Saturday, June 22, 2013

Do You Feel Safe?

Several years ago, I was a big fan of a fantasy author named Katherine Kurtz. I absolutely loved the world she created and had a huge crush on one of her characters. But Ms. Kurtz had the annoying habit of making me seriously care about a major character, then killing him or her off in the most tragic way possible.

I quit reading her books because that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted a story that took me on an adventure and made me think about the world in a new way, but I didn’t want my heart ripped out in the process. Her books just weren’t safe.

By “safe” fiction, I don’t mean free of sex or violence or bad language. I mean that the reader can read with confidence that even though things may get rough and the obstacles may seem insurmountable, the major characters will make it through okay.

It’s the difference between Scrubs and Grey’s Anatomy, between an Adam Sandler movie and a Nicholas Sparks adaptation. You know J. D. isn’t going to die in a fiery plane crash, but practically everyone did on Grey’s Anatomy. Nobody is safe on that show. Well, maybe Meredith Grey will make it because they’d have to change the name or end the series if she died. Hmmm. Expect that to happen in the series finale.

One reason why the romance genre is so popular is the guaranteed happily ever after. No matter what the characters go through, the couple will make amends, discover the truth, or just get over themselves and love each other forever. The hero isn’t going to die in a tragic carriage accident, nor is the heroine going to die in childbirth. They are safe.

Other genres also have their code of safety. In a mystery, the detective may get hurt but always lives to detect another day. The mystery gets solved and justice is served. When one leaves this safe territory, the book ceases to be a mystery and becomes a book with mystery elements. The same with a spy novel. Who wants a book where the evil Dr. X actually kills the spy with sharks wearing lasers on their heads and conquers the world? Unless the book isn’t about that spy at all, but about the villain or the ragtag team of “Mystery Men” who eventually save the day.

Some people denigrate “safe” books. They claim that there is some greater literary value in killing characters off and jerking people’s emotions around. I absolutely disagree. For instance, The Artist garnered rave critical reviews for its examination of popular culture and the veneration of fame – and even did it silent! But at the risk of spoiling (just go la-la-la with your eyes to the next paragraph if you haven’t seen it yet) nobody has to die to do it. (I hope you went la-la-la ‘cause if you didn’t you’re going to hate my freaking guts when you watch it.)
I personally believe that genre does not dictate quality. Jane Austen is about as safe as you can get, but her books reveal the human experience in ways that are still pertinent to readers two hundred years after their initial publication. “Safe” book hating elitists can just kiss my you know what!

So, to all you lovers of safe books, I say huzzah! Stand up for your right to enjoy your reads and feel comforted by them instead of pummeled! Meanwhile, I’m going to keep writing them!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Clean Indie Reads: THE BLACKSMITH'S DAUGHTER: by Arley Cole Young Adult, Fantasy Winner of the 2012 OKRWA IDA award for YA Novel She believes she is only a blacksmith's daugh...

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Casting the Book Is SO Much Fun!

Dream Cast for The Blacksmith's Daughter

Recently, my publisher Musa Publishing posted a challenge to authors in the Euterpe line to put together a dream cast for their books. I was so excited about it because I actually had a picture of Melanie Lynskey on hand when I was writing The Blacksmith’s Daughter! In fact the challenge was so fun, I decided to post it again here for you guys complete with photos of the cast. 

I have been a fan of Melanie Lynskey for years and thought she would be perfect as the heroine Enith Roweson because to me she comes across as very girl-next-door, but with a beauty that takes you by surprise and a strength you didn’t expect to see. She would need colored contacts though and at 5’7” is a little tall! One of my favorite details about Enith is that she's just barely five feet tall, but can still kick butt. 

For our hero Acwellen Lex’Magen, I have to admit having a serious thing for Chris Hemsworth. Thor is so hot! But I fell for Chris when he played George Kirk in the new Star Trek reboot. He was gorgeous, of course, but he firmly convinced me of his deep commitment to his job and his family, even to the point of death. That is very Acwellen.

Acwellen’s best friend Nerian Elidor should absolutely be played by a young Robert Downey, Jr. Back in about 1992, apart from his drug issues, Robert had the right mix of good looks and irony to play Nerian. I bet he could have kicked butt with a sword too. Since this is dream-casting, I can absolutely pull him out of 1992 and put him into rehab for the role. 

