Indie Book Review: Hartman House by A.L. Wright

The Hartman House was one of the titles I obtained from the Tucson Festival of Books.  I was very intrigued by the premise, which is essentially the story of a young witch seeking sanctuary from the increasingly violent witch, werewolf, and vampire hunters in a modern safe house. While there, the main character, Rodelle, meets a disturbingly familiar vampire named Dreven.

When I began reading, it took me a minute to get used to the formatting the author chose; the text is double spaced, which I am not accustomed to. However, it didn’t take me long to adjust.

The story is about what you would expect with the holy trinity of urban fantasy monsters: Sexy, broody vampires, hot headed werewolves, and indecisive witches.

What I was instantly taken with was the concept of the safe house for magical beings. The idea is fantastic and one that the author is expanding on in other books. Rightfully so!

This particular book, though, felt a bit bland. Not bad, but not stand out good either. It is a good middle-ground typical paranormal love story rife with the usual clichés. It feels like a first novel, which is perfectly fine, but it left me feeling that the surface of this amazing world was barely scratched.

What I wanted more of was the group dynamic in the house. I wanted to understand more of the people already inhabiting the place, how they maintained it, what they did when they weren’t on rescue missions, etc. The most we get in that aspect is that the witches are essentially the maid and catering services. There’s still major opportunities for compelling character development for the side characters we do meet in the other books, but I was definitely missing it here.

Overall, the Hartman House is a good introductory read into general paranormal romance. You should check it out, if you are so inclined, at:



Indie Book Review: Unmasked by EM Kaplan

I just finished reading Em Kaplan’s Unmasked: Rise of the Masks Book 1. I met Em and her husband, JD, at the Tucson Festival of Books last year. As promised, here’s what I thought about the story.

Unmasked takes place in a completely fictional world. A girl called Mel, is part of a certain class of people known as Masks. They are incredibly knowledgeable and can seem, to the layman, to possess magic and special abilities. The Masks are the judges of this particular world. They are impartial, and unemotional scholars and archivists. Mel was sent out for the summer to investigate the appearance of strange blue trees. To successfully study this phenomena, she masquerades as a typical girl coming of age and stays with others from around the world at what is known as the Keep, a sort of short term finishing school for young women.

Through fortuitous circumstances, Mel met Ott, a Northerner on the hunt for a strange creature that had been terrorizing his town. There is an instant connection between them. Just as the end of her assignment was in sight, the Keep is attacked by ferocious, strange creatures that came out of the ground without warning. It’s up to Mel and Ott to figure out where these creatures came from and what they want.

First, Em’s writing style is very distinct and incredibly pretty. She can paint a scene like no one else I’ve ever read. It’s evident that a lot of work went into creating such a vivid world. The details are incredible and it makes you feel like you are there.

Some of the pacing dips a little, but I found that I didn’t mind that because I felt like I was completely transported.

The part where the flowery language and the descriptions fell just a bit short of stunning is in some of the action scenes. I missed some of the actions and felt a bit confused when suddenly a character was somewhere else doing something else. Also, near the end of the book, there was a strange lack of emotional reaction at a lot of the abilities some of the characters developed and even less understanding of how or why they developed them.

On the whole, though, this story is fun and engrossing. If you are in the mood to be completely transported to a different world, give Unmasked a try. You can find it at

Happy Reading!



Writers Helping Writers: Research, Research, Research

Now that you’ve got your story idea, it’s time to really flesh it out with details. How do you do that? The answer is simple: RESEARCH! (Alternating yays and groans). This is the part of writing where your browser history may lead to the NSA or FBI keeping an open file on you. You are going to google some weird shit, I guarantee it.

If you don’t know where to start your research, think about your story idea and type into your trusty browser one detail that you know about your story. For instance, do you know where your story takes place? How old the main character is? What time period does it take place in? Does it involve animals? Really, any detail will do to send you down the rabbit hole that is researching a novel.

Remember it’s important to keep notes on what you are researching. I recommend keeping a notebook for the story so you can write down the bits that jump out to you. Some of the information will make it into the story, but a lot of it won’t and that’s alright. That excess knowledge will still be incredibly useful as you write.

What you discover can also cause your story idea to grow and expand. Research will provide locations, time periods, clothing details, mannerisms, how-to’s, descriptions, you name it to fill in the blank spots that aren’t readily apparent.

