Monday, October 28, 2013

Hot Halloween Heroes Blog Hop!

Hot Halloween Heroes Giveaway Hop

Halloween is my favorite holiday. I like it better than Christmas. What other holiday allows you to dress up like your favorite character (or like a table and a lamp—yes, we had a trick-or-treater at our house a couple of years ago dressed as a table and a lamp. She was way cool.) and solicit everyone for candy? It's got to be a dentist's favorite holiday.

But there's more to love about Halloween than just the costumes, the carved pumpkins, and the treats, especially if you're a paranormal lover like I am, whether a reader or a writer. Vampires have come a long way since the days of Dracula pulling his cape around his face and whisking a damsel in distress into his coffin for a little one-on-one time that usually ended with two red dots on her neck. Nowadays, there are vampires like Wrath, Vishous, Vlad, and even my hot blood-sucking tamales from my award-winning All the King's Men Series, who make Dracula look like a pansy. These are alpha vampires with muscle, moxy, and attitudes bigger than Texas. They're also vampires with human-like problems to overcome. And we love a sexy vampire with problems, don't we? I know I do.

Today (October 29) is my birthday, and I want to celebrate it with my vampires while browsing through the other bloggers involved in this blog hop. The vampires I'm inviting as special guests to my birthday party are the hero and heroine of my new book, Return of the Assassin, book five in the AKM Series, which just released today. Malek and Gina have waited a long time for their story to be told, and I'm excited about adding their heart-wrenching love story to the mix alongside, Micah & Samantha, Severin & Arion, and Io & Miriam. Malek & Gina are two vampires who must overcome tragic, painful pasts if they are to find happiness, and I'm thrilled to have been able to tell their story in Return of the Assassin. I love me a good vampire story, don't you?

As part of the blog hop, I'm giving away a $10 Amazon gift card, as well as all five e-books in my AKM Series to one lucky winner:
  1. Rise of the Fallen
  2. Heart of the Warrior
  3. Micah's Calling
  4. Rebel Obsession
  5. Return of the Assassin
Make sure you enter your email in the comments and answer the question: What do you like most about Halloween? 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Return of the Assassin Now Available!

My latest book, Return of the Assassin, is now available, albeit three days earlier than anticipated. It was due to come out on Oct. 29, but for the first time ever, Barnes and Noble pulled the trigger finger faster than lightning to make the listing go live within five hours of my uploading it. So, ROTA went up everywhere as of last night.

The first eighteen hours of publication have been amazing, with the book ranking the highest of all my books within ten hours of initial upload to their site. Two five-star reviews have already been posted, and fan reaction has been incredible. Lots of tears (everyone I've asked so far said they cried while reading the book), and many have said already that this is the best book yet in the series. I'm blessed for that, because a lot of times, books in series become less interesting as the series ages. Five books in, and my readers say the books just keep getting stronger.

Reviews have been outstanding, including a fabulous GraveTells review that had this to say:

"If you've been waiting for the next Black Dagger Brotherhood, this is it, but with a story arc and featured characters that stand on their own merit and writing that is as complicated and talented as J.R. Ward's without the abrasive, almost gangster style. I dare you to read Return of the Assassin and remain completely unmoved by the events in this book. And to think, this series has so much potential awesome left to explore!"

I do get compared to J.R. Ward quite a bit, and I'll admit she's been influential in my writing. I love the multi-POV story lines, and I like brash banter, much like she does. So, I don't mind the comparisons. It's an honor to be compared to her.

Now it's time to turn my focus to the next book in the series, Bound Guardian Angel, which is Trace's much-anticipated story. With high expectations come increased odds that those expectations won't be met, so I have to work extra hard on this one to make it the epic story fans hunger for. But I think I can do it. With the draft already started, Trace's story promises to deliver a few interesting scenes of action I've never seen anywhere. I think readers will have to peel themselves off their ceilings after they read his story. We'll see.

