GRRM and the Three Bears…

…or, the virtue of leaving clues that are visible to the average reader but not ham-handed, neon-bright arrows.

I’m going to start with a small qualifier: I have neither read A Game of Thrones/A Song of Fire & Ice, nor have I watched the HBO series. I am, however, a sentient human being with access to the internet, so I know the last episode – in which the Mother of Dragons went postal – created something of a stir. Or a shitstorm. Or therabouts.

I know this in part because Chuck Wendig made a tweet thread in which he argues that character should come before plot – accusing implying that GRRM &/or the series creators may have overlooked this small detail.

You can read his thread HERE, and you should. He knows his stuff. Also, he deconstructs the episode – and the series – HERE. (And if you’re really into it, fashion bloggers Tom & Lorenzo also have a detailed review you can find HERE.)

The big concern with the Game of Thrones episode seemed to be that Daenerys Targaryen behaved in a way that was inconsistent with her character. Maybe or maybe not – I did see at least one tweet prior to the episode suggesting that the Mother of Dragons might end up being the Big Bad, which tells me there must have been at least a couple hints along the way.

Hints that the vast majority of the television-watching public apparently didn’t notice.

Sunday night, while the rest of humanity was glued to HBO, I started a mystery by a new-to-me author. It was a pretty standard trope: Big City Woman is dragged back to her small-town home for Reasons, where she Learns Things, Figures Out Whodunnit, possibly Falls In Love, and then decides to Stay Forevermore.

Sadly, I bailed on it by about 30 pages in, because:

  • I didn’t connect with the main character. At all.
  • Which turned on my editing brain, so that every time her eyes wandered around the room, I lost a little more patience. (Her gaze wandered. Her eyes stayed in her head. Thanks.)
  • As a result of my lack of connection and super-editor, the clues to the character’s arc were glaringly obvious.

The main character was the only one in the family who had the time to take care of the problem in the Small Town, even though it meant leaving her job in the middle of a project and pissing off her boss. Because apparently a woman’s work is never too important to interrupt.

Whoops. That’s another blog post.

Anywhoodle, her stated goal was to return to her uber-exciting life in the Big City, but from just about the moment she arrived, she had Feelings. Right there in her internal dialogue, she noticed a strange connection to the place, one she could not understand. “Why do I feel this way?” she’d ask herself.

Why?

Because it says in the blurb that you’re going to have a change of heart, sweetie, and you’ll want to stick around.

*ahem*

Leaving aside the (potentially sexist) set-up, to me these “what an odd emotion” moments were clunky, too-obvious road signs to her character’s development. I think it would have worked better if she’d had a chance to earn that sense of connection rather than just stumbling into it like a slap-happy princess in some insta-love romance.

And honestly, maybe she did. I mean, I did quit at only 30 pages. But hey, I’m over 50 and there are too many books left for me to read to waste time getting annoyed.

Although the stories are very different, I think the essential problem is the same. Daenerys’s behavior took a wild left turn from her established character, and the mystery character’s “odd feelings” didn’t relate to anything intrinsic to her personality. In the one case, the clues were too subtle, and the other, too blatant.

Seems like we should be able to split the difference somehow.

I wish I could say I knew how to avoid either mama bear or papa bear details. I’m researching Victorian London with an eye to writing a mystery, so I’ve done a lot of thinking about how to leave baby-bear style clues – hints that give readers just enough to keep going, but don’t beat them over the head.

The best advice I can come up with is that character trumps plot, and to be ready for a shitty first draft and lots of editing. To that end, I’m brainstorming characters’ goals and motivations and secrets and wounds and all the good stuff that will (hopefully) help me construct a story that’s character driven, and not the other way around.

With a plot Chuck Wendig would love.

Wish me luck!

How to Fight Through Distractions

I joke that I have the attention span of a gerbil. I rarely finish one thought before another one jumps in. No, I take that back. I rarely finish one thought before I grab my cell phone for another game of Solitaire.

Huh. Actually, the little dude in the gif above might have the right idea.

HIDE MY CELL PHONE!!

I’m surrounded by blank white pages. I finished my Creepy Doll story – or at least have it well enough along for beta readers to have a crack at it – and I’m supposed to have a holiday story ready to go for an Advent Calendar promotion in just over a month.

Not to mention this here blog post…

Not getting much written, but my Solitaire winning percentage is awesome.

Now, the title of this post suggests I’m actually going to present well-reasoned strategies for coping with the danger presented by the cell phone and other electronic distractions. Hello, Facebook!

In fact, I…do not.

