As an indie author, it's always been important to me to support other indie writers and help spread the word about great indie or self-published books out there. The problem with indie reads, though, is they can often be hard to find in the vastly saturate book market. So I've compiled a list of some of the best ones out there, at least that I've discovered so far.
THE SAVIOR'S CHAMPION
Tobias Kaya doesn't care about The Savior. He doesn't care that She's the Ruler of the realm or that She purified the land, and he certainly doesn't care that She's of age to be married. But when competing for Her hand proves to be his last chance to save his family, he’s forced to make The Savior his priority.
Now Tobias is thrown into the Sovereign’s Tournament with nineteen other men, and each of them is fighting—and killing—for the chance to rule at The Savior's side. Instantly his world is plagued with violence, treachery, and manipulation, revealing the hidden ugliness of his proud realm. And when his circumstances seem especially dire, he stumbles into an unexpected romance, one that opens him up to unimaginable dangers and darkness.
Read my review here
A myth as old as civilization.
The boy who donned wax wings and flew too close to the sun. Follow the tale of Icarus. And that of the father who tried to save him ... but brought his life to an end.
You will come to love him. Then you will watch him fall. Live the tragic story as you never imagined possible.
Young Adult Fantasy
Tattoos once were an act of rebellion.
Now they decide your destiny the moment the magical Ink settles under your skin.
And in a world where Ink controls your fate, Caenum can't escape soon enough. He is ready to run from his family, and his best friend Dreya, and the home he has known, just to have a chance at a choice.
But when he upsets the very Scribe scheduled to give him his Ink on his eighteenth birthday, he unwittingly sets in motion a series of events that sends the corrupt, magic-fearing government, The Citadel, after him and those he loves.
Now Caenum, Dreya, and their reluctant companion Kenzi must find their way to the Sanctuary, a secret town where those with the gift of magic are safe. Along the way, they learn the truth behind Ink, its dark origins, and why they are the only ones who can stop the Citadel.
SONG OF THE DRYAD
Young Adult Fantasy
Seventeen-year-old Charlotte Barclay is still haunted by an encounter she had eight years ago—a run-in with a fairy beast that had eyes like witchlight and a taste for flesh. Charlotte has avoided the Greenwood ever since, pretending fairies don’t exist and choosing instead to focus her energies on graduating from high school and perfecting her audition piece for the Bellini Institute. However, everything changes when her mom goes missing, kidnapped by the fairies that haunt the forest behind Charlotte’s home.
When Charlotte’s search for her mom leads her into the fairy realm, she discovers that she hails from a line of Shrine Keepers—humans tasked with maintaining ancient fairy shrines. Charlotte’s family has failed their duties to the fae, and now she has no choice but to strike a deal with the dryad, a powerful tree nymph responsible for her mom’s disappearance. But the dryad only gives her a month to complete her task: retrieve five stolen fairy stones and return them to the fairy shrine. If she doesn’t return the stones in time, the dryad has threatened to imprison another of Charlotte’s loved ones.
Charlotte dives into a world as magical as it is deadly, coming face-to-face with fairy creatures that never get mentioned in the story books—including the creature that haunts her dreams. She must embrace her task and conquer her fears, or else she’ll never see her mom again.
THE ELYSIAN PROPHECY
Young Adult Fantasy
An enchanted island. An evil resurrected. A society determined to gain power...
When a violent attack leaves their father in the hospital, Abigail and Benjamin Cole discover there's more to their family history than mental illness.
But after fifteen-year-old Abi is abducted, she learns the attack wasn't random. Thrust into an exotic and beautiful world part of a multi-millennial feud, she must decide who to trust in a society built on secrets. Questioning everything she's ever known, she enlists the help of a boy connected to her in impossible ways and uncovers a dangerous secret stretching generations.
Seventeen-year-old Ben desperately tries to search for both his sister and his mother, but his hold on reality is fading. Something dark has latched onto him. In a race against his own failing mind, where violent hallucinations and paranoia force him to believe he's next in line for the family curse, he learns he's the only one that can save his family.
When darkness is coming, who do you trust?
THEORIE OF THE STORM
Young Adult Fantasy
The Countdown Clock is Ticking
In the city of Dynas Rhydent, all who are born with magic must succumb to the Trials by their 19th birthday. Pass, and you’ll be granted the title of Magi, a rank that brings wealth and privilege. Fail, and your life is no longer your own. An acolyte at the Academy of Arcane Arts, Theorie du’Ambrine’s gift is stunted, and as her birthday draws closer she begins to fear the inevitable--
A Chance Encounter
With his crooked smile and shaggy hair, Kyte is unlike anyone Theorie has ever known, and it isn’t long before she finds herself following the magnetic boy into one of Dynas Rhydent’s most dangerous districts. But what starts as a light-hearted afternoon soon turns into a harrowing nightmare, one that will push both Theorie and Kyte to their very limits as they struggle to survive a betrayal that might cost them everything.
