Books I Might Not DNF

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To say I’ve been in a reading slump for the past few years would be an understatement. I’m not sure why. I used to read voraciously. I mean like at least two or three books per week. Even ‘way back when I was a single mom who had to get up at 5:AM to go to work, I would stay up late reading.

For the past several years, though, I simply haven’t been able to get interested in very many new books. I mean, I still keep buying them! Hope springs eternal, right? I even try reading one of them, once in a while. Unfortunately, I Do Not Finish far more than I finish. My To Be Read piles now totter near the ceiling!

Maybe today’s books, like today’s movies and TV shows, “just aren’t as good as they made them back in my day, sonny.” (That makes me sound real young and vibrant, doesn’t it?) Maybe my brain is just too old and tired for reading, anymore? But I can still re-read my old books (and watch old TV shows, for that matter) over and over! It’s just the newer stuff I can’t seem to get into. I mean I literally can’t make myself read more than the first 20 pages or so of most modern books without being drawn away by something that compels my interest much more intensely, such as cleaning the bathroom or folding laundry.

But! I am told that if I want to be a traditionally published author, I need to converse knowledgeably about today’s literature market, and be able to tell an agent my work is comparable to [insert author and title published within the last five – or preferably two – years] or, as they say, “provide good comps.”

So I came up with a plan. I sorted my To Be Read pile by publication date and put all the books published more than five years ago (with a few exceptions, noted below) into boxes to donate to Dog Eared Books. Then I sat myself down, and told my household I was not getting up again until I had read the beginning of every single one of the remaining books. 

The idea was to get all of these beginnings into my head, and let them stew there awhile. If, while stewing, any of these beginnings should persistently call me back to read the rest of the book I would, you know, actually finish reading it!

A few days later, I went back and sorted the books into two piles. One, I mentally labeled “Will Probably DNF.” The other contains books I have high hopes of actually finishing. Their beginnings are still bright and distinct in my mind, and I’m actually excited about them. But most of all, to my surprise and delight, the “Might Actually Finish” pile turns out to be the taller of the two! Maybe, this time, I won’t get bogged down in books I spend weeks trying to force myself through, precipitating another slump.

Books I Might Finish

An Enchantment of RavensMargaret Rogerson 
This book is a little dated for use as a comp (2017) but people keep telling me I’ll like it, and now I can see why. It’s got real magic in it, but so far the magic doesn’t want to splatter everyone’s guts all over the walls. The voice of the narrator, an artist who does portraits for the fey folk, is smart and funny. So far, I can’t tell if it’s set in a contemporary era or what. Era may well be irrelevant for this particular story-world. If it turns out I do like it, I understand the author has some more recent books in the same series. If the setting turns out to be contemporary, these could work for me as comps.

Mistress of SpicesChitra Banerjee Divakaruni 
Okay this one was published all the way back in 1997. But I want to finish it even though there’s no way I can use it as a comp, because so far it is (pardon my language) Fucking Brilliant. I love the narrator’s voice. It’s beautiful and enchanting, like we’re listening to a sweet, old ghost tell her tale. (I don’t know, maybe we are?)

Tales From the Gas Station, Volume 1 – Jack Townsend
Think Night Vale meets David Wong. I know, right? If I don’t like “dark and gritty” then why do I love these things? But all these works are, at heart, deadpan, satirical, tongue-in-cheek commentary on how stupid the human race is, and I eat that stuff up. This book was published in 2018, but I can’t use it as a comp because apparently it’s self-published. But I’m going to finish it anyway.

Black Water Sister – Zen Cho
Finally! A traditionally published (2021) Contemporary Fantasy that is still enchanting, lyrical, lovely, intelligent, and not drenched in dismembered limbs. Not so far, anyway. Another book with lovely “voice.” I’m really looking forward to following the rest of this modern-day woman’s journey into magic. But if it turns out she’s only hearing ghosts because she has a brain tumor or something, I swear to god I will burn this book right on the living room rug!

