SOUL OF SMOKE Cover Reveal!

My mentee and bestie and CP and all-around AMAZING author friend, Caitlyn McFarland, HAS A COVER FOR HER BOOOOOOK!

And her sequels will be coming out in September and November (THIS YEAR!) from Carina, so you don’t even have to agonize over the cliffhanger she so cruelly tortures you with for that long!

Caitlyn H. McFarland

This is it!

Are you guys ready to see the cover for Soul of Smoke?!

Here it is!


Wooo! I LOVE IT! Thank you so much to the Carina Press team for this awesome design!

For good measure, here’s the back cover copy:

On a hike deep in the Rocky Mountains, Kai Monahan watches as a dozen dragons—actual freaking dragons—battle beneath a fat white moon. When one crashes nearly dead at her feet and transforms into a man, Kai does the only thing a decent person could: she grabs the nearest sword and saves his life.

As the dragon/man, Rhys, recovers from the attack, a chance brush of skin against skin binds him inextricably to Kai. Becoming heartsworn to a human—especially such a compelling one—is the last thing Rhys wants. But with an ancient enemy gathering to pit dragons against humanity and his strength nearly depleted, Kai has just…

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It Has to Stop — #WordsSaveLives

Some of you may have seen this on twitter already, but I wanted to just say a few words about something very close to my heart right now.

I’ve been sitting on this, but I really want to say something. I have all of these terribly raw emotions twisting inside of me, and since I can’t help this person until a few days from now when I go to see them on the first flight I could get, I feel like I should DO something about this. Say something.

Because something good has to come from this.

Someone close to me, a teenage boy I have known since they were a little kid — a wonderful, bright boy who used to joke that I was his 2nd mom — tried to commit suicide a few days ago. Because of bullying.

The whole thing has made me absolutely sick to my stomach. People can be cruel. I’ve known this for a long time. I endured bullying because I was the weird bipolar aspie, and yes, I was suicidal a few times as a teen and young adult. I’ve even dealt with suicide in my extended family.

But I never imagined having to look this so squarely in the face through someone else’s eyes. Especially not someone who I feel so protective of.

Some of his stories were seriously bad enough to make me double over retching. Psychological abuse may not leave the outward marks that physical abuse does, but it can be just as devastating.

I’m so torn and full of raw, helpless rage. I want to throw things and scream and just rage forever. My dear little teenage boy’s mom hacked apart a dead tree in her backyard with a chainsaw to deal with the fury. My only weapons and tools are words. I am trying to do my best with them.

The abuser was an authority figure, someone who my near and dear little teenage boy was supposed to trust and look up to. That’s just WRONG, guys! I want to find this bullying person and put them in their place (obviously I won’t), but that would make me just as bad as them. Instead, I will simply condemn their behavior the only way I can.

This is WRONG.

I don’t know if this all has a point. Hell, maybe I’m just typing these things out to make myself feel less useless, more capable of DOING something.

But maybe someone will find some meaning in this. Maybe some little good thing can come out of this.

I have nothing new to add to this discussion. If you’re reading this, chances are, you already think the same way I do. Chances are, you’ve tried your hardest to not be terrible to people, and this sickens you as much as it sickens me.

All I have is a plea.

Please, just remember that what you say and do has an impact. Be kind. Be mindful. Don’t be horrid. Use your powers for good.

Please, guys. Please be good to each other. This has to stop.

(And just so everyone can breathe a bit easier, this person is getting professional help now and has been taken FAR away from their abuser, so silver lining there.)

Please, just do one good thing or say one nice thing to someone for me today. You never know what pain the people around you may be hiding. Be a listening ear or sympathetic shoulder, and you will have my eternal gratitude.

If you’d be so kind as to share these wonderful words and deeds with the world and if you could use #WordsSaveLives, I would love to be able to show this boy that something good has come from his horrible experience.

Stay fiery, peeps. And don’t let ANYONE put that fire out.

