On Gratitude, and Giving Back

free-thanksgiving-wallpaper-06I know I’m a week early for a Thanksgiving-themed post, but the past few days have had me thinking a lot about what gratitude means to me, in a world so full of cruelty, violence, and sadness.

Let me first just say: Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. There is food and family and friends. There is pie and wine and binge-eating and carb-loading. There is music and laughter and impromptu games of touch football and chilly walks in the woods. These are all things I love. But sometimes I wonder if all the food and fun doesn’t distract us from what Thanksgiving is about.

I’m not really talking about Pilgrims and Native Americans (although I recently learned that the First Thanksgiving probably featured eel as a main course…Yum?). I’m talking about being grateful for the things we busy, self-absorbed, attention-challenged First-World human beings rarely take the time to think about, let along express our gratitude for. In 1621, a feast was held to celebrate a good harvest and the sharing of knowledge between two disparate people. These days, what does the feast stand for? Does gorging ourselves on stuffing and pie really express our gratitude for all the things we own and the people we love and the lives we experience?

I know that I do not give thanks for my life often enough. It is too easy to look at my life and think about the things I don’t have, or the things I have not yet accomplished. To rue the mistakes I’ve made, without celebrating the good things I have done. To fear an uncertain future instead of looking forward to a future teeming with opportunity. But I have so much to be grateful for. The basics: my health, physical and mental; a pantry full of food; a roof over my head. And then the not-so-basics: family and friends who love me; a passion for my career; a great marriage. My life is so full of wonderful things, and in this huge, complicated, violent world, so many people have barely a fraction of what I have.

Next week, while we Americans are all feasting and celebrating, there will still be Syrian refugees asleep in European train stations, not knowing where their next meals will come from, let alone when they will have a place to call home again. There will still be Beirutis and Parisians and Nigerians mourning the aftermaths of bombings spurred by hatred. There will still be homeless American veterans wracked with mental illness unable to get the support they deserve. Humans without food. Humans without shelter. Humans suffering.

This is our world. It is ugly. It is beautiful beyond words. It is ours.


I don’t intend this post to take away anyone’s joy or pleasure in good times with family and friends. Thanksgiving begins the holiday season, a wonderful time bright with twinkling lights and warm with cheer and laughter. But as we feast at our plentiful tables and sip our eggnog and unwrap our presents, perhaps we can also find the time to be truly grateful. Grateful for our families and our wealth, be that material or immaterial. Grateful to be alive, here in our wonderful, terrible, imperfect world.

And maybe we can also find it within ourselves to give back to this world. To foster peace in our communities. To treat our fellow humans with love and respect. To help the needy. To feed the hungry. And to remember, most importantly, that we’re all in this together.

If you have spare time, money, clothes or food, consider donating them to those with less to be grateful for this holiday season. If you’re not sure where to start, visit Charity Navigator or Volunteer Match for ideas about ways you can give back.

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Returning Strength to the Character of Guinevere

daughter-of-destiny-ebook-cover-iAs many of you know, I made the decision back in August to self-publish the four books I’ve written to date. I’m glad to report that three months later I’m happier than I’ve ever been and am having a ball with the process.

I just got my cover yesterday, so I wanted to share it with you here and let you know a little about the book. Yes, it’s shameless self promotion, but that’s how new authors get exposure, right?

One thing I do want to note is that in setting out to write this trilogy 16-odd years ago, I had one major focus in mind: to rescue the character of Guinevere from the docile, blonde-haired, blue-eyed victim she’d become in popular culture (especially in the Mists of Avalon, but in other works as well).

I think you can see from the cover (she’s got dark hair, if nothing else) that I’ve given her some serious agency, not to mention mystical Avalonian powers. My Guinevere begins the book as a scared young girl and ends it as a future queen who is following a fate decreed by the gods. In essence, the trilogy unfolds as Guinevere moves through three phases of life: priestess (book 1), queen (book 2) and warrior (book 3). I didn’t intend that, it just happened. But every step of the way, she is fighting for her rights as a Celtic woman – something I think readers, especially women, will be able to relate to even 1,500 years later (and Celtic women were strong, so that part is historically accurate).

Here’s the back cover copy:

Before queenship and Camelot, Guinevere was a priestess of Avalon. She loved another before Arthur, a warrior who would one day betray her.

In the war-torn world of late fifth century Britain, young Guinevere faces a choice: stay with her family to defend her home at Northgallis from the Irish, or go to Avalon to seek help for the horrific visions that haunt her. The Sight calls her to Avalon, where she meets Morgan, a woman of questionable parentage who is destined to become her rival. As Guinevere matures to womanhood, she gains the powers of a priestess, and falls in love with a man who will be both her deepest love and her greatest mistake.

