Writer Wednesday – D.R. Perry

1. Who are you?
Who are you, who, who, who, who? I really wanna know! Ahem. Okay, time to stop singing The Who. Hi, I’m D.R. Perry and I’m living la vida dorka.

2. What type of stuff do you write?
I write spec-fic and silliness. Also some poetry. So far, my books have been Paranormal with loads of humor. My series is called Providence Paranormal College and it’s about what happens when shifters, vampires, faeries, psychics and magic users all go to an Ivy League school in New England.

3. What do you want to pimp right now?
Hey, I do interviews, too! I just got done with Summer Splash and now it’s Autumn Authors over at my website (http://www.drperryauthor.com/news). I also do Friendly Neighborhood Fridays, where I talk to cover designers, web designers, editors, and the folk who help authors get their book into publishable shape.

4. What’s your favorite book?
My favorite book is like my favorite color and song. They change all the time! I would have gotten thrown off the bridge on Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail. Red, no bluuuue! Grave Beginnings by R.R. Virdi, no A Fox’s Love by Brandon Varnell, no Dream Stalker by Amy Hopkins. I. Can’t. Decide! Aaaaaargh!

5. What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
Let’s see. There’s the mom hat (I have one kid with fur and four legs, another with hair and two), the gamer hat (I play WoW and pen and paper RPGs), and the audio hat (I used to be a karaoke DJ). I love my family, my fun, and my music. Couldn’t live without them!

6. Where can we find you?
I’m all over the place! Well, on the Internet, anyway. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Goodreads, Author Central and my website, complete with mailing list. Oh, and you can also find me at author events in Rhode Island. No, it’s not an island and not Long Island. We’re a tiny state in the US, but the food here rocks!
FB: https://www.facebook.com/drpperry/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/DRPerry22
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/d.r.perry/
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/drperryauthor/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8588997.D_R_Perry
Author Central: https://www.amazon.com/author/drperry
Website: http://www.drperryauthor.com/
Mailing List: https://app.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/p9i8u6

 

 

The Importance of Being Covered

Always judge a book by its cover. At least, that’s what we should do as writers. The cover is the first thing anyone sees of our books, so it’s important that the cover reflects what’s inside. If a reader would love your sci-fi book about Kung-Fu aliens from planet Borax, you wouldn’t put a dude in Civil War era clothing on your cover, right? Is it possible to have something that jarringly inconsistent between cover and content as the above example? Yes, it is. I should know. I made that mistake myself.

I have a book about a sarcastic brainiac Nerd Queen tutoring a half-asleep
shapeshifting jock with a closeted geek streak. There are Star Wars references, puns running rampant along the pages, and goofy situational comedy. I have a gal who turns into an owl saying “hoo boy,” for crying out loud. But readers who like that kind of thing didn’t find my book because this was the cover:

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That cover on my book was like a bowl of salsa on a package containing a chocolate cake. People saw it and expected steamy love scenes. I did a live event with that cover and got snickers. No, I don’t mean people threw candy bars at me. They laughed, but not for the reasons I intended. Even worse, they scurried away, desperate to avoid the stigma of buying what looked like a bodice-ripper in front of the PTA president at the local Farmer’s Market.

I knew it was all that pouty shirtless man’s fault, so I replaced him. Nothing against pouting, shirtlessness, or men, you understand (because I do like those things). It’s just that I realized they belonged to literature light-years away in the Steamy Galaxy from my book. So, I checked around for titles with content similar to mine and discovered I needed something like this instead:

barelycollegicnomineell

And lo, the author said “let there be shirts” and there were! And they were illustrated! This is exactly the cover I needed on my goofy, geeky, unsteamy book. And do you see that library? That lets the picture tell readers these two are students because people don’t always see “Paranormal College” on a thumbnail. It worked, too. See the little badge? Yeah, I went from barely (ha, pun!) any interest in this book to nominated for an award.

So, go ahead and judge a book by its cover. Also, remember that a picture is worth a thousand words. What would this article be without the pictures, after all? Point, set, and match, Mr. Pouty Shirtless. I’ll save his picture for some other…um, project. Yeah, I’m winking at you from behind my computer screen now. Thanks for reading!

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Writer Wednesday – Bibi Rizer

1. Who are you? (A name would be good here…preferably the one you write under)
Bibi Rizer

2. What type of stuff do you write? (Besides shopping lists)
I write steamy to erotic romance, mostly in the New Adult category and in several genres.

