Yuletide

So I’m not gonna lie; I had no idea what to write for today’s post. It’s probably the stress of waiting for next week to see what’s going to happen in the world. But. We’ve agreed not to get political on here, so that leave me wondering what the holly to write.

We’re ten days away from Christmas Eve, so I guess I should be talking about something holiday related, right?

This week I was very excited to join The Young Podawans on their episode talking about the various creepy Santa Claus’–giving a little extra time to my favorite: Krampus. If you’ve got time, I really hope you’ll check out the episode.

Speaking of Krampus, I have my own story featuring the grinning devil as the Big Bad. The third book in my Matilda Kavanagh Series: Yuletide. The story is episodic enough that, if you haven’t read the first two, I don’t think you’d be lost if you wanted to pick up a creepy and fun Christmastime read. It explores the crazy scene of the Krampus Los Angeles Fest while giving a moment to wonder what has become of the demigod. I also try to shed some light on some of our appropriated holiday traditions, so hopefully it’s entertaining and informative and funny and creepy all at once!

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If you think you might want to pick it up, here’s a little taste featuring our favorite witch explaining the real tradition behind “kissing” under the mistletoe…

Copyright Shauna Granger 2014

“Something was happening behind the bank of registers, but I couldn’t tell what. I leaned forward to hear what they were tittering about, but then a man stepped in front of me, so close that he popped my bubble of personal space. He looked human enough in his tennis shoes, jeans, and grey Black Witch White Magic T-shirt. But looks were deceiving. His aura pulsed against mine so that my senses were filled with the feeling of open spaces, the scent of bark and grass, and the warmth of sunshine. But under all that was the push of primal, animalistic allure. Tree nymph.

I jerked back and hissed, “Toads!”

“Well,” he said, dragging the word out with a waggle of eyebrows. “What do you say to a little Yuletide cheer?” He leered at me, leaning in and giving his head a shake so that bells jingled overhead.

I looked up, feeling my face pull in a grimace as I eyed the mistletoe and bells attached to his Santa hat by a thin wire. “Oh good gods.” I leaned back, almost touching the guy in line behind me as I tried to put some space between me and the randy nymph.

“Whaddya say? Bet a pretty little witch like you could really renew my Christmas spirit.”

He winked at me, and I felt as though I was trapped in some sort of cheesy vaudeville act. Even the bouncy version of “Mr. Heatmiser” overhead added to the surreal moment. The nymph wiggled his hips to make the bells jingle again, and I knew he wasn’t asking for a kiss.

“Seriously? You think it’s okay to talk to women like that? Beat it, creep,” I said with a flick of my fingers, zapping him with a controlled flash of power.

It snapped at his face, making him yelp and jump back. A hand flew to his face as if I’d slapped him. I kinda wished I had.

“There are kids around here, for the love of frogs!” I pointed at the crying child and her mother, who was now sitting on the floor with her, defeated.

“Take it easy,” he said, all good humor gone from his face and voice. “Just a little joke.”

“Yeah, real funny.” I threatened him with another jolt of power, but he turned and ran before I could zap him. I heard a snicker behind me, and I looked over my shoulder to see a guy with just one small box in his hand.

“Sorry,” he said, putting up his empty hand in surrender. “But why did you say there were kids around? I know he was being gross, but it’s just a kiss.”

I eyed him for a moment, letting my aura touch his. He was just a human on the supernatural side of town. “It’s not, though.”

“How’s that?”

“Humans think it’s just a quick, innocent kiss, but really the tradition is a lot more…” I paused to think of the right word. “Uh, graphic, if you get my meaning.”

He furrowed his brow, so I lifted mine, giving him a pointed look. His eyes went wide and I knew he got what I meant.

“Wait, you mean…?”

“Down and dirty,” I said with a nod. “In front of people usually.”

“Whoa.”

“Right.” I bent over to pick up my items, seeing a register clearing.

I watched the guy’s eyes dart over to a display of joke mistletoe items. Some were innocent enough, like the cheesy Santa hat the nymph wore, but others were less discreet, like the ones that hooked onto a belt buckle so the mistletoe hung right in front of…

“Happy holidays!” I said, overly cheery, as I walked away from the dumbstruck human.”

