Excerpt: The Stars of Heaven

The paperback of The Stars of Heaven has finally made past production delays (thanks, 2020…) and is available for purchase! To celebrate, today’s blog is an excerpt from Chapter One. I hope you enjoy!

Glancing at the parishioners spilling out the door of Nossa Senhora dos Mártires into the square in front of the basilica, Cecília was left with the sinking feeling that it was getting far closer to ten than she’d originally estimated. Even if she had convinced Tio Aloisio to come to the Baixa with her, they would have had no chance to make it to São Vincente in time for High Mass. All she could hope was that no one had noticed she’d gone, and the entire morning would be one more thing she would have to privately confess at the Palmeiro’s. 

She slowed them to a stop just outside the square by another niche—one holding a thick wooden crucifix—and pointed east. “Rua Nova dos Mercadores is that way, if you’d like to part ways here.” 

“I’m more than happy to walk you the rest of the way home, Senhorita Durante.”

Because after everything, she needed someone from her bairro seeing her wandering about alone with an Englishman. “With the crowds, I imagine that would make you late for your meeting.” 

A conflicted expression moved over Mr. Bates’s face as he scanned the crowd for himself, no doubt seeing she was right. 

She saved him the trouble of having to weigh whatever duty he felt to her and however important he considered his meeting. “I’ve lived in Lisbon my entire life, Mr. Bates. I’m certain I’ll be able to make it home without your assistance.” 

Mr. Bates began to give one more halfhearted objection before a low rumble moving through the ground made him trail off. Cecília frowned, looking for an approaching coach, though from the way the sound was growing, it would have had to have been a line of coaches barreling toward them. 

“What’s that?” Mr. Bates followed Cecília’s gaze. 

Cecília shook her head, not having any better idea than Mr. Bates. The rumbling grew stronger, making loose pebbles rattle around her feet as the sound neared a roar. 

Earthquake. The thought registered a second too late as the street under her rolled. Cecília tipped forward as shouts went up, mixing with discordant clanging church bells. She put her hand out to brace herself, but the ground lurched again. Her shoulder slammed into the curve of the niche then bucked the other way. She hit cobblestone hard. 

The wall of the building across from her split, chunks of white plaster raining down across the street. Rough brick showed through as the ground continued its assault. Then the brick started to tilt. Eyes widening, Cecília curled into herself, everything happening too quickly to make sense. The wall fell. Hard chunks pelted her as it kicked up a cloud of dust so thick that she had no choice but to close her eyes. 

Slowly, the shaking slowed, and the roar was replaced by a cacophony of the most horrible sounds Cecília had ever heard—screaming, crying, panicked whinnies of horses. Cecília’s body seized. She tried to unfurl, but her muscles wouldn’t release. Shock kept her curled, eyes squeezed shut as though everything would stop if she didn’t look, as though she would wake up in her bed, the morning a dream. A new roar rose over the screams a second before the rumbling returned. Crying, she dropped her forehead to the ground, mumbling some prayer for mercy as Hell rose up around her. “Misericorda. Misericorda de Deus.” 

There was more screaming, more crashing, a loud snap, and pain shooting across her back. Somewhere, her mind registered that something hard had landed on top of her. She choked on dust as she gasped, trying to suck in what air she could under the crushing weight. Time began to blur. Nothing existed beyond the roar and rocking and pain. 

The ground slowly stilled once again—after how long, Cecília couldn’t begin to imagine—but she still couldn’t breathe. She struggled to reach whatever had pinned her. One hand touched smooth wood—the crucifix from the niche. She pushed, but it wouldn’t shift. Something had to have been on top of it, pressing into the cross as it pressed into her. Her sight began to blur, her chest not able to expand enough to take in air. As hard as she fought to remain conscious, her mind turned fuzzy. 

The third roar barely registered until the crucifix shook loose. Cecília gasped. She ended up coughing, thick dust coating her throat. No longer completely pinned, she still had to fight to free herself. Rough bricks scraped her palms, but they shifted as the shaking stopped, letting Cecília inch her way forward. She could find her way out, if she just kept moving… 

Reaching out once more, her hand hit nothing. She froze, the sensation not making sense until she realized she had reached open air. The day had simply turned pitch black.

 And the Lord said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand toward Heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt. The words floated through Cecília’s mind, and she crossed herself before she realized how much pain the movement caused. She couldn’t bring herself to rise from her knees. God had thrown her and the whole city down into the earth. There was no other explanation.

 Slowly, some light began to filter through the haze in the air, and Cecília’s eyes struggled to adjust. The sight was worse than the darkness. Bodies poked through piles of stone—men with their heads dashed open, mangled limbs reaching out as if trying to free themselves even without the bodies to which they had once been attached. Others were still alive, and some cried for help, some already fleeing over the rubble. They weren’t in Hell. But Lisbon seemed worse.

Buy The Stars of Heaven today in ebook or paperback:

Barnes & Noble

7 Things You Never Learned (about the Great Lisbon Earthquake)

After six years of work researching, writing, and editing, my first purely historical fiction novel, The Stars of Heaven, has finally reached release day! One thing that had long kept me in the “historical fantasy” sphere (beyond the fact that magic is fun!) was I was always a bit intimidated by the amount of research that goes into true historical fiction novels. And The Stars of Heaven was its own level of research hell since, like the bulk of Americans I’ve met, I had never even heard of the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake before learning of its existence in a rather unlikely source–an Assassin’s Creed game. After falling down a research hole trying to find out what this disaster was, I found what might be one of the most important events of the Western world that no one outside of Portugal (who hasn’t read Voltaire’s Candide) seems to know about.

