Ten Holiday Reading Recommendations!

 

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Photo by Cris DiNoto on Unsplash

One of my favorite thing about the holidays is so many authors release novels or novellas to celebrate the season. It’s a little ironic, because generally I don’t have as much time to read as I normally do, but I find myself adding to my TBR pile anyway. With that in mind, I thought I’d come up with a list of holiday reads…because this is the season for my favorite things, right?

(If you received my newsletter yesterday, you’ll have already seen most of these, but there are a few new ones. And if you’re not on my newsletter list, go HERE to fix that!)

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I’m starting with Blessing & Light by my friend Kasia. She writes romantic high fantasy (think naughty elves!) and packs a whole lot of story in just a few pages. This one is FREE for the month of December!

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It’s the Night of Winter Lights.

Heedless of the holiday, the Commander of the H’Aren fortress, Captain Torýn Torhdhar, seems to find his satisfaction in work.

Such occurrence hardly surprises his Orderly, Sæbastyn Hyago, even though the young Lieutenant has spent a silent, aching decade wishing his superior officer would pursue pleasure elsewhere—specifically in his arms. But as the evening continues, nothing about it meets Sæbastyn’s expectations. Will the Lieutenant see his secret desires realised, or his heart shattered?

Amazon US        Amazon UK

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I read Yuletide Truce last week, and it gave me the best book hangover! If you like Victorian stories, definitely grab this one.

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London, 1845

It’s December, Alan “Aigee” Garmond’s favorite time of the year, when the window display of the small bookshop where he works fills up with crimson Christmas books and sprays of holly. Everything could be perfect — if it weren’t for handsome Christopher Foreman, the brilliant writer for the fashionable magazine About Town, who has taken an inexplicable and public dislike to Aigee’s book reviews.

But why would a man such as Foreman choose to target reviews published in a small bookshop’s magazine? Aigee is determined to find out. And not, he tells himself, just because he finds Foreman so intriguing.

Aigee’s quest leads him from smoke-filled ale-houses into the dark, dingy alleys of one of London’s most notorious rookeries. And then, finally, to Foreman. Will Aigee be able to wrangle a Yuletide truce from his nemesis?

Amazon US          All Ebook Retailers

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Glass Tidings by Amy Jo Cousins was my favorite holiday read last year, and 20% of the proceeds benefit The Trevor Project!

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Eddie Rodrigues doesn’t stay in one place long enough to get attached. The only time he broke that rule, things went south fast. Now he’s on the road again, with barely enough cash in his pocket to hop a bus to Texas after his (sort-of-stolen) car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, Midwest, USA.

He’s fine. He’ll manage. Until he watches that girl get hit by a car and left to die.

Local shop owner Grayson Croft isn’t in the habit of doing people any favors. But even a recluse can’t avoid everyone in a town as small as Clear Lake. And when the cop who played Juliet to your Romeo in the high school play asks you to put up her key witness for the night, you say yes.

Now Gray’s got a grouchy glass artist stomping around his big, empty house, and it turns out that he . . . maybe . . . kind of . . . likes the company.

But Eddie Rodrigues never sticks around.

Unless a Christmas shop owner who hates the season can show an orphan what it means to have family for the holidays.

Amazon          All Ebook Retailers

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Merry & Bright is a new holiday collection from Joanna Chambers. I read all three of these stories when they were first released, and honestly Rest and Be Thankful is one of my all-time favorites. They’re all really good, and it’s so nice to have them all in one place!

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Quin Flint is unimpressed when his gorgeous colleague, Rob Paget, asks for extra time off at Christmas. As far as Quin is concerned, Christmas is a giant waste of time. Quin’s on the fast track to partnership, and the season of goodwill is just getting in the way of his next big project. But when Quin’s boss, Marley, confiscates his phone and makes him take an unscheduled day off, Quin finds himself being forced to confront his regrets, past and present, and think about the sort of future he really wants…and who he wants it with.

Mr Perfect’s Christmas

Sam Warren’s new job hasn’t been going so well so the last thing he’s in the mood for is the obligatory office Christmas party, particularly since Nick Foster’s going to be there. Nick–the guy whose shoes Sam has been trying to fill–seems to take very opportunity to point out where Sam’s going wrong. But when Sam receives an unexpected Secret Santa gift at the party, he’s forced to question his assumptions about his rival. Could it be that he’s been misinterpreting Nick’s actions all along? And is it possible that his reluctant attraction to Nick is reciprocated?

