Seven Questions: Tamara Shoemaker

Anyone who reads my blog is aware of Tamara Shoemaker, YA author and editor extraordinaire. This woman never slows down, and her tenth full-length novel just came out, the final installment in her Heart of a Dragon series, Unleash the Inferno.

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In Unleash the Inferno, you’ll finally get the rousing conclusion to the epic story of Kinna, Ayden, Cedric, their dragons, and of course, the villain, Sebastian. One of my favorite aspects of this book was the backstory and development of Sebastian the evil king, turning him into a grayer antagonist than you might find in a lot of YA Fantasy.

Since Tamara has answered my seven questions so many times, I focused this interview less on her latest book itself and more on questions other writers might have about how this powerhouse keeps cranking out multiple books in a calendar year while the rest of us flounder along hoping to produce one, if any.

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  • Tamara, this is book ten, eleven if you count your children’s picture book. What have you learned between book one and book ten that you would share with a novice novel writer?

This is cliché, I fully admit, but I also hold the view that there is a reason things become cliché: because they work, they connect. So, this is what I’ve learned: Never give up. I mean, NEVER give up. Not when you come down off the high of publishing your first book, not when you get your first poor review, not when you get your first rejection to a query, nor when an agent says your writing isn’t quite what they’re looking for and better luck next time, nor when a harsh critique comes in from a trusted friend, nor when the pure agony of marketing overwhelms you, nor when you’re tired, nor when you’re sick, nor when you’ve hit a plothole that could swallow a skyscraper.

The discouragements that litter the road of a writer are many and varied and often hard, and it is a career that is certainly not for the faint of heart. But I think almost any obstacle can be gotten over with steady diligence and an attitude of “Never Say Die.”

That’s been my motto since I began.

  • How have you changed as a writer over the years? Is your focus different? Has it gotten easier? Harder?

Some things have gotten easier, some harder. 🙂 When I began writing, I didn’t expect to stick with it. I wrote my first book on a bit of a dare from my husband (he dared me to write a book, so I said I would, and I did). I half-heartedly tried to submit it in a few places, but then I put it away and didn’t pursue it again for several years. In 2012, I heard of a small press that was looking for manuscripts, so I thought—why not? I got my manuscript out, dusted it off, and sent it in. When the company offered to publish it, my dreams and goals increased exponentially in a matter of seconds. I saw myself—a world-famous authoress topping every chart from the New York Times Bestsellers to USA Today’s—gaining international acclaim, and of course, while signing off on movie rights at every Hollywood studio, jotting book after book in my cabin in the woods where I would never, no never, attempt this mysterious thing called “marketing.”

Obviously, the real story is VASTLY different from what I had anticipated, but in some ways, that eases the road for me. Expectations are less when you are less known. My focus shifted from writing for readers to writing for myself—what did I want to see in a story? The independent publishing market swept in and gave me more freedom to do what I wished. I jumped genres from mystery to fantasy, and that’s where I am today. Every step I take presents its own set of challenges, but every step is also rewarding in its own way, because it’s all a part of living my dream. I haven’t topped any lists yet, and Hollywood steadfastly ignores me, but I am writing, I am creating, I am weaving my worlds, and that is important to me.

  • What inspires you when you’re feeling creatively dry?

So many things! My children. My surroundings. Nature. A book I’ve just read. A movie. A conversation with a friend. Music. Dreams. Sometimes I feel like I’ve come to the end of a road (that creative dryness you mentioned), and I realize it’s just a turning, a curve in the road, and something will spark a new thought that I want to explore to its farthest end.

  • You are also a freelance editor. What do you feel is different about editing someone else’s work and editing your own?

I think there’s such a thing as being “too close” to a story. When I write my own work, I am so wrapped up in the “nth details,” as I call them, of the world I create, that many times I can’t see the larger picture to know what is missing, or what should be tweaked. I rely heavily on beta readers when it comes to finding those things, but MOST of all, I rely on my editor to see those things (who, I may also add, is a worker of all things miraculous when it comes to literature of any kind).

So, in my work as an editor, I try to be that for other people. Authors get too close to their work; it’s a by-product of the profession, and that’s why it’s essential to get a good editor to help you see the larger picture. When I edit for other authors, I am able to grasp the bigger picture more easily than I can in my own books, because I’m coming at it from the outside of the work, and not inside it.

