So, Does This Make Me a Bestseller?

This is kind of an off the wall way to promote a new book,  but no one ever said I was normal…

My first non-fiction book, The Once and Future Queen: Guinevere in Arthurian Legend, was published earlier today, and within a few hours, it had some pretty awesome rankings on Amazon:

I was beyond floored to be in such esteemed company and thrilled to see those rankings. There was a major adrenaline rush, I won’t lie.

But I’m also a bit skeptical of  now calling myself a bestseller. I know some people would, but to me there’s a HUGE difference between making #1 in a niche category (which Arthurian Literary Criticism obviously is) and being on the overall bestseller list. I mean, 57,858 books were selling better than my book was at the time that screenshot was taken. If I was #1 in overall literary criticism, I’d at least consider it. But I’m not; I didn’t even get the orange bestseller flag (which I think is reserved for the bigger categories).

I don’t mean to demean this achievement, but I feel like a lot of authors are throwing around the term bestseller very loosely these days. I don’t want it to become meaningless. I mean, in one category you could (and people have done this with spoof books to prove the point) reach number 1 by selling like two books, whereas in another you have to sell tens of thousands. Where is the line? Is there one anymore? Does anyone care?

The last thing I want to do is be misrepresenting myself. I think readers have a pretty good nose for what is authentic achievement and what is PR. (I do PR as my day job, so I can say that.) As much as my over-inflated ego wants to add “bestselling” to “multi-award-winning author” in my bio, I think I’m going to wait for a more meaningful achievement.

Not that any of this is going to stop me from popping a glass of champagne tonight…and continuing to dream of making the USA Today and New York Times bestseller lists in the future.

What do you think? Do I have the right to use the term bestseller? Where is the line between using it and not for you?

About The Once and Future Queen

Guinevere’s journey from literary sinner to feminist icon took over one thousand years…and it’s not over yet.

Literature tells us painfully little about Guinevere, mostly focusing on her sin and betrayal of Arthur and Camelot. As a result, she is often seen as a one-dimensional character. But there is more to her story. By examining popular works of more than 20 authors over the last one thousand years, The Once and Future Queen shows how Guinevere reflects attitudes toward women during the time in which her story was written, changing to suit the expectations of her audience. Beginning in Celtic times and continuing through the present day, this book synthesizes academic criticism and popular opinion into a highly readable, approachable work that fills a gap in Arthurian material available to the general public.

Nicole Evelina has spent more than 15 years studying Arthurian legend. She is also a feminist known for her fictional portrayals of strong historical and legendary women, including Guinevere. Now, she combines these two passions to examine the effect of changing times and attitudes on the character of Guinevere in a must-read book for Arthurian enthusiasts of every knowledge level.

In case you are inclined to buy:

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Mistakes of a New Writer

As some of you may know, I offer manuscript critique services to people who may not have found their writing circles and don’t have someone(s) to beta read their projects. Having written my fair share of books, been through the editing wringer  process many, many times, beta read for some amazing writers, I feel like I’m in a place where I can give good, objective advice on fiction projects.

Now, it doesn’t matter what genre, or what age a writer is, it seems like most new writers make a lot of the same mistakes. Yes, I know, in fiction there are no mistakes! But, really, there are still grammar rules and there are things you can do to break the magic a story can weave and take your reader out of the moment.

1- It’s okay for characters to just say things. I know repetition feels terrible, and it often is, if you have a tick (a word or phrase) you just love and you keep using it over and over, it stands out and bugs the hell out of readers. So, new writers will often think the same of dialogue tags. They’ll see the words says or said all over the book and panic. Suddenly the characters are “exclaiming” “declaring” or “crying/cried” rather than just “Jane said” or “John says.” Everything just becomes so melodramatic but not compelling.

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Writers, yes, you can vary your tags, if someone really is screaming and it’s appropriate for them to scream, or if there’s another good reason to switch it up, then by all means do. But don’t do it all the damn time. And if you end a sentence with a question mark, the correct tag is “asks/asked.”

