Favorite Things…

In case you missed it…

In my November newsletter, I announced that I would be featuring things I love, mostly made by small business owners and artisans (hopefully many by my readers). This month I featured Sidewalk Candle Co., a Laguna Beach-based small business run by two of my lovely beta readers and their mom!

A selection of candles offered by Sidewalk Candle Co.

These candles are made from 100% soy wax grown in the USA, and they smell fantastic. Book lovers seem to also love candles for some reason. They go together like cookies and milk… hmm, snack time!

Let’s give these ladies our love! Grab a few presents for friends, or just hoard them for yourself while curling up with a good book. Might I suggest the Fresh Brew candle paired with The Love Project! Oliver’s obsession with coffee fits nicely with this coffee-scented candle.

I’ve burned mine for several hours, and it’s nowhere near ¼ burned yet, so I feel like I really got my money’s worth from this purchase! You can find their website here!

New Release!

The second book in The Projects of Life Series is here! Did you miss Wesley and Oliver’s banter? Don’t worry, you’ll find it and then some in the second-generation sequel!

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08KNQNDM4

Eros Williams, the child of Wesley and Oliver Williams, has a lot to live up to—The Love Project, for one. With a name like Eros, it’s hard not to wonder if you’ll ever find your perfect match. But with an incredible boyfriend and a happy life, she’s pretty sure things will all work out just fine—until they don’t. When her parents decide it’s time for a family-filled holiday, her perfect life starts to unravel, primarily because her archnemesis, Logan Harrison, is part of that family.

The Godbrother she never wanted and couldn’t stand, has made it his mission to annoy Eros every chance he gets. Their arguments often stress the family, so Eros decides to try her own project during the holiday—figure out how not to hate the boy everyone else loves.

Things do not start on a high note, and they go from bad to worse when Eros discovers her Godbrother’s new girlfriend is Meredith, the girl who once shoved her in a locker and bullied her daily.

When Eros receives some bad news about her boyfriend, she starts to wonder if her perfect life was really so great after all. Does love really exist, and can it be as pure and simple as the love her parents share? Or was her mother right in the beginning—love is an illusion?

Throw in Logan’s mysterious best friend, Max—including his freckles, dimples, and adorable grin—and Eros is in for a bumpy ride.

You can grab the first two books in the series at your favorite online book retailers including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, and Google!

2021 Goals – First Quarter

It’s safe to say that 2020 has been a memorable year thus far, but it has also been a productive year for me. Including pre-orders set to release this month and in December, I have released a total of thirteen books this year! One was a collaboration with my friend Crystal Crawford, and a few were previously written, so I had to rewrite some sections and edit them to release. Others were entirely written, edited, and released this year.

I was busy, but I know it is unreasonable to think I can maintain that production level and my sanity at the same time. What does that mean for M. J. Padgett Books? Well, only that I will be focusing on two specific series this year, but I might throw in another installment of a different series here and there to keep things fun.

2020 Book Releases by M. J. Padgett Books

My goals for the first quarter of 2021 include the release of The Heart of The Darkness, the seventh and final book in The Immortal Grimm Brothers’ Guide to Sociopathic Princesses. That is available for preorder now and will release on January 1.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08L6YRPT5

I am working through the outline for The Prince of Sorrow and Darkness, the third and final book in The History of Goranin trilogy. I hope to have it ready for release in the summer.

I hope to get a head start on planning the Grimm spin-off series, Tales from the Immortal Black Forest. This series is a second-generation series that begins a little while after The Heart of The Darkness. It will also follow a different writing style, but each book will have its own plot conclusions while also carrying a longer-running arc through the series, much like the original series.

After The History of Goranin trilogy is complete, I will begin planning the next book in the franchise Archives of the Ancient Kingdoms. The History of Nelaravore will be up next and take us back in time to events that happened before those in The History of Goranin!

Those are the plans from now until March, but don’t be surprised if I decide to throw in some kind of young adult romantic comedy or a stand-alone novel just for fun! Only time and my scattered brain will tell!

What are your plans for the coming year? This year has been challenging for many, and I hope next year treats us all much better. I think it’s important to strive for our goals even when it seems pointless, so let’s dig in and get it done!

