The Quiet Voices

Far be it from me to tell someone how to react to anything. I am a red-headed firecracker on a path of destruction most days, then I remember in whose image I was made and try to reduce myself back to humbleness. I say that, to say this. I am not here to weigh in on the state of my country right now, because another empty voice shouting into the void does nothing. I will, though, implore anyone reading to understand one thing—not everyone processes grief and expresses themselves the same way.

It’s true. Sometimes it is difficult to understand or accept when someone isn’t as infuriated as you are—or so you believe because they are not raging around destroying everything. But please understand, some people are called upon to do the repair work, some are here to hold hands and offer warm embraces when it’s just too much, some are meant to soothe the souls in the aftermath—not light the world on fire.

Before shaming your friends for not screaming, ask them what they are doing. So, what am I doing? I am raising a daughter who sees all colors as unique and beautiful, created without mistake in the vision of God—even if you disagree with them. I work hard to ensure I support causes that lift people from poverty, and I work in the community to ensure the hungry are fed, the poor have housing, and more.

I do not want to toot my own horn because there is always more work to do. It is never done, and I can never do enough to be worthy enough to say it is. But I am saddened when I hear “you are part of the problem” because I don’t scream, rage, or light things on fire. I am a creator, not a destroyer. Many, like me, hear quiet voices, and it calls us to action. And there are more like me everywhere, so please, let those with soft voices use them because they often reach those who are afraid of the loudness of the world. They reach people who would otherwise hide in their safe, quiet corners and call them to action.

So, obviously, this blog post is a little different. My country is on fire, and it is scary for everyone. But beneath it all, I see hope. I see the quiet exchanges of love, the warm embraces of strangers of all colors, the pure heart of most people—and it is not violence or oppression.

I want to leave this post with a small story of an interaction I had with a man earlier this year. I’m not going to preach or rage, only offer that sliver of hope (I pray).

I was in a bookstore searching for a children’s Bible, which was surprisingly difficult. I passed a man browsing devotionals several times, apologizing profusely for each time I asked him to excuse me (the aisle was small). We stood there searching for at least ten minutes before he spoke up and said, “When did you become a believer?”

My back stiffened as I turned to face him. I was terrified of this man’s question. Anyone who knows me well knows the series of events that took me from someone who “believed in God” to someone who “knows God.” But boy, was it scary to try to tell a stranger.

He knew that, too. There he was, a tall African American man (maybe 18 inches taller than me), large and well built, wearing a black hoodie and jeans—and me, an average-sized, pale as snow, woman on a mission to find something, staring at him with fear. But he was also a wise man. He knew that fear, and he knew it had nothing at all to do with him and everything to do with sharing my story.

His eyes softened, and in them was the most kindness I had ever seen in my life—ever. And I could also see he was afraid, too. I think he was as scared to share his story as I was.

I almost melted right there, and for the first time, I told a complete stranger the story that dragged me through Hell before it deposited me right at the feet of hope. Then he told me his, which, even though I have not stated his name, I will still keep to myself because a confession of faith is something personal and meant to be told by the individual.

There was a moment of uncertainty, that moment when you know you have connected with someone on an indescribable level, but you can’t quite name it. We looked at each other, knowing how close we had both been to devastation, how close one of us was to leaving earth unfulfilled, and how—by chance alone—we found each other in a bookstore searching for the same thing.

It turns out, we weren’t searching for a Bible or a devotional. We were searching for peace, and for another person who could hear our struggle and absorb some of the pain for us.

I offered my hand, he offered his arm. Before I knew it, I was getting one of the best hugs of my life. It was cozy, wrapped up in that hoodie and massive arms!

Then my husband and daughter walked up just after we separated and finished talking. My daughter shyly hugged my leg and waved to him. He waved in return, then shook hands with my husband.

And that was it. We said our goodbyes with what we came for—connection.

During the madness, I urge you to find those who can connect with you where you are. Force never changed anyone for long, so let your quiet protesters do their work. It’s necessary.

What happened to George Floyd was an abomination, and I pray nightly for his family and friends. I pray for the broken hearts and the fearful, that they may find a way to bridge gaps between us all, to end hate, no matter our color because we cannot know another’s pain until we feel it with them.

_The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it._

A Break to Say Thank You

Today in the USA, it is Memorial Day. For most people, it is a day of picnics and fun in the sun, but it is also a day of remembrance and appreciation. It is the day we honor our fallen, those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to ensure our freedom. Instead of a usual blog today, I wanted to share a little about my first cousin twice removed, Paul Henry Hedrick.

Paul joined the navy when he was young in 1930. Ironically, he served aboard the USS Arizona. There is not much information available (at least that I can find) that details what he did from then, but I can see in census records that he married and had children. In 1936, he reenlisted in the Navy.

As we know, on December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked and many lives were lost. My cousin was among them, meeting his fate aboard the very same ship where he’d originally fulfilled his military duties. Today, I wanted to take a moment to thank him for his service, his dedication, and for his life.

Thank you, Paul.

P. S. If you are or know a descendant of Paul Hedrick, I would love to hear from you!

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The Hardening of a Hero

Have you ever wondered why the heroes and heroines of fantasy novels tend to lose their sweetness and vulnerability when they become a warrior? What is up with that? Don’t get me wrong, I love a good tale about the pushover who becomes the butt-kicking do-gooder but… do they have to lose all of their endearing character traits?

