Writing through the Storm: January in Review

And with that, the first month of January is in the bag. And what a snow-filled month it’s been! For some reason, Mother Nature decided to hold back on the winter weather only to deliver it all in the span of a week. Things started out with a couple inches of snow and ice, followed by a more modest storm of six inches, then a day-long heavy-duty snowfall of fifteen inches, followed by a snow-to-ice event that ended with me shoveling snow in the rain.

It was a bit much but did provide plenty of time to write.

Before we get into that, I wanted to mention a couple more things. First off, being the start of a new year, I’ve been blogging a bit more than normal and wanted to mention a few recent posts. At the beginning of the month, I shared my top books and graphic novels of 2022. Check that out if you’re looking for something great to read. Later on, I talked about my overall thoughts on 2022 and my 2023 publishing roadmap. Those posts are good if you’re interested in learning more about my writing.

In addition, at the end of the month, my posts about my difficulties with amazon gained some traction a year after the event. So if you’re new to my blog as a result of that, hello! While I’m happy to report that the issue has been addressed, it did end up launching me on a bit of a journey as far as bringing my books wide. I’m debating whether to blog about my initial reactions to that, but have so far held back. Spoiler alert: this would be a rather frustrated post. Obviously, if you’ve seen my initial amazon thoughts, I can write about negative things, but prefer to be selective about when I chose to go to that space. So we’ll see.

But for now, let’s talk more about January.

What I’ve been working on: Website refresh and Revisions

If you read my December In Review post, you’ll know that I ended the year deep in revisions for my portal fantasy. A month later, I’m still there, but this time I’m part way through my third draft as opposed to the second draft, which is a nice amount of progress!

This past month, I’ve definitely come across some interesting complications when it comes to writing a portal fantasy on a dead planet. For example, did you know that the term “earth,” as it refers to the soil, is something unique to our planet? They don’t refer to the surface of Mars as “earth,” after all. And also, did you know that salt water doesn’t actually smell, but the unique scent is due to the living and dead things that exist within it? Knowing when to lean on science and when I’m getting overly technical and obsessive has been a challenge. Obviously, a lot of that detail isn’t that big of a deal to the average reader, but push things too far in the other direction, and the book can feel so unrealistic that people are taken out of the story.

In addition, you may have noticed that I’ve put some work into this website. The content is mostly the same, but it’s been given a facelift, and I’ve updated a lot of the links and content around my books to make things easier to navigate and understand. Let me know if you happen to come across any broken links or the like!

What I’ve Been Loving: Chill kpop and DLC

When I haven’t been working on revisions, January has been filled with plenty of fun things. First off, I’ve finally jumped on the NewJeans train. Most kpop fans have been there for months, but I’ve recently bit the bullet and have completely fallen for their music. While I absolutely love how complex, noisy, and weird kpop can be (in fact, my favorite artists often skirt the line between “brilliant” and “annoying”), the chill vibes of Newjeans have been addictive in their own way. My personal favorite song is the jazzy “Attention,” but I also really like “OMG.”

Second off, while I enjoyed the action-packed first half of season six of My Hero Academia, I’ve found the more character-based drama of the second half to be pure Nancy-bait. Any time the plot shifts to Todrokoki, I can’t stop thinking about it.  Speaking of great characters, my next choice is actually a protagonist: Tress from Tress of the Emerald Sea. Writing teenaged characters can be a challenge. You want to embrace all the faults and inexperience of youth but also craft a character that won’t be written off as annoying for simply being realistic. Fortunately, Sanderson does wonderfully with Tress. With her pragmatism and determination, it was impossible not to route for her.

To finish things off, last month, I mentioned that I was really enjoying Mario Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, a humorous tactics game for the Switch. This month, I continued to enjoy both the game and the DLC. While I take some issue with how the multiple encounters with the game’s boss were handled, Donkey Kong Adventure was ultimately a great mix of goofy humor, appropriately challenging gameplay, and fantastic music by Grant Kirkhope.

What’s Next?

As you might have guessed, I need to finish up my revisions for my portal fantasy! If all goes to plan, I should be hearing back from my beta readers about Red and Black 6 in March, so I’d like to have my portal fantasy book all done and out to those beta readers by the time I dive back into the world of superheroes. And also taxes, maybe? Ugh. No, thank you.

2023 Publishing Road Map

Since it’s mid-January, I’m sure a lot of people have moved past things like New Year’s Resolutions, but goal setting has always been an important part of my writing journey, and the beginning of the year is as good of a time as any. Similar to my 2022 publishing road map, nothing here is set in stone, but I do a pretty good job of sticking to most of my goals.

Let’s break things down.

Red and Black: Beginning of the End

My goals for the Red and Black series are two-pronged. One is to publish the sixth book in the series in the summer (it needs to go through beta reads and professional edits first), and the second is to begin work on the seventh and final book in the series.

I’m not going to lie, that second goal feels a bit daunting. I’ve been working on the Red and Black series for so long. Much longer than I’ve been publishing! I originally came up with the prototypes for Dawn and Alex back when I was in college, and I began writing the first draft of Red and Black in 2014. Almost ten years ago! I know that tackling this final book is going to be difficult, but I am determined to give these characters the satisfying send-off they deserve. If I’m going to continue to publish one Red and Black book per year, then I need to make serious headway in 2023.

Portal Fantasies

This one is a little trickier to plan.

