Valentine playlist

Same warning applies as with the Tamara playlist – none of the explanations are technically spoilers, but if you haven’t read Darkest Shadows you might be a tad bit confused.


“Disarm” covered by The Civil Wars
I used to be a little boy
So old in my shoes
And what I choose is my voice
What’s a boy supposed to do?
The killer in me is the killer in you
My love, I send this smile over to you
Yes, this is a cover, but the original is more of an angry, head-smashing song, while this version is more poignant and emotional.  I really think this song sums up Valentine pretty perfectly.

“Viva la Vida” by Coldplay
One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand
The quintessential song about having power and losing it.  Nothing is as stable as it seems, when you fall it’s even harder to get back up…  Very Valentine.

“Dark Paradise” by Lana Del Rey
And there’s no remedy for memory
Your face is like a melody
It won’t leave my head
No one compares to you
But there’s no you
Except in my dreams tonight
How has Valentine been dealing with the fact that his best-friend-slash-lover betrayed him?  Not well.  Even though it’s a completely different situation from Tamara’s, he’s still equally as wrecked over losing her like that.  Almost makes you feel sorry for the guy.

“Rolling in the Deep” by Adele
Go ahead and sell me out and I’ll lay your shit bare
See how I leave with every piece of you
Don’t underestimate the things that I will do
The scars of your love remind me of us
They keep me thinking that we almost had it all
Surprise, surprise: Tamara’s not the only one who spends twenty years obsessing over her failed relationship.  But where Valentine differs is that he also derives some satisfaction from knowing she’s hurting too.  His pain spurs him toward revenge rather than guilt.

“Birds of a Feather” by The Civil Wars
Oh, aren’t we a pretty, pretty pair?
Yes we are
All, all the king’s horses and all his men
Couldn’t tear us apart
Like butterflies around a flame
Till ashes, ashes, we fade away
Another Civil Wars song, because you know how much I love them.  They really do write fantastic songs that click so well with this series.  This one is about two people knowing they’re bad for each other, yet inextricably connected to the bitter end.

“Little Talks” by Of Monsters and Men
You’re gone, gone, gone away
I watched you disappear
All that’s left is a ghost of you
Now we’re torn, torn, torn apart
There’s nothing you can do
This song really applies to Valentine and Tamara in equal measures.  They spend more years apart than together, yet neither can ever stop thinking about the other.  And that ghostly imagery is represented in both of their thoughts—feeling like the other one is haunting them.

“Kiss with a Fist” by Florence + the Machine
You hit me once, I hit you back
You smashed a plate over my head
Then I set fire to our bed
Your slaps don’t stick
Your kicks don’t hit
So we remain the same
Valentine and Tamara’s relationship couldn’t be classified as abusive in any way—not physically or emotionally—yet I still feel this applies.  Especially that idea of “we remain the same,” because they’re both inflicting damage on the other from so far apart, and yet there’s no sense that either one is really winning; they’re both just broken.

“Ghosts That we Knew” by Mumford & Sons
You saw my pain washed out in the rain
Broken glass saw the blood run from my veins
But you saw no fault, no cracks in my heart
And you knelt beside my hope torn apart
But the ghosts that we knew will flicker from view
And we’ll live a long life
So many feels with this song, which to me is about falling from grace and learning to deal with the shadows of what once was.  And that last line, “we’ll live a long life,” is chilling in context, because if he hadn’t escaped Alpha Valentine would live forever, haunted by the memories of the person he loved who betrayed him.

“Let the Flames Begin” by Paramore
What a shame we all became such fragile broken things
A memory remains just a tiny spark
This is how we’ll stand when
When they burn our houses down
This is what will be oh glory
I think this song sort of captures the hopelessness of being in Alpha—and along with that, Valentine and Audra’s determination to stay strong and not let it break them.

“An End Has a Start” by Editors
I won’t disappoint you as you fall apart
Some things should be simple
Even an end has a start
You came on your own, that’s how you’ll leave
You lose everything in the end
There’s something very pessimistic about this song, which fits with the tone of the story.  It’s also about accepting loss, something that rings true for Valentine and especially Audra, both of whom suffered great losses before being tossed in Alpha.

“Lost Cause” by Imagine Dragons
No one can fill your shadow
‘Cuz you are all I am
Oh, dig my shallow grave
It’s not me you’ll save
‘Cuz I’m a lost cause
This idea is one of the biggest things that sets Valentine apart from other “bad boy” leads you see in fiction—he’s completely irredeemable and he knows it.

“Eyes on Fire” by Blue Foundation
I’ll seek you out, flay you alive
One more word and you won’t survive
I’m taking it slow, feeding my flame
And just in time
In the right place
Suddenly I will play my ace
This is a great revenge song.  It’s sort of mellow if you just listen to the melody, but then the lyrics have a starkness to them that’s almost menacing.  And the way the singer takes her time with the words makes me think of Valentine and how he does everything with a purpose.

