July 30, 2014

Three Times A Charm with Mary-Jean Harris

Welcome to Three Times A Charm. I love introducing my readers to new authors, illustrators, bloggers, agents, editors or promoters from the children’s publishing industry.

Today’s guest is author, Mary-Jean Harris. Thanks for joining us, Mary-Jean. Please tell us a little about you.

I write young adult fantasy and historical fiction, both novels and short stories. My first book, Aizai the Forgotten, was released on June 20 with Muse it Up Publishing. I am now writing the sequel to Aizai the Forgotten, which will continue where the first book left off.

I am also a student at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada studying theoretical physics with a minor in philosophy. I love animals and have a miniature poodle and rabbit, and some day (soon, I hope) I want to have a Bernese Mountain Dog. I have travelled to England, Scotland, and Peru and hope to travel to many other interesting places with old ruins and castles, and beautiful places to hike.

Now, can you tell us about your book?

My young adult fantasy novel Aizai the Forgotten follows the adventures of Wolfdon Pellegrin in seventeenth century France and Spain as he searches for the lost land of Aizai. It is a story about magic hidden in the world and a mystery that Wolfdon finds himself more involved in than he could have imagined.

Now, for the Threes. Share with us your top 3’s to help us know you a little better.

  • Top 3 books you recommend reading and why you recommend them

There are so many great books, but I’ll pick 3 instead of 50 and say Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien, and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. So first off, I think the Merlin Trilogy (and the 4th book after the trilogy, The Wicked Day) are probably my favourite books ever. They are Arthurian stories told from the point of view of Merlin, starting from when he was a boy in the first book to an old man in the last. They’re so beautifully written and you really feel like you’re in the book when you read them. The characters are amazing and you get so invested in them, even if, like with all Arthurian tales, you know how things will turn out in general. The books are really magical, but there is not a lot of actual “magic” in them except for Merlin’s powers, which are not as simple for him to access as in other stories. It’s more the magic of the writing that takes you to wonderful places.
For The Lord of the Rings, this is a wonderful story that really captures the best of people and the worst, and the world of Middle Earth is so real and detailed that you can enter the story. At the same time, Tolkien makes the story epic, encompassing the fate of the entire world, and very personal, by narrowing in on humble character points of view such as Frodo, who manages to persevere and overcome the power of the ring to save the world.

And finally (I could talk about books I like all day!), Jane Eyre is one of my favourite classics. I used to not be a fan of first person narrative, but Jane is such a likeable and intriguing protagonist to follow, and she’s very smart and I completely follow the way she thinks. I love the story, and like Mary Stewart’s books, you get so invested in the characters! Also, Jane’s relationship with Mr. Rochester is really unique, and they’re both such intelligent and interesting characters that you want things to work out for them and stay with them all the way through the story.

For anyone who’s interested, I have a “best books” list on Goodreads if you want to check it out: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/5526063-mary-jean-harris?shelf=the-best

  • Top 3 tools of the trade you couldn’t live without.

Pencil, notebook, and laptop. I don’t really need anything for inspiration, because I can imagine enough myself. The pencil has to be an ultra-comfort mechanical pencil, the notebook has to be portable, easy to write in, pretty, and have lines that are spaced small enough so I don’t have to write large. I find Moleskine notebooks are the best for this. I like to take my notebooks with me everywhere, and I always write by hand first. It’s too hard to think creatively when you’re typing and looking at a screen. Be that as it may, I also need my laptop to type things up, organize my writing, and do research. And a laptop is better than a computer because then you can do everything outside, when it’s nice out, that is.

  • Top 3 favorite places.

Out of the places I’ve visited, I’d have to say the Isle of Skye in Scotland, the Amazon, and Disney World! I went to England and Scotland last summer, and I especially loved the Isle of Skye. I stayed in a remote B&B in the country by the water, and it was such a nice place to walk and explore. Also on the Isle of Skye is a mountain range called the Quiraing and a “fairy glen” and “fairy pools” that were really beautiful.

I also loved the Amazon rainforest when I went to Peru a few summers ago. I stayed at a wild animal rehabilitation centre to help volunteer, and it was such a nice area, so peaceful, and I got to sleep outside in hammocks at night. And Disney World is just awesome. I loved Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom the best, and I definitely want to go back there. No one is too old for Disney!

Where can our tech savvy readers find more about you and your books?

Thanks for joining us on this week’s Three Times A Charm, Mary-Jean. Best of luck to you and Aizai.


GUESTS WELCOME!  I am always looking for guests for Three Times A Charm. If you are an author, illustrator or book reviewer, an agent or an editor. If you have something related to children’s publishing that you’d like people to know about, feel free to contact me about a future appearance.

July 29, 2014

Favorite Authors' Favorites

Welcome to my new feature all about author favorites. One thing I really love about the internet is the access it gives us to authors. Heck, I’m a fangirl and I’m not afraid to admit it, and I LOVE to be able to help readers get to know their favorite authors as well as discover new ones.

