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Playlist for Lab Rats

For me, music is essential to the creation of my story. Once I have an idea of who my characters are and the tentpoles of a new story, I’ll create a playlist for the book. Over the course of the writing, the list gets pared down to songs that are meaningful to me.

Here’s a list of five random songs from the Lab Rats playlist. I’ll try to give a spoiler free reason for them.

1-Lonely by Demi Lovato–There are many points where this song fits either of my leads. Ben grew up in an emotionally stunted borderline abusive family, and he keeps everyone at arm’s length and avoids personal connections. Diana is in the doghouse because her twin is the one who exposed the community, and as a result, she has to den by herself when she’s never lived apart from a pack.

2-It was Always You by Maroon Five–They’re fated mates. That’s pretty much it.

3-S&M by Rihanna–They don’t like each other very much and there’s definitely some semi-hate fucking as they first come together. While there’s not actually any BDSM, the song still spoke to me.

4-The Kiss from the soundtrack to The Last of the Mohicans movies–I was relatively young when I saw this movie, and the scene this music is from hit me hard. Since then, when I have an hungry, urgent kiss in a book, this song usually ends up in that list.

5-I Hate Myself for Loving You by Joan Jett–again, they don’t like each other, but are attracted to each other from the very first day.

Living in Waldenbooks

Today’s prompt from #MFRW is Childhood Memories.

There used to be a chain of bookstores in the US called Waldenbooks. A very young Delilah practically lived at hers. Every month, like clockwork, there was a new Baby-Sitter’s Club book to buy. Every week there were what, at the time, felt like an endless source of opportunities. This particular Waldenbooks was next to a toy store, but little Delilah never spent her allowance there–or only rarely, for there were books to buy!

When you spend as much time in a small bookstore as young Delilah did, you get to know the staff, and vice versa. It was amazing when they started giving her personalized recommendations based on what she’d previously bought–sort of like how websites like Amazon do now. They were the ones to introduce her to the worlds of Xanth (Piers Anothony) and Valdemar (Mercedes Lackey) in the adult section, even though they’re more YA than anything else.

The other place young Delilah loved above all else was the library. Thousands of books to read–for free! The best gift her mother ever gave her was when she signed the form that let an eleven year old Delilah read books from any section of the library, not just the children’s section. Of course she immediately abused by reading Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews. Other books read too young include Gone With the Wind and Clan of the Cave Bear, among many others.

Obviously the common thread is books. Something about being surrounded by books is like feeling endless possibilities. Each book gives you a peek into a new world, or lets you return to a world you’ve enjoyed in the past. Books didn’t care that she didn’t have a lot of money, or that she only had one parent, or that she struggled to make friends. Books were friends, and better ones than the kids who she just didn’t get. (Young Delilah was a little weird, and didn’t find her community until college.)

Books inspired her imaginative play. Dolls acted out Baby-Sitter’s Club scenes. Delilah adopted a nickname shared by a BSC member and used it for nearly eight years after it became habit. A trailer that she lived in had a small copse of fir trees, and every time she passed through it, she hoped that she’d end up in Narnia (Not today–not getting raptured up because you like lipstick? Fuck that noise.) Even today, Delilah will play around with the worlds that she finds particularly interesting–writing fanfic in her head for the fun of it.

True then, true now–surround Delilah with books, and she’s a happy woman.

ARC review–The Fearless King by Katee Robert

The Fearless King by Katee Robert

4.5/5*

Publication date–Feb 5, 2019

I received The Fearless King from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I wanted to start my new year’s reading off with a bang, and after two sweet romances without any sex, I was ready for some scorching romance. The Fearless King did not disappoint.

The Fearless King is the second book in the King series by Robert. I had not read book one prior to reading this book, but The Fearless King works as a stand-alone. Having finished it, I did go back and buy book one because I want to read the story that informed this one.

Journey King is the COO of Kingdom Corp, a family business. Her mother was forced out of town (this is the story in book 1) but she and her older brother have taken over the company. Things are going along well…until her father returns to town, hell bent on taking over the company. As it turns out, their father’s family had given their mother the cash to start Kingdom Corp and are now the main shareholders.