So, for those of you out there who, like me, had never heard of this disaster. Here are seven of the most interesting fact I learned while in that research quagmire:

1. It was more than “just” an earthquake.

While the earthquake was the primary disaster (with an epicenter likely somewhere off the Portuguese coast under the Atlantic and large enough to have reports of feeling it in New England papers–estimated to be an 8.4 on the modern Richter scale) Lisbon really couldn’t catch a break. Rather than a quick rumble passing through, there were three distinct waves of shaking, each reportedly lasting for several minutes. Contemporary accounts disagree on exact timing (I imagine you aren’t busy looking at your pocket watch in the middle of trying not to die) but it is generally agreed that the shaking alone lasted at least ten minutes. As the quake also happened on a holiday (All Saints’ Day) in very Catholic Portugal, it also managed to knock over a ton of votive candles and start fires all over the city. As Lisbon is built at the center of a number of tall hills, this created a fire bowl that ripped through what buildings weren’t destroyed.

Ancient map Lisbon

Since that obviously wasn’t enough though, as often happens with earthquakes under water, the quake then sparked off tsunamis–three of them, one for each wave of the quake–that hit the city and washed out most of the Lisbon waterfront (including the king’s Riverside Palace and Naval Shipyard). When all was said and done, there was practically nothing left of downtown Lisbon (known as the Baixa).

2. An estimated 50,000 died and 100,000 were left homeless.

With the success of Portugal’s overseas colonies (most notably Brazil) in the eighteenth century, Lisbon was a thriving trading port, housing an estimated 10% of Portugal’s total population (approx. 250,000 people). As it was a holiday, many from the surrounding countryside had come to the city to attend High Mass and other festivities, making the already crowded city packed. This led to an estimated 50,000 deaths over the course of the quakes, fires, and tsunamis, and another 100,000 people left homeless.

Period copper engraving showing the destruction of Lisbon

3. It was the first “modern” disaster with major international aid.

While the Great Lisbon Earthquake was far from the first major natural disaster, it was the first in a major European city after trade had interwoven the major powers so closely (as a port city, Lisbon had a sizable expat community, including traders from across the globe). News of the destruction shocked the world, and many countries immediately sent aid to help the struggling lisboetas (and evacuate any of their own citizens who wished to leave). As this was the eighteenth century, “immediately” often did mean several months between the news reaching somewhere and then ships making it back, but it still was perhaps the first example of the outpouring of international aid we still see following major disasters.

4. It included one of the first scientific seismic studies.

While many did believe the earthquake had been sent by God to punish, those interested in the “modern” methods brought by the European Age of Enlightenment wanted to find a scientific explanation for what happened. This included interviewing those willing to give first-person accounts and sending out surveys asking questions such as “When did you first feel the shaking” (trying to track how the quake moved) and “Did you notice any signs before the shaking started” (such as animals acting strangely or wells running low). It was hoped that being able to understand any patterns would allow them to predict future quakes, or at least “earthquake proof” new buildings.

Astrolabe, 18th century
“Astrolabe, 18th century” by austinevan

5. Soldiers marching was used to test earthquake-proof designs.

Paired with the survey, following the quake, architects worked for years to try to build structures that were “earthquake proof” including using different types of latticework to support stone buildings and have the masonry fall out to the street rather than on anyone in the building. To test the different models created (as they couldn’t call up another small quake or use a modern earthquake simulator) they came up with the ingenious solution of having soldiers march in circles around the models to make the ground shake. This allowed them to pick the strongest framing designs.

6. It (more or less) ended the Portuguese Inquisition.

Perhaps less well known than its Spanish cousin, there was also a Holy Office of the Inquisition in Portugal that ran well into the eighteenth century.

The Spanish Inquisition - Monty Python
No one expects the Spanish, er, I mean Portuguese Inquisition! http://people.csail.mit.edu/paulfitz/spanish/t3.html

While the quake did lead many to double down on their faith, it also put the Church in direct conflict with the scientific methods being used to study the quake (hey, look, that’s what my book’s about… fancy that…) While it was a slow process, the quake more or less was the beginning of the end of the Portuguese Inquisition. Other progressive legislation tied (either directly or indirectly) to the earthquake includes the founding of public schools in Portugal, “modernization” of college curricula (moving away from classic Latin studies), abolition of slavery in Portugal (though unfortunately not its colonies–sorry, Brazil), and opening positions once only allowed to be held by nobility to anyone qualified.

7. It permanently scarred the king (mentally).

While the reigning king, Dom José (Joseph I of Portugal), and his family escaped the quake physically intact (they were spending the holiday in Belém–now a part of Lisbon–which was located on stronger bedrock to the west and not as hard hit as the Baixa) mentally, the king never recovered. Suffering from what most likely would now be called PTSD, he refused to step foot inside masonry again for the rest of his life, going so far as to commission what came to be known as the Real Barraca (literally the “royal shack” or “royal tent”) a grand single-story palace built entirely of wood.


By all accounts, it was an impressive structure filled with tapestries and other luxuries to make it more “royal” than “shack” located on the site of modern-day Ajuda National Palace. Unfortunately, as wooden structures are wont to do, it caught fire and burned down in 1794.

Overall, it is a fascinating time that really deserves more attention than it’s currently given. For those interested in the actual history, I highly recommend This Gulf of Fire: the destruction of Lisbon or apocalypse in the age of science and reason by Mark Molesky (my primary source while writing) or The Last Day: Wrath, Ruin, and Reason in the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 by Nicholas Shrady. And for those interested in a fictionalized account of the quake and years following it, pick up The Stars of Heaven, available at all major online retailers.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08CHNS816/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-stars-of-heaven-jessica-dall/1137445552

Truth in History

Like what seems to be the bulk of the internet this past weekend, I watched Hamilton on Disney+. And, as will come as a surprise to precisely no one who has ever met me in real life, my husband and I then spent much longer than is healthy picking apart the history behind the play. Now, first things first, I am a fan of the musical. I bought the soundtrack back in 2015 and memorized it all. I spent way too much to go see the performance at the Kennedy Center when it was in D.C. Nitpicking the history wasn’t at all about trying to tear the play down, it was about analyzing the creative choices. There is no doubt that Lin Manuel Miranda is familiar with his topic. Like most (if not all) historical fiction writers, he fully immersed himself in his era (even getting to write at one of Hamilton’s desks at a historical site in New York—proving that there are perks to being a famous writer over the rest of us doing the bulk of our research through commercially published works and whatever we can Google/find online).

