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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Image of man in bed with overlay of soldier.

Meet Scott


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


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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averys writing research

Novel Research


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

The Five Stages of Rejection


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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Chopping Away


s I started looking into various agents I came to the realization that my word count on my first novel was extremely high. I know within the romance genre, most books end up somewhere between 70K-100K words.

My first draft was 117,000 words.

Brevity is obviously not my strong suit. I knew I needed to cut. So, before I sent to beta readers I whittled away at it and got it down to about 113K words. I knew I needed to still get lower in order to have agents even take a look at it. So, I took a step back and took a hard look at my writing.

I started researching on how to cut my word count. I read countless blogs about tightening up my writing and learned a lot. There were scenes I was grasping onto with a death grip that I knew needed to go.

This blog was super helpful in tightening up my writing.

Let me tell you, once I hit the delete key and removed the parts that didn’t advance my story, it was a liberating feeling.

Also I learned all kinds of tips on how to cut meaningless words, remove unnecessary dialogue tags.

This article by Diana Urban was probably the most useful thing that I read in helping me cut my word count in my first novel. By cutting the word “that” in my novel I eliminated about one thousand words.

Another helpful tip I read was to divide your novel into sections (like three acts of a play). Then you can see how many words per section you need to eliminate. Then you can see how many words by chapter, and then even down to page. When it comes down to it, you may only need to remove 10 words per page when all is said and done. Ten words from a page seems much less daunting than thousands of words.

It was a tedious, boring process, but it was exhilarating when I got that word count down. In two days of editing I managed to cut 11,000 words from my manuscript. It’s coming in at about 106,000 words right now. I know this is on the high end for romance novels, but I feel much more comfortable sending out queries with this word count rather than where I was.

I know I still have some editing to do. Ideally I’d like to be at 100K words. Even if I end up self publishing I have peace knowing that I produced a better novel by tightening up my writing.

So, grab a glass of wine, or beer, or coffee, sit down at your computer and start chopping away.

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book with heart shaped petals

Let the journey begin


ix years ago while my husband was away on military orders he sent me a short story about two people who were “friends with benefits” meeting in a bar for casual sex.

The hero was former military, an amputee wounded in combat now working as an independent contractor. The heroine, was blind.

He had my attention.

I was instantly drawn into the story. Who is she? What is her name? What does she do? I needed to know more about these two. I began rewriting it in my own tone, adding more and more as I went along.

What started as a sexual release to stay connected to him in his absence ended up fueling five full length novels. I turned into a madwoman. I could not stop writing.

So here I am with a hard drive full of novels, with characters I’ve fallen in love with. My question to myself is now what?

Sets down coffee, takes a deep breath.

It’s time to share Scott and Tori with the world.

Over the past several months I’ve polished and hacked away at the first book. I’ve had beta readers send me feedback. I’m looking into professional editing services. I’m querying agents. I’m learning about the difference between summaries and synopsis. I’m learning the difference between a hook, a blurb and a snippet. I’m joining romance writing forums and trying to pick the brain of some in the industry.

I have no idea what I’m doing. I have zero claim to fame. I don’t even have a reader base yet. I mean, who starts out their writing career with an entire series? Obviously, I’m insane, or obsessed. Hell, it’s probably both.

Putting myself out there is a scary thing. I know I will encounter criticism and rejection. I can live with that. What I can’t live with is letting these amazing characters I love waste away in the back of my hard drive. Some stories need told. I think I have one worth telling.

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