Saturday, October 31, 2015


I hope you enjoyed reading all 31 chapter notes for Poison Study! Writing them all was more work that I had anticipated, but it was really fun to re-read those chapters and think about my thought process and what was going on in my life at that time. It's surprising just how much of my life is in my books!

Here are the 31 questions. Yes, some of them are hard and others...not so much. There will be 10 winners picked from the highest scorers.  The Rafflecopter will be open until November 7th.  The contest is open to ALL (yes, that means worldwide :).  I will post the winners and answers by November 10th.

1. What profession would Valek take up in a perfect world?
2. How many languages has Poison Study been translated into?
3. In the Glass books, what was Opal gifted with for completing “Spy training”?
4. What is the nickname Valek gives to Ari and Janco?
5. In the Glass series, who are Teegan and Reema?
6. How many awards has Poison Study won?
7. In Storm Watcher, what does Luke name his Papillion?
8. In the Study Series, who does Marrok work for?
9. In Inside Out, who has Dada Sheepy?
10. How did Valek warn his intended assassination victims?
11. Approximately how many copies of Poison Study have been sold worldwide?
12. In Taste of Darkness, who is Noak’s “Little Brother”?
13. In Inside Out, what is Trella’s full name?
14. Who gave Yelena her switchblade?
15. In the Study Series, who is Petal?
16. How many lives has Poison Study saved?
17. In the Glass Series, who gave Opal her switchblade?
18. In Touch of Power, how does Avry describe Kerrick’s scent?
19. In my short story, Sword Point, what do the students use to kill the vampires?
20. In my short story, Mongrel, what is the name of the “dog” she rescues?
21. Where did Ambrose grow up?
22. In the Glass Series, what did Devlen give to Opal as a wedding present?
23. In Taste of Darkness, what is the motto Avry and her friends use in place of “Thank the
24. In Inside Out, what are Logan and Anne-Jade called?
25. How many editions of Poison Study have been published in total?
26. What are Janco and Ari’s hourse names?
27. In Storm Watcher, what is the name of Megan’s favorite dog?
28. In Touch of Power, where did Kerrick finally admit he cared for Avry?
29. What is Janco allergic to?
30. What is the name of the assassin school Valek attended?
31. In my short story, Halloween Men, which day are the citizens allowed to take off their masks in public?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The winners will receive this custom T-shirt that tells the world that you're a die-hard reader of my books (I will contact you to get your size).  Good luck everyone!!



Happy Halloween!  If there were 32 days in October, I would have broke this into two notes. Instead I’m combining them.

Chapter 31 is the climax of the book.  It’s where the obstacles are huge and it appears as if the main protagonists won’t make it.  I start things rolling with Valek and Yelena joining up with Ari and Janco. They refused to help search for Valek and Yelena.  I like this exchange:
“That’s insubordination.” Valek extracted a long knife and some darts from his bag.
“That was the point. What’s a fellow have to do around here in order to get arrested and thrown in the dungeon?” Janco asked.

It’s nice to see how Ari and Janco are “all in” for their friends and are willing to be thrown into the dungeon to help them out.  And later they call her “sir.”  A few people have asked why I don’t use the female equivalent of “sir,” which is “ma’am.”  I don’t like ma’am – never did – and in my mind, “sir” is gender neutral and the Commander would approve using it universally.  A few other authors have also adopted this and I’ve read it in a couple other books.  AND on the TV show Castle (of which I’m a big fan – my favorite quote: Don’t ruin my story with your logic!) Captain Gates (a woman) insists her detectives call her “sir.”  I started a trend!

When Irys arrives, the gang is all there and Yelena has a plan to free the Commander and capture the bad guys.  While Ari and Janco take Irys to Mogkan’s power circle, Valek and Yelena try to free the Commander.

Yelena’s fight with Mogkan and Brazell is the big battle for her.  She is able to sow a little dissension between them.  Remember that Mogkan poisoned the cognac during the Sitians’ visit?  Not much was said about it after that…no time really, but it was important and I used it at just the right moment!

Her journey as a character also culminates – not after she found and beat Brazell, but when she faces Reyad’s ghost.  This will take more than a physical fight, but a mental one.  She spots her reflection and sees that, “The shadows of doubt were gone.” And she realizes that she hasn’t lost her soul, that it has always been there, locked away  and she needed to free it.  She orders Reyad to “Be gone.” He vanishes.  This is her very first act as a Soulfinder, she sends him to the fire world without realizing that is what she has done.  I, too didn’t know the significance of this act until I was writing Magic Study.

But all is not well, Janco’s hurt and Valek is human after all.  After battling so many opponents after a couple days without food or sleep and having to push against Mogkan’s magic, Valek has reached the end of his endurance.  Fortunately Yelena’s link with Irys come in handy and she helps immobilize Mogkan so Valek can slit his throat.  I love when Valek gives her the bloody knife and says, “My love, for you.”

Chapter 32 is what’s known as the “the marryin’ and the buryin’” chapter – where every thing is wrapped up, explained, and readers learn who lives and gets together, and who dies.  In this case, it’s looking grim for both Janco and the Commander.  Janco due to his injuries and the Commander’s soul has fled.

Yelena does retrieve the Commander’s soul – another aspect of her Soulfinding abilities. And then there’s more explanations.

When I wrote the first draft, I had a different ending.  I had the Commander plan to exile Yelena to Sitia, but she wants to stay.  So she challenges Valek to a fight.  If she wins, she earns the right to be his second-in-command.  Ah – so that’s why I made a point to explain to the readers about Valek’s challenge. ;)

So I write this beautiful fight scene between the two of them.  It spans pages and in the end Yelena wins and earns her place in Ixia.  The End!  Yay!!  Balloons fall from the ceiling and confetti shoots into the air (well that’s how it felt!).  In my mind, Poison Study was a stand alone novel – once and done – happy ending with Yelena earning exactly what she wanted…freedom and something extra…love.

However, when my husband (a.k.a. Mr. Logical), read the book, he didn’t “buy” the ending.  He said, “She’s injured and still manages to beat the best fighter in Ixia?  Nope, I’m not buying it.”  Shoot! Now what do I do?   I decided that the Commander would exile Yelena to Sitia and that even though she was separated from Valek and the others I’d end the book with the promise that they would be together someday.

When Poison Study was bought by my publisher, they were so excited and wanted to give me a two book contract, because I had a second book…right?  Uh…sure!  When did they need this second book?  I hoped it wasn’t soon.  Thankfully things move slow in publishing and I had 18 months to write that and revise Poison Study.

However, my editor wanted a stronger ending, something that would not only tie-up the events of Poison Study, but give the readers a reason to rush out and buy book 2 (a.k.a. Magic Study).

So I added in hits of what might come in the next book.  Irys explains that the children in Brazell’s orphanage had been kidnapped from Sitia because they had the potential to develop magical abilities. Mogkan mentioned that Yelena is part of the Zaltana clan and Irys laughs.  “My goodness, you’re in for a real surprise if you’re part of the Zaltana clan. That would explain why you alone didn’t cave in under Mogkan’s spell.”

Instead of exiling Yelena, the Commander signs an order for her execution.  This adds more conflict and tension.  He tries to hand the order to Valek, but Valek won’t take it.  But will Valek disobey a verbal order?  No, his loyalty to the Commander is absolute.  Of course he says it will be his last task – if he had to kill Yelena he would kill himself soon after.  The tension is dissipated as the Commander decides to find another person to carry out the order.  Whew!

