Seven Things “How to Get Away With Murder” Can Teach Us About Strong Writing

So I can admit it: I’ve become a bit of a TV-head since the work-from-home days began. It’s been six and a half months now. Here’s to the day I thought to myself, “Well, if I’m gonna be home for three weeks, why not rewatch all the Harry Potter movies?” Those were simpler times.

Around April, I was already running out of shows. I grew so bored one night that I rented CATS. CATS, people. Do you understand how serious that is?

Luckily, Annalise Keating swept in to save my brain, and it became my nightly ritual to watch one episode of How to Get Away With Murder as my night was winding down. Some nights, I got a little carried away and just kept going, but I averaged about one a day when I could help myself. By the end of season two, it was official: After 10 years, a new show had finally dethroned LOST as my favorite TV drama. I’d found a new guilty pleasure, while at the same time, my writer brain was soaking up some lessons to mull over for my own craft. I can’t say HTGAWM is perfect writing, but it does give us a gold mine of techniques to think about. So, let’s talk about seven takeaways we can use as writers.

(This is also a great time to put up the SPOILER ALERT! I’m going to do my best to keep things loose for folx who are still early in the show, but there may be some big reveals especially toward the end, so proceed with caution!)

On Diversity and Representation:

Diversity and representation is a hot topic in the literary world today. We still need more of it, and we also need for it to be done well. When not handled appropriately, there’s a risk of creating more problems: cultural appropriation, or writing about a marginalized experience you don’t understand as opposed to providing a voice and space for underrepresented groups; and/or tokenization, tossing in a marginalized character whose only purpose to the story is to be “the diverse one”, without any real storyline of their own.

Feel free to chime on this if you feel differently, but I was incredibly happy with the diversity of the cast in HTGAWM, more importantly how their identities were portrayed. The show does not shy away from topics of power and privilege, particularly through the lenses of race and sexual orientation. Annalise is the perfect lead for this show. She’s a strong, confident Black woman, and we see all the ways that the system has oppressed her for her intersectional identities. We also see how she’s gained power and privileges from her level of education, and how she uses that to benefit those who are even more oppressed (particularly in season 5 with her big trial.) But she’s not a token. She’s positioned firmly within in a community that can round out her character and interact with those identities in various ways.

In episode one, I was convinced that Connor was going to be the “token gay man,” and while he defies many stereotypes that are so easy for other writers to reach for, he isn’t portrayed in a very positive light at first. I’ll say more on him later, but the rest of the show did a great job of complicating his story so that it wasn’t all about his identity–it was a story that anybody could’ve had, while fitting his identity neatly into the context of his character. This is so important because nobody’s ever just one identity with a spotlight on it at all times. Identity is salient in some contexts and more internal in others, and remembering this is one way to get representation right. 🙂 (Kudos to the show for complicating and being real about sexual orientation in general. It’s fluid and it’s not as simple as “gay/straight,” making it feel portrayed more authentically here than many shows I’ve seen.)

How To Get Away With Murder GIF by ABC Network

The “Ticking Clock” Effect:

This is how the show hooked me right at episode one, and continued to do so every season. They keep the basic structure each time because it works. Episode one shows you right away that something BIG is coming: the cast is carrying a dead body, and they’re flipping a coin over whether to burn it or bury it. The moment they do that, the writers make you a promise: “This IS going to happen to these characters in three months. Wanna know who’s under the sheet?”

Then in every episode that follows, the writers ingeniously and gradually peel back the curtain just enough to keep you hooked. By episode two, you already know who’s dead, but how did it happen? Then you see the bloody weapon. But who was holding it? Then you get a mugshot. But why in the world would they do something like that? Every time you get an answer, you get a new question, and the reminder that we’re counting down: two months later… one month later… 48 hours later…

And what’s even cooler about this effect: the big reveal always comes in the middle of the season, when you still have quite a ways to go before the big finish. “Here’s the whole night that the murder went down! The aftermath is enough to cover the whole rest of the season.”

Now, if you’re not a master of flash forwards, flashbacks, or cutting between two timelines, there’s still a lot of value here! Introducing a “ticking clock” really keeps the plot moving. Give your character 12 hours to find the holy grail, and make each chapter worth an hour. Show us some proof that the dragon attacks the city about every three days, and there’s not enough time to evacuate before he returns. Hint at a coming prison break, and show us why this doesn’t bode well for the protagonist. It’s one of my favorite techniques!

