New releases, updates, and more!

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I hope everyone’s been doing well given the circumstances.

Last month in July, it was my distinct pleasure to have my short story, “Precipitation” published in The Sirens Call 50th issue! If you’d like to read it, along with many other wonderful short stories, you can download a free copy here.

In other news, my urban fantasy novel, The Witch & the Wolfwood is going to be getting a cover soon, and I am beyond excited! This will be my first book with publisher Filles Vertes (FVP), and I’m looking forward to doing a cover reveal soon. This title, featuring smart-aleck private eye Helena Birch, will be available in April 2021, hopefully in time for an in-person return to JordanCon here in Atlanta.

Last year I had an idea for a story pop into my head, and it was so in depth that I plotted the book in about an hour and wrote it in a month and a half. Now, that very same book is coming out in just a few days! 

We Who Burn is a dark/paranormal fantasy novel about a necromancer trying to resurrect her lost love while being hunted by a witch-burning order with a world-destroying scheme in their sights. If you’re a fan of sword and sorcery, a kick-ass female protagonist, and a little bit of romance, then pre-order a copy of We Who Burn now! (You don’t even have to wait that long!)

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Until next time, stay safe!

The Witch & the Wolfwood

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Coming soon, in 2020!

Cross Faded is out NOW!

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The last thing Ezra Ashford expected to see in his apartment is a woman in medieval armor hunting a scarab the size of a Great Dane. But being an addict can do terrible things to the brain, and while he’s no stranger to hallucinations, this seems a little too real to be just in his head.
Despite the woman’s warnings for him to forget everything he’s seen, Ezra’s once tepid existence is quickly overwhelmed by bizarre monsters. From the siren in his local bar to the fly-faced man packing fish at his day job, he can’t seem to stop seeing these creatures everywhere. Ezra can’t tell if he’s burned out or if he’s going crazy like his mother did years before.
And doing what comes naturally to him—getting high to forget it all—isn’t working either. Ezra soon finds himself in a turf war between two rival dealers that lands him directly in police crosshairs, wanted for arson and murder.
The harder Ezra tries to ignore his problems, the more abysmal things become. And the threat grows substantially graver once he finds out that an ancient monster, Bandon, has taken a sudden and irrevocable interest in him; and that all the others he’s taken a liking to have disappeared to parts unknown, never heard from again.
After a lifetime of running from his problems and chasing down his feelings with every new high, Ezra feels powerless to stop his downward spiral out of control. Lost in a world he feels rejected him and plagued by monsters that may or may not be in his head, Ezra must try to find out what’s happening before it’s too late and his personal demons end up consuming him completely.

Cross Faded is the first of one of my new urban fantasy series, and just came out on May 4! You can get your ebook copy at Amazon for only $2.99.

Self-Doubt Doesn’t Care Who Or How Successful You Are (So Just Do ‘The Thing’ & Write Your Novel)

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I’ve been writing since I was a little girl. Mostly, I would just draw pictures and follow my mother around the house and tell her the stories I’d come up to go along with them and be ecstatic when they went on the fridge. I was also a voracious reader, but I was never content to only read; I always wanted to create. I didn’t know what writing was, really; I just knew I had stories to tell.

Writing wasn’t about plotting or world building when I was young; I just wanted to put all my ideas down.

I used to write stories for my friends and then leave them on cliffhangers for weeks while I figured out what came next.

In high school, I was the editor for the paper and wrote several articles. I created “Stickman! The Series!” which was an ongoing comic I passed out to various people in my classes. It was filled with dark humor and constantly skirted the safety of a PG-13 rating in every issue. By the end of my senior year, I was making a handful of photocopies in the library because people I’d never even met before had read it and wanted more.

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“Hello dear sailor, I’m a siren, here to kill you.”
“Kill me? Why?”
“It’s what I do. I gotta be me.”
(10th grade humor. You’re welcome.)

But through all of this, I never once had much doubt about my ability to write. It was just something I did.