The Last of Them
Taren Val'Cross is the last prince of the Fae. Once, his empire spanned the globe. Now, a curse keeps his people locked behind a magical barrier, making them prisoners in their own home. Taren has all but given up on freeing his people until a violent storm washes a young mage onto their shores. A mage who just might have the power to free them. But that power comes at a cost—one that Taren is no longer sure he is willing to pay.
Enter a world where myths and magic abound in a lush, dark fantasy perfect for fans of Holly Black, Sarah J Maas, and Naomi Novik.
Enter the Storm.
H. S. J. Williams
Young Adult Fantasy
"It is said that Darkness is empty and whatever vanishes into its depths is lost forever. I know this better than anyone. For I have suffered here in the shadows, and there are none who might find me.”
Seventy years. Seventy years the elven prince has been lost to the darkness, assumed dead by his people and endlessly broken for a book that connects to the hidden realm of his ancestors, a land untouched by evil.
And now a light in the shadows. A chance for freedom. But those willing to help him come from the unlikeliest of worlds.
The orphan girl, yearning for a loving family, and the boy who won’t leave her side. A healer maiden given an unexpected chance for a life beyond narrowed expectations. A grieving creature flown far from home.
They all search for something and now their fates are tied to his. If their quest for life can pull him from the dark mire in which his soul drowns, then perhaps he can be saved.
Or else he will drag them all down to a fate worse than death.
Young Adult Fantasy
A library girl with a secret. A dark and fiery prince. When he awakens her magic, there's no going back.
The Solaris Empire is one conquest away from uniting the continent, and the rare elemental magic sleeping in seventeen-year-old library apprentice Vhalla Yarl could shift the tides of war.
Vhalla has always been taught to fear the Tower of Sorcerers, a mysterious magic society, and has been happy in her quiet world of books. But after she unknowingly saves the life of one of the most powerful sorcerers of them all--the Crown Prince Aldrik--she finds herself enticed into his world. Now she must decide her future: Embrace her sorcery and leave the life she's known, or eradicate her magic and remain as she's always been. And with powerful forces lurking in the shadows, Vhalla's indecision could cost her more than she ever imagined.
Young Adult Fantasy
. . . because some Celtic stories won’t be contained in myth.
A little magic has always run in sixteen-year-old McKayla McCleery's family—at least that’s what she’s been told. McKayla’s eccentric Aunt Avril travels the world as a clairvoyant for the FBI, and her mother can make amazing delicacies out of the most basic of ingredients. But McKayla doesn't think for a second that the magic is real—it’s just good storytelling. Besides, McKayla doesn’t need magic. She recently moved to beautiful Star Valley, Wyoming, and already she has an amazing best friend, a solo in her upcoming ballet recital, and the gorgeous guy in her physics class keeps looking her way.
When an unexpected fascination with Irish dance leads McKayla to seek instruction from the mute, crippled, janitor at her high school, she learns that her family is not the only one with unexplained abilities.
After Aunt Avril comes to Star Valley in pursuit of a supernatural killer, people begin disappearing, and the lives of those McKayla holds most dear are threatened. When the janitor reveals that an ancient curse, known as a geis, has awakened powers that defy explanation, McKayla is forced to come to terms with what is real and what is fantasy.
THE STOLEN KINGDOM
Young Adult Fantasy
How can she protect her kingdom, if she can’t protect herself?
Princess Arie never expected to manifest a Jinni’s Gift. When she begins to hear the thoughts of those around her, she hides it to the best of her ability. But to her dismay, the Gift is growing out of control.
When a neighboring king tries to force her hand in marriage and steal her kingdom, discovery becomes imminent. Just one slip could cost her throne. And her life.
A lamp, a heist, and a Jinni hunter’s crew of thieves are her only hope for removing this Gift--and she must remove it before she’s exposed. Or die trying.
The Stolen Kingdom is a loose “Aladdin” retelling. Set in a world that humans share with Mermaids, Dragons, and the elusive Jinni, this isn’t the fairytale you remember…
Young Adult Fantasy
For most people, the act of killing is intangible. Unfathomable.
But not for seventeen-year-old Arden Eliri.
Having been involved in Cruex assassination attempts as a mere child, killing is a natural disposition for her. Growing up without parents, in a castle ruled by an iron-fisted king, is the furthest thing from a fairy tale, as is being forced into the Cruex, the king s group of hand-selected assassins. But with each passing year, she comes to enjoy the act of killing more and more. Kill or be killed she chooses the former. A decade ago, King Darius Tymond banished The Caldari those who practice illusié, or old magick from Trendalath Kingdom, ensuring that no Caldari will ever step foot in his kingdom again.
