required reading

If there’s one thing that I am absolutely certain is a necessity when it comes to being a good writer – it’s being an active reader. Nothing expands your imagination (or your vocabulary) quite like sinking your teeth into a really good book. And nothing makes me want to sit down and churn out a best seller like reading someone else’s.

Originally, I intended to make this a list of the best books I read in 2015. Instead, what I’ve got for you today is what I’m going to call my “required reading” list. While it doesn’t encompass all of the good books I’ve ever read in my life – that list would be way, way too long – it does include the ones that have really affected me.


The Arcana Chronicles by Kresley Cole – Goodreads
3 Books (Incomplete) – Young Adult Urban Fantasy
Why it’s Required: Excuse me if I do a good bit of gushing here, I’m still reeling from finishing the third book last week. This series is an absolute, no questions asked, requirement for one reason. Not the plot – even though the plot is without rival in creative genius. Not the romance – even though the love triangle between the female lead and her suitors is the first to ever leave me just as torn as she is. This series is a must read because of the characters. Never before have I read a series where every. single. character. delivers the emotional punch that they’re supposed to. They made me laugh. They made me cry. They made me scream, and shiver, and grin, and blush, and by the time I was finished I felt as if I knew them. Any writer who reads these books will walk away feeling the compulsion to do better by their own characters.

Black Dagger Brotherhood by J.R. Ward – Goodreads
13 Books (Incomplete) – Adult Paranormal Romance
Why it’s Required: Each one of the Brothers is complicated, engaging, and smoldering, and the friendships forged between them are what give the books their backbone. The political conflicts that pull through each book add another layer of interest to the series as a whole. But most importantly, Ward approaches a romance novel in a way that no one else approaches a romance novel. If there is an unspoken rulebook about things that you should and shouldn’t do, she throws it out and carves her own path. She takes the risk. And, based on her success, maybe the rest of us should, too.

Dragonlance: Chronicles by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman – Goodreads
3 Books (Complete) – Adult Fantasy
Why it’s Required: I’ve read a good bit of fantasy in my day, and while I’ve liked most of it, none of it has stayed with me the way Dragonlance has. The biggest takeaway that I took from Weis and Hickman was a tremendous amount of worldbuilding. It was a foreign concept to me when I first read the series, but it’s now one of my absolute most favorite parts of starting a new project. In addition, the characters are compelling, the story is unique, and the books are impossible to put down from start to finish.

Dragonlance: Legends by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman – Goodreads
3 Books (Complete) – Adult Fantasy
Why it’s Required: The Legends trilogy is a follow up and spin off to Dragonlance: Chronicles – one of many in the greater Dragonlance Universe, and definitely my favorite of the ones I’ve read. With all the good that was packed into the original books, Legends had the added bonus of being focused on my two favorite characters, Raistlin and Caramon. Twin brothers who couldn’t be more different, it was through them that I learned a lot about complex characterization – especially in fantasy settings with the balance between good and evil.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling – Goodreads
7 Books (Complete) – Young Adult Urban Fantasy
Why it’s Required: Could any list of amazing books really be complete without mentioning Harry Potter? I practically learned how to read with these stories. Rowling was the first person to teach me that writing could create a world apart from our own. That, through reading, we could travel across the world, make new friends, and have amazing adventures. Beyond the nostalgic factor, the Harry Potter series is still a must read for anyone who wants to convey themes of love, loss, friendship and sacrifice in their writing.

Immortals After Dark by Kresley Cole – Goodreads
16 Books and 2 Novellas (Incomplete) – Adult Paranormal Romance
Why it’s Required: While I’d been a casual romance reader for a while before I picked up a copy of “Wicked Deeds on a Winter’s Night,” it was Cole who introduced me to the world of paranormal romance. I went immediately from casual reader to full blown junkie, and in all the years since I’ve yet to find a series that does it just as good as IAD does. And while the men are brilliant and the sex is steamy, it’s the ladies that steal the spotlight. IAD is filled with female leads (and side characters!) who are sexy, deadly, hilarious and flawed in ways that make them all the more relatable.

