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Friday Flash: "Taxes"

It's time for Friday flash! Today's bi-weekly flash feature was originally posted on the now-defunct storypraxis, and after seeing people start to post about taxes this past week (ugh!) I thought this one was timely.

Flustered and frustrated and annoyed, Cassie pushed through the doors of H&R Block. The pile of papers in her arms rippled as the breeze slipped through the closing door behind her, and she marched forward with a singular purpose.

All the desks in the room were occupied with clients, except for one in the far back corner.

Target acquired, she thought.

The employee had his back to the room, phone cord wrapped around his shoulder as he faced away from everyone else. Having a private conversation on company time? Cassie’s jaw clenched and she marched forward, determined to interrupt him. She needed service and she needed it now.

She dropped the pile of papers onto his desk from a height of several feet – guaranteed to make a noise and shock the phone-occupied employee back into doing his job.

The papers hit the desk with a bang. The man jumped in his seat, and swiveled around just fast enough for Cassie to wipe the satisfied smile off her face. Without making eye contact, she sat down in the ‘client’ seat, and picked up a folder from the top of her stack.

"I’m here because I need my taxes done for the last three years. My ex had told me he was doing my taxes for me, but apparently not, because I owe the government a pile of money and I need to pay it or else--”

"I can help with that,” he said, drawing out each syllable like he’d just stepped off the ranch.

Cassie’s gaze shot up, and her breath caught in her throat. Two feet away, on the other side of the desk, sat the furthest thing from an accountant she could have expected: Light, sandy-brown hair, hazel-flecked eyes, and cheekbones that she felt a bizarre urge to cover in tiny kisses…

"I… my taxes… these…” Heat rushed to her cheeks and she clamped her lips shut. I need to stop talking, now.

He grinned, as if he knew exactly what kind of reaction he’d inspired. "Then, you’ve come to the right place, miss.”

He extended a hand to her. She stared at it, drawing a complete blank.

"Carver Lee. And you are?”

Right. Handshake. Of course.

Cassie’s voice shook as she extended her own hand. "Cassie. Walker, I mean. Cassie Walker.”

Tension eased from her shoulders as Carver’s grin slipped into a smile that could have put the world at ease. "Good to meet you, Miss. Walker. Like I said, if it’s tax help you need, you’ve come to the right place today.”

Cassie glanced down at the stack of papers, a reminder of her ex’s incompetence. A flutter in her stomach reminded her that this moment, right now, could make all the difference between moving on and staying stuck in that horrible, dark, angst-ridden rut he’d left her in.

She returned the smile and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear, allowing her hand to trail delicately along her neck and collarbone before coming to rest just at the top button of her blouse.

"Yes, I suppose I have.”


Taking Risks (with your writing) #TBT

I'm bringing back another post from Literary Coldcuts on Toasty Buns, because the project I'm about to dive into this coming week is...frightening. I'm scared of it. I don't think I'm ready to tackle it...and the thought of doing so fills me with so much anxiety that I kind of want to puke.
But, really? It's time. It is! For a variety of reasons, it's time to take this risk and just go for it. A few years ago I wrote the post below -- and for the life of me I can't remember what prompted me to write it -- but I'm finding it more relevant than ever today.
Again, this one is for the writers in the crowd. :)
Taking Risks

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what it means to take more risks with my writing. I feel that I need to branch out, dive deep, and search the inner recesses of my psyche… I want to create stories that have purpose, writing that has meaning, ideas that comb the murky depths and make my readers gasp in horror, awe, delight, and disbelief. I want readers to think, "how could she write something like that?” while being compelled to turn the next page.

We’ve all read books like that. Those are the stories that we read and wonder how an author could put those words on the page without crumbling into a million pieces, or without falling prey to the dark void. The plot twists are unimaginable, the villains are truly evil, and the situations, setting, and action are all reflective of a realistic, very human, very harsh, very scrutinizing look at the world.

I am a pessimist by nature. For years, I looked out at the world with darkened eyes, seeing little that brought me true joy. This should have enabled me to create those riskier concepts that could have propelled my work forward, but at the time, I wasn’t ready to take my writing seriously. Many changes over the past few years, while not re-wiring my brain to negate the pessimistic outlook, have caused me to look at things differently. It takes work, but I try to see the good in people, places, situations, and circumstances.

Unfortunately, this has affected my creativity. How do I revert to that darker, riskier way of looking at the world? How can I make conflict real, how can I make my villains real, without it? I need to take more risks with my writing, but I don’t know how.

