Sneak Peek: Forever Night

Shanti’s book, Forever Night, will be out in ebook form next month. Those who subscribe to my newsletter have been reading it an installment at a time, but several have mentioned that they’d love to read the whole thing at once, and I figured those who want to know more about Shanti might enjoy reading more of her story. I initially created her as a sidekick, and in the main Hiidden storyline, she very much is. But she has her own life too, and I thought it would be fun to show what her life is like from her point of view. I had a blast writing Forever Night, and I hope you have just as much fun reading it.

I think Forever Night (and the other upcoming novellas in the Hidden series) lean more toward paranormal romance than pure urban fantasy. The love story developing in Forever Night is central to the storyline, and has a huge impact on Shanti’s evolving character. I will say that Shanti is a much lighter, happier character to write than Molly is. She’s younger, and, until she first appears in Hidden, anyway, had a nice, normal upbringing. I think I love her even more after writing Forever Night. :)

Here’s a little sneak peek at the first chapter of Forever Night. Enjoy! And I hope you have a lovely weekend and a happy Easter if you celebrate.

Hidden_ForeverNight_200Forever Night: Chapter One

The nightmare started the same way it always did. Shanti stood in the abandoned car plant, flanked by Levitt and Stone, Ada on Stone’s other side. Shifter packs, the Detroit police chief, Molly’s imps arrayed, waiting to destroy anything that came through the gateway.

The reappearance of Brennan had done it. No one knew he was missing, and then there was Eunomia, dragging him into the loft, both of them beaten, bloody.

Everyone had moved fast after that. Brennan had managed to give them an idea of what was coming before he’d passed out, and there was no doubt in Shanti’s mind that she’d join the team, that she’d do what Molly would have done; that she would stand against whatever came through.

So there everyone was: ready to defend their own realm from nightmares. Likely, about to die. They’d go out fighting. The plant was silent, eerie, as they stared at what looked like nothing at all, waiting for the world to end.

And then Molly came through the gateway, followed by a man Shanti had only ever seen in photographs; a man who should have been a ghost, but wasn’t. And behind them, a couple dozen huge demons, in their true forms. It had almost come to blows, but Molly jumped between the two groups, stopped the chaos with a word.

In Shanti’s recurring nightmare, in her memories, she watched as the Fates talked to Molly, as Molly and Nain argued, asked questions. And she saw something she’d never seen on her hero’s face, no matter how bad things had gotten: fear.

And that was when Shanti had realized that whatever was coming through was worse than any nightmare she could have imagined.

Molly shouted, told everyone to leave. Everyone. Shanti stared back at the woman who had saved her life, not once, but twice, not wanting to leave, not wanting her to face whatever was coming alone. The look on Molly’s face had said everything: she was scared to death, but this was something she was determined to do.

They’d all gone outside; demons, shifters, vampires. And they’d waited. Shanti could still feel, even in her dreams, the insane amount of power surging from within the plant, making the hair on the back of her neck stand on end, making her teeth clench and her ears pop. And then it broke, and the largest of the demons, the demon who had been bonded to Molly, let out the worst, most inhuman, most tortured sound Shanti had ever heard, and then he started running and Shanti was on his heels.

And when they got there, her hero was gone, nothing remaining but a patch of dust, and even that was blowing away in the breeze that blew through the broken-out windows of the factory. The demon fell to his knees, let loose another inhuman wail, and that was when Shanti started praying.

Shanti jerked awake, felt her heart give two quick thumps in response to her fear, the terror of that night. She rubbed her hands over her face, trying to calm her nerves. Nearly two years of the same nightmare, several times a week. She felt like she should be used to it by now, but there was no way to get used to seeing the one permanent thing in your life taken away. There was no way to remember Nain’s tortured howl, and be okay with it.

She sat up, glanced at the clock on the bedside table. Just after ten. She picked up her phone, glanced at it. There was already a text waiting. Levitt.

Text me when ur up. Lead from imps. Vamps this time.

She texted him, and he responded immediately. He’d meet her in the lot across the street.

She got up out of bed, tossing the covers to the side. Then she quickly made the bed, prayed her thanks for another night and asked for strength to save the innocent. Then she stepped into the shower, quickly washed, dressed in jeans and a gray sweater. She sheathed the silver dagger Levitt had bought her to her thigh, then pulled her curly hair up, pinning it haphazardly at the back of her head. No sense in giving whoever they faced something easy to grab.

She left the room she lived in at the loft, the one on the second floor, center of the building. The rooms on each end had huge windows looking out over the city and Cultural Center. Hers was generally known as the “vampire room.” Whenever there had been a vampire on the team, they’d lived in that room. It was windowless, had a door that could only be opened from the inside unless Molly (or, now, Nain) let themselves in with the key. As she walked down the stairs, she could easily hear what was going on with her team mates. Nain was in his office, ripping someone a new one. Brennan was staring listlessly out the living room windows. Stone was probably out on patrol with the Chief, and she could smell the herbal, exotic scent that told her Ada was likely working on a potion in her room. She called a hello to Brennan, who answered distractedly, then she grabbed some blood from the fridge, heated it up, and poured it into a travel mug.

No one ever made the mistake of borrowing Shanti’s mug, she’d noticed. They argued over people using each other’s stuff all the time, but she’d managed to avoid that problem. One of the advantages of being a vampire.

She got out of the elevator, walked up the driveway that led into the underground parking garage, then across the street where she could already see Levitt waiting for her, sitting on the crumbling brick wall that had once surrounded the lot. Like all demons, the cool night air didn’t bother him at all, and he stood there, all dark and brooding, in a black t-shirt and jeans. His human skin was pleasing; skin a shade or two darker than her own, shaved head, clean-shaven face. Dark brown eyes. His demon form, she knew from experience, was no less impressive, even if it did kind of freak her out. Her grandmother would probably have a heart attack, even thinking of her good Christian granddaughter hanging out with a demon.

She took another gulp of blood. She might yet feed again that night, depending on what they found when they got there. She made a face. Vampire blood was unsatisfying. Even less so than the bagged stuff she usually drank.

Now demon blood… demon blood was the best thing she’d ever had, she thought with a pang when she looked at Levitt. Demon blood, and demon sex.