“Come Away to the Water” by Maroon 5 ft. Rozzi Crane
Come away little lamb, come away to the water
To the arms that are wating only for you
Come away little lamb, come away to the slaughter
To the one appointed to see it through
We are coming for you
Adam Levine’s voice on this song gives me shivers—it’s almost exactly what I picture Valentine sounding like.  Gorgeous and haunting.  This whole idea of sacrifice plays a lot into Valentine’s view of revenge, like Tamara’s death is just something that must happen.

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Darkest Shadows ch. 1

darkest shadows official cover    Valentine



The first solid mass to coalesce from chaos. The first planet born out of the swirling cosmological void when the universe was new.

And living hell.

The sun beat down relentlessly on a landscape so dry and desolate that only a few meager plants somehow managed to eke out life. There were no trees, rivers, or mountains—nothing but sand, an endless expanse of uninhabitable desert.

Only one thing built by man in all the years since the planet’s creation from the void existed on Alpha—a prison. Dug deep into the earth, the worst of the worst criminals were sent there to suffer and die. Not just anyone was sent to Alpha. A person had to do something really horrific to end up there.

Like, try to take over the entire magic dimension, for example.

“Welcome to Alpha,” the guard said with a grin. “Hope you enjoy your stay.”

Four guards escorted Valentine through the levels of the prison: two in front of him and two behind. In other circumstances, he might have wondered at the need for such treatment. They couldn’t seriously think he would try to run away now. But after everything he had been through in the last three weeks, he couldn’t muster up the energy to care.

As unassuming as it looked from above, the prison was surprisingly complex below the surface, where it supposedly stretched for miles. Staircases and support beams gave the hole in the ground structure, reminding him a bit of a snail shell with its spiraling design.

As they passed, other prisoners stared out at him from cells lining the curved walls. There were no underlying similarities between them but for one thing—the despairing look on their faces. Like they had long since given up hope of ever leaving this awful place.

Valentine detested the thought of ending up like them.

He’d lost track of how long they had been walking when the guards stopped in front of a vacant cell. One of them opened the door and another gave him a rough shove to the back, forcing him to stumble inside. There was an awful finality in the sound the door made as it closed.

“Try not to get into any more trouble.” The first guard sneered and then they vanished into thin air.

Alone at last, Valentine curled his fingers around the bars as the reality of his situation settled in for the first time.

Just six weeks ago, he had been heading up a revolution that was poised to change the world. He was going to rule the dimension. And everyone from his life before Ravenwood would know how wrong they were to think he’d never amount to anything.

Now he was here. Alpha.

Because of her.

Sweet little Tamara Kingsley. She’d been the perfect pawn at first—so impressionable, so eager to learn, never asking questions, always wanting to believe the best of him. That was all she was ever supposed to be: useful, convenient, a means to an end. He’d never expected to find himself caring for her the way he did.

And he certainly never expected her to betray him.

Anger flooded his veins and without thinking, Valentine slammed his fist against the bars of the door. The rattling sound was surprisingly satisfying, as was the pain in his knuckles. So he did it again. And again. And again.

Tamara, Tamara, Tamara…

“Oi, will you quit it with the banging! I’m trying to sleep here!”

The sharp female voice startled him out of his rage and he stopped just before his fist made contact again, gasping instead as the pain hit like a shockwave. Lungs aching for breath, he staggered over to the dusty cot in the corner—the only piece of furniture in the cell—and sank down onto it with his hand still smarting and his mind working overtime.

It had been years since Valentine had lost control of himself like that, definitely since before Ravenwood. Outbursts of self-destructive anger didn’t fit the persona he’d so carefully constructed for himself when he’d been given that miraculous chance at a better life.

But now here he was—broken, destitute, alone—just as his fate likely would have been if he’d stayed the angry little boy in foster care.

No. I was better than that. I am better than that. This is not where my story ends.

His hand tightened into a fist, anger sharpening his thoughts into icy clarity.

No one had ever escaped from Alpha? Valentine would be the first.


Life in Alpha wasn’t pleasant, but at least it followed a fairly predictable pattern.

The tiny square cells offered little to no protection against the heat or the sand that blew in from the desert above, which seemed to coat every single surface with a fine layer of grit. Temperatures varied wildly—boiling hot during the day and freezing cold at night, with no respite from either extreme.

Above all, to survive in Alpha, one had to learn to ignore the guards. Almost all were verbally and physically abusive, but the slightest impertinence of any kind merited harsh punishment.

Of course, Valentine had never been very good at following other people’s rules. Which was how he found himself digging holes in the sand under the burning desert sun with five guards close at hand to keep him from trying anything. Supposedly there was a purpose to the digging, but to Valentine it just read like an excuse to make him suffer even more than he already was.

When he was finally escorted back to his cell, he was sweaty, exhausted, and covered in sand. Valentine wanted nothing more than to take a long, cool shower, but that would have to wait until tomorrow. Instead, he flopped down onto his cot, grimacing as the sand rubbed against his skin, even beneath his clothes.

“Goddamn it,” he cursed under his breath, sitting up and trying to shake it out.

A very undignified snort broke the almost stifling silence and Valentine turned to see the tough-looking blonde in the next cell staring at him, her lips twitching.

