It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

No, not that one.

Though I’m seeing far too many Christmas trees for my liking…

No; starting tomorrow, NaNoWriMo beings anew. For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it’s every November. Basically, you get 30 days to write a 50,000-word novel.

That’s it. It’s that simple, and that daunting, all at once.

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo (heretofore referred to as NaNo) every year since 2008, but I’ve only reached the 50,000-word goal three times (I did hit the mark in 2008, but I never finished that book, and we’ll just pretend it never existed). I also hit the 50,000-word mark in 2014 and 2015. But what became of those projects?

Well, you may have heard of them. I wrote Bounty in 2014 and Behind the Badge last year.

Some of NaNo’s naysayers are convinced there’s no way to write a brilliant, publishable book in just a month. And for the most part, I agree with them… but NaNo’s not about writing the best novel ever, first time through. No, it’s simply an exercise in putting words on a page, helping establish a habit of writing.

Basically, if you write an average of 1,667 words per day, every day, throughout November, you’ll reach the 50,000-word goal. It’s about how good the words are, or even what you do with those words once the calendar flips to December. It’s about putting the words on the page. It’s about writing for the sake of writing.

Some people do it for fun. Some use NaNo to tackle long-ignored projects. For others still, NaNo is simply affirmation of what they spend the rest of the year doing. For me, it’s a chance to knock out a first draft.

What I wrote in November 2014 and what’s currently available for sale are night and day. I wrote with reckless abandon in November… but I spent December through March editing, revising, re-writing… all of that stuff that tends to give us writers heartburn.

NaNo is an escape from all that. All that matters is getting words down.

Leave the editing and the hand-wringing and the self-doubt for December; starting tomorrow, those of us who participate in NaNo will feverishly peck at our keyboards, or scribble on our notepads, watching as the words mount and the word counts go up and up and up and up and…

Interrupt us at your own peril.

This year, I’ll be using NaNo to re-write — and finish — the first draft of my fantasy/supernatural epic Notna. What better way to finally get that project off the ground than the annual event that allowed me to push through two of my three currently-published novels?

You’d be surprised how many published novels began as NaNo projects. And quite frankly, I’m a fan of anything that fosters creativity, progress, community, and literacy. People who participate are writers and book lovers, and for the full experience, immersing yourself in a community of fellow NaNo’ers (there are locality-based groups abound; my group is amazing) is a must.

Ultimately, without NaNoWriMo, I’m not sure if I’m published right now. I’m a more productive, more polished, and more confident writer than I was before NaNo, and I look forward to November every year for just that reason.

To learn more about National Novel Writing Month, or to sign up, visit their website.

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AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Mary Head

Time now for another Author Spotlight! Today, we feature romance and thriller author Mary Head, just in time for the release of her new book, No Safe PlaceNo Safe Place is a thriller, selected for publication through the Kindle Scout program.

Head now has two novels out, including the romance The Only One.

Before highlighting each book, let’s hear from the author herself.

What was your inspiration behind writing No Safe Place?

The simple answer is that I wanted to see Gary Oldman and Dianna Agron play father and daughter in something (they are still my ideal David and Hannah, though I know that if this book is ever made into a movie, they’ll both be too old to play these characters).

The longer answer is that father/daughter dynamics are some of my favorites to write, particularly a single father who will do anything to protect his daughter. I also love a good “damsel-in-distress” story, but I also wanted to sort of eschew a lot of the clichés that are inherent to this type of story. I wanted to write a woman who was forced into this terrible situation, but used her intelligence and her own strength to fight against it as best she could. I wanted to write a father who was desperate to find his daughter, who was a deeply good man, but also deeply flawed, and the way all of these characteristics clashed. I wanted villains who weren’t black-and-white, but surrounded by shades of gray, and I wanted supporting characters who felt just as important as the main ones.

Mostly, I wanted this story to feel real, and for the characters to be relatable.

A lot of writers will hover around one genre in particular and not stray that far from what works for them. You, meanwhile, pivoted right from romance (with your debut novel The Only One) to a thriller with No Safe Place. Are you conscious of genre when you’re writing, or do you just write stories that speak to you in the moment?

