Project Update

I thought I’d post a quick update on my projects for anyone who is wondering. I’m working on three books right now. It’s hectic, trust me. It’s weird not having my other books on sale right now while I wait for Kingston.

And man–I’ve realized just how much I have happening with all of my books in this project update!

The books I just signed a contract for with Kingston Publishing: Cheap Guitars has undergone edits and I believe the release date is 10/7. I’m still waiting for my other books to be edited. I think they’re moving the release date up for them as well but I’m just kind of waiting to hear right now.

Cheaper Sunglasses: I haven’t worked on it a few days but I’m trying to figure out a schedule for how I want to do my writing schedule so I can continue to juggle multiple projects while I still have to work on my thesis. I’ll talk about my thesis in a few minutes, but I’m still determined to finish this by the end of the month. The project is currently sitting at 3,522 words.

Cheap Promises: Lord, this thing is driving me nuts, but I think I finally figured out the plot. The project is currently sitting at 47,254 words but I worry a lot of that is going to have to change. It won’t quite take me back to scratch but there are a few chapters I need to completely rewrite to make it work with the new plot. I’m still plotting the ending but I should be able to start working on it after I finish the novella.

Heart Be Still: I’m so proud of this book. I am stuck between a rock and a hard place with it, though. I have met the 15,000-word requirement for my first Thesis course so I think I could technically get away without working on it until January and finish my other projects first, but I don’t think that’s very practical. I took the double-spacing out of it and I’m rewriting about 20 pages today so I can put all of it into the past tense. Then I’m putting the plot in the back of my writing planner so I can keep track of scenes I need to write and on certain days. That’s the trick to juggling multiple projects, by the way–a strict writing schedule. Everyone always calls me so prolific, and I honestly think that’s how I keep myself busy…but I also just kind of want to focus on this book for now.

Anyway, happy writing! If you’re a writer, what are you working on right now? If you’re a reader, do you want a synopsis of all my books? Let me know in the comments!

Down the Rabbit Hole

Welcome to my attempt this month to start posting regularly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday! We’ll see how it goes.

I have a blog writing itch that is hard to scratch since I left Cupid’s Pulse last month. And as much as I didn’t want to leave, it has been a blessing, because my boyfriend is encouraging me to write like CRAZY. If you want to see any of the articles I wrote, some might still publish for a while. You can find them on Cupid Pulse’s website. Just type in “Mara Miller” since my name is a tag for the website as one of their editorial interns. If you are a student and need a good internship for college credit, I highly recommend Cupid’s Pulse, and I’ll gladly pass on the information to apply. I think they’re covered for this semester with interns but they’re always looking.

I’ve recently turned into more of a plotter than a plantser (a pantser who plots a little). I need to write an 80,000 word novel for my thesis as an MFA student at Southern New Hampshire University.

But with signing on with Kingston Publishing and working on books outside of a book I can’t even think about publishing until I graduate around December of 2020, I still need to produce other novels for my series since I am dying to finish the Cheap Series. I also have a few secret projects I have been plotting but I’m not quite ready to announce yet even though I plan on diving into them after Cheaper Sunglasses and Cheap Promises are finished.

The crazy thing to me is how plotting the thesis has made it come out much easier than with any of the books I ever wrote in the Cheap series. Nevermind how seven chapters in, I decided the entire book needed to be written in the third person. One of the requirements for my thesis program is that we must have 15,000 words before we take the first thesis course and have already fulfilled that requirement. I’m looking at my writing planner right now. I’m wondering if my goal if hitting 20k before the glass begins is feasible because I want to get my novella and other novels out of the way before my course begins in a few months.

So, for one, if you’re a pantser like I was and you’re on a pretty serious deadline like I am, I suggest Take off Your Pants: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing by Libbie Hawker. She broke down how to plot a book. You’ll get down the main key events in the novel, and this has actually helped me narrow down what a few of my plot holes were with Cheap Promises. I’m still working on it to a degree and Mae and Dan decided they needed another story before that novel so more things would make sense (and I could finally close up their story) so now I’m plotting that one completely half-assed, but I’m still outlining because if I don’t, I know I’ll write myself into a corner. Have you ever done that if you’re a pantser? You’ll start off super strong. You’ll know where the story is going…until you don’t and you hit a major writer’s block until the next New Shiny Idea draws your attention away from your current WIP.

I don’t have time for this anymore!

So, I’m mentioning everything I use to plot. I’m writing this in hopes that it will help someone else… and maybe to confirm to myself that I’m mostly just organized and I’m not a complete nut.

Neon colored index cards: I have neon green and neon pink for points of views I’m writing in a scene. Pink is obviously for my main female protagonist and green for my male. I use white to indicate which act my scenes need to go under or some other essential notes. With the school season currently, I got over 200 index cards from Walmart for decent prices. I’m set for a while.

Jami Gold’s Beat Sheets: Seriously. They’re amazing. You can find them here. I also like her scene list because I can check off everything I need in a scene.

Scrapple: Made by the people who created Scrivener, Scrapple is a brainstorming tool. It’s a great place for me to dump all of my ideas so I can get a big-picture vision of whatever I’m planning on writing, whether it be a stand-alone or a series. And the best part? I can import whatever I create into Scrivener so I have it right there to look at when I’m working.

Happy Planner: I LOVE Happy Planner’s Products. I have the Rong Rong productivity pages planner where I keep track of things like writing goals for the month, what I want to post in my blog, top priorities, and words counts. I also keep track of Instagram or Twitter challenges for the #amwriting community I want to participate in for the month. I have my Erin Condren that I use for everyday life stuff, but Happy Planner is great because I added pink expander discs to the planner and now I can keep any plotting notes I need in the back of it, as well as know exactly what projects I need to work on. It’s fabulous. I’m also planning on getting the social media expansion eventually so I can keep better track of Twitter and Instagram and figure out what I want to post during the month. Being organized like this helps me see how much time I actually have to write outside of life stuff (and it’s quite a bit now, which I love). I’m actually about to handwrite all of my thesis plot points and put them into this planner.

Speaking of planners: Why Planners Should be Crucial to Your Writing Process

An A, B, C format: It looks like this (I’m using a watered-down version of my thesis):

A. Joey moves home. His uncle guilts him into picking up a surprise for his aunt even though he doesn’t want to see Patience.

B. Patience goes to work. Her sister is causing trouble.

C. Something happens to Martha, Patience’s grandma, after Brenna gets into a fight with Joey.

I don’t want to go into what happens to Grandma Martha, but you get the general gist of how that kind of thing works. I didn’t like this aspect of plotting for the class. I would have much-rathered index cards or my beat sheets from Jami Gold, but it forced me to look at everything from flashbacks to when my romantic couple kisses for the first time. I struggled with this format during my Romance Writing II course, but my professor wouldn’t let me give up and made me stick to this story, and I will be forever grateful to her for it.

Do you have any plotting must haves? Let me know! I’m always trying to figure out ways to plot better. 

Xylorica’s Gift

This is a short story I wrote a few months ago. I originally had parts of it written for another creative writing class but I lost it, so this is completely new. This is a glimpse into some of my writing outside of my usual New Adult comfort zone, so enjoy!

Small sidenote: There may be some typos I need to fix. This is a rough draft and might go into a novel.

Xylorcia’s Gift

THE STENCH OF LIVESTOCK AND UNWASHED MEN became fouler the last hour of travel. Prince Artenance had a day left before reaching the village of Pryka with his caravan. His stallion, Shadow, had seen the Fairy River and launched a rebellion amongst the sheep, goats, and cows by nearly throwing Artenance for a traitorous sip of cool water.

“Are you considering pushing through the night, Art?” Said his second, Evander Heron.

Artenance crumpled the letter Evander had stolen from the King’s messenger crow. “I haven’t decided yet.”

“We should heed the Elder’s warnings about traveling in these parts.”

“Evander, the only reason your grandmother’s lunatic ramblings made it into this letter” — Artenance squeezed his hand over the offending document — “is because our families go back six generations.”

Artenance flung the letter as far down the Fairy River as possible. The letter from King Damon DeNanne of the Bilran Empire and his father had little to report in the way of good news. He wrote the letter to gloat. Artenance had no use for it. Hot and sweaty, Artenance wiped his brow, then bent low to fill his leather pouch full of fresh water.

“The King is taking your men, Artenance—good men. We can stop him if we go back.”

Artenance let Evander speak as he drank deeply from his pouch. He cared nothing that his friend said, instead of focusing on the coolness of the water against his throat to quell his temper.

