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.)

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 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!)

Exile is Available Now!

Cover_Exile_6_9_16Today’s the day! The first book in my new Exile series is now available on Amazon!

I’m calling it fantasy romance with a little bit of a science fiction twist. I loved writing this, and I am so grateful to those of you who read the early installments on my blog and assured me that you wanted more of the story. This one’s for you!

You can grab it on Amazon now! I can’t wait to hear what you think.

 

Cover Reveal: Exile, Book One

The first Exile book will be out later this month, and we now have a cover for it! I absolutely love it. The book will be an edited, expanded version of what has appeared in the web serial so far, coming in at around 60,000 words. How long will the series last? Basically, as long as I feel like writing about Daarik and Shannen and the Maarlai and their human adversaries. There will definitely be at least three books, but I can see it going longer if I’m still having fun with it.

All right. With no further ado, here is that cover:

Cover_Exile_6_9_16

As soon as I have a release date for you, I’ll let you know. Thanks so much to everyone who has supported this story so far! <3

Silent Witness: An Exile Prequel Story

Aria stalked through the crowded corridors, forcing herself to be placid and polite to the many people who called greetings and inquired after her health. Her two bodyguards floated steadily behind, their stealth and the uniforms they wore providing them an easy passage through the crowd.
Determined to keep her cool, she recited the phrase she’d had ingrained in her since birth. “Temper has no place in a civilized society. Calm and intelligent reasoning are virtues we must cultivate.”
It was a virtue that hadn’t quite stuck with Aria, well into adulthood, she still fought against the strong feelings that arose in her, it seemed, on an almost daily basis.
And she only felt more angry, more tense, the nearer she got to her father’s chambers. When she reached the doors, her two guards stepped forward and each pulled a door open. She gave them a nod and walked through as they held the doors open.
Her father, as always was at his desk. The room was exactly what you’d expect from one of their people: filled with books and other information media, artwork, a few experiments set up on different tables throughout. A bird, one of theirs that had been bred with those from another place, sat in a gilt cage near her father’s large stone desk.
Upon seeing her, her father rose and immediately held his hands up in a placating manner. “Aria,” he began.
“Muldoon? You’re sending Muldoon to Earth, of all people?” she asked, trying, and failing, to keep her voice steady and calm.
“Aria, he is—“
“And if you say he’s perfectly suited to replace Dyson there, I will scream.”
“You’ll do no such thing,” he said, raising an eyebrow. “I suggest you remember yourself.”
Aria took a breath. “I apologize, father. You know I have spent my entire life in the study of Earth. Of all of the Witnesses, I’m the most suited to take up the mantle on Earth. Dyson’s knowledge of the customs and psychology of the Earthers is laughable.”
“He is a competent enough Witness,” her father said, waving her concerns away. “And you have other matters to attend to.”
Aria closed her eyes, forced her temper down. She would not win this battle if she let her passion loose. That was a sign of weakness that would not be tolerated. “And that is?”
Her father walked around the desk, took her hands in his. “You are the next queen of the people of this realm. Your concerns lie here, not in some backwater planet full of barbarians.”
She started to speak, and a short shake of her father’s head had her biting her words back.
“The Earthers are of no concern to us.”
“Yet you send your most trusted advisor there, when we both know you have use of him here.” Aria looked up at her father. Like most of their people he aged very slowly. In his ninetieth decade, he looked not much older than Aria herself. She had inherited his dark brown hair, even as she had her mother’s indigo eyes.
“I sent my most trusted advisor because he needs some time away to recollect himself. I can manage well without Muldoon. That is the end of it,” he said. He sat back down, and motioned for Aria to take a seat on the other side of the large desk, which she did, arranging the soft, flowing robes she wore around herself. “You are of age to take your place as queen, and, truth be told, I am more than ready for you to do so. I long to return to my studies, and there is little time for that now.”
“I would rather study as well,” she said.
“As has been the case since the day you first opened your eyes,” her father said. “You have ever been like myself in that way, despite your odd choice of subject matter.”
“I am not ready to rule. We both know this. My temper—“
“Is something you should be long past being able to control. And you can, when the mood strikes you. You are also stubborn, which is another trait your mother and I were never able to eradicate in you,” he said, shaking his head.
“Earth—“
“Is in its final days, Aria,” her father said, and Aria stared at him in surprise. He nodded. “that is why Muldoon goes. He is ready to bid life good bye, and will Witness the last days of Earth as his final service to our people.”
