On Writing Godkiller (And what’s up next!)

Godkiller, the first book in the next story arc of the Hidden saga, is out TOMORROW! (eep!) This has been a weird year for me, publishing-wise. I’ve released lots of books this year, but only one as Colleen Vanderlinden (Light’s Shadow.) The rest were all released under my Ella Linden pen name.
I enjoy writing contemporary romance, and I can definitely see myself doing more of it as time goes on. I’m also planning to write more fantasy romance (and we’ll talk about that in a minute!) as well as finishing up this arc of the Hidden series over the next few months.
It was fun writing Godkiller, but I’ll also admit that I have no idea how writers who are 20-odd books into a series manage it. So much happened in the previous 11 books of the Hidden series and I’m grateful that one of my beta readers, Haleigh, has an eagle-eye for continuity issues. This is such a sprawling world with such a large cast, and it keeps growing with each book.
Maybe that’s why I have such a high death count? I’m trying to keep it all manageable.
The truth is, every death in my books is necessary for plot, or they wouldn’t be there. I have a humorous little competition with a fellow author about who will rack up the highest death count. To be honest: my money’s on Amy.

So, What’s Next?

Next, while I’ve been editing Godkiller and plotting the next Godkiller Saga book, I’m FINALLY writing a fantasy romance I’ve been planning for a couple of years now, called Faithless. When I was asking my beta reading team if they’d be up for reading it, this was how I described it:

“Fantasy romance. Rogue/smartass heroine. Virgin hero. Forbidden love. Angst and slow burn and hotness and fighting. Are you in?”

They were pretty excited about it, and I hope you’ll be, too. I’ll have a lot more about the book in the next few weeks.
I can’t wait for you guys to read Godkiller, and I hope you love it as much as I do. I went through some personal stuff during the revision phase of the book, and there are things that ended up in the final draft that were part of the process of going through that. One of the things I love about writing is that it allows me to process my own thoughts and feelings in a way that I might not be able to otherwise.
But, that’s a discussion for another day, probably. 🙂 Right now, I’m just excited about Godkiller!

Are you excited to be visiting the Hidden world again? Which character(s) are you most looking forward to reading again?

ONE MORE WEEK! (And a Godkiller teaser!)

We are one week away from the release of the next Hidden book, and I have been lax in my blogging here, so I haven’t shared much about it.

The book, Godkiller, is the first book in the Hidden: Godkiller Saga story arc. It follows the events of the Hidden: Soulhunter arc, and we’re back to focusing on seeing the story told from Molly’s POV. Godkiller takes place ten years after the end of the war against the Undead, which we saw in Soulhunter.

Ten years. And in that time, Molly has essentially re-shaped the world to be what she wants it to be. She’s created a utopia: a world free from war, hunger, illness. She’s put the best of herself into making the world as amazing as it can be for her people. Of course, she has detractors. The AntiTheists, especially, hate her and her immortal friends and everything they stand for. They see Molly as a dictator and tyrant. But, they’re a small fringe and in general, Molly’s life is peaceful. She judges the dead. She loves her mate, and she has watched her two kids grow — Hades II and Zoe are both teenagers now, and coming into powers of their own.

And then… something appears that should not be, and everything Molly has built in our world is threatened. Friendships and relationships are tested, and almost no one will come out of this story unscathed.

Without further ado, here’s a little teaser from the book. Enjoy!

***

Godkiller

Hidden: Godkiller Saga #1

Chapter One

My name is Molly Brooks.

I am the Goddess of Death. Daughter of a Fury and Hades, who died and passed his powers on to me, leaving me to become the Lady of the Nether in his place.

I am the savior of my city.

I am the one being on this planet no one wants to mess with.

This world… this beautiful, crazy, peaceful world I’ve created, is under my protection. I make the rules. I decide who gets to play the game.

And I decide, in the end, how each and every living being will spend eternity.

In all honesty… I guess it’s not too bad being me. I mean, it used to be bad, being me. I’ve thought I was insane. I’ve been lost, lonely, forgotten. I’ve been tortured and beheaded. Blown up. Drowned. Buried alive.

That really sucked. Not gonna lie.

But I’ve reached the point in my life where my enemies are long gone, dead at my hand or the hand of one of those I trust. I’m the bitch who rules the world.

It’s perfect. So why does my blood cry out for the insanity of battle, the sight of my enemies’ blood bathing my sword? How fucked up is it that I’ve created world peace, and I dream of war?

* * *

I sped through Detroit, my foot on the gas, the roar of the engine like music to my ears. Familiar landscapes blurred past my windows as I let the Barracuda  do exactly what she was meant to do: leave everything behind her in the dust. AC/DC blared on the stereo, and cool air kissed my skin through the open windows. The sky was pitch black, just like my car, just like the uniform I wore as a Fury and the goddess of death, just like the darkest parts of me, the parts that relish destruction and pain, that thrive on the fear of my enemies. The only time I felt more alive was when I was crushed beneath my mate’s enormous, muscled body.

I smiled and hit the gas a little harder. Speaking of which, Nain should be home by now.

I neared the Netherwoods, a place visible only to the immortals and a few select supernaturals, and then, only if they were explicitly invited and escorted by one of us. We spent as many nights as we could in our house, the house Nain had rebuilt for me on the site of my old place, which had been blown up by a former enemy. But tonight, we were stuck in the Netherwoods because my aunt and mother had earned a night away from the souls they guarded and punished, and they were excited to see some 1980s-themed concert.

I will never understand their taste in music.

So tonight, it was me and Nain. I knew our kids weren’t likely to be around. Hades, at thirteen, had a busier social life than I’d had in my entire life, and Zoe would likely be somewhere in the Netherwoods, but we would only see her if she wanted to be seen. Some days, she wanted to be around us more than others.

All I had ahead of me was a night, alone, with Nain. Of course, chances were about fifty-fifty that we’d start fighting about something, but even then, the chances of make-up sex afterward were a hundred percent. So really, I couldn’t lose.

I turned up the narrow road that led to the Netherwoods. I slowed as I approached, not wanting to hit an imp or something by mistake. I’d almost done that once and felt terrible about it for months afterward.

The street here was abandoned, with streetlights that worked, but only when we wanted them to. Tonight, they were out because we weren’t expecting any visitors, immortal or otherwise.

What a relief.

I followed the curve toward the gates that led into the Netherwoods themselves, and saw a flash of… something… out of the corner of my eye. I would have missed it completely if I hadn’t just been glancing that way.

A pale figure stood at the side of the road, dressed in gray, hands clasped demurely in front of her.

Her.

The second I realized who it was, I slammed the car into park and jumped out.

“What the ever-loving fuck are you doing here?” I snarled. “Where’s Nyx?”

“I don’t know what I’m doing here, and I don’t know where she is. I’m turning myself in because there is no way I should be allowed to roam free, considering.”

I studied the goddess before me, and it took nearly every bit of power I have not to kill her where she stood.

Persephone. My father’s former wife. After he’d died, she’d combined her hatred of me and her desperation to get him back by any means necessary, coming up with a plot that was so twisted, so evil, so completely fucking vile that she’d been banished from our realm, taken prisoner by my grandmother, our Creator goddess, Nyx. We were never supposed to see her again. Ever. This world had already suffered, billions of lives lost, because of Persephone’s insanity.

“What did you do to Nyx?” I asked, stepping toward her.

“I did not do anything to her, Mollis,” she said, meeting my eyes, then quickly looking away. “You’d know that if you’d actually use your powers instead of hiding behind those glasses,” she sighed.

Feeling the tiniest bit stupid, I pulled the glasses Hephaestus had made for me off of my face and looked at Persephone. Really Looked, the way only I can. The way only Hades could before me.

When I look at someone, I see everything. Their fears. Their loves. Their greatest sins and their best moments. Every secret they’ve ever kept, for better or worse. I know them all.

And I hate it. I don’t fucking want to know. I’ve seen some messed up shit thanks to this particular “gift” from my darling father. But even I have to admit that sometimes, it comes in handy.

