Excerpt from “The Heretic”

Trouble in the Wind (Phases of Mars Book 3) is out in audio. I’m really excited to share the opening of my contribution, “The Heretic,” an alt-history of Joan of Arc.

“France will be lost by a woman and shall thereafter be restored by a virgin.”

— Marie d’Avignon

It is a terrible thing to know one’s future. To know that one cannot avoid it. To know that even if I could, I would not.

I do not walk my path alone. God has sent me counsel. It is for love of God that I take each inevitable step, knowing where it will lead: to victory; to pain; to lives lost. But also to freedom—not for me, but for France.

In my mind’s eye, I see them making the sign they will hold up as they escort me. I cannot read, but I know what they will call me: superstitious; a liar; a seducer of the people; blasphemer; presumptuous, cruel, and braggart; idolater and apostate; invoker of devils. 


Even knowing how it will end, I march towards this future of my own free will. I walked the path knowing that I would take an arrow. I walk it again, knowing it will end in fire.

I know it will be worse than anything I can imagine. Worse than the beatings, the arrow to my chest, the wound to my thigh. I know that they will draw it out. There will be no quick release, no snap of the neck as the rope catches my fall.

No mercy.

Only fire.

They will make me live my own Hell because deep in their hearts they know my soul is destined for Heaven.

Do not call me brave. Save that for those who overcome fear. I fear not, for God is with me.

Excerpt #1– RoH2: Ascension

Darien bent to kiss her, capturing her lower lip with an audible groan as he pulled her to him with an insistent hand to her lower back. 

He could feel the collective gazes of their audience settle and linger over them like a heavy cloak one might wrap around a child to spare it the terror of the coming death-stroke. It was the gusting scents—jealousy, betrayal, hatred—that lent potency to that dark image, signaling imminent threat he could not preempt. He must allow it to play out, no matter his desire to protect Syteria.

Unaware, his beloved returned his kiss, one hand splayed across his cheek, as if she was afraid he was going to make it brief. 

A younger, more impetuous version of him would’ve made an even greater display of his affection, so that no one watching would have any doubts about her status, about what she meant to him, about whose she was. 

Bomani’s words about painting a target on Syteria’s back echoed as he reconsidered his newfound prudence. When he let go of Syteria’s lip she tilted her head in question. 

He smiled and offered her his arm. 

Bonds of Duty and Love

I’m very excited to share this snippet from my upcoming Ravages of Honor short story which will be released on April 7th (you can pre-order here) as part of Fantastic Hope, an anthology by Laurell K. Hamilton. I am thrilled to be part of this anthology because it brings you thirteen positive, uplifting stories (and don’t we all need those?).

Calyce Dobromil leaned forward, her hands planted solidly on her workstation lest her knees give out. The gleaming pearl-white walls of the gestation lab seemed to spin around her like a veil, or more fittingly, a shroud. It spun and spun, tightening, as she gasped for air. Her mind grabbed at the possibility that she might be asleep and would wake at any moment. But, the universe showed her no such mercy. It was perfectly clear in its ruthlessness, in the fact that she was indeed awake.

A message floated above her workstation like a cloud, all bright and golden and deceptive. It should have been a thunderhead, dark and malevolent.

Destruction and termination orders shouldn’t be so antiseptic, so mundane, so much like every other communique that came down once a day from the Ryhman Council. She closed her eyes and took three deep breaths. When she opened them, the order was still there: destroy everything related to creating the donai.  And floating underneath it, a scrolling list of the designations of each child under her care.

The oldest such child was twelve, a genetically engineered soldier whose nanites had just started turning him into his final donai form. Designated NT527, he was from one of their slow-growing—but most successful— batches and only two days shy of being sent off for formal military training.

The youngest were fertilized ova. Two-hundred-and-forty of them—among them, twenty females. And then there were the five gestation tanks in her lab, the youngest still a blastocyst, the oldest, just a few days past twelve-months gestation.

Calyce had given the last fifty years of her life to creating and raising the donai. And now the Council expected her to “terminate” them as if they were condemned prisoners. Even lab animals were “sacrificed.” 

She pushed away from the workstation and dragged her hand across each gestation tank, blinking back against the pressure building up between her eyes. There had been a few unfortunate donai that hadn’t developed properly. She’d mourned every one of them but taken solace in the ones that had survived and thrived, the ones she’d nurtured. And then she’d proudly sent them off to defend humankind, her duty done, her desire to nurture serving a higher purpose. 

