#WhatToRead: BLACK RABBIT HALL + a picture of me with Paul Bunyan

Black Rabbit Hall was one of my October “modern Gothic” picks. I read most of it while traveling to, and staying in, a cottage on the sunrise side of Lake Huron. I’ve never been to Cornwall, but I have a feeling the two places are dissimilar. Still, it was neat reading an atmospheric story set by the sea featuring an old family mansion while curled up on my friend’s couch in her family’s cozy lake house. There were no ghosts in hers (it’s too new) but one whole room was decorated with black and white photographs of four generations of family, as well as more recent photographs of friends who have visited. (That’s us with Paul Bunyan.)

The story opens with a prologue from Amber’s point of view, which sets the tone immediately. It’s “the last day of the summer holidays” and Amber feels safer on a cliff ledge than she does in her house. She’s searching for someone. You get the impression she might be playing hide & seek. But if so, it’s a dangerous game. There’s a feeling that something’s not right. That something will go wrong. Or perhaps that something has already gone wrong and will only get worse. The prologue ends when Amber sees something floating in the water below.

And then three pages and three decades later, we’re following Lorna, a bride-to-be on a mission to find the quintessential wedding venue. Lorna loves old houses… Cornwall… and her fiance, Jon.

Black Rabbit Hall casts shadows and creates silhouettes. The story is as murky as the water Amber is staring into when the book begins. But author Eve Chase paces her reveals well and, since I don’t want to spoil the story, I’ll simply say it deserves the label “Gothic.” It’s not just a novel with a dark, foreboding tone. It’s not just a novel set in an old crumbling mansion. It’s got all the other elements too — family secrets, sinister deeds, psychological distress, love, madness, hatred, and (for one character at least), an acknowledgement that there will be no forgiveness.

Where did I get my copy of Black Rabbit Hall? Baltimore County Public Library 🙂


We left our cozy cottage twice… Once to take a hike in the Huron National Forest along the Au Sable River and the second to have margaritas at the Boathouse Beer Co. & Boozery (followed by a quick trip to the hardware store… where we bought firewood, pickled asparagus, and pink camo baby tights for one of my friend’s nieces. Ya know, just the essentials. 😉 )

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5 PHOTOS with D.V. Stone: Snowball, Baby, and Beautiful New Jersey (#writerslife)

***** I’m scheduling “5 Photos” spots for early 2018. If you or your writer friends are interested in sharing some writer’s life photos, check out my new “Be My Guest” page and let me know!


Today’s guest is D.V. Stone, who is from New Jersey. Are you picturing the dense suburbs of New York or Philly? Or maybe the Jersey Shore? Her “where you’re from” photo shows us a gorgeous fall view of a different part of the state.

Welcome, Donna!

Something that represents something unique about you

I’m a Grandma with a Camaro! My husband surprised me at work with it. I named her Snowball.

Something that represents where you live

When people think of New Jersey they usually have no concept of where I live. My house backs up to the Appalachian Trail and the front is a beautiful lake.

Your pet(s) or plant(s) or thing you care for (besides your human family/friends)

This is Baby. She’s wondering why he doesn’t love her back…

Something (not someone) that really frustrates you

Lack of time. As an author, wife and full-time employee my time usually runs out before I’m finished with whatever step I’m at. I’m thankful that I have an understanding husband who really stepped up in helping around the house and is supportive when I disappear for hours at a time.

Something that brings you joy (besides writing)

I have a knack for catching double rainbows. Being outside in the summer is the best especially when you find such a spectacular sight as a rainbow but then it gets even better when you get two.

Q&A

What’s the elevator pitch for your latest published novel?

One foolish thought. One brutal act. Instead of a peaceful alliance––war

King Sahnan of Argatha, leader of a human realm, reaches out to Dar, King of the Darrian shifter nation. No longer able to remain disengaged from the world around them. It is time for an alliance between the two Houses. An old enemy has reemerged and seeks to take advantage of a divided Argatha. An argument on the road and an ensuing attack sink both Kingdoms into a desperate state. Felice is nearly killed, and in a bid to save her life, Abelard tells her he is Ayer, a simple soldier of King Sahnan. If she knows he is her sister’s intended, Felice will die before giving him her Shield.  In a moment of desperation they are bound, but what will it take to remain Shield-Mates?

What are you working on next?

Several things. Rock House Grill is a contemporary romance utilizing my experience as a former Emergency Medical Technician and owner of a restaurant. This manuscript is being considered by a publishing house and the editor and I are going back and forth with revisions. In between, I’m working on the book that started it all for me. Kingdom at a Crossroad. It’s a High Fantasy Epic in the LOTR style. I also have the second Shield-Mate book Kisa, Shield-Mates of Dar. I have Author ADD.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished Diana Duvall’s Blade of Darkness and started Roxanne St. Claire’s Secret on the Sand. I’m waiting anxiously for C.L. Wilson’s The Sea King.

Jill: C.L. Wilson guest blogged here when she was promoting The Winter King. Check out her post “Ten Things I’ve Learned Since I Started Writing”.

What are you currently watching (TV shows)?

Anything about RV’s. Retirement is in the next couple of years and my husband and I plan to travel this great country of ours. Coast to coast and border to border. I hope to find a lot of inspiration along the way.

Favorite fantasy creature, villain, or weapon not from your own work?

Maleficent. I love the fact that besides wanting to be big, bad and vengeful, she is filled with love and compassion.

Biggest challenge facing writers today?

As a self-published author I find myself lost in the pile. Marketing is a mystery and there is no magic formula that works. Getting noticed on social media that translates into book reviews and sales. I can get lost for hours trying to figure it out when what I want to do is create.

Thank you, Donna, for sharing your pictures and thoughts! 

Donna can be found online here: Website | Twitter | Amazon

#amreading #amwriting – November’s Challenge

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) started yesterday! Are you in? Libraries, book stores, and coffee shops across the globe are offering “write in” spots so that you have WiFi, caffeine, and company during your month-long marathon.

Even if you’re not participating in NaNoWriMo, you can still get in on the spirit of it by reading one of the books below. For this month’s reading challenge, I chose three novels that were started during NaNo and two writing books that are on my TBR list. Happy reading! Best of luck, writers!!

November’s Choices

(all book descriptions are from Goodreads)

Fangirl

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan…

But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

27 Days to Midnight

Everyone in Dahlia’s world knows when they’re going to die. Except her.

Her father has never shown her the pocket watch counting down the days she has left to live. When he sacrifices himself to save her from her scheduled death, Dahlia abandons her comfortable home and sets off after his murderer to uncover the secrets her father died to protect…and the time research that could bring him back to life.

Then she meets Farren Reed. She should hate him. He’s an enemy soldier, a cowardly deserter, and the most insufferable man Dahlia’s ever met. Still, she needs all the help she can get, and Farren is the only chance she has to find the man who murdered her father. But Farren has only twenty-seven days left on his watch.

In that time, Dahlia must recover her father’s time research, foil a psychotic general’s plot, and learn to survive in a world that will never be the same. But the research holds secrets more dangerous than she had ever imagined. She will have to choose what is most important: revenge, Farren’s life, or her own. And time is running out.

Born of Illusion

Anna Van Housen has a secret.

A gifted illusionist, Anna assists her mother, the renowned medium Marguerite Van Housen, in her stage show and séances, easily navigating the underground world of magicians, mediums, and mentalists in 1920’s New York. As the illegitimate daughter of Harry Houdini—or so Marguerite claims—sleight of hand illusions have never been a challenge for Anna. The real trick is keeping her own gifts secret from her opportunistic mother. Because while Marguerite’s own powers may be a sham, Anna possesses a true ability to sense people’s feelings and foretell the future.

But as Anna’s powers intensify, she begins to experience frightening visions of her mother in peril, which leads her to explore the powers she’s tried so long to hide. And when a mysterious young man named Cole moves into the flat downstairs, introducing Anna to a secret society that studies people with gifts like hers, she is forced to confront her past and rethink everything she’s ever known. Is her mother truly in danger, or are Anna’s visions merely illusion? And could the great Houdini really be her father, or is it just another of Marguerite’s tricks?

From Teri Brown comes a world bursting with magic, with romance, and the temptations of Jazz Age New York—and the story of a girl about to become the mistress of her own destiny.

Other novels that were written or started during NaNo: Hugh Howey’s Wool, Erin Morgenstern’s Night Circus, Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey, Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and Kalayna Price’s Once Bitten. Click here for the full list of published NaNoWriMo novels.

Writing Advice

I’m reading Story Trumps Structure right now. Good, sound, basic advice; well presented. Dialogue is on my list because it’s Robert McKee and I’m curious about what he has to say.

Story Trumps Structure

Don’t limit your fiction – LIBERATE IT

All too often, following the “rules” of writing can constrict rather than inspire you. With Story Trumps Structure, you can shed those rules – about three-act structure, rising action, outlining, and more – to craft your most powerful, emotional, and gripping stories.

Award-winning novelist Steven James explains how to trust the narrative process to make your story believable, compelling, and engaging, and debunks the common myths that hold writers back from creating their best work.

Ditch your outline and learn to write organically. Set up promises for readers – and deliver on them. Discover how to craft a satisfying climax. Master the subtleties of characterization. Add mind-blowing twists to your fiction. When you focus on what lies at the heart of story – tension, desire, crisis, escalation, struggle, discovery – rather than plot templates and formulas, you’ll begin to break out of the box and write fiction that resonates with your readers. Story Trumps Structure will transform the way you think about stories and the way you write them, forever.

Dialogue

The long-awaited follow-up to the perennially bestselling writers’ guide Story, from the most sought-after expert in the art of storytelling.

Robert McKee’s popular writing workshops have earned him an international reputation. The list of alumni with Oscars runs off the page. The cornerstone of his program is his singular book, Story, which has defined how we talk about the art of story creation.

Now, in DIALOGUE, McKee offers the same in-depth analysis for how characters speak on the screen, on the stage, and on the page in believable and engaging ways. From Macbeth to Breaking Bad, McKee deconstructs key scenes to illustrate the strategies and techniques of dialogue. DIALOGUE applies a framework of incisive thinking to instruct the prospective writer on how to craft artful, impactful speech. Famous McKee alumni include Peter Jackson, Jane Campion, Geoffrey Rush, Paul Haggis, the writing team for Pixar, and many others.

