Too Villainous for Romance?

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Whenever I’m writing romance, I have to be careful not to think too hard about genre expectations. Otherwise, it’s quite possible that I’ll end up taking some of the teeth out of my heroes. The thing is, the genre is stuffed to the gills with heroic heroes, and even the “anti-heroes” are secretly noble and honorable and very apologetic about their flaws. I love romance, and I love those types of heroes, but sometimes, I want a hero who is a little bit less than perfect. A darker “hero” who is unapologetic for who and what he is.

Since I ultimately write the books that I want to read, that’s exactly how some of my “heroes” end up. Not that I don’t make an effort to redeem them throughout their book. After all, growth is what makes a character dynamic and interesting. But I don’t always want my hero to be Mr. Perfect by the epilogue either. I still want him to have a few flaws.

When I wrote Balfor’s Salvation, I struggled with the decision to cut the first chapter out completely, because it introduces my “hero” in a gory, violent scene. He is hardly heroic material at this point, and there’s a good reason for it, but I expected it to turn off a lot of readers in the genre. In fact, the original scene was much worse than what made it into the final draft. At one point, Balfor was almost irredeemable for me, and I was sure he would be irredeemable for many readers. (I’m considering offering the original scene as content for subscribers to a newsletter. Let me know if anyone’s interested.)

I suppose artistic integrity would demand that I leave him as he was, and that changing him to better suit the genre took something away from the overall story.

This was my struggle, and my unresolved question. Should I, or shouldn’t I?

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Encouraging readers to review your book can be a difficult, time-consuming process when you haven’t yet built up a huge platform. At this point in my career, one negative review on a book could be the only one I receive, and that could literally kill my book’s chances. If it’s negative enough, it could kill all of my books. That may seem like a mercenary reason to alter my art, but I don’t want to just keep writing for myself. I want to share my stories with the widest possible audience.

Yet, I left the revised introduction to Balfor in the final draft of Balfor’s Salvation, because even though I changed him somewhat from his original incarnation, I still wanted him to be dark and dangerous, even somewhat villainous. I didn’t want him to be too safe. My heroine, Stacia, is a strong woman and I felt like she was capable of handling someone like Balfor.

Usually, my characters come to me whole-cloth. I imagine them as distinct personalities with well-defined backstories and as many negative as positive attributes. Perhaps Balfor started off a little too dark because he was never supposed to be a romance hero. I wasn’t planning on writing his story, but in the end, he demanded it, and he wouldn’t have anyone else but Stacia. I had other plans for her, but yeah…that wasn’t happening once he made up his mind.

A similar situation happened with Uriale. He was definitely only supposed to be the primary antagonist for my first two books. He was a monster. Is a monster. He’s done terrible things. How could he possibly ever be a hero?

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The truth is that I didn’t want him to be at first, but it turned out that he had more dimensions to his character than the villainous side he revealed in the first two books. I discovered that he could be redeemed in my eyes. Can he be redeemed in the eyes of other readers? I guess I’ll find out. His teeth are already well established as sharp, so at this point, there’s no rewriting scenes to blunt them. Uriale’s Redemption (which I hope will be released next summer), will reveal whether he can use his power for good instead of evil.

In a way, starting with such a villain and being unable to change his past or make him “softer” and therefore more acceptable is a bit of a relief. It means I won’t have to struggle over whether to keep or delete scenes that reveal him in a less than romantic light. In the same moment that I decided to go ahead and keep Balfor’s introduction instead of stripping the worst of his character traits and actions out of the story, I also decided to take the risk with publishing Uriale’s story.

I suppose in the end, artistic integrity won out over marketing concerns. Granted, the changes I did make were significant, but I still feel like I remained true to Balfor’s character. As I will remain true to Uriale’s character. His past is even darker than Balfor’s, and he’s had many more years to grow twisted and corrupt. If nothing else, writing his story should be incredibly interesting. The outline certainly is.

I’ve included the first part of Balfor’s Salvation in case you wanted to see the scene I very nearly cut from the book. Let me know what you think. I’d love to get other opinions on this.

Chapter 1

Duke Ranove approached the campsite cautiously, noting the severed heads lined up along the trail. The scent of blood, spilled bowels, and death tainted the air. When he entered the sheltered area, hemmed in and shaded by basalt columns, he saw what he’d hoped not to see.

Prince Balfor crouched beside the sullen embers of an old fire, a severed adurian arm clutched in one clawed hand. Ragged flesh on the dismembered limb showed bite marks. The silver of adurian blood coated him from his horns down to his talons, mixing with his own black blood, also spilled in copious amounts. A coagulating pool lay beneath his feet as swirls of black and silver sluggishly dripped from the loincloth that was his only covering. In the clearing overshadowed by towering basalt, pieces of adurian corpses littered the muddy ground. Standing at the edge of the campsite, Ranove could barely detect the prince’s personal scent beneath the stench of rotting meat and old blood.

Though Balfor had his back to Ranove, his wings were partially extended in threat. The prince had no doubt sensed Ranove’s arrival from the moment he entered the basalt traps.

Ranove ventured a few steps in Balfor’s direction before a baleful growl from the prince froze him in place. He tensed as Balfor suddenly turned and charged him, a snarl twisting his blood-coated face to reveal chunks of flesh caught in his bared teeth. Ranove sidestepped the larger umbrose, sweeping his wings back to lift himself out of Balfor’s path. Balfor rushed past him, spinning a step beyond him to face Ranove, roaring in challenge.

Ranove lowered his head and wings. He’d have preferred not to fight and risk his own death, or worse, the possibility that he might win and Balfor would die. The power granted to Balfor by the Mother would inevitably pass on to Ranove as the next strongest umbrose. That was the last thing he wanted. He need only look at what it had driven Balfor to do just to escape Her influence. The primal was in full control of the prince now.

Balfor growled at Ranove’s submission, circling him. The prince feigned a lunge forward. Ranove didn’t flinch—which would have lowered him to the level of prey in the primal’s estimation—but he kept his head down.