2- Telling instead of showing. I know this one can be hard. You need to move things along, sometimes things aren’t important enough for details, you’ve already gone over this in detail but Character A  needs to tell Character B so, yeah, hurry up. So it’s hard to know when it’s okay to tell versus show.

The three things I just said are good examples of when to go ahead and tell, for example, “John wanted to know what happened yesterday, so I told him about the fight I had with Tom.” We’ve seen the fight with Tom, we don’t need a replay. When should you show? When the fight happened. If it’s important enough to bring up, let’s see it.

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Another bad tell versus show? “Jake was a scary man.” Now, okay, you can write that line, but then back it up. I’m not going to be scared of Jake just because the narrator says so. “Jake was a scary man. He was a man you didn’t cross. His heart was a black as the boots he wore when he crushed Mike’s head.” I mean, something. Build it, give it backstory, draw us into the fear of the other characters.

3- All your characters are the same person. If all your characters think the same, react in the same way, have the same motivations and backstories, that will be one boring book. Yes, we keep circles of friends who have things in common with us, maybe there are things that we would say/react in the same exact way, but not everything.

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Supporting characters need to be their own people. They need their own personalities, their own motivations. They can’t always agree with the other characters. If they’re in your book, they need to be interesting enough not to all be killed off in the first act.

4- Writing what you don’t know. So, the old adage is, “write what you know.” Now, obviously that could lead to some really boring books too and we’d probably miss out on some awesome Fantasy Fiction if everyone stuck to this rule. But for me, this rule means, if there’s something you want to write or add into your books, you need to know it inside and out and if you don’t, fix it. I know I have researched for hours for one line in a 300+ page book. I know every Scribe on here has done the exact same thing.

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It feels insane when you’re doing it, but if you want that line, if you want that character to sound like they know what they’re talking about, you need that research. What I live by: If I want readers to believe my fiction, then my non-fiction has to be correct. And if you’re not willing to become as close to an expert as possible on something, then why is it in your book?

5- Older writers want their stories to be set in the days of their youth, and yet it’s current day. Honestly, I get it, okay? When I watch Stranger Things my nostalgia is strong! I lived outside when I was that age, my bike was my world. I had to be in by dark. If my mom wanted me home earlier, she had a whistle she blew, if I was too far to hear it, I got in trouble. No, she wasn’t panicked, calling the cops, she was waiting at the door, foot tapping because her first thought was that I went too far of my own accord. And she was totally right.

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But kids these days don’t do any of this. If I set a book in 2017 with 10-13 year old kids, it would look nothing like my childhood. Kids have smart phones and their parents take them everywhere. If you want a book to be like it was in the good old days, then set the book in the good old days. Do not have anachronisms sprinkled throughout. So many things in books can be solved with cellphones these days, you want to fix that but keep it current? Smash the phone. Lose the signal. Or, even more realistic? Have the battery ticking down from 5%–oof, that’s some real tension there!

There are more things, but these are the most common that I see. Try to be aware of these things. Best thing to do is write your first draft, just get it on paper, don’t stress about any of these things or anything else. But! On your second pass, on the third? Look for this stuff. Correct it. Make it stronger. Then read it again, look for bigger things, like plot holes or dropped plot threads. But that’s for another post.

Have You Hugged Your Indexer Today?

This post is a day late because I was on a deadline to get final edits and the index of my non-fiction book, The Once and Future Queen: Guinevere in Arthurian Legend, back to my formatter.

Yep, I compiled my own index. For me it was a matter of money, as in I didn’t have any more to spend on this book so I couldn’t pay someone to do it. But I learned a lot, so I thought I’d share in case anyone else has to do their own someday.