The 9 Most Interesting Things We Learned From "Hamilton's America ...
(Pictured: Not where most of us get to write our historical fiction)
By PBS, “Hamilton’s America” screenshot

Since history does not often conform itself to a perfect narrative, however, the fiction part of historical fiction sometimes does take necessity and leads to little (or sometimes big) cheats to tell the story you’re trying to tell. And so, Hamilton becomes a great example of how things sometimes have to give when you’re digging a great historical fiction out actual history.

For example:

Timelines get compressed (or changed entirely):

One of the cardinal pieces of writing advice often given in writing classes is “if it doesn’t serve a purpose, cut it.” When it comes to telling a story, every scene should be propelling your narrative and characters, be that providing new information, taking the characters closer to (or farther from) their goal, or building characterization. Unfortunately, history generally isn’t kind enough to do the same. Especially in the past, things took time to happen. There were weeks between letters being sent and delivered, people would go home to plant their fields before eventually returning to finish whatever “more important” action they started months ago… all in all, a bunch of “actual life” stuff gets in the way of a narrative arc. For that reason, historical fiction often trims the time it takes between events or sometimes even rearranges when specific events happen. The play Hamilton has a bit of a leg up in messing with the timeline in that it can paint with a very broad brush with time passing (when exactly did Hamilton get this letter? Well, it’s sometime between the Battle of Yorktown (1781) and the Constitutional Convention (1787)… pick a time) but even with that, it is still possible to pick out places where the timeline has been rearranged for storytelling. 

American Revolution Timeline
“Yeah, I think I can trim this down to two hours…”

A good example of this is the song Farmer Refuted. For this song, Miranda uses a common historical fiction “trick” where he takes writing from the actual historical record and then translates it into action on the stage/page. Unsurprisingly, Samuel Seabury did write an actual “Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress”, from which his lines in the song are taken. Hamilton then wrote a response (two, in fact, since the play is correct in that he was never one for moderation in his writing) which he titled (any guesses?) “The Farmer Refuted”. I particularly like this example as it encapsulates both compressing the timeline and rearranging it. As these were pamphlets and responses written back and forth, obviously there was a lot more time necessary for this exchange than the few minutes shown on the stage where Hamilton literally steps onto Seabury’s soapbox and talks over him. These pamphlets were also written in 1774 and 1775 respectively, placing them solidly before the “1776, New York City” time and place setting given in Aaron Burr, Sir, which is five songs ahead of Farmer Refuted in the play. Since the entire narrative point of Farmer Refuted, though, is to show Hamliton’s bombastic approach to speaking his beliefs (setting up the dichotomy between him and his foil, Burr) and progress the story toward the actual fighting of the revolution, Miranda took these earlier works and transposed them into a single exchange that makes his intended point in a narratively interesting way that the actual timing would not have allowed for. 

Lin-Manuel Miranda is Alexander Hamilton and Leslie Odom, Jr. is Aaron Burr in HAMILTON, the filmed version of the original Broadway production.

Similarly, events are rearranged to fit in (spoilers for actual history?) Philip Hamilton’s death. In actual history, Philip Hamilton died in 1801. Fans of the musical will recognize this date as decidedly after the Election of 1800, which in the play happens in its eponymous song two tracks after Philip’s death in Stay Alive (reprise). This change was narratively necessary, however, as Miranda further compressed the narrative toward the end to remove a lot of the other events that led up to the Hamliton/Burr duel. In actual history, this duel is more closely connected to Burr’s New York gubernatorial campaign than his presidential campaign (which is also the reason Hamliton’s death is in 1804, rather than closer to 1800). Since the condensed narrative for the play would not support dealing with the conflict between Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson in The Election of 1800 only to then have Philip die and then there be another conflict around an election, Miranda made the decision to move Philip’s death forward to then allow the Election of 1800 to serve the narrative function of both conflicts between our protagonist and antagonist. While in longer works of fiction, such as novels, readers perhaps might not allow quite as broad of changes to be made unremarked, as there is more time to get into nuances, in a time-compressed play or movie especially, joining these events to serve one singular narrative beat that leads to the historically accurate outcome is understandable. 

Characters become symbolic:

Daveed Diggs is Thomas Jefferson in HAMILTON, the filmed version of the original Broadway production.

While watching the Disney+ broadcast, one of the topics that we kept circling back to was Daveed Diggs’s portrayal of Thomas Jefferson. While Diggs does an amazing job with his physicality and character choices (he’s actually one of my favorite performances in the show) the person he is portraying is decidedly not the reserved, almost comically introverted, by many accounts, Thomas Jefferson. Rather than attempting to write an accurate Thomas Jefferson, Miranda wrote a character meant to be the embodiment of Jeffersonian ideas. He needed a quick, engaging way to show the conflicts between the Democratic-Republicans and Federalists in the early Federalist Period, and an accurate, reserved Jefferson would not have been able to match the bombastic energy of Hamilton’s character. Realism was thus once again sacrificed so that the narratively necessary points could be made. While in fiction it is always necessary to have characters feel realistic enough to be engaging as people, when telling a greater historical narrative, characters do often also fall into a symbolic role as well. One character may be a down-on-his-luck tailor but he is also the symbolic “put-upon proletariat” character the reader needs to connect to to get the full impact of the coming revolution or another character may be a charming poet, but she is also the mouthpiece for Romantic Era ideals to be able to show how the world is changing. In this way, Miranda has turned Diggs’s Jefferson into a charismatic symbol of conflicting political ideals rather than gone for anything close to a realistic portrayal of historic Thomas Jefferson. 

Phillipa Soo is Eliza Hamilton, Renée Elise Goldsberry is Angelica Schuyler and Jasmine Cephas Jones is Peggy Schuyler in HAMILTON, the filmed version of the original Broadway production.

