I’m just going to put this out there from the start. I hate zombies. I find it a dry and overdone trope. I try to avoid anything with zombies as a rule because it just makes my eyes cross. They neither scare nor intrigue me. I just am not a fan of zombies. 

That being said every rule has its exceptions. MY LIFE AS A WHITE TRASH ZOMBIE is now one of those exceptions.

This is the first book in a series by Diane Rowland that came out a few years ago. I picked it up on a whim since I’ve been in the mood for good stories with an undertone of comical absurdity. I’ve been finding some really good series that match this. Rowland’s White Trash Zombie series has now been added to the list.

The main character Angel Crawford is a grade-A loser from the swamps of southern Louisiana with a pill habit, a criminal record, and a deadbeat alcoholic father. After waking up from an apparent overdose Angel’s life gets turned around by a mysterious note that promises a job. A job she can’t mess up for a month or else she’ll be sent to jail.

So the job is as a van driver for the parish morgue, anyone surprised? She also assists with autopsies which put her in direct contact with brains. Human brains that for some reason now smell simply amazing to Angel. Add in a serial killer who dispatches their victims by cutting off their heads, conveniently the best method of killing a zombie.

It’s pretty obvious early on what Angel has been turned into even without the title as the dead give away but Angel herself does take a while to get with the program. As a reader, I was rolling my eyes at her obtuse theories but to be honest not many would jump straight into ‘Oh god! I’m a brain-eating Zombie! With a capital Z!’ Also, they added to her character well and rounded her out a good deal but the whole figuring it out gets dragged out a tad too long for my liking but overall it could have been worse. 

Not to say she’s the dumb (fake) blonde everyone thinks she is. Angel picks up on things most others don’t. Rowland writes her as a perfect mix of smart and spacy. She has an eye for detail which helps with all the recent suspicious deaths in the parish. Rowland makes these observations sit somewhere between blatantly obvious that you wonder how all the cops on the scene even tied their own laces and Sherlock level connection. It’s a nice balance.

As for the serial killer terrorizing their small Louisanna town, Rowland does a great job of leaving the reader guessing. The reveal at the end is a great surprise even to those that figured out who the killer was beforehand. I love me some supernatural serial killer plotlines and I was very happy about this one.

Angel’s also an extremely likable character while displaying her flaws. From the beginning, Angel feels like a real person, or as real a person as one would find in a zombie novel. 

Rowland’s does a great job of flipping the zombie script on its head in two different ways. The first is having the zombie as the main character. A few stories and movies have done this before like Warm Bodies, but I can’t think of any that has done it in this manner. Zombies in her world operate the same way a vampire or werewolf does. They are turned and can with regular meals of human brains can be a functioning part of society. Without those brains, they become feral similar to a vampire or werewolf except that’s the only time a zombie starts to rot. Flesh off bones and all that fun stuff. The second way she flips the script is that the main character and only main character of this zombie story is female. There must be some out there but I can’t think of any in pop culture. It’s good to see.

Overall the pace of the story is a bit on the slow side until you hit about 2/3rds of the way in. It wasn’t so slow that I threw this book in my donate pile but not fast enough that I devoured it from start to finish. Most first books in urban fantasy series, I’ve noticed, tend to be like this. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s because of the whole world-building within the world we know thing that does it. It’s something I try to remember when starting a new series.

The characters were interesting enough. Especially the two background character cops that I did constantly mix up which might have been a me thing. There was also a good dose of reality checks from one of Angel’s co-workers Nick who hated her for getting the job without so much as trying. Nick can be a bit much at times, well, most of the time but he’s a good way to ground the story back to reality. Characters in stories like this never second guess why something just kind of fell into the main character’s lap. A lot of urban fantasies, especially from the mid-2000s, have a bad habit of building their interpersonal relationships around the main character.