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On Flawed Characters:

Ohhh, these characters. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve seen more of them than I’ve seen of my friends or family in the past six months, but I’m really going to miss them now that I’ve finished the show! I was an emotional mess during the finale, partly because I just didn’t want it to be over.

I learned this early on in my writing days: Nobody likes a “Mary Sue” or “Gary Stu”, a character who is so perfect that there’s no way any of us everyday folk can possibly relate. So, it’s a good thing all of these characters are FAR from perfect. In fact, every single one of them can be downright shady, but you root for them all the way through.

Annalise  Keating GIF by ABC Network

Michaela is attractive and incredibly intelligent–the star student who is determined to be president one day. In her quest to seem perfect for her professor and her community, she can be downright manipulative and kind of bratty, and the other characters call her on it. Bonnie will do anything for Annalise, but she has a weakness for Frank that clouds her judgment sometimes. Connor is charming and has the strongest moral backbone of the group, but his guilt makes him broody and gets in the way of his relationships. Annalise herself is strong and confident. You want to stand up and cheer every time she gets in someone’s face or gives a speech in the courtroom. But she’s also highly insecure deep down, and her desire to protect her students leads her to do some questionable things. The final two episodes were a GOLD MINE of great characterization for Annalise, from her inner voice talking us through the outfit she’d wear to court, right up to the last minute of the finale.

Some of the best characters are walking contradictions, never an absolute in any of their traits. PLOT PERFECT by Paula Munier has a great exercise on making characters well-rounded, using Hannibal Lecter as one of her case studies. (He’s a psychiatrist, but he’s also a psychopath. He’s well-mannered, but he’s also a killer… He loves gourmet meals, but he’s also, well, a cannibal.) I recommend this for further reading!

Viola Davis GIF by ABC Network

On Powerful “KABAM” Closers:

I’ve been on this journey for 90 episodes. Ninety, and there wasn’t a single time when the credits started rolling and I didn’t whisper, “…damn. Now I HAVE to know more.” In the last season, I was much more obscene, because the endings were just so well-delivered.

This is also what I loved about LOST, and about many of my favorite books. The end of every chapter is just as strong as the first sentence. Maybe there’s a big reveal, or the promise of one. Maybe we’re peeling back the curtain a little more to get closer to the big twist in the middle. Maybe it’s just a character delivering a killer, bad-ass line. We all know ’em well. What if Star Wars was a TV show and Darth Vader said, “No, I AM your father!” at the end of the mid-season finale? We’d be spilling our popcorn and talking about it for WEEKS.

I call these KABAM statements, and I’m not happy writing a book until every single chapter has one of those statements at the end. I want you to read it and imagine the trombones sounding at the end of LOST, or the chalkboard flashing on the screen at the end of HTGAWM. Because that’s what keeps us turning pages or telling Netflix not to bother us–that yes, of course we’re still watching. Please stop judging.

come at viola davis GIF by ABC Network

On Shared Universes:

This was a really cool treat in season five: learning that How to Get Away With Murder doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but in fact shares a whole universe with Scandal. To be clear, I don’t even watch Scandal, but I know it’s another one of those Shonda shows and that Kerry Washington is the lead. So when I saw Washington writing on a chalkboard in season five, I dropped my remote and said, “Whoa! That’s the Scandal lady!”

Sure enough, that episode ended with someone speaking the character’s name out loud: “Please welcome Olivia Pope!”

KABAM.

Suddenly the show felt so much bigger, and I went down an internet rabbit hole telling me that yes, Annalise also showed up in Scandal that week, and I went hunting for the episode to soak up all the crossover goodness.

Here’s what made it really work: I could’ve skipped that episode of Scandal entirely, and I still wouldn’t have felt like I missed anything. The writers did a great job making it and independent story. All Scandal really did was give me a little bonus side trip to enrich the experience.

But guess what? Now I’m open to more of it. I won’t jump in right away–I need time to grieve the end of this show first, but I commend the producers for getting my attention without taking the spotlight off Annalise. There was a real, legitimate purpose for these two to show up in each other’s shows, and once that purpose was served, they didn’t milk it any further.

Ever since the MCU started crossing movies and setting up their own epic universe, a lot of people have jumped on board and tried to replicate the model: myself included. Not every attempt has been successful (looking at you, The Mummy) and there are risks to doing this. But we can learn a lot from how Shonda approached this: Both shows were still self-contained, and nobody was alienated if they didn’t watch the other. There was a real purpose for characters to cross over, and the writers stayed within the boundaries of that purpose. Had they stretched it too far with no context, they might’ve sent viewers running the other way. Instead, we run back for more!

