September Reading Wrap-Up

September was a month full of good reads. You know how you’ll go through a period in which nothing you read really seems to hold your interest? And you’re just not sure  what you’re really in the mood to read? I hate periods like that. September was the exact opposite — it seemed like almost everything I read was so good I had to force myself to stop reading and do other things.

More months like this, please. 🙂

Here are the books that kept me up past my bedtime last month:

The Handmaid’s Tale

91LKGqgWzYL._SL1500_This book. Holy shit, this book. I am actually annoyed with myself for not reading it sooner. I was pretty sure I had read it, and maybe I did pick it up in college at some point but I know for sure now that I definitely did not read it back then. This is the kind of book you just don’t forget. A future dystopia in which everything is neat and orderly and all the more haunting for it, because this dystopia is built fully on the backs of women. And now every time I see some asshat talking about regulating women’s bodies, I find myself thinking “do you want The Handmaid’s Tale? Because this is how we get The Handmaid’s Tale.

And then I realize that in many cases, they kind of do and then I want to hit things. And when it’s a woman saying it, I can only ever think of her afterward as a Serena Joy fuckwit.

Don’t read it if you are looking for something uplifting, is all I’m saying. But everyone should read it. Yes, everyone.

 

The Girl with All the Gifts

careyI never really got into the whole zombie thing. I think the only zombie book I read before this was Amanda Hocking’s Hollowland, so when I originally heard that this one was about zombies, I wasn’t interested. Then, people I know who have really good taste in books started talking about it. And then it was on sale pretty cheap on Amazon, so I decided to give it a try.

I was not disappointed. This book is full of action, characters you both love and hate (sometimes at the same time) and the kind of attention to detail that makes you feel like you’re living it. And now, even though I’ve never had any interest in zombie movies, either, I want to see the movie. Amazing book, but again… not at all a “gee, this makes me happy!” kind of read. Sometimes, those are just what you need, though. Highly recommended.

 

Trickster’s Choice

pierceTamora Pierce has been on my “why the hell haven’t I read any books by her yet?” list for a while now (what, you don’t have lists like that? Interesting.) so when I saw this one at my library, I grabbed it.

And now I will read everything I can find by Tamora Pierce. This is a YA fantasy novel about a smart, shrewd young woman who knows what she wants, and, maybe even more importantly, what she does NOT want. Her life is thrown into chaos when she finds herself captured by slavers and ends up in service of a household of royals. Where she goes from there is a tale full of twists and turns, gods and warriors, politics and betrayal. I have the second book (Trickster’s Queen) and am reading it now. Loved this book, and if you’re looking for a fantasy with a really well-written heroine and very little romance subplot, this is a good one to check out. (I was surprised how little the lack of romance bothered me. I usually love that stuff, but this book did just fine without a major romance plot.) Highly recommended.

Daughter of the Forest

forestI loved this book for the deep characterization and worldbuilding, and for the nearly impossible task the book’s heroine, Sorcha, undertook. Everyone loves an underdog, and Sorcha is most definitely that. You spend most of the book wondering how in the hell she’s going to manage what she has to do, especially when her life seems to never stop twisting and turning long enough for her to breathe, let alone try to save the people she loves most in the world. This was another book with a strong, intelligent heroine. As much as I loved it, I found myself frustrated at times because it felt like things could have moved along faster, but I also recognize that I prefer books with a fast pace, while others are perfectly happy with a book with a more sedate plot. The combination of mysticism and romance in this book was beautifully done, and I will definitely be reading more by Marillier. Definitely recommended.

Shadow and Bone

bardugoI picked this up because I was trying to distract myself during the long wait for the second of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows books, Crooked Kingdom. It was SO MUCH MORE than a distraction, though. I absolutely fell in love with this book and its heroine, Alina, who is intelligent, devoted, and love that about her. To me, there is nothing more unrealistic than a hero or heroine who always knows, for sure, that his or her path is the right one. I love that she doubted, and I loved that sometimes, she was wrong. I loved the Russian-inspired setting, the magic, the relationships that developed between the characters. I’m stuck waiting to read the second book in the Grisha series becuse my daughter is currently reading it. Said daughter is also reading Crooked Kingdom right now (she seems to inherited my tendency to read more than one book at a time) and so I am sitting here, utterly Bardugo-less.Yes, I said Bardugo-less. It is a sad state of affairs, but there it is. I knew after Six of Crows that she was an author I would read again, and now that I’ve read the first of the Grisha books, she has moved on to my automatic one-click authors list. (You have that list too, right?) 🙂 This was my favorite book this month. Very highly recommended.

Yes, I said Bardugo-less. It is a sad state of affairs, but there it is. I knew after Six of Crows that she was an author I would read again, and now that I’ve read the first of the Grisha books, she has moved on to my automatic one-click authors list. (You have that list too, right?) 🙂 This was my favorite book this month. Very highly recommended.

 

Heartless

renshawThis was the only romance I read this month (weird) and it was a really, really good one. Winter Renshaw did an amazing job bulding the realationship between her heroine, Aidy, who is a makeup artist, and her hero, Ace, a former baseball star who was forced to retire due to injury. It’s definitely an opposites attract, enemies-to-lovers type of story, both of which are among my favorite romance tropes.

While Ace was definitely a swoon-worthy hero, it was Aidy who made this book. Aidy had the kind of strong personality that, in less-skilled hands, might have come off as annoying, but the way Renshaw wrote her was absolute perfection. Aidy’s strong, free-wheeling, adventurous personality was the perfect foil for Ace’s more cynical, taciturn nature. I absolutely loved them together and I need to read more by Renshaw. Definitely recommended for lovers of contemporary romance.

That was it. I read a few nonfiction books in September as well, but these were the highlights. Have you read something amazing lately? Tell me about it, please, so I can have more months like September!

Darkest Day is Available Now! (Plus, a Playlist)

Darkest DayDarkestDayCover_320h was one of those books that I really had fun writing. Don’t get me wrong, this is me we’re talking about, so there were weeks worth of angst and “oh my god I’m the worst ever,” but for the most part, this was a blast. I was able to write plenty of butt-kicking, more than a few lines that made me grin, and (yes!) a little bit of romance. When I started talking about this series with you guys, I said that what I was going for was the experience of reading a great comic book in the form of a novel. I wanted the excitement, the quips, the sense of “oh, crap” when things go badly. I wanted to capture the interpersonal dynamic of a team of different personalities thrown together and expected to save the world — the friendships, the rivalries, the romances. I felt like I did that with Darkest Day, and I’m pretty excited about the way it all came together.

I hope you grab a copy, and please let me know what you think! You can always email me, or give me a shout on Twitter or Facebook. And, if you’re comfortable with leaving reviews, please know that I most definitely appreciate them.

And now… a new release means a new playlist. Here are the top five songs I listened to during the writing of Darkest Day, in no particular order.

 

Darkest Day Playlist

X Gon Give It to Ya – DMX

This song is absolutely perfect for writing fight scenes to. Thank you to the creators of the Deadpool trailers for making me see that. I listened to this one A LOT.

Charlotte – Kittie


There is so much rage in this throwback from the 90s, along with a thread of delicacy flowing through it. I’d forgotten about how much I loved this song, but then it came up in a Spotify playlist and I realized how perfect it was. Some of the lyrics:

So, I’m nothing.
You took something from me, now you’ve disappeared.
You’re right where I want you.
You said you wanted it, alright.
No! It’s not alright–
No…
Now I’m something, and your head is in my closet.
Dead forever, they’ll never search it.
Out of sight. No! It’s not alright…

 I mean, really. It was pretty much perfect for this book. Angsty, violent. Yeah.

Hard Out Here – Lily Allen

Yet another song that was absolutely perfect for this book. We’ll just let the lyrics speak for themselves. They’re very Jolene (except for the sex life thing. I can’t even count how many times you guys have asked me if poor Jo is ever going to get lucky…)

I suppose I should tell you what this bitch is thinking
You’ll find me in the studio and not in the kitchen
I won’t be bragging ’bout my cars or talking ’bout my chains
Don’t need to shake my ass for you ’cause I’ve got a brain

If I told you ’bout my sex life, you’d call me a slut
When boys be talking about their bitches, no one’s making a fuss
There’s a glass ceiling to break, uh-huh, there’s money to make
And now it’s time to speed it up ’cause I can’t move at this pace

[Bridge:]
Sometimes it’s hard to find the words to say
I’ll go ahead and say them anyway
Forget your balls and grow a pair of tits

[Chorus:]
It’s hard, it’s hard, it’s hard out here for a bitch.

Doll Parts – Hole

Another ragey, angsty 90s throwback. In case it wasn’t obvious already, I adored the 90s.

Dark Horse – Katy Perry

And, finally… a non-ragey, non-angsty song that doesn’t exactly fit in with the rest. There’s one of these on every one of my playlists. 🙂

Thanks for reading! I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Darkest Day!

Cover Reveal! Darkest Day: StrikeForce #3

We are just a bit over two weeks away from the release of DARKEST DAY, the third book in my StrikeForce series. Are you guys ready to see how Jolene reacts to the events of One More Day? One hint: it’s probably going to be violent.