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Holidays Are For Reading

christmasbooksI was always a voracious reader. As a kid, most of my free time was spent reading. Picture books, chapter books, horse magazines, fairy tales; pretty much anything I could get my grubby little hands on. But as I got older, school and friends and extracurricular activities started taking up more of my free time, and my reading time was more and more often confined to bedtime and weekends (heavens forbid). And that’s when I discovered the magical time known as the winter holidays.

Just think–two glorious weeks empty of schoolwork and extracurriculars! Friends off to visit relatives or tied up with family obligations. Shorter days. The winter break was, for me, a series of long, beautiful hours just asking to be filled up with reading. Plus, for Christmas I was guaranteed a pile of new and exciting books just waiting to be cracked open and devoured.

In middle school, my grandmother sent me Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone. I sat curled up on the sofa in front of a roaring fire for hours and hours and hours. I did not come up for air until I had read every wonderful word of that book, and when I finally dragged myself off the couch it was to insist that my mom drive me to the bookstore to buy the next two installments (The Goblet of Fire wouldn’t come out for two years yet.)

Even though I’m older and the winter holidays are no longer completely free of obligations, this time of year still provides a special opportunity to curl up and read. Some of my happiest memories involve Christmas lights, a cozy blanket, and a great book. No matter where in the world I am, or who I spend the holidays with, I can always count on ample opportunities to stick my nose firmly in my novel of choice  and keep it there until I choose.

I’ve devoured a lot of books in my life, but some of my favorite and most memorable reading experiences have happened over the holidays. The first Harry Potter book. Crown Duel, by Sherwood Smith. The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls. Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell. I had my heart broken by The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. One Christmas, I even burned through both The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. And those are not short books. 

In short, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas for me without a healthy dose of binge-reading. So if you’ve been busy with gifts and cooking and entertaining, maybe take a minute (or hour) to sit down with that book you’ve been meaning to read. Or check out my list of Favorite Holiday Reads from a few years ago if your TBR (To-Be-Read) list is looking a little thin! You deserve it.

Do you love reading over the holiday season? Do any books feature in special holiday memories? Share your thoughts below!

*This post originally appeared at LyraSelene.com

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Revising, editing, and all the rough drafts.

As I sit down to work on yet another rough draft, I thought it might be interesting to read about how I revise and edit a new book. Because I also offer manuscript critique services, I see a lot of books before they’re ready from new writers. It’s always hard to know when a book is done and it’s time to let it go out into the world and flourish or die by its own merit, but you do need to spend a significant amount of time on it before that happens.

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First, I outline the story. I like to do this long hand, with a pen and a legal pad. I use the longer legal pads and, usually, one page = one chapter. It’s lame and mundane and in a bullet point list, just so I know what’s happening and how in each chapter. The magic happens when I’m actually writing. When I was a new writer, I didn’t outline because I lost the urgency to tell the story, so if you’re not an outliner, don’t freak out; everyone is different and things change from book to book.

Once the outline is done, I fast draft the book. This means I write daily, usually taking 1-2 days off a week so I don’t burn out, until it’s done. There are some days where I might just get 500 words or 1,000 words, but my goal is 2-4k words a day. But, again, every book is different. As long as I make some progress, I’m happy.

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Then, when that first draft is done, I back up my work in 2-3 different places. I like to email myself the document every day so I don’t ever lose any work. But when I finish, I email myself again the completed document. I also save it to a memory stick. This way, if something happens to my computer, my book is safely stored in two places that can’t also be damaged by whatever killed my computer. When I was writing my fourth book, Fire, my hard-drive crashed and I lost about 20k words because I wasn’t in the habit of emailing myself on the daily, just at the end of a draft. It was devastating. Never again!

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Then I walk away. I close the file on the computer and I don’t look at it again for at least a week, sometimes as much as six months. Again, it depends on the book (and deadlines). But I get away from it and do other things. I clean the house, I read other people’s books, I relax. I do things that have nothing to do with the book I was writing. I may even start writing (and finish) another book before I ever come back to it. There’s a few reasons for this but the main reason is so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes.