I mean, I did a search for, literally, “how to fight through distractions”, and picked up hits like “Ten Ways to Cut Internet Distractions So You Can Focus On What Really Matters“*.  Which had such helpful suggestions as figure out what you need to accomplish, along with several variations on turn off your damned cell phone.

Actually, I’m exaggerating. The authors do suggest turning off the email notifications on your cell phone, so those little pings don’t pull your attention away from what you’re working on. They also advise putting your more troublesome apps in a separate folder, to make them harder to get to.

I’m not sure that’d slow me down all that much, tbh, though I do kinda love their term “timebox”, as in limit your distracting activities to specific periods of time.

Yeah, that’ll work.

Some people find it useful to install one of the “internet blocker” apps, so they can’t kill a spare minute (or, you know, hours) by taking a “quick peek” at Twitter. There are also time-management apps, calendar apps, and focus apps with cute little “gamified” timers that add a layer of structure for those of us who are gerbils at heart.

There’s no telling how much time I could waste trying all these gizmos out!

The only thing that’s ever worked for me is the sprint timer on the MSWL webpage. The sprints are short – 10 – 20 minutes – which gives me time to check back in on Facebook in-between. I used it last year when I won NaNo. (Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? Here’s a link to some resources that might help!)

When it comes down to it, what I really need to do is get over myself and get the words on the page. It’s possible I’m working through a teeny case of writer’s block – which I’ve always maintained isn’t a *thing* but here I am faffing about spinning my wheels and not actually writing.

On the other hand, an hour or so ago – and some dozen games of Solitaire – I didn’t have a blog post written, either, yet here we are. I’ve had some fifty-ish years to practice time-management skills, and from my advanced perspective, I can say that the best way to get something done is to do it.

And if that means hiding my cell phone in a box of cereal, so be it.

*I’m teasing about this article. It’s a useful piece, both thoughtful and well-written.

 

 

Fun Summer Reads!

So what are you reading this summer? I’ve got so many books on my TBR pile I may never see the top….or the bottom, depending on your perspective. (lol!) But since I’m in a blogging mood, I thought I’d make a list of the five(ish) books I’m most looking forward to reading now that it’s beach weather.

Feel free to leave me a comment with recommendations. Just bought a kindle for Prime day, so I have an excuse for a new book or two to celebrate.

(Also, fair warning….these are books on my TBR (or will be), so I haven’t read them yet. I also skew pretty heavily toward romance, so…)

 

Bet-Me-by-Jennifer-Crusie

Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie

I had this sort of embarrassing Facebook exchange the other day. See, I follow Jennifer Crusie’s blog (ArghInk) because she frequently has insightful posts about writing – and life in general. I’d posted one of her links to my FB feed, and somehow in the comments it came out that I’d *never* read one of her books.

Um, oops.

Several of my friends recommended this one, and my friend Kim even said we could do a buddy-read. I’ve requested it from the library, so as soon as it gets here, the read is on!

Blurb

Min Dobbs knows that happily-ever-after is a fairy tale, especially with a man who asked her to dinner to win a bet. Cal Morrisey knows commitment is impossible, especially with a woman as cranky as Min Dobbs. When they say good-bye at the end of their evening, they cut their losses and agree never to see each other again.

But Fate has other plans, and it’s not long before Min and Cal are dealing with a jealous ex-boyfriend, Krispy Kremes, a determined psychologist, chaos theory, a mutant cat, Chicken Marsala, and more risky propositions than either of them ever dreamed of including the biggest gamble of all—real love.

~*~

sherry_thomas_study-in-scarlet

A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

Okay, so if you click on this one quick enough, you can still get it for $1.99! The basic premise of this one is that it’s a Sherlock Holmes story that answers the question, “what if Sherlock was a woman?” (I think that’s the general idea, anyway.)

I’d been intrigued by a couple posts I’d seen about Scarlet, and then yesterday my writing partner Irene Preston got all carried away telling me how much she loved it. I figure we write books together, so if I can’t trust her recs, I can’t trust anyone’s. (lol!)

Blurb

With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London. 
 
When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her.

But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.

~*~

RUIN-OF-A-RAKE-cover-art

The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian

No one had to rec this one to me. It’s the third book in the series and I’ve been infatuated since the very beginning. The only thing I’m a little bit ashamed of is that the book’s been out for a whole week and I haven’t read it yet.

Rake – along with the previous books The Soldier’s Scoundrel and The Lawrence Browne Affair – are m/m Regency romances. I love the author’s take on history. She tells a great story with equal helpings of atmospheric detail, great characterization, and heat.

Blurb

Rogue. Libertine. Rake. Lord Courtenay has been called many things and has never much cared. But after the publication of a salacious novel supposedly based on his exploits, he finds himself shunned from society. Unable to see his nephew, he is willing to do anything to improve his reputation, even if that means spending time with the most proper man in London.