Nope. I don’t think so. And I’m sure I am not alone. When I sat down to write Eiagan’s Winter, I had one plan I mind—my main character would be the personification of depression, anxiety, and anger—a way for me to grasp those seemingly insurmountable circumstances and overcome them. As I wrote, though, I discovered my main character had a lot more to her than grit and fury.

Beneath everything, there was a spark of humanity. She was feminine and soft, and everything you wouldn’t expect a heroine to be. I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone who hasn’t read it, but consistently I receive reviews that start out something like this… “I wasn’t sure I would like this at first because the main character is so unlikeable, but the more I read, the more I saw her layers.”

That’s what I wanted! I was so excited people received Eiagan the way I intended her to be—complex! Let’s face it. We all have our moments when we can’t even stand the sight of ourselves in the mirror. We have days when people are our worst enemy, and we lash out. But we also have days where we are exactly the right soft spot for another person to land.

So, tell me, what books have you read where the main character remained true to themselves, or better, showed more sides of themselves to the world as they fell into their role as the hero or heroine? What characters do you love most because they didn’t harden themselves or turn into an egotistical jerk just to be “strong?” Or maybe the reverse happened. Perhaps the character was hard and softened as they grew into their roles? Send me to all the great books!

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A Letter to Me

Sigh… I really wanted to be more active on my blog this year, but just about the time my schedule opened up, the world went a little sideways and every idea I had, became useless. I couldn’t exactly tell people all the best places in Savannah to find used books, or where the best coffee is, or my favorite places to write when no one could leave their homes, could I?

Well, even though the world is still a bit confusing, I decided to jump in anyway. The good Lord willing, I plan to post every Monday! I have also started revamping my social media posts, so follow me on Facebook or Instagram if you want to keep up with the latest including character interviews, contests and giveaways, book discussions, and more.

Now that’s out of the way… I decided to get back into the groove slowly by writing a letter to my future self as a way to remind me how resilient I can be. I urge you to do the same! Share them with me if you’d like (I can keep a secret!)

So, without further ado… a letter to me.

Dear Me in Ten Years,

As I write this letter to the future you, I’m ignoring all the alerts on my phone about COVID-19, that virus that rocked everyone’s world and turned society upside down with a bigger thud than that time you forgot to grease the bundt pan and the cake wouldn’t come out. You remember that—you had to whack the thing six ways from Sunday to get it out. The problem was, even though you whacked and prayed, it still came out in pieces. It looked like it went through a blender, but it was tasty all the same.

Life is like that. No matter how hard you try to plan ahead, something always gets in the way. Remember ten years ago when you thought you had it figured out? You just knew you’d finish up your master’s, get a fantastic job in finance, and never look back. Well, now, here you are hating math and loving literature.

Who would have thought? Your fifth-grade teacher, that’s who. Should have listened to him when he said you “should be a writer.” But hey, you’ll never forget the day you sat down (between Lily’s first and second nap) and wrote the first chapter of an idea you had, one that was swimming in your mind for months. It sucked. Like, really, really sucked, but it sparked something deep inside, a talent you didn’t know God gave you. And now, can you think of anything better than being a mom, homeschooling, and writing for a living?

Nope. And that is the point. Ten years in the future, something will be standing in your way again, because there is always something in the way. There’s always something threatening to topple your world, but it doesn’t have to stop your world. Don’t forget that time during a pandemic when you were more prolific than any other point in your life—seriously, woman, you taught your five-year-old how to read, released several books, wrote another, ran a household, and so much more while the world was in an uproar!

Remember to have compassion, empathy, sympathy, and patience, not only with others but also with yourself. Be kind, be loving, and above all, keep putting your faith where it belongs—in God because He did not fail you when you needed Him most.

Love, You

Now you tell me, if you could send a message back or forward in time, what would you say to yourself?

you are going to be just fine.

12 Days of Christmas Blog Hop

Hey Squad! It has been a long time since I wrote a blog post, but I’m back. I hope to send out a blog at least once a month to begin, then weekly once my schedule frees up a bit next year.

This year, I have joined a 12 Days of Christmas blog hop! It begins December 1, so bookmark this blog and check in daily from December 1-12 to catch all the goodies!

Now, let’s dig into this blog hop, shall we? Oh, how does that work, you ask? It’s easy! Just click on the website link for the author each day to enter to win prizes, grab free books and swag, or sign up for their newsletter for freebies! It’s that easy. And if you love their books, show them the love and write a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever you usually review books!

