Recent Reads

It’s summertime, and that means plenty of time for me to read without feeling guilty! Homework is a thing of the past (until September), so I’m enjoying the time to read for fun.

I’ve been reading a blend of new things and old favorites, and it’s been wonderful revisiting loved places and discovering new ones.

What are you all reading this summer? I’m always looking for new recommendations!

Recent Favorites:
STRANGE GRACE by Tessa Gratton
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This book tugged at my heart in all the right ways. It’s beautifully gruesome in the way only Gratton can write, and I loved every agonizing second of it. The most surprising thing about this book was the polyamorous triad that was so well done, I couldn’t see any of the characters without the others. Highly recommend this gorgeous book.

 

 

 

TECHNICALLY YOU STARTED IT by Lana Wood Johnson
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Full disclosure: I helped beta this book when it was still under construction, so it will always hold a special place in my heart. But even that hadn’t been the case, this is a fun, light read for the summer and it comes out tomorrow! It’s another beautifully queer book with both main characters discovering themselves and each other, and I just love these nerds so much.

 

 

Books That Missed The Mark:
THESE WITCHES DON’T BURN by Isabel Sterling
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I wanted to like this. I really did. Queer witches is usually a fierce SIGN ME UP, but the first 1/3 of this gave me anxiety because the adults refused to listen to the teens and the middle 1/3 was pretty forgettable. It was only in the last 1/3 that the book picked up and left me wanting more. (Which is good because this is the first book in a series, and ends on a cliff-hanger!) The queer rep in this was awesome, and I enjoyed the casual diversity in this. (Ex/ non-plot-advancing description of a little girl on the street with two dads!) Overall, not a successful book for me, but mostly due to personal preferences.

DISAPPEARANCE AT DEVIL’S ROCK by Paul Tremblay
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I was expecting paranormal horror, and I got some weird “maybe it is, maybe it isn’t” horror instead. If I hadn’t been expecting something different, maybe I’d feel differently. But I was looking for some creepy devil action, and all I got was the horrors that humans inflict on one another instead. Which is much more frightening, but not what I wanted when I picked this book up.

 

 

Book In Progress:
THE LUMINOUS DEAD by Caitlyn Starling
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I. LOVE. THIS. BOOK. I’m halfway through, and I’m enjoying every terrifying second of this book. It hits on a bunch of things I love: caves, horror, and character-driven sci-fi. Wonderfully written, engaging, and suspenseful. Highly, highly recommend you don’t miss out on this one.

 

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Interview–Lana Wood Johnson

Hi everyone! I’m super excited to welcome author Lana Wood Johnson to my blog today! Her debut YA book, TECHNICALLY YOU STARTED IT, comes out June 25th from Scholastic.

9781338335460


When a guy named Martin Nathaniel Munroe II texts you, it should be obvious who you’re talking to. Except there’s two of them (it’s a long story), and Haley thinks she’s talking to the one she doesn’t hate.

A question about a class project rapidly evolves into an all-consuming conversation. Haley finds that Martin is actually willing to listen to her weird facts and unusual obsessions, and Martin feels like Haley is the first person to really see who he is. Haley and Martin might be too awkward to hang out in real life, but over text, they’re becoming addicted to each other.

There’s just one problem: Haley doesn’t know who Martin is. And Martin doesn’t know that Haley doesn’t know. But they better figure it out fast before their meet-cute becomes an epic meet-disaster


Hi Lana! Thanks for joining me on the blog today. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m Lana and I’m a giant nerd! People sometimes don’t entirely get how deep it goes when I say it, but I’ve got the cred: my first memory is Star Wars A New Hope in theaters, I met my best friend 24 years ago in an online roleplaying game, and I initially flirted with my husband by shouting a meme at him in the year 2000.

Wow, your nerd cred is impressive! Your debut novel, TECHNICALLY YOU STARTED IT, comes out this summer. Can you tell us a bit about the project?

Haley and Martin are also just as nerdy in their own way as I am, (although Martin’s a bit cooler than either of us.) Told entirely through their text messages, it’s Haley’s story of falling in love with someone whose physical body she doesn’t really recognize but who she knows better than anyone else around her.

