Deleted scenes: Sing Sweet Nightingale, Q & A, & Giveaway
By Erica Cameron
Release Date: March 4, 2014
Publisher: Spencer Hill Press
Mariella Teagen hasn’t spoken a word in four years.
She pledged her voice to Orane, the man she loves—someone she only sees in her dreams. Each night, she escapes to Paradise, the world Orane created for her, and she sings for him. Mariella never believed she could stay in Paradise longer than a night, but two weeks before her eighteenth birthday, Orane hints that she may be able to stay forever.
Hudson Vincent made a pledge to never fight again.
Calease, the creature who created his dream world, swore that giving up violence would protect Hudson. But when his vow caused the death of his little brother, Hudson turned his grief on Calease and destroyed the dream world. The battle left him with new abilities and disturbing visions of a silent girl in grave danger—Mariella.
Now, Hudson is fighting to save Mariella’s life while she fights to give it away. And he must find a way to show her Orane’s true intentions before she is lost to Paradise forever.
About Erica Cameron:
After a lifelong obsession with books, Erica Cameron spent her college years getting credit for reading and learning how to make stories of her own. Erica graduated with a double major in psychology and creative writing from Florida State University and began pursuing a career as an author.
Erica is many things but most notably the following: writer, reader, editor, dance fan, choreographer, singer, lover of musical theater, movie obsessed, sucker for romance, ex-Florida resident, and quasi-recluse. She loves the beach but hates the heat, has equal passion for the art of Salvador Dali and Venetian Carnival masks, has a penchant for unique jewelry and sun/moon décor pieces, and a desire to travel the entire world on a cruise ship. Or a private yacht. You know, whatever works.
Her debut novel, Sing Sweet Nightingale, released March 2014 and it was the first volume of The Dream War Saga, a four-book young adult series.
It’s possible to find color in absolute blackness. The darkness becomes a canvas where the mind can paint whatever it wants, tricking the eyes into believing they see something that’s not there. Or maybe it really is there. How do you know when something in your head is real or if you’ve only imagined it?
I see lonely villages nestled at the base of a mountain and tiny apartments in tall buildings at the center of a large, dirty city. I hear wind filling the sails of a monstrous wooden ship and the call of brightly plumaged birds in a hot, dense forest. I smell spices that burn my nose and soft sweet scents that comfort me. I taste salt on a sea breeze and the bite of noxious, smoggy air. I feel sub-zero temperatures and the skin-stripping burn of a desert wind. I am everyone and no one, everywhere and nowhere.
I’m lost and there’s no light to guide me home.
It’s too much. I force my mind to empty and the darkness returns, comforting and simple but so barren. Even if I didn’t understand them, the images I saw reminded me of the world I used to occupy, a world I’ve somehow fallen out of. I need to get back there, instinct tells me. There’s something important I need to do. Something I left unfinished. But how do I escape from a prison with no walls?
Pain strikes out of nowhere. The world explodes with color. Voices are screaming unintelligible words. Energy shoots off my skin like lightning and swirls of blue and orange light twirl around me like a tornado. I’m laughing and crying as joy, grief, pain, love, loneliness, come and go, flashing by so quickly I lose track of what the words even mean.
A thousand images fight for my attention. Each time one grabs me, I become someone else.
I’m a young woman arranging my pincurls because my beau is going to propose tonight. I’m a vet just back from the war in Vietnam and struggling to learn how to walk on my new prostheses. I’m a little girl sitting on a chair, watching my feet swing below me and trying to pretend I don’t hear the man in the white coat whispering the word terminal to my father.
It goes on forever. A constant circle of lights, pain, noise, people. They all flash by so fast I can’t make sense of any of it.
Aching for the peace of the darkness, I beg for the pain to end. I plead for this to stop and let me go back to floating through the nothing.
The images and the emotions spin faster and faster until I’m caught in a whirlpool there seems to be no escaping.
Just before I lose my mind in the swirling chaos around me, I notice something new.
There’s a ball of light that seems to contain every color imaginable. The longer I stare, the more defined it becomes until it finally coalesces into a nightingale. A glass nightingale.