Here’s the schedule to follow (don’t worry, I will send out daily blasts to remind you who is up next once it begins!):

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12/01/19
Yaasha Moriah – www.yaashamoriah.com
One paperback giveaway (US shipping only) + $.99 on all books

12/02/19
Verity A. Buchanan – www.verityabuchanan.com
One signed paperback giveaway + bookmark

12/03/19
Melissa Little – mllittleauthor.blogspot.com
One signed paperback giveaway + bookmark

12/04/19
J.D. Rempel – www.jdrempel.com
One personal signed hardback giveaway (US shipping only) + book swag

12/05/19
Claire Banschbach – www.clairembanschbach.com
Paperback giveaway (US only) The Wolf Prince x 1 – discounted ebooks for Adela’s Curse and The Rise of Aredor

12/06/19
Anne Wheeler – www.anne-wheeler.com
$0.99 on all books + 3 paperback giveaways of Asrian Skies

12/07/19
J.M. Hackman – https://jmhackman.com/
One signed paperback giveaway (Spark or Flare) (US shipping only) + related swag

12/08/19
Janeen Ippolito – https://www.janeenippolito.com/
Signed paperback giveaway (US only), super swag + sticker pack (anyone)

12/09/19
H. L. Burke – www.hlburkeauthor.com/blog
Paperback giveaway (US shipping only) Ultimate Nyssa Glass+Free ebook downloads for An Ordinary Knight and Thaddeus Whiskers and the Dragon

12/10/19
Laura VanArendonk Baugh – www.LauraVanArendonkBaugh.com
Paperback giveaway (single) plus a discount on Shard & Shield

12/11/19
Hans Erdman – www.gewellynchronicles.com
6 giveaways of paperback “Aerielands Christmas” (US only) plus a discount on all e-books

12/12/19
​M. J. Padgett – www.mjpadgettbooks.com
Two free e-books (first in each series) plus one download code for a free holiday-themed audiobook

 

 

How I Accidentally Became an Indie Author Series – Developing The Idea By Birthing Characters

Last week we talked about finding inspiration for writing and developing a general idea for your book. This week we’ll take a deeper look into developing the idea into something more tangible. Without further ado, here is step two (at least, the way I write):

Step Two: Developing The Idea By Birthing Characters

I used to just dive right in and start writing, and for the most part, is still do, but I have learned over time that the story flows a little better and requires fewer major rewrites if I do some basic planning. Now, I tend to think about how my character got into the predicament/catastrophe/position he/she is in. What would I do? What does the character think, see, feel, hear, etc.?

It’s important to note you should consider those questions at every stage of writing your story. Your character might change with the circumstances, or she might stay steadfast. It’s up to you, but make sure your choices make sense for your story and your character.

How do you know if your character is doing something, well, out-of-character? You get to know your character first. You should know him/her as well as you know yourself because, really, you are the characters.

For my own work, I usually have a clear picture of what my main and supporting characters look like, so I jot it down. Then I begin to develop other parts like personality, character traits, quirks, likes and dislikes—I might not use them all, but they’re available for quick reference if I want to. And that’s important when writing. No one wants to stop the flow of an idea to try to remember little details such as what color did I say her eyes were? It seems trivial, but readers will notice. If you don’t know your character, it shows.

I recently found a list on The Novel Factory, a website that offers structured writing “rules” and suggestions. I love their page The Ultimate Character Questionnaire. It lists over 150 questions you can ask yourself about your character (not all of which you necessarily need, but it’s great reference material.)

I recommend, as a minimum, to have the following details hammered out for your main character and primary supporting characters (pulled from the questionnaire):

  • Basic Questions
    • Name (first, last, nickname?)
    • Date of birth/age
  • Appearance
    • Height/weight
    • Hair/skin/eye color
    • Ethnicity/race
    • Distinguishing features (tattoos, scars, etc.)
    • Clothing style
    • Mannerisms/quirks
    • Disabilities
  • Personality
    • Catchphrases
    • Optimist or pessimist
    • Introvert or extrovert
    • Habits
    • Strongest traits
    • Weakest traits
    • Friendship qualities
    • Response to conflict/stress
  • Past and Future
    • Backstory ideas (birthplace, childhood incidents)
    • Social status (rich, poor, etc.)
    • Family situation (neglect, positive environment)
    • Memories
  • Love Interest
    • What is their love language (affectionate, standoffish)
    • Sexual orientation
  • Other Details
    • Work, education, hobbies
    • Favorite things
    • Possessions of importance
    • Spirituality
    • Values
    • Daily life (allergies, eating habits, home life)

It’s a long list, but it can easily grow! Having a thorough understanding of your character will go a long way toward helping your story flow, and it will tap into your reader’s emotions. Here is an example from my own work. Conor Hudson is one of my popular characters, probably because she is highly relatable. Most people liked her, despite a few moments of frustration and annoyance. And let’s face it, there isn’t a single person in our lives we haven’t wanted to shake silly once or twice, right?

For Conor, my character map looked a bit like this:

  • Basic Questions
    • Conor Hudson
    • 14-18 through course of the book
  • Appearance
    • Shorter than average, average weight
    • Brown hair and eyes, pale skin
    • Caucasian, Irish descent
    • Minimalist clothing style
  • Personality
    • Somewhat pessimistic
    • Introvert
    • Reads a lot
    • Highly intelligent, gifted
    • Afraid to step outside of her safety zone
    • Steadfast friend
    • Tends to avoid conflict, but grows in time
  • Past and Future
    • Born in Colorado, parents killed in a car accident
    • Middle-class life in Savannah, lives with grandmother
    • Loving grandmother plays a significant part in her life, positive
    • Remembers the night vividly her parents died
  • Love Interest
    • Wants love but is fearful, nervous
    • Interested in boys
  • Other Details
    • Westmore Academy, a private school for gifted
    • Religious, not outwardly mentioned in the book but implied through her thoughts about her parents
    • Values honesty and loyalty

These are only a few traits, and if you read The Yellow Note, you know there are many more!