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater – Goodreads
3 Books (Incomplete) – Young Adult Urban Fantasy

Why it’s Required: A ragtag group of friends that have come together to make a family. Magic and witchery around every corner. A brilliant but imperfect female lead. Sad but tough boys who don’t know how to talk about their feelings. Come on. What’s not to like? I especially love Stiefvater’s way of turning the YA love triangle trope on its head by making everyone in the main cast a little (or a lot) in love with everyone else.


(I realized as I was compiling my favorite stand-alones that I seem to have a leaning towards books that hinge on being “difficult to read.” A lot of these books deal with potentially triggering themes such as suicide or sexual abuse. Keep that in mind moving forward.)

By the Time You Read This, I’ll be Dead by Julie Anne Peters
Goodreads – Young Adult Contemporary Fiction
Why it’s Required: I’m just going to come right out and say it – the ending of this book f*cked me up big time. We follow the main character after a failed suicide attempt, as she gears up to try, once more, to end her life. Peters pulls no punches when examining mental health and how depression can destroy us from the inside out. No spoilers here, but I will never forget the last chapter. It’s probably going to haunt me the rest of my life.

grl2grl by Julie Anne Peters
Goodreads – LGBT Young Adult Short Stories
Why it’s Required: Yep, another Peters book. The woman has such a way with words I couldn’t help but to include her twice. grl2grl is on this list for purely personal reasons, but I’m going to subject you to them anyway. I read it at the perfect time in my life – fourteen, and just beginning to try to understand my sexuality. The book is a collection of unrelated short stories about young women dealing with sexual identity, relationship ups and downs, and gender expression. It’s honest, it’s touching, and it’s a recommended read for all LGBT ladies or the people who love them.

Identical by Ellen Hopkins
Goodreads – Young Adult Contemporary Fiction
Why it’s Required: First and foremost, anyone who hasn’t already is hereby under strict orders to read at least one of Hopkins’ books in their lifetime. Her way of writing novels through short poems – while done, not as well, by others – is brilliant, and was a huge game changer for me when I first discovered them. Identical is my favorite of them all, though. The book examines the relationship between twin sisters Kaeleigh and Raeanne, who are both harboring unthinkable secrets. Beyond the super creative formatting, the book had me feeling all kinds of emotions, and the plot twist took my breath away.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
Goodreads – Young Adult Romance
Why it’s Required: I have a small confession to make… I have a bit of a Sarah Dessen problem. Her writing is so compelling and so easy to read that there may have been a time in my life when I was reading every single one of her books I could get my hands on. But my absolute favorite is Just Listen. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I think the biggest one is Owen Armstrong. Owen is the love interest to the main character, and I think he officially established my “type” when it comes to fictional guys. That type being bad (and sad) boys with anger issues and hearts of gold. I just can’t enough of them these days, and Just Listen is the origin story.

Such a Pretty Girl by Laura Wiess
Goodreads – Young Adult Contemporary Fiction
Why it’s Required: In this dark novel about childhood sexual abuse, Wiess manages to weave a beautiful story about justice and freedom from danger. In every chapter there are so many relatable, inspiring quotes that I can’t stop myself from highlighting every single one and reading them over and over again. There’s not much I can say without giving too much away, but I can’t recommend this book enough.

And that’s all, folks! Check out my to-read shelf on Goodreads to see what I’m going to be reading in the coming months, and leave a comment if you have suggestions for something you don’t see listed.


the gifted series

Lately, most of my posts have centered around my work-in-progress novel, The Assassin’s Wolf. TAW has been taking up a lot of my time lately, as I’m excitedly rushing to finish the first draft, but it isn’t the only project I have in the works. In fact, there’s something else that’s been building up for much, much longer that I’m just as excited about. (And maybe sometimes even a little more, because of the direction it’s going in. But don’t tell TAW I said that. I love all my children equally.)

A lot of you reading this have probably heard me talk about Gifted in the past, or maybe you’ve read that blurb before while perusing my site. But today I’d like to give you guys the origin story of Gifted, and how we got from where it was in the beginning to where it is now.

