2020 Vision


Hello, dearies.

Preparing to write a decade in review post, I’ve been looking over some of my past blog posts. I started this blog on June 16, 2012. 2012! So, it’s not quite ten years old, yet…but getting up there. These past few years, I haven’t put as much energy into this blog as I used to. It has become more of a place for readers to stop and get some additional info about the Reborn series and ongoing projects, rather than a blog I update regularly. Still, eight years ago, I started The Urge to Write to get back into something I loved: writing.

Thinking about the head space I was in when I started this blog eight years ago compared to the one I’m in now, I have to laugh at myself. I was only in my early 20s, worrying that I hadn’t done/accomplished anything. Worried that I’d picked the wrong thing in graduate school and having (justified or not) a quarter life crisis. I didn’t really understand then that life, careers, dreams…they’re all a marathon, not a sprint.

I started off the decade graduating from college with a chemistry degree. And, although my education and other experiences as an undergrad were certainly valuable, I knew I didn’t want to work as a chemist in a lab forever. We were also in the midst of a huge recession, so I decided to stay in school and work on a master’s degree in a field I hoped would open more doors. Soon after graduating, my college sweetheart and I also broke up, which was very hard on me (in retrospect, both of us). But, while working on my master’s, I found a research adviser I really enjoyed working with and decided to stay and do a PhD in the same department.

Then, came the first plot twist of the 2010s: my adviser accepted a faculty position at a different university. Which was absolutely the best decision for her, as her new department would be a much better fit for her research niche. So, no hard feelings there. She even offered that I come with her, but I would have had to apply to that department’s program, and, although I enjoyed the research I was doing, I didn’t want my degree in that concentration. (My master’s and PhD are in environmental health.) I was still finishing required coursework and hadn’t picked a dissertation topic yet, so it’s not like I had to start completely over or anything. But I did feel a bit adrift. Almost no one else in our department did the type of work I’d been doing (a lot of them were doing more toxicology-related work in wet labs, and I was doing epidemiology/stats), and a lot of people didn’t have funding.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this, I started this blog. Thankfully, a few faculty members did take me under their wing, and I found a great group/adviser to work with. It wasn’t always perfect, but, especially looking back, it was exactly the place I needed to be. And, knowing people who had *much* worse things happen to them in grad school, I’m able to contextualize it now.

Still, at the time I had this persistent worry that I had “picked the wrong the thing” and that somehow my entire life/career was now committed to this one “wrong thing”. Because what happened, to, you know, following your dreams? Your passion? I’ve always loved books, loved to write. “Shouldn’t I be doing that, then?” entitled twenty-something me would ponder. (Because, as I also now recognize, following your dreams is a privilege a lot of people don’t have. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it or make a change in your life when something isn’t what you want – if you have the means, you absolutely should! But just to recognize it.)

Thus, Reborn was…born. It went through a few title changes before it became Reborn. I posted the original draft to this blog. I since deleted it after I self-published it, so I can’t verify this, but I’m sure it was bad. Really bad. It was written in Mountain Dew Code Red-fueled bursts of creativity after work and on the weekends, usually late at night, because I somehow used to function on an insane and unhealthy sleep schedule. Later, I revised it, paying more attention to, you know, actual story structure, character arcs, and fleshing out the mythology/world. The first edition was published in November of 2013. This November, Reborn will be seven years old!

It is too easy for me to look back and say, why the heck couldn’t I have finished the last book *before* 2020 hit? But, self-publishing the final book (about Siobhan, at least) is my next goal. I’m not going to look back with regret. Because you know what? In these past seven years, I wrote three books and two novellas in the Reborn series. To those who don’t like writing or writers who haven’t published yet, that might seem like a lot. To writers that are more prolific, that might seem like nothing. But for me, it was a huge accomplishment.

For better or worse, I have a hard time feeling satisfied, at least as far as work or career-related things go. (Maybe this is, overall, not a good thing, although it can be a good motivator in a lot of ways…) But in these, my five book babies, I’m giving myself a huge pat on the back. I love this world, these characters, and I don’t regret the sleepless nights/procrastinating other obligations/periods of time of being basically a hermit that allowed me to share them with all of you.

But life is, of course, more than these types of accomplishments. We are more than our jobs, our careers, even our dreams. I’m not saying that these aren’t or can’t be good things – only that one thing doesn’t define who we are. And if it does, maybe it shouldn’t. I didn’t “pick the wrong thing” in grad school. Maybe some people do, but in hindsight, I don’t think I did. I think I’m a scientist who also likes to write. And when I look back at graduate school, I don’t (always) think about the slog that comes before you defend your dissertation (and, yes, it can feel like a slog). I think about the dear colleagues and friends I made a long the way – I still collaborate and am friends with many of them.

In the latter half of this decade, I moved to New England, then back to Pittsburgh for several years, then, quite recently, back to New England. Time flies, time motivates us, and time also heals. Time changes and shapes us. If we’re lucky, we can still find a way back to the people we care about, no matter how much time or how many miles separate us. Time healed all wounds from that break up at the beginning of the decade. Gradually, we became friends again; we opened our hearts again. And (plot twist?) in August of 2019, we got married. 🙂

I don’t know what the next decade will bring. I’m sure there will be ups and downs, highs and lows. I could talk about career goals, writing goals, family goals – and, yes, I have all of those. But, through it all, I want to find joy and gratitude in the small things, the everyday things. I frequently fall into the trap of “I’ll be happy when…” “Things will be different/better when…” My only new year’s resolution is to work toward these things while finding happiness in what I have now, not in far-off, unpredictable future land. I think the best any of us can do, in large or small ways, is to try to leave the world a better place than how we found it.

Okay, that last thought is from A Court of Wings and Ruin, which I just finished last night. (Some things don’t change, like my love for a good YA fantasy.) But I liked it, and it’s also true.

So, here’s to 2020! To love, laughter, dancing like no one is watching and all the cliches. Reading all the books, doing all the things. Probably somewhere in there we should stop climate change. Okay, I’m done – for now. 😉

New Year’s Resolutions N’at


It’s that time again (or, as January is almost over, passed that time) to set goals for the new year, including writing goals! So read on for my official, writing-related new year’s resolutions n’at. (And if you don’t know what n’at means, you may need this.)

Last year, I accomplished several major writing and publishing goals. Accomplishments included self-publishing Reclaim, the third book in my Reborn series, as well as a companion novella, Revenge. I attended my first writing-related conference and joined two professional organizations for a little networking and friendship with other writers. I also submitted a standalone young adult novel I’d written to a writing contest (Pitch Wars). That was a major fail, haha, but I’m glad I did it. I don’t know if I’ll try it again this year, but definitely in the future. (If you’d like to find out more about Pitch Wars, visit their site.) I managed to accomplish another goal in 2017, but I’m keeping that under wraps for now…it remains to be seen whether it will be a success or a failure. 😉

Although I didn’t do as good of a job updating this blog last year, I did a lot of writing, even if I wasn’t always writing about writing. Teehee. In addition to the Pitch Wars manuscript, I wrote (most) of a Reborn-world novel for NaNoWriMo. “Reborn-world” because it’s based in the same mythology, but mostly focuses on two characters not in the other books. It’s, quite frankly, not anywhere close to being done. When I took a break from it over the holidays I realized it had some problems I needed to work through. I still think there’s an interesting story there, but I’ve put it on the back-burner for now.

