The Writing Adventures of The Undead Duo–Julie Hutchings and Kristen Strassel

When It All Comes Together

Today is:

These never stop being amazing.

by Kristen

For me, writing the book is the easy part. It’s the time that I’m lost in a fantasy world of my creation, getting to know these characters, riding their heartache and hopefully helping deliver them to triumph. God, that sounded so douchy that I have to keep it. Anyway, it’s just me and the story. And I love it enough to spend hours with my computer in my lap, utterly ignoring everything around me until I a. have no food in the house, b. am late for work, or c. smell so bad I can’t stand it anymore. Yes, this writing thing is super glamorous.

Publishing….that’s a little bit more of a challenge. No matter how you decide to do it, it’s not easy. I self-publish, so I can only talk about what my experience is with that. You might be thinking, Kristen, you do it all yourself, and you’ve done it a whole shitload of times now, why is this still hard?  I should probably clarify one more thing: getting to publication isn’t hard anymore, either. As a self-pubber, I choose my team for editing, cover design, and promotion. I know what this looks like now, and the process doesn’t intimidate me anymore.  In fact, I welcome it. These are the people who help bring my vision to life.

So back to the actual publishing thing. Once the book goes live, that’s when I lose control. I love control, you guys. Some people have gone as far as to call me a control freak. I won’t argue with that. Up to that point, I’ve had total control over the process. There’s absolutely no way to tell if a book is going to do well, bomb out, or if you just haven’t found the right audience for it yet. (pay attention to that one).

Publishing moves fast. I feel those traditional pubbed people narrowing their eyes at me and wondering if I put spoiled milk in my coffee. In the indie world where the author is the publisher, things zoom by at a speed sometimes I’m not even sure what just went by me. Readers are the gatekeepers, they speak loud and clear with their buying dollars what they want. Things are changing every day, and what worked on a new release even a few weeks ago might not be as effective now. Blog tours used to be a sure fire way to get visibilty, now there’s so many books and so many blogs, who can keep up with it all? Facebook advertising works if you know how to use it (I used to. But that’s changed, too.) Netgalley doesn’t work as well as it used to. Putting out a book and hoping for the best is a piss poor marketing strategy. While there are many bad ways to market, finding the right way to market your book to the readers who will love these characters as much as you do is exhausting.

What does work?

  • Make it easy for people to purchase your book when they come looking for it. If they’re on your site, they want you. You have them. Don’t make them open up Amazon or Kobo and type your info in. Let them buy it in two clicks. I can’t tell you how many authors I’m friendly with that have unwittingly sent me on a wild goose chase looking for their books. Don’t send me to tumblr, don’t send me to pinterest. Send me straight to a retailer and I will quite possibly buy. More than two clicks and sorry, you’ve lost me.
  • Collect information from your readers!  Readers for the most part aren’t on Twitter. But most everyone has a facebook and and an email address. Make sure the people who got to the end of your book can find you. If they connect with you, they’ll know when your next book comes out or when you’re having a killer sale. These people asked you to tell them about these things. They want to know. Don’t be shy.

I’m only listing these two things, because they’re under your control. Your website and your mailing list will always belong to you. Social media and retailers can change their shizz up without notice. Don’t rely on them. Rely on what belongs to you. Keep the control.

So each release, I look what’s currently working, and plan accordingly. Sometimes it works great. Sometimes it bombs. The Fire Dancer was one of those times that everything came together.

What did I do?

  • I ran a sale on The Night Songs Collection. Not only were those my first books, they had a rough start in the world. Like woah. I’ve righted the path,and they did okay after that. Even when I did that, no one knew who the hell I was. (They still don’t.)  I hadn’t found the right audience for that series yet. Now that readers have checked out my other books and I had a way to reach them, this sale breathed much needed new life into the series. The Fire Dancer is a spin off of that series, so you don’t have to read the other books before you read The Fire Dancer, but if you do, you’ll be ready to hop into The Fire Dancer with guns blazing.
  • When a reader finishes one of the books, I invite them to keep in touch with me, I give them the option to continue reading the series, and tell them about my other books. Nobody wants a book to end. They want more. For more on this, check out Courtney Milan’s Building a Sticky Readership. It changed my life.
  • The Fire Dancer came out at a reduced price. I created a sense of urgency around getting it NOW.
  • I let people know about the book and the sale. Yes, I asked them to buy the books! Scandalous, I know. I sent out my newsletter, I bought advertising, and asked other authors to share the info with their readers.

So what happened? 




  • The Fire Dancer hit #1 in vampire horror! FUCK YES!!!!  It also hit top ten in LGBTQ Fantasy, and top twenty in New Adult Fantasy.  This blew my feeble mind because at the time I was #1, #2 was Anne Rice and #3 was Stephen King. Kristen, Anne, and Stephen. Holy fucking shit. Further down that list was Laurell K. Hamilton. Even if it was just for a day, to outsell the people who defined a genre that has meant so much to me throughout my life brings me to tears typing this.
  • I like numbers, because I can control them. I come from a retail background, and I put my micromanagement skills to USE. I track how much of each book I sell each month and how much money I make from it. I obviously want to see positive growth, but some months are bigger than others. If I have no new release and no promos, it’s going to be a quieter month. Numbers give me answers. My first goal was to hit 1000 books sold. Now, some people do that in week or a day, but I wasn’t one of them. I passed that. Then I wanted to sell 1000 books in a month. I did it! I think it’s important to talk about that. We hear about the people who are killing it and making millions, and the people who sell books only to their immediate families, but we don’t hear much about the ones who are down in the trenches, building their brand slowly but surely. No, I’m not supporting myself off of writing. Yet. Its frustrating to be in the middle, but we’re in good company. I promise you.

So what’s next?  