There is a tiny bit of a romance in this book with Angel and a Detective Marcus Ivanov. Rowland does a great job throughout most of the book to leave you guessing whether Detective Ivanov is actually on Angel’s side or will out to get her. I would have loved more interaction with the attractive detective she starts crushing on but I feel like if I keep reading the series I’ll get what I want. Meaning, I think he will be Angel’s love interest. 

I do have to label this book with a few trigger warnings besides the pill-popping and alcohol abuse. There is a heavy scene where her father gets violent with her. There are also flashbacks of her mother physically abusing her when she was younger. They are detailed but do only last a few pages total.

Overall I wasn’t completely in love and obsessed with this story from the beginning but was pleasantly surprised by how much I did enjoy it. It had a weird pace but an interesting main character as well as side characters. It wasn’t as comically absurd as I was hoping but was still funny and witty at times. Solid three stars out of five and worth continuing the series. 

Definitely a good book to pair with DISAPPEARING NIGHTLY by Laura Resnick. We’ll be reviewing that next week. Stay tuned.

Let’s talk trying to get words down while one’s country is extremely some, well, problems.

Doomscrolling is a thing. A very bad but very strong factor in procrastinating for me it seems. For those who don’t know what doomscrolling is, let me explain. Doomscrolling is when something bad happened or is about to or even, happens in a continual loop like say, a pandemic and you can not stop hitting refresh on social media or the news. Last week was a lot of doomscrolling for me. I tried to break myself of it and succeeded a few times but still, it eats up a good chunk of the day for no good reason.

Doomscrolling aside I was still able to hit all my goals, even if just barely. To refresh the readers, the average word goal per day for #onemillionwords 2021 is 2740. I’ve been writing anywhere between 2745 and 2750. I’m happy I’m on track but I do wish I had been able to bank a bit more words. I’m confident I’ll be able to do so moving forward, barring any big world events that might trigger my doomscrolling once more. It’ll probably happen, but here’s hoping. It seems like 2020 just came back to the party wearing a different hat and a fake mustache.

My total as of now is 41,658. I am in no way complaining about this number!

My goal for the end of the month, though, is 108,500. I’ve got a bit of catching up to do. The actual month goal is 84940. The reason mine is so much higher is because I’m in the middle of house hunting with my husband who works full time and goes to school part time. Basically, what the means is I’m house hunting, at least until we hit spring break.

That alone has been exhausting, especially with the many restrictions put in place because of COVID. Once we find the house, it’ll only be the beginning of it all. Moving takes a lot of time and energy which means during that time, whenever it is, I probably will be lucky to get down one or two hundred words down at most. Then there’s the whole unpacking stage. We’re going from a two-bedroom apartment to a 3-4 bedroom house so it’ll be a whole ordeal.

That said, the only reason I feel confident still is because of the great community that has formed around #onemillionwords. I was half expecting a sudden drop after the first week, which I’ve found is normal in most online communities no matter how long they have been around. Usually, a handful of people keep somewhat active but that’s about it. I have always come and gone from every single one I’ve been apart of. Sometimes I’m active all day and sometimes I’m not seen for a week.

I’m still a little hit or miss in the community but I’ve noticed I’ve been a lot more engaged overall. Not sure why. Maybe the adrenaline rush from taking on a large challenge like this is still pumping strong in my veins. Or maybe, Charlie just struck internet gold and brought together the right people to start this community. Either way, something is working right. I’ve stayed engaged. Even not meeting my personal goals, which usually takes the wind right out of my sails, hasn’t deterred me from continuing.

That being said, an update on each project.

