The Elusive Nature of Inspiration

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“Where do you get your ideas?” is a question I often get when I’m discussing the nature of my latest story, usually with a person who does not write. Any writer knows that writers don’t know where their ideas come from. In his writing book/memoir “On Writing,” Stephen King said, “There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

It’s true. We have no idea. However, we often remember our line of thinking when we’ve come up with some of our ideas. So where have some of mine come from? How different are their origins? Do some story elements come from different places? Let’s talk.

I’ve had stories arise from concepts I wanted to explore. The Order of the Key was about me trying to create a strong female hero from a geek who has been raised loving superhero media. Lucy Dies in the End was really solely about that concept–I literally just thought about the title and how cool it would be if Lucy herself was the one to say it. I’ve always been drawn to Greek mythology and Aphrodite in particular, which led to Never Say Never. My interest in past lives played into my ideas for the mystery behind Living in the Past.

I’ve had stories arise from dreams. Often when I have these, they play out before me like movies. Legally Insane was about a dream I had about a hidden relationship in a workplace. The present day tale in Living in the Past comes from a very vivid dream I had about a woman strongly connecting with a man and coming home with him, only to stumble into a mystery involving his son.

I’ve had stories arise from mundane reality. Like the lead character in The Order of the Key and Legally Insane, I am a geek. Legally Insane is largely about work in a law firm, which happens to be my day job. The concept of Lucy as Lady Justice in Lucy Dies in the End came from staring at Lady Justice during various court case searches at my job. My parents’ divorce heavily inspires some of the debates on long term relationships in Never Say Never. Dating experiences of my friends helped inspire other portions. And the characters work in an ice cream shop. My first job was at a Carvel. Choosing to Stand Still was a sort of wish fulfillment, regarding a pair of best friends I knew that I thought belonged together–if you’ve read that one, writing it made me realized they were right never to pursue that route.

17760096_1325475264199099_8399109544035762431_nI’ve had stories arise from conversations. The backbone of Legally Insane involves the main character visualizing a character from her favorite television series prodding her to be strong in the face of a major life change. This came from a joke that was made when chatting with fandom friends about Jack O’Neill, a wise-cracking character from Stargate SG-1. My friend said, “I wish I could take him around in my pocket to smack some sense into me.” From there, the idea was born.

I’ve had stories arise from fears. Without spoilers, the fear of losing a child played into The Keys & Guardians series plan heavily. Things You Can Create arose from the fear of the kinds of torture I could carelessly visit upon my characters. It is, unsurprisingly, my first short story.

I’ve had stories that arise from past trauma. One Percent is an exploration of my descent into anxiety prior to spinal surgery. One Headlight was born of the death of a friend, one who died in a car accident on the way to college. Tunneling dealt with my experiences with dealing with alcoholics. The Peace of Completion and Release dealt with some wish fulfillment regarding the aftermath of my sexual assault. Blue Ice dealt with the issue of domestic violence, handled by a third party, looking in.

What does this tell you? Stories come from so many different places. Some of the things on this list were planned. Some were things that spilled out of me once I began to write. But all of it were things I drew upon to create stories that meant a lot to me.

What does this mean for you? It means inspiration can come from anything. It can be a mix of many things. So collect writing prompts. Collect interesting factoids. File away tidbits about the people you meet. But most of all, experience. Live your life with a keen, attentive eye and look at all you see around you. Every bit of your life experience, even the bad things can be weaved into the fabric of a story.

So how do you find the elusive creature known as inspiration? The answer is simple. Live.

The Long and Short of It

Inspiration is a strange thing. Sometimes, it comes you to in a word. A phrase. A sentence. Sometimes, you have a dream. Sometimes, it’s a what if. In my next blog post, I’ll probably go further into ways I’ve been inspired to write the stories I’ve composed in my life. I’m not sure how inspiration works with other writers, but with me, it always seems to show up in a way where I can tell what the final piece will become. Short Story? Novel length? I usually know how far I can pull each thread when it appears. And so, I tend to find my planning so very different for each. On this blog, I once discussed the difference between a pantser and a plotter, and I very firmly stood on the plotter side, but with some flexibility. But as I’ve begun working on new short stories, the first I’ve written since truly completing my first novel, I’ve realized something odd.

I’m not a pantser or a plotter. I’m both.

When it comes to working on a novel, I am an obsessive planner. I write forty page long outlines with clips of scenes and setting and history and descriptions, etc. I like to be ready, so when I sit down to work on the story, I know all the details and I can create without being stopped by questions about where I’m going or what role certain things will play in the story. That being said, I still surprise myself, and I try to stay open to changes when they occur, and reshape my outline every few chapters to make sure my direction still makes sense.

When I’m working on a short story, it’s very different. Sometimes, I come up with a concept I want to play with. Sometimes, it’s just a word. Sometimes I get a story prompt. Sometimes, the idea pops out of my head fully formed, like Athena emerging from Zeus’ axe-split noggin. Sometimes, the idea comes out in dribs and drabs. I’ll write a paragraph at a time, when the mood strikes. I’ll revisit it and write a few lines of dialogue. I’ll find another story prompt that will revitalize it and I’ll start writing it full time again. Often, I’ll just write with no idea where I’m headed, and see what happens. Then I’ll go back and re-read it all and add and subtract as needed, once I’m sure I have something that might vaguely resemble an actual story.