Now Yelena leaves for Sitia with a sense of danger/emergency—an assassin might be after her (and one does go after her – you can read it here:

Before she leaves, she says her good-byes to Ari and Janco.  Ari wants to go with her and protect her and Janco pouts about her leaving.  She quotes what the switchblade symbols mean: “Whatever happened to ‘Sieges weathered, fight together, friend forever?” Janco’s eyes lit up. “You little fox. Figured it out already, have you?” That switchblade quote is another reader favorite.  It was even made into a design and put on T-shirts.  And a couple readers have tattooed the quote on their skin (and in one case, has tattooed the symbols on her skin).

At the very end Valek meets up with her on the road.  She asks him to come with her, but he declines and says, “…you need to spread your wings and see how far you can fly.”  This is another reference to her transformation from caterpillar into a butterfly and if you remember how I wanted the cover to have her spreading her arms with scarlet fabric billowing out – I thought this would be another nice image to match my ideal cover!

Question 31 - In Halloween Men, which day are the citizens allowed to take off their masks in public?

Here’s the link to the Rafflecopter so you can enter all your answers!!

I hope you enjoyed reading these behind-the-scenes look at all the chapters of Poison Study!

Friday, October 30, 2015



This chapter is full of action and revelations.  Yelena and Valek are locked in Brazell’s small dungeon.  Yelena believes she’s going to die from Butterfly’s Dust, but, in a twist I hope readers were not expecting (but some have told me they guessed it), Butterfly’s Dust ends up being a potion called White Fright and is not lethal.  If a person stops taking White Fright, then he/she experiences withdrawal symptoms, which are horrible cramps and vomiting. Yes, poor Yelena throws up quite a bit in this book, but have you ever been in so much pain you threw up?  And I watched enough track and field meets to see plenty of athletes vomiting after running.  I was aiming for realism, people!

Yelena tells Valek everything about her past, but doesn’t reveal that she has magic.  This is cathartic for her and she, “…purges the black stain of Reyad.”  Then she decides she’ll tell Valek about her magic when the first of many waves of painful cramps hits.

Here are a couple ways I described the pain: “My stomach muscles contracted with such severity that I felt as if someone were trying to rip them from my body.”  And later: “…causing my abdominal muscles to feel as if they were being shredded with a knife.”  Anyone who has given birth might recognize this experience as being very similar to contractions during labor.  I started writing Poison Study after my son was born and had my daughter while working on the book.  The memory was fresh in my mind!

Yelena plays dead after her terrible night and they manage to escape.  Or rather make it look like they escaped.  Instead they hid in an empty cell – a good strategy.  I love this line that Valek says when Mogkan thinks they’re headed for Sitia. “They actually think I would abandon the Commander. They have no concept of loyalty.”

While they’re waiting for the best time to make their true escape, Yelena asks Valek a simple question to pass the time.  Instead, she gets a complicated answer.  Valek tells her about his past and how he met the Commander.  However, his revelations go a step beyond hers.

Perhaps you remember this exchange (which is many of my readers’ favorite quote from all my books):
        “Yelena, you’ve driven me crazy. You’ve cause me consider trouble and I’ve contemplated ending your life twice since I’ve known you.” Valek’s warm breath in my ear sent a shiver down my spine.
“But you’ve slipped under my skin, invaded my blood and seized my heart.”
“That sounds more like a poison than a person,” was all I could say.  His confession had both shocked and thrilled me.
“Exactly,” Valek replied.  “You have poisoned me.”  He rolled me over to face him. Before I could make another sound, he kissed me.

I’m sure many of you cried out loud, “FINALLY!”  ;).

When I first wrote this section, I added another two sentences after the one above and let things “fade to black.”  They made love and that’s all you needed to know.  Well, my critique partners who were romance writers said I needed an entire chapter detailing their union.  Those who wrote children’s and YA said it was fine.  I added another two sentences in revisions and sent it off.  Mary-Theresa (my editor at the time) wanted more—at least another page or two.  I wasn’t comfortable with that, but I did add another paragraph.

Funny story – when Poison Study was translated into Japanese, I received a call from the translator, Yukari.  She told me the Japanese editor wanted to delete that extra paragraph and asked me if it was okay.  Yes, it was.

Question 30 – What is the name of the assassin school Valek attended?

Don't answer this question in the comments!! This is another chance to win! There will be 31 questions for each chapter note published. Collect the answers to ALL the questions (or your best guess) and then enter to win a T-shirt at the end of the month (I'll post the Rafflecopter on the 31st).

Thursday, October 29, 2015



Yelena is captured and goes through the motions of tasting the Commander’s food.  The Commander is a blank slate and follows Brazell’s orders.  The Commander’s advisors are soon affected by the Criollo and Yelena realizes her time as a prop is soon coming to an abrupt end.

When I re-read the scene at the factory producing Criollo, I realize that wasn’t really necessary to advance the plot – the link between Criollo and the Commander’s strange behavior had been established.  However, I’ve visited a couple chocolate factories and done so much research, I thought it’s be fun to show how chocolate would be made by a society that didn’t have electricity and other modern technology.

Having grown up in the manor house, Yelena has an advantage, but still her escape from her room isn’t without a few problems.  Once free, she relives her days as an acrobat and focuses her magic on her surroundings.  It’s hard to describe, so I say she “projected her awareness” out into the woods, and connects with Irys.

Irys is after Kangom/Mogkan – he has managed to strengthen his power and is using Theobroma (a.k.a. Criollo).  And we all now know that Theobroma means “food of the gods” from Chapter 10’s notes. :)  Every so often, I’ll get an email from a reader who has discovered the connection of Theobroma to chocolate or to Criollo.  Many times they’re excited and wonder if I knew about it.

This is where a reader learns that it is possible to augment a person’s power.  Diamonds and using other magicians are two methods.  The magicians need to be in a precise pattern.  But, you say, Leif has given his “power” to Yelena – not really.  Magicians can share energy so one of them can use magic longer.  The cost of using magic is physical and mental exhaustion.

Remember when I said I didn’t really figure out how the magic worked or what exactly Yelena’s abilities were before I started writing the Study books?  That was back in Chapter 5 notes. Well, in this chapter Yelena does something she really shouldn’t be able to do – find her fire amulet.  Oops. In Magic Study, Yelena learns that she can influence living beings, but not objects, fire, etc… so technically she shouldn’t have found her amulet…but being a creative person, here’s an explanation – since Yelena had a mental connection with Irys, she subconsciously uses that link to find the amulet through Irys.  Just like she used Dax to light the candle in Fire Study.

Here's something that looks like the fire amulet - the shape is good, but imagine it bigger (about the size of your palm), all red and inscribed with her name and the date she she won it:

Valek and Yelena team up to find Mogkan’s power source and explore Reyad’s wing.  All kinds of nasties are in there, including his ghost.  Reyad is the voice of her fears—that she is beyond redemption and that she’d never be free of him.

They find the source of Mogkan’s power and it’s the children from Brazell’s orphanage, they’re mindless, malnourished, and chained in circles.  Yelena recognizes a few of them and she sees one of her friends. Before she can do anything Mogkan shows up with 8 armed guards.  Yelena and Valek triggered a magical alarm by crossing the circle and now they’re in big trouble….or are they?  Can they fight 8 soldiers and a magician?

Guess you’ll have to turn the page and find out!

