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.

 

 

 

You Probably Have An Unfair Bias Against Indie/Self-Published Authors (For No Actual Reason)

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“Indie authors… there’s a reason none of them have been traditionally published. Most of them need to…leave the writing to the writers who are actually good at it.” — Actual quote from a book group I’m in.

When it comes to writing, criticism is easy to come by but difficult to receive. And given that writers are a notoriously delicate, brooding bunch, it’s not hard to understand why sorting through the criticism chaff to get to the good advice wheat is one of the hardest things to do as an author.

You’ve created this book baby. You birthed it from your own head, fed it all of your fears and hopes and dreams, watched it grow, helped it overcome obstacles and form into a coherent being… and then handed it over to a group of people with eager red pens and asked them to tell you all of the ugly, bad things that are wrong with it.

It’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. It never gets easier, no matter how many times you go through it.

And if that weren’t enough, you have to keep going through this process, day in, day out, for the rest of your life, facing criticism, backlash, and yes, bad reviews. And some of these reviews might be nothing more than a misunderstanding or someone who is the polar opposite of your target audience buying the book and making your day suck, but some might have valid points. And those are the ones that will really keep you up at night, wondering if you’re a crap writer after all.

In the writing world, some people are so incredibly eager to cut down someone else’s book, it’s astonishing. And many of these unhelpful remarks get unfairly pointed toward indie and self-published authors by people who have never written a book themselves (or take their job as an indie book reviewer a touch too seriously). It’s completely, totally, unabashedly unfair.

And it’s also an accusation that’s fully baseless.

Just because a book has been published by an indie or self-published author does not automatically make it crap.

It doesn’t mean that the book couldn’t stand the test of going through a traditional publisher. It doesn’t mean that it’s not any good and shouldn’t ever be read. And it’s not even just readers that have this unfair bias against indie/self-publishers. It’s also other writers who look down their noses at self-publishers with scorn because they haven’t “passed the trials” that other writers had to.

“But,” you might say, “there are some really, truly, 100 percent awful self-published books that the writer had no business sharing with the world.”

To be perfectly honest, I agree with you. Some of the self-published books I’ve seen and edited are so bad they could curdle milk. But does that bring down the self-publishing market for everyone? No. Does it flood the market? Sure. Does it make it more difficult for your book to be seen? Not if you’re marketing, no.

That’s like saying because some indie movies sucked, that all indie films are awful and lesser than their blockbuster compatriots and not worth watching. But this isn’t true. Amazing indie films get released all the time while the not-so-great ones continue to pour in around them. That’s just the creative process. And once upon a time, your favorite director or author might have been down among those “lesser” indie creations, trying to learn how to get better.

It’s the same thing in the book market. The only reason that you might struggle to make room with indie or self-published authors is if you’re publishing through Amazon’s Kindle Direct, which encourages everyone to make their books as cheap as possible… But that’s another discussion entirely.

The truth is that traditional publishing doesn’t rest entirely on the merits of your work. Maybe you really struggled to get the words out in your query letter and the reader trashed it immediately. The agent or reader might just have a migraine and not really focus on your work that day. They could read literally the first line and hate the way you’ve introduced your character without reading further than thirty words into your entire 80,000-word manuscript.

This is 100 percent a real issue. I have talked to agents and publishers I’ve met at conventions about this. Yes, it really happens. There is literally nothing more inspirational than remembering that Harry Potter was rejected by publishers twelve times before a kid ended up reading it and loving it. But these stories of inspiration are few and far between, and it’s usually rejection for the majority of writers trying to get their work seen for a myriad of reasons — only a small portion of which might be their actual work.

In the real publishing world, it isn’t just that you’re competing with other writers and vying for that golden pedestal position. It’s a battle against timing, opportunity, and sheer dumb luck. Sometimes you’ve got a great book but you can’t get it in front of a traditional publisher. Maybe they aren’t accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Maybe they’re not accepting new work, period. Maybe they’re full up on the genre your book is written in and don’t have plans to publish more for about a year.

An indie author’s writing and effort aren’t the only things affecting their rejection from traditional publishers. And when you want to publish your book and your traditional options are limited, it’s great to know that there are hundreds of indie publishers with great authors and support staff that can fit your needs and get that wonderful story out to the world at large.

For others, self-publishing is the best way. Sure, it costs more money up front, but it gives you complete control over your book’s content and production, marketing, and even art choices. Plus, there’s no one to split royalties with!

So next time you hear someone suggest that indie and self-published authors are all failed writers who couldn’t cut it, remind them that they didn’t stop watching movies even though they’d seen a few bad ones. We all saw The Phantom Menace, and yet somehow Star Wars is still hugely popular.

Don’t judge non-traditional writers on the failures of others in their same field. Give them a chance. Who knows? You might just find a new favorite author you never knew existed before.

What Is ‘Mental Real Estate’ & How Can It Make Your Writing Better?

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You will probably stumble across the advice to “write what you know” at some point in your career. And it’s great advice! However, as beneficial as it is to “write what you know,” it’s only one small portion of a larger concept you can implement when it comes to storytelling.

Writing what you know can seem both maddeningly simple and alarmingly complex. It suggests that you should draw on your own experiences with people, places, and events to create a more intricate and realistic world for your reader. It’s a great way to add flavor to your writing and make what you’re working on feel that much more intense, gratifying, and yes, even sad or thought provoking.

After all, you’re not just creating your scenario or character, you’re pulling from real-life memories you felt and understand and can describe in detail.

But as a culture and as people that have many elements of entertainment from all over the world, it can be easy to forget our shared experiences — especially when it comes to writing.