Mental Time Bombs

The title says it all. Despite advances in healthcare and psychiatry, people still stigmatize mental illness. Many look at the mentally ill as time bombs just waiting to go off. No matter how many times we repeat “It’s an illness, not a personal failing,” there are still people who will look at you differently the second you tell them you’re mentally ill.

I’ve been turned away from jobs for admitting it. I’ve lost friends. One of my clients, when I told him I was bipolar, stared at me strangely. “Isn’t that just on this side of crazy? You don’t seem crazy to me.”

I encounter that reaction a lot, especially when I throw in the revelation that I have Asperger’s, too. People study me, looking for something they’re sure they missed, some secret sign or mark. “You don’t seem it,” they say. “I never would have guessed. You’re doing a good job.”

By “good job,” I can only assume they mean “acting normal.” I’m a master by now, I guess.

It’s been a rough week for me, guys. My family’s been through hell in the mental health department. I guess I’ll just leave it at that and let one of my characters speak. She’s a little bitter, but she sums up how I feel at my most frustrated.

head in hands

Seriously, guys, this is how I feel right now.

(Just a note: My character’s shrink, Oliver, is actually quite insightful. I promise, I did not write a terrible shrink-character who doesn’t get it. She’s just venting at him.)

Swiveling in his chair, Oliver looks up at The Starry Night again. “I think this one’s my favorite. A bipolar artist creating something so . . .” He trails off, glancing at me. “Is this how you see the world? Is it this intense for you?”

I frown. “What do you mean?”

He traces the brushstrokes, his eyes going far away. “Are these the colors you all see at night? Is this what your world looks like?”

I stare at him, raising an eyebrow. “Well, my world isn’t quite so blurry.”

Shrugging, Oliver turns back to me, shifting a few things on his desk. “I’m sorry. I just figured . . .”

“That all bipolar people see the world the same way? Wow.”

His cheeks flush, and the shielded look takes over his face. “No . . . I didn’t mean . . . you know, just forget it. We should get back to whatever you need to talk about.”

“Oh?” I fold my arms and lean back against the cushions. “You don’t want to study me some more? You think you’ve figured me out after spending three or four hours with me? Case closed, just another crazy girl?”

Sighing, he leans back too, as if mirroring my posture is going to save this conversation. “Mari, I thought we were past this. I’m not attacking you every time I open my mouth. I’ve wanted to understand how people with mental illnesses perceive the world my entire life. I think we can help each other here.”

I definitely hate it when he’s right, but I can’t just let it go. “Look, I’m sure you don’t mean anything by it, but I’ve had enough of being studied by shrinks. And people in general. Seriously, people think mentally ill people are so interesting until they get hurt by one.”

His shrink voice returns as he picks up a notebook. “Would you care to elaborate on that, Mari?”

Heat rises in my face, and I narrow my eyes at him. “Yeah, I would. And I’ll make it simple for you. You have no idea what it’s like to be me.” I gesture vehemently down to the useless wreck of illness-ridden body I’m stuck with. “How do you think I feel being trapped like this, unable to trust my body or my brain? I used to actually do things. I used to be a star employee, a student athlete, a freaking valedictorian!”

I shouldn’t care this much. Those things weren’t really me. They were never me. But I don’t know what’s me or not anymore.

Tears well up in the corners of my eyes, but I stubbornly squash them. I shouldn’t cry over this. I’ll never let Oliver see me cry.

I take a deep, shuddering breath and go on the attack again. “So now I hide in bed all day because half the damn world gives me a panic attack, and the other half thinks I’m repulsive. People hear ‘bipolar’, and suddenly, I’m a stranger. I’m no different than a homeless guy living in the subway. I’m just as scary.” My voice comes out choked, but hard. “And you know what? They’re probably right. I’m a walking freak show. How could you know anything about that?”

“Mari, I understand you’re frustrated, but—”

I don’t want his pity any more than I wanted Jason’s. I’m not that pathetic. I’m not my mom. “And you know what’s even worse than being someone like me?” I cut him off as my voice rises. “Living with someone who’s worse than me. You have no idea how it breaks you a little at time when someone who you care about rips you to shreds every time they lose it.”