I definitely write whatever speaks to me. As an enthusiastic consumer of movies and books and TV shows, I am definitely a fan of a very wide array of genres. I enjoy playing in a variety of sandboxes, and I don’t try to limit myself whenever a new idea strikes. The two genres I’ve written for – romance and a kidnapping thriller – are two of my favorites, but I also enjoy taking my favorite genres and turning the common tropes within them on their heads.

No Safe Place was published through the Kindle Scout program. What was that experience like, and what advice would you have for anyone else thinking of giving that program a try?

The experience was stressful and nerve-wracking, to say the least, but ultimately for me, very rewarding.

I would definitely encourage everyone to give it a shot, but my biggest piece of advice is: don’t expect to get selected. From what I’ve heard from other people involved in the program, only about 2-5% of books submitted are actually selected for publication, so, to quote a popular dystopian YA series, the odds are not in your favor.

However, don’t let that stop you from submitting. Even if you don’t get chosen, you have exposure, which is always very important. You have the people who nominated your book, most of whom will actually want to read it no matter what your campaign outcome is, so you have an audience ready and waiting. Self-publishing through KDP is very simple and quick, and you have the option to have Kindle Scout send out an email to everyone who nominated your book to let them know that it’s available to buy.

I would also recommend joining kboards (http://www.kboards.com/) which is a forum for Kindle users, and specifically has a forum for writers with a thread for Kindle Scout. The members there are incredibly supportive, and you’ll have people to share the experience with. It’s also a great learning tool for anybody interested in self-publishing.

Character vs. plot: the seemingly endless debate over which is more important for a good story. Based on reading both The Only One and No Safe Place, is it safe to assume you sit firmly on the character side?

I would say yes, but really, I think characters and plot are intertwined. A great plot can be boring if the characters aren’t any good, but great characters don’t have anything to do if your plot isn’t interesting. For me personally, my characters definitely come first, and it’s usually their feelings and motivations that help shape the plot from a basic “girl meets boy” or “father searches for his kidnapped daughter” story to something compelling that people will want to read.

Funnily enough, I initially envisioned No Safe Place as having a lot more action than it does, but the characters eventually won out, and it became a much more character-driven story. So while I am definitely on the side of characters being important, to the point where I usually spend more time developing them than the actual plot of the story, I think both characters and plot are vital to what makes a good story.

Are you a heavy plotter, or do you just let the story take you where it will?

I would say I’m a combination of both. I tend to make outlines for my stories, and plot out the major points, but the journey from one plot point to another isn’t as heavily planned. As I mentioned before, I like to let my characters guide the plot, so how they get from point A to point B is usually up in the air, guided by vague ideas that can always change.

You’ve written a romance and a thriller to this point. What’s next?

Up next is the follow-up to No Safe Place called Finding Home Again, which will continue to follow Hannah’s story as she tries to put her life back together post-kidnapping. It was important to me to continue her story and show her healing process, as too often in media the aftermath of these types of traumatic events is never touched upon, and I want to show that things don’t always go back to normal after the story “ends.”

After Finding Home Again, I’ll be shifting genres again to supernatural romance with Crimson Hollow, which is essentially a vampire story, but with what I hope is a fun and interesting take on it.

What are some of your favorite books?

I’ve been catching up on the Pendergast series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child lately. I’ve been a fan of this series, and the character Aloysius Pendergast, for years, and I highly recommend the series to everyone. They’re crime novels (Pendergast is an FBI agent who has a special interest in unusual murders, usually of the serial variety) with a supernatural, sometimes mystical, current that runs through them, and they’re incredibly riveting books; all too often I find myself staying up into the wee hours of the morning to finish each new book.

My all-time favorite standalone book has to be IT by Stephen King. To save the long drawn-out explanation of why I love it so much (because I could honestly talk about it forever), I’ll just link to my blog post about it.

I’m also a fan of several popular YA series, including Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I’ve enjoyed the Jill Andersen series, written by the owner of this very blog. Highly enjoyable reads, and I recommend them to anybody who’s into badass female superheroes. (Editor’s Note: I did not pay her to say this!)

 

Now for the reviews!

The Only One

too-coverI suppose a disclaimer is in order here: I’m not generally a fan of romance novels.

They’re just not my thing.

However, The Only One is the exception, because in her debut novel, Mary Head has made the characters relatable and easy to root for. As romance novels go, TOO is a quick read — don’t let the size of the paperback fool you. The chapters are short, the pacing is excellent, and before you know it, you’ll be almost as invested in Richard and Piper’s relationship as they are.