What inspired you to write this story?

After a hefty round of full rejections on my second book, I found myself volunteering on a crisis line for a local youth shelter. That’s where I discovered my skill of connecting with people via text messages is actually kind of special. I realized that like the youth I was talking to, I used the internet to connect with people and I decided to channel that into a story.

Very cool! In addition to the nerdiness, this book is also really queer. I’m super excited to see it hit mainstream shelves. Can you tell us a little about those themes and what you’re hoping people will take away from them?

My biggest hope is that people will take away that even though it’s m/f it’s two queer characters connecting in their own ways. And while it’s not about their identity, and the coming out they do is incidental and contextual to the situations, the story wouldn’t be remotely the same if they were straight characters.

As I started revising, I realized how important it was to me that the story stay in their text messages. By keeping it there, it made Haley’s perspective on the relationship the center and I realized showed better what it was like to fall in love with the person inside the skin.

What media (books, movies, podcasts, etc) are you enjoying right now?

I’ve just started drafting again which means my tendency is to go back to old, familiar stories. That said, I just discovered My Favorite Murder and as the completionist I am, I’m working my way through their archives. There’s a LOT of archives tho!

Any favorite writing snacks or drinks?

I don’t need anything to write, but I love writing at a fancy bakery nearby my house. They have miel lattes which is made with honey and the FANCIEST pastries. I think one of their bakers also watches Great British Bake Off so I get to taste some of the weird things they make on the show. That’s where I first had a kougin amann which is an excellent writing food.

That sounds delicious, and I’m hungry now. That’s a good place to leave this conversation. In closing, where can people find you online?

I am on Twitter and Instagram, and on my website.


TECHNICALLY YOU STARTED IT will be released on June 25th. You can preorder it from Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, Target, or Book Depository!


Lana_Wood_Johnson_websize_YA_Contemp_100x100

Lana Wood Johnson was born and raised in Iowa in the time before the internet but has spent the rest of her life making up for that. After years working in wireless communication for companies of all sizes, she now works doing the same for a local youth shelter. Lana lives in Minnesota with her husband and their English bulldog. TECHNICALLY, YOU STARTED IT is her debut novel.

 

World Poetry Day

Happy World Poetry Day!! I don’t usually share my poetry, but I thought that in honor of today, I’d share a poem I wrote a few years ago. I’m not the world’s best poet, though, so please be kind.

What are some of your favorite poems?


Moving On Is Not Forgetting (2013)

Your pictures are hidden deep under floorboards in the attic
buried under seasons of clutter and dust
lying unseen and half-remembered in the darkness.
I need no photos to remember your laughter like rolling waves
and yet I struggle to trace your lips in the sand.

How strange it is to have memories
of a different kind of warmth beside me as I sleep.
Not the gentle ember
of the man who lies there now,
but raging forest fires and the dying hearts of stars.

I smell you in the ocean air at daybreak,
I hear your voice on the breeze at twilight,
I feel your hand in mine as we walk the darkened dunes at midnight.
But these are only in my dreams
and in the morning I sigh, wistful, and avoid questioning eyes.

He knows of you,
the one who stepped into your place in my life
but not in my heart.
He does not mention you, though,
as if the mere utterance of your name would be enough to resurrect your soul.

But I know better than he does
that I do not need your physical presence
to feel you all around me,
but I love him deeply in my own way.
He’ll never replace you, and he keeps the darkness at bay.

Dating by the Book — Review

71im--6M06LIs love just something you find in books?

Six months ago, writer and bookstore owner Maddie Hanson was left at the altar. Since then, she’s had zero interest in romance—despite the fact that she runs a book club full of sexy eligible bachelors. But when her latest novel is panned by an anonymous blogger who goes by the name Silver Fox—and who accuses her of knowing nothing about passion—she decides to prove her nemesis wrong by seeking a romance hero in real life…
 
There’s the smoldering rock musician, the bookish college professor, and her competitive childhood friend who may want to steal her bookstore more than her heart. Even Silver Fox is getting in on the action, sending Maddie alarmingly—and intoxicatingly—flirtatious emails. And that’s not all. Her ex wants her back.
 
