First chapter of REBELLION


“Excuse me.  I said I wanted the Berry Banana Bonanza,” the blond girl drawled, tapping a red-painted claw on her styrofoam cup.  

I’d been leaning on the counter daydreaming about a world in which I wasn’t wearing a hot pink apron and visor emblazoned with the words “Smoothie Station” in yellow piping.  I wouldn’t call myself a fashion goddess, but hot pink and yellow?  There’s just no way to save that.  But I could have been wearing a potato sack for all it mattered.  My cheeks thoroughly matched the apron when the girl shoved the cup at my face and shook it like an angry maraca.  

Embarrassment slithered through me. Of course, I’d screwed up. Of course. “Sorry,” I muttered, taking back the smoothie and dumping it in the trash.  I had only worked here for four days and already I was more appreciative of food service workers than ever. How did they remember all this shit? Berry Banana Bonanza. I frantically scanned the menu. Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, bananas, sprinkles. The angry blond girl tapped her nails viciously against the counter. I was about ready to throw my visor on the ground and stomp on it. Cool it, Chloe, I tried to tell myself. You need to relax. 

Or cry. But there was no time for crying either. This job was paying for a chunk of my college tuition, along with the loans that would haunt me for the rest of my life. Besides, girls like that just have some kind of laser eyes and my threshold for tears is shamefully low. Crying at puppy commercials low. So there I was, cowering in front of all those buttons and levers, panic clutching at my chest, throwing all five thousand ingredients into the blender as fast as I could.  

Then something lurched, and I was being splattered with five kinds of berries and two kinds of nonfat frozen yogurt. There was no time to feel humiliated, even with all the people loudly laughing behind me, because I was too busy flailing at the machine trying to turn it off.  I’d just got beaned by a blueberry in the eye when someone gently shoved me aside and flicked off the switch. The machine stopped with a groan, leaving me dripping yogurt and half-churned berries while angry girl and her friends cackled like television witches.  

I could have crawled under the counter and died.  My entire face and the front of me was dripping with yogurt and berries and to make matters worse, Smoothie Station was right in the middle of the food court, which was just a fenced off area in the middle of the mall.  

In other words, every person sitting in the food court and everyone walking by had a full view of my berry-splattered self, including perhaps the hottest guy I had ever seen in my life.  Maybe that’s a little extreme, but seriously. He was the kind of guy my mother would have narrowed her eyes at. Not because of the tight black shirt outlining a very toned stomach, but because that shirt was emblazoned with the logo for some scary-sounding metal band, and because his black hair was brushed down across one eye as though he played for said band. He was the total antithesis of my limp brown hair and basic wardrobe, but when our eyes locked, I could feel my heartbeat in my fingertips. Just to add the cherry on top of my hell sundae, he smirked. And then he laughed. A big, freefloating laugh, just before he disappeared behind a Directory kiosk. 

I was a statue made of mortification. 

Once I started breathing again, I remembered that I was covered in dairy products and blond girl was waiting for her Berry whatever. But after I wiped the goo out of my eyes, I found myself alone in the kiosk with Alicia Santos, the girl who had saved me from the renegade machine, who had presumably made the angry girl’s smoothie while I was busy reveling in shame and making eye contact with attractive emo boys. 

Alicia was pretty in an understated way, with brown skin and thick dark hair and cute red-rimmed glasses I’d never have been able to pull off. Up until now, I’d been too intimidated to speak more than a few words to her. Not because she was especially scary-looking, I just had the social skills of a recluse. I could have given Emily Dickinson a run for her money. 

I could feel my heart in my throat. Alicia must think I was such a dumbass. “God, thanks for saving me. I don’t know what I’d have done without you.  There are just so many darn…buttons,” I finished lamely.  

She giggled, but not in an unkind way. In the few days I’d known her, I’d seen her smile and laugh more than anyone had a right to. She seemed to be that kind of happy cheerful person who couldn’t be dampened by something as trivial as exploding smoothie. I wish I knew her secret. “I know, right? You get used to them.”  

I felt instantly more at ease. Her smile was magical. “How? There are like a billion!”  

“I’ve been working here the last three summers.  It took me, like, maybe two weeks before I started remembering what they all did.”  

Two weeks of getting splattered and stared at? This was going to be hell. Because I couldn’t help but do otherwise in the glow of Alicia’s smile, however, I smiled. “Thanks.  I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it.”  