The best part about research is that it often will bring about more story ideas. That is why it’s crucial to keep learning new things.

Research for a story is almost never done. Even when you think you have all the details you can possibly wring out the internet, when you start writing, more things will come up- like is the trajectory of a cannon ball hampered by rain? Or how much blood can be drained from someone before actually killing them? Research is the whole reason I know how much gasoline it would take to cremate a 160 pound body. See? NSA and FBI material.

Keep researching!


Indie Book Review: The Scary Girls by JD Kaplan

I recently had the pleasure of reading JD Kaplan’s The Scary Girls. The Tucson Festival of Books was where I was picked up a copy of not only The Scary Girls, but also JD’s wife’s book Unmasked (more about this one later).

The Scary Girls is a Sci-Fi modern fantasy that centers around Trick, a guitar player that was just dumped by his girlfriend. Heartbroken, Trick auditions for and joins another band of beautiful, otherworldly women that he affectionately calls the scary girls (viola! Title). It becomes quickly apparent that the scary girls are not quite human. There are small hints that Trick may not be fully human either, but exactly what he is isn’t readily apparent.

The themes of this book seem to be family, acceptance, and a bit of self-discovery.

I love how Celtic mythology plays a role in this story. It’s a mythos that isn’t too widely known or regarded and the use of it makes me happy (except for the description of the Morrigan). Also the vivid descriptions and the overall concept are stunning.

I do feel that this story could have benefited by being written in third person instead of first, however. The reason for this is while there are amazing opportunities to do a self-discovery story line in first person, in this particular tale, there are too many other elements that get in the way. Also, there’s a lot of internal monologue that gets repetitive at times. This results in a more tell, don’t show vibe from the story telling perspective. If it were in third person, I feel this would be cut down quite a bit.  Having the main character explain everything and react to everything around him doesn’t quite lend itself to the conclusion of the book; it betrays too much emotion and feeling.

There were some bits that the pace dropped off and left me a little bored. Alternatively, there were also some parts that I was confused as to what purpose they served. It seems that the scenes in the dreamside are more in reference to another book by JD (Waking Dreams: the Torment of Colin Pierce) than really having anything to do with Trick’s tale.

The ending was not what I expected, and I was pleasantly surprised at it. That being said, I do think that elements of it could have been executed a little more precisely and hinted at earlier on in the book. Red Herrings abound, but there is a lack of foreshadowing that would really balance it out.

All in all, The Scary Girls has a compelling story line. The characters are diverse and there’s great potential with their dynamics together. I think the characters themselves could be fleshed out a little more and taken to a deeper level, but overall, they drive the plot forward effectively.

If you are interested in experiencing The Scary Girls for yourself, you can find it at



New Year, New Blogs: A Peek Into What’s In Store For 2018

We are over a week into this New Year. So far so good, right? Well, following my own advice, I’ve decided to change up the way I do blogs this year. All of them are geared towards helping people (really, it won’t be all bad advice).

Don’t worry, Azra will still be dispensing all of his horrible advice, but it will be in a new way. Instead of focusing just on parenting, He’s decided to take on general questions about life, love, pop culture, history, even cooking. Yes, Azra has talked me into a new blog series for him called “Ask Azra” and it will be about as cheesy and terrible as his parenting blog (don’t tell him I said that).

In addition to Azra potentially ruining people’s lives, I am also introducing two new blog series: Writers Helping Writers and Indie Book Review.

Writers Helping Writers is a topic by topic overview of how to go from first draft to published novel and everything in between. This stems from my own personal experiences in the hopes that it will help aspiring authors on their own journey.

Indie Book Review is just that. I will read and review one Indie produced book a month. These books I will have gotten from my travels (I have met these authors either at conventions or book festivals) or by your suggestion. I’ve got a few good ones lined up already that I can’t wait to get into.

There is one more thing... I need your help to do all of this. That’s right, you are an integral part of my 2018 blog experiment! Here’s what I need you to do:

If you have questions for either the Ask Azra or Writers Helping Writers segments, let me know. Also, if you have an Indie produced book you want to spread the word about, give me the title and the author name and I will take the recommendation. It’s super easy to let us know your questions and recommendations. Simply drop us a line at Or, you can comment on this or any posted blog. Additionally you can leave us a comment on Facebook. We really do read and appreciate any and all messages and shares.