  • I’ve often noted that you seem like a very diligent writer who stays incredibly focused. I also know you go through phases of the typical writerly despair and uncertainty. How do you get through that and stay on track?

Hearkening back to my answer to question #1: Never give up, never say die. Sometimes, it’s like pulling teeth to make myself sit down and write. Sometimes the words don’t come, and the words I force to come are pure and absolute drivel that have no business anywhere NEAR what one would call a quality book.

I guess I look at it like the difference between a river and a pond. Scum collects on a still pond, because it has no movement. But in a river, the water is constantly flowing; there’s no chance for scum to form on the water’s surface, because it doesn’t stay still. When I’m writing, even if it’s drivel, even if the words are just awful with no quality whatsoever, the creative process isn’t stagnant. It’s still there, and eventually the quality floats on down the river to me, even if it takes a bit.

  • What is the hardest thing about the entire book process for you?

The middle phase: developmental edits. I love the first part: creation. I get to write whatever under the heavens I want to write, because it’s my story, and I can make it happen exactly as I want it to happen. I also love the final part: the line edits. That’s the spit and shine on the hard work I’ve put in. It’s where I see the story start to look like an actual book I’d want to read in a bookstore. It brings so much satisfaction. But that developmental phase in the middle is a bugger. It’s where I see every last flaw in the story, usually huge ones, and I have to go untangle them and rewrite them and rearrange things and cut whole sections and add whole sections and tear the entire story apart so I can put it back together again in a coherent manner. It’s awful. But I couldn’t complete a book without it. 🙂

  • Tell us a bit about your next projects.

I’m currently in process of finishing up a co-write with my beloved editor and friend, Emily June Street, (WHO?) set in an 18th century parallel world featuring music as magic and with steampunk touches. We’ve already co-written another book, set in an 19th century parallel world to the post-Civil War American South, featuring elemental magic and plantations, and we plan to pitch these books to agents at a conference in New York City in August. Meanwhile, I have begun sketching out the plans for a new YA Fantasy that includes between-world travel, fairy tale settings, and of course, my favorite, political intrigue. I’m hoping to begin the actual writing of that in June. I’m also busy picking up freelance editing contracts where I can in all my… you know… spare time. 😉

You all can learn more about Tamara and her writing and editing activities at tamarashoemaker.org

Read Unleash the Inferno!

After the Battle at ClarenVale, Kinna Andrachen unites those who spurn King Sebastian’s tyrannical reign, mustering a rag-tag army of soldiers and creatures to face Sebastian’s far larger Lismarian army. Victory is elusive and allies are scarce, but Kinna’s tenacious spirit cannot succumb to injustice. Her fiery heart must learn to lead

At last mastering control of the four Touches of the powerful Amulet, Ayden finds himself at the center of an epic struggle to destroy the corruption that has tainted the throne of Lismaria for centuries. As time runs out, his options for survival fade, surrendering him to a dark destiny.

Tied to a fate he does not want, Cedric Andrachen resists his inheritance, fleeing the lust for power it sparks in him. As war looms, Cedric faces his choices: will he turn his back on his throne and his kingdom? Or will he enter the struggle against tyranny, bringing the freedom his people have so long sought?

Sebastian sits, at last, on the Lismarian throne, stolen from him twenty years prior. But now the Rebellion, led against him by his niece and nephew, threatens his security from across the Channel, and the Amulet’s promise of power tempts him into even darker shadows. Ghosts of the past brutalize Sebastian’s present until the lines of reality blur with nightmare.

Flames of war ignite between nations. Peril threatens the Andrachen line.

Who will survive the inferno?

Seven Questions : Taryn Noelle Kloeden

I am happy to welcome Taryn Noelle Kloeden to my blog in honor of her debut novel, Hex Breaker, which is the first book in a series.

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Taryn is a lover of nature and all things furry and feathered. As a graduate student in Anthrozoology with an undergraduate degree in Psychology and Biology, she is dedicating her life to understanding and protecting animals, both human and nonhuman. This zeal for the outdoors combined with a lifelong love affair with fantasy and horror stories led her to create a YA dark fantasy series, The Fenearen Chronicles. Taryn lives in Richmond, Virginia with her Prima donna cat, Stella, and personal piano player/boyfriend, Lorenzo.

