Rotten Magic -Book Tour

Destiny in one hand. Doom in the other. Which will destroy him first?

Artificers are the gilded princes of the Iron Empire. Mages are violent criminal outcasts. Devin competes to become the best artificer in the empire . . . but he’s secretly a mage.

Devin, a young skilled apprentice, dreams of becoming the master of his craft if he can only resist the sinuous allure of magic. His secret grows heavier as he claws his way to the top of his competitive, cutthroat guild. Friends and rivals start taking notice when Devin glorifies in the persona of the dragon and builds mechanical armor to match. He’s also started hearing voices in his head: the stout words of the being he calls ‘the artificer’ and the sly, oily voice of ‘the mage.’ How long can Devin be satisfied with fake dragon armor when the promise of true arcane power whispers in his ear?

Embark on Devin’s dark, epic journey in Book One of The Artifice Mage Saga. Join the fantasy steampunk brawl of metal vs. magic where sorcery is bloody, science is greasy, and nobody’s hands are clean.

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Sales Link: https://www.books2read.com/rotten-magic

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36045917-rotten-magic

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/books/rotten-magic-the-artifice-mage-saga-1-by-jeffrey-bardwell

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Author Bio: 

Jeffrey Bardwell writes fantasy with elements of epic darkness, steampunk, and romance set in the Metal vs. Magic Universe. His character-driven books are guaranteed to include gritty realism, political intrigue, lurid entanglements, dry wit, and dragons in differing proportions. He devours fantasy and science fiction novels and is most comfortable basking near a warm wood stove. When not writing, Jeffrey enjoys cooking, gardening, and shooing baby dragons from the compost bin.

The author lives on a farm and in a prior life worked as a community ecologist. He is overfond of puns and alliterations. He is also an unabashed history and mythology enthusiast and would love to hear from you.

Email: jhbardwell@gmail.com

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B071RXS994

Bookbub Author Profile: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/jeffrey-bardwell

Blog: http://twigboatpress.com/blog

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/twigboat

Twitter: https://twitter.com/twigboat

Autographed Paperback Giveaway

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SPLITTING SUBGENRE HAIRS
Rotten Magic, Book 1 of The Artifice Mage Saga, would fit the ‘magic school’ trope made famous by the likes of the Harry Potter series except that Devin already knows he’s a mage, the school is a guild apprenticeship, and he goes there to learn about machines, not magic. It’s also a dark epic rather than an urban fantasy. On the topic of genres, I feel I must address the young adult issue. There are no sex scenes in this book, strong violence is off screen as it were, and the cursing is of the mild epithet variety (I drew inspiration from classic second world fantasies.) The story is as a friend of mine would describe it, clean fantasy, a term I did not know existed until she enlightened me. However, I did not write it specifically for the young adult market, but rather for a widespread general adult audience.
I meant for this book to be enjoyed by everyone who appreciates a good epic fantasy yarn. I suppose my objection to the phrase ‘young adult’ is semantic. I dislike labeling something solely on the basis of the age of the protagonist in the first book, thus I must take a quick peek at the rest of the series to see if it maintains that clean rating. 1) Do subsequent books break from the first when the protagonist reaches maturity? 2) Do themes of sensuality, genocide, torture, and brainwashing disqualify it? 3) Does accessibility by a young adult audience preclude adults enjoying the story? No, apparently not. The Belgariad, The Avatar, and The Ender series are YA second world fantasies (and one space fantasy) that check all three boxes.
This novel has been described as a dark version of Ender’s Game with explosions, and the themes within it are certainly no darker that those found in Avatar: The Last Airbender (the TV series), which handles adult issues tastefully. Both target a YA/teen demographic, but are enjoyed by all ages. Parsing young adult versus new adult versus adult subgenres gives me a headache. Telling someone they can’t read a book due to their age because the scenes or themes are too mature irks me and smacks of book banning. I won’t do it, and this novel goes to some horrific places. However, I believe the worst problem a young adult reader (and perhaps a few adult readers) may have had with this book was running to a dictionary from time to time.
I’m told I write in a lyrical prose style with engaging human characters and beautiful imagery, but that there are a few gargantuan words tucked away in my books. I didn’t set out to enrich the vocabulary of my readers, that’s just the nature my author voice. Removing those words would be denying a part of myself. If you enjoyed a thrilling fantasy tale and learned some new words in the bargain, I’m all for that. I will go to the wall for that. Words are awesome.
Jeffrey Bardwell
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Is Mystery Dead?

