Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve Thoughts

It has been a bit of a strange year for me, one with joys and sorrows both.

I published my first novel, She Dies at the End (November Snow Book 1).  I did everything myself, including the cover photography, the cover design, and the paperback conversion.  I don't really recommend that for everyone, but it seems to have turned out reasonably well in my case.  The experience was challenging, rewarding, and ever so much fun. 

My paranormal romp seems to have been reasonably well-received, though I will admit sales haven't been quite what one might hope.  Still, people seem to be enjoying it quite a bit, which is lovely.  

November Snow has brought me messages and help from friends I haven't seen in years.  My foray into indie authorship has also afforded me the opportunity to meet other self-published writers who provide moral support and who continue to teach me a great deal about writing, editing, and promotion.

Our continuing attempts to adopt another baby, on the other hand, haven't gone so well.  Two heartbreaks marred the year, with the most recent failed attempt happening over Thanksgiving.  We have been waiting three years, and we have had three expectant mothers choose us only to change their minds at the hospital and decide to parent.  We are trying to discern whether or not to continue our efforts.  Perhaps we are meant to remain a family of three.

As I look forward to 2016, I hope that my second novel will turn out as well as the first, and that my small but devoted circle of fans will be pleased.  I hope that whatever we decide about our adoption journey, that it will be the right decision and one we will be at peace with making and living out.  I hope that I will have the strength to continue pursuing my writing dream, and that the well of ideas won't run dry.  And I hope that happiness finds all of you who are kind enough to read my words.

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

She Dies at the End is available free on Kindle until December 26th!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Author Highlight: Pandora Spocks

Is there a better pen name possible for a writer of literary erotic romance than Pandora Spocks?  In her real life, she lives in Florida and aspires to one day own a giraffe.  She has been spinning tales in her head for years but only recently has started sharing them with the rest of us, and we are certainly lucky she has.  Her brand new release (reviewed below) will join her first novel, Luke and Bella: Two Streets Over, already available on Amazon.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance review copy of her new book, Rannigan's Redemption Part 1: Resisting Risk.  The first volume of a trilogy, it focuses on a newly minted lawyer named Maggie and her boss, Michael Rannigan.  Rannigan is something of a player and doesn't know quite what to make of just how much he likes Maggie.

This book is excellent.  I don't even really like romance novels all that much, but this one is really well-done.  The writing is clean, and the characters are vibrant and interesting.  The sex is explicit and super hot, fyi, and the emotions are strong.  Spocks definitely knows how to bring the spice and tug on the heartstrings at the same time.  I love how confident, competent, and honest Maggie is, and I enjoy Michael's sweet side that only Maggie seems to bring out in him.  The ending definitely leaves me anxious for the next installment.  I am assured by the author that Part 2 is well on its way!

If you're looking for something to keep you warm over the holidays, Rannigan's Redemption fits the bill.  Happy reading!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Book Review: Airbag Scars by Jim Heskett

Airbag Scars is the first in a new series of thrillers by Jim Heskett.  If you like crisp writing and interesting characters, this guy is for you.  The main character, Micah, is an alcoholic struggling to make a new life after testifying against some very unsavory characters, one of whom has come looking for payback.

The novel is compelling from the very first page.  Heskett knows how to pace the book, parceling out just enough information to keep you turning that page.  I also enjoy how he varies the point of view.  One of my favorite details in the book is that Micah's friend/boss/sponsor/father figure is African American.  I like to see diversity in popular fiction.  The villain illustrates that a criminal doesn't have to be smart or careful in order to be dangerous, much like Elmore Leonard's criminals.  I like that the female lead is capable and full of fight though wounded by life, and that Micah is on a quest for redemption and renewal, however difficult that path may be.  I'm glad this book is the start of the series because I want to see more from these characters.

Looking for holiday or airplane reading?  Stocking up a new tablet or Kindle?  Check out Airbag Scars.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Author Highlight: Suzie Jay

You guys, if you like sweet romances that aren't too dirty, Suzie Jay is your girl.  She's a mom, a teacher, and Australian, and a darn good writer to boot.  

I read her novel Walk on the Wild Side some time back, and I was hooked on her quirky characters and clean writing style.  Walk on the Wild Side is an engrossing, entertaining tale of survival and reinvention during and after a nasty divorce.  It hits all the right notes: the sympathetic female protagonist, the suitably obnoxious ex-husband, the terrific friends, and, of course, the hot new man.  The tone is suitably snarky, which provides a modern touch.

Just this past week, she released the timely holiday romance Merry Christmas Eve, and I was lucky enough to get an advance review copy.  This novella is the perfect little Christmas present.  Eve and Grayson meet cute while stranded in an airport, and the cuteness only increases with the introduction of Grayson's children, Max and Noelle.  Eve helps to bring them the joy of Christmas while finding the family she's been longing for.  This is a super sweet, super fun read, perfect for travel or a break from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.  It will put a smile on your face, and you'll swear you can smell a Christmas tree. It's perfect airport/airplane reading.

