Shameless Self-Promotion/New Release

If you’ve been following me on other outlets then you know I’ve been working on the very first companion novel to my Ash & Ruin Trilogy. I’ve turned it into a full-fledged book with a full cast of characters, some of whom will get their own spin-off books. And this one ended up earning a TBC ending even though I really intended for it to be a one off.

Books. Whadda gonna do, right?

Anyway, this baby drops in just under twenty days on 4/25/17 and you can pre-order your ebook copy now at all the outlets. If you’re a paper book person, never fear, this will be released in paperback as well!

So, are you ready to see it?

At fifteen years old, Gwen’s world has ended. Not because she’s gone through a break-up. Not because her parents are ruining her life with a lame curfew. Not because her grades are struggling. Not in the way a fifteen-year-old’s life usually ends.

At fifteen years old, Gwen has burned the dead bodies of both her parents and fortified her home against the plague-spreading monsters who killed them, waiting for her sister, Maggie, to make her way back home in the apocalyptic landscape that is the world now.

At fifteen years old, Gwen’s world has ended, but she’s not giving up. She’s not giving up on life, her home, or her sister. Because all you have left when the world ends is hope, so that’s what she’s got, a BB gun and hope.

Hopefully it’ll be enough.

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(It, along with all of my other books, are available on all of Amazon’s sites, but there are so many to list, so just do a quick search for it and you’ll find it!)

The Great Reading Challenge 2017 Edition!

I really don’t read as much as I should. With my day job, writing my own stuff, other life things and ALSO HOW AMAZING TV IS RIGHT NOW AND ALSO ALSO HOW WERE REWATCHING LOST there’s a whole bunch of other things pulling at my limited attention.

That said, Kristin challenged me to a reading contest this year – 12 books in 12 months. And I’m not one to say no to A CHALLENGE. This might not seem like a lot, but for someone who’s reading time is basically their lunch break and whenever he can fit in an hour at night, it’s something.

Now that the first quarter of 2017 is about to wrap, I thought I’d look back at the books I’ve read so far this year (they’ve all been pretty great thankfully) and share a few quick thoughts with all of you. Most of these are from the ol’ TBR pile, which was due for a much needed culling (I’ve added 50 more books to the List since I started writing this post).

Fifth SeasonTHE FIFTH SEASON by N.K. Jemisin

This book won a Hugo Award, so you know it’s probably pretty good. In a world ravaged by cataclysms called Seasons, a woman seeks vengeance for the death of her son, traveling across a vast wasteland to find his killer. Spanning three different timelines, it’s a story of people with the ability to quell or create earthquakes, volcanoes and and other seismic events. To begin or end the Seasons.

The worldbuilding in this book is incredible, there’s a rich backstory to the culture and history of the world that’s explored in each of the timelines. There’s even a catalogue of the various Seasons in the supplemental material in the back. The characters were pretty well developed too, but it was the world and its history that was the big selling point for me.

 

Every MountainEVERY MOUNTAIN MADE LOW by Alex White

Alex is a great dude. He was a potential mentor  for me when I entered Pitch Wars a couple years ago and we got to meet and hang out at World Fantasy Conference last year. He’s also a hell of a writer and this book, his debut, proves it.

The story follows Loxley Fiddleback (what a name!!!), a strange young woman who can see ghosts, as she traverses the dangers of a multi-tiered city called The Hole. One part ghost story, one part murder mystery, one part journey of self discovery, this book is a rollercoaster of an urban fantasy. Loxley is one of the most intriguing main characters I’ve read in a long time. Her personality is so unique and original and Alex really nailed her character arc.

 

DevourersTHE DEVOURERS by Indra Das

I actually got an ARC of this in my World Fantasy grab-bag last year. I was excited to see it in there, as I had heard good things and the cover art is AMAZING.

The book was pretty interesting and unlike most fantasy I usually read. It follows a professor in modern day India who is tasked with recording and translating an ancient scroll acquired from a mysterious stranger. The professor falls for the stranger while discovering that he is a shapeshifter who has lived for centuries traveling the globe.