You just spent a couple of months to the better part of a year focused on this one story, it’s been loud in your head, the characters alive and and controlling. If you come back too soon, you’ll remember everything and you won’t see mistakes, you won’t find the plot holes, you won’t pick up on the weaknesses or the thin characters. You need to read your rough draft as though you weren’t the one who wrote it.

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I like to print out a copy of the MS to go over it the first time. This way I’m not working on it in the same medium that I wrote it. I am familiar with it on the computer screen, so my eyes and mind might trick me into reading it the way I wanted it to be, not the way it is. By printing it, it becomes a new book and I can take a bright red pen to it and make corrections and notes to transcribe back on the computer. That’s the second draft.

Now, depending on the book, this is the right time to give it to beta readers to go over. I like to have at least two readers, but three is ideal. You want readers who will give it back to you in 2-4 weeks. This gives you another break away from the book, but also ensures your readers focus on your book so they don’t forget what they read in the first half because they took so long to finish it.

Wait to make any changes to your MS until you hear back from all betas. This gives you the chance to see if critiques are just personal preference or if you really missed something because they all mentioned the same thing(s).

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Now I go over the book again, this time on the computer, comparing beta notes, seeing if I agree or not. If I agree with a change, I have to make sure I thread it through the whole book. That’s the third draft.

Now I put it on a tablet to read it as an ebook. You may need another break or you may be ready to just dive in. So, again, I’m reading it in a different medium and more like any reader who bought it would read it. I use the highlight and note function to keep track of issues and changes I want to make. Once I make those changes, I’ve got a fourth draft.

Only on the 3rd or 4th draft does my editor get the book. Because I self-publish, I pay my editor for her services, so why in the world would I send her a book before it’s ready? I wouldn’t, and neither should you. I often get MSs that are not ready and people are paying me a fee to go over the book and 90% of the time, most of my notes could have been caught by the author or by a beta reader to be addressed for free.

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Once I get my MS back from my editor and implement the line-edits and content-edits, I am up to the fifth draft. Guess what? It goes back for a proof-reader to comb to make sure we didn’t miss any tiny mistakes.

So, in the end, I’m publishing the 5th or 6th draft. I don’t always use beta readers because sometimes I’m up to the 5th, 6th, or 7th book in a series and I can’t expect friends to do that much work for me. But the first book in a series? A stand alone? A trilogy? Yes, I use beta readers for all of those.

You will get to the point where you start to hate your book because you’ve read it so many times, but that’s what it takes to polish it, to develop those characters, to make the plot compelling. This is the work that goes into a book. Getting that first draft is the easy part, making it a book is where the hard work really is.

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Writing is re-writing. This is the rule you should be living by.

And, speaking of working on a new, revised, and edited book, I just published one this week! If you’re a fan of witches and magic set in modern day, might I recommend my Matilda Kavangh Novels series. I just published the seventh book!

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TL;DR: Wanting Diversity Won’t Hurt You

There’s a very strange argument going around on book twitter right now. Meaningful, important, but strange. And I don’t want to be silent about it.

TL;DR – Only a white supremacist or a bigot would see people wanting more diversity in popular fiction as a personal attack on them.

For a while now people have gotten better and better about being louder and informative about the issue of the lack of diversity in mainstream books. While a lot of us can remember reading diverse books in high school (for me, The Pearl and The Good Earth stand out as assigned by teachers. And stolen from my mom’s shelves, I remember Sacred Ground, the Valdemar books, and Elfquest), if you look at books on the shelves that are more for pleasure reading, popular books that have a lot of publishing house money behind them, giving them more media coverage, there is a startlingly lack of POCs, LGBTQs, disabled, religious, etc diversity.

Now. No one is forcing anyone to write any one thing. No one is saying anyone HAS TO write characters with different skin colors, ethnic backgrounds, various religious beliefs, or sexual and/or gender differences. All people are saying is it is important that we allow people who are writing these things a fair space on those shelves and maybe try to do a better job of portraying the real world we live in.