Suddenly, Balfor lowered his head and rammed Ranove, bashing their horns together. Ranove staggered back a step—tasting blood from the force of the blow—but quickly recovered, resetting his footing to hold against Balfor’s onslaught. The bony, hollow thudding of their horns crashing together echoed in the canyon of stone columns. Digging into Balfor’s shoulders with both sets of claws to restrain him, Ranove strained to hold onto the heavier umbrose to minimize the damage caused by his head bashing. Venom dripped from his claw tips as they pierced the prince. His own skin burned from venom as Balfor’s claws sliced across his chest.

They pummeled each other with their wings. It was a primitive fight, but one meant for establishing dominance, not for killing. It had been a long time since Ranove had fought this way. The old way. The primal way.

Balfor was bigger and stronger. Despite that advantage, blood flowed freely from wounds on both umbrose when Ranove dropped to one knee in defeat. Balfor staggered back, lifting a hand to his forehead. He touched the broken flesh beneath one horn and then stared at his palm covered in black blood mixed with silver.

When he looked at Ranove again, the duke finally saw recognition in his eyes. “How long have I been gone?”

 

*****

 

Balfor didn’t like the circumspect expression on Ranove’s face when the duke answered his question. “Two weeks ago you set the slaves loose in the basalt traps armed with weapons. You’ve been hunting them since then.”

Balfor frowned. Memories trickled back from the past two weeks. Ugly memories blurred by the mental veil he kept between himself and his primal. “How many slaves this time?”

Ranove glanced to his right. “Fourteen.”

Balfor followed the direction of his gaze and saw the corpses. Lip curling in disgust at the

sight, Balfor shook his head. “Did I catch them all?”

Ranove nodded.

That was one relief. If the slaves had escaped, they could’ve reported his condition back to Uriale and Anata, jeopardizing Sanctuary’s safety. It would have been Balfor’s fault, and his burden of shame to bear. He was no longer fit to rule, but the Mother had chosen him and would not release him until his death. “How many slaves are left?”

Ranove’s expression told Balfor he wasn’t going to like the answer. “This was the last of them.”

“Father’s Curse!” He clenched his fists and spat on the ground, wanting to rid his mouth of the foul taste of raw meat and blood, but also of failure. “I killed them all, then?” He glared at Ranove. “Why didn’t you stop me?”

Ranove wouldn’t meet his eyes. “Even the Mother could not stop you.”

The revelation shook Balfor. He’d already lost control of his primal four times in the two years since he’d been freed from the adurians. Each time, he’d disconnected from the Mother and enjoyed the blissful silence behind the veil where even She would not go, but the price for that silence was too high. His primal was growing stronger and more difficult to restrain. There might come a time when he became lost to the primal forever.

Now that most of the umbrose males were off fighting the war against the adurians, they needed the slaves to work the fields to offset the loss of their labor. He could not risk allowing the females to leave the safety of the city boundary when their population was still so small. “You didn’t inform me we were running out of slaves.”

Ranove bowed his head, but not before Balfor saw a flash of anger cross his face. “Your Highness, I did pass on that information.”

The duke’s tone bordered on disrespectful. Up until this point, Ranove had always been his staunchest ally; the advisor he trusted the most. It angered him that Ranove would slip up and reveal his disdain. It disturbed him that he might have lost the other male’s respect for his multiple failures to attend to the duties that only the Mother’s Chosen Prince could perform.

A vague recollection surfaced. A warning from Ranove about the slaves. It had irritated him at the time, preoccupied as he’d been by his concubines and heady shadowberry wine. Overindulgence in both had done nothing to silence the voices, but they’d made it easy to ignore his second in command.

Those voices whispered at him now, a susurration that made it difficult to hear the breeze weaving through the basalt canyons. The Mother was disappointed in him. The weight of Her displeasure hung over him like a physical burden. His people were already in dire straits because of his negligence. Any further attempts to escape his responsibilities would bring far harsher punishments from the Mother of Shadows than this current manifestation of Her displeasure. There would be no more escape from Her will. “Give me your report.”

Ranove looked around them again as if he wasn’t comfortable surrounded by the grisly evidence of Balfor’s loss of control. Balfor wondered when his duke had grown so soft. Probably the human female making him weak. He allowed Lilith’s presence in Sanctuary because Ranove wanted her. Acceding to his wish gave Balfor leverage, but that didn’t mean he liked having a human among them. For too long, the star-people had been the servants of his enemies. They could not be trusted.

“Your legion commanders have reported successes in their campaigns. Aduria is neutralized and the Summer Palace has been completely destroyed.”

Ranove’s optimism didn’t spread to Balfor. “Uriale and Anata are not fighting. That doesn’t make sense.”

“Uriale is little more than Anata’s puppet now, and her madness has infected him. She weakens him instead of augmenting the Father’s power within him. I saw this for a fact when I was their captive.” Ranove’s tone didn’t change as he spoke of his captivity, nor did his expression, but fine tension vibrated the duke’s muscles, and his wings twitched with his words. Like Balfor, Ranove had suffered in adurian hands. In fact, the adurian princess had taken an obsessive personal interest in breaking Ranove, which had made his unexplained transfer to the human facility he’d escaped from a reprieve. Balfor had not been so lucky and had remained in the hands of Uriale and Anata, subject to their torture. The bright ones had no mercy for the umbrose. The feeling was entirely mutual, and someday Balfor would repay them for every wound they’d inflicted upon himself and his people.

Balfor crossed his arms over his bloodstained chest. “I have also witnessed Uriale’s waning power. He must be trying to reject their bond.” He grimaced at the thought of being bonded to a twisted sadist like Anata. He almost pitied his mortal enemy, because Uriale couldn’t break what was forged by the Father of Light, any more than Balfor could deny the will of the Mother of Shadows. No matter what Uriale tried, he’d be tied to Anata forever. “But that’s not enough of an explanation for their failure to defend their own people. Anata is arrogant enough to try and fight me despite my connection to the Mother’s Heart, even with Uriale’s greater experience cautioning against it. Yet they’ve issued no challenge and aren’t fighting alongside their own legions.” He turned and paced the width of the campsite. “They’re up to something. Searching for some way to overcome the advantage the Mother’s Heart gives me.”