The author also makes each of the supporting characters easy to identify with, and they add to the overall fabric of the narrative. Richard and Piper do not exist in a vacuum, and it’s nice to see that while the story is clearly about them, everyone else is given a chance to breathe and find their voice. Jill, in particular, was a personal favorite.

Another of this book’s many strengths is its representation. While it is, at its heart, the story of a heterosexual relationship between two white people, the overall cast is more diverse than a lot of books. In addition, the relationship itself between Richard and Piper defies certain societal expectations in low-key, blink-and-you-might-miss-them ways. In my mind, these attributes really add to the story.

Long and short of it, if you’re a fan of the genre, The Only Oneis highly recommended. Even if you’re not, this is still a well-written book that tells an entertaining story.

Rating: *****

No Safe Place

no-safe-placeNo Safe Place is night and day from The Only One, Mary Head’s debut novel.

Whereas one was a romance that bucked many of that genre’s conventions, No Safe Place is a fast-paced thriller in which graduate student Hannah Cole is taken from her own home — leaving her FBI agent father David and his team to put the pieces together in a race against the clock.

One of this book’s chief strengths is its ability to get us to care about Hannah and David without spending too much time on their relationship. Far too many books spend so much time establishing relationships and timelines that by the time the action gets going, readers have already checked out. No Safe Place does not suffer from this; Head does a masterful job of establishing the particulars, getting us to to care about the principal players, while still managing to get the story moving along.

But Hannah is no damsel in distress; she’s fiercely intelligent and — being the daughter of an FBI agent — she’s capable of taking care of herself and has no qualms about doing so. That in and of itself turns the damsel-in-distress trope on its head and is enough reason to give this book a read.

Along the way, Head treats us to heroes whose flaws are readily apparent and villains who are perhaps a bit more sympathetic than we’re comfortable with. These characters are fleshed out and deep without spending time and space on fluff, allowing readers to take part in a journey that perhaps goes by a little quicker than expected.

A sequel is in the offing, but this book doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. The preeminent plot if wrapped up in a sufficiently satisfying manner, with each bread crumbs left over going forward. And, in Head’s continuing tradition of upsetting established tropes, this universes focuses less on Hannah’s abduction itself and more on the emotional ramifications of it — both during and after.

No Safe Place is a thriller with heart — and a tremendous read.

Rating: *****

Head’s work is available on Amazon. You can also follow her on Twitter and on Goodreads.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: C.A. King

Greetings!

Today marks the beginning of a new feature on this website: author spotlights, in which I shine the proverbial light on an indie author whose work I enjoy. These will be periodic updates, with no real schedule — pretty much whenever the mood strikes (or when an author I love is getting ready to release a new book).

Our first author? Fantasy scribe C.A. King, author of The Portal Prophecies series!

First let’s hear from the author:

What was your inspiration for writing The Portal Prophecies?

Depression. After experiencing great loss in my life, I found that I needed something therapeutic. I created worlds in my mind – places I wanted to visit. Soon, I learnt writing down those stories was the magic I needed to help me function better. Reading and writing have become important tools for me on my road to recovery.

If I have a bad day and close my eyes, I can travel to a world where things are just a little brighter and get lost there for a while. I want to share that with my readers. When they need to forget about the present, even for a few minutes, I want them to be able to grab one of my books and smile again.

The Portal Prophecies draws heavily from some time-honored traditions and well-known mystical legends. What went into including those in your stories?

Through the years, I have heard it said countless times that there are three sides to every story: what I believe; what someone else believes; and what really happened. If I break that down, then someone else part means, technically, there is a different interpretation for every single person who has read or heard the story in question. Some, of course, are bound to overlap – but others are unique and at the same time still very plausible.

As an author, it is my job to step outside my comfort zone and look at things as if I was seeing and hearing them for the first time. That is exactly what I do. The fantasy and sci-fi genres allow me to add a bit of the unexplained into the mix.

The Portal Prophecies appeared to draw from several other prominent fantasy series – Harry Potter chief among them. What other fantasy influences did you draw from in writing this series?

This is only the second time someone has made a reference to Harry Potter while discussing The Portal Prophecies with me. I personally don’t see the connection. There are many stories that involve wands and magic, and only one book (Sleeping Sands) takes place in a school.