If you're stressed and need a breather this holiday season, check out Suzie Jay. She's even got a few children's books if the kiddos need a distraction. Happy reading!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Author Highlight: Guy Bailey

G.S. Bailey is an Australian farmer and indie author of romance novels.  With his new release, Kangaroo Crossing, he has completed his Mystery Loves Romance series  which includes a Man for Kate: Remains of a Local Girl, A Man for Claire: Secrets of the Widow Mulvane, A Woman for Jason: The Soccer Field Bones, A Woman for Blake: Lonely Desert Grave, A Woman for Matthew: The Trelor Sect Killings and A Man for Juliette: the Fontaine Children.

Guy Bailey’s books are super fun: a relaxing and entertaining escape from real life.  The main characters are always vivid as well as easy to root for and identify with.  His leading men are always good guys, and his leading ladies are always strong and beautiful.  The supporting characters are interesting and sympathetic, and the mysteries are engaging and well-paced.  With his books, you have the bonus of getting to take a little trip to Australia and learn a bit about its landscape and culture.

Kangaroo Crossing, his brand new release, wraps up a multi-faceted case that winds through a number of his novels, but you don’t necessarily have to read the others first.  Journalist Blake Malone is investigating a serial killer, and his journey takes him to Madeline’s rural ranch.  Her mother was murdered by the killer years ago, and both of them long to give closure to the families of the killer’s other victims.  Watching them fall in love as they work together is a pleasure, and the depictions of Australian ranch life add a wonderful sense of adventure.  If you are traveling this holiday season, or you need a break from the family and the stress and all the hustle and bustle, I definitely recommend Kangaroo Crossing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Author Highlight: Jolie Mason

Jolie Mason is an indie writer of sci-fi romance / space opera.  This genre is an amazing amount of fun, and this particular author is especially enjoyable.  She has created a complex, multi-faceted universe into which the installments of two different series fit as precisely as puzzle pieces.  I have read 4 out of her 6 books, including her new release, and I’m chomping at the bit to get to the other two.  

Jolie Mason grew up just off the Mississippi River on the New Madrid fault line, which she says may explain her proclivity for thinking disaster movies are comedy. She's returned there to live with her three children and a menagerie of strays and pets that just show up.  She calls herself a gamer mom, which is different from a soccer mom in that she drives a police car and not a mini van.

Her work is predicated on this question: What if society never really changed? What if all the technology in the world didn't change a thing, but only made the sandbox bigger? That theme carries through both her series: Home in the Stars and The 47th Lancers.

The Home in the Stars Series (Home is the Sailor, Home from the Hill, and Home from the Sea) follows the loves and adventures of the rotating crew members of a particular starship, each of them fascinating in his or her own way.  The 47th Lancers Series (Riding Redemption, Redemption Lost, and the brand spanking new Seeking Redemption) follows the exploits of a company of mercenaries with hearts of gold.  The denizens of her universe live under various threats, including greedy criminals, invading aliens, and their own increasingly desperate Imperial government. The main characters are uniformly both charmingly sympathetic and precisely portrayed.

Her new release, Seeking Redemption, has both action and romance, mortal danger as well as family drama.  It combines the hardness of science fiction with the softness of a kiss in a very appealing way.  There are enough ties to the other books that you can see the connections, but not so many that you can’t read this one without reading the others.  The novel takes place on a planet whose population faces threats from within and without and features a mech pilot and a planetary leader who share a passion for more than just protecting the planet.  I always love a romance where the two parties are both equally competent and equally in need of love.  Jolie Mason’s romantic leads totally fit the bill.

Basically, if you like mechs with your kissing or kissing with your spaceships, you owe it to yourself to check out Jolie Mason.  Happy reading!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Reviews, reviews, my kingdom for reviews

Indie authors live and die by Amazon (and Goodreads) reviews.  No one wants to read a book nobody loves written by a person nobody has ever heard of.  You need reviews to get readers, and you need readers to get reviews.  It's a conundrum.

Then there's the validation that a good review supplies to the independent author.  We don't tend to have a huge number of readers, so those few positive reviews can be the only encouragement we get in the midst of our desperate and lonely struggles with the written word.

So, I humbly beg of you, if you read a book and enjoy it, take a minute to leave a review.  It doesn't have to be long or eloquent to have a positive impact on a struggling artist.

Here are some snippets from reviews people have left on Amazon for my book, She Dies at the End.  I have such gratitude for the people who have taken the time to write these kind words.  I was so terrified when I published my debut novel that everyone would hate it.  Imagine my relief that it is at least enjoyable!