Similarly, to serve the romantic subplot of the show, the Angelica Schuyler Miranda has written is a far cry from her historical counterpart. Miranda is on record as saying that he felt Hamilton needed an intellectual equal as a love interest, and thus developed this bittersweet “soulmates who can’t be” relationship between Angelica and Hamilton. Beyond the plainly “factual” errors that building this plot required (Philip Schuyler had eight children, including three sons despite Angelica’s line in Satisfied stating, “My father has no sons so/I’m the one who has to social climb for one”) Miranda also builds a character who is a mental match for his version of Hamilton by giving them a shared dissatisfaction with their lots in life. Unlike other women in the era who were proto-feminists (most notably being perhaps Abigail Adams in her 1776 letter urging her husband to “remember the ladies”) there does not seem to be any real evidence in the historical record that Angelica Schuyler shared the sentiment or would have tried to “compel [Jefferson] to include women in the sequel” of the Declaration of Independence’s “all men are created equal”. Rather than being a historically accurate Angelica who, while definitely witty and period-appropriately flirty in some letters, was already married by the time she met Hamilton and seemingly satisfied enough with her life, she becomes the character necessary to build a love triangle for Miranda’s Hamilton. 

Language changes:

Old English, New Influences | National Endowment for the ...
Next, from the creators of Hamliton, a Beowulf rap in the original Old English!

With Hamilton being a rap musical, it is hardly surprising that the language used in it is not period accurate (you mean to tell me not only were the Schuyler sisters not a trio of feminists, but they also wouldn’t have said “Work!”?) but this is something that all historical fiction authors come up against. For any book set before the 18th century, it is more or less understood that the piece of fiction the reader or viewer is digesting is a “translation” much in the same way that a fantasy novel is a “translation” from whatever language would be spoken in that fantasy world. Historical fiction readers/viewers don’t expect to pick up a book set in the middle ages and find something written in Old or Middle English. Similarly, there is a certain level of “suspension of disbelief” with any novel that needs to use more modern equivalents of difficult historical phrases to be understood. Obviously, just like with plays getting more ability to compress events in general, Hamilton gets an extra level of suspension of disbelief with its language than “normal” historical fiction due to it form. However, it also treds that line all historical fiction does of providing a “realistic” experience (including actual lines from “The Farmer Refuted” (Farmer Refuted) “Washington’s Farewell Address” (One Last Time) “The Reynolds Pamphlet” (The Reynolds Pamphlet) and Hamilton and Burr’s letters (Your Obedient Servant)) while also remaining accessible to modern audiences. Much like writing that medieval novel in modern English, Miranda manages to translate moments in history using non-accurate language by finding modern “equivalents”, such as a rap battle rather than an early Federalist cabinet debate, much in the same way that a novelist might need to use the slightly less period-appropriate word “science” instead of “natural philosophy” in a throwaway line of dialogue for it to be easily digestible. Obviously, all historical fiction authors need to know where exactly the line is for their own suspension of disbelief and work to keep their “translations” grounded enough to their own internal logic to not lose readers, but as we can see, if the changes are done well, they can do an amazing job of getting people who have never been interested in a period (or perhaps history in general) hungry in finding out more, and that truly is one of the wonderful things Hamilton has managed to do.

Alexander Hamilton: Ron Chernow: 9780143034759 - Christianbook.com
Penguin Books

For those who are interested in the actual history of these characters and events, I strongly suggest picking up some non-fiction, such as Ron Chernow’s Hamilton, which gave Miranda his idea for the show to start with and seeing for yourself what the musical Hamilton does and doesn’t change. For those who are interested in writing historical fiction, I strongly suggest doing so as well, even if it’s just to be able to fully dissect what Miranda decided to keep and what he decided to change to build a tight, engaging narrative. I will not attempt to argue that every choice was perfect or if he should or shouldn’t have used such broad strokes in places (there are many pieces out there that have done much more justice to those arguments than I could in this short blog post), but if you—like I previously have—are currently caught up trying to balance history with fiction, this musical truly is a great study to at least get your feet wet with what changes may or may not work in your own narratives.

Interested in more historical fiction? The Stars of Heaven available August 18th, 2020.

Holiday Giveaway!

NaNoWriMo is over and we’re into December. And what better way to celebrate the holiday season than with a give away? Win books, a $50 Amazon Gift Card, or other fun prizes both through the group rafflecopter below, and a special give away of Karissa Laurel’s . Find details about both below!

Group giveaway:
What happens when 14 of the best authors on the planet get together just before the holidays?
We start giving stuff away.
From November 29, 2017 through December 12, 2017, we’ll be featuring a Rafflecopter for you chance to win a signed book of your choice, an e-book of your choice, or a $50 Amazon Gift Card!
All you have to do is follow each of the 14 authors on Bookbub. And we made it easy to do. With a Rafflecopter giveaway

ALSO, each of the authors above will be featuring the giveaway on their Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, newsletters, blogs, and wherever else they can think of and you could win there, too!

So follow all of them on Facebook for even more chances to win books, swag, and other great prizes during this pre-holiday giveaway.

Click to follow:

Midnight Burning:

Love gods and fantasy? Join this second Rafflecopter giveaway for a copy of Karissa Laurel’s book Midnight Burning:

When the police notify Solina Mundy that her twin brother, Mani, is dead, she heads for Alaska. Once there, she begins to suspect Mani’s friends know more about his death than they’ve let on. Skyla, an ex-Marine, is the only one willing to help her.

As Solina and Skyla delve into the mystery surrounding Mani’s death, Solina is stunned to learn that her own life is tied to Mani’s friends, his death, and the fate of the entire world. If she can’t learn to control her newfound gifts and keep her friends safe, a long-lost dominion over mortals will rise again, and everything she knows will fall into darkness.

Outlining (as a Panster)

Happy June 28th, or as we’re calling it around my house, release day! I’m very pleased to announce my new style guide, Building the Bones: Outlining Your Novel, (part of the Red Adept guide series: Beyond the Style Manual) is now available!