Juliana and Selwyn should go to a young Katherine Heigl and Zac Efron. Katherine is just beautiful, but handles comedy so well and Juliana certainly has some moments when she should not be taken seriously. Zac basically turned out to be much better looking than I ever thought he would and could pull off Selwyn, our youthful but serious young love interest for Juliana. 

Finally, I absolutely loved Tom Hiddleston as Loki in Thor/The Avengers and seriously considered him for Nerian. However, he does such a fabulously compelling bad guy that I decided to jump on that instead (so to speak). However, there are interesting things afoot for our villain Melanth Rouvin and Tom could absolutely bring his magic to that.

Well, now I am super stoked! When does filming start? 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

My Guest, Vonnie Hughes

Well, let me just say that I am a huge fan of Vonnie Hughes' Regency Romance novels! And look! Her latest is a thriller! And it is set in New Zealand too -- one of my must-visit locales. I'm going to quit exclaiming now and let you all read the excerpt. Very tingly!

Lethal Refuge
by Vonnie Hughes 

Who can you trust if you can’t trust your own mother? Through the clammy fog, Celie Francis hears the chilling message. “I know who you are, Celie. I know where you live.” And in the terrifying aftermath she reconnects with her dysfunctional family in ways she had never imagined.

Abused and abandoned as a child, Célie Francis knows better than to trust anyone. But after she witnesses a murder, she's placed in the Unit "New Zealand's witness protection program" where she's expected to trust strangers with her life. It's psychologist Brand Turner's job to ease witnesses into their new identities, not to protect them, but Célie stirs feelings in him that are far from professional.

When it appears someone is leaking critical information that could endanger Célie, Brand will do anything to protect her. But first he has to convince her to trust him. Adrift in a frightening world, Célie would like to believe the handsome psychologist is everything he seems, but as witnesses are murdered and danger swirls around them, Célie must decide "can she trust Brand with her life?

Célie Francis ran faster than she ever had in her life. Fingers of fog rolling in from the sea grabbed at her as her feet alternately flew and stuttered over the uneven pavement of the ocean road. Where was he? How much time did she have?

The wash of the sea was a calm counterpoint to her harsh, frantic breathing. Above the sound of her thudding feet, the shriek of a bird pierced the air.

No, not a bird. Something was squeaking. Occy’s old bicycle. He had found her.

Faster, Célie, faster, shouted the little man on the treadmill in her mind.

I can’t, she sobbed. Fancy the consequences? No God, no! Then run faster. But her aching legs could not obey.

And on the roadway the relentless squeak, squeak kept pace with her. Frantically she zigzagged, seeking a haven in the fog. It was barely dawn on the lonely North Auckland cliffs above the Pacific Ocean.

No help anywhere. Have to hide. Have to hide. Her shoes slapped a rhythm. Salty sweat stung her eyes. Ignore it. The slap of her running shoes echoed then died in the mist.


Her brain, tumbling in an endless whirl of fear and futile questions asked—-why Occy? Why had he killed a man this time?

Up ahead loomed a deep grey cloud of mist. Thank you, God. She blasted into the fog bank and the squeaking receded behind her.

This is your chance, the little man said. Veering off the sidewalk, she streaked across a pristine lawn and crouched behind a lavender bush. Her chest heaving, she struggled to gulp another breath of sodden air.

Squeeeak. He was back. This was it. Eyes streaming, she curled into a ball on the cold ground and waited.

Something yellow zinged past her face and tickled her arm. A needle-sharp sting pierced her elbow, then another. Bees, irritated by her invasion, were trying to drive her out. No you won’t. What’s out there is a lot worse than what you can do, bees.

As the pinpricks tingled and burned, she pressed her lips together so hard that the muscles on the side of her face ached. Louder now, the squeaking advanced and receded. He was casting up and down, looking for her.

Please, please...

A sibilant whisper reached her through the clammy fog. “I know who you are, Célie. I know where you live.”

Available in both paperback and e-book from: The Wild Rose Press Amazon

Learn more about Vonnie Hughes on her website and blog.

Stay connected on Facebook and Goodreads!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

My Guest, Samantha Combs

Today I have fellow Musa YA author Samantha Combs in the house!

I’m a Southern California author, with 8 published books, 4 paranormals and 4 horrors.  I’m a wife, a mom, a Risk Manager, a sister and a daughter.  I’m a life-juggler.  My blog at is a hodge-podge of it all and a great place to get “aspiring writer” tips.  I also have a muse; a cocky, arrogant, diva-like entity named Musina.  Her greatest delight is making me stay up writing till 3am without giving me a CLUE where the story is going.  She’s an evil bitch, but I kind of love her.