Julian Medlock has spent years becoming the epitome of correct behavior. As far as he cares, if Courtenay finds himself in hot water, it’s his own fault for behaving so badly—and being so blasted irresistible. But when Julian’s sister asks him to rehabilitate Courtenay’s image, Julian is forced to spend time with the man he loathes—and lusts after—most.

As Courtenay begins to yearn for a love he fears he doesn’t deserve, Julian starts to understand how desire can drive a man to abandon all sense of propriety. But he has secrets he’s determined to keep, because if the truth came out, it would ruin everyone he loves. Together, they must decide what they’re willing to risk for love.

SoldiersScoundrel      ~ For inspiration, here are the other two covers. ~LawrenceBrowneAffair

~*~

SummerHeat

Summer Heat by Jay Northcote

Jay Northcote writes heat very, very well. I also love his handle on contemporary angst, and I love the Britishness of his books. This is a friends-to-lovers story, which is a fun trope, and I’m looking forward to a relaxing afternoon in the heat…er, sunshine.

Blurb

A summer fling is an ideal cure for a broken heart. But when it’s with your best friend, things get complicated.

When Adam is dumped by his boyfriend, a week away at a beach resort seems like a great opportunity to get over his ex. Sun, sea, and no-strings sex will be just the boost he needs to move on with his life.

Adam’s best friend, Finn, agrees to accompany him at short notice. Finn’s had a crush on Adam for years, but is determined to put his feelings aside and be the perfect wingman in Adam’s time of crisis.

A spontaneous threesome with another guy forces Adam and Finn to confront their attraction to each other. Having a holiday fling together wasn’t part of the plan, and as their trip heats up, they soon realise that one night of fun won’t be enough for either of them.

The passion might be scorching, but their hearts and friendship are on the line. If their romance is going to survive the flight home, they have to be honest about what they want.

~*~

spectred isle

Spectred Isle by KJ Charles

This one doesn’t come out until August 3rd – which is good because I’ll  have a couple weeks to catch up on other stuff so I’m ready when it hits my kindle. In my mind, KJ + Paranormal + Victorian = amazeballs, and I cannot wait!

Blurb

Archaeologist Saul Lazenby has been all but unemployable since his disgrace during the War. Now he scrapes a living working for a rich eccentric who believes in magic. Saul knows it’s a lot of nonsense…except that he begins to find himself in increasingly strange and frightening situations. And at every turn he runs into the sardonic, mysterious Randolph Glyde.

Randolph is the last of an ancient line of arcanists, commanding deep secrets and extraordinary powers as he struggles to fulfil his family duties in a war-torn world. He knows there’s something odd going on with the haunted-looking man who keeps turning up in all the wrong places. The only question for Randolph is whether Saul is victim or villain.

Saul hasn’t trusted anyone in a long time. But as the supernatural threat grows, along with the desire between them, he’ll need to believe in evasive, enraging, devastatingly attractive Randolph. Because he may be the only man who can save Saul’s life—or his soul.

~*~

So yeah. That’s what I’m going to be reading in the next couple of months. What’s on your tbr? Rec your favorite in the comments! And I hope you’re enjoying the sunshine! (Unless you’re in Oz. Then it’s bundle up, mates!)

~*~

One more thing…as long as we’re talking summer reads, here’s a couple more suggestions!

Infamous_IrenePreston

Four years ago it was pure Hollywood – the windswept beach, the whirlwind romance, the run-away marriage. Unfortunately, the ride into the sunset didn’t survive the publication of the bride’s tell-all book two months after she said ‘I Do’.

Reclusive venture capitalist Morgan Riley isn’t interested in fame. He prefers a quiet life in the suburbs. For his daughter’s sake, he agrees to give his notorious wife another chance to be part of their family. Even though she’s back at home and fulfilling all his late-night fantasies, he can’t help wonder if she misses her high-profile lifestyle and famous friends.

Everyone knows Jessica Sinclair. She’s that girl on the cover of all the tabloids. As a Hollywood insider, Jessica has spent her life partying with A-list celebrities, shopping on Rodeo Drive, and living through scandal after scandal. When her estranged husband offers her a second chance at the ‘All American’ lifestyle she can’t pass up a shot at real happiness. Back in suburbia, Jessica spends her nights in sexy role-play hoping Morgan will overlook her deficiencies as a homemaker. She spends her days attending P.T.A. meetings, burning cookies, and asking herself ‘What would June Cleaver do?’ More to the point, what will Morgan do when she winds up back in the tabloids–with his teenage daughter right next to her?