Writing was as much a part of me as breathing. But without knowing why, I knew I wanted to get better. So I started researching how to write. And this is where I hit my first real hurdle and my lack of skills became self-evident. My talents were raw; they were unformed clay next to master sculptures. I saw the divide, and for the first time, it bothered me that I wasn’t a better writer. It was like seeing color when I never even knew I was colorblind to begin with. But I was still excited to dive in and learn, so I did. I started reading everything I could find on how to be a better writer.

But the more I learned about writing, the harder it became to write. As technical concepts starting taking root, it felt like my knowledge was actually ruining my ability.

Before, I wrote what I wanted, completely in the dark as to whether it was good or not. But the more I took in, the less the words seemed to flow.

No one ever tells you that self-doubt isn’t just a natural instinct you get handed the first time you put a pen to paper. It’s a creeping sensation that comes out of nowhere. Like walking into a classroom you’ve been in a hundred times before and realizing that something seems different. The desks have been rearranged. You’re not by the window anymore. You have a new seating chart and your buddy is this prick that constantly asks what you’re working on and then compares it to everyone else’s work to make you feel bad.

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And when you start to understand the technicalities of what you’re doing (or not doing, as the case may be), writing isn’t “easy” anymore. It’s not comfortable. It’s not fun. It’s a jerk that looms over you and keeps whispering, “Just quit already.”

So what happened? How did you get dejected from Paradise and sent crashing into this new world? Are you actually a bad writer?!

The moment you become self-aware, your brain is not going to take it easy on you. Suddenly, all those books you loved before aren’t just for you to enjoy. They’re also a model of everything that you aren’t, and that you may never be. And when you compare yourself to them, you’ll feel incredibly foolish for even trying.

By the time I graduated, I was exhausted from “creating” on demand. I shelved many of the books I’d started because I literally got sick of them. I was tired as hell of writing. I had more doubts about my abilities than when I’d started. I was scared of what would happen when I actually finished my novels. When I tried to publish. Would everyone hate it? Would they tell me that my efforts were incomprehensible garbage?

This fear compelled me to quit writing for a little while. I threw myself into work instead and got a position as an editor with several indie publishers. I doubted myself for choosing writing as a college major. I wrote only enough to keep the hinges oiled, and considered jobs outside of my field. But then I got a job with an online magazine as an editor and writer. Inside, I hoped the writing portion wouldn’t come, and for a few months, I got my wish. I was a writer who was afraid to write. The fear of how I would be received had crippled me.

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The first time I was assigned an article, I had a full-blown panic attack. I had to get up and walk away from the computer because I was petrifiedof writing again, especially for a widespread audience. My biggest writing credits at this point were publications in my college newspaper and some minor poetry anthologies.

But I knew, under the fear, that I wanted to do it. And that I wasn’t going to let anyone—least of all me—ruin it. I decided, pass or fail, it wouldn’t be because I gave up.

I wrote the article. It took hours. I hated every minute of it. I was convinced it was the worst drivel I’d ever produced. But when I was done, I realized that I’d written. I’d gotten through it, and I could breathe again. Sending it in to the editor was like a weight lifting off my chest. Then came the next assignment. And the next. And before I knew it, I was writing 4-5 articles a day on a variety of topics. And so I stopped focusing on the technical aspects of how to “craft” everything. I focused instead on the writing. I had a job to do; I had to produce. So even if it still terrified me, I did it.

Before I knew it, I had written over 200 articles.

And while this was going on, I discovered the drive to just sit and write. I stopped self-editing so much; stopped telling myself I couldn’t do it. I let the technical aspects I’d learned guide me, but I put down the story I wanted to tell (reminding myself every time that I could edit later), and suddenly, writing was happening again.

I think I repeated Terry Pratchett’s quote, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story,” like a mantra, whenever I felt like I couldn’t make it.