Today’s Inspiration

What’s shaking, peeps?

I write a lot about the editing side of things and advice for surviving the writing process and contests and all that jazz, but I very rarely write about my own work. To be honest, the reason I don’t is because I don’t want to wear anybody out with it.

BUT . . .

I’m not gonna lie. I’ve discovered some cool shiz that has both inspired and been inspired by my latest work. So, if you will forgive the indulgence, this is my latest cool shiz.

blood and gold

Ahhh . . . blood and gold. This is a repeated motif throughout my manuscript. In fact, one of my favorite chapters involves “flakes of gold paint fluttering to the marble floor to float in pools of blood and wine. ” Not gonna lie. I really wanted a pic of that. Ten points to your respective house if you can find something similar!

the borgiasThe Borgias . . . I can’t say enough awesome things about The Borgias, really — both the series and the family themselves. Rumors of intrigue, poison, seduction, murder, and corruption followed them their entire lives. How much of that is deserved is completely unknown. As always, there are two sides to every story, and sometimes everyone is wrong. (Another common theme in my manuscript.)

I studied Italian Renaissance art history before changing to the major I graduated with; the period has always fascinated me. As a result, one of my manuscript’s main countries is based loosely on Renaissance Italy. The other two main countries are based on French Algeria and the Eastern Roman Empire (what you probably know as the Byzantines). Both AWESOME places to get inspired by!

roman bath

bed bath

BATHS, mes amis! Is there anything more glorious than a hot bath? How about a bath the size of a small pool in your gilded bedroom next to a full wall of windows that overlook an entire city?

Oh, and it smells like pomegranate oil.

I don’t know about you, but one of those sounds pretty amazing. If you’re still not convinced, Google “Byzantine public baths” and tell me how you could possibly resist that mosaic work or that gorgeous architecture. And don’t even get me started on the gorgeous man who owns that bath.


Sherekalgerian dress2algerian menswearalgerianalgerian dressSherek ridingmoorishcostumestussle

ALLLL the pretty costumes!

Working with three very distinct cultures (and putting my own little spin on them) gave me a LOT of lovely research to do.

Oh, you mean I have to look at beautiful clothes to get a sense of what people wore? The horror! Woe is me! My life is so hard!

And lastly . . . .

The History of Chess

No, there is no actual chess in my manuscript. It’s more subtle than that. Here, I’ll give you a hint.

Meet the Mad Queen: ~1450 via A Brief History of Chess

It wasn’t until around 1450, though, that chess saw its most radical change: the mad queen. Hoping to make the game faster and more enjoyable, some players tweaked the rules to allow the queen to move as far as she wanted — in any direction, diagonally, vertically, or horizontally — combining the movements of the bishop and the rook.

This was a huge departure from the original rules limiting the queen to moving one square diagonally. The change was so revolutionary that the French called the new game “ésches de la dame enragée,” or “chess of the enraged lady” — the “mad queen.” “

“This form of chess also got such names as “Queen’s Chess” or “Mad Queen Chess” (Italian alla rabiosa = “with the madwoman”)”

Let’s just say that concept plays . . . quite a part in my little plot 😉

Stay fiery, peeps.

Query + 1st Page GIVEAWAY

You guys know that book that made you realize that 1) writing was a very real career choice and 2) nothing would make you happier than writing something half as good as that book?

Easy there, Loki.

Easy there, Loki.

If I listed every book that made me want to be a writer, this blog post would take quite a long time, but the earliest one I can remember is AMONG THE HIDDEN by the amazing and prolific Margaret Peterson Haddix.



I read it for the first time when I was nine years old. After crying for a week, I spent every penny of my allowance money on every book of hers that I could get my hands on.

That was sixteen years ago, and this awesome woman is still chugging along. In fact, her newest book, PALACE OF LIES, is coming out in four weeks! (SQUEE!)


Hopefully some of you are saying this.


What am I going to do about it?

I’ll tell you what.

I’m going to do a giveaway, that’s what.