Read the first chapter of Infamous FREE!

~*~

AquaFollies_Digital_Web

The 1950s. Postwar exuberance. Conformity. Rock and roll.

Homophobia.

Russell tells himself he’ll marry Susie because it’s the right thing to do. His summer job coaching her water ballet team will give him plenty of opportunity to give her a ring. But on the team’s trip to the annual Aqua Follies, the joyful glide of a trumpet player’s solo hits Russell like a torpedo, blowing apart his carefully constructed plans.

From the orchestra pit, Skip watches Poseidon’s younger brother stalk along the pool deck. It never hurts to smile at a man, because good things might happen. Once the last note has been played, Skip gives it a shot.

The tenuous connection forged by a simple smile leads to events that dismantle both their lives. Has the damage been done, or can they pick up the pieces together?

Buy here!!

How a book saved my life…

As I’m writing this post, I’m suffering from a huge book hangover. (“Suffering” in the best possible way.) Be warned.

reading gif

This morning I stumbled on a Two Nerdy History Girls blog post about a doll. Not just any doll, though. A Well Loved Georgian Doll and Her Wardrobe, c.1790. The thing about this doll is, not only did she survive intact from 1790, despite being designed and utilized as a child’s plaything, but so did her extensive wardrobe.

Reading the post slammed me right back to the age of ten, when Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess was one of my favorite books. Do you remember that story? Sara Crewe is brought to London by her wealthy father, who leaves her at a boarding school and returns to India. To keep her “company”, he buys her the most extravagant doll, with velvet dresses and lace underthings an even a fur coat – just like the doll in the post!

Back in the day, that book carried me away to Victorian London, to a lost little girl living in a garret, and by the way fueled way too many rescue fantasies.

Maybe I shouldn’t admit that last bit in public.

At any rate, a simple blog post brought back a flood of feelings for a book I haven’t though about in years. Which started me thinking about other books that have stayed with me, or turned up in key moments. The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which taught me to love historical fiction. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which showed me the possibilities inherent in one man’s imagination. The Vampire Lestat, which sowed the seeds for ideas I’m still working through.

I’m old enough to have a head full of gray hair, so I’ve had plenty of opportunities for one  book to change the course of my life. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that I’ve got many, many key memories linked to the books I was reading at the time. My 20s, when I devoured Michener and The Thornbirds, and Dune. My early 30s, when I attempted to raise my brow with literary fiction(ish) books like A.S. Byatt’s Possession. My 40s, when I basically realized I didn’t have to impress anybody, and allowed myself to indulge my love of genre fiction.

(Thank you Janet Evanovich. You rock.)

Beyond the big, broad strokes memories, I have some very specific connections. The sweet, cozy romance I read one harrowing night in an ER while waiting for a kid to be admitted to the hospital. (And I honestly don’t remember the name of the book, but it kept me from losing my mind.) Sitting in front of a huge stone fireplace on the Sunday evening of a Gregorian chant retreat, absolutely devouring Dead Until Dark, the first Sookie Stackhouse mystery. And before you laugh at my choice of reading material for a chant retreat, that was the book that made me say, “I want to DO that.”

And so a writer was born.

More recently, there was the time I went for a pedicure and decided to play Kindle-kamikaze, where I scrolled through, opened a book at random, and started reading. I picked a book called Scrap Metal by Harper Fox. I still don’t remember when or why I downloaded this book, but at the time I was somewhat startled to realize the POV character was just as male as the man he’d got down on his knees in front of. Scrap Metal was the first m/m romance I ever read, and it opened me up to a whole new world of fiction.

Which brings me to my current sorry state. I am SO hungover, you guys. Was up till all hours, reading one of the best books ever! Just thinking about it gives me little shivers. Also, tbh, I needed the distraction after spending most of the evening dealing with teenager drama. Mom needed a mental health break, and this book was the perfect answer.

The book? A Gentleman’s Position, book 3 in the Society of Gentlemen series by KJ Charles. You could read this one as a stand-alone, but really, one of the great pleasures of the series is how the stories are linked. Events that happen in one book are retold in the next, from different characters’ perspectives and carrying different levels of impact. It’s fascinating and elegantly done and adds so much to the stories overall.

If I had more space between these books and this post, I would have done something on how the trilogy, along with the prequel The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh, comprise a masters’ class in plotting. Not only are the stories interwoven, they’re constructed around actual historical events. For me as a reader it felt effortless. None of the seams showed.

As a writer, it blew me away.

I guess a more accurate title for this post would have been How Books Saved My Life, because they have, time and again. I’m going to let the original stand, though, because on any given day, there’s been ONE book that’s made a difference.