“How?”
“The Sarlene have finally figured out how to launch enough of an attack to eradicate them.”
Aria tried to focus on her breath. The Sarlene were a race who considered those on Earth an abomination, not because they were so different, but rather because they were too similar in appearance and biology to the Sarlene themselves. The Sarlene empire, deeply religious as it was, believed that Earth, with its people who were “inferior copies” of the Sarlene, was an evil sent specifically to test their faith. They had decided upon first contact that the only remedy for it was to destroy the planet and its inhabitants entirely. Distance and inferior technology on the part of the Sarlene had been the only thing keeping Earth safe.
The people of Earth, of course, had no idea that they’d been in the crosshairs the entire time. Each second since the moment the Sarlene had discovered them had been one second closer to Earth’s demise. Two hundred years, nine months, one week, three days, nineteen hours, fifty three minutes and twelve seconds, to be exact.
Aria watched her father. “The Earthers have done nothing to deserve this,” she said. “They exist. Just as any of us do.”
“And as a trained Witness and scholar, you well know that that is very often the case,” her father said. “Muldoon will Witness its final days. And your studies should turn to more important matters. Such as leadership and diplomacy.”
Aria kept her face expressionless, despite the urge to bare her teeth.
“Very well, father,” Aria said. “If I may return to my studies?”
Her father nodded, and Aria gave a low bow and made her way out of his study.
Aria stalked through the crowded corridors, the stark white walls and gleaming white floors almost blinding after the dark severity of her father’s study.
Earth.
Her stomach twisted. A planet most of the galaxy considered to be nothing more than a rock full of backward beings. A planet none of them would miss, but one that, for whatever reason, she’d been fascinated with from the first time her tutors had mentioned it during her studies. It had consumed every second of her research from the moment she’d been allowed to choose her own course of study, much to the chagrin of both her father and her tutor, Narin.
And it was facing its last days. And she was expected to sit here and study diplomacy theory and protocols.
Aria glanced back. Her two guards shadowed her as always, faces impassive, eyes studying the crowd as always, ready for a threat that never came. Their people never sunk so low as to use violence. Raising a voice was a sign of weakness. Showing emotion, frowned upon as uncultured and undisciplined.
Aria bit her lip. The first thing she would have to do is lose her guards. Harmeen and Jarle were dedicated. Not to her, of course, but to her father.
She walked, and a plan formed. She was a Witness. She was not supposed to have plans. She was forbidden by everything she was to act in any way. Witnesses were above such trivialities as action.
There was something wrong with her. Something faulty in her mind, in her heart. But the idea of standing by and letting a planet full of innocents disappear over an insane slight they hadn’t even known about was repellant to her.
She glanced ahead, then turned to her guards. “I need a moment. I will be right back.”
They nodded, and she walked casually into one of the rest rooms. She went into one of the small privacy rooms and locked the door behind her. She stood, and closed her eyes, and pictured one of the Common who often cleaned this part of the facility. She concentrated, forcing herself to remember every detail, from the exact shade of the female’s hair to the small pale scar on her pale greenish-gray chin. She was of average height, built in a stocky fashion similar to many of those of the lower castes. She pictured the female’s uniform, white. Short sleeves, a long skirt with deep pockets. As she thought, she could feel her body changing. Bones shifted and popped. Hair grew. The female’s hair was much longer than her own. Her hands roughened, and her skin went from its usual luminous blue to the color of the rocks outside, lining the cliffs. She stood for another moment, aware that she had to move, quickly.
The danger of living among Witnesses is that someone would show up to Witness this moment, this unthinkable moment in which she was making the choice not only to disobey her father and king, but everything she was supposed to stand for.
Time to go.
She left the privacy room, glancing at herself in the large reflecting screen. She tried to replicated the shuffling walk the Common female had, and she made her way out of the rest room. She walked past her guards without a glance, keeping to her shuffling gait until she was well past them, then around the corner. Once she was out of sight, she started walking faster. Her circulation system went icy, a common response to stress. She had to force herself not to look back to see if she was being followed.
The next step would be sneaking away on one of the transports. her world was, in addition to being the home of the Witnesses, a main hub of trade and shipping in their quadrant of the galaxy. There were always ships stopping to drop off, pick up, or refuel. No one ever stayed very long. She’d heard too often, from visitors from any number of different societies, that there were barren deserts more entertaining than her planet.