Persephone’s sins washed over me. Lies she’d told her mother, her friends. Little things, and then, suddenly, horrid, sickening things. The kidnapping and repeated murder of my son chief among them. The deaths of nearly half of the world’s population. Deals made, all in a sick attempt to destroy me and bring Hades back to life.

She’d failed on both counts. But the world had been made to suffer just the same.

Most recently, I saw that she’d been held in a solitary state in Nyx’s getaway in the Old Nether, which was permanently cut off from our realm. I kinda broke that particular gateway. And it’s for the best, because the Old Nether is full of nightmares. And Nyx, who lives there and in the Aether when she decides to.

“What happened?” I asked, pulling a pair of thin metal bracers out of my pocket and clamping them onto her dainty wrists. They’d prevent her from rematerializing, slipping away. They’d also dampen her powers in general. Heph is a genius, I thought as I waited for her to answer.

“I was in my cell, as usual. I heard crashing sounds above, in Nyx’s living quarters. I heard her shouting, talking to someone. And I heard someone talking back. The next thing I knew, these… things burst into my cell as if the security door was nothing. They’d blasted it off of its hinges,” she added. “They dragged me upstairs and brought me to their leader, who was in the room with Nyx. He looked at me and told them to get rid of me. I assumed they were going to kill me, and one of them zapped me with what looked like a little silver button, and the next thing I knew, I was waking up here, outside the Netherwoods.”

I sensed for her as she spoke, sifted through her thoughts and memories. She was frightened, unsure. She wasn’t lying, but that didn’t mean I trusted her.

“These things that took you. What did they look like?”

“I am not sure. They were not very tall. About as tall as Eunomia, perhaps.”

“Do not even say her name,” I hissed, and she drew back as if I’d slapped her. E. My best friend, my right hand, had been killed fighting the war against the Undead. She’d come back as a soul, led an army of the dead, and destroyed the Undead hordes that had been swarming the realm. Nyx had decided, as a reward, that she deserved another chance at life and restored her to the realm of the living.

But still. E had been dead. We’d mourned her, fought for her. Cried for her. I still had nightmares about the moment she’d fallen. It had felt like losing part of myself.

“What else can you tell me?” I asked after she stayed silent while I got myself under control again.

“I did not get a good look at them. They were wearing some form of metallic armor that covered their bodies and faces completely. I am sorry.”

“Have you seen anything like them before?”

She shook her head.

“And the one you assume was their leader?”

She gave a little shudder. “Him, I saw.”

I waited, and she continued. “He looked human. Quite handsome, actually. Long, dark red hair, nice eyes. Well built. Larger in stature even than Hephaestus. But the sense of him…”

“What about it?”

She took a breath. “That is the thing, Mollis. I couldn’t feel him at all. He may as well have been a piece of furniture for all the sense of life I got from him. But he was very much there, and very much holding Nyx hostage at the time.”

I grabbed her arm and rematerialized into the dungeons below the palace where my office and our sometimes-home was located. The demon guards, along with the souls who helped keep the dead in line, stared at me in shock.

“My Lady?” one of the demons asked, recognizing Persephone. I felt his rage spike at the sight of her. I had the feeling there would be a lot of that as more beings realized she was here.

“Yeah, I know,” I said to him. “I’m going to put her in the Vault,” I said, indicating the cell we kept for high-powered or high-threat prisoners. I was the only one who could get in or out. “I have no fucking idea what’s going on, but I’m trying to find out.” He nodded, and I used the special key Heph had crafted for me, as well as a bit of my power, to unlock the dungeon cell door for Persephone, then I not-very-gently shoved her inside. The room was sparse, cold, and damp (because if there is one thing every being alive hates, it’s feeling damp, and I’m all about making my prisoners suffer if that is their fate). It was more than she deserved.

“If you had anything to do with this, I will make sure you suffer. I’m not Nyx,” I said. Before she could answer, I slammed the door shut and locked it again.

I sighed. And here I’d been so sure I’d be getting lucky tonight. Looks like the universe had other plans for me.

What else is new?

 

Chapter Two

After securing plenty of guards for Persephone, I debated who to break the news to first. Nain would want to kill her immediately. So would Hephaestus. So would E. And Brennan. Brennan and Nain probably wanted her dead the most.

And then there was my mother. Her relationship with Persephone had always been tense, full of secrets and resentment. There had been a certain closeness between them after my father’s death, when they were united in mourning the immortal they’d both loved. But the instant Persephone had even had the thought of touching one of my children she’d sealed her fate. The fact that she’d actually done it, actually kidnapped and then killed Hades not just once, but repeatedly, to harvest his heart for her insane “bring Hades back to life plan”… no amount of torture would be enough, as far as my mom was concerned.

But the dungeons were the domain of the Furies, and it was better she hear it from me than from someone else. Shit.

It wasn’t hard to find her. All I had to do was follow the screams. I suppose one would think it’s cruel, what the Furies do. What they do, what I do, is nothing short of repaying souls for every bit of pain they caused during their lives. In some cases, it requires hardly anything at all. Most of them, actually. Most people, when it comes down to it, don’t do that much harm. But some people… well. There’s a hell of a lot of pain they need to feel before they’re released to the great beyond, whatever that means for them. I have no idea. I suspect the afterlife is a very individual thing, based on how one lived their life.

It’s not like I’ll actually ever find out. Immortals don’t have souls. When we die, we’re gone.

Which was why it was utterly fucking insane for Persephone to try to bring my father back at all. There’s nothing there. Even if she somehow found a way to construct Hades’ body through some kind of Dr. Frankenstein bullshit, there would be nothing to fill it with. I guessed that was where my son’s heart had come in, both as a life-giving source and her hope that there would be something of my father in his grandson’s blood, something that would bring him back.

I shook my head as I reached the door to the dungeon my mom was working in. I nodded at the two demon guards and opened the door, stepping inside. My mother sat in a chair, looking perfectly at ease. She was painting her nails a metallic black color and humming some Cyndi Lauper song. Meanwhile, the soul she was punishing was on his knees, screaming in anguish and tearing at his hair.

I remembered this one. He was getting everything he’d had coming to him.

My mom glanced up and raised her eyebrow.

“You are angry and tense,” she said. Typical Fury. Like me, she never had to ask things like “how are you doing?” She could feel my emotions. There was no hiding it from her, and I reflected, yet again, how now I knew why my friends had always been so irritated that I could sense them. There was no such thing as privacy with an empath around. Not really. And I’m the biggest bullshitter I know, but emotions don’t lie.

“We have a situation,” I said, as I stepped further into the room and sat on the floor beside my mother’s chair.

“A situation that has you ready to rip someone’s spleen out,” she said, brushing paint on another nail. “What is it?”

I took a deep breath. “Persephone is here.”

I watched her. She slowly, methodically put the nail polish cap back on, screwing it on carefully. Then she turned to me. “Where?”

“Before you go stick sharp things under her fingernails or something, I want to run the story she told me past you. It’s… it’s weird.”

She gave a single nod, rage rolling off of her in waves. “Tell me.”

So I did. I told her about finding her at the side of the road, and the story she’d told about Nyx and the armored beings and the mysterious man who she could get no sense of. I told her that I’d seen everything, that she wasn’t lying. That she did not know what had become of Nyx.

When I’d finished, we sat in silence for a few moments as she thought it over. “Our first course of action should be trying to contact Nyx.”

(All rights reserved. Copyright Colleen Vanderlinden 2017.)

***

I’ll have more details later this week, and then I’ll be sure to announce it when the book is released. So… are you excited to have Molly back? 🙂

 

Sophie + Calder (Today is Light’s Shadow day!!)

It’s here. It’s really, finally here and I am so excited to share Light’s Shadow with you. All of the miscellaneous drafts, all of the chapters I wrote, thinking they’d make the book better, and then deleted upon edits, all of the trying to make sure I brought this multi-generational story to a satisfying end… it’s finished, and I am thrilled. (Even if, crazy as it seems, I already miss Sophie and Calder. I’ve spent the last year and a half-ish fighting them and their story, and now I’m sad to see it over. Writers are weird.)

When I started this series, I knew four things.