Words Books and Miles Update + Happy Halloween!

At the beginning of this year, I mentioned that I would track my success by the number of words I write, books I read, and miles I travel. The year’s nearly over, so how am I doing?

Words — not as well as I would like. I shared in my newsletter that Noon #5 will be pushed back until 2018. That was never my plan. After not publishing anything in 2015, I swore I’d never go a year without publishing anything again. But… life, you know.

Books — around 28 so far, although that includes a handful of picture books and doesn’t include the myriad non-fiction books I’ve skimmed while working at the library (way, way, way too many to list, among them Neil Gaiman’s The View from the Cheap Seats and, most recently, How Art Can Make You Happy, which seemed like the art version of The Little Book of Hygge meets Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Miles — Biking? Unfortunately, less than 100. Hiking? Even less. Flying? Craig and I played hooky one day this fall while Penny and E were at school. We flew down to Cape May, had lunch at the Blue Pig, checked out the Washington Street shops, bought a stack of books at the Cape Atlantic Book Company (including Ken Follett’s A Column of Fire and Life After Life by Kate Atkinson), and watched the gulls take flight. Distance from MTN to WWD: 83.56 miles.

Back in September, I flew from BWI to DTW (408.08 miles) and then drove another 204 miles to hang out in a beautiful, peaceful lakeside cottage with friends. I read Black Rabbit Hall there, which seemed fitting because the book was set in Cornwall and — in my imagination anyway — the shores of Lake Huron = the shores of the Celtic Sea, right? ;-D More on that trip and that book later.

Looking further back, I’m going to throw in the miles from our annual road trip to Tennessee (540.4 miles) for a grand total (so far) of 1,236.04 miles.

So, how about you? How many words have you written in 2017? You know, NaNo‘s starting tomorrow. November’s a great month to catch up on your WIP.

How many books have you read? Anything recent that you want to share?

How many miles have you hiked, biked, walked, ran, traveled? Commuting miles don’t count because where’s the fun in that? 😀

Best wishes for a safe & happy Halloween!!

#amwriting – Kickass Heroines and Wise Women in the age after Buffy, Bella and Hermione

This is my second and last follow-up post to this past weekend’s fantastic HallowRead. Writers and readers, if you’re going to be in the Maryland area next year in mid-October, be sure to check out this awesome mini-con. Rachel Rawlings does an amazing job of organizing it!!


The other panel I participated in was the “Nevertheless, She Persisted” one (such a great title, aptly referring to both creators and characters). As with the indie panel, the actual discussion was more organic, but I’m sharing the quick notes I prepared because they’re already written and because several questions during the panel touched on these ideas.

I first started writing in the heyday of urban fantasy. There’s no doubt that heroines like Buffy, Bella, Hermione and many others have left their mark and are hard acts to follow. It was also a little unsettling when the market started to change and drift toward contemporary fiction. But change is constant and that’s the way of publishing. You have two choices: change genres or continue writing what you love. If you love paranormal characters (which I assume all of you do or you wouldn’t be here), then keep creating them!

But how?

Regardless of genre, your characters should be relatable, but unique. Kind of like your story. You want to give your readers something that feels familiar — something that’s the same as what they already love — but also different.

Sympathetic characters: when you work with characters who have special powers, they still need to feel human and vulnerable. Make sure their magic isn’t so powerful your character can’t be defeated. My main character has waning magic, which is super destructive. But she’s not immortal. She suffers pain and injuries. In the beginning of the series, she’s inexperienced and naive.

Growth arc: Readers like characters who learn from their mistakes and grow over time. It’s fun, for both writers and readers, to reflect on how much a character has changed over the course of a novel or series. In each book, I try to give Noon both external and internal growth opportunities. Her external growth occurs as a result of training and increased experience. Noon’s magic allows her to shape weapons out of fire. In Dark Light of Day, she has trouble shaping anything more complicated than a fireball and she has no control or aim. As the books and her magic progress, she gets better at shaping things. And her aim improves. For her internal growth, each book has posed a question: will she embrace her true self? Can she kill in cold blood? Will she give up control over her own destiny for the greater good? Can she survive something heartbreaking and unexpected?

Unique spin: even though your character needs to be relatable, they shouldn’t be a cookie-cutter version of every heroine that has come before. It’s okay to put a little bit of yourself in the character. I value wit and knowledge as much, if not more than, physical strength, so I made Noon smart. She still does dumb things, but I give her assignments, quests, and challenges that require her to use her intellect as much as her magic.

How about you? Are you working on a WIP with a kickass heroine, a wise woman, or both? What traits do you and your character share? How is she the same as every other woman? How is she different? What are her strengths? What are her vulnerabilities?

Make your character’s obstacles feel insurmountable… and then write her/your way through them.

#MondayMotivation – 5 Simple Tips for Surviving #IndiePub

HallowRead was fantastic! Loved every bit of it. Saw writer friends from past events, chatted with awesome readers, listened to Darynda Jones’ excellent keynote speech, sold some books, and participated in two terrific panels. Below are the notes I put together to prepare for the indie panel. The discussion itself was more organic, but I’m sharing these thoughts because they’re already written and ready to go – hopefully perfect for some Monday writing/publishing motivation! 

The Pep Talk I Prepared for HallowRead’s Indie Uprising Panel

  1. Don’t get discouraged. Writing is hard, self-publishing is even harder. But there are benefits that can make it worthwhile. Creative freedom, flexible schedule (you determine your own release dates), the best covers you can afford, a sense of empowerment (you are the ultimate writer entrepreneur), and being part of a supportive, helpful community.

  2. Don’t quit your day job. Overnight successes, whether traditional or self-published are rare. It’s okay to write for commercial reasons, but plan on a slow build. Most writers grow their readership one reader at a time. Remember that quote from Dune, “Fear is the mind-killer”? Well, for self-published authors, frustration is the career-killer. There should be an indie “Litany against Frustration.”

  3. Do try to work somewhere that is compatible with your writing, both in terms of hours and substance. During the many years I’ve been a creative writer, I’ve had several different day jobs, but they’ve all supported my creative writing goals in one way or another.

    Years ago, I was a lawyer. As a practicing attorney, I didn’t have much time to write but I crammed it in during lunch hours, evenings, and weekends. On the plus side, lawyers are wordsmiths and that career gave me countless hours of butt-in-your-chair discipline. By the time I left, I was used to spending hours in front of my computer, hacking away at my keyboard, in the hopes of finishing a competently written piece.

    After that, I worked as an adjunct professor and taught legal writing. That experience gave me an appreciation of structure and knowing who your audience is and what they want from your writing.

    Currently, I work part-time as a librarian, which is probably one of the best “supplemental” careers a writer can have. Every time I work, I’m exposed to new books, fellow readers, and innovative ways to reach them.

  4. Publish only your best work. Take the time to learn your craft. There’s always something new to learn. Hire the best team you can. For me, essential team members include an editor, a cover designer, and a formatter. It can be tempting, with indie publishing, to load up a manuscript before its ready. A good chef wouldn’t serve undercooked food. Don’t be the writer who offers an undercooked book. Cook it to perfection and then “plate it” to the best of your budget’s ability.

  5. Have fun! With so much emphasis on To Do Lists and Don’ts, it can be easy to lose sight of why you started writing in the first place. As much as we’d all like to make money at writing, the reason we started — and the reason you will be successful — is your passion for this form of creative expression. If you’re like me, you love to live in made-up worlds, spend time with fictional characters that make you feel something, and you like to play in a sandbox full of words. When things get tough, always go back to the core of what matters — YOUR STORY. When the business side of things starts to drive you nuts, return to your WIP.
Shared a table with Kim Alexander, former co-programmer for Sirius XM Book Radio, who (like me) switched careers and is now an indie author. If we can do it, you can do it too!

HallowRead 2017 – #horror #UF #steampunk #paranormal

I’ll be at HallowRead this weekend. If you’re going to be near Ellicott City, Maryland on Saturday, come see me!

What’s HallowRead?

HallowRead is a book festival and mini-con for authors and fans of Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Steam Punk and Horror.

Multi-author event with various activities throughout the weekend including:

Writing Workshops

Ghost Tour

SteamPunk Author Tea

Author Panels

Book Signings

Paranormal Investigation

… and so much more.

Hang out with your favorite authors in our host city, the haunted and historic town of Ellicott City, Maryland!

What will I be doing there?

I’ll be watching and participating in the panels (more info on the two panels I’m on below; for a full schedule, check out HallowRead’s website. Darynda Jones is doing the Keynote Speech at 3:00.)

Indie Uprising- 12:30 The crest and subsequent ebbs and flows of the Indie market. Best practices, tips and techniques for an ever changing industry. Moderated by Bryan Nowak, with Meg Eden, C.J. Ellisson, Jill Archer, J.A. Grier and Alex Owens

Nevertheless, She Persisted- 2:15 Writing kickass heroines and wise women in the age after Buffy, Bella and Hermione. Moderated by Rebecca Rivard. With Jill Archer, Katherine McIntyre, Kathy MacMillan, Heather Elizabeth King, Misty Simon and R.A. Boyd

I’ll also be at the book signing from 4:00-6:00. If CreateSpace cooperates and sends me my books in time, I’ll have copies of Pocket Full of Tinder there. I’ll definitely have copies of the first three Noon Onyx books. I’ll have some Halloween goodies and some bookish bling to give away. Hopefully, I’ll have my new Square credit card reader, although cash always works. 😀

If you already have a copy of one of my books, bring it. I’d love to sign it!

Hope to see you there!

More Info

October 20-21, 2017
Roger Carter Center
3000 Milltowne Drive
United States
Ellicott City, MD 21043

5 PHOTOS: Libby Doyle (#amwriting from #Philly)

Libby Doyle is here with some fantastic writer’s life photos — one of a martial arts tournament in Japan; one of her cats, Mao and Neko; and a beautiful picture of the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. 