When I put the call out to authors to answer my ‘Favorites’ questions, I didn’t expect for my to-read list to grow so fast. Grab a pen and paper, or log onto Goodreads, because more than likely you’ll find a title or two to add to your very own list. Please visit the authors’ websites and browse their work. Be sure to come back weekly to learn more about many awesome authors!

I asked authors to share with us some of their favorite middle grade fantasy books.

Noah Zarc: Mammoth Hunter  by D. Robert Pease I just recently read and reviewed this one. The action and the characters were exciting. The main character is in a wheelchair, so it is a good story for kids with a great message about what kids can do if someone has faith in them. –Christina Weigand (Christina writes Christian Fantasy fiction for kids and teens.) 

The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. Don't give me that look! I know everyone's probably picking Harry Potter, but there is that moment in this book where Harry is choosing his path. Young, brilliant, all of life stretching out before him, and he consciously and willingly chooses to face Voldemort, knowing he could die. One of the most poignant, beautifully written scenes I've ever read in any book. –Dianne Hartsock (Dianne writes m/m erotic romances, both contemporary and fantasy, psychological thrillers, and anything else that comes to mind.) 

Percy Jackson and The Olympians Series by Rick Riordan. Percy made me laugh throughout the whole series (example: “Hercules, huh?” Percy frowned. "That guy was like the Starbucks of Ancient Greece. Everywhere you turn--there he is.”), and I enjoyed the imaginative rendering of the Greek gods. –Erin Albert (Erin writes fiction for the young adult crossover market.) 

I also asked authors what book inspired them to write. The Harry Potter series did it for me. While I was waiting for the release of book 5 in the series I decided to keep myself occupied by making up a world of my own. Beware of the White (and the Underworld city of Concord) was born.

The Diary of Anne Frank. I read the book for the first time when I was in school and it really moved me. To date, one of the most inspiring books I've ever read. –Jo Linsdell (Jo is an author and illustrator of children's picture books and also non-fiction - mainly marketing and Italy.)   

The Percy Jackson series inspired my middle grade fantasy. I reread parts of those books while I drafted mine. I have Post-it notes all over the series because certain passages are just that good, whether because of the voice that draws the reader in or the tension and pace of the action scenes. –Kelly Hashway (Kelly writes write fiction for kids and teens.)

As much as I hate to admit it, Twilight was one of the last books to finally push me over the ledge to write professionally. –Sheri Larsen (Sheri writes about the unseen and the average teen/tween who's not so average.) 

July 28, 2014

Excerpt of Worth the Effort: Ayden's Story

With only days left before the publication of WORTH THE EFFORT: AYDEN'S STORY, I thought I'd give you a peek at the first chapter. For those of you who have read ELLA'S STORY, this opening answers the question of why Ayden was in the alley in the first place. For those of you who haven't read ELLA'S STORY - what are you waiting for?! ELLA'S STORY is told from her point of view in first person, present. AYDEN'S STORY switches gears and puts us inside Ayden's head. He tells his story in first person past. I found the past tense a better fit for his careful personality.

Chapter One:

The timer in the lower corner of the computer screen showed only five minutes remaining. After saving the document I worked on, I clicked into my inbox. Empty.

Three minutes.

I drummed my fingers on the keyboard, making the clicking noises, but not actually typing. The lady at the computer across from me glared in my direction, and I stilled my nervous digits. When her gaze took in my unkempt appearance, fear widened her previously narrowed eyes and she shifted her attention back to her own screen. I rolled my eyes.

If she only knew.

I’m like a spider. Everyone shies away from me because of my homelessness, but in actuality, I’m more afraid of them than they are of me.

An email popped into my inbox, and I opened it with lightning speed.

Sorry about that Ayden. The portal has been reset. –Vince Hessler

I clicked over to the website just as a pop up screen informed me my time was up.

Growling at the offending message gained a nervous glance from the lady across from me. I closed out of the Internet browser and scanned the bank of desks under a sign that read REFERENCE, in the center of the library. Only one was occupied and it wasn’t by the person I hoped to see. My lip curled at the empty chair, and I pounded my fist onto the surface of the table. Not too hard. Not psycho hard. Admittedly, the display was intended for the skittish woman sitting across from me. I don’t usually make it a habit to growl like an animal, but the action probably wasn’t too far outside what she expected of me anyway. Sometimes it felt satisfying to confirm a person’s misconceptions.

My homework was due that day, which meant I had to find my favorite library assistant. As a volunteer, her login time wasn’t restricted. She loved that I still attended my high school classes through online school regardless of the fact that I lived on the streets. Though not always easy to find, she was always eager to help.

As soon as I abandoned my computer, a waiting patron slid onto the chair. I wandered the maze of bookshelves, hoping she was at least on the same floor.

Finally, I found her squatting in non-fiction, a rolling cart piled high with books to be re-shelved, sitting next to her.

“Um…Ms. Cooper?” I said it quietly, afraid I’d startle her by sneaking up behind her.

She glanced over her shoulder, a grin blooming on her wrinkled face when she saw me. “Ayden! Hello.”