And now, Taryn answers the Seven Questions:

1) Pitch your book in three sentences.

What would you do if your best friend was cursed to a terrible fate for all eternity—and it was your fault? In a world where humans can take wolf form, political smokescreens hide dark intentions, and a culture faces extinction, one young woman must learn to embrace a power she does not understand. She’ll brave hell to save her pack, but will it be enough?

2) What inspired you to first decide, “I’m going to write a novel”?

I grew up splitting my time between Narnia, Middle Earth, Hogwarts and Pyrdain. When in our reality, I often found myself playing outside, making up worlds of my own. I always knew I wanted to share these worlds with others, and writing a novel seemed like the best way to do that. But I really became serious about writing and publishing as a young adult when I joined a local writers’ group and saw that it was possible to write today, rather than someday.

3) What draws you to the fantasy genre as a writer and a reader?

The earliest books I remember staying up all night to read were fantasy stories. The stories that come to me and keep me writing are also almost always fantasy. There’s something so sumptuous about creating a whole new world, or re-imagning this one in a way that hasn’t been done. While I do enjoy other genres, nothing gives me the chills or thrills like fantasy does. I do also think it’s important to note that, in my opinion at least, world-building and wonder aren’t enough for a great fantasy. To me, those create a breathtaking background upon which writers can really explore the intricacies of relationships, characters, and plots.

4) What’s a favorite book of yours, and why?

There are so many, but I’ll touch on a longtime favorite. The Call of the Wild has been one of my favorite books since the first time I read it in third grade. It’s one of those books where I find something new to appreciate every time I re-read it. I love that it’s told from a dog’s perspective, and the visceral, immediate ways that London describes Buck’s experiences. It’s a heartbreaking tale and yet so freeing.

5) What was one of the challenges you faced in producing Hex Breaker, and how did you overcome it?

How much time do you have? But really, I have been working on this book on and off for a decade, so there have been so many different challenges. I think the main one, though, was determining the best way to tell this story. It’s truly an epic. While it does revolve around a central character and her quest, there are so many different characters and intersecting plots that I really struggled with how to create a coherent, exciting narrative. With the help of friends, hours of plotting and sketching, and of course the aid of an amazing editor (Tamara Shoemaker), I think I figured out how to do it, and do it well. It’s a multi-POV story, but not omniscient, so by choosing which characters had the most to gain/lose in a given scene and showing it from their perspective, I think we came up with something really compelling.

6) What other art forms inspire your writing, and how? (for example, music, film, dance, paintings, theater)

I love to listen to music, both while I write and especially while I imagine/plot. I have whole playlists devoted to projects or characters, and now can’t hear certain songs without being reminded of various characters. For example, “I Know the Reason” by Carbon Leaf (my favorite band) came on while writing my answer to this question, and I immediately pictured Kellan from Hex Breaker. On top of that, I’m blessed to have a musician for a boyfriend who has composed songs specifically about my characters to help me write—the Ballad of Channon Lyallt is definitely my favorite.

I also love to draw. I don’t do it particularly well, but I have books and books full of character and scene sketches. I find that it helps me focus and can break writer’s block. I also love to act, having been involved with community theater for about fifteen years. Acting stretches a lot of the same muscles as writing, and I think my acting training really helps me inhabit the characters I write.

7) What is next for you as a writer?

I’m graduating with my Master’s in May and will have a few months before I go on to my doctorate in the fall. I hope to spend the summer re-writing Twice Blessed, the sequel to Hex Breaker. I will also be working on the third installment in the Fenearen Chronicles. Once those books and my academic work are well underway, my next major project is actually a standalone science fiction novel. So, a lot! I’m just hoping it doesn’t take me another ten years to get it all out there.

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Hex Breaker is out and available now. Get it exclusively on Amazon here.