They were not wrong.
She reached the nearest docking bay and tried to look uninterested as she glanced around. She ran through her options in her mind. Who could she go to? Who would actually act on behalf of Earth? It wasn’t as if she could go to someone and count on the bonds of friendship with her people to sway them. She well knew that her people were held at arm’s length. There were superstitions about the Witnesses, that to see one was a sign of impending doom, because they were required to witness it. It wasn’t incorrect, of course, but no one ever made mention of the fact that Witnesses also were called to view and record the triumphs as well. So they had no friends. They likely would have been wiped out by zealots like the Sarlene long ago except for the fact that while her people never attacked or waged war, their planet had the best defense systems and technology just about anywhere.
She had to get away first. And then she could go from there. Aria glanced around and quickly made her way onto a nearby vessel that was running through its final checks before disembarking. It was an older model ship, probably used by private contractors hired to haul merchandise for trade. When she made her way toward the cargo hold, she nodded. It was empty, and the ship was humming. They were nearly ready to leave, and she would go with them. She noted a small cabinet and opened the door. It would have been too small for her in her natural form, but as she was now, it would work fine. Aria folded her body into the cabinet and pulled the door closed behind her. Now she jut had to wait and hope that no one had alerted her father to her actions. She’d seen the tell-tale golden light that most beings noticed when a Witness was nearby in their official capacity. Her only hope against being stopped by her father’s guards were that relaying that information specifically to her father was a form of action, and that went against what a Witness is sworn to do. It would be recorded and reported eventually, but by that time she would be long gone.
She sat in the cabinet and listened to the activity around her. She heard the crew boarding, their voices as they made their final preparations. After a few moments, she was able to pinpoint the language. This crew was from Alanor, which was a cluster of small planets known for growing vegetables and fruit. Fertile soil, plenty of sunlight. Very much unlike her own planet, where even those who lived there were poorly adapted for the native environment, hence the series of underground caverns that they inhabited. Not exactly a place where she could beg for aid for Earth, but she could likely find transport to another planet fairly quickly from there. It was better than sitting here, waiting for Earth to die.
After a short time, the ship began moving, and Aria felt nearly giddy with excitement. She was going somewhere. Actually leaving her home planet and seeing one of the many places she’d learned about. Taking action.
A stab of guilt made the smile fall from her face as she sat in the dark. Action. One more reminder that despite how good she was at learning about different cultures and memorizing their traditions and protocols, she was a failure when it came to representing those things that her own people held most dear. Her father would never forgive her.
She rolled her eyes. He would not, of course, go so far as to show anger. But there would be that constant sense of disappointment when he looked at her. Even more so than there  already was. She shook her head. It was of no use worrying about it now. She would not change the fact that she was called to act this time. It was wrong, to let millions of innocents die for merely existing.
She sat and listened to the engines hum, and felt her eyelids beginning to grow heavy. She knew she was due for a rest period, but falling into one here would be foolish. She needed to be alert, to hear when they were about to dock, or, worse, to know if they’d discovered that they were not alone on their ship.
She blinked, then forced her eyes open wide. The lingering giddiness over travel fought it out with the sleepiness brought on by her natural rhythms and the quiet hum of the ship’s motors, a sound she would have never guessed could be as soothing as it was. In the end, sleep won out.
She was jerked awake what felt like moments later by panicked tones and the sensation of the ship lurching beneath her. It seemed to bank hard to the left, and Aria braced herself in the cabinet to keep from falling out. The crew shouted, and she could hear hurried footsteps.
They were going down. The pilot had hit some debris and it had damaged their main motor. She could hear it now. The previously comforting hum of the motors was now a strangled, wheezing, sputtering that made the whole ship tremble. They turned, twisted, and Aria had to hold on tighter in her stowaway spot. The ship lurched and careened wildly, and someone screamed.
There was an instant of jarring pain, and then the whole world went black.
When Aria woke, it was with a confused fuzziness in her mind. As for her body, she felt nothing at all. it all came back to her. The screams, the crash, the sounds of metal crunching on impact.
