Indie Book Review: The Forest by Julia Blake

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

The Forest is the kind of story you’d expect to find in a dusty old tome if you wandered into a magical bookshop in an old English village. It’s a timeless epic tale full of mystery, love, magic, folklore, and the complex interweaving of human hearts across the eras.

The story centers on a rural village called Wykenwode, perched at the edge of an ancient and mysterious forest, which is guarded by an unseen barrier that only a predestined few can pass beyond. Those who can enter the heart of the forest often feel they are not alone, that something lurks in the shadows, watching and waiting–but for what?

Generation after generation, the villagers of Wykenwode are tormented by an ancient curse of unknown origin. When the White Hind appears, love will turn bitter, and jealousy will turn to murderous rage. Three young people will die, and nothing can be done to stop it.

We’re led through this fascinating tale by three childhood friends: the farmer’s daughter, Sally; the blacksmith’s son, Jack; and the forester’s son, Reuben–three well-developed characters whose fates are deeply entwined, with each other and with the forest itself. The question is whether their love for each other will help them survive the Wykenwode curse, or will they’ll be its next victims?

Julia Blake is one of the best, most imaginative indie authors I’ve yet encountered, and this story is a genuine triumph of storytelling. It’s a little bit historical fiction, and a little bit fantasy. There’s mystery and suspense, magic and supernatural. And there’s love–beautiful, heartbreaking, complicated, dangerous love. And I think that’s one of the things I liked best about this story: it’s deeply, wonderfully, and heartbreakingly human. Friendship, family, first love, later-in-life love, loss and grief, coming of age and all that comes with it, and all of the complicated things that go hand-in-hand with human relationships are woven through the fabric of this timeless tale.

This story was beautifully written and so much fun to read. I quite literally couldn’t put it down by the time I reached the middle. It’s the kind of story you know will stay with you long after you read it, and since I’m a slow reader, I don’t re-read a lot of books, but I will absolutely be reading this one again!

Five Questions: Indie Author Melissa L. Colon

Indie author Melissa L. Colon, one of my critique partners and longtime best friends, talks with me about writing, self-publishing, and being an indie author.

Julia: You’ve been a writer for more than 25 years and recently published your first novel, Colder Weather. How has becoming an indie author changed your view of yourself as a writer, and has it changed your approach to writing at all?

Melissa: I think in the beginning, imagining anything I’d written ending up in book form, was kind of like this unattainable dream. I always liked to write, but the majority of my stories were never book length, and the only thing that came close was a fan-fiction piece I wrote in the mid-90s. Colder Weather was really my first attempt at writing something that wasn’t more than a few pages long. Even after it was finished, I wasn’t really sure what to do with it. A friend was self-publishing, but at that time, most of my writing was just for a smaller audience, and I don’t think I was really prepared to push myself into the next stage, whatever that might be. After completing Colder Weather, I gained a lot of confidence in my abilities to create novel-length fiction, as well as creating compelling characters that others would be interested in investing their time in.

I tried to change my approach to writing, but in the end, I went back to what works for me. I’ve always been kind of a Panster in regards to fleshing out a story. Sometimes I have the basic idea of the story, and sometimes, it’s even less than that, and I just start fleshing out the details in this kind of haphazard way. A lot of my planning really is just chapter to chapter. Or, it could be, getting from one story related goal to the next. After Colder Weather, I wanted to be a Planner. I wanted to outline and detail and do all those wonderful activities that others do, and I started down that road with a piece that I’ll call Project SK. I did a character analysis for my main character. I created the world she’ll live in, down to building a bit of a “brochure” to give the place more life. But, as I was doing that, another piece of fiction really started taking form in my head. The more I tried to plan Project SK, a new project was begging to be written, old-school, fly by the seat of your pants style. So, I resigned myself to the fact that Project SK needed to go on the back-burner and my next novel, code name TBH, is moving along nicely.

Julia: Self-publishing is something a lot of writers want to do but are afraid to try. What inspired you to take the leap, and what advice do you have for writers who want to self-publish but are nervous about it?

Melissa: My inspiration came from two friends, both published Indie Authors. I was nervous about putting Colder Weather out there for the world to see, but they were both patient and willing to share their experiences, and that made it less daunting for me.