There are, however, a few Easter Egg references to famous scenes in works of literature which readers may or may not catch. These are meant as a tribute of sorts to other authors as well as offering a bit of fun. I want people to say “I see what she did there.”

The following are a few Easter Egg examples from A Halloween’s Curse:

Willow was enticed by the smooth plain texture of the wood in her hands. She was drawn to it, but expected something more … maybe an aura to explode from it illuminating her face and making the choice obvious.

And my favourite;

Up ahead, there were tall gates leading into a city.

“I expected something shinier,” Lilabeth whispered.

“You watch too many movies.” The driver remained silent the whole way, but listened to everything that was said. “Probably thought it would be made of gold or diamonds? Maybe glass or emeralds? Tell me, what other than to make a good story, would be the point? I think you will find that the folks around here would rather use precious metals and gem stones for more practical uses, like magic. Tales made for the terunji have to be dressed up, to keep their attention and grab their imagination. Their subconscious yearns for them to accept what they can’t explain.”

It doesn’t actually end there. If readers follow my social media, they can find a few other surprises. For instance: I was on a diet on a Pancake Tuesday, so I created a scene in Deadly Perceptions where my characters are eating pancakes. They ended up with the fictional calories instead of me.

Finding Balance put a nice bow on Willow’s journey, while still leaving some threads open. What are your plans for that universe going forward?

This is an exciting time for my books. The main group of characters have grown up quite a bit in The Portal Prophecies. Their lives are changing and they have new challenges to face.

Jade has always been one of my personal favourite characters to write. It was only fitting that she carry on in her own series. The first book in the Surviving the Sins series sees an undeniable transition from Willow as main character to Jade. The main theme of these new books revolves around the seven deadly sins, putting a heavy emphasis on vampires. Surviving the Sins: Answering the Call is set for a winter 2017 release.

Shattering the Effect of Time follows the Shinning brothers as they set out to find a cure for their sister. This is really a different theme for me, as the main antagonist is time itself. I’ll be taking an intense look into the lore for some well-known items relating to time, including the Fountain of Youth; the Cinamani Stone; the Holy Grail; and Ambrosia. I’m really excited that Pandora is going along for the journey. She is such a fun character and sure to add some extra excitement along the way.

Are you a heavy plotter, or do you just let the story take you where it will?

I am both. The main difference for me is that the heavy plotting is done while I daydream. I don’t write things down, or scribble on napkins. Some of the smaller twists add in as I go along.

You recently released Tomoiya’s Story. What are the plans for that universe going forward?

Escape to Darkness sets the lore for the series going forward. Woden’s legacy will live on in more ways than even he could have anticipated. Things have changed in the dark side of the universe and Tomoiya is about to find out that her tears aren’t the only thing about her that is considered valuable.

While Escape to Darkness concentrated on characters and backstory, it wasn’t meant to be a heavy detail book. Readers can expect a lot more world building in Stalked and the rest of the series.

What are some of your favorite books?

This is a hard question to answer, there are so many. If I have to name a few: Treasure Island; The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe; One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish;  and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I am going to toot the indie pride horn. These past two years, I have met and read the works of so many fantastic authors – authors who deserve to be discovered. I wish I could name them all, but I’d be here a long time. Instead, I am picking one book, Barely Awake by D.R. Perry, as one of my newfound favourites — and adding I hope readers take a chance on an undiscovered indie author – they may find their new favourite book.

 

Now, my reviews of King’s already-published works.

The Portal Prophecies: A Keeper’s Destiny

A Keeper’s Destia-keepers-destinyny is a YA coming-of-age tale that buries itself firmly in several different lores and fantasies — some well-known and others not so much. The result is a solid introduction to an ongoing series that promises to be more intense with each passing volume.

Early on, we meet Willow — a seemingly ordinary girl who grows fruits and vegetables in her home world. But as a rival character makes a selfish choice in an effort to “put Willow in her place,” it sets off a chain of events that see Willow discover realities she never once considered and find herself staring at an unfamiliar, uncomfortable world.

But along the way, one of her newfound friends is in trouble, kicking off a chain of events that will unfurl as the series continues. At the center of it all is Willow — an unassuming, selfless person who is suddenly faced with more than she can probably handle.