I’m writing writing writing!  I have 3 series that I rotate, and I keep telling myself I’m going to stop that and write an entire series before I move on to something else. I’m trying, really, I am.  I’ve compared having books out to tending a garden. Sometimes things are beautiful, but you have to keep up with them if you expect to be fed.  If you need me, I’ll be out in the garden.


TODAY’S BREW: Hawaiian Chocolate Nut #1 (there will be several)

By Julie

I support my writing partner and my co-blogger/heterosexual life partner’s books, of course. OF COURSE. But this book. This book I have been waiting for her to write, so much so that I literally begged her for the opportunity to edit it. It is out today.


It’s such an incredibly unique twist on vampire mythology and some new time travel stuff that is so cool I cannot even, in addition to amazing relationships, killer conflicts….. I’m so into it that I can’t stop. This is the book that reminds me of how and why we started writing books together.

Amazon is a dick and doesn’t let me post reviews for her, but THIS IS WHAT I WANTED TO SAY.

This review is from: The Fire Dancer: Vampire Cirque Dark Fantasy (Cirque Macabre Book 1) (Kindle Edition)

I’ve been waiting for this book. Ever since getting a glimpse of Cash Logan and Holly Octane (best names), I wanted more about them and now I get them in one book, along with some old favorites of mine shown in a new light, like Callie and Blade. I was genuinely excited to see Callie in particular show up from a different point of view.TO BE CLEAR, THIS BOOK STANDS ALONE. It has celebrity guest spots from Strassel’s other novels but this is a new series that doesn’t require you to have read everything else first.

I am a sucker for books with thick plots. Lots of different motivations, lots of conflicting needs and events. This book gives them to me in spades. LIKE REAL LIFE, THE CHARACTERS ARE MORE THAN ONE THING. Holly’s entire existence isn’t just about being the Fire Dancer, she’s also part vampire, she finds out. She has other abilities that she can’t fully explain, just like real people don’t understand everything about themselves. She doesn’t just want one thing–to find out more about her mother–she wants to learn more about herself, she wants acceptance, while at the same time pushing people away. She’s contradictory, LIKE REAL PEOPLE. And her journey is realistic in so many ways, despite the fantastical nature of it. She’s real to me. She changes and grows throughout the book by making lots of choices, some good, some bad, but always hers. But at the end of the book we still recognize her as Holly. It’s realistic.

I also love that by uncovering one secret, she uncovers a snowball full of them. REALISTIC. She finds out one thing and is left with more questions to answer. And the answers aren’t always fully answered, but never forgotten by Strassel. What I mean is some things just can’t be learned by Holly, but it isn’t because the writer ignored them.

I could read a dozen books about Cash Logan. That’s all I have to say about that.

There are so many new sparks for me in this book that excite me to read more about….a character, Rachel, that seems to be almost nobody but then suddenly has a grip as a character and I want more of her. I want to know more of Holly’s past, where her choices have left her with those she loves and those she doesn’t (because there are a fair amount of those, and I LOVE THAT), I want to know what’s next for her.

I love a book that twists what I know about the supernatural and gives me a fresh take on paranormal, and holy mother does this book do it. I’m EXCITED by this book. It made me think, made me feel, and made me wonder if I read it again (which I will), what new things will I see? If you like a book that’s like a treasure chest you never quite get to the bottom of, this is the book for you.


Worldbuilding: Preparing to Build Your World with Julie

TODAY’S BREW: Fancee coffee from Mistobox because Sam won’t let me go to the store to get cheap stuff, and hasn’t for 3 days.

By Julie

A friend suggested I write a post on worldbuilding. My immediate response was, “I’m not good enough at it yet.” So, this is exactly why I’m writing a post on it.

It would be easy to write only about things I know, just like someone famous said about writing book, actually. If you know it, you have something valuable to add. Well, I think writing about things you’re unsure of is what drives you to become an expert in them. You try harder. You have to, or you’ll look like a jackass.

I didn’t think I built worlds all the time, but I do actually, and have a hell of a process for doing so. I’m going to do a short series of posts on what I do to build a world, because it’s hard work and something anyone can do if they put the work in. This post is about getting ready to build your world.

Even though I forge ahead and dive into my work as if I know exactly what I’m doing, I PREPARE to build a world.

I look to the greats: Chuck Wendig is always the first place I look.

I take notes. On important stuff like know the world’s rules to adhere to them, but the reader doesn’t need to know them all. Oh wow, that’s important. You know how you keep reading articles and lists about the things you didn’t know about Hogwarts? Because Rowling knew the rules, but we didn’t have to. You WANT to tell the reader everything…..but it’s “masturbatory,” as Chuck says. I realized that in exposition of a world you’ve made, the same rules still apply….. if it doesn’t move the story forward, it has to go. Not to mention that yeah, it’s cool to have a world where the author has thought of everything and goddamn do you know it, but I want to create worlds that INSPIRE and have tone. I want my worlds to have mystery. There’s a fine line between having mystery and coming across as half-cooked.

How do you not appear to be half-cooked? Chuck also says to know how the real stuff works in your fancy-land. Do your research. I know what vegetables and fruits grow on the mountains in Japan in winter, for instance. Add in the flourishes of realism that make your place real. You can only do that by knowing them.

The other guy I pay attention to is John Scalzi, who said something that I won’t forget. Make sure your world is 2 questions deep.  On every page, if a reader asks why, I should have answers for that, and a backup answer for it. Again, if  the reader asks. I don’t have to give all the answers first. Let their imaginations wander.

I pay attention to video games. I’m not a gamer, but video games have worlds as complex as any novel on a good day. There’s a lot to be learned from video game worlds for a writer:

  • They’re visual. I can see the world. The trick is to look at the game like a writer. Everything is both complex and simply done. Lighting creates a scene. How would I describe the lighting, as a writer? Watch a bunch of YouTube clips of games and ask yourself questions. Just from looking at him, what do I know about that character? How would I say it in my words? That kinda thing.
  • Video games suck you in. So if I jump into a game mid-story, what keeps me there? How can I make my reader feel like they’re already part of a story that’s been going on all along? How can I make my world easily understood, but still deep? Games show you that.
  • Read articles written by gamers and designers. They tell you things.