But before we get to Libby’s photos, a quick note about my recent guest post for Natasha Lane. She invites authors to share writing tips and I picked How to Write a Terrific Book Blurb. Writing book blurbs (or back cover copy) is hard, so it’s hubris on my part to think I’ve mastered it. But I had to pick something! Writing the post got me thinking about best practices for blurb writing, which isn’t a bad thing. If you are a writer currently struggling with your WIP’s blurb, check out the post and vent your frustrations in the comments. 😀

And now… Welcome, Libby!


Something unique about me

I have a black belt in Shorinji Kempo. Here I am at a tournament in Japan. I was a brown belt at the time. Learning martial arts in Japan was a fantastic experience. One thing is certain. I will never, ever forget the Japanese word for pain: itai. We used it as the signal when our sparring partner had effectively applied a technique, which usually meant we were face down on the mat.

Shorinji Kempo is great for dealing with attackers who are bigger and stronger than you because it uses joint reverses, pressure points, and escapes, techniques based more on physics than strength.

Unfortunately, I’ve let my skills fade. You need to train all the time to be good. It really is a way of life. I’ve may have retained a bit of the attitude, though. 😉 Also, the knowledge helps with my action-packed books. My training helps me write vivid fight scenes.

Something that represents where I live

Philadelphia City Hall, from the courtyard. One day my husband posted a meme on Facebook that said: “People in Philly whisper ‘What the—?’ to themselves twenty times a day.” I laughed, because it’s true.

I set my books in Philadelphia because I know it so well, but also because it has a rich history and the kind of character that comes with age, diversity, and a powerful (and infamous) ornery streak. Plus, its people have a truly world-class sense of humor. For example, one morning while I’m riding my bike to work, a gang of us are stopped at a red light. When it changes, some random portly guy with a mustache yells, “And they’re off! Cabbage Cabbage takes the lead on the inside!”

Something I Care For

Our cats, Mao (foreground) and Neko. Mao is the Chinese word for cat. Neko is the Japanese word for cat. We got them because we had mice, and boy, have they been effective. If it’s small and moves in our house they will catch it. Of course, at this point it hardly matters. We’ve fallen in love with their fuzzy cuteness and hilarious antics. Most excellent cats.

Something that really frustrates me

My day job. This is the view from my office. Yes, a nice view, but I’m so busy I can hardly look up from the computer screen. And the hours! I want more time to write, dammit!

Something that brings me joy (besides writing)

I love mountains. I took this photo while hiking in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, a range that inspired a character. The heroine of the Covalent Series, Zan O’Gara, hails from the Sawtooths. She has the toughness and self-sufficiency that comes from growing up poor in a harsh climate, and the reverence for Nature that comes from waking up every day soaked in that beauty.

The Interview

What’s the elevator pitch for your latest published novel?

My latest is The Pain Season: Book II of the Covalent Series. I like to describe the series as Highlander meets Paradise Lost meets The English Patient. It’s an epic love story between an emotionally damaged FBI agent and a superhuman alien warrior from another dimension.

What are you working on next?

The Vengeance Season: Book III of the Covalent Series, to be released this winter. Like all my books, this one is shaping up to be a real ripsnorter. Over the first two installments of the series, Barakiel (Bah-rack-ee-el), my hero, dealt with his father’s attempts to either kill or enslave him. His father is Lucifer, a mighty Covalent warrior who rebelled against the rulers of their world and was driven from their city. He fled to the Destructive Realm, where he learned to harness its power. The only thing that holds Lucifer’s attention as much as his desire to destroy everything is his dangerous obsession with his son.

Barakiel has also fallen in love with Zan O’Gara, my heroine. Their devotion makes them both stronger, but they’re put to the test when Barakiel’s love turns Zan into a target. At times this is a dark story, filled with political intrigue, violence, tragedy and war. But my heroes are equal to their challenges. And, I should mention, this story is high heat. Scorching hot.

What are you currently reading?

Feast of Fates by Christian A. Brown, Book One of the Four Feasts Till Darkness Series, a superior epic fantasy. Brown has created a rich world, so real I can taste and smell it. I’m in love with his characters.

What are you currently watching (TV shows)?

The Deuce on HBO

Outlander on Starz

Fear the Walking Dead on FX

Jill: How excited are you for Outlander S3, E6? I heard we have to wait until 10/22. NOOOOOO!!!

Favorite fantasy creature, villain, or weapon not from your own work?

Hands down, the dragons from Game of Thrones.

Biggest challenge facing writers today?

Getting your books noticed in the sea of offerings, many of them excellent.

I’m also concerned about Amazon’s power in the market. The company can do anything it likes to independent authors. We are completely at its mercy. I think it’s a shame when books become more about the delivery system than the stories.

Jill: I don’t think a reader buys a story because of its delivery system, but delivery systems that are too complicated or burdensome can have a dampening effect on sales.

How can we meet that challenge?

I have no idea. I’m not in KDP Select. I chose wide distribution, but I do sell the great majority of my books on Amazon. Sigh. I would love suggestions, about getting noticed and about handling Amazon.

Jill: I’m not in KDP Select either, although I don’t rule it out for future books. (It didn’t make sense for the book I self-published, which was a follow-up to three trad published books.) For each book, an author should carefully consider all their distribution options. Having an income stream from multiple sources for at least some products is a wise choice for any seller.

Thanks for sharing your pictures and thoughts!

Where to find Libby

Website | NewsletterAmazon Author PageFacebookTwitterGoodreads

September Reading Choices: Epic, Weird, and Irresistible

September’s Reading Challenge Choices

(descriptions from Goodreads)

Epic Bike Rides of the World

Discover 200 of the best places to ride a bike in this beautifully illustrated hardback. From family-friendly, sightseeing urban rides to epic adventures off the beaten track. Destinations range from France and Italy, for the world’s great bike races, to the wilds of Mongolia and Patagonia. These journeys will inspire – whether you are an experienced cyclist or just getting started.

The book is organised by continent. In the Americas we join a family bikepacking trip in Ecuador; we pedal the Natchez Trace Parkway and stop at legendary music spots; we ride the Pacific Coast Highway in Oregon and California; go mountain biking in Moab and Canada; and explore the cities of Buenos Aires and New York by bicycle.

European rides include easy-going trips around Lake Constance, along the Danube and the Loire, and coast-to-coast routes; routes in Tuscany, Spain and Corsica; and professional journeys up Mt Ventoux and around the Tour of Flanders.

In Asia, we venture through Vietnam’s valleys; complete the Mae Hong Son circuit in northern Thailand; cross the Indian Himalayas; and pedal through Bhutan. And in Australia and New Zealand we take in Tasmania and Queensland by mountain bike; cycle into Victoria’s high country and around Adelaide on road bikes; and try some of New Zealand’s celebrated cycle trails.

Each ride is illustrated with stunning photography and a map. A toolkit of practical details – where to start and finish, how to get there, where to stay and more – helps riders plan their own trips. There are also suggestions for three more similar rides around the world for each story. Each piece shows how cycling is a fantastic way to get to know a place, a people and their culture.

You’re Never Too Weird On the Internet

In the tradition of #Girlboss and Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?—a funny, quirky, and inspiring memoir from online entertainment mogul, actress, and “queen of the geeks,” Felicia Day, about her unusual upbringing, her rise to Internet-stardom, and embracing her individuality to find success in Hollywood.

The Internet isn’t all cat videos…almost.

There’s also Felicia Day—violinist, filmmaker, Internet entrepreneur, compulsive gamer, hoagie specialist, and former lonely homeschooled girl who overcame her isolated childhood to become the ruler of a new world…or at least the world of Internet-geek fame and Goodreads book clubs.

Growing up in the south where she was homeschooled for hippie reasons, Felicia moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming an actress and was immediately typecast as a crazy cat-lady secretary. But Felicia’s misadventures in Hollywood led her to produce her own web series, own her own production company, and become an instant Internet star.

Felcia’s short-ish life and her rags-to-riches rise to Internet fame launched her career as one of the most influential creators in new media. Now, Felicia’s strange life is filled with thoughts on creativity, video games, and a dash of mild feminist activism—just like her memoir.

Hilarious and inspirational, You’re Never Weird On the Internet (Almost) is proof that everyone should embrace what makes them different and be brave enough to share it with the world, because anything is possible now—even for a digital misfit.

Irresistible:

The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked

Welcome to the age of behavioral addiction—an age in which half of the American population is addicted to at least one behavior. We obsess over our emails, Instagram likes, and Facebook feeds; we binge on TV episodes and YouTube videos; we work longer hours each year; and we spend an average of three hours each day using our smartphones. Half of us would rather suffer a broken bone than a broken phone, and Millennial kids spend so much time in front of screens that they struggle to interact with real, live humans.

In this revolutionary book, Adam Alter, a professor of psychology and marketing at NYU, tracks the rise of behavioral addiction, and explains why so many of today’s products are irresistible. Though these miraculous products melt the miles that separate people across the globe, their extraordinary and sometimes damaging magnetism is no accident. The companies that design these products tweak them over time until they become almost impossible to resist.

By reverse engineering behavioral addiction, Alter explains how we can harness addictive products for the good—to improve how we communicate with each other, spend and save our money, and set boundaries between work and play—and how we can mitigate their most damaging effects on our well-being, and the health and happiness of our children.

Cork Dork:

A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste

For readers of Anthony Bourdain, Susan Orlean, and Mary Roach, a surprising, entertaining and hilarious journey through the world of wine.

Like many of us, tech reporter Bianca Bosker saw wine as a way to unwind at the end of a long day, or a nice thing to have with dinner and that was about it. Until she stumbled on an alternate universe where taste reigned supreme, a world in which people could, after a single sip of wine, identify the grape it was made from, in what year, and where it was produced down to the exact location, within acres. Where she tasted wine, these people detected not only complex flavor profiles, but entire histories and geographies. Astounded by their fanatical dedication and seemingly superhuman sensory powers, Bosker abandoned her screen-centric life and set out to discover what drove their obsession, and whether she, too, could become a cork dork.

