Not sure if I should include “parrot wrangling” in my activity categories.

Originally posted 2012, scroll to the bottom for the final update!

So now that my topic has officially been approved, I thought I would share my primate behavior research with the interwebs!

I am going to be working with Saimiri sciureus, or squirrel monkeys. They are small, diurnal anthropoid primates found in the rainforests of Central and South America!

They are also adorable- er I mean their facial features are similar to that of a juvenile human and therefore cause me to feel affection. Yeah. Science.

Anyway, I plan on observing the population of squirrel monkeys at the Norfolk Zoo for ten hours. I will be using instantaneous/scan sampling (where I record the behavior of the group at regular time intervals) to collect data on how these little guys spend their time. Or, put another way, to create an Activity Budget.

What’s that, reader? Why would I choose to study how captive squirrel monkeys spend their time? What are the larger implications of such a study? Why, I am so glad you asked. One of the major problems zoos face (and are sometimes criticized for) is the fact that captive animals behave differently than their wild counterparts. This often includes captive animals engaging in “abnormal” behaviors (see Birkett and Newton-Fisher’s article “How Abnormal is the Behavior of Captive, Zoo-Living Chimpanzees” for an example).  Therefore, a major goal for any zoo-keeper or trainer worth their salt is to try and help the animals they care for live in a way more like how they would in the wild. A good way to compare the behavior of zoo animals with that of wild populations is to look at their activity budgets. This also provides a good measuring stick when testing to see if an enrichment technique is working (see Fekete, Norcross, and Newman’s article “Artificial turf foraging boards as environmental enrichment for pair-housed female squirrel monkeys”).

Now, of course my research is just a simple 12 page paper assignment. I will not have the time or wherewithal to compare my findings with an analogous wild population or institute any new enrichment techniques. Instead I intend to compare the budgets of male and female group members, and test to see if there is a statistical difference in the amount of time they spend on a given activity. This will not change the world or the situation of any bored animals in zoos, but this will provide me with some much-needed experience in observing and recording the behavior of animals in real-time. Skills that I will hopefully use one day to understand, protect, and better the lives of animals like the squirrel monkey.

That’s the plan anyway.

Update 10/24/19

Wow. A lot has happened in 7 years! Since doing this project, I’ve gone onto a ton of interesting work–but I still love the simplicity of the study design. Anywho, what did I actually find? Glad you asked.

Through some simple statistics (chi-square analysis, for my fellow nerds), I found important differences in how the juvenile and adult monkeys spent their time in the zoo. Basically, kids played more and adults spent a bit more time resting (big mood, tbh) and uh–to put it delicately, putting on some Marvin Gaye and spending adult time together. These conclusions make sense, and showed that how the way individuals of the same species spend their time can vary between age classes.

I WANT YOU... to help protect local wildlife!
I WANT YOU… to help protect local wildlife!

Originally shared in January 2013

My current focus on conservation has made me realize how easy it is to despair when looking into the serious threats against biodiversity. With logging, agricultural expansion, and poaching threatening major diversity hotspots, and ever-growing list of endangered species, it’s easy to feel like there is nothing a single individual can do to help protect wildlife and the environment. And while it is true that large scale environmental movements require large amounts of funding and clout, looking to a more local and individual level, there are a few things anyone can do to protect wildlife. The following tips go for everyone, whether you live on an isolated farm, or the middle of a city. Wildlife are everywhere, whether we often see them or not. What follows is a list of easy steps anyone can take to become part of the solution instead of the problem for wildlife that live in close association with human populations.

