victoriajohnson

Meet Tori

Last week I was having a conversation with my husband as to when it would be best to share Tori with the world.

Me: (to my husband) So check it. I made this great graphic of Tori. I just don’t know when the best time to share it is.

Him: Next Wednesday. It’s a holiday after all.

Me: (stares at him blankly)

Him: Yeah, it’s steak and blowjob day. Ya know. Valentines day is for chicks. That day where guys go out of their way to give cards, and chocolate and all kinds of shit to girls. Steak and blowjob day is the male equivalent. We get a steak and blowjob.

I threw my head back and cackled like a madwoman (just like Tori would do).

(Yes, my husband put it on our Google calendar. Just in case you were wondering.)

Ok. I’ll play.

You see Tori is a feisty and fiery heroine. She’s not intimidated by a man who needs to be a man. She gives her man what he wants, and if he wants a steak and blowjob by all means he’s gonna get it.

Why? Because Tori is the kind of girl that knows Steak and Blowjob day is satirical. She knows that Steak & BJ day is NOT really meant that men feel that they are being asked to much.  Tori (like me) also knows that her man is going to satisfy her desires as well.

Steak and Blowjob day. It’s funny ladies. Get. OVER. It. There are so many more things in this world to let ruffle your feathers.

So. All that said let me tell you all about Victoria Johnson aka Tori (and don’t EVER call her Vic, unless you are her bestie Keith).

Tori let out a breath and kept scanning the crowd. Her eyes stopped on a muscular, sandy haired hottie with hair almost to his waist. “Him. The waiter.” She pointed toward the table a few rows over.

“You mean Tarzan?” Keith sighed. “It’s like you don’t know me at all, Vicky.”

Keith was the only one she’d ever let get away calling her Vicky. She always went by Victoria at work and he shortened it to Vicky the night they met and it stuck. Victoria or Tori she allowed, but never Vicky-except for Keith.

“What’s wrong with him?” she protested. “He’s hot if you ask me.” If they weren’t in a gay bar Tori may have done some flirting with him herself. It was going to be a dry night for her tonight she realized as she peered over the sea of attractive young men.

Yes. Tori is wild uninhibited in her sexuality. Some would call her promiscuous, I prefer to call her sexually liberated. It’s time to get over the slut-shaming. Girls CAN and DO enjoy sex. Even KINKY sex.

Scott trailed his fingertips down the curve of her spine all the way to her ass, pulling her cheeks apart exposing her back opening. A grin stretched his lips. Would she let him get away with his filthy fantasy?

What the hell, it was worth a try.

He took two fingers and glided them into her pussy, getting them nice and wet for where he was headed. Her back arched as she screamed his name into the sheets that were now balled up underneath her. He pulled his fingers out, gliding upward, tracing the outline of her opening with his fingers that were wet with her juice. She tensed at first but didn’t protest; in fact, she lifted her bottom higher-inviting him to do as he pleased.

“Do it!” she said impatiently.

(He always waits for her to always give consent).

Scott knows there is more beneath her surface. He knows Tori is much more than a sexy vixen. She’s an artist; through and through. She’s got a wild heart and a gypsy soul. She loves beauty and knows it comes in all forms. When my hero (Scott) loses his leg in Afghanistan they have the following exchange:

She pulled back and rubbed her fingers gently over the stitched cuts on his face.

“Those are gonna leave a mark.” He chuckled wryly.

“Scars are sexy.” Her mouth wrinkled into a slight smile. Lord if her blue eyes weren’t the warmest thing he’d ever seen.

“Not all of them are.” He glanced at his stump under the sheet and rolled his eyes.

“Says who?” She furrowed her brow. “Society? Fuck em. Own that shit.” She nodded to the sheet. “You, Scott Harris, can make anything sexy.” She kissed him again.

The loss of his leg never defined him, it was just part of him. She sees Scott for exactly who was and always will be. Masculine. Strong. Sexy as hell. Beauty is about MUCH more than what lies on the surface. (Although the fact that he’s ruggedly handsome doesn’t hurt).

After Scott’s injury Tori stays by his side and heals his heart. She brings him back to the man he was, refusing to let him wallow in self-pity.

Tori will do anything for those she cares for but her walls are high and her guard is always up. She trusts no one but herself. Slowly Scott chips away a her walls brick by brick.

She is the one he wants to spend the rest of his days with. Problem is fate always has a way of wrecking his best laid plans.

I’ve made it no secret that Tori faces a tragedy of her own. There is no big reveal because we find out in the prologue that Tori is blind. An accident rips her life apart, leaving her without sight and struggling to recover the sexy woman she once was.

(Yes, the blind artist trope. So cliche. I know. Don’t lie. You know you love it. At least I poke fun at my own cliches.)

“I’ve devoted my whole life to art, a visual career. Not just that it’s in my soul. I’m the tragic blind artist.” Her words dripped with sarcasm. “This is so fucking cliché it’s like I’m a god-dammed after school special or something.” She laughed nervously.

Tori is notorious for covering up her pain with humor. She doesn’t want people to see what’s inside.

She wilted in his embrace as the fight of holding back her pain drained from her.

She hides behind her strength. It’s her mask to the world that protects her. (Scott of course knows this.)

She also hides behind her snarky sense of humor.

“Hey, you know me, I never half ass anything, even going blind apparently,” she feigned pride. “Well I better get going. I have a very full day of sitting in the dark and listening to Metallica’s Fade to Black.” She laughed a little too loud her crass joke.

She never takes herself or her disability too serious. She doesn’t want it to define who she is. She wants to be the same sexy, mischievous girl she always was. (To all her O&M teachers dismay she refuses to stop wearing heels.)