In 2009, my mother, Case Maynard – geez, mom, you sure do get a lot of plug time on here – wrote “Revelation, A Sins of the Father Novel.” The book was about Meara Cassidy, a Florida lounge singer and waitress with the unique ability to discern between good and evil – or, more specifically, angels and demons. The book was intended to be the first in a series about an oncoming war between the ultimate forces of good and evil, featuring Biblical creatures such as angels, nephilim, fallen angels, and demons.

Case copyrighted Revelation in 2010 and decided to self-publish in 2011. However, almost immediately after that she connected with Bill Scharpf, who was really interested in her story. Bill has worked in the entertainment field for just about always. Although he’s known mostly for his stunt work – on some amazing, big budget films and TV shows, I might add (just check out that IMDB page) – he’s also a producer. He suggested to Case that, together, they could take Revelation and move it to TV.

After barely two weeks online, Case pulled Revelation off the market. She wanted to wait until she had a TV deal, make any changes to the book she needed to, and then try to sink a deal with one of the big five. Isn’t that the ultimate dream?

Together, the two of them worked on this idea for three years. It was slow going at times, as they were both busy with other – actively paying – careers. And there was a struggle really getting their feet off the ground. Not for lack of commitment, or for lack of interest from production companies. Plenty of companies, including some pretty big names in the industry, loved the concept, and wanted to know more.

The problem came with the writing. Although she had written an awesome book and built the whole, incredible story, Case didn’t have much knowledge of TV. And Bill, as enormously talented and well versed with TV as he was, wasn’t a writer. They tried bringing on professionals in the industry, but no one really seemed to grasp the characters and themes that made Revelation great. So, even though there were plenty of companies who wanted to get their hands on the idea, Case and Bill simply didn’t have enough to show them to move forward.

It was long, frustrating, and tiresome – and then, in 2014, Case came to me. She had asked me about working with her on Revelation in the past, but at the time I’d been a teenager with little interest in getting serious about my writing. (Or working with my mother. Oh, the horror.) This time, though, it seemed like the stars aligned, and the request happened to come at exactly the right moment. I was intrigued. I asked for all the information that she and Bill had, what exactly I needed to do, and then set off.

Step one was coming up with an episode guide. I was tasked with writing out summaries for three seasons, with thirteen episodes each. Of course, I wasn’t alone. There were more than a handful of long, late-night phone calls between Case and I where we dissected changes we both wanted to make, celebrated when new ideas fell seamlessly into place, and lamented every minute of writer’s block.

Step two was writing the show’s bible. Case and I did this in tandem, each of us making changes here and there, passing it back and forth in emails like girls writing notes to each other in class. It became, and I don’t say this lightly, our baby. It was the 48 page amalgamation of her extraordinary idea and years of endurance and my fresh ideas and knack for ingenuity.

A lot changed between Revelation in 2009 and the bible that we finished in 2014. In fact, it was no longer Revelation at all – it had become Gifted, the story of not only Meara Cassidy but eight other characters who were all unique in some way, and all destined to play a big part in the coming war. The location had been changed from a Florida college town to the swampy city of New Orleans. Details about the characters and their lives had transformed. It was still the awe-inspiring story Case had written that had attracted Bill and production companies in the first place, but it had changed just enough to make it even better.

When we stepped back and looked at what we’d done, the three of us realized something. We had struck gold. We just had to keep pushing forward.

Because of that, I was slightly less terrified when I went into step three – but only slightly. Step three was writing the pilot. I had never, not once, written in script format. It was completely alien to me. I was beyond intimidated. But I was determined to make it work. So, I pulled up the scripts for pilot episodes for some of my favorite shows – and there were a lot of favorites, I’ve been a certified TV junkie since forever, another reason Case wanted me on board – and read them over while comparing them to what I was actually seeing when I watched it play out on my screen. This gave me the guidance that I needed to sit down and get to work.

Case went nuts when I emailed her the first draft a few days later. Bill loved it, too, and we moved forward from there.