Prince Artenance Daemon DeNanne—heir to the throne of Bilran. 

Artenance loathed his title.

“It’s wiser—”

Artenance slammed his pouch down on a rock. “I fail to see how any choice I make can be considered wise. I am a Prince that commands thousands, yet I can’t keep the woman I love safe from my father. Adara and her family are in trouble and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

“And what got you into this situation—no, got us into this situation? You demanded my sister, Ciya’s, hand in marriage over Adara’s like a rash fool!”

Artenance gritted his teeth. He debated what angered him more—Evander’s truth or his amusement over the proposal to his sister.

Artenance was prepared to fight on the front lines of a senseless war—for both Adara and Callahadrice—risking death for betraying his father because he loved the Princess. King Daemon had insulted Queen Keaira of the island three summers before at a court gathering, so she insulted the King gravely by rejecting Artenance’s proposal to her daughter that same week. Artenance intended to end his father’s political vendetta by offering to take Ciya Heron’s hand in marriage two weeks ago. Ciya was a dear friend to Artenance like her brother and a well-bred Lady of high standing. Ciya ruined all chances for herself and their countries when she kicked Artenance in the groin and fled the castle.

Artenance wasn’t sure where she fled. Home to the Heron estate, he supposed. His father’s backhand to his cheek had left a faint bruise and Artenance forgot all concerns he might have had about Ciya when he was ordered to take a caravan to collect taxes from the villagers. Traveling on horseback hadn’t yet done much in the way of allowing his groin to heal.

Only marriage or death would end the war.

Even if Ciya had accepted the proposal, King Daemon would have sent Artenance on the damned quest to collect taxes. Artenance should have never opened his mouth—not to propose to either woman and especially not to claim his love for Princess Adara Kain.

Evander cleared his threat. “You look like you could use a drink. Perhaps that will end this frightening silence.”

Artenance snapped back into himself and nodded to his Second. Scooping water into his hands, Artenance splashed it onto his face. Resting for the night would be best, he decided. His caravan was hunting a meal and getting ready for the night on a hill. It was useless to make them pack everything just to travel at night when it was most dangerous.

Evander walked over to Buttercup, Ciya’s horse. The irony that he stole his sister’s mare to track down his caravan did not escape Artenance. That he took Buttercup after he illegally intercepted the King’s messenger crow made it funnier.

“Shut your gob,” said Evander, reaching into his saddlebag.

“I said nothing,” Artenance snorted.

Evander pulled something from the saddlebag and tossed it to him. Shadow took a playful nip at the mare before Artenance tugged on his reins. Unscrewing the flask’s cap, he breathed in the aroma of the ale before he took a swig. Honey and hops caressed his tongue, and Artenance savored the familiarity of the drink before he swallowed it.

“Is this your mother’s ale?” Artenance asked.

“My sister takes care of us even when she is furious.” Evander took a seat next to Artenance, who offered the flask to his friend. Evander took a drink then passed it back. “I find it a shame she’ll only ever be your assailant and friend. You would make an excellent brother.”

Artenance smacked the giggling fool on the head then passed the flask back to him.

“Make all the jokes you like. It doesn’t change anything now. It’s impossible. It’s a miracle Lord Yatah has given us privacy this long.”

“Lord Yatah can eat cow dung. I’m more worried about the King sentencing me to death for abandoning my post as commander on his ship.”

Artenance snorted and gulped more ale. “Don’t worry about my father. I’ll handle him. And as amusing as it would be to see Yatah eat cow dung; Father is determined to end the war. Adara and her family will submit to the empire or face death.”

“Has exhaustion from the two suns made you mad, Art?” Evander released an angry snort before standing. “Callahadrice is done for—is that what you think? How could you? Do you know other people—your people—cheered for the rape of Adara’s sister? For the murder of her young brother—”

“Stop.”

“I’ll petition your mother to reclaim you as Princess Artenette since Lord Yatah has an iron grip on your balls!”

Artenance clenched his right fist and turned to swing at Evander, but his second moved too fast. Water sloshed against his ankles and soaked his trousers. Evander didn’t wait for the horse to calm before he mounted and splashed out of the river.

“Evander, I have no choice!”

Evander pulled hard on Buttercup’s reins and turned her around to face Artenance.

“Twenty-seven hundred men, Artenance! AT least five-hundred men are crossing the Costovan Sea, ready for us to claim our allegiance to Callahadrice!”

“Stop this foolishness,” Artenance demanded. “What if someone—”

“Oh, like Yatah?” Evander clenched his jaw. “To hell with these taxes and this caravan! I’m talking about something real—something that threatens the woman you love! Instead, you worry what thieves think of you! It’s time you start thinking like a king rather than a tyrant’s lapdog!”

Blood rushed to Artenance’s ears and every muscle in his arms tensed as his anger rose. “That’s not fair!” Artenance said, pointing at Evander.

“Neither is your father’s invasion of an entire country because a headstrong Queen refuses to be intimidated by his politics!”

Evander took off before Artenance could get in another word.

He kicked rocks and allowed his anger to wash over him. Evander was his friend and his Second, but he didn’t understand the situation. He could never understand the situation because he wasn’t a prince of the empire under which a tyrannical king ruled. Evander was careless, and strong-willed, and didn’t need to allow himself to be tied to Bilran and it’s politics if he had such a problem with it.

ARTENANCE SPENT THE REST OF THE avoiding questions from Lord Yatah and the other men in his caravan regarding Evander’s whereabouts. They had been ready to pack up camp when he came back. Evander refused to speak to Artenance yet he spoke to correct an offending soldier when the man suggested the possibility of taking advantage of a willing lass in Pryka.

Women in Bilran had no rights, and to bed, an unwed woman would be her banishment or death. Artenance bit his tongue when Lord Yatah stepped in to defend the soldier’s right to have a conversation about whatever he wished to speak of, even though Evander outranked man except for the Prince in the caravan.

Traveling with a chamber pot-kissing knave and unskilled brutes were King Daemon’s way of teaching Artenance the true politics of the empire. That he was not to ever suggest an alternative to ending a war again unless it was to the King’s explicit approval unless Artenance was king himself. Only then would Artenance have true say in any heavy political situation.

Evander was right, Artenance thought. They could slip away easily enough at night to raise enough men to take an army to Callahadrice to stop his father. Artenance only wondered if Lord Yatah would allow the men traveling in the caravan to hurt innocents. He already didn’t respect ARtenance as Prince. The men acted like rogue pirates if given the opportunity.

No, Art decided. For now, he would continue to travel with his caravan.

Artenance realized he had never traveled so far in this part of his father’s empire. Pryka was smaller than the other villages they had visited. Not in size; in population. This puzzled art and Lord Yatah, as he claimed Pryka had not had a villager miss a payment of taxes in well over five years.

Art had no patience to inquire as to why. With Evander’s words echoing in his mind, he was compelled to forgive the blonde in front of him with a young boy attached to her dirty sits. Tears ran down her face when she thrust her cow’s lead rope toward his clenched fists.

“Forgive me, Lord Prince. Me husband passed away some time ago. Havin’ a wee one on the way has been hard on me an’ me boy. He’s not yet strong enough to work me farm. There’s only me, me milking cow, and me boy. I offer me cow as payment.”

Lord Yatah opened his mouth to speak but Artenance made a sharp war with his hand to silence him. Taking notice of the young widow’s protruding stomach, Artenance wondered if her small family would survive the winter without their cow. The weather had promised to be harsher, as it was only the middle of fall and Artenance had needed to wear his thicker clothes as he and his caravan traveled the countryside village to village. The young boy stared up at him with wide, curious eyes before he ducked under his mother’s skirts in fear.

“Well, are ye takin’, her not? She’s a good cow. I’ve not got anything for ye that’ll do in the heifer’s place.”

Her level of panic rose the longer Artenance allowed her to ramble.

He cleared his throat. “No, I—”

Lord Yatah stepped forward to take the cow’s lead. He leaned in close enough for Artenance to feel Yatah’s breath against his ear. Evander glare at them both from his seat in the back of the wagon—of course, he wouldn’t agree, Artenance thought. Evander was on a mission to drive him to insanity through silence and harsh judgment.

“Shall we take the child, Prince? If the cow does not please you,” said Lord Yatah.

The woman gasped and picks up her boy from underneath her skirts. She muttered a prayer under her breath then turned to wipe the mud off her child’s face.