To me, characters are what make books. We can wax poetic about style and plot structure and narrative all we want (and those things are certainly important), but if I’m not emotionally invested in the characters, the rest doesn’t matter. Get me to care about the characters, and I’m along for the ride — warts be damned.

There are warts — specifically, writing that occasionally feels stilted and ordinary — but King’s ability to get you to sympathize with and relate to Willow makes up for that. For the occasional slow passage or dry paragraph, you’re watching a girl grow into a capable young woman, and that journey — more than anything — is what makes A Keeper’s Destiny worth your time.

This is the start of a journey — both for Willow and for those of us fortunate to tag along.

Rating: ****

The Portal Prophecies: A Halloween’s Curse

a-halloweens-curseA follow-up to A Keeper’s Destiny, A Halloween’s Curse is a strong follow-up that raises the stakes beyond a simple coming-of-age tale.

Make no mistake; Willow sees tremendous growth throughout A Halloween’s Curse, but the focus is less on her and more about the mission she and her friends have to undertake. Along the way, we’re shown that things run far deeper than previously thought, and the nuggets of behind-the-scenes machinations give this book a depth that I feel A Keeper’s Destiny lacked.

The addition of Halloween as a backdrop enriches the story even further, and it shows the world in a much deeper light. I like the inclusion of Halloween to the overall narrative, and it’s not just a backdrop; it actually affects the characters as they work to rescue their friend. This is not the last time C.A. King will imbue one of her books with a holiday tradition, either.

Some of the issues that plagued A Keeper’s Destiny are present in this book as well, but they aren’t as numerous and this is a cleaner, tighter story than its predecessor. King is building a rich, vibrant universe, and while some of the minor characters are a bit one-dimensional at this point, Willow herself shines as a protagonist should.

All in all, this is a fantastic follow-up, and a wonderful addition to what is shaping up to be a great series.

Rating: ****

The Portal Prophecies: Frost Bitten

frost-bittenFrost Bitten is the strongest of the Portal Prophecies series to this point, because it is the most intense and action-packed entry in the series so far. The stakes are higher, the emotional beats resonate more, and for the first time, a deep sense of foreboding hangs over everything.

Whereas the second book in the series focused on Halloween,Frost Bitten has a Christmas-y feel to it — quite literally so. It’s a much-needed does of levity and lightheartedness, because much of this book is darker than the previous two entries. The depth of King Cornelius’ depravity is on full display, and for the first time, things truly seem… not hopeless, necessarily, but this is the first time I’ve truly feared for Willow’s safety.

To say nothing of her emotional state. The events of Frost Bitten threaten to break her unlike anything else to this point, and that emotional depth serves both her character and the overall narrative well.

Few of the issues evident in the first two books are in this one; C.A. King’s growth as a storyteller is on full display inFrost Bitten, and the result is a fantastic, intense, easy-to-read addition to what has already been a fascinating series.

Business is definitely picking up here.

Rating: *****

The Portal Prophecies: Sleeping Sands

sleeping-sandsSleeping Sands had a Harry Potter feel to it… not the latter, darker editions of the series, but the earlier installments, where the characters were younger and the tone wasn’t quite so doom-and-gloom.

Make no mistake: the stakes are high in Sleeping Sands, the fourth installment of C.A. King’s Portal Prophecies series. Willow is separated from her friends — who might not be her friends — and she finds herself with a new group of friends — who, again, might not be her friends.

Or maybe they are. Who knows? Willow certainly doesn’t.

But even with the change in surroundings, Willow still manages to learn about herself and the world surrounding her, even as she has to watch out for a rival student, a suspect journalist, and the ever-evolving machinations of King Cornelius. The chess pieces are more numerous than ever now, and King is showing an ability to juggle multiple storylines at once, even finding a way to tie them all together without leaving the reader confused or overwhelmed.

A lot of writers can struggle in that regard, but King is showing it’s a strength of hers.

Much like Frost Bitten, Sleeping Sands shows this series finding its footing and its identity. It really feels like the first two installments were all about King discovering her voice and that of her characters, and now that those have been sussed out, the stories and the characters are truly allowed to shine.

This series keeps getting better, and Sleeping Sands is right up there with Frost Bitten as my favorite of the series thus far.

Rating: *****

The Portal Prophecies: Deadly Perceptions

deadly-perceptionsIf the previous four installments of The Portal Prophecies were about setting the proverbial table, then Deadly Perceptions is the magic trick in which the tablecloth is ripped out from underneath.