People are asking publishers to acknowledge that these books are just as good (if not better) than some of the books we see again and again.

I mean. I love witches. And I love vampires. They’ve been written again and again and often look and feel similar. But if there are authors out there with different viewpoints, different backgrounds who can bring a fresh perspective to these two types of stories, I want to see them!

Books should be innovative and different and that means we, as readers, should be open to reading about characters who might not look like us. Because they look like other people, people we know, people in our world who want to see characters who look like them. We all deserve that chance to find that book that resonates with us, no matter the genre.

Obviously everyone is entitled to write their own story. And, if your story happens to look like the cast of Pleastantville, then fine, but if your cast of characters looks like Sense 8, maybe publishers could give it a fair shot too.

I don’t understand why that thought process is controversial. And for most people, it’s not. So here’s where the strange part of the argument comes in. Some people are super pissed off that other people are asking for fair representation. Yep. They’re hearing “we’d like our voices heard too” or “please at least try to write a realistic representation of our city/state/country/world” as “you must write this way!” or “you must write this kind of story/these kind of characters!” or, even worse, “you’re being unfair to white people!”

Which is not true.

You don’t have to write anything in particular. No one does. But what’s wrong with wanting to show the world as it really is? I mean, listen, I have not been the best at balancing my casts of characters. I try to. I have tried from book one to include POCs and LGBTQ people, but I won’t lie to you and tell you my books are balanced. Yeah, I’m more than a little scared I’ll screw up the representation, but still I try and I’m trying with each new story to represent more, to do better. Because that is the world I live in.

I went to a high school where the majority populations were Latino and Pilipino. As a matter of fact there were such a small percentage of white kids at my school that we were lumped in with the other smaller percentages of races at my school as the “other” ten percent. So, while your mileage may vary, for some of us, seeing POCs as the majority is already normal.

I know it’s a little scary for some people. They see it as erasure, but for some reason can’t see the irony there. Trying to keep people from publishing books with characters that don’t look, think, and act like them is actual erasure. All people want is a seat at the table. And I promise, there is room. You acting like they’re trying to take something away from you is bullshit, plain and simple. White people have taken a lot of things from a lot of people and white people have an abundance of representation. You will be fine.

I know I’m lucky that I grew up reading diverse books. Hell, I didn’t even think about it at the time. I read books by Jewish authors and Native authors and black authors and they wrote characters that looked like them. I didn’t even give it a thought, if the story was good, that’s all that mattered. And it helped evolve me, helped me see other people I might not have experience with as no different than me. And I think that’s the ultimate goal; to raise a generation that doesn’t treat people differently for who they are, where they come from, what they believe, but at the same time celebrates how everyone adds to the tapestry of our world.

Now, I can remember which books I read when I was younger that featured LGBTQ characters because there were so few and honestly I think they were just LGB, no Ts or Qs. And, sadly, I can’t recall reading any books that featured a disabled MC. I wish I had. I want kids and teens to get to read like that—where it’s just normal to see all of these types of characters because it builds empathy in real life. People are people and just want to be accepted for who they are. Books help us with this process.

So calm down. If you don’t want to read books with characters that don’t look, act, or think like you, I promise, there is no lack of books for you. They’ve been published a lot and will continue to be published. But stop freaking out at people who want the people who control the money to know we will buy these books, we will read them, we will go see their film adaptation. They will get a return on their investment. And you will be fine, it won’t hurt you one little bit.

Now, if you’re on Twitter go check out these hashtags to start building your TBR lists. #ownvoices #istandwithdiversity

If you want to leave some book recs in the comments, please do! I can give a shout out to a few I’ve read recently: An Ember in the Ashes, This is Where it Ends, and the Don’t Get Mad Series. And speaking of witches, I’m excited to pick up Labyrinth Lost.

Let’s hear your recommendations!

And the winner is….

…not me.

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But I did get to be a finalist!

