  Thus, as I come across other book marketing platforms, this list is likely to grow. Something to bear in mind, however, is the fact that all of this information is from a single snapshot in time.  That means that the Alexa ranking may have changed for a particular site, as well as the number of visitors, subscribers, etc.  In short, nothing is static. Likewise, as indie authors, our book marketing and promotion efforts should stay in flux as well, so a book promoter that you use today may not be one that you use tomorrow.

***Just a few caveats for this post:  First, there were a lot of challenges in trying to do the aforementioned apples-to-apples comparison among book promotion sites.  For example, several promoters don't appear to have books on their site, so the number of visitors is a stat that probably carries less weight in those instances.  Also, a couple - such as Indies Unlimited and Read Freely - don't charge anything, so the number of subscribers and visitors may not matter as much since it doesn't cost you anything other than your time. And at least one, Book Browse, doesn't even accept direct bookings from authors. (What's up with that?)  In essence, I've tried to establish as much of a baseline as possible, but it still may not be a completely level playing field.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

New Audiobook: Coronation

I am happy to report that the audio version of Coronation is finally available.  Like so many other things, production fell a little behind on this one, but I'm glad that it's finally done.

This is my fifth audiobook, and I'm fortunate in that the audio versions seem to be resonating very well with listeners. (I'm also enjoying the way that audio seems to bring my work to life.)

All of the current Kid Sensation novels are now available in audio.  I also plan to do an audio version of my Kid Sensation short story Extraction. (That one, however, is a little further back in the queue.) Eventually, as I've said before, all of my work will be available in audio.

That does remind me, however, that I've fallen behind with respect to my writing.  I had intended to have at least three more books out by now (including Kid Sensation #6), but I've just been swamped recently by the day job.  Hopefully I can take some time over the holidays to right the ship in that regard and get back on pace. (Keep your fingers crossed!)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Another Excerpt from Mouse's Tale: An Alpha League Supers Novel

I'm probably a hair's breadth away from being finished with Mouse's Tale: An Alpha League Supers Novel, so I figured I'd post another excerpt. The usual caveats apply (eg, hasn't been edited, etc.). Needless to say, I'm further behind in my writing than I anticipated being at this point.  That said, enjoy!