Clutching what appeared to be a shelf of Asian cookbooks, Ms. Cooper pulled herself to her feet, groaning slightly.

“What can I do for you?” she asked.

I looked up and down the aisle to verify no one stood near. “My time ran out on the computer before I was able to submit my homework.”

Her black bushy eyebrows were a dramatic contrast to her frizzy white hair. You’d expect her to look mean, but her apple cheeks hadn’t deserted her over the years, and they were enough to make her a jolly—though odd—combination of age and youth, grumpiness and cheerfulness. Not being able to sort out her temperament on sight, I never would have spoken to her on my own. It was her consistent kindness that finally broke through to me. Every time she passed me sitting at a computer, she’d ask if I was finding everything I needed. When she saw me sitting and reading, she’d stop to chat about the book. Never for too long, just enough to eventually put me at ease.

“Well, we can’t have that, can we?” Her smile was thoroughly open. Admirable for its honesty.

I followed her and the squeaky cart to her desk. Shaking the computer mouse to wake the screen, she perched on the edge of her rolling chair, making me cringe—worried the chair would roll out from under her.

“Same site as last time?” she asked.

I focused my darting gaze back on her and nodded. I stood next to her desk in order to see the screen, but tried not to get too close, so as not to offend her olfactory senses. Living outside made it easy to forget how long it had been between showers or when I last donned a fresh set of clothes. With four walls around me and no wafting breeze, even my own eyes watered sometimes.

She typed in the web address for the school district’s online classes.

“Hessler,” I said, so she’d know which teacher’s portal address to copy.

She opened a second Internet tab and typed in my email carrier. A small smile formed on my lips when she typed in my user name and password without asking for them. Ms. Cooper and I – we had history. In my cloud drive, she hovered the cursor over my documents.

“Dissonance and Destruction,” I said, and she right clicked on the title.

While she prepared the email to Mr. Hessler’s portal, she said, “Sounds like an uplifting assignment.”

I didn’t answer, and she couldn’t see my polite smile. I held my breath while the circle that tells you the computer is thinking rotated on her screen. Finally, a text box popped up confirming the document was delivered. It said, “Congratulations!” The exclamation point always seemed like excessive celebration to me. Like a referee should blow a whistle and tack on penalty yards to the next play.

“Any more?” Ms. Cooper asked, her eyes bright and hopeful.

I shook my head. “Thank you, ma’am.”

“Oh, stop with the ma’am already, Ayden. How many times do I have to tell you to call me Ida?” She signed out of my email account and closed all the windows.

“At least one more time I guess, ma’am.” Relief over having the assignment submitted allowed me to relax a bit. I was a rule follower, and there was nothing worse for my well-being than something getting in the way of me following rules. Especially rules like due dates.

She stood and patted my arm. I wanted to shrink away so as not to offend her, though she had never once shown any sign of disgust. Not like the lady who worked the circulation desk. She always wrinkled her nose at me when I passed.

A new anxiety stirred in my stomach to replace my nervousness over a possible late assignment. People. Looking. Too many people darting multiple glances in my direction. Some stared outright, with lips curled or brows furrowed. Others were more covert, yet somehow more obvious, when the whites of their eyes flashed with each sideways peek. I needed to leave.

“Thanks again, Ms. Cooper. I really appreciate your help.”

She reached over in almost a leisurely manner, like she knew I was in a hurry and wanted to assure me I didn’t need to be. Rubbing my back, she said, “Anytime, Ayden. You know that.”

I nodded and practically ran across the floor to the staircase. As I dashed down the stairs, my mind scolded me for leaving without getting a book to read. But the panic I felt from being in a public building overwhelmed my desire to lose myself inside a story, and I scooted through the front doors and into the crisp air.

When my nerves relaxed, and I felt invisible again—no longer under the scrutiny of every person I passed—I realized the shadows of the downtown buildings were long.

I headed straight to the park to meet up with my friends. A significant number of kids camped together on the public lands just outside of town.  Anyone who came to town during the day would congregate near the public restrooms in the late afternoon and walk out to the camp together. I saw immediately the park was already empty. I wandered around town and checked a couple other spots, hoping to run into another stray that might be heading to camp late. As the days grew colder and shorter, no one really lingered like in the summer months. They were too eager to warm themselves by the campfire.

With the daylight fading, I didn’t want to make the long walk to camp by myself. Instead, I wandered through downtown, ducking into the recessed doorways of closed office buildings for respite from the wind. I wished I were cleaner so I could stop at a fast food joint, buy a cup of coffee, and sit inside until they kicked me out. To keep warm, I kept moving, wandering up and down streets, and through alleyways.

Late that night, I happened into an alley, deciding it was better than most. Cleaner, I guess. And darker. Bone tired, I curled up in a makeshift corner where a dumpster had been pushed against a building. My thick army jacket kept me from feeling the abrasive texture of the brick wall, and the bulky expanse of the dumpster blocked the wind. I knew I’d get used to the sweet acrid smell of rot soon enough, which was never the case in the summer heat. The improvised nook gave me a sense of defined space, like I was in half a room. I huddled deep inside my coat and drifted to sleep.