(As an aside, this is also why I shouldn’t gleefully announce projects way in advance, lol. I thought for sure I’d want to do something with it. I still probably will, but it’s not top priority at this time. It was still important writing as far as back story goes, though. As authors, we write down a lot that doesn’t actually end up making it into a book. But we have to know it happened. If that makes any sense…)

In addition to writing projects, which I PROMISE I’ll get to in a second, I have several marketing-related goals I want to meet. This is always hard for me, as it is for any self-published author (and probably any author, really…) because, although I know how important marketing and promotions are, it takes time away from actual writing. Which is what I want to be doing. However, I’m hoping that if I write down these resolutions here, for all to see, I’ll be more likely to do them. At least that’s the idea. 😉

  • Web site: I really need to upgrade this site. Like yesterday. There’s no reason I can’t buy my own domain and transfer everything over…I think GoDaddy let’s you do this. But it’s slightly extra work and I don’t wanna. But I need to.
  • Newsletter: I want to start an author newsletter to give more targeted updates to readers. I’ve been doing some research into this, subscribing to newsletters from authors I enjoy to see what they do. It seems like MailChimp is the way to go for this? (If you have any thoughts, feel free to leave them in the comments–about any of this, of course, but especially newsletters!)
  • Author Signing/Book Festival: The idea of going to one of these things feels really overwhelming to me, like even just thinking about it. I attended a panel of local authors talking about these last weekend and…even though I expected there to be a lot of prep for these events, there were tons of details I hadn’t even thought of. Yikes. So my goal is to just do one of these in 2018. Just one, and go from there.

Writing Resolutions

And now for the moment you all, or at least some of you, have been waiting for. I did start writing a thing this January. It doesn’t have a title yet…except for Reborn Book 4. 😉 It will likely be the last book in this series with Siobhan, Carly, Jasper et al. as the main characters. But I felt, in addition to tying up loose ends from the previous books, they still had stories waiting to be told. (I do have ideas for other books set in this world…”spin off” books, if you will, for characters that have been more secondary or minor until now.)

I’ve just started writing so am still getting a feel for this book. I think I’m somewhere in between a plotter and a pantser, lol. Although I have the main plot and some of the major turning points in mind, sometimes I just start writing without a clear outline, to see what my imagination cooks up. Then I stop and go back and sort of reassess things, making a clearer outline then. Even when I do outline, things often don’t go as planned, but that’s part of the fun. I don’t want to force the story to go a certain way if that’s not where the characters are taking me.

So I can’t tell you a lot about this book yet, but I can tell you some of the loose ends it will address. This is probably an incomplete list since I’m not looking at my notes, going off the top of my head here (and, if you haven’t read the Reborn series yet, spoilers abound):

  • Sibohan’s origin. Siobhan is unique among the halflings, those who are part human, part Olympian. She seems to have a special set of powers no one else has. In this book, you’ll find out why.
  • Siobhan and Jasper. They’re together at the end of Relapse, but it’s an imperfect union. Jasper loves someone who finds it hard, with good reason, to truly love him back. Siobhan feels more of an addiction to Jasper than actual love, but I think Jasper is on the road to redemption and she will discover there are honest feelings there. In any case, these two need a more satisfying resolution.
  • Eric and Anna. Eric has been the “big bad” up to this point, building his halfling army to overthrow Zeus back on Olympus. He suffered a bad defeat at the end of Reclaim, but he’s making his comeback in this book, his army larger and more formidable than ever. But Eric has secrets still waiting to be uncovered. If you remember from Relapse, Siobhan and Victoria almost happen upon one of them in his penthouse when they’re rescuing Vanessa… Anna had some problems at the end of book 2, to say the least, although she’s since been on the road to recovery. She undergoes quite a transformation in the meantime…it’s been fun to play around with her character more.
  • Prophecies. There have been two main prophecies floating around in the series that are pretty important, and now you’ll get to find out why. Vanessa says one of them in Relapse, and Moira, an Olympian seer, gives Carly the other in Reclaim.

Speaking of Carly…she will have a major part to play in this upcoming book as well, and I’m hoping to resolve some of the loose ends involving her. However, I don’t have this part completely ironed out yet so I won’t say anything more. A lot about everything I’ve said could still change because I’ve just started writing it…these were just some of the specific plot threads I’ve left dangling that I want to make sure to tie up…if not into a neat, tidy bow, at least into some sort of complicated knot that’s really hard to get out…

As far as a timeline for all of this goes, I don’t have much sense of a release date. I am sorry for that, but I’m also not going to set one for a while, at least until I have a better sense of how this is all going to come together. Although I am a writer, and I love that part of myself, I’ve been learning not to try to solely define myself by that. I have other goals, other obligations, not related to writing at all, that are important to me, too. Between all of those things, and writing, it’s just hard for me to get a sense of how to time releases. The book is done when it’s done, haha. I want to make it something readers will devour and enjoy, not something that was rushed. If I had to guess, maaaaaaybe I could get this book out end of 2018 or spring of 2019, but we shall see. This is not a hard deadline (clearly).

I know waiting is hard, but I hope you’ll bear with me. The wait will be worth it. In the meantime, if you’ve read any of the Reborn series and enjoyed it, take a moment to spread the word! Tell even just one friend about it, or post a rating and/or short review to Goodreads, Amazon, etc.

Happy 2018, and most importantly, happy reading!

 

 

Friday News and Updates


Happy Friday!

k-pop friday GIF by Cheezburger

Usually I save my update posts for Wednesdays, but I found myself with a free moment and decided a blog post was long overdue! Read on for updates regarding the availability of e-books in the Reborn series as well as current WIPs.

Availability:

A few months ago, I took down Reclaim (Reborn book #3) and Revenge (a novella) from Smashwords so that I could make them exclusive to Kindle for a period of time and take advantage of Amazon’s deal options (which are only available for exclusive books). And, although I do like the Amazon Kindle platform for a lot of things (I mean, I do make most of my sales there), this was a somewhat failed experiment, lol. It happens. I have basically come to the conclusion that Kindle Unlimited is useless (at least for authors, and maybe specifically indie authors).

But the good news is, this means I’m taking these books out of KDP Select once the enrollment periods end and making them available for Nook, Apple, and the other e-book platforms once again! The enrollment period is up for Reclaim on December 10, and on December 16 for Revenge. After the terms end, I’ll publish them again through Smashwords. There will be some lag time as they get approved for Premium Status and then transferred to all of Smashwords’ affiliates, but I’m guessing by the end of December they will be available on all of those platforms. I’ll post links to the home page as they go live.

Current Project/NaNoWriMo

Some of you might know this from following me on Twitter, but I did National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo) this year! Woooo! Lol. I didn’t “win” (the goal is to write 50,000 words in November), but I did come pretty close. Writing a little over 40K is still pretty good, if you ask me. 😉 Sure, it’s probably 40K crap that I will tear apart later as I’m editing, but sometimes you just gotta get words down on a page. Otherwise you will never get anywhere.

My NaNoWriMo project was sort of unexpected. I didn’t think I’d get as deep into it as I did, which is a good thing! Honestly, it started out as some Reborn series backstory. Then, I started thinking I could maybe get a companion novella out of it. Now it’s turning into a monster, ha. Even if I had reached the 50K mark it still wouldn’t be done, so it’s definitely a work-in-progress. I had to put it aside for a little bit because I had deadlines for other things that cropped up, but my goal is to try to finish the first draft before the new year.

So, yes, it’s another book that takes place in the Reborn world…as in, the same “rules” of magic apply as in the other books of the series, but it’s about a different set of characters (one of them does make a guest appearance in Revenge and Reclaim).

The idea began to germinate when I was reading up on Hades and Persephone. I loosely knew their origin story, but needed a refresher. And, just like the Greek myths that inspired the other Reborn books (and namely, Eros and Psyche), I was left thinking about how creepy it was. Of course, I try to put it in context…our modern perspectives on some of the themes in these ancient stories is quite different and still constantly evolving. Still, the story of Hades’ abduction of Persephone is pretty creepy, to say the least.