  • CHAINED HEAVENS – All the titles here are working titles. Some I’ve grown to really like and some, well, I’ll be happy when I think of something better. This is one of them. I’ll workshop better names later and deal with it for now. CHAINED HEAVENS is a high fantasy collection of short stories that I’ve been working on for the better part of two years. I have a few stories planned out and am very close to finishing my first one of 2021. It’s getting close to the 10k mark and will probably be over by the time it’s finished but that’s okay. I always have to remind myself with these short stories, like how I write during NaNoWriMo, half of that is filler and can be cut. One thing that has been helping me plan out future stories is DnDBeyond.com. The monster guides are great inspirations for figuring out what my main character’s next adventure will be. My favorite at the moment is a little demon called a Cackler. They aren’t the biggest or toughest but when they die they release a laugh that scars the minds of every creature nearby. In actual D&D, the DC to succeed is pretty low, only an 11, but it’s a great idea to play with.
  • Blog posts for Vox et Liber. So far so good. I’m bad at thinking up topics so I have been sticking to a Tuesday and Friday update schedule for now. Tuesday, book review. Friday, #onemillionwords update. Easy so far and it’s been kicking me in the backside to actually read my very large TBR pile instead of just looking at it. Right now I’m reading WINTERSONG by S. Jae-Jones. After that is Jim C. Hines newest TAMORA CARTER: GOBLIN QUEEN. Thinking I might start posting polls on what to read and review next. It’ll help me decide in a timely manner as well as let my readers have a bit of say in what they read about.
  • CLOAKED RITES – I’ve rewritten this one story five times, not including the rewrite I’m working on now. It’s been fully finished twice. Got changed from being a single novella to a novella trilogy to a full-length novel. Now, it’s a novel trilogy. I know where I’m going with this story considering I’ve written it five times but it hasn’t been sparking as much excitement as it has in the past. I still love the story and want to finish it but I have a feeling to get excited for it once more I need to do that dreaded thing they call outlining. I also realized about halfway through last week that after having written about 4k words in 3rd person specific that it works so much better in 1st person. That was a joy to figure out and might have also been some of the reason it’s been like trudging through mud trying to write it.
  • The Stormblood Saga Series – This is also one that’s been rewritten a few times. This is the fourth time I am rewriting it. I realized quickly with the first draft that I jumped into the middle of the storyline and a storyline that’s supposed to build up over time to something big. I started with something big and big enough it would disrupt the characters’ lives forever. Not a great start for what was supposed to be a long series. So, the plot got reworked. A lot. Now, I am so much happier with it and my characters in general. I also forgot how much I miss writing them, especially the main character Merranyssa. Her interacting, against her will, with her father’s side of the family or really anything Fae is hilarious every time. This is one of the few projects I have where I’ve been able to pump in more words than just the bare minimum.
  • THE DANGEROUS LIES OF A PERPETUALLY SINGLE WEREWOLF – I love this title and will fight tooth and nail to keep it for publication. This is the other project where I’ve been able to make decent sized dents in. Who doesn’t like the fake/pretend relationship trope? Especially when they’re best friends trying to keep the other safe even if it’s from their well-meaning but completely out of touch relatives. It’s been fun to write especially since I’ve never been a fan of the stoic Werewolf characters that are often written in media today. Wolves in general, are derpy as all hell. They love to play and run and fake fight each other. There’s no reason that Werewolves wouldn’t be the same way. Add in a little bit of intelligent thinking and they’d be getting into entertaining trouble 24/7.
  • The Keeper Chronicle Series – This one I’ve been warring with a bit back and forth. Somedays I’ve been able to get a lot down and other days, not so much. This series stemmed from a short story I wrote for a horror anthology. After it was done and off to the editor I realized, I wanted to explore this world more. I’ve been working on the world that CLOAKED RITES and the Stormblood Saga Series are both in for thirteen years, the world of the NightOthers. Hell, even longer if one counts the time it was set in a high fantasy world that was a combination of a bunch of books I read in high school. So, the KC series is a breath of fresh air. Even still, I’ve stalled a bit on where to go next. The original short story was just that, a short story. It was complete as it was. Continuing it has been harder than I thought but the challenge is what makes it worth doing.

Overall, #onemillionwords 2021 is still going well. I’ll feel a bit better about it all once I have a month’s worth of words banked for when I enviable go crazy from house hunting. It’s easy to do in the area we’re looking in. 250k could get you an amazing 3/4 bedroom house in a beautiful rural neighborhood or a murder house. There are no in-betweens and to add salt to the wound, it’s considered a low inventory time which means good luck. Just, good luck.