Thus begins a year and a half long adventure that takes the reader inside elite tasting groups, exclusive New York City restaurants, a California winery that manipulates the flavor of its bottles with ingredients like Mega Purple, and even a neuroscientist’s fMRI machine as Bosker attempts to answer the most nagging question of all: what’s the big deal about wine? Funny, counter intuitive, and compulsively readable, Cork Dork illuminates not only the complex web of wine production and consumption, but how tasting better can change our brains and help us live better.

Physics of the Future:

How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100

New York Times bestselling author of Physics of the Impossible — gives us a stunning, provocative, and exhilarating vision of the coming century based on interviews with over three hundred of the world’s top scientists who are already inventing the future in their labs. The result is the most authoritative and scientifically accurate description of the revolutionary developments taking place in medicine, computers, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, energy production, and astronautics.

In all likelihood, by 2100 we will control computers via tiny brain sensors and, like magicians, move objects around with the power of our minds. Artificial intelligence will be dispersed throughout the environment, and Internet-enabled contact lenses will allow us to access the world’s information base or conjure up any image we desire in the blink of an eye.

Meanwhile, cars will drive themselves using GPS, and if room-temperature superconductors are discovered, vehicles will effortlessly fly on a cushion of air, coasting on powerful magnetic fields and ushering in the age of magnetism.

Using molecular medicine, scientists will be able to grow almost every organ of the body and cure genetic diseases. Millions of tiny DNA sensors and nanoparticles patrolling our blood cells will silently scan our bodies for the first sign of illness, while rapid advances in genetic research will enable us to slow down or maybe even reverse the aging process, allowing human life spans to increase dramatically.

In space, radically new ships — needle-sized vessels using laser propulsion — could replace the expensive chemical rockets of today and perhaps visit nearby stars. Advances in nanotechnology may lead to the fabled space elevator, which would propel humans hundreds of miles above the earth’s atmosphere at the push of a button.

But these astonishing revelations are only the tip of the icebergKaku also discusses emotional robots, antimatter rockets, X-ray vision, and the ability to create new life-forms, and he considers the development of the world economy. He addresses the key questions: Who are the winner and losers of the future? Who will have jobs, and which nations will prosper?

All the while, Kaku illuminates the rigorous scientific principles, examining the rate at which certain technologies are likely to mature, how far they can advance, and what their ultimate limitations and hazards are. Synthesizing a vast amount of information to construct an exciting look at the years leading up to 2100, Physics of the Future is a thrilling, wondrous ride through the next 100 years of breathtaking scientific revolution.

Stay tuned for more bookish thoughts tomorrow. Hope everyone had a nice summer!

#WritersLife: 5 PHOTOS with Claudia Blood (#dnd #Minnesota)

My guest today is Claudia Blood, who’s shares her five writer’s life photos. Welcome, Claudia!


Something that represents something unique about you

This is a picture of 3.5 D&D books, dice, and a dice mat.

I’ve been playing D&D for most of my life. I started in the third grade when my Dad was the DM. THAC0 is a great way to practice math. (THAC0 – To Hit AC 0)

All the good boyfriends (and husband) played. I didn’t have any female friends that played and, in fact, I was told once a female D&D player was a mythical beast (horn not included).

I brought up D&D on the first date with my husband. Shockingly enough, he thought admitting to still playing D&D was not chick magnet material. Little did he know who he was dealing with.

Twelve years later, we host D&D parties every four to six weeks at our place. My husband has been playing with some of the people for 30+ years. One of them travels six hours to attend. We start at about noon and end – well, we have gone to two or three o’clock in the morning. Okay, that was pre-kids.

Even without the super late nights, there is still so much food and laughter.  (Did I mention food?) And I finally have a couple other women that play. How cool is that?

Something that represents where you live

Minnesooota. (with accent) Land of 10,000 lakes and snowy winters. This was taken out of my back window in the middle of a storm that dropped a foot of snow. My daughter had school the next day.

It was that same winter that we hit -20 in the morning. I was on a conference call with my day job with a mix of people from Texas and Minnesota. Having a new kindergartener who had to be at the bus stop right after the call, I asked them if I should walk her to the bus stop or drive her to school. The Texans all asked why there was school. And the Minnesotans said to bundle her up and walk.

We walked.

That’s Minnesota for you.

Your pet(s) or plant(s) or thing you care for (besides your human family/friends)

This is Daisy. There are organizations in Minnesota that go down to southern kill shelters and bring back animals. Daisy had been an owner surrender in Tennessee. I set up the appointment to see her, but the only time they could meet was when the kids and I were away. My hubby met her and liked her, but wanted to talk about it with me before we committed. The guy told my husband to take Daisy home for a trial.  Well, you know how that goes. Two years later we are glad we got her.

I am guessing that the previous owners gave her up because she was high energy. Which is not a problem in our household. What we did not expect was how good she is with the kids. This is a picture of when my daughter decided that Daisy needed to have a dress, a sweater, and a head scarf. Maybe for the cold Minnesota winters.

Something (not someone) that really frustrates you

My driveway combined with ice. Yes, I live in Minnesota, but we used to get more snow than ice. The last couple years we’ve gotten more ice than normal. I then have an-even-with-parking-brakes-on-slide-into-the-cable-box kind of driveway.

Fun fact, it is possible for a car to slide down a drive way in such a way to be parallel parked at the end when it is done. Who knew?

Something that brings you joy (besides writing)

Knickknacks. I love art dolls and paintings and books. This is a picture of one of my book shelves with some of my art dolls. It’s a good thing I don’t have any talent creating dolls, or I would be surrounded my a small army (or two) of art dolls.  Etsy is like crack. There are some crazy cool artist out there.

Interview

What are you working on now?

Book of Secrets

Three hundred years ago the human world and the world of Myth merged in a cataclysmic event. Head of the Human Protection Agency, Joshua Lighthouse, is obsessed with three things: ignoring his psychic powers, catching a supernatural serial killer, and a picture of the human he is meant to love. That is if he can find her.

Serene of the Pack is on the run. Framed for the arson of the HPA research labs, she will stop at nothing to get justice for her murdered Pack. Even seducing Joshua, the man in charge of the organization she blames.

When Joshua’s investigation uncovers a plot to UnMerge the worlds, he is betrayed and hunted and alone. His only possible allies are those creatures of Myth he used to hunt, and Serene, the woman from his picture.

Can two sworn enemies join together to defeat evil and not lose their hearts?

What are you currently reading?

The Writer’s Journey – Christopher Vogler. I have P.C Hodgell’s latest, The Gates of Tagmeth, sitting in queue next. My TBR is embarrassingly long with a busted queue system.

What are you currently watching (TV shows)?

I have a four and six year old, so a “Pup named Scooby Doo”.

Favorite fantasy creature, villain, or weapon not from your own work?

The creatures in Fantastic Beasts were wonderful. I love monsters. I still like to peruse the D&D monster manual.

Biggest challenge facing writers today?

Writer’s ADD. I can somehow use three hours looking at writing stuff on the internet. I hop from writing blog posts, to writing Pinterest, to writing FaceBook groups, to writing emails, to articles about stuff I will someday add to a story. (You may see some Etsy, Kickstarter and … okay back to writing)

It is all a distraction from focusing on putting words on the page.

How can we meet that challenge?

Internet free writing time. I guess I could put parental controls on the internet and give my husband the password.


Thank you for sharing your pictures and thoughts, Claudia. I enjoyed hearing about your WIP and life in Minnesota. Best wishes!

To the seas! (what random dude from ROBIN HOOD would say if he were a pirate): #amreading August’s Reading Challenge Choices

“Live in the sunshine, swim in the ocean, and READ in the wild air.”

Okay, all of you English Lit majors out there, what’s the meaning behind Emerson’s Merlin’s Song? I was a biz major and, as such, have absolutely no idea, but loved his “live in the sunshine, swim in the ocean” idea, probably because I haven’t been to the beach this summer. Bummer.

August’s reading challenge theme is “beach reads.” Initially, I thought I’d choose some contemporary romances or a batch of interesting-looking-but-dissimilar books (potential choices: News of the World, The Marsh King’s Daughter, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine), but then I decided… It’s a pirate’s life for me — at least in August. Below are this month’s reading challenge choices. (I’ll post my thoughts on my July choices soon. I very much enjoyed what I read!)

Quick reminder for anyone new: at the start of each month, I post the month’s reading theme and a list of possible books to read, then at the end of the month, I share my thoughts on at least one of them. YOU are invited to read along by picking whatever book on the list appeals to you and sharing your thoughts –OR– by picking some other book that fits the theme and sharing your thoughts about that.

Also… following up on my earlier post about how I select my choices… another thing I try to do is pick books that have less than 10,000 ratings on Goodreads. The one exception this month is Magic of Blood and Sea, which is actually a duology.) When I first started searching for choices for this month, I felt uninspired. But then, once I hit on the lady pirate idea, I found a surprising number of good picks. So lots to choose from this month!

August’s Choices

(Descriptions from Goodreads or Amazon)

Magic of Blood and Sea

A pirate princess and a cursed assassin find their fates intertwined in this gorgeous and thrilling adventure.

Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to an ally pirate clan. She wants to captain her own boat, not serve as second-in-command to a handsome and clueless man. But her escape has dire consequences when she learns that her fiancé’s clan has sent an assassin after her.

And when this assassin, Naji, finally finds her, things get even worse. Ananna inadvertently triggers a nasty curse—with a life-altering result. Now, Ananna and Naji are forced to become uneasy allies as they work to complete three impossible tasks that will cure the curse.

Unfortunately, Naji has enemies from the shadowy world known as the Mists, and Ananna must face the repercussions of betraying her engagement that set her off on her adventures. Together, the two must break the curse, escape their enemies, and come to terms with their growing romantic attraction.

Child of a Hidden Sea

One minute, twenty-four-year-old Sophie Hansa is in a San Francisco alley trying to save the life of the aunt she has never known. The next, she finds herself flung into the warm and salty waters of an unfamiliar world. Glowing moths fall to the waves around her, and the sleek bodies of unseen fish glide against her submerged ankles.

The world is Stormwrack, a series of island nations with a variety of cultures and economies—and a language different from any Sophie has heard.

