Who’s ready to read The Elemental Series??

Lots of news today!

First, Elemental, the short prequel to Storm, is available today. It’s an e-Book only release, but it’s short enough to read on the computer if you don’t have an e-Reader. This story takes place five years before the start of Storm, and you’ll get some insight into what makes Michael Merrick tick. Here’s some linkage to make it easy:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Google Books

Keep reading to the end of this post for an excerpt.

Second, if you’re hankering for a copy of Storm, there are some giveaways going on:

Goodreads giveaway (US and Canada only)

Sarah at I’m Loving Books did an interview with me, and she’s got an INTERNATIONAL giveaway on her blog.


Finally, I’ll do a giveaway of Storm myself. If you download a copy of Elemental and tell me so in the comments, I’ll choose one winner Friday morning. Contest is open until 8am New York City time on Friday morning. Just add a comment that you downloaded Elemental, and you’re entered! This contest is open to everyone on the planet. (i.e., international is okay)

And as promised, here’s an excerpt from Elemental, if you need a little extra motivation:

CHAPTER ONE
The thrill of having a summer job wore off about fifteen minutes after Emily Morgan started working. She’d had two customers all day. The sports complex was such a joke. No wonder she hadn’t had any competition for this job.
It wasn’t even a sports complex, not really. Mini-golf that no one wanted to play when it was a hundred degrees outside. Batting cages that no one would use until school started up in the fall. She probably wouldn’t see another soul until after five, when the white collar dads showed up to use the driving range as a last ditch effort to avoid going home to screaming kids.
Even then, in this heat, she’d be lucky if there were many.
Ugh, her hair was already plastered to her neck. Days like these, she wished she had enough power to do more than stir up a gentle breeze.
Then she choked off that thought.
She knew what happened to kids with power.
Besides, sitting here wasn’t so bad. She worked the shop alone, so she could blast the entire soundtrack to Rent and Les Mis and sing along, and no one would give a crap. She didn’t have to watch her brother Tyler light insects on fire with a magnifying glass and a sunbeam, like he’d done last summer. She didn’t have to listen to her parents argue.
She could count the days until she turned eighteen.
Until she could get away from her family.
The shop door creaked and rattled, sticking in the humidity. Emily straightened, excited for a customer, for someone—anyone—to break up this cruel monotony.
Anyone but Michael Merrick.
For a second, she entertained the thought of diving behind the counter.
Real mature, Em.
But her hands were slick against the glass casing.
It wasn’t that he looked all that intimidating. He’d be starting his senior year this fall, just like she was, but sometime over the last six months he’d grown to the tall side of average. He worked for his parents’ landscaping company, she knew, and it couldn’t have been light work—his arms showed some clear definition, his shoulders stretching the red tee shirt he wore.
He was filthy, too. Dirt streaked across his chest and clung to the sweat on his neck. His jeans had seen better days, and his work boots would probably track dirt across the floor. Even his hair, dark and wild and a length somewhere between sexy and I-don’t-give-a-crap, was more unkempt than usual.
Emily didn’t care about any of that.
She had her eyes on the baseball bat in his hands.
He’d gotten into it with Tyler last weekend, had sent her brother home with a black eye and a bloody nose, leaving their parents to argue for an hour about how they were going to handle the Merrick problem.
Emily slid her hand along the counter, toward where they kept the putt-putt clubs for little kids.
“I don’t want any trouble,” she said, her voice solid, but too quick. Her fingers wrapped around the handle of a club.
Michael’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t either.”
Then she realized he hadn’t moved from the doorway, that he was still standing there staring at her, his hand on the knob.
He glanced past her, at the corners of the shop, as if reassuring himself that they were alone. She had no idea what that meant. She watched him take in her stance, the way she’d half-pulled the putt-putt club free.
He followed her gaze to the bat resting against his shoulder.
His expression hardened, and he shoved the door closed. He was halfway across the floor before she realized he’d moved, and she yanked the club free, ready to swing if he gave her an excuse.
Then he was within reach, and she registered the bat leaving his shoulder, and god, her parents were right—
he was going to swing—
he was going to kill her—
His hand shot out and caught the steel bar.
Emily stood there gasping. She’d done it—she’d swung for his head. The end of the putter hung about five inches from his face.
And his bat was leaning against the counter.
Harmless.
She couldn’t move. He didn’t let go of the club either, using his free hand to dig into the pocket of his jeans. A five dollar bill dropped onto the glass counter between them.
“So can I get five tokens or what?”
Tokens. For the batting cages.
Of course
Emily couldn’t catch her breath—and that never happened. Her panic had kicked the air into a flurry of little whirlwinds in the space between them, teasing her cheeks and lifting his hair.
She could catch his scent, though, sweet and summery, mulch and potting soil, honeysuckle and cut grass. A warm fragrance, not something that belonged on someone she was supposed to hate.
He was staring at her, and he had a death grip on the club. She could feel his strength through the slim bar. “Well?”
“Yeah.” She coughed and cleared her throat, using her own free hand to punch at the cash register. “Sure.”
It took effort to look away from the dark brown of his eyes. Wasn’t there some kind of rule about not looking away from an enemy? She fished the tokens out of the drawer, almost dropping them all over the floor. Somehow, she got them on the glass counter and slid them toward him.
Then they stood there comically, connected by the slim rod of the club.
She wanted to let go—but she didn’t.
Especially now that she’d tried to hit him, when he’d never made a move to lay a hand on her.
She swallowed, thinking of Tyler’s bruised face after he’d gone a few rounds with Michael Merrick.
He leaned in. “I come here every Wednesday and Friday.”
Emily nodded.
“You going to try to kill me every time?”
She shook her head quickly.
He let go of the club. She sheepishly lowered it—but didn’t put it back in the bucket with the others.
 Michael swiped the tokens from the counter and jammed them in his pocket. He swung the bat onto his shoulder again.
Emily opened her mouth—for what, she wasn’t sure.
But then he was through the door, pulling it shut behind him without a glance back.
 ###