Some of the tightest pacing from a breakout novel I've seen in a long time. I ended up staying up far too late two nights in a row, needing to see what happened next.

There are so many successful elements here: masterful foreshadowing, maintaining of tension and suspense, dialogue, character building, even romance. More than that, though, it's just a great story.

I have to give Manay credit for making vampires sexy again.

Well-written, superbly paced, and full of interesting characters. A great piece of writing and a great story. I'm looking forward to the next November Snow book! Heartily recommended.

By the end of the first chapter, I was in love with November, the main character. By the middle of the second chapter, I couldn't put the book down.

I finished the book two days ago, and I still think of the characters as if they will show up in front of me, just to give me an update. To me, that is the mark of an excellent book. I crave book two.

I thought I didn't care for fantasy/sci fi. As I read this book, I thought of the way I connected with Stephen King's Salem's Lot, and I finally understood. I LOVE a good fantasy novel, as long as it is well written. This one is superb.

I LOVED these characters. I miss them already. I need that sequel.

It was easily one of the most memorable books I've read this year, if not THE most memorable.

At one point near the end I idly found myself thinking, "I can't wait until the movie comes out," before I checked myself to remember that this is a first novel of a new author and probably film rights have not yet been considered. I still think it would make a good movie!

It's 1 AM. I've been up reading yet another novel. I regret nothing. This novel is AMAZING. I do not use ALLCAPS lightly.

Really great books teach, and this one does. However, don't let that fool you. It's about as sexy as any story I've read lately. I can't even adequately describe it's level of awesome.

This is a wonderfully written paranormal story! It captures the reader from beginning to end. I could barely put it down to go to sleep!

I loved it! I dreamt of the characters for a few days afterwards!

What I really loved about this novel was the emotional maturity of the characters. So unlike the annoying teen angst typical of the vampire genre, this novel is full of thoughtful consideration, compassion, and a refreshing self-awareness.

The plot is complex, but concise in its storytelling. With each turn, Manay easily sets the scene with exquisite imagery, allowing readers to see, touch, taste and hear everything that the heroine experiences.

I recommend you download the book and stay up late to read it. One of the best things I've read lately.

Be somebody's hero: review a book today!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Book review: Kismet by Shaheen Darr

I was lucky enough to receive an advance review copy of Shaheen Darr’s new novel Kismet: A Desi Rhapsody in London, due for release today
The novel follows the fates of the members of two Pakistani immigrant families in the United Kingdom.  As an anglophile who married into an Indian family who immigrated to the U.S. before my husband was born, I was interested as soon as I saw the lovely cover, designed by Eeva Lancaster.  The deft treatment of the cultural conflicts between immigrant parents and children, as well as the tension between assimilation and cultural preservation, was both realistic and emotionally effective.  I also enjoyed the way she structured the novel, allowing us to see the events from various points of view.

The narratives are quite touching, exploring such themes as romance, betrayal, heartbreak, depression, tragedy, remorse, redemption, and, of course, kismet.  The idea of fate is a fascinating one to me, one that sometimes allows people to make sense of the events of their lives, and one that carries through all the storylines of this novel.

Kismet is a lovely book, one I highly recommend for its skillful writing, lyrical descriptions, emotional impact, and charming characters.  It is a book that will follow you out the door, like the smell of your mother’s house.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Black teen lives matter

By now, we've all seen or heard about the footage of a school resource officer abusing a Black child.
In the end, abuse is about control and about the abuser's fear that he or she is not, in fact, superior to the victim.  And there is no one authority figures single out for abuse more than Black young people.

“Oh, if their parents taught them to respect authority, this never would have happened,” the internet counters.  So white teenage rebels are iconic and normal and developmentally appropriate, but Black ones are dangerous and need to learn who's boss?  So kids who would get a detention if they were white deserve to get arrested instead?  Forced to put up bail before they can go home and do their homework just because they mouthed off or failed to hand over a phone?

How about maybe if that cop's parents had taught him some respect for other people's human rights, he wouldn't be beating the shit out of a little girl over nothing?  How about maybe if the officer’s training had taught him how to de-escalate conflict and avoid using force, he wouldn’t have attacked a child over an insult to his authority?  How about maybe if people in authority in this school cared more about their students than about saving face, that class would have learned something that day other than don't trust the cops or the school?

I taught inner city high school.  You know what I found to be true?  Kids respect the adults who show them respect.  They know which teachers know their subjects and show up prepared.  They know which administrators care about the students.  They know which teachers love them even after they get into trouble.  They also know which adults are racist or just marking time.  Kids aren't stupid.