Just like with Psyche and Eros, I wanted to put a modern twist on it. I wanted it to take place considerably before the events of Reborn, so it starts out at a Halloween party in the year 1999. (I also started writing it right after Halloween so…yeah.) Persephone is a “daughter” of the ’90s so to speak, so when she encounters Hades she doesn’t put up with any of his b.s. Also, since she is from a more modern time period, there’s a weird time travel element to it that hopefully won’t be too confusing. But, to quote the good Doctor, time is just a big ball of wibbly wobbly, time-y wimey stuff, anyway. 😉

david tennant what GIF by Doctor Who

So in essence it’s a sort of time traveling, Greek myth meets Beauty and the Beast dark romantic fantasy novel. (That’s a genre, right?)

It has a working title that I don’t feel like sharing yet because this project could still go nowhere. I could end up deciding it’s still just good backstory–good for me to know the events in it happened, but not necessary for readers. As writers, a lot of stuff we write doesn’t, and shouldn’t, see the light of day. But for now I’m excited about it, and it seems to have potential…

To conclude, here is a playlist of random songs I’ve been listening to while writing it (don’t even ask me how T. Swiftie made it onto this playlist, even I don’t know the answer to that…). YouTube links are included.

Playlist:

The Killing Moon – Echo and the Bunnymen

Miss Murder – AFI

White Mustang – Lana del Rey

Dancin’ in Circles – Lady Gaga

Cherry – Lana del Rey

Every You, Every Me – Placebo

Muddy Waters – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Green Light – Lorde

…Ready For It? – Taylor Swift

 

Excerpt: The Visitor


Happy Monday!

I’ve been going through some old drafts of things I started and then put aside, trying to decide what writing project to work on next and what excerpt I could post on the blog. Some were too R-rated (lol), another I felt was potentially too dark, but this one seemed just right. 🙂 It’s really just backstory, so I don’t know if it will ever make its way into a book, but I wrote it when I was thinking about Carly’s bad ass grandma, and about who her biological father is (the one who left their mother when they were young). Sounds scumbag-ish, but like always in the Reborn world, nothing is as it first appears…..

This is some Carly family backstory, related to events that happened in Reclaim (Reborn Book #3). (I recommend *not* reading it if you haven’t read Reclaim and are planning to, because it will spoil parts of it.) And please keep in mind this was mostly for my notes so it’s very rough, but I thought readers of the series would enjoy it. Happy reading!

*****

Image result for someone knocking on a doorUpstate New York, eleven years ago

Darlene Vignovich was just beginning to doze off when there was a loud, urgent knocking at the front door.

She gave a shudder, paper-thin eyelids flying open, and sat straight up in her chair. Placing a gnarled, wrinkled hand on either chair arm, she hoisted herself to standing, then, grabbing her cane from where it was propped up against the end table, propelled herself toward the door. Three more loud, demanding knocks sounded on the other side. She thought about alerting her husband, who was out back tending to his rose bushes (as always), deciding against it a moment later. From the sudden, inexplicable drop in temperature in the room, and the way the breath left her lips in small, white puffs, she already knew who stood on the other side of that door.

She knew she could handle him.

“You,” she said after unlatching and pulling the door open. She kept the screen door locked, meeting the pair of bright, blue eyes on the other side of it with a steely resolve. They belonged to a very tall man with a strong-looking but slim body, a head of salt-and-pepper hair and beard to match, and those keen blue eyes peering out of a tan face lined with age. He looked to be about fifty, but each time Darlene had seen him over her long life he had looked the same. The first time their paths had crossed she had been eighteen and a freshman in college, and she had thought him an old man, albeit a distinguished one. Now that she was an old woman, he looked younger and more appealing than ever.

“Where do you get off, dropping by here unexpectedly,” Darlene snapped, jabbing her cane in his direction. “You should have called first.”

“Darlene.” He said her name patiently, imploringly, and spread his arms in an apologetic manner, palms out to face her. “You’re the one that invited me here.”

“I know that,” she spat, spittle flying through the air, collecting on the glass pane of the door in tiny round droplets. “I’m not senile, just old.” Although sometimes she wondered about that, herself. Sometimes she got confused. Usually, it was small things. Calling one of her granddaughters by her daughter’s name. Looking in the fridge for the sugar, and in the cupboard for the milk. But sometimes it was bigger things. The two worlds, two realities she had forced apart her entire life had, at some point, floated back together and now bled into each other, like squirts of blue and green dye mixing in a bowl of water.

“Darlene. Open the door,” the visitor beseeched her calmly.

After a moment’s stubborn pause, Darlene obliged, unlocking and opening the screen door.

One shiny black dress shoe, then the other, crossed the threshold, clapping over the hardwood floor. His dark suit was snug and well-tailored, the outline of muscle much too prominent for someone his age visible underneath the expensive material. Underneath, he wore a crisp white shirt and a purple tie.

“You should have called,” Darlene scolded him again, shuffling over to perch on the edge of a couch cushion. He sat down in the arm chair she had vacated moments ago, reclining it back slightly, making himself at home. “Hannah and the girls will be here soon. If they see you…”

“They won’t,” he assured her, drumming long, elegant fingers on his thigh. “They’ll never know I was here, will go on believing I left their mother, abandoned them.”

“You did,” she reminded him.

“Only because you demanded it of me.”

“You would have left eventually, anyway. That’s what your kind do. Spread your seed on this world and then bolt.”

“My kind?” The corner of his mouth ticked upward. Despite herself, Darlene always thought the man had a nice mouth. There was a sensuous curve to his lips, and they were a nice, smooth pale pink, like the peonies that grew in her garden. “It’s your kind too, Darlene. Our blood runs through your veins.”

Even though she already knew this—he had told her and her sorority sisters this sixty years ago—Darlene still shivered, the hairs on her forearms pricking. “Yes. Demon blood does run through them. But so does human blood. And that is where I derive my strength from.”

“Demon blood.” The visitor rolled those too-blue eyes. “We’re not demons. We are not evil. We are simply more…advanced. If anything, we’re angels. Gods.”

Darlene’s head of tight, white curls sliced to the right, then the left. “God has nothing to do with the likes of you. Living so long, being so beautiful, so…alluring…that can’t be God’s work. It is Satan’s. It is an abomination.”

“Is that what you would call your granddaughters?” He leaned forward in the chair, eyes deepening to an icier shade of blue. The temperature in the room took a nosedive, and Darlene felt little tendrils of frost collecting in her nose, on her eyelashes. “Abominations? Your ‘tainted’ blood flows through their veins. So does mine.”

“Carly and Diane will never know of this world,” she insisted, embracing herself. She didn’t want her daughter’s ex-husband to catch her shivering, but she couldn’t help it. His easily sparked temper had thrown them into a freezer. “I have made sure of that.”

“You won’t be around to protect them forever.” His reminder chilled her even further. “They’ll be out in the world, on their own. Just like you, they will gravitate toward the sisterhood. They will discover their heritage. Their destiny.”

“No.” She shook her head again. “I won’t let that happen.”

All at once, the temperature in the room rose again, the frost clinging to her eyelids and nostrils melting. The visitor sat back in the chair again, raking a hand through his salt-and-pepper hair. “You don’t have to leave them,” he continued in a calmer, kinder tone. “You know that. I can give you more ambrosia. It will awaken the rest of your…demon”—he sneered the word—“blood, give you practically eternal life. But you won’t have to leave Hannah, or your granddaughters.”

Darlene extended a hand to the top of her cane, feeling the grooves in the wood with her fingers. “I don’t want to leave them. But, one day, I’ll have to. That is the natural order of things. The circle of life. I won’t destroy my soul, even for eternal life.”

He sighed. “That’s my Darlene, always so damn moral.”

Darlene nodded once, stiffly. “That’s right. So, did you bring it? Do you have what I requested?” He’d better not have come empty handed.

Nodding and reaching into his suit jacket, her former son-in-law pulled out a black velvet, drawstring bag, seeming to weigh it in his hand before handing it to her. Darlene accepted it, resting the bag on her lap and opening it up, peering inside.