But Arden discovers otherwise after a dual-assigned mission goes horribly awry. Even more startling, she discovers that she may have more in common with the Caldari than she's been led to believe. Arden wants to trust that King Tymond's intentions are pure, but as their pasts collide in unexpected ways, the quicker she realizes the consequences and dangers of his reign.
But Arden is also hiding something something that threatens her very existence and she'll have to face her inner darkness and conquer it before it destroys her . . . and the kingdom she's come to call her home.
THE SEVENTH SUN
Young Adult Fantasy
hrust into leadership upon the death of his emperor father, young Prince Ahkin feels completely unready for his new position. Though his royal blood controls the power of the sun, he’s now responsible for the lives of all the Chicome people. And despite all Ahkin’s efforts, the sun is fading—and the end of the world may be at hand.
For Mayana, the only daughter of the Chicome family whose blood controls the power of water, the old emperor’s death may mean that she is next. Prince Ahkin must be married before he can ascend the throne, and Mayana is one of six noble daughters presented to him as a possible wife. Those who are not chosen will be sacrificed to the gods.
Only one girl can become Ahkin’s bride. Mayana and Ahkin feel an immediate connection, but the gods themselves may be against them. Both recognize that the ancient rites of blood that keep the gods appeased may be harming the Chicome more than they help. As a bloodred comet and the fading sun bring a growing sense of dread, only two young people may hope to change their world.
Young Adult Fantasy
Set in a kingdom of warring lands, demon curses, and hidden magic, UNSPOKEN is a fantasy for fans of Maggie Stiefvater's Mercy Falls Series and Sarah J Maas’ Throne of Glass.
"You are unbroken."
Princess Isabelle of The New Kingdom has lived her entire life in the confines of her palace. She spends her time hunting for the poverty-stricken Voiceless-people of the Old Kingdom who warred with her kingdom and ultimately lost-and dreaming of a world beyond the walls of her home. As the only remaining child of the king and queen, she is to be married off by her eighteenth birthday.
"My father said that magic died long ago. It was evil, cursed, and wicked. My father is a liar."
When Izzy witnesses the use of forbidden magic in the woods outside the palace, she is attacked, and saved by an unknown man. Soon after she discovers her rescuer is a Voiceless servant in the castle named Fray, she befriends him to seek out the magic users who tried to kill her. Fray agrees to help, but not before Isabelle discovers the servant boy harbors a secret the king has tried to bury-that he is a Gwylis, people of the old Kingdom who made a pact with the demons of the underworld for the power to transform into giant ferocious wolves. But to shift into a beast, Fray must be able to speak the words to do so. If he is to thwart the attackers from killing her entire family, Izzy needs to cure the ailment that took away his voice.
"Sometimes one action-one death-can spur a movement, sway the cosmos, and move the stars."
But curing Fray holds more danger than she ever thought possible. The lies of her parents and the risk of putting her own life on the line deems as destructive as falling for the servant boy. If Isabelle is to save herself and Fray, she’ll need to face enemy Gwylis, cross paths with usurper kings and princes, and decide what side she is on-human or wolf-or lose her kingdom forever.
"I am fearless."
THE QUEEN'S ASSASSIN
Melissa De La Cruz
Young Adult Fantasy
Caledon Holt is the kingdom's deadliest weapon. No one alive can best him in speed, strength, or brains, which is why he's the Hearthstone Guild's most dangerous member. Cal is also the Queen's Assassin, bound to her by magic and unable to leave her service until the task she's set for him is fulfilled.
Shadow of the Honey Glade has been training all her life to join the Guild, hoping that one day she'll become an assassin as feared and revered as Cal. But Shadow's mother and aunts expect her to serve the crown as a lady of the Renovian Court.
When a surprise attack brings Shadow and Cal together, they're forced to team up as assassin and apprentice. Even though Shadow's life belongs to the court and Cal's belongs to the queen, they cannot deny their attraction to each other. But now, with war on the horizon and true love at risk, Shadow and Cal will uncover a shocking web of lies that will change their paths forever.
BLIND THE EYES
K. A. Wiggins
Young Adult Fantasy
In a drowned city where hope kills and dreams are deadly, one wrong thought can end your life.
Haunted 17-year-old outcast Cole is desperate to suppress her macabre obsession with the Mara-taken before she becomes one. When a stranger with unsettling gold eyes offers a chance to escape her rule-bound existence, it--and he--prove a dangerous distraction.
The body count is on the rise and the ghost who won't leave her side isn't the only one with something to hide.
Join Cole on a mission of discovery and revenge from the perilous heights of the Towers of Refuge to the glittering club lurking below the floodwaters. With the dead piling up at every turn, can she untangle the lies and stop the dying before the nightmares eat her alive?
