Update – Fiction Book Release, Launch Party, and Nonfiction Update!

*waves* Hi there! I’ve been rather absent over the last few weeks in large part due to the upcoming release of my first fiction novella!

Now, I’m not usually down with self-promotion here, because this is all about helping y’all write your best, but you’ll excuse me a brief write-up here! Since I regularly review these kinds of books, you might even want to give this a try.😉



What would you do if the one you loved was turned into a monster?

Melrose Durante brings order. As founder of the Houses of the Dead, he tirelessly opposes the vampires, and provides refuge for the Blood Kind, those like himself who fight against the blood curse that leads to vampirism. His medical breakthroughs have brought many back from the vampire path. After thousands of years, the Blood Kind finally have the upper hand.

Until a vampire attacks Melrose’s family, then begs for asylum. To his friends she’s Lucy, a disturbed young woman prone to incoherent rants, warning of an imminent attack by vampire leader, Conan. But to Melrose she’s something more.

His lost wife, Jane.

One thing is clear – time is running out. In five days Conan will attack Quebec City, killing or enslaving all in his way. If Melrose cannot unlock his wife’s tormented mind, even his immortal wisdom may not be enough to save Quebec City, the Blood Kind, and the Houses of the Dead (Amazon.com).

For a week and a half there’s been a fantastic blog tour going on, offering all kinds of juicy behind-the-scenes info on the book and on the co-creators, Julia Busko and myself!

Monday, October 17th – Deanna Fugett – Interview on Quills and Inkblotts 
Thursday, October 20th – Tina Yeager – Blood Kind and Mental/Physical Disorders 
Wednesday, November 2 – Ashley Townsend – Behind-the-Scenes Feature 
Friday, November 4 – H.A. Titus – Special Interview
There’s also an awesome launch party!
Also, work on Characterization From the Inside Out has gotten a boost as I’m working on my latest novel, Phoenix Reckoning. Expect awesome new content in the near future. Thanks for reading!

Book Review: “A Time to Rise” by Nadine Brandes


What more can you sacrifice than your life?

Parvin Blackwater is dead.

At least that’s what the Council and the world thinks. But her sacrifice tore down part of the Wall long enough to stir up hope and rebellion in the people. Now she will rise again. Strong, free, and fearless.

Parvin and Solomon must uncover the mysterious clues that Jude left behind in order to destroy the projected Wall once and for all. Meanwhile, the Council schemes to new levels of technology in its attempts to keep the people contained. Can a one-handed Radical and a scarred ex-Enforcer really bring shalom to the world? (Amazon.com)

Ending a trilogy is hard work. Ending a trilogy under a publishing deadline and wrapping up every loose thread in a satisfactory manner? Even harder.

Nadine Brandes makes a valiant effort in A Time to Rise. Her voice is as strong as ever, and at times the plot truly shines with the same spicy hot sauce that makes me keep reading, even when emotionally-impulsive heroine Parvin Blackwater makes yet another crazy move that jeopardizes everything. The faith element is also even more heavily present here, to the point that it almost acts as a justification for story elements. In the end, I believe that Brandes has wrapped up her trilogy in a way that will please her target audience and provides a satisfying ending to Parvin’s unique character arc.

I enjoyed how the story went to different locations. Getting glimpses of France and Russian were a treat. One of my favorite parts was Brandes description of dog-sledding in the far north of Russian. The journey was truly exhilarating. Supporting characters such as Christian Hawke and Tawny Blackwater were also intriguing. And I always appreciate the descriptions of food. In addition, Brandes writes the harsh realities of a revolution with some poignancy. Revolutions are messy and difficult, and I’m glad Brandes was willing to explore those aspects.

In terms of overall plot, A Time to Rise is a highly message-driven book, even more so than the previous two installments of the Out of Time trilogy. Parvin’s “rise” involves both a political rise that is ultimately out of her control and a spiritual surrender to God. Rising, Brandes seems to indicate, starts with kneeling before others in kindness and humility, no matter what the obstacle or how unlovable the person. This concept extends to all parts of the book. For all that she is put into positions of leadership, Parvin spends the majority of the book following others and trusting the Voice of God in her head. At times, this is frustrating, especially when Parvin makes yet more impulsive choices and her emotions pull her in different directions. However, I’ve acknowledged previously that Parvin Blackwater and I have radically different personalities, so I’m used to the occasional urge strangle her or throw the book against the wall (difficult with an eCopy). It is entirely not personal and is actually a point of success on the part of Brandes for making me care so much. In the end, Parvin’s idealism and avoidance of the spotlight in favor of radical kindness put her in a unique place among YA dystopian heroines.

