Sunday, November 23, 2014

Out of Sync by A. Bin Juran

Title: Out of Sync
Author: A. Bin Juran 
Series: Out of Sync #1
Publication date: October 23rd 2014
Genres: Paranormal Romance, Young Adult

I’m a magical misfit
I won’t let it define me
A bolt-zapping disaster magnet
But at least I’m still trying
The guy I like asked me out
I hoped my luck was changing
Then my coven trials began
…they’re harder than I expected
Now my life hangs in the balance
I don’t know what I’m doing
But I do know this:
I’m not going down without a fight.

‘Out of Sync’ is a YA paranormal romance about a magical misfit who faces her perilous coven trials, falls in love and nearly dies more times than seems polite to mention.

     Low grumbles emanated from the creatures circling me, grimly advertising their intent.
     The sweltering desert heat clung to me like a second skin, causing beads of sweat to trickle into my eyes.
     I squinted, inadvertently blurring my vision, which posed a problem given that my newly adopted life plan had just been reduced to not ending up as dog food—or whatever you would call the equivalent for wolves.
     “Nice wolfies . . .” I stammered, the bitter aftertaste of adrenaline lacing the back of my throat.
     Pointed brown-stained teeth snapped at my feet as another wolf lunged closer, its acrid breath filling my airways. I gagged. “You really should have yourself checked; I’ve smelled doggy breath before, but this is taking it to a whole other level,” I ventured, trying my hand at nurturing some rapport as my eyes darted, searching for an escape route.
     Yellow eyes trailed my movements as drool began to accumulate in anticipation.
     “Eating me will not improve that smell,” I tried again, jerking my thumb at the breather. Was this really my pitch? I wouldn’t add to your dental value?
     “I’m not that nutritious, either! Really, I eat a lot of junk,” I lied. I didn’t actually get to do much snacking—though I would have been happy to if anyone ever bothered to send some to my dorm room.
     One of the wolves slunk closer, grazing my knee with his dry nose.
     My voice caught as I continued trying to reason with the mongrels. “I’m not all that chewable, either . . . . I’m bonier than I look.” Then I remembered how fond canines were of bones and shut up, shaking my head with disbelief at what was coming out of my mouth just in time to miss a set of snarling jaws hurtling at my throat.
     Being eaten by a pack of hungry mutts was definitively not the way I wanted to go.
     I could feel the panic crackle through me, swiftly building up inside me.
     I tried to regulate my breathing as my fingers itched with electricity.
     Deciding it was time to take what action I could, I jerked my hands forward, and a bolt of lightning erupted from my hands and into the pack. Yes, it worked! Not only had I managed not to set myself on fire, the bolt had actually landed in the general vicinity of what I’d aimed at! Most of my thunderbolt throwing thus far had been limited to uncontrolled spasms from nerves or anger, so this was quite a feat. But there was no time for an awkward victory dance.
     The wolves recoiled momentarily from the sudden attack, giving me the opening I had been waiting for. I lunged forward, hurtling my body toward the gap, hoping the light show would afford me enough time to reach safety.
     I scrambled, gathering whatever energy I had left and ran.
     After a few minutes of frantic chase, I perceived a discoloration in the distance. I set my sights on reaching that goal as the wolves shadowed my movements, gnashing their ravenous jaws all around me.
     As I gained ground, I could make out more detail in the bleak colors. The discoloration was a cave.
     The wolves were behind me, but I was closer. I would make it, I told myself; I had to.
     Hope spread, infecting my mind and expanding my lungs, blinding me.
     Reality, however, sank its filthy teeth into me.
     I yelped in agony as the pain shot through me. My legs buckled beneath me, and I collapsed into the desert sand, a hair’s breadth from snarling, snapping teeth.