  1. I will never look at an index the same way again. Previously I’d never really given much thought to where they come from. I just had some vague thought that probably the publisher and some software were involved. (See point 7 below for more on the role of the publisher.) And yes, there is some software you can use, but there are some things the human mind will always be best for. (See point 3 below for more.) There are professional indexers out there (a job a cannot imagine voluntarily having) but it is possible to do your own with some time and planning.
  2. Indexing is just as tedious as you would expect. It is boring, yes, but part of what makes it hard is the mental gymnastics that go with it. You have put away your author hat and think like a researcher. (Having a background in research or a lot of experience using non-fiction books is really helpful. As a historical fiction author, I have that, plus part of my senior year of college was dedicated to learning how to research for my thesis, so I’m lucky in that regard.) You need to be able to think of what people might be looking for when they pick up your book. That means making sure you include in your index not only the concepts that you as an author think are important, but also those anyone using your book as a resource might need.
  3. There are really two parts to compiling an index. 
    1. Keywords – This is the way I compiled my first few drafts. As mentioned in point 2, I went through and listed every major concept and person in the book, as well as the people whose sources I used. I’m not sure if that last one is standard practice, but I thought “what if someone wants to see all the pages Katherine Bonner was quoted on?” So I gave her an entry. This being my first index, I’d rather have too much in it than it not be useful.Then I went back and tried to imagine all the ways my book might be used in research, which yielded the concepts or themes I will discuss more below. Your keywords are the easier (but more tedious) part of compiling. To get the page numbers that go with them, you can use the search function in your final PDF. When you do this, be sure to include variations and synonyms of words to get the most robust list. (i.e. for Christianity, I also searched Christian, Church, religion, God, and Catholic – and would have included Christ and Jesus, if there had been any references.)
    2. Concepts – This requires reading the book with your mind set on the themes present as you read. Because I only had two days, I proofread at the same time, but I recommend doing two separate readings if you can. Think about the themes you see and how they might be classified in the index to make sense to your researcher reader.For example, when I was reading a section on the rights of women in the Middle Ages, I was noting the page numbers on these keywords: Middle Ages, medieval, women (sub-entry “rights of;” sub-entry “in the Middle Ages”), subservience, Catholic church (because they influenced women’s rights a lot during that period), law, etc.
  4. There are two types of indexes. Because why would you want to make it easy?
    1. Run-in – These are the ones where the sub-entries are in the same line as the main heading. I personally find these really hard to read. An example would be:Guinevere, 2, 17, 150; personality of, benevolent, 152, 255, 260; self-centered, 2, 15, 24, 125, 230; weak, 56, 98, 254; rescue of, 45, 65, 125; treason, 14, 78, 53, 65

      This is the official choice of the Chicago Manual of Style.

    1. Hanging – This is when you indent your sub-entries and sub-sub-entries. Same example as above: (I have to use dashes to indicate indenting because WordPress strips them out)

      Guinevere, 2, 17, 150
      — personality of
      —– benevolent, 152, 255, 260
      —– self-centered, 2, 15, 24, 125, 230
      —– weak, 56, 98, 254
      — rescue of, 45, 65, 125
      — treason, 14, 78, 53, 65

      I think these are easier to use, so this what I went with.