I am currently working on one of those piecemeal short stories, and it made me think about how different the processes are. Short stories are a short, frozen moment in time. You have to say so much more with so much less, and for some stories, it’s impossible. Some are just too big for that. In short stories, every word must count to explain the situation, to create the mood, to give us enough of the character that we care for them in a few short pages.

In longer stories, you have time to grow the character, to slowly reveal the plot, the setting. You can go into much more detail, have so many more words to work with. Perhaps this is why the outlining for a long story is so intense for me. Perhaps with short stories, I’m telling a story frame by frame and worrying less about the background, about who these people were beforehand and will be later. Because all that matters is this moment in time, and what they do with it. And the only thing that needs to inform that is their actions in that moment.

Or maybe the writing brain is magical and there is no rhyme or reason to it.

For all my writers out there, what methods do you employ when outlining a short story? A novel? Let’s chat!

Buffy Turns 20: What BtVS and Joss Taught Me About Writing

 

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Just a portion of my Buffy Bookcase

Twenty years ago today, my then-boyfriend/now-husband Ismael tried to get me to watch the first episode of a new show premiering on= the struggling WB network called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I rolled my eyes at him. He had strange taste in television and, while I loved vampires, I had never felt compelled to see the movie. I just had no interest in it. Even after that day, Ismael kept pushing. No, the series was really good. It took him by surprise. It would take me until a year later to try an episode. That episode would be the two-parter, Surprise and Innocence, more popularly known as the episode where Buffy and Angel make love and Angel turns evil. I am not being hyperbolic–I wasn’t the same person after that. Buffy the Vampire Slayer changed my life, it changed how I saw myself and who I was as a person. It motivated me and informed who I am as an artist.

 

So, as a love letter to a series I can still recite the dialogue for, I’m going to discuss the top ways Buffy changed my writing and my life. Note – Spoilers ABOUND. If you haven’t watched…just watch the show. Seriously?

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  1. Lexicons Change…Muchly. The sarcasm. The snark. The strange turn of words. I still refer to people as bitca. I’ll add ish to turn verbs into adjectives and age to nouns to make them verbs. If there’s something to be said, I’ll ‘pop culture’ it up. I abbreviate words that don’t have abbreviation. I give emotions place names, like Waah Waah Land. I reorder words to sentences in odd ways. Pathetic much? Probably, but I started this show when I was fifteen and deciding who I was going to be. Was I intending to be Buffy and The Scooby Gang? Not so much. But it found its way in and I can’t help going for some serious quirkage when I’m feeling chattish. Don’t be afraid to play with language, as long as your audience can understand you.

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2. Risk-Taking Pays Off. When my boyfriend was busy bugging me about the series, he was very interested in the fact that the principal of the school was eaten in episode six. Seriously, it was his main selling point. I didn’t get it until they turned Buffy’s love interest evil in season 2…and kept him that way for the rest of the season. This show would do anything, and even when it hurt, I loved it. Joss Whedon, the series’ now well-known creator once said, “Don’t give people what they want, give them what they need.” And he did, solidly, for seven seasons. He disappointed us, but then he gave us great narrative reasons why our sadness was necessary. And Joss’ commitment to risk wasn’t just about risking his characters–it was about risking his reputation. He managed to craft and direct very risky episodes such as Hush, an episode with only 17 minutes of dialogue, The Body, an episode entirely about the strange and detached feeling of losing a loved one, and Once More, With Feeling, otherwise known as The Buffy Musical. All very risky, all paid off nicely. Taking creative risks with your work keeps it interesting.

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3. Happy Sadness is Okay. There are episodes of this series that make me laugh out loud and cry real tears. They make me worry for the characters, and they make me cringe in embarrassment. As a teenager, Buffy taught me that the confusion of my emotions was not strange. It was just life. Life can be twisty. As an artist, it taught me that genre isn’t a real thing in art. I mean, if you want to sell it, you need to know what genre it best fills. But when you’re writing it? Write the thing. Art is about portraying our journey in a way that makes sense to us. And our journeys aren’t romances or coming of age stories. They certainly aren’t comedies or dramas. They are all those things. Well, for some of us, they may not be a Western, but you get my point. Be free. Worry about labels later.

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4. Success Does Not Come Without Clunkers. The Puppet Show. Ted. Most of Season 7…Oops. Some of the series wasn’t spectacular. There were episodes that I can only barely stand to rewatch when I do my rewatches. Which is proof positive that not everything you do is going to land with an audience. And that’s okay. BtVS is still judged as a whole and your body of work will likely be, as well. That doesn’t mean they’re all bad. Some really good lines from the series come from The Puppet Show, Season 7 led up to a spectacular ending, and Ted…well…Ted had John Ritter! So, even your missteps can yield positive results.