Whenever I’m teaching a writing class, I try to make the point that there is no “right” way to write. If you need a binder full of notes before you start writing, that’s fine. If you want to jump right in and see how far you get, that’s fine as well. In perhaps the least sinister use of quoting Machiavelli, the end really does justify the means when it comes to writing. If you end up with a good completed manuscript, it really doesn’t matter how you got there.

When I first started writing, I was a die hard “pantser” (i.e. someone who “flies by the seat of their pants” and just starts writing with no outline). If someone had told me back then that I would one day be the one writing a “how to” guide on outlining, I would have told them they were crazy. After over a decade of learning to better my writing/developing my style, however, I’ve found myself stretching across the full range of outlining styles (from the basic character-goal-obstacle outline to a full scene-by-scene) depending on what each story has demanded. Though I still tend to fall on the less outline than more side of things when working out my novels, having done just about everything in the name of working out a story has allowed me to pick up a number of outlining techniques that can help nearly any writing style–so perhaps having pantser instincts actually has made it easier to write a how to guide than someone who has always used the same kind of full outline.

So, no matter your writing style, if you want to write a novel and aren’t sure how to get started or are generally a pantser but keep finding your novel fizzling out before you can get it finished, consider picking up Building the Bones. Hopefully all my years of floundering around will save you a little trouble.

Building the Bones: Outlining Your Novel
Now available HERE on Amazon Kindle through Red Adept Publishing

Do you have a story you’ve always wanted to write, but weren’t sure how to begin? Have you tried pantsing and floundered, unsure how to finish your novel? Learning the simple basics of outlining can help you plot with confidence.

This instructional guide booklet covers the easy, straightforward techniques you need to plan your story before you write. These guidelines will aid you in organizing your ideas no matter what genre you write or what age group you write for. Whether you use paper or a computer to plan with, these outlining concepts will help you navigate the unknowns of your imagination so you can bring your story to life.

New Release: Raining Embers

The day is finally here. Raining Embers is now available in ebook! (Paperback coming soon*).

PalmRaining Emberser Tash always follows the path of least resistance. He has an unusual disability involving his hearing. But in theocratic Latysia, being different isn’t a good thing, so he conceals his problem.

Brier Chastain’s malady is even more debilitating, and she often must take to her bed for long periods. Her days are spent in meaningless pursuits as she awaits an arranged marriage.

When Palmer and Brier are kidnapped on the same night, they meet and discover that their so-called disabilities are actually budding powers. They are the incarnations of Order and Chaos. With their country on the brink of war, the two must step into their predestined roles and learn to take control of their own destinies.

Buy now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and Kobo 

*Interested in Paperback? Sign up for the Jessica Dall Newsletter to be the first to know/receive the chance to purchase an advanced, signed copy.

Raining Embers

Chapter One

In the near darkness, the frightful sound of shouting people and clashing swords echoed around the wooden book chest. The battle raged on outside even as the city burned. The little girl curled up more tightly, too afraid to leave the relative safety of her hiding place. Voices rose and fell, some familiar, some with accents she’d never heard. A man cried out, but the cacophony swallowed the noise before it could finish.

Smoke began to filter into the cracks of the chest, turning the air thick, hazy. The girl swallowed, blinking too quickly as her eyes burned. Her father had been gone by the time she had made it through the havoc to the library. But he had to come back. He was always in the library. Day or night, she could always find him there. Even in all of this chaos, he would have to be somewhere.

The smoke grew thicker, the heat of it making the girl’s lungs burn with each breath. Her head swimming, she couldn’t wait anymore. She pushed the chest open with the soles of her feet, and a fresh wave of smoke rushed in at her. Mostly by feel, she climbed out, trying to find something familiar, some landmark to show her which way to go in the fiery nightmare. Spotting a patch of lighter smoke, she crawled forward, the normally cool marble of the library floor scorching.

Something creaked. A beam fell, blazing, in front of her. The air shimmered with heat. She had to stop, her mind too sluggish to find another route. The smoke attacked her, working its way inside her lungs. Her heart tried to race but couldn’t manage. After a few more inches forward, her body failed, refusing to move. Her eyes fluttered shut, firelight dancing on her eyelids.

Darkness descended. The haze turned to black, nothingness racing in on her.

And it felt… right.

Palmer’s eyes flew open as he jerked back to reality, the burning library replaced by the dark classroom under the temple. Shaking his head, he focused on the fire in the center of the ring of acolytes’ chairs. Certainly, learning this type of divination could have waited until winter. With summer at its height, they might as well have been in an oven with the entire class of acolytes packed inside the windowless room, along with a fire pit. Between the heat and the smoke, even he was going to start thinking he was having “visions,” as the Seers wanted them to believe. Fire, battle, and little girls indeed. Perhaps their classes were truly a study in mass hallucination.

“Um… a bird?” One of the other acolytes’ voices clicked somewhere in Palmer’s head, his bizarrely focused hearing jumping from the crackle of the fire to the boy’s words.

“What kind of bird?” the Master coached, standing behind Danilo Danati as they both stared into the accursed fire.

“A black one?”

Palmer rolled his eyes and looked back at the fire. A log broke, and the voices disappeared, giving way to the new sound. In any other class, Palmer might attempt to force his mind to focus, to accept that the words were what he should hear over any other sound in the room. After being forced into an oven to learn more about false prophesying, however, he was inclined to filter out whatever imagined bird Danilo and Master Franco were discussing as background noise. Since he had to live with the odd affliction of being able to hear only one sound at a time, at least he could use it to his benefit now and again.

“I think it’s the city burning,” Gianni’s voice broke in from his spot in the circle next to Palmer. “Like in Sage Chmela-Parrino’s vision.”

“That’s supposed to be an earthquake.” Luca looked up from whatever he’d been carving into the side of his stool. “‘The ground shall open, and buildings shall fall’?”

A buzz arose as more and more acolytes debated. Palmer let his mind filter it all out as he wiped at the sweat attempting to trickle down the back of his neck.