Stop me if you heard this one, but I read books. Read like you’re looking to learn. This is why I read so strategically–I have an agenda. I read a book looking for something in particular. With THE HUNGER GAMES, I wanted to know how Panem was so convincing and steeped in so much history, without us being hit over the head with backstory. With DIVERGENT I wanted to see how the world shaped the way characters spoke, how mannerisms were a product of their environment. With Valente’s Fairyland series I look for the ways in which the world is painted so richly that I can see it but never feel inundated with description. So on and so forth. Take notes.

Make your world all over you like a cheap sweater. Notebooks forever. For THE WIND BETWEEN WORLDS, I have two 5 subject notebooks PACKED, a 3 subject notebook, a scrapbook, an inspiration board, a million Pinterest boards….. I keep track. I surround myself with the world as much as I can so it’s bursting onto paper when I’m ready.

I make the minutiae central, but only to me. Goddamn do I have fun with this. If my MC wears a piece of jewelry to represent her place in the world, I search for the damn thing. Etsy, Pinterest, Amazon, art shops, craft stores…. until I have the vision of the thing I want so deeply ingrained and have turned down so many options that the one I’ve created in my head is more real than anything I’ve seen. I hunted down a decades old magazine for a photo I saw on some website because the tone of it was exactly what the tone of a particular scene was. I gather up bits and pieces of things that contribute to my vision like a frigging bobcat making a nest or whatever bobcats do. I like to see it all in front of me so I can make it REAL.

Then when I start to write, I boil down the feeling of it all into very careful wording so YOU feel that it’s real. Building a world has purpose: to give the reader someplace they feel they know, or to give them somewhere to escape to. Sometimes both. So take it seriously and get yourself ready. Commit to it so the reader will be committed, too.

The Night Songs Collection is on SALE!

Today is:

by Kristen

Happy Chocolate Chip Pizza Party Day!  Here’s where vampire month gets fun.  If you haven’t checked out my vampire books, now is the time!  Every title in The Night Songs Collection is 99 cents each through May 20.  Some of these have never been on sale before.

night songs sale 2

Because the Night:

Sex, Blood And Rock n’ Roll 

Immortal Dilemma is the hottest band in the Las Vegas vampire rock scene. They draw insatiable fans from around the globe, thanks to a supernatural attraction called Bloodlust. Tristan craved such an opportunity to fill his empty mortal life, and now he has eternity to earn his place along the legends of rock n roll debauchery.

Callie always feared that Tristan’s excesses would get him into trouble, but she never thought they’d lead him to immortality. To reconnect with him, she must weave her way through a world not only she had no idea existed, but does not welcome her.

Blade turned down a spot in Immortal Dilemma after learning what he must sacrifice for that lifestyle. He finds Callie a refreshing change from the girls in the vampire rock scene. When Callie drags Blade back into the world of Immortal Dilemma, his resistance drives her into the waiting arms of Tristan, who shows her the true meaning of Bloodlust.

But the very things that Callie fights so hard to save are the very things that fight to destroy her.

Night Moves:

We bonded in darkness, over darkness.

Melanie Vaughn’s job ruined everything. Her social life, nonexistent. Her relationship with her boyfriend, a hostile roommate situation. She resolves to fix everything one snowy afternoon, but instead comes home to discover her boyfriend is already exploring other options. Blonder, bustier options. Rage drives Melanie to do the unthinkable.

When Soul Divider was on the top of the world, so was Ryder Maddox. When the band faded into obscurity, Ryder’s luck plummeted with it. In a last ditch effort to rekindle the band’s heyday, Soul Divider teams up with powerful vampire clan leader, Talis de Rancourt. In return for her services, the band pays the ultimate price for never ending fame.

Now on the run, Melanie meets Ryder in a middle of nowhere hotel. She never expected her teenage rock star crush to be as lost and as in need of a companion as she is. Their connection is all consuming, even before they find they share another kinship: murder.

The newly turned vampires in Soul Divider still have a lot to learn. The police and public begin to connect the girls that go missing or die in sync with the band’s tour schedule. Back at home, clues are also adding up against Melanie as well. Between constant media coverage and unrelenting attention from the authorities, Melanie and Ryder find themselves in uncharted territory.
We Own the Night:

The Ultimate Manipulation.
Callie Chabot would stop at nothing to save her ex-boyfriend Blade Bennett from the clutches of vampire clan leader Talis de Rancourt, even if means becoming immortal herself. What she doesn’t know is that Blade has already defeated Talis, and he’s waiting for Callie in the afterlife.
Now Callie only has her creator, Tristan Trevosier, to turn to for guidance. But he’s too wrapped up in the debauchery of the Las Vegas rock scene to give a damn about the particulars of being undead. That’s enough to drive Callie crazy on its own, but female vampires are automatic clan leaders.
Not only does Callie have no idea how to wrangle a vampire clan, but her would-be followers have more to gain from her failure. They instead choose to follow Blade—and he’s hell-bent on making Callie pay for her bad decisions. Since he took out the existing clan leader, that automatically puts him at the helm of what should be Callie’s new clan.
A Master of Deception.
That’s when seasoned rogue vampire, Cash Logan, shows up, shrouded in magic and mystery. No one is sure which side Cash is on, but Callie needs to take a chance on the one vampire who is willing to give her the answers she needs, no matter how dark and frightening they may be. Callie must trust her instincts and form alliances that may backfire. Cash shows Callie that playing nice is no longer an option, and that fixing her wrongs won’t always make everything right.
To take control of her clan, Callie must look to her rival to discover exactly what makes her a leader.
Silent Night:

This Christmas isn’t about celebration for eighteen-year-old Kyndra, it’s about survival. Grieving the loss of her grandmother and struggling with the indifference of her family, Kyndra now splits her time between her dead-end mall job, her junkie ex-boyfriend’s bed, and the streets. Longing to be close to her grandmother one more time, she wanders into Christmas Eve mass and prays she’ll find the place she belongs. Home.