How To Get Away With Murder Running GIF by ABC Network

On The Protagonists’ Journey:

Now THIS is what the show does best!

These poor, poor folx. Every protagonist in this show has been through HELL. They each have goals. Every season has a pretty clear end game. But at no point do the writers make it easy on the protags. In fact, if a character makes a plan, you can be 100% confident that something will go wrong. Another character will come in and mess it up. A new piece of evidence will be revealed, or damaged. The car brakes might even fail. These characters work HARD to get through the season, and through the day! Honestly, I felt for them.

Oliverhampton GIF by ABC Network

Writers, let’s take notes on this one, because it’s our main job: We’re supposed to mess up the lives of our protagonists. If they’re making plans, we’re supposed to poke holes in them and make it as hard as humanly possible. Cut the power in their home. Hack their laptop. Make Annalise give them an exam the next day. Send Frank or the Castillos after them. It’s not nice, but it has to be done. This makes it that much more rewarding when we get to the end…

Mean GIF by ABC Network

On The End:

I just finished this about two hours ago, and I have feelings. I’m a little mad about some things (well, one thing… a certain death or two that just cut a little too deep. Let’s talk.) but fundamentally, I loved this finale.

What I loved specifically: We got the resolution we needed, and a lot of peace of mind about some characters’ futures. We know that despite all the torture these characters have been through, some characters live long lives. We know that some find happiness. We know some leave an incredible legacy.

And there’s also a lot of room for us to fill in our own blanks.

We don’t have the survivors’ entire lives spelled out for us. I’m still sitting here thinking, “But does Coliver STAY together, or do they get back together years later? Or are they just reuniting as friends all these years later?” I wanted a tiny bit more aftermath for folx like Laurel and Michaela. But to some extent, a lot of that didn’t matter. The point is, at some point far in the future, they’re happy and alive. That was what I needed to know. I have some freedom to speculate on what I want to know.

And that’s what makes ending so tricky. If a story really grips us and we fall in love with the characters, we’re always going to want to know more. A lot of times for me that’s, “But are they happy now? Do they live? Are they actually free from all this?” This time, we got that answer.

I also believe that when a story is complete and out in the world, it no longer belongs to the author alone: It belongs to the audience. And the writers seem to believe that, too, because the lingering questions are the kinds that we can dream up answers for. They’re not central to the themes of the show–they’re just for fun. They’ll linger for a while without nagging or forcing us to worry. 🙂

I won’t lose a ton of sleep tonight, except to keep thinking about how much I loved watching this show for the first time.

Now, I want to hear from you all! Did you watch HTGAWM, and do you agree with my take on these seven areas? Let’s talk writing, or let’s talk TV!

On Small Wins

Dear Friends,

I went back and forth all day about whether I should post this tonight, as you and I have already had to sift through four billion messages from our bosses, government officials, teachers, and the CEO of every business we’ve ever given our email address to. (Wendy’s, you’re up next! Get up here, Wendy!)

I try to find some levity where I can, but it’s been a wild couple of weeks to say the very least. We’re all trying to find the pieces as news continues to evolve almost by the hour. For me, it’s been wading through bad connection and getting kicked offline as I Skype in for my first Ph.D class. It’s cancelled book festivals and tower of paperbacks accumulating in my living room. It’s the new colossal “unknowns” of my day job. It’s braving the grocery store for something simple like a loaf of bread and leaving with frustration.

Is any of this familiar yet? I spend a few minutes a day writing down the little ways the world is changing. It’ll be interesting to look back on it later… to see this turning point in history condensed into a few daily bullet points. I find that my mind is buzzing a little too much to get any substantial writing done, but when it calms down, I’ll be ready to pour all of this into art.

There is so little happening within our control right now, but I’m growing increasingly appreciative of small wins and simple joys:

  • A clean(ish) living room.
  • Mac n’ cheese that’s just as thick as I want it. YES.
  • Cheap projectors + butcher paper = a movie theater in my bedroom. 