“That is enough,” Master Franco cut through the din. “As it seems we are not going to regain focus for today, we will have to pick up again next week. I expect an essay on what was learned today, in my hand before the fire is lit.”

Unhappy groans resonated around the room, but no one debated, packing up their books. Palmer couldn’t escape that sweltering room quickly enough, shoving everything into his own sack before moving out into the maze of passageways beneath the temple and toward his little cell.

Palmer couldn’t decide if the underground complex was a blessing or a curse during the summer. Generally cooler than upstairs—when the Seers didn’t light blazing fires in some weak attempt at fortune telling—the dampness in the air always soaked into the cells below the temple floor, the rooms flooding if the rains came too long or too often. He had long before put everything in his room on stilts, trying to save what meager possessions he had from rotting.

Pulling his cell’s door open, he stepped into the small space, barely looking around as he dropped his bag on the cot and pulled out his spare set of robes. They were slightly soiled but at least not soaked through with sweat.

Someone knocked, and Egidio’s voice sounded through the door. “Palm?”

“It’s open,” Palmer answered, pulling the damp brown robes off over his head before spreading them over the small desk. They wouldn’t likely dry fully in the musty cell, but at least they wouldn’t likely mold, either.

The door swung out with a creak, and Egidio stepped through only enough to let it close again, leaving Palmer enough room to maneuver in the small space. “I’m going to fail.”

Palmer sighed. This conversation again. It was that time in the semester. He pulled the new robe over his head. “You’re not going to fail.”

“Another couple bad marks, and I will.” Egidio skirted Palmer, sitting next to the bag on the cot. “My father is going to kill me.”

Releasing a breath, Palmer took a seat on the low stool in front of the desk, readying himself for the familiar exchange. After six years, Palmer could nearly do both parts. The subject always changed, of course, but it seemed Egidio Dioli had yet to find any part of being an acolyte that suited his skill set. Palmer had to imagine that if Signore Dioli, semiprosperous merchant, hadn’t managed to scrape together full room and board, his son would have long been ejected from study at the Church.

“What class now?”

“Master Agnelli’s.” Egidio rested his mousy face in his hands. “I have no talent in charts.”

“Give it here.” Palmer motioned toward Egidio and picked up his own stub of a pencil.

Egidio fished around in his bag and pulled out a slightly crumpled paper. He held it out for Palmer to take. “Did you already turn yours in?”

Palmer nodded, not feeling the need to bring up the fact that he had finished while still in class.

“It isn’t fair.” Egidio slumped forward. “You don’t even try, and you have at least betas in everything.”

“Lucky for me, or I’d be out on the street.” Palmer shot Egidio a look before scanning the chart, looking for errors.

“Oh… sorry, Palm.” Egidio stumbled over his words. “You know I didn’t mean—”

Palmer waved the apology away, rubbing out a few wrong marks with his thumb before replacing them. Even if Egidio had the tendency to end up with his foot in his mouth, he never truly had a bad thing to say about Palmer’s circumstances. Maybe that had allowed them to become friends in the first place—Egidio, the talentless son of a family who could barely afford to keep his place; and Palmer, the parentless Ward of the Church who had managed to stay on when most of his peers had aged out, through some combination of dumb luck and an innate talent at astrology. Compared to the grand—or at least wealthy—families most of their classmates came from, Palmer and Egidio were only slightly better than the beggars who wandered around the slums by the river, well outside the walled complex that was the Augarian.

After a few more corrections, Palmer handed the paper back. “Trace that over. It should be more than enough to pass now.”

Egidio mumbled some thanks, shoving the paper back into his bag as though the powers that be would know he’d cheated just because Egidio was touching the chart. He tied the bag shut then looked back at Palmer. “Did you hear about Sage Chmela-Parrino’s vision?”

Somehow, Palmer refrained from groaning. “Parts of it. Something about the world ending?”

“He said he saw the Augarian destroyed, the ground opening up, a god wreaking vengeance on us all.”

Palmer barely managed not to roll his eyes. “Gio, some Seer or another predicts the end of the world once a decade. I don’t think we need to worry about this one any more than any of the others.”

“If you say so.” Egidio rested his arms on his knees. “But I know if the sun suddenly goes dark, I’m going to be a little worried.”

“Goes dark?” Palmer frowned.

“Supposedly, that’s how it starts. The sun goes dark. Then it’s only a matter of time before the gods destroy us all.”

Palmer pressed his lips together as he recalled one of the mistakes he hadn’t corrected on Egidio’s chart, for the sake of believability. A potential solar eclipse, not that far away.

The Seers were going to have a field day.

Catching Openings

With November slowly creeping up–and thus the start of National Novel Writing Month almost upon us–I am getting more and more questions about how to start novels. I have previously touched on what is my standard advice is for rough drafts (namely, find the inciting incident and start somewhere near there. Worry about the exact opening in edits) but for those who still are looking for pointers, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Do: Try to start close to the inciting incident or, to put it another way, “on the day everything changes.” While several scenes of your character going about their life might be helpful for you as a writer, following a character wandering around with no sign of a plot starting isn’t very exciting for the reader.

Don’t: Start a scene and then fall into an info dump. Just as bad as starting too early is coming in close to the inciting incident and then spending pages 2 through 5 telling the reader everything that’s happened in your character’s life leading up to that point (or even just what’s happened the past few days that aren’t “the day everything changes”). Try to draw readers in with something happening in the present before stopping the plot to tell them a bunch of information about characters they don’t yet have any reason to care about.

Do: Start with action. Do your best to find something happening that will interest your reader immediately. This might be dropping into a conversation, your character taking a test that will make or break their schooling, or the beginning of a car crash. If it’s some sort of action that the reader can immediately connect to, you’re in good shape.

Don’t: Begin with your character waking up (or perhaps being chased). Connected to above, while it’s tempting as a natural start point, your character waking up is not a great start to a story–mostly because (unless your character is waking up to someone attacking them or something similar) there isn’t much to draw the reader in. Everyone wakes up in the morning (at least everyone in your reading audience likely does). A character waking up and getting ready for the day is generally mundane. On the opposite side, the first instinct many writers have when they hear “start with action” is to start with the main character being chased by something. Those openings can work if done well, but they can also easily feel overdone as they are so commonly used.