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5. POV is Important. The Zeppo follows sidekick Xander through a day in which he stumbles blindly through a relatively minor issue while his friends deal with some world ending cataclysm we know nothing about. You know why? Because we’re with Xander and, frankly, he has no time for this Hellmouth thing. Superstar throws you into a world where Jonathan, a relatively minor recurring character, is suddenly a star, right down to getting placement in the title credits. In the Season 5 episode Buffy vs. Dracula, Dawn, a little sister we have never met thus far, just pops up, and we’re expected to accept it. She’s been planted there and the memories of the world has been altered to include her, but we don’t find that out until later. For now, we’re just surfing through the story, trying to figure out what is going on, and it adds a sense of mystery and foreboding we wouldn’t get if we knew everything. Point of view can make or break your story. Use wisely for best results.

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6. People CHANGE. Sometimes they change slightly, sometimes they are affected by something that completely and irrevocably alters the fabric of who they are. But the most important thing is that people evolve. I’m not who I was when I started watching Buffy. Buffy was much more mature, but also more dark inside, when she finished the series. Willow was stronger and wiser. Xander was more sober and careful. Dawn was less whiny. Giles was less up tight. Anya learned to care. Tara became confident. Angel and Spike repented for their wrongs. Faith went from tragic headcase to true hero. Cordelia became a higher being and Oz became a werewolf zen master. Your characters have to be altered when they finish their journey, or else what is the point?

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7. Know When to Hold Back. Joss Whedon and the writing team didn’t know what they were scripting when they created Earshot. In Earshot, an encounter with a demon gives Buffy mind-reading abilities, which lead to her overhearing a plot to kill all the students in her high school. It was scheduled to air in April 1999. And then, a week before the episode was to air, the Columbine High School Massacre happened. A freak moment of accidental prescience. Whedon and the network hurriedly pulled it off the airwaves because escapism isn’t fun once it isn’t escapism anymore. In that vein, artistically we should pay attention to when our work may be insensitive or cruel and be sure to yank that back. Art should not be used as a sword to harm.

A more artistic example of knowing when to hold back is evident in The Body. While the series had always been for mixing laughter and tears, for this episode, there is no laughter to be had. It is forty minutes of grueling sadness because it is so truthful, in a way that art should be truthful. Examining the emotions of the main characters after Buffy returns home to find her mother dead, The Body soars as an episode that doesn’t have half of the well-known Buffy style, because it can’t. Even vampire slaying because a numb, necessary event happening despite the main focus. Despite its sense of humor, Buffy knew when to take itself seriously.

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8. Even People You Love Can Be Unlikeable. This one, I REALLY needed in my private life. The lesson was very strongly learned through the richness of characters in the Buffy Universe. I hated every character at some point. In Season 1, when Angel is all cryptic before disappearing, Batman-style, or when Cordelia doesn’t get that Buffy is cool, even when she saves her ass. In Season 2, when Xander decides it’s cool to make the entire female population of Sunnydale fall in love with him by magic and later doesn’t bother to tell Buffy that Willow is trying to re-ensoul Angel. In Season 3, when Willow and Xander cheat on Oz and Cordelia or when Buffy lets loose with Faith. In Season 4, when Buffy seems to forget about her friends or when Riley does ANYTHING. In Season 5, when Dawn whines incessantly or when Xander tries to convince Buffy to try to love Riley even though he betrayed her. In Season 6, when Willow gets addicted to magic and lies to Tara and when Buffy plays around with being a reckless idiot. In Season 7, when Buffy keeps screwing up, then making self-righteous speeches. Make your characters human. Make them flawed. We’ll love them all the more.

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9. Make Things Relatable. So, you’re fighting a war against a hellmouth full of demons? Make it feel more like high school, so your audience can relate, since most of us…MOST of us…have never went to war against a hellmouth full of demons. Even with the craziest twists our stories take, we should never leave them out of our audience’s reach. Ground them to reality and make them that much more powerful. And speaking of powerful…

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10. Who Run The World? WEIRDOS. Nothing showed me how to let my geeker flag fly like Buffy did. As I watched the characters in the series grow more powerful, and also as I watched Joss Whedon, a self-proclaimed geek, become more successful, I truly understood that the things that kept me from fitting in are also the things that make me interesting, that make my work unique. Embrace the weirdness. You’ll be stronger for it.

Finally, I want to thank Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the cast, the crew, the writers, and Joss Whedon for creating a show that taught me so much and guided who I would become. And also, thank you to my husband, whose incessant nagging (I say this lovingly) led me to become an even bigger fan than he was. If you’re a writer and you haven’t watched this series, you need to check it out. As silly as it sounds on the surface, it truly is a television masterpiece.

My Take: Team Urban or Team Epic?

 

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Hi all,

Today is the final day of Entangled Teen’s Team Urban vs. Team Epic Fantasy Promotion, and in honor of the conversations of this week, I would like to elaborate on a statement.

Earlier this week, I clearly declared what side I was on. Now I’m going to tell you why.

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I have always loved fantasy novels of any kind. A popular theme here on the blog is that I like weird stuff. I like to read it, I like to watch it, I like to write it. So I enjoy most stories in which something out of the ordinary occurs. Fantasy was a natural interest for a person like me.

There is nothing wrong with epic fantasy. There is a beauty to the pure inventiveness, the creations of entirely new worlds, languages, people. For the early part of my childhood, I was raised on fairy tales, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien. My father even had a Tolkien calendar. My favorite video game was The Legend of Zelda, and if that isn’t an epic fantasy loving gamer’s dream, no game is.