Just when Guinevere is able to envision a future in Avalon, tragedy forces her back home, into a world she barely recognizes, one in which her pagan faith, outspokenness, and proficiency in the magical and military arts are liabilities. When a chance reunion with her lover leads to disaster, she is cast out of Northgallis and into an uncertain future. As a new High King comes to power, Guinevere must navigate a world of political intrigue where unmarried women are valuable commodities and seemingly innocent actions can have life-altering consequences.

You may think you know the story of Guinevere, but you’ve never heard it like this: in her own words. Listen and you will hear the true story of Camelot and its queen.

Fans of Arthurian legend and the Mists of Avalon will love Daughter of Destiny, the first book in a historical fantasy trilogy that gives Guinevere back her voice and traces her life from an uncertain eleven year old girl to a wise queen in her fifth decade of life.

And the prologue:

I am Guinevere.

I was once a queen, a lover, a wife, a mother, a priestess, and a friend. But all those roles are lost to me now; to history, I am simply a seductress, a misbegotten woman set astray by the evils of lust.

This is the image painted of me by subsequent generations, a story retold thousands of times. Yet, not one of those stories is correct. They were not there; they did not see through my eyes or feel my pain. My laughter was lost to them in the pages of history.

I made the mistake of allowing the bards to write my song. Events become muddled as ink touches paper, and truth becomes malleable as wax under a flame. Good men are relegated to the pages of inequity, without even an honest epitaph to mark their graves.

Arthur and I were human, no more, no less, though people choose to see it differently. We loved, we argued, we struggled, all in the name of a dream, a dream never to be fulfilled. Camelot is what fed the fires that stirred us to do as we did. History calls it sin, but we simply called it life.

The complexity of living has a way of shielding one’s eyes from the implications of one’s role. That is left for others to flesh out, and they so often manipulate it to suit their own needs. To those god-awful religious, I have become a whore; Arthur the victim of a fallen Eve; Morgan, a satanic faerie sent to lead us all astray. To the royalty, we have become symbols of the dreams they failed to create and Arthur is the hero of a nation, whereas to me, he was simply a man. To the poor, we are but a legend, never flesh and blood, a haunting story to be retold in times of tribulation, if only to inspire the will to survive.

We were so much more than mute skeletons doomed to an eternity in dust and confusion. We were people with a desire for life, a life of peace that would be our downfall. Why no one can look back through the years and recognize the human frailty beneath our actions, I will never understand. Some say grace formed my path; others call it a curse. Whatever it was, I deserve to be able to bear witness before being condemned by men who never saw my face.

It ends now. I will take back my voice and speak the truth of what happened. So shall the lies be revealed and Camelot’s former glory restored. Grieve with me, grieve for me, but do not believe the lies which time would sell. All I ask is that mankind listen to my words, and then judge me on their merit.

Ready to read more? All you have to do is sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll get the prologue and first chapter for free.

Want to pre-order on Kindle? You can do that here.

Waiting for another ebook format, paperback or audio book (voiced by Hollywood actress Serena Scott Thomas)? Those will be available January 1, 2016. But you can still mark Daughter of Destiny as “want to read”on Goodreads.

So what do you think? What do you want to know? I’m open to any and all questions (but I won’t give away the ending!)

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#NaNoWriMo~~ I’ve joined the masses again!

It’s that time again. NOVEMBER!! The madness that is and NaNoWriMo. For some it’s scary for others it’s a thrill. Then there are those of use who fall somewhere in between. I’ve done Nano a few times. I’ve one once and the other times come pretty close.

This is my first year back after taking a break. Honestly, I’ve taken a bit of a break from writing in general. Now it’s time to get back in the swing of things and Nano is the perfect way for me to do this.

For now we’re going to not mention (okay I’m saying it now) that I’m behind already. BUT….I’m excited to sit down and do some mega wordage days. That’s why Nano was the choice for me.

To add to my excitement this year’s Nano novel is a shifter book. After taking a brief hiatus of sorts, I’m ready to refresh and start anew. A lot of changes have happened this year, and I feel like I need to try something different.

If you’re doing Nano this year, tell us why you joined the masses. Do you have any tips to win?

I’ll be around Twitter doing #1k1hr so I can get this done and rock out the month!!

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The Scariest Time of Year… #NaNoWriMo

Halloween is just two days away, which, for me, is pretty awesome instead of scary. What is far scarier for most writers is three days away…


I don’t think I need to explain this to most of our readers, but just in case, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s awesome and terrifying and overwhelming and satisfying all at once. This is the month that many writers wait all year for – that push to get 50,000 words done in just 30 short days.