Forced to decide between her happiness and her pack’s safety, Rayna Myana chooses to protect those she loves. But when shattered promises and dark magic collide, no one is safe…

For six hundred years, Fenear, a land where humans can take wolf form, has warred with Maenor, its neighboring kingdom ruled by a ruthless dynasty. The possibility of peace emerges when the Maenoren Overlord, Rhael, enters negotiations with Fenearen leaders Bayne and Silver, but their niece, Rayna, is skeptical. Yet, when Rhael proposes to her to strengthen the alliance, she agrees for the sake of her country, despite her family’s objections and a blossoming romance with her best friend. Suspicion of treachery changes Rayna’s decision, but before she can annul the agreement, powerful forces subdue her with a sinister hex. Separated from her pack with Fenear and everyone she loves in danger, Rayna must escape and travel to a distant realm to break the hex. Only then can she save her best friend and her homeland.

Lines blur between heroism and recklessness, dreams and reality, even life and death, and Rayna risks losing herself along the way.

Learn more about Taryn and her projects:

www.tnkloeden.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/tnkloeden

Twitter: www.twitter.com/tnkloeden

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/tnkloeden

Instagram: www.instagram.com/tnkloeden

 

Seven Questions : Tamara Shoemaker : Mark of Four

I’m very fortunate to have not one but two editions of “Seven Questions” for the final month of the year. Today I’m featuring YA author Tamara Shoemaker, whose latest book, Mark of Four, is the first in a trilogy set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world with a magic system based on the four classical elements: air, earth, fire, and water.

Tamara and I recently had the pleasure of writing a historical short story together, which will appear in the next Flashdogs Anthology, coming in February 2016. I also have to brag that I drew the “Mark of Four” glyph that is featured in this book. You’ll have to buy the book to see the glyph though!

Read on for her answers to my seven questions.

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  • Define Mark of Four’s central plot conflict in three sentences or less.

In a post-apocalyptic world where Elemental abilities can save or squander all human life, a teenage girl with unique skills seeks to protect her family, her friends, and the source of Elemental power from an escaped criminal and his followers. (How’s ONE sentence?) 😉

 

  • What appeals to you about writing YA fantasy?

I’m in love with the vivid, raw emotions that are usually quite prevalent in them. There’s a simplicity to the character development—a teen’s first steps into the wider world. There’s usually very little qualification to the emotions; when the character feels joy, it’s overwhelming. When he or she panics, it’s straight-up, all-out, sky-falling terror. When he or she falls in love, there’s very little baggage to sort through. I guess this could be said about any YA genre, not just fantasy, but what’s a book without a little magic? Perhaps the magic holds me just as much as the honest emotions.

 

  • How did your writing change from first draft to last draft on this one?

The entire story has turned inside-out, and then outside back in again. Reading over the book now, I can see a seed of the original idea I started with, but the final draft pulled it together so much more tightly than what it had originally been. The first draft was a mess. The story was shaky and out-of-order, with Alayne rambling off on some unneeded journey over here, and random unnecessary characters appearing over there. After the story went through what seemed liked thousands of edits, and after my editor took it in hand, the final version ended up with a solid structure. The first chapter lays out the conflict nicely, and the story builds on itself from there.

Not only did the story structure improve–this book had been in existence about two years prior to its publication. During those two years of edits, I was constantly writing other material. I wrote the two sequels to this book, as well as the first two books in another trilogy. My writing style has changed and deepened and improved over those two years, so comparing the first draft to the final draft, adverbs disappeared, stage-management lessened, the characters acted differently because they were written less haphazardly, there were fewer speech tags, etc.—the little details that you don’t notice unless you’ve been an author or an editor, but the important ones that make the story better as a whole.

 

  • How many editing passes do you normally do on a draft, and can you describe your editing process a bit?

I like to say I edit until I get the story right. Whether that’s two times or two hundred times, it depends. Mark of Four was closer to two-hundred times. It morphed so much over the two years that it sat on my hard drive that it never got past the “final editing pass” until recently, and then only after I found an editor.

Even though I can’t nail down a number for editing passes, I generally finish a first draft, and then let it sit for a month without touching it so it can steep in my mind. When the month is done, I’ll dust it off and then go through and brutally mark every single thing in the margins that I don’t like about the story, from overused adjectives to a major plot holes. When that’s done, I’ll go through and eradicate whatever problem I had marked in the margins. When that step is done, I send it off to my editor for her first global edit, and then it’s a matter of back-and-forth passes of the manuscript, several times, until we’re down to the fine-tuning (sentence structure, comma misplacement, etc.). When that’s done, the manuscript goes to the beta readers, who usually catch a few more mistakes, and then it’s off to the publisher’s while I do two more final, final read-throughs, looking for anything I missed.