Rest and Be Thankful

Things haven’t been going well for Cam McMorrow since he moved to Inverbechie. His business is failing, his cottage is falling apart and following his very public argument with café owner Rob Armstrong, he’s become a social outcast. Cam needs to get away from his troubles and when his sister buys him a ticket to the biggest Hogmanay party in Glasgow, he can’t leave Inverbechie quick enough. But when events conspire to strand him in the middle of nowhere in a snowstorm, not only is he liable to miss the party, he’ll also have to ask his nemesis, Rob, for help.

Amazon          All Ebook Retailers

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This is the book I’m reading now, and while I’m not finished, it’s getting rave reviews. The characters celebrate Hanukkah, too, which sets it a little bit apart from most holiday stories and 20% of the proceeds will benefit The Russian LGBT Network.

Corbin Wale

Last month, Alex Barrow’s whole life imploded—partner, home, job, all gone in forty-eight hours. But sometimes when everything falls apart, better things appear almost like magic. Now, he’s back in his Michigan hometown, finally opening the bakery he’s always dreamed of. But the pleasure of opening day is nothing compared to the lonely and beautiful man who bewitches Alex before he even orders.

Corbin Wale is a weirdo. At least, that’s what he’s heard his whole life. He knows he’s often in a fantasy world, but the things he feels are very real. And so is the reason why he can never, ever be with Alex Barrow. Even if Alex is everything he’s always fantasized about. Even if maybe, just maybe, Corbin is Alex’s fantasy too.

When Corbin begins working at the bakery, he and Alex can’t deny their connection any longer. As the holiday season works its magic, Alex yearns for the man who seems out of reach. But to be with Alex, Corbin will have to challenge every truth he’s ever known. If his holiday risk pays off, two men from different worlds will get the love they’ve always longed for.

Amazon           All Ebook Retailers

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I love Cat Sebastian’s books and was *so* excited to see this one land on my kindle!!

Two to Tumble

Some of Ben Sedgwick’s favorite things:

  • Helping his poor parishioners
  • Baby animals
  • Shamelessly flirting with the handsome Captain Phillip Dacre

After an unconventional upbringing, Ben is perfectly content with the quiet, predictable life of a country vicar, free of strife or turmoil. When he’s asked to look after an absent naval captain’s three wild children, he reluctantly agrees, but instantly falls for the hellions. And when their stern but gloriously handsome father arrives, Ben is tempted in ways that make him doubt everything.

Some of Phillip Dacre’s favorite things:

  • His ship
  • People doing precisely as they’re told
  • Touching the irresistible vicar at every opportunity

Phillip can’t wait to leave England’s shores and be back on his ship, away from the grief that haunts him. But his children have driven off a succession of governesses and tutors and he must set things right. The unexpected presence of the cheerful, adorable vicar sets his world on its head and now he can’t seem to live without Ben’s winning smiles or devastating kisses.

In the midst of runaway children, a plot to blackmail Ben’s family, and torturous nights of pleasure, Ben and Phillip must decide if a safe life is worth losing the one thing that makes them come alive.

Amazon          All Ebook Retailers

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Kris Ripper’s annual New Years book has become one of my favorite things about the holidays. There are a bunch of books in this series, so some of the character relationships will be richer if you’ve read at least some of the others. Also, the Scientific Method series is AMAZING, so you should read them just for that.

Let Every New Year Find You

It’s the holidays. Basically: everything is awful. As usual.

It’s been three years since Davey saw their ex-boyfriend Will. The thing is…Will’s sort of the one who got away. And he’s also the one Davey calls when they’re super depressed, and it’s the holidays, and they just want a hug.

What they get is an invitation to Will’s boyfriends’ beach house for New Year’s. Yeah. Boyfriends. Plural.

In ten days Davey finds a kitten, wears a mermaid dress, and crushes on a beautiful man. Welcome to New Year’s at the beach house.

Amazon          All Ebook Retailers

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You’re probably going to laugh at me, but I’m rounding out the list with three of my own holiday reads. Two are short stories, and one’s a novella from the Hours of the Night series I write with Irene Preston…

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Silent night, holy hell.

Thaddeus and Sarasija are spending the holidays on the bayou, and while the vampire’s idea of Christmas cheer doesn’t quite match his assistant’s, they’re working on a compromise. Before they can get the tree trimmed, they’re interrupted by the appearance of the feu follet. The ghostly lights appear in the swamp at random and lead even the locals astray.

When the townsfolk link the phenomenon to the return of their most reclusive neighbor, suspicion falls on Thaddeus. These lights aren’t bringing glad tidings, and if Thad and Sara can’t find their source, the feu follet might herald a holiday tragedy for the whole town.

