Welcome to my blog!

I'm so excited that my lifelong dream of becoming a published author has come true. If you'd like to go straight to excerpts, descriptions, and buy links for my books, click on the covers below on the right.

I love to hear from my readers! If you have a comment for me or if you'd like to submit a character for published character interview or unpublished character analysis, please use the form below or email me at cecilia (at) ceciliadominic (dot) com.

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Guest Post on Fresh Fiction: Why I write -- and read -- Urban Fantasy

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Southern Magic Readers' Luncheon in my home town of Birmingham, Alabama, where I met one of the editors for the Fresh Fiction website. As they say down here, we got to talking, and I pitched my writing/psychology blog posts as a possible guest spot for them. She was interested, and so today, I am very excited to say I have a guest post on the Fresh Fiction site.


In a recent blog interview, someone asked me why I write fantasy. My answer was that I always wanted the world to be more interesting than it really is. For example, one autumn morning when I was a child, I looked out to see a leaf that looked like a little fairy perched on a wind-tossed tree branch. I imagined it was a tiny gnome hanging on for a wild ride. When I got older and discovered the genre of urban fantasy, where magical elements are part of ordinary life, I was hooked.


As a psychologist, I can't help but ponder the question of why I and others like fantasy, and especially urban fantasy, from a psychological perspective. There's definitely the aspect of wanting more magic in life, but I believe it goes deeper. A lot of the problems people come to me with end up boiling down to how they handle real or perceived power imbalances, both externally and within themselves. Urban fantasy is a great way to explore power and how it works – and could work – in our world.


So, with that in mind, here are some reasons I write and read urban fantasy: 

To read the rest, click here.

Another reason to check it out? Comment at the Fresh Fiction site for a chance to win an electronic copy of The Mountain's Shadow.

Thanks, as always, for stopping by, and have a great weekend!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Character on the Couch: A Superhero with Self-Esteem Problems

Image Source:  http://samurai-ko.deviantart.com/art/Close-Enough-to-Touch-by-HPS-102055941
One of my Twitter writing friends sent me the following dilemma (and the above and below awesome pictures):

Character name: Sorina Tavarisch

Age: 36

Gender: Female

Species (if applicable): Human

Cultural or historical context (if important to the story, e.g., if it's a Regency)

Modern-day/slightly futuristic US city (a la Metropolis or Gotham), where superheroes (and villains) are a common sight.

Brief description and relevant history: (Height 5'10", weight 145 lbs, a rangy, athletic build, long dark hair and dark eyes)

Theoretical physicist, paramilitary munitions expert, and field technician, Sorina "Tava" Tavarisch is one of the new generation of scientists and superheroes taking part in the cooperative efforts of the United States and Russia. She is also a low-level telekinetic - at best, she can move small things around with just a thought. It was these unexplained powers that led her into becoming a physicist, but to this day, she still doesn't understand how she does what she does. As far as she's concerned, though, if it works, it works. With a little help from some customized technology, however, her powers become much more potent.

Where you're stuck, or why your character needs a psychologist

Two areas of her life are causes of concern. The first is that, despite her being a decorated war hero, a superhero, and a scientist, Sorina constantly feels inadequate. No matter how good her inventions are, no matter how hard she tries, no matter how many lives she actually saves, she feels guilty that it's not more. The second is that she is absolutely clueless when it comes to romantic relationships. She is far more comfortable in a lab or a classroom or on the battlefield than she is on a date... and now she's dating one of the other leading scientists and superheroes of Paragon City, who is probably just as clueless as she is when it comes to relationships. And she's terrified of screwing it up.

What you may not want me to share generally in the post: Oh, feel free to share!

My follow-up questions:

First, what is at the root of her insecurity? Or is that part of the question? It sounds like your heroine is quite accomplished (and fascinating, btw), but there's got to be a failure or perceived failure in her past that keeps her from owning it. Is it that her superpowers aren't as good as everyone else's? Or did she fail in something in her past that she feels she should've done better with?

Basically, it's that her superpowers aren't as good as everyone else's. And after getting shoved headfirst into a worldwide invasion where everyone (super and normal alike) are doing all that can to keep humanity from being wiped out, the one area that she was good at (scientific invention) was immediately pressed into service of "if this doesn't work, people will die". It doesn't matter that her work HAS saved countless lives and in several small ways, helped turn the tide of the war; all she sees is how her skills are inferior to the challenge of facing alien technology, and that no matter how many times she improves it, she's haunted by those who died because "she didn't get it right the first time".

Second, a similar question goes for the relationship problems. Is she in her first serious relationship at the age of 36? What kept her from doing so previously? Or, in other words, what beliefs does she hold about herself and relationships that caused her to wait so long?

She has been in semi-serious relationships before, but originally her research and her teaching kept her from longer, more serious commitments. And after the Rikti invaded, and she saw so many people die, she became almost afraid to become too attached to someone. (At one point, she has a complete emotional breakdown after she inadvertently jeopardizes a mission because she is more concerned about protecting the guy she's with at the time instead of taking the lead in combat.) Her natural seriousness, plus as I mentioned, her credentials as a war hero and a scientist, tends to distance her from a lot of men.

Image Source:  http://aentheartist.deviantart.com/art/Commission-After-The-Storm-210059056
Dear Michelle,

Your heroine is fascinating and troubled, just how I like 'em. You made her particularly challenging in that she seems like a very concrete person rooted in the literal, not theoretical, which is somewhat ironic because she's a theoretical physicist by training. That seems like it would make it particularly hard for her to translate her research into something immediately useful. Perhaps that's one of her problems.

Tava would be a tough patient because she's got so much evidence – at least according to her – of her unworthiness. One question would be what holding on to the core belief of unworthiness, which translates to feelings of inadequacy, allows her to do or not do. Has she not tried to grow as a scientist, focusing instead on the five years of superpower training that didn't go anywhere, because she's afraid she'll fail or will somehow be found lacking in spite of evidence to the contrary in the scientific realm? What does she risk if she allows herself to be worthy on her own rather than because of her superpowers or scientific inventions?