What book is that for you?

(And Nan, thanks for the tag.)

 

My SUPER Unpopular Opinion

Have you seen the #ConfessYourUnpopularOpinion hashtag on Twitter? People use to it “confess” positions as wildly different as disliking The Legend of Korra (WTF?) to liking certain Presidential candidates (…..). Sometimes it’s funny, and sometimes it’s really appalling.

I’m not sure which category my opinion falls into, but here it is: I’m not really wild about the Marvel Universe franchise.

Shocked-gif5

*pause for reaction*

I found the Thor movies cheesy and mildly irritating, in spite of an abiding love for Tom Hiddleston as Loki. I absolutely cannot stand Iron Man/Tony Stark (read: he annoys me so much, I hate myself if I laugh at one of his jokes). Captain American makes me want to lie down and take a nap, he’s so dull. I don’t really give a flip about the X-Men.

I know. It’s pretty upsetting for a geek.

It’s not a hard rule, though. I really liked Jessica Jones! The Ms. Marvel comics are quite charming, and I think they’re doing great things for comic books. But overall, I’m just not into the franchise, and I think a lot of my friends may find this pretty disappointing.

I used to think that I just wasn’t into superheroes, but that’s not quite it. I love Buffy, and what is she but the superest hero ever to slay a vampire? Maybe I only like female superheroes, which I don’t think is an entirely unreasonable position. I do like Guardians of the Galaxy, though, and that’s not all girl-power.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to diagnose myself for why I don’t care about these series and characters. Is it that I often don’t find the plots believable? Maybe. Or possibly because I like my villains nuanced, and they often feature flat bad guys? Could be, but the quality of story-telling really has improved over the years. There’s definitely something to the female-superheroes-only theory, but I suspect I might enjoy the Netflix Daredevil series if I gave it a chance.

I’ve also spent a lot of time hiding my lack of enthusiasm. I somewhat enjoyed The Avengers, so I talk that one up when tackling the subject at all. I’ll discuss Jessica Jones until innocent bystanders fall asleep. Mostly, though, I go quiet when the topic arises, because the Marvel franchises, in particular, are having a Big Moment right now, and I feel a little left on the sidelines. I don’t judge anyone for their enjoyment, or anything like that, but I will say I don’t quite get it. Whatever magic these films and series hold for others, it doesn’t seem to work for me.

And that’s fine, I guess. Opinion is opinion. My love of sexy vampires makes no sense to some, but I’m clearly not alone in that love.

Am I a lost geeky cause?

 

Seven Spooky Stories #Halloween #LuckyNumber

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

Enabler or addict? Not sure.

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

giphy ghosts

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

Hainted
Amazon

Hainted by Jordan L. Hawk

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

Secret Casebook of Simon Fleximal
Amazon

The Secret Casebook of Simon Fleximal by KJ Charles

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

The Haunting of Maddy Clare
Amazon

The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James

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

Gravedigger's Brawl
Amazon

The Gravediggers Brawl by Abigail Roux

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

Restless Spirits
Amazon

Restless Spirits by Jordan L. Hawk

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

Fish and Ghosts
Amazon

Fish and Ghosts by Rhys Ford

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

Bitter Spirits
Amazon

Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett

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

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

I’m doing something scary

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That’s right, my tiny beach town, Ventura, has their own Comic Con – Central Coast Comic Con, or C4 for short – and it is this month. The last weekend of the month to be exact and little ol’ me will be attending as an author.

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I will have my very own table in Artists’ Alley with stacks and stacks of books surrounding me, ready for signing and sale. I have my special, color-coordinated Sharpies. I have buttons and bookmarks and I’ll have candy to entice passersby. I have little stands to make my books more visible. I have my magic card swiper and a cash box all ready. I have my outfits pretty much planned out – including a shirt advertising the trilogy I’m hawking. I even have tiny Moo business cards.

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I am ready!

And I am FREAKING OUT.

I can’t believe how nervous I am. I’m questioning what the hell was I thinking when I told Kris, the head honcho of C4, that I wanted to attend when he said they love having locals there.

Why, why did I sign up? I AM SO PANICKED.

I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never done anything like this before. I have this horrible fear that I’m gonna lug in 55 copies of my books Friday morning only to lug out 55 copies of my books Sunday afternoon because I am going to sit there for three days with no one stopping by my table. Maybe they’ll take a free bookmark and a piece of candy but then they’ll mosey on down the alley.

I’m not an artist who can take commissions and sell them. I’m not a comic book author. I’m not very well known – most of my readers who have actively reached out to me seem to be in England and on the East Coast. What the hell was I thinking?!