But for now, let me introduce you to a few new characters you'll meet in Return of the Assassin:

Savill Hawke is introduced in Return of the Assassin as "just a boy," but as you can see, he will grow up to be quite a man. Savill is a musical prodigy and a half-blood vampire with gentle powers, despite his scary exterior. His story is tragic, and he will endure a lot of anguish once he recovers from the induced coma we find him in in ROTA. Consequently, and partly inspired by another character he meets when he awakes from his coma, he will cover himself in tattoos: cobras up both arms, scorpions on his chest, the devil on his torso, and possibly a black widow on his back. What he's been through will make him want to push everyone away, and the tattoos are part of the armor he'll use to meet that objective. (muse: DeAngelo Demonio)

Trevor Knight, a full-blooded vampire, is Gina's best friend. At one time, he dated her brother, Gabe. He was also romantically involved with his business partner, Talon Justice, who he started the Knights of Justice with. The Knights of Justice is a security detail in Miami that's similar to All the King's Men, only without the royal credentials. Trevor wants a mate. A true mate. One he forms a biological bond with. This is something he yearns for, and it's why he broke up with Talon, because that link never formed with Talon. He is loyal to his friends and deadly to his enemies, and he will go to great lengths to protect those he loves. (muse: Alejandro Corzo)

Kieran Teague a deadly half-blood vampire who possesses special powers that caused him to be "marked" and ostracized from his clan. Even though this pic doesn't show them, his chest, torso, back, and arms are covered in tattoos so black and dense, they look burned into his skin. These markings are warnings to others of how dangerous he is. But deep down, Kieran is a tender-hearted, misunderstood male. And he aches that his clan banished him. His markings shame him, and he carries a lot of guilt. Instead of hiding his tattoos, he readily shows them to push anyone away who dares to get too close. The pain of losing everyone he loved has made him wary of anyone who threatens to enter his heart, and he would rather chase them away than let them in, only to lose them later. (muse: Ivan Rusilko)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Why Are You Here?

When I logged in to Facebook this morning, one of the first posts I saw was the following, posted by a fellow author, who also happens to be the muse for one of my favorite characters. His name is Dr. Ivan Rusilko, and he's one of the authors of The Winemaker's Dinner novels. He's a truly inspirational person, but this morning's post was particular moving. This is his post:

Why I Am ... Where I Am! 

Three years ago I was dragged from a burning truck that had been wrapped around one of the many palm trees that line the causeway leading from Miami to Miami Beach. At the time I was in, what I thought was, the best part of my young 26 year old life. Established international fitness model, second year as Mr USA and all the "craziness" that accompanied the title, beautiful Latin girlfriend, and the transition from a lowly medical student into full fledged physician... all while beginning a brand new life in an exotic unknown city that was far far from the backwood, beer chugging, cow milking, camp fire indulging lifestyle of Northwestern Pennsylvania. Little did I know at the time that titles and image and partying are privileges the universe affords to those on a trial bases which can be greedily repossessed in a tormented instant regardless of race, religion, personality, good looks, popularity, or amount of Facebook friends and Twitter followers.

The morning after nearly losing my life I stood staring, bathed in nothing but the suns early morning rays, at a battered face decorated with discolored bruises, tightly drawn stitches, and freshly burnt skin. As I studied in awe the rapidly negative transformation my appearance had undergone in less than 24 hours, the even more rapid melancholy realization, which ripped through my mind faster than the airbag had exploded across my face hours before, came to light.

Life is sturdy, life is fickle, life is educating, life is stupid, life is beautiful, life is ugly, life is trusting, life is two faced, life is amazing, life is cruel, life is reliable, life is unreliable, life is ordinary, life is mysterious, life is benign, life is malignant...

But when it is all said and done ... Life is Nothing but a Game... A game that only a few unfortunately get to truly play... This game isn't played on sand, or clay, or turf, or ice... Its outcome doesn't depend on how tall, fast, strong or focused you are... It boils down to simply how you play it... Those without the fear of regret are the ones that can make the smartest most calculated random stupid decisions resulting in game changing plays that dictate a truly well lived existence... A successful life... When you overthink and try to decipher the secrets of this games playbook to plan ahead -> you've already lost because there is no special formula, no magic bullet.

With the type of medicine I practice I could have easily fixed the three lingering scares that still stretch across my face from the accident but I chose to wear them as flesh colored tattooed reminders of my answer to every decision I have been faced with from the day inspiration stared back at me through swollen eyes...