Save yourself… or don’t get saved.

Save yourself… or don’t get saved. Why I think that mindset is dangerous for women… and men.

I’ve heard it a million times, and it drives me absolutely nuts. If there is a female protagonist, she must save herself, or she is weak and useless. Seriously? Well, I guess I’m a weak woman because the men in my life have saved my hide more than once—and I love them more for it! However, if you knew me as well as my family and friends, you would never call me weak (I mean, I am a redhead, after all.)

Let me back up a bit and give you some background for my semi-rant. A dear friend of mine has written many short stories with strong (I mean well-written) female leads who find themselves in a pickle that seems impossible for anyone to overcome. Sometimes they save themselves, sometimes a father, a stranger, or some other person comes to their aid. And for that, she has been told she should have the protagonist save herself—every single time.

Let me be clear. I love a female lead who can kick butt and take names, but when the stakes are high, let’s be honest—none of us can do everything on our own. We need people. That’s why we live in a society… a civilization. Now, don’t get me wrong. When a woman who is supposed to be the lead of the book does nothing but whine, get in her own way, and never learns from her mistakes (cough—Elena Gilbert—cough) or frequently makes ridiculous choices until some big, strong man comes to save her (cough—Bella Swan—cough), then yes, it tends to grind on my nerves a little. Whenever a woman allows a man to treat her poorly, I bristle… but that’s a far cry from writing a character who needs a little boost, or at least, accepts one with gratitude when it’s offered.

But let’s step back even more and examine a few other situations. In one of my friend’s (Crystal Crawford) stories, the female main character finds herself abducted by a human trafficking ring. It just so happens her father is a sort of tech genius and has been helping to track this very same ring. This main character does everything in her power to save herself—and another young woman—from what would likely be a horrible fate. She was not complacent, did not whine, did not sit around for a rescue team—no! She worked hard and escaped! That’s almost unheard of when it comes to human trafficking (I mean, I wish it were real, but it just isn’t), yet when her father shows up in the end with a strike team to help her and ALL THE OTHER PEOPLE… it turned some readers off. She should have saved herself, they said… I’m sorry, WHAT?

Wouldn’t it be grand if a seventeen-year-old girl could single-handedly bust up a trafficking ring without any help whatsoever? Realistic? No, not really. Yes, fiction is made up and is often unrealistic, but you need a touch of reality for a book to ground you and keep you reading. You need a reference point, and a young girl saving herself, breaking up a ring, and saving everyone else inside with her, is… what’s the word… ridiculous—unless she has superpowers, but that’s another story and another rant altogether.

In my soul, I believe that forcing a female lead (or any lead, for that matter) to always save herself in impossible situations sets a precedent that can be dangerous for women. It says you are not capable, formidable, or worthwhile if you cannot single-handedly tear apart a building, beat up all the bad guys, and rescue everyone all by yourself. It says if you are attacked by someone and cannot overpower them, you are weak. It says that having feminine emotion is bad, and it’s just not. If someone is beating me to a pulp, I would very much like for a stranger to jump in and save my butt. I don’t care if it’s a man or another woman or an animate fruitcake dressed as a human—just save me!

Let’s be real for a minute and jump back to my friend’s story. What seventeen-year-old girl is capable of such feats? And why shouldn’t her father want to help her? What sort of crummy dad would let his daughter figure that out on her own? Liam Neeson, anyone? I’d appreciate someone with a special set of skills giving me a hand when it all hits the fan.

I also think it does men (or any rescuer, but usually it’s a man) a huge disservice. Somehow, they become overbearing and patriarchal bad-guys for wanting to help the women they love. Does this mean a woman saving a man is bad, too? Going to the ends of the earth to rescue someone you love is… bad?

I really love it when a book or movie can show a couple or family helping each other because, to me, that’s what life is all about. For example, in Frozen II, Kristoff was honestly sort of useless throughout much of the film. Then, when Anna needed him the most, he came in full-force with the help of Sven, and what did he do? He asked Anna how he could help. See? He didn’t tell her she couldn’t do it herself, didn’t swoop in and save the day—he helped.