Aidan isn’t ready to let go of the past either, even though he’s had nearly three hundred years to do it. He chronicles the search for the reincarnation of his beloved wife as the vampire romance author Allison Duprois. Aidan knows the wife he mourns is out there, but fears writing their story is as close as he will get to her.

At Christmas Eve mass, he finally finds her. Alone, with no place to go.

Aidan brings Kyndra into his home, and gives her the safety, comfort and love she longs for. Though he gives her second chances she never thought she’d have, Kyndra still can’t get over Aidan’s mysterious past. Not to mention that he claims that he’s a vampire. Life alone on the streets is dangerous enough without handing her trust and love to the wrong person. Can Aidan break through the walls around Kyndra’s hardened heart to convince her that she belongs with him, forever?

I Love The Middle

Today is:

(No, this isn’t a #vampiremonth post, but I think these days are hysterical, so I will continue to share. After three years I’m running out of ways to tell you about my coffee)

by Kristen

As you know by now, I write a lot of books. All the time. If I’m not working on a book, I feel like I’m constantly wandering around looking for my car keys. Currently I’m working on an adult contemporary romance. These characters are a bit of a departure for me, and I’m really enjoying my time with them.  This, like every other book, has followed a pattern.

There’s this idea that won’t leave me alone.

I write a bunch of notes. Not necessarily an outline, but a list of ideas and things I want to happen. Character traits. Snippets of conversation. Conflict.

Since my brain is a busy place, like the Grand Central Station of imaginary people and their woes, I will usually type the words Chapter One shortly after I complete the last project. It’s important for me to keep the creative process going, but my head is often still in my last world. And since a bitch can’t learn a lesson around here, I tend to rotate series. Which means I go shifter vampire real people shifter shifter vampire people…you get the picture.  Some of my books are light and funny, and some of them are dark and disturbing, so getting myself in the right mood for the new book isn’t always easy.

Still, I hit the ground running and my first day is usually pretty productive. I’ll churn out 5000 words and figure I can be done telling the story like, you know, tomorrow.


For the next couple of days, I struggle with the new project.  The words don’t come as easy, and quite frankly, they suck. Flat, cliche, and just plain who fucking cares.  The story doesn’t have the spark on the screen as it did as a shiny new plot bunny in my head.

I get depressed. I chalk the whole thing up to burnout. I decide this is the last book I’m ever going to write. I whine. A lot. Like a whole bunch.  And cry, because what’s whining without a good tantrum?

The people I whine to suggest I take a break, or abandon the project if it’s not working.  But I can’t do that, for two reasons:  I don’t know what to do with myself if I’m not working on a book, and once I give characters life, I can’t abandon them. To me it’s the equivalent of bringing a pet back to the pet store because I didn’t feel like having it anymore.

So I power fucking through it, force myself to keep going. And something happens.  Everything starts to work.

Oh my God, I love this fucking book.

On this book, I figured it out before I hit the depressed/whining/give up stage. The beginning is hard because I don’t know the characters yet. Sure, I have an idea of who the are and what they want, but I don’t know them. I haven’t found their voices yet, or discovered their quirks.  It takes a little while to figure out what their motivations are. Why they want what they want. What’s happened to them to make them this way.  This is the point that the secondary characters make themselves known, too.

the world

Often, I wind up scrapping my first chapter. The story doesn’t always start in the place I originally thought it did. On the book I’m working on now, I rewrote the first five chapters and added a second POV (if you were wondering why there as a cold breeze in hell, yes, Kristen’s writing dual POV).  I always wind up going back and weaving in details that reveal themselves as I write. Now I’m 37K in and OMG, I love this fucking book.

If I didn’t keep writing, I’d never be able to do any of this. I wouldn’t be able to get to know the characters, I wouldn’t be able to fix my shitty beginning, and I certainly would never finish.

So if you’re like me and you start with all sorts of ideas and great intentions and then run face first into a brick wall, keeping going. Seriously. The good stuff is just over this hill that seems impossible to climb. Once you get to know your characters and the story they actually need you to tell, you can delete all the shit you thought you knew about them. The first draft is just your brain telling you the story, and we all know you can’t edit nothing. If you’re really stuck, talk it out. That always helps me. Sometimes a friend will have a great idea, or sometimes hearing the problem out loud helps me find the solution. Basically, just get it out of your head. In your brain, all it will do is fester. On the page, it can bloom.

What is your biggest struggle in getting to The End?



What I Read When I Write by the Magnificent Jen Lillis


 By Julie

Jen Lillis is the most unique person I’ve ever met on Twitter. Let that sink in. She sent me stinky vintage cookbooks from a basement complete with her own personal notes. So that’s impossible to top. Want to know what else she’s reading and how it helps her write? WELL HERE GOES.