“This is it?” she asked, still unable to believe it. To trust him. “This will seal the rift that’s on the outskirts of my property?”

“That, and this.” He reached back into his jacket, this time emerging with a piece of yellowed parchment. “This is the ritual that will close the tear. Permanently.”

“Good.” Accepting the parchment from him, Darlene gingerly folded it in half and tucked it inside her robe. She pulled on the drawstrings, closing the black velvet pouch. “I’m not sure what’s out there, but there’s something on the other side of that rift. I can hear them sometimes, crying. Screaming.” More demons, she assumed, but she wasn’t about to bring that up in front of him again. There was no point. The rift would be repaired soon, and everything would be back to normal. “What do you think could cause such a thing?” she asked, almost as an afterthought. “I thought the walls the guardians erected long ago were supposed to be full-proof.”

“They are quite sturdy,” he agreed, “but can occasionally weaken and fail from natural wear and tear. But it’s nothing to worry about. That should do the trick.” He nodded toward the bag still sitting in her lap. Darlene wasn’t sure she believed that the anomaly was “nothing to worry about,” but she didn’t pursue that either. Hannah and the girls would be there soon. It was time for him to go.

He seemed to understand this, bringing the recliner forward again and getting to his feet, adjusting his tie as he strode toward the door. “Don’t bother getting up, Darlene.” He waved a hand in her direction just as she was making to push up onto her feet with her cane. “I can see myself out.”

But before he left, he turned again, one hand on the door, the other fisted at his side. “My daughters do not have evil inside of them. They have my people’s magic. Power. You don’t want me to be a part of their lives? Fine. I’ll stay away. But do not shelter them. Don’t deny them their heritage. Like you, like Hannah—though she doesn’t know it—they are guardians. And they are so much more. If you don’t tell them, they will find out some other way. I guarantee it. The Fates will guide them to their destiny. But it’s better that you prepare them. Think about it.”

With that, he pushed through the screen door, pulling it closed behind him much too hard, causing the glass pane to shudder and rattle. Heaving a sigh, Darlene set the black velvet pouch containing the object capable of mending the walls-between-worlds on the couch before getting up to close and lock the heavy oak door. Feeling suddenly breathless, she turned, leaning her back against the cool wood of the door, closing her eyes. He was right about one thing. Maybe she should tell Carly and Diane. Everything.

A moment later, she shook her head, going back over to the couch to retrieve the bag. She would need time to learn how to use the object inside properly and to practice the ritual. Until then, she would hide it away from her granddaughters’ inquisitive eyes. No, she decided, shuffling up the stairs. It was best Carly and Diane only knew the world they were used to. One that was safe. Normal. No demons, no parallel worlds, no magic. They would never know about the guardians, nor who their father really was.

She would make sure of it.

 

Updates August 29, 2017


Why hello there! It’s been a while (sorry about that)…

Madelaine Petsch ouch yikes riverdale cringe GIF

It’s been a pretty busy summer. A great summer, but a busy one.

Even so, I did make some time for writing! However, I stepped away from the Reborn series for the latter part of the summer to work on a different project. I spent much of the summer revamping an old young adult sci-fi (with some romance) novel I’d written awhile ago to get it ready for Pitch Wars.

What is Pitch Wars, you ask? You can get the deets on author Brenda Drake’s web site, but it’s basically a contest to try to win a mentor (usually an editor or previously published author) that will help you further revise and polish up your manuscript. Later in the fall, there’s an agent showcase where you can pitch your newly revised manuscript to agents.

To enter, you need a completed middle grade, young/new adult, or adult novel. You start by submitting a query letter and the first chapter of your manuscript to four mentors of your choosing. There are different mentors for each of the three categories, and before the submission period there’s a blog hop during which each mentor describes what genres they’re interested (or not interested) in mentoring.

I gave it a try this year and didn’t get a mentor…but that’s okay. I’m remaining optimistic. 😉 If anything, I got to see what the contest was all about and may try again next year with a different manuscript. There were around 3000 entries this year and about 180 mentors, I think (I don’t remember the exact stats), so competition was fierce. Plus, now I have a manuscript I can fiddle around with more. I may try to query agents and small publishers with this one first. If that doesn’t work out, I’ll consider self-publishing it.

But now I’ll get back to other writing projects/ideas as well. This summer I also joined a few professional organizations to up my networking game, including Romance Writers of America and Pennwriters. I’ve been meeting some great people through them so far. I have a few author friends I keep in touch with online, but it’s nice to have some real life author acquaintances, too. The writing life, as you can imagine, can be a pretty solitary existence, so it’s super important to take that extra step to network with other writers and potential readers.

I’ll have to check back in with my writing/publishing plans for fall because…I don’t know what they are yet.

Geek & Sundry reaction sam and GIF

It might be fun to post another short story for Halloween, though, like I did two years ago with the short that eventually become my novella Revenge. But we’ll see!

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Adventures in Marketing


Long time, no post. Didja miss me?

The only “real” update I have is that I am giving away two signed paperback copies of Reclaim on Goodreads! The giveaway is open through April 27th (U.S. residents only) and you can access it here.

This post will serve as my monthly check-in for April, but since I don’t have any earth shattering updates, I’ve decided to do a post about my recent “adventures” in marketing. And by adventures, I really mean me trying different marketing platforms to see what works.

So what works? The truth is, I don’t know yet, haha. 😉 I am still learning and exploring what options are out there. And I’ve only recently started toying with Amazon and Goodreads’ marketing tools. I know it will take more than a few months trial and error to see what really works, to figure out what I think works best. So this is more of a post that–if you haven’t played around with any of these tools yet or simply don’t know what’s out there–will hopefully give you somewhere to start. And, if you come across this post with experiences of your own you’d like to share, feel free to comment down below! 🙂

Facebook

I’ll be honest with you: Although I loved Facebook when I was first starting out as an indie author, it’s slowly becoming one of my least favorite platforms.

Don’t get me wrong. I still like it for certain things. I still value it as a go-to spot to connect with friends and readers, to post links to interesting, book-related articles or to my own blog posts. But, ever since Facebook has started pushing its own advertising platform (and, as a result, decreasing the number of followers who see your posts unless you pay up), it’s become less of a fun thing to do.

And, believe me, I get it. I totally get that if you’re going to have your author page or whatever on Facebook, and you’re advertising a product (in this case, my books), that Facebook would like some compensation for that. The only thing is, I’m not super convinced (yet) that paying Facebook to advertise your books leads to tangible results (i.e., book sales). In my experience so far, it doesn’t, and–compared to the other options I’m going to talk about next–it isn’t cost effective, or any kind of effective. And at the risk of getting banned from Facebook forever (would they do that? lol!), I started to feel like the money I was paying to advertise on there would have been better spent getting flushed down the toilet.

Not that advertising on it is completely useless. What you’re really paying for is extending your reach on Facebook, so if you advertise the page itself you will see some new page likes trickle in, or if you boost a post you will see more likes on said post than you would have had you not shelled out $20. But as for any of those people buying your book…I am still skeptical. Maybe if you run it constantly enough and people see it all the time they might finally get curious and buy it or something. However, I’m not convinced enough of this yet to use Facebook for constant advertising, unless maybe it’s around the time of a book release.

Also, just as a heads up, you have to be careful how you lay out your advertisement on Facebook because it gets angry when there are too many words haha. Only a certain percentage of it can be text. As a result, you will likely get a warning message when you prepare an advertise for your book that includes the book cover. Usually it’s okay because book covers are one of the exceptions to this rule (Facebook will still approve the ad), but it’s something to be aware of. I think it’s kind of dumb, though. A LOT of authors are trying to promote their books via Facebook, and including the book cover is an important part of that.