Note: due to the emphasis on obedience to a higher power and humility, at times Parvin lacks agency. Also, the ending of the book seemed a little rushed to me, particularly the epilogue, where a lot of intense growth is mentioned as more of an afterthought. I also would have liked more insight into Skelley Chase. Because we’re limited to Parvin’s POV, I still felt like I never fully understood his character.

Final Verdict: A Time to Rise is a third book that seeks to tie up all the loose ends within a omnipresent Christian message and a globe-spanning plot that allows the protagonist to achieve her ultimate goal: shalom.

Click on the links below if A Time to Rise sounds like your cup of hot sauce!

AmazonBN-iconlogo goodreads icon

3 Easy Tips to Use Dialect in Writing and World-Building

When you bring up world-building, one of the first things that comes up is language. People ask if you’ve made up your own language, or if you’re going to, or how you should do it.

Now, if you want to make up languages, go ahead! I’m not stopping you. There’s a lot of fun to be had in the world of phonemes, morphemes, etc.  However, if you want to focus more on getting words onto paper, I’d suggest a different route.

Use dialects.

The different between a language and a dialect can be subjective.


Officially (more or less) the difference between languages and dialects is that people who speak different languages can’t understand each other, whereas people from other dialects can at least hold a conversation (this Economist article does a nice job with a few more details).

For the purposes of writing, we’ll call a language something you have to make up and then translate for the reader somehow–context clues or a convenient translator repeating everything for the protagonist are common ways. A dialect is something that involves more of syntax (word order) and lexicon (vocabulary) than long strings of foreign language. The reader can still understand the dialogue more or less.

For example, the acceptable, grammatically correct way of phrasing a sentence might be this:

I like flute music.

Nonstandard speech might phrase it.

I like me some flute music.

Another way could be.

Flute music me likes.

(Yes, I used to play the flute).


The second and third examples are both nonstandard usages of English that would get a red flag from any editor–unless those usages were intentional uses of dialect within a fictional setting. Then it becomes a matter of which usage best fits the voice of the character, the tone of the piece, and is easy for readers to understand.

Unlike the tips I’ve given you previously, messing around with dialect isn’t an easy trick. It requires time, effort, care, and a fair amount of YouTube videos (and if possible, some in-person reference or personal experience to draw upon). However, I’m all about action items, so here are:

3 Dos and 3 Don’ts of Dialect

1.) DO use dialect as a way of showing differences between culture, ethnicity, and socio-economic class.

You can also explore concepts of discrimination against certain dialects,  the elevation of other dialects as superior, and the way that people make judgments based on speech. It’s also great for showing geographical distance. Any time a people group is isolated, they will develop their own manners of speech.

DON’T overdo dialect at the expense of clarity.

I read a YA book with the standard love triangle with two guys after one girl. This was actually a decent love triangle. Both males were fully-fleshed characters who had their own lives and goals apart from the female protagonist. However, a main reason I shipped one guy over the other was due to dialect. This writer went all in for piratey dialect in such a way that made it really hard to understand what the guy was saying–and even harder to imagine his voice in my head. All of the commas and apostrophes used to indicate his particular way of speech made reading his dialogue more of a decoding session instead of an enjoyable experience.

2.) DO use resources online. Google references and sources on the dialects you’re using. If possible, go bother a linguist friend. 

DON’T just think you can do this on your own. Even if you are writing from personal experience and your personal dialect, still check some YouTube videos, online reference guides, and resources. Google is your friend. My current WIP draws heavily from my personal dialect and my experiences with Appalachian dialects. Plus, I’ve had linguistic and cultural training. However, I still have at least three different tabs open when I’m drafting for easy access to sentence structure, idioms, and unique lexicon. Writing is different than speaking and still requires intentionality.

3.) DO feel free to borrow different linguistic aspects from existing languages to substitute for fake languages.