This was a great idea for a blog series (though honestly, it’s Julie, so I’d have participated even if the topic was METAPHORICALLY COMPARE YOUR NEW BOOK TO THE ZONING LAWS OF YOUR HOME STATE).
I’m so grateful to the books I read during the drafting process. All of them–even the ones I don’t connect with–either teach me something, yank me out of a funk, or help me solve a problem in my WIP.
This one’s been a bear. So I’ve been reading a lot.
My latest YA novel (still untitled) is narrated by Barrie: pop-music obsessive, dogged optimist, and super-ambitious singer-songwriter. Her number-one goal is to win an American Idol-type reality competition called Pop University–but when she’s booted off early in favor of a devious neo-folk chick with tons of natural talent, she comes up with an…ah, unusual Plan B for achieving her dream.
Here are the books that have helped me the most while I spin this weird little story:

Joan Bauer, Squashed

If you’re writing a snarky, cynical YA heroine, there’s no shortage of strong narrators you can turn to for voicespiration. If you’re writing a wildly ambitious optimist, literary role models are harder to come by. I dug deep in my vintage YA archive, bypassing a 7th Heaven novelization called Winter Ball, and decided to revisit this gem from 1992. Joan Bauer proves that goodhearted, glass-half-full narrators can still be goddamn funny, and so many of her books are master classes in writing offbeat heroines with big ambitions. She takes goals that could be perceived as silly–growing a giant pumpkin, for example–and infuses them with gravity and urgency. That’s just what I’m trying to do with Barrie, and I hope I can pull it off as well as Bauer does.

Peter Shaffer, Amadeus
Since I started this book, I’ve been joking that it’s like Amadeus with female singer-songwriters. So I picked up the play again–hadn’t read it since college–and took another tour of Salieri’s jealous heart. Barrie is in kind of a similar position: a musician with noble goals who’s toiled and sacrificed for a shot at greatness, and then gets effortlessly upstaged by a true natural. (The music is probably better in Amadeus. I’m trying.)
David Levithan, Hold Me Closer
It’s tough to write a book about music. If you describe something visual well enough, your reader can see it; if you describe food, readers can almost taste it based on past experience. But it’s harder to make readers “feel” a song they haven’t heard before–even if you quote lyrics, you’re still giving them a skeleton without flesh and blood.
I’ve been looking for good, innovative examples of how to communicate the power of song within a novel, and Hold Me Closer is a book that’s kind of emboldened me. It’s a novel in the form of a musical script, and the story unfolds in the lyrics and sharp, funny stage directions. I’m not sure it completely works, but it definitely opened my mind to creative new ways of weaving music into a narrative and illuminating its significance to a character. Tiny Cooper isn’t just in love with music–he’s practically made of music. That’s what I’m trying to get across with Barrie, and I hope readers will feel that.
A.S. King, Ask the Passengers
This is my first f/f romance, so I’m turning to a master for inspiration. I’d be thrilled if my book turned out half as good as an A.S. King; she’s one of the best YA authors around. Her MC talks to planes and Socrates and it’s awesome instead of annoying. LIKE HOW DOES THAT EVEN HAPPEN.
June Foley, It’s No Crush, I’m In Love
jen lillis post
the FABULOUS, 1982-tastic cover of one of the books I mentioned (photographed in its natural habitat on my vintage YA bookshelf
I have an unreasonable amount of love for this severely underrated treasure from 1982. Describing this book does it a disservice, because it sounds like the B plot of an old Who’s the Boss? episode (young teen girl nurses massive unrequited crush on hot English teacher), but the odd-couple friendship between reserved main character Annie and the candid, uproarious Susanna Siegelbaum is more than worth the price of admission. I reread parts of this every time I need to write snappy banter between my two MCs. It’s my aspirational blueprint. (Seriously, this book is so charming–if you ever see it at a library or garage sale, pick it up. It should have won all the prizes, including Best Cover Mustache.)
Bob Stanley, Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyonce 
My two MCs are really well versed in the history of pop music, though they approach it from different angles. So to fill the gaps in my own knowledge, I’ve been slowly digesting this thick, engaging history of pop from 1955 to present. I don’t think Barrie would approve of how cheerfully Stanley lobs spitballs at sacred cows–he describes Talking Heads as “a bunch of male musicians trying to impress Tina Weymouth with their chops”–but she’d certainly like his passion and intellectual engagement with pop in all its forms. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had doing book research.
In the words of my favorite guitarist, the forever-underrated Lindsey Buckingham, that’s all for everyone. Hope you liked this peek at my reading list–stay tuned, ’cause when the book is finally out I’ll probably be back here doing a random interview about jello molds and my favorite hats of 1994. Thanks to Julie for having me over!
Jen Lillis is the YA author of HOW TO REPAIR A MECHANICAL HEART and WE WON’T FEEL A THING. Lover of geeks, robots, villainous queens, haunted dollhouses, & argyle socks. Follow her and

Meet Cash Logan (Snippets from The Fire Dancer)

Today is: National Coconut Cream Pie Day, National Have A Coke Day,National Military Spouse Appreciation Day,
National Provider Appreciation Day.

Coconut Cream Pie. Yes. (And a side note, tomorrow is Lost Sock Memorial Day and Butterscotch Brownie Day. Plan accordingly)

If you’ve read We Own the Night, you’ve met Cash Logan. Alluring, cunning, and unpredictable, the vampire who helped make Callie a true clan leader was never supposed to be in that book.

I’d come up with the idea for Cash around the same time as Holly Octane blew into my life, which is probably how they became intertwined. I’d been writing all these pretty boy vampires with dirt on their souls. Don’t get me wrong, I like my pretty boys. A lot. Tristan oozes sex his long hair and tattoos, Ryder has that chilled out older dude thing going on, and then there’s Blade, my fallen angel. I might have a type. Whatever. This isn’t about me, it’s about Cash. I wanted more than a pretty face. I wanted a character that plunged straight into darkness with no apologies, that I had to go against my better judgement to trust, but still convinced me to trust him. That character was Cash Logan.

rob zombie

I’ve always pictured Cash to look similar to Rob Zombie. I never asked myself, “What would Rob Zombie be like if he was a vampire?” because there’s the outside chance he might actually be a vampire. I actually hope he is. The musical connection to a dark fantasy rock n roll cirque book is pretty strong. Holly would totally dance to this song:

And if Julie and I ever made a movie, it would probably be close to a Zombie production. Say what you will about those movies, but they kinda spoke to me.