I think it sucks for both men and women when we set a precedent that asking for or receiving help somehow makes you weak. No, to me, asking makes you strong. It says you know your limits and are not afraid to show your fear, weakness, or need for another. After all, there are loads of things women can do men can’t, and that’s what makes women pretty awesome anyway. Of course, a butt-kicking heroine is awesome, and I adore them… but not if all they do is save the day alone, constantly discouraging everyone who cares for her from helping her.

This crosses into the territory of another character reminding the female lead how amazing they are. I always hear, “She shouldn’t need a boy to tell her how amazing she is…” That’s exactly right, and in a perfect world, everyone would know they are worthy of love, they are important, and exceptional in their own way. But… where is this perfect world? I think we all need reminding that we are great, that we don’t need to be anything else but what we are, and that our hard work means something to someone.

Believe me, I know loads of women who do extraordinary things every day. They fight against some of the most brutal realities of human nature, rescue people from fires, save lives, raise kids on their own… but even they need help. Not necessarily from a man, of course, but help all the same. So maybe the next time you read a book where the superhero woman gets a little nudge from someone else (especially a man), consider how strong she must be to ask, to receive, and to be grateful. And maybe one day when the man least expects it, that woman might just save his hide in return—like I’ve done for my husband. More than once. Because he can’t get out of his own way sometimes.

An Interview with the Artist!

Many of you have fallen in love with Meaghan Ward’s rendition of my characters Eiagan and Porvarth, so I thought it would be great to hear from her and get to know her a little better. Without further ado, here’s the interview with my favorite artist!

Tell us a little about yourself, your hobbies, work, school, etc.

I am a freelance, self-taught illustrator and the author of several published short stories — one of which made Editor’s Choice in the Stories That Sing anthology with Havok Magazine. I’m also currently working on a YA fantasy novel about a knight who doesn’t want to go on a quest to save a girl who does not want to be rescued.

Even when I’m not ‘working’, I’m painting my own characters or dreaming up other worlds. Some other hobbies include reading (there are always at least two books by my bed), hiking in the mountains (but never in winter), haunting my local library (because it’s three-stories of awesomeness), and singing songs from my favorite Disney cartoons at the top of my lungs (when I think no one is listening).

(Image courtesy of Meaghan Ward)

When did you fall in love with the arts? How did it happen?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing or making something, but around the age of 11 there was a definite switch where drawing went from being something I enjoy doing, to a compelling hobby and genuine passion. 

After attending 3rd grade, I was pulled out of school to be homeschooled due some health issues my mom was facing. She’d been diagnosed with a little known environmental illness called Multi-Chemical Sensitivity. Suddenly, she was reacting to every little thing — new carpet, chemical cleaners, car fumes, fabric softener, and laundry detergent. It got so bad at one point, we were forced to abandon our home. By the time I’d turned 11, I started showing signs of this illness too. Suddenly, simple things like finishing homework became nearly impossible. I became isolated and lost contact with all friends.

It was at this point, I started telling myself stories — wonderful, far-off tales about other worlds and characters who endured horrible things but persevered — with endings that could be far less bleak than my own was looking. I wanted to be anywhere but in this world in my own skin, so when I wasn’t writing, I started drawing. I soon found that I could make the world and the characters from my stories come alive with pencil, paper, color, and daydreams.

(Image courtesy of Meaghan Ward)

What drives you or gives you inspiration?

I find inspiration from just about everything. A starry sky, a summer night filled with fireflies, a burning sunset (but never sunrises because early mornings and I do not mix), a mountain dusted with snow, sunlight in deep forest, stories that make me FEEL, a song I can’t help but listen to on repeat, the sound of a genuine laugh.

Perhaps it’s because of what I went through growing up, but I think this world is kind of amazing.

What are some of your favorite projects?

I’ve worked on a lot of different types of projects, but I love working with authors on small commission projects best. Nothing satisfies me more than knowing I’ve helped make someone’s story a reality, and that I’ve given them something they can look at and be inspired from in the future.

