Category Archives: Writing

It’s a STAR!

It’s hard to believe, but Kirkus not only loved Island of Exiles, they gave it a STARRED REVIEW! Look at all the wonderful things they said about my wonderful book baby!

KIRKUS REVIEW

Cameron (Assassins: Nemesis, 2017, etc.) tells a YA fantasy tale about a “nyshin”—a warrior, mage, and hunter—on a desert island rife with danger.

Khya is no stranger to hardship. Life on the island of Shiara is inhospitable at best, and as a nyshin, these burdens fall especially heavily on her. Nevertheless, she’s always been able to depend on her clan and the fact that everyone in it works for the good of the many. But everything changes when they threaten to take from her the one thing she can’t give up: her brother, Yorri. Her worries are understandable as her sibling approaches a rite of passage that will determine the course of his life, but the greatest dangers facing her are ones that she can’t even imagine. As storms rage across the island and enemies probe the clan’s borders, a conspiracy begins to unfold that will test everything Khya has ever known. Not knowing who to trust, she must rely on strange bedfellows: Sanii, a member of the servant class and the love of Yorri’s life; and Tessen, Khya’s sometime-friend, sometime-archrival, and possibly something more. But most of all, she must depend on herself, casting aside faith, duty, and honor for the strength of love and family. Readers won’t be able to put this book down, as the excitement begins from the first page and only grows from there. Cameron expertly blends worldbuilding and intriguing characters with page-turning action scenes and a story that builds in tension and complexity. The novel’s commitment to diversity adds new dimensions to the story, as the cast is entirely nonwhite, and the clan recognizes nonbinary gender identities and complex sexual orientations. The lexicon of unique terms and concepts may be intimidating to some readers, but the vocabulary adds fantastic texture to the world without distracting from the plot. This is rare gem of a book that has a lot to offer readers, including magic, action, and intrigue on the edge of a knife.

A fresh, original series starter, bolstered by a dynamic protagonist and a welcome sense of depth.

We’re at the three week mark, y’all!

We’re inching ever closer to the Island Of Exiles release day! Only three weeks left now

My first countdown thread was all about  why I’m so excited to be releasing a fantasy novel.

Next, I talked about how one character became the anchor for my worldbuilding & revisions.

My third thread delved into how desire, kinks, power dynamics, and monogamy are perceived in Itagami.

I talked about magic last week and how it’s woven into the fabric of Itagamin society.

Today we jump back to sex and society, specifically orientation, gender, family, polyamory, and normalization.

While the word “bisexual” isn’t used in the book, I make it clear in character actions that this is a common and accepted orientation. It is, in fact, the most commonly claimed orientation in the clan. The whole spectrum of orientations exists, but bi or pan is “normal.” I make a point of the characters’ sexuality in the book partially to prove a point–that an accepting society can exist.

It’s strange to me that there are people who think accepting–NOT just tolerating–others’ choices would destroy the world. Normalization of acceptance has to happen to combat this, and currently, the easiest method is proof of concept media.

What do I mean by “proof of concept media”? Books, movies, TV, music, & art displaying cities & societies NOT destroyed by difference. Sagen sy Itagami isn’t a utopia by any means, but Island Of Exiles is definitely a proof of concept novel.
No one is ever shamed for their sexuality or their libido. Teased by their friends, sure. Taunted or mocked? Nope.

There is no word for slut or whore in Itagamin. There isn’t even a word for promiscuous. On the other hand, no one is ever laughed at or bullied for NOT having sex either. Ushimo is their word for asexuality.

All this is taught AND practiced. Children learn it alongside a very important reminder: Attraction is instinct. Action is a choice.

Consent is a crucial concept in this culture; you’re not allowed to even casually touch someone else without it. There are backstory reasons for the strictness of this societal law, but I never get a chance to go into them in the book. I can tell you it’s a separate story from the why behind the shape of families within Itagami, specifically the LACK of any family unit.

To explain that, I have to start with babies. Actually, I have to start with the making of babies.

Procreation is majorly restricted in Itagamin society. Pregnancies have to be pre-approved, partially due to population size concerns. It’s an isolated island with a southern Nevada-like landscape. Droughts could decimate a clan too large to sustain itself. Originally, it was partially due to of this restriction that the leaders of Itagami allowed & encouraged both bisexuality & polyamory. It was in NO way because of this restriction or population control that Itagamin leaders decimated the family unit. The saying about needing a village to raise a child? It’s taken pretty literally in Sagen sy Itagami.

When a baby is born, the parents go back to work and the baby is brought to one of the city’s four nurseries. Some parents keep track of their blood-born child’s progress, others don’t. Neither course is considered “right.” The nurseries are watched over by yonin caretakers. At age 5, kids move into a dormitory and begin their training.

One point of interest? Although citizens can’t escape their class once they reach adulthood, all children are considered equal. Children, no matter who their parents are, are given completely equal training and opportunities. Kids are trained with all weapons and then allowed to pick one they become expert at. They’re also taught the theories of magic. Everyone is taught theory so they’ll recognize it when they develop theirs. So they’ll know what to do when their own power appears. Also, the caretakers, teachers, training masters, and eventual commanding officers usually don’t know who a citizen’s parents are.