Artenance narrowed his eyes before he yanked the cow’s lead out of Lord Yatah’s hands.

“Evander?” Artenance called.

Evander took the cow with nothing to say, even though the hateful gaze he gave Artenance said everything. The cow swished her tail as she followed Evander and the boy whimpered in his mother’s arms. Artenance turned toward the frightened mother, trying his best to smile at her, hoping she would relax. Fear amongst the people in the land may have been his father’s tactic, but Artenance had never cared for it.

“The empire of Bilran thanks you for your payment. Blessings on you and your boy.” Artenance offered his hand for the villager to kiss it. The woman bounced her boy up higher and took it to kiss his rings.

She sighed. “Oh, I could kiss ye on ye mouth, Highness.” She bowed low even with her very pregnant belly and a clinging child. Lord Yatah reached over to help her stand by gripping her elbow. She gave him a small curtsy. “Thank ye, milord.”

Lord Yatah tipped his hat. “My pleasure, madam.”

She turned to leave, but Yatah called out, “oh, but one moment, miss…”

Evander and Artenance glanced at each other. If Yatah claimed the cow wasn’t sufficient enough, Artenance would run him through with his sword. He had watched him do it twice before in other villages—twice too many—and he had meddled enough in the prince’s affairs with the caravan. If Artenance killed him, he could go to Callahadrice, damn his father and his empire.

“Yes, milord?”

“Do you know the family that lives on the hill at the edge of the village? They have not come to pay their respects to His Highness.”

Artenance narrowed his eyes as he watched Yatah, but he took his hand off the hilt of his blade. It was unlikely that the man gave a damn about anyone paying respects to him. If he could cause trouble, he would, and Evander’s words about working for a tyrant once again reminded Artenance of why he needed to consider abandoning the caravan to leave for Callahadrice. He almost didn’t want to admit it, but it was like these people were beyond his help. His father had hired men to terrorize villagers, and even if Artenance had not gotten in trouble for proposing to Ciya, taxes still needed to be collected. Yatah and his men would have still terrorized whoever they piqued their interest. It was not uncommon for a dozen or so slaves to be taken during tax season.

“Oh,” the villager said. “Them are the smithy an’ ‘is family…They’re an odd sort.”

“Yes, but are they aware they must pay taxes?”

Evander rolled his neck after he finished securing the cow to the wagon. He had at least deigned to listen to Artenance about Yatah’s behavior before they had their argument at the Fairy River. He didn’t seem to enjoy the tone Yatah had taken with the widow. For the brief moment they made eye contact, Artenance shook his head and crossed his arms. He hoped that would signify enough to Evander—they didn’t need to cause trouble in the middle of a village, as much as they itched to do so.

The widow nodded. “Aye, I’m no’ so sure why they havena come with they taxes.”

Artenance pursed his lips. He didn’t have to wonder if the family wouldn’t have a way to make their payment—most villagers crowded in the square to get it over with quickly out of fear.

“Evander, come with me! We’re going to the smithy’s home,” Artenance demanded.

Evander opened his mouth, to tell him where to put his order, Artenance was certain, but he didn’t wait for him. Artenance heard two sets of footsteps behind him and turned to make sure Evander was following. He was, as was Yatah, after he yelled a command to the men to keep collecting payments and not to stray far from their loot.

 Pryka had almost no trees although it was surrounded by forest. The two suns bared down on Artenance’s skin yet a chill ran up his leg. Pools of sweat ran down his neck as they trekked up the hill.

“It smells like death,” Lord Yatah sneered. “Perhaps they are dead. We should not waste the time.”

Artenance turned toward Evander, who feigned shock.

“Afraid of a little stale goat’s blood, Yatah?” Evander said, passing Artenance.

They passed a goat that had been slaughtered. It still hung to a post with its neck slit open, legs twisted around the pole with a rope. A bowl lay underneath the dead goat’s neck to collect its blood. Artenance ducked his head against his forearm and covered his nose in an attempt to drown out the smell.

“We have no time for foolishness,” Artenance said through his sleeve, his voice muffled. “I want this finished. They must be draining the animal to prepare it for a meal.”

Lord Yatah pulled a cloth from his trousers to cover his nose. “I think that animal is beyond consumption.”

Evander turned to wink at them, a bit of mirth in his eyes when he moved forward to knock on the door.

“The Prince of Bilran demands your presence!” Evander said.

Yatah bellowed, “Fool! You do not barge on doorsteps like that!”

Evander took a step back with a fake bow. “Sorry, milord, forgive me for thinking that is how we conduct business. If you can stand the stench of goat’s blood, perhaps you can coax a frightened family from their home.”

“Enough,” Artenance demanded, even though it was the most Evander had spoken since their fight.

The door cracked open an inch.

“Sorry, Highness,” said a man. Artenance motioned for Evander to step to the side. “We’ve got nothing for you. Me wife an’ me boy died last full moon.”

Artenance tightened his jaw and his teeth ached in protest. His patience was wearing thin with the villagers. Yatah’s eyes widened in delight. Evander cleared his throat, ever cautious.

“Nonsense,” Evander said. “Surely you have more goats.”

“The Goddess Xylorcia is a vengeful one, my Lords.” Behind the smithy, a slip of a girl gasped at the mention of the goddess King Daemon had long since banished. “I sacrificed me last goat. Yeh’d be wise to stop traveling at night. I know ye are.”

Yatah moved forward and forced himself through the door before Artenance could stop him. The smithy stumbled back on a limp leg and clutched his cane, but he still fell backward to the floor. The girl—Artenance assumed she must be the smithy’s daughter—rushed to him to help him up.

“What is this? A mockery of the royal family? You are the smithy. You are the wealthiest man amongst citizens in Pryka.”

“No more, Lord,” said the girl.

Yatah started to draw the sword from his side, but Artenance grabbed his wrist. “No.” Then he turned toward the man. “Perhaps we can take something else as payment? I am willing to show sympathy since you have just had a loss in the family.”

“That’s because he—”

The smithy slapped the girl. “Quiet!”

She ducked her head and covered her face with her hands. She muttered something Artenance couldn’t decipher. The smithy shoved her forward.

“Take her,” he said.

“Papa!”

“Do as I say, Airlea! A warning if I may, Prince. The goddess is on a warpath, angry we have forgotten her. Best ye keep out of the shadows and in the light of the twin suns lest ye gain her interest.”

Yatah sneered. “Pay no mind to an ancient heathen’s beliefs.” He spat at the smithy. “If you hadn’t wasted a good animal’s life, we wouldn’t be taking your daughter.”

Yatah had gone ahead of them. Neither man paid mind to the girl as they talked. She tried to keep pace with them, but Artenance huffed every time they had to slow down because she lost her footing.

“I’ll be glad to leave,” Artenance said to Evander on the way back to the village center.  “You may be as angry with me as you wish, but I’m finished here. Perhaps I should kill Yatah and be done with it.”

Evander nodded and cleared his throat. “There may be no need for that. We can leave and no one has to die…but I feel we should stay with your caravan longer. Goat sacrifices and warnings of dead goddesses—you may not believe my grandmother’s old ramblings, but I do, Art. We should be careful.”

Artenance frowned, considering his friend’s words. He may have given him trouble for his heathen roots on various occasions, especially since his mother’s side was from Callahadrice. But no matter which way Artenance looked at it, the Elder Woman’s knowledge of the world on matters of the supernatural went beyond his understanding. Their families had not been interconnected for generations without reason. In fact, the Elder had claimed many times that her gifts were heightened when a pagan priestess married her son.

“Yes… Ready the men to leave. We won’t overstay our welcome.”

They continued to speak, deciding on when they needed to leave in hushed voices. The girl trembled yet remained quiet the rest of the walk. She only tripped once, and Evander apologized for walking quickly.

Yatah paid them no mind. Artenance debated killing him again. Something in the back of his mind whispered to do it, yet he forced the thought back. Killing Yatah now would get him nowhere. He was one of the closest men to his father—perhaps Artenance needed to question him about what he knew about the attack his father had been planning for Callahadrice.

Yet, Artenance wanted Yatah’s blood.

The girl kept her head down and cried, silent, while they led her to the wagon. She was the first human they had to take for payment as taxes. Evander demanded someone to fetch him a rope, and a villager offered one before moving forward to pay his taxes to Artenance. He paid no attention to the man, instead transfixed with the girl’s face while Evander murmured a soft apology while he tied her wrists. She had the lightest skin Artenance had ever seen, unlike Princess Adara’s sun-kissed flesh. Pale lines of blue danced along the girl’s neckline, trapping his eyes, and made Artenance wonder what might happen if he were to kiss her there.