Alicia helped me towel myself off, and then began talking about everything, as though trying to make up for our first few days of companionable silence. Like all the buttons on the smoothie machine and how to keep the lid closed, and all the different flavors and how working at Smoothie Station was way better than working in the clothing stores because you didn’t have to buy all kinds of fancy outfits just for work, and how this really cute soccer player was totally checking her out earlier only she wasn’t exactly sure because he might have just been looking at the smoothie list and….well, it went on like this for a pretty good while. I decided that I really liked Alicia, even though she really didn’t seem to get that there are some things you just don’t tell almost-strangers, like how you once threw up in your purse in the middle of class. Then again, she didn’t seem all that embarrassed about it. It was like she was immune to humiliation. Like she was actually okay with who she was. She was a college sophomore, so maybe something magically happened after freshman year to boost your confidence. I could only hope that happened with me. 

Seemed fake, but she was definitely more self-assured than smoothie klutz aka me.  

We hit a slow period after the morning rush. Alicia popped her bubblegum at me. “So, what’s your major?” 

I hated this question. “I don’t have one yet. I want to be a writer but that’s not really practical so I might do business or something.” 

“Who cares if it’s practical?” 

I snorted. “My parents.” 

Alicia nodded knowingly. “Ah, yes. Mine don’t think a math major is practical either but wait until I’m a professor, then we can talk about practical.” 

“Oh my god I’m terrible at math. I barely scraped by in calc last year. I don’t know how I’m going to do it again in the fall.” 

“No worries!” Alicia grinned that magical grin. “I’ll help you if you want.” 

My stomach did that squirmy thing again. She wanted to help me! In the fall! Which meant she saw us as still being friends! Maybe she was just being friendly, chill out, Chloe, but still. I felt tears press up against my eyes, like I’d just watched a heartwarming dog-related commercial. Luckily I was able to blink them away before any fell. That would be so humiliating, crying on my first day at work. 


Right. I actually had to answer. “Yes, I’d love that!” 

“And you can help me in English. I hate writing papers. Too many words.” 

“Of course!” 

“I’m glad you didn’t quit. I was afraid after this morning you’d walk right out.” 

I’ll admit, the thought had briefly crossed my mind. “Can’t afford to. I have to pay for tuition.” 

“Oh yeah, that sucks. Hey, I love this song!” The radio shifted over to Ariana Grande and Alicia started to dance. In our booth. My jaw almost dropped. I was always too embarrassed to dance even at school dances, let alone in the middle of the cafeteria. Okay, I needed some of Alicia’s confidence. “Come on, dance!” she cajoled, and poked me in the arm. 

“I can’t,” I whined. Like a small child. Ugh. “It’s…scary.” 

“No one’s around, who cares?” 

“After this morning, I need to lie low.” 

“Come ooon, just a little?” 

And she wouldn’t let up until I gave a little wiggle of my hips. She clapped. “There we go! Chloe, I think we’re going to be good friends.” 

And I could have cried. Because I thought so too. 

The rest of the day was nowhere near as eventful as the first part of my shift, which was good, because I think otherwise I would have quit right then. And as far as summer jobs go, Smoothie Station was way better than working at McDonald’s or mowing lawns. I hadn’t survived my freshman year of college just to fry burgers. Not that there was anything wrong with that, but I still had enough problems with acne; I didn’t need any more grease in my life. 

At lunch break, Alicia invited me to sit with a few other mall workers who she was work-friends with. They were all in various years of college too. They welcomed me like I wasn’t the weird girl with smoothie still matting down her hair, even though Alicia told them the story immediately because apparently she didn’t realize how humiliating it was. 

“You have a strawberry in your hair,” said Ethan. He reached out and plucked it away, smiling shyly. I plastered on a smile. He was cute, blond and spattered with freckles, but he also struck me as the kind of guy who needed constant reassurance in order to function socially. He kept looking at me every time he said something or made a joke, eager for my reaction. It made it really difficult to eat knowing someone was watching me chew so intently. 

Everyone had been delighted by my smoothie story. I felt like a small-time celebrity instead of a freak. Annika, a reedy black girl with blue-tinged braids, shrugged away my effusion of embarrassment. “Everyone has a bad first week. My first week at the Taco Hut, I accidentally gave carnitas to a vegetarian and my boss chewed me out. You’ll get used to it.” 

“My first week at Kung Pho I spilled broth all over myself,” said Joey, a tall, fat white guy with blue, blue eyes. 

My eyes only widened in further alarm at these horror stories. “I’ve got your back,” said Alicia. We shared a smile. When we returned to Smoothie Station, she coached me through everything. I even started to memorize those inane recipes. When the end of my shift hit, I almost didn’t want to leave. 

“See you tomorrow?” said Alicia. 

“Yeah!” I promised. And for the first time at any job, I felt a little sad to be leaving. 

My little brother Jeff bounced up to the door as soon as I got in, probably hoping to get a glimpse of me in my Smoothie Station visor. He sniffed. 

“Why do you smell like fruit? 

So I reluctantly told him the story.   

“You what? Oh my god I wish I’d been there with my video camera. We could have gone viral!” 