“Our scouts are out there. I’ve already told them to look for signs of Uriale and Anata.”

“Good. I need to know what they’re planning.”

“I will report to you immediately if I hear something.” Ranove spread and folded his wings as he spoke again, his words coming slower in a hesitant tone uncommon to the normally decisive umbrose. “About the crops ….”

Balfor suppressed his sigh. “You have a solution.”

“I have a suggestion.”

He already suspected what Ranove prepared to say. “I’m not going to like it.”

Ranove bowed his head. “The humans want to open up trade with Sanctuary. Their domes were damaged during the rebellion and most of their resources have gone towards rep—”

Balfor lifted a hand to silence Ranove. “I don’t care about the humans’ problems.”

“They have the laborers to work our fields in trade for our resources to rebuild their city.”

“And you’ve already worked out a deal with them, I suppose.”

“Not without your permission.” Ranove’s voice sounded smoother, reassuring. “Their primary materials provider, Dornan Industries, has made several inquiries in that direction. They wish to send a representative to personally meet with you.”

“Dornan? I’ve heard that name before.” He’d more than heard it. It had been a refrain in his mind for two years now. Even though memories were sketchy at best lately, that one stuck out.

“That is the second name—the family name— of the soldier wounded during your extraction from the adurian tower. She is my concubine’s closest friend.”

Balfor had been told her name by the human rebels after his rescue from the royal tower in Aduria. It had been mentioned in an aside, a tally of casualties in the hopes of impressing a debt upon him. He’d felt no obligation to them—indeed, he still looked upon most of them with disdain—but he’d caught the name and remembered it. Just as he remembered her.

 

An appealing feminine scent beneath the reek of blood, a soft moan of agony he scarcely heard because of the sharp retort of human weapons. A slight weight rested against his shoulder. Slender fingers gripped his forearm as pain coursed through the body beside him. He moved his arm, and the fingers fell away. Immediately regretting their absence, he quested for them with his own hand, hardly moving because of the crippling pain from his many wounds. Then they were in his grasp. A victory! He held them tight, engulfing them in his much larger fist as pain wracked them both. She needed him, and that gave him purpose, and the will to fight.

 

“I remember the female.” Balfor’s voice was a mere whisper as the memory faded, but the feeling of her fragile hand in his, and the memory of her scent that clung to him—even after she’d been taken from him—remained clear in his thoughts. Plagued with problems upon his return to Sanctuary, he’d never hoped to see the human again and had made no effort to even find out more about her than what the humans called her. Private Dornan. He’d learned that the first word had been a military rank and not her name. Since humans had multiple names for some reason, he didn’t even know her familiar name, because Dornan was her family’s name, passed down from her sire.

Until the humans had listed her as one of their wounded, he’d wondered if he’d only dreamed her. Surely the star-people had never produced one so compelling that she reached him even though his agonized stupor.

Ranove’s brows lifted nearly to the horns rising out of his forehead. Regarding Balfor with shifting wings, he opened his mouth to speak, but after a moment, closed it on silence.

Balfor ignored Ranove’s discomfiture. She smelled of moonfloss blossoms in bloom with just a hint of some unknown musk that was hers alone. With all the blossoms in the last two years’ harvests, I haven’t been able to recapture that elusive scent. “I will consider a trade agreement with this Dornan Industries, but only if they send my choice of representative. Prepare a message that I will meet with this female named Dornan in one week’s time.” He wanted to know her familiar name. “What is the name she is called by?”

“Stacia.”

Balfor repeated the syllables. “Stacia.” For once, the many voices in his head remained silent, not even correcting his pronunciation of the human word as they’d so often done when they’d taught him the language humans called DC Common. He reveled in the moment of silence.  He was almost able to smile at Ranove because of his relief. “Bring this Stacia to me in one week’s time, and I will consider her proposal.” He turned his back on Ranove, facing the grisly campsite without really seeing it.

Ranove’s wings rustled as he bowed to Balfor’s back. “I will send the word, Your Highness.”

Tired of Failing? Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Be.

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I’ve been having a difficult time writing lately. It’s not for lack of ideas, mind you. I have plenty of those knocking around. In fact, each day brings more frantic notes on my phone or in my journal to capture those ideas before they slip out of my overwhelmed mind.

The problem is that I’m struggling with self-doubt. Second-guessing every word I write until I’m so paralyzed by it that I stare at a blank page mentally groping for the right word to even begin bringing my ideas to fruition. That first word eludes me, but even if I could find it, I doubt its [Aaargh, couldn’t think of the right word here. See what I mean!]

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Though I’ve always had self-confidence issues, this is probably the worst it has ever been in regards to my writing. In fact, in some cases, I’ve had far too much confidence in my work, and only discovered later how raw and in need of further revision and editing it was. Perhaps that is part of my problem now. Since I’ve been mistaken before, I question my self-judgement. What if I’m filled with flaws that I can’t see? What if I’m blinded to my own shortcomings? (Perhaps you noticed I’m not just talking about my writing anymore.)

You see, I’m a perfectionist. It sounds like a good thing, right? Perfectionist. That means you show attention to detail and work hard to get everything just right. How could that possibly be a bad thing?

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The way it works for me is that I’m not satisfied until things are “perfect.” I don’t think I need to tell anyone how often things are “perfect”—especially the things I do. I’m an exceptionally harsh critic towards myself, and my internal dialogue would certainly hold up in court as verbal abuse. I’m trying to change that, and I fully intend to over time, with positive thinking and inspiring mantras.

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I’ve gotten better at derailing some of my worst criticisms as soon as they pop up in my head. In fact, I think one of the reasons my characters feel so alive to me is because I allow them to talk to me as loud as they want to drown out my own worst enemy. Myself. (I’m not really hearing voices…at least, not the way that sounds. 😉 )

I tend to take any external criticism to heart, yet ignore any external praise as biased or just “people being nice.” This is part of my problem, because I cannot even find solace in the approval of others. (Not that defining yourself by how others see you is healthy either.)