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In late 2015, two years after graduation, I finished writing my first soft sci-fi novel, Mercury in Retrograde. I edited it for months, waffled on my resolve, and then finally wrapped it up and researched query letters. And even though I felt that same doubt that said I wasn’t any good, or that no one would like it, I sent it out. I cried because I thought it was the dumbest thing I’d ever done.

Just over a year later, it was published. And just over a year after that, it got silver in a book awards contest. And even now, knowing what I know, the voice in my had still tells me that it’s not good enough. That I’m not good enough.

The hardest part of writing is the deceptive idea that it should be easy. That it should always feel fun, and that if you’re struggling, it’s because you’re a hack. But this simply isn’t true.

Writing is an exercise. A mental one, sure, but you’re working out muscles you may not even know you have yet. It’s going to hurt quite a bit before it gets better. And just like anything in life, you can either use it to make you stronger, or you can cave in and let it smother you.

Don’t focus on your fears. Focus on what you can control. Don’t wait for inspiration; make inspiration happen. Sit down, write that novel.

Don’t worry about what people will think of your book. Write the story that you want to tell; edit it later.

The voice in the back of your head is never going to be satisfied, even when you exceed what you thought was ever possible.

So don’t let it stop you.

 

 

 

Your Characters are Probably Terrible – Here’s Why

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Scout Dawson

Even if you’re not currently an author, you’ve probably heard the term “Mary Sue”. It’s a name given to flat, one-dimensional female characters who are so well-rounded and flawless that they just don’t appear human. Sometimes these characters fall into certain cliches or tropes that make the audience collectively groan. You may also have heard the male iteration of this, “Gary Stu”.

The fact is, whilst we all have a secret dream of being the Mary Sue at some point in our lives, writing one into your novel is hands down going to make your novel terrible.

Here is a great example of what a typical Mary Sue character might be like.

She is eighteen years old.

Long brown (or black) hair that seems to frizz and do whatever it wants, she has an unremarkable body boys never look at. She has, against all genetic reasoning, stormy grey eyes.

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Mercury in Retrograde on Sale!

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This week, Mercury in Retrograde is on sale on Amazon for only .99c!

Given that I’m nearly done with the sequel, I’d say now is a perfect time to buy! Get your copy now, so it can meet all of your other TBRs and make friends.

Mercury in Retrograde Chapter Peek!

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“How are you out of prison?” she asked.

Aralyn figured she knew, but wanted the confirmation regardless. She looked around the room and found Riordan, Caden, and Kita all bound to her left, against a bank of computers in the cockpit. They had been gagged and their hands were tied behind their backs. On the console above them sat Aralyn’s shotgun, while Josiah, Dolph, and the cannibal carried their other weapons. Only she had been tied onto the crude metal chair. She supposed it was for interrogation purposes.

“Well, no thanks to you, that’s for certain.” Josiah ran a hand through his dirty hair. “Luckily for us though, Proctor saw fit to give me the vengeance I was hoping for, and even let me assemble a team of my own people. You know he cleared our sentences for this? That spook must really hate you.”

“You were a trafficker—that’s a minimum life sentence,” Aralyn whispered, trying her best to keep her head and not vomit. She had to focus on a way out. With the cannibal girl behind her, she couldn’t finagle her hands out of the ties, so she had to scope out the room. Maybe get them distracted. She checked her boot, wriggled her foot around. Her feet were free, and she could just barely make out the feel of her switchblade by her right ankle.

“Yeah, and Dolph here? He killed about two dozen women on various planets and moons over several years, but he’s free, too. Like I said, that spook hates your guts if he’s willing to release us just to find you.” Josiah smiled.

“What makes you think he’ll keep his promise? Won’t he just catch you when you go to turn me in?” she prodded, aware of Dolph cracking his knuckles, eager to start the physical stuff again. She couldn’t take another blow like that. Who knew what kind of cranial bleeding she’d have.

“That’s the beauty of this deal,” Josiah said.