Early the next morning, the crunching of debris and gravel startled me awake. A girl walked into a patch of light that spilled from a fixture above the backdoor of a café. My sleepy mind admired the bounce in her step. The way her ponytail swished back and forth, her hourglass shape—apparent even under a wool coat. As she shoved a key into the lock, the yellow from the overhead bulb glowed in her hair like fairy lights. A sheen radiated from her pale skin, as if the heavy yellow cascading from the lone fixture couldn’t penetrate such porcelain purity, so it bounced merrily away.

She was alluring. I was reminded of images of elves in movies, delicate and perfect. The darkness of her clothing bled into the surrounding shadows until all I saw was her otherworldly profile. I was enthralled. Maybe I was still asleep.

Leaning forward to get a better look probably wasn’t the smartest move to make, but I couldn’t help myself. My movement scared her and made her jerk away from the door. The key tumbled through the air before landing in shadows on the ground. Without thinking, I bounded to my feet in pursuit of it. My reaction surprised me, and I remember thinking, What is wrong with you?

When I handed the key back, I looked at her face and recognized her. I was horrified. I imagined pulling a Quasimodo and scaling the building with my bare hands to disappear on the rooftop. I wanted to get far away. Pretend she never saw me.

I heard her sharp intake of breath. Then I recognized the fear in her wide eyes, the fight or flight stance, and my humiliation became complete. I may as well have had a hunchback and been disfigured. It wouldn’t have been any worse. At least I could have reasoned away her reaction.

In that solitary moment, my failure shaped her reaction. My own fear reflected back at me. And I hated myself. Hated.

***end of excerpt***

Want more? Don't worry, it won't be long now. Be sure you've signed up for my newsletter so you are alerted to the publication of the story. Also, add it on Goodreads.

I'd love to know what you think. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section, or ask a question if one comes to mind. If you love the excerpt please share the post with your friends and family.

July 25, 2014

Building Character with Martin Samuels from Geek Games

It’s Friday! Time for my blog feature, Building Character in which you get to meet characters from a book. Talking to a character outside of their book is fun! Huge. Amounts. Of fun. 

This week Strands of Thought plays host to Martin Samuels from Geek Games. Welcome, Martin. Can you tell our readers a little about yourself, please?

Hi, I'm Martin Samuels from Geek Games. Right now I'm a couple of hundred years in your future, and I got involved with a bunch of aliens and some terrorists. I ended up doing something stupid, and as a result my friend's father died.  I'd give anything to be able to take it back and make it not have happened, but life doesn't work like that. Instead, I'm left with trying to do something to balance out my cosmic karma – or whatever it is – by doing something to catch the jorks who actually set off the bomb.

Wow, Martin. That’s really serious! I hope that’s the only conflict you’re up against.

Conflict? I was an idiot, and then my father was a traitor, and I fell in love with this alien guy, and I was chasing drug running terrorists and got myself captured by them. I had just a few problems, you might say.

On the other hand, from my father's point of view, my biggest problem was getting born in the first place. He despises me. Or he did. They carted him off to Purgatory, which is the prison planet where they house low-life scum like him. It's a frozen hell-hole, so he won't be bothering me for a while.

What are some of the biggest stumbling blocks you’ve encountered trying to resolve all your trouble?

Well, first of all, Keth's father was dead as a result of my bringing down the spaceport computer network, and nothing I could do would bring him back. Then I learned  my father was a traitor, so I had no place to live. I wanted to make amends, but I'm fourteen, and the traitors I was after were somewhere in the Aleyne system. I couldn't conjure a space ship, so I had to figure out a way to get someone to take me along on one. I finally got lucky there.

Tell us about your best friend or side kick.

 I'll tell you about Beram, who is the guy –the Aleyni – I fell for. He'd a couple of years older than me, and he's apprenticed to Sovan Namar, who is this Aleyni computer expert.  I met him because Major Reynolds, who is in charge of the Terran Federation base here on Aleyne, made me help restore the damage to the spaceport computer network that  happened when I brought it down.

Aleynis are humanoid aliens with very dark skin. They have oval heads and wider hands and feet than humans. They also have no body hair, which I learned in the course of my adventures. The official Federation word is that they can't interbreed with humans, but that's a lie, like so much of what our wonderful Federation tells us.

Is there anything about you that people are always giving you a hard time about? How do you feel about it?

My father gives me a hard time about liking guys, not girls. My so-called friends would have, too, if they'd known about it. I'm pretty sure some of them suspect. Certainly Tom, who is the kid would induced me to bring down the net, does.

How do I feel about this? Before all this started I'd have given a million credits if I could have turned a switch and liked girls instead, but now – nope. I like me fine just the way I am.

See, the thing about the Aleyni is that they think liking guys or girls is pretty much the same thing. They form four-way relationships, and I guess from a human point of view, they're mostly bisexual.

In fact, Beram's parents were glad to discover he was interested in me. Why? Well, he hadn't been interested in anyone up until now, and they were wondering if he was okay and stuff.