Blind girls can still rock heels, drunk blind girls, well, that's questionable

I tried very hard to not make her a “Mary Sue” character. (You know, the character that is just everyone’s dream.) I wanted her to be flawed and realistic, but not SO flawed that people hate her. I wanted her to be strong, but not a bitch. (Let’s face it writers, we all know how readers will rake you over the coals for an unlikeable heroine). I wanted her to be most of all REAL. Someone that every girl could possibly relate to. I wanted her to be quirky, strong, funny, (and in book two we realize she’s actually quite insecure).

I wanted her to be a girl that other girls would be comfortable hanging out with, but not a girly-girl. I wanted her to be a girl that can hang with the guys.

“That girl of yours is something else, Harris,” Chief said. “Smart as hell. Hot as fuck too.”

“Yeah, it’s rare to find someone who can hold her own in a cocktail dress at a DC fundraiser, and dance topless on a picnic table in Texas while downing Jack.” Scott smiled proudly.

Tori doesn’t play into gender roles and stereotypes. Tori doesn’t fault other women who are girly. She also isn’t intimidated by a man being a man. He can let the full weight of his masculinity into the room and she’s perfectly ok with that.

She could adapt to whatever social group she was around it seemed. Chad had seen her hang now with what some would consider the lowest in society, himself included, but also knew she worked in that fancy circular building he could see in the distance. The girl was a chameleon.

This is what Scott loves about her. She’s unlike anyone he’s ever met. Some days she’s a breeze and other days she’s a hurricane. I won’t spoil for you HOW they get to their HEA. (Yes we all know the HEA is coming. This IS a romance after all. But in romance it’s about the journey, not the destination).

It’s a saga full of loss and growth for them both (with lots of steam along the ride). I LOVE Tori’s character arc. As an artist who loses her vision she has to learn to find the beauty in life in other ways. She begins to realize that years of meaningless sex is no longer gratifying. Hiding behind the walls of her sexuality becomes quite lonely. She longs for more.

I'm not scared of the dark anymore

But this is what makes their story even more special. Scott and Tori understand each other in a way that nobody else could. They truly are best friends with benefits. Fate may have ripped them apart several times over the years, but it also has a way of working out things exactly as they are meant to be.

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comparison

Comparison is the Thief of Joy

After I’d written five books I quickly realized that calling them “Book One,” “Book Two,” and so on was NOT going to cut it. Since I knew I had a series on my hands I wanted something that would tie them all together. Something that would stick in peoples minds and something that would also capture the essence of the books.

At first I was considering titling my series “Wicked Games.” Music inspires me and Chris Issac’s song “Wicked Game” is a recurring theme. Also my MC Tori loves her games of seduction.

 “I’m putting my panties in your back pocket.” Her hand slid into the back pocket of his jeans. “You have until two am to get them back to me. If you do you will be paid back. Handsomely,” she added in a throaty whisper. “I’m in one of the freshman dorms on Georgetown campus. Good luck.” She patted him on the back and walked out the door with her friends.

Of course there are one MILLION books with the title Wicked Game. Some people said not to worry about this but with SO many out there I just felt that I’d get lost in the shuffle.

So about a year ago I started toying with the idea of Fire. My heroine is fiery and flirtatious. My hero knows that playing with her is like playing with fire. Fire is a recurring theme in her life (I can’t get too much into this without getting into spoilers).

Tori sure as hell wasn’t one for conventional sex. The possibility of getting caught only fueled the fire in her. Their booty calls had consisted of having sex in a public park, in a dressing room at Nordstrom, and in a utility closet on her campus.

My other MC: my hero Scott, is military. He’s dark and brooding. He is fury.

“Stop,” he ordered. He didn’t want her apology, he just wanted her heart and for her to be safe. That’s all he’d ever wanted, and he was so angry at her putting herself in constant peril. He hated that about her, and it enraged him that she’d probably never stop. He sucked in a deep breath. Even frustrated with her his cock tingled at her sweet, intoxicating scent. He grabbed her cheeks, pressing his lips to hers and kissing her with all the fury that was in him.

Fire and Fury. That’s it I told myself. That’s how they love each other. With fire and fury. That’s who they are at their essence.

So I knew I had my series name and my theme. Now it was just all about naming the individual books in the series. Once I had the theme the rest came pretty easy.

So I started making my covers. I found stock photography I loved and came up with an amazing cover concept.

Then a HUGE political best seller comes out called Fire and Fury that is ALL THE RAGE.

No no please god no GIF

Yes my hero is military but I try very much to stay away from any kind of politics in my writing. I do the same for my characters.

At their core they both have level heads and walk a line right down the middle and look at issues-just like my husband and I do. They don’t “support” any political party or candidate.

So this left me screaming. I don’t want people to think I’m pushing any kind of politics or agenda EITHER direction.

Also I didn’t want anyone to think I was trying to piggy back on the success of someone else’s work. I’d had this name for months. I had my cover. This title was MINE. How dare this happen to me! (TEARS)

So I went to my Romance Diva’s forum where there are so many supporting ladies and asked their advice. Everyone came back with two comments.

  1. It’s a beautiful cover
  2. Don’t worry about the series title

Basically everyone told me by the time I release the the dust would settle from this other work, and also since mine is contemporary romance it’s not even in the same ballpark as this other work. They said to stop fretting and just move on.

So I did.

Then I read a couple romance novels with similar themes to mine and similar plot lines.  The comparison trap starts to creep up again. Worry starts to enter my mind.

Comparison is the thief of joy. 

Let’s face it, after thousands of years on this planet, everything HAS been done. (Just take a look at Hollywood remaking all these old movies that have been done before.)

Someone will come up with a story concept that is similar to yours. If you read and write romance you can always pick out plot points and tropes that cross over from one book to another.

