Thursday, February 26, 2015

Own Your Writing Career: Use a One Touch Policy

The One Touch Policy: If it only takes a few minutes, don’t add it to your to-do list, just take care of it with one touch.

The idea of a one-touch policy comes from a major professional mentor of mine, who still happens to be what I call my “superboss.” My manager’s superior and at the second tier in our organization.

He’s amazing in all sorts of ways. First off, he’s a great person, and thus it has been wonderful to work for him and learn from him for the past ten years. He has a touch with people, with understanding their needs and communicating with incredible tact, on top of a serious knack for organization and critical thinking. He manages to operate at multiple levels, switch gears between a bazillion responsibilities, all in the midst of an insanely booked calendar -- and he also manages to have a life on top of it all. Volunteer firefighter, active in his church, a parent and husband.

In the first weeks of my employment, his administrative assistant shared a tip of his with me: Use a one-touch policy. If a task will only take a few minutes, don’t add it to the to-do list, just do it right now.

Here’s an example. As I sat down to write this, I noticed that one leg of my chair at the dining room table where I often write was wiggly. Actually, I’d noticed it three days running. Today, I turned the darn chair upside down and tightened things up. If I’d done that two days ago, I wouldn’t have broken my writing stride three times over the same tiny detail. (Some of you might laugh at me for this husband isn't laughing, let me tell you. There are some details that skate by my notice again and again, making me a bit hard to live with at times...I know you love me, babe, even if I'm frustrating!)

Sure, this applies to lots of physical parts of our daily lives. But it also applies to your writing life. When you notice something wrong, just fix it. Receive the details on a promotion you'll need to schedule on your blog? Draft the new post right now. Notice you haven’t updated your blog? Just update it. Right then. You can spare the three or four minutes to do so...because the truth is that if you don’t, you’re going to have to think about it again tomorrow. If you don’t just do it, you’ll end up spending much more time on it cumulatively than if you’d just taken the few minutes to correct the problem, solve the issue, or add the detail.

This is part of what I meant by the subtitle of this series -- "don't let it own you." Because these tiny things we need to accomplish, which add up and are crucial to our eventual success as creative professionals, can suck us dry with their taskiness. (Yes, I know that's not a word. I am using it anyway.) They can end up owning us by chaining us to that never-ending to-do list. When you save up these dry and boring tasks by adding them to a to-do list, you're asking to be bored with your writing time. Don't do that to you! 

By only touching it once, by not letting the topic leave your brain-space until it’s done and never letting it add to the dreaded to-do list, you will save major time over the years. Not to mention saving on brain clutter and reducing the items on your to-do list. Just do it. Use a one-touch policy.

I'll be back with another Own Your Writing Career post next Thursday. Until then, happy writing!!

"Own Your Writing Career: Use a One Touch Policy" copyright © 2015 by J.R. Pearse Nelson

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ira Glass on the Creative Process -- YES!!


My Own Your Writing Career post for the week is up below this one, and when I saw this video by Ira Glass, I had to add it here. Spend two minutes listening to Ira's take on the creative process, especially at the beginning of one's creative work. Well worth it.

Write on, people!!

Own Your Writing Career: Make Every 10 Minute Block Count

Yes, you read that correctly. One of my main success tips for not losing your mind with all of the teensy-weensy to-do items an author maintains is to ensure you're making the most of each ten-minute time slot you have in the day.

We each waste many ten-minute blocks of time each day. Of course you can't reduce or reuse (or recycle) all of them -- but think of what you can do by replacing just two or three a day with productivity! One or two of these blocks go by in the morning as we stumble around after rising (maybe you keep those, depending on your morning personality). We waste five or ten minutes switching gears between meals and work, reading snippets of articles or following silly links through social media. Watching one show on TV equates to three of these blocks, and one drama on Netflix adds up to four.

If you make those minutes work for you, it adds up significantly over time, and prevents wasting big blocks of time on working out those tiny to-dos. This is about working smarter....and a little harder. :) The following lists will vary based on the specifics of your writing career. Mine are geared toward a publishing fiction writer.

What can I do with ten minutes? Hehe, here we go! This is where the rubber meets the road.

In ten minutes, I can:
  • Write 200-250 words. This is the best choice for those ten minutes, by far!!! I can't emphasize this enough!
  • Format a short story
  • Start a blog post
  • Edit a blog post
  • Add links and images to a blog post
  • Update a page on my website
  • Add a link or image to Facebook (which feeds through to Twitter)
  • Add images on Pinterest (my graphics or images related to my series count as work...but Pinterest is fun for playing, too, so don't get lost and count that!) 
  • Add content to Wattpad -- the first three chapters of a new book, or a new free short story
  • Update a product description
  • Update my read books on Goodreads
  • Review what's selling in my genre (types of books, prices)
  • Read a blog post or article about the business -- one that matters, not a dramatic one. What "matters" is up to you, of course. :)
At those golden times when I can find three of these sweet little blocks together (that's 30 minutes, people), I can:
  • Write 500-700 words. Again, writing new content is by far the best choice for a writer!! 
  • Publish a book (provided I have pre-determined product description, keywords, and everything organized)
  • Format a book
  • Add a Table of Contents to a book
  • Write a book description
  • Write a blog post
  • Format and schedule pre-written blog posts
  • Implement a larger change to my website
  • Update a book's information (or price) across sites
  • Schedule or organize a promotion
  • Make a short story cover
  • Outline a story I'm working on
  • Research for a story I'm working on
  • Look into a business tip or strategy I'm considering

You might notice a couple of things about the above lists. First -- there's a lot that I could have put on there that I didn't. These are just examples. Also, there are a lot of non-writing things on that list! And I'm a non-marketing type, right? I populated this with the stuff that I do...but every author is different. There are so many possibilities for promotion and getting your books out there that I am certainly not wading into all of them. Again, do your research. And once you determine a strategy, keep reading and keep tweaking it...forever. This type of to-do list will always be part of the author gig. No matter how you publish, keeping your book in view is your deal. The harder you work at it, the more visible you'll be. What I've added here is my minimalist approach. There are many, many other ways to spend these ten-minute blocks of time...

Which brings me to the last point I'll make about the lists above. I bolded the most important item in the ten minute list, and the thirty minute list -- WRITING. You may have noticed that the math between the ten minute writing sprint and the thirty minute writing block doesn't work. If I can get 200-250 in ten minutes, shouldn't it be 600-750 for the thirty minute increment? I haven't found this to be the case. In fact, I am the most productive minute by minute in shorter stretches of time. A ten to twenty minute writing spring is my best amount of productivity before taking a break. Adding several of these with short five or ten minute breaks to stretch and let my mind wander gives me my best word count days. 

Conveniently, I've found that the perfect thing to do between writing sprints is something mindless like a household chore. Doing the dishes or folding laundry will drive me back to my writing chair pretty quickly (surprise, surprise!). I also manage to connect the dots in these short breaks -- like what exactly I'm trying to do with a scene, what's missing from a scene, or where I'm headed next. That makes me even more productive when I return to the writing chair.

