A Particular Theme in THE BLOOD KING

There’s been something weighing heavy on my mind these last few weeks as I prepare for the release of THE BLOOD KING. And while I’ve struggled with how exactly I want to say things, I think it’s important now more than ever.

I am an LGBTQ ally. 

Full stop. I have a list of reasons that I won’t just shout into the void here. The biggest reason: Many of my closest friends are part of the community, and I support and love them. I know this and they know this, but those who don’t know me should, too, because it’s simply part of me.

It’s important that I say this not to make a stand or get into some political or moral blog battle, but because a huge theme in THE BLOOD KING is about and for LGBTQ. I don’t want readers to be surprised or offended–and quite frankly, don’t want anyone berating the book because of it. It’s still a Young Adult dystopian novel also featuring a King, after all. You can not like a book due to its plot or writing style or the like. But if it’s just because LGBTQ isn’t something you’re into, I think it’s important to be upfront about what you’ll read in this new release and know that it might upset you. I think I need to say it now because while it’s not a surprise to anyone who knows me in person, I tend to be quiet online and don’t invite negativity into my conversations. No one is going to change my mind on this matter, so there’s no use in confrontation.

Reina Torres is a 17-year-old girl who also happens to like other girls. This is part of her, but not her sole defining characteristic. She’s also sarcastic and strong, enthusiastic and hopeful. She enjoys reading and cooking, wants to change the world for the better, and turns out to be braver than she ever thought she could be. When King Magnus attempts to force her to marry his cruel son, it’s obviously not what she wants. Plenty of other things happen along the way, but in short, Reina Torres knows exactly who she is.

When beginning the outlines of THE BLOOD KING, it was important to me that Reina already be very aware of her preferences. I want readers, particularly teens, to know it’s okay to struggle and it’s okay to know, and it’s okay to be exactly as you are. Most of the story is about Reina’s struggle, not with liking other girls, but fighting to be herself in a world where she’s told not to. The kingdom of Brighton is dangerous for those risking their lives for love, and Reina is terrified–but she’s probably going to do it anyway, because in the end, she has to be true to herself.

By the end of Book 1, I want readers to feel hope. Hope for Brighton, hope for our own real world, hope in whatever struggles they face. It sounds so hokey when I put it that way, but that perhaps childlike optimism is why I wrote this duology in the first place. Ultimately, I want all readers to know it’s okay to be exactly who you are. And for those who identify with LGBTQ, know that you have an ally in me.

The Blood King Special Excerpt

Brighton Duology FB Cover

THE BLOOD KING SPECIAL EXCERPT

Chapter One

My grandmother once told me our country used to be a democracy. Years ago, when she was a little girl, a man became president. He loved the power so much he kept it, killed his opponents and dared others to come forward. Those who did lost, and with it, our free will.

The man declared himself a King, vowing to take care of the people who best served him. And he did keep his word–those who were loyal to him stayed in their own places of power, content to take orders from a megalomaniac. There were parties and festivals, food and drink and no expense spared.

The King remained on his throne of gold, the years turning into a decade, then two and three and four. Eventually, the people in his new kingdom grew complacent, adapting to their circumstances. They couldn’t flee because these were their homes, they said, and fighting was out of the question. Families stayed together this way, they said, and they’d surely be rewarded for their loyalty. Many people in the kingdom died waiting.

Eventually people accepted things the way they were, forgot how life used to be. And so the King continued on ruling, content to keep his power over the country. He went to war with other countries who dared threaten us, subduing them thanks to his plans and weapons. Attacks decimated over half of our own country, leaving much of what was once green and fruitful now barren and brown.

He won, thanks to the money he pumped into his military. It was the best in the world, and it only took three years for everyone else in the world to realize it. Over half of the human population, on the entire earth, blown to smithereens. He rebuilt the kingdom on top of our old ruins, promising a glorious new era. Other countries would bow to us and fear his name. He was the King of our country, not the world, but he might as well have been. The smaller battles that broke out across the years never amounted to anything. No one could truly spar with him because they knew he’d bomb their entire civilizations off the map.

It was a folk tale, this story of King Magnus Brighton. Stories our grandparents made up to get through their days, to scare the younger generation into behaving. I knew better, could read the papers and listen to the media. They only had positive things to say about how our King had saved us all, and continued to fight for our prosperity. People had jobs and homes, food on their table, so why would we possibly complain about being able to live our lives?