Yeah. Losing her virginity to a ninety-year-old demon (still young, for a demon, but still) probably hadn’t been the best idea. She had a sneaking suspicion that nothing else would ever come close. Too bad all of the hot sex and delectable blood came with a heavy dose of possessiveness and general pissiness.

She sighed, a habit she hadn’t yet broken, and walked into the lot. At least they’d ended their relationship on a friendly note.

“Took you long enough,” Levitt said in greeting.

“Hello, Levitt. And how are you tonight? Did you sleep well? Anything you’d like to get off your chest?” She reached him, stood in front of him and took another drink, the bagged blood now even more unsatisfying now that she could smell Levitt, the slightly spicy, rich scent that was just him.

He just watched her, the only sign of his irritation the way he bit the inside of his mouth. “Hi,” he finally said, and Shanti knew it was as close as he’d come to exchanging pleasantries.

Okay. So it hadn’t ended on as friendly a note as she would have liked.

“That’s an improvement, anyway. Are we driving?” Shanti asked, and he nodded. They climbed into the black SUV Nain had bought for the team to share when they needed to go out on patrol, rather than letting them drive Molly’s car. Not that any of them would have even considered it. If Shanti had had her way, the car would have been sealed behind glass or something, a shrine until Molly got back. But Stone and Brennan had insisted that it should be driven so it would stay in running condition, and since Brennan was Molly’s boyfriend or whatever he was, he was the one that drove it.

It still seemed wrong to Shanti, somehow.

Levitt drove (he always drove. Always.) toward East English Village. The car was silent, the radio off because they wanted to be able to hear if there was trouble as they drove around. The smell of him next to her, the sound of his heart beating made her throat burn with hunger. Shanti rolled her window down a little, just to get some relief.

“You’re getting fangy again. Drink more,” Levitt said.

“Keep your eyes on the road,” Shanti said, looking out her window.

“Ready to admit your mistake yet?” he asked, resting his elbow on the car door as he drove.

“If I’d made a mistake, I would admit it,” Shanti said, rolling her eyes. “Thanks for reminding me on a daily basis that I made the right choice the day I walked away from you.”

He didn’t answer for a while. Then: “We should stop working together. This is stupid.”

Shanti crossed her arms over her chest. “Yeah. You want to be the one to tell Nain he needs to take time from everything else he has going on to figure out a whole new patrol schedule because your pride is wounded?”

“He’d probably understand, considering.”

“I kind of doubt it. Don’t be such a baby, Levitt. Unbelievable.”

“I’m seventy years older than you, vamp.”

“Then maybe you should start acting like it. We tried, we didn’t work. The end. Get the hell over it.”

They drove the rest of the way in silence, and when they reached the neighborhood, Levitt slammed the SUV into “park” with more force than was strictly necessary. They got out, and he started walking down the street.

“It’s a couple of blocks this way,” he said over his shoulder, and Shanti followed, thinking that having a new patrol partner would be an absolute dream come true. As they got closer to the house, they shifted into familiar roles easily, comfortably, like pulling on a favorite sweater. Shanti took the lead, able to hear better and move faster than the burly demon. He brought up the rear, watching her back, ready to spring should something surprise her. In two years of patrolling together, it hadn’t happened yet, but it never hurt to be prepared.

Shanti stood still, listened. She could smell the human, hear her breathing, quiet, shallow, as if she was sleeping. She smelled ripe; the vampire had had her for a few days and apparently wasn’t picky about her prey. Shanti sniffed the air again; she couldn’t hope to detect the vamp that way, but it would let her know if there were any other humans around. After a few seconds, she felt sure; the only bleeders she could smell were Levitt and the human woman.

She crept down the hall, holding her hand down, low, signaling to Levitt to keep the noise down, to walk softly. It was likely, unless the vamp was totally clueless, that she’d detected them already. Never hurt to be careful anyway.

They reached the room at the end of a long hallway, and Shanti could smell the human just inside. She opened the door slowly, looked around. It was a plain bedroom, windows boarded over, white walls, nothing but a mattress on the hardwood floor. On the mattress was the woman Chief Jones had given her and Levitt the task of tracking down: Aimee Wendsley, nineteen, from Indian Village. Rich parents, nice private school education. She’d gone out to dinner with her boyfriend and hadn’t returned a little over a week ago. At first, the boyfriend had been the suspect, an obvious one. But after a couple of days, Jones had gotten one of his signature hunches and called Nain’s team in for the assist. Without a second of hesitation, the big demon had given the job to Shanti and Levitt. He seemed to understand what it meant to her, and she appreciated it.

Shanti turned to Levitt after looking Aimee over. She was asleep. Exhausted, mostly due to loss of blood. Pale. She didn’t look as if she’d been treated roughly, which was a relief, Shanti thought. She’d already seen way more beat up, abused people than she could stomach.

“So now what?” Levitt asked. “Want to wait for her to make an appearance?”

Shanti nodded. “Take her. She’s out. I can smell something in her blood, kind of sweet. Off. Maybe the vamp drugs her to keep her asleep.”

“I’m not leaving you here,” he began to argue, and she held a hand up, sharply, stopping him from going on.

“Yes, you are. She needs to go. And I can handle one of my own kind. Go.”

Levitt glared at her, then went and picked up the young woman. Shanti escorted them back to the SUV, making sure they got away safely, then she jogged, vampire-speed (so, not really jogging, but it felt like it) back to the vamp’s house. She let herself in, stood in the bedroom the woman had been sleeping in, and waited.

As she waited, her mind wandered a little. She thought, as she often did, about Molly, sent a silent prayer that her friend was well. Brennan had been acting strangely, and she’d heard a murmured conversation between him and Nain, something about Brennan losing his connection to Molly for a while. She hadn’t liked the way it sounded.

It wasn’t long before she heard the front door open, and she silently went, stood next to the bedroom door. She readied her silver dagger, holding it up, at heart level, ready to strike.

She’d been queasy about this type of thing at first. About ambushing her prey. It felt like cheating. And Molly, then Brennan, had each explained that this wasn’t honorable battle, that it was hunting, that it was kill or be killed, and that losing was not an option, because more innocents would suffer.