3. What do you want to pimp right now? (May it be your newest, your work-in-progress, your favorite or even your first)
The first book in my Vikings of Vinland series. This historical New Adult series surrounds the adventures of twin sisters Gull and Katla Grimsdottir who, after being cruelly separated, face challenges and come of age in Viking era Europe and North America. The first book is called The Shieldmaiden’s Revenge.

4. What is your favorite book? (Okay, or two or three or… I know how writers are as readers.)
Literature – Cat’s eye by Margaret Atwood and The World According to Garp by John Irving.
Fun – Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings.
Smut – I love Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series, Delphine Dryden’s  The Science of Temptation series.


5. What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
I’m a cover designer and a busy mom

6. What link can we find you at? (One or two please; don’t go overboard here!)
www.bibirizer.com
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bibi-Rizer/845707895448516

*


On Writing…


I know it’s fashionable to be very supportive in our field, especially of beginners, but I’ve got to say, I’ve been asked for advice from a few people who seem to have no aptitude for writing whatsoever. I try to be nice but I’m often left wondering what on earth made this person think they should be a writer? They claim to be “passionate” about it (but often lack enough passion to do even very cursory research into the field) but where on earth does this passion come from? It would be as though I suddenly developed a passion for ballet dancing or playing Aussie Rules Football. I do think that writing can be learned (as can ballet and football) but surely that learning should build on some innate talent that it already there? I mean, this is why I took up writing.

People often ask me “why do you write?” They formulate this question in many of different ways, and I think there is a lot of dewy eyed fascination about writers and their “passion”. The truth is, many of the most successful writers will happily tell you they write because it’s the only thing know how to do, because it’s the best way for them to earn money and because they’re good at it. Why do I write? Because I’m good at it. I won the first short story contest I ever entered. I sold my very first screenplay for six figures. I got a two book deal on my first YA book.

I’ve tried a lot of other things I’m “passionate” about. I love psychology and helping people and I tried to be a counselor but I suck at it. I’m into business, computer programs all that office management stuff like Powerpoint and Excel but I suck at office work – I’m far too anti-social and disorganized. I love fashion but I can’t follow a pattern. I love love LOVE performing music, but I’m really not that great a singer.

But I’m a good writer, and late in life I’ve discovered that I don’t suck at book cover design. Who knew?

So my advice, not just to newbie writers but to everyone, is this: find something you’re good at, and be passionate at that.

Writer Wednesday – Tiffini Johnson

Who are you?
My name is Tiffini Johnson

What type of stuff do you write?
Writing anything is my passion! I’ve been known to use paper napkins, Kroger sacks and even my own hand to write on. But at my core, I am a relational activist: my heart hurts for abused and neglected children. Almost all of my books are categorized as YA and deal with societal issues like domestic abuse, neglect and child abuse.

What do you want to pimp right now?
The work I am most proud of right now is “Dance For Me.” “Dance For Me” is 11 year old Maelea’s story. Maelea lives a poor life in Cambodia with her parents and her little sister. When her sister becomes ill with dengue fever, Maelea is sold to a brothel. The next two years, Maelea is tortured and sold to men on a nightly basis. Escape is impossible until one horrific act of torture becomes an unlikely saving grace.

This book is special to me because of the research that went into it. Child sex trafficking is an atrocity that breaks my heart, the torture, an evil I can’t fathom. I hope this story awakens my readers to what these kids go through and helps us realize that we are the only heroes these girls have.

What is your favorite book? (Okay, or two or three or… I know how writers are as readers.)
My favorite books are “The Book Thief,” “To Kill A Mockingbird” and anything by Faulkner.

What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
In addition to being a writer, I teach, speak as an advocate for RAINN, volunteer and, most importantly, I am a mother to two beautiful girls.

What link can we find you at?
You can find me at storiesthatmatterblog.com and Facebook at Stories That Matter and @tiffinisstories at Twitter

 

*****

Ashes

There are ashes all around. There are ashes in the air, ashes on the ground, ashes on the hands. They are spread everywhere, all over the earth. When eyes are open, I smoke comes from the chimneys; the dreams, breaths, hopes, fears, families inside are disappearing, melting to the ground, until all that is left is a mound of ashes. I smell it; that bitter, foul smell of flesh burning, day in and day out. The smoke gets in the nostrils, blows up into the brain, until it marks an impression no amount of time will erase. The men in their shiny black boots, ironed uniforms with red armbands, have ashes on them too. They shake it off their hands but it clings to their hair. Those standing stock still for hours and hours in the snow, ignoring the burning in near frostbit fingers, they have the ashes on them too. Whether you have a number on your arm or not, whether you are paid a few coins to ferry papers back and forth or your last name is Mengele, ashes fall upon your head here. There is no escaping. There is nothing but hunger and a constant, subconscious, need for fresh air, to breathe without inhaling the ashes floating around, to know what it is to live away from that smell.