I’m very discouraged to hear that 200 years in our future people are still hung up on a person’s orientation. Won’t we ever learn to just be happy for people who are in love? Sheesh!

What are your three favorite leisure activities?

I spent most of my time before all this started hacking computers. I'm really good at it, which is how I got myself into trouble in the first place. I've gotten into more supposedly secure systems than any of the grown-ups would believe. Was it hard? Some of it, but mostly – no. People are stupid. They write down their passwords, use their kids names, or never change them once they're set.  I also like photography, and I've been learning Aleyni. I speak it pretty well, actually. Um, and I kind of like poetry, but don't tell any of my friends. The human ones anyway. Aleynis are a lot more open.

If you could change one thing in this world, what would you change?

 I'd make humans more like Aleynis. Aleynis never lie, and they have a truth sense so they know when someone else is lying. You can trust them to deal fairly with you and to be up front about what's going on. If our government would get with that program, we might actually make some progress.

It was great to get to know you, Martin. Thanks for stopping by. Readers, here is more information about Martin’s book Geek Games:

When fourteen-year-old Martin lets Tom, a charismatic bully, persuade him to bring down the spaceport computer network, he never considers someone will place a bomb resulting in the death of his friend's father. Nothing will bring Captain Frey back, but if Martin can help locate the terrorists' drug lab, perhaps he'll be able to forgive himself.

And here is the 411 on Martin’s author:

Born and raised in New York City, Margaret Fieland has lived in the Boston area since 1978.  She is an avid science fiction fan, and selected Robert A. Heinlein's “Farmer in the Sky” for her tenth birthday, now long past. In spite of earning her living as a computer software engineer, she turned to one of her sons to put up the first version of her website, a clear indication of the computer generation gap. Thanks to her father's relentless hounding, she can still recite the rules for pronoun agreement in both English and French. She can also write backwards and wiggle her ears. Her poems have appeared in journals such as Melusine, Front Range Review, and All Rights Reserved.  She is one of the Poetic Muselings. Their poetry anthology, Lifelines, was published by Inkspotter Publishing in November, 2011.  She is the author of  Relocated, Geek Games, and Broken Bonds,  published by MuseItUp Publishing, and of Sand in the Desert, a collection of science fiction persona poems.  A chapter book is due out later this year.

July 22, 2014

Favorite Authors' Favorites

Welcome to my new feature all about author favorites. A feature I like to call Fave-A-Fave. One thing I really love about the internet is the access it gives us to authors. Heck, I’m a fangirl and I’m not afraid to admit it, and I LOVE to be able to help readers get to know their favorite authors as well as discover new ones.

When I put the call out to authors to answer my ‘Favorites’ questions, I didn’t expect for my to-read list to grow so fast. Grab a pen and paper, or log onto Goodreads, because more than likely you’ll find a title or two to add to your very own list. Please visit the authors’ websites and browse their work. Be sure to come back weekly to learn more about other awesome authors!

First I asked authors to share with us some of their favorite young adult fantasy books.

The Host by Stephanie Meyers. I loved this book. It’s a different spin on Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Big difference is that Stephanie does an amazing job of having two main characters in the same body, providing an inside look at the aliens. It has suspense, a little romance, and invokes deep thought about how good and bad our ‘human’ instincts can be, especially when survival of our race is at stake. -Ruth Colter (Ruth writes lite sci-fi suspense fiction with strong female characters.)

This one is really hard for me, because there are so many great dystopian books I’ve enjoyed, but I’m going to say the Chaos Walking trilogy (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, Monsters of Men) by Patrick Ness. I thought they were smart, thought provoking, and discussion provoking, all while being addicting page-turners. –Shel Delisle (Shel writes light fiction for teens.)

The Hunger Games. The first was given to me on a dare to give this a try since I normally don’t read those types of books. I ate all three books up in less than a week. –Angela Smith (Angela writes romance novels in an attempt to solve love’s mystery, where happy-ever-afters are a given and characters seek adventure.)

I also asked authors what the scariest book they’ve read is. For me it's probably The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson. I read it in my early teen years and I was alone in our big house a lot. At night. It scared the bejeebies out of me!

PET SEMATARY by Stephen King. Graveyards are scary enough, but supernatural graveyards are shivery. –Beverly Stowe McClure (Beverly writes fiction for children and teens.)

Either Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, or Fear Nothing by Dean Koontz. Koontz brings the scary like a boss. The Scary Story collection is one I read with all my Elementary school friends and the stories are with me to this day. –Crystal Collier (Crystal writes fantastic genre mash-ups for teens and young (even if only at heart) women. There may even be cheese involved. Or not.)

I have read a lot of frightening books in my time. Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and John Saul have all done noble jobs of chilling my bones and making the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Among all these tombs of doom I think It, by Mr. King, did the most thorough job of scaring the beezus out of me. I read that one about three times during my ‘tween and teen years an each time I made a wide berth of storm drains and manhole covers for weeks. -Deek Rhew (Deek is an adult thriller author.) 