I have quit or given up on things I wanted to do because I couldn’t do them perfectly. This is another aspect of perfectionism that isn’t understood by those who don’t suffer from it. I fear failure, so I quit before I can fail. Sometimes, I won’t even start. If I don’t have a chance of achieving the perfect end result, I don’t want to come in second.

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This is a terrible mentality to have! It doesn’t acknowledge how important failure is to our self-growth. One of the most important lessons I think anyone can learn is how to fail. We spend all our time focused on how to succeed, but we forget that failure is a likely outcome and if we never learn how to handle it, we crash when it happens. Or, like me, avoid the risk of it happening altogether.

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Fortunately, there is something that lives within me that is even stronger than my perfectionism. That is my passion for writing. I want to quit writing. Every. Single. Day. I want to stop trying to make something of my writing and not achieving the results I’d like. I want to stop creating works that are flawed, even though I can logically accept that nothing is perfect. I want to. But I can’t. The passion for writing has me like a dog in its teeth. I try to struggle against its hold and it shakes me until I give up the fight against it. That’s why I continue to write, pushing past these blocks and shaken confidence. That’s why I’m still typing even though I face the page hating everything that I put on it. And that’s why I’m still posting this, even though my inner critic is screaming at me about how bad it is.

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Eventually, the worst of these feelings of inadequacy will pass and I will emerge anew, filled with a fresh mind and a new perspective. I have fought my internal enemy all my life, and have learned how to judge the flow of battle. When I’m knocked down, I can see a different path from my new angle on the ground. Being brought low only gives me a new perspective from which to view my situation.

Here is what I know in my heart, though my mind tries to tell me different, and this is the message I would have everyone take away from this:

Human beings are fundamentally flawed. It’s what makes us unique and gives us purpose. We strive for perfection, but it remains out of our reach, because once we achieve it, we’ve got nowhere else to go. There is nothing wrong with being flawed, and indeed, the best fictional characters—the most interesting, the most relatable, the most engaging—are flawed characters. Perfect characters are Mary Sues. They’re boring and one-dimensional.

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I am human and imperfect. Therefore, I have room to grow and become more than I am in any moment of my life. I have potential. When I can drown out the noise of self-doubt, I will realize that potential. I believe this of everyone. Do not let your inner critic destroy your motivation. Prove it wrong and silence that negative voice with reminders of how far you’ve already come.

I’m incredibly blessed, and I’m thankful for that every single day. One day, I will finally believe that I deserve to be this blessed. As for my writing, I will continue to work on it, despite the internal struggle. There simply isn’t any other option for me. Whether I’m a good writer or not is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. I was born to write, not because I have some wondrous skill for it, but because I have a passion for it.

I hope you find the ultimate message of this post inspiring. I know that I started it in a terrible mood, and ended in a much better one. Once again, writing has saved me from myself. The simple act of putting my thoughts to the page and acknowledging in black and white the truth of imperfection and how important it really is has already changed my outlook. Perhaps I need to start typing my positive mantra or writing it down in a journal every day. I’m going to try that, but I hope that by sharing this post, someone else who struggles with these self-doubts, or with perfectionism in general, will find something helpful here.

Let me know what you guys think. Don’t worry, despite how this might have come off, I can take critiques. I actually approve of the constructive ones, because they help me improve myself and my writing. As for those criticisms that sound too much like my inner voice, I ignore them in a way I wish I could manage for my own criticisms.

All photos courtesy of Pixabay.

Do People Even Read Anymore?

I’ve been asking myself this question since I’m surrounded by people who don’t. I did a little research and discovered that there has been a decline in people who are reading. Many of the articles lamented about the fact that people aren’t enlightening themselves with literature. still-life-1037378_640

Personally, I think if that’s what we consider reading, then add me to the number of people who don’t, despite the fact that I read about 100 books a year on average, though I can read much more than that depending on my available time. None of those 100 books is “literature.” Hey, I did my time in high school! I wrote the painstaking analysis essays. I know “how” to read literature. I just never learned to enjoy it. Probably because I was always taught to take it seriously. To look for some deep theme or message. To analyze the heck out of it.

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So as soon as I walked out of the classroom, my nose was buried in a different type of book altogether. Andre Norton, Dianne Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett, Robin McKinley, David Eddings—not a Twain or Tolstoy among them. The thing is, all of the books I read (yes, even the romances) have a theme. There is some deeper meaning to them (even if the author didn’t intend it to be there). I could sit there and write a complex analysis of a book from any one of the above authors. I could. But why the heck would I? I don’t need to constantly analyze what the author was trying to say. I don’t care. I want escape. I want to travel to a different world and walk in the shoes of a different person. I want to experience that new world through vivid imagery. I don’t want to waste my time breaking down that imagery in a mind-numbing comparison of tactile versus symbolic. Bleh!

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I know that reading is on the decline. I don’t need a survey to tell me that. It makes sense that it is though. It’s difficult to convince the newest generation to delve into the written word when they have the Internet, smartphones, and video games. To make it even harder, most of the more popular YA books are being made into movies, so why should a kid bother reading the book when they can just wait for the movie to come out. (I know, I know. The movies are never as good as the books, but they are flashy, bright, colorful, and require little effort to enjoy—like most modern entertainment.)

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Just for the record, I LOVE video games! But still…

However, even though convincing people to read in these media-glutted times is difficult, I think it’s worth doing. I believe that people are missing out when they don’t read. (And no, you don’t have to slog through heavy tomes like War and Peace to get the full benefits of reading. I don’t care what your English teacher says.) The reason that people should read is because it forces you to use your imagination instead of relying on some movie producer or game developer to create the images for you. You can picture the characters as you’d like. You can visualize the setting as your mind draws it. It’s not just the author’s world anymore—it’s your interpretation of it. You bring your own knowledge and experience into the world and make it belong to you. That’s why reading is far more personal than going to see the movie of the book.