The book had a really unique take on the werewolf/shapeshifter mythos, and what it means to be human. There’s also some very insightful musing about the nature of gender and the fluitiy of gender roles. This book also had some of the most beautfil prose I’ve ever read with deep, vivid descriptions. Admittedly, I thought it did go a little overboard with the purple prose, but for the most part was an enchanting read.

Best & Brightest.jpgTHE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST by David Halberstram

I used to read a lot of nonfiction, most politics and economic stuff. I dropped off after a while to focus more on fiction because that’s what I was writing. THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST is one of the most acclaimed books about foreign policy and political statecraft. This book is about the Kennedy administration and how the US got into the Vietnam War. It’s cautionary tale about the hubris of political experts and the death of common sense in policymaking. I’ve only just started it, and it is a BEAST of a book in terms of length and density. I’ll probably read it in quarters and tag in a fiction book here and there.

It’s also one of Steve Bannon’s (you may have heard of him) favorite books and one that he’s apparently having everyone in the White House read. While subject matter is very interesting to me, I think this book will also give important insight into the mind of the man who is the architect of much of the current administration’s policies.

So what have you all read so far this year or what do have planned to finally cross off the TBR?

Write With Your Nose

A fellow writer recently shared a pretty hilarious online word generator, called “What Does Your Hero Smell Like?” When you enter the name of a protagonist or love interest, it automatically generates a unique smell just for them. Some gems for my characters included Sunder, who smelled like “meat and luck” (ewwww), and Rogan, “clean sheets and wreckage” (I…kind of…like that one). The generator is obviously supposed to be humorous, but it got me thinking a little more critically about how I use the sense of smell in my writing.

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If you’ve been writing for long, you’ve probably heard advice about how to write with all five senses. But in my experience, not all senses get top billing. Sight is the obvious leader, with hearing, touch, taste and smell trailing somewhere behind. Every sense deserves to be explored to fully paint a picture of whatever story you’re trying to tell, but in my opinion, the olfactory senses hold a special place in a writer’s arsenal.

Due to the anatomy of the human brain, smell is actually closely linked to memory, more so than any other sense. (Here’s an interesting article in Psychology Today about the effect, if you’re interested to know more!) Smells are basically encoded onto our memories, so that revisiting certain smells can directly trigger those precise memories. “Smells detonate softly in our memory like poignant land mines, hidden under the weedy mass of many years and experiences,” author, poet, and naturalist Diane Ackerman writes in her book, A Natural History of the Senses. And, for better or for worse, odors also elicit the emotions buried within those specific memories. A smell can just as easily bring back a happy memory as it can trigger something traumatic.

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So, how can you use this in your writing? The possibilities are endless, so be creative! On a  basic level–and in conjunction with the other four senses–observing ambient smells in a story can flesh out the setting. But go a little deeper. Smells can be a fantastic way to introduce flashbacks for character development–anything from the whiff of an old lover’s cologne to the scent of wood-smoke on the air to a grandmother’s dryer sheets can bring back important memories. Smells can also evoke different places and different times for POV characters, introducing the possibility of foreshadowing and/or parallel structure. When employing the objective correlative, the odors noticed by a character in a certain situation can reflect how they themselves are perceiving the world around them.

And finally, although most of us modern humans go out of our way to cover up our natural scents with deodorant, perfume, and cologne, individuals do have individual physical scents. And whatever that odor might be–nasty or nice, pungent or pleasant–finding a way to describe your fictional character’s personal smell can go a long way towards accentuating their personality, and defining their place in the world.

Please, just don’t let it be “meat and luck!”

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English Majors Unite!

The other day there was a bit of a kerfuffle on Twitter. I know, quelle surprise!

A very successful writer was asked for a bit of advice from a young fan as a new English Major.

The writer’s response? English Major = “Do you want fries with that?”