The same thing goes for all those participating in #onemillionwords 2021. It’s a crazy thing to try and accomplish. There’s a good chance you’ll turn in your last sanity token before the year is out but it will be worth it. Just like getting a house of your own during a pandemic to escape your upstairs neighbors who you swear bowls every day for sixteen hours straight. It’s just like trying to write a million words in one year. Wild but worth it.

Nicole Peeler, an urban fantasy author and current professor at Seton Hill University, is one to add to your ‘Instant Pre-order’ lists if she isn’t already on it.

Back in the early 2010s, I found her Jane True series, having picked it up because the first book’s cover is gorgeous and because the main character has the same name as one of a family friend and ex-babysitter of mine. So partially ‘oh pretty’ and partially happy nostalgia.

I remember standing in the fantasy aisle at Barnes and Noble, holding this book and just staring at the cover. It sounded like it could be a great series. It sounded like it was exactly the type of book I should enjoy, that I should devour but like any new unknown book I picked, I at least hoped it was baseline good. It is not uncommon for me to be taken in by a pretty cover or a witty title. As someone with ADHD, I have no focus left in my day for reading the synopsis of a book. I go off visuals. This has backfired in my face many times but still, I do it.

So yes, I stood there hoping a moment before saying ‘screw it’ and just buying it. TEMPEST RISING, the first in that series did not disappoint. Neither did the second book, TRACKING THE TEMPEST.

The main character was great and the world was beyond interesting. There was only one thing I wasn’t the biggest fan of; the love interest. He was not for me and was the reason it took me a year to pick up the third book in the series but I am beyond happy that I did. The love interest was downgraded to a close friend, which looking back was a really good element of the story considering Jane is supposed to grow from a newbie supernatural to a powerhouse. It made sense to have her outgrow some relationships. From there I blew through the series, realizing I didn’t dislike the character Ryu, the first love interest, just the lag it brought to her character.
So, I already knew that Nicole Peeler could pull off great, well-balanced stories. That fact is even more evident in her book, JINN AND JUICE.

JINN AND JUICE introduced Lyla; a belly dancing, kickass heroine who is also a Jinn. Originally born a human in ancient Persia, Lyla made a deal with a very powerful Jinn, Kouros, to help her escape an arranged marriage. In exchange, she was turned into a Jinn for a thousand years. After a thousand years, if she is Unbound at the time, Lyla will turn human once more. If she was Bound, she’d stay a Jinn for another thousand years and Lyla was very decidedly against that.

In this world, Jinn can be Bound by any human Magi that finds or Calls them. Free will is only ever temporary for them.

Also, turning Lyla into a powerful cosmic being like Kouros did get himself imprisoned for all of time by his own kind somewhere very, very far into the Sideways. The Sideways is what Peeler calls another dimension. It’s where a lot of the supernatural beings are from and live. Think the Feywild, if you play D&D or a magically oversaturated Narnia.

Enter Oz, a Magi who only recently learned about the supernatural side of the world, being only half Magi and he needs help. Specifically the help of a Bound Jinn in finding a kidnapped girl, Tamina from a Magi tribe he spent time with. Thus he finds Lyla and binds her. She is royally pissed because, at the time of Oz binding her, the curse is only days away from being broken.

Now they have to fight against her curse’s clock to find Tamina. Then Oz says he’ll free her but all her masters beforehand were horrible, why would he be any different.
If you’ve read paranormal romance before, you know how this one is going to turn out but the book is still well worth reading.

First, I want to say that it was a simple read with great action and an even easier to follow but immensely enjoyable storyline. This is the exact type of book one needs to get through a pandemic. They are the perfect read to keep a happy streak going. It’s light-hearted in parts and never takes itself terribly seriously. Not every book, especially fantasy books, has to have a great big dark plot with sinister creatures lurking at every turn. Some books and this is a wild idea, can just be fun.