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It seems like many of the proponents of reading push literature as the gold standard, but if that was the message I’d absorbed as a child, I probably wouldn’t be a reader now. In fact, had I grown up in this generation, where entertainment is cheap, readily available, and bright and flashy, I might never have sought out the fiction shelves at the library for something to do, and with my teachers pushing books that made me want to break out in hives as an alternative (no offense to teachers, you guys are awesome and do hard work trying to inspire kids!), I never would have become such an avid reader, and if I hadn’t, I doubt I would have developed the wild imagination that I now have. Being able to visualize the stories created by others gave me the ability to imagine my own worlds and then translate those images into words.

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Now I’m not saying don’t introduce people to classical literature. If you truly love a book, then by all means recommend it to others. Share your love of it, and why you love it, and they might find that they love it too. What I am trying to say is that if we expect people to see reading as comparable entertainment to everything else that’s available now, we can’t push heavy literature as the standard. Short stories, novellas, pulp fiction—it’s all good. Anything that gets people reading and gets their imagination working is good.

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If you want everyone to love reading, you have to point them to works that are accessible for everyone. People who don’t normally read might consider literature to be all those books they were forced to read and analyze in school. It’s no wonder they avoid reading like the plague. From the articles I’ve read on the decline of reading, the complaint isn’t that people aren’t reading. It’s that they aren’t reading “literature.” So I thought I’d add my own two cents to this, and say I don’t care if people never read another classic in their lifetimes. There are so many books out there that will never be considered in that category, but I bet you’re going to love them.

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So consider turning off the TV or putting down your smartphone for a bit and check out the vast number of different worlds and experiences you can live through in the pages (real or virtual) of a book.

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What do you think about this? Do you love classical literature and think I’m being too hard on it? I’d love to hear your comments on that. I still shudder whenever I think of reading anything recommended by a school board, but if you have recommendations that you think would wipe away the bad taste I got from forced reading, let me know. What do you think of the decline of reading? Can it be turned around, or are books on the way out altogether, unable to compete with all the other media? Do you think reading books even matters anymore?

I’m on Goodreads Now!

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I know it’s not regular blog day, but I wanted to share some news. I will be doing my regular blog on schedule though on Monday. I have something planned that I hope will be thought provoking. Anywho, on to my news.

I’ve clearly had my nose in a book for far too long, because I’ve heard of this whole “Goodreads” thing, but I’ve never actually spent much time checking it out. Full confession: I’m very lazy about technology. Since I have a BS in Information Technology, that’s probably not a good thing, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. 😉

I’m trying to be more active on social media, because I am by nature an introverted person who would gladly be a hermit if the world would only let me. Sadly, the world is not so inclined, so I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I’ve challenged myself to get out there with this blog and Facebook and now Goodreads. Much to my surprise, I discovered that Goodreads was made for compulsive readers just like myself. Hurray!

I read hundreds of books each year, and I can now sort them, rate them, and even make my own bookshelves to categorize them. I feel like I’ve just stepped into the future (that everyone else already discovered years ago. 😉 ) I also claimed my author’s page, which is pretty cool. I’m having fun playing around with the settings and features on that, so I hope you’ll check it out. It’s interesting that I’m so willing to explore this particular platform when I’ve been ambivalent about other social platforms, but I think it’s because it deals with something I love…books!

Anyway, I just wanted to share that I’m now on Goodreads with my own author’s page. I’m pretty stoked about it!

Oh Happy Day!

Yay! Today is the first day of my vacation! 😉 That’s because I’ve finally released Jessabelle’s Beast, and I even got it published before schedule. I was shooting for early June, but it all came together faster than I thought it would. I’m very excited (and anxious) to see how it’s received.

I have to say, I love all my stories, but this one really touched me. Gorzo is so sweet and devoted, and Jessa has to deal with such a terrible conflict. They deserve each other, and happiness. Plus, it was nice to get to play with Lilith’s and Stacia’s characters again. Stacia is as stubborn as always, but she’s a loyal friend and I certainly can’t fault that!

The book is available on Amazon for only 99 cents for a limited time! It’s also available through KU. Please check it out, and if you enjoyed it, please consider leaving a review. They help immensely!

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Gorzo has journeyed across a vast ocean to join the Umbrose in Sanctuary, but finds himself alone among them because of differences between his tribal upbringing and their city culture. When Lady Lilith convinces him to try a new matchmaking service to find a human mate, he’s at first reluctant. Then he sees Jessabelle Ellis from across the room, and in that moment, he knows with every fiber of his being that she was made for him. Having to hold his dangerous primal nature strictly in check where Jessa is concerned, Gorzo is anxious to offer her a claim as soon as possible, before his primal grows impatient and decides to dispense with the formalities and simply abduct her.

Jessabelle Ellis goes to the Outland Connections matchmaking company for her own complicated reasons, but after spending her childhood in an orphanage, she can’t help thinking it would be nice to have someone to call her own. When she sees Gorzo for the first time at a mixer set up by the company, she’s intrigued by him and feels a sense of kinship with him, noting that he seems as out of place among his people as she is among hers. When he returns her interest, Jessabelle is at first flustered, but as champagne flows through her, she relaxes enough to be more candid about her attraction… at least to herself.

Their next meeting places them on a dangerous path when Gorzo offers his claim and Jessabelle accepts, agreeing to move with him to Sanctuary. Their passion blooms quickly, but little do they know that the timer is ticking until Jessabelle’s past threatens to destroy their future.

Will their love be strong enough to survive whatever fate decrees for them? Or will they create their own destiny? No matter what happens, the people of Sanctuary will be changed forever.

Author’s note: 18+ Contains explicit content that may not be suitable for younger readers. Each book in the Shadows in Sanctuary Series is about a new couple finding love. They don’t have to be read in order, and each couple’s stories are resolved in their book.

Read on below for the first two chapters:

Chapter 1

The loneliness had finally started to weigh on Gorzo. Strange that it had taken so long, but then again, he’d been busy of late. War had a tendency to occupy a person’s mind and distract from less important concerns.

