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My Sophomore Book – Smoke and Mirrors

I’ve been busy putting the final polish on Smoke and Mirrors, my sophomore book, the second in my Fire and Fury series.

This book. Oh, where do I even begin?

Of course THE week that I sent over to my editor for the final proofing would be the week that I decided to read not ONE but TWO amazing books that make me doubt everything about myself.

This book… oh this book… I’ll be honest. This book has about KILLED me.

Have I mentioned before that I re-wrote this book not once, oh, not twice, not even three but FOUR (yes four) times?

Draft one of Smoke and Mirrors was a mess. Originally I’d ended Chasing Fire on a cliffhanger and I felt that I was doing a huge disservice to my readers by not giving Scott and Tori their HFN. I didn’t want a gimmick. I wanted readers to read on because they love these two as much as I do. So before I published Chasing Fire I fixed the ending. Then I knew I had to fix the second book. I had this huge weird mystery plot in book two that just didn’t work for the first half, and the second half Scott and Tori went off to Texas to meet his family. It was like two different books jammed together and it was NOT working. I really loved the second half of the book, and that is where most of their growth was as a couple. I knew that THIS is really what I wanted Smoke and Mirrors to be about.

So I rewrote it. Then I rewrote again. Finally it began to take form. It turned out to be a much more laid-back type of book.

Chasing Fire was this fun, flirty (and yes angsty) will-they-won’t-they, I’m-gonna-yank-my-hair-out type book. For some it was a frustrating read. For others, they loved the angst. I started writing Chasing Fire as a fun hobby between my husband and I. We’d write these sexy scenes/snippets about these two friends with benefits back and forth while he was on military orders. I somehow managed to make it work as a romance. I took three years to mold Chasing Fire into a novel that actually made some sort of sense. It took time to give these characters motivation for WHY they circled each other for so many years without committing. I was certain it was doomed to fail. It wasn’t the typical romance novel. I broke all the rules writing this thing and followed no formula. BUT it was Scott and Tori’s story and they eventually told me WHY they did the things they did, and for them, it made sense.

Guess what? It did hella better than I ever expected it would. Readers GOT my characters. They understood that it was really a novel about two people loving each other in the wrong place at the wrong time with life constantly getting in the way. They saw how human Scott and Tori were and loved them in spite of their glaring faults and terrible decisions.

Smoke and Mirrors was much more the romance novel I wanted to write. A novel about two broken people learning to love in a committed, monogamous, relationship. I really wanted to crack Scott and Tori open and see what happens when you put these two damaged people together for real.

It’s VASTLY different from Chasing Fire. So that of course leaves me with much lingering self-doubt. Now that they don’t have the will-they-won’t-they to keep the pages turning… are my characters enough to keep readers engaged?

Of course I hear all the rules screaming in my ear as to why my series is doomed to fail. Things like:

“You can’t have a sex scene in the first chapter… you have to build to it.”

Sorry, this is kinda my signature thing with these two. I did it in the first, and second and I plan to do it again in the third. Because admit it. Scott and Tori have some seriously HOT boinkage.

“Readers will not stay engaged and follow a series about the same couple.” 

Um, ever heard of Twilight? Fifty Shades? Outlander? I mean, I could go on and on about all the RULES. Ya know what? Screw the rules. (That’s me channeling my inner Tori). I’m going to write the story in me that is screaming to be told.

Personally once I fall for a couple I could read about them doing laundry together and be completely satisfied. Not everyone is hard wired this way. But, like I’ve said before I set out to write the type of romance novels I would want to read. I guess this is because I wanted to mirror what I have with my husband in Scott and Tori. TV shows like “This Is Us” inspire me to write about real couples going through the drama of life together, and somehow still staying strong. If you ask me, a couples story doesn’t end at the HEA or HFN. Things happen. Life goes on. Trials come. The romance keeps blossoming. People grow deeper in love. I wanted to show what it was like when people try and work through their issues to grow stronger and become better people.

Scott has to really battle his nature to lead men and control. Control is what keeps others around him safe.