She forced her eyes open, and it took her a moment to get her bearings. She was in a small room, on a cot. She was hooked up to what looked like some manner of monitors. She was able to turn her head, which she was taking as a good sign. When she looked to her right, she was started to see a large figure sitting there. His eyes were closed, his head tipped back against the wall behind him. Aria knew what he was. Maarlai. The muscular body, ferocious-looking face, and the intricate braiding of his long beard all marked him as such. Had the transport crash-landed in the Maarlai home world? She tried to think. It was in the wrong direction. They’d been traveling toward Alanor, she’d been sure of it.
Aria watched the Maarlai. Even in sleep, he seemed ready to do battle. The Maarlai had a long and prosperous history. They valued knowledge almost as much as her own people, but, unlike the society of Witnesses, the Maarlai had no qualms against action. Battle was part of their very nature. Strength. They formed strong bonds of family and friendship, and lived in small, close-knit communities. They made art so stunning it almost hurt to look at it. They protected their loved ones against any and all dangers. Aria had a feeling that convincing them to act against the Sarlene to protect Earth would be a long shot—
Earth! How long had she been unconscious? Was it too late?
She cleared her throat and tried to make her voice work. Her mouth was very dry and it took a while. She managed an annoyingly feeble “excuse me” in the guttural tongue of the Maarlai. The male sitting at her bedside came awake immediately and jumped to his feet.
“So you’re awake,” he said, and she nodded.
“Thank you for helping me,” she said in his own tongue.
“You are welcome. I must admit that it was a surprise to find a Witness among the wreckage of an Alanorian ship.” He studied her closely. “The cabinet you were hiding in was likely what saved your life.”
“The rest of the crew?” she asked, and he shook his head. She closed her eyes for a brief moment. “We are not on your home planet?” she asked.
“No. Your ship crashed into some debris and ended up crashing on a nearby asteroid. One we happened to be docking on at the time.”
“One of the inhabited asteroids, then?” she asked, and he shook his head again.
“No. We chose this one specifically because it was not inhabited. The last thing we expected was a rescue effort,” he said with a lopsided smile. She could see the glint of white fangs behind his lips. This one was a dark gray, but she knew that Maarlai ran the spectrum from pale yellow to nearly black. “Are you going to tell me how a Witness ends up as a stowaway on a vegetable transport ship?”
“Are you diplomats?” she asked. The Maarlai were not known for traveling much, tied as they were to their homes and families. They undertook occasional diplomacy missions, but even those were as limited as possible.
The Maarlai laughed. “That, we are not, Princess.”
Aria gave a start. “How did you know?”
“Your king put out a bulletin to all sectors a day ago. At first, you looked different,” he said, studying her, and she remembered taking the form of the Common to aid her escape. “And then you began changing.”
She nodded. “It is something my kind can do. It lasts for a certain length of time and then fades. How long ago did I change?”
“It has been  fourteen hours in regular time.”
She sighed in relief. Less than a full day, then. Earth likely still lived, unless the Sarlene were quicker than she gave them credit for.
“I was on a mission,” she said. She tried to sit up and winced in pain. The Maarlai gently pushed her back onto her cot, large, firm hands on her slim shoulders.
“Do not move,” he said. “My medic diagnosed some internal injury, though he’s not familiar enough with your anatomy to do much.”
She settled back, irritated that she would have to deal with yet another delay. “It will heal soon enough.” She would have to meditate, and pinpoint where the injury was. Her body would do the rest.
“So what was your mission? Your kind aren’t exactly known for stowing away in transport ships,” he said with a small grin.
“I am a disappointment,” I said, and his eyes met hers for a brief moment, and he nodded. “We learned that the Sarlene have finally developed the technology to fulfill their mission against Earth.”
He watched her closely. “So you were going to witness Earth’s last days?”
She shook her head. “I left to seek out someone who would help defend Earth. How can we stand by and let millions of beings die over one crazy planet’s inferiority complex?”
His face was expressionless and he didn’t respond.
“Would the Maarlai help, do you think?” she asked after a moment. “I know your people have the ability to travel quickly and easily. And you are warriors, perhaps more so than any other beings known to us.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere, Princess,” he said with that lopsided smile.
“My name is Aria,” she said. “And it is not flattery, but truth. I have spent my whole life learning everything I can about other cultures, preparing to one day Witness their existence.”
“We fight to protect that which we value. Earth is of little consequence to the Maarlai.”
She felt her frustration finally boil over. “Is that how it is, then? Everyone just looks after their own interests and to hell with anyone who doesn’t fit into that?”
He studied her. “‘Hell’ is a very Earth concept, Aria,” he said after a moment.