“Over my dead body.” I couldn’t count all the times I’d had to wrestle his camera out of his hand to delete some embarrassing footage of myself tweezing my eyebrows or dancing in my pajamas to Nicki Minaj. 

“Dude, you have yogurt in your ear.”  

“Eat shit.” 

“Go die.” 

We glared at each other. 

He broke first. “You wanna play Smash Bros?” 

“I gotta make dinner.” 

“Ugh fine. I’m gonna go play COD with Marcus.” 

Mom wasn’t home because she was pulling a late shift at the hospital, again, and dad was still in the post-layoff blues, which meant watching Three Stooges reruns in his robe with his iPad open to the job listings on the footrest. He grunted amicably at me as I walked through the living room. “How was your shift, honey?” 

“Fine!” I piped. I didn’t want to rehash this story yet again, so I quickly escaped into the kitchen. Since I only knew how to make pasta, that’s what we were having for dinner, for the third time this week. I was really getting sick of dad’s lack of effort. I knew he was bummed about getting laid off, but he could have at least helped me with dinner when mom wasn’t around, which was oftener than ever these days as she picked up more shifts to cover our expenses. I felt like Cinderella picking up the slack, but someone had to, or else we’d all be eating cold cereal in front of the TV. 

No one really talked much during dinner and I left as soon as the dishes were washed to go jump in the shower and get rid of the last of the smoothie residue.  

By then I was exceptionally exhausted, so I only read for a few minutes before trying to sleep. As I was lying in bed in my duckie pajamas, I thought back on my first day at work. My brain kept snagging on what should have been the smallest, most insignificant part of my day: the black-haired boy. Our eyes had locked for just a second. A second during which he was snickering, and I looked like a cotton-candy-colored Swamp Thing. Everyone had been staring so it shouldn’t have mattered, but there was just something excruciating, something that made my stomach fill up with butterflies, about someone so gorgeous getting to see me like that. Such an unfair turn of the universe, adding insult to injury. It was a good thing that someone like him would never look at me again, because there was no way I could bear the shame. My cheeks would go as red as the strawberries that were splashed over my apron just a few hours ago.  

Nope, I’d definitely never see him again. I was pretty damn good at being invisible.  

Little did I know, I was dead wrong. 

Writing Tips: What’s in a zero draft?

A lot of you have probably heard the term “zero drafting” thrown around. So, what’s a zero draft? 

A zero draft is like the rough draft of a first draft. It’s stream of consciousness, whatever comes into your head writing. You don’t stop to edit. Not even for typos and run ons. You don’t even have to write full sentences if you don’t want to. You can write bullet points, notes for yourself. You can skip all the detail and just write dialogue. 

Why zero draft? 

The idea is just to get words out onto the page as quickly and efficiently as possible. If you’re like me and you fear that blank page, it’s a way of breaking past the fear and getting out something, anything. Perfectionism can prevent you from finishing anything. If you edit as you go, you may find yourself stuck trying to make a paragraph perfect–but then you never actually get to the next paragraph and finish the story! 

Okay, but what does it actually look like? 

If you’re curious what that looks like for me, here is the zero draft vs final draft of the opening for THE WANDERING DOLLS 

Zero draft 

In ten days, the world will end.

This is what Daga’s mother had told her, as she had been told by her mother, as she had been told by her mother. This was the truth upon which the festival was born. 

And it all started with the Autumn Pageant.

The Pageant was tomorrow, and Daga was effervescent with excitement. For today was the Choosing. One girl among those in their seventeenth year would be chosen to play the Maiden in the Autumn Pageant, the most important ritual of the year. She would be the center of attention for the whole Autumn Festival. She would have the best place at the feast. All of the best young people would want to dance with her. She would be crowned and celebrated throughout the whole festival. [[add more detail here]] 


“Daga! Dagmara! You’re letting the hem trail.”

Daga broke out of her reverie at the sound of Jadzia, her best friend. “Oh no!” Indeed, the white pageant gown in her hands had dragged in the dirt, muddying the hem. She would have to wash the whole thing again.

“Daydreaming again?”

“I can’t help it! How can you think of anything else right now?” 

Final product 

The Carnival Koniec Swiata is in town! Come one, come all, come everybody in between! See the dazzling acrobatics, the fire eater and the Goblin tamer, the women who do not laugh and the men who do not die. Dance with the denizens of another world. Lose yourself and find yourself again.

But hurry, hurry, do not delay, for the Carnival comes but once a year.

Once a year, at the end of the world.


In ten days, the world will end.

This is what Daga’s mother had told her, as she had been told by her mother, as she had been told by her mother, and on and on for centuries. The world would end after the Autumn festival, to be reborn in the Spring.

And it all started today.