His ability to be in control kept him and others around him safe. It was his creed that he’d lived his life by and prided himself on. Leave a situation to the device of others and they’d fail the mission, or wind up dead. Just like the day of his explosion. He’d known that the CO’s plan was shit. He was right. If he’d been in control he wouldn’t be walking on a peg and Jones wouldn’t be six feet under.

As a soldier this is his thing. He barks orders and men just are expected to fall in line.

“I have a permit.” Scott shrugged.

“A permit?” Tori’s brow went up.

“An I-can-do-whatever-I-want permit,” Scott said with arrogance.

Isn’t that the damn truth?

Harris did what he wanted and nobody was ever allowed to bat an eye. They all were just expected to fall in line. Except Tori it seemed. Harris’ girl seemed to march to the beat of her own drum.

Of course fate would pair him up with the ONE WOMAN who refuses to submit. This is the essence of their conflict in book two. His father wisely points this out to him:

Scott took a pull from the beer. “I never want her to feel trapped. Ever. I love how free spirited and wild she is, but I hate it at the same time.” Scott scratched his brow. “I’ve been in some dicey situations. Bullets have flown by my head. I’ve been blown up. I’ve seen my brothers die in front of me, but nothing terrifies me more than the thought of something happening to my girl.”

“I suspect she fears being out of control and loss as much as you do.”

“Oh I’m certain she does.” His eyes widened.

“Funny thing, isn’t it? How we somehow manage to end up with the one that forces us to look in the mirror—reflecting all our faults and fears.” Wayne let that hang in the air for a moment. “Makes us have to work on our shit. We have to become better men.”

This is what Smoke and Mirrors is. It’s all about growth. Growth as a couple. Growth as individuals. Scott needs to learn there is a fine line between control and keeping her safe. Tori needs to learn to trust him, grieve her losses and figure out the woman she now is without sight.

Tori has lived her life closed off. She keeps people at a distance to protect her heart from further loss. She hides behind the walls of her sexuality because honestly, deep down, she’s not near as confident as what she portrays to the world. Pairing her up into a monogamous relationship brings all these fears to the surface, and it forces her to deal with her junk that she’s stuffed down. She never really had a chance to deal with her grief in book one. I think women are going to relate to Tori much more in the second book. We get to see a much softer side of Tori in Smoke and Mirrors:

“I’m so fucking angry. The one thing that I was good at was stripped away from me.” She sobbed into Keith’s chest. “I just want my art back. Even if I can’t see it, I need to feel it in my soul, and I’m so exhausted from having to think so much, I can’t even do that.”

“Honey, I’m so sorry I called it a fun challenge. I didn’t—”

She shook her head and pulled back. “You only said that because I’ve said that a hundred times in the past several months trying to remain positive. It’s my damn suit of armor. I’ve fooled everyone. It’s all smoke and mirrors; an illusion. Reality is, I’m still really pissed.”

My worry about how Smoke and Mirrors will be received has left me up at night in a sweat of panic. I guess because Chasing Fire did so much better for a debut than I could have ever hoped for. I want to deliver a satisfying read to my loyal fans for the next book. I still give my readers the smoking hot love scenes. We still have the dashes of humor that I love so much. Tori is still as reckless as ever and it drives Scott insane. The thing is, it’s just not near as gut wrenching as the first. I felt my readers, myself and my characters needed a break from all the major drama and angst. I wanted some time to enjoy Scott and Tori as a couple before all hell breaks loose (and trust me, it does in book three). But don’t worry. It all works out in the end. That I promise.

So yeah, Smoke and Mirrors is a transition book. It’s a lot of growth and really digging into my characters issues. I’m hoping my loyal fans that fell in love with Scott and Tori in the first book will enjoy their journey in this second book. I know I’ve enjoyed writing it (even if it took me four times to get it right).

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judith

Meet Judith

Happy Mothers day to all the mamma’s out there! I decided in celebration of mother’s day, I’d share my favorite book mamma, Judith Harris with the world.

In book one of the Fire and Fury series (Chasing Fire) we briefly met Judith Harris (mother to Scott Harris). We get a LOT more of Judith in book two (Smoke and Mirrors).