“Do I amuse you?” he asked, raising an eyebrow as he leaned back on his bed. He normally didn’t talk to any of his fellow prisoners, but after the events of today, his patience was wound to the limit.

She held his stare with dark, piercing eyes. “Newbies like you are always fun to watch. Until they either mellow out into zombies or go crazy.” The sound of her voice was interesting, sort of raspy like a smoker’s and syrupy-sweet at the same time.

“Well I’m sorry to disappoint, but I don’t plan to do either. If you want some petty entertainment, you’ll have to look elsewhere.”

She laughed, a genuine, full-bodied laugh. “Someone’s got a spark of attitude,” she said, sounding almost impressed. “Better learn to suppress it or you’ll be in for an eternity of digging holes and scratching sand out of your unmentionables.”

Though he craved sleep, somehow he wasn’t quite ready to roll over and ignore her. Maybe it was just something about having a conversation. Actual interpersonal communication was something he hadn’t had in a long while and hadn’t realized just how much he missed it.

Valentine studied her out of the corner of his eye. She was rail-thin and petite with a long, angular face and a sharp chin, her skin tanned to a deep bronze. Not about to win any beauty contests, but at the same time, she was… striking. Yes, that was the word for her, he decided. Striking. A sharp contrast to Tamara, who was all pale skin and dark hair and innocent, fragile beauty.

He winced at the thought of Tamara. Like a knife to the chest, the pain was fresh, hot and sharp. Even though several months had passed since he’d become a permanent resident of Alpha, time had done nothing to heal those wounds.

As long as every passing thought of her hurt like the day he learned of her deceit, he wasn’t sure it ever would.

“So much for not going zombie on me.” The blonde’s sharp voice brought him back to the present and he blinked a couple of times to see her staring at him with a slightly twisted smile. “Thinking hard or hardly thinking, new guy?”

“The former.” He added, “And my name’s Valentine, not ‘new guy.’”

She pursed her lips. “Audra,” she offered coolly after a moment.

“So, Audra, why are you here?” He thought it was a simple question but realized too late he’d made a mistake when her face turned to stone.

“That’s a story you have to earn.” Her eyes narrowed. “And you? What did you do that was so bad, Valentine?” There was something almost mocking in the way she said his name that set him on edge.

“I thought you said stories like that need to be earned.”

A hint of a smile crept onto her lips as he parroted her words back to her. “Touché.” Her eyes were light again, almost laughing. “Maybe you’re not hopeless after all.”

Valentine inched closer to the wall that separated them, all thoughts of taking a nap abandoned for the foreseeable future. Maybe it was a mistake to let his guard down around another prisoner, but Audra seemed sane enough and he was relishing the opportunity to actually use his brain again.

“It’s always like this, then?” he asked. “If you look at one of them the wrong way they’ll send you out there to do the most pointless physical labor I’ve ever seen?”

“Mmm-hmm.” Audra leaned back against the wall, running her fingers through her shaggy, dark blond hair. It was darker at the roots, fading out to a pale gold near the ends. “And they can do whatever they want to us because we’re nothing. We’re the garbage the rest of the dimension doesn’t want to remember, so they toss us in here and let us rot away without bothering them with the stench.”

The cynical, defeated tone of her voice made Valentine wince internally. “That’s an awfully pessimistic viewpoint,” he said carefully.

“It’s the only realistic one down here.” She turned her head to look at him as a piece of hair fell in front of her face. “In ten or so years when you haven’t aged a day, you’ll start to see it my way. This place has a way of breaking spirits just as easily as the guards break backs.”

It’s true, then. He’d heard rumors that time worked differently on Alpha, leaving the people here stuck like flies in amber and denying them even the relief of death. Giving a bunch of criminals immortality seemed implausible, but now, having spent time on Alpha, he could see why no one else wanted to live here.

Valentine stole another look at Audra, wondering how old she was and how long she’d been in Alpha. Though she appeared to be in her mid-twenties, something about the look in her eyes seemed world-weary, like she had seen the worst of the world and lived to tell the tale. But he thought better of asking, not wanting to provoke another mood swing.

“I’d heard stories but didn’t think they could be true. We really don’t age down here?”

“Nope.” Audra pushed the piece of hair out of her eyes. “There’s a stasis spell in the air. You must’ve felt it, it’s like the worst kind of humidity.”

Valentine let her words settle around him like stones in a pond. “You sure seem to know a lot about this place.”

“I’ve been here a long time.” She kicked out a leg in front of her, examining a lock of her hair for split ends. “You’ll see what it’s like if you last long enough.”

“I thought you said we don’t die down here?”

“I said we don’t age. But if you’re desperate enough to end your own life—as many people eventually get—it’s very possible to do that.”

Valentine wrinkled his nose. He’d lived through some hellish times but couldn’t imagine any circumstances where he’d actually prefer dying to living. “I’ve never had a single thought of suicide in my entire life.”

“It’s either suicide or spending an eternity stuck in this hellhole with the heat and the guards, never aging, never changing… Most people can’t survive that for a handful of years, much less forever.”