Sophie doesn’t know it yet, but she has just stepped into the middle of a political firestorm, and a conspiracy that could destroy a world she has just discovered… her world, where everyone seems to know who she is, and where she is forbidden to stay.

But Sophie is stubborn, and smart, and refuses to be cast adrift by people who don’t know her and yet wish her gone. With the help of a sister she has never known, and a ship captain who would rather she had never arrived, she must navigate the shoals of the highly charged politics of Stormwrack, and win the right to decide for herself whether she stays in this wondrous world . . . or is doomed to exile.

Steel

Sixteen-year-old Jill has fought in dozens of fencing tournaments, but she has never held a sharpened blade. When she finds a corroded sword piece on a Caribbean beach, she is instantly intrigued and pockets it as her own personal treasure.

The broken tip holds secrets, though, and it transports Jill through time to the deck of a pirate ship. Stranded in the past and surrounded by strangers, she is forced to sign on as crew. But a pirate’s life is bloody and brief, and as Jill learns about the dark magic that brought her there, she forms a desperate scheme to get home—one that risks everything in a duel to the death with a villainous pirate captain.

Jill: Love the heroine’s name! 😉

Daughter of the Pirate King

Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain Alosa deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship.

More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the Daughter of the Pirate King.

Frenchman’s Creek

Jaded by the numbing politeness of Restoration London, Lady Dona St. Columb revolts against high society. She rides into the countryside, guided only by her restlessness and her longing to escape.

But when chance leads her to meet a French pirate, hidden within Cornwall’s shadowy forests, Dona discovers that her passions and thirst for adventure have never been more aroused. Together, they embark upon a quest rife with danger and glory, one which bestows upon Dona the ultimate choice: sacrifice her lover to certain death or risk her own life to save him.

Jill: Who knew Daphne du Maurier wrote a pirate book?!

Cinnamon and Gunpowder

The year is 1819, and the renowned chef Owen Wedgwood has been kidnapped by the ruthless pirate Mad Hannah Mabbot. He will be spared, she tells him, as long as he puts exquisite food in front of her every Sunday without fail.

To appease the red-haired captain, Wedgwood gets cracking with the meager supplies on board. His first triumph at sea is actual bread, made from a sourdough starter that he leavens in a tin under his shirt throughout a roaring battle, as men are cutlassed all around him. Soon he’s making tea-smoked eel and brewing pineapple-banana cider.

But Mabbot—who exerts a curious draw on the chef—is under siege. Hunted by a deadly privateer and plagued by a saboteur hidden on her ship, she pushes her crew past exhaustion in her search for the notorious Brass Fox. As Wedgwood begins to sense a method to Mabbot’s madness, he must rely on the bizarre crew members he once feared: Mr. Apples, the fearsome giant who loves to knit; Feng and Bai, martial arts masters sworn to defend their captain; and Joshua, the deaf cabin boy who becomes the son Wedgwood never had.

Wondering what the heck I was referring to in my title? Who remembers this?

Hope everyone’s having a great summer!

WONDER WOMEN—LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE GIRLS

Susannah Sandlin, a.k.a. Suzanne Johnson, is guest blogging today. Her latest release, ILLUMINATION, came out on July 11th. Welcome, Suzannne!


“The women end up taking center stage in ILLUMINATION”

For most of the Penton Legacy Series, it’s been all about the boys. Sexy alpha vampire males are fun to write, and it’s always a challenge finding the right mate for them.

Smart, brooding, responsible Aidan got smart, open, down-to-earth Krys. She tells him like it is and calls him on his crap.

Guilt-ridden badass Mirren, who likes his silence and solitude, fell for people-loving chatterbox Glory. She’ll tie the man down if she has to…and she sometimes does…to make him get out of his own way.

Reckless, handsome Will—voted vampire most in need of a shrink—was reined in by serious control-freak Randa. She finally cracked the thick Teflon coating he’d formed around his true heart and mind.

Adrenaline-junkie Cage (who was a shrink before being turned) found his soul mate in eagle-shifter Robin, who scares him more than a dirty bomb half the time. He also sees a side of her that those who call her “razor-blade Robin” don’t know about.

And in ILLUMINATION, hero Nikolas, who’s as alpha and capable as the other heroes but still very much trying to find his place in the world, finds Shay Underwood, who helps him understand his place and what he really wants.

But although I didn’t plan it that way, the women end up taking center stage in ILLUMINATION. Human, vampire, and psychic, they manage to do what the Big Bad Alphas have been working toward for the entire series: to bring down the Vampire Tribunal, who want to use human trafficking—or worse—to solve the problem of starvation in a world where a human vaccine has poisoned the blood supply for the vamps.

Each has her own role to play:

–Krys is a quiet, wise listener as well as a doctor, so her advice is worth taking, even if it has nothing to do with your health.

–Glory is a chatterbox, yes, but she’s also telekinetic. The girl gives her powers a workout in this book, and she becomes a key to saving Penton even if her alpha male doesn’t want her putting herself in danger. (I think she tells him to put a sock in it.)

–Randa is a warrior. The daughter of an Army colonel and turned when she herself was in the Army, she understands military strategy and is fearless in taking on missions like a takeover of Atlanta’s Museum of Natural History. Any woman who can hold her own with a two-ton reanimated dinosaur bearing down on her…well, don’t worry about Randa.

–Robin shows a softer side in ILLUMINATION because it’s what Cage needs from her. But she, too, takes on the bad guys on land and by air; it’s her tracking skills in eagle form that help the alpha males figure out what the Tribunal bad guys are up to.

–Finally, Shay is the key to everything, including Nik’s future. Her background as a medical researcher comes into play in unexpected ways as the book concludes, and the resolution of her and Nik’s relationship will shape the future of Penton as the small Alabama community rebuilds.

So in the summer of Wonder Woman (which I can’t give credit to because, alas, I haven’t yet seen it), it’s time for Girl Power in Penton!

Jill: See Wonder Woman! You’ll love it. It was great!

More about Illumination

He came to Penton seeking peace. Nik Dimitrou joined the Army to escape his family legacy, only to have his psychic abilities exploited as a weapon. Now, as a civilian, he turns to the bottle to veil the images that haunt his mind whenever he touches anyone—except vampires. With them, he has finally found a home. But as Penton, Alabama, moves into open warfare with the Vampire Tribunal, Nik finds himself a linchpin in the deepening conflict, not to mention facing a transformation in his own body more frightening than anything he’s encountered before.

She wanted to change the world. Shay Underwood watched her Peace Corps parents move from one third world country to another—until both died following an outbreak of fever. Driven to her own career in tropical medicine, Shay works in New Orleans to cure the disease that killed her parents—until a careless weekend outing draws her into a world far more dangerous than the diseases she studies: a vampire society engaged in human trafficking and on the verge of all-out war.

Two cities, two near-strangers, one world. With Penton rebellion leader Aidan Murphy making risky choices and chief vampire lieutenant Mirren Kincaid forced to take a leadership role in Penton, it will fall to two outsiders, Nik and Shay, to find a way for the town—and themselves—to survive in this much-anticipated conclusion to the multiple award-winning Penton Legacy series.

The entire Penton Legacy Series leading up to ILLUMINATION (Redemption, Absolution, Omega, and Allegiance, as well as the spinoff Storm Force—Penton 3.5—are on sale for 99 cents each for Kindle through July 31. You can find the series here and Storm Force here.)

Amazon

More about Susannah/Suzanne

Susannah Sandlin writes award-winning paranormal romance, including the popular Penton Legacy series, and romantic suspense and thrillers, including two series, The Collectors and Wilds of the Bayou. Writing as Suzanne Johnson, she writes the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series and a number of standalones. Suzanne grew up in Alabama halfway between the Bear Bryant Museum and Elvis’s birthplace and lived in New Orleans for fifteen years, so she has a refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of college football and fried gator on a stick. She currently lives in Auburn, Alabama, where she is a full-time author who does copy editing for other authors on the side through Reedsy.com.

WebBlogFacebook

Twitter: @SusannahSandlin, @Suzanne_Johnson

Thanks for guest blogging today, Suzanne. Best wishes for Illumination and summer 2017!

#WritersLife: Ed Hoornaert (a.k.a. Mr. Valentine) shares his 5 PHOTOS (adorable animal pics, an update on my garden, and more!! :-D)

My guest today is Ed Hoornaert, a former principal oboist and current romance writer, who shares his Five “Writer’s Life” Photographs. I couldn’t resist adding a couple of mine. Loved this post and hope you do too!

Something that represents something unique about you

Two things about this pic. First, the beautiful lady is Judi, my high school sweetheart whom I married a week after graduation. We’re still living the HEA 48 years later. Lordy, I’m getting old.

Second, my first teaching job was a one-room school on isolated Gilford Island in British Columbia. Judi and I had to fly in on a floatplane; we had no television or radio reception; people lived on floathouses; and since there were no roads, the students came to school on a schoolboat.  A fisherman tamed the island’s deer and threatened to shoot anyone who hunted them—and people believed him. Judi is feeding a carrot to Sassy.

Jill: That is so neat! Gilford Island sounds beautiful, quaint, and charming (all except the man who threatened to shoot people 😉 ). The picture of Judi and Sassy reminded me of one my husband took of me a while ago in western Pennsylvania.

Something that represents where you live

Since I now live in Arizona, I considered a saguaro cactus or maybe the Grand Canyon—but no, too predictable. Instead, here’s a sunset pic taken from my front yard, with a mesquite tree in the foreground and palms in the background.  Sunset colors are caused by light filtered through particles in the air. Deserts have lots of dust, hence spectacular sunsets.

Your pet(s) or plant(s) or thing you care for (besides your human family/friends)

Behold my dog Twiggles, a tailless schnoodle whom we adopted from an animal rescue organization three years ago. Although she’s terrible at walking on a leash, she’s tempered, friendly, and loves my three-year-old grandson. We’ve had many dogs over the years, but Twiggles is one of the best.

Something (not someone) that really frustrates you

Weeds! We have a corner lot with much space for errant plants, and I feel a modicum of pressure not to have the crummiest place in the neighborhood. You might think the southern Arizona desert wouldn’t support many weeds, but you’d be wrong. It’s a lush desert, with almost too much rain to be classified a desert. Weeds grow like, well, like weeds.

