For me, summer is always a season of change. (Whether I like it or not.)
Sure, the days get longer and warmer. We take time off of school, and jobs, and responsibilities to relax, unwind, and enjoy life. But, for me, this time of relaxation also comes with deep reflection. Summer is the time that I not only rest, but I also think about where I am, where I want to be, and assess things in my life that may need changing so that I can keep to the path I've planned out for myself. It's a time of goal-setting, of reality-pacing, and--most importantly--of embracing the inevitable unforeseen and adapting to keep life on track.
Every summer brings change and transformation, and every year that change is magic. After all, while change can be good or bad, it is very rarely neutral, and we must learn to see the potential even in the changes we might not have preferred. That, sometimes, is much easier said than done. I am not a terribly optimistic person by nature, but if I have learned one thing in life it has been to roll with the punches, and to try to see the potential in anything. If you can keep moving, then you can keep surviving...and if you can keep surviving, then anything is possible.
The past year has seen much change in my life. After the release of The Isle of Gold in October, I signed with Gandolfo, Helin & Fountain Literary Management and was soon swept away on exciting new projects that I can't yet talk about (the agony of keeping secrets!). I joined the Havenwood Falls collective and have enjoyed meeting so many incredible and visionary writers--after all, writing a story is one thing, but working collaboratively to build a universe? That is no small feat! From my hair color to my writing schedule and nearly everything in between, change has been the story of my life over the past year.
More is changing. New projects. New collaborations. A new home, in a new part of the world. And as scary and sometimes overwhelming as change can be, I am embracing all of it. It is not always things that change around you, but sometimes the greatest change is that which you find in yourself.
So, what kind of changes can you expect, dear reader? Well, first is a more active blog--filled with regular book reviews and other literary shenanigans as I commit to working my way through my mountainous TBR pile and take a more active role reviewing both on my blog as well as providing reviews for other authors (I'm dipping my toes in the #bookstagram community, too). You'll notice some new branding on my website and social channels. More books, too, of course--I'll have news to share on that front in short order, including some anticipated sequels, a new prequel, surprise collaborations, and super-nifty-super-secret book-to-film projects that make my dark little heart happy. All in all, I am looking forward to another fantastic year and hope that you'll continue to follow along.
When most people think of Salem, Massachusetts, they likely (and rightly so) think first of the Salem Witch Trials that began in 1692 and tragically persisted into 1693, claiming the lines of nineteen women and men and two dogs.
Last year, The House of Seven Gables, the titular homestead of Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1851 classic, preserved by a historic foundation in Salem, celebrated its 350th birthday. Also on the grounds is the house that was Hawthorne's true homestead, as well as other historic buildings, and an incredible garden (which was undergoing fresh planting when I visited!). I happened to have a chance to tour the estate shortly before the anniversary, during the few short weeks they allowed interior photography. You can check out the rarely seen pictures below, including a super secret staircase that fans of the novel will recognize!
The House of Seven Gables (in rarely seen photos!)
Arriving just in time for Novella Month, with a diverse and LGBTQ cast of characters, is debut-author Dalena Storm’s The Hungry Ghost, a chilling tale of love, lust, and desire and the often blurred line between them.
In The Hungry Ghost, a woman named Sam is caught between her alcoholic (and rather pathetic) ex-husband Peter; her young and determined would-be paramour, Madeline; and her own trepidations over letting anyone else inside her heart (or her newly-earned freedom, for that matter, being only six months out from a divorce). She’s been stretched too thin for too long, caught between obligations to her family, lovers, and work that are painfully familiar. The details of Sam’s life are vague and inconsequential, but it’s her condition that’s all too common. Who hasn’t felt bossed around, pushed around, and heaped upon when all they really want is space to breathe? Who hasn’t been faced with the uncomfortable position of having to navigate expectations thrown upon them by someone else—most particularly those who’ve claimed to love us—when they haven’t even fully come to terms with themselves? There is something insidious about that context--a darkness that lingers on the edges of your mind worrying over not only whether we are “good enough?” but “good enough to be desired?” and hints that the consequences of such desire may be more destructive than simply being enough.