Ready to read more? 

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Google Books

Look, it’s been a week since I’ve blogged

Here’s what’s going on:

I received my editorial notes from my editor. They are awesome, but I wanted to get the revisions done quickly, so I’ve been relying on my husband’s good nature to get them done in time.

I needed to request blurbs from people I don’t know. It felt like asking complete strangers to watch my kids for an afternoon. Luckily, everyone I asked was incredibly awesome. Honestly, I always think writers couldn’t possibly be nicer, and then you all ARE.

I’ve been working on the sequel to ELEMENTAL. My goal is to be done by the end of August.

I’ve interviewed two policemen for the aforementioned sequel. Policemen, I’ve found, are just as nice as firemen, and they love to talk about their work. My favorite part of last night’s conversation was when I was asking detailed arson questions, and the officer interrupted me to say something like, “Now, this is for a book scenario, right? Not real life?”

HA. God help me if anything in my general vicinity catches on fire.

Oh yeah, and I’m growing a human being inside my body. I keep forgetting about that. Nine weeks to go! Or is it eight? Totally having second baby syndrome here.

What have you all been up to? Does any of the above sound interesting? Want to hear about editorial notes, or blurb requests, or interviewing professionals for your work? Want to hear some cool fireman/policeman stories? Want to tell gross pregnancy stories?

Here’s a non-gross pregnancy story for you. On Sunday, I went to Target. While I was there, I saw a changing table (in a box) on a clearance shelf. Because it was half off, I picked up the box and put it on the cart. Please DO NOT TELL MY HUSBAND THAT I DID THIS. (Watch, this will be the one blog he reads.) The box weighed about eighty pounds.

So anyway, at the register, the girl asked if I wanted help getting it into my car, and I said yes. I was worried I’d pulled something lifting the box in the first place. Then the girl at the next register asked how far along I was, and I said, “Thirty-one weeks.”

Her eyes bugged out of her head and she said, “Wow! You’re huge for thirty-one weeks!”

Huh. Thanks.

I almost said, “You’re huge for not being pregnant.”