Is there life without ashes?

Is there, really? There are ashes around you, too. The tears you cry are coals from the fire surrounding you. When the tears stop coming, where do they go? When you dry your eyes and rise, you move on, but if I am deep enough, I create a scab you carry around with you for the rest of time. Divorce, loss of a job, death of a dream… no matter how much time goes by, you don’t forget me. If you poke at the scab I form, if you talk about it or something makes you remember it’s there, it’s as though you’ve moved a mound of ashes and found a live ember, one that’s still burning. The ashes cover our lives with a black cloud.

I breathe and move the ashes from town to town, from house to house. Before long, I find my way into Hitler’s home, into the President’s, into the soldier’s, into the widow’s, into the peasant’s, even into the child’s. I’m selfish like that, I want everyone to know who I am. My goal is to teach everyone that fairy tales aren’t real and that hope is nothing but a cleverly disguised fairy tale. Until her brother, five-year-old, mischievous Kaplan, was ripped from her arms moments after stepping onto the train’s platform near the barking dogs and screaming men, Adele hadn’t really believed in me. It wasn’t until she watched her brother walk in one direction, while she was ordered to walk in the other, that she saw me for the first time. When she lay on the wooden planks, crammed between other girls, praying for sleep, I hung around. She cried, wanted to know where Kaplan was.

“He’s nothing but ash now,” one of the women said. “He’s in the chimney.”

There’s an exact moment when a child’s heart breaks for the first time, when her eyes are opened to all the lessons I teach, when she stops wanting to climb trees and instead finds herself scared she will fall. I am always there when this happens. If I could capture every spark as it fell from a child’s eye, I would be brighter than the Sun. And yet, it fascinates me. I still watch as it happens instead of turning my eye away. This moment, this moment in which they learn who I am, should keep them from ever smiling again. I should scare them so much they never play or laugh or love ever again. But it almost never happens. Every once in awhile, someone will decide they can’t handle me. Several people a day run into the electric fence surrounding this place, on purpose, because of me. More jump from windows or slit their wrists in an effort to finally be free of me. The vast majority, though, never give serious credence to the idea death might be better than finding me again. The vast majority continue to work, go to school, talk, eat and drink, thereby deliberately prolonging life. It should bother me, make me jealous, how resilient Hope is. It should make me angry. But I’m not. Instead, it amazes me.

Book Review – Sex Changes by Christine Benvenuto

Sex Changes: A memoir of marriage, gender, and moving on
Christine Benvenuto
Hardback
2012