Languages borrow from each other all the time–English being one of the worst offenders! Go ahead and Google ideas. Just be respectful and intelligent in usage. Having a linguist help out is invaluable.

DON’T forget to keep track of your own rules!

Each time you borrow a sentence structure or a type of spelling or a slang word, write it down or copy and paste into a document. Make sure you’re consistent in usage as well. In my current WIP, I’m managing the interactions of three different levels of Appalachian dialect: the super thick, archaic dialect of immortals who have lived there for over a century,  the mixed dialect of a descendant who wants to break away from his ancient clan, and then the dialect of AJ, the main character who moved to the valley when she was a young teenager and picked up a lot of the syntax to fit in but is a little self-conscious about it and will code-switch into more educated speech. Those little touches are easy ways to distinguish between character roles and deepen each character naturally.

What about you? Do you use dialect in your writing or world-building?

What do you think of books that are heavy on dialect? Any great pieces of advice?



Book Reviews: “Nyssa Glass and the Juliet Dilemma” and “Cora and the Nurse Dragon” by H. L. Burke

Yes, two book reviews. I’ve been rather behind on these lately, and I’m at last catching up.

Being framed for murder and forced to flee the country sort of takes the fun out of vacations.

Reformed cat burglar, Nyssa Glass, wants to lead an honest life as an electrician’s apprentice. Instead, she’s on the run with her new friend, Ellis, implicated in a crime she didn’t commit. The pair ends up stowing away on a zeppelin and meeting Renard and Amara, two teens running away to be married. But the mysterious couple is hiding something—and it might get Nyssa and Ellis killed. (from Amazon.com)

Tada! The second book in the Nyssa Glass series of novellas that H.L. Burke is cranking out. Nyssa Glass and the House of Mirrors hooked me so much I blew past my bedtime. Thus, I went into this second novella with high hopes–and this novella delivers! While lacking the crisp, creepy originality of the the first book, Nyssa Glass and the Juliet Dilemma is a thoroughly enjoyable second book that features a pair of characters you truly want to root for and a plot that moves briskly to a satisfying conclusion.

Nyssa Glass and the Juliet Dilemma is true to its title, and I loved Burke’s snarky pokes at the young lovers, Renard and Amara, while valuing the honest friendship and intellectual chemistry Ellis and Nyssa share. If the first book had a touch of horror, this book has touches of romance, all sandwiched in a fast-paced plot that is perfectly suited to the zeppelin location. If I had one quibble, I would have appreciated a little more detail. This is ironic since I enjoy how quickly and easily Burke’s novellas read, but in this case, it almost went too quickly for my taste. Still, enjoying an author’s world so much that you want to stay there longer is hardly a true downside. A solid, clever YA read!


Cora’s a young girl with two dreams: to be a dragon jockey when she grows up and to own a pet dragon now. She constantly buys “egg packs” at the dragon emporium in hopes that one will hatch into a rare pet-sized dragon, but only gets short-lived mayflies. However, when an unexpected egg does develop into something new, Cora may be over her head. (from Amazon.com)

I don’t read middle grade fiction as a rule, but this book certainly qualifies as a great exception! I downloaded an eCopy of Cora and the Nurse Dragon on a free book day, and I am very glad I did. It is an entirely appropriate MG/YA fantasy story with authentic characters, great dragons, and Burke’s characteristic clean writing voice.

First of all: DRAGONS! I love dragons and so does this author. Her dragon world-building is perfectly integrated into the story. It is also unique and yet easy to understand. I thoroughly enjoyed how Burke explored the concept of free vs. kept animals, and the responsibility of humans to their environment. The theme is effortlessly woven into the plot and adds depth.

There are some intense scenes at the end, but they make sense with the story, so just keep an eye out if your kids are on the younger side or sensitive. Otherwise, entirely suitable for the audience and enjoyable for readers young or old!

5 Essential Tips For World-Building

5 Essential World-Building Tips


1.) Worldbuilding must serve the story or it’s only window-dressing.

I love world-building. That’s one reason I wrote a textbook and workbook about it. But if the world-building has no connection to the story, then why bother? Use the cool things you make up to create issues and conflict in your plot.

Make sure your world-building impacts the plot. Doing so will automatically elevate your story and grab reader attention.