Amazon

Although I will have to experiment more with Amazon’s, for me it’s definitely a more appealing option than Facebook. For one thing, on Amazon (and Goodreads, as you’ll find out next), you only get charged if someone actually clicks on your ad. So, even if they don’t end up buying it, at least they have to physically do something for you to get charged, and it feels a little less like flushing money down the toilet, haha.

Amazon Marketing Services offers two campaign types, sponsored products or product display ads. So far, I have only tried the former. You include a catchy tagline for the advertisement, and you select the start and end dates for the campaign, as well as the maximum amount you are willing to spend per day. So, for example, I ran a sponsored products ad for Reborn for about a month with a daily cap at $5 per day. (Sounds like a lot, right? Because over a month, if you actually reach that threshold every day, you could end up spending $150. But more about that in a second.)

You also choose what keywords may lead to your product getting display (for my book, I chose keywords like “paranormal romance” and “urban fantasy”). Amazon will have suggestions for you based on past searches that have brought people to your book. You can pick as many keywords as you like. You also choose a bid for each click…so, for instance, I could pick “paranormal romance” and bid $0.10, so I will get charged that amount if someone using those keywords happens upon my ad AND clicks on it. I would reach my daily threshold of $5 if 50 people clicked on my ad at $0.10/click.

Next time, I will probably up the bid (I think $0.25 or $0.50 are the usual suggestions). I *think* the bid has something to do with how often your ad is shown (that’s how it works over on Goodreads, at least).

The ad for Reborn, as described above, made about 49,500 impressions in the month it was running. It got 79 clicks, and I made two sales. I mean, now that I’ve put all that out there for you, it doesn’t sound super great (ha, ha), but in that month I only spend $12.70 on this, because not everyone who sees your ad will actually click on it. You may not end up spending anywhere near your daily max every single day of the ad.

That being said, I wouldn’t recommend picking a daily max you couldn’t actually afford if you did end up paying that much. I’m obviously still experimenting with this, and maybe if I said I was willing to spend $100 per day on advertising I would get better results, but that is not happening any time soon. Although I think people should be willing to invest both time and some money into their dream, I’m not recommending you splurge your life savings on it. (Please don’t do that.) This is the cheapskate’s guide to marketing your e-book.

Goodreads

By the way, I should probably have put in this disclaimer much earlier, but I do not work for or represent any of these companies. I am just hoping this post can serve as a source of helpful information that’s all in one place and giving my honest opinion about each of them.

Like the others, Goodreads’ usefulness remains to be seen, but so far it might be my favorite. It’s true that it will likely be a challenge to get a click on an ad on Goodreads to turn into an actual book sale, but it also seems like I will be able to run my ads for a much longer time on there while spending the least amount of money. Which is what I’m always aiming for. Like I said. Cheap. Skate.

Seriously, though. You can create ONE Goodreads campaign, with one budget, and run MULTIPLE ads simultaneously. I have one campaign running right now with a budget of $25, and four ads (one for each book/novella in the Reborn series) running at the same time. I chose to just end the campaign (I started it March 22nd) when the $25 credit runs out. In the meantime, it just keeps on runnin’.

On Goodreads, you can also choose a daily maximum so you can cap how much you are willing to spend per day. I again chose a $5 daily cap and this time chose a $0.50 cost per click. You can choose which genders, countries, and genres you want Goodreads to display your ad(s) to. You also choose a tagline and other info you might want displayed (number of reviews, a link to the preview, etc.).

This campaign is currently running and is obviously still an experiment-in-progress. Since March 22 when it began, it’s been viewed 10,556 times. Only one person has clicked on one of the ads, so I’ve only spent $0.50 so far. I think what I like about it is that it will just keep running, I don’t have to do anything, and, like on Amazon, I don’t get charged unless someone who sees the ad makes a meaningful action (i.e., clicks on it). This is opposed to Facebook, who just gets your $25 either way, ahaha. (I’m sorry Mark Zuckerberg. Don’t take it personally.) Talk about paying for people to “like” you.

Addendum 4/17: So, I wasn’t exactly correct about how Goodreads’ ad campaigns worked…namely about how/when they charge you. I’ll fix it above later (when I have more time), but for now I’m adding this. It does charge you when it creates the ad, but only takes money off the credit when someone clicks on it. BUT…but…this still means that your original credit could still go a long way.

*****

It is too soon to tell what my feelings on all of this will be a few months from now, or a year from now. I will keep you posted. For now, I hope this has been an informative post for those of you who have yet to try any of these things out. I know there are other avenues out there I haven’t explored yet. So far, the results of these ad campaigns haven’t been crazy successful. I guess I’m also hoping there is some value in just seeing the ad (in addition to clicking on it) that may prove useful in the long run…that it will, in time, lead to an add on a Goodreads to-read list and, eventually, to a sale.

Only time will tell.

March Check-In


This is my official check-in for March!

My goal for 2017 is to do an update post once a month (or once every two months, if I don’t have many updates). I’ll usually post these more mid-month, but I’m doing it earlier this time because I have a promotion going on at Smashwords I want to announce. And I also promised some insight into future books, so that’s what the second part of this post is about.

Promotions:

All of the Reborn installments thus far are on sale for free over at Smashwords; just enter the code SFREE at checkout. If you don’t have a Smashwords account, no worries–it’s free to create an account. This is part of Smashwords’ Read an Ebook Week that runs through March 11.

The Grand Plan

So I’ve been keeping busy updating my book notes and planning out the rest of the series. I’m not really doing any regular writing yet, maybe a little here and there, because honestly I’m kind of burned out from finishing Reclaim. I need a break. I know the usual writers’ advice goes that you should write a little every day, but sometimes I just need to let my imagination wander, clear my mind to let inspiration strike. But that doesn’t mean I can’t tell you a bit about where the Reborn series is headed.

Even though thus far I’ve been a one project at a time kind of writer, I’m going to do my best to bounce back and forth between projects this time, so that I can publish things simultaneously, like I did with Revenge and Reclaim. Even though Revenge was just a novella and the latter was a full-length book, I liked being able to put them out close together. This time, I’ll aim to put out books 4 and 5 (which don’t have titles yet) around the same time, maybe a few months apart. This is mainly because book 5 goes back to mostly Siobhan’s story (and Carly’s a little bit)–and I’m sure you’re kind of wondering where I’m taking those plot threads–but book 4 focuses on Anna.

What this series sort of turned into is three separate (but related) stories–Siobhan, Carly, and Anna’s. The events in book 4 run parallel to Reclaim, but since Anna isn’t in the sorority it’s really a completely different story. I just couldn’t see any seamless way to incorporate her story into any other book, but it’s a story I want to tell. Plus, one of the big reveals of the series will happen in book 4.

The first three books are kinda dark, but not really, but I think the next book is going to go to a very dark place. Hopefully you guys will stick with it, lol. Siobhan’s story is in part a story of an inner battle between good and evil, and, although at the end of Relapse Siobhan is left giving in to her darker side, good will ultimately win out. Carly is a more resilient character and isn’t as easily swayed by darkness. Anna’s story, on the other hand, is going to be more of her transforming into a villain in the series (while also gaining a lot of power). Just to mentally prepare you early on, haha. I’m also reading up on some other mythology for book 4. The focus is still on the Greek gods, of course, but I think it’s cool how similar stories and concepts pop up in different cultures, even those separated by oceans (like La Iara, a figure in Brazilian mythology similar to the siren).

The working title for book 4 is Relinquish, although I might change it to something shorter, snappier.

On the other side of things, Siobhan and Carly have more in common than just belonging to the same sorority, which I’ll come back to in book 5. You’ll also get to find out who Carly’s dad is. 😉 This book will tie up most of the loose ends from the previous installments. (Depending on how things go, there will likely be a book 6, which I won’t get into yet. Who knows, I may just decide to tie up everything in the fifth book. Or maybe it will be a spin-off book/series or something like that. We’ll see…)

I also have at least one more standalone/companion novella planned (from Apate’s POV). At one point I had some thoughts for a prequel novella that would take place long, long ago and center on Eros and Psyche, so maybe I’ll revisit that at some point.