It’s times like this when I really love an artistic escape. A good movie (Disney+ just released STARGIRL, which was a favorite book of mine in junior high… took me right back and I wasn’t mad about it.) Music that just cuts right into your soul. TV with all the feels. (People are telling me THIS IS US is TOO many feels and way too sad to watch in quarantine–I think it’s kinda relaxing…) A book you can really lose yourself in. (Hello, Wheel of Time series! I’m glad I loaded up on the first five to keep me busy…)

All this to say: I’m right here with you, and I hope you’re finding your escapes and little wins right now. To contribute what I can, I’m making THE CARVER free for the next five days. If it helps even one person laugh, hold their breath, or roll their eyes at me, I’ll call that a win.

Get THE CARVER for FREE!

Hang in there! We’re going to be okay, and our story will go on.

A virtual hug,

Dragons and Dark Things and Familia

Happy February, all!

I hope 2020 is treating you well. I’m excited to be going back to school (still keeping STEADY with one class at a time!) and enjoying a new book series, if you can call The Wheel of Time new at all…

Today I’m writing to ask for a favor. If you can spare a donation or even a share, a tap in the right direction will help BRAMBLES IN THE WISHING WELL reach its potential to be great. I’m very passionate about this novel in progress because ROSES IN THE DRAGON’S DEN is in the running for a second award. Today, I learned that it is a finalist for the Wishing Shelf, an international contest that runs in the U.K. My dragons and dark things and tale about familia are getting international attention, but it could still use a little tap to sustain the cost of production for the Roses series.

So, I’ve launched an IndieGoGo campaign for the sequel.

Cover art is actually slated to begin next month for this book, and it’s a major factor in the cost of production. In August, edits will come, and that tends to be the highest cost. Then, formatting happens in December. The reality is that if this project doesn’t see a good ROI and at least break even, it may be a while before I can turn my attention to the next project (NIRAYA STORM, looking at you!) So I ask for those who believe in this story to help me get the word out and pool the resources of our community. I have some great perks involved–signed copies, prints, even the chance to get your name in the book…

The campaign is open until the end of the month, so please share widely!

Hugs and happy reading,

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2020: The Year of STEADY

2019 was the year of BOLD, and I’ve finally chosen my word for 2020: STEADY.

My top Gallup strength is “Achiever,” so I feel my best when I’m crossing off a checklist item or hitting a goal. I have this hyperactive compulsion to spin a lot of plates, and when my hands are full, I try to run with them. I accept that this is my nature, but this year I got so ambitious that I almost sacrificed my financial health for it.

Candidly, self-publishing is expensive. Cover art. Editing. Formatting. Table fees. Travel. Marketing. People assume authors are all rich, when in fact I’m astounded if I break even on any given project. I continue because it fills my heart, not my wallet. But for 2020, I was preparing to dive into TWO publications I couldn’t afford to produce, rush into Ph.D applications I wasn’t ready for, and potentially become a homeowner all at once. And with the rest of my time, keep working, grant wishes for Make A Wish, write another book for 2021, and more. Somewhere down the line, I knew a plate was going to fall. I wanted to do everything full force, but I hadn’t thought through everything all the way.

So the year of STEADY is about starting with one book at a time, one class at a time, one wish at a time, and really thinking critically about my work load before I dial it up in any area. This means I have dropped my summer release and postponed Niraya Storm for a while so I can focus wholeheartedly on the second ROSES book. This means I AM going back to school, but as a non-degree seeking student taking one class at a time. Maybe this eventually leads to a Ph.D, or a new book series, or even something I never saw coming. I really do remain optimistic. But this year will be about learning wholeheartedly, being present, and celebrating victories.

And that absolutely includes doing an excellent job with BRAMBLES IN THE WISHING WELL. 😀 The candid truth is that 2020 is going to determine whether I continue publishing. There is a chance that BRAMBLES will be the last book that I’m financially capable of producing, at least for a few years. It certainly isn’t the last one that I’ll write, because writing is baked into my bones, but there may come a time for me to hit pause. Part of being STEADY is being okay with taking things slow… knowing that slow progress is still progress, and knowing that what’s meant to be will be! 🙂

Do you have a word of the year set for 2020? If so, share your goals so we can cheer you on!

Cheers to you and to a new year around the corner!

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Release Day! Roses in the Dragon’s Den on Audible

Think of it as an adventure. If you see me freak out, then you have permission to freak out. But I’m Diego Rosas, and I promised your mom I’d take care of you. I don’t freak out.
Diego Rosas, approximately 10 minutes before the dragon incident…

Thank Lady Fortune! Roses in the Dragon’s Den is now available on audiobook, and you can find it on Audible and Amazon today!