This Book is Full of Spiders – David Wong
Speaking of David Wong. This is his sequel to “John Dies at the End,” the book I often cite as the last book (2009) that kept me up reading into the wee hours because I couldn’t put it down. I bought this sequel in 2012 but I confess I have put off reading it because I was terrified it would disappoint me, thereby tarnishing my beloved memory of the first volume. So far, though, I am not disappointed. So far, so good!

The Midnight Library – Matt Haig 
Published in 2020. I haven’t got to where anything magical has actually happened yet, but I think I can tell by now that this author won’t be trying to conflate fantasy with horror. The voice is very lyrical. The construction of the storyline itself is also an interesting time-skipping device, done properly. I’ll let you know how it goes. It might legit turn out to be useful as a comp.

Books I Will Probably DNF

I put these aside, rather than into the donation box, because I tell myself I “might finish them someday, after I finish the others, and if something new doesn’t come along by then that I’ll find worth reading.” In other words, I almost certainly will not finish them, and will end up donating them ten years from now or something.

Dead Heads (Gloomwood Book 1) – Ross Young
The premise is cute so far but, 20 pages in, still nothing is actually happening. We are still being introduced to a lot of (I think there are six, so far) POV characters who do a lot of world-building thinking aloud about life in the land of the dead, but we keep hopping from one POV to the next, like, every page and a half or so, and none of them has a unique enough voice for me to be able to keep track of which one is who.

Kings of the Wyld – Nicholas Eames
Unlike the rest of this pile, I actually started this one a few months ago. But one day, after I stuck in the bookmark and went to dinner, I found myself not motivated to pick it up again. I was enjoying it quite a bit at first, but 15 chapters in (out of 53) I’m finding the “aging hero” jokes are starting to wear a bit thin. The premise was cute, and the rock-music references really rocked, but now it’s all just devolved to a bunch of manly men doing manly-man things, and I’ve always found that stuff tedious. I have a feeling we’ve already reached the mushy (and greatly protracted) middle; there are still two inches of pages in my right hand and the story has started going nowhere fast. I’m not even sure I care anymore about the far-off adult daughter caught in a besieged city who they, ostensibly, are intending to eventually rescue, since even if, after about a thousand more manly battle-pratfalls, they ever do win through to her and get her out, it’ll only be to let her live “free” in an altogether dismal, war-torn world without a speck of beauty anywhere in it. I’m sure there will be sequels (if there isn’t one already.)

The Other Black Girl – Zakiya Dalila Harris
I have to admit I was intrigued by the premise of the story even though it’s not even remotely fantasy. But it has reminded me of why I don’t care much for what they call Literary Fiction. Or is this Women’s Fiction? Literary Women’s Fiction, I don’t know. Anyway I’m 22 pages in (counting the prologue, a thing I’m told no debut author should ever attempt to get away with) and we’ve had about 20 pages of introspection and retrospection. Of the 3 brief passages that could be construed as “action” or “dialogue,” two of them have been conversations held over a cubicle divider. And by “conversations” I mean the other character speaks and then the main character introspects, for a few paragraphs, about what they said. I mean, at least get up and walk to the water cooler or something while doing all this deep thinking, FGS! The whole thing so far is like reading some long and rambling blog post… oh, wait…

Anyway, before you try to recommend them to me, I have already DNFed:

  • The Golem and the Djinni
  • The Bear and the Nightingale
  • Nevernight

I won’t go into great detail about why I DNFed these, other than to say the first two pissed me off by being the much-touted debuts of authors who got away with things I am told I should never, ever, ever do if I expect to be traditionally published, unless I’m already a bestselling author. Said things include, of course, prologues, as well as not even starting the story until after six chapters of events and characters we will never see again in the book. I might have finished these books regardless, of course, had I found them to be at all gripping, but they just slid out of my consciousness and didn’t call me back. As for Nevernight I can only say: please just stop. Just stop. Please.

Also. Some time ago, George R. R. Martin referred to his work as “Tolkien for grownups” and (after proposing he engage in several activities that are probably physically impossible) I vowed never to read or watch any of his work, ever. And to that I hold.