Someone will probably come out with a title that is similar to yours (or God forbid the SAME).

Someone WILL write a better book than you.

You can’t let any of this get in the way of your process. Your work is YOUR work. It’s going to be different. You are going to put your own spin on it. Your characters are going to come to life in a completely different way than another authors characters will.

Use YOUR voice. It’s your biggest tool to separate you from the herd.

Better than yesterday.

I coin this phrase constantly. I get up, I put in the work, and I’m better than I was the day before. I look back on my design work from ten years ago (and I cringe). I can either look back and sulk in comparison at how BAD I was or I can say “Wow. Look how good I’ve become.”

I choose to not let comparison get me down. I strive to be better each and every day.

So go out there. Create. Put your words on paper or the ink on the canvas. Pour your soul into your work of art. Stop worrying about what others are doing and compare only to yourself.

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Image of man in bed with overlay of soldier.

Meet Scott

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or the past few months I’ve had the joy of taking part in a daily hashtag game on Instagram. Today’s post is “favorite character.” I’ve done one of these on Blaze (my favorite SC) but today’s topic was your favorite MC.

I debated back and forth wether it was Scott or Tori. I love how feisty she is and I love her rough edges. Tori immediately jumped off the page. I KNEW her (probably because I made her personality a lot like how I wish I was. Bold. Brave. Daring. Takes shit from no one).

I know in my heart though that Scott is THE BEST part of this saga. (Funny, because he was really flat for quite some time.) It took a lot of effort for me to mold him into the hero that I wanted him to be.  I had to really dig deep and figure out what his goals were, and what was stopping him from getting there (other than Tori’s antics).

As a female writer it’s really hard to “write like a dude.” Many times I’ll read a romance novel and the man sounds so feminine. I’m not talking about beta males here, those types of guys are fine. Not all heroes need to be alphas. What I mean is that the male main character will say/think things that girls WANT to hear, not actually what a man would be thinking.

I’m fortunate enough that I have my husband to put me in check when Scott says or does something that would not be typical of a man to say or do. In fact, a LOT of how Scott acts and things that he says I steal, ahem, I mean, borrow from my husband. My husband has and always will be, my muse.

I was having a conversation with another writer friend of mine and she mentioned in a book (which I love) where a male character says “Oh my god, you are magnificent.”  She said “I don’t see any scenario where anyone would actually say this.”

Yeah, I could agree with her on that.

So, now that I’ve rambled on long enough let me tell you a little about Scott Harris.

Scott Harris was born in Texas and grew up a military brat. His father was in the Navy and they moved around a lot. They settled in Texas his freshman year of high school, so he considers Buda (a small town outside Austin) his hometown. From a young age he knew he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. Watching his older brother and older sister rebel, he stayed on the straight and narrow, stuffing down most of his wild streak. For the most part, he was a good kid.

This disciplined nature followed him to Annapolis, MD where he went to the Naval Academy. His goal was to make SEAL, and odds were that most men wouldn’t make the cut. He had no intention of being on the wrong side of the axe when it came down. When the guys would go out to party, eight out of ten times he’d stay behind and study. One night though, he decides to go out with the boys to blow off some steam.

They head to a dive bar in Georgetown on a night that they have a rare weekend pass as upperclassmen. There they can hit on drunk college chicks and get wasted for next to nothing.

This night changes his life. This is the night he meets Tori. This is where the story begins.

Tori challenges his disciplined nature. She’s everything he isn’t. Wild. Free. Uninhibited sexually. She brings out the beast in him. She pushes him far beyond his comfort zones. She brings FUN into his life. She changes him. Mostly for the better. (The jury is out on that one.)

Scott is a perfectionist to the core. He will NOT pursue something unless he knows that he will succeed. Failure is his worst enemy. It crushes him.

Keith sipped his drink. “You keep waiting for the perfect moment and you are going to miss your shot, I mean hell, she almost just died.”

Scott’s jaw clenched as Keith’s words cut him to the core. They could have had that by now and he could have saved her from this. That thought settled like a brick in his stomach. He’d waited years for the stars to align, waiting for the perfect moment and where did that get them?

For years he fights his feelings for Tori, lying to himself that they are better as friends with benefits. He tells himself that Tori isn’t the type of girl you settle down with. He tells himself this because deep down he’s afraid of not winning her heart. His pride holds him back.

Part of him wanted to run in there and rescue her from this creep. The other part of him wanted to scream at her for devaluing herself so much. Truth was, right now she wasn’t his to rescue or be angry with. Not yet anyway. She was a starving artist who trusted nobody but herself to take care of her, and he was an unemployed, disabled veteran, who had nothing to offer her but his heart.

When Scott comes home wounded from combat, Tori stays by his side. He’s lost his career and his leg. Everything he worked for his entire life is slipping through his fingers. Tori pulls him out of his pit. Shows him how sexy he always has been, and always will be. Tori is his redemption, but he still can’t penetrate her walls. (Tori’s arc is another blog post so I’ll end that here).

Underneath his smoldering gaze and tough exterior, Scott is really a softie. He cares for other people. He hurts when others hurt. He may be six foot three and a scary looking beast, but he’s a kid at heart.

Speaking of kids. He’s REALLY great with kids:

“But he has a robot leg, is he a robot?” The small voice chimed next to them.

“Shhhh,” the mother said quietly to her son.

“My leg isn’t a robot, but it is carbon which is stronger than a human bone,” Scott informed the kid.

“Can I touch it?” the kid asked.

“Sure, go for it.”

“Wow! It’s hard!” The little boy exclaimed. “Can you run on it?”

“I can’t run too well on this one, but I have a special leg I use for running, that’s a super cool blade. I just swap it out whenever I need to.”