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A few months ago, I entered my novella The Secret of Obedience in the Virginia Romance Writers Hold Medallion Award contest. I’m not much for contests, and I didn’t know how my novella would be received. While the Holt is open to all romance writers, Secret is a story about a gay college boy and his Vietnamese boyfriend.

Well, the don’t start out as boyfriends, but it *is* a romance…

Even though I didn’t win, acknowledging this award has me thinking lots of thinking thoughts.

And chief among those thoughts?

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YEAH!!!

Somebody out there liked my story, liked it enough to put it in the top five entries in the contest. For me, there’s an extra layer of goodness knowing that the Virginia Romance Writers treated an m/m romance the same as any other.

I can’t speak for every writer out there, but I think most m/m or queer or lgbt writers want their stories on the same bookshelves as any other stories. They don’t want to be set off to the side in their own little section, where readers have to take that extra step to find them. That’s why when Publishers Weekly says Alexis Hall’s For Real is one of the best romances of 2015, or when Heidi Cullinan and Amy Lane (and Alexis, too!) are nominated for RITA awards, it’s a big deal.

And that’s not to put my story on the same level as theirs. Secret is a good story, and I love the characters, but I worry that my take on a queer Vietnamese young man doesn’t do justice to the lived experience of someone who is in the same position. It works, as far as it goes, but I wonder if I’d done a bit more research, could I have made it better. I’d hate thinking one of my characters brings someone else down, you know?

But for today, I’m going to twirl like Stevie, happy to know there’s one more organization out there willing to judge a story by the romance, not the characters’ gender. I hope if the judges hadn’t read m/m before, that they seek out more, because there are some fantastic writers exploring all different aspects of what it means to be gay and lesbian and queer and bisexual and trans and ACE and all the variations in between.

I’m going to leave you with an teaser from Secret

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Ronnie Durand is a country boy who transfers to the University of Washington after two years at Central. He’ll have to give up playing football, though finishing his education at a major university in Seattle – and being out and proud without having to look over his shoulder – makes the sacrifice worthwhile.

But finding friends at a huge school is tough, especially when the hottest guy Ronnie meets makes him doubt his own sanity.

Sang’s been on his own a long time. He’s only a couple steps away from living on the street, and he’s got dreams so big they don’t leave space for a steady boyfriend. Then he meets Ronnie, who just might be strong enough to break through his barriers….as long as Sang lets him in on one big secret.

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Late, but not too late

So, here it is, nearly 11:30 at night and I’ve just remembered it’s my turn to post. I’ve been in bed, unabashedly for a couple of hours already, reading.

Just one of those days where your partner asks, “Is 9 o’clock too early for bed?” and you think of the engrossing new book that’s already taken up much of your free time and reply, “No, not at all!”

But just as I was finally putting my book down for the night, telling myself I’d be disappointed if I finished it too fast, I realized I’d forgotten you, dear reader!

For shame!

But to be fair, I think I have a good excuse. A few even. All of which add up to my memory being much like a sieve these past few days.

One: I finally finished the first draft of a book I’ve been working on for five months. It was a brutal book to write and I know it needs a lot of work, but getting the bones done is what matters for now.

Two: I had a new release drop yesterday under my pen name. My pen name doesn’t get near as much attention as my real name releases, but I’m still proud of the work and I still stress over it just as much.

Three: I was/am taking much needed down time. Thanks to the first two things listed above, I’ve been stressed and tired and things have been neglected. You manage to keep things going, mostly clean and orderly, but nothing is quite how it should be. So I’ve cleaned and done a metric ton of laundry. I’ve given myself mani-pedi, watched TV and, most importantly: read for pleasure. I’m reading out of my preferred writing genres and it’s glorious. There’s a frustrating love triangle and twists and surprises. Just the tonic I need.

So, dear ones, remember, we all need the carrot as much as the stick. Take breaks when you need them, but when you hit goals, make accomplishments, reward yourself. Even if it’s just a book, or maybe a particular Funko Pop you’ve been wanting for a while.

You deserve it. I deserve it.

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My tiny Sirius for a big accomplishment!

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.

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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.)