WIP Wednesday for September 2


So, it’s been two months since my last brief update post, and…one year since my last “official” WIP (work-in-progress) Wednesday post, lol. I haven’t been completely unproductive during that time…I just haven’t been blogging as much. I recently posted a short update to the “My Books” section of this blog, so some of this is a repeat of that. I originally created WIP Wednesday to keep you all updated as to what I’m working on. Since I sort of disappeared (well, from social media) for the last few months, I think we’re due for an update.

However, I’m not going to blog as consistently as I used to so I can concentrate on writing instead. When you self-publish, you have to play writer (obviously), but also editor and promoter, in addition to all of those annoying little things I wish I could delegate to someone else, ha (mostly the layout/formatting stuff). Thankfully, I have several beta readers as well as some smart friends and family members who help me edit. It’s always a good idea to have a fresh set of eyes read your work, even though I still give it a final read through for final touches. My point is…and yes, I promise there is a point to my rambling about this…sometimes these roles start to blend together, and activities like promotion start to take over from the most important part: the writing. So this fall, it’s all about the writing–the characters, the relationships, the world-building, resolving old conflicts, creating new ones, and–one of my favorites–the plot twist.

Right now, I’m working on the third installment of the Reborn series, which takes a break from Siobhan and Jasper’s rollercoaster of a relationship to focus on Siobhan’s sorority sister, Carly. It doesn’t have a title yet…I have one in mind, but it still might change so I’m resisting the urge to share it yet. Without giving away too many spoilers from Relapse, there’s a time jump toward the end where clearly a lot of stuff went down, and you find out what that stuff was in Book Three. This is the story of how Carly saves her sorority, learning the hard way that becoming a leader means making some tough choices and personal sacrifices. Carly really comes into her own in this book. In Reborn, she’s just one of Siobhan’s sorority sisters, quick with a sarcastic comeback but easily talked into things by her friends. She faces some personal demons in Relapse and comes out of her shell a little bit, opening herself up to the possibility of love. In Book Three, Carly meets every challenge and obstacle with determination and courage. And, unlike some of the other characters, Carly isn’t as easily seduced by the promise of power or thrill of danger.

Book Three also continues the story of Carly’s relationship with the trickster god Dolos, although, like many of the relationships in this series, it gets very rocky. In Relapse, their relationship took a pivotal step forward–in this book, it will take about ten steps back. I’m just warning you, haha. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t often like reading or writing about relationships in which the characters end up happily ever after with  everything tied up in a neat little bow in the end. I’m much more interested in the will-they-or-won’t-they part, or even the should-they-or-shouldn’t-they. (One example is Elena and Damon’s relationship in The Vampire Diaries. They had the same dynamic in the book, but right now I’m thinking about the TV show. I much preferred it when Elena was with Stefan lusting after Damon from afar, lol. It’s the whole forbidden/temptation aspect: Damon is Stefan’s brother, and usually the bad one out of the two. As soon as Elena and Damon finally got together, I was bored.) Just thought I’d let you all know where I’m coming from with this. It’s the way I’m writing right now…that could change in the future. Also, I hope that, in future books, all of my characters will get their happy endings. (But, sometimes, the messy ending is the ending, and it’s up to the reader to imagine where it could have gone/where he or she would want it to go. Isn’t that what fanfiction is for?)

I’m about 16,000 words into this project. I don’t really have a word count goal for it, except that it will be a little longer than Reborn, perhaps a bit shorter than Relapse. I used to think it was going to be a novella until I realized all of the places I could take it. It took me awhile to really get this project underway, but in the end, I’m glad that I waited. I’ve worked out a lot of the plot kinks in my head, and it’s going in a much better direction now than it would have if I would have started writing it a few months ago. I have the major conflicts and turning points in mind, but right now I’m just writing without using much of an outline, just seeing where the characters and story want to take me. They usually end up going in another direction, anyway, even when I do try to use an outline…

My other goal is to do more bouncing between projects so you don’t have to wait a bajillion years for the next installment to release. I myself am a very impatient person, and I know how frustrating it can be to wait. I also know you may be wondering where I’m going with Siobhan’s story–what makes her so unique compared to the other halflings, and whether she’ll bounce back from the darkness she succumbed to at the end of Relapse. So I’m getting that project underway, soon, too.

But get excited for Carly’s book, because it’s going to be awesome, and will probably incorporate more elements from gothic fiction and horror than its predecessors do. Most of it takes place as night, and some of it after-hours at a creepy amusement park. I’m listening mostly to Melanie Martinez’s Cry Baby album while I’m writing this, which just has so many awesome songs on it, my favorite of which is below. She’s just my new favorite person.

In other news: You can now follow me on Pinterest! It was supposed to be so I could save inspirational pins for characters, places, fashion, etc., but right now it seems my Tom Hiddleston board is seeing the most action…..

*****

Melanie Martinez, “Soap”

Tuesday Check In


Hi all, and happy almost July! 😉 This is just one of my quick check in posts. First off, I have another giveaway happening on Goodreads for a chance to win a signed paperback copy of Relapse. It’s open to U.S. residents only through the end of the day on Sunday, July 5. (One day I’ll be able to offer these giveaways to readers abroad, when I have money or something.) You can enter here.

For my fellow indie authors, I thought I’d share the results of my first giveaway of Reborn through Goodreads. I’ve prattled on about marketing before on this blog, but really my basic marketing strategy so far is to try a bunch of things and see if they work, lol. Although I’m by no means an expert, I like to share what I find out in hopes that a fellow author might find it useful. I mean, that’s how I pick up all of my book pimping ideas–from seeing what both traditionally published and indie authors do, how they get the word out about their books. I wanted to try another avenue for my giveaways to reach a wider audience than my Facebook page (although I’ll continue to hold them on there, too). The fact that Facebook hides everything now has made it a little harder. Also, I may have read an article that said indie goddess superstar Colleen Hoover’s first novel made it big after she did a giveaway on Goodreads, lol. The skeptic in me realizes that probably a lot of people have tried this and have NOT become instant indie god/dess superstars. I’m pretty sure Colleen Hoover is made of magic.

Anyway, the point is that I tried it. Here’s what happened, and what you might notice, too, if you try it. 1. A lot of people will enter the giveaway. I’m not even sure how people find out about these things, but over the 5 day giveaway, I had 407 people enter, which didn’t seem too shabby. 2. Also, you’ll see a spike in the “to read” shelf for your book because I *think* Goodreads requires you to add it so you can enter the giveaway. 3. I had a few downloads and Goodreads ratings trickle in for Reborn, and picked up a couple more followers. What I don’t know yet is if the winner will actually rate/review the book after she reads it. It would be really awesome to get a review out of it–then again, I’m always wary of getting reviews on Goodreads. (I’m still bracing myself for the day when someone goes off on a long hate tangent about one of my books. As a woman writing fairly sexy books, I feel that this is somehow, unfortunately, inevitable. Though I guess, as they say, any publicity is good publicity…)

So, the jury is still out on whether the Goodreads giveaway will help with reviews and spreading the word about Reborn. Nevertheless, I opened up the giveaway for Relapse this week. I’ll write a follow-up post about all of this at some point. Otherwise, July’s experiment is to not do any other pricing promotions or anything like that (well, except for this giveaway). I play around with the prices of my books a lot, but for now they are going to remain steady. (FYI, Reborn is $1.99, and Relapse is $2.99. Both are now available through all ebook platforms.) I’m going to TRY to focus less on marketing, and more on writing.

Speaking of writing…I am writing, I swear. I have a lot of other life stuff going on right now (ch-ch-ch-ch-changes), but I’m fitting in some planning and writing here and there. I have some ideas for the titles of the rest of the series and pounded out a few book summaries last night. I don’t know if anyone else is like this, but sometimes it helps me to write a draft of a back cover-type book summary before I write the book. It helps me to be more focused from the start–otherwise, I end up having subplots galore. (I’m still afraid that sometimes Relapse has too many subplots…) For titles, I am attempting to stick to words starting with “re-” so that they have some sort of common thread, but was really drawing a blank for a while. I tried to brainstorm “r” words with my mom, the former English teacher, who also helps me edit, but all she came up with was “rutabaga.” I guess in the next book Siobhan could eat a magical rutabaga that gives her more special powers. (Don’t worry, I’m not calling the next book Rutabaga.)