So when the vampire opened the door and stepped into the room, likely looking forward to a snack, Shanti sprung forward and stabbed the silver dagger into the older vamp’s heart, watched her prey’s blue eyes as realization hit her, felt the vampire’s body convulse as it went into its death throes. Shanti watched, emotionless. “Amen,” Shanti said softly as the vampire died, each death she caused, each life she saved, her own kind of prayer.

The final task was to drag the vampire’s body outside, so it would turn to dust when sunlight hit it the next morning. The yard was surrounded by a tall privacy fence, with tall hedges in front of that. Easy. She rested the body near the shrubs and behind a large planter.

She left, locking the front door behind her, wiping her fingerprints from any surface she’d touched. “Should have worn my gloves,” she muttered as she wiped down the front doorknob. And then she walked, casually, down Iroquois Street, until she got to an open stretch of Jefferson, deserted this late at night, and she let herself run, and, for a little while, she felt alive.

* * *

She decided to check out her old neighborhood on the Southwest side. She liked to make sure it was clear of danger. Her aunts and little brother still lived there, and the idea of some vampire draining or turning Manny was unacceptable. She’d caught one or two around, but word seemed to have spread that the Southwest side was a really bad place for vampires. She walked, even walking down her aunts’ street. The house was the same as it always had been; Virgin Mary statue in the front garden, wide front porch looking like visitors were welcome at any time. She walked quickly past. That part of her life was over. Her family believed her dead, and that was for the best. How to explain to them what she was now? She couldn’t, and she didn’t want to. It was better for them to stay ignorant of the nightmares that walked among them, and she was just one more nightmare, now.

She was getting ready to head back toward the loft, another nice, long run, when she heard what sounded like a struggle in a nearby alley. She looked around. There was a small pizza place, a secondhand shop, and a martial arts studio. That was new; it definitely hadn’t been there when she’d lived in the neighborhood. The sounds were coming from the alley behind it.

Shanti ran to the building, then slowed down, slunk along the cinder block wall, listening. She could smell a human, hear his raspy breath, his heart thumping.

It was entirely possible she’d be walking in on something else happening in the alleyway. The first time she’d burst in on a couple messing around in their car, she’d nearly died of mortification.

But that wasn’t the sight that met her eyes when she turned into the alley. A vampire (obvious, from her pale skin and lack of a heartbeat) was holding a man up against the back wall of the martial arts studio, pinning him there. He was struggling, but he was also clearly losing his energy as the vamp sucked the life from him. Draining him.

“Hey!” she shouted, readying her knife again. The vamp turned, blood dribbling from the side of her mouth, and she hissed at Shanti.

Young. She was immature. Not past the blood lust phase. That’s when many vampires are at their most dangerous. They can’t control themselves. Shanti herself had killed a man at that phase of her second life.

Luckily, young vampires also tend to be stupid. Not terribly comfortable in their newer, stronger bodies. The vamp lunged at Shanti, and Shanti stepped to the side, struck out with a quick punch and sent the vamp flying into a nearby dumpster. The vamp tried springing at Shanti again, but Shanti was too fast; she saw her opportunity and took it, stabbing up with the dagger as the vamp tried to tackle her.

Once she was sure the vamp was dead, Shanti hefted the dead body into the dumpster, leaving it open so the body would fade away come morning. She shook her head, then turned to the man, who was still slumped against the back of the building, but was conscious, staring at her with a mix of fear and awe. He was still bleeding from the neck; the vamp had pulled her fangs out of the man’s artery without sealing the wounds.

Shanti approached the man slowly, trying to calm him. Even as she was trying to be business-like, she couldn’t help noticing that he was drop-dead freaking gorgeous. He looked like he was something Middle Eastern, maybe, warm complexion, light brown eyes, and the longest, blackest lashes she’d ever seen. His black hair was cut close to his head, and a neat goatee completed the picture.

The scent of his blood was making her throat burn, her fangs descend. She tried to keep them hidden from the man.

“It’s okay now,” she said softly, holding her hands out, letting him see her. “I’m here to help you.”

“You killed that thing,” he said, his voice low, smooth. A good voice.

“Yes. I did. Your neck is still bleeding. I can close the wounds, if you’ll let me.”

“How?”

Shanti hesitated. This was clearly a Normal, and one who had no clue what kind of mess he’d really gotten into. “It’s probably better if I show you. I swear I will not hurt you. Can you trust me?”

He stared at her. She held her dagger out to him. The other vamps’ blood, both the one from earlier and the one she’d just killed, still stained the blade. “You can hold this if it’ll make you feel better.”

He shook his head, still staring at her.

“This will only take a second. We need to make it stop.”

He nodded, then, and she approached him slowly. She angled his head, gently, trying to get access to his wound, and he stiffened.

“It’s okay,” she said softly. “I am not like that one. I will not hurt you.”

He didn’t relax, but at least he wasn’t trying to run away. He’d lost a lot of blood, and she was worried about him blacking out. Shanti leaned in, and gently licked at his wound, using her saliva to seal it, to heal it as if it had never been there at all.

She forced herself not to react visibly to the taste of his blood. Holy hell. Rich, sweet, warm perfection. She closed her eyes for a moment, savored the flavor of him coating her mouth. She took a breath she didn’t need, mostly to settle herself down, and she stepped back.

His gaze was on her, tracking every move she made. The man put a hand to his neck, then looked at his hand. When he saw no blood, his gaze shot back up to her.

“What are you?” he asked.

She regretted what had to come next. She didn’t like this part in general, and she felt even more of a pang over having to do it now. “I am the same thing she was,” she said softly, meeting his eyes, making it very clear that she wasn’t messing around. “If you breathe a word of what you saw, what you experienced tonight, I will find you. And you won’t make it out alive if that happens. Do you understand?”

God, she felt like a first-rate asshole doing that.

He nodded, slowly, eyes still glued to hers. “Thank you,” he said. “I don’t even know what I’d tell anyone. They’d think I was nuts.”

She smiled a little. “You’re handling it really well, considering.”

“I’m going to go drink myself into a stupor now, I think,” he said, and it made her grin.

“Not a bad idea. I wasn’t kidding. Not a word.”

He nodded. “What’s your name, anyway?”

She looked around. “My name’s Shanti. And you never saw me.”

And with that, she took off, at vampire speed. It wasn’t until she was nearly home that she detected another vampire, shadowing her every move.