Aralyn found herself determining the inner workings of their group. Josiah was the mouthpiece, and Dolph performed the unseemly violence. Cannibal junkie probably worked security, answered to Josiah directly. Not an incredibly smart team, but one with enough of a dynamic to be dangerous.

“What? He arrange to make you rich in everything you guys want? You get orachal trafficking, Dolph gets women to abuse and murder, and Bicuspid back there gets an all-you-can-eat human buffet?” Aralyn asked, trying to keep her voice light and unconcerned.

“What’d you call me?” the girl demanded, coming forward, fists at her sides. “I ain’t bicuspid.”

Aralyn rolled her eyes.

“Something like that,” Josiah said.

I will enjoy wiping that smug smile off his face.

***

Get your copy of Mercury in Retrograde today!

 

Why #CockyGate Is Actually Important, Despite Its Ridiculous Name

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Anyone in the small and indie book-publishing community knows how hard it can be as a new or small author to get your name and your series off the ground. No matter how good your book is, one of the most important skills you need to learn as an author isn’t “how to write better,” although that one tops the list, most definitely.

No, it’s actually “how to create a brand and market yourself.”

And since authors are a notoriously introverted bunch who don’t do so well with being forced to tell other people how great they should think we are and to please buy our books, this can be problematic, to say the least.

For those who visit cons, attend writers’ groups and conferences, you typically learn that the writing community is full of wonderful, supportive people who love their fellow authors and encourage aspiring writers. Really.

In general, the indie market is filled with these awesome authors. So it came as a surprise to everyone when authors started complaining about getting letters threatening legal action against them because their books had the word “cocky” in the title.

No, I’m not kidding, even though I wish I was.

Author Faleena Hopkins, a woman who will now go down in infamy, recently started sending cease & desist letters to any other romance author with the word “cocky” in their book’s title, demanding that they change the title immediately because she had copyrighted the word. Yes. She actually went and got a copyright on the word “cocky,” all in an attempt to have the word solely associated with her “Cocker Brothers” series of romance novels. And the first thing she did was go and threaten other authors—even those whose books were published before her trademark—with legal action if they didn’t remove any instances of the word from their titles.

In a way, it seems like a brilliant move. But there’s a reason that people don’t get to copyright common words or phrases and charge money every time someone says it.

It’s a simple case of Faleena misunderstanding what her copyright is actually for. And now that she’s unanimously become the face of evil that indie authors everywhere are uniting against, it’s important to know why Hopkins will lose every court case, no questions asked.

Copyrighting is one of those things that many people don’t think about. Intellectual property (IP) rules can sometimes be confusing, but when it comes to ownership, possession is, as they say nine-tenths of the law. When it’s a totally new idea or concept, that is. So just how was Faleena Hopkins able to copyright a word that’s been around for hundreds of years?

She wasn’t.

Hopkins did go and get two copyrights regarding the word cocky, it’s true. However, her first copyright was strictly in the use of “a series of downloadable e-books in the field of romance”—not for any and all usage of the word. And that was only in a “particular stylized form of the word,” which she also had the copyright for. However, therein also lies the problem.

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When you copyright a word, like “Apple” did for computers, you have to show that your usage of the word is specific, unique, and unlike the common word. This is the reason that Apple got the copyright for computers and software, but you don’t have to pay $19.99 for every apple you buy from the Apple store.

In Faleena’s case, her first copyright was for the word “cocky” in a romance e-book series, in a stylized form. It only covers that single, particular use. Which means that other authors are not infringing on her use of it unless they copy it exactly, in stylized form, in romance novels. Someone could literally write a book of any genre, name it “Cocky,” and have a block-letter form of the word and they still wouldn’t be infringing on her copyright in the slightest.

The second issue is the stylized form of the word itself, which Faleena Hopkins did actually get a copyright on… Even though she doesn’t own the rights to the font that she copyrighted, which will immediately null any copyright she filed.

Someone took the time to track down the font that she used and find out where it came from. The artist’s website says specifically that no one may copyright a word with their font, since the font is already trademarked to the artist, and is only licensed to the user.