As I’ve been documenting in my monthly reports, I’ve been putting a lot of time into a portal fantasy novel. It’s a standalone book, and it’s on the longer side (as fantasy books often are), which makes it difficult to figure out how long things like beta reads and even professional edits are going to take. I would like to get this book published by the end of 2023 with Midnight Tide Publishing, but it could just as easily come out at the beginning of 2024. Let’s see how things go.

Stretch Goals

Since I’m feeling particularly ambitious this morning, if I have a really strong writing year, there is one new project I’d like to start by the end of it. Like the portal fantasy, it’s standalone. Also, like the portal fantasy, it’s a little weird. But that’s all I’m going to say for now. 2023 is going to be plenty busy without throwing a new project into the mix.

Beyond Writing

This one feels a little reminiscent of my 2022 road map. I want to do monthly check-ins here as well as important announcements. This is something I got in the habit of doing last year, even if it took a few months to get there. And speaking of the website, this one really needs a facelift, and soon!

Reading is important for writers, so I’ve set a goal to read at least a book a week. So far, I’ve kept to that goal, which is encouraging. You can check out my Goodreads or Instagram for regular updates.

One thing I mentioned in last year’s post is doing more in-person events. In fact, I’m going to mention the same event that I touched on then because I got the year wrong (whoops!). I’m going to attend the Getting Witchy with it convention in Massachusetts in October of 2023, and I’d love to do one or two additional in-person events. If you happen to know of any in the New England area, especially those who are open to small, indie authors, I would really appreciate it.

Also, since I will be in the publishing/promotional stages for my portal fantasy, even if I’m unable to release it until 2024, I’d like to look into new tools for getting that book out into the world. It’s a brand-new project, after all. Why not try some new things?

That’s it for now. Let’s see how I tackle these goals.

2022 In Review

One thing I try to do at the end of each year is look back and reflect. It’s a useful way to keep track of what I’ve accomplished, projects I’m still working on, and anything that might have gotten lost in the shuffle. 2022 has very much been a year of beginnings and endings, as well as a few writing-related headaches. Let’s dive into those.

Closing the books on The Twin Kingdoms

Hey! I finished a series this year, and that’s WILD. Admittedly, it helps that The Twin Kingdoms is a short series as novellas, as opposed to a longer series of novels (like Red and Black), but it still feels like an accomplishment. I began the year by publishing the fourth and final book and ended the year by publishing the entire series in Omnibus form. My first omnibus and hardcover release! I think they look pretty sharp myself, although I hesitate to do the same for Red and Black given how strongly that series trends digitally, whereas The Twin Kingdoms always had an above-average interest in print.

In the midst of those happy accomplishments were a few challenges. In the weeks leading up to the publication of The Starlight Blade, Amazon discovered that The Rose and the Claw could be found on various piracy sites. As a result, they doubted I was the real author and threatened to remove the book from the website. At the time, The Rose and the Claw was part of KU, as I love my KU readers! But as KU requires you to be exclusive to Amazon, that meant that had Amazon rejected it, the first book in my series wouldn’t have been available to buy anywhere.

While this was disturbing enough, what was even more troubling was the fact that I couldn’t get someone to give me a clear answer on what to do. Instead, I got auto-generated form emails. When I called amazon’s customer service line, I was told that no one could help me. Eventually, I raised a bit of a stink over it on this blog and Twitter. The issue was addressed soon after, and Amazon agreed to keep my book in their store. And while that ultimately worked in my favor, I was undeniably spooked. As a result, in the second half of the year, I pulled the series from KU and published them in more stores. So if this ever happens again, at least I have the security of knowing that my books are still available.

At the same time, going wide hasn’t done anything for me, money-wise. In the months since I removed my books from KU, almost all of my sales for the Twin Kingdoms have been on amazon. This is undeniably frustrating. I want my books to be available to others if Amazon rejects them, but if so few of my readers use these other websites, how available are they really? This is something I will be doing more research on, but as someone with precious little time to devote to writing to begin with, it reminds me of why I decided to say exclusive to amazon in the first place.

Another (thankfully more minor!) frustration surrounding The Twin Kingdoms is the fact that the artist who made the standalone covers is no longer in business. Fortunately, my friend, the multi-talented Lou Wilham, was able to sweep in and create a cover for the Omnibus in the style of the original with plenty of time to spare.

Ups and Downs with the Red and Black Series

It’s interesting. The writing side of The Twin Kingdoms was all positive, while the publishing side was filled with pitfalls. Red and Black proved to be more complicated.

May saw the publication of Breaking and Entering, the fifth book in my superhero series. Writing this one was a blast, with very few speedbumps along the way. I loved getting to spend more time with these characters and this world, and hope that you all have too. There was one issue with the paperback cover art, which caused a delay, but overall, things went well for book five.

Book six has been another story entirely!

I wrote the original draft for book six during the height of the pandemic during what was a very difficult time for me emotionally (and likely you too!). The result was a book not worth publishing. So I scrapped that and started from scratch during NaNoWriMo in 2021. 2022 was all about revisions, which continued to be challenging but encouraging. Every time I went back to the book, I could see it come back a little bit stronger. By the end of the year, it was in the hands of my beta readers. I felt like a giant weight had been lifted off my back. Obviously, the work is not done, and I still have edits to do and steps to bring it toward publication in 2023, but it is encouraging to reach this milestone regardless.

Looking to the Future: Portal Fantasies

Red and Black 6 was not the only book I wrote in 2022. I also spent a fair amount of time working on my next fantasy project! And let me tell you, I am incredibly excited about this one but also a bit nervous. Every time I look at it from a story perspective, I find so much to love. Every time I look at it from a marketing perspective, all I see are hurdles.