I will confess that one time I called the office and asked the resource officer to escort a student out who refused to take my referral and go. I realized as soon as I did it that I had probably handled the situation poorly.  Thankfully, nothing terrible happened, because our school wasn't cool with adults assaulting students, and our officer treated our kids like people.  I didn't like sending students out of my room, because I knew they weren't learning squat sitting in the office.  When they disrupted the learning of the rest of the class, and I couldn't manage to avoid sending them out, I knew it was sometimes as much my failure to better manage the situation as it was a failure on the part of the students.

Should students behave respectfully and cooperatively?  Of course.  Do students sometime need to be removed for endangering others or preventing the class from learning?  Sometimes.  Is it appropriate to criminalize ordinary adolescent mistakes?  No.  Is it appropriate to respond violently when it isn't absolutely necessary?  No.

Why do Black girls get suspended at 6 times the rate of white girls?  It isn't because they're 6 times more disrespectful or 6 times more disruptive.  Teenagers are often a pain in the ass.  They're asserting their independence and make foolish decisions on the regular.  They are not adults.  This is accepted as a fact by almost everyone, as long as the teen in question is white.  Why is being a child and making mistakes of adolescence permitted for white kids and a crime for Black and brown ones?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Paperbacks tips for the indie author

I waited to do the paperback version of She Dies at the End until after I'd released the ebook on Kindle via Kindle Direct Publishing.  I wanted to gauge the level of interest before I put in the time.  I was surprised to find out that a lot of people, even young people, still prefer a physical copy and asked me when one might be available.  Having a two month gap also allowed me to correct some editing issues that came to light after I published the Kindle edition.

I used CreateSpace, an Amazon subsidiary, to create my paperback.  Here are just a few tips I figured out along the way.

When you upload your text, CreateSpace lets you know the dimensions your cover needs to be based on your pagecount and the size book you choose (6" by 9", for example).  The dimensions include the front and back covers, the spine, and a little extra for bleed.  You can then either use their cover creator or upload a pdf that matches the required dimensions.

I chose to use Canva to design my cover, since that's what I used to do the ebook and I wanted the two to match pretty closely.  Canva lets you do custom dimensions, and I had no problem creating my cover.  Do remember to leave room for the barcode on the back, and make sure the writing on the spine is centered and oriented properly.

I love Canva.  It is free if you use your own images, and the price for their images is quite reasonable.  It is quite versatile, and they have some lovely fonts.  You can hire a cover designer, of course, but if you have to or want to do it yourself, is a good choice.

When you upload your book's docx file to Createspace, it converts your document to the new size and can generate a new docx file for you to download with the proper page dimensions and margins.  You then want to save that file so you can add page numbers, tweak spacing and font, etc.  Remember that you need to choose different odd and even pages under page numbers due to the way books are bound.  (You might need bottom right on odd pages and bottom left on even pages, for example.)  Once you have perfected your work, you upload the new file and submit your cover and interior files for approval.

Once your files are approved and you think the digital proof looks right, get a hard copy proof before you approve your files for publishing.  I cannot stress this enough.  It looks so much different in your hands than on the screen.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Why do a paperback?

With e-books becoming so easy to produce, and gaining more and more popularity, many independent authors focus exclusively on that format.  Why, then, did I take the time to produce a paperback version of my novel, She Dies at the End?

Paper still has appeal for the reader

Many people, even young people, still enjoy reading paper books.  There is something about the feel of the paper, the sensation of turning the pages, even the smell of books, that is incredibly appealing.  It's also easier on the eyes than a back-lit screen, though Kindle designers have worked hard on that problem and made considerable progress.

There is also the fact that many people are not comfortable with the constant use of screens, and they will never read a book that isn't printed.  I wanted my work to be available to them, too. 

Producing something tangible is satisfying

There is something very satisfying for a writer in producing a hard copy of her work.  I was so excited to hold my first hard copy proof when it arrived in the mail.  I got to admire it and feel the pride that comes with being able to say, "I created this thing my very own self."  And in my case, I did it all myself, cover design and formatting included.

Seeing your e-book appear on Amazon and seeing it getting downloaded is also satisfying, but being able to touch your creation is pretty special.  And what can be more fun than seeing it on the shelf next to books you've read and loved, books that have influenced your life and your writing?

I would encourage other indie authors to consider publishing paperbacks as well as e-books.  With print on demand, there is no longer a huge financial investment required to self-publish on paper.  If you have the time to handle the conversion yourself, it is very educational.  If you have the money to pay someone else to do it for you, and you don't want the hassle, more power to you.  But I think it's worth trying at least once.  I'll be blogging soon with some tips for the first-timer.  Happy writing, and happy reading!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

How I wound up with a "new adult" novel

Okay, true confessions time: I kind of wrote a “new adult” novel by accident and realized it after the fact.  An emerging genre, new adult novels typically feature a protagonist between the ages of 18 and 25.  Often they are going off to college or starting their career.  The main character is dealing with many of the coming of age issues common in young adult literature but in a more adult fashion. The facing of first loves, insecurities, new friends, and new challenges might be similar, but with fewer of the constraints of a high school student's life.  Some people consider new adult to be young adult lit with more sex and language, which is, I think, a bit of an oversimplification.  