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I Believe There’s a Ghost of a Chance

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Ghost of a Chance preliminary cover art

This whole pandemic thing has really squashed the mojo out of a lot of creative people I know. Though supportive of others, I believed myself immune to this effect, since the third volume of the Woodley, USA saga was already written and in Beta by the time the seriousness of our situation became undeniable. All I had left to do (I told myself) was edit and format – technical, left-brained tasks I would have no trouble performing under the stress I wasn’t admitting I felt anyway.

But I guess I was also subject to the creative brain-fog, after all, because I really have been procrastinating things I need to be doing to get this book out the door on time. For one thing, I’ve been completely neglecting this blog! And I was avoiding getting to work on my back-cover blurb the way I avoid doing my taxes.

What helped me break this block was deciding to work on cover art instead. Unable to summon my favorite model for a new photo-shoot, I went through all the old photos of green-screen Cally, and suddenly my mind was filled with possibilities! I arbitrarily selected a Cally and color-corrected her outfit, setting her against a background and adding the proper atmospheric elements. To my surprise and joy, the whole while, my back cover description played through and through my head. By the time I was done, my blurb was nearly ready for prime time.

But I continued to struggle with the title. And you can’t make a cover without a title!

For the first two volumes in the Woodley, USA series, I had employed working titles that eventually felt so right, I ended up keeping them as actual titles. This experience did not repeat itself for me, this time. My original working title, “Rivers and Roads,” just did not seem to fit the story anymore, once it became full-blown. I tried everything! Brainstorming with Beta readers and CPs, free-association drawing, scribbling random words on slips of paper and pulling them out of a zipper bag. Nothing worked.

So for a few days, I tried to clear my brain while watching YouTube video tributes to Neil Peart. It would be hard for me to proclaim any one Rush song as my favorite, but “Ghost of a Chance” has always been one of my top fifty or so. Now that Neil is gone, his beautiful lyrics feel all the more poignant. I’m not sure why I did, but for some reason I held the title of this song up against my manuscript. It literally gave me chills.

A quick online search showed me there are already hundreds of books out there with this title. Well, that was a bummer. I talked it over with my CPs and readers. They all said. “Yeah, but if it gives you chills…and by the way, it gives me chills, too.”

My Biggest Fangirl said “Always go with your chills!”

So. There you go. I believe there’s a Ghost of a Chance.

Because Neil.

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Job Application for Female Lead Character

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I’m now about a quarter of the way through drafting the final book in Callaghan McCarthy’s story-cycle. Soon it will be time for someone new to step forward and tell the story of Woodley, USA from their own perspective. To this end, I am issuing a casting call for potential lead characters to headline the next series.

Job description:

During the course of your employment as Lead Character, you will experience newness and wonder (whether you like it or not) and you will have your entire belief structure fundamentally challenged and overhauled. Your heart will probably break a few times, but you will be provided with allies who will nurture you through this. You will probably also face some physical dangers; unfortunately, you’ll be on your own regarding how to get out of these particular messes. Your job is to figure out how to save not just yourself but your friends, the farm, the town, and ultimately the world. (You will almost certainly never understand exactly how the fate of the world figures in all this, of course, but it’s still your job to do it.)

Requirements include but are not limited to:

  • Adult human female with some life experience. You do not need to have grown children, but this is not a “coming of age” tale. Please have a few hard-learned lessons under your belt that have made you stronger and kinder.
  • Some cynicism and a few PTSD symptoms are OK, but complete douchebaggery will be considered a deal-breaker.
  • Preference will be given to those with 100% human blood, though if you suspect you have a long-forgotten faerie or deity somewhere in your ancestry, you may still be considered.
  • Skinny twentysomething characters with large breasts and flawless skin need not apply.

Please answer the following questions on the reverse side of this sheet:

  • What are you running from?
  • What did you hope to find when you arrived in Woodley, USA?
  • What did you really hope to find? I mean originally, back when you were a kid, before they convinced you it couldn’t actually be found in the real world?
  • Do you believe in ghosts?