My wonderful publisher just opened a new imprint for mysteries and thrillers. That got me thinking. I’ve always loved mystery, even as a child, and quite a few of my favorite TV shows fall–or fell–in that category. I always add an element of mystery or suspense in my romances too. So why am I not reading more of it? Or watching it?

Bones, NCIS, The Closer, Rizzoli and Isles… I watched and loved them all. But more recently I noticed I’m not getting into those shows anymore. Some are off the air but others, including some new ones, have either made it out of my list of preferences or never made it there. For someone who used to devour Agatha Christie’s books, Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfell’s series, even lots of the extremely sexist gumshoe series of the 70s I sure am not paying much attention to the genre.

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In recent years I have read very few mysteries, at least those who fall entirely in that category. I’ve read many books that included mystery in the plot but that’s it. Some of those I read were The Gone Girl (hated it–a story for another time), a couple of Dan Brown’s books (loved it), one or two cozies (fun) and not much more.

A lot of the shows I used to watch faithfully (Criminal Minds, CSI, etc) became more and more gory as if their popularity depended on how gross and despicable the crime scene was. The mystery itself looked like was taking a back seat. I lost interest. I like the puzzle-side of mystery, the putting all the pieces together to solve a conundrum. Some shows quit doing that and began focusing more on the shoot-outs, the car chases, the bizarre ways killers were choosing to murder people. Not that interesting.

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I’m not against a bit of gore if it’s necessary to show the horror of the situation (I’ve written it myself: there’s a torture scene in Lavender Fields for example), but do we really need to see a body shred to pieces by a wood chipper or another literally smashed to smithereens and glued to the tires of a car? Don’t think so.

I’m just sorry that real mysteries seem to be a thing of the past or maybe I’m just reading the wrong ones. On the other hand I have read some excellent books that incorporated good mysteries within the plot such as Kate Morton’s The Distant Hours.

What do you think? Do you know of good mysteries that do not rely on gore, shoot outs, or any other shock-factors? What about cozies? Have you read any good ones lately? I have a couple written by a writer friend on my TBR. I was fortunate enough to read a couple chapters and loved it, so I have high hopes. What do you suggest?

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The Slandering of Fairy Tales

A few days ago I was watching a news’ report about how several female celebrities are raging a war against Disney movies, claiming they’re sexist and promote rape culture (I’m paraphrasing). I get very upset when people bad-mouth Disney movies. I’ve been a groupie my whole life and before Disney, I was a fairy tale nut (still am) and I really don’t like the insinuation that I am supporting sexism by watching those magical creations of human imagination.

Fairy tales were written a long time ago when things were very different from today, but they are also works of fiction that ooze symbolism while trying to teach important lessons. No, I don’t think the lesson is “girls can only succeed if a man comes to rescue them”. Instead I’ve always thought that the message is that nothing can stop you from achieving your dreams, and that kindness and honesty are always rewarded. The men in the stories are the mere personification of the girls’ goals and not necessarily meant to be taken literally.

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I’ve been on a solid diet of fairy tales and Disney movies since I was a little girl and never once hoped or expected a man to come and make all my dreams come true. Yes, I dreamed of being loved (who doesn’t?) but I wanted to succeed on my own, have a career I loved, achieve my dreams. Never did I make plans for a big wedding and wished to stay home and take care of babies while my husband went to work and reached out for the stars.