One way to get her to budge from her stuck position would be to work on reframing and refocusing. The rant you pasted above sounds like someone in a lot of pain but also someone who is focused very much on themselves, as we tend to do when we're hurting. One thing that may help would be to figure out Tava's core values and having her be in situations where she can act on them in different ways. Also, she seems to have bought into her society's values that the individual is measured by his or her superpowers and following that, how many lives they can save. How does this conflict with her own values, or the principles she lives according to? I'm not saying that saving lives isn't important, and it seems like she's been fairly successful at it, but there might be another value at play. She needs to figure out what motivates her more than fear.

For example, she sounds like she's ruled by her head, but there's a huge compassionate component to her heart, which she's focused on success as defined by numbers, which seems to be how things work in her world. Perhaps she can translate that to individual people rather than focusing so much on statistics and learn not to discount the lives she saves in favor of obsessing over the ones she couldn't. Often my clients who feel like they're not doing enough in whatever area can benefit from giving themselves credit for what they have done, even if it's just a few things per day. Is she making a difference on an individual level, or is she even aware if she is? Yes, it will be uncomfortable to move to that realm since she prefers the predictability of the lab or classroom, both of which provide distance between the professor and others.

From what you described, another one of Tava's values is independence. Of course this gets challenged in the face of invasion for two reasons. First, she doesn't get to choose her own path professionally because of where her talents are needed. Second, you didn't say whether the Rikti are aliens who enslave or who kill, but either way, they take the ability to decide one's fate out of one's hands. It makes sense that she would choose a partner who is also constantly in danger because the chance of losing her independence to a long-term relationship is lessened, not to mention going through the emotional pain of grief.

It seems that what we're coming down to is that she needs to find a principle that's more motivating for Tava than fear. What you want to do with her character arc is up to you, but it sounds like she needs to get out of her "invadee" mentality, which is reactive, and focus her energy on what she truly wants and needs.

Figuring out the principles one lives according to can help, as can focusing more in the moment and on what one can truly control. Doing so will help Tava move toward what she can do with others and find other ways she can be helpful and worthy. Maybe she doesn't need to enhance her literal superpowers but rather to develop her own emotional abilities through gradually allowing herself to connect more with others, perhaps some of the people whose lives she saved. Yes, this will feel like a risk to her. As she grows emotionally, she'll be better able to advance her science and her relationship. She could also teach something to her society, which is fragmented into superheroes and villains, about what's needed to repel technologically advanced alien invaders. You have the potential for a great story here, and I look forward to reading what you do with it.

Michelle tweets as @Samuraiko, and hopefully her website will be up soon at superheroromance.com 

If you want more superhero writing, check out Tony Noland's guest blog post from September on superheroes and alcohol.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Review Roundup for Cyber Monday: Mindfulness and The Mountain's Shadow

My blog tour ended up coinciding with two of the busiest weeks I've ever had at my practice, so I wasn't able to post reviews or links to guest posts as they occurred. Yeah, until my writing really takes off, the day job and its demands have to take priority. Someday... Until then, it's been interesting to apply the psychology part of my mind to the experience of having a book out, particularly with regard to how people see the book. A couple of interesting themes have emerged in the reviews.

One of the principles I teach is Mindfulness. The definition of Mindfulness is nonjudgmental present-moment attention. As you can imagine, this is particularly important for people who have anxiety and/or are having trouble sleeping.

Beyond the day job, Mindfulness is coming up in the reviews of The Mountain's Shadow, although none of them mention the principle specifically. No, I wasn't thinking about Mindfulness when I wrote the book. Apparently the twists and turns in the book itself cause people to have to focus on reading it. As one of my friends who read it upon release said, "You have to really pay attention."

I first got an inkling that this was the case for others when I saw this sentence in the review I got on the Fresh Fiction site (click here for the entire review):

To be honest, I did find it a little too complicated for a quick read, but this is a good book from a different angle in the paranormal world.

At first, I wasn't sure how to take that part of the review. When I got Samantha's review from Chick Lit Plus, though, that particular bit of feedback made more sense.  She said:

I’m one who likes to multi-task, such as watching football while reading, but that doesn’t work with this novel either! You really have to give it your full attention so you can keep up with it. 

The Fresh Fiction review also picked up on a theme that keeps coming up in the reviews:  the Mountain's Shadow is a different take on the werewolf world and brings something original to the paranormal/urban fantasy canon.

The Escape into a Book review started with, Wow, this book is very unique and different from what I've read before. 

Ms. Nose in a Book said, I think what I really liked about this story was the story behind the werewolves, how they came to be and how they were being exploited. I think that the story behind the werewolves is so interesting, original and I can totally see it happening in the real world.

There were other similar comments, but I'll finish with one from Storm Goddess Book Reviews:  This story has SO much going for it! Unique, great writing, suspense, captivating....I love how the elements came together and brought so much to the book. 

Other reviewers commented on craft, and I particularly liked the one I got from Library Journal, which began:


Debut novelist Dominic is also a clinical health psychologist and has wisely chosen a subject area familiar to her, a choice that places this story above the average paranormal romance in plot, as well as in characterization...

If you'd like to check out full reviews, here's a list:

Library Journal (second one down)
Fresh Fiction
Chick Lit Plus
Authors to Watch
Ms. Nose in a Book
Escape into a Book
Storm Goddess Book Reviews (includes my FAQ about the book)
Keep Calm & Blog On

If you'd like to buy the book, you can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and other ebook retailer sites. You can also buy it directly from the publisher by clicking on the book cover image to the right. They have it in all digital formats.

I'll have another Characters on the Couch coming toward the middle of the week. I hope your holiday season is off to a wonderful start!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Blog Tour, continued: More guest posts!

Last week got away from me, so I wasn't able to post links to my Thursday and Friday stops. On Thursday, I stopped by Traveling with T and posted on what color enhances creativity and how that applies to my favorite writing spots.