“Or there’s a third option.”

Audra arched an eyebrow. “Hmm?”


She snorted. “You are a newbie.” Audra tipped her head back against the wall, closing her eyes. “The glittering film of hope and optimism will wear off after a couple of years. Trust me when I tell you there’s only one way out of here.” She dragged a finger from one side of her neck to the other. “Anyone who thinks otherwise is crazy or kidding themselves. Probably both.”

“I don’t think that’s true.”

Audra opened one eye, still managing to glare at him with the other closed.

Valentine lowered his voice. “I can see it in your eyes. You put up a good front like you’ve been worn down by all your years in this place, but you’re not the type of person who gives up so easily. You still dream of getting out of here. And you look far from insane to me.”

A sly half smile spread across her lips and she opened the other eye. “And if you’re right? What’s it to you?”

“Nothing.” He feigned nonchalance. “Just nice to know I’m not alone.”

Audra stared at him for a moment before she chuckled. “You’re a quick study, Valentine,” she said, a gleam of something in her eye he almost wanted to call respect. “Maybe you’ll find that third option yet.”

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Steel Lily review

Steel Lily by Megan Curd
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I had the pleasure of getting to know Ms. Curd via Facebook before Steel Lily came out, and I’ve watched her amazing success with Steel Lily.  I only hope that I can one day have similar success.

The Cover: So intriguing, right?  A friend of mine has the same cover designer, and this lady’s work is just gorgeous.  I want to hire her some day.

The Deal: Fifteen-year-old Avery Pike is an elementalist, meaning she can create steam.  In her post-WWIII, radiation-damaged world, that means she is a hot commodity – she is one of a tiny handful of people that can power her dome (basically a refugee camp for survivors of WWIII).  Her life is pretty miserable, until she meets a man who promises her safety and freedom in another dome where she won’t have to give steam and she can learn about her abilities.  But she’ll soon find out that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and not everyone is telling the truth.

My Thoughts: I’ve read a lot of dsytopians in the last year. Most were okay, a few were good, but nothing stood out as much as The Hunger Games did. Until now.

Steel Lily is a very different kind of dystopian from THG, but it has the same intensity, the same high stakes, the same heart-pounding action and well-written characters as Suzanne Collins’ epic trilogy. And I can only wish for Curd the level of success that Collins has achieved. She and the book definitely deserve it.
Avery Pike is something of an unusual YA action heroine because she feels amazingly real. Her thought process and reasons for doing everything match up exactly with how I feel I would react in these situations. She’s not a “strong character”, she’s a real girl thrust into a series of impossible situations. That more than anything is what made me fall in love with this book.Speaking of LOVE, a word about Avery’s love interest: Oh. My. God. I am about to make a comparison that is the highest form of praise for me – Jaxon is everything I love so much about the immortal Jace Wayland, but without some of Jace’s hangups. I didn’t think it was possible, but… oh dear God, the sarcasm. And though his looks aren’t exactly my personal tastes, I appreciate the diversity in a YA protagonist.

Megan Curd has an amazing way with imagery. Whether it’s the descriptions of the bleak, post-WWIII radiation-destroyed world, the gorgeous interior of Chromelius Academy, the action (she doesn’t shy away from getting bloody, though thankfully not in true horror movie gore-style), or the sizzling romance, everything feels so alive. It almost makes me think of watching a movie. And there’s a HUGE twist at the end that I TOTALLY DID NOT SEE COMING!!!

I could go on and on about this book, but rather than take my word for it, go pick up a copy of Steel Lily THIS INSTANT! You absolutely will not regret it.

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My Week in a Nutshell (and yes, there’s a lesson here)

I’ve had something of a crazy week.  Without going into too many details (because my personal life really is not interesting enough to share with the blogosphere), I’d like to share some of what I learned from all of it, because I think it’s kind of important.

So I spent the first half of this week being extraordinarily pissed off.  I am trying to do something that I believe is incredibly important, and I was told by “those in charge” that because I missed a (not-very-well-publicized) deadline by a few days, I would basically have to put all my plans on hold until November.  Well, that was not going to fly with me, so I fought it.  I wrote messages, I talked to people, I got other people to talk to people… I made my discontent very, very clear.  And something worked, because I found out Wednesday night that the people in charge decided to make an exception for me.  (I’m sure you all can appreciate how rare that is–for the “powers that be” to make exceptions.)

This isn’t a story about how it’s okay to be a screwup and lose track of deadlines, because that’s not okay.  And if I hadn’t had five million and one other things to think about, this never would’ve happened in the first place.  But this is a story about believing in yourself and fighting for what you want.

Anger is draining–I then spent the latter half of this week exhausted and lazy, though that could’ve been from other things too–but when I got that email on Wednesday night, all that anger turned into champagne bubbles of happiness.  Every ounce of energy I expanded being mad and fighting back was 110% worth it, because I’m going to get to do what I believe in with my entire heart.  I’m going to get to make a difference.

I guess the lesson here is this: don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t worth it, that you don’t deserve to be the exception.  Because if you don’t believe that, who else is going to?