But I’m a writer, not a stand-up comedian, and honestly, Glen Burnie, Maryland is the last place you want to start a catfight. Or any fight, really. (A few years ago, I went to Wal-Mart at 4am on the day after Thanksgiving, and stood in a mile long line to get a coupon for a cheap television. The girl in front of me had two huge burly guys with her, and I was alone. She looked me up and down and said, “Girl, you crazy. You ain’t got no man with you?”)

I’m rambling.

Any good news to share? Bueller…? Bueller…?

Elemental news

Guess what? I have back cover copy.

For the non-publishing people, that means I have the words that are going on the back of my book.

My amazing editor sent me three choices, and said I was free to pick one, or I could mash them together and create my own. Let me tell you — you think writing a query letter is hard? You only need one person to pick that up and want to read it. These are the words going on the back of the book. These are the words people are going to use to decide whether to read the first few pages.

These are the words I’m going to share with you right now:

Earth, Fire, Air, Water – they have more power than you dream.

Becca Chandler is suddenly getting all the guys—all the ones she doesn’t want. Ever since her ex-boyfriend spread those lies about her.

Then she saves Chris Merrick from a beating in the school parking lot. Chris is different. Way different: he can control water—just like his brothers can control fire, wind, and earth. They’re powerful. Dangerous. Marked for death.

And now that she knows the truth, so is Becca.

Secrets are hard to keep when your life’s at stake. When Hunter, the mysterious new kid around school, turns up with a talent for being in the wrong place at the right time, Becca thinks she can trust him. But then Hunter goes head-to-head with Chris, and Becca wonders who’s hiding the most dangerous truth of all.

The storm is coming . . .

So there you go. Back cover copy. What do you guys think? I know, I know, not as exciting as front cover copy, but still fun. 

I also have a new release date. May 2012. May has traditionally been a good month for me: I got married in May, bought my first house in May, my son was born in May…so I think this is an excellent omen.

And lest you think I sat here and toiled away on that cover copy on my own, I didn’t. As always, I owe great thanks to my awesome agent, Tamar Rydzinski, my awesome editor at K Teen, Alicia Condon, my awesome writing friends, Bobbie Goettler, Alison Kemper Beard, Sarah Fine, Sarah Maas, and Erica O’Rourke.

It took four times as many people to create that cover copy as it does to create a baby.

Elemental is also up on Goodreads, if you’d like to check it out

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The hell with research. Just make it up.

I once had a friend imply that writing genre fiction was somehow easier and more enjoyable because I get to come home from work, sit down in a chair, and (this is a direct quote) “make shit up.”

She didn’t mean it as an insult, and I didn’t take it as one. Really, she was talking about her own struggles to write a memoir, which I totally get. She’s already agented based on a blog she kept (which has since been taken down), and she’s a good writer.

But sometimes I think about that line. Is that what people think? That I come home, flop into an easy chair, and make up a story?

Yes and no.

The paranormal elements, yes, I make them up. When I wrote Elemental, I researched how the four elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water worked into different cultures. And I’m using the term “research”  loosely here. I read some articles on Wikipedia, I read some articles on witchcraft, stuff like that. Stones play a role in the plot, and I looked for stones that were known for the specific qualities I gave them. (i.e., garnet for confidence, or citrine for courage.)

But that’s about it.

The paranormal stuff is the easy part. So yes, making shit up is fun and honestly, one of the best parts of writing. But though the paranormal stuff is HUGE in the book, it’s such a minor part of the writing process.

Just like in any kind of story, I needed to keep character motivation at the forefront of my mind. I need to keep character at the forefront of my mind. The plot needs to keep moving. I write every scene with a goal of maintaining conflict on every page. Conflict adds tension, and tension keeps the pages turning. I read my friend’s edit letter, and the editor had a fantastic insight: every scene should add a minor turn to the plot. If it doesn’t, it’s unnecessary. 

Last night I was really struggling with this scene in my sequel. Gabriel, who is kind of a badass sports punk who gets into it with everyone, was arguing with Layne, a total brainiac who’s having some issues at home. She breaks down crying in the middle of their fight, and I kept revising this one little scene for two hours. He was tender. He was gentle. He was understanding.

Seriously, I was ready to pull my hair out.