I pretend it doesn’t matter that much, but I’m really sensitive to my writing environment. Yes, I have scoffed in the past at people who say they can only write in certain places or at certain times. Aside from a slight preference for morning, time of day doesn’t matter much to me, but place does...

To read the rest, click here.

Tamara also posted an excerpt of my first chapter here.

Then, on Friday, I stopped by the Ink & Paper blog and talked about how a major life defeat inspired me to write The Mountain's Shadow and taught me the real meaning of "write what you know."


Inspiration comes in the most unlikely of places. Several months ago, I asked my fellow Twitter writing friends what they found to be the most annoying writing advice. One adage that came up repeatedly was “write what you know.”
 
Okay, that makes sense if you take it literally because even with research, some experiences are beyond us. For example, I’ll never know what it’s like to be fired from a dream research job in the pharmaceutical industry like Doctor Joanie Fisher, the heroine of my novel The Mountain’s Shadow. But even though I can’t know exactly what it’s like, I know the feeling of being disappointed and facing major defeat on a personal level... 

To read the rest, click here.

To see links to past posts and future blog tour stops through Chick Lit Plus, check out my tour schedule.

Thanks to everyone who's following along, and I'll try to do better with posting links as they happen.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Book Review: Chick Lit Plus

My blog tour set up through Chick Lit Plus starts today with a review by Samantha herself:

While this isn’t my normal style of reading material, this book really had me hooked. The writing was really strong – from introducing us to the characters, setting the scene, and really unraveling a complex story filled with twists...

To read the rest, check it out here.

 Thanks, Samantha!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Character on the Couch: Cold fingers...warm heart?



Just in time for Halloween, a young man in the funeral industry named Declan came to see me and spend some time on my couch. Actually, his author, fabulous fellow GRW member Sally Kilpatrick sent me the following quandary:

Character name: Declan Anderson

Age: 31

Gender: male

Cultural or historical context :

Dec's family runs a funeral home. He's not overly enthused about the business, but he did make a promise to his now deceased father that he would keep it in the family. He lives in a small southern town where he's called "Cold Fingers" behind his back and definitely kept at a distance. His younger brother, who's more outgoing, doesn't seem to have the same trouble, but his brother is five years younger. The “Cold Fingers” stems from his first date on a winter's night and a really mean girl he should've never gone out with in the first place.

Brief description and relevant history

He's over 6 foot tall, dark and handsome (of course!) but he's gone a little soft around the middle. His mother committed suicide when he was just 7. His father passed away when he was 14. He and his stepmother are just now becoming close--something new in her life is making her a little softer around the edges, but he doesn’t know what it is. He has vowed not to marry as long as he's a part of the funeral industry because he doesn't want his mother's particular brand of history repeating itself. Of course, that was before leggy actress Presley showed up. He's a bit taken with her.

His mother suffered from postpartum depression. That coupled with one traumatic event in particular caused her to go off the deep end. I know she was kept at a polite distance and had to deal with being snubbed by other ladies in town. Once the ladies from her church wouldn't let her bring a dish to the potluck because it would've come from that kitchen.

Oh, and he's almost 10 years older than my heroine.

Where you're stuck, or why your character needs a psychologist: 

His conflict doesn't feel really actualized. Maybe there's something about his past that I'm missing, a different reason he thinks he's not cut out for long term relationships?

My thoughts:

Sally, you've given me a lot to work with. Declan is a very interesting character, and the poor guy has had a lot to deal with.

Declan seems to have a huge responsible streak in his temperament, so it's likely he felt partially to blame for his mother's suicide – the ultimate female rejection at a tender age. Due to the nature of her death, it's possible that he wasn't given the kind of information he needed to make sense of it, so he made up his own explanation. Maybe he'd asked for a baby brother, and then he saw what happened. It's not surprising he has trouble with intimate relationships because he'll always feel like he's at a disadvantage, and he probably also felt like his lack of social support and nicknames were his fault. Kids who lose both parents need a lot of support from other adults, and he just didn't get it, probably because of the community alienating him due to the family business, and later because of the cold stepmother.

He's blaming his desire not to marry on the history with his mother, but it's also fear on his part to admit he wants something different. I would guess there's some resentment that he doesn't feel like he can admit to himself or anyone else over being emotionally blackmailed into taking over the family's funeral home business. Again, there's that responsible streak, but also the inability to separate himself, either physically or in his mind, from the family business and all the baggage that comes with it. He's probably never allowed himself to think about what he truly wants because he's afraid it will be taken away suddenly and tragically like his mother was, or it's going to conflict with living up to his promise to his father.

For example, with regard to Presley, perhaps he feels drawn to her because of her liveliness and her courage to pursue her dreams. She is a splash of color in his world of grays and blacks, a blast of rock music that captures attention rather than plays soothingly in the background so it won't disturb anyone. She might be the chance for the teenage rebellion he never got to have but desperately needed to come to a full sense of selfhood that will allow him to finally grow up. He might feel like he can't bring her into his world because he can't figure out how to keep it from poisoning her and killing her like it did his mother, and he's not going to be responsible for that again. But he can't leave that world because of what he promised his father. That second part may be what you feel like you're missing, and finding out that she has her own problems and insecurities will be huge for him because maybe he can then start admitting his own.

You've set up a huge and fascinating conflict for your hero, and I hope I get to read the finished product.

Resources:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3569022/ (study by the Royal Society of Medicine)





Do you have a character you'd like some psychological help with? Please email me at: 

I'll send you the questions to answer, and we can go from there!

Random discovery:  There's a Museum of Funeral Customs in Springfield, Illinois. That's where the above picture was taken. I kind of want to go, but I bet my husband would be freaked out.

Photo credit:  By Robert Lawton (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Reminder:  my first novel The Mountain's Shadow is now available in all ebook formats. For an excerpt or to order the book directly from the publisher, click here. The book is also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other ebook retailers.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Guest post: Author fears at Five for Fiction Blog

Like many newbie authors, I thought that once I got my first book contract, it would be smooth sailing, and I wouldn't have anything else to worry about ever. Not true. Although signing my first book deal was very exciting, it brought up a different set of anxieties. I shared those with the lovely ladies at the Five for Fiction blog since their October theme is Fears.