I’ve been reading more about transgender issues lately in an attempt to understand them better. I know a couple people that fall somewhere to the left of the male/female spectrum. When I found this book, I thought it would be an interesting take on the issue.
The author is a woman of some age (they never really told us, but I’m guessing about 40), who has three kids, Adam, Bibi and Lilly (not their real names), oh, and a husband, Tracy (not his real name), who is a woman trapped in a man’s body. The book picks up pretty much when he declares that to his wife.
Before I go any further with this review, a bit of a side note – I do believe firmly that I should refer to “Tracy” by whichever pronoun Tracy prefers, but since the book referred to Tracy as “he” the whole time, I’m going to as well, just to make the review all streamlined and stuff.
The book is done in three parts. Part one is called, originally, Part One. It deals with the author finding out what’s going on with her husband, and getting to the point where Tracy finally moves out. We find out that they’re Jewish, that they’ve spent much of their marriage living separately because of work and whatever, and that there are three kids. That’s about it.
And I have to say that I have never, ever, ever in my life read a memoir about a more unsympathetic twat in my life. I’m serious. I have no sympathy at any point in this book for this woman because of how she is. Keep in mind, this is how she’s telling her story, how she wants it known and (hopefully) how it really went down. And all I read in the first 120 pages or so was about a woman whose husband came to her with a statement (“I feel like I’m a woman trapped as a man”) and she said “no” and “don’t tell the kids.”
I’m not going to use this review to argue with how she should have handled the situation, one way or another, but before any of my readers get up in arms, remember that there’s a difference between playing along and having compassion, and I at least expected a little compassion. Yeah, I expected the “my marriage is over” part of things, and no, I never expected her to go dress shopping with Tracy (which she totally didn’t) but I did not, at any point prior to having the book in my hands, expect this to be the memoir of a woman who was all “I’m such a victim, feel bad for me!” about everything.
I read through to page 120, and all I could think was that I wanted to bean this chick with a baseball bat a few dozen times. And while I don’t at all agree with the way her husband went about being towards her during the transition, I can’t help but wonder if maybe a gram of compassion from Christine at any point could have softened the entire situation for all involved.
So I started trying to figure out why I hated this woman so much. Yes, a lot of it was her actions. “I couldn’t believe everyone was taking HIS side, but then again, we live in the Valley of the Politically Correct!” A lot of it was the fact that she had gone to the trouble of writing a memoir and had somehow managed to not put a detail about ANYTHING in this book. (No, I’m not asking for her street address, but I want some idea of what’s really going on other than her being Jewish in the Valley of the Politically Correct [her term] somewhere in, I think, New England, which is about as vague as saying you live “over yonder” and pointing while on vacation somewhere.)
Then there’s her style. Her style of speaking and doing and everything. At one point, the author is talking about her 8=year-old daughter. “I was in shock. I knew my little girl to be precociously verbal, but even so her words added shock to shock.” Wait. What? Or, another favorite. “Over the years, Lilly has become more articulate about her feelings. When she was six, she began to pontificate on the subject of having a dad who is a girl.”
It’s like the author was so busy telling us what her feelings should have been that she didn’t feel anything. There’s nothing at all comfortable about this woman. Nevermind the fact that she stripped out so much of anything, whatsoever that would have connected us with her…
We hear about the half-assed friendships she had (“it wasn’t until I lost these people that I realized I had never really been close to them”), how nobody cared about her because it wasn’t politically correct to do so, etc. I don’t know what she’s been doing in therapy all these years, but seriously, all she’s telling us is how much of a fucking victim she was through all of it, sad and alone and stuck with the kids. Nevermind the fact that she starts her damn story out by talking about how, because of work, she was often the only parent with the kids anyway.
Part 2 of the book is almost a totally different book the way its written. She finally gets to the part about how the kids are feeling, but again, we had to hear about her “precociously verbal” children and a load of other shit that just made me want to hit her.
At one point, she listed all the things she had to do in her day, starting with her 4:30 AM getting up to exercise while checking email and read the paper while listening to NPR. In this, she refers to the kids as Ms. 7 and Ms. 4 and Mr. 13 (o_O), talks about taking three kids to three schools in three cities, and even gives us about a third of a page on getting “Ms. 4” to the center of town to get the bus to the school that she’s teaching in that day. Now, I get it that lives get complicated the more people you’re responsible for. But your son is 13, which totally means he can get his own sorry ass up with an alarm clock, and if you’re so damn busy, why are you doing things like driving across town to get your kid to a bus to take her THE SAME PLACE YOU’RE GOING ANYWAY. Also, there’s a potty training incident, which makes me wonder why she doesn’t have a change of clothes and a box of wipes in the car for the kid (really, she had to take the kid home to wash her clothes?). Oh, and seriously, she put listening to the radio on this list, so…
Folks, life lesson. Don’t overcomplicate your life and then complain about it. Seriously. And this list was TWO PAGES LONG and barely covered her getting to work with just a sentence or so gloss over about her work day.
And again, it’s another example of the disconnect we get with this woman. She wrote her kids up as Ms. 7 and Mr 13. Who does that?

I marked page 192 because it’s the first time she really talks about dealing with Tracy on an emotional level and her acceptance/understanding/adjustment to the Trans issue. Up to this point, all she’d managed to do was tell him he couldn’t be a woman and have a few convos with the kids. It took almost 200 pages to get to a point where she talks about transgender issues as anything but a slight to her marriage.