Today was the Choosing, and Daga was effervescent with excitement. One girl in her seventeenth year would be chosen to play the Pageant’s Maiden. The Maiden would be the center of attention for the whole Autumn Festival. She would have the best place at the feast. All of the best young people would want to dance with her. She would be crowned and celebrated and admired. If that were not inducement enough, everybody knew that being chosen as the Maiden was almost a guarantee that you would be married by the next year. To be secure of a lover by your eighteenth year—Daga could scarcely even laugh for giddiness. She was a hopeless romantic, always full of quixotic notions and swooning stories. To find her true love—that would be everything.

“Daga! Dagmara! You’re letting the hem trail. Pay attention.” Jadzia’s voice pierced through Daga’s reverie.

“Oh no!” She sighed exasperatedly. Indeed, the white pageant gown in her hands had dragged in the dirt, muddying the hem. She would have to wash the whole thing again. Clicking her tongue, she dumped it back into the wash bucket. Pay attention, Daga. It was an exhortation always being tossed her way. Attend to what you’re doing. Don’t dawdle. She wished she could be frolicking in the fields right now, and leave the washing to people like Jadzia and Poldek who actually enjoyed the work.

“Daydreaming again?” Jadzia teased lightly.

“I can’t help it!” Daga balled up the dress and dunked it into the washtub. Daga, Jadzia, and Poldek were doing their chores all together; their parents didn’t mind, as long as the chores got done. “How can you think of anything else right now?” 

Book List: Quiet YA releases for every genre

You know them. The quiet books that don’t get a lot of hype but are brilliant and deserving of attention. Let’s check out a few favorites across genres. 

Fantasy: The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta

In an Italian-esque fantasy world, the heads of the famous mafia families are simultaneously poisoned by the new ruling power. Except one doesn’t die. His daughter teams up with a genderfluid witch to bring down the capital, and in the process learns more about herself than she had imagined. / Goodreads

Historical: Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

This poignant historical novel takes place during the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, from the perspective of the daughter of Chinese immigrants. When her family is destroyed by the quake, her only hope for survival is teaming up with the petulant rich kids of a girls’ school. / Goodreads

Historical Fantasy: Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

In the glittering world of the 1920s, two best friends have powers related to their blood. Powers that some people will do anything to control–or stop. / Goodreads

Science Fiction: The Fever King by Victoria Lee

Want a good queer superhero story? Look no further. In a dystopian future where a fever has ravaged America, some people get special powers. Including Noam, who finds himself being pressed into service as a government soldier. But the people he works for may be the real enemy. / Goodreads

Contemporary Romance: Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmemer

Two rivals accidentally fall in love after exchanging anonymous letters. One is struggling with grief, the other with identity. Together, they might just find healing. / Goodreads

Science Fiction: A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna

This sci-fi retelling of an Indian epic features a talking spaceship, a girl exiled from her home, and two warring nations that she’s caught between. / Goodreads

Contemporary Fantasy: Witches of Ash and Ruin by E. Latimer

In Ireland, a bunch of queer witches are being murdered by an unknown serial killer. Two rival covens must team up to stop the killer before it’s too late for all of them. / Goodreads 

What quiet books do you think deserve more hype?  

Book List: Adult SFF books that read like YA

Young adult books are appealing to so many adult readers because of their character-driven, tightly-plotted formats. But there are some great adult writers doing the same thing. Here are some of my favorites.

For further reading, check out: Kate Elliott, Jay Kristoff, Kacen Callender, Alexis Henderson, Madeline Miller, Erin Morgenstern, V.E. Schwab, Tasha Suri, Kat Howard

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Actually one of my favorite books of all time. A grumpy Black sorcerer and a spunky Indian girl with newfound magic must band together to save the magic of England in this Regency fairy story. 

City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

When a girl in Cairo encounters a djinn, she never realizes that it might be the secret to her heritage, or that there is a secret city of djinn with its own political machinations and wars.

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang 

In a Chinese-inspired fantasy world, Rin leaves her southern home to go to the famed military academy. But when war breaks out, she’ll have to come to terms with her own budding magical powers and the atrocities of battle. 

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

I read this as an ARC and the series just keeps getting better. In a universe where people are oppressed by color-coded castes, Darrow is at the lowest level. But with the help of a secret organization, he infiltrates the highest level and goes to their military academy, where he must survive dangerous war games in order to take down the system from within.

Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko

A girl in Russia is blackmailed into going to magic school–or else her family will be hurt. But as she delves deeper into her own powers, she develops an obsession that could be her making–or undoing. 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

In a town where girls are taken by a magician as tithe, one girl is ready to change the game. She goes to save her friend and ends up finding a love–and a magic–that she never expected. Beautiful writing, clever plotting, and so swoony.