But it’s so much worse than her father coming back into her life at work. He abused her and her siblings as children, and he’s playing the same psychological games, and Journey feels like everything is slipping away. So she turns to the only person who might be able help.

Frank Evans is not Journey’s friend. He helped run her mother out of town. He won’t sell her real estate she wants. He’s ruthless, and trusting him with her secrets and asking him to help her oust her father is possibly a step too far, but he’s her last resort.

Frank knows that he shouldn’t care about Journey. Shouldn’t want her. But, against his better judgment, he does. When he agrees to help her, his condition is that they pretend to have a relationship so he can get closer to her family and her company. Things turn real very quickly when her father makes it clear that he’ll take the company–at any price.

I read the first two chapters, turned to my spouse, and said “now that’s how you start a book!” I was sucked in until the next thing I knew, it was four a.m.!

Journey is well written, both in her moments of strength and her moments of terror. She is vulnerable, sassy, strong, and even when her demons are riding her, she is compelling. Frank is more of an enigma, but his jagged pieces fit Journey’s. You see the struggle within him to From the moment he summons her to his office in the nightclub to the first bout of oral sex to the incredibly suspenseful ending, you don’t just want them to be together, you need it.

The sex is scorching. Incredibly satisfying, captures the mood and tone perfectly, as well as capturing the personalities involved.

I liked that it is an interracial romance, and that race was actually discussed. People harass Journey over her relationship with Frank on a number of levels, but race is absolutely one of them. For his part, Frank is also pragmatic and realistic about his skin color and the impact that has on him being one of the richest developers in Houston. The racial dynamics were also well done–there’s no fetishizing skin tone, but you don’t forget it either.

My only real complaint is that the fake relationship (one of my top three favorite tropes) doesn’t really go anywhere. It never really gains enough steam, or has enough emphasis on it in the way I usually see the trope done. I would call this erotic romance, or maybe suspenseful romance, but I wouldn’t immediately think of it and go “oh, yeah, a fake relationship book.” But this is a minor complaint–for all that it was a big part of why I chose it on Netgalley, I was happy enough with the story that I don’t care that the fake relationship was such a minor component.

4.5 stars, which I’ll round to 5 when reviewing. Pre-order it here.

Is writing for fun, profit, or other?

Welcome to week 1 of 52 prompts from Marketing for Romance Writers.

This week’s question is Writing–Doing it for fun, profit, or other?

I’ve been telling stories as long as I can remember, so I’ve never been motivated by money. The problem with the word “fun” implies frivolity, and writing isn’t a frivolous act for me. I suppose that means I fall into the “other” category. Or at least I used to.

Turning professional has really exposed how much of writing is marketing, and how hard it can be to find an audience and to profit from your writing. Unless you’re Nora Roberts or Beverly Jenkins you can’t expect the money to come pouring in. So, sure, you can say you’re writing for the money, but I don’t know how long you’ll last if that is your motivating factor.

Is writing fun? Yes, although I hate editing. But when I get sucked into the worlds I’m creating and am in the story with my characters, I’m having a ton of fun (well, except when they make me cry, but even that is fun in its own way). I would argue that I wrote primarily for fun when I used to write drafts of stories, not really bother with editing, and then threw them up on websites like literotica. The comments stroked my ego, as did the numbers that told me how many people had read it.

The thing is that while writing is fun, there’s so much more involved with professionally doing it. You hold yourself to a much higher standard, you have beta readers, you go through drafts (don’t even get me started on how many drafts fucking Plunder has been through), and then you either submit to a company (who will expect you to market your own books) or you self-publish (which carries a lot of issues like formatting, making a cover, etc). It is time consuming and often draining. Marketing is where I struggle and, if anything, makes writing less fun for me.

So why bother? If editing is a hassle and marketing can be soul-sucking why do it for anything other than fun? I want to share my stories with the world, and I hope that I will eventually find my audience. I’m still a newborn when it comes to everything that isn’t writing.