So I’m giving this book a 2 for several reasons.
The first is that if I hadn’t been reviewing it and so hell-bent on getting to the end of this for some reason other than her victim mentality, I would have put it down before the second part. The fact is that if the entire memoir had had the feel of the 2nd part (and sort of the third, even though that’s sort of just summation), I would have like d it a whole lot more.
But the second reason is because of all the things this book is missing. I don’t care that she changed names (a fact that we had to read any time she named anybody – hello, make a note at the front) and that she wanted to protect herself (although the whole small town that she never moved out of knows what’s going on, so…), but you can’t strip everything and expect there to be anything left when you’ve finished. If she would have loosened up a bit and relaxed for a minute, we might have got something out of this that was helpful.
Really, don’t bother. Even if you’re in her situation, going it alone has got to be better than this.

Writer Wednesday – Rita Webb

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Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
Rita Webb, author of PLAYING HOOKY (the first book in the Paranormal Investigation series) and DAUGHTER OF THE GODDESS

Tell us (briefly) about you…
Wife to the sweetest man, mom of 3 extraordinary girls, adventurer, dancer, crazy lady.
I’m not a vampire (even if I am pale and allergic to the sun) or a werewolf (though I am married to one) or a faerie. I’m just a woman with an overactive imagination.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
Loads of shorts stories (published in various anthologies), several unpublished novels, TEARS (my first novel, no longer in print), and the following novellas (currently available:

PLAYING HOOKY (Paranormal Investigations #1)
DAUGHTER OF THE GODDESS

…and what you’re working on right now.
My husband TJ and I are now writing together. We’re working on the sequels to PLAYING HOOKY:
BREAKING ANGELINA (Paranormal Investigations #1.5)
TAKING CHANCES (Paranormal Investigations #2)

What are your earliest book-related memories?
Visiting the library with my mom and picking out books:
The Lion and the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

I loved them both and was forever addicted. Strange how both are on banned book lists, and I’m impressed that my very religious mother actually recommended them to me.

What are your three favorite books?
I hate this question. I have hundreds of favorites, different ones in each genre, plus my childhood favorites. Really my favorite book might be whatever I just finished reading.

But if I have to narrow it down, this is my list:
The Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews
The Mercedes Thompson series by Patricia Briggs
Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

OK, I cheated. I named 3 series instead of individual books, but if you think of them as never-ending books that are just so long, they had to be separated into smaller editions…

How many books to do you read at any given time?
Sometimes I have two or three books that I’m reading. One will be an audiobook, one will be a paperback, and another might be a book I’m reading with the kids or maybe another paperback.

What are you reading now?
I’m reading MAGIC RISES by Ilona Andrews!!! I’ve been waiting sooooo long for this book.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
…forget the rest of the world exists.

To re-read or not to re-read, that is the question.
Definitely love to re-read good books! I’m on my 5th read of the Kate Daniels series, and I’m sure I’ll read it again next year in preparation for the next release.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
Very likely! Especially if the recommendation comes from someone I trust…

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
All the time! First off, I love promoting other authors. Second, I love books. I became a writer because I love to read.

What do you look for in a good book?
Lovable characters and good dialogue. Plots are important to keep the intensity of a book, but it’s not the plot I remember, it’s the people.

I discovered this when re-reading some of my favorites. The plot was a rediscovery as I couldn’t remember what was going to happen, who the bad guy was and why, but the scenes that burned into my mind were the ones related to the interactions between my favorite characters.

Why do you write?
Because I have to or I’ll burst into flames. Once I started on the road to writing, I couldn’t stop. I’ve tried. Many times.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
Dancer, artist, musician… Writing has made me fall in love with the arts. I probably wouldn’t be any good at it, but I still have a day job. However, my day job is not ME.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
My family, my friends, movies, books, art, music, a hike in the park. Writing, like all artistic endeavors, is best when it comes from the soul, and therefore, you must always keep your soul brimming with life.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
That I’m a dreamer. That I have determination. That I fight for my dreams and never give up. That I am officially insane.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
My husband TJ has supported me, believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself, and helped me every step of the way. Now I’ve finally convinced him to write with me. We can live in insanity together.

My oldest daughter writes stories and creates characters now too, and she and I are writing picture books together. My other girls love to read what I write (when it is not too adult for them), and so I’m (slowly) working on a few Middle Grade books.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
The stereotype of the absent-minded writer is absolutely… Oh, did you say something? I just had this epiphany about a character.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
The learning curve is steep. First, you have to learn all the techniques of writing (like how to craft interesting dialogue, how to pick strong verbs, how to show and not tell, how to intersperse description without bogging down the story), and then grammar is a whole other monster to tackle.