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So Faleena’s entire argument for trying to steal royalties from other authors is moot. She didn’t have permission to copyright to begin with. And now, not only does she have thousands of indie authors up in arms against her, but the Romance Writers of America (RWA) is even speaking to the ones that Hopkins threatened in order to bring an IP suit against her.

So yes, #Cockygate may sound really stupid, but there’s an important lesson to learn from it:

There’s nothing wrong with trying to protect a brand that you’ve created, but trying to screw other authors out of doing the same and threatening to steal their money isn’t the way to do it.

And also, before you send out cease and desist letters, you should probably make sure that you understand copyrights and have permission to use them to begin with.

Follow #CockyGate and #ByeFaleena (my new favorite tag) on Twitter for more amazing responses to this ridiculous scandal.

 

Why You Should Be Reading Your Writing Out Loud

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Last weekend I was at JordanCon here in Atlanta, meeting with and talking to some exceptionally skilled people in the writing and publishing world. It was an amazing treat, since I got to experience being a Con author, but also because I got to pick up little things here and there from other people more experienced than I am.

One of the things that came up in conversation with many of the aspiring writers I spoke to was the fact that none of them had ever read their work out loud or had anyone read it for them.

To elaborate, I’d like to state that I (frequently) annoy my husband into letting me read something I’ve written to him. I’ll do this even if I know he won’t really be listening because it’s while he’s reading the news or playing a video game or even falling asleep.

The benefit I get isn’t just for him to listen to the story and give me feedback, though that does help. The benefit is learning where the flaws are in my own writing by hearing them as I read. This one trick has changed many a story I’ve written.

So it struck me as odd that many people don’t read their work aloud. The benefits to your writing are so tremendous it’s ridiculous.

I’m an incredibly fast reader by nature. If I’m pleasure reading, I often have to force myself to slow down so I’m not missing key elements or glossing over words. Reading out loud forces me to slow down, see what I’m actually reading, and also notice errors (like forgotten words) as I go.

If you’re not reading your writing aloud, then you should be. And here are 3 reasons you need to start doing it right now:

1. Awkward lines become super obvious.

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Sometimes when you’re just reading your own writing, it sounds really eloquent in your head. You know what I’m talking about—you’re sure it’s the greatest set up ever. But reading out loud will strip that idea from you almost immediately. And trust me, that’s a good thing!

When you read out loud, you’re going to see if there are any words that you hesitate on, stumble over, or that otherwise sound weird to you. These are areas that might make other readers (who don’t know your inflection) go “Huh?” and reread it to figure out what you meant or to correct themselves. And since that takes away from their immersion in your world, that’s a BIG no-no.

2. You’ll develop a “reading voice.”

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Reading in front of people is weirdly intimidating. It’s like you’re baring a piece of your soul when you read aloud. This can make it easy to screw up, whether it’s because of a dry mouth, nervous tick, or you’re speed reading and stumbling over your words.

If you practice reading out loud, when you have to do this in the future to a crowd (either big or small!), you’re going to know the pace, be familiar with the tone, and understand how it should sound, which will help lessen screw ups.

3. It will better your writing.

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Yes, reading your work (or hearing someone else read it) is supremely beneficial. In your head, things might sound fine, but out loud, you’ll start to realize that certain words may need to have less complicated choices, or that dialogue sounds too formal, or you’re trying to create a scene and left out a hugely important part.

It will also force you to picture scenes and situations in a different way than just writing will do. You’ll start to notice immediately when things don’t “look” right in your head, and you’ll realize where you’re lacking to your readers, too.

So if you’re not convinced, just try reading your latest piece out loud to yourself, and I’m sure you’ll notice some problems right away. If you have someone you’re comfortable sharing your work with in the early stages, have them read segments to you, too, so you can see where you’ve still got work to do.

This is an incredibly important part of the storytelling process, so don’t neglect it!

 

 

 

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