Why does all of this matter? Why should you use each of those ten minute blocks of time you can recover productively? Because some writer things take much longer blocks than that. I need my longer blocks of time to figure out major story problems and move a stuck story forward, to outline entire series, to edit large books, and even to edit for the author friends I trade editing with. If I let all of those ten minute things sit until I have a block of time to work on writing related stuff, I am drowning in to-do items that "won't take much time!" -- But cumulatively, they can suck up a large block of time if you're not careful. So, to protect those large blocks of time to work on deep-thought creative aspects or editing, or whatever it is that works best for your brain in large chunks of time, you must check off these smaller to-do items whenever you can.

When you decide to make all of these ten-minute increments of time add up to more productivity, you'll see results! A productive writer is a happy writer. And you'll hardly miss that TV show, or those games you might have played on Facebook. I promise. :)

I'll be back with another Own Your Writing Career post next Thursday. Until then, happy writing!!

"Own Your Writing Career: Make Every 10 Minute Block Count" copyright © 2015 by J.R. Pearse Nelson

Monday, February 16, 2015

My Favorite Baby Gift - Annabel Karmel's Top 100 Baby Purees

I recently attended a baby shower for a pair of great friends I've known for more than a decade. I wouldn't have struggled to choose a gift for this wonderful couple, no matter what. They're just the best. But I didn't even have to think about it. I knew what I wanted these two to have as they embarked on this new part of their lives....

Annabel Karmel's book Top 100 Baby Purees is my favorite baby gift. This book and others like it gave me the confidence to never glance twice at jars of baby food. Once my girls -- now ages four and six -- were ready for solids, I made my kids' food a batch at a time and fed them without the jars. All it takes is a mini food processor and fresh, natural ingredients. When my friends and family have their babies, I like to pass on some of that confidence.

Feeding little children is not really very hard, but it can feel like one of those areas to get mired in all of the choices. Pointing my friends to this collection of easy to make and downright delicious recipes for their babes just warms my heart.

Annabel Karmel has plenty of other books available, too. Check out these books for family fun in the kitchen and great eats for all!

Mom and Me Cookbook

Top 100 Finger Foods: 100 Recipes for a Healthy, Happy Child

The Toddler Cookbook

The Fussy Eaters' Recipe Book: 135 Quick, Tasty and Healthy Recipes that Your Kids Will Actually Eat


Favorite Family Meals

I like to give a book like this in combination with some freezer-safe tupperware or other storage containers, to make storing baby food easy. I often needed to pack the girls' food for the day before I went to work. Pulling out small containers from the freezer, or ice-cube sized portions, made it really easy to get ready for the day. I would cook for the baby most days of the week (just one or two dishes, which doesn't take long). I'd freeze most of each batch so that I could pull from it in preparation for child care.

You could give it in combination with any number of fun things for baby. Maybe a sweet, colorful toy, or a blanket, or an outfit, fill in the blank. :)

Enjoy! And have fun feeding those babies!!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Own Your Writing Career: Embracing the Long Game

At the end of my last post, I touched on the fact that you won’t make money with your writing for some time after you start. Likely for at least a few years after publishing your first book. If you do, you have struck gold -- but that’s no way to plan to make a living.

Embrace the long game. If you’re going to be a writer, you’re in this for the long haul. Many years of producing stories, honing your craft, learning to understand business enough to publish...and then it is likely your first books will flop, in terms of sales.

Is that depressing? Quit your worrying. A book does not have to sell today to make you loads of money in the future. It will be in your backlist forever. 

Quit worrying.

Instead of worrying (I know that when I told you to quit it you got very worried), write another book.

Write another book, and another, and another. Because in five years, that’s where your success will be found. In the fact that you consistently produced, say, two books a year, and a couple of short stories to boot? That’s ten novels and ten short stories. If it’s two complete series at that point, you need to publish bundled series, for two more publications. And you’ll also group your short stories into collections, for two more. That’s twenty-four publications in five years.

Is this really possible, you ask? YES! It's how writers have been making a living forever -- by writing regularly and always producing. Two novels a year is, say 100k, or maybe 140k if you write long. Two short stories could be 10k or almost 20k. So...let's do the math based on 160k of publishable fiction. I tend to rely on about 1,000 words in each hour of writing, which I hear from many authors is about what they are used to. Slow enough to consider where your story is going as you write and get it close to right the first time. (Getting your fiction to this point is a matter of practice, as it is for all artists, but if you're consistently working at it, you WILL get there.) So, 160 hours per year, once you're a practiced and dedicated artist, will achieve that rate of two novels and two short stories per year. That's just over three hours a week.

Want to quit your worrying and get your butt back into the chair yet?

When people ask me how I write so much, I can't understand it. I put out several books a year, but I still don't feel like I'm writing as much as I could. (Kids. Day job. A house that seems downright mutinous.) I would love to be able to write more. And if I do, some will look at that and say I must be writing crap...but it's really just a matter of honing your craft. It takes a lot of work -- I'm a decade into regular fiction writing as a part of my weekly schedule -- and it takes a lot of reading and learning from other writers.

And yes, there's a lot more to writing a book and publishing it than just the time in the chair writing. There's the idea, the research, the honing of theme and character and understanding of why you want to write this book, need to write this book... (I love this part best out of everything.)

On the other side of the writing process there's the editing, the formatting, the cover and marketing materials, the schedule to release day... It goes on and on, and this part you can choose to make downright cumbersome for yourself, or you can do just as much marketing as you enjoy and get to work writing the next book. I've already shown you which side of that equation I'm on. Write the next book!!

Embrace it. It’s the nature of the game. Yeah, it’s your life, your time, your joy, your heart on the line. Some game, right?

Eventually, once your backlist is extensive enough (still getting there myself), promotion will become a thing. You’ll need to occasionally mention you have books out there. But when you have a lot of books, the opportunities to do so begin to expand. I've already seen that happen, with seven books on the market. 

As you publish more books you can run inventive sales, you can structure series to be kind to existing fans who’ll snap up the whole thing at once… The variety of business options available to you just keeps growing as your library does. This, too, is a long game. Again, embrace it as such.

Get comfy. And push yourself out of that comfort zone creatively, because you're here to grow. But know that you’re in for years of work before you see benefits anyone else will understand. Who cares? Quit worrying.

Embrace the long game.

I'll be back with another Own Your Writing Career post next Thursday. Until then, happy writing!!

"Own Your Writing Career: Embracing the Long Game" copyright © 2015 by J.R. Pearse Nelson

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Own Your Writing Career: Always Looking Forward

In my last post I talked about planning, and a little about what works for me. Along with a clear plan, that includes a structured schedule for writing/editing/publication, and goals for six months, one year out, and five years out, as a writer setting out on this journey, you must adapt to a spirit of looking forward.