First, let’s take a look at the synopsis:

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.” Nietzsche

One moment, one mistake, changed Jolene Faraday’s life forever. Devoted entirely now to bringing down the super villain known as Killjoy, she spends nearly every waking moment working toward his downfall — and the rest of the time trying to come to terms with what her life has become.

Somebody’s about to have a bad day…

Nightmares, guilt, and questions of her own morality notwithstanding, Jolene, A.K.A. Daystar, is becoming the hero she swore she’d be, and StrikeForce, under Portia’s leadership, is earning a measure of respectability from friend and foe alike. That is, until questions about Jolene’s involvement in a certain super villain’s death come to light, along with increasing pressure for her to answer questions about her shadowy past.

All of it is background noise, a distraction from her hunt for Killjoy and his team. And when they threaten yet another person she cares for, Jolene becomes nothing less than Killjoy and company’s worst nightmare.

And, the COVER!!

DarkestDay_Cover

I’ll have an excerpt for you later this week.  I cannot wait for you guys to read this one! If you’d like to add it to your shelf on GoodReads (I’d love you forever) you can do that here. 

Valentine’s Day Story: “Have a Little Faith”

You guys voted for it, and here it is: a little visit with Brennan and Eunomia. Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Have a Little Faith

I stood, my soulblades ready, and watched Brennan questioning the undead we’d chased and then finally caught not too far from Westminster.

“A name. Who do you work for?” Brennan repeated, holding the undead by its throat up against the brick wall nearby. He’d been in his cat form when we’d caught him, which meant he was now standing there in all of his glorious nakedness under the yellowish streetlights. After all of this time, after all of the times I’d seen his body both in our bed and out of it it should not have affected me the way it did.

And yet, I continued to have to force my focus back to the business at hand, watching and waiting, ready to destroy the undead should it make a single move against Brennan.

“We know you’re not one of the mindless ones,” Brennan was saying. “You are leading that group who’s been causing trouble around Westminster. You’re organized. Who’s calling the shots?”

The undead laughed in its weird, raspy, phlegmy voice. And then it spat at Brennan, a disgusting splatter of grayish phlegm landing on his face.

“Okay,” Brennan said, wiping it away with his free arm. “We tried to do this the nice way.” An instant later, the air kind of seemed to shimmer around Brennan, and instead of a man standing there imprisoning the undead. an enormous black cat knocked the undead down and sat solidly on its chest. The cat looked at me with slate-blue eyes that I recognized very well, and I gave him a small smile.

I walked slowly toward the undead and looked down at him. “He did give you a chance,” I said softly. “And he’s much nicer than I am.” I held up my soulblade, and the undead tried, unsuccessfully, to get out from beneath Brennan’s massive cat form.

“Let me up, and I’ll talk,” the undead whined, staring up at me with its sunken eyes, the sickly pallor of its flesh making my skin crawl. The undead never failed to unsettle me, if for no other reason than that they simply should not be. And now that they were here, turning others, growing their ranks through crazed hunger and violence, getting rid of them would be a task that would be nearly impossible to keep up with, especially with only myself and my small band of new Guardians able to destroy them.

I exchanged a glance with Brennan, and he heaved a sigh and stepped off of the undead, then started shifting back to his human form. It was then that the undead launched himself at Brennan, who was vulnerable during the shift, his body changing his mind neither cat nor man.

There was no thought on my part; my response was automatic. I launched toward the undead and sank my soulblade into the back of his neck, feeling black metal meet bone and sinew and watching as the last of its life force dissipated. The undead crumbled to dust in the same moment that Brennan completed the shift. It had all taken fractions of a second.

Brennan looked at me, his jaw set, his blue eyes flashing just a little.

“We needed that one alive, Eunomia,” he said quietly. “He had answers.”

“We will find another. It is not as if there is any shortage of undead here.”

“Yeah, but none that we knew of that were in any kid of organized leadership…” he trailed off, shaking his head and then he walked over to where his clothing lay. He started pulling his pants on, then his shirt, his posture tense.

“This is more my problem than yours. I do not see what you’re so angry about,” I muttered, wiping the black remains of the undead off of my soulblade on some nearby grass then putting it back in the sheath across my chest. He finished getting dressed wordlessly, then he walked toward me and leaned down, his mouth close to my ear.

“Your problems are my problems, Tink,” he said. It was not the same teasing, light tone he usually used with me. There was an edge to it that made me look questioningly at him. He met my eyes for a moment and then started walking toward where we’d parked the car, a few blocks away. We’d spotted our prey and ended up chasing him on foot.

And it had come to nothing.

He was right, I thought, heaving a sigh as I followed him. We rarely got any kind of a lead. The undead in London were organizing, and it was a very bad sign, to put it mildly. It was one thing to deal with random crazed undead beings. It was something else entirely to deal with an organized, disciplined force of them, focused on causing the most damage and carnage in a minimal amount of time. We probably could have gotten answers from that one, but I’d destroyed him.

But, I’d protected the man I loved. I would take that trade, and he could be annoyed with me if he wanted to be. What else would have have expected me to do? I thought irritably as I followed him.

We drove back to our flat and caught up with Artemis, who had spent the day with Brennan’s son, Sean. The four of us went out to dinner together, and then I parted ways with the rest of them; Brennan had things to attend to in terms of getting Sean settled and in to bed, and I had more undead to hunt.

When I got back home, he was still clearly irritated with me. We sat wordlessly, and we made love as we always did, but there was that edge of tension, irritation through it all. I dozed off, somewhere between angry and happily sated, and it was only a while later that I heard Sean begin his night-time crying, his nightmares getting the better of him, and Brennan got up and pulled on his pajama pants and t-shirts with a sigh, patting my hip before leaving the room to take care of his son.

I watched him go, and thought about our argument that day. It wasn’t the first time we’d had it, and we were having the same arguments over and over lately. And I knew it was beginning to wear on both of us. And I started feeling that creeping worry that seemed to have seeped into my psyche. We’d moved quickly, and he had followed me here. Had it been a mistake? I knew I loved him, completely, and I knew he loved me. But sometimes, you can love someone and still not be right together. And our personalities were very different.

The truth of it was, he was driving me crazy. The beautiful, thoughtful, intelligent, soulful man I was now sharing my life with was a good example of why, I think, Athena has chosen to remain celibate for so long.

At the same time, he is the embodiment of everything Aphrodite was supposed to symbolize.

I lay in our rumpled bed in the flat we were staying in in London and listened to the floorboards creaking as he walked back and forth in the next room, talking softly to his son, Sean, after the boy woke, screaming, from yet another nightmare. My body still ached pleasantly from the way he’d loved me before we’d drifted off to sleep. Falling asleep wrapped in Brennan’s warm, strong embrace was one of the absolute pleasures in my life. We had no issues at all in that department. Physically, we were a match made in heaven, his warm body a complement to my naturally cold one, his large body a counterpoint to my diminutive one. HIs passion the other side of my more even-headed outlook.

It was everything else we had to do together that was the problem. When it came to fighting the undead, dealing with the local supernatural community, and trying to solve who was behind the kidnapping of Brennan’s child, along with Molly’s son and Hephaestus’s son, we were always at odds. He was ever the diplomat, the former federal agent, the investigator.

I tended to be more of the “stab with my soulblade first, ask questions later, or not” philosophy. He focused on looking for answers, teasing details from those we chased, trying to get to the bottom of why everything was such a mess. And it was a point of view I definitely appreciated and would have welcomed in any other being.

But him? All I saw when I watched him patiently trying to get answers from an undead or a minor god was the possibility of losing him. Of his life being cut short. And I was starting to realize that this was exactly why my kind, the Guardians, were supposed to be celibate and cloistered. Loving someone the way I love Brennan changes things. It changes simple things, like how you wake up in the morning and how you fall asleep at night, and it changes big things, like having to choose between doing the things you’ve been sworn to do and selfishly trying to protect the one thing you cannot live without, no matter what it costs otherwise.

It is entirely possible that I spend too much time overthinking things. All of this, this having of friends, this being out in the world, this caring about others at all — all of it is new to me. Loving Brennan is the newest thing of all. I was unprepared for how much it would change my life. Unprepared for the way my heart seems to quite literally ache sometimes at how much I love him, or the way just seeing him smile that slightly cocky, lopsided smile can turn my whole day around, even if I am coming home covered with undead guts and other filth.

I heard the steady creaking from the next room stop, which meant that Brennan was settling Sean back into bed. The boy would likely sleep through the rest of the night now. We’d settled into this routine, because Sean’s nightmares were so steady you could practically set a clock by them. We’d rescued him a little over three months ago, and it did not seem to be getting any better. He could tell us little of what had happened to him, other than some incoherent mumbles about scary ladies.

It was one of the few times I was actually glad I no longer had my wings. If I had them, he would have seen the “bad ladies” every time he looked at me. All of the Guardians, myself included, looked very much alike. Luckily, even though I looked like them in almost every way, all he saw when he looked at me was the lady who’d saved him. I would take that.