July 18, 2014

Cover Reveal for Soulless by Crystal Collier

Have you met the Soulless and Passionate? In the world of 1770 where supernatural beings mix with humanity, Alexia is playing a deadly game.

SOULLESS, Book 2 in the Maiden of Time trilogy

Alexia manipulated time to save the man of her dreams, and lost her best friend to red-eyed wraiths. Still grieving, she struggles to reconcile her loss with what was gained: her impending marriage. But when her wedding is destroyed by the Soulless—who then steal the only protection her people have—she's forced to unleash her true power.

And risk losing everything.

What people are saying about this series: 

"With a completely unique plot that keeps you guessing and interested, it brings you close to the characters, sympathizing with them and understanding their trials and tribulations." --SC, Amazon reviewer

"It's clean, classy and supernaturally packed with suspense, longing, intrigue and magic." --Jill Jennings, TX

"SWOON." --Sherlyn, Mermaid with a Book Reviewer

Crystal Collier is a young adult author who pens dark fantasy, historical, and romance hybrids. She can be found practicing her brother-induced ninja skills while teaching children or madly typing about fantastic and impossible creatures. She has lived from coast to coast and now calls Florida home with her creative husband, three littles, and “friend†(a.k.a. the zombie locked in her closet). Secretly, she dreams of world domination and a bottomless supply of cheese. You can find her on her blog and Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.

COMING October 13, 2014

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July 16, 2014

Project Fierce Chicago - Everyone Deserves A Home

My sister-in-law approached me a while back to ask if I'd help her spread the word about a project she is involved in. She knew I might be interested, because the project benefits homeless youth, a subject I address in my Worth the Effort series. 
One of the reasons I chose to tell Ayden's Story is because I feel it is VERY important to 1) expose people (especially teens) to the fact that there are homeless kids and 2) let people know there are so many different reasons kids end up on the streets. The underage homeless population is exceptionally vulnerable and really flies under the radar.
So when Dianne approached me, I jumped on the chance. I'll repeat: There are so many reasons kids end up on the streets. Dianne Hartsock is here to share some with you, along with the anthology project she's a part of. Since it is RELEASE DAY for the anthology, we're among the first to hear about it. Take it away, Dianne.
Thank you Kai for having me over! I wanted to talk a little bit about homelessness today and the Project Fierce Charity Anthology, in which I'm very happy to say my story SAMMY is part of.
Nobody deserves to be without a home. In collaboration with several authors, Less Than Three Press offers up an anthology of stories about young people who find that home and family are not always where you expect to find them.

All proceeds from this charity anthology will be donated to
Project Fierce Chicago.

Project Fierce Chicago's mission is to reduce LGBTQ youth homelessness in Chicago by providing affirming, no-cost transitional housing and comprehensive support services to homeless LGBTQ young adults. PFC also aims to encourage community-building and civic engagement through cooperative living and youth leadership development.

LT3's Project Fierce Chicago charity anthology includes 20 short stories from
Aeris, Vicktor Alexander, Talya Andor, C.J. Anthony, Blaine D. Arden, Kayla Bain-Vrba, Sophie Bonaste, Kenzie Cade, Jana Denardo, Alessandra Ebulu, Dianne Hartsock, Leta Hutchins, Caitlin Ricci, Lor Rose, B. Snow, Rin Sparrow, Andrea Speed, Piper Vaughn, Layla M. Wier, and Xara X. Xanakas
Pairings: M/M, F/F, genderqueer
Content: Contains no explicit content.


Homelessness has devastating effects on children. Children that lack stable housing experience chronic stress and trauma from frequent moves, inconsistent relationships, and from witnessing domestic violence. The stress and trauma is physically, emotionally and cognitively damaging to them.

According to The National Center on Family Homelessness’ 2010 America’s Youngest Outcast Report, children experiencing homelessness:
  • 97% move up to three times within one year
  • Have experienced  abuse and neglect along with the stresses associated with the loss of their home, safety and sense of security
  • Go hungry at twice the rate of other children
  • Have three times the rate of emotional and behavioral problems, such as anxiety, depression, sleep problems and aggression
  • 40% attend two different schools in a year and 28% attend three or more different schools
  • Have four times more likely to have delayed development and twice as likely to have learning disabilities
  • Are 16% less proficient at reading and math than their peers
  • One-third repeat a grade
  • Have little or no positive interaction with adults


Chicago Public Schools identified 2,512 unaccompanied youth attending their schools in 2012-13, teens who were homeless and living without parent or guardian. There are only 360 youth beds in Chicago.
Homeless youth face daily challenges while living on their own. They need to secure food and shelter, find a job or return to school. The choices many make in order to survive are often not good for them and can affect their adult life.

Consequences of youth experiencing homelessness:
  • 32% have attempted suicide
  • Victims of rape and assault at 2 to 3 times higher the rate than their stably housed peers
  • More than one-third of homeless youth engage in survival sex (when sex is exchanged for money, shelter, food or other basic needs)
  • Only one in four graduate from high school
  • Greater risk of suffering from chronic health disorders like asthma and diabetes
  • More likely to suffer from anxiety disorders, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder

Project Fierce Chicago is a grassroots group of youth advocates and community members working to create housing for homeless LGBTQ youth in Chicago. 