Peace brought its own problems, though he wouldn’t trade it to return to the chaos of never-ending combat. With the new peace treaty between the umbrose and adurians, both sides could get on with the slow process of rebuilding the civilizations they’d systematically destroyed over the past few thousand years.

But he was a general—and a barbarian one at that. He didn’t have much experience with rebuilding cities, as his birth tribe from across the sea had lived as nomads. Even if he wanted to thrust himself fully into the resurrection of the past glory of the umbrose, Prince Balfor wouldn’t allow it. He’d personally decreed that Gorzo take a vacation.

Since Gorzo had no idea what that even meant, he’d gone hunting crystal wyrms to keep himself occupied and his skills sharp. Unfortunately, Princess Stacia declared that “hunting trips” did not qualify as vacation. He was supposed to “relax and unwind,” whatever that meant. She was unmoved by his defense that hunting did relax him. Instead, she said something about cultivating a “softer side” among the umbrose and had decided—much to his horror—to make a start with him.

This was why he found himself sitting uncomfortably on a plush chair in a beautifully decorated office belonging to Lady Lilith, the mate of Duke Ranove and the lead co-conspirator in this latest insane plan the human females had hatched to bedevil umbrose like him.

Lady Lilith regarded him with alien brown eyes above a bejeweled veil. “Tell me about your hobbies and interests, General.”

He resisted the urge to squirm under her steady gaze. He respected the lady—deeply—as despite the fact that she was human, she’d done a great deal for the umbrose and with Princess Stacia’s help had brokered a lucrative alliance between the humans and umbrose.

He still wasn’t comfortable speaking directly to her. It wasn’t the strangeness of her wingless appearance and pale skin or her oddly-colored eyes or multicolored hair. It was her physical fragility that made him feel like a giant crammed into a glass shop. Even her furniture and decorations seemed too fine and fragile for his presence. He was certain he was going to break something—so certain that it distracted him from her question as he eyed the furnishings and décor closest to him.

“General,” she prompted in a soft voice.

As she leaned forward onto her desk, bracing herself on her elbows, he leaned back in his chair for fear that even proximity to him would somehow break her. Logically, he knew that couldn’t be true, since Duke Ranove was about his height, if not as stocky. Still, he no more wanted to be in her presence than he would the presence of a newborn spawn. Some creatures were simply too small and delicate for his company.

His wingtips dug into the upholstered chair-back, and he heard a tearing sound. His primal cringed as he growled low in his throat, wanting nothing more than to escape this nightmare and wondering what he’d done to deserve this torturous punishment.

“General,” Lilith’s tone was no doubt meant to be reassuring but set all his sensory hairs on end. “I understand that this is a new experience for you—and the other umbrose—but it can be a fun experience, and you might meet someone who’s perfect for you.”

He’d long ago given up on finding a female who was perfect for him. Though he’d been allowed to settle in Sanctuary after his long and arduous journey from his homeland, the city umbrose had never truly grown comfortable around him. He was always something of an outsider, despite the skills that had earned him his high rank among them. Thus, no female would accept his claim and become his concubine.

Lilith was still talking, oblivious to the fact that he wasn’t really paying attention. Out of respect—and a ferocious desire to get this ordeal over with—he focused on listening to her words.

“… This opportunity to broaden your boundaries and find long-term companionship with a compatible human female.”

His claws clenched around the chair arms at the thought of claiming a human female as a concubine. It was the last thing he wanted. Despite their winglessness, they had an aesthetic shape that could be appealing, and most of the relevant parts that were so pleasing to a male were exactly where one expected them to be on a human female. He’d been reassured of that— discretely and diplomatically of course.

Yet human women were very fragile. They could not be bitten or scratched. They must be held carefully and softly. He couldn’t imagine how sex with such a female would be as passionate as he remembered it being with a strong, umbrose woman. His primal agreed with him completely. Being alone seemed far preferable to fearing at any moment that he might accidentally harm his human concubine. “Must I do this?”

Lilith’s eyes crinkled at the edges, implying a smile beneath her veil. “You sound as if I’m sending you to the dungeon, Gorzo! This isn’t a punishment! There’s actually a waiting list. Princess Stacia moved you to the top as a reward for all that you’ve done for the umbrose.”

He’d been afraid of that. The princess felt she owed him, for some reason, but her idea of a reward was far different than his own. He’d have been happier to have been allowed to continue hunting for his “vacation.” “I’ll give up my place on the list to another male.”

She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I’m under express orders not to let you squirm out of this. The princess commands it.” Her tone sounded apologetic even as she said the words that were as good as law for the umbrose. “She won’t order you to choose a human concubine, but she wants you to at least fill out the forms and agree to meet any human females who might be a match.”

He sat back in the chair, wincing when his spurs tore into the fabric. Who makes a chair out of fabric, anyway? “My Lady, I’ll take the forms to fill out later.” He figured he could stall for a while and maybe she and the princess would give up on this whole plan.

The fabric of her veil fluttered and the jeweled chains chimed as she chuckled at his request. “You may be a tactical genius on the battlefield, Gorzo, but I don’t think you’re going to outwit Princess Stacia on this. Best just to get it over with.” She shrugged. “To be honest, there haven’t been as many human females signing up as we’d hoped—although more than we expected—so it would probably be months or even years before I’d have anyone you’d have to actually meet in person.”

That was some relief, at least. He felt awkward enough around this human female, and she was comfortable and familiar with umbrose society, even more so than he was actually, since he’d grown up in a very different culture than these city umbrose. Any new human they brought into Sanctuary would be facing a learning curve, which wouldn’t just be the language. His sigh was heavy and heartfelt. “I will answer your questions.”

Amusement tinged her voice as she said, “Great! Now…what are your hobbies and interests?”