I mean.

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She told the fan to get a degree in something that would get them a lucrative job and write on the side.

Yeah. Sure. Some people totally do that. But to completely belittle the fan’s already chosen path while also tearing down the service industry? REALLY?

You won’t be surprised to find out that I, myself, was an English Major. I have a loverly BA in English with a concentration on Creative Writing. A major I created myself because it didn’t exist at my school at the time. I was very lucky that my adviser was also the department chair at the time so getting it approved wasn’t quite the battle it could have been.

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I am damn proud of my degree. I have both dyslexia and dyscalculia. Believe me, getting dyslexia under control has been much easier than my dsycalculia–there was no way I was going to be a math or science or business major. But guess what? As a self-published writer, I am running my own business. My husband also runs his own business, but I also help with that. I run the office for both of us. And my degree helped me, believe it or not.

English degrees teach you critical thinking, creative solutions, and so much more.

Now, do you need an English Degree to be a writer? Of course not. I know many writers who are also something else. Writing isn’t paying the bills just yet for them. But it might some day.

Did I need an English Degree to be a writer? To be a good one, yes.

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I can say with a little confidence that I had “raw talent” when I was younger. When I got to be creative with my English assignments, I always did well. I actually remember my senior English AP teacher writing “I can’t wait to see what happens next!” on a paper I turned in. It was an amazing feeling. I really thought I could write. I thought I was a good story teller.

Then I went to college.

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I had professors who were published novelists and playwrights and poets.

And they let me know raw talent wasn’t enough then and it wouldn’t be enough in the future. They tore my papers apart. I had one professor (the aforementioned adviser) who knew I was turning in the first drafts of papers and would automatically deduct a full letter grade because of it. I went to him, demanding to know why I kept getting B’s on my papers and he told me. He told me even if the paper was an A on the first try, that just told him the second try would be that much better.

My poetry was ridiculous. It was flowery and vague, like I didn’t want my reader to know what I was talking about. My professor shredded my poems until I learned to paint a damn picture that he could see.

I am the writer I am today because of the lessons those professors gave me. It was well worth the time and money. Maybe I would have gotten to that point as an English Minor, or just taking a couple of classes for fun, who knows? But I know being an English Major changed my life and I am damn grateful for it.

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Do you need to be an English Major to be a successful writer? Of course not. Or maybe you do. None of us are the same. Some of us need the instruction, some of us don’t. Some of us will write a NYT bestseller in our 20s and others will do so in their golden years. You are special and different and need to decide what is right for you. Don’t let some random person–even if they are a NYT bestseller themselves–tell you what is the right path for you.

Oh, by the way, I was a waitress all through college. It was the most thankless, degrading job I’ve ever had and I worked in insurance after college. Never tear down the service industry. Customers are assholes and service industry people are overworked and treated like shit every day. Everyone should have to wait tables on Mother’s day, or run a cashier over the holidays. People would be far, far nicer and learn some damn manners.

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Now. Thanks to that English degree, I’m putting out my 16th novel (under this name), and it is up for pre-order now! If you were a fan of my Ash & Ruin Trilogy, this is a companion novel, maybe you’d like to take a peek?

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How Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Feminism Influenced Guinevere

That may be the oddest blog title I’ve ever written.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the society and culture around us impacts the work we produce as writers. What got me on this train of thought? Well, I’m working on a non-fiction book on the evolution of the character of Guinevere in literature from the Welsh triads through my own novels. My thesis is that each version of Guinevere reflects the society in which and for which she was written.

And this is true of my own version. I started writing her in 1999. The 1990s, especially the late 90s, were a time when women were coming into their own in pop culture. It’s the time that started what we now call “Third Wave Feminism.” (Buffy has even been cited at as Third Wave Feminist Icon by The Atlantic.) Here’s the brief timeline:

  • The original Buffy the Vampire Slayer film (still my favorite) debuted in August 1992.
  • A novelization by Joss Whedon came a few months later (I read it like five times and still own it. I have the soundtrack on cassette, too. Obsessed much?)
  • The TV show ran from  1997-2003.
  • The show was continued on in graphic novels for two more seasons, but that’s really beyond the scope of this post.