Brennan walked back into our bedroom, closed the door and started walking back toward our bed,  shedding his shirt and pajama pants as he did. I turned over onto my side and leaned my head on my hand, watching with appreciation. Good Hades, he was a beautiful male. He caught me watching and gave me that cocky grin.

“I love it when you look at me like that,” he said as he climbed beneath the covers.

“Well, I rather enjoy it as well,” i said, and he pulled me into his arms. We fit together as if we’d been in one another’s arms for an eternity, settling against one another, limbs tangling, my body pressed to his as he rested his face at the side of my neck and my arms went around his shoulders, his arms holding me tightly around my waist, pulling me closer, always closer.

“You were pissed at me earlier,” he said, his voice muffled, his breath hot against my flesh.

“That is nothing new,” I said lightly, and he laughed.

“You know we’re not going to get any answers unless we do some digging. I mean, that’s how this works, Eunomia. WE can’t just keep stabbing them and expect to get to the bottom of why all this shit is happening. Why the kids were taken, why the undead started appearing now… all of it. We need answers.”

“We need to destroy them,” I said.

“Of course. But we need answers, too.” He pulled back a little. “And I know what you’re doing.”

“What do you mean?”

“When you go all stabby. You just want them gone. You hate them being anywhere near me.”

“Obviously.”

“Except that you’re forgetting a few things. One, I’m actually really well-trained in the art of killing whoever I need to kill if it comes to that—“

“I know that,” I said irritably.

“Two,” he continued, “this is kind of the whole reason we’re here. Molly needs us here to find answers and yeah, put down the undead, but answers are important.”

“Yes, but—“

“And three,” he said, pulling back so he could meet my eyes. “I need you to believe in me, just a little bit.”

I stared at him, mouth agape. “I do believe in you,” I finally said.

“No,” he said, pulling me close again and settling his face against my neck. “You’re always expecting me to get my ass kicked.”

“It is not your skills I’m concerned about. We’re dealing with—“

“Supernatural beings. Who I’ve been fighting since I was twelve years old. Nice try,” he said, running his hands up and down my back. “I know you’re worried about me. I’m just saying, you know, no man wants his woman to constantly be watching him, waiting for the moment he’s gong to screw up.”

“That is not what I am doing,” I argued. He kissed his way down my neck, my collarbone, my sternum, resting his face between my breasts for a moment before tilting his head and gently nipping the underside of one of them. I bit back a small groan. I knew what he was doing. He knew this conversation would make me tense and he was trying to distract me from getting worried and irritated.

“That’s exactly what you’re doing. Do you have any idea how much it pisses me off?” he asked. And then, as if to soften the effect of his words, he started doing very interesting things involving his mouth and my breast. This time, I couldn’t hide the helpless moan that escaped me, and I knew it was exactly what he wanted. After a moment, he released my nipple with an audible “pop” and I gasped.

“You need to stop” he said, meeting my eyes. He kissed his way over to my other breast and lavished it with the same attention, making my toes curl, my body heat. I fought the pleasant fuzziness forming over my thoughts. This was the way we did things. We did our best arguing in bed. So far, it seemed to be working for us.

“I am not waiting for you to get your ass kicked, you insufferable man,” I said, though the effect may have been ruined by the cry he drew out of me at the end. “I know you are more than capable.”

He kissed, licked, and nibbled his way back up to my neck, along my jawline, then claimed my lips. I dug my nails into his strong shoulders, trying to keep myself centered and focused. Gods, this man. He brought me to the brink of insanity over and over again, made me want to scream in frustration at times, and yet, there was always this between us. He knew me the way no one else ever had. He understood me, honored me. And I wanted to do the same for him.

Damn it all. And I hadn’t been. Not really. Not if he had the sense that I was waiting for him to fail. Not when my faith in him meant so much to him.

I kissed him back, then gently tugged his hair as I pulled away. I met his eyes. “I do not intend to make you feel that way,” I said softly. I ran my fingers through his hair, gently scraping my fingernails along his scalp, which I knew he loved. He closed his eyes languidly, and I ran my fingertips over his scalp a few more times. Moments like this, even in his human form, he was very much the giant cat he took as his favorite form. Touch was important to him, more so than I ever would have realized.

A few more strokes through his hair, and I let my fingertips trail down the sides of his face, through his short beard, then down the sides of his neck. He slowly opened is eyes and watched my face.

“I love you,” I murmured. “It still frightens me sometimes, how much you make me feel. Please understand that I am not expecting you to fail. I am just terrified of that one unlucky moment, that instant that could happen to any of us, in which your opponent gets lucky. Because that is what it would take for you to be bested. A slip, a distraction, and my world could be torn apart. Because the fact remains that while we are fairly sure you are as immortal as the rest of us, there is the tiniest chance that you are not. That chance haunts me,” I finished in a whisper. He continued watching me. “I have spent eternity without feeling the things you make me feel. There is no way I could go back to the way things were, if you were ever taken from me.”

Brennan pulled me close again, capturing my lips with his, and I let myself fall into the tangle of sensations that accosted me with every touch, every kiss, every time his eyes met mine.

He rolled me onto my back and settled his muscular body on top of mine, his gaze intense as he kept it locked onto mine.

“Eunomia, have a little faith, all right? They’d have to move heaven, Earth, and everything in between to ever get me away from you,” he promised in a low voice. He nudged my thighs apart, and then there was no more need for words.

* *

When I woke the next morning, it was to find Brennan’s side of the bed empty and the blankets tucked closely around my body. I rolled over onto my stomach, burying my face in his pillow. He woke well before sunrise most days, often to touch base with his friends back home in Detroit, then start his day. Sean was an early riser, so most days, I woke up to the sounds of laughter and running footsteps through our flat. This morning, it was silent. I was confused for a moment, but then I remembered that Artemis was taking Sean to Greece this week to show him some of the old temples. I smiled to myself, then burrowed deeper beneath the covers. A whole week without Sean. I liked the child, maybe even spoiled him a little, mostly because he reminded me so much of his father. But I had no maternal feelings at all, and I doubted I ever would. I had to admit that an entire week of having Brennan to myself, just the two of us in the flat sounded like paradise.

I should probably get up, I thought to myself. And then I closed my eyes and pulled the blankets up over my head and let myself doze for a while longer.

I was awakened a while later by the feel of the mattress shifting, the familiar feel of Brennan’s arms pulling me up against him as he delved beneath the blankets with me.

“You’re back early,” I said sleepily.

“I made it clear to the packs that I wasn’t in the mood to spend all day listening to them bitching,” he said, pressing a series of warm kisses across my upper back, over the scars that remained from the day Asclepius had had to remove what was left of my wings. They’d become too damaged, and I’d become too weakened. Removing them and giving me an infusion of Mollis’s blood had given me a chance to recover. Brennan kissed the scars often, as if he hoped it would somehow comfort me after the devastating loss.

And the crazy thing was, it kind of did.

He kissed his way up my spine, the back of my neck, and then I tuned my head so he could kiss my lips. He kissed me, then pulled back just enough so I could turn around and hold him. He’d shed his clothing, and I was delighted to rest this way, skin to skin with him, completely, utterly, and blissfully alone.

“I’m glad you finished your meetings quickly,” I said, nuzzling his jawline. “Did you talk to Nain this morning?”

“I ended up talking to Ada. Nain was out dealing with some undead mess or something.”

“How is she?”

He didn’t answer for a moment, and I pulled back so I could see his face.

“What is it?” I asked.

He shook his head. “She had a little bit of a health scare the other day, I guess.”

“What kind of health scare?”

“She thought she was having a heart attack. So Nain and Stone took her to the hospital, and it turns out that it was indigestion, but when she was there, I guess they told her that her blood pressure was way too high and her sugar was too high and they put her on a  bunch of meds. Which you know Ada hates.”

“Yes. I’m glad she is all right, though.”

“Me too.” He held me close, rubbing my back. “It was just a kind of sudden reminder that Ada and Stone aren’t like the rest of us,” he said quietly.

Not immortal, or very close to it, was what he meant. And while the witch and the strongman had already lived much longer than many humans, and aged much more slowly, the fact was that neither of them were exactly young anymore. I knew that Ada was the primary mother figure in Brennan’s life since his own mother had died when he was a boy.

“You miss them,” I said softly, and he shrugged. He’d followed me here. Mollis had sent me here to London, as the center of the undead uprising, to get things under control and find answers, and I’d gone without a second thought, because I have lived everywhere and I am honored to go where my Queen and friend needs me to be. But he’d followed me, leaving behind not just the city he’d always called home, but also the friends and family he’d loved for almost his entire life. True, he had his son and his grandmother, Artemis here. And he had me. But Nain was father figure, best friend, and like a brother to Brennan, even after their strained relationship of the past several years. Stone and Ada were like another set of parents. And all of the shifters that Brennan had led and considered an extended family had given him a community he’d felt at home in. He hadn’t even considered staying behind, and I knew that if I asked him now, he would insist he was where he wanted to be.