Question 29 – What is Janco allergic to?

Don't answer this question in the comments!! This is another chance to win! There will be 31 questions for each chapter note published. Collect the answers to ALL the questions (or your best guess) and then enter to win a T-shirt at the end of the month (I'll post the Rafflecopter on the 31st).

Wednesday, October 28, 2015



Yelena’s on her way to Brazell’s manor house.  At the first stop for the night, she translates the symbols etched on her switchblade’s handle.  There are six silver markings.  In this graphic, designed by my friend Daniel, which I used for T-shirts, there are only three.  I cheated – I decided to keep the switchblade simple, that I would have three symbols, but each one represents two words.  As you can see, the last one has an infinity sign in it meaning forever.  I guess I could say the other three symbols are on the other side, but in Chapter 28 it’s pretty clear that they are all in a row.

A secret rendezvous turns tragic.  When she’s in the woods with Rand, she reaffirms that her first instinct is not to run, but to stand and fight.  In this scene, Rand is supposed to betray her yet again, but he can’t do it and ends up sacrificing himself to save her life.  He asks for forgiveness and she grants it.  He redeemed himself and I’m glad.  I liked Rand – he was a conflicted character with a number of quirks.  I never kill off a character lightly.  The story dictates the course of events and this was a natural progression.  I didn’t plan for him to die – you all know me - I never plan :).

And then, Yelena kicks butt.  She’s not going to be a victim and has no choice but to defend herself.  She crushes the first guy’s windpipe – no hesitation because she knows there are more.  It’s kill or be killed and she doesn’t have time to weigh the consequences of her actions.

The fight with the second goon is in close and personal.  It’s realistic and bloody.  I always say I write fantasy because I like swords and horses.  Using a gun is too easy – it’s too easy to take a life.  While with a knife or sword, you have to be close enough to look into your opponent’s eyes and smell their fear.  I’m not against gun ownership as I have two good friends who are responsible gun owners, but I really wish someone would figure out how to keep them out of the hands of criminals and those crazy people who go into schools, malls, and theaters.

Valek arrives – he didn’t obey the Commander’s order, but he is beginning to suspect the Commander isn’t really all there.  So technically, he didn’t disobey the Commander.  And as they near Brazell’s manor, it’s obvious the Commander is not himself.  Yelena knows it’s going to be bad when she arrives at the manor house.  She has come full circle.  Hiding her backpack, she uses her lock picks to secure her hair into a bun.  I don’t have long hair – I have curly hair that grows out like a bush and defies gravity so I usually keep it shoulder-length.  A friend of mine had her long straight hair twisted up into a knot and held in place with chop sticks – I was fascinated by this and thought if she can use chop sticks, then Yelena can use her lock picks.

The ending isn’t a surprise.  Brazell’s been waiting to kill Yelena for a long time, but they do need to wait to keep Valek in line until all their plans are in place.

Question 28 – In Touch of Power, where did Kerrick finally admit he cared for Avry?

Don't answer this question in the comments!! This is another chance to win! There will be 31 questions for each chapter note published. Collect the answers to ALL the questions (or your best guess) and then enter to win a T-shirt at the end of the month (I'll post the Rafflecopter on the 31st).

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


I completely lucked out when the talented actress, Gabra Zackman was assigned to narrate all my Study books (and my Healer books as well). I remember getting a phone call from the producer. Gabra was about to record Poison Study and wanted to know how to pronounce some of the names. Right there was my first clue of Gabra's professionalism and attention to detail. Because of her, my audio books are very popular and sell well.  And when I heard her voice telling Yelena's story for the very first time, I got goose bumps!

When I first met Gabra in New York City, I had a total fan girl moment! We had a drink together and it turned into a mutual love fest that has deepened into a wonderful friendship.  I still have the postcard she signed for me!  Last January, I had the pleasure of watching her work and I recorded an introduction to Shadow Study (narrating a book is HARD work! I hadn't realized just how much went into it - I must have recorded my intro about five times before everyone was happy with the results).

Please welcome Gabra Zackman!

For Maria, To Celebrate Ten Years of Poison Study:

I first came into contact with Maria’s work at the very beginning of my career as a narrator with Audible.  I had been an audiobook narrator for 2-3 years at that point, but mostly recorded only non-profit work through the National Library Service For the Blind.  (It was early enough in the business that we still called them “books on tape” :) I was called in to audition for Audible, and my very first job was to record Poison Study.  In short:  I completely fell in love with it.

I find it’s rare as a narrator to have a completely personal relationship with our books…usually we connect to pieces of them: the characters, the language, the genre, the rhythms.  But with Poison Study I felt like I had fallen in love with the book in its entirety.  I remember telling both my producer and director that I was experiencing something very new for me in the field of audiobook narration: I was going to miss it when it was over!  I had become so attached to the characters that I felt like I lived inside their world for the week I recorded the book.  That’s a valuable lesson to learn as a narrator, and Maria’s book taught it to me:  to love the story as though it were my own.

Over the years I’ve had the privilege of recording both the Soulfinders Series as well as the Healer Series.  And I’ve had the same experience with every single book: I’ve fallen in love with Maria’s characters, her words, her stories.  Right now I’m in the midst of reading a book Maria sent me as a gift: Inside Out/ Outside In is an entirely different kind of work for Maria—and I’ve had the same experience.  I am inexorably drawn into the worlds she creates, the depth of her imagination, her powerful gifts as a storyteller as well as her strong female protagonists and effortless sparks of romance.  I am, in a word, transported.

Some years ago I finally got to meet Maria, and have had a beautiful friendship with her since.  We had coffee with her daughter in New York when they came to visit, and recently we had the privilege of her sitting in on a recording session of Shadow Study (the fourth in the Soulfinders Series) and then going out to dinner together.  I find Maria is just like her books: she is filled with charm, enthusiasm, wit and adventure.  When I spend time with her, as with her stories, it is like being around an old friend.

I count myself so lucky that one of my earliest experiences in my career was with such a prolific and generous writer.  And as it was my first recording experience for Audible, it makes it that much more special.  I’m thrilled to celebrate ten years of Poison Study…and even more thrilled to celebrate Maria for all the years of beautiful stories, of magical adventures, and many many more to come!

Cheers, Maria!  Cheers to you, to your characters, to your stories.  I am always going to be one of your biggest fans!

Xoxo Gabra

And I'm one your biggest fans as well, Gabra - thanks for the lovely blog post.

Please find Gabra at the following links:
GAME ON, book one of the series, out NOW
ALL IN, book two, out NOW
DOUBLE DOWN, book three, forthcoming January 2016



Rand is desperate to duplicate the Criollo recipe, but Yelena is unable to provide him with more beans so he’ll be transferred to MD-5, Brazell’s district.  This is a clue that Brazell is planning on occupying the Commander’s castle at some point.

When she returns to Valek’s suite, I have him waiting with his “sarcastic lecture” about her going to the kitchen without an escort (he’s falling for her).  I like what she thinks here, “…but logic and an empty stomach were like oil and water, they didn’t mix.”

Yet another problem arises as Yelena learns she is going to MD-5 with the Commander while Valek has been ordered to remain behind.

