You don’t need to be a gamer to get these books.

Challenge Accepted Final SMALLRiley dreamed of becoming the first female professional gamer in the PLG.  She always loved gaming.  Maybe it’s because she’s part tomboy, or it could be just her wild nature rearing its ugly head.  Either way, it’s what she’s spent her life working toward, and something as silly as falling in love isn’t going to get in her way.

That’s the basic story of Challenge Accepted, the first book in the Eternal Combat series.  Of course, things aren’t quite that simple.  Riley is convinced that the reason she didn’t make it on her first try is because of sexism in the industry.  Her main competition, Void, agrees.  He’s going to help her prove it – whether she likes it or not – and maybe he’ll get the girl in the end… if he can get her to even notice he exists.  Not really something an alpha male like him is used to.

If this sounds a little far-fetched, then you need to take a few minutes to google “GamerGate”.  Yes, it’s a real thing.  Yes, some serious atrocities happened, and some wonderful dialogue ensued, but for the most part, a lot of sexism was revealed.  Yes, it’s still going on.  Following that, I couldn’t help but wonder, what if someone followed through on some of these threats?!

That’s where this series was born.  Naturally, problems don’t start in a vacuum, so I felt that I had to include the prequel, Flawed.  While most of the Eternal Combat series follows the lives of various women who enjoy playing a game of the same name, the problem started before the game was a concept.  And it started with one of the developers, Destiny Pierce.

FlawedSMALLLike Riley, Destiny was obsessed with gaming.  Unlike Riley, she was a good girl, made good grades, and tried to do the right thing.  Then her life was destroyed.

Three years later, addicted to drugs, alcohol, and anything else she can get her hands on, her dream is to overdose well enough that she won’t ever wake up again.  “They” broke her.  The brilliant girl with her entire future before her has become a shell of herself – and her only friend is the net.  So long as it’s virtual, it’s safe.

So when an up and coming game company offers her a pity job, she takes it.  There, she finally finds what she’s been missing and turns her brains to creating something rather than destroying herself… Until the threats return.

Someone wants her dead, but for the first time, Destiny isn’t going to just give up.  Her dream is so close, if she can just push back she’ll make it – she’ll be something that matters.  She just needs the proper battleground – and it’s a game called Eternal Combat.

As a gamer, this is a series that is dear to me.  As a woman, these subjects are something I think needs to be talked about.  Over and over, our love stories are always about girls who fall for nice abs and tons of money.  What about the women who don’t want that?  What about the girls who aren’t waiting for superman?  Where are the love stories for the alpha WOMEN out there?

Yes, the Eternal Combat series is about broken women, men who can be strong without being jerks, and how modern technology has insinuated itself into our lives.  You don’t need to know a thing about games, computers, or the internet to keep up.  These are just stories about women who have been knocked down over and over, but who keep getting back up.  Strong women who didn’t let live make them into fragile little toys.

Eternal Combat series 4 books.png

From drug dependence, preconceived ideas that make a person feel boxed in, domestic violence, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more, these gamer girls show that it takes a whole lot more than fancy computer skills to be kick-ass.  It takes a strength that comes from deep within.  I also hope that I can show the world why so many damaged souls seek their solace in the anonymity online.

If you’re looking for a new kind of romance, a whole lot of action, some seriously hot sexual tension, and a truly modern love story?  Check out Challenge Accepted on Amazon. (Currently on Sale for just $0.99 in the US)

Flawed is scheduled to release in summer 2016.

 

 

The Villain’s Story

skull-657477I’m going to tell you all a secret.  The iliri may not be the good guys.  Oh, sure, they are the protagonists of my latest series, but does that make them good?  Not really.

You see, Salryc Luxx was actually designed around Sauron from the Lord of the Rings.  You know, that mysteriously evil character who is charismatic and people just keep falling in with.  If you pay attention, there’s plenty of hints along the way, but I wanted to see if it was even possible to write the bad guy’s story in such a way that the reader wanted to cheer him (or her) on.

Why?  Simply because I think that good and evil are matters of perspective.  I don’t think that any SANE person (keyword there: sane) would do unthinkable acts just because.  I think they always have a justifiable reason.  I think that there are always two points of view, and sometimes the more interesting isn’t the “good” one.

I’m currently in the middle of writing book 7 of the iliri series.  To date, I think we’ve touched on every single taboo in existence.  No, the story doesn’t focus on them, but they just kinda came up.  You see, the iliri aren’t human, so I can’t help but wonder if they should be held to the same standards.