Homework for this week: Spend some time getting to know your characters. Think about your story idea and what your main character thinks about it. Who are they? What do they see, think, smell, hear… Then check out the linked website for character development questions and work on your main character! If you feel like it, work on some supporting characters, too!

Next week we’ll take a look at developing your idea through World Development!

 

How I Accidentally Became An Indie Author Series – The Idea

One day I wrote a book. I had no idea what to do with it when I finished, but I was searching for an outlet, something to help me work through depression and anxiety, something that would develop a new, healthy habit—something better than worrying and stressing, so I just wrote another one. When that book was finished, I found a site called Wattpad and posted it to see what people thought. Turns out, the teens loved it!

What now? I decided I should try to publish it, but traditional publishing intimidated the snot out of me. I sent a few queries but heard nothing, which is a big downer even though I knew that didn’t mean my book sucked. Still, for someone battling depression, I needed a better way. Enter the world of independent publishing.

When I look back over my journey, I see a lot of mistakes I could have easily avoided if I had spent a little time following other Indie authors, reading their blogs, and researching marketing strategy. I spent a lot of money I should have saved, but in all, it has been a positive experience. I am by no means a hugely successful Indie author, but I feel it coming—someday. For now, I’m happy with my small following, and I strive to make them proud of the work I give them. Perhaps eventually my group will grow, but I’m in no rush.

After all, a goal is meant to be long-term, right? That said, I have met many other Indie authors who have all experienced the same headaches that come with going rogue. But there is also a lot of joy in running your business your way.

The upcoming blog series is geared toward the newbie-newbies, those who want to write and have dabbled with the idea of independent publishing, but don’t really know where to start. I’ve met a ton of people on social media who aspire to write, and they all ask the same thing. How do you do it?

First things first, you need to write a book.

Scary, I know. I look at some of my earlier work and cringe, and I know in coming years I’ll look at what I wrote today and cringe again (I’ll probably cringe after I post this blog and read it tomorrow.) It’s an evolution, but if you get a feel for your own technique and writing style right up front, it’s so much easier. I want this blog series to be conversational, personal enough for readers to comment and discuss their own hurdles, fears, accomplishments—whatever! So, I’ll begin with how I write, the things I do, and how you should completely ignore anything anyone says you HAVE to do. It’s your book. It’s your imagination. You do you your own way. Here’s how I do… me.

Step One: The Idea

This blog, the first in the How I Accidentally Became an Indie Author Series, will focus on the idea for a book. Of the many frequently asked questions I receive, this is the most asked: How on earth do you come up with some of the stuff you write?

Short answer, I have an extremely vivid imagination. But there is another way! Ask any author, and they’ll admit to writing something inspired by real events, song lyrics, a movie, another book—anything and everything you can see, hear, smell, touch, taste.

Let me give you a few examples from my own work.

The Love Project: This book is currently on Wattpad in a super rough draft format. Basically, it’s about a girl who refuses to believe love is a real thing. She’s seen it burn too many people she cares about and essentially writes it off as a made up emotion to avoid breaking her own heart. The entire book was inspired by Shawn Mendes’ song, “If This is What It Takes.” The MC, Wesley, meets her match in Oliver, the British guy she’s paired with for a psychology project who insists he will make her fall for him before the semester is over.

The Cupcake Criminals: Also in rough draft on Wattpad, this story is about a neurotic woman who can’t seem to win for losing. In a moment of desperation, she kidnaps a cupcake delivery van driver, steals his van, and runs amuck all over town. This story was inspired by a sticker on the back of a Krispy Kreme donut van that said, “No cash on board, just fresh donuts.” Well, I thought, I’d happily steal a donut truck just for the donuts.

That’s just two examples, but there are many more. My point is, you don’t necessarily have to sit around and think about what to write for hours at a time. Who has time for that? Look at the world around you. When you see something that makes you pause, like a bumper sticker, think a little longer about it. When I saw that sticker, I thought, what would stealing the donut truck entail? How would I do it? How would I act? What would push me to do something so silly? What would my friends do or say? How would I resolve that accident? How can I work a solid love interest in that scenario?

Once those details were solidified in my mind, I had a good idea for a book!

Another example, one that I pulled from personal experience, is The Text Message. This story is the fourth in a series called The Secret Author Series. When I was young, I lived in a small town where most people knew one another. When a teenage girl (who I happened to know) was murdered, it rocked the little town. That incident had a huge impact on me, and years later I thought about it and how it affected people. From that, the character Emily, whose brother was killed in a robbery gone wrong, was born. I dare say it’s one of my most heart-wrenching novels, but it also allowed me to let go of a lot of feelings I had about that incident. Cheap therapy, that’s what I call it.

Characters often end up looking a lot like people we know or knew, but we rarely think about how closely related to life ideas for novels can be, even fantasy novels. Your characters need something to drive them, a reason to do what you make them do. That all begins with the idea.

So, if you’re following this blog and you’re ready to start your journey, here’s your homework (oh, did I forget to mention there was homework?)

I challenge you to make a list of five viable story ideas. Think about events that shaped your life, funny things you’ve heard, song lyrics you love, or something you saw in your daily travels that made you pause for a moment. Choose your favorite, and think about how, what, when, where, and why? Hold on to that list and check back with me in a week for the next blog post!