  1. Keep pets indoors when unaccompanied! I know from my own experiences that many people let their dogs and cats run wild throughout the day. It may feel good to know that your domestic animal is getting a ton of fresh air, which is obviously very important to their health and well-being, but even a single invasive pet can have devastating consequences for local wildlife. They are surprisingly effective predators, despite how “sweet” and “cute” they may seem to us. Some people think that placing a bell on a cat’s collar will eliminate this problem but unfortunately it seems that this is not the case as by the time the bell rings your pet is already close enough to pounce.  So, when possible, keep your pet indoors or at least confined to some kind of enclosure. Luckily for me, Stella is perfectly content to stay inside
  2. If you have a yard, create a “backyard habitat”. Local ecosystems where wildlife once thrived may start to become inhospitable due to human encroachment. Water tables can lower, invasive plants may compete with local food sources, and forest clearing may leave many species without any cover. In order to mitigate these problems to a least a small degree, you can artificially recreate a more suitable environment by bringing in new sources of water, food, cover, and places to raise young. Although this may not make a difference in the grand scheme of species conservation, you are helping individual birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians to have more of a chance to survive, which is certainly a victory in itself.  And by displaying a “certified backyard habitat” sign you may even encourage neighbors to participate as well! Find more information on how to create and certify a backyard habitat here
  3. Advocate against lead bullets! We all know lead can be very harmful, yet many hunters still use lead bullets. When a hunter fires a lead bullet, pieces of it will shatter throughout the prey. And when parts of hunted game (sorry for the terrible image!) are cleaned out and left in the wild,  a very serious problem for animals like eagles, hawks, and other raptors is created. These animals and other scavengers will eat the contaminated remains, leading to lead poisoning. This can cause serious neurological deterioration, limit reproductive success, and in high enough quantities, death. A simple solution to this problem is to use alternative kinds of bullets, but many people resist this change. Without action however, raptors and other birds, including our national symbol the bald eagle, will remain imperiled. So if you hunt yourself, or know anyone who does, do us all a favor and use non-toxic ammunition. And since lead-free bullets have been shown to be just as effective there really is no viable reason to resist the switch. Help to end poisoning of America’s most beloved symbol, and other equally important species!

These simple steps may not save entire species from extinction, but they can make a huge difference for those living in your neighborhood! So do what you can, when you can, and hopefully others will be inspired to pitch in as well!

Have any other ideas about how to help local wildlife? I would love to hear them!L


Because accountability is a good thing.

Writing Goals:

  • Finish re-write of Twice Blessed (The Fenearen Chronicles Book 2)
  • Daphne short story contest
  • Flash fiction contest
  • Edit Twice Blessed
  • Send Twice Blessed to Editor

Research Goals:

  • Finalize project proposal for Mongolian study
  • Prep for Mongolian expedition
  • Finish NSF proposal for dissertation research

Academic Goals:

  • GIS class
  • Qualitative Research Methods Class
  • Teaching intro Environmental Science

Personal Goals:

  • Continue yoga practice
  • Walk or jog daily

For the sake of accountability, I’m going to be posting my goals on the blog for each month! Here’s my check-in for end of July/beginning of August:

July goals:

-Pre-schedule social media posts for the month: Check!

-Re-write part 1 of Twice Blessed: Nearly check, I might make it by the end of the month…

-Read and review at least 1 indie book: Check times two

-Beta-read for Tamara Shoemaker and Emily June Street: I got so wrapped up in other work, this one slipped by me, but I’m finishing it up this weekend, so soon-to-be check!

And looking ahead…

August goals:

-Update website to include press/interviews, more information about workshop/speaking booking

-Finish re-writing Twice Blessed

-Read and review at least 1 indie book

-Pre-schedule social media posts

-At least 1 vlog and 1 blog post

-Run Goodreads giveaway

-Move/start school again


Here’s hoping for a productive end to the summer!


Hey there, friends! Chances are if you’re here reading my website you are a fan of fantasy stories featuring magic and complex characters. If so, I have quite the treat for you today! The fantastically talented author, editor, formatter, and digital artist, Emily June Street was kind enough to stop by to discuss her newest release in the Tales of Blood and Light series, Mage and Source. Read on to explore self-annihilation in writing, learn a bit about the unique magic system  this series has to offer, and a bit about Emily’s process in designing her eye-catching covers.

TNK: One of the pitfalls of writing (and reading) fantasy is the dreaded “Mary-Sue.” However, your three heroines featured in the Tales of Blood and Light so far, Leila, the Cedna, and Sterling, are anything but clichéd. What steps do you take to write such well-rounded characters?

EJS: The short answer is that I torture my characters so much no one would ever imagine that I want to be them. I steal their children, imprison them, betray them, and play upon their weaknesses.