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

When a magical crime happens, you hire a private investigator who knows the world. The MC isn’t magical, but her sister is a teacher at a prestigious magical academy. When she’s hired to solve a murder, she has no idea what’s in store. 

What other adult SFF has strong YA vibes? 

Excerpt: Godkillers, chapter one

For more about Godkillers, go to my Books page.

The moon glared down like an eye, all-seeing, all-knowing, upon the naked body of Adriana di Medanzo. She stood, one of seven skyclad witches, around the altar, a circle of broken stones upon which lay the throbbing, heaving body of a hobbled lamb. They stood upon the Sangineto hill in the wilderness that overlooked the Mare Clorinda, screened from the sounds and sights of the city by the groves of laurel and cypress left to grow wild. It was important that they were hidden from the city. If they were caught, they would be executed.

Seven maghiarde, seven witches clad in sky and air, circled the altar and chanted in the language of the vie vetul’, the old religion. The words poured from Drina’s throat like honey and wildfire.

“Nostrem deductora, nostrem custodia, nostrem agora transa tenebrara.” Guide us, hold us, lead us through the darkness. A plea to Ekata, mother of magic. A plea to Kelati, mother of earth. A plea to Calua, mother of death. The old gods who had not ceased to matter just because their kingdom was usurped by the new.

Chanting, they circled the bleating lamb and danced, hands holding hands, bare feet grinding against the gravel and brush. Drina allowed the ritual to consume her mind until she scarcely felt the hand of Calindora on her right or Evario on her left. This ritual was too important not to concentrate.

The night before the anniversary of the Conquering was always an important day for spellcasting, but this year it was especially fortuitous. This year it not only fell on a full moon, but it was also the six hundredth such anniversary. Six hundred years since the Perlineri had come from their unknown places and conquered the kingdom of Etrucchia. Six hundred years of increasing decadence and squalor. All over Citerna, indeed, all over Etrucchia itself, maghiarde would be performing rituals to guard the new year and to wish the downfall of the three Perlineri, the gods who oppressed them.

Once the chanting ended, they stopped dancing. The lamb’s cries pierced Drina’s ears. It was time. Drina had been chosen by lots to perform the ritual this year. She vibrated with pride and excitement. This was the most important ritual of the year, and she was to be its champion. She tiptoed forward until she stood upon the altar stones, looming above the heaving white lamb.

“Blessed Ekata di Nurtia!” she called in the old language. “Grant us your eyes this night! Let us see what you see, know what you know!” She knelt until her knees bruised against the stones and she loomed over the lamb. She took up a rock in her hand. Solid, weighty. It was important to do it in one blow. She raised the rock above her head, then brought it cracking down against the skull of the lamb. She could feel the reverberations of the skull crunching through the rock and up her arm. The lamb gave a gagging sigh and then, with a seizure and bleat, it was dead. Drina placed the bloody rock on the ground and pressed the tips of her first two fingers to her lips, thanking Calua for allowing the sacrifice a swift and noble death, then pressed her fingertips to the lamb’s neck, thanking the lamb for its contribution.

Now was the most important part. Hamda came forward from the circle, her dark bronze skin glowing in the moonlight. Drina’s best friend handed her the ritual dagger. Drina hefted it appreciatively. It was a beautiful athame, its handle iron, its blade bronze carved with symbols as ancient as the world itself. The coven owned several such daggers, but to be able to use one was a great honor. An honor, tonight, bestowed upon Drina.

Evario and Conciatta held the lamb steady while Drina plunged the blade into the flesh at its sternum. With a sound like ripping fabric she sawed the blade down, down, scrawling a seeping red line from its sternum to its genitals. Blood oozed up from the line and sheeted down the white of the lamb’s fur. Drina set down the dagger and thrust her hands into the seam, squishing her fingers into the lamb’s entrails in search of her prize. Her fingers grasped that slick, weighty thing. The liver. She pried it out, hefting it carefully so as not to destroy it. It was a slick, brown hunk of flesh sheeting blood. She held it up over her head while the maghe around her chanted, “XXX, XXX, XXX.” Read, read, read.

First, Drina prized her fingers along the surface of the liver in search of the signs she had been trained to read since birth. There were no obvious malformations, no clear bumps or fissures other than the expected seams between the lobes. That was good. There would be luck in the new year.

Now for the most important part of the reading. Drina lifted the liver to her lips–and bit into it. It was salty, coppery and tangy, and tough. She prized up a piece of the meat with her front teeth and sawed through the sinew until a chunk separated into her mouth. The chanting increased in volume as she masticated the flesh and let its flavors, its blood, leak over her tongue and tantalize her senses.

Then she swallowed.

