Happy Anniversary Harmony Ink!

DollarReadsHarmony_Fbpost-Sophomore-Class March 17 - 23

Harmony Ink Press is celebrating its anniversary, and offering specials throughout the month and dollar reads on certain books. This week (March 17-23rd) they are celebrating their third year, and sophomore class authors. Go stop by, buy a book (or several), and if you don’t already have the ebook for If We Shadows, you can pick it up as a dollar read!

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Book Review: The Star Host, by F.T. Lukens

I am absolutely thrilled to have been given the opportunity to be an advance reader for The Star Host, by F.T. Lukens. The short version is that this book is amazing, and I am hard-pressed to be more coherent than ASKLJFDAH and OMGFLAIL, but I am a professional here and I can do this. However, let me preface this with the note that this is a wonderful story that you don’t want to miss, and as it releases on March 3rd, you should go check that out right away at Interlude Press, under the imprint Duet Books.

While you do that, let me see if I can flail properly, but without spoilers.


the blurb:

Ren grew up listening to his mother tell stories about the Star Hosts—mythical people possessed by the power of the stars. Captured by a nefarious Baron, Ren discovers he may be something out of his mother’s stories, and must remain inconspicuous while he plots his escape. He befriends the mysterious Asher, a prisoner in the neighboring cell and member of the Phoenix Corps regiment. Together, they must master Ren’s growing technopathic abilities and try to save their friends while navigating the growing attraction between them.


The Star Host opens on a very idyllic scene between two brothers, but quickly drops us into the heart of the story with pulse-pounding action. While the story begins with love, family, and dreams, that is all quickly ripped away when Ren is captured and dropped into a confusing world. It is absolutely lovely for us, as the reader, to be able to see Ren as he flounders into new talents, and the discovery of how he fits into his mother’s stories.

I fell in love with Ren from the beginning. He’s very open, very there on the page. He wants to believe, and he wants to be connected to those who he considers important. He worries about family and friends, and as he forges new friendships, he creates new loyalties there as well. I never worry about Ren’s heart; I could always see that it was one of the most important parts of him. And I found myself trying to see the other people through his eyes: the surprise friendship with Jakob, and his fading crush on Sorcha but a solid friendship with her at the same time, not to mention the unexpected friendship with Asher (and oh goodness, oh my dear, the moment Asher came on screen I was in love with him, he has attitude).

The book sucked me in quickly, becoming a page-turner that I didn’t want to put down. F.T. is skilled at dropping little hints and clues, like breadcrumbs along the trail, that as a reader I wanted to collect and lay out and figure out the puzzle before Ren did. And the mythology of the stardust is absolutely gorgeous; the worldbuilding is fantastic, with so many tiny details building a perfectly clear view of a world that is not our own.

I have loved science fiction since I was small and first could reach that shelf in the bookmobile. As I’ve grown, I’ve read a lot of it, and F.T. does two things that makes this a perfect SF book for me. One: she creates the story around the characters, and we become invested in their lives. SF is about worlds, and about technology, and in this case about spaceships and politics, but it is also about people. F.T.’s people are alive. The more I read, the more I cared about them, and about what happened to them, and to me that’s the hallmark of a good story. And two: the world is human. The worldbuilding is deep, and detailed, but it is not technology and mythology that forsakes the human side of the story. While it could be a story about the ships and abilities and what Ren can do, it is instead a story about Ren and Asher, and how those abilities and that technology affects them.

There’s more I want to say, but I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone else. I love the way it looks at the interaction between humanity and machinery. I love how the story explores family and friendship. I love how it talks about consent. I love the nicknames. I love the way Asher and Ren have to work together to figure things out.

When the book ended, I set it aside with a happy sigh. I flailed around (a lot). I read some pieces of it again. I made notes to myself. I wrote down all the things I’d love to see more of, all the spaces I wish I could see filled in. And there’s the hallmark of a well-built world, when the reader tries to fit within it, tries to see the extra things and hopes for more. This is a story I’d love to see expanded, and I will keep my fingers crossed that perhaps someday we can see more of Ren and Asher (and everyone else!).

This is a fantastic YA novel that will appeal to teens and adults alike. It will release on March 3, 2016, from Duet, an imprint of Interlude Press. I highly recommend picking it up; you won’t be disappointed. My grade? A all the way.