But he missed his home and his family. That much, I could understand. Detroit had become home to me as well, and I found that I missed the gritty yet oddly beautiful streets of my adopted hometown. Not to mention those we’d left behind.

A plan started to form, just barely, before Brennan murmured, “I like finding you naked in bed. Very convenient, Tink,” and distracted me completely.

A while later, Brennan left for some meeting he had scheduled with the local supernatural affairs people, which he’d been working with more and more since we’d arrived in London. I went out hunting as usual. I was missing my New Guardians. They were scattered around in pairs, cleaning up their assigned cities. Europe had been hit most badly y the arrival of the undead, but parts of North America and Asia were starting to see the effects as well. It was a mess, and there were not nearly enough of us to contain it. I held out hope that one day, the number of Guardians would reach its original, thirteen. At this point, we were trying to quell the undead and escort souls to the Nether for Mollis to judge with half that amount.

So I hunted, and I thought and planned and daydreamed. When I returned to our flat that night, covered, as usual, in the remains of those I’d hunted, it was to find Brennan asleep on the sofa in the living room, his laptop open on the cushion beside him, several files and other folders spread out on the coffee table. He’d given up his role as director of the Detroit branch of the federal supernatural affairs division, but h’d found himself, slowly but surely over the past weeks, settling into a position of leadership in the international supernatural affairs bureau, which was headquartered in London. They’d already been practically courting him, wanting him to take up a leadership position. For his part, Brennan preferred to consult and help as needed, but I could see that he thrived on being needed.

Just as it was between the two of us. He needed to be needed. And it worked well, because he is, quite possibly, the one thing I have ever actually required to be happy and whole.

I approached him and he opened his eyes.

“Hey,” he said in a hoarse, sleepy voice.

“Hey, yourself. You should go to bed,” I said, leaning down and kissing him. I was about to pull back, but he reached up and tangled his fingers in my hair, held me close and captured my lips again. I smiled against his mouth.

“I will go to bed,” he said, letting me go. “Are you coming?”

“Right after I clean up,” I promised. I showered, dried off, and made my way into our room. I could already hear Brennan’s faint snores from the bed, and I smiled. I climbed in beside him and he reached for me in his sleep. I stayed in his arms for a while, until he was solidly, heavily asleep beside me, and then I got up and crept silently around our room. I pulled a duffel bag from the closet and packed a few changes of clothing for him and for myself, then carried the bag out into the living room. I pulled on a t-shirt and pajama pants and booted up my laptop, then logged into FaceTime. I had arranged to talk to Ada tonight, and sure enough, she was online.

I logged in and the older witch and I spoke for a little while. When I told her my plan, she let out such a loud whoop that both Nain and Stone came running from other parts of the loft.

“Brennan and E are coming home for a couple of days!” she told them excitedly. Stone grinned, his white mustache pulling up at both sides, and he let out a happy guffaw. “It’s about goddamn time!” he said gruffly, then bent to kiss Ada’s cheek and sauntered away.

Even Nain looked happy. At least, inasmuch as Nain ever seems expressive at all. But I could tell he was pleased.

I finished talking to Ada, glad that they would all know to expect us. Two days and nights back home. The world would not fall apart if I took two days off from hunting the undead in London. If I felt overly guilty, I could hunt some in Detroit. But he needed this, and it was my turn to try to give him something he needed after all of the little arguments we’d been having of late.

When I woke in the morning, the bed was empty beside me yet again, and I frowned. He’d had no appointments today, I’d made sure of it so we could leave fairly early to spend as much time as possible in Detroit. I glanced at the alarm clock on my bedside table in irritation.

Maybe he’d stepped out to grab something to eat. I got up and dressed, and then I picked up my phone. No messages. I dialed him and it went immediately to voicemail.

I frowned. That was very unlike him. I was caught between being worried and annoyed. Mostly, I leaned toward being worried because that seems to be my natural tendency when it comes to Brennan. But I was irritated as well. The one day I had something planned, and he’d decided to choose now to deviate from his usual routine.

I sighed and dialed again, and got voicemail. I hung up and called Ada to tell her we were running late. After another half hour, I left to go out and look for him.

I walked through the area of the city immediately around our flat. He hadn’t taken the car or his motorcycle, which meant he hadn’t gone far. The longer I walked, the bigger the knot forming in my gut felt. What if something had happened to him? What if he’d run into one of the many, many beings who wanted a shot at any of Mollis’s allies? What if—

I shook my head. This was exactly what he’d been talking about other day. I immediately leapt to the conclusion that he needed to be saved, when logically, I knew very well that anyone who intended to give Brennan any trouble would be in for a world of hurt. I took a deep breath and forced myself to slow down. I decided to head back to our apartment. Things seemed fairly calm out in the city today, and I hoped that would hold during the next couple of days. Maybe we’d finally gotten rid of enough undead to make a difference.

I doubted it, but one could hope.

I was a couple of blocks away from our flat when my phone rang. My heart leapt when I saw Brennan’s number. I answered before it had a chance to ring a second time.

“Eunomia, where are you?” he asked when I answered.

“One could ask you the same thing,” I said wryly.

“I’m at home. Looking for you,” he told me.

“And I am out roaming the streets looking for you.”

Brennan let out a short laugh. “You were worried about me, huh?”

“Not at all.”

“Uh huh,” he said, doubt in his voice. “Well, I’m home now. And I have a surprise for you.”

“Is this like that time I arrived home to find you waiting with a bag of goodies from that one particular shop that makes me blush every time we walk past it?”

“Not this time,” he said, still laughing.

“Damn,” I said wistfully.

“But I think you’ll like this, too. And we can play with that other stuff anytime,” he added.

I laughed. “Very well. I’m almost there now.”

It only took me a few minutes to get home and take the stairs up to our flat. I could have rematerialized, but I did not like to do that in our own neighborhood, where one of our neighbors could look out a window and notice something amiss if I suddenly disappeared. They had enough to worry about with the undead in the city.

When I walked into our apartment, it was to find Brennan sitting there with Hephaestus. Both men stood up, and Hephaestus came to me and pulled me into a bone-crushing hug.

“How are you, my wee nightmare?” Hephaestus asked as he hugged me, and I laughed.

“Fine, you big lout,” I said, laughing and hugging him back. “What in the Nether are you doing here?”

“Aren’t you happy to see me?” he asked, grinning.

“Of course! I’m just surprised. I know you’re busy with your wife and son and all of the work you do for Mollis.”

He nodded. “Well. Every once in a while, I find the time to do a little something else. And Brennan contacted me a while back with an idea, and it sounded like a good one. It just took some time to figure out.”

I looked at Brennan questioningly and he just smiled at me, that small, secretive smile that never failed to make my heart pound a little harder.

“What is it?”

“Shall we take this elsewhere, then?” Hephaestus asked Brennan, and Brennan nodded. Hephaestus took my hand, and I took Brennan’s. I noticed that Hephaestus carried a large black bag but before I could give it much thought, we were falling apart, and then coming together again, rematerializing elsewhere.

The next time I opened my eyes, we were standing on the roof of an old manor-type house in the countryside. I glanced at Hephaestus.

“It’s abandoned,” he said, as if that answered anything at all. He set the bag down and started unzipping it. “You’re gonna have to take the jacket off, E,” he said, not bothering to look up.

I glanced at Brennan and all he did was give me that smile again and hold his hand out, waiting to take my jacket from me. I unzipped it, shrugged it off, and handed it over. Hephaestus looked up and grinned.

“I recognize that one. I was with Molly when she found it.”

I glanced down at my t-shirt, a vintage 1980s Def Leppard concert shirt. “Again, I don’t like this band at all, but I love the shirt.” Mollis had started doing this, sending me concert shirts from bands I probably didn’t know anything about as a way to help me adapt to living in this world. She’d kept it up, partially as a joke between us and partially as a way to stay connected even when I was away.

Hephaestus lifted what looked like some kind of black metal contraption out of the bag.

“Lift your arms,” he said, and I obeyed, watching him with confusion. “Strap that around her chest,” he told Brennan. Brennan came over to me and buckled a black leather strap under my breasts, and another above. I looked up at him, and he met my eyes and winked.

“You’re sure this will work,” he asked Hephaestus, keeping his eyes locked on mine.

“Positive. Tested them myself. If it worked for me, it’ll definitely work for her. Have a little faith,” Hephaestus huffed.

“Do all immortal men feel the need to say that?” I asked irritably, remembering Brennan saying the same thing to me after the recent incident with the undead and my immediate need to “rescue” him.

“Gods, faith. We can’t help ourselves,” Hephaestus said, and Brennan laughed, nodding in agreement.

“Annoying,” I said, though I couldn’t help myself from smiling. “And what are we doing, exactly? What are these for?” I asked, plucking at the leather straps Brennan had fastened.

“This,” Hephaestus said, pulling something out of the bag with a flourish. I squinted at them, and he laughed. “Hold on a minute. You’ll get the idea.”