A ton of you are participating in #pitmad right now and are about to get inundated with many fabulous requests. Thus, I am giving away THREE — yes, you heard me right — 1st page + query critiques (2 passes) so you can shine up some of your materials before you send them off. And they will all be done within 24 hours so you don’t keep any agents waiting.


Pretty cool, huh?


Here’s how it works.

1. Margaret Peterson Haddix has a fabulous following on Facebook, but since she’s new to Twitter, a lot of people have yet to find her. Why don’t we all give her a huge welcome and follow her on Twitter? (I will check to make sure you did this. Don’t think I won’t.)

2. Shoot me a tweet or blog comment telling me which Margaret Peterson Haddix title sounds the coolest to you and why. (Yes, you’ll have to do a little research! Luckily for you, MPH has a complete list of her books on her site.)

3. I will randomly pick three winners between 6 am and 9 pm eastern time. You will be notified right away and can send your materials as soon as they’re ready.


If you follow Margaret Peterson Haddix just for this contest and then unfollow right after . . .

I will find you


Keep your eyes open for another giveaway! I’ll be giving away a copy of PALACE OF LIES when it comes out in four weeks!


Stay fiery, peeps.


One of my most favorite people ever, the magnificent Caitlyn McFarland, just did a blog post of advice she would give her 13-year-old self (based on the #dearme hashtag and youtube campaign), so I thought I would piggyback on her idea and do one of my own . . . but with gifs. Because why not?

I posted earlier on facebook that all of the advice I’d want to give myself would fill several books, but I’ll try and keep it to the essentials here. (Actually, my mother put together a book of advice from people who were important to me when I turned 13 . . . but I was 13 and not a very good listener.)

In the interest of accuracy, this is actually 12-year-old Rae, but close enough :P

In the interest of accuracy, this is actually 12-year-old Rae, but . . . close enough 😛

1) First and foremost, 13-year-old Rae, get some help. NOW. Please, go talk to a counselor, and don’t let them tell you that your feelings are just teenage angst. You’re bipolar, 13-year-old Rae, and the sooner you learn how to deal with what that means, the sooner you’ll feel in control of your life. And while you’re at it, convince someone to let you see a doctor. Your health problems are not just hormones, m’love. They’re little tumors that hurt like hell, and they’re going to cause you a lot of agony if you don’t get them taken care of. Do not let one more person tell you that either one of these things are all in your head.

snape gif

2) For the love of Pete, quit that stupid dance team earlier. Dancing should make you HAPPY. I promise you, 13-year-old Rae, the high school dance team will not make you happy. Getting picked on by 20 older girls at 5 AM will not make you more confident or stronger. This is not one of those “hard things that you learn from” experiences. This is one of those “run away and never return” things. And when they ask where you’re running, just say one of two things:

go back to hell OR don't give a damn

3) Keep up that reading and writing. This is one of those things that you will thank yourself for, trust me. The only thing I would ask you to change, dear 13-year-old Rae, is PLEASE let people who know what they are talking about read your books. Learn how to “show, not tell” early on. Go to writing conferences instead of dance competitions. Start learning about literary agents and query letters. And of course, do not EVER let anyone tell you that writing is not a legitimate career choice. It’s hard, and you’ll have to work another job, but you can handle that. You’re a pro.

See? Even Garak thinks so.


4) Stop freaking out. Seriously, I mean it. Don’t freak about tests and teachers and makeup (or lack thereof) and idiot “friends” whom you will never see again. These are not the things that will end up mattering in your life. Start learning to relax and enjoy stillness.

sprain something


5) As an addendum to #4, for the love of fiery burningness, ditch those crummy boys you’re mooning after. Boys are awesome. Men are awesome. But you, dearest 13-year-old Rae, have really crappy taste in both right now, as far as crushes go.  You will not marry someone from high school. In fact, you will never even date someone from high school. Your first boyfriend won’t come along until you are 19 years old. AND THAT IS OKAY. Take some time to figure yourself out, and when the right guy does show up, be chill. Be his best friend. Don’t pressure him. Soon you’ll be looking back and saying:


 (By the way, 13-year-old Rae, he’s going to look very much like this guy down here.)


Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

6) This will sound lame, dear Rae, but stop eating gluten. I promise you’ll feel A LOT better, and your energy level will skyrocket.

I know, Rae. I miss Mom's homemade pasta, too . . .

I know, Rae. I miss Mom’s homemade pasta, too . . .

7) Don’t get cocky. I know you sometimes think you’re hot stuff–

you underestimate

— but you still have a lot to learn. Don’t ever stop learning.

not a jedi yet

8) Lastly, be an active participant in your life. Throw yourself into things. You want other people to feel passionately about your work? Live a life filled with that passion, and pour it into the things you love. Go talk to people. Hiding in the basement is all very well and good when you’re writing or gaming, but get out of the house once in a while.

no try

Okay? You got that?

Good talk.

My work here is done.

Stay fiery.



Tales of Women

Okay. I’ll keep this short.

I hear a lot of things every day from people all over the internet and in my own life about women. Some people even go as far as to tell me what they believe all women should be like and represented as.

My favorite opinion on the subject comes from Susan Fletcher’s amazing representation of Shahrazad, a favorite character since I was a child.

“Marjan. I have told him tales of good women and bad women, strong women and weak women, shy women and bold women, clever women and stupid women, honest women and women who betray. I’m hoping that, by living inside their skins while he hears their stories, he’ll understand over time that women are not all this way or that way. I’m hoping he’ll look at women as he does at men–that you must judge each of us on her own merits, and not condemn us or exalt us only because we belong to a particular sex.”
Susan Fletcher, Shadow Spinner

That’s it. Draw what conclusions you will, but I’m with Shahrazad on this one.

(Btw, shameless friend-promoting here. If you love the 1001 Arabian Nights, read SHADOW SPINNER and then read Renee Ahdieh‘s fabulous and heart-wrenchingly amazing retelling THE WRATH AND THE DAWN when it comes out on May 12, 2015. Seriously.)

Keep Moving Forward (as told by Meet the Robinsons)

What? Another silly gif post, Rae? What’s the matter with you?


Don’t you have better things to do?

another excellent

Okay, I’ll be straight with you, I have a billion things I’m supposed to be doing right now. But I feel like a few people — very much including myself — can benefit from this. So . . .


You ready? Got your unicorn cup of (insert beverage here) ready? Grand.

Let’s have some straight talk, people.

Being a writer.

That’s what we all do. That’s why we’re here. Well, lemme tell you something that most of you already know. We are freaking masochists. On the first day of Brandon Sanderson’s class, he says something to effect of “If you are thinking of being a writer and would be happy doing anything else, do that instead.”

Is it because he hates you? Or writing? (My guess is . . . probably not.)

Nope, it’s because this shiz is HARD.

Think about it.

With no warning, your brain EXPLODES with a billion ideas that you MUST TURN INTO A BOOK RIGHT THIS INSTANT.

brain explosion

Not unlike this. Much explosion.

And you slave away . . . until you feel like this.


And you’re pretty sure your non-writing friends are talking about you behind your back.

Lena   Lena2

And you know what? They may not be wrong.

But then it’s DONE! And the whole world must know about it and love it and buy it and mass produce it! Because why wouldn’t they? It’s your MASTERPIECE!

I finished!

And maybe that’s exactly what happens.

But probably not right away. Inevitably, this will happen.


thought through

It could be a soft rejection . . .


Or . . . a less soft rejection.

Either way, it’s going to sting. And then, when more come, as they inevitably will, you will want to scream into the void.

quit that

And success seems to come easily to everybody but you. It’s always just outside your reach.

Just . . . a little . . . further . . .

Just . . . a little . . . further . . .

What follows can look very much like this.

puppy eyes my only friend hated me

You know what I’m talking about.


This is where a very important choice gets made.

What do you do next?


You could try and be this guy.

blame1 blame2 blame3 blame4

(Hint: This is the wrong choice.)

keep moving forward

Why not do this instead?

you failed you failed2


I know, right? Seems counter-intuitive. But seriously. Look at those rejections. Look at the feedback. Take something from it. Make it mean something. Write a new book. Get ice cream.