Evander cleared his throat.

“Prince?”

Artenance shook his head to loosen his mind from his fascination with the girl. He offered her his hand to help her in the back of the wagon and ignored his initial craving for her. He loved Adara, and while the girl was a rare beauty, she was now a slave for his empire. Her soft black hair grazed his hand while he placed his own underneath her armpits and lifted her up. He couldn’t help but think of Adara’s honey hair when it happened. The princess had some of the lightest hair Artenance had ever seen, and it had been one of the reasons he fell in love with her.

It happened so fast, Artenance only reacted.

“Airlea—wait—“

“Peter—don’t!”

A teenage lad with an ax moved toward Artenance, arm raised high, with the intention of striking. Evander forced Airlea back and climbed into the wagon after her. Yatah and Artenance pinned the lad to the ground with their swords.

“Peter, is it?” Yatah asked, digging his heel into the boy’s back, his blade pressed against the hand that held the ax.

Artenance caught Evander’s wince yet kept his blade on the boy’s neck. Airelea’s sobs pierced the air. She begged and pleaded with them to let him go, but that seemed to excite Yatah. The boy gasped, sobbed, and tried to free his hand from Yatah’s blade. That only made Yatah dig the blade deep enough to draw little streams of blood from the lad’s wrist.

“Shut up the girl,” Artenance demanded.

“Now, let’s not be hasty, Prince,” Yatah said.

“Don’t you hurt him!” Airlea shrieked.

“Oh, but attacking the Prince is punishable—”

“You’ve stopped him,” Evander said. The boy stilled under their blades and continued to sob against the dirt. Artenance ignored the girls’ fight against Evander although he heard it. “Have a bit of understanding, Yatah. Is this boy a friend, miss?”

“H-he’s to be my husband…”

“I see,” Yatah said.

“Kill me, Bilran scum,” the boy gasped, “and the Goddess will reign—”

“Oh, well, why did you have to do that?”

Artenance clenched his jaw and looked at the wagon. Evander saw it coming before it happened, and covered Airlea’s eyes. The boy screamed in pain when Yatah struck, severing his foot from the ankle with the same ax he threatened Artenance with moments ago.

“Enough, Yatah,” Artenance demanded. He drew his blade from the injured boy’s neck. It sliced his flesh and blood speed from the wound. He gripped the hilt tight, but didn’t allow himself to show remorse. “We came here to collect taxes, not to hurt people.”

“Oh, but your Highness, surely you wouldn’t want me to inform the King his Prince disagrees with his laws. In fact, I believe our punishment of the lad isn’t complete. Death, wasn’t it, for threatening a royal family member?” Yatah gave the gasping boy a look of pity. “Shall I let you do the honors, or shall we torture him further?”

“Art, listen to me,” Evander said, “damn your father’s laws!”

Yatah chuckled. “Careful, Evander, for you do not want to commit treason further.”

“Shut your gob,” Artenance said. He glanced at two other men. “Grab the boy. Let’s get this over with.”

“No!” Airlea and a woman who must have been the boy’s mother screamed.

The men stepped forward and forced the boy to his knees. Artenance paced in front of him, asking himself if he needed to do it. The boy had suffered the loss of a limb, but Yatah was right. He threatened Artenance, a Prince, and death was the only option.

The boy pleaded, he told Artenance that he was sorry, and begged for his life. He ranted something about loving Airlea, and begged anyone who would listen to have mercy. He promised to work in the castle if he survived his wound.

Artenance swung his blade in his hand for a better grip and ignored the sweat that built in his palm.

He had no time for doubts. His sword sliced through the lad’s neck. Ugly, stunned sobs from villagers made every muscle in his body tense.

“Death, as promised,” Yatah said, turning to the sobbing villagers. “Shall we move on, Prince?”

Artenance wiped the blood from his blade. “We should move before nightfall,” he said. “Men, get ready.”

Airlea’s sobs slowed to a giggle, then a bone-chilling cackle once they left the village.

No one in the caravan except for Artenance seemed to notice.

DUSK SETTLED OVER THE CARAVAN OUTSIDE of Pryka.

The girl kept quiet while Artenance ordered his men to make camp. She refused to leave the wagon even when Yatah tried forcing her from it. Evander stepped in to make him leave her alone more than once, and Artenance grew tired of Yatah’s obvious contempt for his authority. King Daemon had given him too much power, and Artenance wanted to end it.

Artenance sat next to Evander a few feet away from the fire. Guarded by the secluded area, they finally had the privacy they had not been given for an entire day. Yatah had been sent with two men to fetch dinner and Airlea hadn’t budged from her spot in the wagon.

“Are you still angry with me?” Artenance asked, offering Evander a bit of bread a villager from Donik had given them. It had started to stale yet it would still hold them over until the men caught something for a meal.

His friend remained quiet, glancing in Airlea’s direction. She hugged her knees to her chest and had not touched the flask of water they left for her at the edge of the wagon. Not a sound had come from her since her unnerving cackle after Artenance killed the Peter boy.

Artenance would never forget his name, nor the women’s cries as he pierced the lad’s neck with his blade. He had grown restless of his father’s brutish laws, yet Artenance had killed men before—vile men, those who wanted to see the end of his family’s empire. Those that wanted to hurt his mother and kill him when he was a lad himself. Long ago, Artenance had promised himself he would never hurt an innocent man.

Artenance swallowed the air that stuck in the back of his throat at the thought.

“About the boy…” Evander said.

“No,” Artenance said. “We will not speak of it.”

Evander nodded and took a bite of his own bread. He must have wanted to say something else to Artenance, but at least he respected his wishes. “Do you regret not leaving with me to go to Callahadrice?”

“I regret many things. I think we should leave this caravan and sail for the island.”

“We would have to return to Bilran and gather our other men.”

“You read the letter. Father expects they’ll cross the Costovan Sea in a week. Three days, if they are taking the new ships…”

“They are.”

Artenance threw his leftover bread to the ground with a curse under his breath. “Then we haven’t the time.”

“There are two problems I see with your plan,” Evander said.

Artenance frowned. “What?”

“Airlea will be at the mercy of these pigs if we don’t bring her.”

“Then, we’ll bring her. She’ll be safer in Callahadrice…In a land where women have more authority than men.”

“I don’t see that going well, Art. We should leave her in Bilran before we set sail. Maybe one of the men’s families will take her in.”

“You can’t be serious? It would be reckless to leave her helpless when we haven’t the time to travel back to the city—with a family she doesn’t know. Who’s to say they won’t sell her to the nearest market rather than take on another mouth to feed?”

“I am serious,” Evander said.

“We aren’t leaving her in Bilran. Have you spoken to any of the men in the caravan?”

“Fools, the lot of them. You won’t find one man who will be sympathetic to our cause. If you do, I’ll bend low and offer myself to the dead goddesses.”

“Don’t let Yatah hear you speak that way.”

Evander snorted. “I still wonder if I should have you reclaimed as Princess Artenette. You speak of leaving the caravan, yet you still kiss Yatah’s ass.”

They spoke for a few more moments. During their conversation, Airelea’s interest in them didn’t pass unnoticed. It was the first time she sat up in hours. She stared at Artenance yet he did not pause to interrupt his plans with Evander.

ARTENANCE WAS STARTLED FROM SLEEP.

His sat up, his feet hot. The fire pit the men had started was now larger. Confused, Artenance stumbled into the clearing of what had been covered in forest mere hours ago. The fire blazed into the sky, and around it, a woman danced with her hands high in the sky.

He froze.

It was the girl.

But she no longer seemed scared, or timid. She completely shed her clothing and now danced around the fire, naked. Her ebony hair swayed near her hips in a breeze that hilled Artenance’s ears. He stumbled back and tripped over a log. Landing hard, Artenance broke the fall with his wrist. Pain shot up his arm and he cried out.

She swung around with a grin on her face.

Artenance gasped in shock.

Her face was covered in blood. The fire had not grown because of more firewood, but by the bodies of the men in Artenance’s men in his caravan. Lord Yatah laid at Airlea’s feet, his throat and chest split open as flames licked his flesh.

“Finally, you wake.”

She didn’t sound like the scared girl she had been hours ago, but a confident, cold, otherworldly being…

Goddess-like.

Artenance’s jaw slackened and he gaped at her.