     Charlie, my best friend, was waiting for me in Potions class, which we not-so-fondly called Spills class since liquids were usually involved.
     I took my seat next to him and sighed at the blue fumes rising from our cauldron. Opening my book to page 225, I stared at the diagram, read the notes beneath and sighed again.
     “Charlie . . . ,” I said wearily, still feeling the webs of sleeplessness from the night before, “the fumes are blue.”
     Charlie glanced at me wryly. He was happy we had any fumes at all; until then, we hadn’t been able to create any reaction. “They are supposed to be green,” I continued with a yawn.
     Charlie pursed his lips, then brightened. “Let’s add yellow!” He grinned at his own brilliance.
     I folded my hands over my unsubstantial chest. “Do you see any yellow dye anywhere?” I stared at him skeptically, without my usual humor.
     We both knew there wasn’t any dye. You couldn’t fake your way through Spills class—which was why we were both failing. Our former best friend, Sophia, was the only one of us who had any magical talent, and as of six months ago, she would hardly acknowledge my presence—which was terminally linked with Charlie’s—let alone participate in our experiments anymore.
     Personally, I blamed myself. Living in my skin, I’m used to the clumsiness and general humiliation-magnetism that I seem to project; it’s a necessary survival skill.
     Granted, I probably didn’t need my absentee grandmother to add to my infamous reputation, but once word spread about her inappropriate gift of see-through lingerie and dental floss masquerading as underwear, Sophia decided she had had enough.
     Heck, I would have severed all ties to me, too, if I could; and if I were being honest, I would have to admit that I’d been expecting such a moment of clarity on her part for years.
     Charlie, on the other hand, had no such expectations. Charlie was just Charlie—tall, thin, brown-eyed and as fair skinned as they come. Seriously, I think he would burst into flames if anyone let him out in the sun for more than five minutes.
     I have dark hair like my grandmother and brother. While mine is curly, theirs is blessedly straight.      If I didn’t know I was a witch already, my hair would have been a dead giveaway. No matter what appliance I used, my curls wouldn’t straighten. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent at Sophia’s hands with her many, many hair straighteners—from flat irons to blow driers to big-ass curlers—without a straight strand to show for it.
     I have already mentioned the flat-chested thing. It’s not something I like to broadcast. Not that you can’t tell. EVERYONE can tell.
     I swear, my boobs are so small, they hardly fill a bra. Okay, I’m not down to an A-cup, at least, but I’m a very, very small B.
     But my eyes . . . now, my eyes I actually like. They are big, framed by dark, lush lashes, and they’re gray, to boot. Their gray hue shifts slightly towards a bluer or greener tone sometimes, depending on what I wear. Cool, right? And there is absolutely nothing magical about them— regular people have gray, changing eyes, as well. They don’t even turn yellow or red or anything strange, like Sophia’s do, which I appreciate. I suffer through enough blushes to last me a lifetime without another obvious sign that I’m experiencing humiliating emotions.
     Sophia’s height is pretty average, if you spend your days around runway models.
     I am a true average. No amazon legs for me or that great tan only a true vacation in the Caribbean can get you.
     Yep. I could think of a million reasons why Sophia wouldn’t want to be my friend. We were so different, sometimes I thought she was keeping us around just to make herself seem even more beautiful by comparison—you know, with me playing the role of the designated plain flat-chested friend. But then Sophia would open her mouth, and I would be reminded why she wasn’t as popular as she should have been.
     Sophia had a quick—albeit stinging—tongue, and while she generally stuck to the truth, most people still took offense.
     Growing up with my brother, I mostly felt at home with her snippy little comments, especially since she usually stuck to snarky and rarely crossed over into mean.
     Still, the fumes were blue, and it was moments like this that I wished the rich, beautiful, talented—if somewhat self-involved—Sophia was here.
     I could see the thought flash through Charlie’s mind as well. His dimples fell when he remembered her—or anything unpleasant, really. She hadn’t even said goodbye, and it stung.
     I cleared my throat, as well as my mind, and opened the book back to page 225. “We can do this,” I insisted, but my voice lacked confidence. “Did you chop the daffodils before inserting the eyes of newt?” I asked, looking down the list.
     “Yes . . . ,” he exhaled.
     “Did you stir it six times to the east?” My eyebrows furrowed as I tried to remember.
     “Your east or my east?” Charlie asked.
     I looked up from the book. “There is only one east, Charlie.”
     “Then . . . yes.” He gave me a dopey grin, and the dimples were back.
     “How about the honeysuckle?” I asked, trying my best to ignore his foot tapping on the
linoleum floor. He was an avid guitar player in a school where music was not a valid life choice. “Hmm?” he asked, caught up in his own inner rhythm.
     “The honeysuckle . . . .” I sighed wearily, eying the blue fumes which were developing a
distasteful scent. Soon, Ms. Palmer would come to check up on us, and her face would pinch into a perplexed ‘what happened to my star pupils’ look.
     “Nope.” Charlie paused his tapping for a moment. “You didn’t mention any honeysuckle. Honey, maybe. No suckling of any kind.” He winked at me and resumed his tapping.
     I rolled my eyes. “Fine. I’ll go get it.” I didn’t know what adding honeysuckle now, so late in the potion, would do to the concoction, but I wasn’t going to wait around for Ms. Palmer’s disappointment.
     I walked, as slowly as I could manage, to the left cabinet and opened it.
     Before I could grasp the bottle labeled “honeysuckle”, a hand reached from behind me and grabbed it.
     I whirled around, careening into someone’s chest, and inhaled the sweet, musky familiar aroma of one Nate Harper.
     If male models had their own league, then Nate Harper would be their captain.
     My eyes fluttered to meet his as my throat choked up, blocking any and all sounds except for a small humiliating ‘yelp.’ I could feel my burning cheeks expanding their redness down my neck.
     As the excruciating seconds wore on, I explored his chiseled chin, his strong, manly, very, very kissable lips, his perfect straight teeth and finally his . . . um . . . well. Baby blues.
     By the time my eyes reached his sky blue ones, my mouth was as dry as a desert.
     “You didn’t want this too, did you?” he asked. His voice rang in my ears, blocking the actual meaning of the words and leaving behind only the shocked realization that Nate Harper was talking directly to me.
     I can count the times Nate Harper talked to me on one hand—well, if you didn’t include the occasions he came over to talk to Sophia, which I don’t. I didn’t really speak then, either.
     I followed his empty hand as it raked golden hair back from his face.
     “Bree?” he asked, as I tried to reel myself in before I made a fool of myself over the simple fact that he knew my name. Idiot. Of course he knew my name; we’ve been taking classes together for four years now. That’s when I realized he was still waiting for some kind of verbal response. “Well, if you intend to steal it, I think you’ll find you have a fight on your hands.” My mouth blurted the words before I could stop myself. Where had that come from?
     I must have looked as shocked as I felt, because, after a moment, he laughed, his smile broadening into something that should probably be viewed on a 52′′ plasma.
     “Yeah . . . I saw you were having a bit of a problem with the assignment.” He leaned against the cabinet, which brought him an inch closer to me.
     Sparing a glance over in Charlie’s direction, I saw that the blue fumes had turned into a foam which was rapidly taking over our table. Like I said; Spill class.
     “I . . . think I’d better go help Charlie . . . ,” I mumbled and turned to walk back.
     He grinned and placed the honeysuckle firmly in my hands. “I think you need this more than I do.” With that, he winked at me and returned to his table where perfect green fumes awaited him.
     I was flabbergasted; Nate Harper didn’t need the honeysuckle . . . his experiment was already done. He was just using it as an excuse to talk to me . . .