There’s a lot of common writing and publishing advice online, especially in self-publishing spheres. One thing that is discouraged is writing standalone books, as series are much easier to make a profit off of.  Genre mashups are also a big no-no. It’s much harder to find an audience that likes to read multiple genres, and people can get frustrated when the book they pick up doesn’t follow the expected tropes that they love. It’s also considered smart to write books about younger people in their twenties, as you might get interest from YA readers as well as adult readers, and younger readers typically don’t want to read about people who are at a different stage in life.

And well, guess who just wrote a standalone dark portal fantasy that combines epic fantasy and mystery elements and focuses on a woman in her 30s?

Obviously, not every book needs to follow the standard self-publishing rules (Legends and Lattes, anyone?), but they do exist for a reason, and when you break them, you need to be prepared for some hurdles. Hurdles that I, fortunately, won’t have to face for a little while.

So those are my thoughts on 2022. I’ll be posting my 2023 Publishing roadmap soon, so if you want to get an idea of what’s coming up next, then keep an eye on this blog!

Fantastic Standalones and Genre Mashups: My Top 10 Books and Graphic Novels of 2022

2022 was an interesting time for reading. I finished 69 books, so it was far from my most prolific year, but a lot of the titles I picked up were of very high quality. So much so that in addition to my top ten books of the year, I have five honorable mentions. The books and graphic novels listed run the gambit from character focus fantasy romances to unsettling horror, but each has something about them that sets them apart from the crowd. Similar to my top movies/TV show list, some of these books came out in 2022, while others were simply titles I experienced for the first time in the past year. I did reread several great books in 2022, but they won’t be listed here.

Half a Soul by Olivia Atwater– Olivia Atwater is a hybrid author that’s received a lot of praise in 2022, and it’s easy to see why. This fantasy romance is about Dora, a young woman who loses half her soul in a childhood attack. As a result, she doesn’t have strong emotional reactions to things, which most people find offputting. But it’s very nature that brings her straight toward the Lord Sorcier, a bitter man with a tragic past.

The best types of romance novels are ones that can manage to be fun but not sacrifice character or depth of story to get there. Half of Soul is a perfect example of that. I absolutely loved Dora and found her so easy to route for. This is a great selection for romance and fantasy readers alike.

Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree– Speaking of great indie books, let’s touch on Legends and Lattes, a book all about an orc named Viv who decides to leave adventuring behind her and open up a coffee shop. The twist? No one in her city has ever heard of coffee before. Legends and Lattes is a perfect example of what makes low-stakes storytelling work. Not every fantasy book needs to be about epic, world-saving quests, but you do need to get your reader equally invested in your character’s smaller but still important challenges. As an indie author myself, I found Viv’s quest to start a new business to be super easy to relate to.

I know that Travis Baldree will be writing a prequel to this book, starting all new characters, and I am so eager to see what he comes up with next.

Stray Dogs by Tony FleecsStray Dogs is a perfect selection for pet owners who love creepy, unsettling horror. Meet Sophie: a new dog just adopted by a man with a house full of dogs. But while her new family is eager to welcome her, she can’t help but feel as if something is off and she belongs somewhere else.

Drawn in a style reminiscent of Don Bluth movies like All Dogs go to Heaven, I absolutely flew through this twisty horror graphic novel. I loved getting to piece together the mystery with Sophie and her new family. It’s worth giving a trigger warning that not all of the dogs make it, but the result is still an incredibly satisfying read.

The Waiting by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim– Sometimes you read a book, love it, then move on. I read The Waiting six months ago, and I still find myself thinking about it pretty regularly. A fictionalization of the author’s mother’s life story, The Waiting is about Gwija, a Korean woman who flees from the north during the Korean War and is separated from her family in the process. She spends the rest of her life waiting to be reunited with them.

Reading The Waiting reminds me that while life as an American isn’t perfect, there are some hardships we have no frame of reference for. We have no idea what it’s like to have to flee one’s country due to war. We have no idea what it’s like to be a refugee, forcibly separated from the people we love the most in the world. Gwija’s story is both eye-opening and tragic, and the fact that it was based on a true story makes it even more so.

Far Sector by NK Jemisin– I have to confess, as someone who’s been reading NK Jemisin since The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was first published, it pains me to admit that her new series just isn’t for me. So I was overjoyed when I picked up Far Sector and absolutely devoured it. Combining the superhero, science fiction, and mystery genres, Far Sector is about a Green Lantern named Jo who patrols an alien city where every citizen has voluntarily removed their ability to feel emotions. Then, a body shows up, and Jo must dig deep to find out who the killer really is.

Featuring fantastic worldbuilding, an engrossing heroine, and a great mystery, Far Sector should appeal to both existing fans of superhero comics and people outside the genre. Seriously, check this one out.

Nettle & Bone by T. KingfisherNettle & Bone is one of those books that technically isn’t a fairy tale retelling but feels like one. After living most of her life in a convent, princess Marra is pulled back to her royal family to save her sister, who is stuck in an abusive marriage to an evil prince. This will require her to embark on a quest, bringing her face-to-face with strange magic and even stranger allies.

Nettle & Bone is a great melding of fantasy and horror and proof that not every fantasy book needs to be a doorstopper to be deeply satisfying. It also has many of T. Kingfisher’s trademarks, from her unique sense of humor to lovable animal companions. I also love how she allows middle-aged and older women characters to shine in a genre dominated by teens and twenty-somethings.