It calls to me, vibrating a tune I almost remember. I want to touch it. Need to touch it. Reaching, stretching, pushing past the burning lights and the senseless images, I finally reach the nightingale and close my fist around it.
The world still swirls around me, but it’s as though I’ve slipped into the eye of the storm. I am the calm center of a world in riot.
Staring at the nightingale in my palm, I try to figure it out. Where did it come from? If it can keep me free of the raging cyclone surrounding me, I’m never letting it go.
As I stare, an image forms inside the glass bird: a girl with insanely long blonde hair and wide honey-brown eyes and a smiling boy with eyes as black as an empty night sky who towers over her. My gaze locks on him and everything else disappears. I’d know him anywhere.
That’s Hudson. And I am the girl standing by his side.
In a flash of blue light, the cyclone vanishes and the rest of my life settles in around me. The childhood that was stolen from me. The years I spent twisted around Orane’s thumb. The whirlwind two weeks that Hudson has been in my life.
Hudson showed up like a knight in shining armor ready to battle a dragon and he found me instead. He found a fight he couldn’t win and helped me prepare for a war I didn’t know I was about to lose. Hudson did everything he could to save someone he’d never met because that’s who he is. It’s what he does. He’s incapable of letting something bad happen without trying to stop it.
He’s huge and looks terrifying, but he’s also strong and over-protective and persistent and wounded, still healing from the fights that left scars on his skin and the ones no one else can see—the ones inside that haven’t stopped bleeding yet. He’d do anything to help someone in need, but he’s not with me now.
I remember all the details of my last conscious moments. There was a battle and I won, but when we landed on my bedroom floor, the pieces I’d absorbed from Orane, the talents and the powers he’d stolen over the years, all tried to work at once. My brain couldn’t handle the overload of information. Still, none of that explains where I am.
Whatever happened, Hudson can’t help me here. Wherever “here” is.
What is this place? Where am I? More important, how the hell do I get out?
As soon as I ask, my vision blurs and fades.
I fall into darkness again.
Out of the blackness, a blue light appears. Other colors swiftly follow, building faster until I blink and find myself somewhere new.
Marble pillars stand so tall I can’t see the top. Attached to them are shelves of dark wood stretching off in either direction. The pillars and the wood look fine, but the information that should be sitting on them is in tatters. Scrolls and books are torn up and pages are strewn everywhere. Some of the books still smoke as though the fire burning away the pages just went out. It’s like I stepped into the library of Alexandria moments after its destruction.
I remember the glimpse I caught of Orane’s mind, the sense of vast space and depthless knowledge. How much of that ended up here and how do I even begin making sense of something like this let alone organize it into usable bits of information? There has to be somewhere to start.
I pick up a scrap of paper, but it’s written in a language I don’t know, one I don’t even recognize. I place it on an empty shelf and move on.
I keep walking, picking my way through the debris all over the floor. Pillars and rows pass and down each aisle I see the same destruction of the first.
Then, it’s as though I crossed a line the devastation couldn’t pass. The shelves to either side are full of books bound in bright colors. Intrigued, I pick up a blue book nearest the aisle.
I open the book and gasp. On the first page is a picture of Hudson that’s so real I reach out to him before I realize what I’m doing. Pulling my hand back, I flip through more of the pages. They’re all Hudson, snapshots of the hour before I faced Orane. The last page in the book is his face as I saw it before everything went black.
Running my finger over the image, I wonder what’s going on where he is. How much time has passed? He must be so worried. And my parents, too. Jesus. Haven’t I caused them enough stress yet?
Closing the book, I hug it tight and survey the organized shelves. This is my life. My own memories and knowledge. I remember all of it, can touch the spine of any of these books and call up its contents. Is this what the rest of this mess is supposed to look like?
Turning, I take in the aisles of chaos spread out before me and try not to collapse. The prospect of putting this disaster area into order seems as impossible as cataloging the contents of the internet without a search engine. Alone. By hand. But that’s essentially what I have to do. Piece together more information than my mind was ever supposed to hold and find some way to organize it into an accessible system.