There is a nagging loneliness that permeates the pages of The Hungry Ghost, beginning in its first chapter as Sam dresses for a date with Madeline and persists in every page of what is a quick, paper cut-like read--sharp, stinging, and unrelenting. When an accident puts Sam in a coma, she is pushed out of her own body by a hungry ghost, a mainstay in Tibetan Buddhism (Storm has a degree in Asian Studies) that represents beings who are driven by intense emotional needs in an animalistic way. Sam, meanwhile, finds a new emotional and physical security in the body of a newly-born kitten in a pet shop helmed by an African American orphan-turned-business owner with a big dose of magical predisposition and a tendency to name his cats after music’s greats—Macy Grey, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson. Those who ‘love’ Sam—Peter, Madeline, and her mother, Bianca—are forced to face the garish reality that the woman who Sam has become is not the woman they desperately wanted her to be—a realization as literal as it could be figurative, while Sam has to learn to let go of…well, everything. It’s a fight for Sam’s humanity in possibly the most disturbing way possible.
With her limited role in her own story, as a protagonist Sam is something of a stand-in for each of us—a mirror reflection that gives us an opportunity to get outside of our own heads and come to terms with the weight of the world around us. At turns chilling and always-haunting, The Hungry Ghost is an essay on modern love and the dark side of desire that gives us the chance to reconsider the balance between our own needs and desire—whether it is “them” who are the hungry ghosts, or if, instead, it is us.
Coming from Black Spot Books 6.11.19 (learn more).
A Havenwood Falls Novella
Release Date May 24, 2019
About the Book
TWO WOMEN, ONE LOVE, AND A CURSE LURKING IN DEEP, DARK WATERS
For as long as she can remember, Maris Heilen has been haunted by dreams of a beautiful woman beckoning to her from beneath the water. These dreams have been Maris’ only constant; she’s lived her life like a leaf caught in the rushing tide: no rules, no commitments, and no long-term lovers, either—just a string of broken hearts that have tried to anchor her unwilling heart to the earth. When, following the mysterious death of her estranged father, her dreams take on a new sense of urgency and her boyfriend proposes, Maris knows its time to uproot and keep moving, though the only direction she can think to go is west, toward the water—toward her.
When instead Maris finds herself drawn to a surreal little town high in the Colorado Mountains, she can’t shake the feeling her dream might be much closer to reality than she could have imagined. But, when she discovers her past is linked to a legend even more haunted than her dreams—and that the woman she’s been dreaming about is not only real but in danger of being lost to an unfathomable darkness—Maris becomes determined to outshine the evil that has crept into a small corner of a forgotten forest of Havenwood Falls.
Apple Books: http://havenwoodfalls.com/oss-ab
Amazon US: http://havenwoodfalls.com/oss-zon
Amazon UK: http://havenwoodfalls.com/oss-zonuk
Coming soon to Kobo | BN
Seven Jane delivers a hauntingly beautiful story of love, betrayal, and magic in Of Salt & Stars." - 2 Girls and A Book
About Havenwood Falls
Dead Man's Hand
The Journals of Octavia Hollows, Book 2
By Stacey Rourke
Preorder Link: https://amzn.to/2GFad1G
About the Book
With a touch of her hand, Octavia Hollows can restore life. Yet, she couldn’t save the man she loved from the horrific accident that stole him from her. Octavia thought she could outrun the pain, but ghosts from the past refuse to be silenced. Out of options, she chooses to retrace her wayward journey across the country in search of answers. Surrounded by baffling mysteries of the undead, what she learns about herself along the way might become her greatest weapon.