Fairy tales don’t teach girls that they are helpless without a man. Cinderella dreamed of “moving up” and she did. The Little Mermaid wanted adventures, to learn new things, and see a new world. And she did.  Snow White (not my favorite character) managed to control seven guys on her own (Reverse Harem anyone?) and got rescued by a kiss. She was an unloved child who, like everyone else, needed to be loved and have someone to love. Love does not equal subjugation or dependency. It’s a vital emotion that all humans need for a happy life. Does it have to be the love of a man? No, but fairy tales are simplistic stories trying to convey a message in a way that will grab the attention of readers. The man in fairy tales represent dreams to be achieved. And yes, back when these stories first were imagined, the world was a very different place and marriage was indeed a female goal because there weren’t many other options for women. But what those men symbolized then hasn’t changed: they still represent dreams come-true, wishes realized–even if those dreams have changed substantially.

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Don’t underestimate your daughters. If you teach them right, they won’t think that the message behind a fairy tale is that the only way for a woman to succeed in life is getting married. I’ve been a feminist my whole life and I love fairy tales for what they are: magical stories about finding what we always dreamed of. Nothing more, nothing less.

What do you think? Do you think fairy tales and Disney movies are sexist and they give the wrong message to little girls everywhere? Or do you think they are simply stories that entertain and feed the imagination of children around the globe?

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The Big Baddie

This blog post was first published in MM Good Book Reviews

People who know me personally would be very surprised if they knew that I love to write evil characters. I’m not sure why that is, but I think it’s because of how satisfying it is to beat them at the end of the book. Maybe I’m unconsciously taking my revenge on bad people that I either know personally or heard of. After all that’s how a writer fights—with words.

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In Lavender Fields I wrote an evil angel who puts the two MCs through hell before getting defeated by the forces of good. In Infinite Blue I went with a more mortal version of antagonist. Even though not a supernatural being, this character wins the trophy for being the Most Wicked.

When I was a kid I loved watching scary movies, especially those with a paranormal or sci-fi background, but refused to watch movies where the big baddie was someone close to the MC—that scared the crap out of me and meant many sleepless nights. Because of this I have written Shahin’s mother as the antagonist—and not only because she doesn’t approve of his relationship with Cai. Her behavior from the beginning of the book is despicable for a mother. It starts with her refusal to accept Shahin the way he is and develops into something truly malevolent (don’t want to give any spoilers so you have to read the book to find out).

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Is there anything viler than someone who’s supposed to love and take care of you but instead chooses to hurt you? It brings a sense of betrayal along with whatever wicked thing they did. If you were ever betrayed by someone you cared about, you know how it hurts in more ways than one. It hits you right in the heart, burns you from the inside out, and often makes you blame or even hate yourself. That’s why I picked someone close to Shahin to be the big baddie in Infinite Blue.

Who are your favorite types of antagonists and why?

 

 

For the Love of Food

***Originally posted on Stories that Make You Smile blog***

Cai is a foodie who cooks to relax. Lyra, his slovenly sister, loves her brother and his delicious dishes. And Shahin, the man Cai loves, is a dedicated fan of raw meat, though he makes a valiant effort to cook something edible for his boyfriend.

Food plays an essential role in Infinite Blue. I’m not sure how it ended up being such a large part of the plot since that’s never happened before (coffee always, food not so much), but it did. In this book, food is the glue that holds the scenes and the characters together. The first (official) time Cai meets Shahin is at a restaurant where he unwisely orders mussels and spends the rest of the evening worried about making a mess out of himself.

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There are quite a few family gatherings around the dinner table for Shahin, events that generally don’t end well, and Shahin is formally introduced to Lyra at a dinner meticulously prepared by a very nervous Cai.

There are also romantic moments where food is merely the backdrop for some sweet and sensual encounters between Cai and wild man, Shahin.

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I’m from Portugal where food has a very important role in society. Much of our social interaction takes place around the table. In the U.S. people eat, pay the bill, and leave. In my country, restaurants are accustomed to having the same people around the table for a long time. Meals there last for hours. Even now, certain foods or dishes always bring back memories of my friends and family—delicious snapshots of my childhood. Maybe that’s why I added so many food references in Infinite Blue. These two guys are lonely people—for different reasons. I wanted to give them something that would evoke happy memories. In the end, life is made of those small moments, and I didn’t want Cai and Shahin to miss out on a single one of them.