Even after all that, I generally find at least one mistake after the book is out in print, which, of course, is mostly to keep me humble. 😉

 

  • Do you consciously approach literary themes in your writing or just allow them to emerge as they will?

I have never sat down and thought, I’m going to write a book about social injustice. Or revenge. Or hypocrisy or anything like that. Although inevitably, those themes will present themselves in my writing. As with most stories, I always have a protagonist and an antagonist, and as those two meet and the story fleshes itself out, usually a theme rises out of that, and I run with it.

But I don’t think I’ve ever decided before I begin writing what my theme will be. It comes as I get to know the characters and how they relate to the world around them.

 

  • Where do you get your world-building ideas and inspirations?

I’ve always had an extremely vivid imagination, so a lot of it comes from the what-if questions I ask myself at night as I’m falling asleep. What if I didn’t have to get up in the morning, and I could put physical power behind my thoughts to make things happen? What if the world I’m living in is actually a dream, and I think I’m living in a dream, but I’m actually living somewhere else instead? What if the universe were contained within someone else’s world, and we’re just a speck in that world?

Some of these ideas have been used before (Horton Hears a Who?), and some haven’t. Some ideas, I’ll partially borrow from themes I’ve read in other YA fantasy works and give them a twist in my own books. Some will be mostly original with me.

The teacher in the Biblical Ecclesiastes said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” I think that can apply to literature. If there’s an idea, most likely someone has thought of it, but you can always put your own spin on it.

 

  • What is your secret super-power?

I can make a mean recipe of cookies. The earth may be dismantled, and the mountains split and slide into the foaming ocean, but if I have an oven, butter, flour, sugar, and of course, chocolate, I can whip up some yummy goodies for anyone to sit back and watch the apocalypse.

What do I wish was my secret super-power? I wish I could clone myself. Just think of all the books I could churn out if there were twenty of me, and there’d still be one or two of me left over to keep the house clean, the laundry done, and the dishes washed. 🙂

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Learn more about Tamara, her excellent freelance editing offerings, and her books on her website:

www.tamarashoemaker.org 

 

 

 

The Velocipede Races

Check out the latest and final cover of The Velocipede Races (with a blurb from Cherie Priest! Squee!)

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Illustrated for Elly Blue/Microcosm Publishing by Caroline Paquette.

The Kickstarter to launch this fully revised edition begins in November. Stay tuned for behind-the-scenes blog posts, the silent-movie style trailer, and excerpts!

Seven Questions : June : Tamara Shoemaker

For this month’s installment of Seven Questions I’m hosting the lovely and talented Tamara Shoemaker. I met Tamara through my work with the flash fiction collective Flashdogs. I also recently edited her first epic fantasy book, Kindle the Flame, on sale now at the usual place.

Here’s a bit about Tamara in her own words:

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Tamara Shoemaker lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband, three children, a few jars of Nutella, and a never-empty carafe of coffee. She authored the Amazon best-selling Shadows in the Nursery Christian mystery series and Soul Survivor, another Christian mystery. Her fantasy books include the beginning of the Heart of a Dragon trilogy, Kindle the Flame, as well as the upcoming Guardian of the Vale trilogy.

And Tamara now answers my seven questions!

1) Pitch your book in three sentences:

Kindle the Flame follows the journeys of my four main characters, interweaving each one’s search to discover their true selves behind their origins. Through the Dragonfire, the Pixie magic, the political intrigue, and the epic clash of kingdoms, they zero in on their goals. Burned by more than creatures’ flames, will they survive the fires of discovery?

2) What are your writing rituals?

My writing rituals typically start with caffeine. It wasn’t always that way, but as my writing load has increased, so has my zombie-brain. Now, coffee is my morning ritual, settling the kids into an activity or two, and then heading to my laptop. On my way through a first draft, I like to carve out a minimum of a thousand words a day. If I’m really feeling it, two thousand, and if for some reason, the muse is sitting on my shoulder, I’ve hit nine thousand before. But that’s rare.