So, in summary: There will be more things coming, at some point! And they will be good things you will hopefully like. 😉

Inspiration for Reclaim


When I first conceived the Reborn series, it was just supposed to be a trilogy, and it was just supposed to be about Siobhan and Jasper.

But as I was writing Relapse, I realized other characters in this world had their own, complex stories to tell. One of those characters is, of course, Carly. I’ll address my plans for the rest of the series in a future post, but today I’d like to share with you some of the things that inspired the third installment Reclaim, which releases February 15 (and is available for pre-order now!).

Reclaim initially came out of me psychoanalyzing my own book (Relapse), lol. I try not to censor what comes out of my head when I write (I don’t take something out else unless I truly hate it, it doesn’t make sense, or it ends up really not working). Although I make rough outlines for my books, the characters tend to take the story where they want it to go, and who am I to force them to go another way. (This probably won’t make any sense to you unless you are also a writer, haha.)

That being said…I didn’t like where I had left Carly at the end of that book. (Also, if you haven’t read the first two books yet, this is your obligatory spoiler alert.)

spoilers

Damseling

If you recall, Carly’s plot thread in Relapse ended with her realizing there was literally no way she (and Dolos) could get out of Pandora without help. Up until that point, Carly had been more proactive thinking about ways to get out, but eventually she had to accept that it wasn’t going to happen. They had to wait to be rescued.

Then, things got even worse for Carly. She’s part Olympian, but also part human, and so was weakening at a much faster rate than Dolos. She was dying, but Dolos used his ability to create illusions to distract her, and to lessen her pain. I don’t regret writing it that way because I wanted to show that, despite the act he showed to the world, Dolos was, deep down, a good guy, and he cared about Carly, a lot. I like writing those “awwwwww” moments that also kind of make you want to cry and give you lots of feels. (As a romance reader and writer, I enjoy those moments where you realize just how much the hero loves the heroine, and the lengths he’ll go to protect her. But thinking about it a little more deeply, this can sometimes be at the expense of the female character’s autonomy.)

As you know, at the end of Relapse, Siobhan did come to their rescue, and Carly was freed. Woot! Hooray!

Sure, Carly had a moment of weakness, and needed the help of a friend, but I didn’t want to keep her in that position. So I decided to center the next installment around her and how she would…ahem…reclaim her power.

Although I keep the details vague, you also get the sense in Carly’s part of Relapse that, as a child, she was the victim of abuse at the hands of her stepfather. In Reclaim, Carly gets an opportunity to confront this dark period in her life and some of the ways it’s still affecting her. And, just like Siobhan seems to have some pretty unique halfling abilities, Carly taps into a unique power of her own.

Let the Games Begin!

One thing you may remember about Dolos from Relapse is he likes playing games. (Whether he likes playing fairly is another story…) Games are also a theme in Reclaim.

By the way, Dolos’s alter ego is inspired by a combination of Jareth from Labyrinth and Julian from L.J. Smith’s The Forbidden Game trilogy (who probably also has a bit of Jareth in him). There’s enough of a twist on it that my book isn’t TFG fanfiction, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Smith’s influence on my writing. As you’ll see, the opening quote in Reclaim is from the first TFG book, The Hunter: “Sometimes you can’t return good for evil; sometimes evil simply has to be stopped.”

A year ago, when I was first planning out this book and thinking about this theme of games, I remember looking up game theory on Wikipedia. Which took me to a page on pursuit-evasion games, like the princess and monster game. This got me further thinking about portrayals of girls and women in video games, TV shows, movies…basically any form of media…although it is getting better, and at least people are acknowledging and talking about it. So Reclaim became a story about “princess” Carly, battling her own monsters–literal and figurative–and, ultimately, owning her own power.

It’s also just a fun book with some sexy scenes, some fight scenes, and lots of witty banter. 😉

Reclaim releases February 15, 2017.

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WIP Wednesday December 14, 2016


This won’t be a long update post today, but I just wanted to let you all know I finished all of the edits/rewrites I wanted to make for Reclaim!

IT’S A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE.

christmas-unicorn

Lol, but seriously, I’m really excited. I’m definitely on track now to release this thing end of January (January 24, 2017, to be exact).

I’m going to order the proof of the paperback version soon to check that out. It will make it easier for me to read through it one last time. Hopefully I don’t realize there’s some catastrophic, super obvious plot hole that I missed during the rewrites. I don’t mind if there are little things people don’t like about it (you can’t please everyone), but I hope I don’t catch any glaring errors at this point, gahhh. There shouldn’t be. I’m just being paranoid.

Anyway, I’ll let a few friends read it and help me with edits, but other than that it’s pretty close to being done. So get excited!

I’m going to try to go on a social media detox during the holidays, but I’ll be back in January and will probably be super annoying about promoting this thing.

In the meantime, you can read the first chapter of Reclaim here, and another fun excerpt here.

Until then, happy holidays, and happy reading!

~S.L.

Excerpt: Scarefest


An early Thanksgiving “gift” for all of you, my lovely readers: the first full chapter of Reclaim!

No one has read this yet (so…feel special? lol), and this is of course before the final copy edit. And I guess it could still change a little bit between now and January, but probably not drastically since it’s mainly set up and reminding you about things that went down in Relapse. (And, if you haven’t read the first two books, spoilers abound.) In any case, hope you enjoy!

(You can read another excerpt here.)

*****

“Lower your elbow,” Alec says. Placing one hand on my waist, he gently coaxes my elbow down with the other. I stiffen under the intimate contact, and he pulls away quickly, taking a step to the side. “You were never going to hit any with your arm sticking out like that.”

Smiling, I glance at him out of the corner of my eye. “It’s just balloon darts, Alec.”

He sighs, crossing his arms. “I know. Sorry. I have a bit of a competitive streak, in case you’ve forgotten.”

“I haven’t.” Returning my gaze to the wall of brightly colored balloons, I align the tip of the dart with a red one in the upper right corner. With a flick of my wrist, I send the dart whizzing toward my target—and straight into the empty patch of corkboard next to it. The next two meet the same fate.

“Fudge,” I say, throwing my arms up in defeat. “There goes my career as a professional darts player. Your turn.”

Alec scoops up three additional darts from the counter and assumes a wide-legged stance, expertly lining up the first dart with the board. He pulls his arm back and snaps it forward again, the dart a silver and black blur as it flies through the air. It bounces off the board, dropping to the ground.

“I may have used a little too much force,” he admits.

I nod in agreement. “Just a little.”

His second dart doesn’t fare much better, getting lodged in the corkboard like all three of mine did. “Maybe you should just stick to football,” I tell him.

As if to prove me wrong, the third successfully punctures a blue balloon with a loud pop that makes me jump, even though I saw it coming.

Alec pumps his fist. “Score!”

Rolling his eyes, the attendant turns to check the tag  underneath the shriveled remains of the balloon. After rummaging underneath the counter, he tosses a neon orange bouncy ball in Alec’s direction. Alec catches it in one hand, promptly dropping it into mine. “I was hoping to win you a giant stuffed animal, but I guess this will have to do.”

“I will cherish it always,” I say, stuffing it into my pocket.

“Another round?” the attendant asks us, looking hopeful as he holds up three more darts. Alec and I glance at each other, then back at the attendant, shaking our heads politely. Heaving a sigh, he turns his back to us, moving to replace the broken balloon.

“Let’s go on some rides,” Alec says to me as we walk away from the game booth.

I shake my head. “Not tonight. I should probably get going,” I realize, checking the time on my cell phone.

“Come on. One ride. How about the Iron Demon?”

“I hate roller coasters…in case you’ve forgotten,” I add with a smirk.