“Siobhan and the Magical Rutabaga”

 

Otherwise, I’ve been spending my summer finishing up work with my current adviser, getting some reading in, and watching season four of Game of Thrones. (I know, I’m a little behind.) And Poldark on Masterpiece Theatre. Mostly because of Aidan Turner (who, by the way, also played Kili in the recent string of Hobbit movies). There are also a lot of other good things about the show, like some interesting characters and a plot and stuff.

Anyway, those are all of the updates I have. Happy Fourth of July, and enjoy the long weekend!

 

Relapse Release Part Dos and Updates


Just a quick post to check in and remind all Smashwords, Nook, Apple, and other non-Kindle e-book users that Relapse will be available for your e-readers next week! I’m aiming for a release date of Tuesday, June 2…which should be fine, but I know that, after I upload Relapse to Smashwords, there might be some lag time while the other platforms get updated. I’ll try to post updates and links once Relapse goes live on various sites. So get excited!!! 🙂 And thanks for being patient. I think in the future I will just go ahead and release my books to all platforms rather than being exclusive to Kindle for the first few months. Seems like the fair thing to do at this point. For the first few days of its release, Relapse will be $0.99, so get it while it’s hot. 😉

Before I prepared Relapse for publication via Smashwords, I read through it again and also re-edited the pdf (for Createspace) and Kindle versions. There wasn’t anything terrible, but I did catch a few typos and misplaced punctuation. (There was one cringe-worthy mistake. I had changed a small detail toward the end before I released it to Amazon last December, but I guess I forgot to update some of the related dialogue. Woops. That’s what happens when you change things last-minute. I don’t know if anyone else caught it, but it’s fixed now, anyway!) So I’ve also updated the Kindle version, which should go live soon, and am in the process of updating the paperback version as well. Plus, now that I kind of know what I’m doing this time around, making the updates and re-formatting Relapse for Smashwords didn’t take too long. (To be honest, I always dread the formatting part. It’s my least favorite part of being a self-published author. It’s not even that it takes that long–it’s just tedious. Maybe one day I’ll make enough money to pay a minion to do it for me. I’d like to do that right now, haha, but I’m not sure anyone would respond to the job ad: “Minion needed to assist independent author. Must be willing to accept payment in the form of food and hugs.”)

Okay, now for the part of this post I want to avoid…but I won’t, lol. I feel like I’m (over)due for an update about the next book in the series, but honestly I don’t have a whole lot to announce right now. I wish I did. It’s not that I’m not working on stuff, but I’m still more in the early planning stages than in the throes of writing anything. I’m jumping around between projects and outlining/updating notes/starting to write. I’m also at that point where I write something then immediately hate it afterwards and want to start over. I know in my head what’s coming next, but it’s been hard getting it down anywhere.

What I do know is (and I think I’ve probably mentioned this before, but it might be worth saying again), although Siobhan and Jasper’s story isn’t over, I’m also going to focus on some of the other characters. And, even though I set up the ending of Relapse to make some room to do this, I’m still a little reluctant to do so because I don’t know how people will feel about it. Although I’ve gotten enough positive feedback about Carly’s subplot in Relapse that I think you won’t mind a book just about her…? I guess since I’m the writer, it’s really up to me, lol…I have to go where my imagination and characters are taking me. Still, it’s hard starting a series in the era of binge-reading…I feel like I should have the whole series out at once so that people can just read all of them, but I didn’t plan it out that way. I might try to do that with the next couple of books, especially now that I’m done with school…work on several at the same time so that the time between release dates is shorter.

This post is starting to get a bit rambly, haha. I guess what I’m trying to ‘fess up to is that I don’t have a publication date for the next book in the Reborn series yet. I do know that there is likely going to be one novel (or novella) about Carly, one focusing on Anna, and two more about Siobhan. I have some ideas for titles, but none of this is set in stone. I’d like to have something out by the end of October–really just so I can have a Halloween release date–but I can’t make any promises yet. I’ll keep you posted. I don’t like making excuses for myself (but I’m going to, anyway, lol)…between my defense and graduating, the past few months have flown by, and things didn’t really slow down as much as I thought they would afterwards. We’re trying to get this other paper out the door, and I’m going to a conference next week, and looking for a job, and I’m moving soon–not sure to where, either, so I have to figure out that, too. Ugh.

So, first thing’s first: Relapse has been formatted for Smashwords and will release next week. Check. Next, I will be figuring out those other things and hopefully have more to say in the coming weeks.

Last but not least, Happy Memorial Day! Take some time out of your (hopefully) day off to remember the brave men and women who have served our country.

*****

Jasper might be gone for good, but Siobhan can’t escape the memory of him.

Or, rather, Psyche’s memories of him—memories of a kinder, gentler man, not the one who lied and manipulated her. She should have tried harder to reach him—to save Jasper from the darkness consuming him. Guilt—maybe that’s the reason why she still sees his face everywhere she turns. That, or she’s going crazy.

And Siobhan really doesn’t have time to lose her mind. Her best friend is in love with their enemy and is addicted to an alien drug. The Alpha Rhos blame her sorority for their sister’s death and take their quest for vengeance too far. Desperate, the Gamma Lambda Phis call on the help of the most deceitful Olympian of all, making her a promise they’re not even sure they can keep.

Once again, Siobhan finds herself not knowing who she can turn to or who she can trust. She comes to realize that her greatest enemy is the darkness within herself.

 reborncoverbig

The M Word


….Marketing. (Why, what were you thinking?)

I am slowly but surely trying to get back into the swing of writing and blog updating. Just last week I successfully defended my PhD dissertation (hooray!!!), and now my hunt for a “real job” resumes. Since I can’t seem to stick to one field, I’m also thinking ahead to my plans for the rest of the Reborn series, and I’ll update the good ol’ blog about that soon. (It feels good to get back to story writing.) But, like I said, today’s post is about something many writers perhaps view as a necessary evil: marketing and promotion.

I’ve talked about marketing strategies and what’s worked (and hasn’t worked) so far for me before on this blog. Since I’m still trying new and different approaches to see what works–it’s definitely a learning process–I thought I’d touch on this subject again. I know that some of us as writers detest marketing and promotion out of principle–we want our stories to stand on their own and attract an audience because they’re great stories, not because we’re shoving them down our potential audience’s throats. Although I get that, I’ve never really been averse to the mere concept of promotion. No matter how good your book actually is, no one is going to pick it up (or download it onto their Kindle) and read it unless they know it exists/where to find it. Nevertheless, as I’ve come to accept myself, there are definitely other factors–many of them beyond your control–that will affect your sales. So, here is an updated post about what I’ve tried as far as marketing goes, what’s worked for me (and continues to work), and some other factors to consider.

1. Free Promotions

I’m listing this one first because it’s worked the best for me (I can’t speak for all authors), although, as with any strategy, there are upsides and downsides. Clearly one of the disadvantages is you’re giving your book away for free and not making even the 35% royalty from your $0.99 book (or whatever rate/price combo you’ve chosen). But, if you’re just starting out and primarily concerned with building an audience (like I am), it might be something you want to consider more seriously. If you’re new to self-publishing, a little bit of background about Amazon Kindle: At least in the beginning, you will probably sell most of your ebooks on Amazon’s platform. It really does seem to dominate the e-book market. When you enroll your book in the KDP Select program, you are able to take advantage of Amazon’s free promotion tool or something called the “Kindle Countdown Deal” (a note about that in a moment). One possible drawback, depending on your view, is that the electronic version of your book has to be exclusive to Kindle for the three-month enrollment period. So you can offer a paperback version through Createspace (spellcheck wanted to change that to meatspace…), but no Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Apple, etc, at least until the enrollment period ends.