“Cool! What happened to it mister?”

“Some bad guys tried to blow me up.”

“Woah…” the kid mulled that over for a minute.

“It’s ok, we got em back.”

I had a perfect image of Scott in my brain when I wrote this, what he looked like. I’ve yet to find an actor or model who is precisely him. I kinda imagine him size wise a bit like Joe Manganiello (Six three, about 220lbs). Joe has this amazingly serious looking smoulder but I’ve seen him play some comedic roles as well. Honestly, he could be a good fit, but it’s not EXACTLY how I imagine Scott.

In his face I imagine him somewhat like Nick Bateman. Although a little bit more rugged . Nick is pretty. Almost TOO pretty.

About two years into writing this I stumbled across romance writer and cover model B.T. Urruela, who is a combat vet, lower leg amputee just like my MC. God, if I had unlimited funds I’d hire BT in a second to do my cover just because I want to give back to vets. he would make a great Scott. I’m a huge advocate for PWD (people with disabilities) playing in TV roles and doing modeling gigs. We NEED more of this. Michael Stokes is an AMAZING photographer who showcases wounded vets in his photography (photo credit: Michael Stokes). I LOVE what he’s doing for veterans.

michael stokes photo of BT Urruela

None of these guys are EXACTLY as I imagine my hero, but it helps to build a picture of the man I was trying to create.

I hope that readers fall for Scott as much as I have. Somedays I think my husband is a bit jealous of how much time I spend with Scott. Other days I know that he’s flattered when he reads a line I wrote that came out of his mouth.

That’s why my first book will be dedicated to my husband. My muse. The one who started it all.

Thank you baby for sticking by me and being my biggest cheerleader. I can’t wait for everyone to meet the man you helped me create.

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kill your darlings

Revising My Manuscript

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ver the past several months I’ve been immersing myself in writers groups and had the joy of working with some great CP’s (critique partners).

I can’t believe how many other romance writers have stepped forward out of the goodness of their heart to help take this poor, novice writer under their wing.

One CP recently told me based on my synopsis that my story was “too big”. Too many moving elements. Too much going on. She gave me some hard (but much needed) advice. My husband who has held my hand and dried my tears along this journey agreed with her.

But I’ve had this story like it is for so long! I whine. I don’t want to change it. Beta’s said it was great and they loved it! Why should I change it now? Nope. Not listening.

Not listening. Plugging ears.

So I did what any sensible person would do. I dug my egotistical heels in and plugged my ears. Then, after the dust settled and I picked myself up off the floor. I really started to look at things objectively.

I sat down with my husband (the most patient man on the planet). We printed out my synopsis and highlighted each subplot in my novel.

So. Many. Colors.

Vibrating colors gif

It was like an acid trip on paper.

Ok. So maybe, just maybe my story IS too big.

So after a week of sulking (and total avoidance), I dug in–knowing what I needed to do.

This included taking out a sub plot that didn’t advance the storyline. It was really convoluted with a lackluster ending. This also included (gulp) removing pages and pages of a SC that I LOVE LOVE LOVE. That was hard for me. Killing my darling Blaze.

Don’t worry readers, you will still get plenty of Blaze in book two. I promise, he’s worth the wait. 

This deleted so much I was able to go in and add in some deleted scenes and backstory that I absolutely loved. This in fact made the romance between Scott and Tori that much stronger.

Also, I had the dreaded cliffhanger. I LOVED this cliffhanger. It was so cheeky and creative. I had been holding onto it with a death grip. I had to step back and ask myself: Am I really delivering my readers a satisfying ending? Was this cliffhanger going to look like a only marketing ploy to sell more books? I didn’t want readers to think that I was tricking them into a sequel. I honestly just had so much more story to tell and it had to end SOMEWHERE.

So, I rewrote my ending. You know what? I LOVED it. As hard as it was to let go of that ending that I’ve had for five years, it felt RIGHT. As hard as it was to delete all those scenes with my SC, it too felt right.

I then sent my new version to a new beta. She had lots of great feedback. She said and I quote. “I don’t know what the political intrigue was, but I’m definitely not missing it.”

She also had some amazing ideas and feedback. Mainly about my comma issues. (Hello my name is Avery, and I abuse commas.)

comma abuse comic

Yeah. It’s time to hire a professional editor. Let me just rub my magic lamp and ask the genie to give me the cash for that.

Aladdin rubbing magic lamp

So, dear writers, listen to your CP’s. Be willing to have an open heart and an open mind. Allow your feelings to get hurt. Allow yourself to cry over it, but only for a moment. Then do what needs done. Dust yourself up off the floor and get at it. Kill your darling. Even when it (like the quote says) “breaks your egocentric little heart.” Slice it. Dice it. Chop it up and put it back together again.

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VW lime green van

Favorite Character

F

or the past few months I’ve had the joy of taking part in a daily hashtag game on Instagram. Today’s post is “favorite character.”

I could seriously go on and on about my characters, as I’m sure most authors could. Their voices are so real to me. Funny thing is, the one character that is my favorite I didn’t create.

Ok, that’s not entirely true. Let me backtrack.

For anyone that hasn’t read my blog yet, a little history. My husband and I started writing snippets of sexy stuff back and forth to each other while he was on military orders. This is what spawned my entire novel. (A decision that I’m certain he regrets now.)

I immediately regret this decision - Anchorman snippet

Anyhow, one day I asked him for help on a scene and he sent me a scene where my hero and heroine are waiting at Miami International to be picked up by a SEAL buddy of the hero. The only thing that I kept from the original scene he sent was the following:

“You brought me a hottie! You shouldn’t have.” He swept Tori off her feet, which caused her to squeal in unexpected amusement. 