Over the past year, so much has been happening. Of course, sometimes there are slow periods. It seems like everything moves slower than I’d like it to in this stage. Plus, Bill has a very busy career, and Case and I both have day jobs and books that we’ve been diligently working on. But the whole time, the pilot and bible have been in the hands of some amazing production companies. They’ve all offered feedback here and there and the pilot and bible have changed a few times under suggestions from experienced script writers and executive producers. Each time, it just keeps getting better and better.

Which brings us to the present. At this very moment, a seriously brilliant production company – who shall remain nameless, just in case – is giving very heavy consideration to turning our dream into a reality. I won’t say too much – don’t wanna count my chickens before the eggs hatch – but I will say that Case, Bill, and I are very, very excited about where this is going. Things are happening more quickly now than they have ever before, and it seems like any day now I could be opening an email telling me that we got the greenlight.

If all of that weren’t awesome enough, Case has asked me to help her rewrite the book that started it all. The Gifted novel will be co-authored by the two of us and completed sometime later this year. I feel so, so touched and honored that she wants to share this part of it with me, and I know that it’s just going to keep leading to bigger and better things.

Which is a point that I would like to end this post on. Those who know me personally know that I have struggled a lot in the past, particularly with mental health. I had a long, dark period of being too depressed to function like a real person. There was a time in my life that I genuinely believed a happy and successful future was a categorical impossibility for me.

Though there are still moments where I grapple with my health, I am a wholly different person today than I was a year and a half ago – and I think I owe that, in part, to Gifted and my mom. Working on the project has given me a renewed sense of purpose and direction. It has strengthened an unbreakable bond between my mother and I that I am eternally grateful for. It has given me hope and inspiration and a drive that I once lacked. If it weren’t for Gifted, I would never have had the motivation and resolve to make a career out of writing.

The past year of working on this project has been a blessing, professionally and personally. And I have a feeling that what happens next is going to be even bigger, even better, and will have the potential to change my life forever – again.

“the surrendered” by case maynard

As most of you know, if you’ve been around here for a while,  Case Maynard is something of my partner in crime when it comes to writing. Our paths have become intertwined recently, as we’ve set out to work on Gifted together, but we’ve been very involved in the other’s projects since forever. She’s always been my biggest cheerleader, and vice versa.

Recently, Case was offered a publishing deal with Blaze Publishing for her debut novel “The Surrendered.” (I touched on this very briefly in an earlier blog post.) I don’t think I could possibly be more proud of her. After the first few rounds of edits were completed, she sent the book my way so I could read it over and offer my own feedback. (Like I said, very involved.)

With her permission, I’ve compiled some (spoiler free) info and my own thoughts about this young adult novel set to release in September.

The Plot

After a financial collapse devastates the United States, the new government imposes a tax on the nation’s most valuable resource—the children.

Vera “Vee” Delancourt is a sixteen year old girl – and a slave. At age ten, when her parents stopped paying their fees, Vee and her twin brother, Oliver, were surrendered to work in the Mills. With only two years to go until freedom, the twins are trying their hardest to keep their heads down and not make any waves – something that doesn’t come naturally to fierce-spirited Vee.

Soon, not making waves goes from difficult to impossible when Vee stumbles upon a nauseating discovery. Young girls in the Service Mill are being abused in the worst kind of way by the men in charge. Desperate to protect them, Vee is spurred to action – and a series of events quickly unfolds that forces her and two of the service girls to flee for their lives.

Outside of the fence, Vee and the other girls are shown an unexpected kindness and taken in by a family of farmers – whose farm is maintained with slave labor. It’s soon after that Vee discovers a whole slew of people who’ve been trying to take down the System in their own ways – including the gorgeous but antagonistic Cason Hale.

While Vee may have mixed feelings about her new allies, she has to accept their help – especially when the Master, in an attempt to force her to return to the Mills, makes a threat that changes everything. Although unsure of who her enemies and friends really are, Vee must do whatever she has to in order to stop the Master and save the enslaved brother and other children she left behind.

My Thoughts

After sitting down and tearing through the whole book in about six hours, I was left feeling a tornado of emotions. This is a story that grabs you by the throat in the first chapter and refuses to let go, long after you’ve read the last sentence. Case pulls absolutely no punches, flooding you with the rage, confusion, fear, disgust, and anguish that Vee feels at every twist and turn. This was my absolute favorite part of reading. While every writer strives to elicit a raw, emotive response from their readers, few manage to do it as well as Case does with The Surrendered.