So, how did I wind up with a new adult novel?

I was writing a novel with vampires, so I wanted my female protagonist to be at least 18.  Why?  For one thing, a centuries old dude hitting on 16 year old girl is gross; I don't care if he's a virgin (cough, Edward Cullen, cough). The girl being eighteen isn't a whole lot better, but that is where we draw the line of adulthood at the moment.  So, yeah, I'm anti-statutory rape.  I guess that makes me "Team Jacob."

I also think eighteen is an interesting age. You are technically free from parental control but you haven't really learned how to be an adult.  You have the promise of new adventure and independence, with a healthy side of fear and crippling inexperience.  And I think inside of everyone there is a part of us that is always 18.  When we start doing something truly new to us (like, maybe, writing our first novel . . .), we recapture a bit of that feeling of exhilarated uncertainty.  I think that is part of why we all enjoy coming of age stories so much.

A lot of our favorite pieces of pop culture could easily fall into this "new adult" category.  Star Wars is largely about Luke's journey to adulthood and Jedihood.  I guess Degobah isn't exactly college, but close enough.  The Star Trek reboot features officers just out of school.  Agents of Shield focuses on Skye/Daisy, a girl in her early twenties trying to figure out who she is and what she is meant to do with her life and her emerging power.  How to Get away with Murder is peopled by a bunch of law school students. And that is just off the top of my head.

Of course, works of fiction tend to fall into several categories at once. She Dies at the End is also a paranormal fantasy and a vampire story, occasionally even a romance. But, overall, it's about November coming to terms with her gifts and her own agency in her life, which is something we all go through, even without vampires and fairies and werewolves along for the ride.

This time in our lives, the period of early adulthood, obviously retains an emotional pull.  I guess its gravity pulled me in, and a new adult novel is where I wound up.  Now I’ll just pretend I did it on purpose.  Shh!  Don’t tell anybody.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Review of So You Want to be an Online Freelancer . . . Now What?

My writer friend Eeva Lancaster has a new how-to book coming out this week, born of her own experience as an online freelancer in the world of writing and publishing.  I know a lot of my friends, especially stay at home mothers, are looking for something rewarding to do from home to bring in a little money and personal fulfillment.  If selling essential oils or beauty products isn't for you, you might want to give this a read.  It's a short and sweet guide with practical tips for how to sell your skills build a little business for yourself.

I found it to be full of specific, actionable advice, which I really appreciate.  I also enjoyed learning from the author's personal experience.  Overall, I think it's concise, informative, and valuable for anyone thinking of dipping a toe into the world of online freelancing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Black Lives and White Feelings: Marathon Edition

People are freaking out about the planned Black Lives Matter protest at the Twin Cities Marathon.  Apparently to interfere with the sacred completion of a race is an affront to human decency the likes of which has never been seen in recorded history.

Is this the protest I would choose if it were up to me?  Probably not, mostly because of the inherent dangerousness of a marathon as an activity, especially at the end when people need to cool down and have a disturbing tendency to drop dead.  And I would probably also avoid messing with a marathon because of the Boston terrorist attack.  But it isn't up to me.  I'm not Black.  I'm not really part of the movement.  I don't live in the Twin Cities.

But it is counterproductive to talk about the protestors as though they're threatening to burn St. Paul to the ground and hear the lamentations of their women.  People are saying the protesters will make the event unsafe or cause violence. You could make a similar safety argument against almost any protest or activity that involves large numbers of people and road closures.  I don't see a lot of people bitching about the Pope on Facebook.  And it is very rare for daytime protests to turn violent.  Usually it's not the protestors that start it, either.

But I don't think it's really about the safety.  I think you're upset because they might ruin your big day, the race you've been training for for months. You feel like they're punishing you for something that isn't your fault by wrecking something you've been looking forward to, something that's important to you.  That's unfortunate.  It makes me sad for you.  You say this is no way to win over hearts and minds, but there are occasions when your feelings may not be the only factor worth considering.

Why do you suppose they chose to protest something people care about?  Against something that has economic value, tourism value, civic value?  Could it be because the government isn't going to rein in the police until it becomes too much expense and too much trouble not to?  Could it be because that's how our country works?  Could it be that in our society, it's all about money and bad publicity, mostly money?  That reality wasn't created by Black Lives Matter.  Neither was a screwed up police culture that our politicians can't be bothered to do anything about.  That's on all of us.

To you, the marathon is personal.  To the movement, it's an economic and political event, a rare opportunity to apply pressure to the few people who can actually make something happen.  You know what else is personal?  Dead Black bodies in the street on the regular, and no one held accountable.  Getting humiliated by the police with no recourse.  That's personal, too.