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I knew within the first minute of his sample that Danny Pardo was the one true voice of the Rosas family. If he looks or sounds familiar at all, he has lent voice and acting talents to projects such as:

  • Prison Break
  • Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
  • 24
  • The Call of Duty video games
  • and now, Roses in the Dragon’s Den!

The most important thing was to find somebody who could bring the Rosas family to life. When I listened to his recording, there were times when I forgot I had written the words because Danny filled them with brand new life: all the heart, humor, and thrills you could ask for in a listening experience. I hope you’ll agree.

Pick it up today and share with a reader in your life!

Synopsis:

Twelve year old siblings Karina and Charlie Rosas aren’t looking forward to vacationing with their estranged uncle. But when the Fernweh Express derails and tosses them into a wild, unrecognizable land, they trust he’ll know what to do. After all, Diego Rosas wrote the book on survival in deserts and arctic tundras. There’s nothing he can’t handle . . . until a colossal, fire-breathing dragon snatches him up and carries him away, leaving the siblings to embark on an impossible rescue mission.

With the natural elements working against them, the Rosas family adventures through the curse-infested, uncharted world in order to solve the mystery of what doomed their travels. When they meet up with a dwarf and a pirate queen who offer aid, Karina and Charlie must decide whether they can trust anyone willing to voyage into a dragon’s den. But if the siblings ever want to return home, they must trust and lean on each other, and above all, hope Uncle Diego is still alive.

Buy on Audible!

Buy on Amazon!

Year of BOLD Revisited

Hey everyone!

So, a year ago I made a post about my “one-word theme” for 2019, and even though 2019 is far from over in a lot of ways, today felt like an excellent day to come back to it. I found a note card tucked in the back of my notebook, and I had written down all the ways I would know if I was truly being BOLD in 2019. It was a wish list in a lot of ways, but they all required work. I couldn’t be passive or vague about any of them:

bold

Looking back on this list today, I have to wonder a little about the Law of Attraction. Have you heard of this before? The way it was first explained to me, my boss in college told me to, “Tell the universe what you want, and the universe will deliver.” At the time I really wanted to study abroad and go to Italy, but I wasn’t sure I could ever afford it. I told her, “I hope I can make it happen.”

“No,” she told me. “Don’t say you wish or you hope. Say you WILL go to Italy. Then you’re putting it in the universe, and by the Law of Attraction, it will come to you.”

I think about that a lot these days, especially when I look back on my “Year of Bold” card. The thing is: I forgot about this card for most of the year. I tucked it in the little pocket at the back of my notebook, and it disappeared from my memory until today. When I read it, had to smile, because all of these things happened in one way or another.

Yes, some were simple: “I will study some screen-writing.” All that took was a simple textbook purchase. Others involved a lot of little layers, and sometimes, lucky timing. They didn’t all happen in ways that I imagined they would. Technically, #8 never happened at all. I interviewed for a new job that actually ceased to exist. But a few weeks later, a job I never saw coming opened up. It was a very similar description, lived in the same office, and it was even better suited for me. I’ve been there for about eight months now, and I still can’t believe the way it all worked out. It’s perfect.

Writing was interesting. My idea well was dry for a lot of the year. The words came at a slow drip, if at all. I worried that I had written my last book. But in September, I dusted off a manuscript I’d forgotten about, and now, ROSES IN THE DRAGON’S DEN has a sequel on the way. It’s drafted, contracted with cover artists and editors, and three months ago, it only existed as a a few chapters and a dead idea.

The Law of Attraction means different things to a lot of people. Some invoke magic. There’s talk of the idea that our thoughts have mass and physically influence the world around us. There’s always the religious implications as well. As for me, I’m open-minded, but I’ve boiled it all down to this: When you tell the universe what you want and you’re willing to work for it, it will answer in one of three ways:

  1. A resounding and emphatic “YASS!”
  2. A thoughtful, “Yes, but not right now.”
  3. “No. There’s something better for you around the corner.”

As for 2020, I haven’t chosen a word or made my list yet, but I look forward to editing Books 5 and 6! I continue to embrace the challenges and rewards of writing and in my day job. I know I have another house move on the horizon, which isn’t to say the last moves weren’t a needed change.

As we get ready for a new year and a new decade, give this a try. Come up with a word that means something to you, and tell the universe what you want. Write it all down. And if you’re willing, share your word in the comments! I could use some ideas 😉

Wishing you a wonderful December!