But at some point, things shifted. As I grew up, I became exposed to television series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and it touched me in a way no other series, or anything else for that matter, ever had. I was absorbed, completely moved. I fell in love with these characters, saw myself in them, saw myself in their weekly trials. I tried to decide which one I was more like. It didn’t matter if they were dealing with real life troubles, the monster of the week or some deep seated evil that spanned seasons. They felt more real to me.

The reason for that is that they were grounded in my reality. I could see myself going to school and having to deal with my principal as I snuck out to fight a demon. I could see myself sacrificing my social life to devote my life to something bigger. And somehow, those metaphors for life that were present in every fantasy novel struck a chord within me. Suddenly, I saw the challenges in my world as monsters to be defeated, the lessons to be learned as my spell book.

And ever since then, I found myself leaning towards Urban Fantasy, because if Buffy was a book, that’s exactly what it would be. I still love Epic Fantasy, but not with the ferocity with which I devour stories about real people dealing with their supernatural problems in concert with real world troubles. Killing monsters while dodging police. Hiding magical abilities from their parents. Having nobody believe them about who they are. Coming to terms with the strange in such a normal society.

I’d take a thousand magical societies hidden in plain sight over a dragon flying over head any day.


Thank you for hanging out with me for Entangled Teen’s Team Urban vs. Team Epic Promotional Event! Don’t forget to enter the giveaway and check out all of the books we discussed this week!

I’ll be back next week to discuss the difference between outlining a short story and a novel. See you then!

 

Entangled Teen Presents: Why I Love Urban Fantasy!

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Today, we’re continuing Urban vs. Epic Fantasy Week with Entangled Teen’s Urban Fantasy Authors discussing why they love their genre.

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Brenda Drake – Guardian of Secrets (Library Jumpers, #2):

I’m such a fan of Urban Fantasy for many reasons, but mostly because writers can take our normal world and, either secret or not, add a dash of the fantastical to it. With mystical creatures hiding from humans or living side by side with them, deliciously nefarious things can happen. There’s just something extraordinary about urban fantasy. It’s the ability of the writer to look at something normal in the human world and mix it up. Changing a simple book into something that can transport someone from library to library or hiding a zoo of magical beasts in a common suitcase.

Book Description:

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Being a Sentinel isn’t all fairytales and secret gardens. Sure, jumping through books into the world’s most beautiful libraries to protect humans from mystical creatures is awesome. No one knows that better than Gia Kearns, but she could do without the part where people are always trying to kill her. Oh, and the fact that Pop and her had to move away from her friends and life as she knew it.

And if that isn’t enough, her boyfriend, Arik, is acting strangely. Like, maybe she should be calling him “ex,” since he’s so into another girl. But she doesn’t have time to be mad or even jealous, because someone has to save the world from the upcoming apocalypse, and it looks like that’s going to be Gia.

 

Buy Guardian of Secrets

Chris Cannon – Fanning the Flames (Going Down in Flames, #4):

1. There are no maidens that need to be rescued in urban fantasy. More than likely the females are the ones kicking ass.

2. I love the snarky banter that occurs when you throw modern day characters into strange/magical/supernatural circumstances.

3. Anything is possible in urban fantasy. There are no rules about what types of paranormal creatures you can have. If you want to create dragons that breathe fire, ice, wind, sonic waves, and lightning, you can, just like I did in Going Down In Flames *cough cough* shameless self promotion

Book Description:

S9781633758773he isn’t afraid of anything…except losing the knight she loves. Bryn McKenna has it all, including her smoking-hot knight turned live-in boyfriend, Valmont. Even though she’s a hybrid dragon, she’s finally fitting into the new shape-shifting dragon world that’s become her own. But her grandparents want to ruin everything by making Bryn’s nightmare of an arranged marriage to Jaxon Westgate a reality. It doesn’t help that Jaxon’s father is on a witch hunt for Rebel sympathizers and Bryn finds herself in his line of fire.

If she doesn’t say, “I do,” she’ll lose everything. Good-bye flying. Good-bye best friends. Good-bye magic. But if she bends to her grandparents’ will and agrees to marry Jaxon, she’ll lose the love of her life—her knight.

Buy Fanning the Flames

Shonna Slayton – Spindle:

Urban fantasy reminds me that our own world is magical. We are so used to the way our world works that we take for granted how incredible it is that our heart beats, our brain imagines, that our eyes see color.

As a writer, urban fantasy allows me to open up my imagination on multiple planes. I still work with the real world, but I get to add layers onto that. It’s like going from black and white TV to color. Like Dorothy in dusty old Kansas stepping into the colorful land of Oz.

Book Description:

spindleIn a world where fairies lurk and curses linger, love can bleed like the prick of a finger…

Briar Rose knows her life will never be a fairy tale. She’s raising her siblings on her own, her wages at the spinning mill have been cut, and the boy she thought she had a future with has eyes for someone else.

Most days it feels like her best friend, Henry Prince, is the only one in her corner…though with his endless flirty jokes, how can she ever take him seriously?

When a mysterious peddler offers her a “magic” spindle that could make her more money, sneaking it into the mill seems worth the risk. But then one by one, her fellow spinner girls come down with the mysterious sleeping sickness…and Briar’s not immune.

If Briar wants to save the girls—and herself—she’ll have to start believing in fairy tales…and in the power of a prince’s kiss.