So many of my vampires were created in the last few years, but Cash is much more of a classic vampire. Created in the eighteenth century by Aidan to satisfy Talis de Rancourt, he wasn’t suited for his original purpose. Talis  delighted in tormenting her new toy, ultimately committing him to Bethlem Royal Hospital in London.

Images jumbled in my brain as if someone spun a wheel. I saw Cash, bound, bloody, and burned, surrounded by laughing onlookers. His hair was shorter, and it was a different time, but I knew him. His eyes. No matter what humiliation was bestowed upon him, they remained proud.

Cash may have been beaten, but he didn’t go down without a fight. He wanted revenge. He used his immortality to his advantage, putting the weak out of their misery and forming a troupe of performers that would become his first dark magic show.

Bethlem also led him to Holly.

But now, Talis has created a modern troupe of vampires to revive her Las Vegas empire, and Cash Logan is pissed.  His magic show has made him famous, but he’s never come out publicly as a vampire. In Cash’s dark world, nightmares are real. What Talis has done with Immortal Dilemma threatens to disrupt the balance that immortals have created for centuries.  Cash needs to destroy Talis to protect his way of life. Cash needs revenge.

Which leads him back to Holly.

“Gone are the days of the two-headed dolls and the men with the forked tongues. Science can take care of that now. But where does that leave people like us? Exposed. All we can rely on is exploiting the darkness within our souls, and the rare individual who has a special talent. Exceptional strength. Mind control. The ability to control the elements. That’s why I need Blade.” Cash tipped my chin up so I met his eyes. They were almost solid gold, metallic. “The two of you will make an exquisite team, both of you able to do something that science has yet to figure out.”

Cash and Holly have much in common, and they agree on one thing for Cirque Macabre: they want a return to classic entertainment.  Only problem is, they don’t quite agree on what that means.

Cash shook his head, dismissing my outburst. “Why not? People have been attending public executions for centuries. I’m sure you’ve been to see gladiators in your time travels. Maybe you went to the witch trials? I’m sure you’ve seen a hanging or two. You were one of the performers who wanted a return to classic entertainment. You should have been more specific.”

All I’d wanted to do was wear a headdress.  “We’re better than that, now. As a society.”

Cash laughed. “Are we? We might have more laws, but I think you can agree with me that people are no different now that they were in the past. They hide their darkness now, but it’s still there. Evil doesn’t die.”

The Fire Dancer is coming May 21!  It’s available for preorder now!

What I Read When I Write: A Guest Post from Christi Frey

TODAY’S BREW: I have no water due to PIPE ISSUES so anything I can get OUT.

By Julie

After I wrote my post on what I read when I’m writing a buddy of mine wanted to do one, too, and lo and behold, it gives me new ideas on writing. So you should read it too.

What I Read When I Write, and Why 

Okay. So, I’ll try and make this the quick n dirty version (I’m a long-winded windbag some days). The little guy’s almost two now, and over the past couple years I’ve found that (surprise, surprise) kids really drop a time-bomb into your reading habits, and I’ve had to adapt a more targeted strategy: when I’m having writing problems, I want to see what other writers have done in the same situation. I’ve also started using the local library a lot. God bless libraries. I look up a book online, put in a request, walk five blocks to the library, and pick it up off the shelf. So, while I can’t read as much as I used to, I read a really wide variety of stuff – because it’s free, so if something seems even vaguely interesting, why not have a look at it?

I’ve written non-fiction semi-professionally for several years now, mostly niche magazine articles of the educational type, and have also edited a small regional magazine. I tell you this because, in the world of fiction, I’m almost barely qualified to be speaking at you – I have two novels on the go, one in the “shows some semblance to words” stage and the other, Harthorn, in the “nearly ready for an editor to tear it apart” stage.

When I write, I have an idea of the start and the end, but I pretty much pants the middle. This means I write scenes, see if they work, and yank them if they don’t. Sometimes I get stuck. After I’ve been banging my head against the wall for a while, I go looking for inspiration.

I can divide the type of inspiration I find into two categories: overall philosophical, and scene nuts-n-bolts. The philosophical bits are usually things I find by chance that happen to shed some clarity on the overall WHY of the piece. For instance, I came across this quote on Twitter the other day by Ralph Waldo Emmerson: “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” And I thought, man, THAT right there is the essence of Harthorn. I saved it in my manuscript inspiration file so that when I’m re-drafting I can tighten up all the parts of the story that support that theme, polish them, so to speak, really have them sing within the overall text.

Another philosophical bit I came across that I think I’ll be digesting for a while is in Robert Greene’s book MASTERY. Chapter IV talks about social intelligence – the ability to put yourself inside someone else’s head, to imagine their feelings and motivations. Granted, in the book, it’s assumed you’re reading for some type of ulterior world-domination motives (MU HA HA HA *twirls mustache* this is, after all, the guy who wrote the 48 Laws of Power, which is also fascinating reading if you’re crafting bad guys). Ahem. Anyway, anything that helps you get in someone else’s head is a great exercise for a writer.

When I find something useful, whether it’s a few pages in a book or an article on the internet, I make a copy, annotate where it came from, and put it into my writing binder. It’s kind of like a build-your-own-writing-course binder. I highlight relevant bits or make notes for WIPs as appropriate.

The other kind of inspiration I go looking for is scene nuts-n-bolts. For instance, I was recently stuck on a scene where my MC wakes up in a strange place. I’d re-written it two or three times, and it was feeling really flat. Hello, I’ve just woken up and I’m in a strange place – oh gee, there’s a window over there. Ugh. Kill me now.

So I asked myself, what similar scenes can I recall from other books? Well, there’s Frodo waking up in Rivendell in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, one with Hannah near the end of Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road, and there are at least a couple of scenes the beginning of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods where Shadow wakes up disoriented and in a strange place. After reading those scenes, I had a good triangulation on how three other writers had handled the same kind of scene, and was able to go back to my WIP with fresh eyes. And I decided that I needed to write another character into the scene if I was going to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish, as all three of the other writers had done.