Like I said, I'm not saying it's necessarily a good idea to get in the way of 12,000 runners.  I honestly do not know.  I'm saying you need to be aware that the people on the other side also have strong feelings, feelings born of genuine fear and grief over the real dangers they and their loved ones face on a daily basis.  Feelings that might prompt them to make a decision that to you seems hurtful.  Feelings that you cannot fully understand.  And it is important to consider how your choice of words about the protest might be perceived as dismissive of the value of Black lives rather than just an expression of your feelings.

Perhaps you might consider how it feels to have a black son who is a head taller than most all his classmates, who will probably look like a man by the end of 5th grade.  Because when I read lengthy, vitriolic complaints about protests, it feels like people think a marathon or their Christmas shopping or the game day traffic are more important than my child's life.  I know that isn't what you mean.  But it is how it feels.  If that's how it feels to me, a white woman with tons of white friends and white relatives and an incentive to give you the benefit of the doubt, how do you suppose it might feel to actual Black people?

If white people had half as much passion about police brutality and systemic racism as they do when complaining about Black Lives Matter, we might not need Black Lives Matter in the first place.  

Review of Her Master Protector by Sandra S. Kerns

My writing friend Sandra S. Kerns has a new release today, a mystery romance called Her Master Protector.  If you want to see how the pros of self-publishing do it right, you need to check her out.  Her novels are all entertaining and well-crafted.  The woman knows what she is doing.

First things first, you should know that the word "Master" in the title is there not in the bondage sense but because Masters is the name of a family in this series of books.   It is not Fifty Shades of Murder.

This is the last of the series, but the characterization and writing are so good that I didn't have any trouble jumping right into this one without knowing all the back story.  She fills in the background just enough.  It's kind of fun to discover a series at the end, because then you've got a whole lot more books ready to go without having to wait.  On its own, this is a fun and satisfying ride.

The main characters are both strong, smart, and adorable.  They work together to protect a witness, solve a mystery, and keep each other physically and emotionally safe.  That teamwork makes for a very enjoyable book.  

If you've never read an indie author before, she's a good one to start with.  Or, of course, you could start with me.  Then buy hers. ;)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Book Club Discussion Questions for She Dies at the End

A local book group is going to read my book (yay!), so I thought I'd brainstorm some discussion questions in case any of my other wonderful readers is interested in sharing She Dies at the End with his or her book group friends.

  1. How is the author's portrayal of vampires similar to or different from other vampire stories or movies you've enjoyed in the past?
  2. If you could have a power like many of the characters, which one would you want?  Which seems the most useful?
  3. What event in the book shocked you the most?
  4. Who is your favorite character?  What about him or her appeals to you?
  5. Which character angered you the most?  Why?
  6. If She Dies at the End were made into a movie, who should play your favorite character?
  7. With which character did you most closely identify?  Why?
  8. Which character do you wish you knew more about?
  9. Which character are you most attracted to romantically? Who is your "book boyfriend" or "book girlfriend"?
  10. Was there an image in the book that stuck with you?
  11. If you knew you had lived past lives, would you want to remember them?  Why or why not?
  12. What do you think happened to Marisha, Ilyn's late wife?  How do you think she died?
  13. Do you think November and Ilyn could ever have a healthy romantic relationship?  Why or why not?
  14. Did you learn anything from the story and its characters that could be applied to your own life?
Happy reading!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What makes a fun villain

Everyone loves a good bad guy. So what makes a perfect villain we love to hate?  For a deliciously evil villain, I think you need at least three of the following:

Unconventional attractiveness

We like our villains handsome but in a weird way.  They can't be too ugly, or too pretty.  The face has to have something a little off about it: too sharp a nose, too prominent cheekbones, a cruel mouth. There has to be something that gives you pause.

Examples: Ricardo Montalban in Wrath of Khan, Benedict Cumberbatch in Wrath of Khan


If the villain has no charisma, why would we want to watch her or read about her?  What would draw your attention or the loyalty of the bad guy's minions?

Examples: Glenn Close in Damages, Meryl Streep whenever she's a villain


There's something about an antagonist who knows how to dress.  He doesn't necessarily have to follow convention or even good taste, but it's nice when a villain has a look all his own.

Example: Walton Goggins' Boyd Crowder on Justified

Sad back story

A villain is the hero of his own story, after all.  The sad back story helps motivate his actions and gain audience sympathy even when he is doing monstrous things.

Examples: Magneto,  Loki

The voice

If the villain has a voice you'd listen to reading a grocery list, you're halfway there.

Examples: Alan Rickman, Benedict Cumberbatch, James Spader


We love villains who just don't give a good goddamn, who just want to see the world burn.

