2017! The Year of the Manzanos!

As the holidays approach and I sit down to write my last blog post of 2016, I’m reminded of just how erratic my year has been. Politics were the pits, tons of celebrity favorites died, and a general malaise settled over the world. Things were not looking so shiny. We took some personal hits this year as well. My Uncle Bobby died after a long and grueling battle with cancer. My son was diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety disorder, which has really kicked up recently and has us struggling to find the answers. My husband and I had our own respective health issues, one that landed me in the hospital having a small, but not fun, surgical procedure. I ended my publishing contract with no book to show for it.

But there was light toward the end, at least with my career. There was Pitch to Publication, two short story publications, and an Editor’s Choice Award. And there was the prospect of next year on the horizon. Next year, when I start to query The Order of the Key again, in hopes of finding an agent who will love it. And next year when I embark on two new projects that aren’t exactly about my writing, but have some interplay with that career.

Allow me to introduce you to my two new projects. Or should I say OUR two new projects.

geektastic-bannerGeektastic: My son, Logan, wanted to be a YouTube sensation. My husband, Ismael, missed doing reviews. My sister-in-law, Megan, wanted to start a BookTube review channel, but didn’t know where to begin. I wanted a way to show off how damn random we all are, and wanted to have a place to openly be meta about geeky things.

This is what lead to Geektastic. We put our minds together, and decided to create a YouTube channel/blog where we could openly discuss all of the wonderful things that make being a geek so kickass…and so that we could offer an alternative to adults. Fun, kid-filled YouTube channel with gaming, toys and memorabilia, that speaks about some more sophisticated television, books and movies, but in a way that’s totally family friendly.

We’re still working on our first video, but it will be available in January. In the meantime, you can view our website and go follow us on our social media links, because we want you along on our adventure. Check it out at www.geektastic-manzanos.com.

inkwell34434The Inkwell Council: After leaving my work at Fantasy Works Publishing behind me, I was told by one of the writers there that they would miss my editing work. I am also constantly asked by my close circle of writer friends to read their stories, to help polish them up. I came to realize, I could help new writers. Maybe not with entire manuscripts, but I could read their first three chapters, and offer suggestions. It wasn’t about money. It was about giving back to a writing community that gave to me.

A discussion with Ismael revealed he missed writer’s workshops. Last to join was Megan, who was trying to make a living doing freelance edits, but didn’t have enough exposure and wasn’t sure how to build a client list. Moving forward together, we created The Inkwell Council, a manuscript editing service with specific rules. Basically, if you have no writer’s critique group, and you want someone to polish up the first three chapters of your Fantasy manuscript (we could only do one genre we could all agree on) we’ll be there for you. For rules and specifics of our program, please visit us at http://www.theinkwellcouncil.com/. Submissions officially open in January. Please also follow us on social media, which is linked on the website.

Add these two amazing projects to querying The Order of the Key, writing a new short story, and brainstorming on three other novels, and there is a busy year ahead. And the best part of it, is I will get to work with a big chunk of my family, whom I adore.

So, what’s new with your year? Anything exciting to look forward to? New projects? Let me know in the comments.

Either way, here’s to you and yours in the new year. May 2017 be a bright, shining light, leading as far away from 2016 as possible. 😉 Happy Holidays!

Author Spotlight: Ismael Manzano

It’s funny. I do these author spotlights every now and then, and while the writers involved are often my friends, I have never done something like this for a person I know better than I know myself, about a book I read in its nascent stages, a story I’d heard about for years in various possible incarnations before it became what it is today. But here I am. My author spotlight today is for my husband, Ismael Manzano, and his novel, Soulless.

Now, below you will find a whole lot of press release type information, and I want you to read it and enjoy it, because it’s good stuff. But before I even get to that, I want to tell you the truth about this book.

I love this book. And not just because it’s my husband’s book. The story is imaginative, and I connected with the characters immediately, particularly the main character, Charlotte. Learning about this world through her eyes has been an exhilarating experience.

But more importantly, I love the writing, the way he weaves words together and takes you on a ride with them. I speak a lot about writing on this blog, but I rarely point out this fact – I am only a writer because I was inspired by Ismael. He not only told me I could, but he challenged me, and he showed me what dedication to the craft looked like, and without him I’d probably still be auditioning for acting jobs with my own stories dancing in my head. I got very lucky. I got to marry my favorite author. And I’m so very pleased to help create some of the fanfare surrounding this book.