Now Maddie is about to discover that like any good story, life has twists and turns, and love can happen when you least expect it—with the person you least expect…


I’m not usually one for enjoying romance novels (*waves in asexual*) but when I heard the synopsis of DATING BY THE BOOK, and the author put out a call for reviewers, I wanted to get in on the fun. I received an ARC several months later in a hot pink polka dot envelope, and I knew I’d made a good decision.

The main character was real and I identified with her living life with her head in the clouds and her nose in a book. I really enjoyed her character arc from expecting people to behave like book characters to really seeing the reality of what was in front of her. Her growth and self-actualization were great to see. I never identify with the sexual pining in romance novels (and is often why I don’t quite enjoy them), but there was enough other plot going on that the pining was sort of secondary, which I appreciated.

One major thing that was really jarring was the subplot regarding the online book reviewer whom Maddie (as a debut author) writes a scathing email to while drunk after the reviewer only gave her 3 stars. It’s quite taboo in real life for authors to respond to reviewers, especially after a real-life author stalked and confronted a reviewer at her home after a bad review. The beginning of DATING BY THE BOOK made me deeply uncomfortable because of how badly this plays out in real life, so I had to keep telling myself that this is fiction (and romance at that!) so everything was going to turn out okay. And it did. But if you’re sensitive to this type of situation, you may want to skip this particular book.

Overall, this was a fun story with characters I enjoyed. I will definitely be picking up Mary Ann Marlow’s other books!


DATING BY THE BOOK will be out June 25. You can pre-order it here!

Happy New Year and Author Interview (Jeremy Martin)

Hi, everyone! I hope you had a great holiday season and a very happy new year! I know I’m excited for the upcoming year and all the amazing books that are being released.

Today, I’m pleased to welcome my friend and fellow writer Jeremy Martin to the blog to talk about his upcoming debut FOREIGN TO YOU. Jeremy and I first met at a Madcap workshop back in 2016. How time flies!

41732287The harmony between humans and fianna, a species of shape-shifting deer, begins to wither as racial tensions and deeply rooted resentment turns violent.

Ruthless hunter Finn Hail and prophesied liberator Adelaide may be heroes to their own species, but they are enemies to each other. With war on the horizon, the reluctant pair must team up to find the most elusive of prey: the god of the Forest.

As enemies press in from all sides, true intentions begin to show. For Finn to save the boy he cares for most, he might need to aim his gun at the very god he seeks. And Adelaide, with her festering hatred for mankind, will have to determine if peace holds true salvation for her people.


Q: Welcome, Jeremy, and thanks for joining me on the blog today! Can you tell my readers a little bit about yourself?

A: *waves* Hello! I am 24 years old and living in Pennsylvania. I work full-time as a residential and commercial estimator and I get to use highlighters a lot. Which is fun. When I’m not working, I’m normally playing an obscene amount of video games, rewatching the Office for the millionth time, or writing about people dying and sadness.

Q: Your upcoming release, FOREIGN TO YOU, has a darkly whimsical feel to it. What was your inspiration for the story?

A: FOREIGN TO YOU was birthed from this darker theory that sometimes ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’ can’t be broken or rewritten. I’ve read plenty of stories that have the main characters battling the gods, higher powers, etc, to change the world around them and defying everything. I’ve always wondered, ‘Well…what if that didn’t work out? What if fate is set up for a reason?’

Another large part of FOREIGN TO YOU is my perception of the world and my own battles with certain viewpoints or ideas. While there might be shape-shifting deer in the story, there are some real-world issues being snuck in there.

Q : Yeah, those shape-shifting deer really surprised me. I’m used to shifters usually being werewolves, so this was really different and unique. How did you come up with having deer shifters?

A: I grew up in a family of hunters. Every November they’d go to our cabin during rifle season. I used to go, when I was younger, but didn’t find much joy in actually killing the deer. I used to love sitting in the tree stands and watching as the deer came and went, almost mystically.