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Interview with Valentine


1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Perfect happiness would be what my life would have been had I succeeded in my plan for domination of the dimension.  Power, loyalty, and the love of a beautiful woman.  Everything was in my grasp… and then it all slipped away from me.  Now, perfect happiness would just be getting out of this godforsaken desert.

2. What is your greatest fear?

Being insignificant.

3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?


4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?


5. What is your current state of mind?

I didn’t know what to make of life in Alpha at first.  You hear rumors about this place, but nothing of much substance, so I had little idea what to expect.  The sun, the sand, the guards, it’s all bad, but the worst thing to me is the time-freeze spell.

It’s still a very strange feeling, not aging.  Some days it’s as though I can actually feel my blood moving slower in my veins, the toxic spell in the air twisting and bending the cells of my body, making me painfully permanent.  I thought I’d suffered the worst life could possibly throw at a person and yet this is different.

Some would consider immortality a blessing.  I call it nature’s cruel idea of a joke.

6. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Morality—the so-called morality of ordinary people, which is really no more than an excuse for those in power to impose their values and beliefs on the rest of society.  Morality is a nebulous and subjective thing, not a true virtue in the real sense of the word.  I don’t believe in complete lawlessness, but I also don’t wish to obey an authority that knows nothing of my life and circumstances yet tries to tell me how I am allowed to behave.

7. On which occasion do you lie?

I don’t know if there’s a word more fraught with negative connotations than that one—“lie.”  It’s never used in a flattering sense, even though people tell lies with good intentions all the time and simply frame it in different words to make themselves feel better.

I’m honest with myself—when it suits my purposes to bend the truth, I have no qualms about doing so.  Because really, what is truth but perception?  That’s what separates people like me from everyone else: I’m willing to do whatever is necessary to get what I want.

8. What do you most dislike about your appearance?

My eye color.  Women like it, but even having lived with them for so many years, I don’t think I’ll ever come to like having gold eyes.  It is the sole thing where I wish to be ordinary.

9. What living person do you most despise?

Tamara Kingsley.

10. What is the quality you most like in a man?


11. What is the quality you most like in a woman?

Loyalty.  Gender makes no difference to me when judging a person’s merit.

12. What or who is the greatest love of your life?

Tamara Kingsley.

13. When and where were you happiest?

The years I spent at Ravenwood are probably the happiest time of my life.  Before that, I was concerned only with survival and not truly living to enjoy life.

Of course, I had a few wonderful years with Tamara, but now those memories are tinged with bitterness.

14. Where would you most like to live?

I’ve done a lot of traveling, seen all the sights, the highs and lows of the dimension.  Nothing in particular stands out that much.  What matters more than where you are is who you are with.  Even the most glittering and exciting of cities is cold and lonely when you don’t have anyone to share it with.

15. What is your most treasured possession?

My Ravenwood diploma.  It may be just a piece of paper, but it’s also tangible proof of how far I’ve come from where I started.  Of course, I have no idea where the thing is now.  Probably lying in some Council dump.  Even more reason for me to hate those bastards.

16. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Do you really have to ask?  Alpha.  There’s a reason all its nicknames involve some variation of the word “hell.”

No, I correct myself.  The absolute lowest depth of misery is being in Alpha and knowing that the person you were closest to is the reason you are there.  Knowing that there’s not a single person in the universe missing you.

17. What is your favorite occupation?

I like to read—real, ink-and-paper books, not those damned technological devices.  There’s just something about holding a book in your hand, the smell of musty paper (many of my preferred works are quite old)… it’s a form of bliss only rivaled by the feeling of magic flowing through your veins.

18. What is your most marked characteristic?

Regretfully, my eyes.

19. What do you most value in your friends?

I’ve never had ‘friends’ in the ordinary sense of the word, therefore I’m not quite sure how to answer this question.  But when I was recruiting people to help me with my plans, I looked for those who already had their own doubts about the structure of society and the distribution of power.  And yes, I wanted them to be easily impressionable—what good would they be to me if they weren’t loyal, and questioned everything I had them do?

They can swear otherwise all they want—many of them did in court—but I never forced anyone to join me, or coerced them into agreeing with my way of thinking.  They made their choice, and even though I’m the only one who was given such a harsh punishment, they will have to live with that for the rest of their lives.

20. What is your greatest regret?

The obvious answer is “trusting Tamara.”  But even though she’s the reason I’m in this hellhole, I’ll never regret the time I spent with her.  She is the only person I have ever truly loved, the one who taught me what it is to love and be loved.

No, my greatest regret is for her—that she had to do what she did.  Because now she’s left me with no choice.  I do still love her, but that doesn’t mean I’ll excuse her betrayal.

21. How would you like to die?

This is a truly ridiculous question.  Who thinks about how they want to die?

Ordinary people fear death.  I don’t, but nor do I delude myself into thinking I’m invincible.  Early exposure to my own mortality taught me how to push the thought of dying out of my head entirely.  And perhaps the universe repaid me for my arrogance by sending me to Alpha, where the years can turn into decades and I’ll never succumb to the weakness of the body’s natural aging process.