     The night air welcomed me with its light chill. I breathed in its crispness and took in my surroundings.
     We were walking on a levitated platform toward a row of hooded figures dressed in black.
     I could hear drums beating, their rhythm entering my limbs, pumping in my blood and quickening my pulse.
     There was an urgency to the vibrations I felt beneath my feet and in my eardrums. Something primal.
     One of the hooded figures stepped closer to us, and we were each given an unlit candle.
     Mine was creamy white and quite broad, its scent musky.
     I was surprised to find it oddly comforting.
     I looked up as another podium was raised before us, and then the chanting began—just as Lydia had hoped.
     By the new podium were three figures dressed in red cloaks and holding hands in a circle.
     Glowing in the air between them was a white fire with no apparent base. It simply lingered in the air.
     After a moment, the white fire blazed bright, and our candles flickered to life.
     There were gasps in our midst, but I found this type of thing typical and a tad boring. Candles? Really?
     A second-grader could make a candle light itself. Heck, even I could master that.
     The three red-cloaked figures began rising in the air with no apparent assistance from a broom or carpet. They turned to face us, opening to a row as the middle figure began speaking.
     “On the third moon cycle of each season, we welcome into our midst the chosen ones,” a man’s voice boomed.
     Me? A chosen one? Really?
     Chosen for what, was my next question.
     “We have hand-picked you all to come before us here tonight to initiate the worthy to join our ranks,” a woman’s voice blasted beside him.
     Initiate the worthy? Did he mean the trials Charlie had mentioned? My stomach dropped.
     I didn’t fare well in tests ofany kind . . . .
     “There will be five phases you must pass before you can become one of us,” the third person said, though I could not make out the gender.
     “For the first,” the man boasted, “you must pass through fire.”
     Um . . . excuse me. Human flesh here, party of one . . . no fire-protective gear in my bag (though, surprisingly, at home I had quite the variety—a necessary expense given my tendency to zap when nervous) . . . no bag whatsoever, come to think of it.
     I tapped the red-haired handler on the shoulder.
     He swiveled his head around and glared at me. His finger was planted firmly over his mouth, motioning for me to be silent.
     “But . . . ,” I stammered, as a growing need brought itself to my attention. “Um . . . where are the bathrooms?” I asked, wanting a moment alone to clear my mind and think if I really wanted to join this group.
     After all, I didn’t know anything about them, and I didn’t really jell with all the wiccans in my school anyway, and these folks were most likely related to them, so they were guilty by association, right?
     There was no need for any fire trials for me to comprehend that . . . .
     “Try not to die,” the handler whispered, then turned his head around to face the three. What? Die?      When did that become part of the curriculum? I didn’t come here to die . . . .