In this chapter, Yelena uses her magic to find what she calls her “zone of concentration.”  She senses her opponents moves before they actually move.  What she is doing is reading their thoughts, but she doesn’t know that yet.  Her use of magic drawls Irys and she gets her first lesson on how to use magic.  And Irys provides some information—the Commander’s thoughts are wide open, there’s magic flowing to the castle, Mogkan is really Kangom (Mogkan is almost Kangom spelled backward – I didn’t like Mognak or Nakgom so I fiddle with it and came up with Kangom).

Irys offers Yelena a chance to escape and it’s a pretty good plan. If you’d been paying attention, Yelena has thought about running away many times before this point.  And finally here’s her chance, but Yelena declines!  She crazy, right?  But Yelena realizes she cares for the Commander, Valek, Ari and Janco.  She can’t just leave when they might need her. Once again, she puts others first and I think it’s an admirable trait.

Irys also warns Yelena that if she doesn’t gain control of her magic, then, “someone else might grab it and use it, leaving you a mindless slave.”  Do tell – this is a bit of foreshadowing – remember Mogkan had been with Reyad when he’d done all those experiments with Yelena.

At the end of this chapter, Valek gives Yelena the butterfly statue he carved.  He reveals that he’d been thinking about her when he carved it. “Delicate in appearance, but with a strength unnoticed at first glance.”  Sigh!  That’s what he’d thought when he first met her – she was so small and fragile, but he soon learned she had an inner strength.

Here’s a picture of a butterfly pendant that Stacey Silver made for me:

Question 27 -  In Storm Watcher, what is the name of Megan’s favorite dog?

Don't answer this question in the comments!! This is another chance to win! There will be 31 questions for each chapter note published. Collect the answers to ALL the questions (or your best guess) and then enter to win a T-shirt at the end of the month (I'll post the Rafflecopter on the 31st).

Monday, October 26, 2015



In the beginning of this chapter, there is another hint that Criollo is based on chocolate.  It’s when Yelena says, “Eating it had lifted my spirits and given me a boost of energy. I longed for its sweet taste especially now that my chances for freedom had dwindled.”

Since my husband is a chocolate expert, he has done a great deal of research on chocolate and how it affects people’s moods and health.  In fact, he has proven that dark chocolate is good for your heart.  So eat two Dove™ Dark Promises a day to help your heart!

My husband also argued with Mary-Theresa (my editor at the time) that the “fruit” on the scale on the original cover art should be a cacao pod and not a gourd.  He really wanted it to be accurate.

There’s a feast for the Sitian Delegation in this chapter.  In my mind, the Ixians are pale with dark hair and Ixia is drab and gray and cold – like a black and white photo.  Sitia, on the other hand, is full of colors and vibrancy and is warm—its people are darker skinned.

I really like Valek and Yelena’s banter about the fire dancers.  His comment to her during the performance was fun.  He said, “I don’t think I would have made it past the audition, Yelena. I probably would have set my hair on fire by this point.”  His humor is poking through his normally serious demeanor.

The feast doesn’t go well for Yelena as the cognac is spiked with My Love.  Ari is immediately on the move and swoops in to take care of Yelena.  I imagined the effects of My Love are similar to someone who has taken LSD and gone on an “acid trip.”  Since I’ve never taken any illegal drugs, I really can’t say if my description is accurate, but that’s what I was thinking when Valek turns into a black ink spot and the walls run with blood.

Yelena wakes to find Janco sitting by her bedside reading. Janco has his usual colorful commentary and he tells her Ari would have gutted Reyad if the man was alive.  More proof Ari has taken his role as protector seriously (Janco has as well, but he doesn’t show it in the same way). Also this was a good way for them to learn that Reyad did indeed deserve to die—they trusted Yelena, but that was a concern.

Yelena’s hunger sends her to the kitchen and she must be “fake nice” to Rand. It doesn’t last.  Yelena is unable to contain her emotions.  At this point, she isn’t trained as a spy and I think this scene is close to what I’d do in the same situation.  I have a hard time hiding my emotions from my family.  I can’t give anyone the silent treatment for very long.  I blow up and yell, then feel immediately better and I don’t hold a grudge.  I tried to hold a grudge once – one of my volleyball teammates decided to make his own team and took half my players with him all without telling me.  I couldn’t field a team that year (or any since) and I tried to glare at him and ignore him whenever I saw him.  If he noticed, he never gave me any indication. I kept it up for a couple months, but it didn’t last – I just couldn’t sustain the emotion.  Now when I see him, we chat and it’s just like before.

Back to Yelena, she can’t keep her mouth shut and yells at Rand.  During the fight, she almost reveals Valek’s undercover operation on Star.

Of course, this exchange is my favorite:
“You’re in love with him,” Rand cried.
“That’s preposterous,” I shouted.

And then the smell of roasting chocolate fills the kitchen!  It was hard to figure out a way to get those beans into the oven.  That’s how the Aztec/Mayan people discovered what those beans could become – they tossed them into the fire at some point.  They also used the beans as currency.  My husband has gone from chocolate research to the history of chocolate and he figured out how much the beans were worth.  Today it would cost you 150,000 beans to purchase an iPad.

Question 26 – What are Janco and Ari’s horse names?

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Sunday, October 25, 2015



Although Yelena’s been learning how to fight, she hasn’t learned anything about magic.  Mogkan is about to kill her when Valek arrives and saves her life.  Mogkan quickly discovers that Valek cares for her and Mogkan can use that knowledge to his advantage.

In this scene the reader learns that Mogkan “rescued” Yelena and brought her to General Brazell’s orphanage.  More clues that all is not right with the Commander are shown in this chapter – the fact that the Commander is unconcerned with Mogkan’s actions are telling.

Yelena takes advantage of having Ari and Janco be her bodyguards, learning as much as possible.  She also is smart enough to take advantage of Valek spending all his time with the Commander and she sneaks into his office to search for any information about the antidote to Butterfly’s Dust. At this point she feels as if time is running out and she needs answers before the southern magician returns.

Of course Valek is going to show up while she’s searching his office.  It wouldn’t be any fun if I let her explore and then leave. ;) Valek arrives, but he also has a meeting with the next condemned prisoner and this is when the reader discovers that Valek isn’t a cold-hearted killing machine. He’s the balance to the Commander’s black and white views on killing and thinks poor Tentil should be given another chance. I suspect the Commander knows what Valek’s up to, but chooses to ignore it.

Of course Valek knows Yelena is hiding – he wouldn’t be alive if a rookie like her can sneak into his office and hide there without him knowing. The interesting part about that is that even though he knows  she’s there, he doesn’t kick her  out before Tentil arrives.  He wants her to overhear his conversation with the man.  Why?  To show he’s not a killing machine and also to show that he cares what she thinks about him.  He doesn’t want her to think he’s a killing machine.  For everyone else except the Commander he likes his reputation and encourages the exaggerations about how many people he killed, but, for Yelena, it’s different.

She asks him, “What have I earned from you, Valek? Loyalty? Respect? Trust.”
And he answers,  “You have my attention. But give me what I want, and you can have everything.”

The tension dissipates when the Generals leave, however, I’m not one to let anyone catch a break so the Commander announces a Sitian Delegation is arriving in a day.  And when they arrive, Yelena sees that Irys, a powerful southern magician is leading the delegation.

When my editor sent me the first round of revisions notes, she liked the way I ended these chapters with a mini cliff hanger, but I hadn’t done that as much in the beginning ones, so she wanted to find ways to make ALL of them like that.  So you can blame her for your lack of sleep!

Question 25 - How many editions of Poison Study have been published in total?