Advantages: You will likely “sell” lots and lots of books using Amazon’s free promotion tool because readers like to stuff their Kindle Cloud with free books. (There are downsides to this–see next.) My debut novel Reborn sold exceptionally well during the first few months of its release using this tool–and still does the few times I’ve tried it since then–and usually hits the Kindle Free bestsellers list in its genre. Obviously if some people are merely downloading as many free ebooks as possible, like I said, not everyone is going to get around to reading it right away…but even if a handful of people do, that’s a handful more than you may have had otherwise. Some Facebook and Twitter pages are on the lookout for free/$0.99 books, so it helps get the word out about your book without you having to do too much (except put it on sale).

I’ve also noticed that, after the free promotion, my sales remain pretty steady for a time after the book goes back to its original price. Something similar happened when I decided to make Reborn free on Smashwords (which links to a network of other major e-book platforms–again, B&N, Apple, etc.). I had never really tried it using Smashwords before until recently, and I haven’t really sold many books through these other platforms. (Unlike Amazon, your book doesn’t have to be exclusive to these other sites to make it free–you just change the price on Smashwords, and it updates all related sites.) Well, it certainly boosted sales, particularly to B&N, including after Reborn went back to its original price. I picked up a few more readers this way who are excited for Relapse to release to these other platforms this summer. Further, with Amazon’s price match option, Amazon takes the liberty of adjusting the price of your book to better compete with other retailers. (This is a neat trick to circumvent  KDP Select…shhhh, don’t tell Amazon…)

Disadvantages: Since readers are stuffing their Kindle or whatever with free books, don’t expect this to necessarily correlate with more reviews on Amazon/B&N/Goodreads or an influx of followers on your preferred social media sites. With every promotion, a few more reviews, followers, or additions to someone’s TBR list trickle in. So it’s up to you how much time you really want to pump into these types of promotions. Yes, it seems to help–but you also seem to have to do it pretty consistently to start seeing some real results, and it can get frustrating. You also have to put aside your ego a bit since you’re giving away your months and months of hard work for free (or at least very cheap). The jury is still out on how this tactic will work for me in the long run.

A note about the Kindle Countdown Deal (KCD): I wasn’t very happy with the results when I tried this. For the KCD, you reduce the price (but it can’t be free) for a number of days you specify. For example, I set a sale price of $0.99 for my ebook that’s usually $2.99, and on Amazon there’s a little timer that counts down to the day the deal will end. You can also raise the price back up in increments ($0.99 to $1.99 to $2.00, so on and so forth). I created a two-day promotion for Relapse on Amazon.com and sold maybe like seven ebooks in about the first 12 hours of the deal…so, ok, but not great. When I next tried it on Amazon.co.uk (and made the sale period longer), I sold a big fat zero. Unfortunately, you can only run one KCD per market (US or UK) per enrollment period, which is pretty long (three months). Maybe it would have helped to make the sale period longer in the US (where I live), but I’m not re-enrolling Relapse in KDP select, so that might be a future experiment. However, other authors have been pleased with their KCD results.

2. Social Media (subtitle: Popular! You’re gonna be popular!)

Clearly, this encompasses a variety of platforms–Wordpress, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and a lot of newfangled apps that I’m too old/stubborn to try. I’m going to touch on the ones I use here, with some advantages/disadvantages and dos/donts. Obviously, I use WordPress to host my blog. Maybe one day I’ll be willing to shell out cash for a real web site (when I get my real job), but for now my blog works just fine. I use it for the same things and have tried to confine it in recent months to just writing and book-related posts.

Facebook: This may come as some surprise, but, even after all of Facebook’s changes, it still seems to work the best for me, personally. I have both my Facebook page (S.L. Stacy), and I created a separate profile (from my personal account) to network with reviewers, readers, and fellow authors and writers. (Be my friend! LOL) When I first started out with just my blog, I had about 20 or so followers (mostly my friends and family), and now I’m up to 319…more than some, measly compared to others, but it’s still helping me expand my readership. With Facebook’s new restrictions, there has been a decline in the number of people that see my posts, but some of them still do well considering I don’t pay for ads. And I’m on Facebook more than I’m willing to admit, so I update it fairly regularly.

By the way, has anyone else taken out an ad on your Facebook page to extend your reach? I tried it once (for only $5), and it definitely helped boost the number of people on Facebook who saw the post and increased interaction a bit (as far as likes and shares go). It definitely did not boost book sales, though. I’m really cynical about social media ads because I can’t remember the last time I actually clicked on one and bought something (never).

Twitter: Oh, Twitter. Although I see the possible utility of Twitter and I do use it from time to time, I get super annoyed with it. This is one social media platform that I think authors need to be very careful with. I’ve noticed a lot of writers who just constantly blast tweet after tweet about their books every single day, and I don’t see how that could possibly work. Even though you have your profile description and little picture/avatar, you are still (hopefully) an actual person behind it, so show your followers that and tweet about other things besides your book. Not that you shouldn’t tweet about your book(s) at all-I tend to do it a lot when the book first releases and during any sales, but that’s it. I also HATE getting direct messages from other accounts asking me to buy their book or follow their Facebook page. I don’t see how that works, either (If it’s worked for you, feel free to let me know in the comments. I’m interested in your experiences, too.)

Although, just like the next platform I’m going to touch on, there can be a lot of hate/negativity on Twitter. I’m just philosophically opposed to the whole let’s-gang-up-on-this-artist-and-tweet-mean-things-to-them-because-rage thing that seems to happen on Twitter. You probably wouldn’t do that in real life, so why is it ok to do it on social media because you get to hide behind your computer? (WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?!!!!) The whole idea of it just makes me sad for humanity, even when I don’t necessarily disagree with why people are angry/annoyed.

I do somehow have over 900 Twitter followers now. Again, I don’t really know what that means, but it makes me feel kind of awesome even though it’s not uncommon on Twitter these days with all the follow-back etiquette.

Goodreads: I’m on Goodreads, and, yes, it’s just another way to reach potential readers–and that’s awesome. But beware of trolls. Also, don’t stalk your reviews. (I’m still guilty of that. Do as I say, not as I do.)

Tumblr: I have a Tumblr, but I don’t really use it that much anymore. Honestly, I’m pretty sure most of its users are in high school-early 20s, and it just makes me feel kind of old. As far as book promotions go, it hasn’t really helped or hurt me when I used it more frequently.

3. Brand/Genre

Branding is a fun one, and another thing some may be wary of. It’s supposed to be about the art, not the brand, right? Although often branding seems to take over, diminishing the value of the art itself (this seems to happen a lot with the “music” industry, or is at least talked about a lot), establishing some sort of basic brand/persona isn’t a bad thing. It lets readers know what you and your books are about, what they might expect from them, if your work might mesh with their usual tastes in reading material, etc. Well-designed blog and/or Facebook banners can help convey a sense of this. (Hire a graphic designer if you’re not good at creating banners and book covers. It’s probably one of the best investments you can make as a budding author. I love the work that Heidi, who has designed my banners and both of my book covers, has done for myself and others. I find it’s better to establish a relationship with a graphic designer rather than using those pre-made book covers you can buy on certain sites, but that could just be me.) Your presence on social media and topics you like to cover on your blog(s) also helps establish your brand.

Genre is probably an obvious one. Is your book primarily a mystery? A romance? Sci fi? Literary fiction? Thriller? Horror? Your book might merge elements from multiple genres, but pick a few that you think describe it best.

Although this seems straightforward (and maybe it is, for a lot of people), I’ve found that trying to categorizing one’s book can be a bit tricky, especially when you’re writing “romance.” Apparently, what this genre term means to me and what it means to other readers differs in some aspects. To me, “romance” has always been an umbrella term or euphemism for…lady smut? Haha! I’ve dubbed my series a paranormal romance because it definitely has overwhelmingly paranormal elements, and one of the primary themes (although there are a lot of other plot threads) is an intensely erotic relationship between my two main characters (that is not always romantic, although they have their moments). But, apparently when some people see that PR or romance tag, they want the formula, HEA or HFN ending. Yeah, sorry guys. you’re not going to find that here (or at least not for another few books. (You learn very quickly when you put your work out there that you aren’t going to please everyone, so don’t expect to or even try.) For me, I’ve found the best description for my work seems to be “PR/urban fantasy” or “urban fantasy with strong elements of romance.” (Because urbanfantasciencefictionmance is not a genre.)