Five Questions – This Time It’s About Me!

When I release a new book, I always write a short blog titled “Five Questions.” The blog focuses on the most-asked questions about the book and offers some insight into what the reader can expect. I decided to post five questions about me as an author just for fun! I hope you enjoy! If you have a question, you can hop over to my contact page (or any social media page) and ask away!

What inspired you to create a massive universe (in the Immortal Grimm Brothers’ Guide) in which there are evil princesses and epic mythical creatures?

I was bored. I’m kidding—sort of. When I wrote Snow Kissed it was supposed to be a one-time thing. I wanted to see what it was like to write in the fantasy genre, and since I love the Grimm Brothers, I decided to do a fairy tale retelling. When Calla’s story ended I was satisfied for about a day, then I thought the story itself just wasn’t complete. There was more I wanted to say, a bigger universe I wanted to explore, so the sequel Ashes to Ashes was born. That book took me on a roller coaster and birthed an entire series. And now, well, you’ll just have to wait and see what goodies I have in store for the Tales From The Black Forest franchise!

What was your inspiration to write the Secret Author Series and which is your favorite?

That’s a tough question because it’s very personal. I wrote the first installment, The Yellow Note, years ago. It was my first full-length novel, and it was so rough I cringe thinking about it. However, that little book amassed over three million reads on Wattpad where it was first posted. (I have since removed it, edited and reposted.)

When it was first posted, I kept getting messages from people telling me it changed their point-of-view or inspired them in some other way. Others said it restored their hope in relationships, particularly those between friends and family. Believe it or not, I have had THREE people start relationships thanks to inspiration from my book. One of those was so incredibly touching. I’ll share it here.

Without names, a girl’s male friend had feelings for her but was unsure how to tell her. She kept raving about this book where the boy wrote the girl a bunch of inspiring love notes. He had no idea what she was talking about, but he was determined to find out, so he went to his best friend’s girlfriend. She filled him in on the details, and he READ THE BOOK for her! He then went to considerable lengths to recreate the story for the girl he liked. Well, he snagged the girl, and the rest is history. Those stories make me feel great as an author. It’s what we hope for, to touch someone’s life in some small way.

When I wrote the book, I was grieving the loss of a friend who left way before his time. I remembered how he used to write little notes to me and put them in my locker, especially on bad days when I needed cheering up. While there was never a romantic relationship between us like there is in the book, I do believe he was one of my “people,” someone who was meant to come into my life, shake it up, and leave me with a lifelong lesson.

After that, I thought I would write about other events that shaped my life. Each installment of the series has a bit of my personal life in it, which makes them dear to my heart. If I had to pick a favorite book in the series, I’d say The Text Message. While The Yellow Note will always be special to me, The Text Message took me back to a time in my life when things were really hard, and I did a lot of growing up in a really short time.

Which Character in the Secret Author Series is your favorite?

That’s tough. They are all my kiddos, but if I have to choose I’d say… ugh, I can’t pick one. I have three favorites, and I’ll explain why.

Jacob Masterson (The Yellow Note) – the guy is about as perfect as one can get. He’s a bit of a doofus, but he’s so gosh darn loveable and dependable it’s impossible not to like him. His unwavering loyalty to his friends, especially to Delilah (which is investigated further in the spin-off Biology 101) make him the best friend anyone could ask for, not to mention the fact he becomes a war hero when he’s grown. I love an adorable doofus who’s actually the smartest person in the book.

Zara Scottsdale (The Letter) – Despite Zara’s horrific attitude through the first half of the book, she is actually a good person. She endured truly horrible treatment from her father, had zero influence from her mother, took care of her family in ways they never knew, and managed to turn her life around despite all signs pointing toward her being a failure. Of every book I’ve written, Zara’s redemption arc is my favorite.

Mason Alexander (The Text Message) – Mason was an accidental character. He was only supposed to show up, drive Emily home, lay some hyper-observant truth on her, and fade into the background. Instead, he grew into this rock solid character who knew exactly what he wanted but gave it all up for someone else. He was NOT a fan favorite because he was unexpected and messed with the flow between two characters, causing a lot of ruckus. In the end, though, Mason made the story so much better. I love him because he was my little brainchild who refused to give up, resisted getting shoved into the background, and basically told me to be a grown up and make the story messy for once!

Which of your characters is most like you?

I have written tons of stories that are not published. Some of them are on Wattpad (I warn you, they are all rough drafts and not all are good.) The Cupcake Criminals is a novella I wrote a year or so ago that centers on Abby, a neurotic nutcase of a woman who has a good heart, a smarty-pants sarcastic mouth, and can’t get out of her own way. She always takes the more difficult path and refuses to admit defeat even when all signs point toward imminent disaster. She has a strong network of loyal friends, is NOT afraid to let her freak flag fly proudly, and at the end of the day, all she wants is to be accepted and loved for the horrific mess she is. Yep… that’s me.

Why are most of your stories fluffy and so sweet? Everyone seems to get a happy ending, and it’s all tied up so nicely. That’s not really how life is.