And then there’s Sal.  She’s the stereotypical femme fatale.  People are won over by her charm even though they’re intimidated by her.  She’s dangerous yet seductive.  Her followers gain power through their relation with her.  Wait… doesn’t that sound like some kind of secret weapon?  Some demi-god?  Well, that’s kinda what I thought.  Evidently Sal agrees.

But this begs the question: Is she really the villain?  I think she is.  I think she’s going to unleash things on that world that humanity can’t even comprehend… and I hope we all cheer her on.

Get BloodLust on Amazon, or pre-order Instinctual

 

Insta-Love

Salryc Genesis 3aIt’s a trope we see all the time.  The cute, vulnerable girl runs into a strong, well-positioned man and is instantly in love with him.  There’s no sensical reason for the relationship.  The reader doesn’t get the joy of watching the tension turn into emotion.  Nope.  Instead, it’s just “told” that they are perfect together, and we, the readers, are expected to believe it.

Some of my astute readers may look at the picture to the left, think of a newly released fantasy book they recently read and be thinking, “Hey, wait….”

So yes.  It’s true.  Power is appealing.  Stability has its own alure.  When we are young and foolish, we often convince ourselves that feelings are “love” when it’s just curiosity or boredom.  We tell ourselves it’s love because we’re too afraid of what might happen if it isn’t.  These are the kind of mistakes I made when I was 16, infatuated with the star quarterback, or the hot teacher, or any other guy who happened to be in a position to make me daydream of a “comfortable life”.  It’s what society taught me I should aspire to.

It wasn’t love.

Sal, like so many young girls, may be good at some things, but her experience with love is basically nothing.  Her past is dark and horrible – she was a slave, after all.  All she knows about how to interact with others is to please them or get beaten.  Is it any shock that she falls for the first man to show an interest in her?  Would you be shocked to learn that a natural born killer might not understand that sometimes men lie to protect their own pride?

When you’re in love, it’s so easy to list the reasons, even if they’re stupid.  Men who love you don’t tell you to change into something you aren’t.  Love never results in abuse!  Love has nothing to do with status or hierarchy of power.  Anything else is just a toxic relationship – but those are so easy to see from the outside.  The same is not true for the person stuck on the inside.

One of the things I loved most about writing BloodLust was showing just how wrong a “perfect” relationship could be.  They fell in “love” too fast, believed it was perfect, and the problems were so obvious you wanted to strangle one – or both – of them!  No matter how atrocious the relationship became, societal vulnerabilities convinced everyone that this was “right” and “meant to be”.  Now, the real question is: can things work out in the end? Should they?

Well, let me assure you, the end is not near.  Sometimes people lie.  Sometimes people figure out they were wrong.  Sometimes people figure out they were right. But, without spoiling anything for my readers, I just have to say that it was interesting to be drug along in a story where the insta-love was just as wrong as we’d all expect, but the lovers were too foolish to see it.

 

Beauty and Romance Novels

article-2343262-1A5E10DE000005DC-158_306x410In romance novels, we expect our hero and heroine to be beautiful.  Maybe not traditionally so, but at least to their love interest.  Recently, I’ve seen a lot of “larger” women in stories, as well as big noses, horrible hair, or other traits that could be seen as less than perfect.  Typically it’s the female characters who can be imperfect and still get Mr. Hot-As-Hell.  I get it.  The readers are women who see themselves as less than perfect, so this makes sense.

So, Can I take it a step further?  What about amputees, someone “confined to” (or liberated by, as the case may be) a wheelchair?  How about disfiguring scars from a traumatic accident?  Can these people become beautiful to the reader?  I think the picture here kinda proves it happens in reality.

And so, I’m now exploring this.  I have a military veteran who suffered a spinal injury, a woman who lost her leg in an accident, and another who was badly disfigured by gang violence.  My problem?  I kinda don’t know anyone who has lived through such a thing.

Yep, research.  The LAST thing I want to do is marginalize a group of people in some misguided effort to prove I can write it.  I can’t even imagine the grief, anguish, and depression that would come with something like this.  Wrapping my mind around viewing the world from waist high is nearly impossible.  And what about the reliance upon others?  Loss of independence would have to take its toll.

I think that so many “imperfect” people are now posing as models (typically seen as examples of perfection) is wonderful.  I’m giddy to see our idea of beauty transforming while I’m still alive.  I want to embrace this, to bring it into our love stories.  The way I see it, if I can make the reader – for even a moment – wish they were someone who is typically pitied, then maybe, just maybe, it means something.

I’m not really sure what, but I know that love rarely knows any bounds and that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.  They say that love conquers all.  Can it defeat our cultural prejudices?