Everyone deserves a safe and stable home!

Sammy: My story in the Project Fierce Anthology

At fifteen, Sam inadvertently comes out to his parents, but instead of the support he hopes for, they send him to live with his uncle. Unfortunately, the man is even less tolerant of his uniqueness. Rather than change to please his family, feeling unwanted and misunderstood, he runs away to find a better life.

But the crowded city isn't kind to a young man with no home and no prospects of work. When this story opens, Sam has been on the streets for several years when one of his 'regulars' begins to take more than a business interest in him. For the first time Sammy dreams of more than a bleak lonely future, but does he dare hope that someone like him could find their happily ever after?


John tossed his apron in the hamper then slipped out the back of the shelter into the dark alley and hurried around to the brightly lit street in front. Couples were enjoying the last of the day's warmth on the waterfront and he envied them as he headed toward his apartment complex. His pulse sped up as he neared the Morrison Bridge. Though it was after nine, traffic was still heavy on the bridge and also along Naito Parkway.

Passing under the bridge, he glanced down the bike path running alongside it, searching  for Sammy. His heart leaped to his throat on seeing the familiar figure huddled on the grass, arms wrapped around his knees, looking alone and dejected. John ached to go to him, but would Sam want to talk to him? They weren't really friends. John paid for his company.

A soft sob floated on the night air and plunged straight into John's heart. He hurried over to Sam, then stood biting his lips, not sure what to say.

"What do you want?" Sammy's voice sounded tired, rough with tears.

"Do you need help? Can I do anything?"

Sam raised his head, blue eyes shimmering at him through wet lashes. Recognition sparked in the beautiful depths, then they widened. "You." Sam struggled to his feet, hugging his bare arms across his chest against the chill creeping up from the river. "Sorry, I have to cancel on you. I'm closed for the night. Try again tomorrow."

He brushed past John and started down the bike path. John's heart thumped painfully. "Sam?"

The young man stopped and swiveled abruptly. The lamplight caught his expression, a hint of fear, anger; the light clearly showing a cut lip and the dark swelling of a bruise on his ivory cheek. John clamped his lips shut on a murmur of pity, noting he held his left arm as if it hurt.

Helplessness swept through John. "Let me help you. I can make you a cup of coffee at least. And dinner, if you're interested. I make great spaghetti."

Doubt crossed Sam's pretty face and the end of his pink tongue nudged the cut on his lip, twisting John's heart. Impulsively, he touched Sam's arm. "Did someone hurt you?"

Sam stared at his hand, not answering. John was grateful he didn't yank his arm away. Finally Sam nodded.

Anger flashed through John, but he didn't want to scare Sam off with questions. "Come home with me," he urged softly. "I won't ask anything of you. I want to help and… I could use the company tonight."

Blue eyes glanced upwards, vulnerable. But then Sam blinked and mischief curled his lips. John winced at his false bravado. "Whatever you say, hon." Sam hooked their arms and started along the wide path following the riverfront. After only a few steps in the chill evening air, John shrugged out of his coat and put it around Sam's shoulders. Sam looked amused but pulled the coat tighter around his thin cotton shirt. "Thanks."

John's heart pattered. He liked Sam's arm linked with his. A few people gave them curious glances, but for the most part, they were ignored. He wished the circumstances were better, that maybe Sam was his boyfriend and they were walking home from the movies. They reached his street and his pulse quickened when he led Sam to his apartment.

July 8, 2014

Elspeth the Living Dead Girl: The Art of Teen Girl Flirting by Stuart West

I'm happy to turn my blog over to Stuart R. West. He'd like to talk a little about his new book, ELSPETH THE LIVING DEAD GIRL. Or more accurately, about the voice within the book. 

Take it away, Stuart.

Thanks so much, Kai, for having me on your blog.

Elspeth the Living Dead Girl is my newest novel.  One live girl, one dead, both sharing the same body. It’s complicated. Elspeth is a take no prisoners tough gal, dead, plucked from Limbo to take over Elizabeth’s body to bring down a high school drug dealer. On the other hand, Elizabeth is an ice princess, a future dominator of the world. All she wants to do is marry Prince Charming, make a couple million bucks, and most importantly, become prom queen. Very different agendas.

You know, I’m probably not the most logical choice to be the biographer of these two very different teen girls. I’m a 53 year old male. What do I know, right? But as Elizabeth channels Elspeth, the two girls pretty much channeled through me as well. All of my past protagonists have been male. This book was daunting to write, yet I had loads of fun writing this tale. The book’s told via a twin narrative of the teen gals. And they pretty much wrote themselves. I couldn’t stop them.

When my wife read it, she flipped out, asked me, “How did you learn so much about how teen girls flirt?” I said, “I didn’t. They told me.”