Buy Spindle

Tara Fuller – Inbetween (Kissed by Death, #1):

Book Description:

9781620610138_fcDeath doesn’t fall in love. Usually. Since the car crash that took her father’s life three years ago, Emma’s life has been a freaky—and unending—lesson in caution. Surviving “accidents” has taken priority over being a normal seventeen-year- old, so Emma spends her days taking pictures of life instead of living it.

Falling in love with a boy was never part of the plan. Falling for a reaper who makes her chest ache and her head spin? Not an option.

It’s not easy being dead, especially for a reaper in love with a girl fate has put on his list not once, but twice. Finn’s fellow reapers give him hell about spending time with Emma, but Finn couldn’t let her die before, and he’s not about to let her die now. He will protect the girl he loves from the evil he accidentally unleashed, even if it means sacrificing the only thing he has left…his soul.

Buy Inbetween

Danielle Ellison – Salt (Salt, #1):

Whether it’s witches, demons, ghosts or other types monsters, there’s nothing like escaping the sometimes mundane reality of our world, or giving what we know every day a spice of fantasy. Filled with kick-ass heroines who aren’t afraid to fight for what they believe in (and hot, just-as- fierce love interests) Urban Fantasy inspires you to look beyond what you see and be more than you think you can be.

Plus, life is more with some magic: more dangerous, more unpredictable, more chaotic, more fun.

Book Description:

9781622663484-1Penelope is a witch, part of a secret society protecting humans from demon attacks. But when she was a child, a demon killed her parents—and stole her magic. Since then, she’s been pretending to be something she’s not, using her sister’s magic to hide her own loss, to prevent being sent away.

When she’s finally given the chance to join the elite demon-hunting force, Penelope thinks that will finally change. With her sister’s help, she can squeeze through the tests and get access to the information she needs to find “her” demon. To take back what was stolen.

Then she meets Carter. He’s cute, smart, and she can borrow his magic, too. He knows her secret—but he also has one of his own.

Suddenly, Penelope’s impossible quest becomes far more complicated. Because Carter’s not telling her everything, and it’s starting to seem like the demons have their own agenda…and they’re far too interested in her.

Buy Salt

Rachel Harris – My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century (My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century, #1):

Book Description:

9781620611364-1On the precipice of her sixteenth birthday, the last thing lone wolf Cat Crawford wants is an extravagant gala thrown by her bubbly stepmother and well-meaning father. So even though Cat knows the family’s trip to Florence, Italy, is a peace offering, she embraces the magical city and all it offers. But when her curiosity leads her to an unusual gypsy tent, she exits…right into Renaissance Firenze.

Thrust into the sixteenth century armed with only a backpack full of contraband future items, Cat joins up with her ancestors, the sweet Alessandra and protective Cipriano, and soon falls for the gorgeous aspiring artist Lorenzo. But when the much-older Niccolo starts sniffing around, Cat realizes that an unwanted birthday party is nothing compared to an unwanted suitor full of creeptastic amore. Can she find her way back to modern times before her Italian adventure turns into an Italian forever?

Buy My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century

Gloria Craw – Atlantis Rising (Atlantis Rising, #1):

I love Urban Fantasy because it infuses normal life with myth and magic. It’s so exciting to have something in common with a character who finds a magic object, special ability or a secret origin. The possible ways her courage and passion might be tested are endless. When she does triumph against fantastic odds, I’m left feeling inspired and reassured that I can overcome great obstacles in my everyday life too. Urban Fantasy reminds me that the ordinary in us can sometimes be…extraordinary.

Book Description:

ar_500We’ve stayed hidden too long… I am different. I have always been different, but no one can know or my life will be in danger. So I hide in plain sight, wearing drab clothes and thick glasses and trying to be invisible. I’m so good at hiding, no one has ever noticed me. Until Ian…the mysterious and oh-so-cute boy I know I need to avoid.

Now I have been seen. And more terrifying still, I am wanted—by those who would protect me and those who would destroy everything and everyone I love. But if they’re all terrified about who I am, wait until they see what I can do…

 

 

Buy Atlantis Rising


Okay, that’s it for today! Come back tomorrow and learn all about Team Epic!

iTunes Shuffle Challenge, Part 2

Back in October, I did one version of the iTunes shuffle challenge, in which I listened to iTunes on shuffle and wrote a short blurb about what each song meant to me. This time around, I’m tackling the challenge differently. I’m going to shuffle the songs, and then, I’m going to write whatever it inspires in me, and only write for the length of the song.

I ended up using thirty songs. Ten of them triggered absolutely nothing. Ten of them came up with almost nothing, with a last minute nugget of an interesting line of dialogue. I haven’t included those. But ten of these, hopefully, have some substance to them. So, onto the challenge!


1) Place for My Head by Linkin Park, Album: Hybrid Theory

 

“I didn’t help you because I wanted to add another favor to my belt. Unlike you, I’ve never been keeping score,” I said.

“That’s only because you could never repay what you owe me.” He spoke through gritted teeth. “Besides, I don’t count forgiveness in bullets shot. You use your weapons carelessly. You’re bound to get everyone killed.”