She was still, her knees bruising against the rocks, her throat bobbing as the mashed liver and blood trickled down her gullet. She spread her arms wide and reached out into the universe for her magic. It was a burning in her chest, a glitter in her eye, a fizzing in her fingertips. It was the metaphysical undercurrent that connected her with the center of the world and the gods beyond. She let it fill her like water flooding a crevice, let it suffuse and drown her.

This was not the shoddy guesswork of the Acolytes. It was old magic, true magic, the kind that came from gods older than the charlatans who lounged in their palace in the center of Citerna.

Speak through me, Drina prayed. Ati Ekata, Ekata di Nurtia, speak through me.

A stiffness overtook Drina’s limbs as something else filled her body, something shoving her own spirit aside. A fullness invaded her throat like the burn of swallowed smoke. Without her leave, her lips moved and a husky voice purred out, threaded through with a second voice, a third. The spirits were speaking through her.

“Thunder gods kill a century. The anointed lose a wolf. A raven cries alone.” And more, whispered phrases about the harvest, the weather, none of them told but in riddles that would be deciphered later by the diviners. Their last pronouncement was, “The old sleeps, slumbers, wakes.”

Then with a final croak, the voices broke off and Drina smacked back into her own body. All her limbs tingled and her vision swam and she crashed to her side onto the rocks, her whole body seizing. No one did anything as she shook on the rocks–until at last her body stilled and she slumped against the ground, utterly spent.

Hamda and Evario hooked hands under her armpits and slumped her to her feet. Drina swayed but was able to stand. Their work wasn’t done yet. Drina stood in the center of the circle, the bloody dagger in her hand, the gutted lamb at her feet, while the other maghiarde walked a slow circle around her. She dipped the dagger in the lamb’s blood and swiped her thumb across it, then went to Hamda. Hamda Efarim, her best friend, her confidante and champion. Beautiful and strong and sedate. She swiped the blood across Hamda’s forehead, anointing her with the symbol of Ekata.

“Zichor can,” she said. Let it be written.

Then she faced Evario, Black and tall and muscular. Her friend, her light. She swiped the symbol in blood across his forehead. “Zichor can.”

Next was Conciatta, pale and blond, waifish and reedy, lovely and stoic. Her friend, her partner in crime. She made the symbol. “Zichor can.”

She went through the circle, painting symbols on the foreheads of her fellow coven members, Giovo and Astia, and then she stood before Calindora. Calindora, plump and beautiful. Drina’s lips curled into a smile and Calindora smiled back, her perfect lips curling over her teeth. Stunning, vibrant Calindora, olive-skinned and dark-haired, short and curvy. Her Calindora. Hers only for four months now, but some of the happiest four months in her life. With extra tenderness, Drina pressed her bloody thumb to Calindora’s hot forehead and sketched out Ekata’s symbol, slowly, slowly. She paused, just a moment, before returning to the center of the circle.

It was time to close the circle and seal the ritual.

In the old tongue, she said, “By earth, I seal this circle.” She faced the north and cut out Ekata’s symbol into the air with her athame. Lines of light sketched the air, glowing brightly. She turned to the east. “By air, I seal this circle.” Again, she sketched the symbol. Again for fire in the south and water in the west. At last, she flung out her arms and threw back her head and announced to the dark starry bowl of the sky, “By the power of Ekata, I seal this circle! So mote it be!”

The fiery symbols in the air flared bright and a circle of fire cast itself through the air around the witches. It burned up and down, a wall of solid fire. Then, with a hiss, all the fire extinguished, leaving the clearing drenched in smoke.

With the circle closed and cleared, Drina loosened. Everybody else did too, alive with the success of a ritual done without interference from the Turbi, the witch-hunters. Another ritual completed beneath the noses of the three gods who ruled Etrucchia with gilded fists.

Calindora took Drina’s hands. She was shorter than Drina and when she pulled Drina close, Drina melted against her paramour’s soft curves like every part of her was a half of the same whole. In full view of the rest of the circle, Calindora tipped onto her toes and pressed a fierce kiss against Drina’s lips. There was a whoop unmistakably from Evario, who followed it up with, “Please, ladies, let a man don some knickers before you go about offering up such a show.”

Drina pulled away snorting and laughing. She raised her eyebrows at his half-erect genitals. “Nothing terribly impressive to hide, I’m afraid.”

Scoffing, Evario made muscles with his arms and theatrically kissed his bicep. “You wouldn’t know what to do with it.”

A loud laugh erupted from Conciatta. “As though you do.”

Of course, in the end it was Hamda who sidled up, eyes rolling and tongue clicking, to remind them, “Still your merriment for now. We’ve need to clear the evidence. Unless you want to wait here for the Turbi.” But with a smirk, she glanced at Evario’s genitals. “They wouldn’t be impressed either.”