Now, I understand that in epic fantasy worlds, creating a vast landscape of shiny things for the reader to dive into is part and parcel. But even then, epic fantasy readers have limits on just how much insanely technical or detailed content they’re going to ingest before they’re ready for it to effect the plot in a meaningful way, whether on a small or large scale. If you have a dragon, at the very least have it attack your hero or have it get a broken leg or something when your hero is riding it (preferably at the most inconvenient time).

2.) Figure out the following major categories for societies: gender, birth, family, marriage, death.

The anthropologist side of me is coming at you now. These five categories highlight key aspects of culture and society. Figuring out these areas will automatically nail down your race in highly usable ways. These five categories are especially important for human or humanoid races. However, I would suggest you subject even your less-humanoid races to this analysis.


First of all, it will help you to make key decisions about how to make your non-humanoid race different from everyday norms.

Second, it will keep you from making your non-humanoid race too inhuman. Is there such a thing in speculative fiction? Yes, if you want to relate to readers and sell books. Even in Lelia Rose Foreman’s Shatterworld, her race of exceptionally odd aliens still show a protectiveness towards their young–a family trait that humans also have. Thus, even though this race has tentacles and other weird things, the reader will still ultimately find a bond of commonality and a reason to cheer for them. Conversely, if you want to make a disposable, blaster-target-practice inhuman race? Make them as different from humans as possible in really odd or repulsive ways.

3.) Always look for contrasts between the worldbuilding and the protagonist’s goals.

 Yay for contrasts!

This tip connects to Tip #1 about making the world-building impact the story. In Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, the Hunger Games themselves are a key part of the dystopian world-building. Collins uses the selection of Primrose Everdeen at the reaping to push Katniss into the Hunger Games out of protective instinct. Then, within the games Katniss ends up making choices that directly conflict with the official purpose of the games. Her goals, to survive and to preserve the life of someone who reminds her of Prim, conflicts with the bloodthirsty spectacle of the games. The fascinating thing about Katniss is she is largely reactive through nearly all of the story, yet Collins still manages to push her buttons so that she develops into this contrasting character. Imagine what you could do with a character who is intentionally bucking the system!

4.) Make sure to have fun – put in quirky things like favorite foods, odd body modifications, or flaming unicorns as everyday transportation.

 As long as you keep this aligned with Tip #1, feel free to go ahead and stamp your personality all over your world. This is speculative fiction. We can make up all kinds of crazy things and, as long as we execute it well, readers will eat up our stories. Own your favorite things and own what is unique about you. Don’t be afraid to pull inspiration from your own history, passions, and experiences. The authenticity will bleed out onto the page and make your stories that much more compelling.

For instance, I like ice cream…and frozen custard…and whipped cream…and pretty much any kind of dairy-based frozen dessert. Does this show up in my stories? You bet. In fact, I may or may not have written a web comic where the main character partly sets off the whole adventure based upon an argument over a fair price for a certain flavor ($35 is NEVER an acceptable price for ice cream, by the way). And flaming ice cream is the least of the weird flavors I’ve come up with–did I mention I also like things set on fire?

5.) Everyone believes something – know your culture’s worldview.

Worldview is that big, crazy, mixed up pile of beliefs and life experiences and nurture and personality that form into a lense by which we view and make judgments about the world. It’s a pretty complicated thing and not something you can just draw up for a character in one day–unless you’re one of those authors whose stories NEVER change or develop during drafting. However, knowing the worldview of your character or society is a great way to tap into core motivations. From there, you have all the tools to push them into various plots as you choose. For more information, check out What’s Up With Worldview?

Want a quick and easy way to remember these tips? I just so happen to have a limited supply of exclusive bookmarks featuring all five. Share this blog post between now and Saturday, August 13th on your choice of social media and post a link in the comments and I will personally mail you a signed bookmark (I’ll sign the side that doesn’t have the tips😉 ). They’re shiny, sturdy, and blue! Perfect for marking books or poking someone with…or whacking someone with…not that I’ve done this…



This post is also available on YouTube! Click below to access the video version – subscribing to my YouTube channel and notifying me can also get you a signed bookmark. Thanks for tuning in!