Sometimes I wonder if living forever really isn’t so different from dying.  What good are working lungs and a heartbeat if you can never better your circumstances?  Life is dynamic, beautiful for its fragility.  Without that capacity for growth and change, what is the point to living?

22. What is your motto?

Nothing but death is insurmountable.

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Kassandra Kush and Allyson Gottlieb

Over the last 10 days, we’ve introduced you to some very cool ladies and given you the opportunity to win some fabulous prizes.  But by now you might be wondering – who are we?

For our very last post of 10 Blogs in 10 Days (and okay, by doing this we’re kind of making it 11 days… don’t sue!), Kassandra and I decided to pull back the curtain and interview each other, to let you know a little bit about the ladies behind this whole thing.

WARNING: This was done on Skype and has been filtered slightly, but only slightly.  Don’t say we didn’t warn you…

1239540_10151921834401474_2017757196_n  Author photo

KK: Do you have the questions or do you want me to read them off?

AG: I have the questions, and then I have some other ones in mind as well.  But first, maybe we should tell people the story of how we met?

KK: Yes!  Okay, so I met Ally through a critique website called critiquecircle dot com.  The way it works is that you can put up your stories chapter by chapter, but you have to get credits to put up your own stuff by critiquing other people’s stuff.  So I was on there and I stumbled upon Ally’s book—this isn’t something she’s published so far but it was a really cool story. Then later she messaged me back, because I had put something in one of my chapters about trading novels for anyone who wanted to do longer crits.

AG: I had just joined critiquecircle, and Kassandra’s crit was the first one I’d ever gotten from using that site, so when I saw that she liked it I got all excited.  So I checked her out, saw the novel-trading thing, and then I just emailed her on a whim.  And I’m so glad I did.

KK: The truth is, you have to go with like your gut instinct.  If you’re ever waffling about whether you should talk to someone or ask for something… this kinda goes to show that like you should just do it.  Follow your instincts.

AG: That’s what I love about the way things are today, with the Internet.  You can meet so many amazing and interesting people that you wouldn’t get to know otherwise, because they live on the other side of the country.

KK: Live on the other side of the country, and I had no idea when she messaged me—  For the longest time we didn’t know how old the other one was!

AG: Oh my God, that too!

KK: I was trying to find out, and she’s like “I’m a junior in high school” [senior now!] and I’m all “I’m like 22 years old, no big deal…”

AG: Okay, let’s switch topics.  I’m curious, what inspired you to start writing?

KK: I really have my friend Jamie to thank for that.  I was about ten years old, I went over to her house because I was spending the night and she had started wanting to write this story.  She had just started writing it, and she was asking me for ideas, so I decided I wanted to write a story too.  It started out being The Magic Trapdoor but then I changed it to The Two Charms, and it was about a girl who went to Scotland and stayed in a castle hotel and fell through a magic trapdoor into another land.

AG: Oh my goodness!  No, you don’t understand.  When I was in third grade, I entered this writing contest through Girl Scouts and I wrote a story sort of like that: two girls fall through a trapdoor into this magic world.

KK: *laughing* And there you have it!  Ally and I are the same person in two different bodies.

AG: We seriously are, it’s ridiculous.

KK: So I just came home from that and started writing that story and I just, I never stopped. I got through the first one in that series, started the second one and then just started going off on other things… and now here I am, twelve years later.

AG: My story is a little, well, similar-ish.  I was seven, I had a dream—and of course in hindsight these were horrible, horrible stories, didn’t really have a plot or anything—but I just had this dream and I woke up and was like “this is so cool!”  And because I’m a child of the technology age, I didn’t go write it down in a journal; I asked my dad to set me up a Word document so I could type it up.  I wrote about nine stories in that series and then I don’t know, it sort of went from there.  To this day I still get a lot of cool ideas from dreams.  Sometimes I even try to think about problems in my stories as I’m falling asleep and hope that I can dream up a solution.

KK: I never remember my dreams, so I’m stuck.

AG: Aww, that sucks.  I remember about half of them—or at least I think I remember half of them.  Maybe I’m dreaming a whole lot more and I don’t remember those.  Maybe I could have had more awesome story ideas that the world will never know!

KK: Okay, next question… let’s talk about the Kindle vs. paperback book thing.  What’s your take on that?

AG: I fought it so much.  I love the idea of being able to carry around a ton of books on the Kindle, but then what, I’d have to buy all the books I already own in paperback as ebooks?  Too expensive for my tastes.  Unless they invent some kind of way to upload books you already have in paperback onto a Kindle without having to pay again for them?  That would be fantastic.  Someone really needs to invent that.

KK: I agree, I fought it at first and that’s part of why I was trying to get traditionally published.  It wasn’t until I was in the process of getting Guardian ready to self-publish that I decided I should probably read some Kindle books.

AG: See that’s exactly it for me too.  Once I decided to self-publish Darkest Legacy I figured if I was going to have an ebook on Amazon, I’d better own a couple ebooks.  So now my Kindle app on my phone is full of indie authors’ books.  It’s really nice because now I have like a little library with me all the time.