 * * *

Zero stared into the night after the woman who had rescued him. One second, she was there, and the next there was no sign of her.

“My name is Shanti, and you never saw me.”

Her words echoed in his mind, etched into his memory. Zero looked down the alley for a while longer, then started heading up the metal stairs that led to the apartment above the martial arts studio he owned with a buddy of his, and let himself in. His apartment was sparsely furnished; a twin bed, a television, and a nightstand. A shelf with a few books and mementos from places he’d been. There was a small bathroom off to the side. The entire apartment was ridiculously small and the wallpaper had yellowed with age. But it was his, and that was enough.

He sat on the edge of the bed, looked down at his hands. They were still shaking, and he clasped them together, trying to force them to stop. He brought one hand up to his neck.

The second that first thing had grabbed him, all of his training had kicked in. He’d seen red, started punching and kicking out mercilessly. He was a more than competent fighter.

Against the thing in the alley, taken by surprise, it hadn’t meant a damn thing. He was overpowered within seconds.

And then he’d felt the thing’s teeth rip into his neck. At first, he had been in too much shock and fear to feel anything. And then he did, and it reminded him of that night, of shrapnel tearing into his body.

It reminded him, yet again, that an attack can come at anytime. Twice in his life now he’d nearly been snuffed out, with no warning.

Zero got up and went into the tiny bathroom. He looked at himself in the mirror over the sink. His T-shirt was caked in his blood; the thing had been really messy. And at first, he’d thought it was just ripping him apart, until he realized that it was sucking hungrily at his neck.

His stomach turned. He pulled his ruined shirt off and tossed it into the bathroom garbage can. He inspected his neck in the mirror. That was the even crazier part. There wasn’t a sign that the thing had ever attacked him at all. And that was all due to the one who had saved him.

Shanti.

He recalled the way she’d moved, the quick, efficient way she’d disposed of the thing that had attacked him. Watching her had been like watching a perfectly choreographed dance of death. He’d never seen anyone move like that, and even as he watched, even as he watched her approach him, he knew she wasn’t human.

And then there had been her sweet, soft voice.

The feel of her tongue on his flesh. Healing. Taking the pain away. Soothing.

He closed his eyes.

“I will not hurt you.”

Offering him her knife, trying to make him feel better.

Not human.

Like the thing that had attacked him.

Zero tried to shake himself out of it. He turned the water on in the tiny shower, stepped under the searing heat. He scrubbed his blood off of his body, let the water work some of the kinks out of his neck and shoulders.

He couldn’t get those dark brown eyes out of his mind. That voice.

It wasn’t the fact that there were non-humans walking around that really rocked his world. That was crazy, but that wasn’t the craziest thing that had happened to him that night.

The craziest thing was that someone had bothered to care for him. That was something that just did not happen. Not ever. His quiet, sheltered ways, the way he glared at everybody, the way he was always on edge, waiting for, expecting, an attack, kept everyone away. And he wanted it that way.

He didn’t pray. He didn’t believe there was something bigger out there watching out for him. He didn’t believe in heaven, hell, gods or devils. But he knew that the fact that he was going to live to see another day was thanks to the gorgeous, graceful, deadly being who’d appeared at just the right time.

Zero got out of the shower, pulled on a pair of sweats, and went back into his room, checking the door and window locks before settling onto the squeaky mattress.

“My name is Shanti. And you never saw me.”

* * *

 

Advice for Writers via Stan Lee’s “How to Write Comics”

I've flagged just a few pages in this book...

I’ve flagged just a few pages in this book…

I can hear it already.

“But I don’t write comics. And, uh, neither do you, Colleen.”

Doesn’t matter. There isn’t a single genre that writers can’t learn from if they take the time to do so. I’ve learned helpful tips and techniques about writing from books and articles about screenwriting, writing poetry, writing literary fiction, writing military fiction, and writing erotica, even though I don’t (currently) write any of those things. I picked up Stan Lee’s How to Write Comics because (as I’ve mentioned before) I really would like to write comics eventually. But the more I read it, the more I realized that the Generalissimo’s advice applies to novels as well. Here are some of my favorite bits from the book.

On Writing Superheroes: (which I do actually do!)

“‘I decided to treat the superhero adventure strip as though it’s a soap opera story that just happens to be about a superhero who has to defeat villains. But rather than predicating it on great action scenes, I determined to predicate it on characterizations, and on whatever personal problems a superhero might encounter living in a realistic world.’”

I felt really happy when I read this, because for better or for worse, I’ve done very much the same thing with Molly in Hidden. Yeah. She’s insanely powerful (too powerful! a person or two has lamented) but her biggest problems don’t always necessarily come from her enemies. Often, it’s the interpersonal issues that really test her, and the asskicking she has to do is in addition to trying to live a “normal” life.

On Creativity and Ideas:

“The funny thing is, the more you do, the more it seems you’re able to do.”

This is another way of saying that creativity begets creativity. The more you write/draw/sculpt/knit…whatever, the more ideas you’ll have for future projects. So if you feel at a loss for ideas, create something! More “somethings” will follow.

On Creating Your Antagonist:

“…they mustn’t just be evil. They mustn’t just be strong. They’ve also got to be unusual, exciting, provocative, and surprising.” He also says: “Too many times a villain simply attacks the hero for the same reason men have given for climbing mountains — because they’re there.”

No cardboard characters. The villain should be just as interesting as the hero. You can’t just have a villain or antagonist come on the scene and start causing trouble just for the hell of it. There has to be a reason. They have to have their own motivations, and they have to be just as strong as the motivations of  your hero. I’ve read this before, and it’s something I try to keep in mind with every story: Every villain is a hero in his own mind.

On Working with the Classic Three-Act Structure:

Lee has a whole section in this book on the three-act structure, but this little tip may be especially handy for anyone trying to figure out how much of their story constitutes an act:

“How much of your story should be devoted to each segment? Well, that depends on the demands of the story, but the rule of thumb says one-quarter is reserved for Act One, one-quarter for Act Three, and the remaining half for Act Two.”

On Flashbacks:

“There has to be a compelling reason to use a flashback since it interrupts the narrative flow. Don’t just use it for what’s become known as the ‘info dump,’ with a lengthy explanation. That will stop your momentum dead in its tracks and possibly put your reader to sleep. Everything on the page has to be there for a reason, and you, the writer, have to justify the choices you make in composing your tale.”