Thank you for your help. Here’s hoping the rest of 2018 will go as well as this first week has!



5 Lessons from my first reading as an author

I’m interrupting Azra’s parental broadcast to address something I am really proud of.

The other day I did something that I’ve never done before. Something that I’ve seen many others do, but that I’ve been terrified to do myself.  I got up in front of people- some I knew and some I didn’t- and I read part of my book out loud.

That’s right. This author did her very first reading and survived.

Writing isn’t really a spectator sport. It’s very much a solitary activity. Putting your words to paper, transcribing your thoughts is intimate, so reading them out loud to an audience is a terrifying prospect.

Doing the reading at our latest book signing was my idea. I thought it would be good for us, educational, if you will. Well, I certainly learned a lot. Here are the top 5 lessons I learned during my first reading.

1.       Practice what you are going to say and how you are going to say it. People can tell if you haven’t practiced.

2.       Give a short intro to the piece you are reading. Let the audience know a bit about what they are listening to. Don’t just jump in.

3.       Be picky about your selections. The scene should draw attention to the story. It should make the audience feel something. I’ve found that humor is a good choice. If you can make people laugh, it helps to know that you are doing a good job, both with the reading and with your writing.

4.       Make sure you can be heard. Triple check your audio connections. Make sure you project your voice really well.

5.       Keep a good attitude. People are more likely to remember how you reacted to mistakes, criticisms, etc rather than those things themselves. If you focus so much on everything that went wrong (and things will go wrong), then it will cast a negative light on the experience not only for you, but for your audience as well.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to readings. I have a lot more to learn and a lot more experience to gather.

Would I do it again? Absolutely.

Phoenix Comic Con and the Struggle of Independent Creators

Azra is taking a break from his parenting blog this week to allow me to speak about something that is near and dear to my heart: Independent Creators.

Phoenix Comic Con is this week. It is the biggest show we (Five Smiling Fish and Hellbat Publications) do all year. We worry, we prep, we stress about having the right product and enough product to sell to the hordes of people turning out for the event.

It’s really hard to do when you are an independent creator. You have to somehow capture the imagination and the attention of passersby enough to make them stop and take a closer look at your wares. That’s why so many people do fan art: popular characters and stories already told have a HUGE fan base. That ironic picture of Harley Quinn and that reimaging of Stitch is what draws people in.

But what about your own original ideas? What about your original characters and story lines? In all the madness of pop culture today, it seems that originality is only good for twisting what is already popular into a new product or image. It’s disheartening when your original creations are passed over for yet another super hero logoed item.

So many creators that attend Phoenix Comic Con and other events like it hoping to build their fan base. They want to connect with the public and have their work known and appreciated.

It takes a lot of work and even more courage to put your creations out for public consumption. Believe me.

I tell you this to highlight the struggle these local artists and businesses go through. In our instance, the crafts we make, the plush, the perlers, the tails, the ears, the keychains. . .  all of it was a way to pay for our real dream: creating our own publishing company and getting our books out.

Now, we are fighting to get our original content out there and create a fan base.

It’s almost like screaming into the void.

 So while you are out having fun with your friends and showing off your elaborate and impressive cosplay design, stop by artist alley and take a look at some original creations. Compliment what you like, maybe even buy a piece. Most importantly, go and look and recognize all the work and all the guts it takes to make something original and put it out there to see.

                Happy Hug an Indie Creator Weekend!


                PS- Five Smiling Fish and Hellbat Publications will be at AA529 and AA531. Stop by and say hi!

Publishing A Book AKA: Emotional Rollercoaster From Hell

Azra kindly let me take over the blog this week (don’t worry. He’ll be back next Tuesday). I’m in the final stages of publishing Legend of the Strega and, let me tell you, I am so ready for it to be done. At this point, I am just tired of waiting. I’m not a particularly patient person and this part of the process always has me on edge.

If you’ve ever published a book, you understand.

For those of you who haven’t, let me take you through the steps that has been this book and you can get a glimpse of what indie authors all over the world have to deal with.