Tell us about your book.

More than any other book or story I have written, Waterdancer is the most autobiographical.  While there are parts of “me” in all my works, this book takes the biggest pieces from my teenhood.  And I am more like Bailey that I would care to admit.  New to the area, the school, and in a new marriage of her mother’s, Bailey is just trying to find her place in the world.  It doesn’t help that as she approaches her 16th birthday, a super secret family trait begins to show itself.  The story is about how she deals with that, and rebuilds relationships in her life she felt long past resurrection.

If you could only have one vice what would it be?

Gluttony.  I would like to be able to eat anything I want and not have any repercussions.

Who is your favorite character from one of your books and why?

I am partial to a cocky, confident chick in my 2nd book.  Sixx is the main character’s best friend, but she has a reckless passion for life and not caring what anyone else thinks of her.  Her confidence is intoxicating.  She reminds me of a friend from my teens.

What are you working on now?

My 9th book, The Deadlies, is with a publisher, hopefully to be accepted.  My 10th book, Wingspan, is a departure from what I normally write.  Dystopic in a way, of course paranormal, with lots of action, I am writing my first car chase, my first government conspiracy and *gasp* my first sex scene.  It is a challenge.  It was a NaNoWriMo project but I abandoned it when my father-in-law fell ill.  Back at it, I am more than 2/3 through and shocked daily by the plot twists and turns my Musina is taking me on.

 What’s your favorite quote?

An old Persian proverb:  Now that the barn has burned down, I can see the moon.  It’s a take on the “silver lining” thing and has sailed me through more of my own Bermuda Triangles than I can name.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration as soon as I open my eyes in the morning.  I am a marinater.  This means I roll things around in my head until they gel.  Like jello.  Liquid at first, but given time and patience, super tasty jello.  And diamonds, hiding inside the rock.  Get it?

by Samantha Combs

For Bailey Wasserman, being Bailey has recently become an incredible challenge. It's not enough that she must come to terms with her mother's new husband, their new life, and a new surfer boyfriend. When she meets her real father for the first time, she discovers a secret family trait that will alter the course of her own life and those she loves…maybe forever.

Bailey and her mom have always met life’s challenges as a team of two, more like best friends than mother and daughter. But her mom’s recent marriage has changed all of that, and having her little brother Landry is the only good Bailey can find in that union.
The move to wealthy Del Mar from their humble beginnings has turned Bailey sour, until a chance meeting with surf hottie Jack West. Then Bailey's father, with his annoying Zen-surfer lingo and a talking turtle he claims is no less than her spirit guardian, reenters her life and threatens the only relationship Bailey thinks is working in her world.
She soon finds out that’s not all his arrival will do. His presence and their shared family trait could ultimately force Bailey to make a decision that will alter the course of her own life and those she loves…forever.

Check out all EIGHT of Samantha's books!


About Samantha Combs:
I am a Southern California author with eight published books, the Global Ebook Award-winning debut title: SPELLBOUND, currently in print and in production with, and GHOSTLY, both YA paranormals, SPELLBOUND's sequel, EVERSPELL, a middle grade horror called THE DETENTION DEMON, and three adult horror collections, TEETH AND TALONS, WAY PAST MIDNIGHT, and HELLOWEEN. WATERDANCER, a new YA fantasy, released in September of 2012. I enjoy writing YA paranormal romance and supernatural fantasy, but I also dabble in the horror and sci-fi genres as well, and writing for the Middle Grade audience. I have plans for many more books in the future!

When I'm not writing, I work full time and enjoy spending time with my husband and two children. My guilty pleasures include reality television, the Food Network channel and shoes. I truly believe I can accomplish anything if I have the right pair of shoes. And I adore totally inappropriate earrings.

I love writing and publishing my work and I am in awe of the technological advances of our lives. Ereaders and similar gadgets are bringing the written word to a generation that might never have discovered books otherwise and every time I see a kid pick one up to read something it fills me with joy to be a small part of that process. If a child can connect with literature because he or she did so electronically, a connection still was made. I am excited to see what our world has in store for literature and thrilled to be along for that ride.



Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Creating Memorable Characters (the Cheater Way)

(Or Part Three of the Fanfiction Writing Workshop Series.
If you are just joining us, the series starts here)
One of the biggest benefits to using fanfiction as a writing springboard is the chance to start writing with premade characters. Believable, sympathetic characters must populate your stories. Readers need to feel like they are meeting real people with issues they care about. Unfortunately, doing this is hard. You have to practice characterization in order to avoid things like the info dump and having characters tell their life stories to others.