“Watch out for her, she’s trouble!” Scott hollered.

Although caught off guard, Tori couldn’t help but giggle at his silliness. “I wouldn’t harm a fly,” she purred.

What was most interesting to me is that this beach bum was so completely different from my straight laced hero, in fact, you would probably never even guess the man was former military.

I started writing more about this character, and honestly he jumped off the page and took on a complete life of his own. I would have never guessed that this SC, Blaze, would become so near and dear to my heart.

Disclaimer: Blaze was a silly placeholder that I put in my first book until I could figure out what this guys name was. Well, the damn name just stuck. I realize, it’s absolutely ridiculous. I even state HOW ridiculous it is in the story:

Blaze was obviously a nickname, and Tori could only speculate how he acquired such a ridiculous name. 

So, now that I’ve bored you with all the mundane backstory (like I’ve said before brevity is not my strong suit), I will tell you a little about Blaze.

Blaze (a.k.a. Ian Hodges) is a former Navy SEAL and military buddy of Scott Harris. They served shoulder to shoulder in Afghanistan together. The men have been through hell and back together and are brothers. They trust each other with their lives.

Blaze is quite different than my hero. He’s a bit of a mess. He’s a weed smoking, VW driving, houseboat living beach bum who pisses off every woman he sleeps with. He’s honestly a damn son of a bitch.

houseboat, man smoking joint and green VW van

“Good to see you too…” he gave me a devilish sideways smirk, “Blaze.”

I let out a hearty laugh. “So is that what they are calling me now?”

“That among other things.” Harris snickered. “Chief still calls you that damn son of a bitch.”

Without divulging too many spoilers Blaze has been through some serious trauma. He’s rough around the edges. A LOT like my MC/heroine Tori. Thus, they become immediate friends. They can relate to each other in a way that even my hero can’t relate to his girl. Blaze becomes the brother that Tori never had.

Once you look past all his filthy, disgusting comments, (believe me, there are several) and get a peek into his heart, you will realize that Blaze, like Tori, deep down is a softie who is just been hurt and jaded by his past wounds.

Blaze is also amazing comedic relief. My inspiration for him was a mix of Sterling Archer, Barney Stinson, and Matthew McConaughey.

Alright, Alright, Alright

Blaze says things like…

“Harris is such a heartbreaker. I’m better looking than him, I promise. You into beach bums? Wanna get some sand up in your crawl?”

And…

What was her name?” 

Blaze scratched his temple. “Honestly I don’t even know. I called her Dolly because she had bleach blonde hair and tits like-”

Oh and there is also…

“I just enjoy knowing where this thing has been.” He pulled the garter to his nose and took a big whiff.

Pairing Blaze up with Tori in scenes became wildly entertaining to write. I never intended for him to become such a larger than life SC. He became so big in fact, that he would even spawn a spinoff of his own that is a current WIP.

So yes, (future reader base that I hope to obtain). You will get a Blaze novel. Why because everyone, (even a damn son of a bitch like Blaze), deserves a happily ever after.

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averys writing research

Novel Research

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hen I first set out to write a novel I don’t think I was aware of the amount of research that would go into planning and making sure I get things right. I have so many moving pieces to my story, military, disabled characters, a setting that I’d never been to, careers I had no clue about, etc…the list goes on and on.

I know that we can’t watch a show with any military reference without my husband cursing at the television, ahem, correcting, how wrong they always get it. Either the formation is wrong, the uniform is completely off, etc… He will pick it apart to no end.

you fucked it up soldier in uniform

Thankfully I have him there to tell me just how much I fucked up, ahem, guide me when I miss the mark.

Oh boy, do I botch it at times. 

So, when I first began writing about disabled characters, I knew I was going to need to do my homework. It’s a scary thing writing about a marginalized community. You are putting yourself out there for huge backlash if you get it wrong. I never wanted to diminish the struggles, but I also didn’t want to portray them as weak. I wanted to handle it with the utmost sensitivity, realism and paint my heroes and heroines in a positive affirming light.

I’m a researcher to a fault. I’ll spend hours pouring over medical case reports, researching different types of conditions to make sure that I hit things spot on scientifically. I researched O&M training, physical therapy websites, prosthesis websites, blogs, YouTube, books, articles, the Reddit community. Oh and guide dogs. That was a favorite, I mean, who doesn’t LOVE dogs?

If I’m unsure of a detail, even a minute one, I’ll research it. I go too far at times. Like seriously, does my reader actually care that I researched the time of the liquor store closing on Sunday in my heroines neighborhood?

OMG I need help

As far as researching my setting, the majority of my first novel takes place in DC. I’d never been there when I first started writing, so I spent a lot of time online and embedded in Google maps, searching local bars and coming up with locations for scenes in my novel. This was a TON of fun. What was even more fun was when I actually got to take a trip to DC and experience it first hand. You can read all about that here.

Some of the research was grueling. Some of the research was a lot of fun. I learned a lot. The medical stuff didn’t bother me. I grew up in the days of Trapper John MD and love me some Grey’s Anatomy so that kind of research was right up my alley.

novel research

For one of my novels I had to research overseas adoption. For another I needed to research some legal stuff. This is about where I almost pulled my hair out. The only thing that comes even close to being as mind numbingly awful as criminal law is politics. (Yes, I see the irony that my novel(s) takes place in DC, but politics really don’t play a huge role). My husband will talk politics and I sit there and nod as my eyes glaze over.

Boo sleepy gif

Anyhow, I learned so much I knew I would just wow my husband with how detailed I got hitting the mark on this stuff. Then he tells me to trim it down.

Woah. Wait. All that time I spent learning I’m just supposed to cut? You mean I go into TOO much detail?

No, there is too much. Let me sum it up.

