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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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(Slightly) Creepy Halloween Reads

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab

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

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

Slade House, by David Mitchell

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

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

Language of Thorns, by Leigh Bardugo

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

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

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Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan

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

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

Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake

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

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

The Diviners, by Libba Bray

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

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

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

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Ten Years to Refill My Well

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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On the Importance of Ritual

The other day a reader asked me if I ever wrote in long hand, much like Neil Gaiman is known to do. I do not–never. I hate the idea of writing something by hand knowing I’ll just have to type it again later, creating twice the work for me. But, I conceded, I do hand write my outlines, always. I tried to type one once because I always end up adding asides and run out of space on my papers, and I thought it would be nice to be able to just add in a line when I needed to but there was no magic in a typed outline.

So, always type a story, always hand write the outline.

Funny, right?

But it got me thinking about the rituals of writing. Any art, really, but writing is my magic, so that’s what I’m focusing on now.

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Any professional artist will tell you that you can’t wait for the Muses to speak to you, otherwise you’ll (almost) never get any work done. You have to make your Muses speak on days you just don’t feel like it. On days where you only have an hour, or less, to get the words done. You have to force the magic to make the art.

And there are ways to do this. There are ingredients to every spell and if you manage to figure them out, you can create the magic potion to get the art done even under the worst situations. A few years ago, I was stuck at jury duty for the full 8 hours. I got so much writing done that day, it must’ve been a record, all because I have my ritual to make the magic.

First, I outline. Now, if you’re a pantser, this part doesn’t apply to you. But for me, I allow myself at least a week to complete an outline before I ever start a new manuscript. You’ll have to figure out how detailed or loose your outline needs to be, that in of itself is its own magic spell. If too loose you leave yourself sitting at the keys, trying to figure out how to get from point D to point M. Too detailed you might feel like you’ve already written the story and lose your excitement to actually write it.

Secondly, if this is the start of a brand new book, not part of a series, I allow myself a day to start to curate a soundtrack for the book/main character. I know, this seems like one of those “I’m an artiste! I need my special music to write!” kinda things, but it’s not. For many, both reading and writing a book plays out like a movie in our heads and what is a movie without a soundtrack? You need the creepy notes that warn you the monster is coming. You need the pounding base to choreograph a fight and get your heart moving. You need the sweet strings of a romantic moment. But, I think, most importantly, it gives you the feel of the book or main character. This, for me, is what helps me get into the right headspace for a book, no matter where I am or what mood I am in. And with each book in a series, I add more and more songs to the list until it’s hours and hours long.

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I also have a few universal playlists to help me with certain types of scenes. If I’m in the middle of fights or battles, I have strong lyric-less soundtracks from movies or video games to help me. If I’m trying to get into the head of a strong, angry female, I have a playlist of what I call “angry power” songs, only sung by strong female vocals.

You could be trapped in the middle seat of coach, on a full flight, but you put your headphones on and turn on the soundtrack of your book, and bam! Watch the words flow. I won NaNo last year in that exact situation because I had my music.

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This also helps if you’re working on more than one project at a time. For example, I’m working on a witch book in my Matilda Kavanagh series and I’m working on a piece of flash fiction that is a spin off from my post-apocalyptic Ash & Ruin series. Neither MC is the same and both worlds are totally different. So, they have their own soundtracks to help me switch my brain depending on which one I want to write in.

Third, I always have something to drink. Usually it’s coffee, but sometimes just water. It’s a small thing, but it’s important. It adds to the level of comfort as you stare into that bright screen and create indents on your wrists as you pound away.

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There are other things, like I try to write in the mornings, but if I miss that window, I don’t skip on writing unless it’s One Of Those Days. It’s always easy to make excuses to get out of writing, but unless you’re under a contractual deadline, you’re just letting yourself down by putting it off or treating it like a chore. I mean, some days, it does feel like a chore but when it’s done, damn that’s a good feeling.