With fanfiction, you get to play in someone else’s sandbox and use all their toys. Your readers already know these characters and already feel sympathy for them. The challenge then becomes taking a well-known character and putting him/her into a new situation in your fic while keeping that person in character.

For instance, I am a huge fan of the ABC show “Once Upon a Time.” The character Belle has lost her memory at the moment, but her basic personality is still intact. This provides a perfect fanfiction opportunity to have her meet new people and react to new situations but still be the same person.

For instance, what if Hook decided now was a good time to get some revenge on Rumplestiltskin by stealing Belle away from him? How would she react to Hook? Could a writer present these characters in this new situation in such a way that everyone reading would still recognize Belle and Hook? If Belle did not sound and act like Belle in this fic, readers would not hesitate to call her OOC (out of character) in reviews.

A huge subset of fanfiction in any fandom are the AU or Alternate Universe fics. These take our characters and keep them intact while putting them in an alternate reality. For instance, what if the cast of Star Wars all went to high school together in California? Can you imagine Darth Vader as high school principal? Could you make this person still recognizable as Darth Vader to your readers?

Another type of fic that lets writers move characters about is the crossover. Why not throw Sawyer from Lost right in the middle of Game of Thrones? Or how about slipping Ferris Beuller into CSI: New York? The challenge of the crossover is to mix two fandoms while keeping each one intact and recognizable. If Sawyer doesn’t talk and act like Sawyer anymore, then you’ve just appropriated the name and not the essence and your readers will balk.

So your task for the week is to write a short piece that pushes you to improve your characterization skills. It’s not enough to just say in the introduction, “This is Princess Leia.” You’ve got to make everybody reading know that this is her from the ground up and have her react to something new and different in ways only she would react.

More to come next week!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Overcoming Submission Anxiety (One R&R at a Time)

Or, Using Fanfiction as a Creative Writing Workshop Part 2 (Part 1 link here)
Well, you finished it. You’ve read it over and over and had your high school English teacher proof it for errors. Now it’s time to submit.

And you freeze. What if they don’t like it? What if it comes back with a nasty note? What if it doesn’t come back at all—lost forever in slushpile limbo?

One of the first hurdles a developing writer has to face is submission anxiety. You are about to send your baby out into the harsh cold world. A rejection of your work is likely to feel very much like a personal rejection as well.

I’m not going to downplay that because it hurts to be rejected. I have collected my rejection letters and hold them proudly as badges announcing “By God, I tried!” which is more than lots of aspiring authors can say as their MS lingers on their hard drive until it turns to cyberdust. But it still hurts to hear my work isn’t wanted.

Fanfiction can be a wonderful place to begin getting over that anxiety and start letting go of your work in a friendlier, safer, more accepting environment. Most Fanfiction reviewers are kind and encouraging. Sure, you’ll get constructive criticism if you ask for it. But you’ll mainly hear reinforcement of what they liked.

I’m going to get more in-depth later on with how to read your reviews, but to begin, it’s good to just start hearing from readers to help you gain confidence in your writing and in submitting it.

The best way to get reviews is to leave reviews. If you haven’t started reviewing other pieces and narrowing down the fandom you want to start writing in, this is the week to do it. Build relationships by reviewing other authors who are currently working. Or if you find a piece you love that’s been out a few years, review it as well. I get reviews on fics that are five years old and still love it and still respond to them.

Oh, yes, as an author you can respond to the reviewer and thank them or answer questions. But your first lesson in getting reviews is this---just like in the traditional publishing world, DO NOT RESPOND TO A NEGATIVE REVIEW IN ANY WAY. Just let it go. If somebody trolls you really badly and leaves all kinds of nastiness, you can remove the review or report them. But the best thing to do is LEAVE IT.

So get out there, start reviewing and start thinking about your fandom and even start working on your piece.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Why YOU Should Be Writing Fanfiction

Fan + Fiction = Fanfiction

A FREE Creative Writing Course: Lesson One

Ah, fanfiction. It has such a bad reputation in many circles as being the literary domain of angst-ridden teenagers who dream of shooting Bella in the face and marrying Edward themselves. And it is absolutely not a writing cred in any publishing circle and you should deny deny deny that you have ever written a page of fanfiction if an editor or agent asks.