The twelve-month-old floated in the amniotic fluid, sucking on his thumb. Dark, curly hair covered his scalp, framing the nubs at the tops of his ears, the vestigial points that would become more prominent as he reached adulthood. 

The tank had reported a case of the hiccups that had lasted twelve minutes, and a surge in heart-rate from a dream that had lasted twenty. No anomalies. His nanites were keeping pace with his growth. Six more months and she’d decant a healthy boy and they would bond as if they were mother and child. Bonding the donai to humans was essential. It made them want to defend their creators. It was as necessary as air, water, and food. It made donai loyal. It kept them sane. 

Calyce blinked back tears as she returned to her workstation, waved the termination order out of existence, and stuck her hands in her lab coat’s pockets.

Every morning, whether on duty or not, she was always the first in the lab, checking on her children. But soon the others would trickle in, and once they did, her moment of opportunity would be lost. She’d been here the longest and had seniority, but she didn’t dare count on the others. If she was wrong about any one of them, that one could stop her.

She tucked a fallen strand of gray hair behind her ear, took a deep breath, and passed her hand over the console controlling the tanks. The biometric scanner underneath her hand confirmed her identity. She programmed the workstation to flood the pods with a lethal dose of sedative in order to buy time. And walked away.

In the adjoining lab she opened up the safe with the fertilized ova, setting the tubes marked “female” into a specimen container. Twenty tubes marked “male” went into a second container. Small enough for her to carry easily, the containers would keep the ova from deteriorating for years if necessary. All she had to do was get them away from this place, far beyond the reaches of the Council.

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Star Trek: Picard … A review

Two days after I binge-watched Star Trek: Picard, the most interesting thing about it is how utterly forgettable it was.

Let me start with the disclaimer that my identity does not revolve around any franchise, be it Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, Marvel, or any other. So if your identity is in any way wrapped up in Star Trek, you may not want to read on. And if you’re wondering why I spent the time, you can blame it on the COVID-19 scare and the allure of a free month of CBS All-Access. It turns out that you do indeed get exactly what you paid for.

What do I remember about this?

Stupid writer trick #1: Open with a dream sequence.

Yup, if you don’t already know it, opening with a dream sequence is one of those writer-no-no’s that will get your manuscript rejected. It’s only slightly less bad than “it was all a dream” ending. BTW, that is why publishers want a synopsis. That way they don’t have to read your entire manuscript to find out it was all a dream and they can reject it outright without too much of a time investment.

Stupid writer trick #2: Start with action.

In this case we have a woman and man making out and then all of a sudden, they are attacked. He is killed. She kills the attackers. Aaaaaannnd… we don’t care. We don’t care because we have no idea what this had to do with Picard’s dream (at least with him we might nominally care because we like Picard from previous shows/movies) or Picard or anyone else for that matter. Thankfully this was a short sequence rather than some extended fight-bore-a-thon so there is that.

Stupid writer trick #3: Amended flashbacks.

Yeah, cause if flashbacks aren’t enough to make you want to stop reading/watching, we’re gonna go ahead and give you a second flashback of the same exact scene, but the second time, we’re going to add information we withheld the first time. Why? Well, because we didn’t want any tension (you know that stories are about tension, right?) in the story. We thought it would be oh-so-clever to withhold relevant information from you because we have to work our way through the stupid writer trick checklist. Honestly, if you’re going to have a flashback in the first place, do the whole damned thing. This story would have benefited from the tension of us knowing that Dr. Jurati wasn’t who she was pretending to be. Withholding that information did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING for the story but hurt it.

Notice how the first three things I remember about this are all things that annoyed me? That’s not good. So what did I like about it?

It had a pitbull. I have a soft spot for pibbles and Number One (LOL!) had far too little screen time. Saving grace, nothing bad happens to the dog.

It was nice to see Troi and Riker’s HEA, but that part was woefully short given the rest of the 11 episodes.

My interest was piqued by the Borg. They are some of my favorite bad guys so I stayed to see where it would go. Which was really nowhere much. Time to watch First Contact and scrub out the lingering memory of this.

Now, like all Star Trek (yes, all!) you have to suspend your disbelief on the science. And this was one of the big difference I saw between Picard and the rest of the ST franchises, i.e. Picard was far more character-driven. Yes, the pacing was slower, but the story required it. And the “science”? Well, it’s as scientific as WWII dog-fights in space.