As for a favorite past project, that would have to be illustrating The Dragon Ate My Nightlight, a children’s book about a little girl who feared the dark. At the time, I was very much a fledgling illustrator, but because of the author’s patience and willingness to take a chance on me, it’s become one of the most rewarding projects of my artist career so far.

(Image courtesy of Meaghan Ward)

What do you most want to say or project with your work?

A picture is worth a thousand words… or so the saying goes. There is nothing I want more than to be able to create a picture that captures emotion and tells a story all it’s own that can entertain a viewer’s imagination in a glance.

What mediums do you prefer and why?

My favorite medium by far is digital painting. I love the freedom of being able to take my art with me anywhere I go. All I need is my ipad! The setup isn’t complicated and there’s no mess. Also, there is a degree of realism and magic that I find I can capture easier in the digital medium rather than the traditional mediums.

(Image courtesy of Meaghan Ward)

How has your style changed over time?

My art has changed many times over the years. My first few pictures were cringeworthy, featuring back views of characters with wind-blow hair to cover faces. I soon became dissatisfied with not drawing the faces of my characters, but was frustrated that I couldn’t capture them like I imagined, so I started to imitate anime. Anime quickly morphed into my own style of cartoon with squared eyes and simple facial features. That drive to create something more realistic persisted though, and I continued to pursue improvement. It wasn’t until the last few years that I finally started seeing a recurring style that I was content with.  Since then, I have continued to perfect my artwork by creating something that could be perceived as realistic while also keeping the painterly look I’ve always loved.

(Above: One of the first pictures I can find from when I started drawing my stories)

(Above: My stylized cartoons)

Since this blog is mostly followed by readers, what are your favorite books and/or characters and why?

This is a ridiculously hard question to answer. (As any reader will know!)  But after some deep deliberation (in which I took some time to stare dreamily at my bookshelf), I think I’ve finally narrowed it down to a few of my favorites. 

First up is The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. Yes, I love horses. No, I didn’t pick this book just because of that. Maggie Stiefvater not only created a gritty world that captured every one of my senses, but also featured characters with so many visceral dreams, desires, and flaws that they felt alive. So basically in my opinion, this book is a masterpiece and if you haven’t read it, you should go read it. Right now.

Next, would be The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale.  There’s something you should probably know about me.  I’m a sucker for fairytales, and this story was one of the best fairytale retellings I have ever read. It is simple and sweet while also possessing a lyrical writing style that only adds more magic to the story.

I also adore the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. I’d picked up a sampler of Cinder when it first came out, but I’d always avoided the sci-fi genre (I always found them too technical and hard to follow), so it wasn’t until years later when I found the book on sale, that I decided to give it another try. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop. I loved every twist to the familiar fairytales, and by the time I reached the end of the series, I felt like a part of the Rampion crew.

Last on my short (but also probably too long for this interview) list, is The Ascendance Series by Jennifer Nielsen. This series was a culmination of my love of fantasy and adventure with my deep enjoyment of unrelenting sarcasm. To be honest, this series isn’t perfect, but it’s as obstinate as the main character, and so stubbornly memorable that I cannot help but love it.

Want to follow Meaghan as an artist or writer? Here’s how you can!

Instagram: @meaghan.draws (art account) or @meaghaneward (bookstagram and author account)

Twitter: @meaghaneward

Youtube: @MeaghanDraws

New Release!

It’s here! The second book in the I’m Pretty Sure About That Series has hit the online shelves! I’m Pretty Sure You’re Gonna Regret That Darcy Pistolis, follows Darcy, Hazel’s next-door neighbor, and her daring antics. You can find the summary and links below!

Darcy Pistolis never met a dare she could turn down, and her antics are usually the talk of the town. The younger sister of Violet Pistolis, who tragically died at just twenty years old, doesn’t see herself slowing down anytime soon—especially if it means letting the memory of her sister slip from her grasp.

When the lights go out during a kissing game at a summer party, Darcy experiences the kiss of a lifetime—one that offers an adrenaline rush like she’s never known before. Determined to find the mystery kisser, she devises the Kiss Contest. If she’s lucky, the mystery guy will show up and knock her socks off again.