The fact that my first novel was clocking in at 117K words tells me yes, I may have the problem of going into too much detail.

So, I learned above all that you can research a subject to death. There is a fine line to walk between giving the right information and giving TOO MUCH information.

Happy researching!
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halloween_excerpt

Halloween Short

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s I’ve explained before, I started writing Scott and Tori’s love story with my husband. We would have ideas for scenes in our head, and we’d send them back and forth to each other, I’d rewrite them completely in my voice.

I have several scenes that just didn’t make the cut. I have a whole file with these stored, maybe for them to come alive as a flashback, or to be rewritten, better suited for another novel.

Anyhow, one of my favorite movies is Disney’s Tangled. Honestly, I think this is a better rom-com than much of the non-animated stuff that is out there.

(Stay with me here, this really does tie in together, I promise.)

Rapunzel breaks the typical princess stereotype. She’s full of spunk and has such a positive outlook. She doesn’t need a prince to save her. She’s totally capable of holding her own. That paired with Flynn’s dry humor is wildly entertaining. Beneath that tough exterior, and when all jokes are put to the side, Flynn is a softie. He does everything in his power to help her dreams come true. He protects her as much as she protects him. She’s the Bonnie to his Clyde. They will do anything for each other.

Also I’m strangely attracted to Flynn Rider. Come on, admit it. He’s damn sexy for a cartoon character.

flynn rider image

All that said, Flynn and Rapunzel remind me so much of Scott and Tori. Not just how they look, but their innermost characters. (Tangled came out about the time I was done with my first draft). I couldn’t believe how much they reminded me of my main characters. Tori’s a little more rough around the edges than Rapunzel, and straight laced Scott wouldn’t really be a thief on the run, but at their core they hold a lot of the same characteristics.

punk rapunzel and flynn

I thought how cute would it be for the two of them to go dressed up as Rapunzel and Flynn for Halloween? So of course I wrote an entire scene based on it.

As much as I enjoyed the scene as building part of their backstory, it just didn’t make the cut. The scene isn’t entirely polished or flushed out yet, so it’s not my best piece of work, thus the reason it ended up in the trash pile.

So, it being Halloween and all I thought I’d post it here. Give just a little taste of Scott and Tori, my favorite friends with benefits.

Let me set up the scene. Scott and Tori have been basically been hooking up between his deployments. She’s a starving artist, he’s just been discharged from the Navy due to losing his leg from an IED blast. This is about four years into them knowing each other, and is within the first year of his injury.

The beating of the metal door echoed across the bare brick walls in his condo. Scott cracked open his eyes, rolled over and looked at the clock on the bedside table. Ten am. Holy shit, he never slept that late. He yawned, sat up and rubbed his eyes. The pounding in his head rivaled the pounding on the door. That plus the empty bottle of whiskey on his nightstand told him exactly why he’d slept that long. The beating on the door grew louder. He quickly threw on a pair of shorts, grabbed his crutches, and made his way to the door.

“Scott! I know you’re in there! You can’t back out on me now!”

Tori? What the hell? How did she even know he was in town?

Scott slid open the metal rolling door and squinted at Tori. “What the hell are you knocking like the police for?”

“Very funny, I texted you last night and told you I’d be here at ten.” Tori pushed past him and marched in, carrying several bags with her. She discarded the bags to his sofa and turned to him. “We need to go buy you some tan pants and I’m assuming you have a decent white shirt lying around?” She placed her hands on her hips.

“Eh?” His crutch hung from his arm as he reached up and scratched his unkempt hair, then slid the door shut.

“Oh don’t you even try and play dumb with me. You’re not backing out on me. A promise is a promise. Keith and I stayed up all night working on these costumes, then I had to drive all the way to the equestrian store in Chantilly to get you a pair of chaps because if we don’t get the boots just right, it will throw the whole thing off.” She dug into the bag and pulled out a blonde wig.

He squinted and rubbed the back of his neck while his foggy brain tried to process the gibberish that was coming out of her mouth. “Boots? Chaps? Wig? What kind of thing do you think I’ve agreed to?” 

“Do you seriously not remember last night at all?” She tossed the wig to the sofa, crossed her arms, and that damn right brow of her’s went up into orbit. “How much did you drink last night?” She wandered into his bedroom then came back out, swaying her hips along with the empty bottle of whiskey in her hand. “At least there isn’t another chick here this time, I figured I better check, ya know, just to be safe.” She grinned and tossed the empty bottle into the trash can with a thud.

Scott rolled his eyes and flipped her a middle finger as he flopped down on the sofa. “Tori, can you please tell me what the hell I’ve agreed to?”

“The director of the Hirshhorn is having a big costume party tonight on a boat on the Potomac. Keith got me on the list. Me!” She threw her arms up and jumped like a cheerleader on the sidelines. “If I make a decent impression I may actually have a chance at the internship. I can’t be Rapunzel without my Flynn Rider.” Tori put the wig on her head and undid the clasp on the back, a long braid flowed to her ankles. She turned to him and frowned. “Seriously, we agreed on this over text last night.”

The events of the previous night began rolling through his head. He recalled a text from Tori around nine last night when he was hitting on some busty brunette in the bar down the street. The girl got pissed at him when he cared more about Tori ’s message on his phone than her. Finally, he charmed his way back into the chic’s good graces. When they got back to his place to seal the deal, she took one look at his prosthetic, and suddenly had somewhere she needed to be. That was the reason for the bottle of whiskey he’d demolished.

“Of course I remember, it’s just a little fuzzy.” Scott cleared his throat. “Remind me again what’s a Flynn Rider?” Scott dug into the bag next to him and pulled out something that looked like leather shoe covers. He assumed those where the chaps, and he silently thanked God they were not the chaps that first came to mind.