  1. Pre-work is key. You can’t put the page numbers to the index until you have your final layout, but you can start compiling the list of terms in your index. I did this for about a week before I got my final layout, and it really saved me time, which was my goal since I knew I’d been in a time crunch. I’d also advise reading blog posts on indexing and pouring over your style manual’s rules on indexing beforehand.
  2. You will revise and revise and revise. You start out with one long list (from what I’ve read 10-14 pages is not uncommon), and then you whittle it down. I personally found I didn’t need nearly as many sub-entries as I originally expected. The only time I went three levels deep was in my entry for Guinevere, the main subject of the book. I also found myself adding new terms as I thought of them while I read and deleting those that didn’t end up having as much relevance as I expected. And of course, there are always the typos.
  3. There are a lot of little rules. Not all of which I followed, mainly due to time constraints. Examples:
    1. See and See also entries to cross reference entries have to be italicized but the entry itself does not. And they are preceded by a comma. (i.e. Morgaine, 78, 96, See also Morgan; Morganna)
    2. Only proper names are capitalized in the index. Which is weird because you usually capitalize all leading entries in a list, which is what an index is.
    3. You can list names multiple ways, (i.e. Arthur, King or King Arthur) and cross reference as in point A above, or you can list the page numbers in both entries.
    4. Sub-entries are usually only used if an entry has more than five or six page numbers behind it. This is where I ran out of time. There were a few entries like “Arthur, King” and “convent” that had a LOT of pages, but I didn’t have the time or wherewithall to break them out. Sorry, readers!
    5. Footnotes are indexed like this: 345n10 for page 345, footnote 10.
    6. There are two ways you can alphabetize. (Seriously!)
    7. They are different ways you can list page numbers. (Who knew?)
  4. The Chicago Manual of Style sells their indexing guidelines as a separate book. This is fabulous because it is the standard for most non-fiction books and the full manual is something like $75. I wouldn’t need the whole thing (unless I was becoming an editor) so this is a bargain.
  5. Indexes take a LONG time to produce. As I said, I had a deadline, but my index could easily have taken me two to three weeks to produce. Make sure you budget that time in your schedule. I didn’t because I didn’t know what to expect.
  6. Many publishers don’t include the index in the services they provide, so even if you are traditionally published, you might have to do your own or pay for someone to do it for you. At least that’s what my trad pubbed friends on Facebook said when I posted about never wanting to do this again.
  7. Some things are worth paying for. For books that are longer (this one is about 60,000 words) or more complex, there is no way I would ever consider doing it myself again. But at least I know I can if I have to.
  8. Part of me kind of enjoyed it. Some sick, Type A part of me revels in organization. That part of me took pride in making the index and knowing it is at least a good one, if not perfect, because no one knows the subject matter better than the author. I’m sure there are mistakes I made and things I still have to learn, but I’m happy with the outcome.

To me, taking care with an index isn’t so much a matter of doing it properly for the 0.0001% of the population who will notice, as it is a matter of making it as useful as possible to anyone who is using my book as research. I hope I did a good job!

Have you ever indexed a book? Would you consider doing it yourself?

NaNoWriMo: Do blog posts count?

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NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month. Equal parts marathon and sprint, an artificial construct designed to help authors of all levels write a book.

Or most of a book.

Or something.

The basic idea is that by committing to write 50,000 words in a month, all those people out there who think they would write a book, if only….. won’t have an excuse to put it off. They’ll have to take an idea and throw down an average of 1700 words a day for 30 days, and in the end  they’ll have a solid start on that novel of their dreams.

But I’m probably preaching to the choir on this one. Let’s have a show of hands. Who’s doing NaNo this month?

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Awesome! Because even those of us who have already figured out how to get words on the page can use a little boost sometimes. Some authors figure “every month is NaNo for me”, but I know quite a few who are using this challenge to jump-start a flagging project, meet a tricky deadline, or otherwise get back on schedule.

This’ll be my first try at the November challenge. I’ve done the spring and summer “Camp NaNo” events, mainly because it’s fun to join a cabin – a group of people who cheer each other on – and it’s nice to get a boost to the word count. In past years, I’ve always had big editing projects going on in November, so didn’t have the bandwidth for the real deal.

Now, though, I’ve got the space in my schedule, I’ve got a premise, and I’ve even got a bit of an outline. I’ve also spent a month researching the time period and place (1920 Paris) – though as the start date got closer, I became increasingly worried that all I’d done was learn how much I don’t know.

Wait. That’s my inner critic talking.