The books that are currently trickling a few dollars here and there into my coffers were written anywhere from six years ago to a year ago. What I’m working on now will make me money later. I’m building the library that will be my living. But the pressure on my work today is just to dig in, enjoy the work, and constantly produce new writing by writing what I love. What I write today does not pay the bills today. And that doesn’t matter, it’s just how this creative life is played. 

Today you write for you. Not to pay the bills. For you. For the sheer joy of it. That’s the creative side of this venture, and it’s what most of us are in it for goodness sake ENJOY IT.

I’ll give an example from my own history, and my own present, actually. :)

I write in two genres, but neither of the series I’ve published is easily defined. Defining your work is a rather large part of selling books. That’s one of my goals, of course -- to sell some copies of this work I’ve put my heart, sweat, and love into.

This is where it’s helpful to look forward. I love both genres I’ve written series in. I want to build audiences in each, with some amount of crossover between them. I have multiple strategies for doing so, and most revolve around the order in which I’ll write future series, especially over the next couple of years. I need to get to where I have two or three series complete and multiple short stories in each genre. That’ll likely take me another two years to three years. In two years, I can really start to work on building an audience for my work in each genre, in ways that are more comfortable for me than active advertising.

In other words, for the next two years writing/editing/publishing new work will take up almost all of the time I can devote to my writing career. I will not focus on active promotion. I will try to ignore sales, and get my butt in the chair to write as much as possible. I will refuse distractions, and think of where I want to be at the end of those two years. I start to get all zingy when I go there, because I love to write, and I can’t wait to have more books available. I can’t wait to keep bringing new stories out, even when I have a solid and varied backlist to rely on. 

The pressure on what I’m writing at this moment goes down with every additional publication. It’ll be super fun when it takes new readers more than a couple of weeks to get through my backlist when they find me. :)

It might also be profitable. I’ll leave that for the future.

As you continue to produce stories, to build your backlist and tweak your publication schedule as brilliant ideas strike, don’t pressure yourself with the dollars and cents. You won’t make money with your writing for years after first publication. If you do, you’ve struck gold, and that’s awesome, but unlikely to happen twice. You’ll still need to build a solid backlist if you want to make a regular income, and it will take years...and now you have the pressure -- internal and external -- of beating the success of that first book. This isn’t long-term thinking...and it isn’t going to help you be both joyful and productive with your writing. I believe you need to be both of these things to make a success of a writing career over the long term.

Keep working toward that future you envision.

Don’t lose time to momentary distraction.

Embrace the creative aspect of this work for itself.

And keep on looking forward.

I'll be back with another Own Your Writing Career post next Thursday. Until then, happy writing!!

"Own Your Writing Career: Always Looking Forward" copyright © 2015 by J.R. Pearse Nelson

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Own Your Writing Career: Always Planning

My last post was about always learning as a writer and as an author. You’ll find the sources that resonate with you. When you do, listen to their advice.

I don’t mean to blindly accept their advice. We’re all individuals -- each of us has constraints, each of us has areas of expertise and interest and love. Don’t ignore your individuality. It’s what will eventually lead to success.

But take the nuggets of advice that work for you and make sure you put them into action.

I don’t care how you plan. I’ll talk a little about what works for me, but you’ll find what works for you, and it’ll keep changing as your needs change.

I have a publication schedule that goes out five years. Part of that is because I have far too many ideas, and over the years there are enough that I actually want to write, that it will take me a decade to get to all of them. And part of that is a need to know, to place in some firmer form than amorphous thoughts, the order in which to write these books. Until I make myself look at the list and see where an idea might fit, I will waste time spinning my wheels pondering the bright and shiny...and that’s time I should be productively writing on current projects -- ones that made that list two years ago when I developed it.

Or not. The series I’m working on right at the moment is something I invented just a year ago, but it grabbed me so hard I had to make time to write it. So I adjusted my plan.

I love that flexibility, and believe me, I take full advantage of it. One of my goals as a writer in these early years of publication is to enjoy the lack of pressure on my next book, and always have fun with my writing. So I adjust when something grabs hold of me, because it brings me great joy to write in the moment and see where I end up.

But I also make sure that I’m moving forward on the long-term plan.

My publication schedule now also has sales projections tied to it, on the advice of Dean Wesley Smith. Go check him out if you don’t know about him and you’re trying to earn a living at writing. He’ll tell you (hell, he’ll show you) there’s no easy and quick solution here, but it is possible. In order to understand how much work you’re in for, make a plan. So I added the conservative sales and royalty projections Dean suggests in his Think Like a Publisher series to my publication plan, and now I have a way to make goals, roughly, about when I can add more time writing and reduce my workschedule elsewhere. Rest assured, it'll take me some more years by those projections. Years and years. I'm cool with that. :)

In the summer of 2014, when I read Susan Kaye Quinn’s Indie Author Survival Guide, I was intrigued by her suggestion of a writer mission statement as one of the first steps of planning. The very next morning I set the question to myself. What would a writer mission statement look like to me? In the next thirty minutes, I poured out my first draft. Over the course of that day and the next I tweaked it, but the spirit of that first draft remained. It turned out I understood my mission statement, I’d just never taken the time to set it out for myself that way. Once again, it helped me understand where I should be focusing my time, and it reduced the guilt I sometimes feel for not taking the road I most often see traveled. (Which is the marketing road...and of course authors who work that way are very visible, because isn't that the point?)

There are parts of this writer journey that will feel awesome. There are parts that will feel tedious. There are parts that will be downright terrifying. I don’t know your specific fears, but I’ve probably felt something quite similar. For me all the great stuff I get out of writing makes it worth it, but my writer mision statement helped me really understand what that was -- what, essentially, was of value to me.

Susan’s next piece of advice also resonated with me -- set goals for six months out, one year out, and five years out. For me, since I already had the publication plan set out for years and years, these goals took a shape of just a few sentences about where I want to be, how I want my portfolio to look after those time frames have elapsed. Let them take whatever shape feels natural to you. And know that you’ll adjust as you learn and grow.

Always be planning your next steps. What will you be writing/editing/publishing next month? In six months? In a year or two? Where do you see your writer portfolio in five years?

The answers to all of these questions will help you focus your time today. And by considering where you're headed years in advance, a part of your brain will miraculously be working on how to get there, and overall you'll actually spend less time planning than you would by taking the panic planning route. Weird, but true. 

Take care until next time!

I'll be back with another Own Your Writing Career post next Thursday. Until then, happy writing!!

"Own Your Writing Career: Always Planning" copyright © 2015 by J.R. Pearse Nelson

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Own Your Writing Career: Always Learning

I did a lot of studying in 2014. When I'm uncomfortable, I tend to study. I eat away at the edges of whatever's bugging me, until I get it, and I can move the heck on.

For much of 2014, I felt behind on indie author trends, behind on success, whatever that means. Behind on the many projects I have lined up, stretching far into the future.

In truth I'm more productive than I've ever been before, and a better writer than I've ever been. I am not behind by any objective measure that I can find. Although there aren't really objective measures. Instead of using sales, where I feel I can't possibly measure up, or income, of which there is little, especially compared with the decent salary at my day job, I've spent time thinking about what actually measures success in this publishing world. The best measure I can find is writing. Always writing something, always trying new things, exploring and exploiting your creative depths. This is the measure of success as a writer.