I also don’t know how not to write. The stories grow inside me until I have no choice but to write them down. For me, writing is like reading–a compulsion, something as vital as breathing for me. I don’t know how not to do it. While I have taken breaks in writing, I’m still telling stories–to myself, to my kids, to the cats, whatever.

Why do you write?

Book Review–Dirty Series by Jaine Diamond

Dirty Series, Book 1

Today I’m going to do something a little different. Rather than review a specific book, I’m going to talk about a series. In the last weeks of December, I somehow stumbled upon Dirty Like Me by Jane Diamond. I read it, and then devoured the rest of the series. I’m going to try to keep the review spoiler free, but I’ll have some general comments about each book.

The Dirty series centers around the insanely popular Canadian rock band, Dirty. There are five band members, a manager, and the head of security who get books. Brody, Zane, Jude, and Jesse have known each other since at least their teens, and there’s a lot of history there. The other members of the band are newer, with new being a relative term. But the band’s makeup was static until just after the first world tour. Seth’s drug addiction went so far that he needed to be kicked out of the band. When the series starts, we’re in the lead-up to the tenth anniversary of that first album. The books take place from that lead-up through the tenth anniversary tour–roughly just over a year.

Book 1 is Dirty Like Me. It centers around Jesse, Dirty’s lead guitarist, and Katie. Katie’s best friend works in the entertainment industry, and because Katie stumbles into a meeting, she’s asked to be the girl next door in Jesse’s first video as a solo act. When the video goes viral, everyone is hungry for Jesse and Katie. He asks her to come with him on a six week tour, posing as his girlfriend

I fucking love the fake relationship trope. LOVE. IT. It’s what caught my attention about book one, which is what led me down the rabbit hole of the whole world/series.

The next story–Dirty Like US–is technically 0.5 in the series, but Diamond recommends reading it second, I’m guessing to ensure that readers know and are a little invested in Maggie and Zane. This story is free when you sign up for Diamond’s mailing list. It’s a fast read, but very important to a secret that gets exposed in the real book 2. Can you live without it? Yes, but why would you want to?

Book 2 is Dirty Like Brody. This one takes place leading up to/during Jesse and Katie’s wedding. (Which, if you’re shocked by the news that the fake relationship turned real? Welcome to Romancelandia.) The couple is Brody, Dirty’s manager, and Jessa Mayes, Jesse’s little sister. She used to write music for the band, but ran away to model. She never really comes around anymore because dark secret. He’s been in love with her forever, and it’s always been mutual but things never worked out that way. Until now?

Book 2.5 is A Dirty Wedding Night. Diamond warns you that short stories/novellas aren’t necessarily HEA (Happily Ever After), and I’m going to second that warning. However, we see several important dynamics and connections at play in four different couples. Just know going in that not everyone is getting out with an intact heart, and read it. You’ll be happy you did, especially as those dynamics become really important in future books. Don’t skip it or go back to read it later–I strongly encourage you to read it in this order.

Book 3 is Dirty like Seth. The couple in this book are Elle, the bassist, and Seth, the disgraced former rhythm guitarist. This is my least favorite book because the pairing didn’t quite click for me in the same way that the others did. I also think Seth’s redemption is too easy. But the book has a five star rating on amazon with over 50 reviews, so what do I know?

Book 4 is Dirty like Dylan. It’s a threesome romance between Dylan, Dirty’s drummer, Ash, the lead singer of another band who usually tours with Dirty, and Amber, a photographer. While Seth’s book is my least favorite, Dirty like Dylan replaced Dirty Like Me as my favorite book. I read the series on Kindle Unlimited, but thus far have only bought this book. The sex is insanely hot. It totally changes the way you see a character who primarily shows up in A Dirty Wedding Night and Dirty Like Seth, and when his heart gets broken (again) it sort of destroyed me a little.

I find that triad sex is a tricky needle to thread. I say this as a writer who has largely avoided writing threesomes because I’m intimidated by the prospect of doing so. I also say it as a romance reader who has seen it go wrong…a lot. I was really happy right up until X’s heart gets broken. I generally prefer my triads to still be together by the end of the book, and Diamond goes the route of having the heroine “pick.” In this case there are a lot of reasons it happens and everything is very complicated and shades of gray. Ultimately, though, I have to cede the fact that Diamond gets it right given the characters involved. But it’s not 100% an HEA, as she hurts the character I want to hug/fuck the most. Thank god he’s getting his own book/series in 2019.