If you are a fictional character and wish to be considered for this position, please transmit your answers to my muse ASAP.

Note: While Woodley, USA is a diverse community, I do not feel that I, as a writer, am qualified to represent, through my Main Characters,  challenges I have never personally experienced. While you will be acting alongside characters of many different ages, races, species, genders, physical abilities and neurological types, I feel that stories which feature these characters as the main Point Of View are best told by #OwnVoices.

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Fantasy & Science Fiction Review

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My F&SF fantasy come true!

A long time ago in a universe far, far away, I sent a copy of my debut novel to one of my favorite authors of all time. I sent it for no reason other than to thank him for inspiring me by writing some of the most enjoyable fiction I’d ever read, and also to thank him for his support. His support had come, many years before, in the form of what is, to date, still the best writing advice I’ve ever received. That advice, to paraphrase quite heavily, is: “Qwitcherbitchin’ and write!

Imagine my excitement when I received an email this past June from the editor of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine (to which I have been subscribed since I was a teenager – and I won’t tell you how long that has been!) The email asked me to review, before release, a copy of an overview of Seven Turns this favorite author of mine had written in his “Books to Look For” column for the July/August issue. I’ve been bursting at the seams ever since, dying to tell you all about it. Now it is finally July, and I can tell you!

The “Books to Look For” section of F&SF Magazine is at
https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/2019/cdl1907.htm

The overview of Seven Turns is the third listing down, right between Philip K. Dick and John R. Little … seriously, am I allowed to yell “Squeeeeee!” now?

My favorite part is where he refers to some of the spirits Cally encounters in Woodley as “deities.” I wouldn’t have expected most people to recognize that’s what they (some of them!) are, but of course Charles de Lint would know a deity when he sees one!

Naturally I also immediately sent him a copy of Moonlight and Moss. Not sucking up for another review or anything, but I want to see if he recognizes the other deities, because this volume deals much more heavily with the denizens of the faerie side of the meadow gate. (Oh, who am I kidding – he’ll not only recognize them, but is probably on first-name terms with some of them.)

Now, if you are one of my fellow writers in the #writingcommunity and you are wondering how to get your inspiration flowing, how to find time to write, wondering if you’re just a hack or what, here is the best advice I can pass on to you:

Qwitcherbitchin’ and Write!

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Moonlight and Moss Launch Party!

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It’s official! Moonlight and Moss will be released on May 31, 2019. The launch party will be on Saturday, June 1, at 3:PM at Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, NC.

I can’t say enough good things about Page 158! Not only are they the coziest independent bookstore I’ve ever been inside of, but the staff are all friendly, fun, and knowledgeable, and the proprietors are active participants in the community. They really love supporting local and independent authors. If you live anywhere near Raleigh, you need to visit this store!

But especially visit it on June 1, 2019. Not only will I be debuting Moonlight and Moss, but There Will Be Cake! Just sayin’. 🙂

If you can’t make it to the party, we’ll be live-streaming it on my Facebook author page: facebook.com/kimbeallauthor and I hope to see you there!

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Moonlight and Moss – Coming Very [Very!] Soon

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It’s official! The release date for Moonlight and Moss is May 31, 2019. But you can pre-order it right now (see links below)!

Now, I’ve never understood authors who make their pre-order price higher than the regular price. It’s like you’re punishing your biggest fans for their enthusiasm. I think my Biggest Fans should be rewarded! Honestly, I’d make the Kindle version like 1 cent for pre-order but Amazon doesn’t allow anything lower than $2.99, so I did my best! The pre-order price is $2.99 – after June 1, the price will be going up to $4.99. Barnes & Noble has made the paperback available for $11.99; after release it will go up to the full price of $15.99.

My journey to deciding to self-publish was fraught with self-doubt and anxiety, but I’m glad now that I did it. The interior design stuff (especially getting the pagination to match up with my table of contents) was kind of a nightmare! But I really had a lot of fun being an active participant in the cover design. I’m really proud of the final product, and I hope you’ll like it, too!