He gives an apologetic shrug. “I kind of did. The haunted house, then,” he suggests, pointing behind me.

“No way. It’s too creepy,” I tell him, shivering at the mere thought of it. The haunted house consists of five or so dark, eerie rooms where an assortment of hideous characters lurk in the shadows, waiting to jump out and scare you. From the outside, it looks like an old, black clapboard house where an evil witch might live. I picture her inside, hunched over a large cauldron filled with a bubbling green potion. She kicks back her head and cackles, and I can almost hear the maniacal sound of it spilling from the windows, echoing in the empty alley beyond.

Alec sounds exasperated when he says, “It’s meant to scare little kids. Not us.”

“There’s a room full of clowns, Alec. Clowns. I’m not going in there.”

“Never mind. Sorry I mentioned it.” I catch him rolling his eyes before he turns away from me. “So, no roller coasters, and no haunted houses. Then how about the…”

His words become background noise as I stare into the alley next to the house—looking for what, I don’t know. The lights from the rides don’t seem to reach this corner of the park, where shadows gather like a thick, dark fog. But if I look hard enough, I can almost see the faint silhouettes of two people through the haze. Another shiver runs down my spine, but this time it’s not from fear, or even the cold autumn air. Anticipation coursing through me, I take a reflexive step toward the alley.

“Carly?” Alec puts a hand on my shoulder. “You okay?” His concerned voice breaks the trance. Shaking myself, I look up at him, smiling.

“I’m fine,” I insist. “It’s getting late. Let’s just go.” As we walk away, I take one last look at the alley, but the figures I thought I saw in the shadows are gone. Feeling strangely disappointed, I turn back around.

“I’m sorry about before. At the dart game,” Alec says. I assume he’s talking about that brief, awkward moment when he tried to adjust my throwing arm. “It was habit. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“It’s okay,” I assure him. “I can understand that. It hasn’t been that long since…” I trail off, watching our shoes hit the pavement in sync as we walk through the amusement park. Waves of patrons stream past us in the opposite direction, talking and laughing loudly, cotton candy in hand.

“No, it hasn’t,” he agrees. “Carly, I…” When I look over at him, he’s avoiding my gaze, kicking a chunk of gravel along as we walk.

“Alec.” I stop in the middle of the street, forcing a couple of kids to go around us. “Why did you ask me here tonight?”

Alec pauses and holds my gaze steady. “I…I guess I just thought that maybe…” He takes a step closer to me. “I still care about you, Carly. I want to get back together. I—I thought you might want the same thing.”

At first, I’m too stunned to speak. I shake my head slowly, sounding apologetic but firm when I finally say, “No. I’m sorry, Alec, but I don’t.”

“No,” he echoes sadly. “Well, I guess I sort of expected that. But I have to ask—why?”

Why?” Feeling flustered, I try to remember why I even agreed to meet Alec at Playland in the first place. I should have realized when he “wanted to talk,” it was about getting back together. Instead of thinking it through, I had jumped at the opportunity to get out of the sorority house, which I hadn’t left in days. Hot, angry tears sting the backs of my eyes, ready to burn their way down my cheeks. “You can’t be serious. You dumped me in front of the entire Greek Quad—then had the nerve to ask for your lavalier back.”

“Carly, I was trying to—”

“And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, your fraternity sacrificed me to bring one of your brothers back!” I didn’t know it at the time—didn’t know why the Sigma Iota brothers lured me to their basement and forced me through the portal that took me to Pandora, the space between universes. It wasn’t until later that I found out it was an exchange, a way to bring one of their leaders back from Olympus while maintaining the balance between our worlds.

“Yes, my fraternity! Not me!” He takes a step closer to me. I remember a time not so long ago when he would come up to me and scoop me into his arms, and I would rest my head on one of his broad shoulders. Now, he leaves a sliver of space between us, a few feet that feel like a mile. His golden skin looks paler than usual, pulled tightly across angular cheekbones. He lifts his hands as though to reach for mine, then brings them back to his sides. His dark eyes fill with tears. “I tried to stop them, Carly.”

“What about afterwards? You didn’t come after me or even try to get help. You weren’t at the ritual when the others came to rescue me—”

“I had no idea they were going after you—”

“Stop it!” I shriek. A few of the people standing in line at the rubber duck game look over at us curiously. “Stop making excuses,” I say, lowering my voice. “There’s nothing you can say to make this better.”

Alec nods, seeming to accept this. “I get it. I do, and I’m…sorry. I really am sorry.”

“Me, too.” I shudder as a biting wind blows through the park, cutting through my denim jacket. It whips a lock of Alec’s black hair across his forehead. I dig my hands into my pockets, resisting the impulse to smooth it back.

“I shouldn’t have asked you out tonight,” he continues. “I should have known…plus, if my brothers find out…” He glances over his shoulder as though expecting one of his Sigma Iota brothers to appear behind him.

“I won’t tell if you won’t. Well, I guess I’ll see you around,” I say, turning to go.

“Just tell me,” Alec says, and I turn back around to face him, “there isn’t someone else.”

I roll my eyes. “Because the only possible reason I could have of not getting back together with you is that I met someone.”

He sighs in frustration. “That’s not what I meant.”

I open my mouth, entertaining, for a moment, the idea of telling him everything about my time in Pandora—about the other prisoner, my only companion in that dark, never-ending abyss. Then, the final words he spoke to me resurface, piercing through me all over again like a flurry of tiny darts.

“I’m a liar, Carly. You said so yourself. And you were right all along…I tricked you. I wanted to play with you a little while longer. And you let me…”

I shake my head. “No. There’s no one else.”

Alec looks relieved. “There’s no one else in my life, either.”

“I hope you find someone, Alec,” I tell him, my voice small. “I hope one day you find her—the woman of your dreams.”

“I hope you find the woman of your dreams, too,” Alec says in a half-hearted attempt to lighten the mood.

I laugh despite myself. “And I hope one day we can be friends. You know, when our houses stop this whole mortal enemies thing.”

He nods. “No matter what happens, I consider you a friend, Carly.”

“Goodbye, Alec.” Unsure of what else to say, I leave him standing next to the booth with the rubber duck game, feeling his eyes on me as I walk away.

I head back toward the park entrance, passing other game booths and rides along the way. Lights flash all around me, brightening the night sky in brief bursts of color. The late night crowd at Playland is mostly composed of people on dates and cliques of rowdy teenagers. Like the group currently loitering off to one side of the arched entryway. The boys are wearing shirts with band or beer logos on the front, pants hanging loose over their boxers. The girls have on shiny tops that don’t come down quite far enough over their form-fitting leggings. None of them are wearing jackets, preferring to look cool over appropriately dressed for the middle of October.

I feel wistful as I watch them talking and laughing, passing a large bag of kettle corn back and forth. I missed out on those carefree years, my adolescence filled with secrets and silence instead of friendships and laughter. Back then, I felt older than my sixteen years, already jaded. Now, watching this group of teenagers, I realize just how young I really was.

“BOO!” a voice bellows in my ear. I jump, letting out a scream to rival those coming from the Iron Demon, and spin around to find a figure in a black, hooded cloak looking just as startled as I am.

“Someone’s a little jumpy,” a muffled male voice says from behind the hood. Shaking his head, he walks away to join the zombie smoking a cigarette over by the ticket booth. The teens with the kettle corn are pointing at me, laughing. Heat rises to my cheeks, and I look away from them. I had forgotten Playland was in the midst of Scarefest, its month-long Halloween event. The zombie and the grim reaper must work at the haunted house.

Glancing around for an escape route, I spot a dark purple tent across the way, the signpost outside of it advertising:

Madam Moira

World-renowned fortuneteller

Divines your future for a $10 donation

I crack a smile at the word “donation.” Nevertheless, I hurry in that direction, avoiding the amused glances and mocking laughter still being thrown my way. For ten bucks, I’m not sure Madam Moira could tell me all that much, but maybe she could at least tell me if I’m going to ace the Concepts of Math midterm I haven’t studied for.