  1. I knew I wanted to write a witch story. Lots of magic.
  2. I knew I wanted to write a heroine very different from Molly. Maybe this was my way of trying to prove to myself that I could write something other than a brash badass.
  3. I wanted historical elements, and specifically to play a bit with Michigan history and folklore.
  4. I wanted to write my own little take on Beauty and the Beast.

I’ve gotten to do all of that in the quarter of a million words that comprise the Copper Falls series. I’ve gotten to revisit an idealized version of one of my favorite vacation spots from my childhood, delve into Native American culture and folklore, spend some time with Michigan history… and I was able to write two irresistible (to me, at least) characters having wild monkey sex on occasion. Not a bad way to spend a few years of creative energy. 🙂

So, it’s here, and I’m so excited. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who read, reviewed, and wrote to me about this series. To the young woman from Michigan who wrote to tell me that Sophie saved her life, to the many women who wrote saying they appreciated seeing an “atypical badass” heroine, and to my lovely readers who drool over Calder on FB and make up whole stories about Calder and the loofahs at Target (you know who you are…) this is for you. Thank you!

Light’s Shadow is available exclusively on Amazon (and in Kindle Unlimited.)

Light’s Shadow (Yes, it’s really happening!)

The number one question you guys ask me is: Is the third Copper Falls book coming soon?

And I said Yes through 2016. And I wasn’t lying. I was working on it.

One draft… nah, this doesn’t feel right.

Two drafts… ugh.

Three drafts… what the hell is this, even?

Four drafts… better, but nope.

And here we are. I am turning the book over to my amazing beta reading team this weekend, which means there is no going back now. I’m happy with the way Light’s Shadow finally came out. It took a lot longer than I expected it to. And there were times when I think I lost sight of what this story is really about. At its core, the Copper Falls trilogy is about love: Sophie and Calder’s love for one another, and also Migisi and Luc’s. So in finishing up the trilogy, I had to make sure not only that the main story of Sophie fixing the curse and finally freeing herself and her family from Marshall was satisfied in a way that was fulfilling and entertaining, but, even more importantly, I had to let Sophie and Calder’s relationship grow and evolve. They haven’t had an easy time of it. The only ones who have had it worse than Sophie and Calder are Luc and Migisi… and I had to give them an ending, too.

This is what happens when you start book one thinking “ooh! Intertwining storylines. This will be fun!”

 

The truth is, it was fun. It was a lot of work, and now I’m excited to finally share with you that Copper Falls #3, Light’s Shadow, will be out on Friday, April 21st.

Finally. 🙂

I’ll have a cover reveal for you next week, as well as a teaser here and there. I’m hoping this is decent forewarning for those of you who want to re-read Shadow Witch Rising and Shadow Sworn before Light’s Shadow is out — I know some of you do that (and I do as well!) so… there you have it!

After Light’s Shadow, I’m going to work on the next of my Paradise Bay contemporary romance novels while finalizing my plot and notes for my next big project, which is…

The Molly Brooks series.

More details on that over the next few weeks as well. It’s going to be wild. And I have missed my potty-mouthed goddess, so I’m looking forward to delving back into the Hidden world again.

Thank you for your patience regarding Copper Falls. Every time I felt like putting the series off or taking a break from fighting through book 3, the reminder that so many of you cared about Sophie and Calder kept me working. So thank you, and I hope (really, really, really hope….) that Light’s Shadow is worth the wait. I know I feel good about it. I hope you will, too.

Until next time!

XO,

Colleen

What Happens Next for Shannen and Daarik?

If you’ve been waiting for the next part of the story that started in Exile, today’s your lucky day. 🙂 Riven, Exile #2, is available now on Amazon and in Kindle Unlimited.  The book also contains a reprint of my Exile prequel story, Silent Witness, which kind of shows, in its own little way, where the story in Riven began.

I had so much fun writing this book. Shannen is, at her heart, an “unlikable heroine.” By that, I mean that she’s cocky, abrasive, and cares very, very little (AKA, not at all) about what most people think of her. Yet for all her bravado, she has her insecurities and moments of doubt. Her evolution has been a joy to write. And, I’ll just admit, I got a chuckle out of a few of her lines while I was writing them.

Daarik… Daarik, as I’ve mentioned before, was inspired by an orc from a World of Warcraft fanfic that I’ve been writing on and off for several years now. It’s kind of my “when I’m feeling stuck, write this for a while” project. Anyway, he’s very much a monster boyfriend, Beast, type of guy. He’s not pretty. He’s honorable and brave, but where Shannen is cynical and a bit coarse, for all of his experience, he can be quite naive and uncomfortable with change. So writing him and Shannen together, and seeing them evolve and grow and overcome their faults, was the most fun I’ve had writing in a while.

Thank you to everyone who bought Exile and the many of you who told me how much you loved my weird little dystopian fantasy/science fiction romance story. Riven brings the story to a close, and I hope you love it as much as I do.

Cover reveal: Riven!

I will be releasing the second Exile book later this month!  We’re going with a soft release on this, meaning I can’t give you an exact date, because as soon as I have edits and layout finished, we’ll be putting it up on Amazon. I’ll send a newsletter and post on my social media when the book is available. Holiday week + planning ahead… not gonna happen. 😉

If you read the first Exile book, you know that our hero and heroine, Daarik and Shannen, had certain things they were setting out to accomplish in the next part of the story. Riven picks up a few weeks after the end of Exile. How about a synopsis?

When Shannen of House Lyon found herself wed to the alien Maarlai prince, she was certain that her marriage would be the strangest (yet most wonderful) part of her life. She did not expect to find herself thrust not into a war, but also a quest for the crown that should have rightfully been hers.

Shannen’s journey to claim her crown leads her to friends, allies, and enemies, and, when the absolutely unthinkable happens, she learns what responsibility and leadership truly is.

As Daarik works to unify the Maarlai, he remains conflicted about the task his wife is undertaking. Strong-willed as Shannen is, he regrets agreeing to her insane plot to overthrow the human king.

In the end, all of them: prince, princess, human, Maarlai, traitors and faithful, must unite to face a foe none of them could have ever imagined. Loyalty, love, and unity are the only things that will allow them survive, but only if they are strong enough to put aside the ills of the past.

And… how about that cover???

I can’t wait to share the next part of Shannen and Daarik’s adventure with you!

Teaser: Between the Lines (Paradise Bay #1)

I’ve mentioned here and there that I’ve been working on a contemporary romance series. I’ll likely release this under a pen name to keep my paranormal stuff separate from my contemporary stuff so it’s easier for my readers to find what they want without having to hear about the stuff they’re less interested in. More details on that later. But, for now, here’s a little peek at the beginning of Paradise Bay #1, Between the Lines.

 

Chapter One

Olivia turned her Jeep off of the highway and onto the dirt road she remembered so well from her childhood. She looked further down the road, just able to see the front of the little white cottage peeking through the swaying branches of a row of weeping willows. A red pickup truck was parked in the driveway, and, as she got closer, she saw a logo that said “Paradise Bay Animal Care” emblazoned on the side. She grinned to herself. The only thing better than being here was being welcomed by her cousin, Jack.

She pulled into the driveway behind the truck and got out. As she was shutting the driver’s side door, she saw Jack coming down the stairs of the wide front porch of the cabin.

“Cuz!” he shouted, and he came to her, arms open. She laughed and folded him into a hug, and he gave her one of his usual bear hugs. “Good to see you, Livi,” he said as he released her.

“Good to see you, too,” she told him. She looked him over. “You still look the same. Shouldn’t you have aged in the last few years or something?” she teased, and he shook his head. It was true. Jack still had the same unruly dark brown hair, the same stubbled jawline, and she swore there were still no lines around his dark brown eyes.

“Forget me. You look great,” he said, and she smiled. She didn’t have any siblings, but she and Jack had been close as kids, and he was the closest thing she had to a big brother.

Jack walked to the back of the Jeep and opened the gate. “You didn’t bring a lot,” he said, glancing at her.

“Well, I knew Aunt Daisy and Uncle Rob had this place stocked with furniture and dishes and all that.” The cabin was one that she’d spent childhood and teenage summers in, but her aunt and uncle had built a new one in an even prettier location and rented this one out to tourists every summer. She’d lucked out and snagged a claim on it before tourist season started, and she was grateful she had.