He went behind me and attached it to whatever was on the back side of the straps, and my heart started pounding. If this was what I was beginning to think it was…

“Yeah, I think she’s getting the idea,” Brennan said, grinning. Hephaestus finished what he was doing and stepped in front of me, beside Brennan.

“Okay. Do whatever you’d normally do to open your wings,” he said, and I almost started crying right then and there. Instead, I pulled myself together and flexed my shoulder blades, using the same motion I had used my entire existence when the time had come to spread my wings. The moment I did it, whatever he’d put on my back opened as well. I gasped, then looked to one side, then the other. They were roughly the same size and shape as my old wings, bat-like, but they seemed to be made of some kind of very thin, very light metal. They shimmered, just a little bit, in the overcast light.

“All you have to do is act like you’re flying, and they’ll work. I designed them to pick up on your muscle movements and kind of act as an extension of that. So, if you start moving like you’re gonna fly, then—“

His voice drifted away as I rose into the air, high, the metallic wings beating strongly. I maneuvered, twisted, soared. I mostly tried to make sure I didn’t get near any other houses or roads, not wanting to be seen, but all that really mattered was that I was where I’d longed to be for so long, flying among the clouds, Earth’s beauty sprawled below like some kind of crazy quilt. I twisted and turned, looped around. I beat the wings and stayed in place, just hovering and looking around, the only sound the regular, rhythmic beating of my wings.

I felt tears falling down my cheeks. I was completely overcome by being there, by the scene in front of me, by the knowledge that Brennan, and Hephaestus as well, had cared enough to give me this moment. I let out a crazed-sounding whoop of joy and flew some more, basking in the weak sunlight and the cool sky.

When I finally came in for a landing on the roof a while later, Brennan and Hephaestus were sitting side by side, grinning. They stood up, and I pulled Brennan by the front of his shirt and kissed him hard, hungrily, trying to let him know exactly what it had meant for me, what it had done for me, to be in the sky again. He kissed me back just as passionately, until Hephaestus cleared his throat and we broke apart, both of us flushed and breathless.

I hugged Hephaestus, and he laughed. “Thank you!” I told him.

“Now, listen,” he said, holding his hands up when I let him go. “They’re not a replacement. You can’t use them out fighting or patrolling. They run on a battery and it won’t last much longer than you were out there. Okay? So you can’t expect to use them the way you ordinarily would have used your wings before.” I nodded. “But Brennan came to me and he said that he wanted us to figure out a way to get you back up in the sky. He said you missed it and you needed it. And I think he was probably right. So it’s not a replacement,” he repeated. “But every once in a while, you can get back up there and get yourself right again. Right?” he asked.

I nodded. “Right. It’s more than I ever imagined. I’d thought the sky was lost to me, completely. There are no words…” I shook my head, and then grabbed both immortal men and pulled them into my arms. They each laughed, and Brennan pressed a kiss to the side of my neck. They helped me out of the wings, and they were just about finished when I looked at Brennan, remembering that I had a surprise of my own.

“Hephaestus, did you see a bag in our living room?” I asked him, and he winked.

“Yep. I’ll take care of it. Go ahead and do your thing, my little nightmare,” he said. I kissed his cheek, and Hephaestus blushed.

“What’s going on?” Brennan asked. I smiled at him and pulled my jacket back on. Then I took his hands, and in the next moment, we were standing in the loft in Detroit, and all of our family and friends were talking at once, coming and pulling us into their arms.

We spent the day sitting and talking and eating with Nain, Ada, Stone, Hephaestus and his wife Meghan, and Shanti and Zero, as well as all of the children that seemed to have sprung up all at once. Mollis was stuck in the Nether, dealing with another attempt by some of the souls to break out. Nain promised she expected to be back by the following morning, and, after a while, he left to join her in the Nether.

That night, Brennan and I curled up together on the bed in Brennan’s room at the loft, and he held me, kissing me as if he could live an eternity and never, ever get enough.

“This was an amazing surprise, Eunomia,” he said when he finally broke our kiss. “How did you know I needed this?”

I smiled. “How did you know how badly I needed the skies?”

He pulled me close again. “This is amazing. You know, though, that no matter how much I love the people here, home for me is wherever you are. It doesn’t matter if it’s London, or Detroit, or the-middle-of-nowhere, Iowa, or the Nether itself. If you’re there, I’m home.”

I ran my fingertips through his hair. “I know. And you should know that every moment with you makes me feel like I can fly,” I paused. “And that I believe in you. There are very few beings I have absolute faith in, but you are one of them, my love.”

He smiled, and then he kissed me, and I remembered how much I believed in one more thing: us.

The End

Release day traditions (and gratitude!)

IMG_2249

The day after a book release always feels like a holiday to me. The week or so leading up to a release tends to be stressful, so the day after it’s out there in the world usually feels as if there’s a weight that’s been lifted. This release day was less stressful for me than many others, mostly, I think, because the StrikeForce series is a project I’m working on because I find it fun. It’s like play. It’s certainly my hope that at least some of you guys will love it as much as I do, but there wasn’t the overwhelming “oh my god everyone is going to hate this!” obsessive worry that I usually have before my books come out. A New Day, even though it required a complete rewrite after I had the first draft mostly done, and then a second complete rewrite, was a joy to work on. I hope that comes across in the reading of it.

Anyway. What I’m taking a while to get around to saying, aside from the fact that I have my 15th book out in the world,  is that the book did much better, sales-wise, on release day than I was expecting it to. You guys amaze me, over and over again, by continuing to come with me on these weird little trips I take us on. There really are no words, in any language, that could explain how much that means to me. So thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

How I Spent Release Day

IMG_2241

We saw a lone swan at the pond. He ignored us entirely.

It’s a release day tradition now for my husband and kids to get me out of the house so I don’t just sit, staring at Amazon rankings all day. Yesterday, (after stopping by Starbucks and grabbing coffee in those much-maligned red cups… the horror!) we went to one of our nearby Metroparks. We hiked through the woods and the kids played on the playground. I think that fall, even after most of the trees have shed their leaves, may be my favorite time to be in the woods. There’s a kind of quiet, haunting, whispery feeling to it all. You can see the latticework of bare branches overhead, the bright scarlet stalks of red twig dogwoods. You can hear the breeze rattling through the rushes in the swampier areas, and, of course, there’s the ever-satisfying crunch of fallen leaves beneath your feet. Not great for actually seeing much wildlife, but we did startle a deer, who bounded away from us in that ballerina-like way deer have.

After that, we stopped by one of my favorite thrift shops, then the craft store where I found some awesome fabric remnants featuring sunflowers and roosters. I think I’ll turn it into a valance for the window over the kitchen sink at our house up north. And we stopped for an early dinner, and then came home and I read and played Warcraft and hung out with the kids. All in all, it was a great day.

What’s Next?

It's still warm enough here that we have a few dragonflies hanging around. Apparently, this one is named Maria.

It’s still warm enough here that we have a few dragonflies hanging around. Apparently, this one is named Maria.

So, what’s coming up next? I’m a good bit of the way through the second StrikeForce book, which should be out in January. I’m trying to make more progress on Shifted Fate, which is the Hidden side-story I’m working on for my newsletter subscribers. (Yes, lovely subscribers… I haven’t forgotten about it! We’ll get back on track, hopefully this week.) And then there is the new serial here on the blog every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

I may also have a little surprise up my sleeve for the holidays. We’ll see.

Thanks, as always, for reading and for being so supportive. Have a great day!

Playlist for “A New Day”

So, it’s that time again. A new book, a new series, means a new playlist! I listen to music while I’m writing, and every book has its own sound. Often, my main characters have kind of their own theme song, and I end up forever associating a particular song with a character.

Here are my top five most frequently played songs while writing A New Day. As you’ll see, it’s kind of a mixed bag. 😉

1. Till I Collapse by Eminem

This is  Jolene’s theme song in my mind. Cocky, brash, unstoppable. It’s pretty much perfect for her.

 

2. Fuck You by Lily Allen

You’ll know why this is in here when you read the book. It’s pretty integral.

 

3. Captain America (Theme Song from Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

I’m writing about superheroes, and this theme is just so super heroic! It fit perfectly for certain sections during the second half of A New Day.

 

4. Just a Girl by No Doubt

Obviously.

 

5. Shove by L7

A runner-up for Jolene’s theme song, but it also works for a few other characters, too. 🙂

 

So, there we go! My top 5 songs from the A New Day playlist. Once the book is out and you guys have had a chance to read it, maybe we’ll open it up for a community playlist like we did for Hidden.
Thanks for reading! We’re only a few days away now, and if you haven’t done so yet, you can still pre-order the book on Amazon. 

Reader Question: What can you expect from the StrikeForce series?

I’ve mentioned here and there that the StrikeForce series is a bit of a creative leap for me, and, as a result, I’ve gotten a few questions about what to expect. Since I received another similar question today via DM on Facebook, I figured this might be a good time to offer a little insight into the series. Besides, we’re only TWELVE days away now! (Eep!)