Dammit. This is going to suck.
I pick up the book and groan.
“Russian? Really?” I’m talking to no one and I don’t even care. “What the hell am I supposed to do with information in Russian?”
Shaking the book, I drop it on an empty shelf and reach for a half-torn scroll, but something catches my eye.
The letters are still written in the Cyrillic alphabet, but the words aren’t as indecipherable as I thought. The longer I stare at the page, the better I understand what’s written there, like the page is being translated before my eyes. Except it isn’t. It’s still Cyrillic.
The page isn’t being translated; I’m learning Russian.
Aleksei, a young man with an affinity for fire. Ability to withstand much higher temperatures than normal. With the right push, could become a pyrokinetic ability.
It goes on and on like that. The entire first page reads like a doctor’s notes on a patient. In a way, they are.
Orane’s observations on a Russian boy named Aleksei—only fifteen when Orane found him—who’s life ended on his eighteenth birthday when he unknowingly relinquished control of half his mind and fell into a coma he never came out of. What chance did medicine in twelfth century Russia have of saving him? He died two weeks later.
I hear a scratch, like the striking of a match. My entire body is paralyzed an instant before immense heat rushes over me.
It doesn’t hurt. I scream anyway.
No! I haven’t gotten this far just to let myself burn.
Closing my eyes, I think of water, of ice, of blizzards and thunderstorms, of calm and cool and rain. Anything that puts out a fire. At first, the only thing I notice is that the temperature has stopped rising. After that, the change happens slowly. My body cools degree by degree, dropping until I’m no longer on the edge of combustion.
I take a breath and open my eyes. Still alive? I think so. I’m also still stuck.
Okay. Right. Now what?
My gaze lands on the book sitting alone on the otherwise empty shelf, the book containing a story about a Russian boy with an affinity for fire.
I learned Russian as I read the book. Could I have activated Aleksei’s pyrokinetic ability by reading about it too?
Thinking about the fire brings it back in bellows-like whoosh. The heat climbs higher and hotter, but at least this time I have some idea what’s going on.
I push it back, focusing it into the palm of my hand, forcing it into a single spot until the air just above my upturned palm ignites. I’m holding a tiny ball of fire.
Holy crap! I’m holding a tiny ball of fire!
Whatever had locked me in place releases me and I stumble forward, my fireball vanishing when I catch myself on the shelf in front of me.
Aleksei’s book is eye level, but it doesn’t look like the same book I first picked up. It’s once battered cover is fixed and the torn, smoking pages are whole. And not on fire. They’re also incomplete.
Shaking myself off, I flip through the book, learning more about Aleksei, whose short life ended centuries before mine began. Chunks of text are missing, though, cut off sometimes in the middle of a sentence. It’s like the information I pulled from Orane was incomplete.
I place it on the shelf and look down at the books and scrolls and pages still scattered on the floor.
How many more broken lives will I have to face?
I keep working, processing as much information as I can put together at a time. What I have here isn’t just information on the dreamworld or Orane’s life. There are the stories of the children he found, the hundreds he tricked into giving up their most precious talents and gifts. The ones he abandoned, taking what he wanted and disappearing.
Each one is different and yet the stories are still so similar.
This boy had a gift for music. That girl could paint a picture in such realistic detail viewers were sure it was a photograph. This one was an actor. These three could sense the energy that wasn’t quite of this world, and eight others would have been capable of prophecy if they’d had a chance to grow into their powers.
Empaths, artists, seers, mediators, athletes, illusionists. Some of the memories are Orane’s, but more often I find lingering pieces of his victims. How these memories survived—and some have lasted thousands of years—I don’t understand, but now these bits of his victims have carried over to me. Their stories are lost to everyone except me now.
I have become the repository of lost souls.
Just like I did with Russian, I eventually learn to read Mandarin, Sanskrit, Arabic, Portuguese, French, Urdu, German, ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, and more.
The languages seem to filter into my consciousness automatically, but it’s not so easy with the dozens of abilities I’ve picked up.