She cocked her head to the side, then laughed. “Oh, please, do not let my appearance startle you, Prince. I have been trapped in the bones and rags of this mortal for years now. I finally had the opportunity to show my real self and took it.” She reached out with her right hand, folded it into a fist, and then pulled it over her heart.

If the creature even had a heart, that is, Artenance thought to himself. He suddenly wished they had taken better heed of the warnings of the Elder Woman and the smithy. The way the people in Pryka had had such a difficult time paying taxes—why hadn’t it occurred to him that there might be something greater going on than misfortune or a hard growing year?

The boy—Peter—before Artenance killed him.

He had tried to warn them as well.

“Who are you?”

She certainly wasn’t Airlea. Artenance had noticed something strange about the girl as soon as she cackled after Peter’s death, and after no one else seemed to notice that she had acted so oddly. While they traveled, she had been scared and unsure one moment, and far too curious the next. Thoughts of Yatah’s death heightened when he stayed near her. Artenance thought that perhaps his mind had been playing tricks on him. He was tired from the day and needed rest—until her eyes stayed on him the entire time he spoke to Evander about going to Callahadrice.

“Did you not hear?” A giggle. “’Tis not wise to travel at night, some of the villagers preach. Even your friend’s grandmother warned against it…but I shall let you in on a secret.” The demon licked the blood from her fingers. Every inch of her was soaked in blood, even bits of strands from her hair clung to her body. “It’s not safe to travel here at all!”

She threw her head back and cackled.

Artenance backed away. A demon, his mind screamed. She must be a demon! An ancient, foul being who supped on the blood of men. He had heard of the kind before. They had nearly destroyed all of the Fae, Dwarves, and Elves eons ago. Their kind was why his father had outlawed the worship of the goddesses Xylorcia, Herona, and Adradia.

“Why so quiet?” She asked in a mocking tone. “Your mind…I find it fascinating. You think my name. You feel fear. You plot the death of your father yet feel sorrow for his terrible decisions as ruler—and ah, yes. You seek to be with the one you love.” More cackling that made his stomach churn. “Why, you even thought me more enticing than your Princess!”

“What do you want, demon?”

She stood straighter, insulted.

“Let us not pretend that you do not know I am the Goddess Xylorcia.”

Goddess worship had been outlawed, but that didn’t mean Artenance hadn’t heard of them. Adara once told him of the goddesses before her mother rejected his proposal and forced her to leave court early.

Xylorcia was the Goddess of Blood and Winter, and all things unpleasant. The Fae had written about their fear of her. A lad had lost his life because he tried to warn the caravan of her presence in the mortal lands. She was the scorned Goddess of the Netherworld, and she plagued the priestesses of Callahadrice for decades before they prayed hard enough to Herona, Goddess of the Hearth, for Xylorcia’s banishment from the island.

She sighed dramatically and rolled her hands, and spoke, “Yes, yes. I was banished from the Netherworld. I sup on the blood of mortals and make the summer moths ago away. Has your mythology been so corrupted by your father that you cannot remember everything? I was not banished from Callahadrice. I prefer these lands. Pryka lies on the mouth of the Netherworld. I have been trying to get back in, but cannot, because your father has outlawed worship. Getting home is impossible.”

“Then why don’t you leave, demon?”

Another unnerving giggle. “How have you not realized you fell over your friend?”

“What—?” Artenance looked down, and scrambled back. He swallowed the building scream in the back of his throat. Evander laid on the ground. He sucked in short, shallow breathes, his neck torn from the tip of his ear to the end of his shoulder. Artenance looked at the goddess in horror. “What have you done?!”

“I have decided to give you a choice…” Xylorcia paced in front of Artenance, hands behind her back. She arched her back provocatively. “You can let your friend die or let me give you the power to save your Princess.”

Artenance leaped to his feet. She spoke of madness. There was no way to save his friend. Evander was as good as dead, just like the rest of the men who had been in his caravan.

“You can go back to the hole you crawled from,” he spat.

Xylorcia rolled her eyes. “Typical man. A woman offers you a gift and you reject her—oh.” She giggled. “I forgot. Isn’t it the other way around? You offer a woman your hand and she laughs in your face!”

Artenance reached for his sword. He would not listen to the siren’s wail any longer. He would cut her down, and then drag her head back to—

“You cannot kill a Goddess, Artenance. It would be foolish to try. Yet, I must give you credit where it is due. I find your bloodlust delightful.

“I want you gone!”

“Very well. I shall leave. And then your friend will die and your lover will be forced to clean your kitchens after your father wipes her island from the planet.”

That made Artenance pause—the mention of Adara. The girl he loved but had not seen in three years. He had been willing to abandon his country mere hours ago but had let his doubts cloud his judgment. He should have listened to Evander and taken off with him the night he delivered the letter from King Daemon, announcing the decision to cross the sea to attack Callahadrice.

“If you had gone you would have been dead,” Xylorcia said.

“Get out of my head, demon!”

“You must realize I am not a demon, but a Goddess—a Being that is willing to give you what you need, if only you deign to lower your pride long enough to ask.” She brushed past Artenance. He gulped then jumped back. How did she move so fast? She knelt next to Evander, sticking her finger into his wound. He gasped in pain, his breaths weak. “I would decide to take the offer of my Gift,” Xylorcia advised. Your friend does not have much longer…Your punishment in the Netherworld for letting Peter die is a ghastly fate.”

Artenance threw his hands over his ears. Maybe if he blocked out the sound of her voice, he would be able to think.

Time is of the essence, Lord Prince.

“Get out of my head!”

He felt her in front of him, her hands ice-cold where her palm met his skin. It was a vast difference from when Artenance had helped Airlea into the wagon. His heart pounded in his ears.

“Save your friend…your lover…or let them both die terrible deaths?”

Artenance ripped his hands from his ears and screamed, “Then cease your taunting and do it!” Wet tears slid down his face. “If I can save Evander and Adara, do it!”

The demon Goddess halted in her spiteful jeering. She grinned wider, her two sharp canines prominent as she stepped even closer than before. The edge of her breasts grazed his bicep.

“Do you mean it? Will you let me help you? To Gift you…with powers, you cannot imagine? The power to take a life… to control and bend nations to your will? To save the lives of those you love?”

The hair on the back of his neck stood on end. The Goddess smelt like death.

“Yes.”

“May I have your wrist?”

Artenance wanted to tell her, no, but her eyes captivated him. They were as blue as the Costovan Sea. He offered his hand to her without a word.

“Artenance, don’t ever pass on my Gift.”

Pain wracked his entire arm as she sank her teeth into the flesh over his jugular.

HIS HEAD POUNDED LIKE A THOUSAND horses stampeded over it. His mouth was dry, and his skin burned if as if it had been placed inside of a fire pit.

The two suns bared down on him. Hissing, he scrambled underneath a tree that provided shelter from the burning rays of light. Dried blood clung to his wrist and mouth. Confused, Artenance searched his memory for what happened the night before.

“You made a deal with the Goddess…you damn fool.”

Artenance felt a thirst like he had never felt before, yet he stood on steady legs. Evander stood hunched underneath the protection of a large palm tree from the rays of the suns, fine except for caked blood on his neck.

“What happened?”

Evander inched forward to place his hands underneath the light. His skin fizzled and cracked. Wincing, he removed it from the light. “The Goddess of Blood and Winter gave you her Gift. I knew we should have listened to the Elder… Don’t you remember?”

Artenance shook his head. “Nothing.”

“Turn around, Art. Where are we?”

Something roiled in his veins at the sight of a thousand ships on the shoreline. But it was not the Costovan shores of Bilran. The Priestess towers loomed on the far left of the land, where both men had a perfect view of what was happening.

“We’re on the island.”

“We’ll wait until nightfall,” Evander said. “Then perhaps we can reason with your foolish father. I’m famished.”

“No, we will reason with no one.”

Artenance was hungry for the blood of traitors.

‘Til the Cockiest Asscrack of Dawn

A free short story, inspired by my current MFA course for the speculative fiction module.

Just a little forward: This was a LOT of fun to write for my MFA class. It’s undergoing workshop right now so I may edit it later, depending upon the feedback I get in my class. And no, I have no idea if I’m going to continue it.


‘Til the Cockiest Asscrack of Dawn

Werechickens are always at the end of the pecking order.

Cocks get the worst of it in every way possible.