This installment picks up right where Sleeping Sands left off, and it appears the surprise the good mayor had been hiding is the least of everyone’s concerns. Willow again finds herself separated from those closest to her, but instead of being hesitant and emotional about that, she’s more certain of herself this time, more sure of what needs to be done.

Character development: C.A. King does it right.

Along the way, Willow comes across unicorns and dragons and tiny fairy creatures… not all of whom are friendly, and it might not be who you think. The elves wind up being far more important than we were led to believe in Sleeping Sands, though it does explain some of their behavior in the previous volume.

Again, King shows a deft touch when juggling multiple storylines. As it turns out, King Cornelius is the least of everyone’s problems… and Willow discovers something about herself that could prove far more overwhelming than anything she’s faced to this point. King again borrows from well-known supernatural lore, and the result is an entertaining read that sets up the climactic Finding Balance.

While this one didn’t quite draw me in the way Frost Bittenand Sleeping Sands did, Deadly Perceptions is a fantastic entry in the series. It pulls back the curtain ever so slightly, with the promise that the curtain will be ripped from the rod by the time the final book in the series comes around.

King has created a lovely, vibrant universe with her mixture of familiar faces and interesting twists, and the result is a fictional world in which one can easily lose track of everything in the real world. This is another worthy edition in the series.

Rating: ****

The Portal Prophecies: Finding Balance

finding-balanceOver the course of six books, Willow has grown from unassuming teenager to probably one of the most powerful individuals in the universe. Which explains why just about everything that has happened leading up to Finding Balance, the conclusion of The Portal Prophecies series, revolves around her.

The intensity of Deadly Perceptions is ratcheted up even more in this book — as well it should, since this is the climactic conclusion. King Cornelius’ treachery, Cornost’s plans,what exactly happens when Willow is finally reunited with her allies from the earlier books… everything is tied up in a neat little bow in Finding Balance.

That’s not to say there aren’t threads left over for potential future books, but Finding Balance wraps up Willow’s journey with a finality that is often hard to achieve without resorting to drastic permanent measures. While I can appreciate, as a storyteller, the value of an unhappy ending, it’s still nice to see happy endings on occasion.

Anything less wouldn’t have been true to the series.

After all — for all of the treachery and danger and doom The Portal Prophecies subjected Willow and us readers to, this was never the doom-and-gloom, nothing’s-going-to-be-alright kind of series. There was always an underlying optimism in each book, the feeling that — as bad as things might be in the moment — they will be alright.

I’m glad the ending reflected that.

The only thing keeping Finding Balance from a five-star rating? The climactic battle comes a little too soon, leaving an ending that sort of meanders through wrapping up ancillary plot points. But that’s a minor quibble for what is a fantastic ending to a terrific fantasy series.

Finding Balance was the ending The Portal Prophecies, and it was a fitting end to the amazing journey C.A. King took us on.

Rating: ****

Tomoiya’s Story: Escape to Darkness

tomoiyas-storyTake everything you think you know about vampires and throw it out.

It’s not that you’re wrong when picking up Tomoiya’s Story: Escape to Darkness, the first installment in a new series from C.A. King. But this short tale will show you how vampires came to be what we know them to be today (you know, unless you subscribe to the sparkle-in-sunlight-and-stalk-taciturn-high-school-girls theory).

Though the book is names for a young girl named Tomoiya, she is secondary to this tale, a prequel of sorts. She is told a fairy tale of sorts, one that ultimately reveals how vampires came to be. It is a tale of betrayal, heartbreak, depravity, and insanity, and it is the sort of tale that will have you flying through the pages.

This is a fair bit darker than The Portal Prophecies, andTomoiya’s Story showcases all of the same skills King has displayed and refined in writing that series. I can’t wait to see where this tale goes next, and I highly recommend this for anyone who likes vampire stories or space travel.

Yes, those two go together. King just proved it with Tomoyia’s Story.

Rating: *****

All of C.A. King’s books are available on Amazon. Visit her author page.

You can find C.A. King on Goodreads, and visit her website here. She is also on Facebook and Twitter. In addition to being an author, King also writes a column for Books & Quill magazine.