~ Buy the Ticket... Take the Ride... And Play the Game... Because Waking Up Every Morning is FUCKING AMAZING So Don't Waste It!

If your life was a movie would people watch it? More importantly would you?
A picture accompanied Ivan's post, and it showed the truck, his bruised face, and how he looks today, scars and all. 

After reading his post, I broke down in tears. Not because I was saddened by his ordeal, but because I was both moved by his words as well as by the reminder of what got me where I am today.

My story is that all my life, I lived in fear. I was afraid to take chances, to be myself, to say no when I wanted to say no and yes when I wanted to say yes. I was afraid of what people thought of me. I was afraid if people knew the real me, they wouldn't like me. I was afraid of disappointing my friends for fear they would abandon me. I was afraid of hurting my father by following my own path instead of the one he wanted me to follow. I feared failure in every facet of my life, and that fear crippled me.

My parents divorced when I was in second grade, and my dad gave up so much to stay close by to be the father he knew we needed while my mom indulged her inner child and pretty much left my brother and me to fend for ourselves. I had no childhood because of this. At a young age, I became the mental adult in the household, since my mom got custody. I learned by third grade not to expect much, because my mom had very little to give after she satisfied her own desires. While my friends' parents drove them back and forth to school events, mine made me find rides or I couldn't go, because she didn't have time to take me. So, from a young age, I experienced abandonment, and this scared me, whether I want to admit it or not. I started trying to be everything to everybody else, but left myself behind in the process.

Every other weekend, I got to see my dad...until my mom decided she preferred to spend her weekends with her boyfriend, and then my dad took my brother and me every weekend. He loved having us, but he suffered from the divorce, too. And I was daddy's little girl, so he took a particular interest in raising me not to be a "silly girl" or "like my mother." I wanted to please my dad, so I did everything he wanted. As an adult, I can look back now and see how a part of me did this so he wouldn't leave me. I wanted to make my dad happy, because he deserved happiness. He, my brother, and I had all been hurt so much by what Mom did to us all, and I took all the responsibility on my shoulders to make everyone happy again.

In the process, I lost myself.

I learned to fear upsetting the status quo. I became afraid of showing myself, because deep down I feared I wasn't good enough...that I wasn't worthy of love. As I got older, this fear manifested everywhere. I had taken on my dad's dreams for me and had lost sight of what I wanted. My dad wanted me to be a scientist, like him. So I took all the heavy duty academic classes. But now I look back and see that from birth, I was meant to be a writer. I was always writing. Always reading. I was a prodigy with the written word, writing intensely mature poetry before I was even out of grade school. The following is a poem I wrote around first grade:

Together we can conquer the unconquerable
Tall buildings, mountains, and skyscrapers will fall to our mercy
But why destroy such beauty?
As long as we have each other, that is all that matters.

I mean, really? A seven-year-old wrote that? Me? This was the kind of writing I did when I was in my single digits age-wise. But what did I do? I made myself miserable following a dream my dad wanted me to follow. I surged into my higher education loaded with science and math when what I really wanted was to take more art, music, and English. But fear stayed my hand and I let me dad dictate my life all through school, only to drop the dream when I failed Calculus my senior year.

For the next twenty years, I drifted from one unsatisfying job to another, afraid to take a chance on my writing until one of my employers fired me for being "different."

To be honest, my chronic fear is what made me "different." Deep down, I wanted to throw up barriers to prevent anyone from getting too close to me and to prevent me from getting too close to them, because all my life, those I got close to ultimately left in one way or another. If I didn't get too close, I wouldn't be hurt when they left, so these barriers were "good," right? No. They were fear manifesting to keep me safe.

And I suffered for years because of this.

I firmly believe that when we're not following the path we were meant to follow, life will force us in directions so that we can find that path. By the time I was fired from that job (unjustifiably, I might add), I had been laid off from previous jobs twice and left three other jobs because I saw the layoff coming and got out before I was unemployed. My woes in my work life were just one way that the universe had been trying to tell me that I wasn't doing what I was meant to do. But thank God I was "different," because if I hadn't been, I might still be working for that company now and still wouldn't be published. As it stands, being different eventually led me to my dream of becoming a published author.