In my author note for the book, I spend a bit of time talking about how much superhero comics have influenced both the way I spend my leisure time and the way I approach my writing. My husband was majorly into comic books as a kid and teenager, and kept insisting that I would probably like them. I just never took him up on it, for one reason or another, and then I started reading Marjorie M. Liu’s Hunter Kiss urban fantasy series. Since I enjoyed her novels so much, my husband bought me her complete run of X-23.

And I was hooked. I’ve been reading comics, and particularly superhero comics, ever since. I’ve fallen in love with so many characters and have had the privilege of talking to some of the amazing people who write them via social media. Gail Simone (Batgirl, Deadpool, Red Sonja), Kelly Sue DeConnick (Captain Marvel, Pretty Deadly, Bitch Planet), and Kelly Thompson (Jem and the Holograms, Captain Marvel & the Carol Corps, Heart in a Box) have all been huge inspirations to me in terms of both work ethic and in terms of telling stories that I just can’t get enough of.

X-23 was life-changing. Seriously.

X-23 was life-changing. Seriously.

So my goal going into this series is to bring the experience of reading a great superhero comic series to you in novel form. I want the crazy, dramatic action, the inter-personal relationships and complications that they bring, the hero vs. villain epic struggles, the romance, the rivalries, the humor… I want it all. That’s what I’m hoping to deliver here.

I’ve found that my favorite superheroes are those that try really, really hard, but are far from perfect. I love the outsider story, I love the underdogs. I love writing people who are confused and unsure and not nearly as confident as they could be. I love writing the occasional unlikeable character. Again, that’s what I want to bring to this series.

The books won’t be overly long — around 70,000 words, which is about the length of the first Hidden book. They will be episodic in nature. You could probably read each book as a stand-alone, but you’ll get a lot more out of it if you read them all (at least, I think so) because there is character growth between books.

How long will the series be?

ANewDay_CoverFinal320That depends mainly on me. It will keep going until I get tired of writing it. It’s the type of series that will allow me to spend an arc or two on other characters before coming back to Jolene, if I needed to do that for some reason. It’s the type of series that I can come back to whenever I feel like it. I’m planning to write it for a good long while, in between working on my other series. I’ll have the first three or four books out through early next year, and then I’ll release them whenever I have another superhero story to tell.

I hope you guys love it. I’m having so much fun writing it.

I’ll have a playlist post up next week sometime, and we’ll get ready to do our countdown to release day. Thanks, as always, for reading. You’re the best!

A New Day is now available for pre-order on Amazon!

“How Do You Write So Fast?” and Other Thoughts on Creativity

IMG_0297

I get this question a lot, both from people who actually want an answer and from those who, I think, maybe don’t care about “how” I do it as much as using the question as a way to veil the “oh, you hack” thoughts that they’re really having (you can just tell, sometimes). Either way, I figured I may as well answer this in today’s post, because I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity and happiness and balance and envisioning what I want the rest of my life to look like.

You know, no big deal.

“How do you write so fast?”

A quick answer to this is: I don’t. If you compare my productivity to some indies, I look like an absolute sloth. When I’m going on all cylinders, when I have a solid outline and I know my characters and I feel comfortable in my world, I can write an eighty thousand word novel (first draft) in a month. That’s at a pace of just over 2,500 words per day, and roughly matches up with Stephen King’s daily word/page goal that he talks about in his amazing On Writing. Of course, King’s books tend to be gargantuan, and at this point in my life I can’t imagine writing anything as enormous as, say, The Stand. I think this pace has stuck with me because it works. It doesn’t tax me too much, and I can do 2,500 words in a couple of hours if all is going well. And then there are revisions, which are a lot more difficult for me. Revisions might take another month or two, but writing the first draft usually ends up taking about a month.

BUT. Always a but, huh? Everything is not always mapped out perfectly, and sometimes, even with an outline, I change course mid-book and everything is a mess. Sometimes, I’ll go a week or two, making barely any progress at all on a book because it feels wrong and I can’t figure out how to make it go right. I know enough about my own process by now to know that trying to force it, trying to make myself sit there until I figure it out will only end up in being blocked and feeling like I’ll never write again. (I’m a writer. I’m allowed to be overly dramatic about some things.)

Which is why I am never working on only one project at a time. At any given time, I am actively working on two and sometimes even three stories. When one starts coming together, that’s the one that gets the bulk of my attention, and the others may sit untouched for a week or two while I’m writing hot on the one that has become the main project. When the main project is finished, one of the other projects takes its place.

So I start and finish things in a kind of staggered fashion. I guess what I’m saying is: it all looks much faster than it actually is. Granted, sometimes I’m fast. I wrote Strife in about two and a half weeks. And other times, a book just seems to take forever. It’s just the way things work.

And this is NOT to say that doing it this way is the “right” way or whatever. I’ve read enough articles/tweets/etc. telling the world that this is precisely the wrong way to work if you want to finish things, but it hasn’t been true for me. As in anything related to creative work (or life in general) we each have to find our own way and not compare our process to anyone else’s.

Creative Joy

I’ve been listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast, and it is fabulous and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a little bit of a creative push, or just to anyone who enjoys thinking about creativity and art. In a recent episode, she and her guest talked about the pure joy of creating, of creating just for yourself as a way to affirm your own worth as an artist, independent of sales or praise (or, conversely, lack of sales and awful reviews). She recommends making something just for yourself, something you never plan to put out there. Something that is free of expectations.

Yes.

I had no idea I was doing something right with all of the stories and poems I write that will never, ever see the light of day! Usually, one of the two or three projects I’m working on is just something I’m goofing around with. It might be a story I’m writing in another genre, or it might be a story where I’m trying for a different tone. Maybe I’m writing something filthy just to see if I can. I usually know before I even begin working on these “for fun” things that they’re not for anyone’s eyes but mine. Writing the work that I publish, sticking to a schedule and delivering (hopefully!) good books regularly is the business side of what I do (and I know there’s a lot more I could be doing in terms of marketing and strategizing, but I just don’t care. More on that later, maybe.) And my fun projects, the ones that will never make me any money, are the ones that help me grow, even more, as a writer. They remind me to play, to try new things. To take risks. And the joy I feel when working on those side projects carries over into my more structured writing.

So there’s something to think about as we begin NaNoWriMo. Some of us are dreaming of writing something that we’ll publish, that will make us rich, make us famous, whatever. And some of us are doing it just to see if we can. Me? I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year to play around with another genre, and we’ll just see what happens.

“Keep your eyes open. Listen. Follow your curiosity. Ideas are constantly trying to get our attention. Let them know you’re available.”

— Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

 

“A New Day” — Pre-Order Links + Read the First Chapter!

ANewDay_CoverFinal320A New Day is in the hands of my amazing beta reading team, and I’m starting to receive feedback. I have a bit more tinkering to do, things I want to improve in addition to the questions I’m getting from my betas, and then I’ll have ARCs ready for a few author friends and reviewers.

Deep breaths.

If you’ve read the description that I posted last week, it’s pretty clear that Jolene is a different type of heroine for me. A bit more complex, a bit less heroic, I guess. But having written one book and outlined/done some pre-writing on the second, I can say that she has a special place in my heart.

A New Day will be out on November 17th, and I know that several of you appreciate the convenience of pre-orders, so I wanted to make sure I had one available this time around. So you can pre-order A New Day now! Also, if you’re a Kindle Unlimited member, this, like almost all of my other books, will be available on KU.

I can’t wait for you to meet Jolene. In fact, I want you to meet her now. Here’s the first chapter of A New Day in its entirety. I hope you enjoy it!

 

A New Day: StrikeForce #1

by Colleen Vanderlinden

Chapter One

I hunched my back a bit as I walked, ear to my phone, looking to anyone who happened to see me like I was deep in discussion with someone. I spoke in a low voice, despite the fact that there was no one on the line. To anyone who passed, I looked like your typical college-age chick, probably arguing with her boyfriend over something stupid. I barely glanced at the mansion as I walked past it, even though it felt like every cell in my body was aware of it. It’s like being a junkie and knowing, just goddamn knowing, that there’s a fix nearby. The adrenaline was already flowing, my heart pumping. I bounced a little on the balls of my feet as I paused, still playing the role of “girl on the phone.”

There. I bit back a grin. My little jammer, the tiny device I’d made from parts I’d snatched from Radio Shack, had done its job yet again. The security system in the McMansion behind its emerald hedges and pristine ultra-green lawn was as useless as the locks they’d undoubtedly installed on the doors and windows.

There wasn’t much that could keep me out.

I probably had about a half hour, tops, before anyone came around. I’d been casing the place for a couple of weeks now, primarily with the two tiny cameras I’d installed in the shrubbery. I could monitor the comings and goings. These people weren’t home a whole lot, some finance dickwad and his vapid little redheaded girlfriend. They had a security guy who came by regularly, but he wasn’t nearly as regular when the redhead wasn’t around.

I did grin to myself then. It was the uniform. The finance guy had paid for the chick’s boobs, but I’d caught her dragging the security guard into the house at least twice.