On Subplots:

“A good subplot will allow you to set up the introduction of new characters or complications. It can break up the main action of the issue and build tension. Subplots can rise to become the main plot, but they can also be a parallel story to the main plot. But just as your larger story comes to a conclusion, so, too, must your subplot.”

Subplots can be tricky to work with. The main trouble I have is keeping my focus on the main plot once I’ve become enamored with one of the subplots I’ve started on, and I think that balancing how much subplot you include is something you learn over time. I am still definitely learning in that regard, but it’s a lot of fun trying different things out and seeing what works.

This was a great book. Whether you write comics or not, it’s definitely worth checking out, and the amount of comics history you get, from the man who has been a HUGE influence in the industry, makes it even better.

 

 

This Week: 4/13/14 Edition

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Wildlife Interperative Gallery, Detroit Zoo

This was a busy week, but it was a good one. Here are a few things that I did, read, watched, and liked this past week.

Stuff I Did:

  • I sent the beta readers for Strife their copies of the book. We are getting close! There is still proofreading to be done, and I’ve already received a lot of very helpful feedback.
  • I worked more on Forever Night. 10,000 more words, and this one is done as well. (By the way, I put it to a vote on Facebook, and it appears that you guys are up for an extra installment of Forever Night this week. You’ll have it in your inboxes on Friday. :) )
  • I started jotting down notes for the fifth Hidden book. I’m planning to get right to work on that once Forever Night and the revisions on Strife are finished.

Stuff I Read:

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  • Right now, I’m reading Stan Lee’s How to Write Comics. I have said before that I’d love to write comics some day, but even if I didn’t this book is absolutely full of great writing tips. I’ll have a post up about that this week.
  • I also read an ARC of Katie Reus’ Sinful Seduction  (which I loved and will be reviewing later this week) as well as Vivian Arend and Elle Kennedy’s All Fired Up, which was a fun, steamy read.
  • I also received my trade paperback of volume one of Greg Rucka’s Lazarus, which is just amazing. I have all of the issues in volume one in single issues as well, but I love being able to sit and read an arc from beginning to end, and this one was amazing.

Stuff I Watched:

I’m not a big TV watcher. Other than Agents of SHIELD and Detroit sports, I don’t watch much TV. We saw Captain America 2 last Friday, and that was so good I wanted to see it again immediately. Cap and Black Widow were great as usual, but Falcon was my favorite part of the movie. And Bucky. There are a few scenes in there where he looks so menacing (the scene from the trailers with Nick Fury’s SUV, especially) that I swear I need to write someone like that. Loved it.

Stuff I’m Listening To:

Lots of Rihanna, because there are several songs of hers that just kind of work with the feel I’m trying to go for with Forever Night. I need to get to work on putting together a book five playlist eventually. That’ll come once I start getting into outlining and getting more of an overall feel for the book.

Stuff I Loved This Week:

  • Warm weather! It was gorgeous here, and we spent a lot of time outside, including a visit to the Detroit Zoo. My garden is looking so much better, and we have tulip and daffodil foliage popping up everywhere.
  • Aerolatte Milk Frother. I may have mentioned once or twice that I have this coffee habit. And I like frothy things. So my husband ordered this as a little surprise for me, and I love it. I’m using less milk and half & half and my coffee has this gorgeous, frothy foam on it. A little sprinkle of cinnamon on top, and it is perfection.
  • BETA READERS! I have a great group of beta readers for Strife, and I’m not just saying that because they like what they’re reading. :) They have already given me so much great feedback, and it has been a huge help. I think I love them.

So, that’s it for how I spent the last seven days. This week, I’ll be finishing Forever Night and working on revisions on Strife. I hope you all have a lovely week!

 

HIDDEN History: The Imps

Oh, the imps.

When I wrote the imps into Hidden, I did it kind of thinking “I love them but everyone else is going to think they’re stupid.” The good thing, I guess, was that I just didn’t care. I loved them. I loved their evolving relationship with Molly, and the way serving her affected them. I needed creatures she could trust absolutely, because at the point in the story where they were introduced, there was NO ONE Molly trusted. And I thought it was sad that the only beings she could trust were those who were required, by the very nature of their existence, not to betray her.

So I did have those moments of “no one is going to take this shit seriously,” but I had fun writing them. And when I started publishing Hidden as a web serial, and then in book form, I was shocked to get comments and then reviews about how much some people loved the imps. Not a week goes by now in which someone doesn’t comment on the imps, and that still amazes me.

So there may be a lesson there, fellow writers: trust your gut and write the things that make you happy/entertain you before worrying about what anyone else thinks.

So in light of the imp-love, I thought I’d write a little bit about how I came up with them.

Imps: Inspiration

As I mentioned above, the imps really came into being because I needed someone Molly could trust. And the imps served that purpose as well as a few others:

  • They helped highlight Molly’s goodness. She hates the idea of any creature being required to serve her, and she treats the imps far better than any of their previous masters. She makes an effort to actually learn their names as well as other things about them, and they tell her in book one that no one had ever bothered to do that in their over 700 years of existence. Molly comes to see them as friends, and their devotion to her goes beyond what is required of them.
  • They helped establish that Molly is the strongest demonic being around. Of course, the reason behind why, exactly, isn’t revealed until book two, but once she starts coming into her powers in Lost Girl, it becomes clear that she’s a force to be reckoned with. When the imps swear themselves to her, it makes it clear to everyone just how powerful she really is.
  • They are a constant in her life. Whether she has her friends and team-mates or not, she will always have the imps. They’re the one thing she can really, truly count on.

Imps: Appearance

Here’s how I imagine the imps. Physically, they look quite a bit like the demonic imps that warlocks have as their first minion in World of Warcraft. (Shut up. Best. Game. Ever.) Mixed with maybe a little bit of Yoda.

As far as their personalities go, they’re a lot like Yoda. Wise, trustworthy, and steadfast. They don’t look like much, but when they decide to kick ass, look out.