KK: That’s what I like.  I mostly buy indie books for my Kindle because I want them to support me the way that I’m supporting them.

AG: Exactly!

KK: It’s kind of like a happy medium for me.  I’m always still going to go to bookstores, and I prefer to have Guardian in print, but with self-publishing, you have to make that leap and do both sides of it.

AG: How about something a little more fun now?  If you could go on a date with any fictional male character, who would it be and from what book?

KK: Ahh!!

AG: This is a hard one.

KK: That’s so hard…  What do you think?

AG: Hmm…  Ooh!  Erik from Sophie Davis’s Talented series.  He’s awesome.  You really need to read that, you know.

KK: I started it!  And then, I don’t really know what happened…

AG: Erik is a dreamboat…  Yeah, I say Erik.  He’s blond, with these jewel-like turquoise eyes—because the whole thing about being Talented is that you have these really bright, colorful eyes and that’s how you can tell a Talented person from someone who’s not right away.  Ooh, dreamy…

KK: Okay, have you ever read Perfect Chemistry?

AG: Who’s it by?

KK: Simone Elkeles.  It’s a traditionally published book.  Anyway, the main character in that, Alex Fuentes?  Him.  I want him.

AG: I will have to look this up then!

KK: It’s a good series, I love it.  I think they’re talking about making it into a movie, or maybe a TV show.

AG: Well, speaking of that: how do you feel about the controversy surrounding all these recent YA adaptation movies that don’t do so well?  Would you still be interested in having your books be made into movies, or would you maybe get scared off by this…?

KK: I don’t get scared by it and I think that’s why so many of them do still get turned into movies, because every author wants to see their book come to life.  But I would fight and probably not let it happen unless I was able to have a hand in writing it the way Suzanne Collins did for The Hunger Games.  Especially for something like Guardian, because I know they would try to really secularize it.  Actually, what I would rather see my books turned into is a TV show, because those turn out great.

AG: Yeah but oftentimes they get completely changed to the point where it’s like the main characters have the same names but otherwise they’re completely unrecognizable.  Like Vampire Diaries or Pretty Little Liars.

KK: I think a lot of the movie adaptation thing has to do with the fact that you have to squish and take out so much of the story to make it a proper movie length.  If you could make a three-hour epic film, it’d be great, but no one has the money to spend on that.  But I would probably succumb to it, because I’d want to see it.

AG: What kind of a media adaptation could you do with Darkest Legacy?  There’s not really enough story for a movie… maybe you could do one of those web miniseries things.

KK: Actually there probably is, because if you helped them to write it and embellish the backstory with some stuff from Darkest Shadows, it’d probably be the perfect length.  When you think about it, a novella can probably be adapted to film and stay more true to the book than an actual novel.

AG: That’s an interesting thought.  Now I kinda want to ask my friend if she could try turning Darkest Legacy into a screenplay, just for fun.

KK: I think it would be pretty cool to watch.

AG: The other thing is finding good actors that look like what you imagine.  I feel like no one would ever in a million years be able to satisfy me to play Valentine.

KK: Ooh, I have a good question!  Do you believe in love at first sight?

AG: …Seriously?  You have to go there?

KK: Well, you’re a writer, so chances are you’ve written a book that has like a vein of that in it…

AG: I don’t think so, except for maybe some of my cliched older stuff which is bad for numerous reasons.  There’s definitely attraction and maybe a bit of lust, but I don’t think you can really love someone without knowing them, so… probably not.  What about you?

KK: I… do, although I don’t know if you can really call it love at first sight.  Like you said, love kind of comes over time, but I think that there is such a thing as meeting someone and knowing that you’re going to be with them forever.  My dad asked my mom to marry him the second time they met.  So, I don’t know, I think that you can meet someone and within a very very short time, like even a day… you just know.   So yes.  I kinda do.

AG: Let’s talk writing habits.  Do you work on multiple things at once or do you get tunnel vision on one thing or what?

KK: I am always working on more than one thing at once.  Always.  I like working on different things at the same time.  It’s nice to get a new perspective.  Actually, it’s kind of weird now that I’m self-published and I actually have books out there and people are wanting the sequels, I’m realizing that I can’t just drop something because I get a new idea.  Now I have to stick to a schedule and wait to work on something new.

AG: That is a really strange feeling, and maybe I’m kind of lucky because Darkest Legacy is a shorter piece and I don’t have as many people clamoring for another one the same way.  I’ve always been like that, I work on a zillion things at once and I finally started to scale back a little in the last year or so.  The other thing is that before my focus was sort of all over the place, and now I’m finding things that I really really love, and especially once you’re published and hear that other people like your stuff too, it makes you want to focus.

KK: Like, “oh, this is why I do this!  People like it!”

AG: *laughing* But yeah, I think you definitely need to be able to switch if you get stuck.  The reverse side of that, though, is that sometimes what happens is you get stuck on one thing, you switch and then you get stuck on the new one too!

KK: Yes, yes.  But it’s different now because you sort of have an obligation to finish, so you have to force yourself through it.