Middlegame by Seanan McGuireMiddlegame is a dark fantasy book about a pair of twins separated at birth. In childhood, a psychic link emerges between the two, alerting each other of their existences. But what they don’t know is that connection is rooted in a dangerous magical system known as alchemy, and together, they have the power to shape existence itself.

Psychic connections are something I’ve been interested in ever since seeing the movie In Your Eyes, and it was fascinating to see that connection explored in a platonic relationship. Taking place over decades, Middlegame is also an example of how you can tell a long-term story while still keeping up an appealing sense of mystery. I found this novel to be absolutely engrossing, and it might be my favorite book of the year.

The Lost Metal by Brandon Sanderson– This list may be dominated by standalones, but I do enjoy a series ender, especially when written by Sanderson, who is so good at endings. I’m not going to give away too much of the plot because it would be chock full of spoilers for earlier books in the series, but The Lost Metal has a lot to offer. I love how the book was able to provide a satisfying end for the characters of the Wax and Wayne series while pulling in elements from the original Mistborn trilogy and the wider Cosmere. That’s a very tricky balancing act to pull off, and the fact that it results in a book that’s so damn pacey and fun is pretty damn impressive if you ask me.

The hype is real. You need to check out Sanderson and Mistborn.

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi– If I were to tell you that John Scalzi wrote a book about Kaiju to help him escape from a pandemic-fueled depression, chances are you would expect a book exactly like this. And that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes you need a book to be exactly what’s advertised on the tin.

The Kaiju Preservation Society is about a young woman named Jamie who finds herself poached from her food delivery job to work in a secret nature preserve for giant monsters that feed off of atomic energy. And if that sounds awesome to you, pick this book up! It contains all of the fun, fast dialogue, and accessible yet well-thought-out world-building that you’d come to expect from a John Scalzi novel. The perfect book to race through over a weekend.

The Nice House on the Lake, Vol. 1 by James Tynion IV– I’m going to be one of those annoying people and tell you that the less you know about this graphic novel going in, the better it is. But if you enjoy unsettling horror stories with an appealing sense of mystery and complex characters, then do yourself a favor and check out The Nice House on a Lake. The focus here is on a wide cast of characters tied together by one person, the enigmatic Walter. Each of them has been invited to his beautiful lakeside house. But once they show up, they quickly realize that something is very wrong and that Walter is not who he says he is.

Featuring gorgeous artwork by Alvaro Martínez Bueno, The Nice House on a Lake is a wonderfully twisty horror novel with a surprise in every issue. Can’t wait to check out volume two.

Honorable Mentions: Cyclopedia Exotica by Aminder Dhaliwal, The Midnight Bargain by CL Polk, Cyntonic by Brandon Sanderson, Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, and The Me You Love In The Dark by Skottie Young

Happy New Year! Here are five books for just 99 cents

One of the most popular New Years’ Resolutions is to read more books. Personally, I’m hoping to read at least a book a week in 2023. One thing that can help you reach a reading goal is affordable ebooks. So starting things off with a sale seemed like a great idea.

Right now, several of my ebooks have been discounted. This includes the first three books in the Red and Black series: Red and Black, Black and Blue, and Silver and Gold. The Red and Black series is all about a geeky college girl who finds herself with superpowers and falls for her nemesis. These three books will bring you through the first year of Dawn’s story, and you can pick them up today for just 99 cents each or choose to read them with your kindle unlimited subscription.

If you’re more into fantasy, then check out. The Rose and the Claw. This novella retells the classic “Beauty and the Beast” story, only my beauty is a bit of a spitfire, and my beast is more captive than captor. This book can be read as a standalone but is also the start of a fairy tale retelling series, currently complete at four books. In addition, my short story collection, The Lady of the Watchtower, is also available for 99 cents. Both The Twin Kingdoms and The Lady of the Watchtower are available on a wide variety of ebook platforms, including amazon and Scribd.

I hope that these ebooks can help you meet your reading goals for the new year. How many books are you trying to read?

Shut Up and Write: December in Review

Hello everyone, and welcome to the end of 2022. I am currently in the midst of posting lists of my favorite media of the year. So far, you can check out my top 20 songs as well as my top 10 movies and television shows. Next up, I’ll be sharing my top books and graphic novels. Given how many great ones I read this year, narrowing them down is going to be quite a challenge.

December has very much been a “shut-up and write” month. Or, to be more accurate, shut up and write and celebrate Christmas. As a result, it was a little more challenging than normal to come up with a list of my monthly favorites. I didn’t read that much, and I barely watched any TV. It really was all about the holidays and getting down the words. Fortunately, the holiday side of that equation went quite nicely. For the past couple of years, my holidays have been disrupted by bad weather. While I know that same can’t be said for a lot of folks, my 2022 Christmas celebrations basically went off without a hitch. Not sure if the rest of winter will be so cooperative.

What I’ve been working on: Fantastic Revisions

Every book is a different writing experience. Even if you’re like me and live a pretty structured life, there are going to be inevitable variations. Sometimes, I really nail it on the first draft, making the revisions process pretty smooth. Other times, that is far from the case, as experienced with the latest Red and Black book.