Young Adult Dystopian
Nearly two decades after the fall, the transcendent city of Iris is the only place rumored to have a cure to the disease that decimated the world. Beyond Iris, are the remnants of the old world, crawling with the Depraved. Infected with Lethe, they no longer remember the people or dreams they were once willing to fight for, and are left instead with familiar voices that whisper dark and unfamiliar words within their minds. Instinct is all that keeps the diseased struggling to exist another day.
Deep underground, below Iris, exists a compound, prison to the Nameless who traded their freedom for the cure to Lethe. It is here that 736 fights to protect those she loves. Not against the Depraved that she's taught to fear, but against the society that saved her from that fate. She was willing to trade away her rights to regain the ability to form memories, but she won't let the cult that cured her treat the lives of the Nameless like a resource to be used and discarded. At least, not without a fight.
How much is 736 willing to sacrifice for revenge against her captors? For those she cares about? For freedom? Everything has a cost, what would you be willing to pay?
Read my review here
THE LAST FIRST DAUGHTER
Young Adult Dystopian
During the first television broadcast in a decade, direct from the White House, terrorists attack. Eighteen-year-old Lindy escapes thanks to her secret service officer, Henry, and now finds her country under the control of a cruel, oppressive regime—and she and Henry the targets of a countrywide manhunt.
Using fake identities and Lindy’s engineering skills, which allow her to build a network of radios, Lindy and Henry join a group planning to fight back against the new regime. Lindy must decide if she can sacrifice the relationship closest to her heart, her safety, and possibly her life to give millions of others hope for their future, and take back the White House.
THE HOUSE OF ONE THOUSAND EYES
Young Adult Historical Fiction
Who can Lena trust to help her find out the truth?
Life in East Germany in the early 1980s is not easy for most people, but for Lena, it’s particularly hard. After the death of her parents in a factory explosion and time spent in a psychiatric hospital recovering from the trauma, she is sent to live with her stern aunt, a devoted member of the ruling Communist Party. Visits with her beloved Uncle Erich, a best-selling author, are her only respite.
But one night, her uncle disappears without a trace. Gone also are all his belongings, his books, and even his birth records. Lena is desperate to know what happened to him, but it’s as if he never existed.
The worst thing, however, is that she cannot discuss her uncle or her attempts to find him with anyone, not even her best friends. There are government spies everywhere. But Lena is unafraid and refuses to give up her search, regardless of the consequences.
This searing novel about defiance, courage, and determination takes readers into the chilling world of a society ruled by autocratic despots, where nothing is what it seems.
Wow. This book. I absolutely could not put it down, especially as I neared the end. This tale was expertly woven and dark and captivating. The number one rule for reading this book is that absolutely nothing is as it seems.
As the plot unfolds, it becomes more and more complex, and neither the reader nor the protagonist knows what’s real and what are the contents of her own delusions. The story is riddled with magic and mysticism and dark powers at work within an alluring and luxurious setting. At no point in the novel did I feel like I knew what was going to happen next, which is part of what makes the narrative so compelling.
If there’s one thing I didn’t like about this book, it’s that at times the resolutions seemed very ‘deus ex machina.’ In the midst of the conflict, this seems mostly fitting. There are literal gods at work in the story, and the use of this device doesn’t take away from the quality of the narrative. The real problem with this comes in at the epilogue. Here, the deus ex machina isn’t used to add another layer of mystery and dark forces, but to give the protagonist a picturesque happy ending, which feels at odds with the rest of the story. Maybe I’m just prejudiced against happy endings, but this definitely felt out of place to me, especially because it wasn’t really explained at all, it was just delivered to us and we were expected to accept it.
Despite this slight issue with the epilogue, I truly loved reading this story, and I would highly recommend it to all fantasy fans. It was twisted and enchanting in all the right ways, and despite being a retelling of the twelve dancing princesses story, it was a truly original story unlike anything I had ever read before.
Buy it on Amazon
I have mixed feelings about this book. While I’d still recommend it, there are definitely some things about it that bother me.
On the one hand, the entire premise of the story was incredibly original. From the half old-school fantasy half futuristic-dystopian setting to the very basis of the plot, this book was new and fresh and unlike anything I had ever read before. It certainly wasn’t the typical young adult fantasy read.
I also really loved the main character, Keralie. She was somewhat more typical to the YA fantasy genre, and she reminded me a bit of Mare from the Red Queen series (a series which I love dearly, by the way). The character of Mackiel was also very interesting and compelling, and the storylines revolving around him and his relationship to Keralie were probably my favorite parts of the story.
Yet this discussion of characters brings up one of my first issues with the novel. If you didn’t already know, the premise of the story involves the country (aptly named Quadara) being divided into four quadrants: Toria, Archia, Eonia, and Ludia. Keralie and Mackiel are both Torians. The Torian characters are the most well developed in the book and definitely seem the most human. The characters from other quadrants often fall a bit flat and are almost caricature-ish.