You can connect with F.T. at authorftlukens.wordpress.com on Twitter @ftlukens, on Tumblr at ftlukens.tumblr.com and on Goodreads at goodreads.com/ftlukens.

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What’s in your toolbox? (And how do you use it?)

No matter what you do, no matter how you learn, you are always finding new tools to keep in your toolbox. Sometimes they are unexpected, shiny and bright new, and you might look at it like what will I ever do with this? and sometimes they are simply new versions of old and well-loved tools that you use often.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as we get ready for our tournament at TKD, and as we work on a new training regime. We’ve been working on new drills, sometimes very simple, sometimes complicated. Often they are the kind of drills that have me (very adult, very overweight, very short) laughing because how will I do them? Then I do them, and I realize this is a brilliant new tool! I like this tool! And I place it reverently in my toolbox.

I think about the new combinations later, admiring the lovely tool and giving it a place of honor in my toolbox. I go over it in my mind, I visualize using it.

Then I get on the mats and we start sparring and I reach for the tried and true (and probably rusty) tool of panic and throw a roundhouse which is um, the very first tool any person gains in TKD.

The hardest part of getting shiny new tools is trying to figure out how to use them. We know they’re there. We’ve learned them and maybe we’ve even thought about how they could come up. If it’s TKD, I think about where I can use a combination–is it an offense or a defense, what does it compete against best? If it’s writing, I think about the new technique with my own words, wondering how it might fit in, or where a character could use the idea, or which words could change. It’s all conscious action.

But when we actually use our skills, we often do it subconsciously. There’s no time on the mats for me to think well, they’re about to throw a skip roundhouse, what if I step back, block, and throw a spin hook while they’re putting their foot down? If I think, I’m hit, it’s too late to do anything. I need to bring out my instincts, which means I need to get those tools right on top of the box, make sure I’m ready to pull them out because I subconsciously have realized that it’s the right thing to do.

It’s the same with writing. When we’re in the zone, the characters and plot are just rolling right along, fingers are flying, words spill onto the screen. And it’s so easy to fall back on nouns that verb adverbly. So the question becomes, how do we make sure that the shiny new tools go from conscious thought to subconscious action?


Yep, it’s the old terrifying, frustrating word: practice.

At TKD, we do drills. We repeat the motion over and over and over because body memory is an important thing, and the more often we do something, the more likely it is to come back later as an instinctive motion. Personally, I’m really hoping we do Tuesday’s drills again tonight because I loved them and want to absorb more of that shiny new tool into my toolbox.

It’s the same for writing. Yes, I know, the answer to getting better at writing is to write more. What I’m saying is you also need to practice writing consciously. Not every moment. It’s totally cool to let yourself get absorbed into your words and world when you’re working on your primary project. But it’s also good to set aside your primary project and do exercises. And by exercises I mean write a side story in the same verse, or do a little slice of life piece, or even write fanfic (yes, write fanfic, that’s a cool thing to do). But while you’re writing that side piece, practice a technique. Work with a new POV or a particular type of description. Work on world-building. Work on evoking a certain feeling. Work on dialogue. Pick a technique and work on it. Practice it. Write a few stories with it, and it’ll take the shiny off the tool. It’ll add some well-worn edges, and that tool will move from the place of honor with all the new tools into your used section of the toolbox. And when you reach out subconsciously, you’ll find it.

It’s fun to find new tools, and it’s fun to use those tools and get used to how they feel and work. But the best feeling of all is that moment when you realize that there’s a bit of rust on the new technique, and it’s become tried and true. When you realize that the tool is truly yours.

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sometimes life kicks you in the face

Our annual big AAU Taekwondo championship is coming up in slightly less than a month. Many of our black belts are competing this year for one reason or another (including my husband and son), but I am determined to compete. When I expressed concern to our instructor about how I am the least valid competitor out of my family, he said to me that the most valid competitor is the one who competes.

So yeah, I am definitely competing.

That means I’m working hard at my training, trying to make sure I’m somewhere near ready for this tournament. I’m almost fifty years old. I’m short, I’m overweight. I’ve been doing weights for ten months, and while I’ve gained strength, I haven’t really lost pounds.