All children belong to the clan. Not everyone deals directly with the city’s youngest residents, but all are invested in the next generation. Every citizen in the clan would die to protect the city’s children.

At 16, everyone faces the herynshi, an incredibly difficult trial that determines the rest of their lives. The skill with weapons and magic they display in the herynshi is how the leaders place them in one of the three citizen classes.The classes are–

Nyshin: Warrior mages; leaders/fighters
Ahdo: Guardian mages; city guards/soldiers
Yonin: Non-mages; service/farming/mining

Sometimes romantic/sexual bonds form within training classes, but it’s more common for deeper bonds to form between citizens. Once placed, citizens can’t escape their class, but within it, relationship possibilities are both open and encouraged.

As I mentioned in a previous thread, marriage is rare in Itagami. Most people enter & leave relationships as needs change. Often there isn’t an official “relationship” at all. A fair number of Itagamin citizens choose to keep to short-term encounters instead. The most important thing is the safety of the whole clan, so it tends to create a city-wide bond rather than individual ones.

“The safety of the clan comes before our lives” is a mantra drilled into Itagamin children basically from birth. They take it seriously.

What I love about this society is how, within a class, it’s VERY equal. Excepting of procreation, there are no gender roles. There are three sexes–male, female, and ebet. Positions of power are relatively evenly spread between all three. Relationships between any combination of sexes–or any number of people–raises exactly zero eyebrows. Only someone’s skill with weapons and their prowess with magic impact their social standing.

All of these details were added on purpose. I worked hard to create a society that’s equal in a lot of ways our culture isn’t. Basically, all this talk is a lot of detail mainly to say one thing: Shiara isn’t exactly an island you’d want to live on, but I tried to make Itagami a society you’d want to live in despite that.

Buy it from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Books-A-Million | IndieBound

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My friends are awesome!

Best book mail is best! I’m so happy to have this lovely from A. R. Kahler on my shelf now. Also, be jealous because Alex writes the best inscriptions. 😍 I’m so proud of my amazing friend!

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You can land on Shiara in five weeks!

Five Weeks. FIVE. That’s one month plus one week. Hardly any time at all!

This week I’m talking about relationship dynamics. Specifically, how & why Khya and Tessen’s came to be not quite vanilla.

Short answer? It’s Kate Brauning​’s fault. The long answer is similar, yet a bit more complicated.

I wish I still had a link to Kate’s tweet, but it was something like, We must portray YA relationships as diversely as we do adult. Then she went on to say, (approximately) “For example, not all teens are entirely vanilla, but we give them no mirror.”

I said, “You’re okay with that? Because I can ABSOLUTELY do a D/s dynamic. Really, they’re already there. I just need to bring it out.“

Basically, Kate was all, “Yes. Good. Go.”

Knowing going in that my editor wouldn’t give me an “are we sure this is appropriate for teens” speech was a relief. It also gave me the freedom to explore the characters at a deeper level and take a new look at what sexuality meant in Itagami.

Desire (or a lack thereof) and the specific form that feeling takes is a very fraught topic in contemporary society. Dangerously so. The island of Shiara and the city of Sagen sy Itagami gave me a chance to erase a lot of the expectations and “rules” of desire. Although orientation is included in the “rules” (more to come another week), here I’m referring more to preferences, kinks, & fetishes.
Our culture makes a lot of value judgments on an individual’s behavior, ESPECIALLY in regards to sex.

In Itagami, the only rules are 1- CONSENT, 2- no irreparable harm, & 3- don’t let sex distract you from work.

That’s it.

Well, okay. There are a few more rules, but none regarding the HOW of desire or sex.

Although all of it is very minor, I mention or imply a lot of facets of sexuality in Island Of Exiles. Exhibitionism, voyeurism, masochism, and power dynamics all come up somewhere in some way in this book. For Khya and Tessen, though, control, power, trust, and surrender are all key components to their relationship. They both need something from the other, and a lot of the buildup with them is admitting those needs and trusting the other to meet them. Communication–verbal & non-verbal–is crucial in relationships, but especially in ones where power in the sexual relationship isn’t equal.

There are books (which shall remain unnamed) that portray these kinds of relationships in a VERY dangerous way. What I wanted to show is it’s not only okay to want things outside of the normal. It’s okay to talk about them. It’s okay to ask for them. What Khya and Tessen eventually illustrate (fair warning, they’re a sloooooow burn) is how everyone has different needs. Part of what makes relationships strong (ANY, not just romantic and/or sexual ones) is finding someone who needs what you can provide. Another important point, however, is recognizing your own needs and desires and accepting them.

How in the world is anyone supposed to do that if they never see a relationship that ticks their mental boxes in any form of media?