One time, my grandpa had told me, “Deer come and go through the forest like magic. One second they’re there and the next they’re gone,” and that has always stuck with me. I love the duality of animal and human residing in one form, but I didn’t want to use shifters that I felt like were overdone or already mapped out. I liked the idea of exploring a new species and, hopefully, adding a breath of fresh air to the shifter genre!

Q: It definitely is a breath of fresh air! I’m about 5 chapters into the ARC I received, and I’ve been enjoying how different it is.
Can you talk a little about your journey to being published?

A: As a writer, there are a million drafts of various stories and ideas chilling on my flash drive. FOREIGN TO YOU is an accumulation of all those ideas that didn’t work out, that just weren’t ready yet. Each time one idea doesn’t work, the plot doesn’t feel right, or you get a rejection from an agent you take it mega personal. You doubt your worth as a creator, as a story teller. You think, ‘what’s the point?’

But there is always hope. I’m literally getting a book about deer becoming humans published. If I can succeed, your chances are that much greater.

I participated in PitMad on Twitter and then queried Nine Star Press who later offered me a publishing deal. I had actually never considered going with a small publisher before. The stigma that the writing/reading world has about small presses is suffocating and scary at times, but I don’t think I would change a single thing that has happened in this journey.

I’m also TERRIBLE at being patient and waiting. And from my experience so far, it’s a lot of hurry up and then waitttt.

Q: What is your writing process like? Any favorite snacks or drinks for writing?

A: My writing process is a lot like a flamingo that wasn’t born with good balance and thinks it can run. I often joke that I’m a part-time writer and a full-time mess, because really I am. I want to be able to look someone in the eyes and tell them I map out every single action my characters take and each plot point, but I just don’t. It kind of scares me how each time I edited FOREIGN TO YOU, I added something new and crucial to the story.

My biggest ‘writing tool’ is probably Pinterest. I create a board for each idea and get visuals on characters, places, aesthetics, etc.

So, I drink coffee when I’m drafting because I think it makes me look smart and sophisticated. When I’m editing, I drink wine so I can slowly stop feeling the pain of fixing how many times I used “you ass” in my story.

I don’t eat much though. If I do, I try to reward myself. Oh, you finished a paragraph? Eat a cookie!

Q: Cookies are always a good reward!
What media (tv/books/podcast/etc) are you enjoying right now?

A: I am always looking for stories and strong narratives in all forms of media. I love playing video games for that reason. Sure, they are entertaining as heck, but some of the plots and characters that come out of games these days is wild. Play the Last of Us. That game tore me open and left me broken. Oh, and I started watching the Great British Baking Show and my life hasn’t been the same ever since.

PS: I will marry Steven one day.

Q :Where can people find you online?

A: Probably on America’s Most Wanted.

But if not there, I frequent Instagram so I can share photos of my dogs and feel only slightly judged for my lack of life. I also have Twitter (have a twitter?) where I take a full day to craft up something witty and funny that ends up getting 1 like (shout out to Sabina for those pity likes.)


You can find FOREIGN TO YOU at Nine Star Press on February 4, 2019! I know it feels far away, but the book will be released before you know it! Thanks for joining us today!

 

The Christmas Corridor

Grandma’s house was dusty and dark when we arrived for Christmas Eve. Her milky eyes and clawed hands weren’t so helpful for keeping a clean house anymore, but she was too proud to ask any of us for help. My mom sighed, and set about assigning tasks to us kids.

“We can’t decorate until everything is clean,” Mom said.

I groaned. Mom narrowed her eyes.

“Carla,” she said in that warning tone she often got with me, but I grabbed my cousin Ina’s hand and dragged her away to the parlor before she could continue scolding.

Good thing Ina was always more thoughtful than me, because she had rags and furniture polish in the hand I hadn’t grabbed. We worked our way around the room, turning on lamps, dusting off the thick layer of grey that coated everything, Ina chattering away.