My own father fought for King Magnus, gave his life to protect his country in the last war. When rebels attacked Brighton a little over a decade ago, my father volunteered, rather than be drafted. I remember the morning he left, the proud look on his face as he kissed my mother and me goodbye. He’d known exactly what he was walking into and still he’d kept a brave face. I hadn’t realized it at five years old, but at seventeen, I knew he’d been willing to die for his country that had given him so much.

As soon as my mother received notice of my father’s death, she packed our things and we went all the way to the other side of what was left of the country. Mama said she couldn’t bear to be so close to the heart of the kingdom, but I knew there was something more. I had no idea what, of course, but I had been too devastated at the loss of my father to question it then and now it just seemed like a waste of time. Things were the way they were, and no amount of questioning or wondering would bring my dad back. I missed him everyday, as much as the day he’d left, but he was never coming back.

My mother was the rule follower, hated it when I bent them by breaking curfew or grumbled about the overbearing soldiers. I couldn’t stand her smothering. The King probably couldn’t even be bothered to reach us way out here, but she didn’t want to take any chances.

I don’t know why she bothered. Everyone out here was too busy working to worry about breaking the rules. It’s not like anyone had any real technology, anyways. We had the newspapers and TV, but no one had those fancy phones city people flaunted in those strange commercials we saw on a staticky TV. The wars had taken technology out in most of the rest of the world, leaving King Magnus once again ahead of the curve in luxury. In our tiny part of the world, most of us felt lucky to have what little we did, and dared not ask for anything more.

The Blood King releases April 10, 2018

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Books Read and Recommended in 2017

I don’t typically set reading goals each year, since I have a strange pattern of reading. While writing my own books, I tend to stay in my own worlds. Between books, however, or when I need a break or a push of inspiration/motivation, I’ll end up racing through a dozen or so in a week. But I thought I’d share the books I read in 2017, with a few I highly recommend. Many of them got my brain cranking and in fact, kicked my butt back into gear for The Brighton Duology.

There are a few more on my list that were purchased, but I haven’t read yet. Honestly, I read the majority of these (probably 25) in the last couple of weeks of December. These are in no particular order, and I’ve made notes by a few that I fell head over heels with, particularly the most recent ones read that I can immediately recall the plot and people.

The Naturals Series by Jennifer Lynn Barnes:
–I LOVE this series, and it’s possibly one of my top 3 YA series of all time (like YA meets Criminal Minds). I’d previously devoured the first 3, so was thrilled when the final book, Bad Blood, released, followed by a short story spinoff, Twelve.

The Darkest Minds Trilogy by Alexandra Bracken:
The Darkest Minds
Never Fade
In the Afterlight
–Unbelievably good writing and characters, dark as hell plot (think X-men kids in concentration camps) and overall can’t stop thinking about it. She’s got a forever fan in me.

Legend Trilogy by Marie Lu:
Legend
Prodigy
Champion
–Really enjoyed this trilogy, even if I’m still grappling with the way it ended. Lu is a wonderful writer and I enjoyed learning her style. Dystopia, told from dual POV and really captures a war-torn country dealing with poverty, rebels, and more.

Heist Society Trilogy by Ally Carter:
Heist Society
Uncommon Criminals
Perfect Scoundrels
–I LOVED (all caps) this trilogy. Very YA meets thief/heist, and totally sucked me into the world and characters. I want these books to be made into movies because they’d be so much fun.

Conspiracy of Us Trilogy by Maggie Hall:
The Conspiracy of Us
Map of Fates
The Ends of the World
–Absolutely fantastic series that I highly recommend for adventure readers. Sort of YA meets Dan Brown, with plenty of secret societies, romance, great characters and a bit of treasure hunting.

The Testing Trilogy by Joelle Charbonneau:
The Testing
Independent Study (just started)

The Royals Trilogy by Erin Watt:
Paper Princess
Broken Prince
Twisted Palace
–This was a quick read, and is heavy romance; I’d argue about it being YA due to mature content; I can see why it’s popular, and it kept me in it enough to keep going, but wouldn’t recommend for younger readers.

Ravenspire by CJ Redwine:
The Shadow Queen
The Wish Granter
–I adore CJ, and her writing style is phenomenal. These books completely sucked me into a new world and I loved the twists on things we wouldn’t normally expect from the usual fairytales.