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Saturday, October 24, 2015



Valek’s first reaction to Yelena’s touch makes sense.  He’s an assassin and was taught to react first, think later—he stiffens, but then relaxes as she kneads his muscles.  I like their exchange about what Valek would do in a perfect world—be a sculptor.  She’s drunk, and that has relaxed her past all caution, revealing a bit of her past and then…going for his belt buckle. Everything comes to a screeching halt as Valek scoops her up and tucks her into bed.  He’s a gentleman, but Yelena believes he doesn’t like her and she suffers through the pain of rejection.

To get an insight into what Valek is thinking during that little scene, you need to read Shadow Study.  Don’t have a copy yet?  Here’s a link!  ;)  Shadow Study on Amazon

Yelena wakes up later and goes outside for a drink and see’s a giant spider.  Actually it’s Valek returning from sneaking into 8 Generals’ rooms and copying each piece of the code to figure out who the Commander’s successor will be.  This part shows what Valek is capable of and the fact that he likes to figure out puzzles.  Plus he is trusting Yelena with this information.  He’s acting like their “in this together” and this is a hint of what he ultimately wants her to become—a member of the security team.  He values her intelligence and hopes he can trust her.

Also in this chapter, Valek uses a book to help decode the symbols - symbols that are like the ones on Yelena's switchblade. She now has the means to learn what they say.  I love when she thinks this: "Eventually, my ass. Won't Janco be surprised."  What's not too big a surprise is that Brazell is the Commander's new successor - more clues that Brazell is somehow influencing the Commander.

At the end of this chapter, Yelena encounters Brazell and Mogkan—it was bound to happen and I hope it’s a bit of a surprise along with the fact that Mogkan has magic.  And he can use his magic to manipulate her and kill her.  He squeezes off her air and she’s about to go to the sky.  However, there are 8 more chapters in the book, so you know she doesn’t die, but she can’t fight magic and they’re in an isolated part of the castle.  Guess you’ll just have to keep reading.

Question 24 – In Inside Out, what are Logan and Anne-Jade called?

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Friday, October 23, 2015



Yelena returns to Valek’s suite to find him…worried about her?  He covers it quickly saying Brazell’s soldiers have taken out a bounty on her and he doesn’t wish to train a new food taster.  Yeah, right ;) the damage is done – he cares for her.  How much is yet to be determined.

Yelena learns how to taste the various brandies. Why brandy? When I was younger and went camping with my friends, we’d drink blackberry brandy while sitting around the campfire.  Before the Generals’ meeting Valek appears in his dress uniform. Sigh. There’s just something about a man in uniform…come on, ladies you know what I’m talking about! ;) Yelena’s has enough brandy at this point to be not as guarded around him.  Plus he does look stunning!  I also like how he’s not comfortable with all the finery and probably would rather be climbing the walls in his sneak suit.  And only when Yelena tells him how nice he looks does he even consider that aspect.  This guy doesn’t spend much time preening in front of a mirror.

The Generals’ brandy meeting was a good place to give readers information about Ixia and the Military Districts, and an ideal time to show how the Commander interacts with the Generals on making decisions.  During the meeting, the Commander introduces two more complications—the change in his successor and the fact that he is allowing a Sitian delegation to visit Ixia.  Both things have never happened in the fifteen years since the takeover.  This is a red flag for Valek and the reader that something’s not right quite with the Commander.

The idea of sliding the bottle along the table versus passing it around came from Kim, one of the people in my writing critique group.  She wrote Victorian era romances and told me about meetings during that time period and how they slid the bottle around. It sounded like a fun little detail to include.

The meeting was also a great place to give the reader some background on the Commander and his family.  And then there’s the dream….or is it a dream?  Yelena witnesses a woman celebrating over killing a snow cat (an almost impossible feat) and this action is proof to her that she is really a man with the wrong body. Basically the first hint that the Commander is transgender. Yelena dismisses the idea, but Mogkan has been watching her and Valek reports that someone used magic during the meeting.  Hmmm...the plot is so thick it's almost gelatin :).

When Yelena and Valek return from the meeting, I like this little bit of playful banter:
“About the same time your snoring could be heard halfway across the room,” Valek said.
“Ha,” Yelena said rather loud. “You were so stiff at that meeting I thought rigor mortis had set in.”
Valek snorted with amusement. “I doubt you could have looked any better sitting in that uncomfortable dress uniform all night. I imagine Dilana sprayed on extra starch with malicious glee.”

In this exchange, the readers learn that Valek has a sense of humor and that he doesn’t take himself so seriously.  It’s a nice moment and it’s about to get…nicer?  Yelena, drunk from all the brandy she tasted, slips behind him and starts massaging his shoulders.

And then…the chapter ends!  Do you really want to close the book now? ;)

Question 23 – In Taste of Darkness, what is the motto Avry and her friends use in place of "Thank the creator!"?

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Thursday, October 22, 2015



The beginning of this chapter is a blow to Yelena.  Just when she’s feeling stronger, making friends and trusting others—bam!  She not only finds out Rand’s leaking information to Star, but he tried to kill her! No wonder she gets sick to her stomach!

However, Valek’s there to put things into perspective.  I’ve had many readers email me and say this exchange between the two of them rang true:
“When you warned me you would test me from time to time, I thought you meant spiking my food. But it seems there’s is more than one way to poison a person’s heart, and it doesn’t even require a meal.” [Yelena says]
“Everyone makes choices in life. Some bad, some good. It’s called living, and if you want to bow out, then go right ahead. But don’t do it halfway. Don’t linger in whiner’s limbo.” 

This chapter also has Janco teaching Yelena to pick a lock.  I did my research and found out exactly how to pick a pin-tumbler lock (one that opens with a key).  The amount of information on the Internet about this is quite scary and I was tempted to buy a set of lock picks and practice…at home! That rash of break-ins in my neighborhood where nothing was stolen was not me…honest!

I enjoyed writing the scene with her and Janco.  He’s worrying about her getting into trouble and in a few pages the readers see more of his personality.  He’s generous and buys her a set of lock picks and a switchblade with mysterious silver symbols on the hilt.  The reader also learns that General Brazell is back and that his soldiers are out for her blood.  More problems for Yelena.

The end exchange when Yelena asks Janco about the symbols was fun to write.  She asks about them and he says, “I’m sure you’ll figure it out…eventually.”  And Yelena responds with, “Come here, so I can punch you.”  Her comment is from my college friend Nisha.  When anyone got a good barb in on her, she’d say, “Come here, so I can hit you.”  I changed it a bit.

Speaking of changing things, I don’t usually wish to change anything in a book I wrote (once it’s published), but I’d like to tweak the second to last line of dialogue of this chapter.  Janco says, “I’d love to oblige you, my dear.”  That rankles!  Now that I know him better, Janco would never say, “my dear”  no he’d say, “sweetheart” or “puppy dog” just to get another little jab in or to get a reaction from Yelena.  Of course she’d be too smart to give him the satisfaction.

Question 22 – In the Glass Series, what did Devlen give to Opal as a wedding present?

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015



Nix attacks Yelena and gets a nasty surprise!  The fight is very realistic – I’ve been taught when there is a knife at your throat the best way to stay alive is to grab the blade and wrist if possible.  I use this fight to teach writers how to write action scenes. So many new writers focus on the actions and dialogue, they forget the internal dialogue and emotions.  She also recalls Janco’s advice to “hit and git” (but we all know that comes from my karate teacher, Tom :).