TNK: Ha! That’s one way to do it. I think we might share that propensity…

EJS: I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the dreaded Mary-Sue criticism in general. We all want to write sympathetic characters, and I guess the idea behind that criticism is that it is a delicate balance between empathy for a character and fantasy-wish-fulfillment? Or that a character doesn’t have enough weaknesses? (I admit I might consider the Mary-Sue criticism sometimes more indicative of the critic’s state of mind than the state of the writing. It seems to me that a critic who claims “Mary-Sue” is being rather presumptuous to claim he knows what an author’s wish-fulfillment fantasy might be…it’s kind of patronizing.

That said, I think the meat behind a Mary-Sue criticism boils down to a character not showing enough psychological depth, especially in terms of her weaknesses. I’ve never met a single person who doesn’t have insecurities, so every character must have them. Insecurities emerge from a complicated brew of past experiences, temperament, thought process, and training. So for every character I write, I try to have a psychological profile organized for them—what are their fears, what are their foibles, what are their blindspots, their skills, their hidden strengths.

There’s another aspect to this that I find hard to put into words. I write and read to lose myself, in a sort of Buddhist sense, a kind of annihilation. The whole fun of writing isn’t to inject my own self, my own desires and fantasies, onto my characters, but rather to explore differences—what would a person who thinks in a completely different way from me do in this particular sticky situation, how can I try to inhabit another mind as fully as possible?

TNK: The magic system in ToBaL is very unique. Can you describe it briefly, and discuss how you came up with such a different system involving “aetherlights” and magical “sources?”

EJS: Uh…uh…uh. This is hard. There wasn’t as much planning as there should have been. The entire concept of the magic system started with the two different cultures, Gante and Lethemia. I wanted to have the magical world be something real to both cultures, the way God is real for various religious faiths, but explained and defined in different ways.

So, the one irrefutable tenet of magic in this world is that magic has a cost, no matter what, but how Ganteans and Lethemians pay that cost is completely different. Ganteans pay with blood, Lethemians pay with aetherlight the “life/light energy” of living things—the mage expends it and then has to replenish it. I had mages replenish by taking aetherlight from others, which gave rise to the idea of a Source—a person who provides her own aetherlight to a mage after he has used up his own performing magic.

I guess the seed kernel idea for the idea of aetherlight was the New Age concept of auras. I do a very loose kind of meditation in which I have often conceived of people and the connections between them having specific color tones. I also have a meditation for pain that I do during my severe migraine attacks that involves colors and shapes, and so these visualizations may have formed the initial ideas for this particular magic system.

TNK: Do you have a favorite out of your books so far? Or even a favorite protagonist whose perspective you most enjoyed inhabiting?

EJS: I like each one the best as I write, read, and develop it. And then I let it go and never want to see it again! Laith (one of the narrators of Mage and Source has been quite fun to write. And write. And write. He’s very long-winded; he’s the kind of character who still pops lines into my head at inopportune times.

TNK: He’s also quite fun to read!

TNK: Are you a pantser or a plotter? Did you have an idea for the series direction when you began The Gantean, or did it all come together as you went along?

EJS: When it comes to Tales of Blood & Light, I am a pantser who must then go back and plot retroactively. It is exhausting. I’m trying to be more of a plotter for other books I am writing—but it doesn’t always work. My true writing comfort zone is probably pantsing.

TNK: Tell us about one of the characters in Mage and Source.

EJS: Well, I feel like I’ve discussed Laith more often and more thoroughly (he so loves the limelight) so I’ll tell you about Elena, who does not want the attention. Elena is my other narrator in Mage and Source. She’s the Source to Laith’s mage. She’s from the Eastern Empire, where life is dangerous because the Emperor is a bit of tyrant whose power is unchecked. She is a potion-master’s daughter, and she is sent to Lethemia on a mission to learn about the west’s magical power and to assassinate Lethemia’s King.

Elena has had bad experiences in the Empire, which is not a friendly place to grow up female. She carries those bad experiences with her, and part of her character arc is about coming to some kind of terms with them. She is largely driven by her fears. Elena is a bit harder to get to know than some of my other characters (ahem, cough, Laith) because her basic nature is extremely reserved, and she isn’t one to loudly express emotions or desires. All my narrators have an elemental theme. Elena’s is earth. She gets her power from steadiness, regularity, and living things. She wants to cultivate, not destroy, but the circumstances of her life make that difficult. She is a fairly turbulent character; her actions and beliefs don’t always line up, she may say one thing and do another. She’s a fierce mix of fears and courage.