Las Vegas, Nevada: Sin City
When Octavia visits her old boss to get a few questions answered, Octavia stumbles onto yet another mystery. This time in the form of a charred body and a huge stack of cash. She thinks she is doing a good deed by waking the victim to help him get justice for his death. Instead, she finds herself running from a mob hitman, and tempted by a malevolent entity offering her heart’s desire.
Is the promise of a wish granted more alluring than the hunt of truth?
Coming March 19th
Preorder Now for 99¢
Sisters Rachel, Angie, and Jo may have survived their first encounter with a curse, but hundreds more are lurking within their aunt’s antique shop. There’s just one problem: Peter, the apprentice, has no idea how to start teaching two untrained rune-casters and keep them safe at the same time. Naet It isn’t fair to Jo that she has no magic, but her sisters both do. She feels useless and left out. Worse yet, she knows that she’s a liability. She would leave but something in the shop is calling to her, reaching out … and she won’t leave until she finds it. Ail Every night, Angie’s dreams are haunted by a man who claims he was cursed, and she’s the only one who can save him. When she starts to get sick, Peter and her sisters are sure the cause is her mysterious dreams. How can they convince her that the person she’s determined to help could be the one killing her? Eles Rachel never expected to get a magic power and a boyfriend when she inherited the antique shop. Better yet, she’s actually good at curse-breaking. It seems as though she’s found exactly what she was meant to do. But, when a curse strikes two people she cares about, Rachel is faced with the harsh truth that she might only be able to save one.
Click HERE to Preorder
Elizabeth Kirke wanted to be an author before she even knew what an author was. She used to say that she wanted to be an artist, but that was only because she was too young to write and had to tell stories with pictures instead. She hasn't stopped writing since she learned how. It wasn't long before she dreamed of becoming an author and couldn't be happier now that that dream is a reality. If she isn't writing...well, let's be honest; if she isn't writing she's probably on Facebook thinking that she should start writing. But, if she isn't writing or on Facebook, she's probably doing something involving books, baking, gardening, or yarn. In an ideal world, she'd be reading and knitting while something from the garden is in the oven. Then again, in an ideal world, she'd have a flock of ducks and a couple of goats. Like most slightly-nosy, avid readers, Elizabeth can't resist trying to catch a peek at books she sees people reading when out in public to see if she can figure out what it is. While doing just that one day, she realized that it would probably be the coolest-thing-ever if she caught a complete stranger reading one of her books. That's her new dream.
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I've always been one of those kinds of people that has a really difficult time sitting still. I love to move around, to experience new people and new places, and I often find inspiration in these adventures which find their ways into my stories in ways that range from the largest ideas to the tiniest details. I'll be spending quite a bit of time traveling this year, so I thought I would share some of these lovely visits with you, in case they inspire you as well.
Of all my favorite places in this great big beautiful world, perhaps the one that holds the biggest piece of my heart is the open ocean and the beaches of the Caribbean. I shamelessly try to visit as often as possible, often repeating the same trip exactly and every time enjoying it as if it were a brand new experience. It was on these waters and in these sands that I wrote The Isle of Gold, both in terms of the inspiration for the story and a significant amount of the research that went into writing the details down as accurately as possible. I dreamed of Winters one night on the stretch of nautical miles between Port Canaveral, Florida and the Bahamas. I sat on the outer deck of a ship late at night and sipped on rum and brandy like Dunn while staring out at the open waters of the nighttime sea. I wandered museums and roamed the streets of Nassau and thought about quayside villages of the past. It was a wonderful experience to spend so much time writing a historical fantasy while entrenched in the places that the story might have lived and to feel the same salty air and see the same dazzling blue seas as 17th-century sailors would have sailed upon.
Here are some of my favorite snaps collected over the years when visiting the Bahamas. Spring or summer, sunny or overcast, this tropical paradise is - in this writer's ever-humble opinion - easily one of those most spectacular places on Earth.