My upcoming portal fantasy has been a completely different experience. I don’t think I’ve ever had a book that has outright consumed me like this. Whether my current chapter requires pretty straightforward revisions or something more work-intensive, it doesn’t seem to matter. This book has demanded so much of my mental attention, to the point where I realized, a week in, that I was clearly neglecting certain areas of my life, such as those all-important Christmas presents. And while things have eased off since then, it doesn’t change the fact that I have burned through the first 2/3rds of this book in the time that any other book would have taken up to two months.

I suspect things will slow down a bit going forward, but it is crazy how much I want to work on it. And in a lot of ways, it makes sense. I really like this story, these characters, and this world. But of course, there’s no telling if others will feel the same. Because this book is a little weird. And you never know if that’s going to fly.

What I’ve been Loving- Kingdom Battles and Murder Mysteries

As mentioned above, I didn’t have much time for leisure activities this month, but there were a few things I knew I needed to make room for.

First off is Glass Onion, a follow-up to one of my favorite movies of all time, Knives Out. As a die-hard Agatha Christie fan, I absolutely love how Rian Johnson has taken elements of the stories I have appreciated for years and is now using them to craft his own mysteries with commentary that is deeply relevant to the world today. Once I finished Glass Onion, I wanted to watch it all over again. That almost never happens to me.

The piece of media that has taken up the most of my time this month is Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. This early Christmas present is my first tactics game, and so far, I am absolutely loving it. It reminds me a lot of the Paper Mario games, and the Rabbids crack me up. Admittedly, these little critters could easily become very annoying, but the creators have a good sense of when and how to use them.

Last month, I mentioned that I was re-reading Era 2 of Mistborn in preparation for The Lost Metal, which I happily read in December. The Lost Metal manages to balance its many parts very well, giving a satisfying conclusion to the Wax and Wayne characters, including plenty of references to Era 1, and expanding the Cosmere at large. I am so glad that the Year of Sanderson is just around the corner because I am eager to read more.

And lastly, let’s talk about music, specifically Red Velvet’s Birthday. And I’m not talking about the title track, but the whole damn EP. This mini album leans on the girl group’s quirkier roots, and the result is so much fun. What a fantastic year for Red Velvet!

What’s Next?

Next month is mainly about finishing the first round of revisions for my portal fantasy. I’ll have to bring it through another round before I am comfortable enough to share it with betas, but I am so looking forward to sharing the story that has completely consumed me this month.

Twisty Whodunits and Steamy Rom-Coms: My top 10 movies and TV shows of 2022

2022 was an interesting year for movies and TV. I didn’t watch as much as usual (likely because I spent more time with my Switch). But when it came to the stuff I did watch, I found a lot of high-quality content. You’ll find a list of my favorites below. Not everything is a 2022 release, but I experienced all of them for the first time this year. No rewatches aloud!

Andor Calling 2022 a divisive year in Star Wars is pointless. Not only has the fandom been deeply divided for years, but it’s become the way of pretty much every major fandom. Regardless, I found a lot to enjoy with its 2022 offerings, with Andor as a stand-out. Andor is an incredibly smart examination of the tools of fascism and why people from all walks of life decide to stand up and say “no more.” It’s a particularly daring move to craft a show that relies so heavily on themes in a franchise so deeply invested spectacle, but it ends up really paying off. The casting choices, from reoccurring characters to those who might just show up for a few episodes, are really spot-on. I was especially fond of the prison arc that made up a large portion of the back half.

The CallThe Call is a Korean horror film about a young woman who returns to her childhood home to visit her dying mother. Here she finds a phone that connects her to another woman in the 1990s. Over time, they begin to realize that the knowledge that they share with each other can change the flow of time itself.

Is it worth changing the past to create a better present? Or are the unintended consequences of those changes more terrible than our current realities? The Call isn’t the only movie to ask these questions, but it handles them so well. Anchored by two powerful performances from Park Shin-hye and Jeon Jong-seo, The Call is a wonderfully tense film that handles the escalation of the horror elements expertly.

Encanto– Remember Encanto, guys? The soundtrack that dominated your Spotify unwrapped of 2022? While I feel like the internet’s opinion of this movie (and its creator Lin Manuel Miranda) has definitely cooled since I watched it in January, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a fantastic movie. Featuring catchy tunes and lovable characters, Encanto is a beautiful story about how trauma can be passed from one generation to another and how to make moves toward healing. Whether you enjoy it solely for its music and bright animation or the deeper themes discussed, there’s plenty to appreciate about it.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery Knives Out is one of my favorite films of all time. I knew that there was no way that the sequel could live up to it. But the fact that the movie still made this list should say a lot about the quality of this franchise. Glass Onion brings back Daniel Craig’s delightful Benoit Blanc for another mystery involving a large cast of rich people played by A-list actors. The result is a twist-filled tale that turns your expectations on their heads time after time. As a die-hard Agatha Christie fan, I was pleased to see that this was somehow both more and less Christie than Knives Out, and I eagerly look forward to seeing what Rian Johnson comes up with for movie number three. Don’t bother watching trailers, go in as blank as possible, and open your mind to the craziness of it all.

Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha Hye-jin is a big city dentist that finds herself opening up a practice in a small seaside village. Here, she struggles to deal with the small-town customs and local figurehead, Du-sik, a young man who seems to be good at everything but remains mysteriously unattached. As their relationship goes from enemies to lovers, she begins to discover the secrets of Du-sik’s past.

If you like your romantic comedies to be charged with fantastic chemistry accompanied by a loveable cast of side characters, then you’ll love Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha. But what really brings the show to the next level is the deeply impactful performance of Kim Seon-ho. It’s easy to see why Hye-jin would fall in love with him.