I have a recurring dream in which I'm flying, but power lines get in the way of my soaring to my goal. I either have to go high enough to fly over them or go through them and try not to touch any or I'll get electrocuted and drop to the ground. Building enough energy to fly over them is impossible, so I try to go through them, but as I approach a promising gap, it narrows, and I have to stop short.

My urban fantasy novel The Mountain's Shadow debuted last week. Since Cheryl and I decided way ahead of time that I would be guest posting this month, I had the opportunity to observe my own fears as I went through the different stages of bringing a novel to publication and pitching and writing its sequel. It's only in the past week while thinking about this post and putting it through may iterations that I've come to realize my fears are the power lines in my dreams, and the only way through is through.

To read the rest, click here.

Don't forget, The Mountain's Shadow is now available for all e-readers! Links to Amazon and Barnes & Noble are above. If you don't have an e-reader but want to read it on your computer, you can get a .pdf (or any other ebook format) at the Samhain Publishing website.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Guest blog post: The Science of Werewolves at Tony Noland's blog

I'm pleased to have been invited to post on talented author and friend Tony Noland's blog. My review in Library Journal starts with, "Debut novelist Dominic is also a clinical health psychologist and has wisely chosen a subject area familiar to her, a choice that places this story above the average paranormal romance in plot, as well as in characterization..."* Tony wanted me to talk about the science behind lycanthropy, and that topic is closely tied with how I approached writing the book.



When someone asks what my novel The Mountain's Shadow is about, I often give the short answer of "werewolves with a scientific twist." The genre is urban fantasy (or paranormal depending on who's classifying it), and the main character is a behavioral epidemiologist, or someone who researches the spread of disease. She's close to discovering the cause of Chronic Lycanthropy Syndrome, the hot new behavioral disorder in kids, when a series of strange circumstances makes her lose her job. In spite of a sudden shift from researcher to heiress, she never stops approaching challenges as a scientist.


To read the rest of the post at Tony's blog, click here.

Have you picked up The Mountain's Shadow yet? It's now available in all electronic formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other ebook retailers.




* To read the full review, click here. It's the second one on the page.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Readers on the Couch: Guest Blog at the Mesdames of Mayhem

I wasn't able to post this one right away since I was at a conference and my iPad wouldn't see the wireless. My newest guest post is at the Mesdames of Mayhem, where I discuss why we love mysteries from a psychological point of view.

As a psychologist and behavioral sleep medicine specialist, I hear the following three complaints most often in my practice:
1. I can’t sleep.
2. My mind won’t stop racing.
3. Why is this anxiety/depression/sleep problem happening to me?
I address the first two a lot. The third one doesn’t come up quite as often because people, being naturally curious about themselves and their own lives and minds, usually have a good idea of how their sleep problems started. However, when I ask if they can think of what kicked off their insomnia, about ten to twenty percent of patients frown, wrinkle their noses, and eventually admit they can’t say why or give some vague answer like “stress, but my life has always been stressful, so I’m not sure that’s it.” Some are very distressed that they can’t figure out the origin of the problem because, as human beings, we like to have explanations. Knowing why gives us a sense of control.

To read the rest, click here.

Don't forget that my debut novel The Mountain's Shadow is now available in all electronic formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other ebook retailers.




Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Mountain's Shadow Release Day & Acknowledgements


Today my novel The Mountain's Shadow has been released into the electronic world. As I walked through downtown Decatur this morning running errands, I imagined invisible electronic copies zooming over my head as people bought it. This is truly a dream come true for me, and since there's not an acknowledgements section in the book, I wanted to mention the following:

First I have to thank my biggest supporter and fan, my husband Jason. Typically his support of my writing career involves him pouring wine into my glass, but it's also the little things like asking me if I've written when I said I would or offering to accompany me into yet another specialty bookstore to look for references when we travel. He also keeps me grounded in reality and makes sure I take time to relax when I need it.

Second, I would like to thank my family. My parents encouraged the creative side of their child who was prone to daydreaming, and my little sister has always read what I've given her with rapt fascination, both of which made me feel like I could actually do this someday. My godmother Ria Van de Ven, an author herself in Belgium, has also been very supportive, as have all my relatives, Belgian and American.

Next, huge thanks to my editor at Samhain Holly Atkinson, who first decided that this book was worth publishing and who has given me encouragement and feedback when needed. She is my fairy godmother in this process.

I couldn't have gotten a book into publishable shape without a good critique group and beta readers. The Village Writers Group here in Decatur has given me the opportunity for lots of great feedback. I'd especially like to thank the members who responded to early versions of The Mountain's Shadow, known at that time as Wolfsbane Manor:  Estelle, Jill, Amy, Melissa, and Frank. My beta readers Amanda and Hawk also gave me a lot of help and encouragement. I'd also like to thank my current critique group who has supported me through the various anxieties of this publication process and the writing of the sequel, specifically David, Susan, Amy, and Kimberly. (last names left out since I don't know if they would be okay with me using them)

There are a lot of others who have contributed to this effort in various ways. My awesome admin Amber keeps me sane. The faculty of the Central Arkansas VA internship program and my fellow interns thought my writing was a really cool thing, and I don't know that I could have started this project in any other context. Finally, to the patients who told me strange tales of the Ozarks and inspired me, all I can say is please keep telling your stories. I'm so very glad you did and that I was there to hear them.

The Mountain's Shadow is available from all ebook retailers, but please consider getting it directly from my publisher to thank them for the faith they've showed in me. You can buy the book from them here. The links to Amazon and Barnes & Noble are above if you'd rather buy directly from them. It's also available from Apple Books, but I haven't had much luck finding that link.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Writer on the Couch: Guest posting at Jill Archer's Blog

Today I am guest posting over at Jill Archer's blog about how psychology informs my writing, which lots of people assume, and how writing makes me a better psychologist, which tends to surprise people. This is also a good opportunity to remind y'all that I've got a Characters on the Couch project, and I plan to post my next case soon. If you'd like to know what that's about, click here.