Vee Delancourt is a protagonist that you can’t help but feel connected to. She speaks to what all of us are at our core – flawed in more ways than one, but trying. Angry and guarded, Vee has been through more pain in her short sixteen years than most people should have to experience in a lifetime – and there’s more pain to come. But through it all she keeps her jaw clenched and her eyes on the prize. She will do what needs to be done to protect the people she cares about – or she will die trying. You will root for her to succeed as if you’re the one fighting against a System that wants to exploit and abuse you.

Of course, Vee isn’t the only compelling character in the book. Cason, an intense boy Vee’s age with a dark and painful past, is endearing in the way that only a bad boy with a heart of gold can be. Jane, a mysterious young girl with an unexpected connection to Vee and Oliver, will intrigue you at every turn. Ramsey, a service girl who’s fallen victim to the predators at the Mills, reminds readers of the dark reality and lasting effects of the abuse she endured.  Matthew, Cason’s best friend, stays good natured and optimistic – until tragedy wipes the smile off his face and changes him forever. John William and Miss Ann, the farmers who take Vee and the girls in, always have a good dose of endearing southern hospitality to dish out. And Oliver, Vee’s discerning and courageous twin brother, manages to give her – and us – hope that things will work out in the end.

In fact, hope remains one of the many themes running through the book. Vee and her allies refuse to accept the status quo, and it is their hope for a better future that makes that future possible at all. The heart of the story asks the question – How far down can the oppressed be pushed before they start pushing back? And when they do, can they really change things for the better? Vee certainly hopes so, and she’s risking it all on that hope.

There are other questions posed, as well. How well do we really know the people around us? At every plot twist, Vee and the readers discover that almost nothing is really how it appears – and almost no one is really what they say they are. How far would you go to save innocent people? Vee must make impossibly hard decisions to protect other children being controlled by the System that once owned her. And finally, is love a weakness that can be exploited… or could it be our greatest strength?

At the end of reading, with all of the questions I still had about Vee’s fate, two things were made very clear: 1) this book was awesome, and 2) I could not wait for the second one. The Surrendered, and the series to follow, is not something that you want to miss out on – I guarantee it.

The Surrendered by Case Maynard will be released September 20th, 2016 and will be available at most major online retailers and select bookstores. If you are interested in reading and reviewing an ARC of the book in August, please contact Blaze Publishing. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to Case on her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter for any and all updates, including the cover reveal, teasers, and more!

I received no compensation for this post and am in no way professionally affiliated with Blaze Publishing or The Surrendered. All opinions expressed are my own.

where has the time gone

In my last blog post, I apologized for taking some time away to spend vacation time with my wife, and then went on to talk about finishing The Assassin’s Wolf before New Years and made promises about a bunch of stuff that I was going to share with you guys.

Unfortunately, as soon as I made that post, December proved to be one of the most jam-packed months of my life. Between writing the book, working on the details for the tv series, working my day-to-day job, reading the instantly addictive Arcana Chronicles by Kresley Cole, my amazingly adorable new nephew being born, the holidays, and battling a long and awful cold, I barely had two minutes to sit down and think. But this time I really AM going to make it up to you. To start off the first week of the New Year, you guys are going to get a blog post a day, every day, for the next five days. And on Friday, I have some big news coming your way.

Today, enjoy a preview of one of my favorite scenes in the first draft of The Assassin’s Wolf, Book #1 in the Midnight in the Marsh Series.

“When the moon rises in the sky on that night, I will be called to give in to my baser urges. The animal that exists in me will be called to the surface, and he will have complete control. I will be forced to submit fully to my instincts. Any modicum of control that I have will be gone.”

Boone could see the wheels turning in her head as she stared at him, piecing together what he was saying and coming to the right conclusion. He could see it in her eyes, the realization, the admittance he was trying to make.

Still, she asked, her voice gone hoarse and nearly breathless, “And what does that mean for me?”