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Catching Up

Hi Friends!

Do any of you find that the fall season makes you want to read or write more? In Tucson, it’s finally starting to feel a little more cozy around here. I’ve always been a fan of the flannel weather and hot drinks, and something about it gets me turning some pages and spilling some ink! I may or may not be reading THREE books right now… (Becoming has been a great Audible listen, The Secret History on paperback, and The Dream Thieves on Kindle, for when I need something a little lighter, physically.) Then I may or may not have ordered three more yesterday. *shrug*

Keeping with the rule of three, I have three exciting bits of news I want to share with you:

  1. ROSES IN THE DRAGON’S DEN is getting an audio book! I’m thrilled to have Mr. Danny Pardo telling the story of the Rosas family. Danny’s been in all sorts of projects you’ve probably even seen or heard: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, 24, Prison Break, the Grand Theft Auto games, and he’s currently working on a stage production of The Diary of Anne Frank, in addition to narrating ROSES! He’s the perfect voice for this story. Wait until you hear his pirate voice! Our target release date for Audible is January 2020.
  2. Roses also won an award! New Apple Literary has named it an Official Selection for their 2019 Summer eBook Awards, specifically in the Children’s category. Now if you buy an ebook, it’ll have a cool digital medal on it!
  3. There WILL be a sequel one way or another! I’m about 50,000 words in and hope to wrap it up during NaNoWriMo this year. But with the work that needs to go into cover art, edits, and formatting, it may not arrive until 2021. I promise I’ll make it worth the wait! Does anyone want to take some guesses on the title? 😉

Roses in the Dragon's Den final front cover for preview

Wishing you all the very best, and if you happen to attend Tucson Comic Con next weekend, look for me! Mention this blog post and I can even share some book coupons with you.

Happy October!

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A Surprise Storm is Coming!

Hey all,

It’s monsoon season in Tucson, and while it hasn’t been a very active one, I decided there was no better time to tell the story of my favorite Storm, with a capital S.

If you’ve read ROSES by now, maybe you can see how it works as a sort of rabbit hole for the ORDER OF THE BELL series. And the funny thing is, I found a million other branches I wanted to follow in ROSES itself, and the Florindale universe just keeps getting bigger. So last year for NaNoWriMo, I decided to follow one of those branches, and that’s how I wrote NIRAYA STORM AND THE CRYSTAL COMPASS.

Finishing the story was one thing–deciding what to do with it was another. I wrestled with ideas for a long time, but ultimately, I’ve made the decision that instead of releasing this on Kindle or paperback right now, it’s going to have its first home on Wattpad this week.

Niraya as a character is not one for extravagant bells and whistles. She’s a little more raw. If she could produce her own book, she’d probably write it in a simple leather book and hand it over with nothing on the cover. She deserves more than that, but to go through the level of production that I used for ROSES and THE CARVER wouldn’t feel quite right. Plus, in full transparency, it gets expensive. It may be a very long time before I’m ready to start conversations with the editor, formatter, and cover artists I want to work with again, especially because I want to continue going to cons and seeing you all at festivals!

I really love this story. I didn’t want to make Niraya wait until I could afford a fancy production. By then, I may have another story or two that I can’t wait to share with you all, and that’ll be another year or two that the story will have to sit unread. And ultimately, my dream has never been to make money off these stories–only to share them with you and hope they provide some sort of escape and entertainment when you need it. If it gains some demand on Wattpad for a tangible paperback, I may take it further, but in the meantime, I simply want to make it available to you as it is.

It’s raw. It’s not perfect. It may even be a little wild. But that’s always been Niraya Storm to her core, even when she was having her first adventure on the high seas…

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When you’re ready, you’ll be able to start the story HERE this week! If you love it, leave comments on it. Niraya will want to know she was able to hold your attention. 🙂

Scorpions and Dragon Scales

Hello world!

It hasn’t been long since I last put out some updates, but I feel like a world of things have happened since my last post. First, I am mildly disappointed that I woke up today and did not look like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who played The Scorpion King in the Mummy movies. This would have been a fair and valid trade for being stung by this big guy in my bed last Monday evening:

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I’m sorry that you have to look at him–or her, I shouldn’t assume its pronouns–but I need you all to know that the desert is a crazy place, and that I may start sleeping in a hazmat suit. (This is also why Diego Rosas always checks his boots and bed sheets in ROSES. I could learn a thing or two from my characters sometimes.)