Figuring out your rituals to help you get shit done is important. It’s not being a fussy artiste, it’s creating magic. Allow yourself the special combo of ingredients that will allow you to create art no matter what the situation. Make no excuses for doing what you need to get it done and give yourself no excuses to avoid it.
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Speaking of… I have some words that need writing before dinner.

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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Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Kobo Smashwords | Barnes & Noble | ibooks

 

Doppelgängers

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Mirror, mirror

Picture this: you’re standing in front of the mirror, brushing your teeth. Your reflection stares placidly back. A whistle from the kitchen startles you–you turn to look into the kitchen, and you see the noise is just the kettle going off. You turn your gaze back to the mirror, and in that instant, out of the corner of your eye, you are certain that your reflection has not moved. You lock eyes with yourself, but your reflection seems suddenly wrong. Are your eyes really so dark? Your chin so sharp?

But no. You tell yourself you’re just being stupid. Of course that’s what your reflection looks like–it’s you, after all. Isn’t it?

Maybe. Or maybe it’s your doppelgänger.

Although the German word doppelgänger, translating literally to “double-goer,” is a relatively recent addition to the vernacular, the concept of an alter-ego or shadow self appears frequently in the mythology and folk-lore of many world cultures. Although a physical lookalike or double of the person in question, a doppelgänger often takes the role of a darker counterpart to the self. In many cultures, it is said that to catch a glimpse of one’s doppelgänger is a harbinger of bad luck, and potentially an omen of one’s own death.

How They Met Themselves, by Dante Gabriel Rosetti
How They Met Themselves,
by Dante Gabriel Rosetti

In ancient Egyptian mythology, the ka was a tangible “spirit double” possessing the same memories and feelings as the physical counterpart. In some myths, the shadow double could be manipulated to perform tasks or duties while acting as their physical counterpart. In Norse mythology, a vardøger was a spirit predecessor, a shadowy double preceding a living person in location or activity, resulting in witnesses seeing or hearing a person before they actually arrived. And in Celtic mythology, a fetch was an exact, spectral double of a person, whose appearance was ominous in nature, often foretelling a person’s imminent death. The fetch could also act as a psychopomp, stealing away the soul of their living double and transporting them to the realm of the dead.

The concept of a dark double appears frequently in literature and pop culture as well. Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “William Wilson” explores the idea of a doppelgängers with a reversal on the traditional “evil twin” story–one of the doubles is amoral and debauched, yet his wicked schemes are always being unmasked by his virtuous identical. Charlie Chaplin’s seminal film “The Great Dictator” also explores the idea of evil twins, where Chaplin plays both the good, simple barber and the megalomaniacal, Hitler-esque dictator. Even the modern show “The Vampire Diaries” has a doppelgänger story-line; Elena Gilbert’s vampire double Katerina is everything spice to Elena’s nice. Katerina is sexy where Elena is pretty, violent where Elena is gentle, and traitorous where Elena is loyal.

But why is the doppelgänger myth so prevalent in folklore and modern culture? What makes us so frightened of our shadowy doubles?

Myself, my shadow self
Myself, my shadow self

In Jungian psychology, the “shadow self” refers to the unconscious or less desirable aspects of the personality that the conscious ego does not identify in itself. In other words, the shadow self is a vehicle and receptacle for our deepest secrets and darkest fears, living in the darkest corners of our souls. And, no matter how much we reject them, these dark doubles are ultimately our own worst selves reflected back at us.

Perhaps the myth of the doppelgänger arose from this sense of shadow and darkness lurking within everyone. We are our own evil twins, spectral doubles confined to one body. Perhaps that is why, when we catch a glimpse of ourselves in a darkened mirror or a pane of glass, we feel unsettled, reverberating with the echoes of familiarity and yet, unfamiliarity.

Perhaps, in the end, we are all haunted by the ghosts of ourselves.

Do you have a favorite doppelgänger or evil twin story? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!