Jill: Weeding was a popular answer for this question this summer. (See Diane Burton’s and Renee Regent’s 5 Photos post.) I get it! Weeding drives everyone nuts!! In Diane’s post, I shard that the weeds in our back garden were so bad, we decided to just plant grass back there this year and take the summer off from growing our own vegetables. The grass is coming along. We planted morning glories along the fence (still growing) and there’s some mint left from the herb patch we had. Next summer, we’ll probably turn that area back into a vegetable garden, but some other ideas we toyed with were more bees, chickens, goats (I don’t think there’s enough room), and making the whole thing one big strawberry patch.

Something that brings you joy (besides writing)

This is a picture of a picture on my music room wall, my lone souvenir of the last time I performed a solo concerto. I’ve been a musician far longer than I’ve been a writer, serving as principal oboist of one orchestra or another for 40 years. As I said above, I’m getting old. These days I play for fun, not money. This weekend, we played Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes and Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony—and I loved every minute of it.

Jill: Awesome!! That’s fantastic that you still enjoy performing. Have you seen Mozart in the Jungle? I started watching and enjoyed the episodes I saw, but I’m very behind. If you’ve seen it, wondering what you think…?

 

The Interview

What’s the elevator pitch for your latest published novel?

She was born to kill. Not love.

Jo Beaverpaw is born fully grown, well-armed, and impatient to tackle her destiny … which is to kill her alien nation’s most wanted fugitive. Her life is pre-programmed and straightforward – until she meets the sexy bodyguard of her intended target.

Wonder what would happen if Schwarzenegger’s robot assassin in the original Terminator had been a bad-assed (yet petite) female?  Find out in Newborn.

What are you working on next?

The fourth novel in my Alien Contact for Idiots series is tentatively titled Rescuing Prince Charming.  Although it follows Newborn, both books stand alone.  The manuscript has been a real problem child; this is my third attempt to salvage it.  Sigh.

Jill: I feel like all of my manuscripts were problem children. 😀

What are you currently reading?

Unsportsmanlike Conduct by Sophia Henry, a New Adult novel that blends two things I love: hockey and romance.  So far I’m extremely impressed.

What are you currently watching (TV shows)?

I recently finished watching seasons one through nine of Murdoch Mysteries.  In general, though, I don’t watch much TV.  I’d rather spend the time writing.

Biggest challenge facing writers today?

Standing out from the hordes of books and authors to get an audience.

How can we meet that challenge?

When I figure that out, I’ll let you know.

You can find Ed online here: 

Thanks, Ed, for guest blogging today!

#AmReading Modern Fairy Tales (July’s Reading Challenge Choices)

This month’s theme is fairy tale retellings. There are A LOT of them out there. Good ones, bad ones, and everything in between. But I tried to pick a few that were either different or hadn’t yet received as much attention as some of the others — not that my choices are unheard of!

July’s Choices

(Descriptions from Goodreads)

Bitter Greens

The amazing power and truth of the Rapunzel fairy tale comes alive for the first time in this breathtaking tale of desire, black magic and the redemptive power of love.

French novelist Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from the court of Versailles by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. At the convent, she is comforted by an old nun, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, a hundred years earlier, is sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens…

After Margherita’s father steals parsley from the walled garden of the courtesan Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both hands cut off, unless he and his wife relinquish their precious little girl. Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1512 and still inspiring him at the time of his death. She is at the center of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition.

Locked away in a tower, Margherita sings in the hope that someone will hear her. One day, a young man does.

Award-winning author Kate Forsyth braids together the stories of Margherita, Selena, and Charlotte-Rose, the woman who penned Rapunzel as we now know it, to create what is a sumptuous historical novel, an enchanting fairy tale retelling, and a loving tribute to the imagination of one remarkable woman.

The Bear and the Nightingale

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

The Singing Bones

A unique and alluring art book showcasing Shaun Tan’s extraordinary sculptures based on the timeless and compelling fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm.

In this beautifully presented volume, the essence of seventy-five fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm is wonderfully evoked by Shaun Tan’s extraordinary sculptures.

Nameless princes, wicked stepsisters, greedy kings, honourable peasants and ruthless witches, tales of love, betrayal, adventure and magical transformation: all inspiration for this stunning gallery of sculptural works. Introduced by Grimm Tales author Philip Pullman and leading fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes, The Singing Bones breathes new life into some of the world’s most beloved fairy tales.

Thorn

For Princess Alyrra, choice is a luxury she’s never had … until she’s betrayed.

Princess Alyrra has never enjoyed the security or power of her rank. Between her family’s cruelty and the court’s contempt, she has spent her life in the shadows. Forced to marry a powerful foreign prince, Alyrra embarks on a journey to meet her betrothed with little hope for a better future.

But powerful men have powerful enemies–and now, so does Alyrra. Betrayed during a magical attack, her identity is switched with another woman’s, giving Alyrra the first choice she’s ever had: to start a new life for herself or fight for a prince she’s never met. But Alyrra soon finds that Prince Kestrin is not at all what she expected. While walking away will cost Kestrin his life, returning to the court may cost Alyrra her own. As Alyrra is coming to realize, sometime the hardest choice means learning to trust herself.

What should authors who are lukewarm about FB and Twitter do? Where should readers go for their bookish news?? (#WritingLife #AmReading)

A few updates…

I just posted my thoughts on my June Reading Challenge choices. I’ll post July’s choices tomorrow. As much as I want you all to read with me (and tell me your thoughts on the books), the other reasons I’m continuing my 2017 Reading Challenge is to be more purposeful with my own reading and to just encourage reading in general. Hey, we all have to do our part, right?

I sent out my June newsletter on June 30th with only a few hours to spare. When I started the newsletter, I wanted to make it a little different than this blog and one thing I promised was less frequent, but more consistent, content. I was having a minor panic attack at the thought of getting that newsletter out late. What’s in it? See for yourself here (hint: there’s a quiz, a recipe contest, my quarterly giveaway, and a Noon #5 update).

In other news…

EarlyWord, the publisher/librarian connection, co-founded and edited by Nora Rawlinson, announced Monday that is was ceasing publication. I read the news that day at work (for any new followers, I moonlight as a part-time librarian at my local library) and my immediate, albeit childish, one word response to EarlyWord‘s last word was…

Noooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Admittedly, I was a late-on-the-scene reader, but I’ve faithfully followed nearly every post of EarlyWord‘s for a year now (since I first started working at the library). I even mentioned my love for it just two months ago here (toward the end of the post, buried under the Giveaway subheading). Geesh, the whole thing reminded me of when GalleyCat stopped publishing back in December. And who remembers the amazing SF Signal?! (At least they still tweet.) Just in the last two weeks, both Wendig and Scalzi shared that their blog traffic numbers were way down. So, upon further refection, I’m amending my earlier initial one word response to news like this to a more mature two word response a la Dana Freeling in 1982’s Poltergeist:

What’s happening?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Answer: Read their blogs… or just consult your own gut feelings about how the current political climate + the ways in which people read blog content now has changed things for authors. Again. Sigh.

So what’s an author who is lukewarm about Facebook and Twitter to do? Hell if I know. If you do, let me know in the comments. (This is not, btw, a shake down. I’m not asking yet again what people want to see from this blog. It’s really an invitation to any other writer out there who doesn’t love FB or Twitter to come whine with me.)

So where on earth are readers supposed to go today to get their bookish news?? Obviously, there are other sources (and, as always, I’m interested in hearing yours), but EarlyWord‘s loss will be deeply felt by me. I’m going to try to find an acceptable alternative, but it may take a while…

In the meantime, WordPress informed me that TODAY IS MY 6TH ANNIVERSARY WITH THEM. Happy Blogoversary to me! 😀

 

What else has been happening?

Our vampire eradication business is well underway. Last week, we brought home a huge trailer full of stakes and I spent the Fourth of July filling the kids’ water bottles with garlickly holy water. (Obviously, kidding. We replaced a bunch of fence posts and I made garlic chicken in my slow-cooker.)

I visited Ladew Gardens to check out their new and old art. To the left is Mary Ann Mears’ painted steel sculpture, “Queen.” (Literature provided to members says, “The queen has feminine curves; her pointed crown suggests power and she looks like she is armed with daggers; a warrior pawn stands by her side.” To me, it looks like the queen’s attendant is wielding a sickle. What do you think?) The sculpture is temporarily on display in the Wildflower Meadow until Halloween. As for the statue on the right, I couldn’t find a title, but you can help name it. Let’s take our inspiration from existing book titles…


Finally, I visited Annapolis, went to one of their First Sunday Arts Fests, and had the only piece of artwork I was interested in bought out from under me. And I watched Tugg unsuccessfully battle our lawn sprinkler. Afterward, he was soaked but happy. Hope you are too! 🙂

[Editor’s Note (i.e. my note – blogs have no editors, they are imperfect, bloggers even more so): An earlier version of this post referred to Dominique Dunne, the young actress who played Dana Freeling. At the time of the post, I hadn’t known that she was murdered the same year that Poltergeist came out. It was shocking, sad news for me, even almost forty years later.]

The #Fae versus #Demons – a few quick thoughts

June’s choices were all awesome and I’d like to continue reading more books featuring the fae. Demon-like in their malleability, they can be anything their creator needs them to be. Karen Marie Moning really used that trait to her advantage in Darkfever. The fae in that book were all varied and imaginative. Unlike demons, however, the fae come with a ready-made uniform mythology for any author to use as backstory if they choose. (There are the dark fae of the Unseelie Court and the light fae of the Seelie Court for starters, this backstory courtesy of the fae’s European origins. Some might consider the fae a subset of demons — Europe’s collective pre-Christianity take on the concept. The light fae seem to share some characteristics with fallen angels whereas the dark fae seem to resemble true demons. Perhaps the Seelie/Unseelie courts are a result of pagan Europe’s inability to imagine a world governed by any structure other than royal houses…?) I’ve often thought about writing a future series featuring fae characters (versus demons or some other type of monster), but it’s always seemed to me, that outside of certain circles, no one’s ever heard the term “fae.” They get a blank look when I mention the word.