TNK: You designed the cover for Mage and Source, as well as the other books in ToBaL. What is your process for creating such eye-catching covers?

EJS: I always start with a color—the aetherlight color of the narrator (or narrators). That has to be the basic background color for the cover, so I search through all kinds of images looking for the color I want, expressed in the way I want. I look for luminous backgrounds with strong light and glowy qualities. I look for interesting light textures. Then I go to stock sites and try to find a good portrait for the narrator. I went with portraits on my covers, even though I don’t always like to see a character’s face on a book cover, because ultimately, I feel like my books are portraits: they are character-driven stories. Once I have background and portrait images, I try to identify at least one “story element” to represent on the cover, and search for a good image of that. On Mage and Source’s cover, Laith and Elena got a flower that is supposed to represent the night queen bloom that plays a role in the story. Finally, I make a big composite image collage out of all those elements and add the text.

I really enjoy making the covers although I have no formal schooling in digital art, and I probably take the long way around on things that a pro could do in a heartbeat. Even so, I have fun, and that is what makes it all worthwhile to me. I’m always learning.

TNK: Check out all of Emily’s gorgeous covers on Amazon. She may not have formal schooling, but you wouldn’t know it looking at these.

TNK: What is next for you as an author?

EJS: I’ll keep plugging way at Tales of Blood & Light—three more books, all mostly drafted. I have two co-written books with Tamara Shoemaker that we’ll be pitching at a conference in New York in a couple of weeks. And I have a few other fantasy series bubbling and simmering. Now I just need more time to get all this done!

TNK: You can say that again! I for one can’t wait to see what happens next.

The next world arrives in a shattering fall.

The Cedna is dead, and magic is broken. Laith Amar, a famous mage, must learn to live without his skill as all of Lethemia reels from the Fall. Fighting despair and skeptical colleagues, Laith seeks any solution that can return his talents.

From hidden sources, hope emerges.

Angered by losing the war against Lethemia, the Eastern Emperor dispatches Elena Rith, a trained potion-mistress, to assassinate the Lethemian King Costas Galatien and to learn what she can of the West’s fallen magic. Alone in a foreign country, Elena battles new hazards and old fears as an Eastern hunter tracks her.

A new alchemy ignites an old power.

After fate throws them together, Laith and Elena discover an intriguing method to revive magic that depends on them both. But when Elena’s foe finds her, can Laith save her from a past of pain and violation?

Only love can resurrect Laith’s faith and Elena’s hope, but darkness surrounds them as their enemies close in.

Magic’s restoration hangs in the balance.

Read Mage and Source here

Check out Emily’s complete published works here

You can also find her on Goodreads and twitter


Welcome back for another author feature! This time around, I’m thrilled to welcome Allison K. Garcia. A licensed professional counselor with a passion for writing, Allison is here to discuss her first novel, Vivir el Dream. Latina at heart, Allison has absorbed the love and culture of her friends, family, and hermanos en Cristo and has used her experiences to cast a glimpse into the journey of undocumented Christians. Find out more below!