This is a little off-topic, but we had a lively little discussion on one of the Facebook groups I belong to, the Indie Author Review Exchange, about genre–more specifically, what constitutes “women’s fiction” and whether or not we should even call it women’s fiction or use designations like “chick lit,” etc. As far as marketing strategies go, it will help you to know who you’re writing for, who you think will want to buy your book. (Are you writing for young adults? 20-somethings? Men? Women? Do you think your work has broader appeal and could be enjoyed by just about anyone?) It’s not a bad thing to want to read a book with a main character who will resonate with you, who you can relate to because you share a certain characteristic with them. And, on the one hand, I’m proud to be a female writer writing for what I expect will be a primarily, 18+ female audience.

BUT. But. On the other hand, I’m starting to see the downsides to gender-targeted advertising of any kind. It would probably be ok if it felt like it was an even playing field–maybe men tend to like this set of things, and women tend to like this set of things, and it’s all good because it’s all worthwhile entertainment. Well, first off, we know that not all men like the same things…ditto with women. We’re all different.

Secondly, it usually isn’t treated like the above. When you’re a woman, it usually feels like: Men like this set of things, which are awesome and worthwhile and manly, and women, being inherently silly, like this other set of silly, terrible things that are unrealistic and a complete waste of time. (By the way, I’m not saying that only men or all men feel this way. Women put down each other all the time for the things they like. Everyone has done it at some point, myself included. I’m consciously trying to stop and catch myself when I do it.) Yes, some of our female audience-targeted entertainment may indeed be silly, even stupid. I’ve come to accept that I like a lot of “silly” things. But, men–as much as I love you–a lot of the things you like are silly (and unrealistic), too. 😉

I’ve grown in my opinion of this topic of genre and gender since I’ve entered the indie writing world. I’ve come to realize that a lot of the assumptions we make about our intended audience–even though it’s a useful marketing tool–are restrictive and kind of sexist. As a romance writer, I didn’t realize how many male romance writers were out there (besides Nicholas Sparks…). Men write romance and read romance–some because they want to support fellow writers (male or female) in the genre, even if it’s not their favorite, and others simply because they like it. I’ve been able to reach a lot of different kinds of readers with Reborn, which–even if most of my audience will, in the end, be composed of my target, 18+ female readers–is pretty cool.

4. Other Variables

Despite everything I’ve said, about sales/promotions, social media, and branding, I’m beginning to realize that there’s a few major variables in the self-pub equation that are pretty much out of your control. Namely, time and luck. Ok, time you do have control over, as far as just keep on writing–don’t give up, and as you build your brand and your body of work, the readers will come. It just takes time. A lot of time. Patience is not one of my virtues, but I’m working on that. You also have control over how you budget your time between writing, networking, promoting, reading, and doing other life things. But luck? Waiting for the right reader to come along and download your ebook and love it so much they tell their vast social network about you and your book? Yeah, you have no control over that. I hope it happens for you (and for me, too).

But in the meantime, experiment with a few marketing strategies and see what works the best for you. Have a presence on your select social media platforms without becoming one of the “BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK!” automatons. The most important thing you can probably do, though, is to start on your next project–write, write, write. Remind yourself why you’re doing this: Because you love it, you love writing, you love your imaginary world, you love your characters and you want so share that passion with others. There will be many ups and downs on this journey, and sometimes you will need to be your own biggest cheerleader.

Speaking of writing…..

*****

Here are some other blog posts that I’ve found helpful (albeit cynical) and that motivated my own evolving attitudes on marketing and promotion:

Marketing, Social Media & Book Signings: Why NONE of These Directly Impact Book Sales

Please Shut Up: Why Self-Promotion as an Author Doesn’t Work

Art and Culture


I’ve been debating over whether I should write this post or not. I’m still not sure, but–since the Internet provides us with such an easy avenue for (over)sharing of opinions–it’s happening. Why the uncertainty? Well, for one, this post was inspired by a certain movie, based off of a bestselling book, that released on Valentine’s Day and has, in a short time, grossed bajillions of dollars (I may be exaggerating, slightly…). That’s right–the both much beloved and reviled Fifty Shades of Grey. And, to some degree, I–as some of you may also be–am simply getting sick of hearing about it, period. So I will try to make this post a little more broad than just this book/movie, but I can’t ignore it completely. Secondly…if the Fifty Shades controversy has shown us anything, it’s that some people can’t engage in a critique or debate without being just plain mean. More than likely, only my friends will read this post and few others will actually come across it–and fewer still will leave a comment–but there’s always that nagging fear that someone will just respond with something nasty and counterproductive.

And, third…I don’t really feel strongly about this book either way. I read all three of them out of sheer curiosity (I jumped on the bandwagon after they became popular). I haven’t seen the movie, yet. I’m nowhere near a super fan…nor am I an extreme “hater,” either. It’s been awhile since I read them…I reviewed all three of them (you can read my review of the first book here). I was surprised when I went back and read my critiques, because my opinion has changed (somewhat) over the last several years.

I will tell you upfront what this post is not about: the quality of E.L. James’s writing. Did I feel like they were the most well written books ever? No. Did I like the main heroine, Anna? Not particularly. Like the franchise the Shades books were inspired by (Twilight, if you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know that by now), Anna is sort of a bland character, if you prefer strong, vivid, interesting characters (and I hope you do)–then again, she’s the perfect character if you are seeking to “insert” yourself into the book in place of Anna for the purposes of fantasizing. Look, there’s a lot of bad, poorly written porn (even if it’s more visual rather than literary) geared towards men’s fantasies–and I don’t think I’m exaggerating this time when I say it’s probably a billion dollar industry. My point is, just because Shades is in a book form, doesn’t mean it’s required to have outstanding style. Its purpose is to titillate (and, most likely, shock).

(As an aside: That’s definitely not to say that a book can’t have all the things–be well written, with strong, interesting, dynamic characters, and also be sexy. I’m just saying that, when it comes to what may be a book with mediocre writing that is written by a woman intended for a bunch of other women to read–suddenly everyone has exceedingly high standards of the written word and cinematography.)

I’m going on off a tangent–as I’m prone to do, with posts like this–so let me bring it back to today’s intended topic: art and culture. Because, while some dissenters criticize James’s writing, and others call it a Twilight rip off and accuse her of plagiarism, much of the criticism has been over Christian’s personality, his relationship with Anna, and how that might affect impressionable readers.

I don’t think any of us can deny that art can affect us, and can do so deeply. In fact, as artists, writers, singers, performers, etc., we’d be doing our crafts a disservice by trying to argue otherwise. We’re usually willing to accept this when we find other people who consume and enjoy the art we put out into the world, but it becomes a little harder to stomach when we have to admit that it can also affect some people negatively. So I think we can all agree that, yes, art can evoke both positive and negative responses–including unintended ones–and that the culture surrounding us in turn affects art, maybe sometimes in ways we don’t even realize.

At its core, art is also a very selfish activity. Before you put your art out into the world (whether it’s a painting, a short story, a book, a song, a movie)–before you have readers, listeners, viewers–it’s just you and your idea. In the case of writing, you’re writing characters and themes that are, for whatever reason, interesting to you–you’re expressing yourself and your emotions. (I’m not trying to speak for all writers when I say this, but…to be completely honest, I haven’t always worried about what others might say/how others might interpret my books, or how they might affect people (in the negative sense). Recently, I’ve started obsessing over this, but, if I’m going to get anything down on paper, I have to block it out. I’m not going to censor myself because I’m worried about what someone else might think.)