Amazon          All Ebook Retailers

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I was frustrated with yesterday’s newsletter, because the link to this short story was broken, so I had to give it a shout-out here…

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Things aren’t always what they seem, and this shopping mall Santa has a secret that only true love can reveal.

Mackenzie’s an out-of-work actress who takes a job as a shopping mall Santa to pay the rent. She fools everyone with her Santa drag, until the day Joe McBride walks into the mall. Joseph Timothy McBride – the real-life, got a soap opera gig and you saw him in Scream II actor. The only guy she ever really loved. Can Mack stay in character, or is it time to strip off the red coat and peel off the beard for good?

Amazon

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And this one is my newest holiday short story….merry merry!

God Rest Ye Merry Vampires Final

This Christmas, Clydie learns a lesson about looking beneath the surface to take the measure of a man…or vampire.

Amazon          All Ebook Retailers

However you choose to celebrate this holiday season, I hope you’re safe and warm and peaceful, and that you’ve got a couple good books to read!

Best,

Liv

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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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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?

(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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On Persistence

Those of you who know me or follow me on social media have probably heard my good news by now. (Okay, you’re probably already tired of hearing about my good news.) For those of you who don’t, I’m incredibly pleased to say that my YA fantasy Amber & Dusk was acquired by Scholastic for publication! *cue happy dance forever*

But I don’t want to talk about that right now. I don’t want to talk about what the book is about or what inspired it or what it means to me. Today I kind of want to talk about something else, something that I’m not sure is discussed enough in this glorious complicated frustrating industry. I want to talk about an important–if not crucial–lesson that I learned very slowly, and with much difficulty, over the course of a number of sometimes soul-bruising years. The name of that lesson is persistence.

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I didn’t start writing seriously until six years ago, almost exactly. I’d written all my life–from incredibly detailed diaries to elaborate illustrated short stories to painstakingly-typed royal histories–but it had never really occurred to me that I could be a writer. But when the opportunity to really take a stab at writing presented itself, I jumped at the chance. What I didn’t realize was that I was jumping into a black roiling sea of rejection with no floaties and oh yeah, there were sharks.

No lie, I thought I was going to write a glorious first novel, make a million dollars, and I don’t know like move to a castle and surround myself with adoring fans. Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen. Looking back on my first query letters is seriously cringe-worthy–they’re full of awkward self-deprecating jokes, vague stakes, and rhetorical questions. SO MANY rhetorical questions. I was so naive, and so inexperienced. And when most of my query letters were summarily rejected with form letters–or, worse, not responded to at all–I was crushed.

I’m not sure whether it was pride or shame or competitiveness or some internal strength that made me soldier on. But I wrote a second book. And then rewrote that book in a different setting with a different main character. And then I queried that book. And when that one received four rounds of rejections, I wrote another. And after querying that one I finally got into PitchWars, an amazing pitch contest hosted by Brenda Drake. And I got an agent! I finally made it!

HAHAHA gotcha. No way. No siree. Try another three rounds of revisions, and going on submission with editors only to hear another mountain of pure unadulterated NOPE. And then writing another book and a half. And then going on sub again.

True story: three weeks before finally getting an offer on A&D, I literally broke down and finally quit. I remember sitting with my sisters on the floor of my niece’s playroom and sobbing into my wine. I was done, I was finished with hearing no. Writing isn’t just a job; it’s pouring something of my soul out into the world, and having industry professionals read that art, recognize that as art, and then still tell me it wasn’t good enough had started to break my heart.

All’s well that ends well.

Don’t get me wrong–I have no illusions. I’m still learning this lesson: persistence isn’t the end game–it’s the name of the game. And listen–my goals aren’t and shouldn’t be everyone’s goals. But having my book published traditionally has been my dream, and despite the above paragraph, I’m usually not a quitter. So while it feels amazing to have taken a step forward in this crazy journey, I still have a thousand miles to walk. But I’m not going to worry too much about that now.

I’ll just try to remember to be persistent.

Whose Turn Is It?

I have been trapped in my office for the last week, finishing the line and content edits of my twentieth novel. Yup, 20th. I’ve been so consumed with it that I’ve lost track of days and hours and, for a minute, I was ready to email the Scribes to see who had dropped the ball on posting this week.

Well. Guess what?

It’s me.

Yup. This week is my turn to post and this is what happens when you use up all your words in the final stages of a book. You have no more space in your head for other things. It even took me fifteen minutes to write a four line email to my editor because I had to keep correcting it again and again. At the end I said, “I have no idea if any of this makes sense because I’m out of words.”