“They wanted me to tell you they’re not taking any rent money from you,” Jack said, reaching into the back of the Jeep and pulling out one of the boxes.

“Oh, yes they are,” Olivia murmured. “Even if I have to force it into their hands myself.”

Jack paused and looked at her, and she glanced up at him. “I’m glad you left him, Livi. He never was good enough for you.”

Olivia felt the words wash over her. “It was time for a change. Many changes,” she added. “He just made it really easy for me to finally move forward.”

“You could see it, seeing you two together,” he said. “It was like watching Wonder Woman preparing to marry Mole Man or something.” They carried the boxes to the front porch and set them in the small, bright living room of the cottage, then went back to the Jeep for another load.

“You’re crossing your universes again,” Olivia said with a laugh.

“Still true,” he shot back, and she shook her head, still grinning.

She and Jack carried the rest of her boxes in, and she stood in the cabin, looking around. The cabin was just as she remembered. The oak floors on the main floor gleamed in the mid-morning sun that slanted through the kitchen windows, and the white walls made everything feel clean and fresh. The furniture was newer, a kind of casual, shabby chic look to it all, painted wood tables and bookcases. A sleeping nook was tucked into one corner of the living room, a daybed that could be used as an extra bed if there wasn’t enough space in the sleeping lofts upstairs. Out of the back of the house, through the kitchen window, Migisi Lake shimmered, the old gray wooden dock stretching out into it just as it always had.

“I can run into town with you if you want. I bought a few things for the kitchen. There’s tea and milk and some sandwich stuff in the fridge. I wasn’t sure what else you’d want,” Jack said.

Olivia smiled up at him. “You didn’t have to do that.”

He shrugged. “It wasn’t a big deal. I am glad you’re here.” He wrapped his arm around her shoulders, and she gave him a quick hug. Growing up, she and Jack had been inseparable during the summers she’d spent here at the cabin just outside the limits of the town of Paradise Bay, and they’d kept in touch all through their college years, though their contact became more sporadic once Olivia had gotten involved with Jon, mostly because being with Jon was, eventually, what she imagined it would be like to have a very loud, very needy toddler, except not nearly as cute and there was no hope of him ever growing up.

“i am too. I love this place so much. If I’m going to start over, it might as well be in my favorite place on Earth,” she said with a grin.

“Hell yeah. My mom and dad can’t wait to see you. They’re getting back from Austin later today.”

“Visiting Jason?” I asked, and he nodded. His younger brother, Jason, was going to college down in Texas. She liked Jason well enough, but he was kind of the opposite of Jack in every way: loud, brash, outgoing. Jack, on the other hand, was a sweet, quiet introvert. But like most introverts, once he was around his people, he could be as loud and gregarious as anyone else. He’d been a comic book nerd, too, and they’d never run out of things to talk about during all of those long, humid summers on the lake.

“I’m looking forward to seeing them, too. Can you tell them I’ll be by tomorrow evening?”

Jack nodded. He was about to say something when his phone rang. He glanced at the screen. “I need to take this,” he said apologetically, and she waved it off, indicating that he should do what he had to do. He stepped onto the porch, and a moment later, she heard him talking. She looked around at the cardboard boxes and suitcases in the living room, and grabbed one of the boxes labeled “books.” Honestly, most of the boxes were either books or art supplies. She’d donated or sold anything else she could before she’d left Detroit. She had a few boxes of knickknacks and collectibles, and several bags of clothes. Anything that had felt like it was weighing her down or taking up space had been sent off. Including her fiance.

She tore the box open and started lining the books up on the bookcase at the end of the living room. It was large, painted a soft, distressed white, just like most of the wooden furniture in the cottage. She liked it. It felt homey and relaxed, the way a lake house should. Whenever she bought a permanent place up here, she’d make it feel like this, she decided.

She continued putting her books on the shelves, and a couple of minutes later, Jack stepped back into the cottage. “Sorry, Livi. I have to go take care of this.”

She nodded. “It’s fine. Not too serious, I hope?”

He shook his head. “A horse with a sliced foreleg. But it’s the owner’s first horse and she’s freaked out.”

Olivia smiled. “Go do your thing, then. Thanks for all of the help.” She hugged Jack again, and he drew back.

“You’re going to need a job while you’re here, right?” he asked, and she nodded.

“I figured I was showing up at the right time for that. Every place will be looking for help in preparation for tourist season.”

“You did. You still like comics, right?“ he asked.

“Of course.”

“Lauren is looking for full and part time help at the comic shop and bookstore she opened with Holly Fitzpatrick. You remember Holly, right? Her grandparents had a cottage here a few doors down.”

‘I remember,” Olivia said. “I read about the shop when it opened. How’s it doing?”

“Great. Business is steady, and they’re able to do a lot of events for the community. Holly and Lauren are actually thinking about expanding the shop soon, if they can manage it.” She walked Jack to his truck, glancing over at him.

“And… how is Lauren?” she asked. Her cousin looked down at her and smiled.

“She’s good. She’s looking forward to seeing you.”

“And you two…?”

Jack sighed and let his head drop forward. Olivia laughed.

“Same as we’ve always been. I don’t know why anyone expects that to change.”

Jack Weston and Lauren Bailey had been best friends since ninth grade, and just about everyone who knew them, including Olivia, expected them to take that next step toward something more. All Olivia knew was that her high school summer visits had been spent as much with Lauren as with Jack, but that she’d never seen the two of them do anything more than push or smack at one another while the three of them played video games at Jack’s house.

“Go see her about the job, okay? She already said it’s yours if you want it. You’ll have to have a sit-down with Holly first, but that’s mostly a formality.”

“I will. Thanks, cuz,” Olivia said. Jack climbed into his truck, gave her a wave, and pulled out onto the road, heading back toward the highway. She watched the truck until he turned off their quiet road, then she turned to look at the cottage.

Olivia took a deep breath. This was really happening. She’d really driven the over three hundred miles from Detroit. She’d really left all of the bullshit, including Jon, behind. She was giving herself until fall to figure something out. Hopefully, she’d be able to find a permanent place here, or at least nearby. Hopefully, she’d finally make some headway on getting hired for work at one of the big two comic book publishers.

She’d been supporting herself with her freelance illustration and design work for a few years, and her webcomic had a decent fanbase. All of which was great. What kind of jerk would complain about being able to work for themselves, from wherever they want, and make decent money at it? But it wasn’t her big dream. The big one was drawing the superhero comics she’d loved as a kid. She’d keep trying. She’d keep putting herself out there, and killing it on her webcomic. She’d keep improving. She knew it was a long shot. She knew there were a hell of a lot of talented artists out there. It didn’t make her want it any less.

She let her eyes wander toward the lake. She peeled off her sweater and kicked off her shoes and took a running leap off the end of the dock, clad in her shorts and t-shirt. She was here now, finally. She was going to make the most of it.

After Olvia pulled herself out of the lake and dressed in some dry clothes, she spent a little bit of time getting settled in. Unpacking the books and the few decorative items she’d brought took about an hour. Her clothing went in the armoire in the upstairs sleeping loft, and she spread the faded old quilt she’d inherited from her grandma over the double bed. She smiled as she did so. This one simple thing, using the blanket she wanted to, was indicative of just how real this life change was. Jon hated this quilt, and she hadn’t felt like he was worthy to sleep under it anyway.

Why she’d agreed to marry him still mystified her. Mostly, she supposed, the idea of not being alone for the rest of her life appealed to her. What she knew now was that being alone was better than being with someone who sucked the life out of you with their constant bitching and complaining. What had seemed like sarcasm and bad-boy cynicism at first had turned out to be nothing more than negativity from someone who couldn’t envision something bigger, something better. He’d had no imagination, in any area of his life, she thought with a wry grin.

Olivia ran her hand over the quilt, smoothing it. She fluffed the pillows on the bed and glanced out the small round window that looked out over the lake. Waking up here every morning would be a nice way to start the day.

She sat down on the freshly-made bed and pulled her phone out of her pocket. She looked up the number for Gutters Comics and Books and sat listening to the phone ringing. After a few rings, a female voice answered.