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Shutting down that voice might actually might be the biggest benefit to NaNo, imho. By forcing myself to write 1700 words a day for 30 days, I won’t have time for second-guessing. The words will be on the page, safe in the knowledge I can edit them later. I’m curious to see what I come up with under those circumstances.

I also want to be able to say I did it.

I’m kinda laughing at myself, because when I initially considered what to put in this post, I thought I could discuss some of the resources I’m using. But… you know… word count. Gotta run.

If you’re participating in NaNo, happy words! And if you’re not, WHY NOT?! Everybody’s doing it…

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Included because it’s one of the coolest stories from last night’s World Series win. I’m a romance writer, so for me, this is what victory looks like. 🙂

 

 

 

 

(Slightly) Creepy Halloween Reads

2420467-main_imageBlack trees swathed in cloaks of red and gold sway in a sudden chilly breeze. Lit pumpkins leer from stoops and porches. A distant fluttering, like the wings of bats or the shaking hands of some dead thing. Disembodied footsteps just outside the door. Who’s there?

Aaaand that’s about as creepy as I can stand, folks. I am a total wuss when it comes to scary things. I think I can safely blame a babysitter I had when I was about 7 or 8. Somehow, she hadn’t been briefed on my parents’ blanket ban on all things violent, scary, or in anyway gory, and proceeded to tell me every murder story, ghostly tale, and urban legend she could think of. Suffice it to say, I was traumatized. I spent the next few years utterly convinced that I would be violently murdered in my bed by any number of supernatural or banal intruders, and even after growing up and gaining a little perspective, I’ve still never been a fan of horror movies or scary books.

But it’s Hallowe’en. And that means even I can be convinced to push my boundaries a little bit. And since we all know where to find Stephen King, Dracula, and Frankenstein on the shelves, here are some new ideas for eerie reads. So lock the doors, pull the covers tight, and let one of these spooky-ish books stand your hair on end.

enhanced-buzz-9426-1380902047-31Coraline, by Neil Gaiman

Even though this book is classed as a middle grade novel, I found it to be delightfully dark and unexpectedly unsettling: in other words, classic Neil Gaiman. When Coraline Jones goes through a door that shouldn’t be there, she discovers another apartment in another house that seems exactly like her own, but with better food and cooler toys. But then she meets the other mother and other father, and they don’t want to let her go home.

Quote: She left us here,” said one of the voices. “She stole our hearts, and she stole our souls, and she took our lives away, and she left us here, and she forgot about us in the dark.”

This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab

In a world where evil deeds and violence breed actual monsters, sometimes we fail to recognize the monsters within. A thrilling page turner, tense with terror in the darkness and chilling rhymes and unexpected betrayals.

Quote: “Violence breeds. Someone pulls a trigger, sets off a bomb, drives a bus full of tourists off a bridge, and what’s left in the wake isn’t just shell casings, wreckage, bodies. There’s something else. Something bad. An aftermath. A recoil. A reaction to all that anger and pain and death.”

Slade House, by David Mitchell

While this is technically a companion to The Bone Clocks, it stands perfectly well on its own. If you know where to look, Slade House can be found down a nondescript alley in a working-class neighborhood in London. Sometimes. Saying too much about this book amounts to a spoiler, but I’ll admit it gave me nightmares.

Quote: “Tonight feels like a board game co-designed by M. C. Escher on a bender and Stephen King in a fever.”

Language of Thorns, by Leigh Bardugo

A collection of short stories set in the Grisha-verse, this book isn’t strictly scary, although a few verge on creepy. But these haunting vignettes live where all proper fairy-tales do–on the edge of the woods, where the dark trees whisper secrets and we fear what humans have always feared: if we go in, will we ever come out? And is what’s lurking in the darkness worse than what’s lurking in our hearts?

Quote: “This goes to show you that sometimes the unseen is not to be feared and that those meant to love us most are not always ones who do.”