When I set out to create Judith I didn’t want her to be the southern, Christian mamma that you see Hollywood portray with the crummy accent and the southern bible thumping stereotypes. I didn’t want her to be the monster in law like many books and movies paint the hero’s mother to be. I wanted her to be a realistic image of what a Texas, southern mamma was like. I wanted her to invite Tori into her family with open arms. I wanted her to “Love Jesus but drink a little.” (Best quote EVER).

Judith’s husband (Scott’s dad), Wayne, says the following when Tori slips out a curse in front of him:

“Judith sings sweetly with the choir on Sunday, but can cuss like a sailor Monday through Saturday when the preacher ain’t around. Just don’t ever say the big F word in front of her. She will whack you upside the head for that one.”

Judith is a fiery red-head southern mamma that takes shit from no one. When she says jump, you can really only ask how high. You don’t argue with Mamma Harris.

Tori’s fork dropped out of her hand and clanked loudly on the plate. “Church?” Tori swallowed her mouth full. Scott didn’t say anything about church being on the agenda.

“Well of course, it is Sunday after all,” Judith said as if it was normal practice for Tori to go to church on Sunday. “Pastor hasn’t seen Scott since he was a teenager and I would love to show you off, Victoria.”

Tori knew she had to look like a deer in the headlights. She dug her nails into Scott’s thigh.

“Oh, dear I’m sure they’re exhausted from the flight, we don’t expect you two to go.” Wayne came to her rescue. Tori was not a hugger but she could have jumped across the table and flung her arms around the man at that moment.

“Yeah mom, we’re pretty worn out, maybe another time.” Scott squeezed Tori’s hand on his lap.

“Fine, but next Sunday I’m not taking no for an answer,” Judith said adamantly. Tori knew there was no way they were going to get out of it the following week. She was learning one thing, you don’t argue with Scott’s mom. Judith was already displeased that they were sleeping in the same bedroom. Tori thought it was ridiculous. They were in their thirties after all.

The woman has grit and a strong backbone. She’s also very nurturing. She will go above and beyond for her kids (to a fault… she can be a bit smothering at times), but she does it from the bottom of her heart that is the size of Texas.

“And look here at this sweet girl you brought home!”

The next thing Tori knew she was getting a bear hug from Scott’s mother. “Oh!” Tori flinched and chuckled in surprised amusement from his mother’s ambush. Tori politely returned the warm embrace around Judith’s small, yet strong frame. The hug lasted a few moments longer than Tori was comfortable with.

“Well my goodness.” Judith pulled back and held onto Tori’s shoulders. “Aren’t you a pretty little thing?”

“Thank you, Mrs. Harris.” Tori gave a genuine smile. Although the welcome was a bit much, it made her feel warm all over. She’d never been hugged that tightly before even by her own mother. How on earth could she have been afraid of this woman with the sweetest voice she’d ever heard?

Family is not really Tori’s thing. Her father died when she was very young and her mother turned to self-medication with booze and drugs. She’s never had anyone that she could really count on to be in her corner. She knows that Scott comes from a good, wholesome family. So heading to Texas to meet Scott’s very large family is going to bring a lot of issues to the surface. Without getting too into spoilers, my goal was even through the turmoil and self discovery that Tori has to do while on this trip, this was to become a very healing process. Finally, Tori gets the family she never had growing up. Judith fills a little of the gaping hole that was left in Tori’s heart.

Judith’s hand reached over and squeezed her leg. “Oh honey! I didn’t mean it like that. I know you’re quite capable. I just care about you. Lord, I bet people question you all the time. That must feel awful…” Judith sounded so upset with herself. “I should know better, when you need help you’re smart and bold enough to ask. I just…” she let out a heavy breath, “I just wanted to mother you a bit.”

Tori put her hand on top of Judith’s and squeezed it. There were about a thousand emotions that filled her with that statement, but they all clogged in her throat. Finally, Tori managed to croak out a meager, “Thank you.”

Judith isn’t perfect. That’s my number one rule about characters, they MUST have flaws. Judith is a bit nosy, and overbearing, and controlling (ahem, now we know where Scott gets it from). She tends to smother the ones she loves a bit too much.