“Gutters Comics, this is Lauren.”

“Lauren! Hi, um. This is Olivia Marquis. I’m—“

“Jack’s cousin!” Lauren said, her normal quiet, slightly husky voice raised in excitement. “How the hell are you, Livi?”

Olivia laughed. “I’m great. You?”

“Cannot complain. You’re gonna come and work here, right? You better say yes because I need another girl for derby and you’d kick ass at it.”

“I—“

“Do you want full time or part time, because we have both available right now?”

“Uh, it depends. How early would I have to work?”

“We need afternoons and evenings, so whether you pick full or part time, that’s when we’d need you.”

“Perfect. That’s what I was hoping for. I think part time, but if you guys need extra help at times, I can work a little more some weeks.”

“Great. When can you come in and talk to Holly? You remember her, right?”

“Yeah, I remember Holly.”

“Yeah, she’s still a bossy pain in the ass,” Lauren said with a laugh, and Olivia heard a female voice in the background.  “Holly says hi,” she said.

“Well, tell her I said hi, too.”

Olivia waited as Lauren passed it along. “Okay, so when can you come in?”

“Whenever Holly wants me to. I’m all gross from the driving and getting settled here today, but anytime other than that is totally fine.”

“Good.” There was more discussion on the other end of the line, then Lauren came back on. “Tomorrow at like eleven, then? Is that okay?”

“I’ll be there. Thanks a lot for this,” Olivia said, plucking at the quilt a little bit as she talked.

“No, thank you. Seriously. I freaking hate having to interview people, so you just cut the interviews I’m gonna have to do by half. Plus it’s going to be awesome catching up with you.”

“It is!” Olivia said, smiling. “Um. What was that about derby, though?”

Lauren laughed. “See you tomorrow, Livi.” Then she hung up and Olivia was left looking at her phone in confusion. Then she laughed a little and shook her head and headed back downstairs to make a quick dinner and some tea. She was practically dead on her feet after the drive, and if it was still the way she remembered it, she’d sleep like a baby here.

Chapter Two

Olivia woke, snuggled into her blankets, curled up at the edge of the bed the way she usually slept. The room had that soft purplish-gray color to it that told her it was just before sunrise. She’d slept with the window open, and she could hear birds in the trees outside, ducks quacking quietly as they glided on the water.

She realized how she was positioned, and rolled over onto her back, spreading her arms and legs out, covering as much of the bed as possible, and then she smiled.

After a while, she pulled herself out of bed, showered, and headed downstairs to get her computer and other art supplies set up. She’d already chosen a bright corner of the main room of the cottage, one that looked out over the lake. There was already a small desk there, painted chippy white just like the rest of the furniture, and she pulled a kitchen chair over to it. She’d have to find a better chair later, one that wouldn’t have her back in misery after a few hours working in it, but for now, that would do. Once that was set up, she went to work re-assembling her drawing table, then she moved it across from her desk. She glanced at the wall nearby. She’d have to buy some cork board or something. She did most of her work on the computer, of course, but she still liked to use pen and ink for warm up drawings and to work out how she wanted to handle a panel.

Speaking of which. She booted up the computer to check her website and make sure that that morning’s installment of her web comic, Welcome to Paradise, had posted. Everything looked good ,and she was happy to see that several of her regulars had already checked in and commented. She took a few minutes to answer questions or comment back, then she headed into the bathroom to dress and get ready for her meeting with Holly.

She slipped into a nubby vintage skirt she loved and a sleeveless white blouse, then put a gray sweater over that and cinched a narrow belt at her waist. She looked herself up and down, from her bubble-gum pink hair, to her rounded hips, to her vintage-style heels, and nodded.

She ran some serum through her thick mass of pink curls, then quickly did her makeup and put some earrings on. Then she went back out into the main room and jotted down a few things in the small sketchbook/notepad she always kept in her bag. She’d have to stop at the market after her meeting. Her cousin had done a fabulous job making sure she was okay for a day or two, but eh cabinets and fridge needed to be stocked, and she wanted to check out the one little resale shop she knew of near Gutters to see if maybe they had a decent office chair for her desk. She added that to the list, then glanced at her phone to double check the time.

She grabbed her bag, hunted for her car keys for a good five minutes before finding them in her hand, and then finally was able to leave and make the short drive into town.

She drove with the windows down, the cool, clean northern Michigan air tousling her curls as she drove down the highway. She tapped the steering wheel in time to the music on the stereo, driving past parks, beaches, and shops that held memories. Good ones.

Paradise Bay was a small town, but its gorgeous location amid the bays of Lake Michigan, as well as its rise as a center for Michigan’s burgeoning vineyards, orchards, and small farms had turned it into a tourist destination for both nature lovers and foodies. Dozens of trendy little eateries and shops lined the streets of downtown Paradise Bay, and Olivia promised herself that she’d take the time to check at least some of them out in between working and planning whatever it was that she was going to do next. She found the block where Gutters was located and snagged a parking spot near the corner. A quick glance told her that she was lucky to find it; the street-side parking was fairly packed. She got out and fed the meter, then she looked around. She knew from her quick check online that Gutters had a black awning and an old-fashioned red brick facade, which it shared with the three shops that neighbored it, a brewery, a tattoo parlor, and a small used book store. She spotted the brick buildings, the black awning, at the far end of the block and started walking that way. As she did, she glanced at the names and in the front windows of the businesses she was passing. Most of the cafes along the block were trendy looking and full, but she passed a little coffee and tea shop that didn’t look too bad and promised herself she’d check that out at some point. She neared the brick-fronted buildings at the end of the block, first passing the brewery with its large plate glass windows and generally unadorned entrance, a metal sign with the name “Daniels Brothers Brewing Co.” next to the front door. A quick glance inside showed that the place was pretty busy, definitely more so than she would have expected for a weekday afternoon. As she passed that, she came to the front of the little secondhand book store, glancing in to see shelves that looked like they would burst, overstuffed with books as they were. She would definitely be going in there. Probably right after her meeting with Holly, she thought.

Then she reached the front of Gutters Comics and Books. The front of the shop had a row of windows, their panes painted a glossy black that matched the awning. The entranceway was flanked by two planters, classic urn shapes that looked like they’d been decoupaged or painted with black and white comics pages, lush green ferns swaying gracefully in the breeze.

Details. That would be Lauren’s doing, from what Olivia remembered. She glanced at the front of the shop again. It definitely didn’t look like most of the comic shops she’d visited over the years. Very upscale, perfect for a trendy tourist town.

She opened the door and stepped inside, barely having a chance to appreciate the gleaming wood floors, streamlined shelving, and bare brick walls on the inside of the shop before her inspection was interrupted by the sound of raised voices . The shop was empty except for a man and woman in the far corner of the sales floor, clearly and loudly arguing.

The woman was Holly. Olivia knew that at once. Coppery hair, tall and preppy looking. She was gesturing toward the back of the shop.

“You knew I had a shipment coming in today. It’s Tuesday. I always have a shipment on Tuesdays, for like, what? Four years now?” she was saying as she gestured to the back of the shop.

“Yeah, well this was the one day I could finally get those new coolers delivered anytime soon. It was today or two weeks from now,” the man said in a calm voice. He was nice looking. Okay, better than nice looking. Dark hair with a bit of a wave to it, blue eyes, nice build. “Am I supposed to put my business on hold to accommodate you, Fitzpatrick?” he asked, a hint of a smile on his lips.

“You could have at least said something. Now I have to cart those freaking pallets all the way down the block because the truck couldn’t get back here—“

“I’ll help,” the man said.

“I don’t want your help,” Holly hissed, and the man just smiled, which only seemed to annoy Holly more.

“I think you have a customer,” the man said, just as Holly was opening her mouth to say something else.

Holly spun around as the man gave a low chuckle.

“Livi!” Holly said, coming toward her. “Oh my god you look great!” She reached Olivia and gave her a quick hug.

“You too. This place is amazing!” Olivia said. “Man, I wish I’d had a place like this to go when I was a teenager,” she added.

“Right? Remember that shop over in Avisport? I drove you and your cousin and Lauren there a few times before you all got your drivers licenses.”