Example: Heath Ledger’s Joker

What do you think makes a satisfying book or movie villain?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Representation matters

My book, She Dies at the End, is more diverse than a lot of novels out there. So why did a white woman write a book full of people of color?

People of color are bombarded daily with the message from popular culture that white is normal and that everything and everyone else are not.  That sends a harmful message to everyone, of any race.  I didn't want my book to be part of that damaging narrative, so I have tried to create characters in which a variety if people can see themselves reflected.

If we're going for realism (well, realism in a world where vampires, fairies, and werewolves are real, anyway), my characters in She Dies at the End would not be living in an all-white world.  My story is set largely in the San Francisco Bay Area.  California is not majority white.  Why would a story set here have only white people in it?  Why would a vampire family assembled over many centuries across four continents consist solely of Europeans?

Then there is the fact that it is boring to live in a monochrome world, so why should people have to read about one?  When I started my book, I was writing for fun.  I made choices that made me happy. I wanted white, Black, Asian, Latino, and mixed characters.  I wanted a cast of characters that made me think of Oakland in all its mixed up glory, that celebrated the city where I once taught high school and where I still go to church.

My son is half Black, half East Indian.  He has an Indian dad and a white mom.  Kids like him should see people they can identify with in pop culture.  White kids also benefit from seeing people of color portrayed in a positive light.  It combats all the negative stereotypes they see broadcast every day.  It helps us all have empathy for people who look different from the way we look.

And don't tell me that talking about race makes me the real racist.  That is bullshit.  Ignoring race means ignoring part of who someone is and dismissing the lived experiences of people of color.

Did I do a perfect job realistically portraying my characters of color?  Probably not.  I did my best to use everything I have learned by listening to my friends and family of color, or by listening to strangers' stories online and off.  I may well have made a hash of it, but at least I tried.  That's more than a lot of much more successful authors can say.

Representation matters.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Tales from the sick bed

Over the last several years, writing has become an important and rewarding outlet for me.  It has taken an especially important place in my life due to the fact that for the last 15 years, I have been living with and trying to effectively manage a chronic illness.  I'd like to share some of the ways writing has enriched my life and helped me to compensate for some of the losses and limitations I experience, in the hopes that I might encourage some of my fellow members of the constantly sick club to take up the metaphorical pen.

Creative and intellectual fulfillment

I have a degree in chemistry.  I was a straight-A student.  Lupus makes it impossible for me to work a full time job without becoming dangerously and constantly ill. Many people with chronic conditions are in the same boat, and it can deal a terrible blow to one's self-esteem.  Writing, whether for publication or simply for oneself, can provide a sense of accomplishment that can make the difference between contentment and despair.  Sharing your writing can make an impact on the world around you and provide you with a new sense of purpose.  Even if you only reach a few people, those few people have richer, happier lives because of you and your work.  Moreover, many of us experience the "brain fog" common to the chronically ill.  Mental deterioration is especially common if your disease is neurological in nature.  Writing or other creative outlets can help keep the brain firing on all cylinders.

Flexible hours and work environment

Writers don't have a fixed schedule.  The work can be done any time of day and in almost any location.  You can write in bed.  You can do research in your doctor's waiting room.  You can brainstorm with an IV needle in one arm and a blood pressure cuff on the other.  You can set your own realistic deadlines, keeping in mind your strengths and your limitations.  Chronically ill people hate the perception that we are unreliable because we often have to cancel plans or make adjustments to schedules in order to manage our symptoms.  At least with writing, or other artistic pursuits, we don't have to worry so much about letting anyone down or pushing ourselves so hard that we pay for it later.

Escaping the house with your imagination

Being sick all the time can be incredibly boring.  Being stuck at home can be depressing.  Limitations posed by your condition can be infuriating.  But your characters can do everything you wish you could do and go anywhere you dream of going.  I will never be able to sunbathe on a beach, and I'm unlikely to run a marathon, but my mind has no such limitations.  Daydreaming is fun and stress reducing, and as a writer, you get to call it work.  

Easing loneliness

Isolation can be one of the most damaging aspects of chronic ailments.  Sharing your writing with your friends and family, or with the online world at large, can help you make connections.  The internet makes it easier to find people with whom you can share your thoughts as well as your art.  You don't have to write a novel.  You can share a poem or a short story.  You can blog about your favorite show, or book, or sports team, or hobby. You can write about the political or social issues of the day and discuss your views with the like-minded and not so like-minded.  It can be terrifying to put your work out into the world, just as it is scary to go to a party with a bunch of people you don't yet know.  I try to tell myself that nothing worth having comes without risk.

Trying to practice what I preach, my new adult paranormal fantasy novel She Dies at the End is now available fon Amazon Kindle.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

#BlackLivesMatter on the First Day of Kindergarten

One day he comes into the kitchen and tells you that the other kids wouldn't let him play their game and told him it was because he is the wrong color.  He is five years old.  And you think, Here we go.  Even before kindergarten, it begins.