To believe otherwise is to lose your mind with it. Let's not go there. lol

However, in order to have more success as a writer, I would like to eventually earn a living at writing.

The point of all of these points (ha!) is that I've been studying, in order to map out a viable path into the future. There isn't one path, and that's part of the difficulty here. We're treading in unknown territory, and while that's awesome, it can also feel suffocating when it comes to making business decisions, much less creativity!

In order to sort through the options and determine my course (adjustable and adaptable, all the way!!) I've been paying attention to some of the bright minds of indie publishing. These are just my go to people; there are plenty of wonderful independent authors and artists to learn from out there, it totally depends on what you need to learn. Keep an eye open and start developing your list of must-check-in-on people. It's fun. :)

Here's a list of writers whose blogs I drop in on daily, the people I'm studying and admiring as I work my way toward my dream.

Dean Wesley Smith -- my number one go-to for a kick in the pants to increase my productivity. Dean's blog is great. He shows you how much other stuff he's working on, and he manages to write a ton. He also offers lectures and workshops, and has a number of very useful books for writers. I've taken a couple of the lectures and found them very useful.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch -- if you've never checked out, go there now. And I expect you'll be lost to all other communication for a while as you consume the content she's provided there. I've also read her book the Freelancer's Survival Guide. I highly recommend it if you're considering trying to make a living at the written word. Kris Rusch is a well-known fantasy author and editor with a backlist crossing three decades. I keep running into new stories of hers in Asimov's Science Fiction magazine, which I subscribe to.

Susan Kaye Quinn -- Susan is just so much fun to pay attention to. Talk about writing from the heart. She writes everything that she loves, and in her book the Indie Author Survival Guide she refers to this as "finding your vein of gold." An important concept for the creative. She's also wonderfully positive and genuinely helpful to other authors and a pleasure to run into on the interwebs. :)

J.A. Konrath -- I've mentioned Konrath before, and he's a giant in independent publishing. He knows a lot about the current state of the game in publishing in general, and tends to use his mighty pulpit over at a Newbie's Guide to Publishing to help keep writers informed of the playing field. His site is a must for those looking to understand publishing today. Head over there. See you next week. lol

Ryan Casey -- I believe I found Ryan through a comment he made on Joe Konrath's site, and I've been stopping by his blog ever since. This man is fearless. He's taking lots of risks, writing a TON, and in general he's been very fun to watch as he develops his career. It's inspiring to see someone making a living at their art, and he's happy to share tips about how he does what he does. His covers and concepts are also a lot of fun. It'll be interesting to see where he is in five years. Dynamite.

Check out these resources -- and keep developing your personal list of go-to's. When you're feeling out of your depth it'll help you to get back into the groove. OWN IT, people.

I'll be back with another Own Your Writing Career post next Thursday. Until then, happy writing!!

"Own Your Writing Career: Always Learning" copyright © 2015 by J.R. Pearse Nelson

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Bollywood Style Giveaway - January 19th-23rd!

Let me give a shout out and warm welcome to Sonali Dev and Susan Kaye Quinn, who are here with a Bollywood Style Giveaway!

Romance and Intrigue: Bollywood Style Giveaway

Something Bollywood Going On Here
Sonali Dev and Susan Kaye Quinn met in a most unusual place: Library Journal's Top 10 E-Romance List for 2014. Sonali's A Bollywood Affair and Susan's Third Daughter both made the list with their Bollywood-themed romances - something that was so cool, it cried out to be celebrated!

Scroll down to win some great Bollywood-themed prizes!

Contemporary and Steampunk Bollywood Romance

A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev
Mili Rathod hasnít seen her husband in twenty yearsónot since she was promised to him at the age of four. Yet marriage has allowed Mili a freedom rarely given to girls in her village. Her grandmother has even allowed her to leave India and study in America for eight months, all to make her the perfect modern wife. Which is exactly what Mili longs to beóif her husband would just come and claim her.

Bollywoodís favorite director, Samir Rathod, has come to Michigan to secure a divorce for his older brother. Persuading a naÔve village girl to sign the papers should be easy for someone with Samirís tabloid-famous charm. But Mili is neither a fool nor a gold-digger. Open-hearted yet complex, sheís trying to reconcile her independence with cherished traditions. And before he can stop himself, Samir is immersed in Miliís lifeócooking her dal and rotis, escorting her to her roommateís elaborate Indian wedding, and wondering where his loyalties and happiness lie.
The Third Daughter of the Queen wants to her birthday to arrive so she'll be free to marry for love, but rumors of a new flying weapon may force her to accept a barbarian prince's proposal for a peace-brokering marriage. Desperate to marry the charming courtesan she loves, Aniri agrees to the prince's proposal as a subterfuge in order to spy on him, find the weapon, and hopefully avoid both war and an arranged marriage to a man she does not love.

Third Daughter is the first book in the Dharian Affairs Trilogy (Third Daughter, Second Daughter, First Daughter). This steampunk-goes-to-Bollywood (Bollypunk!) romance takes place in an east-indian-flavored alternate world filled with skyships, saber duels, and lots of royal intrigue. And, of course, kissing.

Romance and Intrigue: Bollywood Style
This short Q&A with Sonali and Susan talks about marrying for love and writing romance!

Q: Marrying for love is a modern, and in some ways Western, concept, but arranged marriages have a long and complicated history. How does your novel tackle the subject of arranged marriage?

Sue: Third Daughter is set in a fantasy world, but it's a blend of cultures in the real one, including being an analog to India (both current day and some of the past). In the Dharian Affairs world, royal marriages have a history of being arranged for political purposes, but the general population of the countries marry for love. This leaves the titular Daughters with varying conflicts between marrying for duty and marrying for love - some embracing their arranged marriages, some fighting against it. The marriage dynamics of the three daughters in the trilogy (Third Daughter, Second Daughter, First Daughter) drive much of the story, along with political intrigue and skyships, of course!

Sonali: In India where I grew up arranged marriages are still very much a part of the fabric of the culture. Having said that, one of the most interesting and unique things about Indian society is how diverse it is within itself. While you still have communities and families who will give the marrying person absolutely no say in whom they marry there are those who don't believe their parents and families have any say when it comes to whom they choose to marry or live with, and then there is the rest of the sizable population who falls somewhere between those two belief systems. In A Bollywood Affair, Mili is from a tiny village from a very orthodox family and it is perfectly natural that her family would arrange her marriage. She would expect that. It wouldn't even strike a girl from her background that she could choose for herself. The age at which she was married isn't usual, though, but there is a reason why her grandmother gets her married that young. As for her being in love with her husband, again, the conditioning to be devoted to your husband is so ingrained in the culture that it would be strange if someone like Mili didn't love someone she believed was her husband. 