This fight is also a pivotal moment for Yelena.  All her hard work and training comes to fruition – she is able to not only survive an attack from an armed opponent, but to leave as the winner.  Since age 16, she’s been victimized and this is a turning point for her.  She wasn’t the victim in this case and her comment after the fight sums it up nicely: “I bared my teeth and thought, Now who’s the rat?”

Later, when Valek bursts into the infirmary and demands answers (a clue that he cares), I enjoyed writing their exchange.  Especially when Valek asks, “So your training has been progressing to your satisfaction?”  And she answers, “Better than expected.”  And then when he asks if he should kill Nix, she says, “If I wanted him dead, I would have done it myself.”  Love that line!

The relationship between Valek and Yelena developed slowly and these interactions between them were so much fun to write. Yet, I still wasn’t sure what would happen, then Yelena visits Dilana for some warm weather clothes and their banter is what tipped the scale in Valek’s favor. There are clues that they both are thinking of the other as more than colleagues.

At the end, Yelena and Margg meet Captain Star and Yelena is excited to expose Margg as the leak. In what I hoped was a bit of a surprise, Margg turns out to be working for Valek.  Margg is equally disappointed--there’s no love between these two.  At least Yelena was able to show Margg she wasn’t going to meekly take her abuse anymore!  Another step in the right direction for Yelena.

I purposely made Margg appear to be guilty of treason so that when Yelena’s friend, Rand shows up at the end of the chapter as the real leak--it’s a surprise and a blow to her.  Plots resemble roller coasters—lots of ups and downs. And the hills get higher as the story progresses.

Question 21 – Where did Ambrose grow up?

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015



Chapter 20 is the chapter I tell parents to read first before they allow their kids to read Poison Study. When I wrote the book, my intended audience was adults and so when it came time to explain why Yelena murdered Reyad, I described what happened in more detail than I would have if I’d known teens and younger kids would be reading the book.  And by young, I mean 9 years old!   This was before the young adult edition was released.  And I wanted to revise this chapter before that edition went to print, but wasn’t given any time.

I knew Yelena had to have an excellent reason for killing Reyad and while rape is terrible, awful, horrible, I felt I also needed her to look beyond her own pain and suffering that when Reyad threatened her “sisters” it pushed her over the edge.  She had to save them from him.

I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I’ve had 9 year olds come to my book signings who enjoyed my books. At first, I was horrified, but they arrived with a parent in tow and I heard the same thing from most of them.  That they skim over the “yucky” parts and that if they have questions, they could ask their parents.  They obviously read at advanced levels and I have a precocious reader of my own—they get bored with books aimed at their age/grade.  My daughter read Poison Study around age 10 and she did the same thing—skimmed over this chapter.

In this chapter Yelena “talks” with the ghost of Reyad.  This is another “dark moment” for Yelena, probably the darkest of the book, when her memories and experiences threaten to derail her from achieving her goal of being free.

Another of my favorite lines is by Reyad.  He says, “Poisoned, pursued and living with a psychopath. Not what I would consider the good life.”

When Yelena recounts her achievements at the fire festival and she ends her acrobatic routine by yanking the wings of her costume open and “…bright scarlet fabric of the wings billowed out…”  That scene is what I thought the cover art should look like.  Yelena standing with her arms raised and red fabric wings sweeping behind her—at the moment of her metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly.  My publisher’s art department disagreed - not that I'm complaining they've done a fantastic job with all my covers.

Side note - my favorite Poison Study cover from all the editions world wide is the UK young adult edition - the designer, Henry Steadman nailed it:

This chapter is also the first time Janco does his rhymes when fighting.  Janco seems like he’s always in a good mood.  Nothing can upset him and insults just bounce right off.   And he likes to annoy his opponents.  Angry opponents make mistakes.  Mistakes Janco can take advantage of.

Ari describes Janco best. “His biggest advantage is that no one thinks he is serious, and that’s exactly what he wants.”  Yelena responds with, “I’ll try and remember that the next time he’s cracking jokes and my ribs.”

Janco has turned into my favorite character of all time (please don't tell the others - I don't want them to get jealous).  He’s a blast to write and just a fun character.

Question 20 – In my short story, Mongrel, what is the name of the “dog” she rescues?

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Monday, October 19, 2015



How does a writer make the plot thicken?  I don’t know where that expression came from, but, to me, I see the plot as a series of obstacles that get in the way of the main protagonist’s goals.  So in chapter 19, there are lots of problems to overcome.  Margg wants Yelena to sell secrets, the Commander decides to change his successor, Valek is angry at her and she doesn’t know why, and Rand is trying to duplicate the Criollo recipe.

And Yelena is not super human—all these problems do weigh on her and it’s hard for her to maintain any optimism about her situation.  But she doesn’t give up.  When Rand mentions coffee and she thinks her mystery beans might be coffee beans, she plans to figure it out.  She doesn’t tell Margg to take a hike when asked to spy, but tries to find out more information. This aspect of Yelena’s personality is also a part of mine.  I didn’t give up on trying to find a publisher for Poison Study (you can read about it here:

While I was writing Poison Study, I didn’t try to incorporate any themes or symbolism or any of that stuff you learn in literature class in school.  I focused on the characters and their desires and conflicts and how they solved their problems.  Only when the story was written and published, did I even consider all those things.  And the reason I did at that time was because I was getting questions about them.

And then I started receiving emails from readers.  Many readers contacted me to thank me for writing Poison Study, telling me the book helped them get through difficult times in their lives.  Other readers were inspired by Yelena and thought if she can get through her problems, then they could too.  Her “I’m not giving up” attitude helped many people, even convinced a young teenage girl not to commit suicide.  I was blown away by this, and knowing that my stories are helping others is far more rewarding than any award I could win or making a bestseller list.

This chapter is one of Yelena’s “dark moments,” yet she rallies and approaches Valek about the offer to sell secrets.  It takes a lot of guts and there are hints there that the reason Valek was so angry is because he thought Yelena was going to commit treason.  This is a clue that he cared about her – if he didn’t, he wouldn’t have been so upset and she would have shared Oscove’s fate.

The fact that she wasn’t going to commit treason is a turning point for Valek. At the end of the chapter, he says, “You once said I wasn’t ready to believe your reason for killing Reyad. I’ll believe you now.”  Yelena answers, “But I’m not ready to tell you.”  This triggers Yelena’s memories of her time with Reyad.

Question 19 – In my short story, Sword Point, what do the students use to kill the vampires?

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Sunday, October 18, 2015



I am not a runner.  As a kid, I remember running with ease around the neighborhood, playing tag, baby-in-the-air, and capture the flag.  I remember being fast, making it to first base during a softball game before the throw.  However, those skills did not follow me into adulthood and I gasp for air and feel sick after one lap.  Yelena shares this trait with me.  But unlike me, Yelena is determined to improve.  Her stubborn streak shows in this chapter and so does Nix’s efforts to deter her.

Nix came to mind when I was thinking about General Brazell.  The General would be furious that Yelena wasn’t executed, but since he wants his factory up and running he can’t do anything about it.  Not overtly.  Nix is the logical next step.  Pay someone to harass and bully her.