Scott leaned in and gave her a deep kiss. “Now let’s head inside. Mom’s peering out the window being nosy, as usual. I can see her wild red hair poking over the frame.”

Here is a little from Blaze’s perspective on Mamma Harris.

He may have never met the woman face to face, but he’d know her for certain if he passed that red head on a crowded street. The woman that sent him not only letters, but dozens of cards with sky filled doves and bible scriptures scrawled on them when he was in the hospital. Oh, and cookies. Yeah, he appreciated those. He read every word she wrote, trashed the scripture filled cards, and ate every last crumb. The woman could bake a mean ass chocolate chip cookie.

I could go on and on about Judith. My inspiration for her was a mash up of all the mother figures that have poured into my life. My mom, like Tori’s dad, passed when I was very young. Judith has a dash of my mother’s willingness to go above and beyond for those she cared for. My husband’s mother is the same way. My very kind, loving mother in law will constantly inconvenience herself for all us kids. My husbands grandmother is a very wise woman who loves without condition and will always give you big hugs, AND tell you exactly how it is as she heaps you up spoonfuls of her home cooked roast on Sunday. And as far as her mouth, well, Judith gets her no-filter will say anything that pops in her head mouth from my Nanaw. My nanaw was also a bit of a southern gossip. That woman never knew when to keep her flap shut, but she was a RIOT. If I had a birthday party and the kids were playing musical chairs, you better believe my Nanaw was right in there with the kids being a total goofball. As far as her backbone and grit to take anything that life throws at her, she gets that from my stepmom. That woman has survived open heart surgery, breast cancer and MUCH more. She’s one of the strongest women I know.

So to all you strong mammas out there today, I salute you, and Judith Harris. I can’t wait for you to fall in love with Scott’s mamma.

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Chasing Fire is LIVE

Today I sent my babies out into the world. Chasing Fire is officially LIVE!

Let me recap my past month.

I spent countless hours painstakingly pouring over the changes sent to me from my editor.

It took me five days, 352 pages of edits and clocking in at 98K. My hands were nearly too tired to type another word, but the final draft of Chasing Fire was finally finished. I did two final read throughs and tried to catch every last thing.

In between working on the edits I put the book on Amazon for pre-order and it was approved by Amazon, so my plan was to launch the links for order on Monday April 2nd (which I did).

For fun on April 1st I checked the pre-sale stats and expected too see nothing. After all, I’m a newbie author with zero reader base and I haven’t even promoted the links yet.

Then I saw that I had orders.

Holy freaking crapola.

I blinked several times and stared at the screen. This can’t be real.

My hands started to tremble and tears began streaming down my face. This was becoming REAL. This was happening. Five long years of labor on this book baby and it’s going to be in the hands of readers.

Today that dream became a reality.

Over the next several weeks orders continued to trickle in. All this time I was formatting the ebook using Scrivener (then converting it to a .mobi file by using Calibre – I’ll go over this whole process in a separate post). I was also working in InDesign for my print copy and blasting promos on social media.

My Amazon ranking steadily climbed. I sent out ARC’s and had an overwhelming response for my first novel. Then this week was basically promo…wait…promo…wait.

Tuesday my print proof came in the mail. I can NOT tell you what it feels like to hold that baby in your hands. It’s like holding your newborn (but not QUITE as emotional). I did cry though. Big happy tears.

All this time lingering self doubt clouded my brain. Then, something miraculous happened. The ARC’s started coming in. People LOVE Scott and Tori.

Here are a few of the words that have made me cry this week from advanced readers:

It was phenomenal. Tori and Scott are wonderful characters. These books must be a part of my library.

I absolutely loved Chasing Fire by Avery Kingston! I was captivated from the very first chapter, I liked Tori immediately she seemed like she was so much fun, and Scott wow totally Alpha loved him! The feels in this book, I was all over the place!!

Chasing Fire was fantastic. I can’t believe this is a debut novel. Amazing writing, superb characters, a vivid and honest portrayal of military life, and plenty of yummy steam make this a total must read.