Each time I find a new power, I have to understand it before I can move on. The activation of each power hits me like a stun gun and I can’t move until I’ve learned to think around it, to find a place for it in my head or shut it off completely and hide it away.
What’s weird is that the more of my battered library I catalog, the more awake, alert, myself I feel. Even though progress means I’m absorbing the memories of Orane’s victims. And Orane himself.
What I’ve learned about Orane isn’t exactly comforting. Most of the information centers on his search for the ultimate weapon. That specific, seemingly unattainable combination of talents that would make him invulnerable. Invincible. Immortal. All-powerful.
And now most of his work has ended up locked inside my head.
I am so screwed.
On the plus side, I’m multi-lingual.
The leather of this book’s cover is pitted and scratched, charred in places and torn in others. The pages are stuck together in places and it’s a struggle to even get the thing to open.
Gemma is an extremely perceptive girl, capable of reading the most minute facial expressions and determining their meaning. Also perceptive of emotional shifts. With training and evolution, possible telepath.
“Bryan said his boss would give him a bonus but—oh, crap! Did I leave the stove—”
“—pocket full of poesy! Ashes, ashes, we all fall—”
“Oh, shit that feels good! Would he want to try—”
“Blue… or green? Maybe the green is too dark. Blue. No, green. Or red?”
Dozens of voices are screaming inside my head, the disjointed thoughts of every person within a mile of my parents’ house demanding my full attention. I drop the book and slap my hands over my ears, squeezing my eyes shut tight, but it doesn’t help. At all.
Taking a deep, slow breath, I force myself to focus on one voice. I try and try, but the noise is overwhelming, a physical thing that’s slamming into my head like a volley of cannonballs. My legs tremble and I collapse to my knees.
Breathe, I tell myself. My own thoughts are barely audible in the chaos, but I can sense them even if I can’t hear them. Breathe. Focus. Calm down. Find a voice you know.
It takes me longer than I’d like to find a rhythm, to breathe in even cycles and concentrate through the pounding noise. The voices begin to shift, though, warping louder and softer as I press them back. Then, like a rubber band reaching the breaking point, the resistance disappears and the screams fade into soft, meaningless conversation.
All but one.
“Wake up, Mari. Wake up, wake up, wake up. Please, wake up.”
My breath catches.
That’s Hudson’s voice.
I look down at the blue book by my feet, the one I’ve carried with me this whole time, for some reason never able to put it back where it belongs. I concentrate on him and his voice gets louder, the others slowly falling away until they’re just a rush of white noise in the background.
Is that all I need to do? Concentrate on a single person?
Experimenting, I focus on my mom. Her voice instantly comes up, like I’ve tuned a radio to pick up the right frequency.
“She looks so pale,” I hear my mom think. “Was she this pale yesterday?”
I can still hear Hudson chanting his pleas, but Mom’s voice seems closer. Louder.
“I know he says she’ll wake up, but why hasn’t she yet?” Even in her thoughts, Mom’s voice is thick and heavy with tears. “Wake up, Mari. Come back to us, please.”
“I’m trying,” I whisper back to them. “I’m coming back. I promise. Just hold on.”
I move on, picking up another book and glancing at the first page.
“Oh, shit,” I mutter as the scrolls, books, and debris around me shift and tilt in my direction. “Telekinesis.”
Most of the abilities I shut off as soon as I master them—if I can—but some are amazingly useful.
Like healing. I have the power to heal people. Anyone. That power I leave on.
I can’t quite make myself lock the telekinetic abilities away either. It’s too much fun to watch the books fly into my hand instead of bending to pick up each one.
And telepathy? It doesn’t suck as much as I thought. Not once I got the hang of it.
“I wonder if Mari will remember me when she wakes up,” I heard KT think one afternoon as she sat on the edge of my bed. “Would Emily remember me? It’s been so long.”
Every time Dawn stops by, she leans over the bed and I can see myself through her eyes, like I’m looking into a very fuzzy mirror.
“Wow. She’s even more staticky than the last time.” Dawn holds her hand an inch away from my skin. She can sense the energy surrounding me, the way it’s growing and changing with each ability I trigger. “Goddess bless. What are you gonna be like when you wake up?”