The waning moon is…Meh. You kind of forget who you are after you deal with 206 bones reducing down to the size of a Jersey giant. The full moon is the worst—it makes it impossible to think beyond digging up garden roots or snuggling and walking under your very normal mother’s feet when she comes out early to feed the flock. (She still hasn’t gotten used to the situation since I started shifting a year and a half ago—I, unfortunately, inherited the werechicken gene from my father.)

If your wings aren’t clipped, it makes things tougher. You’ll gain this inherent, unending urge to fly over the fence to cross the road to the next farm over where the pretty hens—uh…girl—lives.

And you’ll never quite get that landing since your plume of feathers above your comb keep getting into your eyes (I think I have some Polish ancestry, although it hasn’t ever been confirmed).

But all of that is a hell of a lot better than getting your ass kicked by Hawk, the Easter Egger with arrogance issues, or dealing with the vegetarian farmer across the road who shoots first and asks questions later. The dog’s food bowl… or the dead dish. I wouldn’t even wish that on Hawk…

I haven’t had a haircut in six months, and I won’t let Mom cut it because I can fly farther with my wings. It’s just a glide, really, with pointless flapping, but I manage to get around.

If I’m going being honest here, I’m a beautiful cock. I won’t get a haircut because I don’t want to shift and come out looking like an oversized Silkie. I don’t know how those guys do it.

But the waxing moon—that’s when I start to feel human again after being stuck two days as a chicken. There’s a reason I cross the road (and leave all your “chicken crossing the road” jokes to yourself).

Her name is Cami Gilly. She’s the most beautiful girl in school. I’ve been in love with her since freshman year, but I’ve never had the guts to talk to her. I didn’t know how she would react if we got into an actual relationship and she found out about my…condition.

I hear the asshole raccoon overhead.

He tries to eat me every time I shift, and tonight is no different.

He flies from the trees with all four legs spread out, hissing and spitting and trying to grab my wings. If he pins me, I’ll be dead, and I’ll never be able to check on Cami. But I was smart—I haven’t cut my toenails in over a month. My back talons are long and sharp, and I manage to hook one in the raccoon’s eye. He hisses and makes weird raccoon noises, but he doesn’t stop. He is determined to kill me. I manage to get in one, sharp peck to his ass and then kick at him again. This time, my foot, and all sharp claws, manage to hook his face, and I peck him again. The whole time I’m clucking loudly, but I go at him with the force of a rooster protecting his hens, and he finally lets out a defeated cry before he limps his ass away from me.

Freaked out, trying not to let the chicken take over, I take refuge on top of Mr. Gilley’s chicken coop, right outside of Cami’s bedroom, breathing hard. He tried to claw the top of my shoulders, but as I preen myself, I don’t find any terrible damage. I forced meal worms down before I made the decision to jump the fence. They’re awful, but at least I get fast healing powers from them. I found this out completely by accident when I got into a conversation with another werechicken on Facebook.

Crap.

This dawn is just getting worse.

Cami is dating Heath Nottingham, one of the cockiest Bourbonsville High quarterbacks. I’m not completely certain, but I think he makes her depressed. I hear her television as I hop onto the ledge of the fence near her bedroom. Chicken hearing isn’t the best, but I hear soft arguing.

I recently found out Heath is a vampire.

I hate vampires. He’s not of the prissy variety, either. He’s old. Like Nosferatu-weird-teeth-old. I’ve seen his vampire face and he looks worse than one of those yellow-eyed renditions of the creature from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, only his eyes turn red. I got on Google and started doing research on this guy. It wasn’t easy. Vampires don’t like were-animals, and they laugh at werechickens. We’re at the bottom of the pecking order in every way possible. This guy preys on young girls, and he lives life over and over again as a teenager. I think he was turned when he was seventeen or something.

But it’s the scream—the heart-wrenching scream—that has me damn near banging my head against the Cami’s bedroom window. I peck and peck, but I can’t get inside. Heath hovers over Cami, his hand fisted in her blonde hair, fangs sharp and glinting against the light of the television. Cami struggles and tries to fight back, but Heath pins her like she’s made of feathers.

It’s by chance that I find the weak spot in the window screen.

I fly at Heath’s head, crowing, bucking, talons out. I’m Hawk—no one messes with my hen—er—girl. I scratch and peck and drive Heath into the rising dawn light.

He wails from the light, turns into a bat, and flies outside.

It is the single most awesome win for werechickens everywhere.

“…Kenny?”

I look down.

Crap.

I’m human again.

A naked human…

With, uh, standing issues.

And a freezing ass.

“Uh… hi, Cami.”

“You—how—you’re a chicken?”

Kindle Worlds, Pesky Muses, & Other Thoughts

Soon, I will go from having seven published books to only six. I’ll explain, but first I need to give you a little backstory. We all love the backstory, right? I promise—I won’t tell too much.

Back in 2013, my Vampire Diaries fanfiction, All This Time, was plagiarized from FanFiction.net onto Wattpad.

What? But, how can fan fiction be plagiarized? I didn’t know you even wrote that stuff! Isn’t that for amateurs????

I started writing fanfiction when I was fourteen years old for Final Fantasy VII. In fact, one of the longest unpublished stories I ever wrote was a mash-up of FFVII, FFVIII, FFXI, and FFX with a dash of The Bouncer. Didn’t know I was a video game nerd, did you? I’m laughing at my teenage self for this—and my high school friend, Kelli, that wrote it with me. We had over 1000 pages of fanfiction that we wrote in high school from the time we were freshmen to the time we were…I want to say juniors. Fanfiction was the platform I learned to write in, and it is where I got over my own stigma against myself since I have dyslexia. I read a lot before I started reading, but it was in high school that I REALLY knew I wanted to be a writer.

Fast forward to now, fifteen years later and when I have no idea where that Main Story is, and I am now an author of six new adult romance novels. Cheap Guitars was a Vampire Diaries All Human/Alternate reality fanfiction until I realized I had written an actual romance. E.L. James—and while I have the utmost professional respect for her, I probably won’t read any more of her erotica—started off writing Fifty Shades as Twilight fanfiction. So, I figured why not? But this was after something happened with All This Time.

With all of that being said, yes. Fanfiction can be stolen, especially when Taaroko and I spend so much time doing research in 1986 and the Civil War era. We have enough research done that I could probably pull off a historical romance, and do it well. My original co-writer of All This Time is also someone I like to call Super Queen Internet Googler, and that is how she found out the story was stolen. Sorry. I kind of went on a tangent. I think I am slightly upset, but I’ll explain why in a moment.

But long story short—I was pissed. Livid, even. A teenager saw fit to steal our perfectly(ish) researched TVD fanfic and called it her own. After getting Wattpad to remove the story, Michelle Hazen informed me of the Kindle Worlds program on Amazon. I could legally publish my Vampire Diaries fanfiction, where it would be safe, and I would earn a little money while I was at it.

I jumped on that opportunity after my co-writer agreed.

And now the Kindle Worlds program is ending, and my rights to the story will revert back to me.

Is it shocking? Yes. Upsetting? A little. Disappointing? I feel for the other writers who loved being able to publish their fanfiction on Amazon. But… this is also good. I’m putting the story back under its original state on the website when it comes off Amazon. It doesn’t really bother me that I won’t be earning royalties anymore. I learned a lot from the process and gained the courage I needed to start writing romance fiction. Cheap Guitars is a vastly different story now that I have released the Author’s Extended Edition. All This Time taught me quite a bit about book formatting. I cried when my first royalties came in, but I cried harder after Cheap Guitars made its first sale.

So, thanks, Michelle and Katie. It sucks our stories are coming down, but it was a good learning experience, and now we can move forward in our careers. (AKA I can further ground myself as a new adult romance writer, although a time travel romance and vampire fiction aren’t out of the picture.)

Also—I feel I need to address something.

To the girl who plagiarized the story before I decided to put it on Kindle Worlds:

I am not petty.

In fact, I like to think of myself as a (mostly) classy lady (except when my Daddy’s trucker mouth comes out of mine).

I belong to an incredible network of writers who support each other. I am not angry at you anymore, because you are one of the reasons I participated in the Kindle Worlds program. I’m also kind of flattered now because you thought the story was that good, that you had to have it. Taaroko tried to point it out to me when it happened, but I was twenty-five, and too much of a stubborn ass to listen. The #cockygate and #byefaleena trademark fiasco that had so many great romance writers—and writers in other genres—band together to fight the trademark happened to inspire me.