What motivates the people consuming said art can vary widely and, often, be at odds with the creator’s self-expression or intention. I’m going to try to stick to the book example because a book inspired this post, and, as a writer, it’s what I can speak to best. Fans may fall in love with the book for any number of reasons–the style, atmosphere, and characters drew them in, the characters really spoke and jumped off the page for them, they see themselves as one of the characters, the book got them through a difficult time, whatever. For some others, it may be the opposite–it could be that a situation or character reminds them of a difficult time in their life, or something about the book clashes with a believe or value they cherish–whatever the case, they find the book offensive. Critics analyze the book and, not only consider aspects like the style and quality of the writing and characters, but also perhaps what it reflects about our society–and how it might affect other readers. This is all fair. The artist also has to be aware that, once that book or painting or song goes out into the world, it’s open to different and varied interpretations.

I guess where I’m going with this is: Critique is fine. I’m not about to say that we shouldn’t critique Fifty Shades, or talk about what kind of impact our society has had on it–and the kind of impact it could have on our society or even certain individuals. Art and culture are intertwined. I’m just wondering why, as a society, we can’t seem to have a reasonable discussion about a book written by a woman, seemingly intended for and read by millions of other women, without being mean. And not just mean–ugly and horrible. (I mean, E.L. James (as other famous people have) gets harassed a lot on Twitter. Which is one thing I hate about social media–although it has its perks, it also makes it really easy for people to anonymously harass other people and say things they would never, in a million years, have the guts to say to someone’s face.)

Okay, I was going to try to keep this general, but my brain keeps coming back around to Fifty Shades, in particular. Most of the cultural criticism I’ve alluded to centers around Christian and Anna’s relationship–some interpret it as abusive (well, I guess they wouldn’t say “interpret,” they would say it is abusive). I think it’s fair to say there may be undertones of that.

But I also have to say I’m not sure why we seem to be so afraid that millions of women can’t separate a book or a fantasy from reality. Like I said, it might affect some people negatively…and, maybe to try to prevent that, we should point out and discuss the seemingly questionable material (as we’ve been doing).

There’s something about the amount of criticism we’ve been heaping on James and Fifty, though, that I’m starting to find just as disconcerting as some people find the books themselves. For one thing, there does seem to be this element to it that we’re talking about it so much because, again, it’s a sexy book written by a woman for other women…and that we usually seem to be overly concerned with, not how art is affecting us, but how art is (negatively) affecting women…because somehow we’re more prone to messages (“hidden” or otherwise) in art and the media. (I guess the flip side to this is not that we feel women are more susceptible to these messages, but that the formula in Fifty Shades is outdated and patriarchal, and that these themes are being perpetuated by the fact that the books are so popular.)

The other element I find disturbing is that I’ve started to see posts and things encouraging boyfriends/husbands to not to take their girlfriends/wives to see the movie because it’s not really “romantic,” and we don’t want them to get the wrong impression (because, see above comment)! I think that’s a terrible and counterproductive suggestion and could actually backfire. Your boyfriend does not get to decide for you what guilty pleasures or fantasies you choose to indulge in. I also read this article by some guy who went to see the movie and also seems to be overly concerned that a woman (again, I’m talking about adult women, here, not preteens or teenagers) is going to get the wrong idea about romance from watching this movie. Which brings me to what will hopefully be my last two points, because I didn’t expect this post to get so massive.

Why do women like Fifty Shades? Why do they “like” Christian Grey? Perhaps women like Christian because he sounds f***able. He’s hot, and he’s rich, and it sounds like he’s good, at, you know…doin’ stuff. 😉 I think it’s perfectly possible to like a fictional character and realize that not all of their traits are ideal traits for a mate in real life. Romance novels (we’ll get to the genre term “romance” in a minute), like those of other genres, are read for pleasure and escapism. At least when I read them, I’m not looking for the hero (or antihero) to have traits my next boyfriend is going to have. (And I don’t think anyone has ever expressed any concern or fear over whether men are going to date women like those in the porn they watch.)

And, finally, the other argument the crux of the Fifty Shades criticism seems to depend on is that it is a “romance” novel, and many of Christian’s actions are not romantic. Which…they’re not, really, but I think this is an even more complicated issue than you might think. For one thing, women in our culture are expected to enjoy stories about romance and not just necessarily those just about sex…so the couple often tends to have a deeper connection than just a physical one. If it is true that most women tend to need both the physical and emotional connection in their porn or erotica…that’s fine with me. Again, it’s a complex issue–is it true, or is it what society tells us is true?

A related issue: I know that, as a woman who writes stories with strong “romantic” themes, I feel compelled to put the “romance” stamp on it even if it’s not necessarily romantic, in the traditional sense. Romance, as a genre, encompasses more than you might think. Sure, much of it still follows the formula of your archetypal, charming, strapping hero falling in love with the sassy, buxom, virginal heroine…maybe they feel a mutual dislike towards one another at first even as they fight down their growing passion for one another…until one sweltering, starry night they give into that fiery passion…and, after a few more obstacles are thrown in their way–just when you think all hope is lost–they finally overcome all, get together, and live happily-ever-after. Formula romances are great. Often, they’re exactly what you need; sometimes you just wanna know things are going to work out for the best, and not be disappointed when they don’t.

But not all stories that get this “romance” stamp are like this–and they’re not supposed to be. Well, at least not to me. I do know firsthand that there are readers who see “romance” and expect the formula, expect the HEA ending–and, when they don’t get it, are confused, at best–and at worst, pissed. But I think the romance genre has expanded and can evoke more raw emotions than just “awwwww….how romantic!” “Romance” novels can be dark, shocking, or even disturbing–and the characters aren’t required to be cookie cutter heroes and heroines who only do good things and have sound morals. (Maybe what we really need is a new genre name.) Personally, I enjoy writing deeply flawed characters–it’s more fun and challenging to imagine what might motivate someone to choose wrong over right.

I guess what I’m trying to say is…what the heck am I trying to say, anyway? When I read Fifty Shades, I noted that Christian was controlling and some of his behavior disturbing…but I didn’t think this behavior was supposed to be traditionally romantic. To me, it was an author pushing a certain type of character–a controlling, manipulative one with some deep, dark demons and a Red Room of Pain–as far as he could go in that direction. At its core, Fifty Shades is just a forbidden lust story. Anna knows that Christian has flaws and is maybe into some stuff she’s not sure if she can handle, but she’s intrigued by this darker, forbidden aspect. Christian isn’t supposed to be a role model or dating material.

Then again, I could see where maybe a more impressionable reader might be more easily influenced by a story like this than I would be. Not everyone would share the same outlook going into the book, or probably even feels the same way about the genre. Even so, I just personally don’t think there are many types of situations or characters (if any) that are completely off-limits in fiction, although context is also important. I just take Christian to be a (rather poorly constructed) antihero who has a lot of skeletons and not too many redeeming qualities.

So some will love, some will critique, and some will be offended. And some, like myself, will be totally wishy washy and kinda understand where the criticism is coming from, but then again, not really. I just wish we could all discuss it in a civilized way. Because, really, when is the last time you’ve ever heard of a male artist, writer, or anything getting so much slack? (Robin Thicke? He’s really the only example I can come up with.) I don’t think the answer is to ban the movie, either, as others have also suggested.

What I’d hoped would be a more general post kind of just turned out to be about Fifty. For that, I am sorry…but it’s been on my mind lately, and, you know…must…vent…on…Interwebz. I’d love to hear your thoughts…as long as you can keep it rational and civil.

But I have to go, for now…actually, because I’m going to the movie…

 

Checking In


This is just a short post to say hi and Happy Valentine’s Day! Enjoy the day with your loved ones. And, if you’re a fellow single lady (or gent), make sure to treat yourself!

I wanted to use up my last free day while Relapse is enrolled in KDP Select, so it’s free through the end of the day today! It’s the perfect read for Valentine’s Day…well, if you like your romances dark with a side of twisted. You can download it here and add it on Goodreads here.

Have anything special planned for the day! Feel free to share in the comments! I have a lot of work to do today, so I’m living vicariously through you. 😉

rose quote

Release Week Wrap Up


As many of you probably know by now, since it’s all I’ve been talking about for like a week and a half, Relapse, the sequel to Reborn, released last Tuesday! It was a great week, and at the end of it I had my friends over to celebrate, complete with jello salad (and other more edible fare), drinks, and a (probably really awkward) reading of the sexiest chapter in Reborn.