Do: Remember everything can be changed in editing. If you start too early or too late, if you start writing and then realize that that opening scene is rather, well, boring, you can always change it after the fact. For my novel, Raining Embers, coming out in November, I changed the opening twice myself and another time with my editor. Starting in general is more important than starting perfectly. After all, you can’t edit a blank page.


Read an excerpt from Raining Embers–coming November 3, 2015–here

Raining Embers

Taking “I” Out of It

Happy Day 6 of NaNoWriMo. Hopefully it is going well for everyone participating–and even if it’s not, the month is still young.

An interesting fact, I have to say, that I have found as an editor is that many new writers gravitate to first person. Whether if it’s because it feels more natural to tell a story as “I” or just a quirk that makes it more popular, I’m not sure. Before I go on, I want to say there is obviously nothing wrong (or inherently inferior) with using first person for narration. First, Third, and even Second person all have their place depending on what kind of story someone’s telling. It’s all about what works for the book.

The problem many newer writers writing in first person have, however, is that pesky pronoun, “I” cropping up over and over again. As the narrator is “I” in first person novels, there is obviously no way to fully remove the word from your writing (nor should you try to). What you can do, however, is find some ways to cut down on the repetitive: “I [verb]. I [verb]. I [verb]” sentences, which make  “I” feel a little too front and center.

1) Remove filtering. I previously discussed “filtering” in regard to self-censoring. This is the other kind. Rather than trying not to filter the actual content, this is trying not to filter content through the narrator. If you are seeing a lot of “I saw X”/”I watched X”/”I heard X” you are likely filtering. To get rid of the repetitive “I [verb]” simply remove the narrator from sentences where they aren’t needed. That is:

I saw the car turn down the street.


The car turned down the street. 

As everything in a first person narration is being related by one person, the reader can assume everything happening is being seen by “I” It is perfectly fine to remove the “I” from these sentences to cut down on repetitiveness.

2) Change up sentence structure. Since not every sentence will allow for “I” to be removed (e.g. “I walked around the table”) try to change up sentence structure if you feel like you’re falling into a string of “I [verb]”s. For example, rather than writing something like:

I opened the door. I looked down the hall. I didn’t see anyone…

consider something like:

Opening the door, I looked down the hall. No one was in sight…

By joining the first two sentences, and starting with a verb, you don’t fall into that repetitive structure. You also lose one of the “I”s being used. By switching the last sentence to remove the narrator from the action, the third is gone, leaving the remaining “I” feeling much less noticeable.

As with anything in writing, don’t take these tips to an extreme. If you have a section that works very well with “I [verb]. I [verb]. I [verb]” you don’t necessarily need to change it. If things start feeling repetitive, however, or “I” begins to feel overused, see if you can use these two tips to make things a little less awkward.


News Alert: Broken Line novella, The Copper Rebellion, is now available to buy for only $0.99 or receive it for FREE with newsletter sign up. Find out more here!

The Copper Rebellion

The Porcelain Child: Sneak Peek

With Book Two of the Broken Line series, The Porcelain Child, out one week from today, today’s post is an exclusive sneak peek:


Chapter One

The porcelain a little chipped, Mary still recognized the woman in the miniature. There were enough pictures of her around, after all. Mary supposed she shouldn’t be surprised to find it amongst the small box they had sent her of Richard Seymour’s affects—even as the parliamentarian he was. Queen Adela wasn’t a symbol of monarchy, after all. Even after everything, she was still the romantic heroine.

And Mary supposed it likewise wasn’t surprising the surviving Seymours had sent it to her. Mary hadn’t received much from Richard Seymour’s estate—she hadn’t expected to—but it seemed to be the logical conclusion for someone going through Richard’s things to send a picture of Adela Tilden to her daughter. Mary couldn’t imagine the remaining Seymours would have much love for Queen Adela themselves.

It was likely they would send it to Aberfirth or use it for target practice.

Touching the gold filigree around the little portrait, Mary finally set it down. Of all the portraits Mary had seen, this one didn’t look the least familiar. Adela couldn’t have been much more than fifteen in it. A rare portrait from before her short reign as queen, when she had been a baron’s daughter living so far north she was barely on the map. Still, looking down and off to the side, as if the viewer were below her interest, the picture still seemed bizarrely fitting—as though she already considered herself the viewer’s better, far before she had the right to.

The door opened, then slammed shut. William rested back against it, breathing heavily.

Mary frowned, attempting to recover from her thoughts. “What…?”

Motioning for her silence, William winced as someone knocked. He looked at her, mouthed, Help me.

Giving him a suspicious look, Mary moved forward all the same, letting him hide behind the dark wood as she pulled the door open.

Mr. Johnson, red-faced and soaking wet, looked up at her, puffing. “Where is he?”

Mary blinked, could feel William tense through the door. “Who?”

“Him,” the tutor seethed. “Lord Kedington. I heard him come this way.”

“He must have gone further down the hall, then.” Mary glanced out the door as though looking where William might have gone. “I haven’t seen him.”

Mr. Johnson didn’t move, hands clenched. A head shorter than her and red as a beet, he still somehow remained intimidating. Even while dripping on the hardwood.

Mary looked at him, unmoving, daring him to call her a liar.

Mr. Johnson didn’t answer.

“If you’re wanting to catch him, sir, you should likely keep looking,” Mary finished.

Another tense breath, and Mr. Johnson bowed shallowly at the waist, stalking off as his wet shoes squeaked after him.

Waiting a moment, Mary finally shut the door, looking at the smiling man still pressed against the wall. She crossed her arms. “Aren’t you getting a little old for these pranks, Will?”

“It wasn’t meant to be a prank.” The smile grew. “Just a happy coincidence.”

Mary sat at her desk, shaking her head. “I doubt Mr. Johnson will believe you.”