Last Night in Soho- Are you in the mood for a spooky mystery?  Last Night in Soho is a horror/thriller film about a young fashion designer named Ellie who goes to London and finds herself visiting the past, experiencing life through the eyes of Sandie, an aspiring singer in the 1960s. Fully seduced, Ellie continues to gleefully plunge herself into the sixties until the London of the past takes a dark twist.

I’ve been a fan of Edgard Wright for literal decades at this point, but one area I’ve always found him lacking is in his female characters. This is something he rectifies in Last Night in Soho, which is completely anchored in complex female characters. Much like Wrights’s other films. Last Night in Soho is meticulously directed and features a fair amount of twists.

Love and LeashesLove and Leashes is a Korean rom-com that begins when a young man named Jung Ji-hoo, begins working with Jung Ji-woo, a woman known for having a bit of a frosty demeanor. Thanks to their similar names,  Ji-woo accidentally receives a very interesting package meant for Ji-hoo, which reveals his interest in BDSM. But while she finds it strange at first, she comes to understand it, eventually accepting his request to be his master. The twist? No romance aloud.

Love and Leashes is the anti-50 Shades of Grey, presenting the BDSM community as regular folks with an unconventional interest. The romance between our main couple is always steamy but completely PG-13, focusing on the play rather than any sexual elements. This allows the movie to spend plenty of time building their relationship, which ended up being one of my favorite romances of the year. This is one that has probably flown under your radar but is totally worth your time.

Moon Knight– Here’s a show that has likely not flown under your radar, given all the chatter it inspired. Moon Knight is equal parts a superhero show with its roots in Egyptian mythology, as well as an exploration of how difficult it is to live with a mental illness. The strength of Marvel movies is deeply reliant on its casting choice, and nowhere is that more apparent than with Moon Knight. Oscar Issac is perfectly cast as the lead, shifting back and forth between the character’s multiple personalities with a high degree of skill. And Ethan Hawke is downright chilling as the villainous Arthur Harrow. I am desperate for a season two to see how Moon Knight’s journey continues and how they end up resolving that tricky love triangle. Honestly, I hope that Marvel goes full-on reverse-harem with this one.

Tomorrow– I have watched my fair share of kdramas, but few have sucked me in with the same intensity as Tomorrow. The show is about a team of grim reapers, only instead of killing people, they try to save those who wish to commit suicide. As you might imagine, this results in some aggressively triggering subject matter, and some episodes handle the issue better than others. But if you’re in the right headspace for it, I cannot recommend Tomorrow more highly. It has some fantastic character work and continuously asserts the importance of taking sexual assault allegations seriously.

Werewolf by Knight One of my favorite things about Marvel is how they continue to break new ground, even after so many movies and television shows. Werewolf by Night is a perfect example of that. Simultaneously a love letter to classic horror and the introduction of the MCU’s most overtly paranormal elements, Werewolf by Night is an instantly lovable television special that promises new and exciting things going forward. Also, it has a flaming tuba. What more could you want?

Honorable mentions: She-Hulk, Limitless with Chris Hemsworth, Business Proposal, Forecasting Love and Weather, Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness, and My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission

Top Songs of 2022 (Warning! Lots of kpop!)

Hello, everyone! As we approach the end of the year, one thing I like to do is share lists of my favorite things. Let’s start off the party with music.

Below you’ll find a list of my personal favorite songs of 2022. To simplify things, I’m only including music released in the calendar year, and I’m setting a limit of one song per artist. Even with those restraints, this was very challenging! I found it impossible to narrow it down to a top ten and ended up with twenty tracks. But beyond that, if you find yourself looking for more, I’ve actually compiled a Spotify playlist of my top 50 songs of the year.

But without further ado, let’s get into those tunes.

aespa- Illusion– Let’s start out with probably the darkest track on the list. Ostensibly told from the Black Mamba’s perspective (the villain in aespa’s ongoing narrative), “Illusion” is so damn addictive. I love everything about it, from its opening, which features a thumping heart-beat like base and creepy lyrics, to its earworm of a chorus. As much as I loved “girls” this should have been the title track to their second EP.

Ayumi Hamasaki- Nonfiction– After an almost 25-year career, Ayumi Hamasaki has nothing left to prove, yet she continues to present herself as a force to be reckoned with. “Nonfiction” is a powerful dance number that grabs your attention in the first few seconds and then doesn’t let go for its almost four-minute duration. I’m especially fond of the dance break.

billlie- B’rave ~ a song for Matilda– With strong vocals, a viral stage presence, and successfully executed experimental concepts, billlie is a group to look out for in 4th gen of kpop. But my favorite song of theirs has to be this smooth r&b number, which features some of the most satisfying vocal layerings I’ve ever come across. No matter how many times I listen to it, I never get bored

Dreamcatcher- Starlight– I have a real weakness for very specific types of songs. This one falls under the “music I’d want to play if I ever go to space” category. “Starlight” is a catchy number with an especially satisfying chorus and bridge. Dreamcatcher may be known for their rock concepts, but they can execute other genres with flare.

(G)I-DLE- MY BAG– Holy shit, the swag on this song. “MY BAG” is an infectious rap-focused track that will worm its way into your head just after one play and then never leave again. Weeks later, you will be walking through the grocery store, and you’ll find yourself mumbling, “Rock five diamonds in my bag…” (G)I-DLE has had an exceptionally good year, but this one takes the cake.

iri- friends– While my taste in jpop is decidedly old school, I always make an exception for iri. “friends” is a track that just flows gloriously, moving back and forth between verse and chorus, and singing and rap with apparent ease. iri has an appealing, husky voice, and this song utilizes it well.