She frowned. “I know. Earth was my main topic of study and research. It is an odd concept, but colorful nonetheless. Like Earth itself,” she added. He did not answer, and after a moment she continued. “Will they not help, then?”
He shook his head. “I am not here on official business, and I can hardly speak for any of our leaders.”
“What are you doing so far from home, then?” she asked, her curiosity piqued.
“Selling stolen goods. And maybe collecting a bounty on a missing princess.”
Her heart sank. “So you’re… what? Pirates?”
He grinned. “That.”
“You can’t turn me over to my father,” she said, forcing herself to sit up despite the stabbing pain in her midsection. He moved as if to stop her, and she waved him off. “He will let Earth die. I am a failure as a daughter, as a future leader of my people. But I am not going to sit by and merely Witness while people die.”
“It’s what your kind do,” the Maarlai said. “It’s kind of disgusting, really.”
She glared at him. “Thank you for that.”
“You were already thinking it or you wouldn’t be out here,” he said.
“All right. Then you understand how wrong it is to just let the Sarlene have their way. If you turn me over to my father, Earth dies, and all everyone does is stand by and watch it happen. I need to get to someone who will help me. Can you get me to a port or outpost or something?”
“Sure. For a fee.”
She wanted to slap him. Shake him. Curse him.
“You greedy, duplicitous, superior bastard,” she said, getting to her feet.
“What do you expect? You’re telling me not to collect a bounty on you and to transport your Ladyship somewhere for free? I’m a businessman, Princess.”
“You’re a crook.” She closed her eyes and focused inward for a moment. Her internal organs were bruised, but nothing was punctured. After a few moments, she had them repaired enough to be able to move freely. Aria opened her eyes to see him watching her.
“This actually matters to you,” the Maarlai said.
“No, I betray my people, stowaway on strange ships, and end up almost dead because I find it fun,” she said dryly.
He watched her for a few moments. “My name’s Rikar,” he said.
“Well met,” she answered, still irritated with the greedy ass.
“Come on. You need to eat, and you can meet the rest of the crew.”
“Why? So you can start figuring out when to turn me over?” she asked. She followed him out of the small room nonetheless. She was starving, and the promise of food was just too enticing to ignore. Of course, the Maarlai palate tended toward things like pickled shellfish and barely cooked meats, but she felt as if she could eat just about anything.
Rikar didn’t bother answering, and she followed his hulking form toward a large ship that, she guessed, also served as their primary shelter and base of operations. It was an older model Maarlai vessel. She wondered if he’d stolen it.
Aria didn’t know what she’d expected when she walked onto the Maarlai vessel, but the clean, organized space she was surrounded by definitely was not it. It just didn’t seem to say “pirate” to her. It felt almost military. Charts and  photographs were pulled on on large monitors and holo displays on one wall, and a narrow table sat in the middle of the room. Five beings sat at the table, heads bowed over what looked like a map. Aria took a moment to study them. Five beings, of varied alien societies. She’d expected the rest of Rikar’s crew to be Maarlai, for some reason.
The nearly transparent Padria was not much more than a wavery shape hunched over the map. The thin, pale Escolian reminded Aria of the Earth reptiles she’d learned about. Snakes. Two tiny beings she recognized as Janu sat perched on the edge of the table. And… Aria’s eyes widened. A Zorlian. Better known as a Shieldmaker, the Zorlian people had the ability to create force fields. Even her people didn’t understand the mechanics behind how they did it. Though, she had to admit, they still didn’t completely understand how some of the Maarlai were able to transport from galaxy to galaxy in a matter of seconds without the use of a ship. On Earth, they would have called it magic. She had no better explanation.
Aria nearly jumped in excitement. This was the solution. It could work. All she had to do was convince them not only to not turn her over to collect the bounty, but to actually help her. They could do it.
“This is Aria, Princess of the beings of the planet of Kinar-5. Also a Witness, obviously,” Rikar added. He met her eyes. “I am responsible for my crew. You will refer to them as one, two, three, four, and five,” he said, pointing to each of his crew members in turn, “until such time as I think you can be trusted to know their names.”
Aria nodded. She really didn’t care. He gestured for her to sit, and one of the Janu, the one he’d indicated as “three,” brought her a large bowl of what looked like a kind of stew. It was the best-smelling thing she’d ever experienced. She picked up the long sticks the Maarlai used as eating utensils and began eating, almost in a frenzy, forgetting, for a moment, that she had an audience.
“The Princess is quite hungry,” Rikar said, and she could hear the humor in his voice.
“Starving. Thank you,” she added before taking another bite.
There was silence for a moment. She knew they were all watching her, but she didn’t care. She could feel herself getting stronger with each bite. After a while, Rikar spoke.
“She wants us to save Earth,” he said.