The Selection Series by Kiera Cass:
The Selection
The Elite
The One
The Heir
The Crown
–I was really surprised by how fast I read through these due to the major focus on romance, but I also enjoyed the world-building and characters. Plus, Cass is almost local for me, so I’m glad to support a successful author practically in my backyard!

Magnolia Steele Mystery Series by Denise Grover Swank:
Center Stage
Act Two
Call Back
Curtain Call
–Cannot recommend enough for murder mystery readers who also like to laugh out loud at quirky characters and witty dialogue. I adore Denise, and her work never disappoints.

Other books that are either standalones or parts of series I have not finished:

  • Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
  • One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus
  • Origin: A Novel by Dan Brown
  • A Different Blue by Amy Harmon
  • Mister Romance (Masters of Love Book 1) by Leisa Rayven
  • Fairy, Texas by Margo Bond Collins
  • The Opposite of Wild (Clover Park, Book 1) by Kylie Gilmore
  • The Substitute: The Wedding Pact #1 by Denise Grover Swank
  • That Thing You Do (Whispering Bay Romance Book 1) by Maria Geraci
  • Moonstone Beach (Main Street Merchants Book 1) by Linda Seed
  • Love So Hot (The Lawson Brothers Book 1) by Marquita Valentine
  • Forever Mine (The Moreno Brothers) by Elizabeth Reyes

Nonfiction, mostly writing craft books:

  • On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft by Stephen King (all writers should read this one)
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson (another good one to set your head straight in getting your ish together for you)
  • The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman (always good to have on hand while writing)
  • The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (see above note)
  • Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age by Jeff Goins (a very inspiring take on those who’ve walked the road before us and their struggles, which puts our own in perspective)
  • Why Does the Screenwriter Cross the Road?: And other screenwriting secrets by Joe Gilford
  • Write Naked: A Bestseller’s Secrets to Writing Romance & Navigating the Path to Success by Jennifer Probst and Christina Lauren
  • Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
  • Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels (How to Write Kissing Books Book 1) by Gwen Hayes

Next on the list:

  • Renegades by Marissa Meyer
  • Warcross by Marie Lu
  • And plenty more!!

Setting Writing Goals for 2018

It’s been a big year for me. The 5th and final book of the Donovan Circus Series, Torched, released in June, as did my short story prequel “The Two Ringmasters” (now available for ebook!). The Shattered Worlds anthology containing A Reaper Made hit the USA Today bestsellers list in August, earning me a coveted title to add to my covers and marketing, and I celebrated a 5-year anniversary milestone. I directed the 10th annual Roanoke Regional Writers Conference and 3rd Roanoke Author Invasion; attended UtopiaCon, Mysticon, RavenCon, and several other events both local and not; and even did some public speaking, including my first paid keynote gig to a statewide writers group.

I hit almost all of my writing goals for 2017. It took a lot of planning, especially with the anthology and all of its authors. It also took significant financing for covers, editing, and of course, marketing (beneath that wide list includes newsletters, advertising, contests, and more). Technically, I made more money in 2016, but I gave away a ton of books via KDP days (over 9,000), whereas I sold twice as many books in 2017 with zero KDP day giveaways. I consider this a win because the majority of the sales were at full price, and while I might not have made as much money, I’m clearly gaining readership thanks to new releases and my backlist.

It’s been a weird year for me. This is a bit nerve-wracking to admit so openly, but 2017 was also a bit of a struggle author-wise. Even with all those personal successes, I felt underwhelmed, as though I hadn’t done enough or should’ve worked harder. But what I noticed most was that I wasn’t the only one feeling down and out. Authors, many of whom have been around for years, are dropping like flies out of the publishing industry (or some going back to full-time jobs to sustain themselves or pulling back on the amount of releases in a single year, etc.). Between piracy, reader expectations, trolls, algorithm cheats, and low sales, it feels as though this battle, while constant, really took out a number of great writers. Or at the very least made us feel defeated. For many of us, it’s not fear that makes us give in, but rather the energy and finances it takes to fight it out.