While my thumb buzzed, burned, and tingled, I had SO MUCH FUN meeting so many of you at Phoenix Fan Fusion this past weekend! It’s been one of the favorite events I’ve ever done, and that’s largely because of the people who go… people like these phenomenal cosplayers. Seriously, Benedict Cumberbatch, is this you?:

Did these people spend any amount of time trying to find Jeff Goldblum while he was on site?

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Which Awesome Mix Volume is this Starlord listening to?

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And this time I got a lot more into the cosplay myself. Any guesses who I was supposed to be on Saturday? 🙂

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It was also fun to see Chris Sarandon and George Takei, as well as to connect with James A. Owen, the author/illustrator of several epic dragon-y sort of books.

And then there are my goofy friends, who make the whole event so memorable!

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But it wouldn’t be half as fun without the readers who come support us, so thank you to everyone who made this happen:

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I have two more events coming up, so whether you’re in Tucson or Phoenix, you’ll have another chance to grab a copy of ROSES or CARVER and get it signed:

  • Arizona StoryFest – Mesa Convention Center on Saturday, June 1, 10am-4pm
  • Grand Central Toy Show – Tucson Mall on Saturday/Sunday June 8/9, 10am-9pm (5pm on Sunday).

Hope to see you all there! Happy reading,

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The Master List

Hey friends,

Happy Sunday! I hope this weekend and the month of May have been excellent to you. As for me, I’m hard at work preparing for summer events! First up is Phoenix Fan Fusion (what I will always refer to as Phoenix Comic Con) from May 23-26th in the Phoenix Convention Center. The League of Fantasy Authors (which includes some of my bestest author buddies Jenna Elizabeth Johnson and Katie Salidas) will be returning to booth #696 to sell books and merch, and new this year, we’re hosting a fun game of Cosplay Bingo!

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All you need to play is the card we’ll give you, something you can use to take pictures, and a good eye to spot those Disney villains, Game of Thrones characters, and favorite Avengers. Score a blackout and win a prize!

You can also find me at Arizona StoryFest in Mesa on June 1st, where I’ll be doing a live reading of ROSES IN THE DRAGON’S DEN on the author stage. Thanks to KJZZ radio for the invitation!

After Mesa, I’ll be taking a short break from events to focus on my non-authorly job for the summer, but I won’t be idle! NIRAYA STORM is in beta, and truthfully, I’m waiting for some ideas to slow-cook right now, so I’m using my pockets of free time to soak up some craft knowledge. Currently a book called Screenwriting Tricks for Authors by Alexandra Sokoloff is keeping me busy, and I invite you to work through it with me!

Sokoloff encourages writers to build a “Master List” of at least ten books/movies that influence our work, and then there are exercises that involve rewatching/rereading and analyzing the bones of these story. I love a good excuse to watch my favorite movies again and call it work! I may even share some of my findings and Master List with you all on this website somewhere. For example, one really cool trick I’ve learned is to pay greater attention to what happens at the 15 and 30 minute marks when we watch movies, which should be turning points that can teach us a lot about plot and pace.

Just looking at two of the movies on my Master List:

  • Stardust (2007)
    • 15 minute mark: The King of Stormhold throws a necklace into the sky and declares that the first of his sons to recover it will be his successor to the throne. The necklace knocks a star out of the sky. In another part of the world, Tristan Thorne watches the star fall and makes a promise to go find it in exchange for Victoria Forester’s hand in marriage. (I love this whole scene so much that I keep coming back to it in the Neil Gaiman book for other craft exercises.)
    • 30 minute mark: Tristan Thorne crosses the Wall and finds the star. Surprise! The star is a woman, which definitely complicates his plans to bring it back to Victoria.
  • Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
    • 15 minute mark: After a few minutes at each other’s throats, the four teenagers in detention get sucked into a video game and become their adult avatars.
    • 30 minute mark: an NPC explains that the group needs to return the jewel they’re holding to the top of the mountain, but there’s a bad guy after it too… oh, and his gang is right behind you. 🙂

If you’re a writer, I’m curious what stories you’d put on your Master List, or even on mine! Most of mine tend to be family-friendly adventures with fantasy elements, ever-shifting settings and an emphasis on travel/multiple worlds, and ensemble casts. If only there was enough time to read and watch them all… 🙂

Happy reading!

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