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Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan

Mary has been taught her whole life that there’s nothing beyond the village, only the Forest of Hands and Teeth, filled with the relentless Unconsecrated. But when the fence is breached, Mary has to choose between the village, life, and love in this heart-pounding twist on a zombie novel.

Quote: “There is a child – a baby – who long since kicked off her blankets. Her skin is ashen and her mouth open in a perpetual yet silent scream. She isn’t old enough to roll over, to sit up, to climb. So she lies there kicking her fat legs against the footboard of the crib, eternally calling for her mother. For food. For flesh.”

Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake

Still wearing the blood-stained dress she was brutally murdered in, ghostly Anna kills everyone who sets foot in the deserted Victorian house she once called home. Full of spooky atmosphere with a compelling protagonist and just enough cheeky humor, this book sucked me in and didn’t completely turn my hair white.

Quote: “I’ve seen most of what there is to be afraid of in this world, and to tell you the truth, the worst of them are the ones that make you afraid in the light. The things that your eyes see plainly and can’t forget are worse than huddled black figures left to the imagination. Imagination has a poor memory; it slinks away and goes blurry. Eyes remember for much longer.”

The Diviners, by Libba Bray

Full disclosure: I couldn’t finish this one. It was just too sinister and gory for me. (I told you I was a lightweight!) That said, I’ve heard only fantastic reviews from people braver than me, so if you enjoy historical paranormal fantasy featuring a diverse cast and elements of horror, then this might be for you.

Quote: “Naughty John, Naughty John, does his work with his apron on. Cuts your throat and takes your bones, sells ’em off for a coupla stones.”

Have you read any of these, or do you have any favorite Hallowe’en books of your own? Share yours in the comment section below!

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Ten Years to Refill My Well

I got married in 2007 and, with a determination I wasn’t sure I had, in the year leading up to our wedding, I saved enough money to get us a two week honeymoon in Paris.

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It was magical and fun and beautiful and funny and exhausting, like most long trips tend to be. But any frustrating or disappointing moments in the trip have, over time, turned into the funny stories we tell at parties.

I promised myself that we would do something just as awesome and fun every five years for our anniversary because we both love to travel and see new places so much. And five years is a long enough time to save up for trips by doing it slowly.

Unfortunately in 2011 we both were laid off from our jobs within a week of each other. Any fun, overseas trip in the following year immediately vanished. Fortunately I had an idea the lay offs were coming and that’s why I started self-publishing in 2011–hoping to create a passive income that would help us. It took a long time for that plan to come to fruition, but eventually it did. But not in time for our five year anniversary, only in time to help carry us as my husband also built his business, which helps me run this one during the lean times.

So, you know, giving up a trip on our five-year-anniversary was worth it since we got to become our own bosses and work from home. But one does miss Paid Time Off and a boss telling you, “take your vacation days or we’re going to cancel them.”

But last year, just after our nine-year-anniversary we started talking about how long it had been since we’d taken more than a long weekend for ourselves. The more we talked about it the more desperate we were to make it happen. Our ten-year was one year away. I’d done it once before (of course then we both had corporate jobs with steady, reliable incomes and PTO), maybe I could do it again and get us somewhere for that big 1-0.

It took saving every dollar we got from Christmas gifts and birthdays (specifically telling family not to buy us “things” unless they were from our travel wish-list) and scraping every penny we could spare from income, giving up going out, shopping, and often saying “no, not this time/year” to friends many, many times. But as we saved up enough for plane tickets and accommodations and the lost income from taking time off, we knew it was worth the cabin fever.

And last month, we went to Ireland for two weeks.

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Now, this wasn’t just a vacation. I’ve been struggling for a while to think of a new story, to find new characters and new settings for a long while. I have my open series that I work on, but I want something new. Something witchy. Something darker. Something magical.

I know, Celtic influence and Ireland especially isn’t breaking any molds, but I wanted to go to the land of (some) of my ancestors and touch the ground they walked on, touch the stones they prayed on, breathe the air they once breathed. I wanted it to inspire me. To fill my well.