“Ugh, that place. Only comic shop within like a hundred miles of here and it smelled like bologna and feet,” Olivia said, scrunching up her nose at disgust at the memory.

“And the guys who worked there,” Holly said, rolling her eyes.

“The worst,” Olivia agreed, remembering how annoying, how condescending the clerks had been toward her, Holly, and Lauren while talking to Jack like an actual person… despite the fact that all four of them had been absolute comics geeks.

“I am so happy you’re here. You wanted part time, right?” Holly asked, and Olivia nodded.

“So, I guess I’ll just go, then,” the man Holly had been arguing with called. Olivia and Holly turned around, and he was standing there, arms crossed over his chest, slight smile on his face.

“Are you still here?” Holly asked archly, and it only made him grin more.

“One of these days, Fitzpatrick, you’re actually going to hurt my feelings.”

Holly rolled her eyes and turned to Olivia. “Livi Marquis, this is Scott Daniels. He owns the brewery a couple of doors down.”

Scott came and shook Olivia’s hand.

“Nice to meet you,” Olivia said, and he smiled.

“He’s also an enormous asshole,” Holly added.

“Just admit that you love me,” Scott said, turning that smile completely on Holly.

“I’d rather run naked down Eighth in the middle of a snowstorm,” Holly said.

“That would be a sight,” Scott said dreamily.

“Out!” Holly said pointing at the door, and Scott went, chuckling.

“My guys’ll move your shipment down here,” he said as he walked out. “But only because you were so sweet and understanding about the whole thing.”

Before Holly could respond, he was out the door. She shook her head, then turned to Olivia.

“He is the worst.”

Olivia hid a grin. “Is he in here often?”

“Only when he’s being a pain in the ass. Which is always,” Holly said, rolling her eyes. “I was planning on doing this meeting back in my office, but Maggie was supposed to come in and work this morning and she’s out with a stomach bug. Okay if we talk out here?”

“Sure.” Olivia glanced around. “”Let me guess. You organized the place, but Lauren was in charge of decorating it.”

Holly nodded. “Pretty much.”

“It’s awesome that you two went into business together. How is that going?” she asked curiously. They’d all known each other growing up, but Holly was a couple of years older than Lauren and Jack, and Olivia was two years younger than them. Plus, as far as personalities went, Olivia couldn’t think of two people more different than Holly and Lauren. At least, that had been the case back when they’d all been teenagers, anyway.

Holly gave a small smile. “Mostly, it’s going great. We’re both stubborn, but we also both recognize that we each bring something different and necessary to the table. We love this place, so we make it work, even when we disagree about something.”

“It’s so great to see this place. Really, you both should be so proud,” Olivia said, looking around again.

“We are. And we are both looking forward to having you on board. By the way, I am a huge fan of ‘Welcome to Paradise,’” Holly said, and Olivia felt herself blush a little.

“Really? Thanks,” she said.

“I think pretty much everyone who works here reads it. Of course, I didn’t realize it was you until Lauren said that Jack told her it was you. So finding out that I knew the creator makes it just that much more awesome,” Holly said.

Olivia didn’t answer, just gave a small nod.

“So you want later hours, right? Afternoons and evenings?”

“Yes, please. I usually work at night, so mornings are a killer,” Olivia said.

“Which works perfectly for us. We’re both pretty much always here because we’re obsessed and we clearly have no lives,” Holly said wryly, and Olivia laughed. “Other than us, there’s a part timer, Maggie, and I’m hoping to bring in one more part timer soon, now that we have you here.”

“I’m only going to be here for the summer, probably. I just feel like I should let you know, so you’re not planning on a long-term thing,” Olivia said. “I need a few month of extra money so I can afford at least a down payment on something up here, and I’m short right now.”

“And that’s totally fine. You’ll help us get through tourist season, and if you decide not to stick around, we’ll look into hiring a replacement. I’m just happy to have you here.”

Olivia nodded. She was about to say something when the door opened, a small bell dinging to announce whoever had walked in.

She glanced toward the door, where a dark-haired man with a neat goatee had just entered the shop. He looked like he was maybe forty or so. She was about to turn her attention back to Holly when he caught her eye… and winked before walking toward the new releases.

“Hey, Andrew,” Holly called.

“Why do you always insist on saying hi to me?” the man, Andrew, answered as he glanced over the display. Olivia looked at Holly to gauge her response. Holly was smiling and shaking her head.

“It’s called customer service,” Holly said as if they’d had this discussion before.

“Totally unnecessary,” the man muttered.

“I’m setting a good example for our new girl here,” Holly said, and Olivia shook her head. The man turned back to them, studying Olivia for a moment. She met his gaze, and the corner of his mouth lifted, just a little.

“I never realized how much this place needed a touch of pink,” he told her, and then he turned away again and Olivia glanced at Holly.

“That was almost a compliment, Andrew. Careful,” Holly said, holding her hands out as if she was trying to hold him back.

Andrew let out a small snort of a laugh and turned back, heading toward the counter where Holly and Olivia were sitting. He stopped in front of Olivia.

“What’s your name, new girl?” he asked, meeting her eyes with his dark brown ones.

“Olivia.”

“Olivia. It was a compliment. You’re cute as hell and I happen to like pink. Can I have my comics now?”

Olivia smiled, and he gave her a small smile in return. She tore her eyes away from him to look at Holly, who was giving him a somewhat shocked look.

“Now that was almost charming, there,” Holly said. Andrew rolled his eyes and Olivia couldn’t help laughing.

“I’m wounded. Are you saying that I’m not normally charming, chivalrous, an absolute freaking delight to be around?”

“You’re normally kind of a dick, really,” Holly said, grabbing a stack of comics from one of the cubbies behind the counter. Olivia noticed that each one was labeled with a customer name. This one said “Andrew S.”

“Now what kind of an example is that for your new girl?” Andrew asked.

“The best kind. The sooner she realizes it, the better,” Holly said sweetly.

“And yet everyone loves me. Weird,” Andrew said. He drummed on the countertop while he studied Olivia again. She studied him right back, noticing the occasional silver strand in his hair and goatee, the long dark lashes framing his eyes. “Are you going to be on Lauren’s derby team?”

“Why does everyone keep asking me about derby?” Olivia asked.

“If she joins, I might actually come to a bout,” Andrew said to Holly, handing over some cash and taking his bag of comics from Holly. “Tell Lauren I said hey. And stop being mean to Scottie.”

“Scott is an asshole.”

“Scott is a damn saint.”

“Says you, an unapologetic dick,” Holly said with a grin. “What, did he tell you I yelled at him today?”

“He likes it when you yell at him. I’m just saying, maybe try being pleasant sometimes.”

“Like you, you mean?” Holly asked with a laugh.

Andrew turned back to Olivia. “Was I pleasant to you, Liv?” he asked, that corner of his mouth turned up again in a cocky smirk.

“Define pleasant,” Olivia said, and his smile widened. He turned back to Holly.

“She classes the place up. You should give her a raise,” he said. Then he glanced at Olivia again and turned, walking out the door without another word.

“So you’ll get to go through that every week. Andrew is one of our best customers,” Holly said with a laugh.

“He’s… different,” Olivia said, and Holly nodded.

***

–I’m still working on this one, so I’m not quite sure when it’ll be out. Sometime in early 2017 probably. I hope you enjoyed it!–

 

How I Develop Characters

One of the things that makes me happiest as a writer is when I hear that a reader has connected with a character of mine. When I read reviews and see someone comment that my characters feel like people you might know, that they feel real enough that they wonder about them and care about what happens next… that is the absolute best.

I want to stop here before I go any further. As with any of these posts about writing, I’m going to be showing you how I do it. It’s not advice or instruction so much as it’s my personal way of handling things. This might be interesting to my readers, who wonder how I came up with their favorite character (and I’ll have details below for how each of my heroines came to be). If you’re a writer looking for advice, the best I can hope for is that all of these posts just show you one more possible way to do things. So this is not a “how to do this” post. This is a “here’s what I do” post.

Okay. I feel better now.

Anyway.