Maren looks like Ruth, my best friend from High School.  However her name is a combination of mine and my sister, Karen’s.  When we were little, we played around with our names, mashing them together.  Karia and Maren were the results.  I liked the name Maren – back when we were younger no one had that name.  At the time I also liked this boy named Vincent.  Whenever the kids at school were mean, I would imagine changing my name to Maren Vincent and running away.  Isn’t it a cool name?  I actually considered using it as a writing pseudonym, and might still. ;)

The bo staff that Maren uses is a weapon I learned how to wield when studying karate.  Yes, I spelled it wrong in the first three Study books.  I’ve heard the name from my teacher and he provided the weapon in class, but I never saw it written so I wrote “bow staff.”  Yes, I received many emails from readers correcting me and I hope the new editions have the correct spelling. I learned my lesson – never assume – always check! Side note: the other weapon I learned how to wield were sais. ;)

A set of sais:

I created Valek’s challenge because, for once, I was thinking ahead and thought I might need during the climax of the novel.  And also if I was going to say he was the best in Ixia, then he better show just how good he is – and look fabulous while doing it, too!

Near the end of the chapter, there are about three paragraphs that advance the story’s time by two months.  I needed Yelena to learn how to fight and it couldn’t be “insta badass” because I want my fight scenes to be as realistic as possible.  However, I didn’t wish to bore my readers with chapters and chapters of her learning how to fight and defend herself…so I used a movie trick—pan the camera around as the flowers wilt, the leaves change into autumn colors, and snow falls (not that far, but you get the picture).

At the end, Margg returns and offers Yelena a piece of cheese…er…money.  The plot thickens ;>

Question 18 – In Touch of Power, how does Avry describe Kerrick's scent?

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Saturday, October 17, 2015



Yelena’s lessons are very similar to my experience in learning karate.  And the reason Valek loves his knives is because my teacher, Tom Palmer loved his knives, too. Tom has a collection of switchblades that he would show us in class.  He also liked to ambush me in the parking lot.  Learning self-defense in a classroom is very different than being jumped in a parking lot and he wouldn’t let go until I proved my skills.  Those extra lessons has made me very aware of my surroundings.  My one regret is not earning my black belt in Issinryu.  I’d advanced as far as a brown belt, but then I’d gotten married and had kids.

Here's me getting my brown belt from Tom:

Some of the best emails I’ve received from my readers are the ones from women of all ages who are inspired by my books and signed up for kickboxing classes or karate.  I know one reader who earned her black belt and that’s just lovely to hear.

In this chapter there is a scene with the Commander and Mia, a young student who angered her tutor. When writing a story, every scene that is included must have a purpose and this scene’s purpose is to show the Commander dealing with an incident that he shouldn’t even be bothered with.  As I said before I planned for the Commander to be an antagonist, but once again he decided to be more complex and Yelena was able to witness him being fair and open minded.

Valek returns from his mission and tests Yelena’s response to a strange noise.  When she investigates the rooms upstairs, she finds his carving room. As I said back in chapter 7’s notes, those gray rocks had been thrown into the description to show Valek’s interest in a variety of things.  Imagine my surprise when I learn Valek is an artist and that he carves and polishes those ugly rocks into beautiful black and silver statues.  It’s those moments when I’m writing that are GOLDEN – it’s such a rush when something connects and bam! makes perfect sense. It’s like feeding quarters into a slot machine, one after another and getting nothing by mismatched fruit.  Then all of a sudden the cherries line up and there are lights and a siren and the machine is spitting out a stream of quarters.  Boo Yah, Baby!!

At the end, Yelena asks Valek about the knife with the still-wet blood that has been displayed on his wall of weapons.  This is when readers learn more about the King’s demise and curse.  At this point all I knew was Valek assassinated the King with a knife – I figured out all the details about how he managed it when I was writing Shadow Study 12 years later!

Another one of my favorite lines ends the chapter.  Valek says, “It was a shame to lose my favorite blade, but it does make for a nice trophy.”

Question 17 – In the Glass Series, who gave Opal her switchblade?

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Friday, October 16, 2015



Ari and Janco are back. Janco has tackled and manacled Yelena, grumpy that she gave them the slip all day.  Yelena meets their captain and Nix, two more potential troublemakers.

This chapter, Yelena also gets an assignment from the Commander.  He’s acknowledged her intelligence and has gone beyond thinking of her as just the food taster.  Doing research about the mystery pods and beans, also gives her an excuse to look for more information about magic.

With all these troubles mounting for Yelena, I’d thought the poor girl needed some friends besides Rand.  And that’s where Ari and Janco become more than the guys in the woods.

Ari and Janco are opposites, both in appearance and personality, but they’ve been friends forever (or so it seems).  They started out as the stereotypical solider buddies who add humor to tense situations. I remember watching the original Battlestar Galactica back when Lorne Greene, Richard Hatch, Dirk Benedict, and Rick Springfield were in it! (yes, I know I’m dating myself – here’s a link:  The relationship between Apollo and Starbuck always resonated with me – I longed for a friend like that and that is probably the spark for Ari and Janco.

However, Ari and Janco deepened beyond the stereotype.  Ari morphed into more of an older brother toward Yelena and is the “smart one.”  The logical voice of reason to counter Janco’s irreverent flippant demeanor.  Ari is the older brother I wish I had.  I didn’t have any brothers, but when I was bullied in middle school, I imagined I had an older brother who was built like a football player.  He’d be sweet to me, but if anyone picked on me, he’d pound them into the ground.  This character type is in all my books (Belen, Cog, Nic).  I can’t help it.

Another bonus with Yelena making friends with Ari and Janco is that they can also teach her how to defend herself.

I think it’s very important for all woman to learn how to defend themselves.  I grew up in Philadelphia and my neighborhood wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the safest either and I had a couple scares over the years.  I started learning karate in high school and enjoyed the self-defense sessions the most—they were practical and useful. I quickly learned that I wasn’t going to be able to exchange blows with a male opponent. Guys are strong and one good punch can do a lot of damage. Real street fights are NOTHING like the movies and TV.  As my karate instructor always said, “Hit and git.”

Question 16 - How many lives has Poison Study saved?

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Thursday, October 15, 2015


The editor who worked with me on Poison Study (and 11 other novels) is Mary-Theresa Hussey. She's not only a fantastic editor but a lovely lady, and was also good about not inflating my ego. I worked hard for those few smiley faces peppered throughout my manuscripts.  I asked Mary-Theresa to be a guest on my blog and to reminisce about a book by an unknown rookie that came across her desk 12 years ago!

Please welcome Mary-Theresa!

“Locked in darkness that surrounded me like a coffin, I had nothing to distract me from my memories.”

Wow, it’s hard to believe that it’s been twelve years since we put out the call for submissions for the then brand-new LUNA imprint at Harlequin. I remember the feelings of excitement, anticipation and concern about the stories that would come in. I’d always loved fantasy (and romance, of course!) and the opportunity to discover new authors and work with my favorite authors in the genre was just thrilling.

I went to conferences, contacted agents, talked to authors and spread the word. Then I had to sit down and read through the manuscripts that came in. And in one of the piles I came upon the first three chapters of POISON STUDY. I read those lines above and knew immediately I wanted more! After all, who could resist Yelena’s voice from that jail cell? That conflict, that sense of resolution, that determination and that drama captured me and I quickly moved it to the “send for the complete” pile.

But I also had to share the wealth with other editors. Our launch date was fast approaching and we needed to acquire manuscripts.  Helen Lacey, an editor from our UK office, had come to New York for the RWA conference and looked at my "I want more" pile and was also struck by the story. So she was the one who actually requested the manuscript.