My biggest hope as an author is that readers will find my characters authentic. I wanted them to fall in love with Scott and Tori as much as I did. Scott and Tori are SO VERY REAL to me, and I needed them to be real to others as well.

I can’t wait to continue their story. I can’t wait for readers to find out what is in store for them. Lots of angst, drama, pain and joy is coming in the future.

Hold on tight readers. You’re in for one wild ride.
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Chasing Fire available for pre-order

Chasing Fire is officially up for pre-order! Grab it today and it will be delivered to your Kindle on April 20th.


BLURB:

A military alpha hero. A flirtatious vixen. A crazed game of seduction.

One pair of panties changed his life.

“I’m putting my panties in your back pocket. You have until two am to get them back to me. If you do, you will be rewarded. Handsomely.”

Those were the words Victoria Johnson whispered to Scott Harris after she stuffed a pair of lacy red panties into his back pocket. That was Tori’s favorite game: No strings attached sex. But he’d have to chase her first.

Years later, when Scott returns from Afghanistan minus one leg, he thinks the sexual games are over.  His military career is over. Hell, his life is over.

But then Tori shows up in his hospital room as fiery and flirtatious as the day he left. It turns out she’s more than just a beautiful disaster with sexy red panties.

Much more.

She may be trouble but she’s everything he’s ever wanted. Except for Tori, things are never that simple. Because Tori faces a tragedy of her own. An accident that rips her life apart, leaving her without sight and struggling to recover the woman she once was.

For Scott, Tori’s still the one he’s waited his whole life for. He’s done letting fate tear them apart. It will be a challenge to win her shattered heart once and for all.

Lucky thing Scott Harris never backs away from a challenge.

Chasing Fire is a full length romance with LOTS of steam and a HEA. Featuring a hot-as-hell alpha and a sexy artist who both have filthy mouths. Intended for a mature audience.

EXCERPT:

Tori’s heart pounded nervously as she walked down the hall toward Scott’s room. She may have gone home from the bar a week ago and cried herself to sleep worrying about him. She may have lied to Keith when he’d walked in that night and caught her sobbing. She may have spent the last week checking her phone every five minutes. She may have texted Shauna and asked her to drop some hints to Scott.

She quietly cracked open the door to his room. The blinds were drawn shut, and he lay sleeping in the darkened room. She shut the door gently behind her. It had been almost two years since she’d laid eyes on him. She crept closer to the bed, glancing him over. Slightly leaner, but still in impeccable shape. His facial hair was thick and unkempt, framed by a tube giving him oxygen. 

He had some bruising and stitched cuts, but it didn’t detract from his looks at all, and she ashamedly thanked God the explosion spared his beautiful face; many of the men she’d passed in the hall were not as fortunate. She could see under the loose sheet where the mound of his left leg stopped and was missing. 

An IV bag was hooked to his arm, which donned a new tattoo of what looked like a Spartan with some lettering on his forearm extending below the tribal on his bicep she was familiar with. She lightly touched his fingertips, leaned closer, squinting in the dark room to make out the words. It looked like Latin or Greek, but she wasn’t sure. 

His hand gripped her wrist, yanking her down. Tori gasped, and her eyes bulged. He studied her for a moment. Gradually, his dark, cold expression faded, his grip loosened, and those soulful brown eyes softened. Her unease disappeared as a slight smile crept across his face.

They locked eyes, neither of them saying a word, barely breathing. He pulled her in close by the back of her neck and kissed her sweetly. Familiarity washed over her as his lips touched hers, and a soft moan escaped her mouth.

“Hey, you,” Scott said, his voice hoarse. He had the sultriest look in his eyes, slightly tainted with the weight of all he’d endured. He kissed her gently once more and caressed her cheek. 

“Hey, Sailor.” She pulled back and studied him. 

“You’re a sight for sore eyes.” His eyes raked her up and down. “You cut off your hair?” He tugged a strand of her blonde waves between his fingertips.

She tucked it behind her ear and fiddled with her earrings. Her mouth quirked up as her eyes darted to the mound under the sheet. “You cut off your leg.” 