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Infinite Blue- New Release

Infinite Blue

by NatalinaReis

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BLURB

When a shifter and a human are bound by fate, neither man knows if their connection will be enough to save not only their growing love, but their lives.

Shahin Halcón has been taught that if and when he meets his soul mate, he’ll know immediately. Always the rebel, he doesn’t believe it until the day he crosses paths with Cai, a full-human.

Plagued by unsuccessful relationships and heartache, Cai Banes’s life is quiet and unexciting. When he meets young and wild Shahin, his life is turned upside down, and he’s not sure he likes it.

But neither can deny the powerful pull that draws them together.

Old secrets and ancient myths about cross-species relationships plague their romance and threaten to put their happiness and life at risk. Will their love for each other be strong enough to survive?

Excerpt

Cai handed Shahin his helmet and stared up at the sky as if looking for something. “What are you looking for?” Shahin followed his gaze, but saw nothing more than the darkness of the evening.

“Nothing. It’s just—” Cai lowered his gaze to him and smiled. “Dumb really, but I’ve been followed by a hawk for a while now.” Shahin squirmed in his seat. “I know, stupid, right?”

“No, not at all.” It was so tempting to tell him. He bit his tongue. “Hawks are smart animals. Did you know they mate for life?” He had never really believed it until he met Cai. Now he was convinced the stories the elders had told the fledglings all their lives were actually true.

Cai shook his head. “I can’t say I know much about hawks,” he confessed. “They are magnificent, powerful birds, but I never heard of one following a human around. It’s bizarre.”

“Does it bother you?” He had to know.

“No, it’s just a little unsettling. Do you think it would attack me?” Shahin shook his head vigorously. “I mean, they are birds of prey after all.”

Shahin shook his head again. “No, it would never attack you. Ever.” He may have been a tad too emphatic. Cai looked at him, an eyebrow raised. “I mean, I never heard of a hawk attacking a human.”

The other man scratched his head, smoothing the few hairs that stuck up. “I hope you’re right.” He raised his eyes to Shahin’s. “I had fun. Thank you for inviting me, Sha.”

The casual use of the nickname made him melt. In one fluid movement, Shahin swung his leg over the cycle and crossed the few feet between them. He held on to Cai’s peacoat lapels, pulled him toward him, and covered the other man’s lips with his. The heat they produced ran quickly through him, like a tidal wave of desire, making him shiver and tremble. Cai pried Shahin’s lips open and caressed him with his tongue. Surprised and incensed by the unexpected heated reaction from serious, timid Cai, he pulled him closer, crashing his hard chest against the other man’s. Cai’s taste held a promise. Shahin had no clue what his mouth was promising, but he allowed himself to relax against him, enjoying every second of their tongues’ sensual dance.

When they pulled apart, their ragged breaths mingling, Shahin was not sure of anything anymore. He was normally the one in control but his companion had taken over, stunning him by bringing up feelings he was having trouble processing.

“Come over for dinner tomorrow.” Cai’s whisper surprised Shahin, who still held on to the coat’s lapel as if to a lifeline. “I’ll cook.”

Shahin gulped and nodded, unable to utter a word. Cai smiled and brushed his hand across Shahin’s face before turning around and walking into his house. Still stunned, Shahin didn’t move for a while, standing on the curb and staring into the empty space where Cai had been just a few moments before. Shahin had always enjoyed his freedom, the long string of lovers with no attachments, no responsibilities, but now he was thinking long-term, forever. It was a very scary idea.

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Reviews

“A brilliantly fast paced book, that kept me hooked with the intensity of the love that these two characters have for one another.

This brilliant book has reminded me of just how much I love fantasy romance novels and I absolutely cannot WAIT to read more from you!!! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars from me…..addictive, sexy and intense. Pure perfection”  (head_in_a_book_18)

“As a reader, reviewer, and, blogger, it is safe to say that when a certain type of indescribable book presents itself, said reader should probably throw-in the proverbial white-flag.  *Throws in flag*  So, speaking for this particular reader, as a book-hangover of all book-hangovers has currently made-itself-known, it is clear to say that..Infinite Blue is one of those rare types-of-books and has landed on my list of Top Books Read for 2018.  I am so glad to have read it..:)”      (Laura~Passion flower)

BIO

Natalina wrote her first romance at the age of 13 in collaboration with her best friend, Susana. Since then she has ventured into other genres, but romance is first and foremost in almost everything she writes. She’s the author of nine romance novels that reflect the amazing diversity of humankind and the universal power of love.