TNK: Congratulations on the publication of your first novel! Vivir el Dream deals with some timely issues, including the experiences of undocumented immigrants. What inspired you to write this particular story?
AKG: I’ve had a lot of people that inspired me, particularly my hermanos at my church and their faith in times of struggle. I also went to several rallies and marches for the Dream Act and immigrant rights. I was really inspired by their courage to stand up to injustice. Also, I began the book not long after a friend from church was deported, seeing the injustice in this and wanting others to understand some of the things that push people to cross the border, all that people go through to come here, and what happens once they’re here.
TNK: How would you describe the tone of Vivir el Dream? Is it hopeful? Inspirational? Dark? Romantic?
AKG: Hmmm…I would say it is inspirational, realistic, culturally authentic, with bits of humor and romance thrown in.
TNK: Tell us about one of the characters from Vivir.
AKG: Linda Palacios is an undocumented college student who can’t seem to get ahead in life because of her lack of “papers.” She’s really smart, a good daughter, a hard worker, and sings in the church praise band. She gets frustrated at times by her mother’s choice to bring her across the border when she was 3 years old. Through a college essay, she learns about The Dream Act and has hope that she can have a future in the U.S.
TNK: While this is your first published novel, you have written a lot more. Can you tell us about some of these other projects? When can we expect to see them in print?
AKG: First, I plan to translate Vivir el Dream into Spanish. Then I have another Latino Christian fiction book called Finding Amor that is mostly complete but needs some extensive editing. I also wrote 6 out 8 books of a children’s fantasy series called Prince Miguel and His Journey Home. I’m hoping to complete the last 2 books during NaNoWriMo in November.
TNK: Besides being an author, you are also a Licensed Professional Counselor. Do your experiences in this field influence your writing at all, or do you keep these two spheres completely separate?
AKG: I think being a counselor has given me a real look into people like Linda’s mother, Juanita, who have experienced traumas. I think it has also helped me be more in-tune to how people feel and think, the beliefs they hold, their desperation, their faith, and their hopes and dreams.
TNK: And finally, the question I like to ask all visiting authors: What advice would you give aspiring writers—perhaps something you wished you’d known when starting out?
AKG: Find a group of other writers that live near you. I wrote alone for years and years and never did anything with it until I met a group of writerly friends, and now here I am, 5 years later, publishing a book!
Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your wisdom, Allison! Read on below to learn more about Vivir el Dream.
Linda Palacios crossed the border at age three with her mother, Juanita, to escape their traumatic life in Mexico and to pursue the American dream. Years later, Linda nears college graduation. With little hope for the future as an undocumented immigrant, Linda wonders where her life is going.
Tim Draker, a long-unemployed businessman, has wondered the same thing. Overcome with despair, he decides to take his own life. Before he can carry out his plan, he changes course when he finds a job as a mechanic. Embarrassed about working at a garage in the barrio, he lies to his wife in hopes of finding something better.
After Juanita’s coworker gets deported, she takes in her friend’s son, Hector, whom her daughter Linda can’t stand, While Juanita deals with nightmares of her traumatic past, she loses her job and decides to go into business for herself.
Will the three of them allow God to guide them through the challenges to come, or will they let their own desires and goals get in the way of His path?
Follow Allison’s writing here:

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Tamara Shoemaker’s writing. She’s a talented writer, perceptive editor, and a fantastic friend. Which is why I could not wait to read her latest book, Unleash the Inferno. The final installment in her Heart of a Dragon trilogy, Unleash the Inferno is (in my opinion) the best one yet. Read on for an interview with the author, and if you’re curious as to whether you should give this series a shot, head over to my facebook page to view my “Five Reasons You Should Read the Heart of a Dragon series” vlog!

TNK: The Heart of a Dragon trilogy is your second completed YA fantasy series. Does finishing this saga feel different than finishing your Guardian of the Vale trilogy? Are you happy to be done, or do you wish you could still dive back into this world?

TS: When I finished my Guardian of the Vale trilogy, I had that heady sense of success that came with completing an actual trilogy. I didn’t really care what the books were about (well, I did—I love those books); I was just overwhelmed with the fact that I’d managed to do such a thing in the first place. Completing the Heart of a Dragon trilogy gave me some of the same thrill, but it wasn’t based around the idea of completion (’cause ya know, what’s another trilogy give or take one?) as it was thrill over taking what had been utter and complete drivel on paper during the outline phase into something that was truly a work of art. I’m so proud of those books, I could bust—particularly book three, Unleash the Inferno.

My editor’s note when she sent me back her developmental edits on my Unleash the Inferno manuscript said, in effect: “This is the rockiest writing I’ve seen from you yet.” It was true; I’d dashed out the manuscript in a mad rush during the month of November for NaNoWriMo, and it was awful when I passed it on to her. But the satisfaction I get now from the book is such a one-eighty. Because I knew it was a disaster, I worked even harder to make this into a masterpiece, and I truly believe I’ve succeeded. I wanted to create some incredibly detailed nuance in the characters, and based on reviews and feedback, I feel that I managed to do that and do it well. I’m super happy to be done with the trilogy, and I’m happy to set aside the world for now.

But there’s nothing that says I can’t come back with some companion novels set in the same world. 🙂


TNK: Without giving anything away, let’s just say you really develop King Sebastian’s character in this book. He’s still very much a villain, but it’s clear that he is far more complex than that. How did you go about creating such a conflicted character, and how did you walk the line between explaining Sebastian’s behaviors and justifying them?