2) Hollywood by the Cranberries, Album: To The Faithful Departed

I stared into the mirror and willed my reflection to change, my green eyes narrowing, accenting the recently developed indentations that would soon become crow’s feet. I huffed my frustration at the inanimate object, struggling to brush my wild auburn curls into submission and gather them with a coated rubber band that would probably survive one or two uses before it popped under the pressure of the battle. I smoothed makeup over my pale and freckled skin, tried to hide all redness. I accented my eyes and lips, my good features, my only ones. I tugged my clothes around my widened form, struggling to make them sit right, like they used to, but it was no use. I sucked in lumps, smoothed, yanked, and stretched fabric, but my body wasn’t what it used to be. My glory days were gone, or at least that was what every public image would like me to believe.

3) What I’ve Done by Linkin Park, Album: Minutes to Midnight

My eyes struggled to open, but I could hear things through the fog of my brain. A page turning. A bit of shuffling. I couldn’t understand it. I was asleep and there was someone there with me. I lived alone, but I couldn’t seem to peel my eyes open to see who it was. I was too weak. I drifted away again…

Finally, my eyes opened. I was looking around the room before I even realized I was awake. Sterile white surrounded me. I was covered in layers of stiff sheets, and I stared out at a white board with a smiley face and a few names written across it in red ink. And a sharps disposal container. A hospital room.

“Hey, you’re awake!”

I rolled over to see who had spoken and groaned in pain. My entire body ached.

4) Swallowed in the Sea by Coldplay, Album: X&Y

My heart stopped as she shimmered into existence, an ethereal presence from another world. Her face was so familiar, my heart hurt.

5) Mary Jane by Alanis Morissette, Album: Jagged Little Pill

I stared out at the street below my window, my eyes heavy-lidded from the hours of crying the night before. My eyes couldn’t seem to find the tears anymore, but my head felt heavy with them, and I could barely hold it up without resting it on my chin.

Out on the street, I saw our neighbors walking their dogs like they did every morning. The few children that lived on the city street headed off to school, shuffled along by harried professional parents with somewhere else they had to be after this, checking their watches and their cell phones as if they were ticking time bombs counting down to the end. As if being late to work were so important that they didn’t even notice the children in front of them.

I would have noticed.

I ran a hand over my stomach, already flattening, as my eyes found the tears they had been searching for.

6) Every Night by Imagine Dragons, Album: Night Visions

I trudged into the house, my bones aching from a night of battle and my soul drained from using my abilities so indiscriminately.

It was shockingly quiet. Quieter than I was expecting, with a new baby that was used to having her Mommy home with her. I made my way up the stairs and over to our room. The door was wide open, the light was on, and I found my brother standing in front of the door, a fond smile on his face.

“Did she give you guys any trouble?” I asked.

He didn’t say a word, just nodded toward the door.

7) I Will Buy You a New Life by Everclear, Album: So Much For The Afterglow

I stuffed the bills into my mother’s hand, roughly. “Pay the bills.” I pushed past her and made my way to where Marty lay, staring out the window into the sun, his eyes squinting slightly, as though they barely felt the burn.

I didn’t blame him anymore. At some point between my teenage years and now, I had grown to accept that something in my brother had snapped. He was not well. His brain had made him believe I was something I wasn’t, and he had acted out in violence against me.

Now, I blamed my mother. For not believing me, for blaming me, for refusing to get him help, for believing it would all just get better, like schizophrenia just disappears, like suddenly the world would get set right, and my little brother would wake up one morning with no voices, no paranoia, no hallucinations, no fear.

That day never came.

“Blink, Farty Marty. Your corneas will thank you.”

He looked away from the window and smiled.

8) In Between by Linkin Park, Album: Minutes to Midnight

The rain started slowly, but by the time she’d gotten out far enough into the woods, it pelted her, soaking into her jeans, beading on her jacket and filling her boots. Her feet slid in the mud as she moved, purposefully towards the only place she could go. Their spot.

When she got there, she almost couldn’t see through the deluge, her soaked hair hanging in her eyes, blocking her view. She squinted past raindrops to make sure she was truly seeing what was there.

He had destroyed it. It was gone.

“I wanted to tell you the other day,” he said, his voice suddenly over her shoulder, and she started.

Damn her for not paying attention. Damn him for following her out here so he could watch her find this.

9) Your Star by Evanescence, Album: The Open Door

His hands clenched and unclenched as he stood, facing the open land before him. I could practically hear his mind racing. I stepped forward, wrapping an arm around him and resting my chin on his shoulder. He leaned into the embrace, his head bumping mine.

“What if the world ends?” he asked. “What if my choices ruin everything? What if we can’t fix it?”

I tried for a smile. I was scared too, but I didn’t have the luxury of that right now. “Well, that would be unacceptable, my love. We’ll just have to rebuild it.”

10) Mr. Brightside by The Killers, Album:

“This is what I’ve been meant to do,” he explained to me, his eyes wide, his nervous energy practically leaping from him. “My purpose. I finally understand why I can do these things, what makes me special, and you want me to give that away?”

BONUS: Single by Natasha Bedingfield, Album: Unwritten

“What is the big deal about all of this anyway?” I asked, fed up with Val and all of her gushy love talk. Based on what I’d just been through, it was a struggle not to punch her in her smiling, glowing face. “You only get to be this happy for a limited time.”