When we train, it’s a mix of adults and teenagers, so the youngest in our class is almost thirteen, and the oldest is a little older than me. I work with teenagers all the time, doing drills with them, trying to keep up with them, and sparring with them. It’s good training, because I’m not afraid of young competitors. Sure, they can kick my ass–they’re faster, younger, more fit. But I’m not scared of them.

Last night I was partnered up with one of the teens who’s my son’s age. R’s good and he’s fast. There was a moment where we were standing in closed stance, and I saw him move his left leg. From the movement, it looked like he was going to do a skip kick, strike me with his left (lead) leg. So I reacted quickly, got my right arm down to blog that kick I saw coming.

Except that wasn’t the kick. He wasn’t striking with that leg, he was using it to drive himself into a jump kick, which strikes with the opposite leg. swinging high. He meant to hit over my other shoulder, coming up to strike my left ear. Except when I blocked with my right, I turned slightly to the left, and I took that kick (swift, hard) right across the nose.

First thing I checked to make sure my nose was where I left it (it was). Then I told him good kick because it was! It was a fantastic kick. And we kept fighting until time was called.

So, synopsis: I was kicked in the face, and I kept going. When my partner was worried that he hurt me, I congratulated him on executing a fantastic technique.

It’s like life. We all do things. Sometimes we’re working on the same things that others are, and sometimes they do it better. Which is awesome. I am so proud of R because that was a brilliant fake and a brilliant strike. I didn’t block; I deserved to get hit. But here’s the thing: it hurt, and I didn’t cry, and I didn’t get angry at R. I kept going. I kept trying. I kept fighting.

I’ve said to a friend you get used to getting kicked in the face and she was surprised, not thinking that’s something that a person could get used to. But after five and a half years, I’m used to it. I don’t like getting kicked in the face; no one does. But I’ve learned to take it and move on.

Someday, maybe, I’ll learn to take the hits life throws and keep moving as well. Because life kicks you in the face, and it happens. It just happens. And we keep going.

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First Event

I was supposed to be heading to First Event in Waltham tomorrow (Saturday) to do a reading at 11:30am, but unfortunately I have had to cancel.

I came down with a bug on Wednesday night and as of partway through Friday I still feel like I’ve been hit by a bus. The scary part is how much better I feel than I did for about thirty-six hours before now. This is just nasty, and I do not want to spread these germs.

Also, the weather in northeastern Massachusetts is supposed to be terrible tomorrow, from morning through evening, which doesn’t bode well for commuting in a decent amount of time. I was already concerned about making it there on time with a three hour drive, but looking at it stretch into longer (even with AWD on the car) made me realize that this isn’t going to happen.

I am really upset and sad that I cannot attend. I’ve been looking forward to this since I was invited to be there, and I wish everyone well. I hope that attendance is good despite the weather, and I will keep my icky germs to myself for the weekend. Take care all!

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Rainbow Award Winner!!!!

Rainbow Award WinnerLook! No, really, LOOK!!

I’ve been notified that If We Shadows has won the Rainbow Award for Best Transgender Debut, for Best Transgender Fiction, and for Best Transgender Book.

Please excuse me while I hyperventilate.

I am beyond excited and humbled and might just be bouncing off the walls. Like COMPLETELY bouncing.

I’m in great company with other wonderful runners up, and I highly encourage y’all to go check out the lists of all Rainbow Award Winners and runners up and find yourself some great books to read. I went on a buying binge from last year’s list and I did not regret it.

Congratulations to all finalists, honorable mentions, runners up, and winners. It is fantastic to see that there are so many wonderful books out there.

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Rainbow Award Finalist!

Rainbow Award FinalistThe other day I was absolutely thrilled to be notified that I was on the Honorable Mention list for the Rainbow Awards. The review I received was incredible (and may have made me tear up just a little… okay, a lot).

Today the finalists were announced and I am even MORE thrilled to discover that If We Shadows is a finalist in the Transgender Fiction category. There are six books in this division (you may remember one of them–Beloved Pilgrim–from the excerpt that posted here last January) and I am super excited to be in excellent company.

Thank you to the jury so far, and to all readers who have fallen in love with Jordan.

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