Mary Shelley was a leading lady of horror before she ever penned Frankenstein. The daughter of a pioneer of feminist thought, Shelley was raised under the influence of both her father’s radical political ideas and her mother’s feminist thinking. When challenged by Lord Byron to write a “ghost story”—a task deemed inconceivable for women at the time—Shelley wrote Frankensteinand basically girl bossed the f*** out of the lot of them (though she would be forced to initially publish her work anonymously before paving the way for women in literature in the centuries to follow).
Last year marked the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Long considered a cornerstone in gothic literature and women’s horror fiction, Frankenstein is not only a personal favorite but also a potent feminist text—and one that pulls no punches as it explores the power relationship between men and women, both literally and figuratively. While on the surface a dark story of a mad scientist, Frankenstein is in fact a much deeper story, as through male narration Shelley depicts how her female characters—from Elizabeth, the soft-spoken love interest of Victor, to the strong-willed Safie, to the near creation of the Monster’s female companion—are thought of and treated by the male characters. While her feminism is plain to see (read), Shelley’s critique is not limited to the power relationship between men and women, but a larger allegory to the imbalance between the toxic masculinity of mankind and the feminine spirit of nature. Thus, the real story inside Frankenstein isn’t the dear doctor and his monster. Instead, another battle rages between the lines that was just as relevant two centuries ago as it is today—that between science and its relentless goal to subjugate nature.
The battle begins in the first paragraphs. After being rescued by the charitable hands of a northern-bound sea vessel, Victor Frankenstein, mad scientist, declares, “I pursued nature to her hiding places,” where he was richly (and rather vainly) rewarded “…from the midst of [this] darkness, a sudden light broke in upon me – a light so brilliant and wondrous, yet so simple, that while I became dizzy with the immensity of the prospect which it illustrated, I was surprised that among so many men of genius…that I alone should be reserved to discover so astonishing a secret.” It is clear that Victor, an ambitious and excelled student of science, considers himself to have been deserved of such an “awesome power.” Upon learning nature’s secret, Frankenstein toils endlessly to demonstrate his newfound power in spite of the natural progression of life and death, proclaiming, “my eyes were insensible to the charms of nature.”
In the creation scene of Frankenstein, the intricacies of the creature’s birth are carefully avoided, conceding only that Victor himself “infuse[d] a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at [my] feet.” His scientific tools collected, Victor wields the power known only to him through the study of science (and careful dominance of nature) and brings to life the being he had formed: a man in his own image. But, though he had carefully selected each portion of his creature’s form, Frankenstein is displeased, even repulsed, by his own work upon seeing it alive. “Now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart”, confesses Victor after the birth of his Monster, after which he rushes from his laboratory, leaving his creature to survive and fend for itself, not unlike a snake, who abandons its young to the unknowns of the wild. In his single act of betrayal, Victor humanizes the creature in a creation story as vapid and callous as that of Genesis itself.
In the film adaptations of Frankenstein, extensive creative liberties are taken to illustrate the scene of Victor Frankenstein’s triumphant childbirth. In the 1931 classic, on the stormy eve that is to be the birth night of the Monster, Victor—along with his incompetent and creepy assistant Fritz—usher visitors into the laboratory, which doubles as a very untraditional delivery room, to witness the birth of his creation. Lightning flashes as Victor (recast as Henry), his white lab coat billowing in the tumultuous wind, harnesses the power of the storm (an angry outburst of a vengeful nature) and funnels the power of raw electricity into the corpse of the creature, endowing it with life. The delivery room audience watches in unbridled horror and amazement as Victor shrieks to no one and everyone: “It’s alive! It’s alive!” Similarly, in Kenneth Branaugh’s 1994 adaptation, a sweaty and heavy-breathing Victor pants his way through the assemblage of the scientific devices hooked to the creature’s metal placenta and watches in an open-mouthed, eyes glazed over daze as electric eels swim through the creature’s tubes of umbilical cord. Then, tearing the newborn creature from his metal womb, Victor attempts to wrestle the giant babe to standing in a sloppy, wet, clicking slime grossly reminiscent of embryonic fluid. The monster a failure, Victor looks on helplessly as the culmination of all his efforts hangs dangling from chains above the dirtied delivery room floor in a morbid demonstration of failed childbirth. “What have I done”, Victor whines.
