Release day traditions (and gratitude!)

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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

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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

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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.

Cover Reveal & Release Date: A New Day, StrikeForce #1!

I waited for two years to write this book. The idea came to me when I was in the midst of writing HIDDEN. And then I started Copper Falls. And then Hidden: Soulhunter. And I promised myself that once I got through the writing of the second Copper Falls book, I’d finally sit down and write this fun little series.

As I mentioned over the weekend, the path to this book wasn’t nearly as simple as I thought it would be. I lamented on Facebook that I had to scrap the first draft. And, silently (and maybe cursing more than a little) I scrapped most of the second draft, too.

Three rewrites. That’s what it took to get to this point, and I am SO HAPPY that I didn’t just try to trick myself into thinking that the first version was okay. Because, guys… I love this book. I wrote this purely for myself, and I’m happy. Luckily, I’ve learned over the last couple of years that when I love something, chances are good that at least a few of you will love it, too, because you get me. 🙂

How about a synopsis first?

Superheroes exist. Driven, honest, courageous…  true heroes. They live among us, and all over the world, they save lives. Their stories are told in hushed tones to rapt audiences, over and over again, myths of epic proportions.

This is not that kind of story.

* * *

Jolene Faraday is the girl next door, the sweet woman who’ll help you unload your groceries, lend you twenty bucks when you get into a bind. She’s the girl who takes care of her mother, pays her way through college, and even escorts her elderly friends to church.

She’s also the Detroit area’s most infamous burglar, robbing the rich in the wealthy suburbs, getting around their security as if it barely exists, making a mockery of the law enforcement agents who are determined to bring her down.

Life is just one long con game, and she’s the best there is at what she does.

And one day, it happens. 

Across the globe, a new wave of ordinary people find themselves with super powers. Some hide, afraid of what they’ve become. Some become heroes; others, villains.

Jolene just becomes a better crook.

And suddenly, it’s not just police officers after her. She’s officially under the jurisdiction of StrikeForce, Detroit’s supernatural law enforcement force, an agency shrouded in mystery. As she and her new partner become more audacious, she finds herself on StirkeForce’s most wanted list.

My husband, as always, was my cover designer on this one, and I am so absolutely in love with this cover. It’s so Jolene. Take a look!

ANewDay_CoverFinal_HalfSize

 

So, when can you read it? A New Day will be out on Tuesday, November 17th. I will be doing a pre-order, and I should have links available for you later this week. In the meantime, if you’re on GoodReads, please add it to your TBR over there. I am so excited about this series, guys! I’ll have more for you in the coming days, including a peek at chapter one, playlists, and that preorder link. Sharing on Twitter and Facebook to help spread the word is also always very much appreciated!

Thank you! You guys make it so I can write the kind of stories I love, and there are no words for how much I adore you.

 

Finding Jolene Faraday (A Strike Force Update)

In a word: it’s done. A New Day, which is the first book in my Strike Force superhero romance/urban fantasy series, is finished, all but a few loose ends and a bit of polishing.

It was a crazy process, just getting to this point.

It all started so simply. I love superheroes. I love comic books. I love romance.

I write stuff. 

I wanted to write a series that had the same feeling I get from my favorite comics, that over-the-top, exciting, fun experience that you get when reading a really great comic book. Plenty of outrageous badassery mixed in with a really strong romance plot, because everything is better with romance.

I had just the chracter for it, too. Somewhere around the writing of HOME, a character popped into my mind. I wrote a whole backstory for her, what she did, who she loved, how she became who she’d become. She was my Captain America. My Superman, my Captain Marvel.

And after I finished Shadow Sworn, I finally had the time to sit down and write her story. And I did. I got through a complete (though thin) draft of the first Strike Force book, and started rough work on the second… and I hated it. It was missing something. I didn’t care what happened to my main character, Jolene, and that is the death knell of any story. I mean, seriously. I wrote five books about Molly Brooks and I still want to write her so badly I can practically taste it. One book of my original version of Jolene Faraday, and I was ready to bury her for good. Ugh.