Sweetie, if you have questions about starting an ORIGINAL story, you can come to me. That’s in the off chance that you ever happen across this blog. I want to put some positive energy out to the universe, so I will gladly give you writing advice if you need it. You may email me at mara_a_miller@hotmail.com. I might not share my ideas with you, but I will try to help you if you want to write.

The same goes for anyone who is struggling with writing right now.

With that being said, I feel confident in my ability to give the Cheap series the final book it deserves. I don’t want to say much, but…Man, it’s going to be awesome. That’s all I can say. I’m fucking excited.

About that, my romance thesis, and two other projects.

Can I give someone else my muse?

She just might kill me.

(I’m going to write).

Plotting Relapse

Recently, I’ve become a planner girl. I’m not joking about this either—not only have I turned two friends onto the Erin Condren website (you can go here if you want to check it out! She just came out with an eighteen month planner, and get a $10 dollars off if you use my link.) because the planners are fantastic, but I spent an exorbitant amount of money on three planners from the website. They hold up well, the paper does well with my fountain pen ink, and they’re customizable.

And yes, I use every single one.

As horrible as it may sound, I have used most of my loans from excess funds with SNHU to purchase/fees my new EC obsession. My Lifeplanners have two separate purposes—one of them is for every day life stuff so I can keep track of important dates, like when Hank needs his Heartguard or to keep track of my boyfriend’s work schedule, or my book-related goals. The second is my academic planner, where I have the classes my advisor has lined up, so I can keep track of my assignments, my grades, and my progress on my thesis. The “academic” Lifeplanner is useful especially to keep track of assignments for my final project, which is usually a combination of all “milestones” in my classes. Yes, I realize EC has actual academic planners, but I usually only take one class and figured it would be a waste.

And my Monthly Deluxe Planner… this thing is amazing. I bought the oversized one with 80 pages so I would have a more detailed place to make notes. I find I’m more likely to make a blog post, too (I wrote the first draft of this in the planner).

And it’s that very reason that I’m annoyed with myself. I can’t seem to make myself plot out my WIP for anything. I created a beat sheet but I’ve already gone off task with it before I can even finish the first chapter. I’m not too worried about it yet—I’m trying to be easy on myself. This story will be my first stand-alone. This WIP will not turn into a series and I’m sticking to it since I can be stubborn. I’m giving the Cheap series a break because I don’t want it to spawn seven more stories when I’m trying to end it. The series WILL end with Kat and Charlie. I’m not working on it since my ideas tend to get too big before I have to rein it all in, and end up getting frustrated. Really, it’s that I’m struggling ever-so-slightly with controlling my creativity, and that’s causing a writer’s block.

Bah.

But I’m reading Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, so maybe that will help me finally beat my plot into submission (no pun intended!). I’m also going to do something o rarely do—and that is to create character sheets for everyone in my WIP. I had a lot of work done on it, but that was when I thought I was going to make it the first in a rocker romance series. The characters don’t fit that mold, and never have. I also think I have a copy of Plot Your Work somewhere, but that means digging around in my unpacked things, and it could be either at my Mom’s house or my boyfriend’s mother’s house. Things tend to travel with me and get left occasionally…oops.

And oh—yeah.

I moved in with my boyfriend. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that yet!

I partly attribute my block to moving and the general craziness of not having an office space to write in, but I can’t blame all of that on it.

This block is only temporary. I keep telling myself that because I know it is. A stand-alone is a different beast than a series, so I just need to be a bit more strategic in how I’m writing it.

I do have a question for those of you reading—do you have anything you do when you outline? Certain character sheets that work best? Scene/chapter outlining methods? I think I’m going to try Kim Chance’s character sheet she just released the other day. But anyway, share with me! And if I don’t use it, maybe it will help someone else who is struggling like I am.

The hilarious part about this is that I’ve been plotting my MFA thesis, and that is going wonderfully. Those methods just aren’t working for my other WIP.

For Uncle Mark

I have decided I’m a strange writer. Either that or I’m on the verge of breaking a terrible writers block—well, technically, I have, but more on that in a little bit. Either way, April is upon us once more, and it isn’t the prospect of warmer weather that excites me. Or that I can now walk Hank in flip flops without layers and layers of clothing (although the Kentucky weather has been acting strange again)…or even that I now have an apartment with my boyfriend that is ours.

No, I’m freaking excited about Camp NaNoWriMo. I went through a bad writing stump in January, wrote bits and pieces in February, and nothing again in March (for the most part—nothing substantial, anyway). Granted, I did have a lot going on. I moved twice (yes, twice), have had limited internet access, and my MFA class has kept me busy but petrified because we have to use videos to submit our work. I also was focused on editing a novel for a new author. So, I feel like those were legitimate reasons for not beating myself up for being lazy whenever I started getting angry over not writing. I forgave myself; not an easy task.

With that said, I’m officially working on a stand-alone novel, Ivy Wild. I love my series writing, but I’m starting to wonder I can’t write a stand-alone, so I need this challenge to prove to myself that I can tie everything up nicely.

I’m also pantsing.

I know! I was doing so well with the plotting. Cheap Tricks turned out to be fantastic because I plotted it and used a beat sheet. But, I need a change of pace. I want to write more and publish faster. I write faster when I pants. Granted, I may need to edit more later, but I’ll still write quickly.

Usually, I don’t do this…but pray for me, y’all. I’ve not pantsed in a while. I wrote 2,633 words yesterday, and we’ll see how it goes today. I’m also writing longhand. I’m dying to get this story written since it’s been in my head for so long. It’s special, since I’m basing it in Philadelphia and plan on dedicating it to my Uncle Mark, who passed away in 2016. I’ve been all kinds of emotional—but it’s good to let yourself get emotional when you write.

All right! I’m pumped to go write now. Good luck to anyone else who is participating this month!

Damn Procrastination Monkey

I just realized I haven’t posted much on this blog recently unless it was a book tag or something else random. I didn’t even have a reason for it either because I haven’t been writing much since I finished rewriting Cheap Guitars.

I blame it on the Procrastination Monkey. Damn thing. It’s ruined all my plans!

On a more serious note, I honestly haven’t been able to decide which one of my novels I want to sit down and write yet. It’s like my brain is so overloaded with ideas that it can’t process which one needs to be written. But, I do need to narrow it down and start writing my damn books. I’ve got five covers ready for them, after all. But for the life of me, I couldn’t sit down and focus on one thing.

I hope that is a problem other writers face. You just get so many ideas that you can’t help but jot them down, but then that idea turns into an entire first chapter of a book. Then you get flustered with yourself because you can’t start writing the new book because you have to finish writing the other damn book. It turns into a round of stuffing your face with Doritos and hair pulling and–oh, just me? Okay, then.

But, to be honest?

I’ve had that problem since I finished Cheap Tricks. I’m not saying it’s a BAD problem… it’s like the Universe wanted me to take a break.

Well, Universe, I ain’t got the time for that.

I’m thrilled to announce that I think I have finally narrowed down my writing schedule for 2018. No more break needed, Universe.

Recently, I’ve become obsessed with Erin Condren planners. I sat down to REALLY think about how I want my writing year to look and jotted a few notes in the back with my pretty double sided purple pen. I’ve been working on the Cheap series for so long that I started worrying that might be the ONLY thing I ever write, so I will ending the series with a novella and one more novel, Cheaper Sunglasses and Cheap Promises. I’m not ready to say much about those stories yet except that they are happening. I’m also planning a contemporary standalone with a more adult theme and an NA trilogy. After that, a brand new series, and I haven’t decided how many books will be in that yet. I’m finally excited about my writing plans for the year because I managed to get myself organized.

And no, Erin Condren isn’t sponsoring this little post. I don’t have enough followers yet for that. Haha! I just really love her stuff. I’m especially obsessed with the way you can customize everything. I’ve got two notebooks that I had customized for the novels I will be writing this year.

So, with a self-inflicted publishing deadline fast approaching for Cheap Guitars, story plotting to do, and an editing job to complete (note to future Mara: good blog post idea), a new relationship, and the MFA program starting shortly, I’ll have busy schedule. I’m freaking excited about it, too. I’ve been dying to see more books up on my list of published novels in the back of my bullet journal and I say it’s about time I start buckling down to make 2018 my year.

7 Ways to Survive NaNoWriMo

I realized I did the math wrong in figuring out how many years I have participated in National Novel Writing Month. It isn’t my tenth year…it’s my eleventh!!!

So, with that said, I am writing this to try to help those who are participating this year. Out of the ten years of NaNoWriMo that have passed, I lost three of them…but I also won seven times. It’s been a wild ride. I will never publish some of the stories I’ve written because they weren’t that good. I cringe now whenever I look at them. It’s one of those things where you have to sit back and laugh at yourself.