Anyone watching would see the blonde girl take the phone away from her ear and look at it in dismay, then walk quickly away, as if, maybe, she just wanted to get home. I was so fucking good at this by now, it was second nature. I could pretend to be anybody, anything, knowing that a payday was around the corner.

Mama had bills to pay. Tuition was due in two weeks, and I knew a few people who could use a favor. I looked at the mansion out of the corner of my eye as I turned the corner. These bitches wouldn’t miss whatever I managed to take from them. Not the way any of my people would.

I went around the block, ducked into a little diner where I’d stowed a couple of essentials and walked out the alley exit wearing a dark gray hoodie, a black scarf covering my hair. Gloves on my hands.

No one even gave me a second look, and I jogged through the neighborhood. The house behind the mansion, one of them anyway, was empty and had been for the past month. I pulled the hood up over my head, pulled the black scarf I had around my neck up over my mouth and nose, so only my eyes were visible. After checking around, I went up the driveway as if I had every damn right to be there, then quickly pulled myself up onto the wall that separated this yard from the mansion’s sprawling grounds.

No dogs. The redhead was not an animal person, and I was grateful. Always made my job easier.

I smiled under the scarf. They had fucking glass back doors.

Within seconds, after double-checking that my jammers were still in effect, I punched the pane closest to the handle with my gloved hand, reached in, turned the lock, and I was in.

I smirked as I made my way through the kitchen. Typical rich bullshit. Espresso maker that cost more than my mother made in a year, refrigerator that would hold enough food to feed my whole damn neighborhood. Marble floors, counters. And where there wasn’t marble, stainless steel. Cold-ass rich people, I thought.

I passed by the electronics and other bullshit it the living room. I couldn’t carry it and it wasn’t enough of a moneymaker.

I made my way up the stairs, to the bedrooms. It was easy to find the master, its double doors open at the end of the hallway, overlooking the lake.

Of course.

I quickly rifled through the dressers, through the boxes on the dressing table, the closets. By the time I was done, my pockets bulged comfortingly with gold, diamonds, and other gems. They’d even left a folded wad of cash in a dresser drawer.

I estimated what I’d managed to grab already. Couple thousand worth, probably. I glanced at the dressing table. Pictures in crystal frames, of the redhead and the finance guy, his hair dyed an unnatural shade of black for a man his age. Behind it, a necklace hung on a tiny jewelry tree, diamonds and rubies twinkling in the meager light coming from outside. I snatched it and headed out. Time was running out.

I was on the bottom step when I saw the telltale sight of red lights flashing into the front of the house.

Goddamnit.

I crept low, keeping out of the sight of anyone who happened to be looking in the front windows. I slunk toward the back of the house, back to the kitchen. Flashlights glared at the back doors, exposing my handiwork.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

My heart pounded, and I focused myself to calm down. This wasn’t the first time I’d screwed up like this. They were still outside. I was inside, and I knew the house.

I knew about the passage underneath that connected it to the gatehouse of the mansion across the street. A gatehouse that was never used. It was just a storage building, now. Two houses, built by old Detroit Mafia family members, the tunnel made to connect the houses without anyone having to go out in the open. Still there. Still functional. They’d had tours through it, when the local historical society did their “rumrunning weekend” thing. It had been in the news.

I do my goddamn homework.

Even if they realized which house this was, that it had the tunnel, I’d be long gone.

Sirens sounded outside, the low timbre of male voices, and I crept to the basement door, closed it behind myself, and slipped down the stairs. There. To the left was the wooden door. I glanced around. I could make it even easier on myself, maybe. There was a recliner nearby. I guess it was like a rec room or something, down there. I pulled it in front of the door, as if it was meant to be there, then I flipped the lock on the door and stepped through, closing it behind myself, and the dark swallowed me whole.

I stood there for a second, sucking air into my lungs. Not fear, though.

I grinned, then jogged down the tunnel, my hands out ahead of me. When I reached the opposite door, it unlocked, just as I knew it would.

I’d assured that it would be unlocked. Escape routes. It’s why I’d been at this for over four years and was still in business. It was why metro Detroit’s rich and twisted feared me. I was a ghost.

A ghost who made off with all of their good shit.

I popped into the gatehouse, crouched, and glanced across the street. Five police cars in the winding driveway, the glare of flashlights sweeping the premises. Time to move, now, before they thought to look around. As far as they figured, I was still in the house.

I pulled my hood down, pulled the scarf off of my face and hair. I glanced at my phone, then down the street.

There. Right on time.

The SMART bus slowed as it neared the stop at the corner. I held my hand up as I walked casually down the driveway, not drawing the attention of anyone across the street. I stepped onto the bus, paid my fare, and smiled at the driver.

“What’s goin’ on over there?” the elderly driver asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “They all just pulled up over there.”

“Probably that burglar,” he said with a grunt.

I made a look of wide-eyed horror. “You think so?”

He nodded, pulled the door closed. “Big house like that? It was him. More damn power to him, too,” he muttered as he pulled away from the curb.

I settled into a seat near the center of the bus, looking at my phone just like everyone else. I barely gave all of the police cars a glance as we drove past. Instead, I looked at my phone without seeing it and relished the feel of Mama’s rent and medical bill payments in my pockets.

Two bus changes later, and I got off at the stop a few stops away from my house. I never wanted to get too close, just in case. My stomach turned, my hands shook. The adrenaline was wearing off, and it was hitting me, how goddamn close that had been.

I took a deep breath, and walked, and put my hand around the pepper spray in my pocket. The last thing I needed now was some asshole trying to mug me. It had only happened once before. My neighbors watched out for me. Not that they knew anything. They knew that when they needed help, they could come to me. If I was in a few-block vicinity of my house, I was generally safe. I was the neighborhood sweetheart, the smart girl who was going to finally get out, the sweetie who always lent a hand if they needed it, the pretty girl who needed to find a nice man. I was known as someone you could come to if you needed a couple of bucks, because unlike just about everyone in my neighborhood, I had a job, and a decent one. I was college educated, and my mama had raised me right.

That was what they thought. And I was more than fine with that.

“Hey, Jolene,” Robbie Davis called from his driveway, where he and three of his friends were gathered around Robbie’s Harley.

“Hey,” I called.

“You see this baby?” he asked, gesturing to the bike.

“Nice, man.”

“You wanna go for a ride?”

His friends whistled and made motions with their hands, and I stuck my middle finger up.

“I didn’t mean like that,” he said.

“Sure you didn’t,” his friend Lamar said with a laugh.  We went to the same gym. He was one of the few guys who still agreed to spar with me. “Don’t mess with her, man. Jolene could bench press any one of us.”

“Right,” Robbie said with an eye roll.

“Do you even lift, bro?” I asked with a smirk. “Seriously, nice bike, though. Tell Amy I said hey.”

“Will do.”

“She doing all right?”

“She is. Thanks again for… uh. You know,” he said, looking uncomfortable.

I waved it off. “I owed her. She was really nice to me in high school. I remember that.”

“We’ll pay you back.”

I shook my head. “If you want, when you want. I’m not waiting around for it. Okay?”

He nodded again, relief crossing his face. “Thanks.”

I nodded and walked on, glancing around. It was impossible not to compare the squalor in my neighborhood with the perfect, manicured place I’d just been. There were no emerald green lawns here, no stone walls. Sure the hell weren’t any mansions. Cars on cinder blocks, single-wides with cheap plastic chairs on the lawns. The gravel roads were lined with old, rusty cars. Friday nights, you could count on at least one visit from the Warren PD. I stuck my hands back in my pockets, hunched my shoulders and headed for our trailer, at the end of Perdition Lane.

Whoever had designed the park had had a fucking sense of humor. Perdition, Salvation, Purgatory Lanes, winding their way between the trailers. Probably the same assholes who lived in the neighborhoods I robbed. Slumlords, making their money off of desperation.

I clenched my jaw and walked the curve, and our trailer came into view. My mama had done the best she could. We’d lived in a decent little house before my dad had died. Heart attack, and I still prayed my thanks for it. He’d been at his place on the assembly line and just keeled over. It had been both a relief and a heartbreak for mama. Relief, because she didn’t have to fear his fists anymore. Heartbreak, because sometimes smart women do stupid things, like love someone who’s nothing but bitterness and anger.

That’s not saying that she didn’t keep going, for me. We’d lost the house, despite the fact that she’d taken on two jobs. She still worked both of them, wouldn’t quit no matter how much I told her she could cut back, that I would help.

“Finish college, Jolene. Make a life for yourself. That’s all I want,” she told me, every time I told her to count on me. She’d only just recently started letting me pay for groceries, especially after I told her that I’d found a nice job near campus. The medical bills, I intercepted and paid before she even saw them. Diabetes was a bitch. Dialysis was another bitch. She refused to take it easy, no matter what I said. Someday, she’d retire, and she’d live the way she should finally be able to.

Our little yellow and white trailer was well kept. Nice little garden beds in front, everything neat and clean. Mama always had tried to make sure we took pride in our home, no matter where we lived. Our house was spotless, neat, and comfortable. I was raised with manners, no matter how often I forgot them. I knew how to act when I needed to behave.