I've begun to address my fear issues, and even though the past few years have held some struggle, I'm finally on the right track to take my life back. But I'm all about silver linings. And the silver lining from my lifetime of fear is that it has made my writing better. Readers seem to love the angst, emotion, and passion in my books, and I know it's my own experiences that created those elements.

I see a therapist who's helping me address my inner demons and painful past, and she says that every book reveals something about the author. As such, each one of my books reveals a piece of me.
That's why my characters endure such pain, because I have. Through my experiences, I've become the black sheep of my family and almost every social circle I've been in, and many of my characters find themselves in similar situations. In Rise of the Fallen, Micah and I shared a journey together. I wrote Rise after I was fired. I was severely depressed and struggling to find my place in the world. Micah went through the same struggles in his book. In Heart of the Warrior, Severin feared showing his true self to those around him, as did Arion, because they both feared what others would think of them if they did. Sound familiar? In Rebel Obsession, Miriam had to overcome an overbearing father to find her own happiness, and Io wrestled with letting go of old beliefs to embrace new ones. Yep...that's me. In Return of the Assassin, both Malek and Gina wrestle with letting go of the past so they can progress into the future, which is what I'm going through now.

Each of my characters represents a part of me. Each story I write symbolizes a piece of my heart or soul. And readers seem to love it. My characters' lives aren't easy, but I'm living testimony that anything worth achieving is never easy. So while my books aren't an autobiography of my life, they do represent it, and readers seem to find resonance within the pages, based on the passionate comments I receive from them.

They say to write what you know. I know pain. I know suffering. I know what it means to be different. I also know what it means to rise above the negativity and find wholeness. So that's what I write.

This is why I'm here.

No more fear. I need to LIVE life, not just merely exist within it. And living means getting out of my own way and kicking fear to the curb so I can be truly inspired and inspiring...without regret. Thank you for reminding me of this, Dr. Ivan. :)


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Solving the "Had" Mystery - Is "Had" Really Bad?

A long time ago, one of my author friends beta read one of my manuscripts and gave me the feedback that I needed to eliminate the word "had." Apparently someone had told her that the word "had" is bad and should always be removed from fiction writing, so this poor gal was tearing her hair out to remove the word from her own writing, as well, which is impossible. I'll repeat that. Removing the word "had" entirely from a manuscript is impossible.

Still others will tell you that "had" is passive. I've been told this so many times that I actually researched the word "had" and passive voice pretty extensively to determine the rights and wrongs of usage.

Let's begin by defining passive voice. According to Grammar Girl (and every other writing reference I've consulted), passive voice is created when the object of the action is promoted to the subject position. For example, "I heard it through the grapevine" is active (subject-verb-object sentence format). To make that sentence passive, you would write, "It was heard by me through the grapevine" (object-verb-subject sentence format). Another way you can determine passive voice is to add "by zombies" at the end of the sentence. If the sentence makes sense, you have passive voice. If not, you have active voice. For example, "She set the book on the table by zombies" doesn't make sense, so "She set the book on the table" is active. However, "The book was set on the table by zombies" makes sense, so "The book was set on the table" is passive.

Additionally, many people think that just because a form of the word "be" is used (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been), the voice is automatically passive. That's not the case. "I am alive" is active and uses a form of the word "be." Another example is "I am holding a pen," which is also active. "A pen is being held by me," would be passive.

To read more on this, visit Grammar Girl's site and the related article, Active Voice vs. Active Voice.

Now that we've defined passive voice and know what it is, let's tackle "had."

In writing, there are three basic verb tenses: present, past, and future.

Present: I live in Indianapolis.
Past: I lived in Indianapolis.
Future: I will live in Indianapolis.

By the way, all three of those examples are active sentences, not passive.

In addition to these basic verb tenses, there are several specialty verb tenses, as I call them. For example, There is present continuous, future perfect, future perfect continuous, past perfect, past perfect continuous, etc. I want to focus on past perfect and past perfect continuous.