1.) Back Up Your Novel

This should be a given, shouldn’t it? I don’t rely on Microsoft word or it’s “auto-save” anymore. It’s a pain in the ass to click “save” every five minutes (and it lost 5,000 fucking words in the Author’s Extended Edition of Cheap Guitars–sorry, not sorry, for my language there) I don’t live in an area with the most reliable electricity when Kentucky decides it will give us all four seasons in the span of a week (yesterday it was chilly but nice, and today it’s pouring and I saw my breath when I let my dog go potty).

Yes, I do use a Word document, however. I have decided Goddess of Blood and Winter will have a hardback edition so I’m planning to use Ingram Spark for the first time. Formatting it in a document I’ll upload later makes it easier on me. I have a lot to do so that I can make sure it’s published by my personal deadline. It might sound like more work, but this year I’m writing in Scrivener and backing up/formatting in Microsoft Word. Yes, I’m also aware that you can format books through Scrivener but in my experience, it always does something weird, and I’m still learning how to use Scrivener even though I’ve used it on and off for about six years. I trust Microsoft Word when it comes to formatting my work–and hello, drop caps!–but not for saving my work regularly because my dog is a butthead (he has slapped my keyboard and closed documents on me) and I don’t trust Kentucky weather.

2.) Don’t Box Yourself

It’s easy to say that we want to write our novels in order. That seems logical, right? I know I used to think I had to write everything in order when I created my document for Haunted Desperation. And I did write in chronological order in 2007 and a few after that, but it was when I started really working on my New Adult romances that I started breaking my usual writing mode and wrote out of order.

I can’t stand reading HD anymore. But my romances?

Cheap Tricks and Cheap Sunglasses are some of my best work to-date. The rewrite of Cheap Guitars is still going strong, and I’m not exactly writing that in order, either. It’s also my side-project while I work on The Goddess of Blood and Winter this month.

This is what I suggest to NaNoers: write the scene that speaks to you the most that day. Get it out–write those 1667 words. This is where writing with Scrivener comes in handy because you can write the scene and toss it in a “To Be Added Later” (or whatever you want to title it) folder while you work on the scenes that need to be finished in whatever chapter you paused in writing to get that scene out of your head… if that made sense. I’m in a rambling mood right now, I think. Happens every November 1st!

Also, I think one of the perks this month to participating in NaNo is that we can get trials/discounts on Scrivner. I already own the program but I highly recommend it if you have never used it.

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3.) When in Doubt, Longhand

Huh? What do I mean by this?

We’re writing every day–sometimes more than those 1,667 words. My word count–right now–is 5119 words–although I’m not finished with chapter one yet. I’m going to try to keep it to 5,000 a day because that’s usually how long my chapters are. They might get longer since I’m working on fantasy/horror/romance. I’m not sure yet because I haven’t done in in almost ten-fifteen years? I’m not sure anymore.

I have a problem where the computer cursor taunts me, like, Ha! you imposter! You’ll never finish this novel! Give up now!

Writing longhand on paper does something to my brain. It’s like I can think clearer and characters and descriptions pop off the page. I love writing with my fountain pens. My favorite ink is Noodler’s Black Swan in Australian Rose. It’s a purple-pinkish black that is bulletproof, meaning that the paper will disintegrate before the ink will fade completely. Useful when you have an English Mastiff, trust me.

Don’t panic if you get stuck. Pull out a pen or pencil and some paper and see where your thoughts take you. Write the scene that can’t be put in chapter two yet but would work great in another chapter. Type up everything you’ve written at the end of the day since you can’t count it on the website unless they have the document at the end of the month.

Also: free first draft. Take that, evil blinky cursor.

Check out this article I found on writing on paper. It validates everything I just said, but more eloquently.

4.) Don’t Edit

This might seem contradictory when I said, “don’t edit if you’ve written a chapter on paper,” but I don’t count handwritten pages in the no-editing rule. I have dyslexia so I do weird things on paper. For some reason, I also stumble over words like necessary (I had to ask Siri how to spell it) and it doesn’t make sense. I have to watch letters that dyslexics have trouble with when they are trying to read or write but I don’t need a special font either (I’m fond of Palatino or Fanwood when I’m working). I chalk it up to not being so severe because Mom wouldn’t let me give up when I was a kid (she was told I’d never read or write and she told the therapist to fuck off–I think I wrote a post about being dyslexic once). The quicker I catch weird mistakes, the easier it is for my editors later.

I mean this–don’t edit the main manuscript. Whether you’re doing it like I am or simply writing in Word, don’t let yourself edit. Editing is the next stage in the writing process, as well as rewriting, and rewriting some more. I covet those Indies who can bang a book out in a month and hit a best seller’s list on Amazon (I see it all the time) but I’m not, and probably will never, be one of them. I need at least four months (I type close to 120 wpm and have amazing editors and a solid beta team, so when I’m getting a book ready, it goes fast–also, Grammarly, I love you).

I might sound like I’m repeating what it says on the official National Novel Writing Month website, but December is for editing. You might get stuck if you try to write your first draft perfectly and it can make the entire book fall flat from stifled creativity.

5.) Keep Everything You Write

I’m suggesting this mainly to the newbies.

Maybe you start your novel, and then you realize your POV isn’t working. Or maybe you get ten pages into the book and realize maybe that side character you really love would work better as the main character.

I take November as a time to explore who you are as a writer. 50,000 words in a month is a large task for someone who has never written a book before. Back in 2015, I think Cheap Sunglasses was close to 70,000 words when I finished writing it and my editor widdled it down to 60,000 on me before I realized I had a lot of writing fluff in it from writing during the November NaNo and Camp NaNoWriMo (but I also had a lower word count set since they allow us a little wiggle room in April and July). I might feel like a pro at winning this challenge now, but I’m still coming out of my comfort zone and setting my next New Adult rockstar romance to the side so I can reconnect with characters that have been in my head since I was a teenager.

If you don’t think that first person present POV is working, try writing it in the third person. See what it looks like after 2,000 words and then set it aside. In this case, I recommend reading both what you wrote in the first person and the third person the next day (okay–maybe I’m breaking my editing rule again–but I have a valid reason for this).

It’s not easy converting an entire 63,000-word novel from the third person to first (trust me, doing this with the Author’s Extended Edition of Cheap Guitars). Keeping everything will give you wiggle room for Thanksgiving (if you’re in the US) or for a day where you really need a break.

Also, it could give you the start of the next book where the main character that isn’t working will work. That happened to me–Cheap Sunglasses was going to be the fourth book, but I hadn’t figured out how I wanted to write Cheap Tricks yet, so I switched them around, started writing in the first person, and now I’m editing/rewriting Cheap Guitars. 

*headdesk*

Let me amend this, however, by saying that I was still figuring out who I was as a writer when I wrote the first two novels and the novella in the series.

6.) Have Some Sort of Plot

This doesn’t have to mean you have to give every character special colored eyes or a peg leg or a deep dark past.

I’m a plantser, by nature. I like my beat sheets and my bullet journals…but I also tend to go off-course, so to speak. Even if it’s just making notes at the end of the day, I suggest keeping track of what you’re working on. If you don’t, you can get lost really quick, and you’ll end up doing something like this:

Screenshot 2017-11-01 13.08.44

Yes, this is an actual screenshot from Haunted Desperation. I cringe every time I look at it.

7.) But Don’t Forget to Have Fun

I’m reserving a scene for Goddess of Blood and Winter when I’m stuck and need a laugh: my main character, Adara, is going to force Evander into a dress so they can cross the sea to safety.

A scene inspired straight up out of Final Fantasy VII (with obvious differences because I’m not writing fanfiction, here).

I get to pay homage to my favorite game and laugh hysterically at how uncomfortable my character will be when he has to cross-dress, but also have a poignant moment to address how much danger my main character and her lover are in.

Cloudette.png

I googled this image and died laughing. I think it’s a perfect depiction of Cloud and Don Corneo.

I wanted to try to make it to ten things to remember during NaNo, but I’m going to end it at seven since this is long. If you enjoyed this post and want another list this month of things to remember, I’ll gladly post another. Or, better, tweet me, and we can talk through your crisis! I’m not opposed to sound-boarding with a writer who needs help!

If you would like to add me on Nano’s website, my name is Angelic_Demon. We can talk there, as well!

Happy writing!!!