This leads pretty nicely into my biggest complaint with the novel: the worldbuilding. More specifically, my issue was with the way in which the worldbuilding was conveyed to the reader. The entire time I was reading, especially in the first half, I felt like I was being condescended to. Every time a character performed an action, those actions were then explained to the reader in terms of their quadrant’s values and personality types, and those were often the only traits the characters had. It would have been fine, in my opinion, if the characters simply portrayed the traits of their quadrant, but every single time anyone did anything, it was qualified with a statement like “in typical Ludist fashion” or “because of her curious Torian nature.” It got old very fast. I soon found myself screaming at the book that I already know that Torians are curious and begging to just get on with the story. The other place where this was an issue was with Queenly Law. Before the book even begins, the tenants of Queenly Law are listed for the reader. Then, individual laws from this list are placed in certain chapter heads. Yet the characters within the story are constantly explaining to each other what Queenly Law states. It was overdone.
The second big issue I have with this book is the plot, particularly the latter half. In the beginning, I was incredibly interested and engaged. It’s a given to the reader very early on that the queens will die (it’s in the title), so it was very interesting to be reading certain chapters from their perspectives. I wanted to know more about Keralie and Mackiel and their history and what he was hiding. I was hooked. But that started to fall apart about halfway through the book. Mackiel was soon left behind, only to continuously pop up out of nowhere, and the plot seemed to diverge from its original course.
It's very hard to discuss without spoiling the book, but I’ll try my best. An event that the readers and Keralie have assumed to already have happened turns out not to have happened yet. This should be a good thing. They should be able to stop it now, and they try. Yet they end up wandering around in vain and accomplishing nothing. It happens anyway. Keralie has been unable to effect any change. The problem with this for me is that the main character lacks agency. She doesn’t seem to be in control of her own world. This problem grows much worse with the big twist of the novel, which blows lack of agency to a new proportion. From that point in the novel on, I was totally disillusioned with the plot. I couldn’t follow the timeline anymore, and I found myself wondering what the point of most of the novel even was, if Keralie never could have done anything anyway.
The other thing I didn’t like about the plot was that the mastermind behind the whole thing, the true antagonist, didn’t make an appearance until the final quarter of the book, when suddenly she was narrating certain chapters. I felt cheated out of a chance to try to put all the puzzle pieces together.
Yet still, I kept reading all the way through to the end, desperate to learn the truth of the matter and to know where Keralie ended up.
Overall, Four Dead Queens was a brilliantly conceived novel and a refreshing twist on the YA fantasy genre standards, but it was much less brilliantly executed. It was an experiment with the technique of the unreliable narrator, but it failed, because the clues weren’t there for the reader to pick up on at all. It still might be worth a read, but I’m walking away from it feeling mostly disappointed, especially since I had such high hopes for it in the first place.
Buy it on Amazon
I’ve been neglecting my blog recently, and for that I am very sorry. Life has simply gotten in the way.
Despite that, however, I’m very excited to announce to all of you my newest project, tentatively titled Three Faiths Crossed. It’s a YA fantasy novel, and remarkably different from New Hope and what I’ve done before, but it reflects what I’ve been reading lately.
The novel follows four different characters with intersecting paths through the country of Zorentine, a country plagued by a brutal on-going war and internal religious strife. The characters, Tatia, Mattas, Roena, and Laia, each have very different backgrounds and very different roles to play in this continental conflict.
The project so far has been a world-building storm, and truth be told I may have gone completely overboard. I have almost an entire spiral notebook filled with historic and cultural information, character bios, extra scenes, and this lovely map I can’t wait to jazz up and use in the front matter of my book.
I’ve been working on it now since the fall of 2018, and I’m only seven chapters in to the (handwritten) first draft. Now that I’m home on quarantine, I’m finding the time to really dig in and make a lot of progress, so I hope to be bringing more updates and bonus content soon. Feel free to let me know your thoughts on everything (the title, the map, etc) in comments below, and drop any questions you might have.
It’s no secret that the writing community has waged a war on adverbs. Stephen King once said that the road to hell was paved with them. The chief complaint is that they weaken the prose, serving as an easy way out for writers who are too lazy to show instead of tell and that they aren’t worth their weight when it comes to the economy of words. And what all this hatred of adverbs has led to is their almost total eradication from the page.
But how have we managed to convince ourselves that there is an entire part of speech which is inherently evil? At first, these claims seem justified. Oftentimes, a stronger verb can take the place of a weak verb and an adverb put together. This is true when substituting “dashed” for “ran quickly” or “shouted” for “said loudly.” In these cases, by all means, eradicate your adverbs. This works here because the adverbs do actually add any necessary information to the phrase, and the job is accomplished in fewer words by using a stronger verb.