Here. Elizabeth is taking on a “project,” teaching her new friend-in-training how to deal with boys:

Next up in my tutorial came the fine art of flirting, a true talent bestowed upon very few girls. Not only was it fun, but if done properly, it was an amazing way to get boys to do things for you.
“Okay, Addie, how would you approach a boy?” I asked her at our initial training session.
She swayed back and forth uncertainly in her flats. “I don’t know. I guess I’d go up to him and ask him if he’s going to the spring formal—”
“Wrong!” I turned the full-length mirror toward her. “Addie, pretend your image is the boy you desire.” I quickly put a stop to her eye rolling with a glare. “First, you never act desperate! Desperation is a tool reserved for those lacking in self-confidence. You may as well wear a sign, saying, ‘I’m desperate! Someone—anyone—date me!’”
“Elizabeth, I don’t know—”
 “I know, Addie. That’s why you have me.” I flashed my perfect teeth at her. “Okay, now sashay!”
“Um, what?”
“Sashay! Sashay in front of the boy, taking extra care to not look him in the eyes.”
“Okay.” Addison moved her hips back and forth like she’d lost her point of gravity. She turned to me, giggling. “Elizabeth, I feel silly.”
 “You do look silly. Who taught you how to sashay, anyway? Madame Olga of the house of ill-repute?”
Addison snorted, attempting to cover the uncouth sound with her hand.
“Okay, we do not sashay like common hos. Watch.” I walked toward the mirror, chin jutting out, shoulders balanced and back, legs close together, eyes locked firmly in front of me. I paused in front of the mirror, flung my hair back before continuing. “Did you see what I did there?”
 “Wow…yeah.” I had totally earned the admiration in her voice.
“Now you try.” It took Addison longer than two hours before she mastered the subtle, yet classy, sashay. And this was only the first lesson in how to deal with boys. A slow student, but I felt she’d be worth the effort.
“Where did you learn how to do that, Elizabeth?”
“I suppose I learned a lot of it from my mother. She’s a bona fide trophy wife. We could both learn a lot from her. Okay, once you get the boy’s attention, what do you do next?”
Addison stared into the mirror, a goofy smile plastered across her face. “Hi! I’m Addison. Are you going to the dance?”
“Wrong!” I clapped my hands together loudly, startling her. “Addie, Addie, Addie, what are we going to do with you?” Although the question was rhetorical, I stared at her expectantly, letting her realize the severity of her situation. “Here’s what you do next…nothing.
“Absolutely nothing.
 “Once you master the first steps, and it will take practice and determination, you might try a backward glance, followed by a brief smile—mouth closed, no teeth showing. But since you’re a beginner, just skip that part for now.”
“But what if it puts him off?”
I hung my head, shaking it like a bobblehead. “Addie, do you trust me?” She nodded emphatically, her eyes wide with adulation. “Fine. You obviously don’t know boys. It’s bred into their nature to enjoy a challenge. They have to think they’re the ones in charge, the ones who make the conquest. So, we let them think that. What they don’t know is we’re the ones who pull the strings on these silly little would-be macho marionettes.”
Addison laughed.
“Just trust me, Addie. You repeat this first step several times—just like treating your hair, wash, rinse, repeat—and soon, they’ll be chasing you around, doting on your every word and command.”
Did I capture it or not, you be the judge. But prepare yourself for mystery, comedy, drama, suspense, and, I hope, a few tissues as well.

Elspeth the Living Dead Girl:

The Tex, the Witch Boy Trilogy:


July 2, 2014

Reviewers Wanted for YA Romance Novella

I'm looking for a few (read hundreds of) good readers to review my upcoming novella, WORTH THE EFFORT: AYDEN'S STORY. It is not necessary that you have read Ella's Story first.

Seventeen-year-old Ayden Worth shouldn’t have to seek peace of mind in the streets. But as family pressures mount, his anxieties increase, and he turns his back on comfort for a life in homeless camps and back alleys.

Then one fateful day he runs into the only person he ever wanted to know better. Ella Jones. His memories paint her as kind and undemanding, and it seems the years haven’t changed her. Her simple expectations draw him to her. Against all odds, a relationship buds and grows.

Yet, as Ayden repairs his life, Ella suggests he help others who also struggle. Will Ella turn out to be just like his dad, expecting more from him than he can give? Or will he prove that he is worth the effort?

Worth the Effort – Ayden’s Story is a young adult contemporary romance novella at 22,000 words.

Just fill out the form below and I'll send the eArc as soon as it is available. No later than July 15th. I am asking that the reviews be posted between July 31 and Aug 3 if possible. That will help my novella enter the world with a bang. If the review is posted later, I probably won't mind too much. Keep those reviews coming.

Even if you can't do a review at this time, please help me recruit reviewers. Just click on the bird to send a tweet.
Tweet: Reviewers wanted for new YA Romance novella by @KaiStrand http://ctt.ec/AKC75+

FYI, Ayden's Story will not be offered as a KDP exclusive, so it is possible this will be the only opportunity for readers to get it for free. 

Now that you've signed up, add to your Goodreads shelf!