So those are my semi-deep, very un-academic thoughts on fae versus demons. If you disagree, have thoughts to add, or want to share a link to an interesting source that discusses this too, please take the time to comment! I’d love to hear from you.

Okay, on to my more specific thoughts on the books.

Darkfever

MacKayla Lane is a young Southern bartender, who initially reminded me of Sookie Stackhouse, which made me curious about who came first. (Sookie. But that’s where the similarities end — at least as much as I can remember. It’s been a long time since I read Charlaine Harris’ first Southern vampire mystery.)

Moning opens her Fever series by introducing readers to Mac, a blonde, pink-loving, cell phone-toting, matching accessory-wearing twenty-something from Georgia whose naiveté comes off as charming, funny, or endearing rather than annoying. (Other readers may feel differently, but I doubt anyone who reads this blog will. We here are appreciative of characters with large growth potential and we don’t have a problem remembering we were all young once. Nobody is born wise.) Mac’s older sister is horrifically murdered and when the local authorities quickly close the case as unsolvable, Mac decides to travel to Ireland to see what clues she can find herself.

I liked that Moning’s fae were true monsters. Even the pretty ones were evil. I was surprised by how much was left open/unsolved/unresolved in the end, but I never felt like Darkfever dragged or didn’t move fast enough. Instead, it seemed to nicely set up future books. I imagine future stories will focus on Mac and Barrons tracking down and killing the Unseelie baddies while simultaneously searching for a way to seal the otherworld door they’re using. (If Jaws had been Darkfever, it would have ended at the part where Brody says, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”)

A Court of Thorns and Roses/A Court of Mist and Fury

Although published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens, my library shelves these under adult SFF, which is where I’d put them too. No doubt, some books can be hard to categorize. Librarians do their best, weighing many things before making their decision. The romantic scenes are well written, but detailed enough to possibly take some younger teen readers by surprise. (Teens who read new adult fiction will be fine.)

Loosely based on Beauty & the Beast with a whiff of Tam Lin and a smattering of Persephone/Hades. There’s also a lot of original worldbuilding, which keeps it interesting. The book opens with the starving Feyre killing a wolf for its prey — a deer. Turns out, the wolf isn’t really a wolf. It’s a faerie and Feyre gets dragged off to a fae court where she is held captive as punishment for killing it. Her captor? Tamlin… whose face is obscured by a jeweled mask.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Arguably the best written of the three (it’s been nominated for, and won, many prestigious awards, including the Hugo and the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel), but not for everyone. It’s long and dense, packed with footnotes and written in a voice that evokes bygone British authors. Set in an alternate 19th century England where magic exists but has long been dormant, the book is written in three parts. The first two are named after the titular characters and the third after the missing Raven King, the man who brought magic to England nearly a millennia ago, whose disappearance caused the gradual withdrawal of magic from England. It’s been adapted into a BBC TV series. Has anyone seen it? If so, tell me what you think in the comments!

#WritersLife – 5 Photos: Renee Regent

Renee Regent shares her 5 Writer’s Life Photos below. Enjoy!


The Photos

Something that represents something unique about you

People are usually surprised or fascinated by our pet box turtle, Myrtle. My husband has had her since he was a child, and she runs free in the house. Her favorite foods are eggs, strawberries and pizza! She tells us she is hungry by standing in front of the refrigerator, or in front of the bathroom sink when she wants a bath. She’s way smarter than I ever imagined, and the best pet ever.

Something that represents where you live

I love my house, which sits on 3 acres overlooking a small lake. It feels like we are in the country, but we’re only a few minutes from town (a northern suburb of Atlanta) and can hop on the freeway to go anywhere. Best of both worlds.

Your pet(s) or plant(s) or thing you care for (besides your human family/friends)

In addition to Myrtle, we have three other aquarium turtles and two cats. Allie (top) and Marley (bottom) are total opposites but they get along pretty well. I was never a cat person but Hubby is, and now I can’t imagine not having them.

Something (not someone) that really frustrates you

I have a love/hate relationship with my garden! I love growing my own herbs and veggies to use in cooking, and fresh flowers are so pretty. But I absolutely hate weeding, and last year I battled so many bugs I gave up. But every year I start all over again, full of hope.

Jill: Weeding is definitely on everyone’s minds this time of year. Renee turned this post in before I posted Diane’s (Is Editing Like Weeding?), so she couldn’t have known Diane would pick weeding as the thing that really frustrates her too. Great minds think alike!

Something that brings you joy (besides writing)

Writing is my first love, but I can’t live without music. I have eclectic tastes, so I listen to all kinds of music, but blues and classic rock are my favorites. My husband plays bass, and manages a music store, so I’m around live music often. If writing is the script of our lives, music is the soundtrack.

The Interview

What’s the elevator pitch for your latest published novel?

Single mom Sarah’s secret is no longer safe when two men return from her past.

It’s book three of my Higher Elevation Series, Undeniable, which was released in January of 2017. It takes place in 1986, catching up seven years later with the characters from the first two books.

What are you working on next?

The first book in a contemporary romance series about a widow who is trying to put her life back together when she falls for a much younger man. Things get complicated when her construction company is threatened and a devastating secret is revealed. Will their love survive the odds?

What are you currently reading?

The Prince’s Game by Lexi C. Foss, which is a twist on the reality-show premise. It’s a romantic comedy with plenty of snark and style. It was a nice departure from some of the more serious books I’ve read lately.

What are you currently watching (TV shows)?

My husband I watch TV in the evenings. That’s our time together. We like sitcoms like Big Bang Theory and Fresh Off The Boat, but we also like dramas like Blindspot, Blacklist, and Designated Survivor.

Favorite fantasy creature, villain, or weapon not from your own work?

Ha! I’d have to say my favorite creatures are the Minions.  I love those guys!  Wish I had a few at home.

Biggest challenge facing writers today?

Discoverability. Last summer, I wrote a blog post on it (The Holy Grail of Publishing) and it’s one of my most heavily viewed. There’s no silver bullet though because trends change so quickly. Despite the challenges, however, this is the best time in history to be a writer. We have so many options we’ve never had before.

How can we meet that challenge?

Stay informed. Research, social media, networking, groups, webinars…there are so many ways to find out what might work for you. Be persistent, but flexible, because what works today may not work tomorrow, once the crowd jumps on the latest strategy. It’s a lot of trial and error, but if educate yourself before you try a tactic, you’ll have a better chance of success.

More about Renee

A lifelong entrepreneur, Renee Regent spent most of her life writing for business. But she never lost her love of writing stories, especially romance.  She now writes stories about the power of love─how mismatched people overcome the odds to be together. After all, love can sometimes be found in unexpected places.

Renee lives in Atlanta with her husband, three cats and four turtles. When not working or writing, she can be found sitting on her deck enjoying nature. Wine may or may not be involved….

A member of Georgia Romance Writers and the Georgia Writer’s Association, Renee also loves blogging and sharing her ideas on the business side of being an author, trends in fiction, and tips she has learned in her writing journey.

Website | Newsletter | Amazon | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads


Thank you for sharing your photos and thoughts, Renee. Happy reading and writing, all!

June’s Reading Challenge – The #Fae

I’m going to continue to be generally offline through the summer. I’ll still be posting the previously scheduled 5 Photos posts and my monthly Reading Challenge posts, and I’ll be sending out an author newsletter toward the end of the month, but that’s about it. Enjoy your summer! Hope it’s full of lots of reading and writing!!

June Reading Challenge Choices

(Descriptions from Goodreads)

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price …

Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.

Darkfever

When her sister is murdered, leaving a single clue to her death—a cryptic message on MacKayla Lane’s cell phone–Mac journeys to Ireland in search of answers. The quest to find her sister’s killer draws her into a shadowy realm where nothing is as it seems, where good and evil wear the same treacherously seductive mask. She is soon faced with an even greater challenge: staying alive long enough to learn how to handle a power she had no idea she possessed—a gift that allows her to see beyond the world of man, into the dangerous realm of the Fae.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England’s history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England–until the reclusive Mr Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight.

Soon, another practicing magician comes forth: the young, handsome, and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell’s student, and they join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, straining his partnership with Norrell, and putting at risk everything else he holds dear.

What about my May choices?

I didn’t do as much reading last month as I wanted to. Karin A. suggested I read A KISS OF STEEL, so I started with that one. I’m enjoying it, although it’s more vampire romance than steampunk. I like the characters and the world. So far, it seems like a great start to a terrific PNR series. But I’ll need to find time to dig into my other steampunk choices at some point…

What about you?? Did you read anything interesting last month? Are you taking a vacation this summer? Where are you going? Any fictional worlds you wish you could visit?

When Life Gives You Lemons… Make Wine??

Ah, Life. So crazy and unpredictable sometimes, huh?

So, a lot’s happened since Pocket Full of Tinder‘s release:

It made the New York Times bestseller list (wait, no — the New York Times discontinued its mass market and ebook lists);

James Patterson called to ask if I would partner with him on a project (wait, no — he is partnering with Bill Clinton… and myriad others besides me);

Amazon raised its royalty rate for indie authors (wait, no — it instituted a controversial new program that might discourage customers from buying new books);

I’ve written nearly 130,000 words in the next Noon Onyx novel and will have no trouble trimming the fat and releasing book #5 by mid-summer (wait, no — I’ve barely begun to write it, but still naively hope that I’ll be able to keep to my self-imposed publication schedule);

I’ve biked the entire Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail and the Heritage Rail Trail six times each now, for a grand total of 240 miles so far this year (wait, no — the only biking I’ve done was in Key West, although it was fun touring the island again via bike);

I’ve read nearly 100 books (wait, no — I’ve read a baker’s dozen and three were children’s books and one was Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which made me laugh but got me to purge approximately 50 bags of crap from my closets).

We have not one, but TWO bee hives now, and our first hive has swarmed not once, but TWICE. We are on par to surpass Burt’s Bees EBITDA before year end! (Okay, only that first sentence is true. No honey yet though.)