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We kept a travel journal along the way, taking time every evening to detail everything that happened each day. When I had access to WiFi, I posted updates with photos so I could recall everything that I loved so the exhaustion and jet lag (and sinus infection whomp-whomp) we would undoubtedly suffer wouldn’t muddle our memories or make me forget anything important.

I got to touch those magic stones and walk through the portals. I got to pick acorns from Druid trees and eat wild blackberries growing around stone circles. I got to climb hills to stand at the seat of kings. I withstood gale force winds to walk the ancient Celtic settlements. I braved the edge of the world as my fear of falling knotted the muscles in my back. I dipped my hands in holy wells, letting the water cling to my fingers.

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I won’t lie, some things did break my heart. Seeing the misappropriation of Celtic goddesses, them turned into Catholic nuns, hurt. Seeing their holy places over-run, twisted and diminished hurt. But who knows, maybe that will help me in my story.

I’m still not sure what the story is going to be. I am torn by the idea of creating a new world or sending a character into a strange world or what. But my mind is starting to race with possibilities and possibilities are exciting. I’m actually looking forward to brainstorming as I go back over the travel log and photos and see what speaks to me.

And I really hope it won’t be another ten years before we get to do something like this again.

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It’s Release Day!!

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At long last, and somewhat miraculously, Nocturne is here!!

It does feel a little miraculous, because life threw stumbling blocks in our way, but we got it done. For those of you who’re just finding The Hours of the Night, the series tells the story of Thaddeus Dupont, a 115-year-old vampire who fights demons for a secret order of the Catholic Church, and his lover Sarasija Mishra.

Thaddeus works for the Church in the hopes of reclaiming his immortal soul, and in return they provide him with an “assistant” to meet his unique nutritional needs. His assistants are always women, so as not to trigger the vampires more “unnatural” urges. The monks made a mistake when they hired Sara…a mistake that ends up being not so bad.

Keep going for the blurb, an excerpt, and a giveaway down at the bottom. At the end of the month, Irene and I will giving away a $25 gift card so some lucky person. Happy reading!!

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It’s Mardi Gras, cher, but this year le bon temps kick off with murder… 

For generations, the White Monks have treated the vampire Thaddeus Dupont as a weapon in their battle against demons. However, when a prominent matron drops dead at a party, Thaddeus and his lover Sarasija are asked to find her killer. Their investigation leads them to an old southern family with connections everywhere: Louisiana politics, big business, the Church, and an organization just as secret as the White Monks.

Meanwhile, an esoteric text containing spells for demon-summoning has disappeared, Thaddeus is losing control of le monstre, and Sara is troubled by disturbing dreams. These nightmares could be a side-effect of dating a vampire, or they could be a remnant of his brush with evil. As the nights wear on, Sara fears they are a manifestation of something darker – a secret that could destroy his relationship with Thaddeus.

 

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Meet Thaddeus, Sara, and Nohea, the vampire’s business manager…

Nohea’s car had been built for speed, not comfort. The backseat, a claustrophobic nest of black leather, was more of an afterthought than anything else. Sara offered me the front seat, but I refused, and not because I feared sitting next to Nohea. Sara was more adept with the GPS system. He should be the navigator, while I sat in back reciting the Hail Mary.

Because Nohea gave her glossy black vehicle every opportunity to show off its speed.

Once we climbed up onto Route 10, I eased back. “You agreed to compare notes while we drove, and by now, we’ve been to three parties. What have we learned?”

Nohea scooted from lane to lane, dodging slower-moving vehicles. The iPad cast a blue glow over Sara’s features, and the air conditioner surrounded us with stale air.

“Well…” Sara tapped on the iPad’s screen. “In my opinion, Mardi Gras parties can be hazardous to your health.”

Nohea gave him a sidelong glance, while I bit my lip to keep from smiling.