Right now, the ebook version Relapse is exclusive to Kindle so that I can use the promotional thingies (to use the technical term). Get it here. It’s available in paperback now through Amazon as well. Having the paperback version just makes it feel more real, you know? In the new year, it will also be available through Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, etc. If you’ve read Relapse, feel free to leave a rating and/or review on Amazon or its Goodreads page.

And, if you don’t know what the Reborn series is all about, check out the character profiles and excerpts floating around this blog. Here are a few teasers:

Reborn: The Encounter

Relapse: Prologue

Relapse: Chapter One

*****

relapsecoverJasper might be gone for good, but Siobhan can’t escape the memory of him.

Or, rather, Psyche’s memories of him—memories of a kinder, gentler man, not the one who lied and manipulated her. She should have tried harder to reach him—to save Jasper from the darkness consuming him. Guilt—maybe that’s the reason why she still sees his face everywhere she turns. That, or she’s going crazy.

And Siobhan really doesn’t have time to lose her mind. Her best friend is in love with their enemy and is addicted to an alien drug. The Alpha Rhos blame her sorority for their sister’s death and take their quest for vengeance too far. Desperate, the Gamma Lambda Phis call on the help of the most deceitful Olympian of all, making her a promise they’re not even sure they can keep.

Once again, Siobhan finds herself not knowing who she can turn to or who she can trust. She comes to realize that her greatest enemy is the darkness within herself.

Character Profile: Carly


Note to future self: Don’t set a book release date for right after a holiday, if only because it’s not very conducive to marketing. I was either in a food coma or shopping over the weekend. (I don’t shop on Black Friday, though. The crowds just aren’t worth it to me. Actually, watching the Black Friday brawls on TV makes me kind of sad for humanity, lol…) Anyway, I had a wonderful long weekend with my family. And to all of my friends in the US: I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, too! 🙂

Relapse releases on Tuesday, so here’s the last character profile I wanted to post. You can add Relapse on Goodreads here and pre-order it for Kindle here.

You may remember Carly as one of Siobhan’s sorority sisters in Gamma Lambda Phi. She’s a secondary narrator in Relapse, so you’ll get more of a glimpse into her own adventures and the dark secrets she’s kept from her sisters. Here’s her profile, followed by a short excerpt. 😉

*****

Image courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Carly Dragonjac

Age: Early 20s

Occupation: Student at fictional college Thurston University in Shadesburg, PA

Major: Math

Physical Description: Caramel-colored, curly hair; baby blue eyes; white, dove-like wings

Species: Demigod

Relationship Status: In a relationship with Alec, one of the Sigma Iota brothers

Other relationships:

  • Victoria’s roommate
  • Gamma Lambda Phi sisters Siobhan and Tanya

Goals: In Relapse, Carly finds herself trapped on another world, as the captive of an attractive but capricious dark prince. Her primary goal is to escape.

Obstacles:

The prince won’t let her leave unless she can complete the three tasks he’s given her. Also, he’s crazy hot. (Carly may have a slight case of Stockholm Syndrome…..)

Strengths:

  • Intelligent
  • Loyal
  • Doesn’t give up easily

Weaknesses:

  • Gullible/naïve
  • Tends to go along with what her friends do/say
  • Avoids confrontation

Hobbies:

  • House Manager for Gamma Lambda Phi

Superpower: One of Nike’s guardians of the walls between universes

*****

The next thing I remember is waking up on this floor.

I put a hand to my forehead. The throbbing has stopped. So has the dripping sound. I lost count, anyway. I slowly start to sit up again, and this time I’m able to straighten up completely without getting dizzy.

“Oh, good! You’re not dead!”

The voice prickles my skin like a winter breeze. I stop breathing.

Forgetting to be careful, I look around frantically for the source of the relieved, if slightly mocking, voice. A wave of nausea surges through me. My head spins.

“You had me scared for a minute there. I’d be pretty pissed if my gift had kicked the bucket before I got a chance to play with her. Corpses aren’t really my thing. I prefer my women…alive.”

“Glad I live up to such high standards,” I mutter, swallowing the retort along with the bile rising in the back of my throat.

“My disciples have done well,” he continues. “It has been a long time, but the ritual has finally been honored again. A virgin sacrifice has been sent to me.”

“I’m not a virgin,” I mutter defensively. I’ve been sitting cross-legged in my pink mini-dress and quickly tuck my legs to the side. I can see him now under the dim light from the candelabras lining the wall. The shadows of their flames flicker across his face like black serpent tongues. He lounges on the other side of the room in an enormous, ancient-looking throne with an iron frame and black satin cushions. His head is tilted to the side, supported by one finger as he considers me.

“Where are we?” I ask him. Dang it, my voice is quivering.

He holds his arms above his head as if to embrace the ceiling, spreading hands encased in finger-cut leather gloves. “You are in the realm of the gods.” He jumps down to his feet. Muscles bunch underneath snug, black leather pants as he prowls toward me. Decorative silver chains hang from an open vest, crisscrossing chiseled abs as hard as the marble floor I’m sitting on. His gait is predatory and agile, like a panther patrolling his jungle. Or getting ready to pounce on his lunch. Which is me.

I gulp.

As he comes closer, the shadows leave his face. His skin shimmers a faint gold under the candlelight. He has high cheekbones, a strong, square jaw and brilliant green eyes. His short, white blonde hair sticks up every which way on his head like thousands of needle-thin icicles. He looks about my age, but if he’s an Olympian, he could have been born before humankind even existed.

“You think I’m sexy,” he teases. “And I must say, I am not disappointed, either.” He’s suddenly inches away from me, his mesmerizing green eyes holding mine steady. Those eyes…there’s something familiar about them, even though I know I’ve never seen him before in my life. Stooping, he takes two fingers and traces my cheek. I flinch and shiver. Even his touch is cold. “You are exquisite, Carly.”

I’ve heard cute. Hot, on occasion. But exquisite? Give me a break. “Who are you?”

He drops his hand and straightens up, towering over me. “I am the spawn of darkness, and night’s son; I am anything and anyone.”

“And I’m a little teapot,” I snap. I try to keep my voice steady even as my insides are churning. I can almost hear the voices of the Sigma Iotas chanting: O Master of darkness, blood and carnage…“Tell me your name.”

There it is!” he barks in triumph. He doubles over, shaking with laughter. “I knew she’d be feisty! I knew it! I knew it!”

While his hysterical laughter ricochets off the walls and ceiling, I sigh and get shakily to my feet. The heel of one of my shoes is broken. I take them off. “Just give me something to call you.”

He smiles wickedly and puts his hands on his hips. “Master.”

I guess I set myself up for that one. “I’m not calling you that.” I glance around at the walls without moving my head, looking for a way out, but all I see is charcoal gray rock.

“I am master of this place, and you are mine. Kneel before your master, human scum!”

“I’m not exactly human.” And I’m not scum.

“Ah, I see it now.” I feel naked as he studies me. His eyes pierce straight through to the place where my soul used to be. “You’re a demigoddess. One of Nike’s descendants. Now, kneel, halfling.”

I keep my bare feet planted firmly on the floor. “No.”

He pouts. “Kneel…please?”

“This is ridiculous.” I turn and walk up to the wall behind me. I press my palms to it and feel around for cracks in its cold, bumpy surface. There has to be a way out of here.

Suddenly, he presses his body into me, shoving me up against the wall. His hands smack the rock on either side of me. The metal clasps and chains of his vest bite into my back. Something hard brushes up against my tailbone. His chilly breath tickles my ear. He smells like—well, I’m not exactly sure. The scent reminds me of being outside after it’s just snowed—fresh, sharp and slightly bitter. It’s not unpleasant.

“Kneel,” he whispers in a voice that, for a moment, makes me want to sink obediently to my knees.

relapsecover

Relapse: Chapter One


Here’s a teaser for your Tuesday: Chapter One of Relapse, the sequel to Reborn! The release date is exactly a week from now, Tuesday December 2. It’s coming up so fast, yikes!!!

I’ve also posted the prologue, which you can read here.

*****

I’m standing in the middle of a congested ballroom, surrounded by an endless swirl of color and laughter.