The ending itself was disappointing even though they (mostly) avoided the potential deus-ex-machina climax with two carefully planted plot devices (i.e. that Riker was on active reserve and that Dr. Soong was working on a golem). Stupid writer trick #4 (deus-ex-machina) avoided.

Pretending to Sleep

The Writer in Black

Available on Kindle

Read this story. It’s not long. I read it in a sitting last night. And frankly, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

There is no slap-bang action in this book.  No chase scenes.  No daring rescues.  No climactic battles.  It is no spy or resistance thriller.  It’s simply the baldly told tale of a girl, Renata, at the mercy of forces far beyond any control of hers, and her treatment for the “crime” of simply having the wrong relatives. Her helplessness in the face of those forces paints, in a few broad strokes, the grim nature of life in Communist Romania.

The book’s very understatement provides much of its power and provides a perennially topical warning about the danger of too-pervasive government, where every aspect of ones life is mandated by the State.

The author, Monalisa Foster, is a friend of mine.  She’s also a survivor of…

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Pretending to Sleep: A Communism Survivor’s Short Story

Two years ago, I attended a professional writing workshop. One of the editors buying short stories for that workshop was putting together an anthology of stories about people’s passions. She wasn’t talking about romantic passions, but about subjects that were emotional, i.e. visceral.

So, I asked myself, what am I most passionate about? And why? And the answer, for me, was that I am most passionate about being an American. Because I wasn’t born one.

I knew then what I had to write about. This was the hardest story I’ve ever had to write. And no one was more surprised than me, when it was bought. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the publication date was pushed back, and I decided to pull it from the anthology and publish it myself.

As I was going through the manuscript, two years after I wrote it, I decided to give the story a more fitting title: Pretending to Sleep.

It’s interesting the details the mind chooses to remember. Decades later some moments are still so crystal clear that you can see them as if they were happening right now. Your gut tells you it’s happening. The sweat on your skin tells you it’s happening. That hammering inside your ears—the one that the distant logical part of your mind insists is just your heart—tells you that it’s happening. 

It wasn’t a dream, not in the sense that I was sleeping, but it was a nightmare. An extended, living nightmare, that came alive thanks to unguarded moments like, “Renata, that’s a nice story,” spoken by a stranger from across the table. She said it in a tone that implied that what I just told them was something I made up, rather than something that really happened. Either those words, spoken in that tone, or a shattered piece of china always take me back.

They happened together—those words and a broken cup. Maybe that’s why it felt so visceral. The cup, or a shard of it, bloodying my fingertip. The waitress, apologizing, scurrying for the first-aid kit like it was her fault. I saw it in her eyes, the fear that it was somehow her fault, that she must make it right, and no matter how much I insisted that it wasn’t a problem, that it was indeed my fault, I could tell she didn’t quite believe me. Or she would not, not until we were gone without asking to speak to the manager or leaving her without a tip. 

It was her hunched-over look, that scurrying, whipped-dog demeanor that I regretted the most. It added to the nightmarish feel of it all. This was not how things were supposed to be. Not here anyway, and I kept myself from weeping because I knew that doing so was only going to make it worse.

I stuck my finger in my mouth. Copper and iron. Salt. It kept me from saying what I wanted to say. It kept my passions from using my voice. It kept my thoughts to myself, for there is one thing that I have learned, that the decades have taught me, sometimes casually, sometimes painfully—you cannot wake a man pretending to sleep.

I don’t quite remember the first time I read that. It’s a Navajo saying, one coined way before I was born, perhaps even before my country-of-origin was formed. Before I learned a word of English. Before I’d even learned there was such a place as America…

You can buy Pretending to Sleep: A Communism Survivor’s Short Story in print or at your favorite ebook retailer, by clicking here.

Liberty Island Interview

Liberty Island is a website, magazine, and publisher where “readers of a conservative or libertarian bent can find fiction, music, video and graphics that reflect their social values and political beliefs — and readers of all persuasions can find new voices and undiscovered talent. “

I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with Tamara Wilhite (fellow writer, mom, and engineer) both online and at conventions so I was very excited about this interview. Thank you, Tamara, for the opportunity to speak to your readers about my work.

Tamara Wilhite: Congratulations on the release of “Ravages of Honor”. What is the book about?