My advice would be that nervous is normal. I was a wreck off and on while editing Colder Weather, but in the end, I’m pleased with the end result. I highly recommend a writing buddy or someone that you can rely on to give you honest feedback about your work. You may not always take every suggestion that your writing buddy makes, but it helps to have an outside view of your story from someone you trust.

Julia: In what ways has your writing evolved over the years, and what would you say has been the most instrumental thing in helping you develop your craft?

Melissa: My writing has evolved in so many different ways over the years. My first attempts at writing fiction were awful. Lots of dialogue. Very little description. Clunky and full of holes. But, it was a start. From there, my writing started to improve, and I figured out that fiction needs more description to set the scene. More emotion to convey feelings. Etc. The other thing that I’ve evolved into is going from third person/past tense to first person/present tense. While I understand that there is some controversy with first person/present tense, I like the idea of feeling like you’re along for the ride. With third person, you get the benefit of knowing what multiple characters are feeling/thinking, but I’ve really started enjoying looking at the world I’m building from only one character’s POV.

Julia: One of your many writing talents is weaving the threads of the story through the lives of all your characters. Do you have a natural feel for how each character relates to and processes the events of the story, or is it something you have to plan out?

Melissa: I guess I’d have to say it’s a natural feel. I really know very little about each character as I start each new piece of fiction. I always like to think that the characters are telling me the story, vs. I’m pre-determining their actions/reactions. In my newest novel, TBH, I set up the main character, his family, and the event that shapes the start of the book, but the characters really took on their own lives and their own reactions all by themselves.

Julia: Do you have any writing-related goals for the coming year?

Melissa: I do. I’m in the process of writing TBH. I currently have 9 chapters completed, and it’s about 15,000 words so far. My goal is to finish it and start the editing process. I also need to find a new cover designer because the one I used last year is taking a hiatus, so if anyone has any recommendations, please send them my way. ♦

Do you like me? Check yes or no. When sixteen-year-old Emma Jordan unexpectedly runs into her childhood crush, Jace Brown, old feelings come surging back to life with new intensity. As the snow falls and winter closes in, Emma’s world opens up as she navigates first love, changing friendships, and family tension. But young love rarely lasts forever. As Jace deals with changes in his own life and follows his dreams, will their relationship stand the test of time? Or will Jace keep drifting in and out of Emma’s life just like the colder weather?

Colder Weather is available on Amazon.com in
print & e-book

2018: Byeeeeee! Not Sorry to See You Go

To put it nicely, 2018 was not my favorite year.

It wasn’t a horrible year, but it wasn’t great. It could have been much, much better. 2018 was a year with a lot of wheel spinning, a lot of goals that went unconquered, and way too much worry expended on unnecessary things. It was a year of limited adventure, too many days at home feeling like I couldn’t make a dent in my list of things to do. Lots of days where I felt unhappy, overwhelmed, and really just wanted to cry (and did.)

But it wasn’t all meh… there were some good things. Ashes Swept continued to get great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Reviews of Ashes Swept were featured in some digital magazines and book review blogs. I even entered Ashes Swept into a book award contest, and though it didn’t win, it was such a huge step for me–so far out of my comfort zone–I count it as a win anyway.

In the final months of the year, I started to really think about the things that were causing me unnecessary stress and keeping me from accomplishing my goals. I changed some habits, started working on my mindset, began to fix and change some of the things that were no longer working for me. And now, for maybe the first time ever, I’m going into a new year feeling a little bit invigorated. Cautiously optimistic, perhaps, but ready to tackle another trip around the sun.

I don’t put a lot of stock in New Year’s resolutions, but if I had to choose a few, they would be:

  • publish “The Outpost”
  • read one indie book per month
  • read one traditional book per month
  • keep up with social media
  • stress less, relax more
  • move more
  • eat better

2018 Favorites:

Book: All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
TV Show: Timeless (Honorable Mention: The Expanse)
Binge Show: Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Movie: Black Panther (Honorable Mention: Isle of Dogs)
Music: Tycho
Game: Covet Fashion
Social Media: Instagram

Have a safe and happy 2019!