Okay folks, that’s it. Leave feedback on these. What did you like? What didn’t you? Would you like to try this challenge? Definitely chat with me in the comments!

Author Spotlight: Christi J. Whitney

Today, I would like to introduce you to a fellow YA Fantasy author, Christi J. Whitney. Christy is in the middle of writing her series, “The Romany Outcasts”. The first book, Grey, came out at the end of the year, and the latest installment, Shadow, will released on June 2nd. In the blog post below, you will learn about both of Christi’s books, get to know a bit about Christi, and read a mini-interview I conducted with her. Enjoy!


Released: Grey, Book 1 of “The Romany Outcasts”:

Grey eBook.jpeg

Amazon
Goodreads
YA urban fantasy
Available with: HarperCollins, HarperCollinsUK, Amazon, AmazonUK, Barnes and Noble, iBooks

Sebastian Grey always thought he was a fairly normal teenager – good friends, decent grades, and a pretty sweet job in his foster brother’s tattoo shop.

But when Romany gypsies arrive in town, Sebastian discovers his world is not what it seems. There is an age-old feud between his family and the gypsies – and this isn’t the only secret his brother has been keeping from him. His life is not his own. The girl he’s been dreaming about has just turned up at school, and he feels compelled to protect her at all costs.

Even if that means life might never be normal again.


Excerpt: 

‘Sebastian, are you still there?’

I transferred my phone to my other hand as I buckled the seatbelt. ‘Yeah, I’m here.’

‘Weren’t you listening to me?’ Katie asked.

I paused, trying to remember what we’d been talking about. The two hours since lunch had been a blur, and my brain was mush. ‘Um . . . ’

Katie sighed on the other end. ‘The project Ms Lucian talked about in class today,’ she continued impatiently. ‘When are we going to work on it?’

‘I’m sorry,’ I replied, starting the engine. ‘The pounding in my head’s making it difficult to think.’

‘Another headache?’

‘You know me and sunny days,’ I said dismissively. I stepped on the gas and coaxed my old van onto the road. ‘But about the project. I don’t know if I can do it this week. Can I get back to you?’

‘Yeah, just don’t wait too long. I know we’ve got almost a month to work on it, so Ms Lucian’s not going to cut us any slack, and the rest of our group is totally avoiding me about the whole thing.’

Katie hated procrastinating on anything related to schoolwork. This was probably killing her. ‘Look, don’t worry about it. I’ll talk to the guys, and we’ll come up with a day to work on it. I promise, we won’t let you down.’

‘Thanks, Sebastian,’ she replied, sounding relieved. ‘You’re not nearly as much of an idiot as the rest of your species.’

I chuckled. ‘I think you mean gender.’

She giggled. ‘No, I don’t.’

‘Talk to you later, Katie.’

‘Bye.’

I tossed the phone on the passenger seat and rubbed my temples. By the time I made it through town and steered my van into the parking lot of the Gypsy Ink, my headache had traveled, setting up residence between my shoulder blades. The last thing I felt like doing was homework.

I shuffled through the waiting room, giving a brief wave to Kris, who was busy behind the counter. I’d grab a quick snack and then lay out flat on the floor of the apartment for a while. Just until the aching eased. I paused in the hallway just outside the door of Hugo’s workspace. I didn’t have to say anything. My brother knew I was there.

‘Hey, Sebastian.’ He glanced up from his sketchbook. ‘What’s up?’

‘Do you have any sports cream?’ I leaned against the wall and squinted as a sharp pain lanced through my shoulders. ‘My back’s killing me.’

Hugo’s brows settled low over his dark eyes. ‘In the drawer beside my bed.’

‘Okay, thanks.’

I continued down the hallway, followed by the weight of my brother’s stare. He probably thought I was trying to get out of work, which wasn’t a bad idea. I chucked my bag on the bed and rummaged through Hugo’s nightstand until I located the tube of medicine. I worked the cream into my back, but it felt as if someone was digging long fingers between my shoulder blades, attempting to separate muscle from bone.

I gave up with the cream and stumbled to the bathroom on a quest for aspirin. Just as I reached for the medicine cabinet, another shock of pain doubled me over. I gripped the edge of the counter and straightened. My gaze flicked to the mirror. For a moment, I almost didn’t recognize the face staring back. I was crazy pale, even for me, and my skin made the hazel color of my eyes look dull. But then I noticed something else. Another chunk of gray was poking through my disheveled hair.


Coming Soon: Shadow, Book 2 of “The Romany Outcasts”

ShadowCoverReveal
Digital release date: June 2, 2016

The second volume in this incredible YA trilogy.

When stone hearts break they shatter.

Sebastian Grey used to be a normal teenager. Now he’s a creature whose sole purpose is to be a guardian for secretive gypsy clans.

When the Romany gypsies need his help, Sebastian is given a second chance to protect Josephine Romany – the girl he loves. But this is no easy task when some of them think he’s as bad as the shadow creatures attacking their camp.

Yet to keep Josephine safe, Sebastian might have to embrace his darker side. Even if that means choosing between his humanity and becoming the monster everyone believes him to be.

Available for Pre-Order:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Kobo

 


Excerpt: 

‘My apologies if Caliban hurt you,’ said the man. ‘It’s what he’s trained to do.’