Nope, life is rarely like that. That’s why I write the way I do. I love happy coincidences and sappy characters. I write the way I wish life happened. Sure, it alienates a chunk of readers who prefer realistic writing styles, but the followers I have are amazing. When they need a pick-me-up, they come to me. When they’ve had a bad day, and they just need someone to say it’s okay, it’ll get better—they come to me. Want to read a book you KNOW will take you on a roller coaster ride, but it’ll be okay because it will all work out in the end—COME TO ME MY PRETTIES!

Short answer, I like to make people feel love, happiness, sweetness, hope—all the stuff we don’t have enough of in real life.

As a side note, I rely heavily on the superhuman ability to forgive. The ability to forgive is the number one, most important trait for my characters. To forgive is one of the most challenging things a human being must do, and I have defended my characters many, many times for “forgiving too easily.” But I do it anyway because, as difficult as it is, forgiveness is a true test of who a person truly is at their core.

Just to Clarify: An Interview With George Elf

The Chimney Sweep released on November 23, just in time for Black Friday! If you haven’t read my comedic holiday novella, you can order the e-book through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Paperback is available at Amazon and Lulu Publishing! I would highly recommend reading the book before reading the interview since there are some spoilers, but if you’re not one to care or you’ve already read it, please read on for answers to commonly asked questions from the book!

Without further ado, an interview with George Elf!

Hi George, and thanks for doing an interview with me.

 I literally had to. I had no choice. You’re writing me.

 Okay, George. What really happened with the pogo stick?

 Just gonna skip right over that part where you’re making me do this against my will?

 Yep. What happened with the pogo stick?

 Um… I’d think it’s obvious what happened with the pogo stick.

 It’s not. The readers want to know, George. So, what happened?

 Nosy readers you’ve got there. Can’t a man have an incident with a pogo stick and not tell everyone about it?

 You’ve gotta give the readers what they want, George. This wasn’t my idea.

 But it was. I was there in your head when you thought of it. This is all you, MJ.

 Would you just answer the question?

 Fine, but I’m not sure how it’s not obvious. Uncle Henry tried to get on the pogo stick and slipped. Then the pogo stick went straight up his a—

 Whoa, George! We’re keeping this interview clean, okay? Nice words only!

 Um, okay… I thought attic was a nice word, but perhaps you prefer the storage unit above a house? Anyway, it shot straight up into the a—the storage place, and out the window, bounced on the sidewalk and knocked down all his Christmas decorations before it bounced all the way to Elf Central and gave Fancy Nancy Elf a concussion.

 I… what? How did… never mind. On to question two—

 But you’ve already asked me, like, four questions.

 *sigh* Yes, George, you’re right. Next question, where does poo go?

 (shocked expression) Wow, your readers are very strange. Why would anyone want to know where poo goes?

 Look, I’m just the writer. I ask what the readers want to know.

 Well, we, ya know… poo, then it gets sucked down into this pipe thing. After that, it flows through a big grate where the bigger things are filtered out. Then, it goes to another treatment plant where—

 Wait, so it’s like a regular sewage treatment plant?

 I’m not done. Don’t interrupt, MJ. So anyway, the solids are collected, and the rest moves to another treatment where micro-organisms—

 George, this is just like a human sewage treatment plant.

 You’re annoying for an author, did you know

 I created you, George. I can erase you if I want to, so don’t be mean.

 Sorry, won’t happen again (wipes sweat from brow.) Anyway, once the micro-organisms eat everything, the broken-down solids are transported for use as fertilizer while the treated water is released into the ocean.

 *Blinking and annoyed* Yes, like I said, just like—

 Next question, please. I’m on a tight schedule.

 Fine. Can you explain the whole accidentally killing humans thing you mentioned your father doesn’t like?

 Uh… does your father like it when you kill people?

 I don’t… that’s not what… have you killed people, George?

 What?! No! Why would elves kill people?

 I meant by accident. Have any accidents lead to the death of a human?

No, who told you there were? Who? Nobody said anything about accidentally killing any humans, and if they did, they are liars! You can check the records, and you’ll see there have been no human-killing incidents.

 Right… okay, moving on. So, we’ve heard there are a lot of instructional videos you watch during Elf training. Can you tell us about them?

 Where were you when you wrote the end of my story? Were you not listening to yourself? You literally eliminated them from the curriculum when you made me Santa.

 I do not like your attitude, George. I made you Santa, and I can take it away and give the title to the other, less-awesome George anytime I want.

 Don’t be preposterous! We both know you wouldn’t… wait… would you?

 (Arches eyebrow and taps pencil on paper.)

 Heh… uh, well… this is awkward. Um, yes, the instructional videos. Well, there was one on avoiding fires in fireplaces, how to hide from drunk humans, what to do if a child sees you… all basic stuff really.

 So, in other words, you don’t remember because you didn’t pay attention in class?

 Precisely. You know me well.

 Well, what about TOD?

 What about him? He’s doing well. His wife just had a set of triplets and boy can they scream. Once, they screamed so loud folks in Greenland heard them. It was quite the ruckus around there for a while, earthquakes and—

 Wait, George, I meant TOD the reindeer communication system.

 Ohhhhh, yeah, well we had a lot of crashes, so we invented a way to hear the reindeer think. I mean to tell you the truth, I’m not sure why a reindeer would fly straight into a nuclear reactor just because an elf told them to. You’d think they’d have better self-preservation instincts.