 

What it means to be strong

Jeane Fashion 2Is it the smart mouth, wise cracks, or flippant attitude that makes someone strong?  Is it possible all of that attitude is just a mask to hide the fear and insecurity inside?

Is it the courage to charge headlong into danger, the knowledge  of how to maim and kill, or the blind dedication to the cause that makes someone strong?  Could all of that be a shield to hide past failures or the inability to refuse any request?

In other words, what makes someone strong?  What traits do readers find and think, “this character has a strength like none other?”  You see, I can’t really write weak characters.  I’m just not very good at it because I think that strength lies in all of us – in some way.  Using brains instead of brawn doesn’t make someone weak, it makes them aware of their own strengths… ah, and there’s that word again.  Strength.

But, for the first time, I’m writing a character so broken, she’s become a fragile, delicate thing.  Oh, she can cuss, hide her misery with drugs, and isolate herself for years.  She’s really good at putting on a brave face and pushing everyone else away.  Her problem is that she can’t remember how to trust.  She doesn’t know how to fight back.  Instead, this shattered little girl does nothing but pray they never find her again.  On the outside, she comes across as a person in control of her own destiny who’s made some very hard choice (and not all good ones).  On the inside?  She’s a wreck.

Mackenzie didn’t wait for someone to save her, but she accepted help when it was offered.  Leyli knew she’d have to do it herself and took charge of her situation.  She used her weaknesses to give her an advantage and put aside her pride to get what she wanted.  Then there’s Riley.  For those who haven’t read Challenge Accepted yet, well… let’s just say that Riley proves that strength isn’t enough.  Sometimes control has to go with it or there’s nothing left but destruction in her wake.  And now I have Sal, a coldly calculating predator who can’t help but take charge.

But here’s the question that lingers in my mind.  Is it truly strength if the character doesn’t find it him/herself?  If they are led to it by another, does that make it less valuable to a reader?  I honestly don’t know, but it will be interesting to see how things turn out… even for me!  Most days these characters just have me along for the ride.

Being the Outsider

alone-girl-sitting-on-window-waiting-someoneAt some point in our lives, I think we’ve all felt like an outsider.  It doesn’t matter if you’re cool – or not, rich, poor, or anything in between.  There will always be some dividing line that separates us from the rest of the group.

Of course there’s the biggies like race, sexual orientation, and religion/politics.  But the minor things can feel the same.  Maybe it was that time that you were the piano player in the midst of the drummers.  How about being the star football player at the ballet tryouts?  When you feel like you stand out, it sucks.  There’s a piece of you that wants to run and hide, another that wants to prove you can do this, and the one that is terrified.

I tried to capture that feeling in BloodLust.  Imagine being one of a kind, so rare that people stop and look, so freakish that everyone around you is scared of YOU.  How long would it take before you wanted to give up?  How could you change people’s minds?  What would you do?  Would the desperation to be accepted sink in after a year?  Ten?  Twenty?

Then imagine finding a place you truly belong.  Your personal nirvana.  Would it hurt more, or less, when that feeling of security is ripped away?  Could you go back to the hell you lived in before?  What other options would you have?

One of the most common things said about my writing is that it’s “real”.  Doesn’t matter if that’s one of my romances or the fantasy novels, my readers can find the grain of truth buried in the story.  Well, this is how it gets there.  Every book is built on one great lie.  One “What If” you might say.

From that single question, the characters develop, the world evolves around them, and the quest comes into focus.  The plot is always about the character’s personal goal.  The STORY is about that one question that makes the whole thing spin in my mind until it comes out my fingers.  Right now, I’m lost in the despair of being all alone while surrounded by so many others.  The end result is BloodLust, coming out in April.

There are always characters that don’t cooperate

LieutenantI pick up these pictures from all over the place as inspiration for characters.  This one is the Lieutenant from BloodLust.  It just looks like I thought an officer should.

So, I was going through my inspiration folder, saw this, and started thinking about that book.  Probably the hardest part was writing a character – who got POV chapters – who could see into the future.  Oh, it’s a fickle talent and not one that can be relied upon.  His visions come when they want and aren’t always about what he THINKS he needs to know.

But how do I keep the secrets?  How do I prevent spoiling the entire plot of the book… hell, the series?  Well, I peppered the novel with hints.  Some won’t come into play until book 5.  Some apply to the next chapter.  The thing with Blaec’s knowledge is that sometimes telling another will twist the potential outcomes just enough that bad things will happen.  It’s not a friendly skill.  It’s not the kind of thing you’d wish on your worst enemy, but he’s always had it.