But I’m doing it. Even if I don’t sell one book. Even if all I get out of the weekend is a selfie with Doug Jones or sitting on Baby (the Impala from Supernatural – yes one of the actual cars the boys sat in on the show), because I’m definitely trying for that. I’m doing it because maybe it’ll be good exposure, maybe I’ll make some contacts, maybe I will sell one copy of my books to someone who really, really loves them and that’ll make it worth all this anxiety. Right?

So yeah, if you’re anywhere nearby that weekend, come down, it’s way less intimidating that SDCC and it should be a good time. Also, I’ll have candy.

Five Reasons to Watch Puella Magi Madoka Magica

madoka 3

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed that I recently watched and was completely floored by an anime called Puella Magi Madoka Magica. It’s a well-known and highly, highly praised series in anime circles (to which I really don’t belong), but I came across it because Netflix thought I would like it.

Well, Netflix was right.

The plot centers around a young girl named Madoka and her friends—and what happens when a magical creature offers them one miraculous wish in exchange for signing up to become a witch-fighting magical girl. Sounds simple, but naturally it gets oh-so-complicated.

I’m not an anime expert by any means, but I gather that this show is a deconstruction of the magical girl genre. In that way, like Neon Genesis Evangelion, it succeeds because it’s both the culmination and a critique of the typical genre stories. The beauty of Madoka, though, is that it’s an artistic triumph, quite literally beautiful, and it stands on its own merits as an excellent piece of storytelling.

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So here’s why you should watch:

1. The show revolves around the power of female friendship. So many shows center on romantic relationships, whether gay, straight, or something in between, that it’s easy to forget the most important relationships in our lives aren’t all about sex. While some might argue that Madoka contains romantic relationships, on its face, it’s really about female friendship: the depths of our hearts to which friendship can reach and the heights to which it can drive us to achieve.

2. It’s a masterwork of feminism without being about feminism. There are almost no male characters in this show. The magical girls aren’t special because they’re girls who are powerful. Rather, they’re special because of the sacrifices they make to protect the human race. Neither sex nor gender is an issue. To see a show like this beloved by a geeky audience is a huge triumph, particularly when women’s right to enjoy any kind of geekery, whether written works or visual, is constantly under threat. Plus, the juxtaposition of “girly” visuals and genre-elements with true darkness and despair is gloriously true to realities of human nature, let alone womanhood.

3. It’s visually stunning. I have never seen an anime as gorgeously and triumphantly experimental in its animation style. As the characters shift between worlds, the world literally shifts and becomes Other. Each witch has her own style of magic, and it’s hair-raising to see the differences between them. While the human world is beautifully drawn, the supernatural elements are phenomenal. (Sidebar: the music is also incredible.)

4. The plot twists will gut you. Any time a magical bargain is struck, there’s bound to be a price. In this case, the price is so heart-breaking that you’ll feel devastated halfway through the series—and that’s before you even get to the meat of the central story. Despite what may seem like a played-out premise, the story told here is not a simple one. Prepare yourself for heartbreak.

5. Every character is well-drawn, but Madoka and Homura could walk out of the screen. The two main characters have layers of depth that put both onions and parfaits to shame. The timid, girly-girl who initially wants power for its own sake, just so she can feel special, shows herself to have more true compassion than a Catholic saint. And the journey she takes to finally own her power traverses roads through fear and doubt most stories never touch.

And Homura? Well. You’ll just have to see.

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10 Writing Facts About Shauna

(Originally posted on my blog)

My friend and fellow Scribe, Lyra, posted about this over on her blog, and I thought, “Hey! Cool idea!” So I stole it am doing it too.

Writing is a strange vocation. You’re in a world with hundreds of thousands of others, but it also feels totally isolated – especially for a self-pubber – so it’s good to see how other people work or deal with it. Maybe you need some suggestions on how to make things work for you and seeing into other people’s process can help with that. It did for me when I was first starting out.

So here are ten things I do while writing.

1. I am an entirely different writer today than when I was when I first started out writing. When I first started, I was a panster. I just sat down and blindly wrote, figuring out the story as I went. I knew what the end was, I just had to figure out how to get there. Now I outline. When I first started, if I outlined, I lost the momentum, the urgency to tell the story, because, basically, I already did. Now I need a road map. But it’s like a road trip – I know my final destination and I know the pit stops on the way, but anything can happen while I’m there. I will occasionally write off the cuff still, but I have more focus than I did before.