Kwon Eun Bi- Glitch– Is it weird that the first thing I think about when it comes to this electronic-focused piece is how jazzy it feels? “Glitch” is a masterfully constructed track that builds and drops tension at strategic moments. Kwon Eun Bi is a great singer, and the way her voice dances over the melody (especially in the second verse) is really impressive to me.

IVE- Love Dive– With only a handful of singles under their belt, IVE’s discography is TINY, but every time they come out with a new release, they make an impact. And this track is a perfect example of that. I love the haunting “oooohs” that melt into the background in the prechorus. “Love Dive” is one of the biggest kpop releases of 2022, and it deserves to be there.

LE SSERAFIM- Anti-Fragile– While I enjoyed LE SSERAFIM’s debut track, “Fearless,” it wasn’t until their first comeback that I started paying close attention. Almost criminally catchy, this regaton-inspired number demands your attention from its first anti-ti-ti-ti-fragile” and then doesn’t let go. I am definitely looking forward to this rookie group’s next release.

NCT 127- Time Lapse– While I just as easily could have put “2Baddies,” with all of its luxury car name-dropping, I think I’m actually going to focus on something a little more subtle. “Time Lapse” is far from the first NCT track to shift between chaos and order, but it is so beautifully done with “Time Lapse.” The song begins with a descending, almost unnerving synth line, and I love how the choppy verses transition into a smooth, unified chorus. Don’t miss out on this B-side.

NAYEON feat Felix- NO PROBLEM– And back to crazy catchy! “NO PROBLEM” is the perfect summer song, fresh and fun with an infectious chorus. NAYEON’s brighter, smoother vocals contrast wonderfully with Felix’s more raspy rap verse. I go back and listen to this one when I want to feel warm.

Red Velvet- Birthday- Red Velvet released two solid gold title tracks this year and so many good b-sides that I honestly can’t pick a favorite. So let’s go with the most recent one. “Birthday” is a quirky masterpiece. From its opening sampling of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” to its infectious chorus (“I can make the beat go!”), “Birthday” is a song that I can see myself listening to again and again and never get tired of it.

Seori- Can’t Stop This Party– With a title like “Can’t Stop This Party,” you’d expect something pretty high energy, but its whisper soft vibe-y feels hit in a completely different way. I especially love the shift from the chorus to the second verse.

SEULGI- Anywhere but home– While SEULGI’s entire debut EP, 28 Reasons, is worth your time, this is the B-side that I kept on returning to again and again. A song for driving long distances on quiet dark nights, “Anywhere but home” flows beautifully, a fact which is enhanced by SEULGI’s gorgeous, smooth voice.

Stray Kids- “Maniac”- 2022 really was the year of Stray Kids for me. With fantastic release after fantastic release, I didn’t know which one I should pick (“Venom?” “Heyday?” “Case 143?” “Chill?”). Ultimately I went with the song that got me obsessed with them in the first place “Maniac.” From the top-notch raps and vocals to the perfect anti-drop chorus, “Maniac” is a great representation of what makes Stray Kids such a talented self-producing unit.

Sunmi- Heartburn- Sunmi’s Heartburn has this lovely, almost 70s vibe to it. Combine this with hazy vocals, and there was a reason I couldn’t stop listening to this one all summer. Sunmi isn’t an artist that releases as much music as others, but Heartburn is a great example of why she’s always worth your attention.

TAEYEON- INVU– Featuring sparse instrumentation and gorgeous warm vocals, it boggles my mind that a song this high quality was apparently a track Taeyeon had to fight to release. The entire vibe of the song fits TAEYEON’s iconic voice perfectly, and I love the earnest lyrics. I’ve had this one on repeat since January, and it never gets old.

TWICE- Talk that Talk– TWICE is no stranger to crazy earworm choruses, and “Talk that Talk” is no exception. You hear this one once, and you’ll never forget it. And the versus are just as good. You’ll want to play this one it again and again. Lord knows I did.

Utada Hikaru- bad MODE– While they’ve certainly done their fair share of media tie-ins, Utada Hikaru is, first and foremost, an artist. And that is something very obvious on her experimental 8th Japanese-language album, Bad MODE. A great example of this is its city pop-influenced title track, which seems catchy and fun at first and then just melts at the halfway mark, subverting your expectations. “Bad MODE” is jazzy, fun, and the start of a fantastic album.

VICTON- Stupid O’Clock– Definitely the funkiest song on this list, “Stupid O’Clock” grabs your attention right off the bad with its baseline and fantastic use of falsetto. The crazy-good rap in the second verse just brings this to the next level. Every time VICTON puts out a new EP, I find myself wondering why they’re not a bigger deal. They put out such quality music.

And that’s it for music! Don’t forget to check out my spotify playlist for even more of my favorite tunes of 2022. If you’re interested in learning more of my favorites, make sure you keep an eye on this blog. I’ll be posting more soon!

Off to Beta Readers! November in Reivew

And just like that, we have one month left in 2022!