Let me state unequivocally, here, for any other authors considering whether to self or traditionally publish:

Fear of “loss of creative control” should never be a factor in deciding whether or not to publish traditionally because, frankly, it’s a complete and utter myth.

Even with traditional publishers, the author retains authority (that’s where the word “author” comes from, peeps!) and has final say over any and all suggested changes. Fear of “loss of creative control” was not why I decided to self-publish Moonlight and Moss. I chose this route because it became evident to me early in the querying process that it was highly unlikely any traditional publisher would ever be willing to pick up the second book in a series. Once I finish Cally’s story arc in the Woodley, USA universe (this will happen when Rivers and Roads is released in 2020) I will begin a new series. It will probably also take place in Woodley, but since it will be a whole new series with a whole new main character, I will be ready to begin pursuing traditional publishing again.

Because I have other things to do besides going crosseyed formatting text for PDFs and .epubs. I have many books to write before I sleep!

Oh, and that reminds me: Who would you like the main character of the next series to be? Is there anyone you’ve already met whose story you’d like me to explore from their own point of view? Or would you like a new main character all together? Let me (as the YouTubers say) know in the comments below.

[Pre-]order Moonlight and Moss:

Somebody’s Calling Your Name…

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NaNoWriMo Preptober 2018

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Do you NaNo? If you’ve ever had even a hankering to try your hand at contributing something to the worldwide body of fiction, National Novel Writing Month is a good place to start. For one thing, you’ll get lots of support and encouragement, and afterward the whole idea of “writing a book” will seem far less daunting. It’s amazing, it’s true: you actually can do this. I am not kidding.

In addition, you’ll discover a community of writers you never knew existed all around you, and you’ll find out another thing I was amazed to discover: Writers, as a body, are really amazingly nice people! Most nerds are. (Oh, yah, if you’re a nerd, you’ll also find, among writers, a much higher percentage of nerds than you’ll find anywhere else. What’s your nerddom? Doctor Who? Night Vale? Local indy bands nobody else has heard of? Chances are, everyone in your local NaNo group will also have at least one of these interests – and some of them might share all of them with you. It’s mind-boggling!)

I started Moonlight and Moss as my 2017 NaNo project, though I knew it was going to run well over the requisite 50,000 words required to “Win” NaNoWriMo. This year, I am going to work on a short (well, short for me!) novella revolving around what it must be like to experience the Christmas season in Woodley, USA. I can well imagine that, at Vale House, Santa Claus really does slide down the chimney on Christmas Eve. He probably hangs around eating hors d’oeuvres (I wonder if Katarina will finally make tacos?) and drinking the special Christmas brandy.

This won’t really be part of the current “trilogy” featuring Cally, Ben, and Emerald, though they will be present for Christmas this year. Maybe someday I’ll include a bound copy of the story as bonus content with the boxed set.

Best of all, NaNoWriMo is for a good cause, whether your participate as a writer or by supporting an aspiring writer you know. Proceeds from donations to National Novel Writing Month provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page. Their Young Writers Program promotes writing fluency, creative education, and the sheer joy of writing in K-12 classrooms by providing free classroom kits, writing workbooks, Common Core-aligned curricula, and virtual class management tools to more than 2,000 educators from Dubai to Boston. For more information please visit their web site: NaNoWriMo.org

 

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Cats Never Cooperate

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I have reached the Beta Reader stage with Moonlight and Moss! This means the story is complete and I have combed through it dozens of times, ironing out plot conundrums and making sure what I’m trying to say is clear to the reader. Probably. The only way to know for sure is to ask some actual readers.

Fortunately I have a wonderful group of highly literate friends who don’t mind being brutal if they have to, and who will absolutely tell me exactly what they experience as they read my, what, I guess it’s twentieth draft, now.

I’ve only sent them the first half of the manuscript so far, though. You see there’s this cat. I know this cat needs to be in the story, I just can’t figure out where it belongs. Should it come sooner in the story? But then if it does, what shall I do with it when the Really Bad Guy is on the loose? I don’t want it to get hurt! (No. I will never, ever, ever write a story where an animal or a child suffers. Nope. Ain’t gonna do it.)