But the fact of the matter is that a substitution doesn’t always work so well. Take for example the sentence “She stared wistfully out the car window.” There is no single verb which means specifically “to stare wistfully” or anything which comes even remotely close, and it would take far too long to describe all of her body language which might convey the wistfulness. In this case, it makes much more sense to simply use an adverb, especially because simply deleting the adverb would alter the meaning of the sentence.
The rule of thumb? Never use an adverb which simply means the same thing as the verb. Running is always quick, and you don’t need an adverb to tell your reader this. Instead, use an adverb when there is no direct substitute for the word, or the adverb tells the reader information they otherwise wouldn’t have known.
It’s easy to think of this rule in terms of adjectives, which function in virtually the same way that adverbs do but are far less disputed. There is no sense in using the phrase “the green grass” because grass, at its default, is usually green, and including the adjective doesn’t give the reader any extra information. On the other hand, “the brown grass” or “the dead grass” does give the reader added information and would be appropriate places to use an adjective. This same principle can easily be applied to adverbs.
Regardless of where you stand on the adverb issue, hopefully this post has helped put some things in perspective, and remember, always be wary of definitive writing advice which tells you to “always do this” or “never do that.” Writing is an art, and seldom does it conform to rules as concrete as these. That being said, good luck and happy writing!
My heart was racing, and I could feel the force of my blood pounding in my ears. My stomach was in knots, and I had to swallow back the urge to puke. The whole room felt like it was spinning, closing in, collapsing around me. I dug my fingers into the ratty couch beneath me, holding on for dear life until my knuckles went white.
I closed my eyes and forced myself to breathe, trying to wrest some of the dread from my chest, trying to make the world slow down. but it was no use.
I was running out of time. The clock was counting down on the faded, flickering screen. There was no picture, just numbers, cold and unforgiving. There used to be hours left. Months, days. Now there were just minutes.
Years ago, when the clock first started counting, people used to talk about it a lot. There were always newscasters, musing, predicting, pretending to know more than we did. Five thousand theories were passed through the hallways on anxious lips. Politicians tried to explain it away, to blame anarchists and radicals and everybody but themselves. My sister Bri and I, we used to joke that it was just someone waiting for a grand old oven to preheat. Now, there were no more jokes, no more speculation, just the time.
People used to panic, even after they had stopped talking, but it didn’t happen right away. No, at first it was just a sick joke, a teenager making some desperate grab for their fifteen minutes of fame. We waited and waited, but the clock didn’t go away. No one came forward. There was no one waiting in the wings to tell us it was all a game. When that sunk in, it became real. And then came the fear.
It was funny how people reacted in the face of a storm. How the fear drove them to run away, evacuate, as if that would keep them safe from the numbers counting down. Or maybe they just wanted to seize the day. Either way, it didn’t matter. They quit their jobs. Stores closed. The whole city seemed to shut down because there was no one left to keep it going.
We even stopped going to school, but I didn’t mind it. The speculation was too much. It just made the fear worse. Schools were like that. They tend to have a snow-balling effect. The rumors grew greater and greater until they were too much, until they were crushing, until they had spiraled entirely out of control. So we just stopped and ran away like everybody else.
But like everything else, the fear had died down over time, the time that was measured, that we didn’t have. Somehow, people managed to push that constant, ticking reminder to the backs of their minds and keep moving forward.
Not anymore. Now, the clock approached ever closer to zero, and it refused to be ignored. It demanded attention, sucked up everything until there was no space left for anything else. Every second seemed to pass by in a sort of unearthly haze, like the world was being filtered through water, the image always just a little bit out of focus, leaving a thousand different versions of reality in its wake. The problem was, no one knew how to tell which was the truth, and we all had to make sense of things in our own ways. We all had to learn how to cope.
The way my mother chose to do it reminded me of a bird. A magpie, I think they’re called. Not long after the clock appeared, she started to stockpile things, useless things, like make-up and old compact discs. She called it “being prepared,” but I wasn’t sure what she thought she was preparing for. She flitted about the room, constantly pacing, and her mouth never stopped moving, endless nervous chatter spouting from it like birdsong. But the worst part of it all, was that, like a bird, she developed a tendency to fly away, to flee at the smallest sign of danger. She disappeared sometimes for days on end, always leaving us behind.
I looked at her now, mumbling under her breath, pacing restlessly throughout the next room, pausing every once in a while to steady herself on a counter-top as she stumbled and pulled at strands of her fraying, white-blonde hair. Her clothes were stained, her dress torn above the knee, and she kept straightening it, pretending not to be staring at the clock. Her whole body seemed to shake. I could see it on her sunken, hollow face. She wanted to run.