PicMonkey Collage

For their names, I just kind of came up with Dahael’s name because it sounded right. I fully confess to Bashiok being named after someone I follow on Twitter, not because I know him in any way, or have even tweeted with him that I can remember, but because that Twitter handle is the perfect imp name. So thanks, World of Warcraft CM @Bashiok. :)

How the Imps Work

As Nain explained to Molly in Lost Girl, the imps follow power. They will only serve the most powerful demon (and for clarification purposes, demons and other beings of the Nether are kind of lumped together. Both types of beings come from the Nether, and their powers have a similar feel to them) and will do so absolutely. The enchantment that created them (and that’s something you’ll finally learn more about in book four) makes it so that they are incapable of disobeying or betraying their current master.

So what can they do? They are invisible to humans, so they can get around quite easily. When they’re in the service of a typical, chaos- and pain-hungry demon, they’ll work, whispering into the ears of mortals, encouraging them to cause pain. They encourage violence and pain, which are two of the things that strengthen demons. Typically, this is the way a master will choose to use them; as a way to strengthen him- or herself. They can communicate with one another telepathically, and also with their master, but not with anyone else. They can fight when they are required to. Both Bashiok and Dahael are pretty vicious with both their daggers and their teeth when they need to be.

Imps. I love them, and I hope this post has been a fun little behind-the-scenes peek at the Hidden world. Thanks for reading!

Edited to Add:

After I finished this post, I was going through some stuff in my office and came across this composition book. I wrote several scenes of the second draft of Lost Girl by hand, usually when I was outside with my kids. The first appearance of the imps was in that notebook! The second draft still wasn’t quite right: Molly was named Meg and the story was told from the third person POV. It was better than the first draft, but still not quite right. :)

PicMonkey Collage2

Friday Sneak Peek: Strife

Hidden_Strife_SeriesCover_200Hello, everyone! I hope you’re all well. It has been a busy week around here. I am taking a short break from Strife before I tackle revisions, so I’ve been working on finishing Forever Night. Shanti’s novella should be available on Amazon sometime next month. Aside from writing, it finally feels like spring here, so we’ve been hanging out in the yard a lot more and getting the garden whipped into shape.

On Facebook, the lovely Jennifer asked for another sneak peek at Strife, and since I am all about making my readers happy (except when I’m making you cry and wanting to throw your e-readers against the wall, that is… ) I am happy to oblige.

This is from chapter five of Strife. Things have started getting crazy for the team(s) and it’s definitely having an effect on Molly. Something kinda huge happened the night before, and now Molly is dealing with the fallout.

*  *  *

I went into my backyard, started pacing back and forth, trying to quiet the darkness inside me, trying to stop the way I felt wrong in my own skin, trying to stop hating the fact that I existed at all. Cursed the fact that I would be alive forever, and I’d have to keep dealing with shit like this.

I kept pacing. It was one of those things. I’d always had a lot of nervous energy. Pacing wasn’t uncommon. But now, being back, having whatever this was inside me messing with me, affecting my powers, I found myself doing it more, almost unable to stop once I got started. And when I was stressed out, which was more and more common, I got into this almost unstoppable pacing pattern, as if my body couldn’t handle the insanity happening inside it, needed some way to try to let off some steam.

I heard cars pull out of the driveway. I focused for a moment, realized that the only ones left were Nain and my parents. I heard the back door open, and glanced that way to see Nain and my parents standing on the back porch, watching me as I paced between my garage and the end of my yard.

I knew how insane it looked. A lot of the time, it helped me get under control. I had enough power flowing through me just then that I could have destroyed just about anything. And that was the problem.  I didn’t want to go out when I was like this. Too much danger of losing control, of an innocent getting hurt if I couldn’t hold it together.

I was full, nearly overflowing with power. It had grown steadily since I’d seen myself on television, fed by my anger, my fear, my pain. I was so full, it hurt. I clenched my teeth, glanced around for something to let it out on, away from everyone. Nain and my parents continued to watch me.

There was a large norway maple across the street, and I focused on it, snarled and unleashed the overflow of power. It hit the tree full blast, and the tree gave a loud, sickening screech as it split, fell over. It landed in the empty lot, one of several.

It hurt to have the power, it hurt just as much to release it. I bent double, trying to get my breath, trying to wait the pain out. Nain walked over to me, crouched in front of me. He stayed, watching me as it felt like I was being ripped apart from the inside. I looked up and met his eyes.

“That tree was a fucking asshole. It had it coming,” he said, very seriously, and I couldn’t help it. I laughed, just a little, shoving him away from me as I stood up. I heard my parents walk back into the house, closing the back door behind them, leaving Nain and me alone in the yard. I stepped away from him, holding my head, trying to massage away the headache. Trade one pain for another. Kind of the story of my life.

I headed toward the back porch and plopped down on one of he steps. Nain sat next to me, and I felt a mixture of relief and irritation that he was staying.

“Do you need anything?”

I shook my head, stared down at my feet as I willed the pain to stop.

“Did you have any idea that was happening last night?” Voice a low rumble, rage flowing from him.

I shook my head. “Not really.” Didn’t feel like explaining it just then.

We sat in silence for a few minutes. “What do you think set it off?” he asked. “Was it that shit with Brennan the other day?”

I shook my head. “It wasn’t just that,” I said. “It was everything. Everything we went over with Jones yesterday, meeting with the vamp queen, who refuses to join us, by the way. Brennan, you, the stress of never being alone. Just… everything. I’m exhausted,” I said, and I hated the weakness in my voice. Waved it away. “Not that it matters.”

“It matters,” he said. “We need to find a way to fix this. You can’t keep going on this way.”

The back door opened, and we both turned and watched my parents step onto the back porch. “We may have an idea,” Tisiphone said.

“What?” I asked, standing up. Nain stood up as well, stayed beside me.

“We think you should have Asclepias look at you,” Hades said.

“No. Not a chance in hell,” I said. One of the dogs came, sat near me. I saw that it was Courtney, and I gave her an absent-minded scratch behind the ear.

“Who’s Asclepias?” Nain asked.

“Healer god,” Hades said. “One who joined our side during the war and also came and healed the shifters from the plague sent by the Nosoi.”

“An Aether healer immortal,” I said, emphasizing the “Aether” part and sharing a glance with Nain.

He got it, nodded once and crossed his arms over his chest. He had about as high an opinion of the immortals as I did, after seeing more than a little of what they’d done to me when I’d opened my mind to him.