“…and then Marcus said that he wouldn’t ever date Gina because she smells like pea soup…”

I ignored Ina as much as I could, but that was hard because her voice was loud and grating. She had no volume control, no inside voice I could remind her to use. Not that she would have listened to me. She was a whole three weeks older, which she reminded me of every time I tried to suggest she do something different.

She was still going on about Marcus and smelly Gina when I came to the fireplace. A whole year of grime lay before me, begging to be cleaned. I sprayed it with the polish and began rubbing.

The ornate carvings made it difficult, and I wished I had some q-tips and several hours to get into each crevice. Grape vines and dancing men, beautiful and pleasing. Grandma’s family must have been very rich, or very talented, to make this. I’d never asked her the story behind the mantle, easily the centerpiece of the house, but I would ask her this year.

Grandma was a woman of few words, but I hope she’d tell me the story. Her childhood was a mystery, and we’d all learned early not to ask too many questions. My mom answered any questions we had to the best of her ability, but always warned us not to ask Granny.

The one time I’d asked Granny about her life, she threw her spoon into her soup bowl and screeched about nosy children who didn’t understand their place.

I never asked another question.

“I hate cleaning,” I said, interrupting Ina and my own endless thoughts. “And I wonder if this is the year the curse will befall our family.”

“You don’t actually believe in that silly story, do you?” Ina asked. “I don’t.”

“Why not? Every grandmother in our line has died on Christmas Eve. Granny’s not looking too great, and today’s Christmas Eve.”

“Oh, shut up,” Ina said. She threw a dirty rag at me. “Besides, it’s not every grandmother. Just every other.”

“Okay, yeah. Every other. As in ours.”

Ina ignored me, and I returned my attention to the mantle. One grape on the right side was particularly grimy, and I rubbed it harder with the cloth.

“Damnit,” I muttered. “Get clean.”

“Language,” Ina scolded.

I shot her a dirty look, but she just returned it with an innocent one of her own. Damn Ina and her prudishness. It’s not like I’d said fuck.

I returned my attention to the grape. I pushed down with the rag, and the grape depressed into the mantle. Fear froze my body, icing its way from my head to my toes. I broke the carvings.

With shaking hands, I brought the rag away from the mantle. Ina hummed to herself behind me, lost in dusting the baseboards. At least she’d stopped talking.

The grape was pushed down deep, far lower than the other grapes around it. But, a small drawer had also opened beneath it, cutting through the chest of one of the dancing men.

Relief flooded me. I hadn’t broken it. I wouldn’t get into trouble.

A rustling noise behind me made me turn around. Grandma shuffled into the room, her slippers scuffing on the hardwood floor. She was bent and crooked, her figure imposing and terrifying even in its twistedness. I didn’t want to be afraid of her, but I couldn’t help it. She’d never been overly affectionate, which had led to my never really bonding with her. And now she was just a scary old woman whose temper got worse with every task she was no longer able to do herself.

I looked into the little drawer before she could make her way across the large room. A small key lay nestled inside. I grabbed it, and slid the drawer closed as quietly as I could. It closed with a small snap as the grape popped back into its normal position.

With a sigh of exhaled anxiety, I pocketed the key. I’d look at it later. For now, a semi-blind old woman was picking her way through the living room toward me.

“Not breaking things again, are we?” Grandma said. Her voice was thin and ancient, its sound even more grating than Ina’s despite its softness.

“No, Grandma. Just cleaning,” I said.

Ina popped up from the floor and held out the dusty rag. As if Grandma could see it.

“We’re doing just fine, Grandma” Ina said. “But thanks for checking on us.”

“Hmmph,” Grandma said. She began her slow scuffle back toward the door.

Ina and I stayed still, watching Grandma’s retreating back. I felt bad for the woman. No matter how intimidating I found her, she was still just an old woman trying to do the best she could and being told it wasn’t good enough. But those charitable thoughts were easier to have when she wasn’t staring at me, demanding answers.

I turned the key over and over in my pocket, waiting for her to leave. Waiting for the opportunity to look at it better.