But, this morning, I finished the edits. It is done. The final draft is ready.

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All I have left to do is write the acknowledgements and format it so it’s all pretty and polished for ebooks and print editions and it’s done.

When I finished the first draft of Hexed and I realized it was my 20th completed novel I couldn’t help but do the math. Not counting some of the novellas I’ve written, just these 20 books, I’ve written somewhere in the ballpark of 1.75 million words in the last six years. If I include the novellas and short stories, I think I’m pushing 2 million.

That’s a lot of words, guys. I’m kinda tired, to be honest.

It’s strange too, because when I’m not writing, when I’m between books/projects, I feel guilty for not writing. I’m actually working on book 21 as we speak as a flash-fiction series for my Patreons right now. Seriously. And there’s nothing to feel guilty about! That’s a career’s worth of books in 6 years for Pete’s sake!

I think it has a lot to do with the shift we’ve seen in the publication market in the last 3-5 years. Readers don’t want to wait 12-18 months for sequels and writers really feel the pressure. I know I do. Of course, this is my full time job right now so I feel the pressure to write write write even more. But… I need a break.

I’ve said that before and allowed myself some time off, but not enough, honestly. I’ll give myself a couple of weeks and then I’m right back at it. But I think this time, I need some real, substantial time off. I’ll keep working with my Patreon posts because I need to, but my husband and I are taking our first real vacation in ten years exactly one month from today. So I’m going to take this month to try to decompress. I want to be rested for the vacation so I can enjoy it and not be exhausted. When we get back, it’ll be the start of October, and you guys know how much I love that time of year. I think I’ll be ready to write something new, something spooky, something fun.

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What Makes a “Real Book?”

Purchased from Adobe Stock

When I was at the Historical Novel Society Conference at the end of June, an agent reportedly told a room full of writers that when querying him/her, authors should mention any previously published books, but only if they are traditionally published because “self-published books aren’t real books.”

*Facepalm* In a world where traditional (especially “Big 5”) publishers and agents are making getting a traditional book deal more and more difficult, especially for first-time and newer (read: lower-selling) authors, what else do we have to do to convince those in the traditional industry that we are just as serious about our careers as our traditional counterparts and that our books are just as real?

What makes a book “real,” anyway?

  1. Well, obviously it needs to exist. That means any book offered in print, ebook or audio form is a real book. If I can read it in some way, it is a real book.
  2. For the publishing industry, it makes sense the book would need to make money, which means it needs to sell. Okay, those of us who have sold a few copies have real books. I know authors who are making in the five- and six-figure range each year with self-published books. Sadly, I am not yet one of them. But that makes my books no less real.
  3. Maybe it needs to have fans? Indie books have those as well. Ask their authors and they will show you fan mail. Those fans will show you their ratings on Amazon. Yep. Real book.
  4. Beyond that, the only other thing I can think of is that it needs special fairy rainbow unicorn dust.

In fact, I would argue that our books could be seen as more “real” because we invest our own money in publishing and marketing them. That doesn’t make our books any more high or low quality than those traditionally published, but it does give us a financial skin in the game that doesn’t come when you are paid for your writing.

What a comment like the one the agent made appears to come down to is the argument that in order to be a “real book,” it has to have passed the approval of an agent and then an editor. So under that logic, only the books they consider worthy are real. What makes them any more qualified to determine that, given many of the stinkers they have published? Any avid reader should be able to make that choice in an informed manner, and with self-published books, those readers have an even wider array of books to choose from, not only the few topics the industry thinks are “hot.”

Around 4th of July I saw a meme that showed The Declaration of Independence. Beneath it were the words “This was a self-published document.” That is so appropriate because this whole argument is kind of like saying only the king and queen can say which books get published. Well, now the people are rising up and saying, “no, we don’t need you to make every decision for us. We’re going to take power into our own hands.” Like every revolution, the indie movement has its supporters and its detractors. But like the bid for US independence, the horse has left the barn and there is no going back. Call indie authors rouge colonists all you want, but we’re here to stay whether you approve of us or not.

Now I know not every agent or editor feels this way, and I’m glad for that. I have nothing against the traditional publishing industry. What I do have a problem with is the “be-all-and-end-all” attitude inherent in the idea that only traditionally published books are “real books.” All we’re asking for here is equality, plain and simple. You don’t have to like that our books exist. Just acknowledge us and our ability to produce our own work. (Hmm…does that sound like the suffrage movement to anyone else?) And let us include it in our query letters. You can still turn us down if you don’t think our books are valid or our sales are high enough.

But please, don’t tell us our books aren’t real.