Like all other levels of diversity and representation, relationship dynamics and differing desires are so important. Dynamics, preferences, kinks, and fetishes are ESPECIALLY important for YA authors to consider and include. For most, the teen years is when they begin to discover arousal and desire. Or their lack thereof. If anything, portraying relationships outside the center of the bell curve is MORE important in YA than in adult. Puberty and adolescence and young adulthood are confusing enough. Why make it harder for anyone when we can provide a map?

What I hope is that Khya & Tessen–& the other pairings in the series–introduce teens to concepts about relationships they don’t often see.

In Itagami, monogamy isn’t societally expected. Polyamory is perfectly acceptable. Bisexuality is the normalized orientation. In Itagami, marriage–called a sumai bond in the book–is rare, but when that vow is made it is soul-deep and unbreakable. In Itagami, those who don’t have a sumai bond often move between romantic and/or sexual relationships as their needs change. In Itagami, “normal” has an entirely different set of definitions and expectations than what we’re used to, and I loved creating those rules. In Itagami, the how and why of what happens between two or more people isn’t something anyone else has a right to comment on. Not to say gossip doesn’t happen–it absolutely does–but the judgment and the interference I’ve seen happen in life doesn’t. Mostly.

Hopefully, all of this will be commonplace one day, but it’s not there yet. Especially in young adult fiction.

Khya & Tessen are snarky, strong, and incredibly fun to write. They’re also steamy as hell when they get together. Soon (sooner than I’m ready for, honestly), you’ll get to meet them for yourself!

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Nemesis is here in T-minus…

There is only one week–ONE! WEEK!–until the Nemesis release!

This week I’m going to talk about how important and very much not a trend accurate, diverse, respectful representation is.

I am asexual. I know this now, but it’s not something I discovered until I was 29. After marriage, divorce, and therapy. For more on that, I’ve written essays about asexuality on my site: Don’t Erase the Aces || Identity, Spectrums, and Labels

Growing up, there were few characters I truly identified with, and none who didn’t eventually find their fulfillment with sex. The lack of representation substantiated my growing belief that my lack of interest in sex meant something was fundamentally wrong with me. This is why I promised myself I’d include an ace-spectrum character in all my books. I don’t want other kids to grow up without the word.

Representation of the world around us AS IT ACTUALLY IS is crucial for so many reasons, and I try to make my books reflect that. I try to do this not just with the inclusion of asexuality, but with everything I trust myself to portray with respectful accuracy.

The cast of the Assassins duology is heterogeneous in race and sexuality, and it’s reflective of the world I grew up in. We need more stories to be mirrors of reality–and we need more of them written by those not usually reflected in those mirrors. Blake’s romantic arc is a close reflection of my own orientation, and I hope she’ll be the same kind of mirror for someone else.

Buy it from: Riptide/Triton | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book DepositoryBooks-A-Million |IndieBound |
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What year is it again?

Being an author sometimes feels like constantly living in the future. Five weeks before book 1 of #RyoganChronicles releases, I’m digging into the first draft of the final book of the trilogy. Here’s to hoping I can close out Khya’s story with the same explosive force it started with. 📚

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We’re at the six week mark, y’all.

We’re at the six week mark, y’all. SIX WEEKS UNTIL ISLAND OF EXILES!

Hahaha no I’m not nervous, why do you ask?! Okay, I’m lying, but I’m still here to talk more about Island Of Exiles!

I mentioned last week that Island Of Exiles changed a lot between the proposal Kate Brauning bought and now. That’s an understatement, honestly. SO MUCH changed it’s hard to think about it as the same book.

Unexpectedly, one constant was a character: Tessen.

FYI, he’s based on a teenage Christian Keyes.

Tessen popped onto the page when I was writing the first draft, and he immediately surprised me. Somehow. It’s strange to see a character you’re creating as mysterious, but that was Tessen. Mysteriously intriguing. Tessen demanded page time, and he got it, slowly becoming a much more important part of the story than I’d planned.

After I sold the series to Entangled & Kate Brauning gave me notes, there was basically an earthquake on the desert island. Major pieces of the world rearranged, the language shifted, & everything (& everyone) got a new name. EXCEPT TESSEN.

Not only did Tessen’s name remain when so much changed, it became the basis for my language & naming conventions. For those who don’t know, tessens are Japanese iron bladed fans. Heavy, beautiful, & dangerous. (YouTube | Wikipedia) I named Tessen after this weapon, and I loved both the sound of it and how well it fit his character. Because of this, he became the linchpin to my worldbuilding. The names of everyone and thing else shifted around him.

I’ll talk more about the languages in Island Of Exiles another week, but I will say this now: Tessen was the catalyst for them.

After writing him in 2 books, I can’t say Tessen is as mysterious now as he was at first, but I am no less intrigued. Hopefully, when you meet him in a few (ONLY SIX!) weeks, you’ll be just as in love with him as I am.

Be prepared, though. Khya might fight you for him. 😉

 

Meet Tessen! Order Island Of Exiles.

Buy it from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Books-A-Million | IndieBound

Add this book on Goodreads.

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