I slip inside the tent to find a hunched figure, draped in a midnight blue cloak, sitting at a foldout table littered with flickering black candles. Directly in front of her is a crystal ball mounted on an iron stand, seeming to emanate a light of its own.

“Who dares to disturb the meditation of Madam Moira?” a dramatic voice says from beneath the cloak. A hand rises to knock back the hood, revealing a tumble of black curls and two dark brown eyes set in an olive-toned face. Madam Moira gestures for me to sit, her large gold hoop earrings swaying from the movement. I take the other chair quickly.

“Ten dollars for a basic reading,” Moira says, holding her hand out expectantly. Her nails are fake, painted a glittery black with a clear gem adorning each tip. I get some money out of my purse, laying the bills in her outstretched palm. Her fingers close immediately over them, cramming them into the velvet pouch on her lap.

“What is your name, child?” she asks me, full, red lips curving into a tranquil smile. I try to hide my amusement at the question. Some psychic she is.

“Carly.” I shift uncomfortably in the chair. The seat is covered with a lumpy gold cushion that makes me feel like I’m sitting on a Jell-O mold.

“Carly,” she repeats thoughtfully. “Daughter of the true gods.” I go still at the words, forgetting the cushion situation. “Tell me, Carly. What has brought you to seek the guidance of Madam Moira?”

Carly,” I begin, mocking her use of the third person, “would like to know what the future holds.”

Moira nods knowingly. “Before we proceed, I must warn you: I do not sugarcoat my readings,” she says, arching a thick, well-shaped eyebrow. She has a faint, unfamiliar accent—must be another part of her act. “Many think they want to know what the future holds. But you may not like what you find there. Would you still like to proceed?”

Of course—I just paid you ten dollars, I think to myself, but all I do is nod, encouraging her to continue.

“Very well.” Moira’s piercing eyes shift to the crystal ball. She stirs the air above it with a flourish of her hands. “You have recently returned from a perilous journey,” she continues, glancing up at me. I give her another nod. “Journey” is pretty vague, even a perilous one. That could mean anything. It could refer to my trip to the grocery store this morning and the truck that almost backed into my car in the parking lot.

Creases burrow across her forehead as she peers into the ball. “I see a field. An endless field with tall, green grass. A great wall surrounding a city. An elderly man, standing guard.” Madam Moira pauses for effect. My heart starts to pound, the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end.

“I also see a…forest.” I don’t know if I’m imagining it or not, but it looks like the light inside the glass ball is starting to swirl. “And a creature—a gorgeous creature with a shining mane and a glittering”—she squints as though even she doesn’t quite believe what she’s seeing—“horn. A great, gaping pit of fire, mountains looming in the distance.” Moira blinks a few times, wavering in her chair. “I’m sorry. I’m only getting snapshots—everything is so jumbled and disjointed. Now, there’s a room—a dark room with stone walls and an iron throne—”

“That’s enough,” I say, standing up so quickly I almost knock the chair over. Concentration broken, Moira shifts her gaze to me, looking taken aback. “I mean…that’s okay. None of that matters, anyway. It’s in my past…not my future.” I turn to go, unable to listen to this a moment longer—to her abbreviated version of everything that happened in Pandora, an adventure that turned out to be nothing more than a fancy trick.

I wasn’t alone in Pandora, although I didn’t know my prison had a name at first. I thought I was trapped in an eerie, dark palace, held captive by a mercurial, white-haired prince. He sent me on what turned out to be a pointless quest to win my freedom. On my journey, I was tested three times. A test of the mind to enter the city. One of strength to get across a burning chasm. A final test of the heart to choose my own freedom and getting home to my sorority sisters over an imposter Alec. As it turned out, the entire journey had been a distraction created by the prince, who wasn’t a prince or my captor at all, but a fellow prisoner.

“I see a boy.” Moira’s lilting voice brings me back to the present. “A boy with two faces.”

“Who told you all of this?” I ask, sitting down again. “Was my roommate here? This isn’t funny, Victoria!” I say loudly, just in case she’s hiding somewhere, watching me make a fool of myself.

“You care about him,” Moira says, eyes sad.

A tear escapes down my cheek. I wipe it quickly away. “It doesn’t matter. He’s gone. He left me.” I’m not really being fair to Dolos, Moira’s boy with two faces. One, the face of the blonde prince holding me captive—the other green-eyed and dark-haired. The real Dolos, the god of trickery and deceit. When we were rescued from Pandora, I returned home, and so did he, as I found out later. Even though I had already suspected as much, it had taken me awhile to truly digest it—to accept I would never see him again.

“He is not gone,” Moira assures me. “He’s just in hiding.”

I shake my head. “But that would mean—”

“You have known so much loss in such little time,” Moira interrupts me, shaking her head gravely. “A sister in jeopardy. Trapped.”

“Yes!” I cry out, nodding eagerly for her to continue, despite the abrupt change of topic. “Siobhan. Is she okay? Is she alive?”  My sorority sister, Siobhan, was the one who braved Pandora to rescue us. Once I was safely out, she never came back through the portal, and Victoria and the others ran out of time, forced to close it behind her.

“She is hanging on.”

“Do we save her?” I lean forward into the table. “We have to get her out of there. She’s important.”

Moira’s eyes take on a sudden intensity when she replies, “You’re both important.”

I shake my head. “You don’t understand. She saved me, and I think she’s going to save all of us—the whole world, even. We need her.”

“Siobhan is the sword. You are the shield.”

Her cryptic words do nothing to reassure me. “What the heck is that supposed to mean?”

Instead of answering me, she says, “You need to save the others, first. They are trapped in a different way. Transformed.”

As Victoria updated me upon my return, Hera had spied on our sorority, deeming us unfit to perform our duties as guardians of the wall between universes. As punishment, she turned my sisters into doves.

“Will we be able to save them, too? Change them back?” Moira nods. “How?” I press her.

“Before the day is done, go to the place where three become one.”

“I don’t need another riddle.” I had my fill of them in Pandora. “You’re going to have to give me more than that.”

“You will embark on a dangerous quest.” Moira points a long, manicured fingernail at me. “Sacrifices will be made. Prices will be paid.”

“I think we’ve had to make plenty of sacrifices already,” I say, anger suddenly surging through me.

“You will have to choose.”

“Choose? Choose what?”

“Your sisters or your lover.”

“I think I’ve heard enough.” This time when I stand up, I send the chair clattering to the ground. I was right in the first place. Madam Moira is nothing but an actress. And a mediocre one at that. She got lucky with her guesses. Although I’m not a complete nonbeliever—some people probably are psychic, have “the sight,” whatever you want to call it–but certainly not some ten dollar fortuneteller at an amusement park.

“I warned you,” Madam Moira calls out behind me. “The future isn’t always an easy thing to hear.”

“Neither are your lies,” I tell her without looking back.

“The beast is coming.”

The words stop me in my tracks. Not just the words—Moira’s voice has changed. It’s deep and distorted, like someone or something else is speaking through her. I should bolt from the tent, but fear keeps my feet nailed to the ground. I twist my head slowly to look back over my shoulder, afraid of what I will find when I do, but overcome with an unshakable curiosity.

Moira’s eyes have rolled into the back of her head, leaving only the whites and a spider’s web of red lines. “It rises again,” she bellows. “It returns for the hunt. To devour its prey.”

“What beast?” I ask her, voice quivering. Forcing myself into motion, I back away slowly, unable to take my eyes off of her.

“The beast is alive. It is close. So close.”

“Where is it?” Suddenly, my back hits the wall of the tent, stopping me from going any further. The material gives way as I sink further and further into it. “What does it want?”

Moira fixes her white gaze on me. “You.”

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