2. I use music to write. If I’m starting a brand new project, I give myself a couple of hours before I begin to get a soundtrack going. I do use songs with lyrics because they really help me. I can write and not consciously pay attention to lyrics, but they’ll propel me into the mood I want for the book and/or scene, like subliminal messages. If I’m writing a series, I’ll just keep building on the same playlist until I have an epic soundtrack. This works for me because, if I’m not in the mood or the right headspace to write, I can turn on that soundtrack and like a Pavlov’s Law, I will suddenly be able to get into the mood of the story.

3. Sometimes my soundtracks fail me. Sometimes you gotta switch it up. If a book has been tension filled and I’m coming to a big battle or bloody scene sometimes I need to switch to actual soundtracks to get me through. I have a backup playlist that is just full of music from movies and video games with no lyrics that really drive me through intense, physical scenes.

4. If there’s a fight scene in a book, I have choreographed it in real life with my husband. I’m very lucky to have my husband as a resource at my beck and call. He is a trained fighter and a lifetime martial artist and a self-defense instructor. So, often, I’ll think of a scene and then grab my husband and work it out down to the last gory detail so I know it’s real and not just a movie fight.

5. For me, the hardest part is the rough draft. People hate editing, hate revising, but for me it’s getting that first draft done. Which is why I tend to “fast draft” – get big word counts done so I can get it done faster. It’s also why I outline. Editing and revising are easy to me because the hard part is done. Every milestone is great until I realize how far I am from the end.

6. I pinterest to keep track of what my characters look like. I have a lot of series going at once and that means a huge cast of characters to keep track of. So I will start boards with pics of celebs and other people so I can keep them all straight. It also helps me make sure no new character sounds like they look like another character.

7. If a book/series is particularly hard to figure out, I talk it out. So many books have been resolved while I was sitting on the counter in the kitchen, sipping coffee, while I talk AT my husband. He will offer suggestions, but often, my mind is racing and I’m watching the book unfold in my head and I’m talking out loud for the benefit of hearing it and committing it to memory. Also, I want to hear another human being tell me how awesome that idea is.

8. I used to say “write every day” but I don’t anymore. That phrase is so misleading, especially to new writers. I am a full time writer. I write 4-6 days a week depending on how well the sessions have gone. To me, that is writing every day. Yes, even with a day off. And then when the first draft is over, I take a break. Sometimes just a week, sometimes much more, depending on what I need. To me that is writing every day, but when you hear that phrase, it makes people think, to be a “real” writer they have to be writing 365 days a year and that’s just not true.

9. I don’t disconnect from the internet when I write. Some people need that, but I couldn’t focus if I knew I couldn’t take a break if I needed it. It’s like in school, when the clock is on the wall in the back and you weren’t supposed to look at it. That drove me nuts. If I write a few hundred and then want to check Twitter, I do. Sometimes I’ll bang out two thousand words without breaking stride, but I know I can take a break, so it helps. It’s all about figuring out what works for you.

10. It took me a long time to figure out what works for me to be a full time writer. My music, a set time of day that I write almost every day, a cup of coffee or a bottle of water, an outline, these work for me. But you know what? Even if I don’t have all these things, I sit down and write, or edit, or revise, whatever stage I’m at in a project, I get it done because this is what I want to do with my life.

Ten Good Vampire Books

Vampires are done. Over. Dead.

Amirite?

‘Eh, probably. But if you like a good vampire story, you like a good vampire story.  And recently I’ve stumbled over a couple good vampire stories and well, SpellboundScribes IS the name of the blog. If I can’t talk about vampires here, where can I?

Now the twist is, I’ve been reading mostly m/m romance, so the vampire stories I’m talking about all feature gay characters. I have a pretty good handle on the vampire genre in general but I’m only just starting to explore it as an m/m sub-subgenre. I don’t know if there are m/m equivalents of Ann Rice or Octavia Butler or Barbra Hambly (people who were writing vampire stories before they were cool), but part of my motivation for this post was to discover what’s out there.

So here, in no particular order, are some suggestions for well-regarded m/m vampire stories. I asked for help with this post on the M/M Book Recommendations Facebook page, so I haven’t read all of these, but the research alone cost me money. I also found a Best Gay Vampires list on Goodreads…cuz when in doubt, go to Goodreads…

Cronins Key1. Cronin’s Key by NR Walker – This is a contemporary take on the fated love trope, and while the sample didn’t contain too many surprises for me, it’s got a ton of 5-star ratings on Amazon and it gets a lot of play on the M/M Book Recs page. AND it’s on sale for $0.99 right now because the sequel just came out.