The key was black and ornate. Heavy. Old. It lay in the palm of my hand in a shaft of moonlight streaming through a crack in the shutters, its heft more than I’d have ever expected from a key so small. It was barely half the length of my pinky finger.

Ina, Marie, Jessie, and Toni slept on the other futons in the bedroom we always shared. Their breath came regular and even. I risked life and limb by climbing my way through the minefield of spread-out cousins on the floor. The door creaked slightly as I opened it. I froze, held my breath for a few beats, but no one in the room stirred. I shut the door behind me. It didn’t creak going the other way, and it closed with a quiet click.

The long hallway lay dark before me, suggesting I return to the safety of the bedroom. But the key weighed in my hand, a promise of adventure and novelty in a house that had seen little of that my entire lifetime.

I’d never seen a mysterious locked door in this house, but I was determined to find it. If the key was hidden, the door may be too. I’d start with the fireplace.

For over an hour, I pushed on each knob and whorl, each carving and ornament. No dice. Strangely, even the grape that had spat out the hidden drawer at me was no longer working.

The grandfather clock in the corner struck midnight. I whirled around at the sound, heart pounding. The chiming mocked my inability to find that which was hidden.

I leaned against the mantle, hoping it would open a secret panel in the walls like I’d seen in so many movies, but the walls stayed firmly shut. I picked up each candlestick and nick-knack on the mantle, but each came away easily. I stifled a frustrated groan.

I flopped onto the couch in defeat. I sat until the grandfather clock chimed the half hour.

A shuffling noise down the hallway stirred my attention. I turned my head toward the noise as it grew louder, making its way through the darkened house and into the parlor where I sat.

My grandmother was even more terrifying in the dark. Her head was shrouded in a scarf, her white nightgown flowed behind her, both giving her a wraith-like appearance. If it weren’t for the scuffling of her feet, I’d have thought her a figment of my imagination.

“The door’s over here, dearie.” She pointed with her arthritic fingers toward the wall behind the television stand. No wonder I hadn’t been able to find it.

“Thanks, Granny,” I said. A little part of me suggested caution, but I hopped off the couch anyway and slid the stand away from the wall as carefully as I could. Only one small Santa fell off, his face contorted in the darkness into a scowl, censuring me for disrupting his slumber.

Grandma pushed an invisible spot on the wall and a false panel opened up, just like I’d hoped for. It revealed a wooden door, unimpressive and plain with a black lock that matched the key in my robe pocket. I’d been expecting something a little more exciting, but my hand automatically reached out, stuck the key into the lock, and turned it. That, at least, gave a satisfying ka-thunk as it turned.

I finally hesitated, a pit growing in my stomach. How had Grandma known what I was doing?

This had all felt so natural, her coming to help, my willingness to follow along. The magic of midnight hours made the strange feel normal, and hid the truth too well. A pang of fear jolted through me, and the certainty that I needed to be back in bed overwhelmed me.

I looked back at my grandmother, who smiled at me, a leer in the shadows of the dark. I opened my mouth to say goodnight, to leave this room and go back upstairs, but my body betrayed me. I smiled back, and I opened the door.

Behind was pitch black. Cold seeped out, giving the feeling of a large space. Impossible. My brain was churning out information about how on the other side of the wall was the dining room and there shouldn’t be space for a cavern inside the house, while my body swayed on the threshold.

Despite the chill, the unknown beckoned me. Something inside of me screamed at me to shut the door and leave, but I couldn’t have ignored the pull if I tried. The room drew me inside.

Grandma followed me in, her scuffling feet right behind me. I felt her clawed hands on my back, shoving me further in. And I felt the floor rising up to meet me as I tumbled into the dark.

Pale light from a weak winter sun streamed through the parlor windows, hitting my eyes and waking me. I hadn’t meant to stay here all night, but dragging my old body down the hallway and into bed had left me too exhausted to bother mounting the stairs and then picking my way through Carla’s cousins and into her own bed.

My bed now.

Granny had died in her sleep, on Christmas Eve, just as every other matriarch of the family died. The Family Curse, they called it.

A gift, I called it.