 

Chapter 2

Twenty-six year old Jessabelle Ellis stood in the alleyway between a high-end nightclub and a noodles restaurant doing a brisk after-hours business. Though it was well past the middle of the night, the streets were crowded with party-goers dressed in fine clothes that belied the recent shaky economy of Dome City. Some still wore breather masks despite the Hub dome having been repaired years ago after the rebellion that freed DC from the control of the Diakonos. The fashion fad had hung on with unusual tenacity.

Jessa didn’t have a mask on to conceal her face, but the narrow alley cast her in deep shadows. She felt more comfortable there than she ever did out on the streets where neon lights and holo-advertisements washed the city in light regardless of the hour. Between the buildings, the cacophonous noise of cruisers, music, voices, and blaring advertisements was also muffled. She preferred silence but rarely found it in the Hub.

The building across the street from her hiding place was mostly empty, but like the other establishments that flanked it, it was open for business even at this late hour.

Jessa had stood watch for almost two hours and had seen only two women enter through the wide, sliding synthglass doors. Once beyond the translucent doors which streamed videos of the Outlands across their surface, the women—who’d arrived together—had disappeared for nearly an hour before returning to the street clutching each other and giggling in the way of friends who’ve had too much to drink and then had done something crazy.

No one else had entered or left the offices of Outland Connections—a matchmaking company which set up meetings between “compatible” human women and umbrose males. Jessa wondered if the place did better business during the day. Given the lingering attitude of distrust and even disgust and fear towards the demonic-looking umbrose, she had her doubts. It seemed like an ambitious business plan destined for failure.

Unfortunately, it hadn’t yet failed, so she would have to go through with what she’d come here to do. She was going to sign-up to be connected and possibly matched with an umbrose warrior looking for a mate. She suspected the promotional materials used “mate” in the place of “concubine” because of its connotations for humans, but it really was the same arrangement. Isn’t it?

The word choice of mate seemed like a double-edged sword to Jessa. A concubine could remain detached and accept that the relationship was only temporary. Such detachment was ideal. A mate sounded more permanent, which caused Jessa to feel a desperate longing for a family she should have given up dreaming about long ago.

Sucking in a deep breath, holding it for a moment, and then releasing it in a rush, she squared shoulders clad in her serviceable jumpsuit—the uniform of the machine shop where she labored long, thankless days. She hadn’t bothered to change, too nervous to return to her tiny apartment above a grocery store just off of Halperin Street. If she’d gone home, she would have chickened out about coming here, and that was simply not an option.

She allowed a group of rowdy young adults to pass the alley before she stepped onto the sidewalk and out into the street beneath the lines of cruisers passing by overhead.

Glancing back at the partiers who were showing their wrist-comm identifiers to the bouncer at the nightclub, she shook her head at their youthful abandonment, wondering if she’d ever been so free. She couldn’t remember a time when she wasn’t required to be calm, collected, and fully in control of herself and her actions. She’d never imbibed alcohol or any mind-altering substance because it might affect that control.

With her attention on the clubbers, she arrived at the doors to the Outland Connections office sooner than she’d expected. Suddenly, it was there in front of her, streaming videos of fantastic vistas of oceans, basalt barrens, and aerial shots of the massive jungle that covered most of the continent. She found it interesting that there were no videos of the umbrose themselves and very few shots of their city of Sanctuary—described as an architectural marvel built within the massive caverns of an extinct volcano. There was a voiceover that promised excitement and adventure, and the potential for true love, all for a low introductory price.

Bracing herself with a final deep breath, she pushed open one of the heavy synthglass doors and stepped inside the plush office of Outland Connections.

As soon as she entered, all eyes in the office turned to her. Unnerved by the focused interest, she froze at the entryway like a bug paralyzed in acrylic. Her gaze darted around the interior rather than meeting the eager eyes of the employees. Thick gray carpet muffled the steps of the trim, petite woman who’d pushed her chair back from her desk and jumped to her feet to greet Jessa.

The woman flashed perfect white teeth in a face tanned light brown by genetics rather than the meager sunlight that filtered through the domes. “Hello there! I’m Gloria Flores.” She held out a hand that Jessa took in a firm handshake, somewhat embarrassed by her own work-roughened palms. “Welcome to Outland Connections.”

“My name’s Jessabelle Ellis. I… uh, I’m here to see about your, um, matchmaking service.” She hated how uncertain she sounded. Usually, she could conceal how she really felt about any situation, but this time, she felt stripped bare and exposed, unable to raise the impassive mask that had served her all her life.

Gloria didn’t seem in the least bit fazed by her awkwardness. No doubt she’d encountered it before. Public opinion was still greatly divided on interspecies relationships with the umbrose, so women looking to Outland Connections were probably often skittish and unsure.

“That’s what we’re here for, Ms. Ellis. I’d be happy to help answer any questions you might have about the services we offer. I’m sure you’ll be pleased with all our options, and since we’re currently subsidized by the umbrose kingdom and the Common Counsel, our fees are extremely reasonable. Now is definitely the time to sign up!”

She motioned for Jessa to follow her back to her desk, passing other employees sitting in their little cubicles with expressions ranging from bored to disappointed.

As Jessa followed Gloria, the woman’s desk loomed ahead of them all out of proportion to its actual size. She briefly considered bolting for the exit but knew that wasn’t an option. She was committed to this. As intimidating as the idea was, she was going to find an umbrose mate.

*****

“Do you like to fly?” Gloria’s question seemed out of place among the other comparatively standard questions about her hobbies and interests.

“I… is that necessary? I mean, do I have to like to fly?” Jessa had no problem with flying cruisers, but she’d never been a fan of solar-gliding, which was probably the closest in experience to flying with an umbrose.

Gloria shook her head quickly. “Not at all! Any umbrose you might be connected with would respect your wishes on that.” She tapped the datapad on her desk. “It’s just one of the questions on the form that helps us pair up those with shared interests. We want to make the best possible matches between our clients.”

Jessa glanced around the office, which was covered with pictures of different areas in the Outlands, and even some rare pictures of the beautiful city of Sanctuary. “Do you have any photos of the umbrose?” It was strange that they were absent. She’d expected a wall filled with photos of umbrose warriors looking for mates.