More than anything, Boone wanted to dissuade her fears. But he couldn’t lie to her. She needed to know the truth. She needed to be fully aware of what she was getting herself into. He reached forward, one large hand wrapping around her smaller one.

“If you are close enough for me to scent… I will come for you. I will claim you as mine. There will be no reasoning with the wolf, no slowing things down. I will have you.”

He felt the way she trembled in his grip just before she yanked her hand away. The smell of her fear was pungent and clear, her anxiety rolling off of her so thickly that it nearly filled the cabin. But there was another smell… an underlying hint at an aroma he would know anywhere.

Bella Spurlock was terrified of what the animal inside of him could do to her. But there was also a part of her, though he knew she would not admit it, that was excited.

And there you have it, folks! I hope you enjoy this first glance and that you’re just as excited to get your hands on this book as I am.

The rest of the week will go as follows:

  • Tuesday, a review of Case Maynard’s upcoming debut novel, The Surrendered.
  • Wednesday, some insight into my other, very beloved, project, Gifted, and how things with both the book and the tv series are beginning to take shape.
  • Thursday, a recommended reading list of some of my most favorite books, spanning multiple genres.
  • Friday, big news! But it’s a surprise, so you’ll have to wait and see.

After that, I’m hoping to make a point to start blogging here every Monday and Friday. Wishing you all light and love in the new year – I’m so excited for what it has in store for all of us. And with that in mind, I want to leave you with this quote:

“What the new year brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the new year.” – Vern McLellan.

never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down, never gonna run around and desert you

Hey, readers! I recently took a 3 week break from writing to catch up on sleep (and tv), spend some much needed quality time with my lovely wife, and work out some kinks in the Gifted pilot. (Which is AWESOME, by the way. I know I haven’t talked much about it on here, but I’m going to be making a post very soon to give you guys all kinds of juicy details about what’s going on with that part of my life.)

As of Monday, I’m back to working full time, though. My big goal – if I dare to say it out loud… err, type it out loud? – is to have the first draft finished and ready for editing by the time 2016 hits. I’m gonna be super busy writing my ass off to get that accomplished, but I have faith it’s gonna happen. Bella and Boone are desperate for their story to be told.

In the meantime, I hope everyone’s enjoying their holidays. (Happy Hanukkah!) And be on the lookout for a couple other posts real soon, including a sneak preview of one of my favorite TAW scenes and a review of Case Maynard’s upcoming book, The Surrendered.

who is in control?

Yesterday, I did something that I’ve been excitedly anticipating since I started writing The Assassin’s Wolf three and a half weeks ago. I got to the halfway point! With Chapter 20 completed, I have another 19 chapters (and one epilogue) to go before the first draft is finished and I can start the editing process.

I never expected that writing would go this quickly for me, but I’m also not surprised. Because, I gotta tell you, I am in love with this story. Bella and Boone are two of the most badass characters I’ve ever written about, and every twist and turn that they take me on has me itching to write the next chapter to see how things turn out. And as a side effect of that, I can’t do anything without thinking about my killer couple. That includes listening to music.

One of my musical obsessions is Halsey, an indie pop artist who has taken the world by storm in the past year. Since buying her album Badlands in August, I’ve probably listened to it about a hundred times. And while listening to her song “Control” the other day, I realized that it’s just one of the many things that makes me think of Bella and Boone. So, of course I had to share it with you guys!

The song is all about overcoming past pain to become “meaner than your demons” and regain control. In particular, the line “who is in control?” from the chorus really resonates with me. That’s a question heavily posed in this book. Who is in control? Bella? Boone? Or maybe it’s someone else entirely, someone who wishes to do them both harm.

I guess the closer I get to the ending, the clearer that answer will become.

just keep swimming (err, writing)

It’s been a busy week! I’ve added a Midnight in the Marsh page that goes into more detail on my latest project, including a live word-count tracker that’ll keep you updated on how fast things are moving.

I’ve also made my own Pinterest and Twitter, in addition to my Facebook.

And before I sign off from this latest update, I’d like to say a huge congrats to my mother, Case Maynard, whose book The Surrendered is being published by Blaze Publishing! Check her out!