William shrugged, seeming less than bothered as he moved to the box on the bed. “This the Seymour stuff they sent you?”

Mary looked at it silently, allowing William to change the topic.

Peering over the side, William pursed his lips slightly. “Not much, is it?”

“More than I was expecting, honestly,” Mary answered. “You know what the rest of the Seymours think of me.”
William just nodded, poking through the few things left in the box. “Should I assume you aren’t planning on going to the funeral?”

Mary frowned, watching him closely at the change of tone. He hadn’t asked what he’d meant. She shook her head. “If my mother can’t be bothered to come back from abroad at all in light of recent events, I see no reason why I should make the effort go to Carby.”

“He’s your father.”

Mary snorted.

“And who knows,” William continued over her justified skepticism. “It might be exciting. Getting out of Aberfirth for a bit? Seeing Carby?”

“I really can’t think of a place I’d rather not see, Will,” Mary droned, picking up the miniature before he could argue. She tossed it to him. “He had that apparently.”

William caught it easily, eyebrows rising as he looked at it. “Very nice.”

Mary frowned deeply. “Could you please refrain from salivating over my mother while I’m still in the room?”

“I wasn’t salivating.” He smiled, tossing it back to her before he sat. “It’s just a nice picture. One of her queen portraits?”

“Not one I recognize at least.” Mary set it down without looking. “Do you find it strange that he had it?”

“Well.” William took a moment, shrugged. “Your mother is a beautiful woman.”

Mary made a face, standing to pick up the box.

William caught her wrist. “Don’t give me that look, May.”

She just flicked her eyes over him, pulling herself free before she moved the box to the ground. A well placed kick and it slid out of sight.

He watched her carefully. Took his time before speaking. “They’ve asked me to go.”

She looked back up, a low level of panic starting deep in her chest though she wasn’t sure why. “They who? Go where?”

“Who, parliament,” he said, running a hand through his short blond hair. “Where, the funeral.”

Mary pulled her eyebrows together. “Why? You’re no one important.”

He laughed. “Thanks, May.”

“It’s hardly a bad thing.” Mary pressed her lips tightly together.

He took her hand, swinging to face her. “I’d like you to come with me.”

“To Carby?”

He nodded, his blue eyes drilling into her.

Her grey ones looked back. “Are you feverish?”

The smile returned. “Carby can’t really be as bad as you think, May.”

“I can’t get within thirty miles of the place without someone trying to draw me into a royalist plot. I would think especially now.” Mary glanced at the window, the rolling green hills of Aberfirth seeming to be a false shield from everything else waiting out there. “Anyway, I haven’t gotten marching orders from my mother yet. If she thought
there were any benefit in me going she would have already ordered me there. This is Adela Tilden we’re talking about.”

William nodded, glancing out the window himself as if checking she didn’t see anything before he looked back at her. “When was the last time you heard from her?”

Mary shook her head. “Years? What has there been for her to write about?”

“I would think there’s plenty lately.”

“She’s probably still figuring out her next move. His death was recent enough.” Mary sighed, brushed it away. “I don’t have her mind. Don’t ask me to try to understand her actions.”

“I still think you would have made a great queen, May.” William smiled.

Mary’s stomach clenched, her face turning deadly serious. “Don’t even joke like that.”

William’s eyes stayed on her, but he didn’t argue. Fair and tall as he was, Mary had to admit William had grown into a handsome man from the gangly ten year old that had shown up to stay eight years ago. She froze, the nature of the thought registering, making heat rise to her cheeks.

“You are beautiful, you know that, May?” his voice cut in before she could recover.

Mary’s body tensed, the odd sense he had read her mind too jarring.

“Don’t look so shocked.” He rested back on his hands, easy smile unsettlingly handsome now that she thought about it. “You are your mother’s daughter, after all.”

“And I would give anything that I weren’t.” She rubbed the side of her face quickly, dropping her eyes.

His eyes stayed on her another moment before he stood, holding her chin.

She looked up, breath catching in her throat as he held her eyes.

“You still have this house, May. You still have your life. I don’t think you have weathered everything too poorly, all things considered. Many lost much more.”

There was enough to set her head right again. Mary’s jaw locked as she pulled back. “Thank you, Will, but I hardly need you to remind me.”

He touched her hair gently, pushing a dark auburn strand behind her ear. “Please come, May? You can’t spend your entire life afraid out here.”

Mary shook her head. “You shouldn’t go at all, Will. Not now.”

William looked at her another moment, finally sighed. “I have to. Anyway, you’re Mary Seymour. I imagine people would leave you alone at Richard Seymour’s funeral.”

“Not when they believe I’d be Mary Claybourne had the old king not lost his head.”

“Seymour claimed you as legitimate,” William argued.

“Words.” Mary slipped away from him, sitting on the bed. “Oaths and proclamations and edicts. They’re all just words. People hold them cheap these days.”

“I don’t know if I’d say that.” William turned to face her.

Mary looked down at her hands, back up. “Do they know who will be the new lord protector?”

William cocked an eyebrow but let her change the topic. “I think they’re still discussing it.”

“So there’s no one in charge?”

“Well, parliament is.” William laughed. “They won’t allow the country to enter a state of anarchy just because one man died.”

“We’ll see,” Mary mumbled.

He shook his head, good natured as ever. “No one wants another war, May.”

“Every royalist who lost the last one does,” she returned, face serious.

“We aren’t going to war.”

“Are you certain of that?” She held his eyes.

The corner of his mouth turned up. “Would you like to place a bet?”

Her frown only deepened. “This isn’t funny, Will.”

William sat next to her, placing an arm around her shoulder before he kissed her forehead. “You’re always so serious, May.”

“Life is serious.” She didn’t look at him.

“It can also be fun,” he said.

“So you always think,” she said, knot still tight in the pit of her stomach.


The Porcelain Child, available July 3rd from 5 Prince Publishing

The Copper Witch

The Copper Witch (Book 1), available now

5 Prince Publishing