     When I opened my eyes, I noticed that I had been perched upright in a hallway across from one of the purification pods. A disembodied voice congratulated me on completing my second trial, somehow aware that I had regained consciousness.
     My throat went dry as my eyes searched for cameras, paranoia surging throughout my system. These people were crazy; there was no other explanation for what I had just been through.
     I swerved away from the pods; sure, it would be nice to be clean, but that’s how they got you— with the pristine, warm showers and scented soap. Before you knew what was going on, they would try to kill you again. In the back of my mind I wondered why they needed to clean you in between the attempts on your life, but I wasn’t about to try to understand their crazy.
     I just wanted out.
     Once I found my way out into the open air, I saw the hooded figures had reconvened.
     One of them was speaking, and I could hear him clearly, as if he was standing right beside me, drowning out my thoughts. “Your next testing phase will commence within the next few days.”
     A chill passed through me.
     I steeled myself. No. Nope. Not gonna happen, buddy, I decided.
     “The third trial is set by the coven which has shown interest in you, based on your scores, rank and lineage.
     If you pass, the elemental trials will follow throughout the next few months, according to the full moon . . . .”
     My ears buzzed as the announcer’s voice began chanting from inside my skull. My body was still shaking off the numbness in my muscles and the contrasting heat in my limbs.
     I had to find a way out of here. The cold air was biting, sinking into my skin, clawing at me from beneath my clothes.
     The announcer’s voice joined the crowd in chant, and the magic began to swell around me.

Random facts about the characters of ‘Out of Sync’ 

Bree Flint’s hands have a tendency to spark electricity when she’s nervous or agitated.

Bree’s first brush with magic came at the age of eight, when she accidentally turned her teacher into a toad. Her grandmother, Miranda, has promised the school board that such incidents won’t happen again.

We’ve received word that Bree Flint has been dubbed ‘the girl most likely to end up in a black hole of her own making.’ Monroe School does not condone the use of such language, though we couldn’t in good conscience ask you to sit next to her during Spells class.