After earning a degree in tourism and foreign languages, she worked as a tourist guide in her native Portugal for a short time before moving to the United States. She lived in three continents and a few islands, and her knack for languages and linguistics led her to a master’s degree in education. She lives in Virginia where she’s taught English as a Second Language to elementary school children for more years than she cares to admit.

Natalina doesn’t believe you can have too many books or too much coffee. Art and dance make her happy and she is pretty sure she could survive on lobster and bananas alone. When she is not writing or stressing over lesson plans, she shares her life with her husband and two adult sons.

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Location, Location, Location

I tend to locate my stories in imaginary places. In fact, it had never occurred to me to set one of my romances in a real place until I started hearing about all the small-town romances that were becoming so popular. The first time I used a setting that really existed was in my first M/M paranormal, Lavender Fields, which I set in Wiscasset, Maine—a town I vacationed in a few times. With Infinite Blue, I was determined to have it take place in a more local setting. That’s how my characters ended up in Old Town Manassas, just a few miles from where I live and a place I visit often.

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I was surprised how much fun it was to use real places or those inspired by the real ones. Restaurants, coffeeshops, even the train station are all very real.

A friend’s sister’s place of work became the model and the location for Cai’s graphic studio. I had visited the studio once so I had a good feel for the layout. It’s a small place over a well-known restaurant by the old-fashion train station.

The coffeeshop they both frequent is also a real hub of artistic activity in Manassas. So is the ice cream shop they mention, Jitterbug. Even the hospital was inspired by a real one, not in Manassas but close by.

The most fun I had was “researching” the Mexican Taqueria they all meet one evening. I knew about the place but had never eaten there. I had to check their menu online and I was glad to find out that I had described the place and the food accurately. When I finally ate there, I ordered the same thing my characters did in the book and had the delicious (and not Mexican) zepolle for the first time ever.

One of the most romantic scenes is set in the parking lot of the station which means that now every time I go there (and that’s where I normally park my car) I have visions of Cai and Shahin involved in a kiss.

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Writing a Strong Broken Character

A couple months ago I finished writing a romantic comedy that is close to my heart for a few different reasons. If you have read any of my books you know they are not just about romance and happy endings (even though they definitely have both) but they normally touch on something a bit heavier, sometimes darker.

This one is no exception. I wanted to write a character who is being emotionally blackmailed. This was an important subject for me because it’s something I experienced personally. I had always considered myself a strong woman. Not the most assertive one, but emotionally strong. Until the day I discovered I had been manipulated by someone I considered my best friend at the time. Worse even this had been going on for years. I lived in a state of confusion and hurt without a clue of who or what was making me so miserable.

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Emotional blackmailers use traits of your personality (good qualities more often than not) against you. In my case, she used the fact I would do just about anything to help and/or defend a friend and turned it into a weapon against me. She also used the fact I choose to believe the best about people to make herself believable in my eyes. She was the victim, the one that needed help, everyone was out to get her. And I ate it up even when my conscience and common sense told me there was something wrong with her stories and/or her attitude.

When I began writing this story I wanted my main male character (who in romance are kind of expected to be alpha males) to be a victim of emotional blackmail. As I wrote the story I had the suspicion I was making him look weak, which was not at all my intention. Strength has nothing to do with this. The most put together, emotionally stable person can be the victim of one of these predators. Because make no mistake, these are predators as ruthless as any other.

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I submitted the manuscript thinking that I would get it back with the comment, “he comes across as weak”. I was right. That’s exactly what happened. So now I’m faced with the challenge of portraying someone who has been “broken” by his girlfriend but still seems strong and capable–which he really is. Not an easy task but I have all confidence I’m on the right track. I agonized over it when I was writing it the first time, I’m agonizing over it now as I revise it. I want to be true and fair to my MMC and not make him look like the weakling he is not.