 A nuclear reactor?

 Yeah, in Chernobyl.

 In… I have a feeling I don’t want to know what else you elves have done.

 Likely not.

 I’m too afraid to ask so we’ll skip ahead to the incident in Roswell, New Mexico. What happened?

 Oh, yes, the alien thing. I don’t get why humans believe in aliens. It’s silly, really, but anyway… Bob Elf, rest his soul—

 Wait, he died?!

 No, he’s just resting in front of the fireplace down at the North Pole Mall. What is wrong with you? You’re so morbid.

 But you said… never mind, just tell the story.

 Okaaay… so his reindeer was acting strangely, bucking around and thrashing in the harness but old Bob didn’t pay him any mind. Well, he flew right past the great big sign announcing the area was off limits and under control of the United States Military. Apparently, they take their no-fly zones seriously, and they shot at him! He crashed into a tree and the sleigh caught on fire. Bob and his reindeer, Zachariah, they got out okay, but boy did it cause a commotion on that base! To this day they think that old, burned up sleigh is a flying saucer—which is strange because it doesn’t look like a saucer.

 I see, so this along with the events of which we will not speak, all sparked the need for TOD?

 No, Tod’s mom and dad sparked the need for—Ohhhhh… you mean, ha, sorry. Yes, TOD was designed by Morton Elf to help us read the reindeer’s thoughts, so we don’t make any mistakes like that again.

 Nice. Can you tell us about the toy Jack in the Box?

 Oh, poor old Jack Elf. See, one time he decided to hide in a box to scare the Big Guy himself, only it wasn’t a box at all, not the packing kind. It was actually a casket for Santa’s deceased goldfish.

 Wait that must’ve been a huge goldfish?

 Well, it liked to eat. So, anyway, poor Jack had no idea he was inside the final resting place for Smiley the goldfish. When they lowered him into the ground and covered him with dirt, he finally realized he was getting buried alive! Then POP out came Jack to scare the bejesus out of everyone. Poor Santa… let’s just say my brother got the job the next day.

 That sounds ominous. What happened to the old Santa?

 He had a heart attack and died, duh. Where have you been?

 You… but you said I’m morbid for… oh, my gosh, just forget it. What kind of mileage does your sleigh get, the energy efficient ones that run on marshmallows?

 Oh, that’s easy. It gets 287x/619y(2.67xy)+9.9874x/3.225yz marshmallows per gallon.

 *blank stare*

 *eye roll* That’s about one hundred miles per marshmallow, the mini kind. Now if you use the large ones you get—

 Don’t! It doesn’t matter.

 But if you use marshmallow fluff, then—

 Ah! No! Next question. Please tell us about the excessive use of force against Henry Elf.

 Oh man, that was awful, just awful. He’s still traumatized by that. See, Henry went to deliver presents at a corporate Christmas party in New York City. There was eggnog left over so—

 Hang on, he was delivering gifts to an office building?

 Yeah, why not?

 But… no one lives there, George.

 That’s not the point.

 It is the point. If no one lives there, why would he deliver presents there?

 You make a solid point. I… have no idea. We just go where the list tells us to go, leave the presents, and get out.

 Who makes the list?

 I do, of course. That’s Santa’s job.

 If you make the list, then why do you send people to corporate offices?

 To deliver gifts, obviously.

 But no one lives there, so why are you delivering gifts to no one?

 I fail to understand your line of questioning. Can I just tell you the story?

 Go on.

 So, he drank the nog and got so drunk, like so, so drunk he was tripping everywhere when he got back. He knocked over the annual Christmas tree and was just acting like a doofus. He even hit on Mrs. Claus! We couldn’t have an inebriated elf running around, so Thomas Elf tackled him while Gregory Elf blew sugarplum dust in his face. Henry slept it off in the wrapping room and woke up with green polka-dotted paper stuck to his face. He thought he had some kind of strange pox and went running around again. Well, we had to dust him again, but this time we put him in sorting. Well, he woke up there and fell into a crate headed for—

 Does this story have a happy ending?

 Yes.

 Can we get to it?

 Sure. The end.

 Great, so the taffy making incident.

 I don’t want to talk about that.

 We must. People want to know. I get it’s traumatic, but this is a safe place to talk, George. I won’t judge you.

 But they might.

 They won’t.

 But they might.

 They won’t, George. They love you.

 *narrows eyes* Are you sure?

 I’m sure. Tell us about the taffy incident.

 There was taffy. It was sticky. The end.

 Nope. The whole story, George.

 *sighs* Fine. Annie Elf was… well, see… man, this is embarrassing. Annie Elf was trying to flirt with me and… do I hafta tell?

 Yep. If you don’t, I’ll just write about it later.

 Fine. She was flirting with me and accidentally walked between Carol Elf and the taffy machine. She got stuck in the taffy and when I tried to help her… the taffy got stuck and mlsdkadsdnfsdkf.

 And what? You mumbled nonsense, George.

 Grr… the taffy got stuck on my pants, and when the conveyor belt moved forward, it ripped my pants off. There, happy now. Stop laughing. Seriously, it’s not funny! How would you like it if your pants got ripped off and you got taffy stuck all over your body? It’s like a whole body waxing only with fruity flavored taffy!

 Still funny.