“An Aether god who doesn’t care at all for politics, Mollis,” Tisiphone chided, and I almost laughed, hearing her mom voice.

“Yeah? So he says. Everyone has a price. Everyone has a point at which they decide someone isn’t worth saving. Not a chance in hell am I letting any of them know what’s going on with me.”

“Did you see yourself today? It’s kind of obvious something’s wrong with you,” Hades said, glaring at me. “Do you really think none of them saw it? Aphrodite is in town trying to see Hephaestus. Apollo is around too, because his sister is here. Trust me: they know.”

“But they don’t know that whole story and I’m sure the hell not letting them learn more than they already know,” I said, glaring right back at my father. “Are you nuts? Why in the hell would you trust any of them, ever? Especially knowing what I am and what I can do to them?”

I glanced at my mother, who was looking like she was ready to beg me, then glanced back at my father and Nain just in time to see them exchanging a look.

“Molls. Just let the fucking healer god look at you,” Nain said after a few moments.

“Did he tell you to say that?” I demanded.

He glared at me. “Have you ever known me to give a shit about what anyone tells me? I don’t care about what he wants,” he said. “But this is something you need. And if he betrays you, then you end him, because you can.”

I felt the horror from both of my parents at his last statement. They both genuinely liked Asclepias. I did too. Didn’t mean I trusted him.

“Do this thing. You can’t fix it until you know. And I’ll be here and I swear I’ll watch him every second.”

I met his eyes.

Just do it, Molls. If he blabs about what’s happening with you, I’ll help you hunt his ass down. But this isn’t solving itself and if they think he can help, you should see what he says. Nain’s voice in my mind.

I hate this, I thought at him.

I know. But you know as well as I do that we have to figure this out to prevent it from happening again. It could have been a lot worse. Next time it might be.

I watched him for a moment, looked away. “Fine,” I said, shaking my head. “Bring him here.”

*  *  *

So, yeah. That’s that. :)

Thanks for reading! Have a lovely weekend, all!

What’s Next?

The lovely Kayleigh left a comment on one of my recent posts asking for my plans after Hidden. So I figured this was as good a time as any to give an update on book four’s progress as well as share my plans for what’s next.

Book Four Progress

I have two more scenes to write for book four. One will be fairly straightforward. The other is giving me fits. It’ll come, but right now I’m frustrated and irritated. My plan was to be finished writing Strife by 3/31, and that (obviously) hasn’t happened. My next goal is to finish it by Monday, and I am absolutely determined to make that one!

After Book Four

I’ve already started preliminary outlining and notes for Hidden, Book Five, which will be the final book in the series. I’ll probably start working on it as soon as I’m finished with edits for Strife. That one will be out in fall 2014. There will also be another Hidden novella. I’ll be publishing Shanti’s novella sometime around when Strife comes out, but the final (secret) novella won’t come out until after book five. As I’ve mentioned before, Shanti’s book (Forever Night) and the other novella aren’t required reading for the Hidden storyline. They are side stories about other characters in the series.

Next Series: Paranormal Romance

My next series will be more of a paranormal romance series. Right now I’m planning for three books that are centered more on Rayna (who those of you who are reading Forever Night are already familiar with) and her court. Those will likely be out in 2015.

Other Projects

I have a contemporary romance in the works (it is so weird to be writing about non-supernaturals…) and that will either be out in late 2014 or early 2015, depending on how I can fit it in between my other projects. I also have another series in the works, but I don’t want to talk too much about that until after Hidden is all wrapped up.

Busy times ahead, but I am having a blast. Thanks Kayleigh for the question!

All right. Back to work! :)

Molly’s Army: Join Up!

Hidden_Strife_SeriesCover_200So, I’ve been thinking.

A dangerous pasttime, I know. (Name that movie!)

My goal is always to release the best books possible, and I believe that getting feedback during the editing process is vital to that. I am very lucky in that I have a few family members who are able to look at my work objectively and point things out. And that’s awesome.

But I want more.

Here’s what I’m thinking. I’d like to find ten beta readers to read Strife: Hidden, Book Four before it comes out.

What do I want from my beta readers?

  • I want you to be brutal.
  • I want you to tell me which parts bored you. Where were you reading and said “oh, hey, time to get up and switch the laundry/check Facebook/paint my toenails”?
  • Also, I want you to tell me which parts had you leaning forward in your seat, unable to stop reading.
  • I want to know what confused you. What could have been explained better? Did you have questions that never got answered?
  • Did any of the actions taken in the book seem out of character?
  • I want you to point out grammatical errors, wonky punctuation, spelling screw-ups (though these shouldn’t be much of an issue, since it will have been revised and proofread before you get it. Things always slip through, though, and I will love you forever if you help me catch them!)
  • Tell me anything you think of that could make the book better!

How will it work?

I’ll go through the applications I get via the form below and pick ten beta readers (and please don’t get upset if you don’t get picked for this!) Then I’ll set up a closed group on Facebook with those ten people and myself so you can easily give me feedback on what you’re reading. You can also email me your comments, but I know many of my readers are on FB and this might be an easier way to do it. I’d like feedback to start within a week of you receiving the book. Then I’ll go through everything and figure out what needs to happen from my end to make the book as good as it can be. I obviously will only incorporate changes that make sense to me, so if you’re considering suggesting, say, a Molly/Nain/Brennan threesome… it’s not gonna happen.  (Though feel free to fanfic that if you want.) :)

Obviously, anyone who helps out as a beta reader is promising to also keep their mouths/keyboards shut about what happens in book four to avoid spoiling it for others. As well as promising not to share the file I send them with anyone else.

And what do you get in return?

  • First off, you get to read the book several weeks before everyone else!
  • Also, your name will be listed in the acknowledgments section, and you will receive a free copy of the finished ebook.
  • And, you’ll receive a signed paper version of Strife when I have them available.

If You Want to Be Part of Molly’s Army:

Please fill out this form by Wednesday, April 2nd. I’ll go through them next weekend and let everyone know who’s in Molly’s Army by Friday, 4/4.

Quick Note About Forever Night

Before I forget: I’ve been crazy with finishing up book four this week, so I am not totally done with this week’s installment of Forever Night. If it’s not in your email by late today, it will show up at some point this weekend. Thanks for your patience!