No arguing. I know karate. And dragons.

No arguing. I know karate. And dragons.

Let’s be real. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. This is just a reminder because, when things start to suck, it can be easy to forget the obvious stuff.

So yes, we’ve chosen this absurdly hard (and amazing) profession. One of the keys to surviving it (besides having good friends who don’t let you isolate yourself) is to just . . .

forward1 forward2 forward3 forward4

Stay fiery, peeps. And channel that fire into something amazing.

eyebrows (2)

Tension: A Short Object Lesson

Yesterday, I had the privilege of teaching a celebrity client (can’t say who at the moment, but the story is AWESOME-SAUCE) how to create tension in loglines and pitches. During the lesson, I discovered that a few of the metaphors I made up for him actually worked quite well for creating tension overall.

So without further ado, a short object lesson in tension.

Tension is like unto . . .

– a person teetering on the edge of a cliff

– a scale before a grain of rice tips it

– the straw just before the one that breaks the camel’s back

– droplets of water on a penny before they run over

Let me ‘splain.

Tension, as I am defining it here, consists of (among other things) the moments that make your audience/reader hold their breath.

– When someone is teetering at the edge of a cliff, anything could happen. Once they fall or make it to safety, the moment is over.

– When a scale is balancing itself out, it could go either way. One more grain of rice, though, can force it to permanently lean one way or another.

– As you are using an eyedropper to plop little droplets of water onto a penny, you’re counting and holding your breath and trying to see how many you can fit on it. Once the water spills over, the tension is gone. Same goes for the camel. (Have any of you guys actually ever loaded things onto a camel? Seriously, let me know.)

So, the trick to tension? Savor that moment where things can go either way. Hold onto that last grain of rice, that last droplet of water, like your life depends on it. Hold it, hold it, hold it, and build it until you can’t stand it, then release it. (Maybe a little longer for good measure. 😉 )

If you’re pitching, NEVER release that grain of rice. Make them beg you for the tiny thing gripped in your hand that will make the difference and put them out of their suspenseful agony. Whatever you do, don’t let them stop holding their breath until they simply MUST have your book this very minute.

All About the Transitions (plus Ice Cream in Hell)

Most of you know that I edit manuscripts and queries and synopses. I’ve had some great times with those, let me tell you. But less well known are my epic adventures in college admissions essay-editing.

A few hours ago, I was working with one of my students on one of those very essays and was dismayed to find that his first drafts were stiff, stilted, and just altogether uninteresting. This student is a great conversationalist, so I was surprised that he couldn’t make his amazing “I-got-my-life-back-together” story more interesting on paper. After a few sentences, though, I noticed a distinctive pattern to his writing.

He was just listing facts in order.

“I did this. Then I did that. And also I did this. And then I felt this way.”

When I typed him a response back, I stumbled upon my own little nugget of wisdom. (See conversation below)

Student:  Dang. You’re an impressive woman

Me: People pay me to make their words sound better. I sure as heck better be. But I’ll tell you a secret. It’s all about the transitions. A lot of people just write declarative sentence after declarative sentence. “I went to the movies. Then I went to ice cream. Then I went to hell.” Boring. “I went to the movies when I was suddenly struck by the urge to consume ice cream. Little did I know that my favorite ice cream spot had been swallowed up by an earthquake and had descended straight to hell!” on the other hand . . . . Also, I made that up. Just now. That will be my new flash fiction story: “Ice Cream in Hell”

Student: Instant classic

Me: HELL yes (See what I did there?)

Student: You’re hilarious. I guess I’ll work on the next one. I’ll send it to you when I’m done.

(ten minutes elapse)


Me (now very worried): ?????


Me: That’s why you have me

Student: I’M UPSET. HALP. PLZ.

Me: I will help you, you dork. Just word vomit at me, and we’ll fix it together.

Student: FINE

I think my work here is done, no? So there you have it. I’m all about them sexy transitions. Use them well, my young apprentices. Use them well.