I almost always have a character before I have a plot. Someone dances into my imagination, and  once I spend some time with them, I start to figure out what kind of story he or she needs. Molly, Jolene, Sophie, Shannen… all of them were there before the story I eventually told for them. It might be a flash of something. A jaded, angry vigilante with a secret. A thief who feels no guilt about what she does. A witch who is much stronger than she thinks. A haughty princess with a brain.

I usually have some idea almost immediately about how she looks. (My books always start with a “she.” The heroes come later.) I knew Molly would be tiny and kinda goth. I knew Jolene would look like a cross between Courtney Love and Ronda Rousey. I knew Sophie would look a lot like one of my favorite plus-size fashion bloggers, and I knew that Shannen would be curvy and gorgeous, and that she’d use those assets to her advantage without the slightest hesitation.

Oh, look. See what I just wrote there? Personality starts coming in, just by getting an inkling of what they look like.

After that, there’s a lot of sitting around, wondering what my character’s going to do now that she exists, and as a result, the plot ends up devloping along with my character. For me, those two things, plot and character,  are inseparable.

Molly Brooks

I knew from the beginning that Molly would save women. And the reason I knew that is because thought of Molly and the next day I was horrified about a story in which a local man murdered two women, one of whom was his ex-girlfriend. And it pissed me off and I remember thinking how amazing it would be if there was someone who could swoop in and save people before nightmares like this happened, or who could find them before it was too late — in the case of these women, they’d been missing for days before they’d been killed. But how would you know where to find them? It’s not like the bad guys were just out there telling everyone where they had someone stashed or what their plans were. Oh, but if the heroine could hear their thoughts… yeah, that could work. And from there, Molly evolved. I already knew I wanted to do some kind of play on the Greek gods, and once I had Molly with her empath and telepath powers, the rest fell into place. Realizing she’d be a perfect Fury, because empath powers would be really, really helpful in that role, was the final key. But wait, Furies, by their nature, wouldn’t just go around having babies. They’re supposed to be maidens. Ooh. So that’s interesting. What would happen if a Fury had a child, going against what she was supposed to be? And who would a Fury have a child with? Oh! Well, that union wouldn’t be looked on kindly by many…. lots of drama there… and I had my story, which is still going.

Jolene Faraday

I saw a picture of Ronda Rousey at the same time I was seriously thinking about the superhero series I wanted to write, and Jolene was born. Ronda Rousey is a badass, and she has a superhero build. But as I thought about it more, I started to think that my super heroine would be a little… off. I didn’t want a Captain America type. I wanted Deadpool and Harley Quinn’s love child. I wanted someone who never, ever intended to be a hero. Someone who was actually  just fine being the opposite in many ways. But I knew, too, that there had to be some good in her. So Jolene developed as a Robin Hood archetype, someone who was on the side of the little guy. When I was developing Jolene, I was also reading a lot about the gentrification of some of Detroit’s neighborhoods and the plights of families who had lived in those neighborhoods for generations, in some cases, and now couldn’t afford to stay. I was reading a lot about distribution of wealth in the U.S.. And, let’s be totally honest… I was remembering my own childhood, growing up occasionally on food stamps and welfare while everyone else I knew seemed to be doing just fine. So what if there was a chick with these kinds of sensibilities, and what if she ended up with superpowers? What would she do with them? Because she could totally go either way. She could be a villain, taking whatever she wanted and giving it to whoever she wanted to, and who the hell would stop her? Or she could continue to be a Robin Hood type, watching over the little guy. How would she feel? What dangers would her life involve? How does someone with so many secrets learn to trust, and is she ever tempted to go bad, because let’s face it, I’d be tempted, I think. If her team knew who she really was, how would they treat her? So I had StrikeForce, which, like Hidden, is still ongoing.

Sophie Turner

I’ll just say it flat out: Sophie Turner is who I want to be when I grow up. Sweet and soft, but strong as hell. Gardener, herbalist, beekeeper, goat herder, chicken wrangler, living in a little house in the wilds of northern Michigan. And being a witch, with powers that work in tandem with nature? That would be awesome.

So what if there was this witch, and she was hiding from someone terrible? I didn’t know why she was hiding, or who she was hiding from, but I knew that northern Michigan was her safe place, and that she was trying to get her life back (from who or what, again, I had no idea.) I knew the land would be magical, that her powers and it would be entwined. I knew that, once she was there, she would feel safe. She would feel like she was finally becoming what she hoped she would be.

So, what would happen if that land was suddenly threatened? What if she was in danger of losing it? And what if the person she was in danger of losing it to was someone she loved? Ooh! Wait! This is a Beauty and the Beast type of story, maybe. Maybe he’s cursed, and maybe since she’s a witch, she’s the only one he knows who can break the curse. So he’s awful and angry and he doesn’t care, at first, what it takes to break his curse. He wants it broken, and he’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen. Because his time is running out and he needs a witch….

But the only witch he finds, the only one who can break the curse, isn’t all that strong and knows nothing about curses. But because Sophie has to save her land, because it is her safe place and it calls to her in ways she still doesn’t understand, she’ll do whatever it takes to save it. But how’s she going to do that, when she’s a fairly weak witch and it’s an insanely strong curse? And how’s she going to manage it before his time runs out AND before whoever she’s running from catches up with her? That’s when I knew what the story behind Copper Falls would be.

Shannen of House Lyon

I love unlikable heroines. I do. Shannen is my least likable heroine, in my own opinion. She’s haughty and privileged and kind of a bitch. I knew she was a princess from the very beginning.

I should back up. I’ve said before that Exile started out as fan fiction I was writing about one of my World of Warcraft characters.

Yeah, I’m a nerd. Shut up.

Anyway. This character, in my mind, is a member of the Alliance but falls in love with an Orc. Which, if you know the game, you know that the orcs are aliens and also deeply-hated enemies of the heroes of the Alliance. So I was writing this fan fiction as I played this character in the game. I do that sometimes, because it’s fun and I can write smutty scenes between humans and orcs.

Hey, you have fun your way, and I’ll have fun my way.

But… the story started evolving into something else. Soon, the characters had nothing to do with the world of Azeroth. Soon, they became a haughty princess and the alien she was forced to marry. I started over again. It became another take on Beauty and the Beast (can you tell what my favorite fairy tale is?) but with an arranged marriage aspect, which was something I’ve never written before but thought it would work, especially in this situation where the hero and heroine are on opposite sides and their people have been fighting for years.

I should admit now that other than knowing that Shannen was a spoiled princess and a bit of a bitch and also a book lover, I really didn’t have much about her. She evolved as the story did. That happens sometimes, and it’s fun, but I’ll also admit to feeling less sure about Shannen sometimes than I do with my other heroines. But maybe that’s also part of Shannen’s character: she’ll do whatever the hell she wants, because she’s a goddamn princess.

Pinterest and Other Distractions

So there are my four main heroines. I didn’t explain E because E came to life as part of Molly’s story, so when I started her Soulhunter series, her character was already there. Once I have these general ideas for characters, I usually end up going to Pinterest and putting together an inspiration board. Hair, eyes, clothing styles, scenes that, to me, evoke the character’s personality. When I’m writing, I usually have that character or book’s inspiration board up as well, so if I’m feeling less inspired or just need to get into the groove again, I can look through my board and start getting back into it.

Almost always, my characters have a theme song. It’s a song that I end up playing on repeat sometimes when I’m writing. Each book has a playlist, too, but the character theme song really  helps me a lot. Here are the theme songs for my main badasses:

  • Molly: “Survival” by Eminem
  • Jolene: “How Dirty Girls Get Clean,” by Courtney Love
  • Sophie: “Shake It Out,” by Florence + the Machine
  • Shannen: “Chandelier,” by Sia
  • E: “Kashmir,” by Led Zeppelin
  • Shanti: “What Now?” by Rihanna
  • Meaghan: “Breathe,” by Faith Hill

So, there it is! How I came up with my heroines, and how it generally evolves into a story. I hope you found it interesting!

(This month, I’m participating in NaBloPoMo — National Blog Posting Month — and I’m trying to write a post here every day. If there’s a topic you’d like me to address, drop me a note in the comments!)