TS: Wow! You don’t believe in asking easy questions, do you? 😉 It’s always driven me a little crazy when I read characters that are evil without some sort of understanding how they became that way. It doesn’t make sense to me: a child who is treated lovingly on all fronts will generally (unless there’s a mental issue) turn into a relatively well-adjusted adult. So tracing Sebastian’s roots back to his beginnings, the people who had shaped and influenced his early life, it was interesting to see what kind of actions of those close to him had motivated him to turn into who he was.

I’ve got to say, my favorite, favorite scene in Unleash the Inferno is in Sebastian’s final chapter in the book. It just—wrapped up everything so completely, and the scene that happened was poignant and heartfelt and actually made me cry. I cried over a bad guy, my own bad guy, even.

It doesn’t get much better than that. 🙂

TNK: One of my favorite arcs in the series has to do with Kinna coming to terms with her own previous complicity in a corrupt system. To me, she had to learn that thinking something was wrong wasn’t enough, but rather actions–even when they scared you–were what most mattered. Did you set out with this path for her in mind, or was that a lesson that grew organically along the way?

TS: I think Kinna’s character was fairly organic overall. When I began Kindle the Flame (book one), I had no idea it would go where it did. Well, I take that back. I had an end game in mind, and she eventually reached that end game, but my ideas for Kinna’s character were not nearly as nuanced in my original outline. As her character faced challenges, I found that I connected better with her when she struggled with them. Kinna was not perfect. She was even, as you said, complicit in a corrupt system, however unintentionally, but it was through that struggle, that realization that she wasn’t perfect and was taking part in the subjugation of a race of creatures that she found her strength. She could be a leader, because she knew what it was to be a follower, and I loved the fact that I could connect with her over that.

Heroes or heroines who have it all figured out make me want to pound my head against a wall. I want to know where this Fountain of Wisdom is that they’ve found, and why is it so easy for them to just… be cool? I love it when I find characters who are just a bit nerdy like me, who struggle a bit like me, and who overcome those struggles and find ways to be the hero or heroine in all their geeky glory.
TNK: Now that you’re a lean, not-at-all-mean, world-building machine, do you have any advice for wannabe fantasy writers?

TS: Advice: it’s the same every time. Don’t give up. I know the fantasy market is flooded right now. It’s just really hard to sell anything on such an overwhelmed market. But that’s no reason why anyone should be laying down their pen (or closing their laptop, in my case). Don’t worry about what agents are looking for or what audiences seem to like. Want to write about dragons? Write about dragons. Want to write about medieval warfare or elemental magic or kingdoms on the bottom of the sea? Do it. The story that’s in you can’t be told by anyone else, and publishing is just a side-concern anyway. Be a story-teller. If it’s inside you, let it out.
TNK: Do you think you will ever return to the realms of Lismaria, West Ashwynd, and/or Ongalia in a future book or series? I’m, uh, asking for a friend…

TS: Hahaha! Is your friend named… uh… Taryn, by any chance? 😉 You know, I’d love to write companion novels to the books I’ve already got out, so I’d say that it is a definite possibility that these worlds, creatures, and characters will make reappearances sometime in the next few years. I have a couple of books that have been burning holes in my brain that I think I need to get out first, but I do think it would be so fun to come back to some of these familiar worlds.
TNK: What’s next for Tamara Shoemaker, author and editor extraordinaire? Any hints to upcoming projects you’d like to share?

TS: If you love historical fiction, romance, and fantasy, keep an eye out for a couple of co-writes I’ve done with fellow fantasy-writer and friend, Emily June Street. River Running was our first work together: a book based on elemental magic, set in a parallel world to our Civil War era, taking place on a deep south plantation. The aromas and colors in this book! It’s just beautiful. We also finished up The Eighth Octave as well: a book based on musical magic and set in a parallel world to our 17th-century. It’s a European-style setting with steampunk touches where we feature music boxes and masques and court intrigue among composers and dukes.

And as I stated, I have another YA novel sizzling its signature into my brain, so I’d like to get that written this summer and released in the fall, hopefully. I’m also finishing up some freelance editing contracts I had taken on this spring.

I don’t think I’ll be bored anytime soon. 🙂

Unleash the Inferno is now available on Amazon

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?