Peeler has a great imagination of taking mythical creatures and making them human, likable, and still very interesting. Lyla and Jinn in general are perfect examples of that. Also, all of Lyla’s supernatural friends are great examples of this as well with one even being a Willow the Wisp which one does not often see in urban fantasy. This book is a great example of giving the main character some great friends with even greater personalities. Lyla is not the only character that can stand on their own.

I just want to say just how interesting her side characters are. Each one is either a very imaginative supernatural creature or has a background that just begs to be revisited, like Charlie. I want a book just about Charlie. Charlie is a side character that you learn very early on was once human as well like Lyla but now, well it’s complicated. It’s a great example of bringing a point home without hammering it into your reader’s head. Look at these two crazy, old, and supernaturally screwed kids. Watch as they get on in the human world. When Lyla is unable to give us added perspective about the duality Charlie is there to take it on without dragging the plot or pace down.

Peeler has a great gift for writing extremely vivid character(s?). None fall into the wet cardboard category. A lot of urban fantasy, I’ve noticed in recent years, relies on the one-dimensional side characters to stroke the main character’s ego or be a cheerleader. Lyla’s friends are just as fleshed out as herself. Peeler put a lot of thought into each one before starting the book. Or maybe it comes naturally.

I loved Jinn and Juice dearly but to be honest, it wasn’t quite as good as her Jane True series. My opinion might be getting colored by the fact that it’s only a standalone book and I really, really want to know more about Lyla, Charlie, and the rest of them. If expanded into a full series I would be pre-ordering the sequels the minute the link went live.

Overall, it’s a great read and a great palate cleanser when dealing with the world at large. It’s enjoyable beginning, middle, and end.

Getting large amounts of writing done for me has only ever happened under specific situations; a fast-approaching deadline with last-minute panic and monster energies the only thing fueling me or a random way of inspiration that disappears for months after.

Like many writers out there, I promised myself I would write more and dedicate more time overall to my various projects in 2021. My original goal was to try to get about 100,000 words to page, almost three times what I was able to get out in 2020. I wasn’t 100% upset with my word count last year. 2020 was the dumpster fire to end all dumpster fires. 2021, please don’t make me eat my words.*

It made sense my word count suffered. That made it even more important that I strive to do better this year. I thought 100,000 was a good high, but a reasonable number to aim for. Then I saw a tweet from a Twitter mutual; they were aiming for 1 million words in 2021. Well, to be clear, they started #onemillionwords with the goal to write as much as a person can with the pipedream goal of 1 million. I signed up to participate so fast that a minute after my tweet reply was sent I stopped and asked myself just how out of my mind I really was. I wrote maybe 40k all last year and that included NaNoWriMo which I did not do well in. To be fair to me, I had gotten married at the end of October and was burnt out from having to re-plan the whole event four times because of COVID cases rising in my home state. November was more of a ‘recharge’ month than a month of productivity.

Nevertheless, I was recharged when they tweeted about it, maybe not fully but as recharged as one could get in a pandemic. Why shouldn’t I attempt this? I had nothing to lose but sanity and that wasn’t a big concern of mine. Again, we were all stuck in a pandemic. I had nothing to lose and a whole lot of finished projects to gain.

So, I got a bullet journal and copied, line for line, the examples my mutual posted on Twitter. I have ADHD, diagnosed young and all that because it’s genetic in my family coming from my dad, and I have never gotten the hang of agendas much to the chagrin of all my teachers but bullet journals always looked so cool. They were always so well laid out and made perfect sense to me but I could never find one EXACTLY like what I’d needed. School agendas were useless to me and I often ended up ‘accidentally’ losing them within the first month of school. My parents were very well aware that I did this so thankfully never bought me a nice and fancy one. I got the cheap, basic ones that every public school kid got in my town. My brain was too scattered to come up with a layout that was both useful and aesthetically pleasing.

All that aside I now have the perfect example before me. Their journal pages were set up for the same thing I wanted it for. It was exactly what I needed.