By day, I’m a clinical psychologist with a special focus in behavioral sleep medicine. I have a private practice, and my main clientele is people who want to sleep without using medication. I do general psychotherapy as well.  By night and weekends, I write fiction and blog about wine and writing. 

Although I don’t have any formal writing training beyond one adult continuing education class, which I snuck in while I was in graduate school at UGA, I’ve been writing creatively since I was a child.

The influence psychology has on my writing seems obvious, at least to me. The truth is that I find people and their problems fascinating. They’re both about people, how they change and grow – or choose not to – and the consequences of either path.

To read the rest, click here.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Tony Noland on Superheros and Booze: A Guest Post from a Fellow Author

I know Tony through Twitter, where he keeps me laughing with his wry wit, blatant geekiness, and clever observations about the writing and publishing life. He's also one of the few Twitter writing friends I've met in person. My husband and I were visiting my sister in Philadelphia, and Tony agreed to meet up with us in a small Chinese restaurant. After we figured out we must be the right people, having never even seen pictures of each other before, we settled in for a night of foodie adventurousness. Now I have an inside joke about crunchy frog (congee -- don't ask) and an online/IRL friendship I really value. We've beta read for each other, and I was honored he asked me to do so for his novel, which came out on Monday. It's a very clever book with sympathetic, real characters, fun humor, and a sweet spot where Humanities and Science majors can meet and mingle successfully or at least find common ground over a nice beverage. The love story is well done, too.

So, without further ado, I give you Tony's guest post on superheroes and alcohol:



My new book comes out this week: "Verbosity's Vengeance". It's a science fiction superhero novel starring the Grammarian, a hero who uses grammar- and punctuation-based superpowers to fight Professor Verbosity on the mean streets of Lexicon City. With my book launch this week, you can easily imagine that the question foremost in my mind is: why don't more superheros drink?

Batman is a fitness junkie who treats his body like a temple, Professor X is an abstemious aesthete. Superman is a workaholic and Captain America is a boy scout, but alcohol doesn't have any effect on either of them, anyway. Of heroes who DO drink, Thor's banquet hall mead quaffing is like a frat house joke, Wolverine's Molson-and-Canadian-Club boilermaker habit is just part of his tough guy rep he works to maintain, and Tony Stark's alcoholic boozing is a standard pillar of playboy excess. Each of them is a literary archetypes of different kinds of moral repugnance ascribed to drinking and virtue ascribed to not-a-drop abstention. Where is the moderate, social drinking of the kind enjoyed by billions of people around the world every day?

 You'd think that after a hard day (or night) of superheroics, more superheroes would want to kick back with a drink to unwind, either in the quiet of their own home/cave/fortress or in the company of friends. In my book, Alex Graham doesn't drink while he's on duty as the Grammarian, but in his civilian life, he does enjoy a glass or two of whisky with his old pal and mentor, the Silver Cipher. Alex doesn't abstain completely, nor does he drink to excess. He enjoys his libations in moderation, which I think makes him more relatable and true to life.

"Verbosity's Vengeance" has a lot of wit and wordplay based on language and grammar usage. For that reason, I often get asked if I wrote the book for a younger audience, either as pure adventure or as a teaching tool. It could be used that way, but I wrote it to tell a good story. The word nerd humor is interwoven among the superhero action and tension, with plenty of science fiction technobabble to move things along. Is a young adult audience going to be put off by the occasional quiet martini or flute of champagne at a reception? I wouldn't think so, since they must sure see such behavior in the real world. However, I'm often surprised at what people find objectionable when deciding which book a young adult might pick up.

Drugs, of course, are right out. Any kind of social indulgence in mood-altering substances gets a Just Say No. Sex and swearing are almost as bad as alcohol, since the assumption is that none of them can be done in moderation. Either nobody swears or everybody swears all the time. Either nobody has sex or everybody is in a shifting round robin with everybody else (except for the virtuous heroine and/or hero). Violence seems to be no problem. Katniss Everdeen runs over and around the corpses of teenagers stabbed, burned, and bludgeoned to death. Harry Potter is surrounded by torture, murder and mayhem, but we all pretended butterbeer was magically alcohol-free.

So, sure, you could you give my book to a young adult. They'd love it. You'll love it too if you like action, adventure and wordplay, and if you don't mind seeing responsible adults acting like responsible adults. You can buy a copy for them or for yourself right here. As it happens, there's very little swearing and no sex, although there's G-rated romance between Alex Graham and the intelligent and talented Dr. Kate Hunter. They enjoy a couple of drinks together, too.

Is the Grammarian alone in his appreciation of a good libation? Did I forget someone? Can you think of a superhero who engages in moderate social drinking without some kind of moralistic overlay ascribed to that character?



You can find out more info about Tony and his fiction on his website Landless.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

My Book Sale: Guest posting at Demons, Dreams & Dragon Wings Blog

Today the lovely ladies over at the Demons, Dreams & Dragon Wings blog are hosting me as a guest with my first sale story. Yes, you have to click through a content warning to get there, but I promise the post is SFW.

I'm not sure how much I believe in metaphysical stuff like projecting intentions and the power of clearing out old stuff to make room for new opportunity, but after the way my first sale happened, I might become a believer.

To read the rest, click here.


Don't forget, The Mountain's Shadow will be out on October 1! It's already available for preorder on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers.

Monday, September 16, 2013

My first interview!

Fellow romance writer M.V. Freeman, author of the paranormal romance Incandescent, invited me to answer some questions on her blog today, both about me and my debut novel The Mountain's ShadowYes, I had to turn the psychologist's eye on myself. Come find out the answers to how long it took me, what strange combination of circumstances prompted me to come up with the idea originally, and what carnivorous bunnies have to do with the writing process.

To read the full post, click here.  