The argument presented as to Frankenstein’s battle of science versus nature (and masculinity versus femininity) is beautifully surmised in critiques such as Anne K. Mellor’s Possessing Nature: The Female in Frankenstein. “When Victor Frankenstein identifies nature as female,” Mellor writes, “he participates in a gendered construction of the universe whose ramifications are everywhere apparent in Frankenstein.” Mellor goes beyond the symbolism of the creation scene of the novel and discusses the various female characters in the book and their sexist functions: “Inside the home, women are either kept as a kind of pet, or they work as housewives, child care providers, or nurses, or servants.” In a thoughtful analogy, Mellor examines the consequences of the division from feminism and the role of women in science as depicted by Shelley, and correlates this emotional vacancy in Victor as the reason he is unable to love or care for his creation and is such an unfit ‘father.’ In her conclusion, Mellor surmises: “At every level, Victor Frankenstein is engaged upon a rape of nature, a violent penetration and usurpation of the female’s “hiding places”, of the womb.”
Another thought-provoking critique is Mary Poovey’s My Hideous Progeny: The Lady and the Monster: “The monster is the victim of both the symbolic and the literal. And, as such, it is doubly like a woman in patriarchal society – forced to be a symbol of (and vehicle for) someone else’s desire, yet exposed (and exiled) as the deadly essence of passion itself”, writes Poovey. Later, Poovey further concludes that upon discovering the truths of his origin, from that time on the “monster’s attempts to deny its nature are as futile as they are desperate.”
The ongoing battle of male versus female rages covertly within the lines of Shelley’s watchful prose. Victor’s intense abhorrence of his disastrous creation, and the creature’s bittersweet revenge against his own maker, acutely portray the consequences of usurping the circular progression of nature, serving as a timeless reminder of the careful balance of ethics and responsibility inherent in discovery. Perhaps most horrifying in Shelley’s classic isn’t the monster itself, but the horror and despair wrought by the hands of a naïve and careless “man of genius” which acts as a beacon to remind humanity of our place in the natural world. Through the sadness and misery gleaned from the book’s unfortunate characters we are reminded that a step forward is not always progress and that nature will always exact her revenge. It’s a great lesson, beget at a great price—and it’s one we should be thinking about in today’s contentious climate where we continue to use science and technology to force the beautiful, natural world and its beings—particularly women—into subservience.
Last November, I achieved one thing that all (or at least most) early-career and aspiring writers dream of: I signed with a literary agency. I was lucky enough to achieve something of a double whammy when I signed with Gandolfo Helin & Fountain Literary Agency, earning representation on the literary side with publishing industry veteran Renee Fountain, and on the film/entertainment side with the ever-impressive Italia Gandolfo.
Now, everyone's publishing path is a bit different, and everyone's journey takes its own unique (and often very winding) road. Mine was the same. I've been writing for as long as I can remember. I've self-published under pseudonyms and I've published non-fiction with major traditional houses, but all the while my ultimate dream has been to be a novelist, replete with representation and a publicist and, hopefully, an advance nice enough that it kind of makes up for the hundreds of hours I spend in front of my laptop.
When I wrote my first book, The Isle of Gold, I didn't go the traditional route. I was lucky enough to land a publishing offer with an up-and-coming small press. The book itself--still a baby as it just released last October--has done well, but more importantly, it earned some really wonderful reviews from very well-respected outlets. It also introduced me to my publicist, Sarah Miniaci at Smith Publicity, who has coaxed me gently (read: pulled me kicking and screaming) into the barest bit of limelight with things like media interviews and blog tours (the horror). These experiences allowed me to parlay my very meager publishing success and footprint into my query for my next book. (I'm such a strategist...not really.)