Q: Whether set in a fantasy world or the modern one, romance is romance! There are many romance tropes ñ star-crossed lovers, lovers thrown together by circumstance, enemies turned lovers ñ what kind(s) of romance tropes does your novel contain?

Sue: My books are really a blend of romance and adventure, although the first book is a classic 'lovers thrown together by circumstance' as Aniri (the Third Daughter) goes undercover in accepting a marriage proposal from the barbarian prince in the north in order to spy on him and determine if his country truly has the rumored flying machine that would upend the political dynamics in both their countries.

Sonali: Although I didn't set out to write it that way, several readers have pointed out that A Bollywood Affair is a Worldly Rake and an Ingenue Virgin trope. And now that I think about it, there's truth to that. 

Q: Are you planning on writing more romances in this story-world? If so, tell us about it!

Sue: The Dharian Affairs trilogy is complete, but I've enjoyed writing in this east-Indian steampunk fantasy romance world so much, I've decided to do a follow-on trilogy from the point of view of a new character, a female tinker who has a grand invention that may change the world, but also is caught between the spy she might love and the spy she can't resist. Those books likely won't be written for a year or two, but I will cycle back to writing in this world in the future!

Sonali: The Bollywood Bride comes out next year and it's the story of a Bollywood star who comes home to Chicago after ten years to escape a scandal in Mumbai and comes face to face with the man she betrayed for stardom. And then there are two more stories I'm working on in the same series. Which isn't a series in terms of continuity or overlapping characters but because the stories are set in the same world and either the hero or the heroine work in Bollywood. 

Paperback of Third Daughter (The Dharian Affairs #1)
The Dharian Affairs Trilogy in Ebook
2 Paperback copies of A Bollywood Affair 
Handwoven Pashmina shawl from India
Sticker Henna Tattoos
Indian bangles (bracelets)
(all physical prizes are US ONLY; ebook is INTERNATIONAL)

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Water Rites - Chapters One through Three

Water Rites will be out March 9th. You can pre-order now on Amazon

Enjoy the first three chapters...happy reading!

Chapter One

The dampness of the Washington coast in January did not agree with Lorelei’s hair. That was today’s excuse for being late. The hair.
She took the stairs two at a time, grabbing her backpack from the hook before she’d even reached the ground floor. As she whipped it around to put it on, it came into contact with something firm. Something that gave a loud grunt.
“Dad! Crap. I’m sorry. Late!” Lorelei tried to spin around him, but he blocked the exit. She blew her hair out of her face – again, the blasted stuff – and gave him the look.
“Don’t give me that look. Breakfast. It’s on the table now, and I don’t want to hear another word.”
“No time for breakfast. I have math class.”
“You can’t do math on an empty stomach.”
“Rubbish. I can do math any time. See – four times seventy-six is...wait, let me think…” Lorelei thought for a second as Dad’s eyes narrowed. She might be sixteen, but sometimes he still asserted his single-parent control over her every move. Like periodically he woke up and thought, I wonder how I can notice (i.e. torture) my daughter today?
He pointed to the dining room.
“Three hundred and four!” Lorelei exclaimed. Then, in a more sedate tone, “Dad, I’ll be seventeen in less than two weeks. I think I know how to feed myself.” Lying, of course. She had no plan for feeding herself.
His finger did not move. “Eat breakfast. Now.” He didn’t say it loud. He said it in that dangerously un-loud way.
“Was that right? Yep, think it was right.” Lorelei trudged to her seat. He hadn’t been home to make her eat well the last three days, so she hadn’t seen this spot much this week. She’d been heating stuff up and eating in front of the TV. So there, Dad.
He’d fixed eggs and bagels with cream cheese, his favorite breakfast. Strawberries on the side; those were for her, and she popped one in her mouth right away. Okay, a nice breakfast wasn’t so bad.
He sat across from her, and read the news on his iPad while they ate. Lorelei wished she had an iPad, but then she’d be even more late. Instead she hummed and scarfed her food, knowing she must leave for school or she was in serious trouble. She had to quit sleeping late and worrying about her hair. It could be a disaster, as long as she got a good grade in AP calculus.
“See you later?” she said to Dad as she took her plate into the kitchen for a quick rinse.
“I’ll be at the clinic until seven. Order a pizza, okay? There’s cash in the jar.” His dark eyes met hers as she swept back through, and this time the smile did reach his eyes. “Have a good day, honey.”
“You too, Dad.”
Hustling, Lorelei almost tripped over her boots that refused to go on correctly. Forcing herself to take a breath, she shoved her foot in, shoved the laces into the boot to deal with later, and clicked the unlock button on the remote to her silver Jetta.
She slid into the driver’s seat and backed up onto their small private road. School was three miles away, along nothing but windy country roads.
Stupid hair.
Lorelei didn’t drive fast. She wasn’t going to risk an accident or ticket just to shave off a few seconds. She turned on a song, and as she came around a bend and popped out of the trees, she caught sight of the pink and orange glow that marked sunrise. She whistled. The dawn was still so new that it didn’t offer any appreciable light, just the brilliant colors.
And then it was gone. She made a turn into greater Anacortes, Washington, and left the sunrise behind her. Her belly tightened at the thought of math class, which was starting right now, as the houses grew denser along her route. Almost there.
This neighborhood was decades old, but the houses were nice two-stories with deep front porches and large, neat yards. Theirs was a decent, boring town. A good place, really.
Finally, the cluster of school buildings appeared up the road.
Lorelei turned into a parking space and ran. This was the second time she was late this week. What if Mr. Richards dropped her from his class? It was AP, he could drop her if he didn’t think she’d perform.
Lorelei’s toe caught on the curb, and too late she remembered she hadn’t even fastened her boots in her rush to get out the door. The impact sent her tumbling and ripped her shoe off, so it bounced along the curb and back into the parking lot.
Double crap.
With a twisted ankle and her scraped palms burning – not to mention a distinct roaring in her ears and the deep blush due to sheer embarrassment – Lorelei moved, a bit less swiftly, to Mr. Richards’ room. The stairs were tough, but so was she.
She cracked the door open and attempted to sidle to her seat without drawing notice, but it was not to be.
“Ms. Dorian. That’s the second time this week. I’ll see you in detention this afternoon.”
And, triple crap.
Ah well, at least he wasn’t dropping her from the class. Lorelei took her seat, surveying the damage to her palms and finding it wasn’t that bad. There wasn’t much blood.
“What are you smiling about? You look like hell,” Shea Carlson, the rudest girl on the planet, whispered harshly from the next row.
“I made it.” Lorelei shot her a big grin. “In time for differential equations, right?”
She snickered. “You’re always way too excited about math, hon.”
“You missed the intro...probably going to be hard to keep up today,” said a voice to their left.
Shea glared at Vardon Caster, just long enough to let him know he was beneath her, and not invited to chat. He was a loner, and as far as Lorelei knew, no one had really talked to him much since third grade or so.
Lorelei didn’t care about school-kid politics. She cared about her AP Calculus grade. “Seriously?” She sank lower in her seat. “I missed the intro?”
“Yes, Ms. Dorian, you missed the intro. Maybe some poor soul will take pity on you, though you do not deserve it, and bring you up to speed. By Monday.” Mr. Richards chimed into their conversation, drawing the attention of the whole class.
Lorelei was already the youngest student here – one of just two juniors in this advanced math class. The other being Vardon.
Stupid tardiness wasn’t doing her any favors. She frowned. Much of her plan for next year revolved around getting a great grade in calculus. She would do whatever it took to catch up.