But unexpected feelings for her best friend complicate Darcy’s plan, proving there’s much more to life than living on the edge. Can Darcy figure out what she wants before she loses everything, or will losing everything help her find out who she really is?

You can find this installment of the series in wide distribution! For Amazon readers, you can find it here. For other distributors, check here.

New Discord Server!

Introducing… 

Crystal and MJ’s Reader/Writer Portal!

I now have a Discord server where you can interact with me in real-time, participate in my online events, and chat with fellow readers!   

​I’ve partnered with my friend and co-author, Crystal Crawford (okay, it was mostly her idea), to create a joint Discord server where we can host online events, chat with our readers, do workshops and info sessions with fellow writers, and more.

​Discord is unique in that it allows me to host a private (invite-only) server where I can set up “Channels” for a variety of different chat topics, do live-streams and screen-shares, host group video chats, host online events, create breakout groups for specific events or topics, post videos and links, and lots of other fun things.  It also allows for users who join — like you! — to text chat in the channels with me (and each other), message other users, and even jump in to group video calls when I set them up. 

​In short, it’s the perfect platform for me to connect with you better, and also for you to find others who have read my books and may want to chat about them, as well as connecting with fellow readers and writers who share your interests.

It also has a fun leveling system where you can Rank up by interacting and chatting in the server.  When you hit each new rank, you get access to special titles and exclusive, story-themed custom emojis… and there’s even a Leaderboard with a special reward for the Top User!

And it’s all FREE for you to join and use!

When you join as a reader (and/or a fellow writer), you’ll immediately find a post which will let you sort yourself into channels based on whether you are a reader or a writer (or both), and whether you are interested in interacting with Crystal, myself, or both of us!   You will also get access to the channels to interact with your fellow readers and/or writers who join our server.

We’re just getting things rolling in the Discord server, but plans for its use include:

Dedicated chatting channels for readers of my books, Crystal’s books, and also our cowritten work

Scheduled live-streams and/or group video sessions with myself and/or MJ (probably usually Crystal—she’s the live video dork, and I hide like the introverted cave-dweller I am!)

Scheduled character chats, book chats, etc., where you can “chat with the characters” from our books and/or find out more about particular book worlds we’ve written

Dedicated chatting channels for fellow writers, with future plans for scheduled writing chats, critique groups, brainstorming groups, and occasional writing workshops

Ask the Author sessions where Crystal and/or myself will be available for questions and discussion via group text or live video

Exclusive Beta-Reading opportunities

Early access to news and announcements

And more!

​I am SUPER excited about the chance to connect more directly with my readers, and I can’t wait for this thing to really get going!

If this sounds like something you’re interested in, join through the link below, and then just follow the prompts/instructions once you set up your account.

Join CRYSTAL & MJ’S READER/WRITER PORTAL Discord Server!

All you need is an email address!  (Discord does have an app for mobile and desktop, but you can also just use your browser.)

You’ll want to check the #welcome-and-rules channel on the left panel first when you enter, and the friendly Server-Bot will walk you through how to get into the server from there! 

…And I’ll be waiting to greet you on the other end. 

The Stars Wait Not Book Review

Ryllis Camden has a secret—she can talk to nature, and it speaks to her in return. But her gift is forbidden by the Vilarian Star Realm who controls her planet, and the penalty is death. When she’s falsely accused of treason and exiled to the Vilarian home world, hiding her power becomes even more critical. But how can she hide anything when she’s forced to toil in the home of the emperor’s youngest son?

Kresten Westermark might be a prince, but long ago he shunned a life of luxury to work as a telepath in the Vilarian Imperial Fleet. His job demands he treat his new prisoner as a slave and test his deteriorating telepathic powers on her, but the only thing on his mind is the growing attraction he feels toward the earnest young woman tending his gardens.

As the mountain winter fades, a reluctant respect between the two becomes trust, and trust soon blossoms into affection. But when the Fleet arrives to arrest Kresten for treason, Ryllis must make an impossible decision.

Save Kresten’s life—or hers.