“Have you not seen Disney’s Tangled?” Tori pulled off the wig and ruffled her platinum waves.

Scott rolled his eyes. “Yes, because in the very little spare time I get off, I go alone to Disney movies like a fucking pervert.” He snorted. “Can’t you just see me now, all six foot two of me, walking into a theatre full of kids, with my popcorn bucket and settling in for the long haul?”

She erupted in laughter and flopped down next to him on the sofa. “Ok, point taken.” Tori patted his thigh as her laughter died down. “Rough night, Cowboy?”

“You could say so.” He curled his nose as he dug through the bag and found a green suede vest. “Seriously, you couldn’t have picked something cooler? I mean, Disney?  I expect much sluttier from you.” He flashed her a wolfish grin. 

“First, I can’t tramp it up too much, this is a highbrow event. I have to at least pretend to be respectable.” She rolled her big blue eyes. “Second, I had the Rapunzel stuff from Hannah’s party this summer.” Scott knew that Hannah was Tori’s three-year-old niece. “Saved me a fortune trying to rent a costume last minute.” He recalled seeing some photos on Facebook from the birthday party. Tori had looked adorable. She honestly looked like she could play one of the characters at a theme park. “I knew I could add Flynn and it would be a great combo. Keith and I sewed that. He’s a wizard on a sewing machine.”

“Why does that not surprise me.” Scott chuckled. Tori elbowed him in the side.

“Keith was a fashion major before he switched to photography.”

“Again, not surprising.” Scott laughed louder. “Ok, a deal is a deal. You gotta let me get some coffee, and some aspirin before I go shopping with you though.” His head was screaming at him.

“You sit put. I’ll make you coffee and get your aspirin. You can watch Tangled and get to know your character while the caffeine cures your hangover.” She grabbed his remote off the coffee table, flipped on the TV and pulled the DVD out of her large purse. She popped it into his player and wandered into his bathroom.

“You take this cosplay very seriously,” Scott shouted over his shoulder as the movie played. He couldn’t believe he was watching a Disney movie and there were no kids in sight.

She came back in the room and tossed him the bottle of ibuprofen. “Halloween is my favorite holiday. Always has been.”

“Christmas was always my favorite,” Scott remarked. “Mom would always make homemade cinnamon rolls. Waking up to the scent of that every morning always told me it was Christmas. Dad would play songs on his guitar and sing carols.”

“You never told me you grew up with the Brady Bunch,” Tori teased as she rifled through his cabinets.

“Why Halloween for you?” Scott questioned as she poured the coffee into the filter and flipped on the power.

She came back over and flopped down on the sofa next to him. “Because it was the one time of year I could always pretend to be someone else.”

He snapped his head toward her, catching her eye. He knew from the rare snippets she shared that she didn’t have it all that great growing up. A dead father and an alcoholic mother. Even so, that statement made him all kinds of sad. He placed his palm on her cheek and looked her dead in the eyes. “You never need to be anyone else, Tori.”

Her steel blue eyes moistened and she sucked in a breath, and he knew that he’d touched her walled-off heart. In classic Tori avoidance, she cleared her throat, kicked her legs up on the coffee table, and turned her gaze to the television. “Now, Flynn Ryder is a bit of a scoundrel, a player, kinda like you.” She nudged him playfully in the side. “I have a feeling you’re going to like him.”

“Seems like Rapunzel is quite the artist, like you.” Scott nodded to the TV as Rapunzel painted all over the walls of her tower that she was entrapped in by an evil mother who used and abused her. Scott was starting to see why Tori related to this story.

Tori chuckled. “She’s not your typical princess. She’s a badass who can hold her own. “

Yup. Just. Like. Tori.

She got up and poured him a cup of coffee and brought it over. “Here is your nasty hot bean juice.”

Scott grinned. Tori always teased him how he liked his coffee black. “There’s creamer packets in the pantry if you want some.” He bought them solely for her.

“You’re the best.” She leaned over and planted a friendly kiss on his cheek and bounced into the kitchen.

That’s where I ended the scene. I imagine that they would have gone to the party, Scott would have been watching to make sure Tori didn’t over indulge on champagne. They would probably have come back to his place and had some kinky Disney themed role-play sex. I see Scott sitting in a chair, bound and Tori with a frying pan in her hand, telling him that he needs to behave.

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I love my rejection slips. They show me I try. Quote by Sylvia Plath.

The Five Stages of Rejection

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t’s a very scary process hitting that send button on queries. I’m opening myself up to rejection, and I know this as I send my precious darling out into the unknown.

Most authors that have gone on to become bestsellers have been rejected. I’ve read this again and again in countless blogs. Honestly, I expect to get the rejection. I’m an unpublished author with zero credentials. Rejection is a way of life for writers, right?

Yet, when that rejection comes, there is still that little slight twist of my gut, and I go through the five stages of grief.

1. Denial

Maybe I sent it wrong. Let me go check again and see if I missed a paragraph (yes, I have actually done this and it was a VERY important paragraph). Maybe I forgot to include something that the agent was requesting. I was sure this time that I’d fixed all the flaws in my pitch. I mean, I really thought that I’d hit the mark this time. Guess I didn’t. It’s ok. I can handle this. It’s just a rejection. I’m fine. Really. I’m fine.

2.  Anger

Ok, maybe I’m not fine. Maybe because I’ve lived my life as an artist, nothing grates at me more than the form letter rejection. It gives me no areas for improvement. Gives me no explanation as to why I was rejected. I can honestly handle criticism. I use it to go back, tweak, and make things better. Please for the love of god, tell me what I did wrong!