Most people realize, unless you’re writing a Middle Grade book, 50k does not make a novel, but it is a damn good start. Hell, it’s one half to two thirds of a book. So it’s a pretty incredible feeling when you “win” NaNo. I, myself, have won NaNo 3 times. The first book in my Matilda Kavanagh Novels was my first NaNo win and I’ve gone on to write five sequels to that book alone.


Nano really is magical. You build writing friendships and habits that you can take with you to build your writing career. But I know it can be really scary and overwhelming. So I though I would share a couple of my tricks to winning.

Outline your story. Obviously there are split camps when it comes to outlines and pantsing. Some people lose the momentum to tell a story once they’ve written an outline, but I really think it’s good to have a loose road map so you know where you’re going when you sit down to write. A lot of writing time can be lost when you’re sitting there trying to think, “what next?” Even if you just take 30-60 mins in the morning to outline the next chapter so you know what you’re going to write that day, it’ll help you get that 1,667 words for the day.

Join the NaNo community on Twitter. If you don’t know anyone IRL who writes or wants to do NaNo with you and this is your first time, doing it on your own can be difficult. Word counts seem impossible and it’s lonely. On Twitter look for #nano and #nanowrimo and you’ll find people doing this too and you can try to write with them, or meet up for write-ins, where a group of you convene at a coffee shop or library and write for a few hours.

Use sprints. Writing sprints are where you set a clock for a specific amount of time and you try to write as much as you can in that small amount of time. For me, I don’t like to do anything less than 20 mins, but at the same time I don’t like 60 mins either because that’s just too long. But 15-30 mins is easy to ignore the internet and your phone and just try to beat your last sprint. And sprint with friends or other NaNo’ers. It will tap into your competitive spirit and you’ll have people to cheer you on and cheer on yourself as you and your friends write more and more with each sprint.

Take breaks between sprints. If you’ve done three 20 mins sprints, you’ve been writing for an hour. Be sure to take 5-10 mins between those sprints to look away from your manuscript, but after a group of sprints, walk away from your computer. Stretch, go for a walk, eat something. Just move around. If you can get 500-600 words a sprint, you can hit your daily goal in just three sprints. And, chances are, by the end of the month, you’ll be typing faster and faster and might win NaNo with a few days to spare.

Stop when you want to keep going. If you’ve hit your daily goal but know what happens next, walk away. That’ll give you a great springboard for tomorrow.

If you’re on a roll and you naturally get more words than you need, go with it. I know this contradicts my last point, but that’s writing for you. Every day is different. But a surplus of words gives you a cushion in case something happens and you miss a day or you can’t make it to the minimum word count.

So that’s it! Good luck! Make sure you keep it fun because, while writing is hard work, you should be enjoying it!

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A Trifecta of Pitch Wars Lessons!

It seems impossible, but Pitch Wars is wrapping up less than two weeks! It’s been an absolute whirlwind of editing, writing, editing, reading and–you guessed it–MORE EDITING! Over the past two months I wrote a whole new ending for THE RADIANCE OF BLACK (almost 30,000 words), cut a full major character POV, and rearranged the opening chapters so it starts with a different main character than I originally planned.

Korra cheer gif

It was a lot of work, but I think the manuscript is much stronger than it was before. I have to give an enormous shout out to my mentor Hayley Stone for all of her enthusiasm and encouragement during this process. (A huge congratulations is also in order for her and the recent book deal for her book MACHINATIONS and its sequel!) She gave me so many great ideas on how to craft this book into the leaner, meaner and decidedly more readable(er) version we have today. In today’s post, I thought I’m share with you some of the lessons I learned over the last couple months while working with Hayley.
Continue reading

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Seven Spooky Stories #Halloween #LuckyNumber

I am an enabler. That’s what my friends call me, anyway. An enabler. The one they turn to when they need a good book recommendation. Back in the day (before ebooks) I used to run an informal lending library, and if a book was really fantastic I’d buy multiple copies so I’d be sure to have one on hand if someone wanted to borrow it.

Enabler or addict? Not sure.

Though it’s possible to lend ebooks, it’s not as easy as throwing a paperback in your purse and passing it off to someone. But back in the day I didn’t have blogging opportunities, either, so I guess there are trade-offs. I can’t hand you a paperback, but I can still tell you about some really good books…

giphy ghosts

I’m not much for truly frightening stories – I’ve only read one Steven King novel, never read The Amityville Horror, couldn’t finish The Passage – but for this post I did want to keep things seasonal, you know? So I came up with a list of seven spooky, romantic stories that I would totally lend you if I could.

Hainted by Jordan L. Hawk

This book is amazing! I’ve reread it at least four times because it’s just that cool. Dan is a haint-worker, which means he has the skills to lay the dead to rest when they crawl up out of their graves. Leif shows up on Dan’s doorstep in the North Carolina hills, asking for help in fighting an evil necromancer. Leif’s got secrets, Dan’s got a few of his own, and the haints keep rising. I love the setting and the mythology and the intensity of the attraction between Leif & Dan. Good stuff.