AG: It’s not really forcing, because we love it, right?

KK: …Ninety-five percent of the time. *laughing*

AG: Last question: favorite thing about being self-published?

KK: I like having the freedom to make all my own decisions.  I can do whatever I want, like if I want to have four series out there at once I can.  And the other thing I like is how easy it is for people who read my books to contact me and tell me how much they liked them.  You can have that online presence with traditional publishing, but I feel like then you’re sort of less accessible, you know?  So I like that it’s just me and there’s no one to go through, and I can say and do whatever I want.  …Which does make it still a learning experience.

AG: It’s definitely a learning experience.  For me, I love checking my reports on KDP, and even if the amount is tiny, just seeing that I’m making money off of something I love and would be doing anyway… it’s a pretty dizzying feeling.  And I really love being a part of this amazing indie author community, which is just the most amazing and welcoming place.  Seeing all those fabulous indie authors and their success is really what’s making me reconsider whether it’s even worth it to try traditionally publishing now.

KK: I agree, the allure of traditional publishing isn’t what it was.  Pretty much all of those benefits you can get through indie publishing if you’re just persistent and keep going and keep reaching out.  You just have to be willing to do it yourself.  And that makes it even more rewarding, I think, knowing that you did everything to make yourself successful.

AG: It makes you have to have a lot more faith in yourself, but that makes you feel really good when you start seeing some of that faith pay off.

KK: I totally agree.  Everyone should have confidence in themselves, and I can say that mine has like skyrocketed since I’ve done this because people tell me that they like my books, perfect strangers are leaving me five-star reviews and it’s like “Oh!  So I do kind of know what I’m doing.”

AG: Yep, exactly.  It’s really a wonderful feeling.  Okay, let’s say goodbye to our fans—our hopeful fans.

KK: Thank you for being a part of our giveaway event.  Good luck to all of you and happy winning to our winners!

AG: Thank you all so much for making this so amazing, and to current and future readers, thank you so much for giving us this opportunity to reach out.  It’s really awesome being a part of this indie author world.

KK: Don’t forget the indie readers!

AG: Indie readers rock.  No question.

And because you guys rock so much, we’re giving you another chance to win free books!  All of these books were donated by amazing indie authors we’ve gotten to know since joining this fantastic community.

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Jessica Johnson of BookEnd 2 BookEnd

Our last feature is the lovely Jessica Johnson of BookEnd 2 BookEnd!

Bookend 2 Bookend Blogger pic  Bookend 2 Bookend Logo

1. What is your favorite part of running a blog?
My absolute favorite part of running a blog is meeting new people that are just as obsessed with books like I am.  I thought I was alone when I cared so deeply for fictional characters or was depressed for days after I read the final book in a series. Then I found there are hundreds like me I was in awe! It’s the most amazing thing to be able to talk about the fantastic books I read with someone who loves them just the same! I love to get private messages from readers to talk about books!

2. What’s your favorite place and time to read?
I love to read in bed! My favorite times are in the morning after I drop the kids off at school and at night right before I fall asleep. It’s a daily ritual and I rarely skip reading at those two times.🙂

3. Favorite book of all time?
This is totally a loaded question for a bookie, but one I don’t mind answering because I love to mention the book that gave me my love of reading! ‘Where the Red Fern Grows’ by Wilson Rawls! Favorite. Book. of. all. time!!!

4. Do you prefer a bunch of quick, sweet stand-alone reads or a long drawn out series of epic proportions?
I love both. It really depends on my mood and the time I have. Sometimes I want the short novellas, or stand alones, but sometimes I want to get swallowed whole with characters and I want a series I could get lost in. :]

5. Last book you read and how did you rate it?
Last book I read was ‘Beneath Your Beautiful’ by Tamsyn Bester and I gave it 4 thumbs up rating! I really enjoyed it! It was about to broken people who let the walls down for each other and found a love that speaks to the soul. I’m glad it made it’s way into my life and I was able to read it! :]

6. Aside from reading, what else do you do with your time? Or, like us, do things book-related pretty much sum up your life?
Besides spending time with my husband & kids and my two fur babies…yup books pretty much sum up my life! LOL

7. If you could go on a date with any fictional male character, who would it be, from what book?
Devlin. *sigh* I want to go on a date with Devlin from Belinda Boring’s ‘The Mystic Wolves’ series!! Sexy vampire, loyal friend…yup date with him would be awesome! ;]

8. Is there a fiction genre you just can’t seem to stand or get into?
Westerns. I can’t do westerns. I’ve tried. I just can’t.

9. Were you The Quiet Girl Who Was Always Reading, or did you mainly just read at home in secret?
I was the girl always reading and writing. I would lock myself up in my room and write or read my time away. I always had a book with me. I always had a story to tell. :]

10. Favorite book to movie adaption?
The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks! Both the book and the movie! LOVE! LOVE! LOVE!

Thank you so much for asking me to be a part of this! It’s an honor to be able to share a bit of myself with your readers. I appreciate authors that don’t forget the bloggers that do this everyday for the love of reading!❤


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