All mothers are nervous before the start of Kindergarten.  I know this.  We are all concerned about mean teachers and mean children.  We fret that they won't eat their lunch or will have trouble making friends or will struggle with homework.  We are anxious that school will kill their curiosity and enthusiasm about learning.

But mothers of Black sons, and other sons of color, have extra worries you may never have considered.  Will he be excluded from games because of his race?  Will my child get blamed for something another child did because he is Black?  Will normal childhood behavior get him labeled as the bad kid when the same behavior in a white child would be tolerated?  Will he be expected to speak for his whole race whenever something about Black people comes up?  Will he have to sit through tone-deaf lesson plans and listen to teachers spout racist nonsense unaware of their own biases?  And these are just the threats to their hearts and souls.  There are also the threats to their bodies, from strangers who will make racist assumptions about them, perceive them as threats even before puberty.

The beginning of school is the start of their lives in an outside world where we cannot any longer protect them from those who will see them as stereotypes instead of as people.  Even before they can read or reliably tie their own shoes, Black children are more likely to be suspended or expelled than other students.  We know that Black boys are estimated to be much older than they actually are. That problem may have contributed to the murder by a police officer of a 12-year-old boy in Cleveland.  The world is simply more hostile for our sons, even the world of school, where they ought to be safe.

These are the realities that Black mothers have lived with forever.  The fact that white mothers of Black sons are starting to talk openly about such things shouldn't make people take it more seriously.  Sadly, perhaps it will, so here I am talking about it.

I am grateful that my son is extremely well-behaved in public and focused in preschool.  He is polite and friendly and endearing and happy and, for a few more years at least, very cute.  But I know that isn't enough to protect him.  Respectability is not enough to protect any of our sons, but we cling to it anyway, because it's better than nothing, because we know they'll have to work twice as hard as everyone else to get the respect they deserve. I am grateful to live in a part of the country that is no longer majority white, and in which overt racism is socially stigmatized.  I'm grateful that we chose a neighborhood in which the school is fairly diverse.  I'm grateful for our church community full of adults and older children of color who provide role models and advice when things happen.

I am also afraid.  I fear that I won't be there to defend him the first time someone calls him the N-word.  (I know we are lucky it hasn't happened yet.)  I fear that when he gets into an argument with a white student, it will automatically be the tall Black kid's fault.  I fear that my white privilege cannot protect him when he isn't holding my hand.  I fear that by the end of 5th grade he will be a scary Black man in the eyes of strangers.

But I am not paralyzed by my fear.  We prepare him as best we can.  We talk about racism.  We talk about what to do if someone calls him out of his name.  We talk about in the fact that he doesn't have to answer people's questions about his family if he doesn't want to, that he can decide how to tell his own story.  We talk about not wearing your hood up and how you talk to police, how you behave if you get pulled over.  We don't obsess over the dangers.  We don't teach him to be terrified of the whole world.  But we do speak honestly and openly about race and racism. He has already been excluded from games because of his color, after all. To deny that reality would damage him as much as the obnoxious children who excluded him, maybe more.

I am also not consumed by my fear.  I still talk with excitement with him about his new adventure.  I still stand grinning in the back-to-school section looking at lunch boxes.  I still get his wardrobe ready and hope for a good teacher and gossip with my mom friends about all the changes in store.  I still love that he loves his new backpack and insists on wearing it around the house.  But the worry is still in the back of my mind, even then.

Now, I know that some of you think I am borrowing trouble.  Some of you think this is a post-racial America, and racism is over, and talking about race makes me the real racist.  Some of you don't talk about race with your kids because you want them to be "colorblind." Refusing to discuss or acknowledge racism only allows it to perpetuate.  Perhaps if more white people would speak up, with their kids and with their friends, we wouldn't have to be so scared to see our sons growing older.

Racism isn't just hoods and burning crosses.  We are all products of a culture that teaches that white is best, and nobody grows up in a culture like that without being affected.  No power structure is immune from that influence, be it police department or church or school district or classroom.  So many people want to deny this reality, perhaps for fear of accepting blame. 

So we allow our world to continue to kill Black kids and then try to find a reason they had it coming.  He should have been more polite.  Why did she mouth off like that?  He shouldn't have run.  It's his parents' fault.  Look how trashy they are.  He should have gone straight home.  Never you mind that a white kid in the same situation would still be breathing.

And so mothers of Black sons are afraid sometimes, and we have to be brave, because that is the world into which we send our beloved sons on the first day of kindergarten: a world in which they are at the very bottom of the list of which lives matter.  

A.M. Manay is a writer and mother.  Her novel, She Dies at the Endis available on Amazon Kindle.  Follow her on twitter (@ammanay) or Facebook (