3. Bargaining

I try and convince myself that the agent really did mean what the form letter said. Maybe it isn’t my writing. Maybe it truly is that it was “just not a good fit, please continue to query until you find that perfect agent match.” I’ll just keep sending out queries, hoping, praying someone will take a chance on me.

4.  Depression

I’m a terrible writer. I am the only person that will ever care about my story. I have spent more hours writing than I can even count. All my hard work and effort has been a complete waste of time. Remember that time you tried to take up knitting? Or the time you wanted to be a DIY blogger? Yup, it’s just like that. This is just one of your failed dreams. Your stories will die on the back of your hard drive.

5. Acceptance

Someday I hope someone will fall in love with my characters as much as I have. If not, thats ok. It doesn’t matter if I get rejected a hundred times. Rejection will never hurt as long as regret will. I’m going to keep pressing forward.

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sometimes I plan, sometimes I wing it

Pantser or Plotter – #IGWritersOct:Day 12

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hen I first got involved in the writing community I started hearing the word pantser thrown around a lot. I pretty much figured out right away that it meant writing by flying by the seat of your pants.

I realized also that is exactly what I am. When I first started writing as my bio states, it was just a collection of short stories about this couples steamy encounters. I never intended it to go further than my own eyes. The more I wrote, the more in love I fell with these characters and the more I wanted to share them with the world.

I had somewhat of a general idea on where I wanted my first book to go, and I knew EXACTLY how I wanted it to end, I just wasn’t sure where the story would take me along the journey in the middle. I wrote myself into a lot of corners by doing things this way.

In my head I saw the book like a TV show. Think This is Us, or LOST, with lots of flashbacks to help build the understanding of why the characters were in the place that they were. Pretty much a literary soap opera. Blogs I read and re-read advised against several flashbacks. “But I have so much wonderful backstory written that I love!” I whined to myself. Why are there so many rules???

So, I rewrote the book in chronological story (for the most part). The first Act is the building of the relationship in the past and a lot of (necessary) backstory. It was a much less jarring read this way, and it built the romance between my hero and heroine.

For my second book in the series, I had to scrap the entire book and rewrite it from scratch. The second attempt at Book Two, I wrote about twenty thousand words. I was pretty excited about it. I sent it to my husband (who is my biggest fan and harshest critic). He writes back. Neat.

Neat is the absolute worst thing my husband can ever say to me about my artwork or writing. It basically is his cheeky way of saying he knows I can do better.

My second book has been re-written THREE times.

By the third time around I got wise, and realized I really needed to plot this thing out. I didn’t use a fancy beat sheet, but we sat down and came up with a general outline, of where it had to start and where it had to end. I wrote and sent it to my husband one chapter at a time, because damn if I was going to get 20K words in and start over AGAIN.

I got back no “Neat”, and actually got some “love it”, so I knew I was on the right track.

Ding. Ding. Ding. We have a winner!

I’m really trying to get better at this. I found this fancy excel spreadhseet that really breaks it down. I’ve never been a very organized person. I blame that on the artist in me. My head is like a gumball machine. I have all these colorful ideas rolling around in it and they come spewing out. I’m all over the place at times.

So, now I’m a pantser who is learning to plot. Sometimes I plan, sometimes I just wing it.

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washington monument in dreamscape

IGWriters Oct – Day 9

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ay nine for IGWriters October was “Adventures in Writing.”

On one of my writing forums I recently saw the question asked “Have you ever visited any of the towns/locations that you write about.”

Most were divided on this. Many authors make up imaginary towns (can you say “Forks”) where there story takes place. I prefer to keep my stories grounded in the real world, to really give a feel for the setting.

I decided to have my series take place in Washington, DC. When I started writing my first novel, I’d never been to DC, but it was on my bucket list of places to visit. I have always been fascinated by the history of our Nations Capitol and I also wanted a city that had close public transportation. (My heroine is blind but I wanted to make sure she was fierce and independent).

I spent a LOT of time doing research. I embedded myself in Google maps. I read about local bars, restaurants. I looked up homes, apartment buildings. I even went so far as to research liquor store hours on a Sunday make sure that the store would be open at the time my hero went to grab a bottle of whiskey.

Ok, so maybe I take it a BIT too far at times. 

Anyhow, my point is that I want it to be as real as possible. I don’t want someone who lives in the city I’m writing about to think I didn’t at least try and do my research.

Finally at long last I was able to go to DC. I went solo, and trolled all over the city by myself and I had a blast. I had lunch with a homeless man at a hot dog cart. I got escorted out of the Smithsonian by security due to the length of my shank. (What can I say, I’m a rebel with a pocketknife, don’t mess with me).  I navigated the public transportation system solo, met and chatted with strangers, who pretty much loved my delightfulness. I got lost on the subway and wound up with a dead cell phone in the less privileged areas of DC. I wasn’t too worried though, because I was too busy giggling with two old black ladies who were just the best, and saw the cutest little six year old selling chocolate bars to buy a bike, so I of course pitched in a few bucks.

I took my heroine’s metro to Arlington, had coffee at the Starbucks in her neighborhood, and stood outside the complex that I’d consider her apartment.

I went to a bar in Georgetown that I wrote about in my first novel and listened to live music.

I went to Arlington cemetery and saw the changing of the guards. It was sobering yet beautiful. I went off the beaten path and saw Washington National Cathedral. I walked the mall. Twice. In one day (along with the tidal basin). Then I walked through Chinatown and back down past the White House. I googled it and it was something like thirteen miles. My feet hated me.

Many people were shocked that I traveled solo. I’m a bit shocked that everyone was so shocked.

Be brave, be bold, you only get this one life to live and there is SO much beauty to see in this world!

(I’m pretty sure that’s me channeling my inner “Tori”).

I loved that city, with all that is in me. I can’t wait to go back.

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