Anyway, Buffy was really the first kick-ass female character in pop culture that I can remember. We had female superheros before (She-ra for example), but Buffy was the first woman to be both physically awesome without traditional superpowers (thought you could argue that The Slayer’s super-strength and quick self-healing abilities are superpowers) and by the end of the movie, have some depth and agency. No, Buffy would never be considered a genius – that’s what Willow and Giles are for – but especially by the time the TV show started, she had a bit of a brain and was realizing she could make her own choices, even though her overall fate as The Slayer wasn’t up to her. And the fact that she got more intelligent and strategy savvy as the series went on is even better.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but seeing (and personally embracing) this female icon left a lasting impression on my psyche. Maybe it helped that Buffy also coincided with my time at an all-girls high school (where we were taught be strong women), but regardless, I came to writing my Guinevere knowing I wanted her to be able to kick some ass like Buffy, something I hadn’t seen reflected in the Arthurian legend I’d read to that point. Plus, it is historically accurate for Celtic women, although possibly not as late as post-Roman Britain where/when my story is set.

In many ways, I think the physical toughness is related to a desire to no longer be repressed by or dependent on men. My Guinevere – the Guinevere of a new generation, if you will – was not going to be raised to sit around and await her husband to usher her into a new era of life. As a “self-rescuing princess,” she forged her own life away from and outside of her parents. Even later on, when she was subject to father’s legal control over her, Guinevere did what she could to live the life she, not her father, chose for her. Like Buffy, she eventually had to face the role destiny had in store for her, and like Buffy, she accepted what she couldn’t control and made the best of it with strength and determination. And if she kicked a little ass along the way (more so in the second and third books than the first), so much the better.

There is also an interesting tie between Buffy and the 1990s fascination with all things Wicca. During that decade, the movie The Craft (or, as many Wiccans call it, The Crap, for the lack of realism in its portrayal of their religion) was an introduction to the neo-pagan religion and/or goddess movement for many young people. Entire sections of Borders and Barnes and Noble bookstores were dedicated to books on witchcraft, and you couldn’t swing a cat (pun intended) without hitting a New Age Store in most major towns. (I am sad that this is no longer the case. Ahem.) Buffy has obvious ties to the supernatural (not to mention more than one Wiccan character) and it’s popularity was due in part to the culture of openness regarding all things mystical and occult.

What does this have to do with Guinevere? Well, in that same period of occult fascination, I chose to break the mold and give Guinevere a role that has been heretofore reserved for Morgan: that of priestess. This is important because traditionally in literature one of the few powerful female characters was the witch (also known as the priestess). By whatever name you call her, the priestess/witch, wields power on her own – no male intermediaries here – and uses her magic to get what she wants out of life. She also often has pre-cognitive abilities or other powers that threaten those in charge of society. In addition, witches have their covens or groves, in which they join together to become more powerful and use this community to train the young and protect the weak. For these reasons (among others) she is often viewed as a force that must be stopped. In Guinevere’s case, she has the sight, learns to manipulate the elements, and lives for a time in Avalon (which functions like a coven). For a long time she has no negative repercussions, but we all know one of the iconic images of Arthurian legend is Guinevere’s rescue from the stake…

(A powerful woman who says what she wants, does what she wants, and stands up for other women – and is persecuted for it – why does that sound familiar? Oh wait, that’s me reflecting on the culture of 2016-2017.)

In the end, Buffy saved the world (a lot), but not without sacrifice. While I can’t promise Guinevere will do the same, she was molded by the same cultural forces, so no matter how her story turns out (and only I know for certain), you can bet she won’t end her days moldering away in a convent, subject to the whims of men. Not while this Buffy fan still breathes.