Evario feigned a pout. “Oh, you’re all no fun! Evariotto and I will enjoy our night without you.”

“All by yourselves,” Drina joked as she helped scuff out the circle traced into the ground around the old altar. Giovo and Astia had already cut the lamb into several pieces, which would be strewn throughout the forest for the wolves to eat. The altar would stay, but it was rubble. Washed of blood, no one would know that it had been revived for this evening’s festivities.

As Drina pulled on her rough homespun dress, she grinned. Even under the thumb of a despotic regime, one occasionally had to smile. She licked the blood off her lips, took Calindora’s hand, and followed her friends through the wilderness back towards the city.

Book List: Diverse adult fantasy

This was inspired by DailyJulianne’s thread and it’s something I’ve been thinking of a lot too. A lot of readers seem to think that adult fantasy is only George RR Martin, Brandon Sanderson, and Patrick Rothfuss. They’re all great writers, but fantasy is a hugely diverse genre and if you really want to dig into it, there’s more than just cishet white dudes. 

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Actually one of my favorite books of all time. A grumpy Black sorcerer and a spunky Indian girl with newfound magic must band together to save the magic of England in this Regency fairy story. 

City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

When a girl in Cairo encounters a djinn, she never realizes that it might be the secret to her heritage, or that there is a secret city of djinn with its own political machinations and wars.

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

In a world where religion rules with an iron fist, one girl finds out through her mother’s diary that her mother consorted with witches. At first horrified, she begins to realize that the Church has a dark past–and she may have the power to change its future.  

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

The daughter of a nobleman and an outcast must learn to harness her magic before she is destroyed by the grasping nobility–or awakens the wrath of the gods.

Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callendar

An Afro-Caribbean fantasy in which the daughter of the deposed monarchs has to figure out how to destroy the colonizers who stole her family’s kingdom. 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

In a town where girls are taken by a magician as tithe, one girl is ready to change the game. She goes to save her friend and ends up finding a love–and a magic–that she never expected. Beautiful writing, clever plotting, and so swoony.

Black Wolves by Kate Elliott

An exiled captain of the guard and the son of the king he failed to protect must band together when the heir’s life is in danger. Kate Elliott writes some of the most richly detailed fantasy I’ve ever experienced. Total GRRM vibes but less dense and more gripping. 

What adult fantasy do you love? 

Excerpt: First page of ALICE, UNDONE


I’m coming apart.

I don’t think anyone’s noticed.


Alice was disintegrating. 

Little pieces of her soul were fraying off into the ether, she was sure of it. Soon, there would be nothing left.

She might prefer that, honestly. It couldn’t be worse than her mother’s constant pacing. Mrs. Cross had trekked the length of the front room at least a dozen times, growing more fidgety with each iteration. Alice wished her mother would say something. Neither of them had spoken since her mother had been called to the school to pick Alice up early.

Mrs. Cross had scarcely spoken even then, the whole time that Mrs. DeSouza was explaining the situation. Concerned. Alarmed. Cutting herself in the girl’s bathroom. “I understand,” she had told the principal, in the same voice she might use to say, “My daughter is an embarrassment.” Then, tight-lipped, she had taken Alice by the wrist and marched her out of school.

They had traveled without the car radio. Embarrassments didn’t deserve distractions. Alice hadn’t spoken either. She hadn’t cried. She had instead retreated so deeply into herself that she almost couldn’t feel the fuzzy cloth seat of her mother’s car. Had made herself small and invisible until she thought she might dissolve into the silence.

Once home, she drifted ghost-like from the blue mini-van to the sagging front room couch with its faded floral pattern, where she had been sitting for the last twenty minutes while her mother continued to say nothing. Alice’s insides were wound as tightly as spaghetti around a fork, except that then the fork was also used to stab her several times in the gut. How could she be so stupid? How could she let herself get caught? Her mother may have said the words “I understand” but she didn’t, would never understand. The only reason Alice’s parents loved her was because they didn’t know the depths of her soul.

Now, they would know it all.

Nobody could handle it all, all the bitter broken things she had kept so carefully concealed. Least of all her mother, who was now trudging her twentieth trip across the scraggly beige front room carpet.

Book List: 2020 debut authors to check out

This is a hard year for debuts, especially marginalized authors who are already fighting harder. Check out some of the brilliant first time authors starting their careers this year and help support them by preordering or buying! For a full list of books I’m excited about publishing in 2020, check my goodreads shelf.

A Curse of Roses by Diana Pinguicha

In a kingdom suffering from famine, the princess is cursed to turn all food she touches into flowers. But when a kiss sets her free, her love for the boy who kisses her could be her destruction. Based on Portuguese folklore! / YA historical fantasy 

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

In a special school, special students fight monsters. But one girl thinks that the secret society has something to do with her mother’s death, and she’ll stop at nothing to figure it out. A King Arthur retelling with teeth.