“I might have to drop swim team,” Lorelei declared at lunch.
Six pairs of eyes, four of them teammates, swiveled her direction. “Are you kidding?” Haeley Schneider, Lorelei’s best friend, cried. “You can’t quit swim!”
A general shaking of heads around the table seemed to agree with Haeley. But Lorelei couldn’t let them make this call for her.
Haeley tried again, more gently this time. “Lori, you’ve been working to be captain of the swim team forever. And just before senior year, you’re going to quit? Why?”
She was right, of course. Lorelei had set her sights on leading the swim team starting freshman year. She was the best swimmer the team had ever seen, and they made state for the first time ever after she joined. It was considered almost a sure thing.
But was swimming distracting her from greater goals?
“Swimming senior year would be wonderful...but where does it lead?”
“Why does it have to lead somewhere?” asked another close friend and teammate, Emily.
“If I’m going to sacrifice time on homework – and possibly sacrifice qualifying to go to my dream school – it has to lead somewhere.”
“You’re too serious,” Emily grumbled. “Here, have this chocolate chip cookie.” She shoved Lorelei half of her cookie. “You need chocolate to treat your incredibly uptight brain.”
Lorelei was sure a need for chocolate had nothing to do with her over-achiever nature, but she took Em up on it.
“You’re not quitting swim,” Haeley stated.
Lorelei was done with the argument. She’d also noticed they had an audience.
Vardon Caster had stopped behind Haeley, who peered up at him and then turned a questioning look back on Lorelei.
“Uh...hi, Vardon.” Lorelei hadn’t spoken to Vardon outside of class since, once again, about the third grade. He didn’t go out of his way to talk to people, and she had no idea what he would want with her.
“Hi, Lorelei. Can I talk to you?”
She looked around, kind of mystified. “Sure.”
She followed Vardon until they stood a fair distance from her admittedly gossipy friends. Did he not think asking to speak with her privately would breed gossip? They were probably up to it right now.
Vardon was tall. He looked taller outside of class.
“If you want, I could help you get caught up on what you missed this morning,” he finally said.
It clicked into place. “Thanks. I appreciate it. I totally screwed up being late today, and Mr. Richards is right, I don’t deserve the help.”
“Sure you do.” Vardon’s eyes lit up with intensity, and Lorelei felt self-conscious all of a sudden. “You’re brilliant at math.”
She grinned. “Do you compliment all the girls on their math skills?” she joked.
He shook his head. “I don’t really talk to girls, actually. Not much.” He didn’t seem sad about it. Just thoughtful.
“You should change that.” Lorelei wasn’t sure why she said it. She thought maybe he was sad, and maybe he didn’t need to feel quite so alone.
He smiled, complete with dimples she hadn’t assumed existed. And changed the subject. “So...the math help.”
“I have detention this afternoon, but I’m free later. I’d rather get caught up today, if possible.”
“So you can be back at the top of the class on Monday?”
She shrugged. She didn’t have to answer; he already knew it was true. The whole class did.
“Okay. I have to work at the bookstore for a few hours tonight. How’s eight?”
Lorelei had forgotten his family owned the bookstore downtown. Maybe because it didn’t exactly cater to her generation...or her dad’s, for that matter. She nodded, and told him her address as he typed it into his iPhone.
“See you then.” He smiled again and walked off.
Lorelei turned to see all of her friends with their eyes fastened on her exchange with Vardon. Oh, no. Had they just made plans for eight o’clock on a Friday night? Lorelei’s stomach sank. Her friends would call this a date no matter what she said.

Chapter Two

At ten to eight, Lorelei answered the door, flustered. It was the pizza guy.
“Hello, Lorelei,” Dean said. He was a couple of years older than her, and Lorelei suddenly felt self-conscious. She’d seen him a bunch of times at the pizza place, since Haeley’s folks owned it and they hung out there a bunch. But they’d never had a conversation. He’d always ignored her, rightly, as part of Haeley’s high-school crowd.
“Hi...Dean, isn’t it?” Lorelei wasn’t sure why she pretended not to know his name. He hadn’t ever looked at her like he was doing now. It was weird.
He nodded and gave her a little wave, and she was suddenly sure she wasn’t the only one feeling self-conscious. What in the world? After a final glance over his shoulder, Dean returned to his car. Lorelei was glad Haeley wasn’t working tonight – it was possible Dean was on some wicked drugs. She made a mental note to steer clear of him, and shut the door.
While she was happy to see the food, she sighed when she realized she’d have to repeat the awkwardness in a few minutes with Vardon when he arrived for their absolutely-not-a-date study session.
She had no reason to be nervous. She’d known Vardon since first grade, when she’d moved with her father to Anacortes, from tiny Orcas Island.
And this was absolutely not a date, no matter how Haeley and Em had pestered her as soon as she returned to the lunch table. Have you noticed how tall he is? If he wasn’t so quiet and weird, he’d be super cute, Lori.
Lorelei rolled her eyes. The last thing she needed in her life was a cute boy.
She set the pepperoni and mushroom pizza on the dining room table, next to her calculus textbook and pencils and such.
The doorbell rang as soon as she’d grabbed a plate and a slice.
She left her steaming pizza for the door, pulling it open with a smile plastered in place. Greeting committee. Hello, person I never expected to have in my house.
“Hi,” she said lamely.
“Hi,” he answered stiffly. He held up his textbook. “Are you ready?”
“Yeah. My pizza just got here, but I can eat while we work.”
He sniffed the air, and stopped in his tracks, two steps inside the front door, his shoulders hunched uncomfortably.
Maybe he didn’t like mushrooms.
He recovered and followed her to the dining room table.
“You want some?”
“Sure. Thanks.”
Lorelei fled for the kitchen to grab plates and a couple of cans of soda. This was too weird. But she needed the help with homework. Mr. Richards had been watching her in detention today. She knew if she screwed up again, it wasn’t just her place at the top of the class she was risking. She could still get kicked out. And then she wouldn’t be able to complete AP calculus until senior year.
When she returned to the living room, Lorelei caught Vardon snapping a picture.
“Something interesting?” she asked from behind his shoulder.
He jumped, obviously feeling guilty.
She tilted her head to the side. She was nervous, but what was going on with Vardon? Selfies in her living room? Did he have it that bad?
She pointed to the plates, reminding herself of her father. Who…should be home by now.
Lorelei and Vardon sat across from each other, and Lorelei discovered he was not, in fact, concerned about the mushrooms. He inhaled three slices of pizza seemingly without a breath, before taking his plate to the kitchen and cracking his calculus book.
Lorelei finished up, too, and heard the front door open while she was in the kitchen adding their plates to the dishwasher. Dad was talking to someone as he came in. An answering giggle sent a trickle of alarm through Lorelei. Who had her father brought home?
They met in the dining room. Peter Dorian’s eyes lit on Vardon as soon as he came through the door. “Lorelei, you know you aren’t supposed to have boys over when I’m not here.”
“Wow, Dad...I didn’t even think of it that way.” Lorelei gestured to the textbooks while checking out the blond, forty-something woman who had just entered her home. Dad didn’t date, so what was this? “We were just about to study.”
Dad still wore a scowl. He reached out a hand to shake Vardon’s.
Lorelei must have been mistaken, but she could have sworn Vardon flinched as though he expected her father to hit him. The thought was funny. Dad wouldn’t hit anyone, at least not in any circumstance Lorelei could imagine. Then they shook and the tense moment passed.
Lorelei extended her hand to her dad’s guest. “I’m Lorelei.”
“Yes, I’ve heard so much about you.” The blond had a firm, but cold, handshake. “I’m Amy – I just started working at the veterinary clinic with your dad.”
“My car broke down. I’ll need you to take me over there in the morning, honey.”
“Okay. I can take you on the way to swim practice.” Lorelei caught Vardon fidgeting. “Now, Dad, do you think I can get to studying?”
“Sure. We’ll be in the kitchen.” Dad gave Vardon a long stare before he left the room.
How humiliating. The typical dad reaction was ridiculous in this situation.
“Sorry about that.”
“No,” Vardon said, watching Dad’s retreating back. “Don’t worry about it. Let’s start with chapter ten.”