Annabelle Foster, the “makeover specialist,” can work wonders with hair and make-up charms. References and testimonials can be found on her site, as well as ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures.

Charlie Cast’s esoteric theories regarding the walking of dogs do not, as rumored, require canine participation.

Sophia Lucas’s eye color fluctuates according to her mood. We apologize, but this feature isn’t available in potion or spell form, she was just born that way. And no, her gorgeous golden hair did not come from a bottle either, we asked.

Reactions to Nate Harper include (but are not limited to) shortness of breath, fluctuation in heartbeat, a sudden (though fleeting) weakness in the knees, and, in one unfortunate case, foot-in-mouth syndrome. Yes, he’s handsome; get over it.

Lee, the vampire, is an unabashed flirt. He’s not above using his dancing abilities to recruit donors.

Random clips from the (unofficial) school newsletter
Here are some clips from the unofficial Monroe Private School for the Study of Witchcraft newsletter:

When manifesting garments, be advised that these types of spells usually last three hours. Please allow for a change of clothes. Just to remind you, their pleasant rosy after-scent will dissipate as well, and is not a substitute for deodorant.

The introduction of the fire-breathing dragon into the curriculum has been proven to accelerate running speeds during P.E. classes, as well as aid in the development of new and innovative self-defense techniques. We stress that no permanent harm has been caused to neither dragon, nor students; faculty notwithstanding.

The ghosts that visit the school are our guests; please treat them as such. Note that it is not polite to ask them personal questions outside of class.

While we neither admit nor deny allegations regarding the existence of vampires, genies and/or goblins, we still reserve the right to refuse them entry onto school grounds.

The use of potions and spells on your fellow students outside of class is strictly forbidden. We have safeties in place to assure that they will almost never work as expected anyway, so we suggest you refrain from them altogether. If, despite this warning, you’ve been exposed to either, please do not panic. The effects are temporary and shall pass.

It has come to our attention that some garments have been afflicted with spontaneous staining. So far, this issue seems to be limited to white shirts. Your complaints have been registered and will be attended to in due time; we are currently dealing with more pressing concerns, since it appears someone forgot to send the dragon back home.

Interview Q&A – A. Bin Juran

When do you find yourself singing?
In the so-called privacy of my car, where I can mess up the lyrics and mumble the rest to my heart’s content; on occasion, you might even catch some shoulder-action.

If you would compare your book to a similar one, which would it be?
A witch who attends magic school, desperately trying to withstand her perilous coven trials; hmmm, let me think … Harry Potter does The Hunger Games?

Name three of your favorite books.
I’m something of a promiscuous reader, which to me, means that I’m usually reading (or listening to) several different novels at a time while committing to none — but once a novel grabs me, as these three have, it doesn’t let go even long after I’ve finished reading it.
My ‘must listen’ list includes Stephen King’s 11/22/63, narrated by Craig Wasson (a masterfully woven tale that incorporates time travel, JFK, suspense and wit), John Scalzi’s Redshirts narrated by Wil Wheaton (a fun sci-fi read filled with Scalzi’s characteristic humor), and Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris, narrated by Johanna Parker (romance, vampires, action and once again we find the common denominator — a healthy sense of humor and wit).

Which animal scares you the most? Why?
Cockroaches; yuck. Those spindly-legged creatures can get me off my feet faster than any exercise known to man.

When do you find yourself reading?
Being a mom, a wife and a full-time writer, free time is a very precious and rare commodity. Or in other words, I’ve learned how to utilize my coffee breaks to listen to audiobooks, and I sometimes stretch out the night with my Kindle.

When do you find yourself inspired?
Inspiration often strikes when I’m bone-tired, usually after I’ve just crawled into bed. I quickly discovered that if I don’t write it down — whatever ‘it’ might be, a snippet of conversation or a twist in a story line — it’ll slip away into oblivion, never to be heard of again.