Obviously, we’re not talking about plagiarism here. PLAGIARISM = BAD. I’d never advise taking another’s writing, changing some words here and there, and passing it off as your own. People who do that deserve to be eternally tortured by Vogons.

But all the best teachers say the way to learn to WRITE fiction is to READ fiction. And what I’ve found is, for me, going back to re-read a scene in a novel I’ve already read is more efficient than diving into a whole new novel – because I tend to lose myself in the story really quickly, and completely forget to dissect the writing.

So now that I’ve babbled long enough, here’s a short list of a few other books I’ve read lately that might be useful to writers:

  • The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley – this book’s a little grimdark for my normal reading habits, but wow, the gender-role-swapping that she does with some of her characters (because that’s what’s normal in their society) is amazing. I’d recommend it for that reason alone. Really well thought out, deliberate character building. Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice is on my radar for the same reason but I haven’t read it yet.
  • The Horse and His Boy by CS Lewis. Yep, I’ve read this one before. Many times, in fact. But Lewis’ narrator’s voice is just so darn personable. I wanted that quality of being able to explain things to the reader, without being patronizing. It also helped me determine that I wanted to write Harthorn in third person, since I wanted an old-fashioned feel to the story (rather than contemporary YA, which is mostly told in first person).
  • WHY Did I Do That? Psychological Defence Mechanisms and the Hidden Ways they Shape our Lives, by Joseph Burgo, PhD. Interesting insights into motivations for less-than-heroic actions. I tend to turn to stuff like this when I need a character to go off the rails in a realistic way – to figure out why someone would be ashamed or scared or angry in certain situations.
  • The Isles of Many Gods: An A to Z of the Pagan Gods & Goddesses worshipped in Ancient Britain during the First Millenium CE through to the Middle Ages by David Rakine & Sorita D’Este. Basic background research for Harthorn. I didn’t want to follow Celtic mythology exactly, but wanted sort of a similar flavor in how the non-human characters flow from the natural world.
  • Vanity Fair’s How a Book is Born: The Making of the Art of Fielding by Keith Gessen Some people may not find this worth reading, depending on your tastes and aspirations, and I totally get that, but it’s my favourite “how I got published” tale. I love reading about other people’s success stories, even if I ultimately end up taking a different path to publication. A girl can dream, right?

Find Christi on Twitter @ChristiFreyCA or follow her blog at

The first three chapters of Harthorn can be read here:

If you’re interested in reading more Harthorn, please sign up to be a beta reader!

Meet Holly Octane! (and a GIVEAWAY!)

Today is: National Bombshell Day (and therefore the perfect day to meet Holly!), National Indie Bookstore Day (shop and support! holla!), National Start Seeing Monarchs Day, National Truffle Day (if they mean the Lindt variety, I took care of that), National Life Insurance Day, National Scrapbook Day, and my second favorite behind Bombshell Day, National Homebrew Day.

So get your day on. However you choose.

vampire month

Everyone, meet Holly Octane. She’s been waiting for you.

Holly was conceived, like many of you, at a concert. (Thanks, rock stars!) About two years ago, I went to see Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper. Alice’s guitarist was this bad ass chick who absolutely shredded. I could’ve sworn that he introduced her as Holly Octane.  As soon as I got home, I looked up Alice’s current touring band, because if I didn’t hear him right, I was so using Holly Octane as a character name.

Since I’m telling you about a character named Holly Octane, his guitarist was actually Orianthi. She’s currently doing some thing with Richie Sambora. I think she’s also doing Richie Sambora. Some girls have all the luck!  Beauty, talent, and a smokin’ hot old dude on their arm.


Anyway, I kept thinking about Holly Octane. I had to write about this girl.  I knew she was part of my Vegas vampire world, but I never considered her a vampire.  She figured in with Cash Logan. When Jolene Haley approached me about the Pen and Muse Dark Carnival collection and I chose to write about a fire dancer, my Holly came blazing to life.

Holly was always meant to have her own book, and that story, Heaven’s on Fire, was always meant to be the first chapter. (It’s changed quite a bit from the original, but the bones and the concept are still there.) Cash and Holly were a bit impatient for their debut, and they both figure into the events of We Own the Night.

Since she wasn’t a vampire, I had to figure out what the heck she was. I knew she was an immortal creature, but honestly, so what. Those bitches are a dime a dozen. There was more to Holly than an infinite future. She’s a Bleed. Her immortality extended both ways. Forward, backward, and if possible, sideways. She can travel back in time, but she can alter human history.  Vampire history always stays the same. Why?

You’ll have to read the book and find out.

A couple places Holly travels to in The Fire Dancer: The Tropicana in Las Vegas in the 1960s to train with one of those showgirls from Les Folies Bergiere, and Bethlem Royal Hospital in 18th century London.

We learn what Holly is the same time that she does. She was adopted, along with her girlfriend Rainey, by a woman named Lucille who sees the girl as an embarrassment. It’s much easier to manipulate them if she keeps them in the dark.  Rainey’s gifts are more clear, she’s a Seer, but Holly is an anomaly. She knows to find the answers she needs, she must find her parents. But to do that, she must alienate the person who loves her the most. Rainey.

Holly loves performing. For those few minutes each night she’s on stage, she’s untouchable. No one knows what to make of her. And she’s becoming addicted to the feeling. She didn’t always burst into flames, extreme emotion makes her ignite. And she’s still not quite sure how to control it.

As far as Holly knows, she’s the only one of her kind. But when Cash Logan introduces her to Blade Bennett, sparks fly.  He’s a vampire with a power that he shouldn’t have and he can’t control. Fire. Holly’s the only one who could possibly help him figure out this power, but their connection is too fiery to ignore.


So what does Holly want? To find her family. To be loved. To have the never ending adoration of the crowd. And a headdress.