I found an article about risk-taking in writing by Judy Reeve, posted on her website, and I encourage you to head over there and read the whole thing (along with plenty more useful articles on the writing process!). For now, I want to share a few paragraphs that really spoke to what I’m trying to figure out for myself:

"If you’re not willing to take risks, chances are your writing will be bland, shallow and boring. Even to yourself.

So, what does it mean, taking risks in your writing?

This is where you move out of safe, familiar territory, into something that feels a little dangerous. Risk-taking differs from individual to individual, so it’s difficult to say exactly what "taking risks” means. One writer’s risk is another’s walk in the woods. And another writer’s walk in the woods feels damned risky to a third.

Following are some of the ways it might feel when you are taking risks in your writing: Maybe your hands tremble and your handwriting gets a little out of control. Maybe while you’re writing, your breathing becomes shallow. Or you stop breathing completely. Sometimes you can tell when you’re taking risks because this is where the censor will step in: "Hey, you can’t write that.” Or the critic: "That’s certainly not a nice thing to write.” Or the editor: "You might want to be a little less specific there, maybe use words that aren’t quite so… well, graphic.” Hearing these voices can almost guarantee you’re working in risky territory.

You may stop writing what you’re working on, or it may deviate off into some safer territory, meaningless details or worse, generalities. You may feel restless and want something – a cup of coffee, a cigarette (and you don’t even smoke), something to eat, anything to alter the direction of the writing and the way you feel.

Taking risks means telling the truth, whatever your truth is.”
***'s to taking risks and feeling uncomfortable during the writing process. Hopefully, in the end, it means a better book for everyone. Because that's what we're here to do, isn't it? Write the best book possible. And sticking with the same old, same old will never accomplish that.
May your risks be full of unexpected rewards, friends. :)

Booksbooksbooks! February Lookback Edition

Welcome to Booksbooksbooks, my new monthly look back at awesome books I've read & loved in the previous month. 
In the interest of time and being spoiler-free, I'll be posting my reading highlights with brief commentary on why I loved the book. Where possible, I'll post link to the books on GoodReads so that you can easily mark the ones you haven't read & want to as Want to Read.
Here we go!
1) Six of Crows -- Leigh Bardugo
Slain. Slaaaaaain!!! I loved this book. I loved everything about it. A heist in a fantasy setting, cleverness and brutality and tenderness and characters who came alive immediately...and for me, I felt like the story was so rich, had so much depth, that I continually forgot I was reading a YA novel. If this is the trend for YA fantasy, I am 100% on board. A few times, I wondered if maybe this was published as YA because of Bardugo's other series being YA (which I admittedly haven't read), but really, who cares, because I got sucked in and chewed up and spit out and now it's all I can do to wait for the sequel. Love, love, love.
2) 5 to 1 -- Holly Bodger
Set only a few decades in the future, India's gender ratio of 5 boys to every 1 girl is a result of the gender selection that's gone on for so long. To solve this problem, a group of women formed their own, independent country and instituted a series of tests where boys compete to "win" a wife -- because women are rare, precious, and valuable. But being considered valuable doesn't mean the girls are truly free, and Sudasa doesn't want to be a wife. Kiran, who is forced to compete for her hand, doesn't want to be a husband. 

The story, and how they try to thwart each other throughout, is told in two ways from both viewpoints: Sudasa's POV is in verse, and Kiran's POV is in prose. It's lyrical, haunting, and incredibly beautiful to see the struggle through their eyes. This is one of those quick-read novels that left me feeling as though I had discovered a rare gem that needs to be shared with others, so they can appreciate its beauty, too.


3) The Blackthorn Key -- Kevin Sands
A strong, solid middle-grade debut from a Canadian author! I really enjoyed this one! It kept me awake until 2am when I read it and left me exhausted the next day. No regrets!

We have a main character learning to be an apothecary, a mysterious foe killing all the apothecaries in the city, and a secret message left behind for the main character to solve. The description of the story might sound a little generic when you read it, but it was actually very well written, fun, full of action and compelling characters, and overall a well-rounded middle-grade offering for a new author on the scene. I'll be keeping my eyes open for more from this author in the future.

4) Emerge -- Tobie Easton
I'm only going to post the cover for this one because I have an interview coming up with Tobie about her debut release on the Swanky Seventeens blog next month. I had the privilege of reading an ARC of Tobie's book and all I can say is...if you like mermaid stories or unique spins on "after the fairy tale" concepts, keep an eye out for this one!
What incredible books did you read this month?