Name a song that inspired you
Kelly Clarkson’s “People Like Us’ helped me find my voice when I was working on the blurb for ‘Out of Sync.’ I feel as if it captures the spirit of the book, which at its core is about a misfit learning to accept herself for who she is, and finding the people who will do the same.

If you could choose any superpower, what would it be?
I already fly in my dreams, without the dubious benefit of adding bugs to my diet. So, I would have to go with a remarkable ability I’d seen in the movie ‘Starman,’ in which an alien placed his hand above the cover of a book, and in the span of seconds, had read it in its entirety. Add to that the ability to understand the material within, and if at all possible, to remember it for later use, and it would be my ultimate superpower.

How would you describe your writing style?
Molly Harper meets Terry Pratchett — snarky fun with a side of humor and more than a pinch of suspense.

What’s next for you?
Now that ‘Out of Sync’ has hit the shelves, its sequel, ‘Out of Breath’ has (some of) my attention. It’s due to be released next year. The tagline reads: Are you sure you want to know?
I would reveal its blurb, but it contains a spoiler for ‘Out of Sync,’ and I’m pretty sure that kind of behavior will get me in trouble.
I’m also writing a paranormal novel, and I’m in the process of editing my third YA book, about an angel on her first mission. Both are unrelated to the ‘Out of Sync’ universe, and a lot of fun to write / edit.

Quick questions (with slightly longer answers):

Vanilla or chocolate? 
Both, melted into yummy gooiness in the microwave. Before you ‘ew’ all over yourself, please note that this trait has been passed down to the next generation (my son) without any prior influence (I caught him stirring his ice cream until it reached the right consistency) — ergo, it’s in the genes, and therefore should be exempt of any and all prejudices.

What were your favorite books in elementary school?
Betty MacDonlad’s Mrs. Piggle Wiggle’s Magic and Janet Lunn’s Double Spell.

Sweet or savory?
While my taste buds usually prefer savory (there’s a reason that lasagna appears in almost every book I’ve ever wrote), I’ll enjoy a delicious piece of chocolate cake — with a side of pickle, please.

Early Bird or Night Owl?
Night owl masquerading as an early bird. Getting caught ‘lounging about’ in bed after ten a.m. on a Saturday was frowned upon in my parent’s house, and now I’m married to a self-proclaimed night owl who comes from a long tradition of waking up after noon and staying up late; very late.

Phone call or E-mail?
Email, definitely. I express myself much better on page than I do live. Some people can achieve witty-comeback status on the fly, but unfortunately I’m not one of those people (despite repeated attempts to outwit my big sister, who is a natural).

Ebook or paper? 
When my eyes are too sore from a day of computer-gazing, they usually require the fonts to be blind-bat large, so that leaves me with little options.
That being said, there’s just something magical about holding a book in your hands and leafing through its pages; at least, that’s what I tell myself every time I add a few more books to my overflowing bookshelves.

Plan or wing it?
Both; I’m a planner at heart, though writing has taught me to embrace the unexpected. I enjoy mind mapping and research (courtesy of my years as an attorney, I’m sure) but I’ve learned to give room for inspiration to strike and alter my course. You never know where an idea will lead you — sometimes it works out better than you would’ve imagined, other times it’s a total flop, so I plan but leave myself open.

Author Bio:
When not immersed in books - be it writing or reading them - Ainat can usually be found nestling a cup of coffee in the company of her husband and twins. A former fast-food employee, T-shirt seller, and glorified secretary, Ainat eventually found herself with Bachelor's and LL.M. degrees and working as a lawyer. A few years later, listening to a catchy pop song about dream fulfillment, Ainat decided to buy a clunky little laptop and get to work. Ten novels and a much better laptop later, she came to the realization that hitting the double-digit mark meant it was time to publish and start consuming coffee (though not necessarily in that order).

When she isn't writing, editing, or mothering, Ainat enjoys reading promiscuously (which, to her, means she's reading several novels at a time while committing to none), watching political dramas and sci-fi series, and taking embarrassing memos-to-self complete with accents and dramatic pauses that should never be unleashed, ever.

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