I haven’t fully laid my bullet journal yet but I’ve been having a lot of fun with what I’ve done so far, going slow to make sure it’s just how I want it. I’ve been taking my time for two reasons; my handwriting is horrible scribble when I go at anything but a snail’s pace and I’m putting thought into the organization I want. I’m learning! Evening putting in the effort I have so far has been leagues better than I had ever been able to do in the past.

Long story short, before I go on another small tangent, this whole event of sorts has been wild. One million words broken down to 365 days is approximately 2740 words a day and 82.5k words a month. 2740 every single day. That means holidays, weekends, sick days, and days I just want to do nothing but play video games which sadly, I haven’t done a whole lot of lately. I miss you Hades

Hades aside, after starting #onemillionwords, I realized it’s unreal how many work in process projects I have in my files. All half-finished and all ones I still want to finish. If nothing else, I’ve always been great at producing ideas by the dozens. My ability to plan out and execute though is mighty shoddy.

For my one million words, I decided to break it down into six different projects because it seems, I’m still that overachieving, overeager child that goes hard and will probably burn out just as hard. But if I burn out at the end of February then I’ll have about 165k words written at the best and 20k at the worst. 20k words are better than nothing and still something I’ll be very proud of.

At the time of writing this post, I am at 22341 words. Not bad so far if I say so myself.
My projects range from blog posts to a werewolf romance novel with a heavy dose of the fake/pretend relationship trope and everything in between. I even have working titles for each one which is more than I usually do. I’m horrible at titles and usually tap a friend to do it for me.

My projects are as followed:

  • CHAINED HEAVENS – A high fantasy short story collection telling the story of a woman who has trained her whole life to rid the world of evil creatures with her two siblings. It all goes wrong when an ancient demon god starts setting their sights on her to help them lay waste to the mortal world
  • Blog posts for Vox et Liber. As you can see, I’ve already been doing fairly good with that one. They’ll be anything from game/book reviews to weekly updates on my progress this year. So stick around to check those out.
  • CLOAKED RITES – An urban fantasy with a mix of alternate history and steampunk set in the mid-1800s. The main character is the lead homicide agent at the London office of supernatural affairs. In her year of being lead, it’s been rather boring until a serial killing cult starts going through the supernatural population of London with terrifying speed and may soon be setting their sights on her. The main character in this one is very fun to write since she’s always so done with everyone around her 24/7
  • The Stormblood Saga Series – The first 3 novellas in an episodic urban fantasy series set in present-day Nowheresville, Massachusetts. This one has Fae and a half-blood who’d rather work at her little indie bookshop than deal with her Fae side of the family but where would the fun be in that?
  • The Dangerous Lies of a Perpetually Single Werewolf – The aforenoted fake/pretend relationship werewolf romance novel. Two best friends, one werewolf and one human, have to fake date to keep wolf boy out of getting set up with a mate against his will.
  • The Keeper Chronicle Series – The main character inherits a house after her great uncle is killed that is sort of alive and definitely magical. Within it’s walls, it keeps both the refugees and war criminals of a war between Heaven and Hell contained. She feeds the house and in turn the house keeps everyone safe, especially from murderous angels which means she can never leave.

These projects range in age from being started in 2014 to this past summer. My main goal this year is to start clearing out the projects that have been clogging up my mental queue for years. I’m confident that I can do just that with #onemillionwords. It might not be all six but it’ll be a good chunk regardless.

For any writers out there that want to join and are on Twitter use the hashtag #onemillionwords. Or follow the creator, @Cknightwrites. They were the one to start it and this lazy bum of a writer will be forever thankful that they put this event into motion. Let’s hope it becomes as annual as NaNoWriMo.

*It made me eat my words. Please note, this was mostly written before terrorists tried to take control of the Capitol building in D.C. I, like many people, have doomscrolled for hours the last few days. My writing goals are still the same with a little more attention to self-care and mental health. I hope for all participating, you’ll make sure to add in more of each when needed.