Deep Desire

2. Deep Desire by ZA Maxfield – This one looks intriguing as hell. I almost talked myself into a one-click a couple months ago, and have moved the sample up to the top of my TBR list. I like the premise – centuries-old vampire and art historian searching for the same document and maybe (or not) falling in love – but some of the reviews have some pretty harsh things to say about the relationship, highlighting manipulation and dub-con. This is a revised edition of a book that was previously published as “Notturno”.

tinder chronicles

3. The Tinder Chronicles by Alexa Land – Tinder seems like it would be a good vacation read. Built on the same basic premise as Lou Harper’s Sanguine books – vampire hunter falls in love with a vampire – it’s filed under ‘erotica’ and promises good sexy fun. It also has solid reviews (4+ stars on The ‘Zon) and is $2.99 for a 3-volume set.

natural instincts

4. Natural Instincts by SJ Frost – This one looks like sort of a mash-up of the vampire-hunter-falls-for-a-vampire and the fated-love tropes. I haven’t read it – don’t know if I will – but it was recommended a couple of times by people who commented on my M/M Book Recs query and it’s #7 on the Goodreads list.

spirit sanguine

5. Spirit Sanguine by Lou Harper – I’m a bit of a Lou Harper fan, and thoroughly enjoyed this book.  (I also liked the sequel, Temper Sanguine.)  I mean, how can you NOT love a vegetarian, half-Chinese, vampire named Harvey? His boyfriend Gabe is a vampire hunter – therefore instant conflict – and the path these two take to get together is a lot of fun.

Merrick

6. Merrick by Claire Cray – My only complaint about Merrick is that it was too short! The premise isn’t a huge departure – young man is sent to apprentice with a mysterious older gentleman who turns out to be a vampire – but the voice is gorgeous and the period details pretty much nail the turn of the (19th) century atmosphere. The sequel is called William, and while I haven’t read it yet, I will…someday…

stripped with the vampire

7. Stripped with the Vampire by Jax Garren – Stripped is more urban fantasy than romance, and the world is fairly complicated, with lots of layers among the paranormal characters (read: lots of opportunity for conflict). Vince and Charlie make a cute couple, though, and the supporting characters are well-drawn. It reminded me of the early books by Kim Harrison or Patricia Briggs, but, you know, with a gay couple at the center.

Blind Mans Wolf

8. Blind Man’s Wolf by Amelia Faulkner – I read this in one sitting, when I should have been napping before a night shift. The whole idea of a blind vampire intrigued me, and I thought the author did an excellent job creating a believable blind character. Also, the story was hella entertaining. She’s still got it priced at $0.99, but you better one-click in case that goes away.

cake

9. Cake (Blood Nation #1) by Derikica Snake – I haven’t read much yaoi/slash m/m – about the closest I’ve come is With Wings by Z Allora. This is a big story with lots of fantasy and sexy bits, and it has enthusiastic reviews on Amazon. I only downloaded the sample because the $9.99 price was a little bit much for a one-click, but if I love it, well, the heart wants what it wants…

payback

10. Payback by Jordan Castillo Price – Now I did one-click this baby, because I love Jordan Castillo Price and I LOVE the cover art. This is book one in her Channeling Morpheus series, and another of her vampire stories, Hemovore, got quite a few mentions on my M/M Book recs query. Just to be thorough, Payback is #6 on the Goodreads list, and Hemovore is #9. Haven’t read either of them yet, but I will.

Thirst

BONUS – Thirst by Lisa Worrall – I’d meant to stop at 10, but when I looked over the list I’d hadn’t mentioned yet, this one DEMANDED a spot in the post. This one has mystery and sexytimes and Los Angeles (read: Liv’s personal catnips) and I’m totally going to add it to my TBR pile!

From Afar

BONUS(x2) – From Afar by Ava Marsh – This one gets a shout-out because it was mentioned by Amy Jo Cousins and she is the best with book recommendations. Also, it’s only the second historical m/m vampire story I’ve found and historical m/m is an even bigger weakness for me than mysteries set in L.A. (see above).

Now see? You’ve helped me identify some of the must-reads in the world of m/m vampire fic. I hope you found something you can one-click on – I know I sure did! And because I don’t mean to leave anyone out, here are a few more that were recommended by readers on the M/M Book Recs page or on the Goodreads list:

Angel of Darkness by Tyler May (QUICK UPDATE – I just one-clicked this one because it’s marked down to $0.99!)

Lost Souls by Poppy Z Brite

The V Unit by Max Vos

Cowboys and Vampires by Hank Edwards

Immortality is the Suck by AM Riley

Alliance in Blood by Ariel Tachna

Dance in the Dark by Megan Derr

The Beast Without by Christian Baines

Real Vampires Don’t Sparkle by Amy Fecteau (Currently a FREE download!)

Happy reading!
Liv