Vardon tried for silence as he entered through the sliding glass door abutting the breakfast nook. He needed some time to think before...
“Vardon? Is that you?”
No such luck. “Yeah, Mom. I’m home.”
“How’d it go?” Mom popped around the corner holding a yogurt, and wagged her eyebrows at him.
“Just studying, Mom.” He shuffled into the kitchen. That yogurt looked good. “Good. It was good.”
“What’s the matter?”
“It’s just...I thought she was one of us. Now I’m just confused.”
“She’s not a selkie?”
“I could swear she was.” He was seriously blowing it. Mom had been so excited when he said he met a selkie girl at school. It was important to her that he know his own kind, but the selkie community was spread thinly across the globe. The San Juan Islands had a decently sized community of about thirty selkies, many of them ancient.
“What made you change your mind?”
“Her dad, actually. He does not smell selkie at all. I don’t think he’s human, either. But more like human than selkie.”
Mom frowned. “Maybe the girl is mixed blood. That would be a shame.”
Vardon frowned back. “Lorelei is great – no matter what she is. Don’t talk like that.”
Mom shrugged. Their family had remained pure despite the dispersion of their people over time. But they couldn’t continue to do so if other selkies mixed blood with humans.
Yeah, yeah.
What mattered to Vardon was knowing another seal shifter, one his own age. He had a good friend among the selkies, another guy his age, Rory, who came to visit with his parents sometimes, and there were a few other local selkies in their twenties, one of them female. Most selkies were older. Other than that local community, it was swimming with the family, often all three generations of them. Swimming with Mom and Dad and the grandparents was fine, had always been fine...but it grated on him these days. Every time they were in the sea he wanted to swim off on his own. That wasn’t allowed, of course. So he’d taken to stealing out at night with his skin, down the steep sand of the beach and into the surf.
He’d do it tonight, after Mom went to bed. He had to. Only the sea could strip the visions of Lorelei from his mind so he could sleep.
Math whiz, swim team star, sweet but spitfire Lorelei.
She had to be his girl.
He grabbed his yogurt and spun a chair around to sit backwards while he ate it.
Rolling her eyes, Mom sat with exaggerated elegance in a chair close by.
“Look at this.” Vardon pulled out his cell and opened the photos. The picture he’d taken in Lorelei’s living room stared back at him. A seascape complete with mermaids, seaweed tangled in their flowing hair, and an underwater castle that shone in the darkness of the underwater world. The colors in the painting almost seemed to move, as if in the drifting tides. He handed the phone to Mom.
She stared long and hard, and when she turned startled eyes on him, he leaned forward to hear what she’d say...too far forward. He almost crashed to the ground, but caught himself at the last second, shoving his heels back so the chair rested on all four legs again.
Mom hadn’t stopped staring. No eye roll at his clumsiness.
“This painting. You saw it at the girl’s house?”
“Her name is Lorelei. And yes. That’s the living room mantle, at the bottom of the picture.”
“Vardon, you can’t see this girl again. At least not until I figure out what’s going on.”
He stilled. “What is it?”
She looked at the picture again. “Vardon...this is Finfolkaheem. The finfolk are not to be trifled with. You must let me find out what this girl is. I would not restrict you without cause.”
She spoke so formally that Vardon knew any argument was lost. She wouldn’t change her mind.
“What are finfolk?”
“They’re a dark sort – sorcerers. Physically similar to modern culture’s take on mermaids, but they can shift; they can take your shape, or mine, or even our seal shapes. Our people have never mingled. Any they find they take away. Forever.”
“It is said they have a mystical island, where they keep their human – and other – spouses, to work for them.” She met his eyes again, pulling her gaze from the allure of the painting. “But they can spell you to breathe underwater, too, and take you to their ancestral home, on the ocean floor. Finfolkaheem.”
He was silent.
“We stay away from the finfolk, Vardon.”
He still didn’t answer. He finished his yogurt without looking at her.
“If you disobey me, I will know.”
Maybe. Maybe not.