“What’s going on with Earth?” the Padria asked in its lilting tongue.
“The Sarlene have succeeded in developing the technology to wipe it out,” Aria answered. “It has been Witnessed. My king was preparing to send one of his oldest Witnesses there to record its last moments.”
She took a final bite, and then set her utensils down. “I don’t think we should just sit by and let it happen. It’s wrong. So I ran away to try to find someone to help. My plans definitely did not include being stranded on an asteroid with space pirates.”
Aria watched as the group seemed to exchange looks.
“We knew this day would come,” the Padria said.
“Look, if you won’t help me, and I know you won’t, can you please at least get me somewhere where I can ask for help? I will try to find some way to make the bounty up to you. It will take time, but I’ll figure it out. This is more important than personal riches.”
The Zorlian, who she was supposed to refer to as “five,” studied her closely. “Is anything really more important than that? Or more important than fulfilling one’s duties to her own people?” she asked. The Zorlian language was not all that different from her own, the result of long years of contact between their two planets, Aria guessed.
“Of course,” Aria answered. “I am a disappointment to my people. I have failed as a Witness. But I refuse to just let this go.”
“Why?” the Zorlian asked.
Aria stared at her, dumbfounded and more than a little irritated. “Because those beings matter. They’re beautiful and imperfect and passionate and… the things they’ve created in their short time in existence! They’re phenomenal. Brilliant. They’re so individual, so independent and yet as a whole, they’re so beautiful I can barely stand it. I’ve studied them since I learned to read. Maybe even before that. I love them in a way I can’t begin to explain.”
Rikar and the Zorlian exchanged a long look, and the Zorlian shrugged. “It would not be overly difficult,” she said.
“Everything has a price,” Rikar said to Aria.
“Of course. And I already told you I’d find a way to pay you the money you would have made form the bounty—“
“Not money. Not this time,” Rikar answered.
“What, then?”
“Join us.”
Aria rolled her eyes. “What? Become a pirate?”
“I think you’re beginning to realize that we’re much more than that. Piracy funds us, but it isn’t the ultimate goal. We offer services no one else does,” Rikar said.
“Such as?”
Rikar grinned. “Such as saving planets from annihilation. Thwarting attacks. Providing shelter. That kind of thing.”
“If that is the case, then you would have helped Earth anyway,” Aria pointed out.
He shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. We would not have known about the threat in enough time to do anything, unless we’d made contact with a Witness, who knows everything about everything. Would we?”
Aria studied him. Very few understood how the Witnesses worked. Their knowledge was a shared thing. Once something was Witnessed and recorded by one, it was transferred to the knowledge of the others. It happened automatically.
“Is this really what you do? Or are you playing an angle?” she asked Rikar quietly.
“This is what we do. What was the last planet doomed to destruction?” he asked Aria.
“Vashir,” she said automatically. It had been on the brink of annihilation due to its never-ending war against its neighbors, the Urah.
“And what happened?” Rikar pressed.
“The Urah leader disappeared— wait. That was you?”
Rikar nodded. Then he tilted his head toward the two Janu. “They are brilliant at what they do.”
“He’ll never be found,” one of the Janu, the one she was supposed to call “two,” said in a dreamy, airy tone.
“It disrupted things enough to buy Vashir time. And then the next leader of the Urah was convinced, somehow, to make peace with their neighbors,” Rikar said.
“So you’ll help,” Aria asked Rikar.
“There’s a price.”
“What is it?”
“A Witness on our crew. It would make our jobs easier. And it would protect you from any trying to collect your bounty.”
She didn’t know if he realized how little of a price it actually was. Freedom, the ability to travel the galaxies, to see those she studied in real life and to, crazy though it seemed, act to protect them? It was no price at all.
She nodded. “I accept.” As she said the words, she noticed the golden, pulsing glow that signified that a Witness was present. This moment had been deemed important enough for one of her kind to bear Witness to. It was unsettling and more than a little terrifying. But there had been no other choice at all.
The next day, Aria stood aboard Rikar’s ship, dressed in the same dark green clothing the rest of his crew wore. Rikar stood beside her, and they watched the Sarlene attack vessels crash and explode as they hit the invisible force field their Zorlian crew mate had formed around Earth.
“You saved them,” Rikar said. She met his gaze for a moment, then turned back to watch the last moments of the failed Sarlene attack.
“Are you at peace with your choice?” Rikar asked her. Aria smiled as she watched the final Sarlene ship crash and burn.
“How could I not be? Action is beauty,” Aria answered. The final bit of debris bounced off of the Zorlian’s shield, and then it was as if nothing had happened at all. The millions of people below, on the surface, lived and died, loved and created, oblivious to those who watched from beyond.
Aria hoped with all her heart that it would stay that way.
The End