Then you have to learn how to lead a reader through a story. You have loads of threads to keep track of and characters that must be flushed out if you don’t want cardboard people walking like zombies through your stories.

Then you have to learn how to market those stories, whether to an agent, publisher, or directly to the reader. And if you decide to self-publish, you’ll have to learn about how to run a business.

Thankfully, in our day and age, there’s loads of information and resources to make things happen…if you have the determination to learn.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
All the time! But that’s how we learn, by making mistakes, falling down, and getting back up. Your understanding is more complete when you know what fails.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
No, I have projects and ideas coming out my ears. I’ve scheduled my writing time for the next 3 or 4 years, and then I have another series I can’t wait to get started on.

How do you deal with your fan base?
I always try to answer emails and be available for conversation. You can often find me on Facebook.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
How shy I am. Sooooo glad I can do this interview by typing on my computer. 😛

And yet this year, I performed a monologue in front of 300+ people and danced 3 performances (hip hop, lyrical jazz, and musical theater) in front of 500+ people. I try my hardest to ignore my shyness.

Anything else we should know?
If you come across an Elvin wizard, don’t drink anything he gives you.

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Because this post was a wee bit late, I present you with a bit of bonus material – the first chapter of Rita’s novel!

 

 

EXCERPT FROM PLAYING HOOKY


 

Chapter 1

~ EMMA ~

 

THE ALARM CLOCK hammers ice picks into my brain. My freshman year of college, I swore I’d never do another eight o’clock class, but here it is my junior year and I am torturing myself with English Lit after staying up until three in the morning to finish a paper.

I try to peel my eyes open, but they’re glued shut. I rub them and squint at the clock, trying to read the red numbers swimming in circles, but nothing makes sense.

Letting my eyes drift shut, groping for the right button with my hands, I punch snooze and roll over.

It’s Thursday. Valentine’s Day.

My twenty-first birthday.

And all I want is the pounding headache to go away.

It seems like no time at all before the alarm goes off again.

“Emma, either get up or turn it off.” My roommate Maggie—but we all call her Magpie—kicks the thin wall separating our rooms.

With a groan, I turn off the alarm, roll out of bed, and pad into our kitchen, still in my cotton panties and T-shirt. Sleepwalking, I fill the coffee pot with water, scoop one tablespoon of coffee grinds into the filter—no, two, because Mr. Linden likes to drone on about eighteenth-century poetry—and hit the start button.

Coffee. Breakfast of champions. And sleep-deprived college students.

A knock on our apartment door, and my sister trills a happy, “Good Morning, Emma,” and begins to sing me Happy Birthday, along with several embarrassing verses we wrote when she was five and I was seven. It includes something about monkeys slipping on banana peels.

“Someone shoot her.” Magpie grumbles from her doorway and slams her door shut.

Still in my skimpy sleep-clothes, I open the door to find my sister—long, blonde hair curled to perfection, not a strand out of place, red hair band matching her flouncy short skirt and the red hearts on her too-cute-for-words tights. Glimmering strands of silver lace peek through her pink sweater. As always, Angelina’s the image of vomit-inducing school-girl perfection.

And standing behind her—

Jason.

My best friend from childhood. The boy—er, man—who should be ten hours away in Kodiak, Alaska, rather than here in Anchorage.

The man staring at my naked legs.

And I’m standing here in my panties and baby-doll T, which clearly shows I’m not wearing a bra, especially as Alaska is cold in February and the door gapes wide open.

I cross my arms over my chest to hide my breasts and duck my bottom half behind the door. “Jason, what are you doing here?”

“To take you out for the day. It’s your twenty-first birthday. Did you think I’d let you celebrate without me?” He grins and slips into the room before I can stop him. His eyes travel up my bare legs (thank goodness I shaved last night) with the ugly wool knee-high socks, the black T with the pink Batman symbol, and ending with my short, blonde hair, sticking up in all directions on one side, matted on the other.

I glance out the door. A few girls, gawking at the man who is too handsome for his own good, stand out on the landing and whisper. I grab Angelina’s hand and drag her inside and slam the door.

“What about what’s-her-name? Sarah? Sally? Mandy? Whoever your latest thrall is. She really let you come out and play? I thought she’d have your Valentine’s Day booked.”

“I broke up with her right after Christmas.” He shrugs.