However, I am going to tell you why you DO need to be writing fanfiction and why you should be darned proud of it.

First of all, some of the best-written, most entertaining works of fiction I have ever read have been fanfiction. Sure, there’s crap to be found, but that’s to be said of traditional publishing as well. Unless you just want to be a snob for snobbishness’s sake, let go of the quality idea and the stereotypes and embrace the real power of fanfiction.

What power? you ask.

If you are a developing writer, fanfiction can be the best, cheapest, most fulfilling creative writing course you ever took. Answer the following:

  • Do you really want to write but have no idea what?
  • Do you know what you want to write but have no idea how to turn it into a book?
  • Do you want to write but just want to have fun with it rather than selling your soul to the publishing industry?
  • Do you have a secret burning desire to put two unlikely characters from your favorite movie/book/TV show together just to see what happens?
  • Do you have a favorite book/movie/TV show that has officially ended (oh, say Firefly or Harry Potter) and you are still upset by this and want more more more?
If you answered yes to any of these, then you should absolutely be writing fanfiction.

Fanfiction has a long, stellar history (what is Shakespeare’s work but a fanfiction treatment of Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans?) and has spawned some works of serious literary merit (think Wide Sargasso Sea—Jane Eyre fanfiction). It is the purest, best form of literary criticism. Good writing induces a desire to produce more good writing, to enter into the text completely in a joint creative act.

And what better way to explore a work than to spin out a new work from it? I firmly believe that if an author wants to know what readers really think about his work, he needs to read the fanfiction.

For the next few weeks, I’m going to run a blog series here called Fanfiction Workshop. This is Lesson One—Get Over Yourself and Embrace the Concept.

Your homework is to go read some fanfiction. Two of the biggest sites are (where I am Arcole BTW) and (commonly known as AO3 where I’m waiting for my invite, along with the rest of the world). You can also find fanfiction at LiveJournal and Deviant Art.

Pick a movie/book/TV show etc. that you just freaking loved and dig around a bit in the archives on it. See how many fics are already out there. That will give you an idea of how likely you will be to get reviews on your work. Read and review while you are there. Somebody worked really hard on that piece. Give ‘em some love. It’s not like they can get a royalty check.

WARNING: Those of you who answered NO to the first three questions should be warned—fanfiction is addictive. If you are already a successful novelist with an agent/publisher and work to be doing, stay away. But if you are in the developing stages, this course can help you tremendously. Trust me.

So, what do you think? You in? Comment! It’s just like leaving a review at! Subscribe by email so you won't miss Lesson Two--Overcoming Submission Anxiety One R&R at a Time! And share so the rest of the world can start writing too!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sountrack of Pain

I just left the dentist's office and for the first time in my life, I am still laughing about it.

To me, the worst part of getting a filling is the sound of the drill. So I had the forethought to bring along the iPod and a set of good headphones, hoping that a little loud music would take care of it.

One of my favorite albums at the moment is Joris de Man's soundtrack to Killzone 3, a first-person shooter video game. In fact, go right now and start playing the first track, "And Ever We Fight On". It is a truly beautiful piece of music.

There's something invigorating about working to such purposeful music. The intense pieces make everything I do seem like a super-important covert mission for the government. If I'm posting on Facebook, it feels more like I'm communicating from my safehouse, sending out coded warnings about the impending alien invasion.

But the opening tracks aren't intense. They are sweepingly beautiful. While I was waiting for the shot to numb my mouth so the drilling could begin, I chilled out with the majestic flow, feeling like I was surfing the stars in my spaceship.

Unfortunately, just as the dentist lowered the light into my face, the tracks took a more sinister turn, and my imaginary spaceship was suddenly hijacked by savage aliens intent on drilling holes into my skull.

If I ever picked a sountrack of pain, this was it! This is music specifically written to make an imaginary life-threatening situation feel real. And the dentist is plenty threatening as it is. I realized I did not need the torture-chamber soundtrack to help it along.

I sat up, laughing like crazy. In fact, the dentist probably thought I was, especially since I was not on any happy gas to induce the giggles. I explained that I had to change tracks and switched to my next choice, Metallica's black album. It turns out that at extreme volume "Enter Sandman" drowns out the drill completely. In fact it sort of harmonized at times in a weird way.

The whole ordeal was over in the time it took the track to play and I was left with a numb mouth and a headache. But thanks to the quick intervention of James Hetfield and crew, at least maybe I won't have nightmares about alien abduction set to the Killzone 3 soundtrack.