So, without further ado, here’s a little about Ismael, and a little about Soulless.


Available Today!

Soulless
by Ismael Manzano

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Synopsis:

The devil’s not the only one buying souls; both sides need bodies to fight their war, and both have something to offer in return. Nearly anything is possible, if you are the type of soul they’re looking for. Charlotte Furio learns this the hard way, when a spirited and mysterious woman named Trisha follows her home one night and gives her ailing father a simple choice: a healthy body for his immortal soul.

His decision introduces Charlotte to the world of soul brokering, and Charlotte is not only drawn to it, but finds she has a knack for it. Having lived the last decade of her life with only one purpose—to care for her increasingly disabled father—Charlotte sees this as her chance to give direction and meaning to her own life, and the lives of other people. To help them as Trisha had helped her father.

This mission is quickly derailed when Charlotte is framed for the murder of one of the brokers’ leaders. Where she once had only one purpose, now Charlotte has two: get her father’s soul back and find a way to prove her innocence before it’s too late.

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Excerpt:

I walked around the car so I could jump into the passenger’s seat, waited for the crowd to thin and calmly—barely holding onto my senses—asked for the knapsack. It weighed nothing, but when I opened it, I found a parchment resting peacefully and eagerly inside of it. The full moon was out, and the sky was cloudless and unobtrusive, so when the pale, silvery light touched the papyrus, it was not reflected but enhanced. Trisha started the engine, and put the convertible’s top up to block the moonlight, then adjusted her mirror. Her face glowed nearly as bright as the papyrus.

The windows were tinted so I felt safe removing the parchment completely from the bag. The second my hand touched it, I felt a rush of something inexplicable, like a jolt of pleasurable lightning traipsing through my nerves and extending outward to the world at large. At first, I thought Trisha had pulled out a taser gun and had shocked me, but nothing hurt. I closed my eyes and allowed myself to enjoy the strangeness of the sensation. Shivers passed through me randomly, tingles that lit my skin. Without knowing how, I knew those shivers were my body’s reaction to people passing alongside the car. It was as if I was connected to the air through which they moved. I heard the wind pushing through the desiccated leaves still clinging to their branches, and it sounded like water rushing around a brook. The smells of the city, even through the confinement of the car, assailed my nostrils as if someone had bottled it up and threw it—concentrated—into my lap.

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PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon | Smashwords | Nook | Kobo

Author Bio:

Ismael_Head shotIsmael Manzano was born and raised in New York City, and has lived his entire life in the Bronx, first with his parents, and then with his lovely and talented wife, Justine, and now with their kinetic maelstrom of a child, Logan.

Ismael is an avid reader of fantasy books, and knew at an early age that he wanted to be a writer. He worked his entire life to hone his craft to achieve the goal of removing the prefix, ‘aspiring,’ from his title, and referring to himself as a writer.

He has written many reviews and social commentaries for the web magazine, G-pop.net. Recently, Ismael has found success publishing his short stories, Playing in Shadows, at This Dark Matter and Cold, published in July 2015, at Grey Matter. In 2015, Fantasy Works Publishing signed his Urban Fantasy series, Soul Broker.

Ismael loves watching historical documentaries and listening to audio lectures about Medieval England, Ancient Rome, and Egypt. He considers himself an amateur historian, and has never met a BBC historical drama he didn’t like. One of his favorite things to do is to watch shows like the Tudors and movies like Elizabeth, and try to pick out the discrepancies between fact and fiction. He also hopes to one day solve a Rubix Cube puzzle, but that dream, sadly, seems to be the greatest fantasy of them all.

Website: IsmaelManzano.com

Twitter: @IsmaelManzano76

Facebook: Ismael Manzano – Author

 

2015 Year in Review, Dancing into 2016

Hi all!

So I know I’ve been kind of absent this month, and mostly that was just me being the usual speed-of-light blur that I’m known for. Post NaNoWriMo, I had a ton of work to make up for in daily life, so I ran through that and have just now come down from the big spin. But, now that Christmas is done (Happy Holidays!), my 33rd birthday is here (Happy Birthday to me!) and 2016 is on the horizon (Happy New Year!), I always like to take a minute and look at how much things have changed in a year.