I unlocked the front door and clicked on the lamp just inside. The living room, kitchen, and little banquette seat were all visible from the front door. Toward the back, there were two bedrooms and a little bathroom. That was it. Five hundred square feet for my mom and me. We’d done okay. I wanted so much more.

I pulled shades, glanced at the note on the refrigerator.

“Mac and cheese in the oven,” it said. “Love, Mama.” I shook my head. No matter how many times I told her not to cook for me, she did it.

I went back to my room, pulled the shades in there, and then finally emptied my pockets onto my dark blue bedspread. The jewelry glittered against it, almost seeming to mock the cheapness of the fabric. Three necklaces, four rings, six bracelets, some cufflinks. All of it really good shit. I’d have to pay Luther a visit tomorrow, see what I could get for it.

I pulled the roll of bills out of my other pocket, tossed it onto the bed. I opened my bottom dresser drawer, then pulled up the false wood bottom I’d put in, under my sweaters. I set in my frequency jammer, making sure it was powered off, then the jewelry. I pulled off my hoodie and scarves, and put them in there as well as my gloves.

Then I picked up the roll of bills again, fanned it out and counted it.

“Jackpot,” I murmured.

Tuition was paid, looked like.

I put the bills in the false bottom, put everything back on top of it, then went out to the kitchen and scooped some of my mom’s mac and cheese into a bowl. I ate it, standing at the kitchen counter. I picked up the remote and flicked on the little TV in the living room. The Red Wings were playing, and I left that on as I ate.

I felt like I could breathe again. My mom’s bills would get paid. Tuition for my last semester at U of D would be paid. Time to move out, mostly so I wouldn’t run the risk of my mother finding the stuff I hid in my dresser. It was time. Past time.

I could even afford to spread the love a little, after this job. As I glanced around, my gaze landed on my stack of textbooks on the dining room table. I had chapters to read, notes and shit to take.

I washed my dishes, made sure the porch light was on for mama, then settled onto the lumpy couch in the living room on my stomach, my notebook and textbook in front of me, and I got to work, reading about urban policy and planning, my body still buzzing from my near run-in with the cops, the unmistakable buzz that came from pulling of yet another job.

Number thirty-nine. Nearly forty in four years. In that time, well over quarter of a million dollars in stolen goods. It was probably worth even more than that, but there was Luther’s cut to figure into it. It wasn’t easy to find someone reliable to fence shit, but Luther was something special.

As I read, my mind wandered. Four years. Would I still be doing this stuff when I was thirty? Forty? Once I’d graduated and started working in a more official capacity with community groups?

I hoped so. There as nothing like it. Nothing like taking the shit the rich couldn’t really appreciate and turning it into something that people like my family and our neighbors needed. I knew I was supposed to feel guilty. I just didn’t give a fuck. It’s not like any of them, any of the people I stole from, gave a damn about any of us. Insurance would pay for the things they’d lost. I just couldn’t manage to feel bad about it.

After a while, I let my face rest against my notebook and closed my eyes. Just for a little while, I told myself.

I woke a while later to a gentle hand on my shoulder, the antiseptic scent that clung to mama’s hospital scrubs.

“Did you eat, Jo?” she asked when she saw that I was awake. I peered up at her and nodded. My mom was a nice looking lady. Blond hair, like me, eyes that reminded me of the cobalt tiles I’d seen in some of the buildings downtown. She wasn’t a skinny woman, but she was soft and comforting. The type one diabetes she’d lived with her whole life, the hard life she’d lived after my dad died should have made her bitter. It sure the hell had made me bitter. But she was sweet, gentle. Patient, which was something I’d never be.

“It was good. Thanks, mama. You know you don’t have to do that,” I said, sitting up. She waved it off and went into the bathroom. A few seconds later, I could hear the shower running, and I got up, stacked my books and notebook back on the table, and went into the kitchen. I pulled a bowl out of the cupboard and put some mac and cheese in it, added a sprinkle of cheese to the top, and put it in the microwave. I fixed a small side salad, set the dressing bottle on the table, then set the table. I poured a glass of milk and then grabbed mama’s pill case, laid out the three she was supposed to take with dinner next to her glass. By the time she was out of the bathroom, her hair wrapped in a towel, I had the table set, and her dinner waiting.

She patted my cheek gently as she passed me, and then I sat at the table with her. The TV was still on. Eleven o’clock news.

“How was work?” I asked.

“Same as always. Long,” she said with a smile. She popped the pills into her mouth and gulped down some milk. “How’s your studying going?”

“Boring,” I said. “But it’s the beginning, intro stuff. That’s always boring.”

She nodded. We chatted while she ate, and then, after I cleared the table and she washed her dishes, we went into the living room.

“You want me to braid your hair?” she asked.

“Please,” I said. I didn’t know, after all these years, whether this was something she needed or something I needed. Maybe it was both. She felt like she was taking care of me, and I felt like a little girl again under my mother’s careful attention. The feel of her fingernails gently scraping my scalp as she sectioned my hair, the light pull as she braided my long, wavy hair. The first time she’d done this for me had been the night my dad had died, and I’d somehow understood, even then, that she was looking for something to make her feel sane, useful. Something concrete to hold onto. She was better now, but this was one of our things. I thought again of the money and jewelry in my dresser.

“Mama, are you sure you can’t leave this one? The bills seem to be under control now,” I said softly.

“For now, they are,” she said quietly. “You never know when something will come up. The car breaks down, I need another damn pill for something. I’m okay, Jo. I don’t mind it.”

“But you don’t have to anymore. You know I’ll help,” I argued.

“I know you will. And you do. But I am your mama. It’s my job to take care of you, not the other way around.”

“You’ve always taken care of me,” I told her. “You’re the best.”

She secured the braid with an elastic band, and then gave it a gentle tug, just as she did every night.

“And I will take care of you for the rest of my life,” she said. I stood up, then sat on the sofa next to her. “You are the light of my life, Jolene. You always have been, and I want to see you take your big brains, and your unstoppable attitude and go out into the world and make a good life for yourself. You can’t do that if you’re trying to babysit your mama.”

“It’s not babysitting,” I argued. “You deserve to relax a little.”

She laughed. “Oh, honey,” she said, waving me off. “Why? To sit here and think about how things might have been? To wish I’d done better for you?”

“You’ve done great for me!”

She smiled, a bit of sadness to it. “I had bigger dreams than this.”

“Dreams are annoying that way. Real hard to live up to them.”

She leaned forward and took my chin in her hand, forcing me to look at her. “Dreams are all that matter. Dreams make you get your ass up in the morning and try, even when you don’t want to. Dreams are life, and you’re too young to have given up on them already, Jolene Faraday.”

I swallowed, nodded, and she let go of my chin. I rested my head on her shoulder, as I had most nights, and we watched the news together. The top story was about my heist in Grosse Pointe Park. Video of police cars in the driveway, interviews about how it wasn’t yet clear what had been taken. The usual.

So close. It had been too close this time. Still, it was hard to regret it too much when I thought about all the shit I could pay with what I’d grabbed that night. A few close calls with cops were worth it. A few moments of fear, panic. It didn’t matter.

My mom yawed and rested her head against mine. “Happy birthday, Jolene,” she said quietly.

“Thanks, Mama. The mac and cheese was a nice surprise. Thank you,” I said, and she squeezed my hand.

“Don’t stay up too late,” she said. She got up and headed to her room. “Love you, ladybug.”

“Love you more, Mama.” I watched her shuffle into her bedroom and close the door behind her. There would be tears, sobs she thought I couldn’t hear, born of the frustration that came with feeling stuck, like nothing was ever enough.

Broken dreams. There was not a chance in hell I’d let myself be haunted by them the way she was. It just wasn’t worth it.

I sat there and watched the news, barely paying attention until they got to the world news. Apparently there had been a whole shitload of freak earthquakes and lightning storms in Europe and Asia over the past two days. They were already calling it the “Second Confluence.” We’ve been through it once already, when I was fourteen. Earthquakes, lightning strikes, and then all of a sudden, people had superpowers. Not everybody, just random people here and there. Threw the world into chaos for a couple of years. We had them here, too. StrikeForce was the official super hero team. We didn’t have many super villain types here, but the few we did seemed to get taken in pretty quickly, and we didn’t hear from them again.

I watched the news a while longer, listening to the commentary, the predictions of another wave of powered people. “Just glad it’s not happening here,” I muttered to myself as I clicked the living room lamps off. I had class early the next morning.

##

So, there we go! Available November 17th on Amazon — or via pre-order now! 

Guardian — Now Available in Audio!

GuardianCover_225Audiobook fans, the audio version of Guardian, Hidden: Soulhunter Book One, is available now at all retailers.

The Hidden: Soulhunter series is being narrated by the fabulous Julia Knippen, who also narrates my Copper Falls series. She absolutely nailed E’s voice, and I couldn’t be happier. Here’s a sample:

The Guardian audiobook is available at the following retailers:

I hope you’ll check it out! It’s always a new experience hearing the books, and Julia did a fabulous job.