Using the previous example:
Past perfect: I had lived in Indianapolis before moving to Florida.
Past perfect continuous: I had been living in Indianapolis for eighteen years when I moved to Florida.

First, let me point out that these sentences are active, not passive, despite the use of the word "had." Second, each sentence indicates a slightly different reference to time than the other. If you want to study this further, check out the Types of Verbs page on Along the left on the page, you can select the different verb tenses and study them, get more examples, and complete lessons to help you learn how and when to use them.

The point to remember here is that "had" is part of the past perfect verb tense and not necessarily passive.

For example:
Active: Donya had written many books before she won her first RWA Golden Heart Award.
Passive: Many books had been written by Donya before she won her first RWA Golden Heart Award.

So, how does the past perfect tense affect your writing? Authors usually write in one of two verb tenses: present or past. When you write in present tense, writing flashbacks is as easy as writing in the simple past tense. However, when you write your stories in past tense the way I do, if you want to insert flashbacks or refer to something that came before, you must use the past perfect tense or risk confusing your reader.

Here's a short excerpt from my upcoming Return of the Assassin. The story is in Gina's point of view at this point:

She closed her eyes and tried to push away Malek's memory, which was becoming harder to do. Malek was the male she had met—and then left—in Chicago. The male who had saved her when all she had wanted to do was die. The male who promised to be a whole lot of holy-hell-I'm-in-trouble if she let him.

Since I write in past tense, I had to use past perfect in the italicized verbs to indicate action that came before in the story. If I had maintained the simple past tense, the reader wouldn't be able to distinguish whether I'm referring to the present moment within the story or a past moment from before. Go back and re-read the paragraph without "had" and you'll see what I mean. Sure, you might be able to figure out some of the timing by the context, but it's my job as an author to make the reader think as little as possible so they can simply enjoy the experience of the story. This is just one paragraph. Imagine having 30+ chapters of simple past tense where you have to think about the context to figure out the order and timing of events within the story, trying to figure out what is flashback or past events, and what is the present moment within the story? That would get exhausting, and no reader wants to work that hard. It's the author's job to remove the work for the reader. Using past perfect is the solution to helping the reader understand the story.

Now let's say you have a multi-paragraph or multi-page flashback. How do you write that without italicizing the whole segment, which is becoming an archaic practice, in favor of weaving the flashback seamlessly into the story? I suggest you use the 3 in-3 out rule, as explained in The Best Writing Advice blog post on I've copied the pertinent text directly from her blog:

If you write your story in the past tense, you have to use the past-perfect for flashbacks. The past perfect is the tense used to talk about something that happened before something else that happened in the past. I call it “the had tense.” For example, the past perfect is bolded below:
He walked into the bar and saw her standing near the pool table. The last time he’d seen her, she had stabbed a fork into his leg.
But the past-perfect gets old awfully fast with all those “hads.” The solution is to start off your flashback with the first three verbs in past-perfect. This makes your reader aware of what’s going on. Then switch to simple past, which is much more pleasant to read. At the end of your flashback, make the last three verbs past-perfect to get your reader “out” of the flashback.

If you read a lot, you've probably noticed as I have that fewer authors are using the italicized flashback in favor of the seamless, 3 in-3 out flashback. I use one of these flashbacks in Return of the Assassin, and while it felt weird and took a little finesse to work the verbs so that readers fell into the flashback easily and emerged from it just as easily, I like this method. And since more editors now frown upon italicized flashbacks that can be too jarring on readers, this is the way to go from now on.

So, see. "Had" isn't so bad. The word "had" has a vital place in fiction writing. It isn't a bad guy or an automatically passive villain. Yes, there are instances where "had" can be rewritten out for a stronger sentence, but that's not always the case. So go easy on your quest to rid the world of "had." He has a place, and his place is necessary.

Happy Writing!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Telling Truth From Fiction

About three years ago, I met this gal who claimed to be an author. We were in a Facebook group together, and she sometimes posted in group chat that she had run off to talk to her publisher. I remember being so in awe. At that time, I had yet to publish my first book and was unemployed, working as a temp, and trying to figure out what to do about my dream to become published. So I grilled this girl with questions. She claimed to be published and said she was currently looking for the right deal before she published her next story. On a couple of occasions, she posted in our group chat that she had turned down another contract "from her publisher" because the "deal wasn't good enough." I was so excited to learn from her. I thought I was in the midst of royalty.