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Excerpt: The Mountain's Shadow, Lycanthropy Files Book One

The Mountain's Shadow (The Lycanthropy Files, #1)


Some mistakes can literally come back to bite you.
The Lycanthropy Files, Book 1

First it was ADD. Then pediatric bipolar. Now the hot behavioral disorder in children is CLS, or Chronic Lycanthropy Syndrome. Public health researcher Joanie Fisher was closing in on the cause in hopes of finding a treatment until a lab fire and an affair with her boss left her without a job.

When her grandfather leaves her his multimillion-dollar estate in the Ozarks, though, she figures her luck is turning around. Except her inheritance comes with complications: town children who disappear during full moons, an irresistible butler, and a pack of werewolves who can’t seem to decide whether to frighten her or flirt with her.

Joanie’s research is the key to unraveling the mysteries of Wolfsbane Manor.  However, resuming her work means facing painful truths about her childhood, which could result in the loss of love, friendship, and the only true family she has left.

Warning: Some sexy scenes, although nothing explicit, and adult language. Also alcohol consumption and food descriptions that may wreck your diet.

Buy links:






Chapter One:

The two letters arrived the same day.

I expected the first: my official termination letter from Cabal Industries. Having it in my hands, smoothing the creases, and looking at the stark black print—Bookman Old Style font—on twenty-five pound cotton-bond paper, Robert’s favorite for official business, made my heart thud. The company had been sold, and my lab—with all my data and backups—had been immolated in a fire. The conflagration and the expense of rebuilding my research program during a difficult merger was the ostensible reason for my being fired, and no, I wouldn’t forgive the pun. The company’s symbol, the black silhouette of a wolf howling against a full yellow moon, cried out for me. “Unfair! Unfair!”

The second letter held more promise. This one came on plain computer paper with a name on top in block letters: Lawrence Galbraith, Attorney-At-Law. Two hours later, I stood in front of a two-story yellow brick building off Markham Street, just west of downtown Little Rock. A sign in the second-floor window read, “For Rent: Commercial Space ”. Mr. Galbraith didn’t have a secretary, but a bell rang when I opened the door. After five minutes, I wasn’t so sure he’d heard me and began the internal argument of whether I should knock on the heavy oak door that separated the sparse waiting room from what I imagined to be the plush inner sanctum. I made up my mind and walked to the door, but when I raised my fist, I heard a male voice from inside.

“That’s bullshit, Galbraith!”

“Mr. Bowman, please keep your voice down.” This second one I recognized from the telephone. I had spoken with him earlier. “Doctor Fisher is in the waiting room.”

“I don’t give a damn about Doctor Fisher.” He sneered my name. “Look, that land is ours by right, and I don’t care if the old man never changed his will. And to bring that overgrown—”

“How Mr. Landover felt about you during his life is irrelevant if it is not on paper.” Galbraith spoke over him. 

“I’m sorry, Leonard. You and the others may have to find other grounds for your sport.”

Leonard’s next statement came out as a cross between a hiss and a whine. “It’s not sport, Lawrence, and you know it. You’re the only one who can help us.”

“There’s nothing I can do.”

I jumped back from the door just before this Leonard person burst through it like a ball of energy—dark energy. With his olive skin, dark wavy hair, and brooding black eyes, he would earn a second look from most women. I barely got a first one as he snarled at me and stalked out of the office. The bell on the door jangled with the force of his exit.

“Doctor Fisher, I hope Mr. Bowman didn’t disturb you.” Lawrence Galbraith looked down his aquiline nose at me and pursed his thin lips. With his mane of gray hair and simple black suit with a long jacket over a white shirt, no tie, he could have stepped out of a mid-twentieth-century movie about an undertaker.

“He certainly seemed upset about something.” I wanted him to say more about what this brooding young man wanted with my grandfather’s estate, but he evaded the implied question.

“Most of my clients are, Doctor Fisher. If they’re not disturbed about something, they’re dead. Otherwise they wouldn’t need a lawyer.” He held out a chair and scooted it under me as I sat.

“I understand. Now about my grandfather’s estate?”

I expected him to do the lawyer thing and pull out a file bursting with paper and tell me to look through it and see if I had any questions. Instead, he sat back and steepled his fingers.

“I knew your grandfather quite well, Doctor Fisher. He was very proud of Wolfsbane Manor.” He studied me through narrowed eyes. “You visited there quite often as a child, yes?”

“I spent my summers there.”

“And your twin brother?”

“It was after my brother died. Andrew never knew my grandfather. It wasn’t until my parents started fighting that my mother had the guts to visit him again. Apparently he and my father didn’t get along.”

“He spoke to me about the rift, how it broke his heart to lose his only daughter. He told me you were a lot like your mother.”

When I thought about my mother, I remembered the gentle hands that so quickly turned hard when she slapped me. I hadn’t spoken to her since I had gotten my first assistantship in graduate school and no longer needed her financial support.

“I don’t think so.”

“How much do you know about your grandfather’s estate?”

“I know it’s up in the mountains and used to be really far away from everything. It took forever to drive there on winding mountain roads. There’s a stream that bubbles up from underground near the top of the hill where the house is, and it goes to a river.”

“Anything else?”

I thought back and tried to untangle murky threads of childhood memory. “The house is huge, old-fashioned, with a ballroom and a mural on the ceiling. I don’t know what my grandfather did to earn his money, but he seemed to have a lot of it and was careful spending it.”

“He was immensely careful. Consequently, his estate, with house and property and all, is worth five hundred million dollars.” He ignored my astonishment and continued, “I told him he had plenty to share between you and your mother, but he insisted the bulk of it go to you. Something about your research.”

“He didn’t even know what I did.”

“Ah, but he followed your career quite closely.”

“He did? He always seemed so remote, especially after I stopped going up there when I was in high school.”

“Yes, he did. He was a researcher in his own right.”

“Is there anything in there for Mother?” Guilt welled up. It’s amazing how childhood training kicks in, like it was my fault he left everything to me.

“A small annuity to keep her comfortable until she passes on.” He waved my concern away with one hand. 

“It won’t dent your fortune at all.”