When I finished my next project, I queried a few agents I'd had my eyes on. The process was sort of similar to sending in college applications; the list was comprised of the usual suspects, some pretty solid leads, and, of course, the reaches. I received some nice no-thank-yous, some non-responses, and a handful of requests for partials and fulls. But, along my journey, I also started talking to friends and peers in the writing community, particularly those who had endured good-bad-ugly experiences with their agents (or former agents). I spoke with friends, who talked about their agent experiences, I got active in Twitter’s booming #writersxommunity, I started writing columns and networking in the Women’s Fiction Association. Now, I know some people say publishing is more about who you know that what you've written, and I'm sure this is true in some cases, but it truly wasn't in mine even though I got “to know people.” Online friends became life support, colleagues became mentors, and slowly but surely I found a home amongst the bookish.
I found the agent I wanted to work with in Italia, who started out as a woman I was terrified of (in a good way!), became an ally, and a mentor, I polished up my package and sent it over.
About a week later, after Renee had finished reading the manuscript, Italia and Company made the very courageous and somewhat questionable decision (I kid, I kid) to sign me. I received other interest from my query attempts, but signing with Gandolfo Helin & Fountain had already begun to feel like home and putting my name on her contract was a no-brainer. So far, my manuscript has been sent to some pretty impressive houses, and while we're still working the process, I can't speak highly enough of these women who have brought me into their tribe. They're phenomenal, exercising the sort of patience and encouragement that a young writer needs in their corner. Between the two of them, they've answered probably hundreds of questions, listened to great and not-so-great ideas on my next projects, and talked me off a ledge or two. Most of all, they've shown me in just two months how empowering and inspiring having people who believe in you and your work is, and they've encouraged me to work even harder going forward.
For what it's worth, my best advice to writers seeking an agent is this: find your home. Find an agent who not only knows the business but who champions your project, and you. Find an agent you can be friends with because you will laugh, cry, and vent together, and probably both get on each other's nerves a LOT. And I know this sounds very trite, particularly when you're just seeking an agent, but at the end of the day I believe firmly that it's not just about the house or the agency or the royalty paycheck, it's about the shared passion for books, and finding an agent as passionate as you.
One of my favorite annual goal-setting moments is what I call my "literary challenge," which encompasses my writing and reading goals for the next year.
Lots of folks have very ambitious reading goals every year--I've seen readers add hundreds of books to their TBR lists--and while I wish I could commit to such lofty numbers, I have to balance my reading for pleasure with reading for research and also writing, so I set my sights a wee bit lower.
In 2019, I'm committing to reading 24 books (two a month) and listening to 24 books (again, two a month). I'm also challenging myself to focus more on new books or upcoming 2019 releases, and try to avoid reading backlist titles. This is important for me as an author, so I can keep a pulse on the market. It also stops me from re-reading Frankenstein and every Wally Lamb book for the 500th time. That said, there's still a few amazing 2018 releases sitting on my bedside table, so they deserve some love, too. If you're looking for inspiration on what to add to your TBR list for 2019, here's a fun list on Goodreads to get you thinking, as well as this list of anticipated 2019 titles from Esquire.
What's on my list? Well, I'm still working on that, but I can tell you I will definitely be reading some of the up-comers from my friends over at Black Spot Books, including the next installation in Sam Hooker's Terribly Serious Darkness, Soul Remains, and the next Amanda Grey novel from Alcy Leyva, And Then There Were Dragons.
If you're looking for titles to add to your wish-list to keep you busy in 2019, there are lots of really fun reading challenges out there, with all kinds of quirky tactics to get you to read outside your comfort zone, like this one from PopSugar. Regardless, what's more important that bookish bingo is just making sure you're getting out there and reading! I hope you enjoy every book you read in 2019, whether it's old or new, and weather it's five books or five hundred.
I'd also love if you'd read along with me! By my "friend" on Goodreads here. Happy reading!