Thank you, as always, for being awesome. Have a great weekend! <3

 

Hidden and Internal Conflict

49abe9fbe31532f2a2b934eafbbb7501As I’m wrapping up the writing of the fourth Hidden book, Strife, and putting some serious work into outlining book five (which will be the last book in the series) I’m thinking about conflict and how it fits into Molly’s story.

There is no shortage of fighting. Molly has plenty of people who want to cause trouble for her. External conflict has never been a problem; really, one of the challenges I’ve had has been in not just making the series one big fight after another.

I’ve seen a comment or two about Molly being too powerful, that there is no one who can really stand against her and she needs a major big bad to be her nemesis. It’s kind of the Superman thing. If he’s the most powerful being around, then where’s the real danger? Where’s the excitement?

For me, reading any comic book or novel in which the main character is the biggest, baddest thing around, the conflict that matters most, the one that gets my blood pumping, is not watching the hero beat up on people. It’s watching how they deal with the fact that what they are endangers those they care about. Everyone who matters to Superman or Spider-Man or whoever is in almost constant danger, just by being part of a superhero’s life.

Even more interesting to me is watching the hero struggle with what they are. How far can they take their powers before they cross some line that never should have been crossed? Where does good become evil, and what does it do to your mind, your personality, to be the baddest one in the room all the time?

At what point do you lose touch with humanity? What keeps a hero like that on the straight and narrow, fighting for the good guys, rather than using all of that power for their own gain?

That’s the stuff that interests me. I’m not going to lie; writing a hero like Molly is challenging, because she herself is very rarely in actual physical danger. She gets beat up and pops up again to fight another day. Her concerns are bigger than herself. She has friends, lovers. An entire city she feels responsible for. And each and every person involved with her is in danger, simply because of what she is.

Add to that that Molly has never felt comfortable trusting people and letting them into her life. Add the fact that she constantly doubts herself, that she can feel that sibilant, provocative whisper all too often telling her she can do whatever she wants, because who’s going to stop her?

Her conflict is not with one big bad. It is with those who would harm the people she loves. It is with the constant battle to keep herself sane and under control. It is with the ever-present temptation to cross that line, and once she crosses it, there will be no going back.

The toughest enemy many of us have to fight is the enemy within. It’s that voice inside that tells us we can’t, or that we’re not smart enough, not worthwhile. It’s the way we talk ourselves out of things, simply because we don’t believe we’re capable of doing more, doing better. Molly’s no different from any of us in that way. She just has a lot more power to deal with, which means even higher stakes. When people say that she “feels real” as several reviewers have, I believe this is why.

Internal conflict: something we can all relate to! :)

All right. Back to work on book four. Have a great week all!

On Moving On

I announced on Twitter last month that I’d taken my final step away from professional garden writing, and resigned as About.com’s organic gardening expert. I started the site in 2009, and it was exciting to watch it grow from nothing to a site that thousands (and, in some months, several hundred thousands) of gardeners turned to for information. I’m very proud of the work I did there, and even more excited to see that the lovely Angela England has taken over as the new organic gardening expert. It kind of feels like we’ve come full-circle; Angela was the first person to welcome me into the world of professional garden writing, back when I started with Suite101 nearly ten years ago. Crazy how things work out sometimes. :) About.com is lucky to have her, and I’m excited to read the new content she creates there.

I think several people, garden writing and garden blogging friends, especially, were surprised and maybe thought I was a little nuts for resigning. About.com is a great gig. There are few places online where you can make that kind of money writing about gardening.

The thing is, it was time for a change. It was time to go full-force into this whole crazy fiction writing thing. Since the release of Lost Girl in December, I’ve made more than I’ve made in the last three years of garden writing, combined. In three months. And fiction is where my heart has always been, no matter how much I enjoyed garden writing. Time to do this, and give it the time it deserves.

So the first thing was that it was time and I’m able to live my dreams now and write about gods and sexy demons and shifters and all that fun stuff. The second thing is that I feel (and have felt for quite a while) that I did all I wanted to do with garden writing. Find a good-paying job in the industry? Check. Write a book about gardening? I wrote two for Lone Pine Publishing. Have articles published in my favorite magazines? Check, check, check.

But fiction writing… that brings me new challenges not just every day, but every hour. Every word. And even on the worst days, I can’t imagine not doing this. And I’m just really, really lucky that the books are selling and that people seem to like them. I am grateful for that every single moment.

I took a leap when I published Lost Girl. I really didn’t expect much to happen, except that I could say I’d finally done it. I took a leap the day I applied for that job with About.com, not expecting to actually get hired, seeing it as a long shot.

Sometimes, you just have to leap and see what happens. Even if you fall, at least you know you were brave enough to try. Will my books keep selling forever? You never know. Probably not. All I know is that I don’t intend to stop writing, and that I try, really hard, to improve with each book. That’s all you can do. Keep working, keep learning, and hope like hell that someone takes a chance on you.

Thank you so much to everyone who has taken a chance on me. You are the best!

Have a great weekend!

Weekly Update, 3/2/14 Edition

Hello, all!

Well, it snowed again last night, which I could have done without. It’s definitely feeling like the winter without an end around here.

I thought I’d try to do these update posts just to collect whatever news there is in one place.

Facebook: Fancasting and Playlist

There are a couple of fun things happening on the Facebook page:

Newsletter and Forever Night

The second edition of my newsletter went out this past Friday, and it contained the second part of Shanti’s story, Forever Night. This will eventually be released as a novella, and it takes place through the later part of book three and between books three and four. It should definitely be read after Home to avoid spoilers. If you’re interested in the story, you can sign up for my newsletter and you’ll get a new installment every other Friday. And don’t worry if you’re behind already; I include links to previous parts of the story with each new installment. There is a newsletter signup link in the sidebar if you’re interested.

Progress!

You may have noticed that I added progress bars for my current works-in-progress to the sidebar. Currently, I’m a little over a third of the way finished with the first draft of book four. My goal is to have the first draft finished by the end of this month. There are also a few other projects in the works, including Shanti’s book, the first book of my upcoming paranormal romance series, and even a contemporary romance that has no supernatural beings in it at all. (Crazy. I know!) There’s also an un-named “secret project” that is progressing nicely.

I hope you all have a lovely week. Thanks, as always, for being so awesome. :)