So I took a few days off. I did a lot of staring at the ceiling, lots of stressing out over that panic I think every author gets when we’re sure we have no idea what we’re doing anymore.

I spent a lot of time in my office, reading the draft and wondering where it went wrong. Why I didn’t care about a character who was, really, everything I’d said I wanted her to be.

And I realized, during one of those writing/not writing sessions, that although I love Captain America, and I think Superman is great… I can’t really identify with either of them. Even Captain Marvel, if we want to put a female face to it: I love her, but I can’t relate.

Once I knew that, it was like a floodgate opened. I had the name. I knew this character was a Jolene, but she, who she really was, was buried under all this bullshit of what I thought I wanted her to be.

That sounds really flaky, but it’s my truth. Just as we come up with all of these “I should be this thing/this way/better/etc.” often impossible ideals for ourselves, (and so often those ideals are damaging us much more than improving us) the same can be true for the chracters we write. Jolene is Jolene. I was trying to make her something else.

The Jolene that eventually emerged, once I stopped being stupid, is the Jolene she always should have been. I don’t write perfect characters. I don’t write characters who know what they’re doing. I’m starting to realize that, as a writer, I have certain themes that I gravitate toward, and Jolene in her original, forced, incarnation was just wrong for me.

This book is nothing like I imagined it would be. But it is everyting it should be, and I’m so happy with the way it came together.

Maybe this is a good sign. I’ve written before about the process I took to finally getting to the book that ended up being Lost Girl, and the winding path that led me to Molly Brooks. Eunomia was easier, only because once she appeared on the page, I felt like I knew her. Sophie was a lot like E in this way. Jolene, though… I had to work to find her, just as I had to work to find Molly, and since the moment I figured her out, writing has been a blast. And I have a story here that I can’t stop thinking about, rather than running from it the second I shut down Scrivener, relieved to not have to think about it until my next writing session. That’s a sucky way for a writer to feel, and that’s been most of my writing time since I finished Shadow Sworn back in July.

You guys will meet Jolene next month, when the first Strike Force novel, A New Day, comes out. In between now and then, there will be snippets, blog posts, play lists, and other fun stuff to introduce you to the world of Strike Force. I can’t wait to introduce you to Jolene, in all her messed up, imperfect, confused, contrary badassery. I love her dearly, and I hope you’ll love her, too.

Thanks for reading! Have a great weekend.

Shadow Sworn is Available Now!

ShadowSwornCoverHalfSizeThis book, guys.

This book had me tied up in knots. It had me riding a rollercoaster of emotions. At moments, this book made me so happy I swore I never wanted to leave the Copper Falls world, because writing there was an absolute joy. And other moments…

Well. It’s probably best not to talk about those other moments. 😉

What it all comes down to is this: the second Copper Falls book is available now, and I cannot wait to share this next part of Sophie’s story with you. I hope you love it. And I hope you’ll let me know what you think! Thanks, as always, for your amazing support and encouragement. You guys are seriously the best.

XO,

Colleen

Yarn Along: Double Crochet!

Double crochet doesn’t seem all that complicated, but for one reason or another, the last time I tried learning to crochet, I just couldn’t quite get the hang of it. Of course, a large part of the problem was that I (a lefty) was trying to follow instructions for righties.

I know. Duh.

Anyway, my whole goal with this crochet thing is to eventually make a granny square afghan. And to do granny squares you have to do lots and lots of… you guessed it! Double crochet.

yarnalong2

Thankfully, my husband found a great video on double crochet for lefties on crochet.org, and then I found another one Youtube from Crochet Guru. Between the two of them, I’m finally getting it! So the past few crochet sessions have been spent practicing my double crochet. Next week’s goal is to make my first granny square. Wish me luck!

So that’s this week’s yarn. This week’s read is Karen Abbott’s Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, which is a really good read despite the fact that I read the first half a few months ago and then it got lost on my towering TBR pile until now. If you like history, women’s history, Civil War history… this is for you. I swear I’ve gotten a good couple dozen story ideas just in the time I’ve been reading it! 🙂

Check out more yarn alongs over at Small Things.