This place tugs at the far reaches of my mind. I pause to get my bearings, but the movement of dancing couples jostles me continuously forward. Above us, a chandelier hangs from a domed glass ceiling, dripping diamonds. Beyond it, the sky is midnight blue and littered with stars.

I peer into the crowd and spy a dark head making its way toward me. Without even glancing in his direction, the revelers part to give him room, quickly sidestepping to avoid the brush of his broad, feathery white wings. Muscle ripples down his chest and abdomen until it meets the white loincloth tied around his hips. His skin shimmers a faint gold, his eyes the dark blue of the sky above us. Those eyes meet mine, and a warm smile spreads on his face.

“I thought you were gone,” I tell him once he’s within earshot. My feet are poised to carry me into his arms, but something holds me back.

The corners of his mouth waver slightly. “I was. I am. You know that, Psyche.”

“But you’re here now. Just like I remember.” This time I extend tentative fingers and trail them down his chest. “White and golden. Like an angel. My Eros.”

He gently catches my wrist, lowering my hand. “I’m gone for good this time. You have to let me go.”

“I don’t want to.” I reach for him again, my hands grasping nothing but air even though he hasn’t moved. “I miss you.”

“That wasn’t me,” he insists. “That was the darkest version of me, with everything good and noble stripped away. I died with you, Psyche. You have to let me go.”

Tears sting my eyes. “I can’t—”

“Yes, you can. You’re the strongest person I know.” His smile is gone, in its place a fiercely determined frown. “You must.”

“But I…” I falter as everything starts to melt away—the ballroom, the dancers, the light, the colors, and my sweet, golden prince—

Two arms envelop me from behind, drawing me against a wall of muscle and heat. I crane my neck and glimpse the sheen of pale skin and the shadowy fringe of black feathers in the suddenly dark room. His hands slide possessively up my legs and hips, and I give an involuntary gasp and shudder, my heart racing in excitement even as a chill rakes my spine.

His breath is hot on my ear. “I don’t want you to forget me. I won’t let you—”

 

I jolt awake, panting, and bring my hand to my forehead to wipe away the perspiration beading there. Sweat soaks the underarms of my pajama shirt. I scramble to sit up and look over to Tanya’s side of the room. Her bed is empty, the sheets rumpled, the pillow gone.

As I make my bed, I try to salvage the fading images of the dream. All I can recall is a twisted mixture of memory and nightmare, and two faces of the same man—one pale, one faintly golden. And hands—his hands—and the pain and pleasure of those hands as they claimed me—

Diving into the bathroom, I turn on the shower and stick my face under the ice cold water.

Shivering but fully awake, I slip on a pair of skinny jeans, a stretchy red tank top and a zip-up hoodie, then go downstairs. The floorboards protest underneath my feet, their groans magnified in our quiet sorority house. At first, I think the living room is empty, until I see the platinum blonde ponytail peeking out from beneath a dark blue blanket on the couch. The blanket stirs, and my roommate Tanya emerges, stretching her arms over her head.

“Good morning, Twin,” she yawns when she sees me. Not only are Tanya and I roommates, but we have the same big sister, so in sorority lingo we’re “twins.” Our big sister, Victoria, is our chapter president—and also just happens to be the goddess of victory.

“You slept down here,” I realize, sitting down at the kitchen table.

Tanya nods. “You were talking in your sleep.”

My hand flies to my mouth. “Oh, my God. I’m so sorry. What…what did I say?”

“It was nothing. Don’t worry about it.” Throwing the blanket to the side, she gets up and paces toward the stairs, avoiding my gaze.

“It couldn’t have been nothing,” I persist. “What did I say?”

Tanya pauses at the foot of the stairs. “It was mostly gibberish. But a few times you called out for…for him.

I open my mouth to reply, but all I can manage is an almost soundless, “Oh.”

“What were you dreaming about?”

“I don’t know,” I say quickly, my face burning. “I mean, I don’t remember it.”

Tanya shrugs. “Well, I’m going to take a shower.” Her brown eyes narrow at me. “Are you alright?” She glances at the clock on the entertainment console, and a light bulb goes off in her head. “It’s Wednesday. You have Eric’s class. I thought you were dropping it.”

“I decided to tough it out,” I tell her. Tanya raises her eyebrows. “Okay, Victoria practically begged me to stay in it. To keep an eye on Dr. Mars for her.”

“That’s a little risky. He can’t be too happy with us for—”

“For deporting his son to Olympus? Yeah, probably not.” I sigh, shaking my head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you. This is our first class since the ritual. Dr. Mars canceled Monday’s class. He was probably too busy plotting his revenge to play everyone’s favorite history professor.”

“Don’t go if you really don’t want to,” Tanya says. “I’m sure Victoria will understand.”

“I’ll be fine. It’s not like he’s going to do anything to me in front of an auditorium full of people, anyway. I hope,” I add under my breath.

“If you say so. Just be careful.” She turns and runs upstairs. I fold my arms on the table and lay my head down on top of them. I hate keeping things from Tanya, but I’d rather her think the only thing bothering me is having to face Dr. Mars in World Myths and Legends.

A couple of days ago, a few drops of ambrosia in my coffee brought back an onslaught of repressed memories from my past life as Psyche: a young woman so beautiful she captured the heart of Eros, the Ancient Greek’s paragon of love and desire, and sparked the ire of his mother, Aphrodite. Psyche’s memories transport me back to a time long before I was born, to a place I swear I’ve never been—yet remember just as vividly as my childhood home in Laurel. Closing my eyes, I can almost feel Eros’s rock hard chest trapping me against the warm sands of an alien beach. (An almost embarrassingly large quantity of the memories are of us having sex.) Her memories were once only able to break through in my dreams, but now they are always a part of me. And the dreams themselves are as intense as ever.

I haven’t told anyone that I got the memories back. No one in my sorority knows. Not even Anna knows, and she was sitting right there when it happened. I spent the rest of our coffee date trying to convince her to stay away from Eric. She got mad at me and stormed off. The opportunity to tell her hasn’t come up again.

Lifting my head, I force myself to get up and go into the kitchen to grab some breakfast. After a bowl of cereal, I head out into a cool but sunny morning. Even though I trudge as slowly as possible across the Greek Quadrangle to campus, I still enter Frasier Hall with five minutes to spare. Taking a deep breath, I push through the double doors of the lecture hall.

The first person I see when I step inside is Jasper.

He’s sitting in the third row with his black dress shoes kicked up on the back of the seat in front of him. I squeeze my eyes shut. It’s like the first day of class all over again, when I saw Jasper for the first time in six years. Thumping heart. Sweating palms. Short, gasping breaths. The only difference is, now that I’ve taken enough ambrosia to fully awaken my Olympian heritage, I don’t have to wrestle with wings threatening to tear out of my back at any moment. I’m in control of them. I’m in control. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Like when I thought I saw him coming out of the library while I was waiting for Anna. He’s not even here. I let a breath I hadn’t even realized I was holding whistle out slowly and open my eyes.

Sure enough, the seat is empty.

I walk up the center aisle and sit in the back.

At the front of the room, Dr. Mars opens a black leather briefcase, his thick hands emerging with a text book and a slim folder. His charcoal black hair looks like he just combed his fingers through it a few times before coming in today. The beard framing his deep frown is fuller and wilder than the last time I saw him. He’s less like a calendar lumberjack and even more like the rough, rugged kind you might find hurling an axe into a tree. The look makes me think of pine trees, log cabins and flannel shirts, although if he lets that beard grow any longer, he’s going to look like those guys on Duck Dynasty.

His dark eyes swallow all the light from the room as they sweep it. “We’re starting,” he booms, and the buzz of voices around me fades. He clears his throat before continuing, his lips a flat, pale line. “Before we dive into today’s lecture, I’d like to introduce Pat. She’s the teaching assistant for one of my other classes and will be taking over the TA duties for this class as well.”