Gloria’s smile was strained. “The umbrose do not like to have pictures taken of them, and indeed, it’s often difficult to get a clear image, even with video. Something about the lighting around them casts them permanently in shadow. Though I’m sure you’ve seen images of them before.”

She had—on newstreams—but Gloria was right, they always seemed to be cast in shadow, so the images were never that clear. “Do you mean if you find a match for me, I won’t know what he looks like until I meet him in person?”

The matchmaker’s face pinched as if she’d eaten something sour. “We can request an image, though the best would probably be a drawing. However, we generally discourage that since we prefer our matches be based on more than simple physical attraction. We try to connect our clients without using pictures that can often be misleading.”

Gloria’s words made sense to Jessa, but it also didn’t matter. She certainly wasn’t interested in appearances.  She needed to find an umbrose who would care enough about her that he’d want to bring her home with him. Although, the thought of anyone caring about her that much seemed impossible. When she’d been in the orphanage, none of the families who’d come looking for a child to adopt had chosen her, always passing her by for livelier, more outgoing children. Jessa had been too quiet and solemn, or so she’d been told by the counselor assigned to the orphanage. He’d told her to smile more at the adults looking for a child to call their own.

She mentally shook her head at the way her thoughts so quickly digressed to that lonely time. “How many… um… matches have been made?”

She could tell by the way Gloria’s expression went completely blank that it was the wrong question to ask. “Outland Connections has been steadily working since we first opened our doors six months ago to collate information for optimal client matches.” Her tone was carefully neutral and sounded like a recording.

“So… have you made any matches yet?”

With a heavy sigh, Gloria set the datapad down and rested her arms on her desk. Leaning forward, she regarded Jessa with a thin smile. “Look, we’re just starting out, and what we’re trying to do here is unprecedented. At the moment, we’re dealing with prejudices on both sides, so the going is slow.”

She leaned back in her chair and tucked a strand of hair that had escaped from her serviceable bun behind one ear. “This can work. Public opinion is difficult to change, but not impossible.” Clasping her hands over her flat stomach, Gloria continued. “You’re not our first human client. We have other women waiting to find out if they have a match among the umbrose who’ve expressed interest. However, we want to do this right. We want to make certain that no one is soured on the experience by a botched match. This is why we haven’t moved forward to arranging any actual meetings yet.” She gave Jessa a smile she probably meant to be encouraging after her little speech. “However, we’ve set up our very first mixer for our clients to meet in person for next month.” Picking up her datapad again, she glanced down at it. “If you get your paperwork in before the cutoff date, you’d be welcome to attend. You may not meet your match there, but you’d be able to meet some umbrose males in person.”

Next month wasn’t too long to wait. In fact, it seemed like too soon. Jessa still couldn’t believe she was doing this.

 

Memorial Day 2017

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Today is Monday, blog day. It also happens to be Memorial Day. I have a lot of things I’d like to blog about and share, but I think that today would be better spent honoring the fallen.

For those who have served, are serving, and will serve, I thank you for your sacrifice, and I honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. I hope their loved ones can find peace on this day as we take time out to remember those who died for our freedom.

You will not be forgotten.

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Despite the solemn occasion, I hope that everyone can enjoy today in the spirit of living life in honor of those we’ve lost.

Jessabelle’s Beast Coming Soon! What’s Next?

As the title suggests, I’m finally nearing the release date for Jessabelle’s Beast, and naturally, I’m very excited to be at this point! I’m still waiting on some final details and updates—and a truly awesome cover—but soon, very soon…I will get to take a vacation!

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Anytime I publish a book, it’s a stressful lead-up to that final moment. While I have awesome beta-readers, I do the majority of the publishing work myself, so every detail must be considered carefully. This sometimes means I have to focus on the less creative parts of the process, and I often get so wrapped up in dealing with the business side of things that I want to just toss my laptop aside and leap out my office window to escape.

 

I love writing! This is why I do this, day-in and day-out. I write every day unless I’m sick. I love spinning stories and bringing characters and places alive on the page. When I have to focus less on the story and more on the book details and distribution channels and formatting, etc., well, yeah, I need a vacation so I can get back to writing!

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So now that the majority of the work is complete on Jessabelle’s Beast, which will release in the beginning of June, what’s next for me?

Of course, Morbidon’s Bride is still on my plate, and I’m truly excited about really getting to focus my energy on this story. I expect that I’ll manage to get many chapters ahead of my publishing schedule for that, so don’t worry, I’ll still be posting chapters. At this point, Morbidon’s Bride is the only new story I’m working on, and I think it would be great if I could finish it and publish it as a bonus to the Princess’s Dragon, which I plan on rereleasing in December, but we’ll have to see about Morbidon’s Bride. I don’t want to rush anything and end up with a story that’s less than it could be.

The only other project I’ll be focusing on publishing this year will be the rewrite of the Princess’s Dragon. While it has taken something of a backseat due to my efforts on getting Jessabelle’s Beast out on time, I’m looking forward to digging back into that narrative. The first revision is already complete, and there will undoubtedly be several more as I tighten up the prose.

Still, I’m a bit like a butterfly when it comes to my writing, so it wouldn’t surprise me if I wound up working feverishly on a new project, or fluttered back to an older manuscript within the upcoming months. This happens a lot, which is why I try to set deadlines on myself for the books I want to get published each year. Otherwise, I’d be flitting all over the place, but never getting anything done.

I hope to have a cover image and a firm release date for Jessabelle’s Beast ready for an announcement soon, and I will be running a promotion for the new release, so I’ll be sure to keep you posted on that, so you can snag the next book in the Shadows in Sanctuary series at a deal.

Here’s to a more relaxing summer (fingers crossed!), and I hope you all enjoy your upcoming summer as well. Be sure to take time out for yourself, hit lots of BBQs, and curl up with a Kindle once in a while (or even a good paperback! Man, I really miss the smell of books sometimes, so I’ll go back and pluck one off my “keepers” shelf just for some nostalgia.)