His face broke into a wide grin, and he laughed loudly, which made him cough and wheeze. “Touché.” 

Tori loved the way his eyes creased in the corners when he was amused. He carried a perpetually pissed off look that some would be intimidated by, but it was that impish grin that brought out the playful Scott, the Scott she’d met that night in the bar. God, he looks good.

“Sorry I startled you, was checking out the new ink.” She nodded to his arm. “I like it. It’s sexy,” she added with a playful wink. “Although I have no idea what it says.”

“Molṑn Labé,” Scott replied. “It means ‘come and take them’,” he explained further. “Legend is that Xerxes, king of Persia, demanded the Spartans surrender their weapons, and King Leonidas responded with this phrase.”

“Defiant.” Tori wrinkled her nose. “I like it.” 

He chuckled. “Speaking of ink, I noticed from your photo you had some yourself.”

“Yeah.” She turned and lifted her little blue casual dress, exposing a purple, lacy thong with the red lips on her right cheek at the hip. “Got this and another one I like even more.” She traced the lines of her tattoo. 

“Another?” His brow arched. “I’m not sure what can top saying kiss my ass.” 

She smiled. “You’ll see it sooner or later,” she said coyly. “When you’re up to it.”

“Now you have me intrigued.”

“Good.” She grinned. 

Tori pulled up a chair and sat next to his bed, kicking her feet up on the side lazily. She folded her arms across her chest, heaving a big sigh. He looked down at her sandaled feet, fiddled with her toe rings, and traced his fingers over the feathered tattoo wrapping her ankle.

“So how have you been?” He rubbed her calf with his rough hand. 

“Better than you, I presume,” she said kindly with a long breath. “I’ve been good. Got into grad school at Georgetown next fall. Getting ready to move in with my friend Keith after graduation. He’s got a kicking job at the Smithsonian and has a small place in Georgetown. He’s renting me his spare room. I’m hoping he can put in a good word. My degree requires an internship at a museum next summer, right after I finish spring semester, either in London or New York.” 

“Look at you, all grown up, going legit. I had no idea you had it in your bohemian blood. I’m impressed.”

“You should be. I’m kinda a big deal.” She made a silly face, crinkling her nose.

“So, who is this Keith dude you’re moving in with?” His brow wrinkled.

Tori tilted her head to the side, and a calm smile fell over her face. “Is someone jealous?” She let out a huge laugh as Scott rolled his eyes. “Keith is as gay as a row of pink tents.”

Scott laughed loudly, which made him cough again. 

“Hungry?” she asked.

“Very. Food here sucks.”

“I figured.” She bent over and grabbed her suede purse with the fringes on it, digging through it.

“Fringes?” he teased her about her purse, as he did about most of her clothing all the time. “You’re such a freaking hippie, Tori.”

“And you’re a wounded vet. Look how stereotypical 1960s we are.” She stuck her tongue out at him.

“Sneak in any cigarettes in there?” He nodded to her purse.

“You know I don’t smoke,” she smirked and added, “not cigarettes, at least. That shit will kill you.”

“So will explosions, but I’m still here.” He raised his palms.

She pursed her lips into a displeased scowl. From the sound of his lungs, the last thing he needed was a cigarette. She pulled out a large bag of chips. “Brought you some non-hospital food, Lieutenant Dan.” She tossed him the bag.

“Haha. Very funny.” Scott caught the bag. “Funyans. Fancy.” He opened the bag and popped one into his mouth.

“Oh, don’t act like they aren’t your favorite. I remember.” 

“That you did.” He grinned smugly. “Burgers are also my favorite.” 

“Hey! I’m a poor, starving artist living off my meager earnings from selling my paintings.” She leaned over and grabbed a chip from the bag and tossed it into her mouth. “That bag of chips was the last few dollars in my wallet”—she crunched on the chip—“and out of the goodness of my heart, I spent it on you. I probably won’t eat the rest of the week now.” She licked her fingers clean. 

“Well, I guess I better share. I can’t have you starving all week. Get over here, beautiful.” He patted the mattress next to him.

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