 Not funny. I have scars and emotional trauma from that incident. Not to mention we had to shut down production for two weeks to clean the mess. The whole time people just kept laughing at me and… hey… I’m Santa now! I can fire them all!

 You could, but then you’d have to do all the work.

 Oh yeah. Fudgesicles.

 Okay, we’re almost done. We all know how Camilla became an elf and how you almost died, rather than become human—

 You mean how you almost killed me? Right, ‘cause that’s what happened. You gave me three crummy choices, and you were all mean about it until the end. I really thought you were gonna kill me!

 Sorry, George. But can you tell us how many people walking around out there used to be elves?

 How would I know?

 You’re Santa. Don’t you keep a record?

 No! I thought that was your job? Oh man, was I supposed to keep records of everyone you tried to kill?

 No, I wasn’t saying—forget it, George.

 I’m sorry, but I cannot forget how you almost killed me. Impossible.

 I was never going to kill you. The plan was always for you to have a happy ending with Camilla.

 Well, you could have told me that to start with!

 I’m so sorry, George. Will it make you feel better if I tell you there will be a sequel?

 A whatwell?

 A sequel. Another story about you and your family, specifically Elanor.

 Wait a minute! You’re not going to hurt Eleanor, are you?

 Absolutely not. I would never hurt your daughter, George. Would you like to tell the readers what Eleanor’s story will be about?

 How should I know? You haven’t written it yet.

 I think you know what it’ll be about. Think about it.

 Oh! How could I forget? Yes, it will be about that time she accidentally flew her—

 No, not that. The other thing.

 The epic disaster in wrapping last week?

 No, the one with the boy.

 Oh, yeah… him. (rolls eyes) Yes, let me share the blurb with the readers (looks at me expectantly).

 Oops, oh yeah, here it is.

 Thanks. Okay here goes…

 Eleanor Elf has a legacy she takes very seriously. She’s the jolliest, merriest, happiest elf in all the North Pole. She kind of has to be, she is Santa’s daughter after all, but poor Eleanor finds it difficult to fit in. She hasn’t found her special talent just yet. Some elves are good at wrapping, others are great candy makers, some bakers, some are expert organizers… Eleanor can’t seem to do anything right, but she really, really wants to. One Christmas Eve, Santa discovers a boy who gave up. He stopped believing. His name disappeared from the Good List, but Eleanor doesn’t understand why. She’s determined to figure out what changed Simon Zane. He’d always been good, until that night. Eleanor steals a sleigh and heads to Simon’s house to find out what she can do to restore Simon’s faith and bring him back into the good graces of Santa Clause. There was just one problem with Eleanor’s plan. She never thought she’d fall in love.

Thanks for reading my interview with George! You can discover what his daughter is up to in The Chimney Sweep’s Daughter next December!

 

Ashes to Ashes – Five Questions

It’s that time! Ashes to Ashes, Volume Two in The Immortal Grimm Brothers’ Guide to Sociopathic Princesses is now available for e-book pre-order through Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble! Order now for the December 15 release date! The paperback should be available by December 20! Now, let’s answer the five most asked questions about the sequel to Snow Kissed!

How is Ashes to Ashes different from Snow Kissed?

So many ways! You’ll see a lot of similarity in the first couple of chapters. This is only to get you back into the groove, then Ashes shoots off in an entirely different direction with a surprising heroine! The battles are bigger, the twists are sharper, and there might be more than one villain in the story!

Is the family dynamic the same?

Yes and no. Calla was a lucky girl who found adoptive parents who were very supportive. She forged some tight family bonds with her siblings and many others. While the bonds are also tight in book two, there are some sad differences between Sierra and Cecily’s story and Calla’s that are made clear from the very beginning.

What big twists can we expect?

I don’t want to spoil it! I can say this, there is A LOT going on behind the scenes and Ashes will touch on that a few times. Where Snow Kissed introduced the ideas and set up the world, Ashes takes you deeper into that world and builds on the mystery of “the big bad.” Something major is coming in this series, and Ashes tees it up.

Who is your favorite character in Ashes?

I think my favorite will be a fan favorite. No question, I loved writing Jack Thomas. He’s about as lovable a character as I am capable of writing I believe. And *spoiler alert* shh… he’s also a primary character in Volume Three!

When we think Cinderella, her glass slipper comes to mind. Why fire and no shoe in this volume?

The burning question (lol)… Honestly, I tried. I did, but I couldn’t come up with a creepy, yet non-gross way of utilizing the shoe the same way I used the apple in Snow Kissed. In Snow Kissed, the apple is almost synonymous with Snow. It’s her calling card. When the apples rot, you know she’s somewhere doing something unsavory.

In Cinderella, the shoe grossness was carried out by her stepsisters in a pitiful attempt to fool the prince. Cinderella (unlucky for her) just so happened to fit perfectly into that bloody shoe. To me, it didn’t signify Cinderella’s power as a character. Her name, however, is a calling card in itself. Cinderella, or Cindersoot in some versions, was a nickname given to her because she was always sooty from cleaning the fireplace. It felt more like her. Besides, lighting things on fire was much more fun than bloody feet! So, that’s why there’s no shoe and lots of fire!

Don’t forget to pre-order your copy today for download December 15! And stay tuned for Volume Three announcements coming this spring!

Final Front Cover