Then I remembered that Gabriel is none of those things. He’s confused because she’s upset, and when he gets confused, he gets mad. Here’s how it turned out:

Layne cried for like a full minute before realizing her face was pressed against Gabriel Merrick’s sweatshirt.
Which was quite nicely pressed against his chest.
This. Was. Awful.
She jerked back with an indrawn breath. “I’m sorry.”
He didn’t let go, so she kept her eyes fixed on the drawstring of his hoodie. He probably had a dozen remarks just waiting to let fly, and she so didn’t need to see the derision in his face.
But he spoke, and his voice was low. “Don’t be sorry. I get it.”
She looked up, then, because she couldn’t reconcile the voice with the guy. It wasn’t quite gentle—she didn’t think a boy like him could be gentle—but it was something … else.
His eyes were intent, dark blue in the shade of the path. This close, she could tell he hadn’t shaved yet this morning, and with the way his hands encircled her wrists and held her practically pressed up against him—well, it was just way too frigging much. Hormone overload. She was either going to kiss him or start crying again, and both options sucked.
Well, one option sucked.
And that’s the one that seemed to be taking over. Layne jerked her hands out of his and started walking, swiping at her eyes. “Forget it.”
“Whoa.” He caught her arm.
God, his eyes were searching her face. She felt her eyes welling up again.
“Let me go,” she said. “I need to catch my horse. If my dad finds him in the barn and I’m not there…”
“Bullshit.”
Now she pulled against his grip. “It’s true. Just—”
“Why do you keep running from me?”
She gritted her teeth. “I am not running from you. I need to—”
“Jesus Christ, would you calm down a second?”

 That’s 300 words. It took me about two hours to write them. Sounds easy and enjoyable, right?

Especially when I had a revelation last night and I think I’m going to end up deleting them all.

But it’s not just character and story and plot. I can’t make up everything. The story takes place in our universe, so some things need to be accurate.

I read a book a few months ago, where a boy and his brother went on a road trip. They had to travel through Baltimore, and there’s a scene where they duck into a convenience store to buy beer.

That took me right out of the story, because in Maryland, you can’t buy beer at a convenience store. You can only buy beer at a liquor store (yes, really), and in many counties, you can’t even buy alcohol on Sunday.

That’s minor, yes. But it’s one of those details that’s so easy to get right.

I’m doing more research for this story than I ever have. I was talking about it (read: whining about it) to my husband this morning, and he said, “Gee, it’s kind of like a job, huh?”

Honestly, he’s lucky I don’t make him sleep on the couch.

But here’s what I want to get right:

House fires: I spent two hours interviewing the local fire chief, because I needed to know exactly what it’s like in a house fire. What it sounds like, what the dangers are (did you know that most of those “McMansions” are generally built out of nothing more than toothpicks, and they go up like a match? Or that one of the biggest risks for a firefighter is falling through a floor?), what things the public don’t think about. These are things you can’t make up. And while I spent two hours interviewing him, that doesn’t include the amount of time I spent on YouTube watching fire and rescue videos, or the pre-research I did so I could ask him intelligent questions. (I blogged about my trip to the firehouse, and you can read about it here.)

Police procedure: One of my characters is going to get arrested and charged with something pretty serious. Since they’re teenagers, I need to know how police handle those kinds of situations. Would he be thrown in the holding cell with adults? Would he have access to a lawyer? Who makes the decision whether to charge him as an adult or a minor? What does the inside of a police station look like? I have an officer lined up to talk to me, I just want to make sure I have my ducks in a row so, again, I don’t look like an idiot. Again, these are details that need to be right.

Deaf kids, ordinary school: So far, this is the most challenging. I have a minor character who’s deaf, and he wants to play basketball. He goes to a mainstream school, and I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the pros and cons of parents who make the decision to send their deaf kids to a normal school. I don’t know anything about basketball, so I’m trying to find out if his playing on a regular team would even be possible. (If anyone knows anyone who knows anything about working with deaf kids, especially playing sports, I would love to talk to them.) This is something I definitely need to get right.

Yes, all this research is fun, and interesting. Really, going to the firehouse was fascinating.

But it’s still hard work. Don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s not.

What about you guys? What kinds of research have you done for your novels?

~