Sometimes you want a book filled to the brim with action and adventure, high-stakes and intense relationships, and a plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Other times, you want something immersive that lets you develop a relationship with the characters while they are on their own journey. It’s slow and steady, building to a conclusion that gives you peace.

For me, The Stars Wait Not by Anne Wheeler was a breath of fresh air. It was a little infusion of science fiction, a touch of sweet romance, and a storyline that kept me involved to the end. I read the book in about three days, which is a record for me since my schedule is usually packed! I loved the characters, their interactions, and how the story progresses at a pace that is reasonable while still offering little bits of surprise here and there.

An added special touch are the illustrations. How many adult books can you find with illustrations? It’s a thoughtful gesture by the author that helps draw the reader further into the story while not being so intrusive they distract from the story. While not necessarily filled with high-stakes adventure, the book is, in fact, a more realistic depiction of a prisoner’s life on an alternate world, and that is enough to make you feel genuinely connected to the protagonist.

And the cover? I love the constellations mixed with the leaves, and after reading the book, it makes so much sense. It’s simple yet beautiful.

I can’t wait for the next book in this series! If you’d like to purchase the book, you can find it here!

Why Write?

People tend to underestimate themselves. I don’t mean a little uncertainty about meeting a deadline or trying a new recipe—I mean, really, truly underestimating their purpose in life. I was one of those people for a long time, but it wasn’t something I thought about a lot. I finished school, went to college, got the obligatory gazillion degrees, got a better job when I got out of college, got married, had a kid… and then my world screeched to a total halt.

I realized once I had my child that I had no idea who I was. No clue whatsoever. My husband and I decided early in my pregnancy that I would stay home and raise our child. It was more my choice than his, but he supported my decision, which worked wonderfully when we moved from Florida to Georgia.

For a long time, I was happy just being a stay-at-home mom to an infant, but right about the time I morphed from a competent woman who had her life together into a sleep-deprived psycho who didn’t even remember what day of the week it was, I realized I needed more. Then came the guilt parade… because needing more than being a mother was selfish, right? Well, it felt that way when my daughter was only a few months old, and post-pregnancy hormones wreaked havoc on every aspect of my life, including the part that told me I was not a horrible person if I wanted more than feeding a baby, changing her diapers, and trying to decipher just what the heck she wanted when she was screaming like a banshee.

One night, I’d just had enough. The baby was like a mini-tornado for hours before she finally fell asleep for the night, my husband (a firefighter) was on shift, and I was too tired to care that the dishes were piled to the ceiling. All I wanted to do was pace. I paced and paced until I realized what I needed was to get the feelings in my head down on paper. I had never been one to journal, so trying to do that only made things worse. For Heaven’s sake, why couldn’t I just be like a normal person and write down how I felt?

Turns out, I’m not the only person who can’t do that. Lots of people can’t do it, so I thought I’d write a story to deal with all of my emotions (side note, I was also dealing with post-partum depression and grief over tragically losing a childhood friend to suicide.) What happened was a story that incorporated a lot of me, a little of several friends, and a heaping helping of regret all rolled into an account that became quite popular on Wattpad. The Yellow Note, my very first full-length novel, was a hit that amassed over 3 million reads before I removed it from the writing platform and published it.

That was a few years ago, and though I realize there were TONS of ways I could have made that book so much better, I also know that it is perfect just how it is because it was the first time I realized I had something to say. I could be more than a stay-home mom, a homemaker, a homeschool teacher, a personal chef, a maid, and all those other things we do all day every day. I could have a career that was all mine—directed, grown, designed, and crafted by me.

It was pretty wild to discover something I enjoyed so much in my late thirties. I know, I know, that’s not old, but when you are dog-tired, and your brain is too fried to even remember how many times you washed that load of laundry, discovering a new talent is fun and exciting.

So that’s it, the craziest thing I ever learned about myself (okay, maybe not the craziest, but the wildest I’m going to discuss with readers), and it just so happened to be something I could turn into a career I adore.

What is your passion? When did you discover it? What’s the craziest thing you ever learned about yourself?

If you are interested in reading The Yellow Note, the first book in The Secret Author Series, it is available at Amazon.