Chapter Three

Lorelei thrashed awake in the deep of night, her sheets tangled around her sweaty limbs, despite the January chill.
The dream stayed with her.
The lulling rock of the sea, a seal bobbing its head at her before it dove, a sparkling fish flipping out of the water, the blaring horn of a ship, strong hands and stronger waves, the cold of the water on her fragile, human flesh...Mama holding her.
This same dream had been haunting her nights for weeks. Lorelei rubbed her eyes and checked the clock. It was only three, but she was determined to stay awake now, so as not to slip back into the dream. It wasn’t a nightmare, but it pulled at her heart enough that she didn’t want to be there. She’d dreamed it enough times now that she could see the picture in her mind, almost as clear as if she’d lived it.
Swimming with seals shouldn’t make her sad. It was the part at the end. The part with her mother never failed to leave her heartsick.
Mama had left Dad when Lorelei was six. She’d never seen her again. She didn’t even know where her mother lived. And she’d never understood why.
Dad didn’t talk about it, besides to say it wasn’t her fault. Mama loved her, but she wasn’t built to be a mom, and other nonsense evasions. Lorelei had stopped asking about her years ago. But she still thought of her every day...and wondered.
Now this sea dream insisted on waking these feelings every single night.
Lorelei went down to the kitchen and made herself some tea, the long hours of early morning stretching out in front of her. Up at three in the morning on a Saturday? What was she thinking?
As she set the water to boil, she noticed a purse on the countertop, and did a double take.
Oh, gross.
She crept to the front door and opened it, cringing at the squeaky hinge that marked her movements. Sure enough, Amy’s car was still in the driveway.
Dad had an overnight guest.
If she were in bed, she’d put the pillow over her face and scream into it. As it was, she bit a knuckle and let out a rather startling moan of disbelief.
Ew, ew, ew.
Not okay.
Feeling queasy, Lorelei went back to fixing her tea. She paced to the living room and flipped on the gas fireplace. Then she grabbed a thick fleece throw off the back of the couch, cuddling in.
Grandma’s painting drew her eye, the firelight making the colors seem to undulate, as if she were truly looking at an underwater scene. The glowing castle surrounded by a rainbow of seaweed. The eerie mermaids with their floating, glistening hair and fierce eyes that seemed to watch her now.
Dad’s mom had been a great painter. She was also mentally unstable, and abandoned the family when Dad was small. Lorelei and her father had that in common.
Of course, it made Dad assume he knew what she felt over her mother leaving. He’d never listened, or wanted to know, how she truly felt. He didn’t want to know how much she missed her mother. Just the smell of her, her warmth, the sounds of her breathing, her steady heartbeat. Her laugh. Lorelei barely remembered her mother’s laugh.
But she couldn’t sit here all morning, going over what had gone wrong in her life. She finished her tea and padded over to the dining room table to retrieve her calculus book. Time for studying. She’d be back at the top of the class in no time.
A note from Dad rested on top of her book, like this was exactly where he expected her to come first thing.
I have a guest over. Sorry I didn’t have a chance to warn you ahead of time. I don’t need a ride to the clinic after all. Have a good morning.
Love you,
Okay. Most awkward note ever. But at least he’d tried.
All motivation to study having fled, Lorelei shut off the fire and retreated up the stairs, closing her door softly behind her and flipping the lock. She put her hands over her mouth, the urge to scream almost too much to ignore. She vaulted into her bed and beneath the covers, where she finally let out some version of that animalistic scream. Not the powerful one she wanted to, but she wasn’t about to wake the two of them up.
All these years, and Dad had never had a woman stay overnight.
Is this how it was going to be now? Tiptoeing around so as not to wake up her dad’s girlfriend?
Knowing all hope of leaving the house was off for hours yet, Lorelei pictured her grandmother’s painting and drifted off to sleep counting mermaids.

Lorelei was the first patron in the library later that morning. When she’d gotten up again, Amy’s car was gone, and so was her dad. She had to get out of there. Besides, she had studying to occupy her before swim practice later this morning. It was practically a weekend tradition.
Davey, the elderly man who opened the place on Saturday mornings, gave her a smile. “Good morning, Lorelei. Fancy seeing you here on a Saturday.”
She returned the smile and held up her bulging backpack. “Calculus.”
Lorelei took a seat at her favorite table, by a window that looked out on a tree-filled park next door, and heaved her textbook out of her bag. Notepad in hand, she started to work through the example problems, testing the theory Vardon had provided last night.
The problems absorbed all of her attention, and a half an hour later, Lorelei stretched her fingers and looked at her worksheet. Not bad. She almost had this stuff.
Thanks to Vardon.
He’d been polite last night, but after Dad came through he seemed to be thinking of something else. Lorelei wished she could go back and apologize for the strange meeting between them. Why they wouldn’t get along was beyond her, unless it was some macho thing. And that wasn’t necessary. She wasn’t dating Vardon. He had just been helping her study.
Would she date him if she had the chance?
She doubted it would come up after last night, and that was too bad. And if she felt that way, then probably...yes. She’d probably date Vardon if he asked.
Her friends would freak out.
Lorelei didn’t really date. She’d never met a guy who seemed worth her time, which was filled with a hectic mishmash of sports, friends and...well, math.
As if thinking of him had brought him here, Lorelei raised her head to realize Vardon was walking right toward her, beside a serious looking woman with long, wavy brown hair.
“Hi, Lorelei.”
“Hi. You come to the library on Saturdays too?” Or was he here because she was here? The woman was looking at her oddly, like she was trying to place her. But Lorelei didn’t think they knew each other.
“I needed to return some books. This is my mom, Crystal.”
Lorelei rose from her seat and offered Crystal Caster a hand. His mother. Great. “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Caster.”
“And you, Lorelei. I heard you were helping Vardon study last night.”
“He was helping me, actually.”
“Teaching is the best way to learn.”
Lorelei gave her an uncertain smile, restraining the impulse to shuffle her feet like an awkward kid. Mrs. Caster’s words were harmless, but there was a tension in her posture that set Lorelei on edge. “Yes, I guess that’s true.”
Mrs. Caster stepped closer, and took a long breath...smelling her? Lorelei took a step back.
“Tell me of your family. I know of none other here that is like us.”
“Mom—” Vardon tried to break in, but his mom held up a hand and he shut his mouth, reduced to glaring behind her back while Lorelei dealt with the mysterious question.
“I’m Lorelei Dorian. My dad is the veterinarian at the Burrows Bay Veterinary Clinic.” Lorelei stopped talking. Is that what she wanted to know?
“A veterinarian named Dorian. Thank you.”
Was she going to check in on Dad? “Why do you care? Did you track me down at the library to ask who my dad is?”
Lorelei remembered how strange Vardon had acted after he met Dad last night. She pinned him with a glare. “Did you run home and tell your mother something about my family? What?”
Mrs. Caster moved between Lorelei and her son. “My dear, you almost act as if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Show some respect for an elder selkie.”
Lorelei didn’t bother to step back this time. Was this woman unstable? She tried to meet Vardon’s eyes, but he wouldn’t return the favor.
“I’m going now,” Lorelei stated firmly, expecting an argument.
“Yes. Run to your father. Tell him I know your family is here, without leave of the Council, and I will be in touch. Soon.”
“What Council? What in the world are you talking about?” Lorelei couldn’t help the questions once they finally burst forth – none of what this woman said made any sense. Vardon hadn’t seemed like the descendant of a crazy, but maybe her judgment had just been off because she’d known him for so long.
Something changed in Crystal Caster’s eyes. She realized something; maybe the truth of what Lorelei had said.
“They’ve hidden it from you? It isn’t possible.” Her eyes bored into Lorelei. “A selkie without her skin?”
More obscure questions. It was enough to drive Lorelei up the wall. “What is a selkie?”
“Oh, you will know. I doubt anything can stop you from discovering the truth now.”
“Mother,” Vardon said, putting one hand on her elbow, as if to guide her away. “No. You can’t.”
Mrs. Caster shook him off, her expression resolute as she regarded Lorelei. “A seal shifter. You are of the sea, my girl. I can smell it all over you.”


I hope you enjoyed the first three chapters of this new series. I sure had fun writing it! The book will be out March 9th, and you can pre-order now on Amazon!