We bought a cow and are going to give Organic Valley a run for their milk (okay, not. Craig and I just happened to both pick up cream on the same night.)

E is going to be on Dance Moms. (Ack! No. But those are some of her costumes pictured above. This year’s dance season went well. She ended up performing her Red Like Roses solo enough times that we finally retired it.)

My family banned all tech devices — iPhones, Kindles, Apple TV, etc. (Ha! As if. We did decide, however, to do tech-free Sundays, which were inspired in part by my recent visit to Anthropologie where I picked up a copy of Unplug Every Day: 365 Ways to Log Off and Live Better. Got a kick out of the fact that, when I opened the book to a random page, the book’s advice was “Visit a Library.” Done… done… and done… 125x/year. 😀 )

I bought a Rita’s franchise! (Yeah, um, no. I did, however, buy my first 2017 kid-size wild black cherry gelati).

The Spice Cats say hi… and I’m passing along my recent good fortune to you: MAY YOU BE SUCCESSFUL IN YOUR WORK. YES, THERE IS SUCH A THING AS — HAPPY MONDAY!!!

5 PHOTOS: Nancy Northcott + THE 6 PLACES I FIND NEW BOOKS/AUTHORS! (#writerslife #giveaway)

Programming Note: I’ve been treading water with this blog for a couple of months now, getting by with Reading Challenge posts and 5 Photos posts. I also haven’t been on Facebook or Twitter other than to briefly check in. There are good reasons for it, but they have nothing to do with writing or blogging. I’ll try to do a more personal post soon. In the meantime, please enjoy the wonderful guest posts!


Today, Nancy Northcott shares her five writer’s life photos. Her post touches on all sorts of neat things — the Wright Brothers, backwater peat bogs, bulging bookcases, Dragon Con… It’s also packed with reading and watching suggestions and a chance to win a signed print copy of her latest book. At the end, I share the half-dozen places I find new books and authors. Welcome, Nancy!

The Photos

Something that represents something unique about you

So far as I know, I’m the only romance writer regularly using the Okefenokee Swamp in her books.  My Light Mage Wars/Protectors paranormal romances feature mages fighting ghouls and demons in south Georgia near the Okefenokee (though one novella, Sentinel, is set in Macon, which is closer to Atlanta).

Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m not Ms. Outdoors.  I like my surroundings climate-controlled and my wildlife safely distant, but I fell in love with the Okefenokee, which is actually not a swamp but a blackwater peat bog, when I went with my family to research it.  The place is so different from anything else I’ve seen, yet it’s beautiful and wild and captivating–and spooky at night!

Something that represents where you live

I live in North Carolina, where the Wright Brothers first flew.  Our license plates claim we’re First in Flight, and we have a genteel feud with Ohio, whose plates claim it’s the Birthplace of Aviation. This airplane hangs in one of the departure lounges at the Charlotte airport.

Your pet(s) or plant(s) or thing you care for (besides your human family/friends)

This is our dog, who thinks all routes in our house should pass through the kitchen.  She looks irritated in this photo because no one is moving toward that area.

Something (not someone) that really frustrates you

This bookcase illustrates an ongoing problem, too little space for books.  I love comic books and speculative fiction, but I also love history.  I’ve been a history geek all my life,  mostly reading American and British history with a little Ancient World mixed in. I collect books on topics I have used or might want to use for worldbuilding, but I also just simply enjoy it.

Hence the problem.

And yes, those are books stacked in the left of the photo. *sigh*

Something that brings you joy (besides writing)

I love going to science fiction/fantasy and comics conventions.  Here I am at Dragon Con a couple of years ago.  I was in the lobby of one of the convention hotels on Thursday morning of the con weekend.  By lunchtime, that area was hopping.

I’ve loved comics, science fiction, and fantasy, along with other things of course, since I was in grade school.  The people who go to the cons, whether or not they like the same things I do, are my tribe.  I love the fannish energy in the air and the enthusiasm for the various guests.

The Interview

What’s the elevator pitch for your latest published novel?

My latest novel is The Herald of Day. It’s the first book in the Boar King’s Honor trilogy, and it represents a new direction for me.  Instead of contemporary paranormal romance, it’s historical fantasy with romantic elements.  Here’s the pitch:

A wizard in 17th century England has altered history to set up a dictatorship of the mageborn.  Standing in his way are a cursed wizard and a Gifted but untrained tavern maid. If they can’t figure out how to stop him and put history right, he’ll crush England under his heel.

What are you working on next?

I have three projects in varying stages of development.

I’m collaborating with Jeanne Adams on a new space opera series.  It’s about a world (and a space station) that are officially dubbed Paradise Station but, because they’re in the armpit of humanity’s galactic frontier, are more commonly known as Outcast Station. We plan to launch it this summer.

I’m also working on the next Light Mage Wars book, Nemesis, which is a second-chance-at-love story.

Finally, I’m doing research for The Steel Rose, the next book in the Boar King’s Honor series.  It’s set during the end of the Napoleonic Wars, with a climactic confrontation during the Battle of Waterloo.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished Josephine Wilkinson’s The Princes in the Tower: Did Richard III Murder His Nephews, Edward V and Richard of York? It’s a slim book that focuses only on that question, but it provides a careful examination of the various sources, including contemporary ones, that address the issue.

Next up is KJ Howe’s debut thriller, The Freedom Broker.

What are you currently watching (TV shows)?

We love NCIS:LA and Supergirl, and we’re having withdrawal over Grimm.

Favorite fantasy creature, villain, or weapon not from your own work?

That’s a tough one.  I had to think about it a while, and I pick Nighteyes, the wolf that bonds with Fitzchivalry Farseer in Robin Hobb’s Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies.  He shows us a lot about Fitz, but he definitely has a personality of his own.  He’s a brave, steadfast, loving companion.

An alternate choice would be any of Anne McCaffrey’s dragons–which also happen to bond with their humans.

Biggest challenge facing writers today?

Aside from the longstanding one of learning to be the best writers we can be, I think it’s getting readers’ attention in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

How can we meet that challenge?

If I had a guaranteed answer for that, I’d bottle it and make a fortune! *g*  I think we have to learn how to market ourselves. I couldn’t sell toothbrushes to benefit the marching band in my hometown, so I have lots to figure out, but I’m gaining ground.

I also think we need to be flexible.  What worked last year might not work this year, and so on.

Thanks for having me today, Jill.  I’ve enjoyed it.

My pleasure, Nancy. 🙂


More about The Herald of Day

A wizard’s fatal mistake, a king wrongly blamed for murder, and a bloodline cursed until they clear the king’s name…

In 17th century England, witchcraft is a hanging offense. Tavern maid Miranda Willoughby hides her magical gifts until terrifying visions compel her to seek the aid of a stranger, Richard Mainwaring, to interpret them. A powerful wizard, he sees her summons as a chance for redemption.  He bears a curse because an ancestor unwittingly helped murder the two royal children known as the Princes in the Tower, and her message uses symbols related to those murders.

Miranda’s visions reveal that someone has altered history, spreading famine, plague, and tyranny across the land. The quest to restore the timeline takes her and Richard from the glittering court of Charles II to a shadowy realm between life and death, where they must battle the most powerful wizard in generations with the fate of all England at stake.

More about Nancy

Nancy Northcott’s childhood ambition was to grow up and become Wonder Woman.  Around fourth grade, she realized it was too late to acquire Amazon genes, but she still loved comic books, science fiction, fantasy, history, and romance.

Nancy has taught a college course on science fiction, fantasy, and society.   She has also given presentations on the Wars of the Roses and Richard III to university classes studying Shakespeare’s play about that king.  A sucker for fast action and wrenching emotion, Nancy combines the magic, romance, and high stakes she loves in the books she writes.

Library Journal gave her debut novel, Renegade, a starred review, calling it “genre fiction at its best.” Connect with her via her website, Facebook, Goodreads or Twitter: @NancyNorthcott.


More about the Giveaway

Nancy’s giving a signed, print copy of The Herald of Day to one commenter, so tell her how you usually find new authors and what you’re reading now. I’ll pick a winner by midnight DST on May 15th. (For my complete giveaway rules, click here.)

Here’s my TBR list for this month, although I’ll likely only have time to read one of them. As for how I find new books/authors, here are my Go To Resources:

  1. My local library: I’m a part-time librarian and, in direct contrast to my local indie bookstore, my local library just doubled its square footage and the size of its print book collection. I love looking through the new release shelves.
  2. Early Word: a resource for librarians that alerts us to books with high hold ratios, movie tie-ins, early reviews, upcoming releases, etc. Even though it’s geared toward librarians, anyone can read/subscribe to this blog. If you miss GalleyCat or think EW‘s book coverage is spotty, this would be a great resource for you.
  3. Genre-specific blogs and other authors: Speculative fiction blog The Qwillery highlights the work of debut authors. They also review other genre titles and provide some industry coverage. Plus, they have a fun Cover Wars contest every month. Suzanne Johnson’s blog (formerly Preternatura) has a nice comfortable feel. She blogs about her author life, various things that interest her, and shares a weekly New Releases list that features paranormal, UF, and fantasy reads. Veronica Scott lists new releases for SF/fantasy romance every Wednesday.
  4. Word of Mouth: I’m always asking people what they’re reading and what they think of it.
  5. My book club: I’ve read some books this year that I wouldn’t have picked up but for my book club. It’s good for authors to expose themselves to genres other than their own. You don’t want your work to be derivative or so full of generic tropes that it lacks any sort of personality or voice, right? Well, reading widely is one thing you can do to avoid that fate. Joining a book club also reminded me that there’s value in a book beyond its entertainment or educational value — its ability to spark discussion. My book club uses Book Movement to keep track of its book choices, meeting places, etc.
  6. Amazon: I still prefer browsing in a bookstore to browsing online, but when I know exactly what I’m looking for, want it immediately, and don’t care about owning the book in print, Amazon’s convenience is hard to beat.

We’d love to hear from YOU. How do you find new books/authors? Do you have a book blog or follow one that you can recommend? Just “liking” this post isn’t enough. Give your favorite blog a shout out!! 😀

Thanks for sharing your pictures and thoughts, Nancy!