About The Fire Dancer cover:  If you see artwork online and you’re absolutely in love with it, contact the artist!  I got in touch with Daoyi Liu after finding her amazing illustrations online, and I was able to commission her to bring Holly to life. She NAILED it. Daoyi made Holly just as beautiful as I imagined her to be. I handed the reins over to Hang Le, and the cover was born.

Since Holly loves it when she has an adoring audience, she’s hoping you’ll help spread the word about The Fire Dancer’s release!  Enter for the chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card! All you have to do is share a post on Facebook, tweet about the book, or preorder it.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck! The contest runs between now and May 20. It’s sponsored by moi, and WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon have nothing to do with it. You can enter each day.

Reading Into Reading: Reading With Purpose as an Author with Julie

TODAY’S BREW: It’s the last day of school vacation. ALL OF THE BREW.

By Julie

My book-buying habit is worthy of intervention, but it’s BOOKS. B O O K S. I justified to a friend online with her own book habit (this could be like, two thousand people on Twitter alone) that I only buy books that coincide with what I’m writing at the time.

BUT WHAT DO YOU MEAN? she asked.

While writing THE WIND BETWEEN WORLDS, I’ve read a lot of books for a lot of different reasons, all of which contribute directly to my writing. Here’s a few and what they’ve helped with:

  • THE FAIRYLAND SERIES by Catherynne Valente. September is a young female character with incredible self-awareness and backbone. I want that for a couple of the Witches in this book so I read to take note of how her strength was portrayed in such a direct and yet subtle way. Also the worldbuilding is unparalleled.
  • THE HUNGER GAMES TRILOGY by Suzanne Collins. I’ve already written a whole post on why I give a crap about Katniss Everdeen. For chrissakes, archery has become huge because she was such an influence on young readers. I want my main character to be like Katniss in that I want girls to want not to be her, but be as strong as her, and as themselves as they should be.
  • 1984 by George Orwell. My favorite book of all time, so I was happy to read it again. This book changed my view of the world, of how deep I should dig to understand it. The world is so incredibly convincing because of the possibility of it, but more importantly because of the way it’s shaped the characters. They know no other way, much the same as in THE HUNGER GAMES. So the worldbuilding is so thoroughly portrayed that it feels real to the reader. I needed this for THE WIND BETWEEN WORLDS.
  • ELIZABETH: THE LIFE OF ELIZABETH TAYLOR by Alexander Walker. I’m not a huge biography reader but I adore Elizabeth Taylor and what I love most about her is that she was absolutely aware of her flaws and embraced them so well that the world loved her for it, worshiped her for it. She of course was scrutinized terribly, but she was so determined to live life the way she wanted that it didn’t ruin her through all of her difficulty in life. I wanted to read her life story because I want my main character to be that fearless about creating the life she wants despite all possible failures.
  • ROYGBIV: AN EXCEEDINGLY SURPRISING BOOK ABOUT COLOR by Jude Stewart. My Witch of Shades has a magic centered entirely on color, and this book gives every association with color, weird stories about it, cultural references, religious symbolisms, quotations, artistic importance…. I was well-prepared for the Witch of Shades to commandeer all of the colors and their emotional impact on humanity.
  • THE ARCANA CHRONICLES by Kresley Cole. While this is a Young Adult series, the treatment of the love triangle is extremely mature. Much less first kiss stuff than it was this could be our last kiss so let’s keep going. Life and death choices and rivalries, and some seriously innovative characters that really break the mold. I want something as groundbreaking as this was in my eyes.
  • THE RAVEN CYCLE and SINNER by Maggie Stiefvater. One of my favorite authors, Maggie has a singular ability to write characters that make you feel for them deeply, that entertain you wildly, and all done with a poetry of language that has you re-reading whole paragraphs at a time. I want that kind of connection with my characters for you guys and I want that beauty in the wording that makes you love me.
  • HOUSE OF IVY AND SORROW by Natalie Whipple. A debut novel about young witches with a lot of mixed reviews. I wanted to read it to see what I thought of it myself, and to see why there were so many differentiating opinions. I wanted to see how the magic was handled, if it was classically Wiccan, or some hybrid or something entirely other. I wanted to see what didn’t ring true to me as being believable enough. And I wanted to see if I enjoyed it.
  • STARDUST by Neil Gaiman. I needed to read a book with a close relationship to stars for my main character, and one with Gaiman’s mastery and worldbuilding and fairy tale quality to see what makes it utterly standalone as everything Gaiman does. I want that, too.
  • DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth. What made this such a worldwide phenomenon? How can I do that? Is it the writing, the characters, the world, the circumstances that make it resonate? I needed to know.
  • THE MATCHED TRILOGY AND ATLANTIA by Ally Condie. Because I need to know what the kids are all reading these days, and see if I think kids are worthy of better or if they’re getting books as complex as they deserve.
  • THE DARKEST MINDS by Alexandra Bracken. Same as above, but also because this is remarkably not all that different in premise from a lot of other YA’s and with X-Men or other superhero qualities, so what the hell made THIS book show up on Target shelves rather than say, some other new author’s dystopian YA? Is it the remarkable similarity to what we know that made it a sure shot or is it that it’s just a little different? What would I have done differently?

There’s plenty more, but these were just the ones I remember now, and I have plenty more on my list. I desperately read everything I think can help me write a better book. While I read to enjoy, I make sure to note things that stood out to me and why. I read with determination to get a single thing from the book at minimum, and hope for a lot more. With every page I pay attention to what was done wonderfully, what I would have done differently, how I would put a spin on it, why it’s a success.

For the next few weeks we’ll be featuring posts from other writers on what they read and why as they write. Then maybe I’ll do one on what snacks I eat. And what sweatpants I wear. What my pet peeves are while I’m writing. Then I’ll just do a YouTube vid of the entire book writing process. Then….

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