I sighed, bringing my fingers to my temple to try to rub away some of the stress. I couldn’t really blame her. Even if I’d wanted to be, what was the use of being angry with only thirteen seconds left?
I squeezed my sister’s hand. Bri sat balled up on the hardwood floor, knees hugged tight to her chest, fingers absentmindedly tearing at the end of her once perfect braid, her stoic silence soaking up my mother’s hurricane of noise. I don’t know how she always managed to keep it all together. She was stronger than she should have had to be at her age. But still, I could see the cracks forming in her shell where she was starting to fall apart.
I wish I could have brought myself to offer her a comforting smile, to give her something to ease her fragile nerves, but I couldn’t. Besides, what use was comfort with only three seconds left?
Finally, my mother stopped pacing and was still. The house felt empty without the sounds of her footsteps echoing from the walls.
Bri stood up, letting go of my hand and letting her hair fall. Her legs were shaking.
I walked over to the television and flicked off the screen.
I was certain the world was going to end today. And then, against all odds, it didn’t.
Poppies. Thousands of them.
Plucked from the earth, delicate petals woven into dozens of flower crowns piled on the ground. Children, little girls, silent, sitting in a broken meadow, weaving more.
A half-assembled crown was falling apart in my lap, abandoned. I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking.
Children weren’t supposed to look like this. They were supposed to smile. To laugh. Not to cry. Not to be dirty, subdued, alone.
But I couldn’t blame them.
I was crying too.
I could feel the songs of ghosts whipping through the meadow with the wind, turning the air heaving and leaving ice across my soul.
Even though I was sitting, I staggered. My head was swimming, unsteady, too full and too empty all at once. I placed my hand on the ground to stabilize myself.
I pulled my hand back, and I gagged. My fingers were black, covered in ash.
Or it would be, if there was anything left.
Suddenly, there were broad hands on my shoulders, jarring me from my thoughts, and I jumped.
“Sorry,” Alex whispered, lips pressed against the top of my head. “But it’s time.”
I sighed, trying to clear my head, but I don’t know why I bothered. I settled for pushing the voices into the background where they were fuzzy and not quite as loud.
I stood, taking Alex’s warm, brown hand in mine so I could borrow some of his strength.
Together, we started rounding up the kids, collecting the crowns. I was grateful Alex was there to do all of the talking. Most of the kids were too young to really understand, and I couldn’t bear to break it to them. So I just stood there, holding out my arms, and trying not to crush the flowers.
And then finally we turned to face all that we had left.
Charred foundations of what used to be houses stood scattered throughout the meadow. I could still see pictures of the lives we used to have floating among the wreckage. The lives we had before.
Before the bombs that fell and burned our village to the ground and tore apart the earth. Before the war that made everything scarce and put us all at risk. Before almost everyone we’d ever known had died. Before Alex was an expert at making tombstones and I could barely make a poppy crown.
I turned to Alex, wondering how his big, brown eyes were still dry. “How did we end up like this?” I asked.
“You can’t think about this now, Gill. All we can do now is honor the dead and move forward from there.”
He took my hand and lead me through the ruins of the village across to the other side where a whole sea of wooden tombstones marked a sea of shallow graves Alex had dug because I hadn’t had the strength to.
But now it was my turn, and I stepped into the sea, one by one laying flower crowns at the head of every grave until we were standing in an all new field of bright red poppies.
Flash fiction is one of the hardest parts of fiction to define, probably because it has such a wide range of what it encompasses, from the six-word story to anything under 2,000 words. The point is, flash fiction is the absolute shortest medium of fiction, and because of this, its quite often the most powerful.
When you boil a story down to only its bare bones, there is no space left for anything that doesn’t matter, and only the potent and impactful remains.
But the most wonderful thing about flash fiction is that because of its brevity, you can write a piece of it every day in a relatively short amount of time. Practicing is one of the best things a writer can do, especially when they’re experiencing writer’s block on one of their bigger projects. Flash fiction can give an author an opportunity to step away from the bigger picture and flex their creative muscles on a smaller scale, the goal eventually being to stop the cycle of writer’s block that’s tanking the big projects.
Flash fiction can also, because of how easy it is to self-publish, be an opportunity for up-and-coming authors to establish a steady readership and gain a following. It’s an easy way for a writer to periodically show potential readers samples of their work in a way that is much more satisfying for the reader than a free sample that ends on a cliff hanger.
Flash fiction is not only a useful exercise in improving craft but also in building an author platform. And, it’s a lot of fun, especially in our increasingly fast-paced world in which brevity and convenience can be key factors in getting read.
For more information, visit these helpful links:
Flash Fiction: What's It All About?
What is Flash Fiction?
To read some examples of flash fiction, visit these links:
Flash Fiction: A series of very short stories for the summer.