Book 5 is Dirty Like Jude. Up to this point, Jude is a bit of an enigma. He’s best friends with Jesse, is head of security for Dirty, and has known Jesse and some of the others since they were young. He’s involved with a Motorycycle Club (MC). Because of that, I walked into the book very interested in him. The thing that didn’t quite work for me, though, was the heroine. I don’t know if I just didn’t see enough of her to get invested in her, but I wasn’t. Not like the other couples–I wanted to know what happened with Jude. Roni is Jessa Maye’s (book 2) best friend since childhood. Roni has been in love with Jude since she was a teen, but she ruined it by boasting how much she wanted to fuck his brother when she didn’t know he could hear her. Her nickname is “Wildcard,” and while she has growth and an arc, I’m just more invested in Jude.

Book 6 is Dirty Like Zane. I know I speak for many fans when I say that I was D.Y.I.N.G. to read this fucking book by the time I got to it. I read fast, so it was within ten days of starting the first book, but it wasn’t fast enough. We learn a huge secret about Zane and Maggie in book 2 (or if you read book 0.5, you’ll learn it then) and since that moment, as a reader you will be so so so so ready to read their story. To avoid a spoiler, I will just say that they have a complicated history and I was salivating to see how it would play out.

Zane is the lead singer of Dirty, a brash womanizer and reformed alcoholic. Maggie is the co-manager of Dirty. They have so much chemistry together, and watching them come together is just so fucking great. It’s a fantastic end to the series.

I strongly recommend reading the whole thing, start to finish (and even if I didn’t love book 3, it still moves the plot forward in ways that are important in the following books).

The big pros of the series

  • The sex is outstanding. I’ve revisited some of the sex scenes a few times since I read the books initially. I am especially a fan of the threesomes in book five, Dirty like Dylan.
  • The characters and the world are compelling. Part of why I burned through the series without stopping was because of how invested I became in them. There are lots of breadcrumbs along the way that make you need to know what happens in the following books.
  • Diamond turned an archetype that I’d never been attracted to before–the rockstar–and made me hungry for more.
  • There are short stories and novellas in the series. They aren’t necessarily Happy Ever Afters (HEA’s), but they add color and richness to the world and the relationships within it.

The big cons of the series–I can’t do it spoiler free. Skip this if you want to avoid the spoilers.

  • At times, the books don’t seem as thought through in advance as I’d expected. In book two, Seth is made out to be a pretty serious threat to the heroine’s emotional safety and there is a lot of bad history. In book three, he gets a “redemption” that I just found hard to swallow or believe. But kudos for making me care so much that it actually bothers me weeks after I read the book.
  • I’ll to keep this bullet as vague as possible. There is a male bisexual character, and he hates that he has sex with men and is in love with another man. The self-loathing queer is a toxic stereotype, and I was disappointed to see it. Not so disappointed that I didn’t keep reading my favorite book in the series, but I did ding my Goodreads rating by a star because of it.

I definitely recommend the Dirty series as a whole. The world building is compelling, the characters are interesting, the sex is hot, and I now want to hear one of Dirty’s albums, so that makes me officially a fan.

There is a spin-off series coming in 2019 and I can’t wait to read it!

Best Books of 2018

According to Goodreads, I’ve read one hundred fifty books this year.

Having read so many books, which were the best ones? The ones that stuck with me, that I want to grab you and tell you to read this book now. Here are ten, in no particular order.

Buy Hamilton’s Battalion here

This is an anthology of three novellas perfect for the Hamilton fan in your family. All the stories touch upon Alexander Hamilton, but they are not about him. Rather he serves to act as the connecting thread through three very different stories.