Highlights of 2015

  • IMG_2318I signed a contract for my series! So, things may be a bit delayed from my original August release, but that’s because I switched publishing companies in the middle of the process. It was a difficult but necessary decision to make, and while it set things back a little, The Order of the Key is still going strong and will be on bookshelves and hopefully chilling in your e-reader in 2016. So, stick with me. 2016 is going to be a banner year! I am also over halfway through writing Book 2, so things for the Keys and Guardians series are going well and moving right along.
  • Speaking of which, if we’re going with firsts, this is the first time I’ve ever edited a manuscript for a publisher, and it has been insane. Bang your head into the wall, pull your hair out of your head, angst-ridden crazy, but we’re about halfway through the muck, and the product has been incredible. I’m in love with what we’ve done so far, and damn…my editor is right when she’s right, you know?
  • lastcover1My husband, Ismael, signed his book series! Fans of the blog know just how invested I am in my husband’s work (we work as a team, are each other’s first editors, and brainstorm out most of our work together). Obviously, he is more excited than I am, but I am still over the moon! Soulless, Book 1 of the Soul Broker series, is in final edits and due out early in 2016. Life just got very different for both of us, as I’m sure you know.

 

  • Logan is kicking butt at First Grade and has decided he wants to be a writer too. We’re not expecting anything, but he’s pretty angry he can’t publish a book now, because Mommy and Daddy are, so why not? One day, kid. Or maybe not. You decide.
  • Once we both got picked up for series with Fantasy Works Publishing, I also took a job with them, and I’ve been having a grand time with my newfound duties. I’ve been working in acquisitions, as a content editor, and I’m about to strike out in a new branch – I will be running the soon-to-open audiobook branch of the company. So keep an eye open for that. You can get an idea of all of the wonderful things FWP has to offer at http://www.fantasyworkspublishing.com
  • Lastcover I mentioned my content editing above, and I’d like to introduce you to the book I’ve been editing. If you like horror and dark fantasy, you will love following the twists and turns of Gage Greenwood’s first novel, In the Eyes, In the Shadows. We’ve been having a great time working on his novel, he is extremely talented, and a breeze to work with. I know you all will fall in love with his book just like I did, so follow him for news on its release. You’ll be seeing it in 2016 as well.

What’s New in 2016

  • Aside from all the release dates and pending projects? Well, I’m still writing Book 2 of the Keys and Guardians series, The Lost Key, and I’m also going to try to shop out my last remaining short story, One Headlight. It’s been a busy year, and I let that one fall by the wayside. Either way, with book signings and marketing on the horizon, I have a good feeling that 2016 will have a crazier and much longer list of highlights than this year.

Alright guys, that’s what’s up with me! How is everything with you? Post below so I can get a look at what everyone has been up to and what is to come!

Thankful

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I know I’m a bit late, but I hope all of my American friends had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

I figured I’d write a little something about the things I’m thankful for this year. It’s been such a strange year. Sad in some places, but incredibly happy in others.

We lost my Grandmother this year, in April. But I’m thankful because I spent 32 years of my life with her in it. She was an incredibly strong woman, and she was very funny, and she is the matriarch of the Minners (my maiden name) family. She had three sons, two daughters, and a collection of zany grandchildren, great grandchildren, and in-laws from all over that map that she was very, very proud of.

I am thankful for the way our family bands together in times of sadness and I am thankful for a re-established relationship with some of my cousins, who I’d spoken to on Facebook, but I hadn’t spoken to in real life in years. I’m thankful for the way two cousins who live across the country from each other can discover all kinds of similarities and form a unique and close bond. I am thankful for positive family connections of all kinds.

I am thankful for new traditions and extra time spent with my parents and my in-laws. I’ve loved getting to know each of you better and better.

I am thankful for blood siblings, siblings through marriage, adopted siblings, all of whom are my best friends. I couldn’t get by without them. Melissa, Jon, Megan, Dorothy, Kristy, Julian, Joy, Allegra, Fruhmann, Frank, Jennine, Anthony, and Marissa.

I am thankful for nieces and nephews, both real and adopted – Genaro, Kaitlyn, and Angelica – every accomplishment is a joy to watch, even when it must sometimes be from afar.

I am thankful for the ability to move away from toxicity in my life, and for the opportunity to find myself and pull myself free from many of the doubts and fears holding me back in life.

I am thankful for the career success that Ismael, Megan, and I have all enjoyed in 2015.