It would also work just fine if it jumps in at the end of the story, but it’s just so darn adorable, I really want to see more of it. So, I keep moving it around. And, of course, every time I move it I have to change the scenery around where it was, and also the ones where it went later. It is this one, final detail that is driving me bonkers and keeping me from being able to say my manuscript is complete!

So, well, if you are one of my Beta Readers and you finish the first half and want to know where the second half is, all I can say is: It’s the cat’s fault!

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Launch Party

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Kay Watley (editor of the Gray Area News and author of Making Corrections) and I at the Literacy Day event at the Zebulon Farm Fresh Market
Kay Watley (editor of the Gray Area News and author of Making Corrections) and I at the Literacy Day event at the Zebulon Farm Fresh Market

I thought I didn’t like “Marketing,” and maybe I don’t, but seriously, the marketing and networking stuff I’ve been doing lately doesn’t feel like work at all. I’ve been meeting so many wonderful people, and through them, other people. I’ll tell you what: Writers are Nice! I never really knew any, before, and I had no idea they were such great people. Maybe I have finally found my Tribe?

First off, on Saturday, I went to the Zebulon NC Farm Fresh Market, where a lady from my local writers’ coffee-clatch (via the Franklin County Arts Council) was hosting a booth for Literacy Day. I got to meet more fellow authors, some newspaper folks, and librarians … AND! I got a free cantaloupe! How can a day get any better?

Well, there was still more in store. Saturday evening, the long-anticipated Launch Party for Seven Turns went off at the Wake Forest Coffee Company, where most of Seven Turns was written (and where the first draft of Moonlight and Moss is about to be completed. I’ll blog separately about that later!) I had been sweating this for so long: I was so sure I’d forget something, or that nobody would show up, or that I would drop the cake…

Oh, yes, the cake! That came out great! I showed the fine folks at Sweet Traditions the cover of my book and asked: “Can you make a cake to look like this?” and they said “Challenge accepted!” I think it came out fabulous! (It tasted pretty good, too!)

I really could not have pulled it off without all the help I got, though. I am so grateful for the support I have received all along from the Wake Forest Coffee Company, where most of my writing gets done due to both the peaceful atmosphere there and (or, perhaps, especially due to) the great coffee. My wonderful husband, who speaks for a living, emceed the event so I could concentrate on signing books and sucking up to potential fans. My wonderful daughter operated the camera for the Facebook Livestream of the entire event. An amazing local band, Clairvoyance, provided background ambiance (to tell you the truth, they have provided much calm and inspiration all along for my writing at the coffee shop, where they play almost every Sunday morning.) Even my grandson took care of making sure everyone had a program and a door-prize ticket.

I was so nervous before this event, but now that I have safely got over this hump, I am hoping upcoming book signings (next up: Book Signing at Page 158 Books) will start to feel more like just going to work every day. Or, wait… maybe I actually hope I never start to feel like any of this is “just going to work!”

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Launched!

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Well, it has happened at last! I thought the day was still a long time coming, but yesterday, quietly and without fanfaire, Seven Turns appeared on Amazon.

It was surreal to see it there, really, and after all the Hurry Up And Wait, now I am back to hurrying: I need to order copies to take with me to book signings. Oh, yah, I need to schedule those book signings! I need to create my author page on Amazon! I need to create a media kit! I need to update my blog!

Great time for Windows to do an update that completely took out my keyboard, right? *sigh!* Thank goodness I still have my tablet, and thank goodness WordPress is mobile-friendly.

So there you are, everyone. I hope you enjoy it. I mean that, really. The main thing I really want people to feel when reading about my fictional world is enjoyment. I mean, you’ll feel a lot of other things as you’re reading, but mostly I hope that when you close the book at the end, you’ll find yourself thinking, “I enjoyed that!”

The Kindle edition is available here.

The paperback edition is available here.

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