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

In a world where religion rules with an iron fist, one girl finds out through her mother’s diary that her mother consorted with witches. At first horrified, she begins to realize that the Church has a dark past–and she may have the power to change its future.  

Beyond the Ruby Veil by Mara Fitzgerald

A super weird sapphic story about a city where the only source of water is a witch who makes it out of blood. When one girl accidentally kills the witch, she must go on a strange journey to find another source of water before the city perishes.

Cemetery Boys by Aidan Thomas

I’m so hype for this. A trans boy accidentally raises a ghost…but the ghost is a former bad boy and doesn’t want to be exorcised so easily. Cue complications when the living boy starts enjoying the ghost boy’s company and doesn’t want him to leave. 

Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar

The daughter of a star and a mortal is used to pretending to be normal. But when her mortal father’s life is in danger, she’ll have to go on a quest that takes her to the celestial palaces and beyond.

Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles

In a ruined city, there is a circus–and a competition to become the next performer. But as the performers’ tricks become riskier and more dangerous, the competition itself becomes more deadly as they realize something or someone is stalking and trying to murder them. 

What 2020 debuts are you going to buy? 

Book List: LGBTQIA+ fantasy by #ownvoices authors

Pride doesn’t stop after Pride month. Here’s a list of fantasy, my favorite genre, about queer characters and written by queer authors. For a longer list, check out my shelf on Goodreads.

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Barron

If you didn’t realize, this one is hella sapphic. That’s right, girl is forced to go to a ball to be selected as a wife, but she’d rather marry her female best friend. It’s the Cinderella tale but much darker and gayer. 

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

More sapphic love! This time girls who are part of a harem fall in love and get involved in political machinations in a fantasy world. Forbidden romance gets dangerous. 

Infinity Son by Adam Silvera

Gay phoenixes. Are you hooked yet? Plus it’s got a strong brother relationship with two boys, one who wants peace and one who wants war, and there’s magic and rebellion and all that good stuff. 

The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta

This is one of my favorite fantasy books, SO underrated. It’s about a genderfluid-questioning MC and a genderfluid love interest. Both are witches in an Italian-inspired kingdom where the mafia rules.

Cemetery Boys by Aidan Thomas

I’m so hype for this. A trans boy accidentally raises a ghost…and then FALLS IN LOVE with said ghost. How cool is that? 

Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

A dancing sickness takes over the city and people are blamed as witches. Five hundred years later, the descendants struggle with the truth. It’s full of trans and gay characters and Anna-Marie’s beautiful prose.

Witches of Ash and Ruin by E. Latimer

Gay witches and Celtic mythology. Yes, I said it. It’s such a fun, quick read full of mayhem, serial murder, and enemies to lovers kissing. 

What LGBTQIA+ books do you love? 

Book List: Fantasy books by Black authors

Black Lives Matter counts for ALL the time. So let’s check out some #ownvoices Black magic books in my favorite genre. For a longer list, check out my shelf on Goodreads. There are lots, so I’m just going to highlight a few ones I’m hyped about. 

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow

I’m reading this now and it’s pure Black Girl Magic. It’s a contemporary in Portland where Sirens and other magical creatures are part of the normal world, and it’s got the sweetest sisterly friendship between two girls. / Young adult 

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Rosanne A. Brown

A guy makes a deal to assassinate the princess to get his kidnapped sister back. The princess tries to resurrect her mother with dangerous magics. Chaos ensues. I’ve heard so many good things about the hate-to-love romance! / Young adult 

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

It’s Southern Black King Arthur. Are you sold yet, cause I am. Special students hunt monsters. There’s an enigmatic Merlin character. THERE’S A RELUCTANT PARTNERSHIP. All my boxes are ticked. / Young adult 

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Barron

Years after Cindrella’s death, girls go to the ball every year to be selected as brides for wealthy men. But one girl would rather marry her best friend, and she’s willing to take down the whole system to do it. If that doesn’t scream “smash the patriarchy” I don’t know what does. / Young adult

A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy

Two sisters in a fractured kingdom battle to see who will become queen. Literally we’ve got two sisters trying to kill each other, some fey magic, and some political machinations. Let the mayhem come! / Young adult 

A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney

Love Alice? Now check the modern version. This Alice slays Nightmare creatures in Atlanta, has a rhyming friend named Hatta, and has to travel to the wilds of Wonderland to save her poisoned mentor. It’s such a fun Buffy-style book! / Young adult

Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender

By a Black trans author, this Afro-Caribbean inspired fantasy is all about the last surviving member of a noble lineage fighting back against the colonizers who stole her family’s rule. / Adult 

What Black fantasy books do you love?