I am thankful for the Fantasy Works Publishing team, who are working so hard to give birth to my first novel, Ismael’s first novel, and a host of others. I am so grateful to be a part of this team and to count them as my friends. I am thankful for the FWP writers as well. I can’t wait to help them all share their stories with the world.

To my day job and all of my bosses and friends there, who make my day-to-day bearable.

I’m thankful for an amazing set of really great friends. I have been very lucky.

I am thankful for good food, a roof over my head, for good jobs, for a good life.

And, most of all, obviously, I am thankful for my guys, Ismael and Logan, who deal with my general insanity on a regular basis and love me despite it. They keep me in check and remind me regularly why I do all of this, and what kind of person I want to be. Seriously, the best husband and child I could ever ask for – perfect for me in every way.

And I am thankful daily for all of you. Everyone who reads my blog, all of the writing contacts I have made, and for the great online friends I have made in this way. Thank you all for being incredible.

I hope you had a wonderful day, and I hope you have a great holiday season.

Love to you all,
Justine

 

The 777 Challenge

Kristin D. Van Risseghem tagged me to share seven lines from the seventh page of a work in progress. Naturally, I chose The Order of the Key. 🙂

I may have gone a tad over 7 lines, just because I’m a sucker for a decent ending. Also, just so you know – they just fought some creatures. Happy reading!


“Any more?” Kyp’s breath rattled from his lungs.

I really hoped he wasn’t depending on me to give the final all clear. “I think we’re good.”

He groaned and let himself slide to the ground, using the wall for support. “Just a minute. We’ll rest for a minute, then I’ll take you back home before more come.”

“Uh-huh.” I plopped down beside him. The concrete was surprisingly cold. Now that nothing was trying to kill me, the adrenaline seemed to be wearing off, and my legs were starting to shake.

He winced. “Pretty sure I broke all of my ribs. Are you okay?”

I looked down at my legs. While they were blood covered, the wounds were mostly healed. “Huh. Must not have been as bad as I thought.”

Kyp shook his head. “Jaina didn’t tell you anything, did she?”


Now I’ll tag 7 other authors to play this game:

Ismael Manzano
Jaromy Henry
Gage Greenwood

Megan Manzano
Kayla Rivera
Sharon Platz
Louis Santiago

Writing at a Write-In

 

IMG_0791Last summer, me, my husband, Ismael, his sister, Megan, and our friend Louis Santiago agreed that we would try to do some more writerly activities to try to boost our creativity. In some cases, it would be actually writing related. In others it would be some sort of research activity. The problem was making it work. We each had our work schedules. Ismael and I would have to find a babysitter for Logan. We would have to make this happen on dates we could actually make it to and that took awhile. Until March 13th, to be exact. As it turned out, when we finally found an activity, Megan couldn’t make it, due to a sudden school assignment fiasco. So it ended up just being me, Ismael, and Louis, on this particular mission.

Our first assignment? The Gotham Writers Write-In! In the beginning, nothing about this assignment went right. Aside from Megan having to drop out the day before, the trains we each had to take to arrive at the location on time, were behaving horribly. Louis was supposed to meet me at my job while Ismael was supposed to meet us at the location. After several minutes of Louis and I frantically calling and texting each other in an effort to communicate how we were going to handle the fact that he was trapped in the subway (which, for you non-New Yorkers, barely has any kind of cell phone reception), we decided that we would all meet at the location.

When I get out of the train and call Ismael to see where he is, he asks me if there is anything he had to bring.

“Did you bring paper? A pen?” I asked.

“No, I thought they probably give that to us. Don’t they?” Ismael asked.

“I can not [expletive deleted] believe you wouldn’t bring something to WRITE ON to a WRITE IN.” I was very stressed out about running late. Also…if you transcribed most of my life, there would be a lot of deleted expletives.

We rushed off to Duane Reade to buy a pad and pens for Ismael. When we finally met up with Louis, we all headed upstairs and guess what was waiting for us at the sign in table? Yes, you guessed right! We each got our own pen and pad. And maybe, just maybe, I’m a bit of an idiot.

No matter (or rather, no matter to me. My husband would go on to bring this up once every fifteen minutes or so, each time in it’s own hilarious way, which I certainly earned). The three of us headed to our seats, surrounded by other authors. At first it was very quiet. Except for the three of us, of course. We were chattering quite heartily. Then the teacher, Hasanthika Sisisena, a short story writer, entered the room and provided us with our prompt by writing it on the whiteboard in front of us.