1.       Write the story. This is the biggest part of writing. You HAVE to write! If you finish a first draft, you statistically closer to publishing the book. So many people give up on this very important first step. Legend of the Strega took about 2 years of me fiddling with it before it was ready for someone else to read.

Time: 2 years

2.       Editing your story. I am SUPER lucky in that I have amazing friends who aren’t scared to tell me what they really think. When I think my story is ready for public consumption, I send it to them first. They. Rip. It. Apart. Which is great because I know every criticism they have will only make the piece better. It takes me some time not to be salty about it (average is 3 days), but in the end, I know it is for the best. For Legend of the Strega, this process took a little over a year. This is because they had other obligations and timing was off. I also record the story in audio form for my husband to listen to. He is another one who gives me the hard line criticism that’s bound to make me not want to look at him. Again. In the end, it just makes the story better.

Time: 1 year

3.       Once all of the edits have been put in, it’s time for beta reader feedback. These people are amazing. They represent your general audience and read your story in order to tell you what they think as a reader. They are the ones that can tell you if that joke on page 54 is actually funny. For an author just starting out, these people are hard to find. Sometimes you have to bamboozle them into reading your story (sorry, Brad). Legend of the Strega was lucky to have someone really want to read it; a good friend of mine who already had a TON going on, but decided to help me out anyway. This process took about two months.

Time: 2 months

4.       Line Editing. It’s a good idea to have someone who knows grammar and sentence structure better than you look over the words you’ve committed to paper. A good line editor can make or break a book. For Legend of the Strega, my line editor (LOVE HER!) gave me a window of 15 days all through which I bit my nails in anticipation. Was it horrible? How many edits did she have to make? Why is it taking so long if I know how to write? Wait. Maybe I don’t know how to write. I can’t start all over! I have to get this project done! What if I have too many commas and she thinks I’m a jerk now? GAH!

Time: 15 days

5.       Now, your line edits are in and you’ve deleted all of the excess commas and adverbs. It’s time to format your word document into something resembling a physical book. If you don’t know what you are doing, be prepared to spend a LOT of time on Google figuring out how to eliminate widows and orphans. Also, pagination, embedding fonts, page breaks vs section breaks, alternating headers, adjusting the margins for the gutter, converting to the right kind of PDF, and if you have pictures, making them happen. This is one of the most frustrating parts to the process. You are tempted to just settle for what is fine. Don’t. Summon up the patience to make it exactly what you want. It will be worth it. I’ve spent the last weekend doing this for Legend of the Strega.

Time: 2 days

6.       Cover Art and ISBNs. The size of your cover art depends on the size of the interior. Most places will help with a template. I get my art locally. Depending on their timeframe, you are looking at a month to three or so. Luckily, my artist kicks ass and had my cover art and title logo done months ago. All I had to do was send him the template and he formatted it for me. ISBN- I bought mine through Bowker. It is fairly simple to generate a barcode from their website. I sent that on over to my artist and he made it all come together beautifully. The art process took about three month’s total, even though I did the initial art part while Legend of the Strega was being edited.

Time: 3 months

7.       Submitting your interior and cover files into the distributor. Each distributor is different. Mine is fairly simple. They have a style guide and will let you know if your files are messed up. The thing is that the process takes 2-3 business days. This is the part I am at. Waiting for the system to send me an e-proof. I’m so ready to be done! There’s just a couple more steps though.

Time: 3 days

8.       Getting your e-proof and ordering your print proof. Once the system sends you the e-proof, go over it with a fine tooth comb. Seriously. Make sure everything looks good, no pages are missing, etc. If there are things wrong, you have to go back to formatting and converting to PDF. Not. Fun. However, if it is right then you can order your print proof! I really recommend this step. Ordering the print proof is a good idea to have it in your hands so you can see things that are not visible on the computer screen. Like, are your gutters too wide? Did something cut off mid-sentence? Is your cover art the right color? When you get your proof, give yourself at least two days to go over it. Take your time and make sure it’s right.

Time: 4 days

9.       If all goes well, then you are ready to order your first print run (YAY!!!) and wait for the shipping (#$%*@!). Depending on how much you want to spend, shipping can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 weeks. The good news is that after that, you are done waiting and you can get out there and make the world read it!

Time: 6 weeks

Total time for Legend of the Strega:  3 years, 7 months, and 6 days.

It’s worth it.