One More Day is Available Now!

OneMoreDay_BW_CoverFinalToday’s the day! My second StrikeForce book, One More Day, is now available over on Amazon, and also through Kindle Unlimited.

I loved writing this book. I loved figuring out what life would like like for Jolene in the post-Alpha era of StrikeForce. What kind of a role would she take on the team? Who would her closest friends be, and what would happen next between her and the mysterious Killjoy? Would she grow into her hero role, or continue to define it in her own way?

I hope you’ll grab a copy, and please tell me what you thought of it! I always love hearing from you.

Looking Back at 2015

Oh, 2015. You were a crazy year. A year of amazing beauty, breathtaking wonder, and depressing, heart-wrenching, rage-inducing events. I guess, in that way, 2015 was like any other year, a chaotic slurry of beauty and terror, good and bad.

But in my little corner of the universe, life was pretty good in 2015. My husband, children, and I stayed healthy, and we made progress toward some significant and exciting life changes for next year. We laughed a lot and spent our days surrounded by books, gardens, good food, craft supplies, cats, and one extremely goofy basset hound. It’s a good life, and that’s the most important thing.

2015books

I had three goals for 2015:

  1. Write a lot. (I published five novels in 2015, started an insane THREE new series, a serial for my newsletter, and a web serial here on the blog. I also had a HIDDEN prequel short story published in the Nightshade anthology with a bunch of my author pals. Check!)
  2. Read a lot. (As I wrote over on Geekerella, I read 103 books in 2015, surpassing my goal of 100 books read. I also shared my favorite reads of 2015 here. Check!)
  3. Lose weight. (Nope. I am roughly the same weight as I was at this time last year. I’ve had brief periods of really trying with this one, but I have this habit of letting other things  — namely writing, reading, and World of Warcraft — get in the way. So, no check here. *cue sad trombone*)

I have a word for every year, a little mantra to repeat to myself when I need a reminder. 2015’s word was “FORWARD.” I made major progress toward my writing goals in 2014, and 2015 was about keeping that momentum, of not allowing myself to let fear or stress get in the way of building the career and life I want. There were touch and go periods, for sure, weeks in which I swore I’d never be able to write another word, but I fought through eventually and, most importantly, proved to myself that I am fully capable of doing this for a very long time. Love of writing was never a question; I’ve been in love with creating stories since I learned to read. The question was in my own ability to keep moving, even when it got hard. And this year proved that I can.

Even if it is kind of messy and whiny and there is too much chocolate involved.

Looking Ahead to 2016

You can download a copy of this amazing printable over at Dwell Beautiful! (Click the image to visit!)

You can download a copy of this amazing printable over at Dwell Beautiful! (Click the image to visit!)

My word for 2016 is “unstoppable.” And this one applies, not just to writing, but to my other health and life goals as well. Maybe even more so to those.  I’ll be working on getting healthy. There is, of course, another reading goal. I want to blog more on Geekerella and continue the EXILE serial here. I will finish up Shifted Fate for the newsletter, and then I have an upcoming newsletter serial that I think you guys will be really excited about.

My goal in 2016, writing-wise, is to publish six books. Right now, I’m planning on the following:

  1. One More Day: StrikeForce #2
  2. Darkest Day: StrikeForce #3
  3. Zealot: HIDDEN: Soulhunter #3
  4. Light’s Shadow: Copper Falls #3
  5. Title TBD: StrikeForce #4
  6. Title TBD: HIDDEN: Bloodborn #1

There may be a novella or two in there if I can get myself together. In addition, I have a short story coming up in a science fiction (!) anthology with a few author friends of mine, which will be out in February. I’ll have more details on that later.

One of the best things about 2015 was getting to know several of my readers better. I’m exceptionally lucky to have such a supportive, kind group of people reading my books and cheering me on. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for helping to make 2015 a wonderful year.

Wishing you all a healthy, happy 2016. <3