For the first time in about ten years, neither of us has a significant other. Once upon a time, when I was twelve, I decided Jason was the one for me, and I set about trying to get him to kiss me. He was clueless, and I settled for Mark Jameson, a boy down the road. Three years later, Mark moved to Ohio somewhere. Or was it Idaho? And I never heard from him again.

By then, Jason had a girlfriend, and though he never took her fishing with him or mountain biking (my role in his life), they went to homecoming together and then to the prom. And I went out with Troy Simmons up until the middle of our first year of college when I caught him in another girl’s dorm room where he’d sacked out for a week.

Troy was so pissed about the breakup—because I should just forgive and forget the cheating, since it was my fault because I refused to sleep with him—that he spread rumors about our supposed sexual escapades.

Whenever I tried to date since then, the guys I went out with only wanted me to put out, so I’ve been single ever since. Whenever I consider dating him now, I remind myself of all the ways we are incompatible. We would fight over everything as we’re both too stubborn for our own good.

Angelina tucks her hand through his arm and smiles up at him. “Isn’t he sweet? You have the best friends.”

Not even a note of jealousy in her voice, even though she’s had a crush on him ever since third grade when he put a band-aid on her skinned knee.

My sister Angelina is too perfect. Straight-A honor student. Mother’s sweetie pie. Father’s angel. Never snuck out of the house to go partying. Always kept her curfew. Never broke her leg jumping out of trees while trying to chase squirrels or ramping bikes on the homemade ramps. Always prissy and clean. Never leaves anything out of place.

Always the perfect lady in her cute little outfits.

I can’t hate her for it because she doesn’t even act superior about it. She’s never been the goody-goody. Never lectures me on my messy room, sloppy hair, torn jeans, or skipping classes.

Jason grins. “I’d never miss your birthday. Remember last year?”

“Ugh! I thought I’d never thaw out after we went skiing in a blizzard. We were stranded for three days in that cabin we found in the woods.”

“Aw, come on, you didn’t even get frostbite. I took care of you.”

“At least I didn’t end up with any broken limbs. That time.”

“I still can’t believe we went snow-boarding on East Pillar Mountain Loop. That’s a tough trail, and then you broke your arm slipping in the parking lot on the way to the truck.”

My muscles were exhausted, and carrying my board on my shoulder, I wasn’t watching where I was going. I didn’t see the patch of ice. “Remember when you took me spelunking?”

“I had no idea that bear was in there.”

“I can’t remember ever being that scared.”

“But it was fun! Come on. We can’t break tradition.”

“What are you planning this time?” Angelina smiles up at him with a glimmer of wistful longing.

“It’s a secret.” He extricates her hand from his arm and takes a step away from her, and her hand falls back to her side.

For a moment, her smile falters, but then she bounces from the room. “See you! Tell me all about it later. Emma, I’ll tell your professors and coach that you are sick today, and I’ll collect your notes and assignments.”

“Thanks, Angelina. You’re a sweetie.”

She gives me her smile, cheeks dimpling in the cute china-doll way she has, and blows us kisses. Sometimes I wish she could be a real human being for once—throw a royal temper tantrum, break a rule, or actually make a mess—but either she keeps all negativity bundled up deep inside or she really is incapable of baser emotions.

I’m left alone in the apartment’s tiny entryway with Jason.

“Emma,” he says, stepping closer, his head leaning down toward me. He is way too close, and I remember I’m not dressed.

Tall with wide shoulders, Jason is muscular from hard labor (construction and welding) and athletic adventures (kayaking and mountain biking). The perpetual scruff movie stars work hard to perfect shadows his jaw, and his tousled black hair kept short. He cuts it every week because it grows too fast, like at least a half inch a day. With the smoky blue eyes and the confident grin he usually wears, he’d make any girl swoon.

Well, any girl but me. I’d more likely hit him upside the head with a broom than swoon over him.

“Coffee’s in the kitchen. I need to get dressed and showered; then we can go for pastries at the bakery around the corner.” Just off campus, there’s a scrumptious little shop, but I never have time in the mornings. I turn back to my room but then stop. “Oh, how do I need to dress for the day?”

“Sure.” He runs his hands through his hair, but his eyes are too busy following my ass to pay attention to anything I said.

“Jason.” I snap my fingers. “Up here. What do I need to wear?”

His gaze shifts to my face, and he grins, not even having the decency to flush. “Dress warm.”

Good. So we’re going to have an adventure.

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