21 Flash Fiction Stories to Read While You Wait Anywhere
I had forgotten how much pain a good book can cause.
There is nothing quite like the physical heartache you get when you care about the characters so much and so deeply that their pain becomes your own. When you are rooting so hard for two characters that your chest is heavy and empty when they are pulled apart. When you are so invested in the character that you are the character, and you not only want them to survive, but you need them to.
It has been so long since I’ve read something that made me feel this connection, and it’s the mark of spectacular writing. Aletheia made me feel it.
The main character was such a well-rounded, fleshed-out person, and she couldn’t have felt more real. She had history that began way before the first page, relationships long past that bled into the story in an incredibly realistic way.
Besides the astounding characters, the plot was profound and remarkably strung together. There were twists at every turn, both predicted and surprising. The worldbuilding was rich, and it stood apart from the fad of YA dystopian novels in a wonderful way. The stakes were high, the consequences were real, and the conflicts were multi-layered with enemies at both sides of the table. I couldn’t put the book down.
The one and only issue with Aletheia was that it was poorly edited. The errors were at times distracting from the extraordinary quality of the story, and it hurt my heart to see such a wonderful novel hindered in such a way.
Regardless, the book was still one of the best I have read in a very long time. The prose was captivating, easily measuring up to the vast scale of the story it set out to tell. I am hanging off the edge of the seat as I anxiously await the sequel.
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I have such mixed feelings about this book.
From the very beginning, that is, before even opening to read the jacket, this book drew me in. The cover design was absolutely phenomenal, which matters to me especially as an artist. The title was intriguing; it sounded like exactly my type of book. But what really did it for me was the tagline:
“In my land, we’re known as Paper Girls… easily torn, existing only for others to use and discard. But there’s something they’ve all forgotten about paper. It can light the world on fire… and make it burn.”
From this description, I was expecting much more of a dystopian story than a fantasy one, one with rich worldbuilding, a caste system, and a story focused on rebellion. And I was excited.
So with all of this, I was sold before even opening the cover. Which meant I hadn’t read the synopsis when I took the book home with me. Big mistake.
But even if I had read the synopsis before starting to read, I would have known nothing about the elaborate half animal-half human demons that make up half the cast. Needless to say, I was very surprised to open the book a few pages in and find a description of the distinctions in humanity between the different castes. This is definitely not what I had signed up for.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I read fantasy, too. I even write it. But it can be very off-putting when it comes as a surprise, especially when it’s taken to the extreme that it is here. This is entirely personal preference on my part, but I much prefer a human cast, and this book definitely pushed the definition of human beyond what I’m used to.
Now, if I had known that this is what the book would be about, I still might have picked it up, and probably enjoyed it more than I did. But the fact of the matter is, I had built such high expectations for this book in my head that I was disappointed with what I got, which sort of put a damper on things from the beginning.
Another issue I had was that the rebellion aspect of the plot took up very little space on the page. It didn’t pop up at all until about halfway through the story, and even when it did, the main character, Lei, didn’t have very much agency or control in the plot whatsoever. If not for an unexpected turn of events that almost qualifies as a deus ex machina, Lei would have had little to no role in the climax at all.
Instead, the major focus of the plot was forbidden romance, which was well-written, and a wonderful inclusion of LGBT representation, but it just wasn’t what I was craving when I picked up the book.
That being said, the love interest was very well-rounded, and I think her character was more developed than Lei’s was, if I’m being honest. But I definitely enjoyed watching the relationship unfold, as it didn’t feel rushed or forced in anyway as you so often get in novels like this. I also really appreciated the way that the main character came to terms with her orientation and the implications her relationship held in terms of the plot.
I also enjoyed the unfoldings of the plot in the first half of the book, though they weren’t what I was expecting. Watching the main character struggle with what is expected of her, what she needs in order to maintain her integrity, and the consequences she faces was very compelling from both a plot and character perspective.
Yet one part that I thought to be very under-explored was Lei’s search for her missing mother, who was stolen years ago. I feel like the mystery that seems to drive her in the beginning of the book is almost ignored, and it’s “resolved” when she simply accepts that her mother is probably dead, which I found incredibly underwhelming.
My final issue with this book was the actual writing itself. As I writer myself, that’s something I pay attention to more than the average reader, and I have never been so annoyed with the way a book was written in my life. The author struggles from a severe lack of commas throughout the entire novel, and it was extremely off-putting for me. I found myself reading over the same sentence three times, trying to figure out why it felt so wrong and correcting it in my head. Doing this what felt like hundreds of times throughout the novel became very distracting very fast.
Yet despite all my mixed feelings about this book, I never put it down. It was aggravating, but I also found myself attached to the plot, demanding answers about how things would end up. Honestly, I can’t even tell you if I enjoyed reading it or not. As of right now, the jury is still out.
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