Zep (2)I had to fight to keep him on track.  Oddly, though, he wasn’t the character that went rogue on me.  No, that was Zep.  My beta readers had to listen to countless hours of me whining about keeping that man on track.  Granted, he’s also become one of my favorite characters to ever write.  (The gorgeous photo to the right was my inspiration for him).

Zep was supposed to be the friendly antagonist.  He didn’t agree.  By chapter three of the first book, he’d already scrapped the original plot, re-written it into something better, and dared me to fulfill his every expectation.  When I tried to play it safe, he proceeded to say something that carried be off track (back to where he wanted me to go).

I always see these memes about the imaginary friends writers have, and well, I think the characters from Rise of the Iliri are mine.  At least they are my first group of book buddies – and that gives them a special place in my heart.

And unlike my other books, the Rise of the Iliri series is MEANT to be read again.  The first time through, you might miss a few things.  Oh, the story is just as good, and you’ll be sucked right in, but I’m hoping that the second time will be even better.  The third?  Who knows.  I’ve personally read it more times than I can count, but that’s a little different.  Oddly, I’m not sick of it.

Now, I’m trying to capture that magic in every novel I put out.  I’m not sure I’ll succeed, but I’m going to keep trying.  But at least I know, when the characters are real enough to change things on their own, the book should end up great.

An interesting chat about women

cover girl in grey.pngI was talking with my husband the other night about tropes in fiction.  You see, I really like to muddle with the typical “expectations” and breaking a trope is as exciting to me as a roller coaster is to a normal person.  In the end, the topic came around to popular presentation of women (by him, not me!)

In his esteemed opinion, men are typically attracted to strong, capable women.  Shrinking violets and dainty, demure damsels are an affectation of women – in today’s world.  While sure, there’s still a segment of the population who thinks women should be seen and not heard (and probably always will be, sadly) he insists that men like a woman who is sure of herself, no matter what that self might be.  His proof: Katy Perry over Zooey Deschanel.

Now, I’m not saying he’s right.  I do find his opinion to be interesting from a writing standpoint.  How often do we present our female leads as quiet, overlooked, obedient little ladies?  If not, do we default to snarky and brazen?  Where are the women who can kick ass while wearing designer heels?  Never mind how hard that would be, I mean, there still should be a few, right?

Which kinda brings this back around to writing.  Every time I create a female character who is proud of her sexuality, unconcerned with social norms, or otherwise deviates from the standard “bookish girl with high intelligence whose beauty has been overlooked due to her shyness” I wonder if my readers will hate her.  So far, they have always enjoyed the characters who inhabit my mind.  When I wrote the first Wolf of Oberhame book, I was sure that Leyli would be scoffed at.  She is too girly.  She is too calculating and manipulative.  She is too stereotypically a GIRL.  Never mind that she promptly takes the damsel in distress trope and craps all over it.  She’s most certainly not “masculine”.

But, she is very VERY strong.  When her world turns upside down, she doesn’t break a heel and freak out.  She SURVIVES, because really, that’s what most normal people would try to do in her situation, right?  And I’m still getting emails, direct messages on twitter, and facebook inboxes from fans who adore the story.  She’s sexy because she is confident in who and what she is.

From tomboys to fashionistas, evidently “sexy” is defined by the comfort a woman has in her own skin.  Thick, thin, short, or tall, a little self-confidence is ten times more attractive than some photoshopped ideal that is impractical.  And the more I thought about this, the more I realize how very true it is.  From my little fan girl crush on a certain guy who streams my favorite game to my husband’s “perfectly respectable” appreciation for a rather deviant music star, we all find personality to be much more appealing than any physical trait that exists.

So I’m taking this as a challenge.  Can I make a character more sensual than their physicality?  Can I write love interests who society would not typically find “appealing”?  Can I convince the reader to fall in love alongside the characters in my stories?  I think so, and I plan on proving it.

I’m also feeling really inspired to write another book.  Oh, this is going to be a lot of fun.

 

What if the trolls knew where you lived?

smartphone-friends-internet-connectionA few decades ago, setting up the perfect chance for things to go wrong in a book was easy.  One girl, one dark alley, and she’d be isolated.  Today, not so much.

Everyone has a cell phone.  Most have GPS locating apps, find friend/family, or such.  Walking home?  I’d be shocked if the girl didn’t have a flashlight app on, while texting to her bestie.  This is the constantly connected world we live in, and portraying it in literature makes a few things a bit… less easy.