As is the case with a lot of folks, the holiday season can be a little on the busy side. Between decorating, shopping, and visits (which include a couple of bonus birthdays for my family unit), once the second half of November kicks in, it’s time to get serious. Things have been a little easier for me this year. Since I decided to focus on revisions as opposed to participating in NaNoWriMo, I don’t have the additional mental load of writing a whole new book (even if the time commitment isn’t all that different). You’d think I’d use that extra mental energy to get ahead on the holidays, but I’m somehow behind where I usually am on my Christmas shopping. But at least my tree looks nice?

But before we dive into the end of the year, let’s reflect a little more on the month of November.

What I’ve been Working on- Satisfying conclusions

If you’ve been following this blog for the past couple of years, you know that I’ve had a really hard time with Red and Black 6. Originally drafted during NaNoWriMo in 2020, during the height of the pandemic and an incredibly difficult time for me, emotionally, the original version of Red and Black 6 was, to be frank, pretty bad. So bad that I threw away the entire draft and then started from scratch during NaNoWriMo in 2021. The end results were still shaky, but with every round of revisions, the book has gotten stronger and stronger. This past month, I finally was able to get it ready for my beta readers.

This, as you might have assumed, is a bit of a longer turnaround time when it comes to a book for me. Because I was a little ahead of the game, to begin with, there should not be a ginormous gap between Breaking and Entering and Red and Black 6, but there will be more of a wait than people are used to. The beta reading process for this series has always taken a while, and I have professional edits to take care of. And while it is frustrating to have to adjust my timelines like this, I strongly believe that it’s worth it if the end result is a much higher-quality book.

On the publishing side of things, I accomplished a couple of personal firsts! I released my first omnibus with The Twin Kingdoms Omnibus, which collects all four novellas in the Twin Kingdoms in a single volume. On the digital side, this is my first book to be published wide, meaning that on top of being able to buy the ebook on Amazon, you can also buy it on sides like Barens and Noble, Kobo, and as part of your Scribd subscription. And on the print side of things, this is my first published hardcover! So definitely an interesting experience all around.

What I’ve Been Loving- Returning to Old Favorites

November was a big month for settling back into my comfort zone, entertainment-wise. First off, let’s touch on Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, specifically the second Mistborn series which focuses on Wax and Wayne. Earlier in the year, I realized I was not prepared to read the final Wax and Wayne book, The Lost Metal, as my memories of the first three books were too fuzzy. To rectify this, I ended up rereading the old books. I completed The Alloy of Law several months ago and Shadows of Self and Bands of Mourning just this past month. Weirdly enough, I think I liked the second and third books more this time around. This could have to do with being excited for The Lost Metal, or because I chose to listen to the audiobooks, which as expertly narrated by Michael Kramer.

One of the things I did while listening to those audiobooks is play Banjo Kazooie. As a lifelong lover of 3D platformers, Banjo Kazooie has always been my favorite video game and I’ve played it more times than I could count. This was my first time playing it as part of my Nintendo Switch Online subscription. As much hate as this service has received, I’ve personally found it to be worth my money. I’ve gotten a hundred hours out of the N64 emulator this year alone.

Shifting to future (but still pretty nostalgic) content my next favorite is an album announcement. This past month, my favorite singer, Ayumi Hamasaki, announced that she will be releasing her 18th album this January. This is so impressive to me, especially when you consider that number doesn’t even include her EPs, bests, and remix albums. I’ve really enjoyed the singles leading up to this one, and so I’m looking forward to checking out the full album this January.

And because it can’t all be nostalgia-based, I’d like to add my voice to the large amount of praise that the show Andor has received. The prison arc especially was high quality, filled with delicious tension-building and powerful performances. I am really happy to hear that this show already has a season 2 in the works.

What’s Next?

Since Red and Black 6 will be spending some time with beta readers, it’s time to shift back to my portal fantasy novel. This book is divided into three distinct sections, and I’d love to get the second draft completed on the first section at the very least. In addition, I have plenty of end-of-the-year blogging content to work on. As you might recall, I like to take some time to focus on my favorite media as well as reflect on the year as a whole, and set goals for the next year.

That’s it for November! Hope yours was just as productive.

Fairy Tales Retold: Pick up the Twin Kingdoms Omnibus Today!

Do you believe in happily ever after?

A beast held captive in an enchanted manor.

A young queen stumbles into a hidden masquerade.

A prince scales a tower to save the woman he loves.

A princess falls for an assassin who carries an arsenal of magical tricks.

These are the stories of the Twin Kingdoms, a collection of fairy tale retellings set in two nations descended from a pair of dueling brothers. As the next generation takes the reigns, will they be able to break from the ever-repeating cycle of war to find true peace? Will love win out over ancient evil?

This omnibus includes all four novellas in the Twin Kingdoms series: Book 1: The Rose and the Claw: A Beauty and the Beast Novella, Book 2: A Dance with Magic: A Twelve Dancing Princesses Novella, Book 3: The Wayward Tower: A Rapunzel Novella and Book 4: The Starlight Blade: An Allerleirauh Novella.

As of today, you can pick up the entire Twin Kingdoms series in one volume. This is perfect for binge readers, folks who are a little more price-conscious, and those who prefer one big book on their shelves as opposed to four little ones. The Twin Kingdoms Omnibus is currently available in ebook, paperback, and hardback. Check out the link to pick up the book from your store of choice!

Thanks to everyone who has supported this series on its journey,  from beta readers to book reviewers to anyone who has given it a chance. As a lifelong lover of fairy tales, it was so enjoyable to get to tell my own spin on these classics while building out a new world. I hope you all will continue to join me as I explore more fantasy tales in the future.