One Year Later…

My debut novel, Ashes Swept, was released one year ago today. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed since then, but I definitely think I’ve learned a a few things in my first year as a published author. Here’s what I’m taking with me into year two:

It’s an amazing experience.

Okay, well, duh, probably–but honestly, I wasn’t prepared for just how amazing it would be. So many more people have read and enjoyed my book than I ever expected, and it’s pretty freakin’ cool to know so many people have inhabited a place and known people that were all created in my head. That makes it even more exciting (and scary) to do it again!

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

In the beginning, it was hard not to focus on numbers, reviews, who liked it and who didn’t. Now that my “book baby” was out in the world, I wanted it to do well, which also meant really caring about that. But you can also drive yourself crazy by caring too much and watching too closely.

Find your tribe.

Writing, publishing, and everything that happens in between can be frustrating and draining at times, so it’s unbelievably important to have friends in the writing community. Not only can they be valuable resources for advice and feedback, but it also makes a huge difference to know you’re not alone in the things you’re feeling and experiencing.

Advertise later.

I dove right in with facebook ads and Instagram ads, and I probably won’t do that again until I have a few more books in my backlog. Some debut authors may have more luck with it, but I really didn’t feel that advertising made a noticeable difference in my sales. Luckily I didn’t spend too much on it, but that money could have been put to better use.

Stay focused.

I wrote my current WIP (which will be published book #2) during NaNoWriMo last year, and was sending chapters for beta before it was even done. Then my productivity took a nosedive for three months and getting into the swing of things again was difficult. For a while there I was only writing a chapter a month, so I fell way behind on my goal to publish another book before the end of the year. So, while it’s tempting to take a nice long vacation after your book comes out, a week or two is probably enough. More than that and you might lose your momentum.

Be patient.

I’ve been plugging away on book #2 much more steadily these last few months, and I’m getting pretty close to finishing another draft. Then it will go to my other critique partner for review, back for more edits, and then back for critique. Sometimes I get a little antsy because I’m ready to get this book out and move onto the next one, and other times I get a bit disappointed with myself for falling so far behind. But, I’ve also learned it’s important to be patient–not just with myself but with the process. Life happens. Things get in the way and sometimes you can’t write through them. But as long as you get back in the saddle, that’s all that matters.

I’m looking forward to year two and all the adventures it will bring!

September Update

I can’t believe it’s already September!

Now through December is my favorite time of year. I love fall and winter, but living in Florida means experiencing those seasons a bit differently than most. Our “sweater weather” doesn’t typically begin until November, and sometimes not even then. Many of our trees–especially our numerous live oaks–tend to lose leaves in March rather than September. And you’d be hard-pressed to find an apple orchard or a natural pumpkin patch in most of the state. But we find ways to feel fall-ish anyway. I will still happily drink my PSLs and salted caramel mochas, even in shorts with sweat running down my neck. I’ll deck out my home in pumpkins, fall leaves, and autumnal knick-knacks. And I’ll put fall-scented candles on the warmer so the still humid air smells like pumpkin, cinnamon, and woodsmoke. Then, mid-November, I’ll switch it all out for winter decor, even if it’s too hot in the attic to get the boxes down until after dark.

Believe it or not, the end of this month will mark one year since Ashes Swept was published. All during the year I’ve been hard at work on another book, and though I’d hoped to be much further along with it by now, I’m aiming for a Spring/Summer 2019 release. Thankfully, this is the time of year where I tend to write more, so with any luck I’ll be able to get a lot done. Then there’s also NaNoWriMo, and this year would be my ninth in a row. I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to do it, though I kind of hate to break my streak when I’m so close to ten in a row.

Here are a few other things…

Currently Reading: Into the Fire, Broken Gears #2, by Dana Fraedrich (and I’m OBSESSED!)

Currently Watching: Steven and I just started Brooklyn Nine-Nine and I’m HOOKED!

Currently Writing: Still on draft two of novel #8 (which will be published novel #2)

Currently Loving: The new “Good Eats” segment on my friend Melissa’s author blog. If you, like me, sometimes struggle to find a balance between making home-cooked meals and getting things done, give her a follow so you can collect some great recipes!