My Muse: New Orleans

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Last week we had an adventure. (“We” meaning me and the family.) We spent the week in New Orleans, and I’ll tell you what, I love that city. I love the history. I love the people. I love that there are so many layers and nooks and crannies and things to play with – especially when it comes to writing.

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Urn at Lafayette No. 1

Plot bunnies are easy, you know? I pretty regularly stumble over ideas that could make a decent story. Some you’ll get to read, but most never get off the dream list. The tricky part is figuring out the right setting, the one place that’ll make the story pop.

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Paddle wheeler on the Mighty Mississippi

I have to really know a place before I can write about it. (Ask me how much fun I had writing the swamp scenes in Bonfire since I’ve never spent any time in a swamp. Or maybe ask Irene how much fun she had *correcting* my misapprehensions in those scenes. There are no hills, or rocks, apparently.) I have to be able to capture the truth of a place, or some facet of that truth, to make the story believable. To do that, I tend to set my stories in one of three cities: Seattle, Los Angeles, or New Orleans.

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This house in the Garden District inspired Thaddeus Dupont’s First St. house.

Seattle’s a no-brainer because I’ve lived here for most of my life. Maybe because of that, I take the romance of the place for granted. That said, I have an upcoming super-secret project that’s set here. (More about that later!)

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Ready for a parade on St. Charles Avenue last week!

I choose Los Angles for stories because, like New Orleans, it has all kinds of angles I can work with. I don’t think anyone could capture all of L.A. in a single sentence, or even a single book. Because of that, it’s unfortunately possible to set a story there and turn it into Anytown, Anywhere, USA. It’s just so much better if you drop in a few details to bring the place alive.

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Staircase to choir loft at St. Mary’s Church – Ursuline Convent – NOLA. Imagine climbing those steps in a nun’s habit…

My sister lives in L.A., so when I need some nitty gritty factoid to get to the truth of a story, I’ll try and plan a visit. And if I don’t have the time or money for travel, she’s awesome about brainstorming-by-text. She works in The Industry, so she’s very understanding about my creative craziness.

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French Quarter courtyard.

FWIW, I didn’t have the same kind of connection with New Orleans when I started setting stories there. I’d never visited, didn’t know anyone who lived there, and tbh most of my experience with the place came via Ann Rice’s novels. That’s changed now! Last week was our second visit, and “subletting a French Quarter condo for six months” is now on my bucket list.

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You meet all kinds of people during Carnival!

Thank you for exploring NOLA with me. We had a blast last week, and if you’ve never been to New Orleans, you really must visit someday! Or, you know, you could check out my newest release, Change of Heart. It’s a historical romance set in the French Quarter in 1933, a distant prequel to the two Hours of the Night novels I co-wrote with Irene Preston. I’ll put the blurb and buy links below, just in case. Happy travels!!

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Preacher always said New Orleans was a den of sin, but of course Clarabelle had to see for herself…

A body reaps what they sow, and Clarabelle’s planted the seeds of trouble. The year is 1933, and not much else is growing in the Oklahoma dirt. Clarabelle’s gone and fallen in love with her best friend, so she figures it’s time to go out and see the world.

If she’s lucky, she’ll find the kind of girl who’ll kiss her back.

Clarabelle heads for New Orleans, and that’s where she meets Vaughn. Now, Vaughn’s as pretty as can be, but she’s hiding something. When she gets jumped by a pair of hoodlums, Clarabelle comes to her rescue and accidentally discovers her secret. She has to decide whether Vaughn is really the kind of girl for her, and though Clarabelle started out a dirt-farming Okie, Vaughn teaches her just what it means to be a lady.

Change of Heart is an Hours of the Night story, an early prequel to Vespers and Bonfire. It’s not a paranormal, but a certain vampire may have a role…

Find Change of Heart on Goodreads HERE

Available for a special pre-order price of $0.99!!

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AND, make sure you enter the giveaway to celebrate Change of Heart’s release!

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