“What am I supposed to do with all that money?”

“Whatever you want. I think you will find enough up there in the hills to keep you busy.”

“What do you mean?”

“Have you ever heard of the Landover curse?”

“The what?” This was new. I remembered whispers about something wrong with Mother’s side of the family from early childhood—worried conversations outside the room where my brother and I slept in twin beds.

“If it pops up, you’ll know. It supposedly skips a generation.”

“What is ‘it’?”

“You probably have nothing to worry about, Doctor Fisher. I recommend you go and claim your property as soon as you can. I can help you with arrangements to break your lease and move your things from Memphis.”

“Okay. No, wait, what? I can’t just move.” My head was in a fog, still worried about the curse. What was the curse? Insanity? Some weird genetic disease? And underneath all his assurances, Galbraith seemed worried. A little line had appeared between his brows.

“…will arrange to have movers pack and ship your apartment’s contents to the Manor,” he was saying as he picked up the telephone.

“Whoa, wait a second here.” I held up my hands. “This is too much right now. I can’t just break my lease, pick up, and go.”

“I understand.” He reached across the table and patted my hand. “You need a little while to absorb all of this. But I assure you, it is imperative you move up there and take possession of the property.”

My eyes blurred with tears. “I don’t even know how my grandfather died.”

Galbraith rubbed his temples. “I was afraid you would ask.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t know, either.”


When I arrived at Bistro, a little French place in West Little Rock, my head was still spinning. The key to Wolfsbane Manor was nestled in my purse between my cell phone and my wallet on a keychain that read in bright pink letters, “So NOT a morning person”. I had handed over the apartment keys to Galbraith, who assured me he would take care of everything and I could expect my belongings in a few days’ time. I’d tried to argue the hastiness of the move, but I may as well have been talking to the stone lions outside the manor’s door.

Lonna, my best friend, had arrived before me and sat in a booth along the wall. When she saw me, she waved with one of her long, tanned arms, which looked particularly dark in the white sleeveless top she wore.

“Somebody’s been to the tanning booth,” I teased as we hugged. I only came up to her shoulder, but I smelled the orange and coconut conditioner she used in her long, dark hair.

“It’s my guilty indulgence. I figure, with this job, it’ll be a miracle if skin cancer kills me first.” Even though she meant it as a joke, there was something serious in her topaz-colored eyes. A private-investigator-turned-social worker with the Department of Family and Child Services, she didn’t have an easy job to begin with.

I slid into the booth across from her and picked up a menu. “What’s going on over there?”

“Just the typical bureaucratic bullshit. Not all that interesting, so you go first. You said earlier you had big news.”

I opened my mouth to reply, but she interrupted me.

“Oh, and how’s Robert? You guys haven’t come over in a while.”

“We’re not together anymore.” It hurt to remember our little road trips from Memphis to recruit research participants from the Little Rock pediatricians’ offices.

“Did his wife find out?”

“Worse. I got fired, so no more excuses to see each other.”

“Ouch! When?”

“I got the letter today. I kept hoping there would be some sort of appeal or something, but no dice. I didn’t want to tell you until it became official.” The fact Robert hadn’t even stood up for me hurt the most.

“I wish I could understand you, Joanie. How could you not tell me?”

“You’re my best friend. You’re supposed to understand.”

She didn’t fall for the guilt trip. “So was that the big news?”

“No, I also found out today I inherited my grandfather’s estate, so I’ve got the dinner check.”

“Congratulations, but not so fast there, Fisher.” She gave me a stern look over the menu. “Let’s tackle one thing at a time. You got fired. Tell me more.”

“It was after the lab caught fire. They still don’t know what started it.” For a second I thought I could feel the heat and smell the smoke from the blaze. Sweat jumped to my forehead, and I had to take a sip of water. This was why I hadn’t spoken to her about it in detail before—the memory made me panic.

“I’m sorry, Joanie.” She reached across the table and put a hand on my arm. “You don’t really have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”

I smiled at her implied question. “But details are important? You’re such a private detective.”

She grinned. “How else are you going to figure out what, exactly happened?”

“Good point, although it’s not like it matters much now.” I took a deep breath. “One night about a month ago, I was compiling data, pediatric charts, in our statistical spreadsheet…” Just talking about it brought me back there. “I had been sitting on a stool checking to make sure the information in the files had converted into the correct columns in the spreadsheet when I heard my car alarm go off. I jumped down, really annoyed because I was on the cusp of running the first analysis, and my lab coat caught on the stool. Really caught. Like the corner of it had somehow gotten stuck in the middle joint where you adjust the height and then twisted in there. I turned to free it and was just giving it a last tug when the smoke alarm went off. When I opened the lab door, the hallway was in flames. I panicked. I shut the door and tried to go out the back way, but the door wouldn’t open. It was getting hotter and hotter, and I started coughing from the smoke. Finally I took the damn stool and threw it through a window, I don’t know how.”

“You’re a tough little thing.” Lonna rested her chin on her hands. “Even if you don’t look it.”

Caught in the story, I had to keep going. “So I jumped through and got scraped up a little.” I rolled up the sleeve of my T-shirt and showed her my left shoulder, which had a long, thin, barely healed cut. “That one was the deepest. Fifteen stitches.”

She traced it with a cool finger. “Wow,” she murmured. “So you got out?”

“I thought that was it. I started heading to my car to shut off the damn alarm and get to a hospital, but then I heard something behind me.”

The waiter approached, and I jumped. “Oui, mademoiselles?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.

Lonna didn’t even look at him, just gave the order for our appetizer and wine. “Brie en croute, s’il vous plait, et deux Chardonnay.”

D’accord.

“Go on,” she told me.

We were getting into the realm of nightmares. “Honestly, I’m not sure whether to believe it myself.” I swallowed, my mouth suddenly dry. “I would rather not say here.”

“Oh? It’s not fair to keep me hanging, Joanie.”

“I’ll tell you later, at your place, I promise.”

The waiter brought our wine in tulip-shaped glasses—hers blue, mine red— with green stems.