I flinched when she thought that and even shut the telepathy off for a while. It’s a question I don’t know the answer to, one I’ve avoided thinking about in detail for a long time.
Even though I don’t always like what I hear, I can’t keep from switching the power back on. Usually sooner rather than later.
Listening to the thoughts of the people around me is the only way I know how much time has passed or what they’re doing while I’m lying in bed hooked to IV’s and monitors. It’s the only way I know that Lucas Carroll, the doctor KT called in hopes of helping Emily, is now helping my parents watch over me. It’s how I keep track of what’s happening to my friends and family and how I can agonize with them over Nadette and Julian’s sudden disappearances. It’s how I know that out of everyone who comes to visit—my parents, Doctor Carroll, KT, Dawn, and even Danny—none of them are as constant as Hudson.
In some moments, it feels wrong listening to him talk to himself inside his head—thoughts, ideas and confessions meant only for him—but then there are moments like this.
“C’mon, Mari. You’re stronger than this. You’ve gotta pull out of it. You’ve gotta come back to us. We need you; I need you.”
The faith and the hope and the love pouring out of him feels like stepping into a warm home on a freezing winter night, like sitting by the fire and having the person you love most wrap you in a blanket.
Hudson is the only one whose thoughts sound like conversation, like he’s whispering to me, knowing I can hear him. Or maybe only hoping I can.
Either way, the longer this lasts, the more Hudson’s whispers are what keeps pushing me forward. When I feel like a rag doll on the verge of falling apart at the seams, Hudson’s encouragement is what gives me the energy to try one more time, to patch up the holes and keep moving.
I just hope I find the end soon. Before I can’t patch myself up anymore.
Q & A:
What was it about revealing some of Orane’s secrets that you didn’t include this part in the novel?
I so wish I could have included all of this! It wasn’t cut because of the information contained within (all of which is still canon, as far as I’m concerned. This all happened and this is exactly what she learned and saw while she was in her coma). I lost this portion of the book to appease the pacing gods. Readers and editors commented on the fact that my end continued way too long past the main climax and that it took too long for everything to wrap up. It wasn’t until the final round of line edits that I finally gave up the fight to keep this section, but only after my editors promised me that I could share this segment online later.
You use COLOR/darkness a lot and it’s used throughout the novel. How does this reflect on your life and why did you make this a “theme” for the series?
The color references and threads were something that slowly worked its way into the book. It started with the simple blue/orange dichotomy to show the influence of the Balasura and Abivapna, but throughout the editing process color became a more and more important description. All of our senses are tied in part to the emotional centers of our brains and so I wanted to play with that. Especially in a case like Mariella and Hudson’s where specific colors are going to have very specific fear-based reactions, there was no way I could leave it out. Although it wasn’t a conscious decision in the early drafts to use color as heavily as I ended up doing, I knew after the first couple of drafts that it was going to be a key symbol within the series.
Why did you take away the powers?
I didn’t! She still has all of the powers that are shown here, plus a lot more that I didn’t go into detail on here or in the end of SSN. When we see Mariella again, she shows off her new grasp on a lot of her abilities. So even though the description of Mariella learning how to control these new abilities is gone, the powers themselves remain.
This is the only reference that I see to a book with images. Why did this come out of the final version?
A lot of the imagery within this section came from the concept of the method of loci, or (as anyone who watches Sherlock knows it) the Mind Palace theory. Mariella has just been bombarded by more information than any human being is designed to hold. She has to organize it all to give herself a chance of functioning. Everyone who does this would have a completely different way of picturing their mental space, but for Mariella the library full of books felt right. The mental book notion does come back within the series at least once. Possibly more than that. We shall see!
Speaking Russian comes in this deleted scene (and other languages.). Why did you decide not to include learning new languages in the final version?
Also still there! There wasn’t really a need for her newfound skill with languages to be highlighted at the end of SSN, but it will definitely come back into the series here and there. Without this section of the story in place, this was a bit of information that got shoved to the background of the world and left there.
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