My Experience at Hampton Comicon

This past Saturday, I attended my first ever comic book convention: Hampton Comicon in Hampton, Va. I had a table, roughly 20 copies of all three img_20161015_083848of my novels, and a slew of business cards, flyers, and bookmarks — both for my work and the work of some other self-published authors I enjoyed. From 9 a.m. until roughly 6 p.m., I sold far more books than I expected. I sold out of my allotment of Bounty (the first book), and I damn near sold out of Behind the Badge (the third book), too.

In all, I more than tripled what I paid for the table space.

But as great as the short-term gain was, what excites me most is the long-term potential. Just about everyone who stopped by my table, whether they bought a book or not, took a business card and a flyer (which had my website, email address, Amazon link, and Facebook and Twitter pages on them). A lot of them perked up when they found out my books were also on Kindle, and just about all of them loved the premise of the series.

So it’ll be interesting to see what my online sales, website hits, and social media follows look like in the coming days and weeks. But perhaps more importantly, I also made connections — meeting several other writers, discovering potential new works to check out, and maybe an artist with whom to work if I decide to dip my toe back into the comic book world.

One man20161015_083959 approached my table saying he was looking for novels he could pitch to movie studios. He took a business card. Another man later approached about potential TV series ideas. He also left my table with a business card. Will those go anywhere? I have no idea (I’m accounting for the possibility that they were both blowing smoke up my ass), but just having the conversation was cool enough.

These were conversations I wouldn’t have had staying home, and they’re conversations I normally don’t get to have through social media or on a platform like Goodreads.

So all in all, I had fun — and clearly I’ve got a potential audience in the comic book and genre fiction crowd (which I kinda already knew). I have a library event later this month, and in May I’ll be at Tidewater Comicon (Virginia Beach, Va.). I can’t wait for both of those, and I love that I’ve sold so many books in-person that I now have to order another box or two of author copies.

It’s an added expense, but it pays for itself in the long run.

So anyone who has events like this in their area and never considered them before… maybe give them a chance. I grant my experience likely isn’t typical, but it was eye-opening the way people seemed excited about my stuff — and just how much interacting with someone in-person truly matters.

BOOK REVIEWS: Part IX

No Safe Place by Mary Head

no-safe-placeI received a copy of this book pre-release after nominating it for publication through Kindle Scout.

No Safe Place is night and day from The Only One, Mary Head’s debut novel.

Whereas one was a romance that bucked many of that genre’s conventions, No Safe Place is a fast-paced thriller in which graduate student Hannah Cole is taken from her own home — leaving her FBI agent father David and his team to put the pieces together in a race against the clock.

One of this book’s chief strengths is its ability to get us to care about Hannah and David without spending too much time on their relationship. Far too many books spend so much time establishing relationships and timelines that by the time the action gets going, readers have already checked out. No Safe Place does not suffer from this; Head does a masterful job of establishing the particulars, getting us to to care about the principal players, while still managing to get the story moving along.

But Hannah is no damsel in distress; she’s fiercely intelligent and — being the daughter of an FBI agent — she’s capable of taking care of herself and has no qualms about doing so. That in and of itself turns the damsel-in-distress trope on its head and is enough reason to give this book a read.

Along the way, Head treats us to heroes whose flaws are readily apparent and villains who are perhaps a bit more sympathetic than we’re comfortable with. These characters are fleshed out and deep without spending time and space on fluff, allowing readers to take part in a journey that perhaps goes by a little quicker than expected.

A sequel is in the offing, but this book doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. The preeminent plot if wrapped up in a sufficiently satisfying manner, with each bread crumbs left over going forward. And, in Head’s continuing tradition of upsetting established tropes, this universes focuses less on Hannah’s abduction itself and more on the emotional ramifications of it — both during and after.

No Safe Place is a thriller with heart — and a tremendous read.

Rating: *****

Preorder No Safe Place on Amazon 

 

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

the-girl-on-the-trainI’m trying to remember the last time I was so disappointed with a book that was so hyped. Probably the time I tried reading Lord of the Rings, but even that doesn’t feel quite right.

The frustrating thing is, there are passages in which The Girl on the Train is so gripping, so intense, that it grabs hold of you and you can fly through dozens of pages without realizing it. The climactic unravel, satisfying as it is, is the only reason I stuck with this book to the end, because this book suffered from two major flaws.