The Secret Casebook of Simon Fleximal by KJ Charles

Simon Fleximal is a ghost hunter, and his novel is really a series of linked stories. A couple of the stories had been previously available as free downloads, and while they were good, reading them in the context of the larger work made them even better. Simon is grim and fairly frightening, and his stories are told by his lover Robert. The dark, Victorian atmosphere in this one is about as spooky as I like to get, but it makes a wonderful setting for Ms. Charles to explore human nature. 

The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James

Another ghost hunter story, but this time the ghost is really, really pissed off. I read this book in July, in my parent’s RV, near the shore of Lake Crescent, which is one of the loveliest spots on earth – but in my head I was off on a misty English countryside. Set right after WWI, there are some romance-y bits, some frightening moments, and a tight mystery plot. Overall, though, my memory of this story is of a lovely vacation from my vacation, and a thoroughly entertaining read.

The Gravediggers Brawl by Abigail Roux

This is a contemporary story with a cool historic feel. Wyatt works at a museum, and Ash’s personal style has a heavy Gasslight vibe (which basically means he coordinates his tongue rings with his suspenders.) Somewhere I read that Gasslight is like Steampunk without the steam or the punk, but that angle – and the character of Ash – were pretty damned appealing. The mysterious haunting, the fun contemporary/historic vibe, and the nice little romance made for a fun read.

Restless Spirits by Jordan L. Hawk

It’s Science vs Spiritualism in this fabulous we’re-trapped-in-a-creepy-old-house-with-a-ghost story. Henry’s an inventor who’s determined to prove his Electro-Séance machine can identify spirits faster than any old human, while Vincent is the real deal: a medium who can connect with spirits on the other side. No one is exactly what they seem, some of those spirits aren’t very friendly, and Henry and Vincent could lose more than their lives in this race. Restless Spirits recently gained a sequel, Dangerous Spirits, and though I haven’t read it, I have on good authority that it’s just as much fun – if not quite as spooky.  (And yes, this is the second book by Jordan K Hawk on my list. Whatever. She writes good fright.)

Fish and Ghosts by Rhys Ford

Fish and Ghosts is another trapped-in-a-haunted-house story, but in this book one hero owns the place while the other is a professional skeptic. Tristan’s family hires Wolf Kinkaid to prove Tristan’s crazy so they can get their hands on his money, but the thing is, he’s as sane as they are. His house really is haunted – though he thinks the ghost hunter is hella sexy. This book is a happy combination of scary bits and naughty bits and a whole lot of fun.

Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett

In 1920’s San Francisco, Aida’s making her living as a medium at the Gris-Gris speakeasy. The thing is, she’s legitimately talented, and is really capable of summoning the dead. Winter’s a bootlegger with a curse problem, and it isn’t long before he has a thing for Aida too. Their chemistry is somewhere close to a 10 out of 10 (he has VERY big hands), the whodunit is fun to figure out, and I do love a good historical. Visiting the Roaring Twenties was a blast, making Bitter Spirits a terrific near-Halloween read.

There you have it. Seven Spooky Stories to keep you company while the little ones are fighting over Halloween candy. Hope you found at least a couple of them intriguing, and Happy Halloween!

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Where Stories Live

I think as often as my books begin with a character or an idea, they begin with a place.

Sometimes it’s an epic place, like the Chimayo Badlands in New Mexico:

Sometimes it’s an amazing place, like San Francisco, California:

And sometimes it’s a familiar place, like the historic building where my husband works:

All three of these places have inspired stories, served as places where my characters can live and laugh and love. While other people may see, well, a desert and a city and a shopping mall, I see a cursed land and a world of magic and a gamer’s playground. These places, which have, at different times of my life, been my home, now belong to me as much as I ever belonged to them.

It’s not a one-for-one exchange, though. I pick and choose what parts of the place will appear in my fiction, and I corrupt them, changing them in big ways or small, while the effect they’ve had on me is permanent and complete. I will never be the same, for my time in San Francisco, while the city itself is untouched by my fictionalizing influence.

When I wrote SHAKEN, I wanted to make magic a physical part of the landscape. That gave me an excuse to play with the city’s historical quirk: my San Francisco never voted to stop burying the dead within city limits, and the remains of the dead are magically important to the city’s atmosphere.

Hmm. It sounds creepy when I put it that way.

Magical pollution by the dead aside, the fact remains that my San Francisco means nothing to the city itself, and has changed nothing for anyone living there. It’s my city now, and has less to do with the actual city than that city has to do with my creative influences. Landscapes alter our dreamscapes, and that in turns shape the way we write our stories.

Where do your stories live?


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