I’m hoping I can make my guy just as strong and awesome as he is broken and confused. Have you ever have to write a character like that? What did you do to balance his state of mind with his personal strengths?

 

The Insidious Impostor Syndrome

On my last blog I wrote about my experience at a book signing recently–an experience colored by many anxieties and doubts. I’m very happy to say that despite my irrational fears, I was indeed invited back for next year’s event.

Today I’d like to talk to you about something related, impostor syndrome. A lot of authors suffer from this condition and I’m no exception. Recently, I was reminded of how much this affects me as a writer and a human being.

As the majority of writers today, I struggle to make myself known and get people to buy my books. I work my butt off and sacrifice a lot to sell a handful of books a month if I’m lucky. One of my books, Desert Jewel, is part of a series I’m very proud of: The Jewel Chronicles, a fantasy with a strong romantic element which I wrote using a world I knew well in my past to create a parallel-type universe as my setting. Some of you know I spent a lot of my childhood and  young adult years in Africa. I used what I knew to create a speculative world where everything was the opposite of the real one. I buried deep personal beliefs about prejudice and superstition in the plot and colored it perhaps with a bit of anger against the power-hungry men who even today keep the people of many African nations poor and helpless.

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As I write the third and last book of the series, I find myself procrastinating, making excuses not to write. Because I very rarely do this, I began wondering why that is. Is it because my story is coming to an end and I want to hold on to it as long as I can? Is it because I’m afraid of not knowing how to further push the story forward? Or is it because I’m discouraged by the extremely low sales of the past two books?

I guess it is a little of all three above, but I also realized something else–I’m suffering from a serious bout of impostor’s syndrome. Let me explain.

In May of this year a young adult fantasy was released to almost instant success and critical acclaim. I didn’t know much about it, other than it was set in an African-like world. Being the African groupie that I am, I was curious and checked out its synopsis. I immediately found several parallels with Desert Jewel–not the same plot but many of the same elements. The story incorporates Afro-Brazilian mythology, the idea of a girl with a special gift who will save a repressed people, and a romantic attachment with someone on the “other side” of the rail tracks, so to speak. Being an expert at self-doubt, my first reaction was, “This was her first book and she sold thousands of copies already and is in every freaking bookstagrammer’s page. I’ve sold a handful of copies of my book in over two years. I suck at writing obviously.”

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Ever since then I’ve carrying this growing doubt with me–am I a good enough writer? Are my stories interesting enough? Am I tricking myself into believing I can write? A doubt that has been hampering the writing progress of my WIP. This, my friends, is what impostor syndrome is all about. I have a publisher that believes in me, a few readers that love my books, good–even if not tons of–reviews and yet I still doubt myself. Frequently.

How many of you suffers from this too? How do you fight this self-defeating feeling? I fight it by writing on, despite that little voice that tells me nobody wants to read what I write. I keep writing even when I’m scared people think I’m an old fool who has nothing interesting to say. I keep on writing because it’s where my voice is, the one thing that gives me wings.

You can read more about impostor syndrome here and here and here.

Whole Lotta Frogs-Blog Tour

WHOLE LOTTA FROGS
BLOG TOUR
AUTHOR: SAMATHA HARRIS
RELEASE DATE: JUNE 19, 2018
COVER DESIGNER: T.E. BLACK DESIGNS

My name is Lennox Brooks and I’ll admit, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I don’t take the big risks, I cover my insecurities with snark, I’ve shown my crazy a few more times then I would’ve liked, and I’ve been trying, and failing at love pretty much since I first grew tits. 

Weirdos, Mama’s boys, the over-coiffed, and underwhelming, I’ve been out with them all, just read my blog. I’ve got horror stories that would curl your toes and singe your nose hairs, but none of them compare to the toad who started it all, Ellis Walker.

He was the boy next door, the charming, infuriatingly gorgeous one who broke my heart and disappeared without a trace. Now he’s back and determined to throw my life into chaos, dredging up painful memories just when things were getting good.