Satisfied with what I’d accomplished (especially in comparison to the effort I’d put forth), I left the backroom and went strolling down the hallway. Just as I stepped back into the main barroom, I ran into Vixen (who apparently had been about to head into the area I’d just left).
“There you are,” she said, flashing a lovely smile. “I thought I asked you not to go anywhere.”
“Yeah, I’m not good at taking instruction,” I responded, pushing down a jubilant vibe I’d felt upon seeing her. “I’m weird like that.”
I tried to step around her, but she glided right into my path.
“You know what’s really weird?” she asked. “Guys who don’t do what I ask them to. That’s not something that happens every day.”
“There’s a first time for everything, I suppose.”
 “Maybe…” Vixen seemed to reluctantly agree, giving me an odd look.
“Well, if you’ll excuse me,” I said, preparing to walk away.
“How about we spend a little time getting to know each other?” she asked.
“Sounds nice,” I admitted, “but I’ve got someplace to be.”
Once again, I tried to step around her. This time, she laid a firm hand on my chest, stopping me in my tracks.
“I wasn’t really asking,” she clarified.
Her palm felt as dense and unyielding as forged steel. If I hadn’t figured it out from the blow she’d dealt Sandstone, I certainly knew it now: she was a hell of a lot stronger than she looked.
Vixen tilted her head in the direction of an empty, squared-shaped table nearby. “Why don’t we have a seat?”
I spent a moment debating my next course of action. With her strength, a direct physical confrontation was completely out of the question. Thankfully, I had other options at my disposal, but to be frank, she had aroused my curiosity.  Hoping to get a sense of what her game was, I decided to play along – at least for a little while. 
I went to the table indicated and sat down, with Vixen taking a chair opposite me. Neither of us said anything, so I spent a few moments glancing around the bar.
From my current vantage point, I could see a little more of the place. I spied an aging jukebox against a wall, and also a small dance floor that was maybe ten by ten feet in size.  Not far from the hallway that led to the backroom was a set of stairs that apparently went up to the second floor.
I turned my attention to Vixen. There was a slight frown on her face, and – when she wasn’t glancing in my direction – her eyes seemed to be glued to the door.
“So who are we expecting?” I finally asked.
She turned to me, eyebrows raised. “Huh?”
“You’ve been watching the door like a hawk since we sat down. I assume that when you left before it was to make a phone call and that someone’s going to be joining us soon.”
She smiled sweetly. “Just some friends from work.”
I frowned, not sure what her statement implied. I didn’t know what she was up to, but I didn’t like the idea being pinned in by Vixen and some unknown cohorts of hers.
“Relax,” she said, seeming to sense my mood. “These are the good guys. You already chatted with some of them earlier today.”
She winked as she spoke that last sentence, and it all became clear to me then.
“The Alpha League,” I stated matter-of-factly, my voice clearly expressing that I had no desire for another parley with them.
“You want to speak up a little?” she asked sarcastically. “I’m not sure they heard you in the back.”
I hadn’t spoken in a particularly loud voice, but I understood her point. We were on the bad guys’ turf; it would behoove us to exercise discretion when speaking of the world’s greatest superhero team.
“You must be new,” I said, essentially giving away the fact that I kept up with who was on the Alpha League roster. I was less concerned with that, however, than slipping away before any more of them arrived. Now that I knew who Vixen was working with, I didn’t care to stick around.
“It’s a trial period,” she admitted. “I’m seeing how I like them, and they’re seeing how they like me.”
“I can understand that. There can be issues with having someone like you on the team.”
She gave me an appraising glance. “So, you know what I am.”
I nodded. “Siren. Manipulator of men’s emotions. And actions.”
She laughed heartily at that. “I prefer to think that I unshackle their spirits – give them free reign to do what they feel in their soul.”
“As long as it aligns with your interests.”
She winked. “Well, a girl’s gotta live.”
“I don’t doubt it. Let’s just hope your type of lifestyle doesn’t cause friction with your new teammates.”
She sobered somewhat at my comment. I hadn’t been kidding earlier when I had mentioned Sirens causing issues on superhero teams. Their presence typically led to several male team members – usually two, but occasionally more – battling it out for the Siren’s affections at some point. More than one team had completely disintegrated as a result of a Siren being added to the roster. In short, the Alpha League was wise to have a trial period with Vixen, but even that came with a certain degree of risk.
“So what’s keeping them?” I asked.  When Vixen gave me a puzzled look, I added, “Your new teammates. I would have thought that with super speed, at least Buzz or Alpha Prime would be here by now.”
“As hard as it is to believe,” she replied, “you’re actually not every team member’s top priority.  We still put a premium on saving lives, so some of our speedier members are off dealing with other crises.”
I was about to make a smart-aleck response when I noticed someone heading towards our table. It was some bruiser in a black muscle shirt with a crew cut, and a face only a mother could love. He topped six-and-a-half feet in height easily, and – aside from a couple of gold-loop earrings – looked like a walking advertisement for steroids.
“Would you like to dance?” he said in a gravelly voice after reaching our table.
“She’d love to,” I blurted out with a grin.
Vixen shot me an angry look, then turned to our visitor and put on a sweet smile. “Actually, I’m a little tired right now. Maybe later.”
“I wasn’t talking to you,” the guy stressed to Vixen, then swiveled his head in my direction.
I think both Vixen and I did a double-take at that point. Slightly shocked, I gave our visitor another once-over and realized almost with a start that it was actually a woman. The muscle shirt was actually a halter top, and she wasn’t doing herself any favors with the crew cut, but when you looked closely her feminine attributes were there.
“Would you like to dance?” the woman asked again.
I blinked, and had trouble finding my tongue for a moment.
Vixen put a hand up to her mouth to stifle the sound of laughter, and then - mimicking my earlier comment - said, “He’d love to.”
I gave her a look that encompassed shock, surprise, anger, contempt and a dozen other strong emotions. I looked back at the big woman standing there, searching for words to let her down easy, when it suddenly occurred to me that I could turn this situation to my advantage.
“As a matter of fact, I absolutely would,” I declared.
“Really?” asked the big woman, clearly surprised.
“In fact,” I added, getting to my feet, “why don’t we get out of here and go have some real fun.”
The big woman drew in an excited breath and clasped her hands together in delight. Vixen, suddenly realizing the door she had opened with her attempt at humor, stood up, frowning.
“Actually, he’s not interested,” Vixen stated.
The big woman didn’t seem fazed by this. “I think the little man can speak for himself, and he’s made it clear that he’s up for some fun. And one thing Bellua” – she pointed a thumb at herself – “knows how to do is have fun.”
“That’s fine, uh, Bellua,” Vixen said. “But you’re going to have to find someone else to play with.”
Bellua let out a frustrated sigh. “Look, Red, I’ve had a long day, and I really need to unwind with a man, if you know what I mean. Now, your boyfriend’s a little on the small side, but I prefer a guy who’s willing than one who’s likely to press charges later.”
I fought to keep my face impassive, although Bellua’s words brought several unsavory images to mind. (Of course, she had to be kidding…)
“I sorry,” Vixen said, shaking her head in sympathy, “but he’s not going any–”
There was an audible smack, like someone slapping a raw side of beef, and Vixen’s words were cut off as a backhand from Bellua sent her airborne. She slammed into an exterior wall, smashing the drywall before dropping to the floor. Somewhere in the background, I heard the bartender angrily screaming expletives about not tearing up her place.
Bellua turned back towards me, a frightening grimace on her face that it took me a moment to recognize as a smile. “Now, where were we?”

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