Confessions of a Role-Playing, Collaborative Writer



So I’m still recovering from an awesome time at the Realm Makers 2016 conference. I have a ton of things to catch up on and to share, but in the meantime, I’m featured on Ralene Burke’s blog as a guest author, so go ahead and check it out! Includes some never-before-seen info, including:

  • Why I’m so passionate about character creation (to the tune of 37)

  • What would happen if I had to write in pre-internet days (answer: parrots would be involved)

  • Why role-playing made me a better marketer

  • What happens when a social writer breaks her own rules (hint: it weirds people out)

Click here or on the graphic to learn more about role-playing and collaborative writing!

A Bit of Sunshine for a Revamped Website!

Bethany Jennings over at The Simmering Mind posted up this Sunshine Blogger Challenge. In honor of my revamped website, I figured I’d give this a shot!

1. If you could have any magical/supernatural ability, what would you choose?

This one always changes, but I’m currently keen on being psychomimetic.


By Vanessa Paxton

The user can gain/replicate the knowledge and abilities, including their mental and physical abilities, be it knowledge over a subject, a foreign language, or mastery of a fighting style. The user is able to duplicate information from creatures or inanimate mediums of data, such as books, computers, etc. by touching them or by just being near them at the time.

Sounds super handy!

2. What’s one of your happiest childhood memories?

Wow, no pressure, huh? Probably the day my family brought home Ziggy, this overweight, retired breeder basset hound we adopted from a certified breeder. She was a lovable old curmudgeon who was the BEST napping buddy–and she lived another six years!

3. What is your favorite writing spot / workspace like? Why do you like to work there best?

Usually my couch, because it’s comfortable. I was home-schooled during high school and I did a lot of work on the couch then too. Now, even though I have an office, I still like couches.

Dark blue on dark blue – super comfy and spits in the face of photos!😉

4. What’s one thing that is close to your heart?

Writing, communicating, and helping people dive more deeply into their thoughts–while still having fun!

5. Chocolatey desserts or fruity desserts?

It depends entirely on my mood, but I gravitate towards chocolate as a rule. Although chocolate isn’t a dessert. Chocolate is an essential nutrient of life.

6. What was your favorite book as a small child?

I honestly don’t remember. I burned through books at the speed of sound as a child, and I do remember always enjoying new books.

7. What’s something you used to be afraid of but aren’t scared of (or not as scared!) anymore?

…well, I can tolerate people in giant animal costumes a lot better than I used to. Although I still find them pretty creepy. Sorry to anyone who does this for a living! I’m sure you make many people smile. Just ignore me walking in the other direction.

8. What’s your favorite kind of outfit to wear?

It depends on the situation, but I like being comfortable whether I’m dressed up or dressed down.

9. What quote has motivated or challenged you most recently?

This one. Good reflection of Psalm 86:6-7

10. How do you feel about roller-coasters? Love ’em, hate ’em?

There was a brief window in my teenage years when I LOVED roller-coasters–and then that window slammed shut and now even looking at them for too long makes me queasy. I will happily hold ALL the bags/cell phones/wallets at amusement parks and enjoy watching my family/friends scream their lungs out.

11. Do you like sad endings or movies/books that make you cry?  Why or why not?

I’ve never read a book that’s made me cry. Only two movies have made me cry: Inside Out and Mighty Joe Young. As long as the movie or book is well-made, I don’t really have an opinion either way!

Random Surprise Answer to Unasked Question

I recently co-taught a class on mycology (fungi) at an awesome science camp. I lectured on Fungi in Ecosystems and Fungi As Poison in History. Fun stuff!


Okay, now it’s my turn! Here are eleven questions. Answer any/all that you want, wherever you want (the comments, your FB page, a blog post) and toss me the link!🙂

1.) Where is the best place to sleep or take a nap?

2.) What five foods could you live on for the rest of your life?

3.) Hovercraft, spacecraft, or teleportation? Note: teleportation doesn’t work in space and the spacecraft do NOT hover!

4.) What is your least favorite word and why?

5.) If you were given a million dollars and could donate it to any charity or charities, where would you donate to?

6.) What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten? You get to define what ‘weird’ includes – no judging here!

7.) Would you own a robot pet? Why or why not?

8.) If you had to pack up and move anywhere and stay there for the rest of your life, where would you move to?

9.) What is your favorite tool or appliance and why?

10.) You have to change your eye color to something not normal for humans. What color do you choose and why?

11.) What makes you laugh? What doesn’t make you laugh?