Monalisa Foster: Thank you. I’m thrilled to finally have it out there. The short answer can be summed up by the tagline: Riveting characters in a gripping tale of interstellar intrigue, love, and impossible choices.

The long answer is that it’s THAT book, the one that we’re driven to write because it’s the story we wanted to read and no one was writing it so we have to write it ourselves.

So, what did I want to write about? Well, I wanted to write about a female character I wasn’t seeing anywhere else. I’d gotten so sick and tired of the stereotypical “strong female character” (SFC) that is the biggest, baddest, smartest person of any room she walks into. 

-Read the rest-

Jimbo’s Awesome SF&F reviews Ravages of Honor

Sometime, in the course of human events, consuming a form of entertainment that is in your favorite genre but it is different in a lot of ways than the works that you usually consume is a good thing. Seriously. Listen, if you read this blog frequently (Hi, Mom!) you know that I usually take my Science Fiction with a huge helping of gun/blaster shots and a heaping side of BOOOOOMMMMMM!!!!! I like that. But let’s face it, not all SF has to be that. That’s a good thing, because not all SF is that. Take, for example, Monalisa Foster’s Ravages of Honor. 

Seriously, it’s a good book and there is enough gratuitous violence to keep us all entertained. We get everything from veiled threats to outright carnage. I love the fact that Ravages of Honor has a futuristic setting, but a lot of the weapons are things that Richard the Lionhearted or Tokugawa Ieyasu would have recognized. Some of this stuff is just amazing and it fits. Morgan-Foster does a great job blending old with the new. That in and of itself is a bit of a change (and no, lightsabers don’t count as ancient weapons) but it’s not the one I’m referring to. Don’t get me wrong, a sword wielding donai (what’s a donai? Well, you can either take my word that it’s a genetically engineered person bred for war OR you can read the book and see if I’m telling the truth.) is a lot of fun and not someone I’d want to run up against, but that’s not all there is to it.

To read the rest, click here.

Featherlight Snippet

One of the most common questions I’ve gotten from those who read Ravages of Honor is, “What are the donai women like?”

Like so much about the donai’s world, the scope of Ravages didn’t really let me address that question. The Ravages universe and its inhabitants are too big, too detailed, too deep to be fully developed in one novel, even a 150,000-word one.

But the story of Lady Yedon did give me the perfect opportunity to answer this question, at least for one donai. Lady Yedon was introduced in Ravages during Galen’s flashback to the first time he met Emperor Thán Kabrin.

If you’ve read Ravages, some of the world-building details are repeated here (for those that have not). If you have not read Ravages, it’s my sincerest hope that you will.

Either way, know that this novella stands alone as its own story. And that, unlike Ravages, it is a dark one.

Chapter One

Valeria stormed through the arched hallways leading from the swordhall to the Sovereign’s Suite as though she were some elemental force of nature. Her blonde hair was darkened by sweat. She swept it out of her eyes and tucked it behind her ear. 

Barefoot, she strode across intricate mosaics, cutting through shadows cast by carved, stone titans. Lightning split the sky, hurling blinding flashes of light at a universe gone wrong. The storm brewing outside was nothing compared to the tides of emotions she was caught in. They sent her crashing against unyielding cliffs and then sucked her back only to smash her anew.

Valeria was losing her strength and agility—an unbearable travesty. She’d not only lost the sparring session with her men, but she’d emerged bruised and battered. Healing was taking longer than it should have. Had it been a real fight, her enemies could’ve finished her off despite the nanites that gave her kind—the donai—their incredible healing ability.

The doors slid aside and she entered the ante-chamber. Lanterns floated down from the ceiling, casting a soft glow in the spartan chamber. Intricately carved panels covered the walls, deceptively hiding the ante-chamber’s main function: a kill-box. No enemy could pass through this chamber into the ones beyond where they might catch her unaware. Everything in the room, from the lanterns, to the tiles, to the panels was made of utility fog. Nanites stood ready to change form as needed, depending on the threat level.

A sword rack protruded from the column just inside the main chamber. She shed the killing sword and placed it on the rack, but the short sword remained within reach even as she stepped out of the hakama and shrugged out of the wide-sleeved jacket. They landed on the tiles as she made her way past over-stuffed couches and low tables. She had no attendants—not today, not tomorrow, not as long as she was like this. The fewer people who knew of her growing weakness, the better.

Continue reading “Featherlight Snippet”