 

THE BET

 

We had fifteen minutes to write on the topic, but I got NOTHING. I finally started to get some germ of an idea, continuing off the idea for my flash fiction, Tunneling, with Grayson’s friends betting on when he would fall back off the wagon. I didn’t like it as I was writing it. The characters seemed crass and cruel and I had already decided that, should I decide to continue that story, I would handle it delicately and with compassion. This felt like wasted writing time. I glanced over at Louis, who was writing on his tablet, just in time for his tablet’s word processor to crash. That’s what real wasted writing time looks like.

When it was finally time to break, I felt like I was in Calculus class again, praying nobody called on me to speak. Thankfully, reading aloud was voluntary here and the writers who did choose to share their work were all rather talented and fun. It was amazing how quickly we were sucked into the scenes they created.

After a few readers shared, we got up for some wine, cheese, snacks, and conversation. Once the wine started flowing, the hearts having already been bared, the writers became much more chatty. Even us. Ismael struck up a conversation on self-publishing with the writers beside him, while Louis and I chatted with a writer about the joys and sorrows (and mostly SORROWS) of revising. By the time we were called to order again, we were reluctant to end our conversations.

The next prompt?

CHARM

 

This, I could do. I’ve been working on a short story for an anthology. It is supposed to take place within the world of my Keys & Guardians series, so I crossed the theme of that anthology with the prompt and what I came up with can be found below.

*****

The trees in the forest behind the Estate had long since lost their leaves, bare branches pointing into the sky like long, bony fingers, blocking the view of the stars blinking in the night sky. My cheeks hurt, my fingers numb with the cold.

The crunch of Drew’s boots on the dry, frozen ground alerted me to his presence. He had found me.

“Gana, what are you doing?” Sometimes, he said things with a laugh on the end, even when he wasn’t joking. Sometimes, he said things like that when his words were most grave.

What was I doing? I didn’t know. I was lying, flat on my back, on the cold hard ground, my arms crossed over my notebook, the real reason he was out here. Not to spend time with me. To learn what I had learned.

“I’m lying on the ground.” I stated flatly.

He grinned, and it was adorable, and I brought my head up and back down, smacking it against the cold floor.

“We can sit by the tree, if you want.” He danced around me, trying to make me laugh. I was more little sister than anything. That’s why he played the goofball for me.

I glanced at the tree – the one my older sister, Jacklyn, and her awful boyfriend, Kyp, met near. God only knew what happened by that tree.

“Nah, I’m good.”

He laughed, that hoarse little laugh of his and it almost brought the feeling back to my fingertips. It was like he knew what I was thinking. When I didn’t laugh with him, he knelt down in front of me. “You know it’s cold outside. We could talk about this some other time.”

“I’m not cold.” Either my nose just grew or that was frostbite setting in.

“No? Then what’s wrong?” He frowned and sat down on the frigid ground beside me. His ass didn’t even touch the ground before he was right back up on his feet with a yelp. “Shit that’s cold! What’s wrong with you?” Little laugh at the end of every sentence.

“I wish I was more like Jacklyn.”

“Like…athletic?”

“Like her. Fun. Interesting.”

Drew punched me in the arm, all sibling love. “Nah kid. You’ve got your own brand of charm.”

Well, I supposed I’d have to take what I could get.

*****

Once we completed the second prompt, we read again. While the first time around, the group of us remained silent, this time, Ismael was the first to speak up. Emboldened by the strong reaction to his work and possibly by the wine (it doesn’t take much), I spoke up next and also received an uplifting reaction. Louis sat this one out, not particularly inspired by either of the prompts. This is bound to happen with any event like this, because prompts either trigger something or they don’t, and even when they do, it’s way more likely to be an odd little rambling thing you can’t get a handle on then an actual story seed.

When dismissed, we headed out of the building, joking with some of the other writers about how the fact that we would likely never see each other again helped make us more comfortable with sharing with each other. As our group split off from the rest, we discussed the changed experience of Ismael being able to share something in the fantasy genre with the group without having the strange reactions we sometimes encountered when sharing our work in college.

The conversation of the change in paradigm and the joy of having friends with shared interests followed us to dinner and all the way back home. The first adventure of our writing crew was a marked success.