The men lowered their hoods. It was Phillipe and Stephan – two of Quentin’s Marksmen. They watched me with disgusted expressions as I forced myself to stand. My muscles felt like iron cords.

‘You’ve trained him to attack innocent people?’ I snarled, brushing myself off.

‘Of course not,’ Phillipe sneered. ‘He’s trained to attack your kind.’

My kind.

I really hated that phrase.

I examined my arm. The sleeve of my jacket was ripped, but there wasn’t a mark on my gray skin. My eyes widened. Not even a scratch. But it still hurt like crazy, and I rubbed my arm gingerly.

‘It’s fortunate we weren’t out with the rest of the dogs,’ said Stephan with a cold smile. ‘Caliban here is relatively mild-tempered.’

As if on cue, the dog’s muzzle flashed with sharp teeth.

‘Nicolas asked me to come,’ I said evenly.

Stephan tilted his chin. ‘Yes, we know.’

I was about to get an escort, I realized.

‘Come with us,’ Phillipe ordered.

Stephan slid his bow from his shoulder and fitted an arrow to the string. ‘Caliban and I will follow behind. Just as a precaution, of course – in case you start getting any ideas in that ugly gray head of yours.’

Quentin Marks’ welcoming committee was not something I’d anticipated. I gathered my bags, and Phillipe led our unpleasant little party across the Sutallee Bridge. I unconsciously slowed as we passed over the abandoned mine shaft where Josephine and I had taken refuge so long ago. There was a sharp poke in the middle of my back, right between my pent wings.

‘Move it,’ Stephan said, jabbing me again. ‘We’re already late for lunch.’

I fought the insanely strong desire to whirl around and shove the arrow down his throat. Instead, I bit my lip, tasting blood, and picked up my pace. We reached the iron fence that surrounded the Fairgrounds. Phillipe pulled out a ring of keys and opened the I’d assumed everything would look as it had the last time I’d been within the walls of the Circe de Romany. But there were no tents or pavilions. No rides or decorations, either. Only trailers – along with several RVs, trucks, and buses – arranged in a tight circle, right in the middle of the property.

Their configuration created a large open space in the center of the caravan. Tarps were arranged over tables and chairs. A fire pit had been built, and laundry hung from clotheslines spread between trailers. People bustled around the clearing, preparing for the approaching storm. Another peal of thunder echoed overhead. The clouds had thickened, and the sky looked ready to split apart at any moment.

‘Hurry it up,’ said Stephan with another jab to my back. ‘I don’t intend to get wet.’

Lightning flashed. Women scurried to get the clothes off the lines while men anchored the tarps more securely in the ground. Phillipe led me to a small trailer and flung open the door.

‘Get inside.’

The howling wind was motivation enough – even without Stephan’s sharp arrow in my back – and I scampered up the steps. My nose instantly wrinkled at the unpleasant smell. Phillipe caught my look.

‘The dog trailer,’ he said.

‘Just be glad they’re out on patrol,’ said Stephan with a malicious laugh. ‘They’re quite territorial.’

The Marksmen backed me into the stinky enclosure, weapons drawn.

‘We’ll come for you when Nicolas returns,’ said Phillipe. ‘Until then, welcome home.’

With that, he slammed the door, locking me inside.


Bio:

 ChristiJWhitney_Head Shot
Christi J. Whitney is a former high school theatre director with a love for the dramatic. She lives just outside Atlanta with her husband and two sons. When not spending time with them or taking a ridiculous number of trips to Disney World, she can be found directing plays, making costumes for sci-fi/fantasy conventions, geeking out over Doctor Who, and watching superhero movies.

Website      Twitter    Facebook      Goodreads     Instagram


Mini-Interview with Christy J. Whitney:

Q: What drew you to writing?

A: I’ve always loved making up stories in my head, and I used to write quite a bit when I was younger. When I became a high school theatre director, I set writing aside, but I always kept stories in the back of my head. I shared one with some of my students one day, and it rekindled my passion for writing. Being an author and being a theatre director are very similar – both careers have allowed me to create stories and bring them to life, either on the stage or on the page.

Q: Tell us one thing you learned, during research or about craft, while writing your latest book.

A: I learned so much about the Roma culture while doing research for The Romany Outcasts Series, but I also learned how to write for YA. I began as a pretty wordy author in my early days – bogged down with way too much detail. Writing young adult fiction has taught me how to streamline and move the plot and characters along.

Q: What’s next on your To Be Read list?

A: I have way too many books in my TBR pile, but at the top would be An Ember in the Ashes, Mistborn: The Final Empire, Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, and Thorn Jack.

Q: What inspires you?

A: I was definitely inspired by my former students while writing the first two books of this trilogy. But I love sitting down to read or watch good fantasy and science fiction stories. It always recharges me.

Q: What makes a story interesting to you?

A: Stories with unusual, but believable characters always interest me. I’m a sucker for underdog heroes and endearing, slightly awkward sidekicks. I adore transformation tales and stories of self-discovery. At the end of the day, if I can relate to the characters, then I’m going to keep turning the pages.


 I hope you had fun meeting Christi J. Whitney! Stay tuned for more posts from me and Author Spotlights in the weeks to come!