As though she just stepped out of thin air, Apate is suddenly standing next to Dr. Mars. She’s all milky white skin, obsidian hair, fishnet stockings and black leather—like a vampire hooker. Confused whispers and a few feminine gasps of dismay go up around the room. Several of the guys move forward in their seats, eyes glued to the front of the room with renewed interest. Apate absently plays with the gold chain at her neck. From this distance, I can’t be sure, but I think it’s the same shield necklace she wore that night in Jasper’s office.

“I hold office hours Wednesdays and Fridays, six to seven, at the library.” She gives a coy tug of her lower lip with her teeth. “Or by…appointment.” Smirking, she takes a seat in the front row.

“Thanks, Pat. Let’s move on.” Dr. Mars takes his place behind the podium. “As those of you who have actually done the reading know, today’s lecture topic is: evil.” An ironic smile flickers at the corners of his mouth. “Or, rather, the various myths that sought to explain why there is evil in the world. They are stories about giving into temptation. About the allure of doing what you’re told not to do. Of men and women defying their god.” He pauses to glance down at his notes, turning the page.

“To many Christians, the story of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis explains the origin of sin,” he continues. “Most of you may already be familiar with this one. God creates the first man and woman. He drops them in the Garden of Eden and forbids them to eat the fruit of a particular tree. So, naturally, Eve takes the word of a talking snake and eats the forbidden fruit anyway.” Dr. Mars’s smile cracks wider, and a few people snicker. “She offers some to Adam, and they realize, ‘Oh, shit, we’re naked,’ and cover up their naughty parts with fig leaves.” More laughter. “Then they hear God walking around the garden and hide from Him because they’re ashamed. God knows they have sinned and, as punishment, banishes Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.”

Dr. Mars tilts his head to the side, his forehead creased as though he’s deep in thought. “Yes, I’m pretty sure that’s the gist of the story,” he decides with a smile and a wink. “I may have left out a detail or two, like the serpent telling Eve that eating the forbidden fruit would open her eyes and make her as wise as God. Again, it’s a story of rebellion—of doing what you’re not supposed to do—and a story about lust. In this case, Eve’s lust for knowledge, to know what her God knows.

“The Greek myth also shares this theme of insatiable curiosity and temptation. I’m sure you’re already sick of hearing me prattle on, so I’ll let Pat tell this one. Pat?” Dr. Mars says. He nods at Apate, and she gets up hesitantly, turning to face the auditorium again. Her smug grin is gone. Instead, her incisors dig into her lower lip as her feline green eyes dart from face to face. She balls her hands into fists at her sides.

Clearing her throat, Apate says, “I guess the Greek story really begins with Prometheus, an immortal who loved humans and sometimes served as a mediator between them and his fellow gods. In one instance, he was asked to divide up a sacrificial bull between men—and at this point, they were all men,” she adds with an eye roll, “—and the gods. Prometheus tricked the gods into taking a bag of the bull’s bones while the men got the best cut of meat. Zeus was…pretty pissed. He punished them by withholding the gift of fire, but Prometheus stole fire from Mount Olympus and smuggled it to Earth.

“At this point, Zeus was livid. He tortured Prometheus and cursed him and his descendants. To punish mankind, he had an evil, irresistible gift in mind. He had his son, the craftsman Hephaestus, create the first woman in the image of the goddesses. The Olympians gave Pandora many gifts—everything from beautiful clothes and jewelry to grace, charm and feminine wiles. As a final gift, the gods gave her…” The word catches in Apate’s throat, and she has to clear it again. She shuts her eyes for a moment and takes a deep, calming breath. Reopening them, she continues, “They gave her a jar to take to mankind. Inside the jar, the goddess Nyx had locked away the spirits of evil: deceit, suffering, doom, old age, strife, retribution, blame and violent death.

“You can see where this is going. It’s always a woman’s fault.” Apate recovers her nerve and scowls, giving another roll of her eyes. The snide remark makes me like her for a full two seconds. “Pandora arrived on Earth, her curiosity over the contents of the jar growing and growing until she couldn’t take it anymore and opened it. The spirits escaped, bringing evil, pain and suffering to humankind.” Apate straightens her shoulders, looking pleased with herself. “The end.”

“Thanks again, Pat,” Dr. Mars tells her, and she slips back into her seat. “I’m sure you’ve all heard the phrase ‘Pandora’s box’ before. When you ‘open Pandora’s box,’ you do something that seems insignificant, but turns out to have severe and far-reaching consequences.

“Well, that’s enough of story time. Let’s talk about this paper that’s due next week.”

At the end of class, I rush out of the door without so much as a glance at Dr. Mars or Apate, letting the crowd of students filling up the hall absorb me. Up ahead, I glimpse black and gold plaid as a familiar tall, slender figure walks against the current of students. Her glossy brown hair ripples around her face when her hazel eyes flicker to my face. She quickly turns on her heel and starts walking away.

“Anna. Anna!” I shout, stopping in the middle of the hall. I hear a few annoyed grumbles as people skirt around me.

Anna jumps and whirls back around. “Siobhan. Hey!” she calls out, closing the gap between us in a few long strides. “I didn’t see you there!”

“Right,” I mutter. “Going to class?”

“No, actually I was on my way to…see Eric,” she falters, pointing down the hall at the room I just ran out of. “Never mind.” She whips past me and walks up to the double doors, catching one just before it swings completely shut.

“Don’t go in there!” I hiss, coming up beside her. “Let’s go somewhere and talk. Hear me out.” Anna opens her mouth to protest

That was mean!” Apate’s voice shrieks from inside the auditorium. Anna and I freeze.

Eric’s responding chuckle is cool, amused. “But well-deserved.”

“I’m still paying for that?”

“You double-crossed me—”

“And I’ve more than made up for it! I think you owe me now.”

“You want something, Apate? Out with it.” The sound of Dr. Mars’s thunderous voice reverberates through my chest. I look up and down the hall, but it’s emptied out.

“You know what I want,” Apate insists in a quieter tone, the words quivering slightly. “Don’t make me beg. I’ve done everything you’ve asked me to. Please. Let Dolos go.”

“I don’t think so.”

“I’ll do anything you say. I promise. Just let my brother go. He’s suffering. Just please let him—” The sound of metal slicing through wood chokes off the rest of Apate’s plea.

“What part of you are mine don’t you understand?” Dr. Mars growls. His words are punctuated by the soft, shuddering sobs of Apate biting back tears. “Until I decide your services are no longer required, you, are, mine.”

Apate gives a sharp cry of pain. “I am not yours or anybody else’s. I look out for myself and my brother. Screw you.” Boot heels smack the floor inside, growing louder as they approach the door. Anna releases the handle in panic, and the door closes with a loud click. We stumble away from it and take off for the nearest exit.

*****

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Character Profile: Anna Wallace


With only three weeks left (!!!!!) until Relapse releases on Tuesday, December 2, let’s get reacquainted with some of the characters. I’ve already posted character profiles for Siobhan, Jasper, Apate, and Peter. Tonight, the spotlight is on:

freedigitalphotos.netAnna Wallace

Age: Early 20s

Hometown: Laurel, Pennsylvania

Occupation: Student at fictional college Thurston University in Shadesburg, PA

Major: Music education

Physical Description: Very tall; slim; tan skin; long, dark brown hair; hazel eyes

Species: Demigod

Love interest: World Myths and Legends professor Dr. Eric Mars

Other relationships:

Motivation:

In Reborn, Anna wanted to learn to trust Siobhan so they could be friends again. They still have problems trusting each other in the upcoming sequel, especially since Anna started dating Eric. In Relapse, Anna finds the addictive pull of the Olympian world harder and harder to resist.

Strengths:

Cautious, practical, shrewd, loyal

Weaknesses:

Naive and impressionable

Hobbies: Music is her life.

Superpower: You’ll see…..

Who would play her in a movie: My pick is Gossip Girl alumna Leighton Meester

Anna on her feelings for Eric:

“I love him. I know you think I’m crazy, but I love him…..he warned me not to try to change him because I won’t be able to. And to be honest, I wouldn’t want to change him. I’ve never met anyone like him. He’s sexy as hell. He’s intelligent, ambitious, spontaneous—and the sex. Oh, my God. The sex.” 😉