 

 

 

 

How I Juggle Multiple Ongoing Series

ColleensCovers_2_4_16I asked over on Facebook which topics people wanted to hear about during my NaBloPoMo attempt, and a few people asked for a post about how I juggle multiple ongoing series.

Right now, I have five ongoing series in progress. Five.

I just realized that.

I must have lost my damn mind. What the ever-loving hell am I doing??

FIVE?

Holy shit.

Ahem. So, right now, I’m working on Hidden, StrikeForce, Copper Falls, Exile, and the upcoming Paradise Bay series. One urban fantasy, one superhero series, one science fiction/dystopian/ fantasy romance mashup series, one paranormal romance series, and a contemporary series. In all honesty, the fact that each series is in a different genre helps. It enables me to keep the tone unique for each of the ongoing series, and makes it easier to remember story arc details.

I think the question of how I juggle these series really consists of a few questions, so I’ll try to address those.

How Do I Decide What to Release/Write Next?

In all honesty, I don’t really plan this all that much. I know, before the beginning of the year, which books I’ll be working on that year. Once I know that, I really just tackle whichever book I feel like writing most, and, usually, I’m working on a couple of those books at a time so that if I get stalled on one, I can still make progress on the other book. I want to be more strategic about this. I think there’s a lot of benefit in writing and releasing books in a series or story arc one after another before moving onto something else. That was how I handled the original Hidden series, and I think it’s part of the reason that series did as well as it did. My goal for next year is to get back to that, rather than switching back and forth between series. It’s easier to stay in flow and I’m less likely to forget details.

One reason I’ve switched back and forth was that I was trying to make sure that people haven’t had to wait years between books in their favorite series. Not all of my readers love every series, and I want to be able to ensure that it’s only a few months between books in a series. Copper Falls is coming up on almost a year between books two and three, and I am really annoyed by that. I just haven’t gotten it together enough to do book 3 justice, but I’ll be working on it soon.

How Do I Keep the Details Straight?

How do I remember whether Jolene’s eyes are brown or blue, and what kind of food Molly likes, and what Nain’s term of endearment is for Molly when I have so many series going on? In some cases, I have it written down in the notebook I keep for each series. In others, I find myself going back through the books to refresh my memory. I know there are very organized writers out there who keep “series bibles” for each series, which includes timelines and character details and backstories and information about settings…. I’m not that organized, but I’d like to be. Right now, I’m winging it and relying on my really amazing memory. (My husband and kids are laughing right now. I have the worst memory ever.)

How Do I Plan Each Series?

I know, when I start a series, how the series or story arc is going to end. So I start each series with a general idea of where my main character is starting, and where they have to end up. From there, I try to figure out what the individual stories are that will lead the main character to that point. For example, Molly’s main arc in Hidden took this path:

  • Book 1: Molly starts realizing she’s more than she thought she was.
  • Book 2: Molly discovers who and what she really is.
  • Book 3: Molly is forced into her birthright, whether she wanted it or not, and has to learn how to make it her own.
  • Book 4: Molly starts to grow into the hero she was meant to be.
  • Book 5: Molly accepts and owns her destiny.

Obviously, a lot of stuff happens in those five books. Molly falls in love (more than once). She loves and loses and fights and mourns and makes friends and loses some more. Because it’s a romance-focused urban fantasy, a lot of her individual character arc is tied to her relationship with Nain (who has his own story arc in there as well — I love this stuff!)  Once I have a general idea of where I want my main character to end up, I can get an idea of where each book needs to go. And then from there, I do a detailed outline for each book.

I should say… this sounds like a lot of work, maybe. This shit, though? It’s so much fun. I love the whole planning part of the process. And sometimes, things go off the rails and the series doesn’t go exactly as I planned. Characters evolve in ways I didn’t plan. It’s good to be flexible. I can always tell when I’m trying to force something. The writing is much harder when I’m forcing it. When I’m playing, and letting the characters grow into themselves, it is always a lot more fun.

That’s pretty much it. I take a lot of notes. I mark up my paperbacks and Kindle files for my books, highlighting stuff I might need to remember. I outline and write and when I’m done, I get going on whatever seems the most fun. It isn’t the most business-like, organized approach, but it’s mine.

I hope you enjoyed this little look at my process. Thanks for stopping by!

(I’m participating in NaBloPoMo this month — National Blog Posting Month — with the goal of posting every day in November. Is there a topic you want me to tackle? Let me know in the comments!)

Why I Participate in NaNoWriMo

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This will be my 6th year in a row participating in NaNoWriMo (if you haven’t heard of it, it stands for National Novel Writing Month, and the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.) I’ve been asked a few times over the past couple of years why I participate, since I’m always writing anyway.

For me, NaNoWriMo is a time to play. It’s a time to mess around with one of those dozens of little  “side project” ideas I have, a chance to see if it goes anywhere. Sometimes, my NaNo project ends up being something that I work more on, revise, edit, and eventually publish. Almost as often, though, it doesn’t go very far, and I know it’s an idea that maybe didn’t have much merit to begin with. I can happily abandon those ideas, knowing that I at least gave it a shot.

NaNoWriMo: A Personal History

I was looking over my novels on the NaNo site for the past six years. Here’s what I found:

2011: I had a book tentatively titled “Guardian.” This ended up being the second draft of the book that became Lost Girl and was published first on my blog and then as a book in 2013.

2012: I worked on Broken, which was a first draft to the follow-up for Guardian. This title stayed the same, and Broken, book two in my Hidden series, was also published in late 2013.

2013: I worked on a project called “Last Chance.” This project went nowhere, and rightfully so. It was my first attempt at a contemporary romance, and it was terrible. But I learned a few things, such as what definitely does NOT work for me in writing contemporaries!

2014: My project that year was just called “Copper Falls 1.” It eventually became Shadow Witch Rising, which is the first book in my Copper Falls paranormal romance series.

2015: The “Untitled YA” I started last year went nowhere. My heart wasn’t in it, no matter how much I wanted to write something my daughters could read.

And this year, I’m working on the first book in my Paradise Bay contemporary romance series. I’ve been playing with the idea for this series for a while, writing notes, writing bits of dialogue and character bios and all of the other fun stuff I do to prepare for a series, and so far, I’m off to a decent start.

But here’s a dirty little secret. Well, not so secret if you look closely at my NaNoWriMo profile page. I have never won NaNoWriMo.

Never.

Even though my writing pace is usually somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000 words per month, I’ve never managed to complete 50K of my assigned NaNo project. Part of this is my own work process: I’m almost always working on a  couple of scheduled books, things that I know I want to release soon. And before I was actually publishing, for those first three years or so of participating in NaNoWriMo, I was working as a web content writer, editor, proofreader, and garden writer. So I just didn’t get it done. And I get that, really, that’s the whole point of participating in NaNo: starting something, and finishing at least a loose, rough draft of it.

But one thing I’ve learned in the last few years is that the best thing we can do as writers is find our own way of doing things and then honor that. Don’t compare  your way to mine or anyone else’s.. just do what feels right. For me, these past few years of NaNo have been periods of stealing time for side projects, for playing, for making myself stretch beyond my schedule and grow as a writer. I’ve tried genres I don’t ordinarily write in. I’ve made myself work that extra time in.

No time spent writing could ever be considered wasted. You’re always learning something, either about writing or about yourself. At best, you’re doing both.

So as we begin NaNoWriMo, I encourage you to be unapologetically yourself. To write the things that make your heart beat a little faster. To work within even a rigid framework like NaNoWriMo, and make it your own. This is a time to have a deep and obsessive love affair with your story. I do my best writing when it feels like I’m almost having too much fun, like this can’t possibly be work that people will someday, maybe pay me to read.

So that’s my NaNoWriMo story, and it will continue this year. If you’re participating and want to be writing buddies, you can find me here, and I will cheer you on.

And if Paradise Bay ever becomes something I release into the wild, you’ll be the first to know.

(I’m also participating in NaBloPoMo this month, which is National Blog Posting Month. My goal is to post something here every day. I find that writing begets writing, that the more I make myself write, and the more varied the writing is, the more fun I have. So if there’s something you’ve always wondered about in regard to my writing or my books, this is a good time to ask — I’m still looking for post topics for this month. Feel free to leave a comment below!)