“So anyway,” I said after taking a sip. “Hmm, a good Oaky California. You can tell every time. You’d think they’d have French here.”

“So?” she prompted.

“No lab equals no work. No work equals no job. And that’s it.”

“How can that be it? You were top in your field.”

“I don’t know. Maybe someone found out about me and Robert. Or maybe they blamed me for the fire, but I suspect it’s more about money. They just got bought, and mergers mean layoffs. But enough about that. What’s going on with your work?”

Lonna sighed. “There’s been this string of kids disappearing in this little community in the Ozarks north of Mountain View. I’ve got to go up there tomorrow and talk with the local social worker. As hard as I’ve tried to get out of the private-eye business, you’d think they’d leave me alone.”

“Oh, gads, that’s rough.” Hearing about stuff like that made my stomach twist. It reminded me too much of Andrew.

“Sorry, I know you don’t like to hear about the kids.”

“I just don’t know how you do what you do, that’s all. What’s this little place called?”

“Crystal Pines.”

I set my glass down a little too hard, and the wine spilled.

“What’s with you?” Lonna arched an eyebrow.

“Wolfsbane Manor, my grandfather’s estate, is up there. Crystal Pines—it used to be called Piney Mountain—is at the base of the hill, the manor at the top.”

“That’s really odd.” She swirled the wine around in her glass. “From the files I’ve gotten from the case worker who lives up near there, the locals—y’know, the ones who were there first before the yuppies moved in—are associating the ‘old gentleman’s house’ with the kids going missing.”

A shiver climbed up my spine. “How?”

“That’s the weird part. No human footprints or anything. The kids just…disappear. When they call the forensics guys out, it’s usually too late to get anything because they always disappear outside.”

“No ‘human’ footprints? What about animals?”

“There aren’t any big enough to take a child, so I don’t think they’re looking.”

“Wolves? Coyotes? Bears? My parents always warned me to watch out for them.”

“The only wolves in Arkansas are red wolves, which are too small to snatch preadolescents. And if it was something like that, they would at least find…” She cocked her head trying to find a nice way to put it. “Remains.”

“Point taken. It must be a boring summer for them. No hiking, fishing, swimming…”

“It is for the locals’ kids. They’re the only ones being abducted. If your dad drives a Beamer, Mercedes, Lexus or Volvo…”

“You’re safe?” I found that hard to believe. “So it can’t be wild animals then. They’re not that discriminating. What do you have to do tomorrow?”

“The case worker, a guy named Matt, wanted me to come and check things out for myself. He’s worried the board isn’t going to believe him and wanted an outside opinion.”

“Is he single?” Lonna, like myself, had the most rotten luck in love.

“No such luck. Happily married for thirty-four years.”

“Too bad.”

The waiter arrived again, so we ordered our main courses, Coq au Vin for me and Moules et Frites for her. I didn’t realize until the waiter set the food down and the aroma of red wine, spices, and hot, crusty French bread rose to my nostrils how hungry I was. The food also gave me the opportunity to ignore Lonna’s question, so she had to repeat it.

“Earth to Joanie,” she called and poked me in the arm with a mussel shell. “What happened with Robert?”

“You would ask.”

“Of course. Things seemed to be going so well.”

“Right. As well as they could be with a married man.”

“I thought he was separated?”

“He was.”

“Is he still?”

“No.” I tore off a little piece of bread and stirred it in the thick maroon sauce. “I think when Cabal got bought, he decided he’d better make nice with the wife in case he lost his job and needed her to support him.”

“How did he tell you?”

“Gads, you’re merciless tonight, woman.”

“It’s my job.” She winked. “That’s what my boyfriends like to tell me.”

“Well, he called me into his office.” Images flashed into my mind of the long walk down the sterile white hallways. “My shoulder was still in a sling so I wouldn’t move it and open the wound. That arm was hidden under my spare lab coat. He didn’t see it at first. When he did, he didn’t react like he normally would have. You know, by jumping up and coming over to take care of me. A look crossed his face… How to describe it? Pain? Regret for having to kick me while I was down? I don’t know.”

“This was after you’d heard your job was no longer there?”

“You can say fired.” I took a sip of my wine. “It’s the reality of it. I was packing up my office when he called.”

“Did you know what was coming?”

“I could hear it in his voice. He asked me to sit down, and he got up and closed the door. I noticed he was limping a little.”

“Serves him right.”

“No kidding. So then he told me since we didn’t have any excuse to see each other on a daily basis, he didn’t know if he could deal with that level of deception.” I felt the all-too-familiar pressure of tears and my vision blurred. “He said he respected me too much to start using cheap motels and made-up business trips.”

Lonna rolled her eyes. “Yet he didn’t mind the chair in his office.”

I smiled a little, and a tear rolled down my cheek into the corner of my mouth. Its warm track turned cold after a second. “So no more boyfriend. That’s what I get for seeing a married man.”

“You just had, what is it called? Where the mentee falls for the mentor.”

“Maybe.”

We both took a sip of our wine, and I wiped my eyes with the napkin.

“Garcon.” Lonna signaled our waiter. “This woman needs chocolate mousse.”

I looked down at my half-eaten Coq au Vin. “But what about this?”

“Take it with you.” Lonna swirled the little bit of wine left in her glass. “You can put it in the fridge and have it for lunch.”

That’s one of the things I liked about Lonna. She made up any excuse for dessert. It’s amazing she kept her model-like figure.

The chocolate mousse came, and we talked about other things over coffee and dessert. Before we knew it, it was nine o’clock, and Lonna raced back to her apartment with me in tow so we could get up early to drive to Crystal Pines in time for her ten o’clock meeting with Matt.

It bothered me a little I hadn’t told her the rest of my story. Later, it bothered me a lot. I don’t know if it might have saved her—and our friendship—but maybe she would have been more careful. Or maybe I would have.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed it. For an excerpt from further in the book showing Joanie and Leo's next encounter and more decadent food and wine, check out my publisher's The Mountain's Shadow page.