My favorite is Promised Land by Courtney Milan. It’s the story of Rachel, a woman serving in the continental army as a man and Nathan, who she tackles, thinking him a British spy. Reasonable, given his sympathies when they last spoke. Awkward, given that her husband thought she’d died of yellow fever. Rachel and Nathan are both great characters, and they have issues to work through (even putting aside the failed her own death thing) that make the story compelling.

Buy A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole here

A Princess in Theory is the first book in the Reluctant Royals series by Alyssa Cole. I couldn’t put this book down. Ledi and Thabiso’s story is part modern fairy-tale (a prince in disguise) part secret identity exposed (prince? Or fuckboy?) and a hell of a lot of fun. I love that the heroine is a scientist and completely dismissive of Prince Thabiso, who has never been treated that way before. When an unknown disease hits Thesolo, Thabiso convinces Ledi to go there with him and help find a cure. Oh, and they’ll need to pretend their childhood engagement is back on. (I love the fake relationship trope)

Book 2 in the series was great, and I’ve pre-ordered book 3 (April 2019) and the novella that will act as book 2.5 (Jan 2019).

Buy Rosemary and Rue here

So I’m actually going to use this space to encourage you to read the entire October Daye series–I devoured the first twelve books in only a few weeks. I will say that books 1 and 2 are good but a little shaky, but once they take off in book 3 they only get better and better. October Daye is a half-human half-fae in this urban fantasy series.

It opens with her on a case as a private detective–but instead of recovering the missing people, she is turned into a fish for fourteen years. That loss of time informs the rest of the series because her partner moved on, and her daughter wants nothing to do with her. She turns her back on the world of Fae until she’s dragged back into that life by a binding spell. The secondary characters are compelling, Toby is a flawed but awesome heroine who anchors the series. I love Seanan McGuire’s books almost without exception and I’m already dying for book thirteen.

Buy Puddin here

If you’ve read or seen Dumplin’ (and you SHOULD), you’ll want to read the sequel, Puddin’. If you haven’t, Puddin’ works as a solo book, but Dumplin’ is so good, I encourage you to read both. Puddin’ is the story of Millie Michalchuck, who has gone to fat camp every year, but is determined to go to a journalism camp this year instead. Callie Reyes is in line to be the next dance captain until she leads an act of vandalism, and Millie identifies her. Callie has to work with Millie at her uncle’s gym as her punishment. An unlikely friendship forms…until Callie finds out that Millie is the one who turned her in. Millie has to battle her mother and the world’s expectations of fat girls to follow her dreams. Julie Murphy is great.

Buy Me Talk Pretty One Day here

This is actually a recommendation for the audiobook rather than the physical book. While reading the essays can give you a giggle, it’s hearing David Sedaris’s voice with all of its inflections as he reads his work that will make you die of laughter. I recommend all of his books, and just finished Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls on audiobook about a month ago.

Buy Heretics Anonymous here

When an atheist is enrolled at a Catholic school, how will he ever make friends or fit in? How will he survive any day without his eyes rolling out of his head? This is a great YA novel about faith, falling in love, and growing up. Definitely worth a re-read.

Buy Big Fat Bitch here

I gave a rave review to Big Fat Bitch here, but my fast review is that this slow burn romance is a great take on Beauty and the Beast. I love that the “beast” in this book is the woman. But it’s so much more than a romance. If you like deeply complex narratives, love stories, and books making you cry, pick this one up.

Buy Media Darling here

I reviewed Media Darling here, but my fast pitch is that this f/f romance between a movie star and a media writer is possibly my favorite romance of the past year, period. Both Emerson and Haley are well written, three-dimensional characters. They make mistakes, make love, and while it’s hard fought, they get their happy ending.

Buy The Autumn Bride here

I got this book from The Ripped Bodice (indie romance bookstore–buy from them!) as a “blind date with a book.” I haven’t read much Regency era romance, but it was my blind date, so I decided to give it a chance. Abigail and her three closest friends are practically starving. So Abby does something she’d never imagined–she goes over some rooftops and breaks into a house, desperate to find something to buy–or eat. Instead she finds Lady Beatrice, an old woman being abused by her servants. Abigail and her friends save Lady Beatrice from her servants and are promptly adopted as her “nieces”–the Chance sisters.