And for me, coming off releasing the #HoA trilogy the year before took a lot out of me. I was tired, burned out. (All this on top of my full time job, including a promotion to Editor, and a part time consulting gig.) I had no energy for writing or even reading (though I watched a lot of TV). Two books a year seems to be my happy average; 3 about did me in, while 1 release didn’t feel like enough, not in this day and age where authors are publishing a dozen books a year (they must be wizards, I swear). Finishing up the Donovan Circus series meant whatever I created next had to be brand-new. Starting over felt…daunting. I’d spent so much time in the last two years marketing and promoting that it became the focus of my author career. And that’s great, because obviously that hard work got me to where I am now, but at the same time, it meant my focus went to the business parts rather than the writing – you know, the entire reason most authors get into this gig. For creatives, that stuff can deter your motivation (especially if what you’re doing isn’t working) and you risk losing sight of what made you start this whole thing in the first place.

I admit, while I never seriously considered quitting, I knew I had to find my passion for it again. Doing so meant withdrawing from a lot – the Facebook groups, the Twitter chats, the constant check-ins to make sure I didn’t miss something important, be it industry convo or drama. I figured, why not? I can pay my PA to promote in most of those groups anyway, and I found removing the Facebook app from my phone was one of the best things I did for my mental health all year. In short, when it came to writing more books, I had to fall back in love with the process.

I played with a few ideas on how to do that, including an attempt at a pen name and different genre (something that didn’t fail so much as fell to the wayside, and is not out of the question to continue). I picked at a few old story attempts, as well as new ones in different genres (murder mystery, for the record). But everything felt rushed to me, like I was forcing it to happen simply because I couldn’t focus. It didn’t feel right, and I knew readers would pick up on it if I tried.

Last December, my brother shared a science article that provided a bit of story inspiration. My BFF encouraged me to follow the idea and soon I plucked away at chapters, not for the sake of releasing it, but just because I enjoyed it. It was a completely different genre (still YA, but a dystopia), with characters and setting completely unlike any I’d ever written before. I took my time in plotting; I didn’t even force names onto characters yet, instead subbing in “[Protagonist]” and “[Girlfriend]” so that I could simply focus on the writing, rather than the tiny details (something I usually create beforehand, thus tamping down the writing until it’s sketched out). I put zero pressure on myself, which ended up being the best thing I could’ve done because every time I worked on it, I felt motivated and excited rather than stressed out. When the story twisted in a new direction, I didn’t force it back into the outline; I went with it, eventually pretty damn pleased about how it unfolded. I didn’t worry about deadlines or reader expectations because there were none, and I allowed myself to test different writing flows to see what I could do. That was it; I fell back in love with the process.

Maybe six months later (in between writing Torched, DC #5), I had a new book. A whole, completed novel clocking in around 93,000 words. I handed it to my editor and a couple beta readers, wanting their take before committing to any actual release plans. While I waited, I started the sequel; my editor and betas soon demanded the next book, offering me a bit of relief and confidence in this so-unlike-me story (though don’t get me wrong, I’m still totally anxiety-ridden over releasing it!). The completed covers and Facebook banner, created by Molly Phipps of We Got You Covered Book Design, will be shared soon (I deserve a cookie or something, because sitting on these for the last couple months has been excruciating for an impatient person like myself; on the other hand, turns out nothing motivates me to write more than seeing the damn cover everyday, reminding me to get it done). With the sequel so close to being finished, that means I’ve got plenty of time for my marketing plans for the duology, plus the entire year ahead to plan for 2019. I’ve got wiggle room for another short story or two if I want, and/or I can plan that pen name out for real. It felt like this year dragged on into about five, but I feel pretty confident in saying I got my author mojo back, at least for the time being. That being said, I think I’ll end this excessive monologue here and share my 2018 plans.

My 2018 Goals:

  • Release the Brighton Duology (The Blood King in Spring; The Golden City in Fall)
  • Continue with local cons/events/signings
    • Roanoke Regional Writers Conference in January (Director)
    • Mysticon in February (Guest Author)
    • Roanoke Author Invasion in April (Director)
  • Write another Donovan Circus short story (because man, that was just fun and keeps me in my beloved circus world)
  • Test out that pen name with shorter ebooks that fit within market (possibly with 2019 plan)
  • Work on the standalone books for 2019 (1 gifted spy, 1 murder mystery)
  • Double my 2017 sales (currently at just over 5,000 sales for the year across all platforms; this is triple the 2016 number, so I’d love to see 10,000 in 2018)
  • Hit USA Today list again, preferably under just my name (not a boxed set)

So, let’s have it then – your 2018 writing goals. What’s on your list?