Now that I’m trying to edit multiple manuscripts at the same time as I create new ones, I’ve found that time management has become an essential thing. Since much of my interest and love focuses on writing, I will spend all day every day on that, and the house loses the battle with cleanliness. My husband loses his wife for a few days at a time, and the kids come “help” me type.

Here’s an example of their contributions: 23y89hgnaifbnaaaaaaaaaa

I was also dealing with stiff muscles, foggy head, numb fingertips, and sore neck. So now, I’ve divided my day into “snits.” Two hours max on any one project. Stand up, work out for half an hour. Another two hours on another project (not allowed to be the same one). Lunch. Quality time with the kids. Games, playtime. Send the kids to quiet time. Another two hours of project three. Get kids out of quiet time, employ them in chores, do some chores myself. Fix supper. Welcome dear husband home. Eat supper. Clean up. Put kids to bed. Relax and write (yes, those things can be done simultaneously).

3) Why a fantasy?

When I wrote mysteries, my imagination went wild with possible storylines, but much of the time, I had to rein the rabbit trails, because they simply weren’t possible in the physical realm. I had to know a lot of “if this, then thats, and that frustrated me. If a crime scene, then who shows up? If there’s a court battle, then what is the courtroom procedure?

I guess it all comes down to the fact that I don’t like rules. So within the fantasy genre, I found that I had no limits. I could let my imagination soar, and with that freedom, I found whole new worlds. I love magic, I love non-human creatures, I love the idea that I can coat a Dragon with mirrored scales just because I say so.

4) What’s a favorite fantasy book and why?

Wow, that’s a hard question. It’s a bit like asking me to choose my favorite child and say why that’s the case (I love all my children equally, as any good mother would, of course). I guess I fell in love with fantasy over Harry Potter, and after that, every fantasy I read just fueled that passion. I went back to Lord of the Rings, Narnia, then ahead to Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, Divergent, Graceling, and others. If I had to name one book, I suppose I should pick the book that started it all: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or the Philosopher’s Stone, depending on your area of the world).

5) What makes a great sentence?

Subtlety. Brevity. Words beneath words, and meaning over meaning. A sentence that connects on all levels with the reader.

6) Your top five overused words are:

HA! Thanks to my local critique group, I am now abundantly aware whenever these words depart from my fingertips and make their way onto my screen before they’re ruthlessly obliterated. Here’s my top five list: slightly, just, gazed, abruptly, and (for you, dear Emily), flickering. 😉

7) What is your next novel about?

Mark of Four is an urban fantasy set in post-apocalyptic earth, and the new source of power is the elements: Air, Fire, Earth, and Water. Elementals can wield one of those four, depending on their bloodlines, but…

Alayne Worth can wield all four. No one knows why. But all the powers in CommonEarth, both good and evil, want her gift. How will she survive the earth-shattering struggle for the power she possesses?

Many thanks to Tamara for participating in Seven Questions!

She has written five books, all available on Amazon. Her latest is the YA Fantasy Kindle the Flame.

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Here’s a bit more about it:

A girl who never fit in, a young man forced into an outcast’s life, a boy raised without a community, and a ruler who holds the key to their destinies…

Kinna has a Pixie she can’t train and a head full of doubts. Her worst fears come true when she fails the Tournament entrance test. She flees her Clan in disgrace, inexplicably drawn to a Mirage, a rare Dragon she has no business training.

Ayden is cursed—anyone he touches turns to ash before his eyes. He hides amongst the Dragon Clan with the only creatures he cannot hurt. When Kinna frees his favorite Dragon, his world turns upside down.

Cedric grows up in isolation, fostered by an outcast Centaur. When tragedy strikes, he ventures into a strange new world of Dragons, political intrigue, and magic.

Sebastian’s country hovers on the brink of war. Chased from his rightful throne, he schemes to retake his kingdom by any means possible, even if it threatens an ancient agreement that underpins the foundation of his realm.

Only by examining their pasts will these four find their futures. But will they survive the fires of discovery?

Follow Tamara:
Twitter: @TamaraShoemaker
Facebook: facebook.com/tshoebooks
Website: www.tamarashoemaker.org