However, Helen left the company before she could see the manuscript through to completion. Happily for me, it meant I was able to do the revisions and edits for the manuscript. Looking back at those notes, it is clear that from her very first book Maria had a great sense of story, of conflict and of who her characters were. Her author’s voice and her character’s voice were incredibly confident and strong. And that’s only grown over the years!

To my delight, we continued to work together through the remainder of the Study titles (we actually officially titled those first three titles the Soulfinder series, but it’s rarely called that!), the Glass trilogy, the Inside YA duo, the Healer trilogy, and finally back to more Yelena and Valek stories with her most recent SHADOW STUDY. It’s been an amazing dozen years and titles working with Maria!

Over that time I oversaw POISON STUDY through the original hardcover version, a mass market version, the MIRA trade version, the YA trade version and the audio version. And that was just in North America! As readers around the world got to experience Yelena—and Maria!—we saw the books in the UK (where she’s a rock star!), in Australia, and translated into Russian, Dutch,  (what other countries?) and who knows what else is next? POISON STUDY has been the little story that could—and should—reach audiences of all ages, nationalities, and even those who normally don’t read “those books”. I even had to keep our HR rep supplied with copies to press into the hands of those he felt deserved to experience that story!

Through the years it truly has been a pleasure to work with Maria. We’ve had some differing opinions (I’m still a Kade fan!) but her belief in her vision, her faith in her characters and her determination to tell the best story she could has made each and every one of her novels so memorable for so many readers.

So if you’ve been with her from the beginning (or at least the first publication), congratulations and hooray! I'm glad you're part of that special club whose motto probably is: Maria, can't you write a little faster?  And if you haven’t yet tried POISON STUDY, then what are you waiting for? It’s going to set you on a fantastic journey of one of the best debut titles I’ve ever acquired….

Happy reading!
Mary-Theresa Hussey

Thanks Mary-Theresa!  Mary-Theresa is no longer working for Harlequin, which is good news for independent writers seeking editors to help them polish their manuscripts before publication (bad news for me).  Here's her website for more information: 



This chapter is chock full of information! Yelena encounters the southern magician and is told she has magic. I’ve read lots of fantasy books where the protagonist learns about his/her powers and spends a couple chapters in denial – as a reader, that has become tiresome to me and I didn’t want to do that.  Yelena is surprised her “survival instinct” is magic, but she doesn’t dismiss it.  It’s yet another problem that she has to deal with.  In the exchange with the magician, Yelena and the readers learn a little about the source of magic and how it works (and also learns Valek is immune to magic).  Yelena makes an agreement with the magician and it gives her some time to sort everything out.

I like this exchange between Yelena and Irys:
“You put on such a brave front. But I know if I took another step toward you, you’d wet your pants.” [Irys said]
“With your blood.” I brandished my knife. But I couldn’t keep a straight face; the boast sounded ridiculous even to my own ears.

In the first draft of the book, I named the southern magician Petal.  I was thinking that the people who lived in the south would have “nature” names like Petal, Leaf, Fern, Lily, etc…  When my editor sent me back her revision notes on Poison Study, she mentioned how she didn’t like the name Petal.  But I liked it and kept it.  Each draft after that, she’s mark the name with an unhappy face.  Finally, I asked her why and she said, “Petal sounds like a Disney name.” Well, I didn’t want THAT!  I mentioned it to my writing critique group and a couple of them brainstormed the name Iris, but said I should spell it with a “y.”  However, I did use the name Petal for a minor character later in the series.

When Valek arrives, Yelena is once again standing on thin ice (or should I say a weak limb ;).  She asks why the Commander is so against magicians and finds out all magicians found in Ixia are assassinated.  Yet another obstacle for Yelena!

This passage about sums it up for her:
“Trouble seemed to find me regardless of my efforts. Orphaned. Tortured. Poisoned. Cursed with magic. The list grew longer by the day.”

Here's a comic strip a reader drew of when Valek and Yelena meet in the tree:

And then the wagons filled with strange goods arrives!  Lots of things going on and I think that’s one of the reasons my books have been described as “unputdownable.”  The action doesn’t stop for too long.  The goods are the first clue about Criollo – the pods are basically cacao pods and the beans are cacao beans that are inside the pods.

Yelena figures out that the men with the wagons have stolen the uniforms because the uniforms don’t fit well.  I’ll admit I stole this idea from the movie The Scarlet Pimpernel with Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour and Ian McKellen ( If you haven’t seen this movie, put it on your list!  It’s one of my favorites.

The chapter ends with Yelena being tackled.  Readers can’t go to bed now. ;)

Question 15 – Who is Petal?  

Don't answer this question in the comments!! This is another chance to win! There will be 31 questions for each chapter note published. Collect the answers to ALL the questions (or your best guess) and then enter to win a T-shirt at the end of the month (I'll post the Rafflecopter on the 31st).

Wednesday, October 14, 2015



The day of the training exercise and Yelena heads out into the Snake Forest.  The obvious reason I named it Snake was its serpentine shape – not the most imaginative of names, but when I first drew a map of Ixia all I had for the southern lands was a squiggle to indicate the border.  The name came in handy while writing Night Study and I explain why ships don’t sail between Ixia and Sitia – they can’t cross the Rattles (which is the extension of the Snake Forest into the water in the form of boulders and rip currents that make a rattle sound).

Here's a very rough sketch of Ixia that I used while writing Poison Study:

I do drop in a few tidbits about Sitia and explain about the border being closed.  I also thought the Commander would have cleared an area so his border guards can see if anyone is trying to sneak across.  Of course, Valek, his corps, and Yelena have no trouble crossing that border in later books :).

In the chapter prior to this one, I mention Yelena getting ready for the exercise.  However, I never really say what supplies she gathers.  I give hints that she stopped at the blacksmith and there is the scene with Rand and the knife, but otherwise there are no other details.  This is done on purpose so I can “surprise” you later.  In this chapter, Yelena’s intelligence is shown to the reader.  She knows the dogs will be following her scent on the ground, so she takes to the trees, using a grapple and rope. I’ve mentioned her acrobatic training so you’re not surprised she can climb a rope.  Then I added the camouflage of mud and her gluing on leaves to cover her red shirt.  She has thought it through and has enough common sense to figure out what she needs to do to stay hidden.  Plus she has a score to settle with the Commander.  My husband is a bit like that—tell him he can’t do something and he’ll find a way to prove me wrong (or is that all men?).

In this chapter you also meet Ari and Janco for the very first time even though they don’t have names at this point.  Janco is Rough Voice and Ari the “smarter man.”  Did I know these two would be very popular?  That my readers would ask me to write a novel of their own?  No!  At the time, they were partners who were good at sneaking through the woods and also another obstacle for Yelena.  She’s smart, but she focused solely on the dogs and forgot about the other team.  It’s a dose of reality and a lesson learned.

The southern magician makes an appearance at the end of the chapter.  Although the reader isn’t quite sure what’s going on when Yelena bolts through the woods, there are hints that it’s magic. And there’s another mini cliffhanger at the end—my favorite way to end a chapter.

Question 14 - Who gave Yelena her switchblade?

Don't answer this question in the comments!! This is another chance to win! There will be 31 questions for each chapter note published. Collect the answers to ALL the questions (or your best guess) and then enter to win a T-shirt at the end of the month (I'll post the Rafflecopter on the 31st).