1) For a book so intense, so psychologically messed-up, The Girl on the Train takes its sweet old time getting going. I understand the need to introduce the particulars, but it shouldn’t take north of the first 50 pages to do so. I almost bailed on this book before things actually started happening.

2) There are no genuinely good characters. I suppose that could be considered a strength — and when I say I need to care about the characters, I say that knowing that doesn’t mean I necessarily have to like them. But none of the protagonists — not Rachel, not Anna, not Megan — are easy to root for; the supporting characters aren’t much better.

There are reasons to sympathize with each of the three women through whom we’re told this tale. Rachel is divorced, unemployed, the victim of of infidelity, and she’s an alcoholic. Megan harbors a secret so heinous, she can’t even let her husband in on it. Anna… well, she and Rachel are far more entangled with each other than she would care to admit.

But all three are also insufferable in their own ways, and if it weren’t for the mystery of what happened to Rachel on the night she can’t remember, if it weren’t for the mystery of what ultimately happened to Megan, I would’ve abandoned this book not quite midway through.

Maybe the upcoming film will address some of these issues — cutting the fat from the beginning would be a huge bonus — but this book really frustrated me because of what it could have been. This had the potential to be an impossible book to put down; this could have easily turned into the best book I’ve read throughout 2016. The ingredients were all there.

But Paula Hawkins meandered her way through the beginning, and she left us with characters who reminded us too much of that friend we all have… the person who has been through entirely too much, which engenders sympathy, but they’re also such exhausting people to be around, for one reason or another, that the sympathy only goes so far.

I did root for Rachel, and Anna, toward the end, but for much of The Girl on the Train, I spent much of my time rolling my eyes at them. There were times where I envied Megan, because she didn’t have to wade through this mess.

But in the end, The Girl on the Train frustrated the hell out of me. What could’ve been a classic begging to be read time and time again instead turned into a maddening cluster of messed up people that you’ll wish would just get over themselves.

Rating: **

Buy The Girl on the Train on Amazon

Original Fic Killed My Fanfic Muse

I know fan fiction can sometimes be a hot-button topic among writers, but I’m firmly on the pro-fanfic side of the debate. I love fanfic for a variety of reasons; I read my share of fanfic.

Hell, up until several months ago, I wrote fanfic.Beckett gun

Nothing special, really. I mean, there was a way-out-there Castle/Buffy the Vampire Slayer fic that I was having a ball writing — because somehow, the idea of Detective Kate Beckett as a Slayer had far more legs than I thought it would — but again, nothing special.

If you’re curious, check out my fanfics here. Fair warning: there’s a lot of incomplete stuff there.

If nothing else, fanfic was great practice. It allowed me to continue plying my writing craft — sharpening my sentence structure, my plot pacing, all sorts of technical stuff, while telling stories about characters I loved. There was no pressure to fanfic; it was just writing well-known characters for an audience who loved them as much as I did.

No sales charts. No release dates. No promotional headaches. Just writing.

But the deeper I got into my novel writing — not just the three Jill Andersen novels, but all the other works — I noticed that my fanfic muse was nowhere near as active as it once had been. Maybe it was a case of being overworked, but the longer this whole novel-writing thing went, the more my fanfic faded into the background until the muse just… disappeared.

I keep telling myself that one day, I’ll go back to my fics and finish them. But then I have to be honest with myself and realize that’s probably never going to happen. Not because I don’t love fanfic — I do, and I would probably faint from happiness if I ever discovered fanfic based on my characters — but because I’ve committed myself so fully to novel-writing that I don’t know if fanfic still has a seat at the table.

I just don’t understand authors who are anti-fanfic. I mean, that’s their right. Their properties are important to them, and if they don’t want fanfic based on those properties, then they’re within their rights to say so. I just don’t understand the animosity; it’s not like the vast majority of fanfic writers are looking to make money off of it. Legally, they can’t.

I mean, unless they change names and other identifiers and try selling their fanfic and something original (which is, I believe, how 50 Shades of Grey came to be).

I consider fanfic (and fanart) a form of flattery; someone enjoyed these characters, this universe, enough to create something based on it. AU fics, insertion fics… hell, even fix-it fics… fanfic is a labor of love, and if anyone ever created fanfic or fanart based on my work, it would probably warm my heart more than the world’s greatest sales chart.

Though I’m greedy; I want both.

So consider me pro-fanfic. Vehemently so. I just… can’t seem to write it anymore.