But the thing is there are always two sides to every story.

I’ve spent the better part of my life hating him for everything he put me through, but without that resentment clouding my judgment how will I ever resist him?

Love is complicated, appearances are deceiving, and sometimes you have to kiss a whole lotta frogs before finding your prince.

I got ready in a fury and reread Ellis’s invasive text three times while I fixed my hair and makeup, shaking my head each time and fighting back a smile.

I still hadn’t answered when I started walking the six blocks to Sawyer’s apartment. I’d barely stepped off the stoop of my building when my phone rang.

“You never answered my question,” Ellis said.

My lips curled up at the corners. “Of course, I didn’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s none of your business.”

“Len, your nudity is absolutely my business. In fact, I’m the CEO of that luscious body and I’m a hands-on kind of leader.”

I shook my head, unable to hold back my smile any longer. “Wow, you managed to turn a creepy text into an even creepier metaphor. Kudos to you.”

Ellis laughed. “Are you?”

“Am I what?”

“Naked,” he said. “I’m about the hop in the shower and I need a visual to, you know, help me finish the job.”

“You’re unbelievable.”

“Unbelievably sexy you mean.” I could hear the grin in his voice.

“Whatever.”

“Seriously, though,” he said. “What are you up to?”

“Well.” I took a deep breath, the ice-cold air burning my nose. “If you must know, Sawyer offered to make me dinner. I’m on my way to his place.”

“Really?” he asked. “Great!”

I stopped short on the sidewalk my feet frozen to the pavement. People around me grunted their disapproval and moved around me as I stood glued to the concrete.

“Great?” What happened to throwing his hat in the ring?

“Yeah. I’m starved; I’ll meet you there in ten.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“I love his food—man, that guy can cook. Best decision I ever made, going into business with him. Even if he’s trying to steal my woman.”

“Ellis!” I shouted into the phone. An elderly woman pulling a grocery cart behind her glared at me for my outburst. I mouthed my apologies to her then returned to my phone. “So help me God if you show up at Sawyer’s…”

“What’s the big deal? I’m friends with him. He’s friends with you. We can all have dinner together, it’ll be fun.”

“You aren’t invited.”

“Oh, Len, I’m hurt. I thought we were moving forward. We’re friends, aren’t we?”

I sighed. “Yes, we’re friends.”

“And friends sometimes eat together?” I groaned, not liking the route this conversation was taking. “Sawyer and I are friends, which I expect might change when I tell him how I feel about you. Oh, what the hell—we’ll just leave him out of this and you and I will just go ourselves.”

“Smooth, Ellis,” I said. “Real smooth.”

“I am pretty smooth if I do say so myself. Not to mention devastatingly handsome, and moderately charming.”

“Only moderately?” I asked.

“Yes, but don’t worry; I grow on you.”

I took a deep breath to calm my nerves and closed my eyes. “Please tell me you are not going to show up this evening.”

Ellis laughed. “Relax. I won’t be interrupting your little dinner.”

“Thanks.” I checked the address and looked up at Sawyer’s building. The door to which was sandwiched between a dry cleaner and a greasy pizza place. “I’ve got to go. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Okay,” he said. “Lennox?”

“Yeah.”

He didn’t say anything right away. I just stood there, the cold wind biting at my fingertips.

“Don’t—,” he started, his voice sounding almost pained.

“Don’t, what?”

I stood there listening to him breathe on the other end.

“Nothing.” He sighed.

I groaned and rolled my eyes. “Bye, Ellis.”

Samatha “Sam” Harris lives near Baltimore, Maryland with her husband David and daughter Ava. Born in Florida, she migrated north which most people agree was a little backwards. She has been an artist all of her life, a Tattoo Artist for more than ten years, and a storyteller since she was a kid. 
 
Sam has a slightly unhealthy love for Frank Sinatra, classic movies, and Jazz and Blues music, but her first love will always be reading. From Romance, to Thrillers, to Historical Fiction and everything in between, she loves to become a part of the story. As a writer she tells the stories that she would want to read.
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