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.

Series

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.

Stand-Alones

(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.

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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.