Now add in social media, video games, mobile games, voice to text, blue tooth, and more.  It’s exciting.  It’s amazing and common place all at the same time.  So how do you keep the feel of the stories we loved, while embracing the modern world that is consuming us?  It’s a question I’ve had a lot of fun playing with.

You see, the internet offers a lot of anonymity.  Games offer a break from reality.  The massive amount of tech that most people carry on them is staggering, but it offers authors a chance to look at old problems in new ways.  And THAT is what I have done with the Eternal Combat series.

Gamers living like real people

shift9441PopAs I’ve said many times, we’re all gamers.  From Solitaire to Call of Duty, almost everyone I know has a game to whittle away the time.  Maybe they play it on their phone while riding the bus, maybe they rush home after school to log in with their friends in WOW, or maybe the Wii counts as exercise.  We all do it.

Then there’s the dark side of this hobby: sexism.  Oh, it’s not all inclusive.  It still exists, and the more male dominated the genre of games, the more likely someone is to run into it headlong.  Even my husband has suffered because of it – while running one of my characters around.  Private messages to do disgusting things, random pictures sent to the email address I used for guild forums (yeah, I did keep that picture of your penis for future blackmail, bud!) and the threats.  Oh, there’s always the threats.

I’d say that 95% of the guys I know online are great.  Maybe 20% of those  are protective of the girls in their guild/friends list.  Then there’s that special group of idiots.  Doesn’t matter if it’s the guy who says he’ll rape me because I got a good kill, the one who keeps telling me to shut up because I should be seen and not heard, or the butt-munch who heard me on the guild stream and now stalks me across the map wanting to be friends.

Imagine what would happen if that last layer of anonymity was stripped away.  What if the world knew that QQ was named Riley Andrews, lived in small town Texas, and her face was plastered everywhere.  What happens when being a “girl gamer” means you suddenly have to do twice as good to prove a guy isn’t carrying you through the game?  How do you combat this?  How do you fight back?  Do you even bother?

And what would you do when the threats become real?  How can you tell the difference between some troll mouthing off online and the guy who honestly wants to see you die?  How can you be sure that “I’m gonna rape you!” is a joke and not a real threat?  When the harassment crosses the  line from virtual to real, and the privacy protections of the internet provide your attacker with one more layer of protection while isolating you from the support systems that were meant to keep you safe, what do you do?

What if it was your daughter that had to deal with this?  Your mother?  Your best friend?

Because it happens all the time.  Sure, it’s usually a joke, but sometimes it’s not.  The Eternal Combat series mixes the joys of our virtual lifestyle with the horrors.  Love, friendships, and stalking are all a part of the new world we’re immersed in.  The old threats have adapted.  The dark alley is a place we gleefully log into, to see what our friends and family are doing.  All across the world, teenagers are harassing each other, stalking, bullying, and destroying people while sitting comfortably at a computer in the safety of their homes.  The atrocities I grew up with have been given a healthy dose of steroids.  The virtual world has become both the best and the worst of society.

I think it’s time for storytelling to take all of this into consideration without setting it up as a far-flung future that we will never see, because it’s real.  It’s here.  It isn’t the AI in those games we should fear.  It isn’t the companies that make them.  It’s the handful of mentally deranged sociopaths who are cloaked in anonymity, handed their victims on a streaming virtual platter.

Sexism in Literature

Heros.pngRecently, literature has gone crazy with feminism discussions.  Big women can be pretty too.  Women shouldn’t be treated as objects.  Women deserve…

You all know what I’m talking about.  Now, when was the last time you heard a rant about fridging some guy?  Why not?  Why is it “acceptable” to knock off some male character to inspire vengeance or purpose in his female (or male) family/lover/friend?  Why does no one complain when all the “hot” guys are also rich, built, or otherwise unrealistic?  Why is no one protesting the covers featuring males who are heavily photoshopped or air brushed to portray unhealthy body ideals, like 6 pack abs when completely relaxed?

Granted, some of this is human nature.  A strong man is just sexy.  Humans are kinda programmed to think that.  Does that mean that every single romantic hero has to be an alpha?  If so, why don’t we delve into his inner turmoil of coping with the backlash of such arrogance and heavy-handed mannerisms?

I think you all can see where I’m going with this.  Why are there two sets of rules, and do YOU as a writer (professional or just for fun) fall into the tropes?  Do you take the short cuts to make it easy, or do you stop and think about the men and women you’re creating, and what they tell the readers is “normal”?

Should you?  Should I?  While, yes, we have the RIGHT to write what we want, are we doing more damage to our own causes because it’s so easy to be lazy?

Just food for thought.