“What? You know it’s true. The first party Aunt Berta died, and this last one Uncle Whose-its almost did, too.”

The traffic around us thickened, forcing Nohea to ease up on the accelerator. “It’s almost always the same people attending, too.”

“I noticed that, and as hard as we try to go Sherlock on them, we’re coming up with squat.” Sara’s phone chirped, and he wrestled it out of his pocket. With a noise of frustration, he thrust it back in.

“What?” Nohea asked.

“My friends are idiots.”

We drove in silence until we neared the bend that would take us over the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. This narrow band of concrete ran some twenty miles over open water, carrying us out of the city. Under the cover of the night sky, I allowed my thoughts to wander.

I found it hard to believe all these events were linked. On the other hand… “Paul and Roberta are not related, are they?”

“Not directly, but maybe by marriage?” Nohea said.

Sara tapped on the iPad screen. “Gimme a minute. I saved the family tree from my email.” His phone chirped, interrupting him. “Crap,” he muttered. After a moment, he stuffed the phone away. “Whatever. It looks like Aunt Berta was married to Uncle Paulie’s older brother for a little while, so there is kind of a link.”

“And didn’t someone tell us that Aunt Berta was the head of the family business?” Nohea asked.

I racked my memory, but nothing came to me. “I didn’t know Brother Michael’s family had a business.”

“It’s not”—Sara’s phone chirped again—“dammit.”

“What is it?” Nohea glanced at him, brows drawn as if she were puzzled by his behavior.

The phone chirped again. And again. “Fuck.”

“Sara?” His behavior worried me. “Who is texting you?”

“Josephine and her brother.”

“Josef?” Nohea asked.

He grimaced and nodded.

“What do they want?” I found I didn’t really want to know the answer to my question. While I could not begrudge Sara the opportunity to make friends his own age, I would not have chosen the twins to be his companions.

“They started by asking me to go clubbing, but now Jo’s freaking out on me.” He stared through the window at the glossy black water. “They told me to turn around and come back to the city.”

“They are irresponsible.” I spoke forcefully, then recoiled, hoping I had not quieted him completely.

He shifted in his seat and met my gaze, brows drawn with worry. “Especially since I didn’t tell them we were going anywhere.”

His obvious concern infected me, and the vast empty lake around us left me feeling vulnerable, exposed. The city of New Orleans was a warm smudge behind us, and up ahead was a fainter glow.

“God only knows what those two are up to.” Nohea’s common-sense tone settled both of us.

“You’re right,” Sara murmured.

Our speed increased, and I eagerly anticipated our arrival back on solid ground.

When we reached the far shore, Sara used Nohea’s cell phone to find our destination. We left the freeway, taking smaller and smaller country roads. Our destination was on Monroe Lane, close enough to the lake that slivers of the dark water could be seen from the road.

“Twenty-three thirty-seven…thirty-eight…it should be right up there.” Sara pointed past a clump of hemlock liberally draped with Spanish moss.

“This is it?” Nohea slowed to a stop in front of a small shotgun cabin. The house was raised on stilts several feet off the ground. “Doesn’t seem right.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, it’s not like we were friends or anything, but the woman we met at the Gretna store didn’t look nearly country enough to live out here.”

Sara rolled his window down, letting in a wave of moist air. “A little too much corporate shark for out here.”

“She doesn’t appear to be home.” The house was dark, and there was no car in the drive.

Nohea slapped the steering wheel. “Where’d you get this address again?”

“From Z,” Sara snapped. “I told you.” He opened his car door.

“Wait.”

He ignored me, climbing out of the car. I had no choice but to follow. “Let me see if I sense anyone.”

“It’s fine, Thaddeus.” Sara strode up the front walkway. “She’ll either be here or she won’t.”

Short of wrestling him to the ground, I could not stop him. Sara mounted the front step and rapped on the door.

An explosion knocked us both to the ground, and the house went up in flames.
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