Imagine my disappointment when I later found out that this girl wasn't "published." She and a few others had written a story they posted on an online forum. That was the extent of her being published. And then I found out her "publisher" was really just a friend who was involved with e-publishing. At this point, I don't even think their was ever any discussion of a book contract, which is what she led us to believe.

So, basically, she embellished the truth so far that it became a lie. She made us all think she was only a step away from breaking into the big leagues. I still feel like an idiot that I believed her. I had viewed her as my mentor, and she lied to me.

Next story...

There was this gal who called herself an editor. She wanted to beta read one of my short stories. I sent it to her. When she sent it back, she had "edited" it. Only one problem: 95% of her "edits" were errors. For starters, she removed every incidence of a comma that separated two independent clauses that were connected by a conjunction, and she added commas between every independent/dependent clause combination.

Every grammar nazi reading this just snapped her red pencil.

 Of all her "corrections" to my manuscript—and there were a lot—I think only two were acceptable. The rest created grammatical or punctuation errors. Here's the kicker: this gal now promotes herself as an editor on Facebook and elsewhere, and any number of authors could be hiring her right now to edit their books.

What's my point? My point is that you never really know who you're meeting online and whether they are what they claim to be in their bio...or whether or not what they're saying is true...or even whether or not they're good for your publishing health (some folks are simply toxic and will bleed you, suck you dry, and drain the life and love of writing right out of you if you let them). Online, you enter into a silent, blind agreement to trust what the other is telling you is the truth until they prove otherwise, but sometimes that can be too late. And for authors or wannabe authors, it usually is.

For example, if you're an author searching for an editor, you don't want to learn after you've shelled out $500+ dollars that the person you just paid to edit your story is a crackpot who has no business wielding a red pen over your precious baby you spent months creating. I mean, when the author knows more about grammar, punctuation, content, and story structure than the "editor" does, that's a huge red flag. And you certainly want to know that the author you're seeking advice and/or mentorship from knows what she's talking about and not just blowing ego-boosting smoke.

So, how do you find the right people? The reputable people?

1. Patience. Yes, I'm sorry to say, it takes time to find the right circle of authors and editors to associate yourself with. I learned this the hard way, but am proud to say I'm now so happy and proud to be involved with the people I've become associated with in the last year. If you feel like you're being dragged down by someone or a group of someones, that's when it's time to move on. You're growth and potential are no longer being served.

2. Join reputable writing organizations such as Romance Writers of America or Mystery Writers of America and attend every meeting. I joined RWA in January of this year, and it's been one of the best decisions I've made for my writing career. You're around like-minded people in these groups, which operate like small businesses. You learn from them and have incredible opportunities to get involved in the writing community, and the more involved in the writing community you become, the better you'll be as a writer. And the people in these organizations will be able to refer you to reputable editors, publishers, and other authors you can learn from.

3. Pick up the Writer's Market books. The creators of Writer's Digest update these every year, and there are a few you can purchase. I like the Writer's Market Deluxe Edition and Guide to Literary Agents the best, but you can also buy editions for the novel and short story market, as well as a non-deluxe version. These books, while they can be dated with the speed the publishing industry changes nowadays, offer tons of advice and listings for professional organizations, contests, publishers, and agents. They can be a great way for you to research and find reputable industry professionals to connect, network, and consult with.

4. Attend conferences and conventions. What better place to meet the stars than at a book conference or convention? There are always workshops you can attend, and everywhere you go are opportunities to mingle with other authors, agents, editors, bloggers, publicists, publishers, etc. These are people serious about the craft and life of writing. These are the people you want to be associating with and getting to know. And everyone has a business card or material you can collect to reconnect with them later. I came home from RT in Kansas City this year with a whole bag of cards and informational material. These are excellent venues to tap into reputable industry professionals.

I would love to know what other ideas are out there for finding quality editors and constructive writing groups. Links in the comments are welcome.

Happy Writing!