This is where mental real estate steps in and sweeps “writing what you know” off its feet. These two concepts are ideal partners. One helps you make your writing fuller, and the other teaches you to write a story people will love!

The brilliant thing about mental real estate is that it’s a concept that holds an infinite amount of information in your mind. If someone names an item — like Mountain Dew, for example — and you recognize it, then that item has staked a claim in your mental real estate.

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Basically, people are all a little Pavlovian by nature, and if you repeat a phrase or word at them enough with a catchy little jingle, soon they’ll start singing along. This is a concept that retailers rely on so heavily that you probably don’t even know how engrained their logos, slogans, and brand names are.

Also, you’re probably thinking about getting Mountain Dew now. Sorry. (#notsorry, that ish is delish.)

Every song you’ve ever loved and sang along to? Mental real estate. Quotes from your favorite poem or movie? Mental real estate. Being able to name the product from hearing, “The quilted quicker picker-upper?” Yep, you guessed it! All of these things take up space in your head. But mental real estate isn’t just a concept that works for retailers. In fact, it works for storytellers — from indie authors to Disney movies — and it can work for you, too.

If you’re asked to name a fairy tale, there’s a 99 percent chance that you’ll know what a fairy tale is and have at least one example, whether it’s Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, or a dozen others.

The point is that you recognize these stories because they’re already in your head. They’re a part of your mental real estate and have set up camp right there on Fairy Tale Lane (which, let’s be real, probably intersects with Fetish Ave. at some point).

But it’s not just the names of these stories that you can recognize. It’s also their plots. The heart of the tales. The lessons they teach. Remember when Avatar came out? It made a crap-ton of money and was hugely regarded by viewers.

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And then someone came along and pointed out that it was the exact plot of Disney’s Pocahontas set in space with giant blue aliens. And instead of corn, the evil invading humans were after unobtanium, aka the world’s worst placeholder name that somehow made it through every edit into production.

You might think that people would feel cheated if they got told the same story again. But the trick of mental real estate is that your sweet, innocent brain looks at the concept, says, “Oh, I know this one!” and embraces it in a giant pile of squishy, comforting familiarity. So instead of saying, “I just spent $30 to watch blue alien Pocahontas,” you said, “Oh man, how cool was that?!”

And while this may seem like cheating, it really isn’t. People are comfortable with what they know. What’s familiar and embedded in your mental real estate is Hollywood gold. Filmmakers vie for it like crazy. Many of your favorite movies probably share a ridiculous number of similar traits to many of your other favorite movies.

When it comes to writing, if you’re ever stuck on what to do with your characters or where to go next, write what you know! Think back to similar instances in other stories you enjoy, and try and find a new angle for your audience; a new hook that employs a familiar concept.

There’s a reason why Hollywood can get away with remakes and reboots of the same stories. There’s a reason no one admits to watching Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales but it got nearly 800 million dollars in worldwide box office sales.

These are stories you know. They’re comforting. They’re familiar.

So when it comes to being a storyteller, it’s okay to look at other plots, other concepts, and try to come up with something that will introduce a lovable old story with new vitality. Read everything in your genre; learn what worked and what didn’t. What reoccurring themes happened? What tropes and characters do you see repeated, and why?

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Recognize these things and employ them in your own writing in a new way. If you want to retell Sleeping Beauty, ask yourself what can you do to make it different and yet familiar enough to be “safe” to your reader’s brain. Can you put her in the future? Absolutely! Can she be steampunk and trapped in a moving tower that roams the land? Yes! Does she have to be Sleeping Beauty at all? No! Change her name; her hair; her skin color! Make her a boy and have a mechanical dragon guarding the tower that your scrappy mechanic prince/princess has to dismantle before they can save him!

You can use these shared concepts and themes to make that novel familiar and comfortable to readers while giving them a new journey to go on. This doesn’t mean copying the story, it means understanding what your readers want and giving it to them. In the end, you can write not only what you know, but what we all know and enjoy together.

This was originally published on Medium.com

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 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 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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It’s Almost Time For JordanCon!

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And now for a fun announcement!

For those of you who are diehard Robert Jordan fans (or even those who read him a while back and just fondly remember the books), there’s nothing more fun than hanging out with like-minded people and having a good time… And  clearly someone thought this sounded like a good idea, and set out to create the awesome adventure that is the annual celebration of JordanCon, a fantasy and literature convention created in honor of the late author himself.

JordanCon is a celebratory convention held in Atlanta, GA, and this will be my first time attending, so I’m definitely excited. This year, I’ll be joining several guest authors to do panels and share information on the writing and publishing industry (along with whatever helpful advice I might have!) all weekend long from April 20-22!

There are going to be some truly excellent panels available, merchandise booths, and chances to win epic prizes and even support charitable events that donate the proceeds to Mayo Clinic. So if you’ll be in the Metro Atlanta area that weekend, definitely make sure you have your ticket and come by and see me for a chance to win a free signed copy of my book and have a great time.

 

 

Mercury in Retrograde got a 5-Star Reader’s Favorite Review!

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So I’m awful at updating my site and various social media accounts, and I figured it was high time I started to jump on that bandwagon a little bit more.

I’ll have a couple pieces of exciting news coming up soon, and in the meantime, I’ll leave this here! I got the confirmation a couple of weeks back that the reviewer from Reader’s Favorite loved Mercury in Retrograde and wanted to give it a rave review, which is awesome.

Interesting and frustrating fact: Amazon doesn’t allow professional reviewing companies to leave reviews on either your Amazon or Goodreads pages… but this bad boy is on my Barnes & Noble page and a couple others I can’t recall right now. Books-A-Million? Maybe. I don’t know.

You can read the review here, or make your way over to Amazon to give the book a flip through.