I slipped the key back into the secret drawer in the mantle, ready for the next generation to find.

Guest Post-Ceillie Simkiss

LearningCurves

Hey everyone, I’m really excited to welcome Ceillie Simkiss to my blog today! Her new novella LEARNING CURVES is available for pre-order now and will be released on August 16.

Keep reading for a guest post where Ceillie talks about her inspiration for the novella!


LearningCurvesCoverElena Mendez has always been career-first; with only two semesters of law school to go, her dream of working as a family lawyer for children is finally within reach. She can’t afford distractions. She doesn’t have time for love.

And she has no idea how much her life will change, the day she lends her notes to Cora McLaughlin.

A freelance writer and MBA student, Cora is just as career-driven as Elena. But over weeks in the library together, they discover that as strong as they are apart, they’re stronger together. Through snowstorms and stolen moments, through loneliness and companionship, the two learn they can weather anything as long as they have each other–even a surprise visit from Elena’s family.

From solitude to sweetness, there’s nothing like falling in love. College may be strict…but when it comes to love, Cora and Elena are ahead of the learning curve.


INSPIRATION FOR LEARNING CURVES
BY CEILLIE SIMKISS

My first burst of inspiration for Learning Curves came from the place that almost all of my best ideas came from: my dreams.

I regularly have absolutely ridiculous dreams, from murders to romances to entirely implausible science fiction. Once, I dreamed that my dad decided to run for President, and I got so mad because he would be a terrible President. In the dream, I was so upset I decided to run against him and hold a press conference on our front porch. I never learned how that election turned out, but it couldn’t have been any worse than 2016’s.

This dream was a little bit different. I dreamed about a girl driving from Chatham, Virginia to Greensboro, North Carolina, and talking to her girlfriend the whole way there about the new family member she’d discovered she had, and the store she’d inherited. I woke up with a pretty good handle on who Elena and Cora were, what they looked like, all of that, and started writing it.

Now, even if you’ve read learning curves, you won’t know anything about what I’m talking about with that dream. See, I started writing the story that became Learning Curves in October 2016, but it was a novel that I lovingly called “The Gift”.

About midway through the month of working on it, I wanted to write a flashback scene of when Elena and Cora met. And then one thing led to another, and instead of finishing the novel that I had intended to write, I wound up with a mostly finished draft of Learning Curves by July.

I still haven’t finished that novel, and now that I’ve written Learning Curves, I’d have to rewrite probably two thirds of the 15,000 words that I had written. It turned into something completely different, and I love it for what it is.

The other two pieces of main inspiration for this story were my friend Taylor, and my family. Taylor graduated with her Master’s degree in Social Work from NC A&T this spring, and I’m incredibly proud of her for all the work she put into getting there. I knew full well that if I had ever tried to get my Masters in social work, I would’ve flunked out after the first internship.

Much like Elena turned out in the book, I get way too attached way too easily to be an effective social worker, and that’s okay. But I built on that knowledge that there were other ways to help kids that are just as important as social work is to get Elena to where she was.

And of course, I would not be anywhere near the same person if I had a different family. My family is a lot like Elena’s, except the extended family tends to be much less accepting of anyone other than themselves. My mom is one of nine kids, and I have so many cousins that I lost count around 20. Until a few years ago, all of my maternal family lived within a 3 hour radius of my grandmothers house. I grew up at my grandparents’ kitchen table surrounded by people and noise and joy. I wanted to share that joy with Elena, but also allow her to have the supportive extended family that I wish I had.

All of that put together help me create Learning Curves. I’m incredibly proud of the novella that I’ve put into the world. I hope that you will love all of these pieces that I have cobbled together into the happy, fluffy romance that is Learning Curves.


IMG_1705Ceillie Simkiss is a queer writer of all stripes based in southern Virginia. She is also a blogger, public relations professional, and freelance writer. She has bylines at sites like Culturess, Global Comment, and Let’s Fox About It, in addition to her self-published novella Learning Curves

She started writing fiction as an escape from her day job as a small town journalist, and has been at it ever since, with the support of her partner, her dog and her cats.