When her real nephew, Max, returns from abroad, he’s certain that the girls are gold diggers at best. Sparks fly between him and Abigail, and the rest is history. Each of the four books (Autumn Bride, Winter Bride, Spring Bride, and Summer books) works as a stand alone, but they’re better read back to back as a series.

Buy Nate Expectations here

Nate Expectations is actually the third book in Tim Federles’ series about Nate, a small town boy who becomes a Broadway Actor. In this book, Nate’s show closes down and he has to go back to small town life. When he’s assigned a project on the book Great Expectations, he decides to put on a musical. The book centers around this. There’s great secondary characters and Nate continues on his journey to figuring out who he really is.

You don’t need to read the first two books in the series, but if this book appeals to you, read them first.

What was/were your favorite book/s of 2018? If you want to see what I’m reading in 2019, keep up with me on Goodreads.

Year in Review 2018

2018 was…a year.

As a political junkie, I feel exhausted. Being involved in politics as a member of the Singapore Country Committee of Democrats Abroad and doing some social media for the national organization was nothing like living in the US. From there, it was a matter of reading newspapers and such and getting a lot of information, but at a digestible pace. In the US, especially under our current regime, it’s like drinking water from a fire hose. And while I’m thrilled with the gains made in the midterm elections, I know the 2020 fight is right around the corner and I’m already tired.

I volunteered at my daughters’ school almost every week. It has made me miss some of the things I loved best about teaching. But I’ve also been reminded of all the things I hated about it. I’m still transferring my credential to California as a back-up option, and I could sub right now if I wanted to (my school is desperate for subs) but for me it’s a last resort, at least right now.

Those two things took me away from my writing a lot of the time. Not having a nanny has been an adjustment, and also took me away from my writing. But by the end of the year I started to find my balance.

I spent a lot of the year revising Plunder (yes, still) and my editor is just about halfway done with the edit on it. There will be one more revision after this to strengthen the opening, but it’s almost there.

NaNoWriMo kicked me into high gear. I wrote 80k words in 30 days, which was a huge positive. This is what I’m more or less capable of when I prioritize my writing. I wrote one shitty novel that I’m not sure is worth revising, and one really solid book that is already with an editor–Lab Rats. In December I wrote the sequel to Lab Rats, which is called The Lioness and the Mouse, which is currently with my betas. While I’m waiting on feedback for that, I’ve started the third book in the series, which is currently untitled.

My only publication in 2018 was For As Long as You Need Me in Blood in the Rain 4.

A vampire who only hunts men. A war veteran with PTSD. Will she be his death or his salvation?

Read a sample from For as Long as You Need Me here.

This was a view on the vengeance trope that worked a lot better for me, and I liked the way that Sam was more aware of what was going on than he initially seemed.“–Amazon Review

What will 2019 bring? For certain, I’ll be self publishing at least the first two books in my paranormal series. The series is currently unnamed–If you’re good at naming things like a series, reach out. Lab Rats’ publication will be dependent upon how long my editor needs, how long getting a cover takes, how difficult it is to format for Kindle Unlimited, that sort of thing. The biggest hindrance to publication, though, will probably be whether or not I enter it into a contest. The contest I’m considering means I can’t pub it until the summer.

At this point my goal is stay in the paranormal lane in 2019. I will definitely be spending 2019 revising/writing books two and three in my series. The other series I’ve worked on and will continue to work on are my North Pole Chronicles–the first three stories in that series are free on my website. I plan to turn the third story (Comet 2.0) into a full length novella, and work on the sequel. Both my Shifter series and my Reindeer series feature many different pairings, so I wanted to keep control of them and self-publish.

I am tired of Plunder. I still plan to revise the start to make it stronger, but I think that this editing pass will take care of everything but fixing that opening chapter. If there is any kindness in the universe, I can send Plunder off to a traditional publisher in 2019. I know I said 2018, but at this point, the date is going to be largely driven by my editor, which is fine, even if I am sick to death of that book.

I’m definitely considering editing another anthology, but I don’t have a theme that I’m particularly interested in at the moment.