More about Tamara:

Tamara Shoemaker authored the Amazon best-selling Shadows in the Nursery Christian mystery series and Soul Survivor, another Christian mystery. Her fantasy books include the Heart of a Dragon trilogy: Kindle the Flame, Embrace the Fire, and Unleash the Inferno, as well her Guardian of the Vale trilogy: Mark of Four, Shadows of Uprising, and Guardian of the Vale. In her spare time, she freelances as an editor for other works of fiction, chases three children hither and yon, and tries hard to ignore the brownie mixes that inevitably show up in her cabinets.

Follow her on social media:

Twitter: @TamaraShoemaker




  1. You love the fantasy classics, but are looking for a fresh take on familiar elements

    Quests, visions, demigods, shape-shifting, a marriage proposal…many of the key plot points in Hex Breaker you’ve seen before. But I can promise you that you’ve never seen them quite like this. According to one amazon reviewer, “Hex Breaker is a vivid new take on a wolf-shifter story with a quest fantasy plot that twists and turns.” With a brand new magic system, wolf-shifters who are nothing like traditional werewolves, and twists you won’t see coming, it’s clear why people are calling Hex Breaker “new and different.”

  1. You like complex characters and nuanced villains

    Too many fantasy books fall short of their potential when they spend too much time on plot and world-building at the expense of crafting lifelike characters. This is not the case for Hex Breaker. Our heroes make mistakes and do not escape the consequences. Our villains are not simply evil for the sake of evil. They have human and understandable—if still reprehensible—motivations. Even non-fantasy readers can find themselves immersed in this world, thanks to the focus on relationships and character arcs to which we can all relate. As one reviewer wrote, “The author has created …a plethora of characters that you can’t help but fall in love with, or loathe for that matter.”

  1. You’re tired of stories dumbing down nonhuman animal characters

    This could be the anthrozoologist in me speaking, but I love it when fantasy stories include nonhuman animal characters. However, nothing is more frustrating than authors depicting those characters as stupid simply because they do not understand the world in the same way that humans do. In Hex Breaker, the wolf and dog characters are shown to be just as complex and thoughtful as their human counterparts, but still maintain their canine worldview. For more on writing nonhumans, subscribe to my newsletter and receive a helpful guide to writing realistic nonhuman characters.

  1. You like romance, but don’t want it to dominate the plot

    If you like a little romantic sizzle, but are tired of YA fantasy stories that focus on that element at the expense of the plot or the characters’ other motivations, this might be the book for you. Love is a key motivator in this story, but it comes in many forms, not limited to romantic love. As one reviewer said, there is a “hint of young-adult romance,” but it does not overshadow the other aspects.

  1. You want a heroine who isn’t a damsel in distress, but also isn’t a flawless warrior princess caricature

    Rayna, Hex Breaker’s heroine, is far from a damsel. As a six foot tall, muscular, mud-splattered huntress, she also breaks the annoying super-strong-yet-somehow-still-waifish-and-slender cliché found in so many young adult novels. She is strong enough to fight monsters and climb mountains, and she looks it, too. However, she also does not fall into the cliched warrior princess trap. Rayna makes mistakes. Sometimes major ones. She cries, learns when to fight and when to show restraint, she gets hurt and scarred. Rayna has her strengths and her vulnerabilities. In short, she’s human, and it’s that realism that makes her someone with a story worth following.

So what are you waiting for? Pick up your copy on Amazon today!

All right, everyone, truth time. For the first time since this insane journey to publication began, I had a bit of a “moment” the night before release. Until then, even throughout the cover design, editing, formatting, and promoting processes, everything had felt sort of…far away. I knew March 21st was coming closer and closer, but it wasn’t until that night as I lay in bed, holding my final copy of Hex Breaker, thinking about all the pictures friends had sent me of them holding their own copies, that it hit me.

Hex Breaker, my first book, was done.

There was no more editing to be done, changes to be made. It was here, in the world, living inside other people’s minds as it had once lived only inside my own. And although there is plenty of marketing to do, it is time in many ways for me to let go.

It exists beyond me now, to be enjoyed or rejected as readers see fit. As a pre-published writer, I always imagined looking at my completed works on the shelf would give me similar feelings as when I looked at my well-loved and well-read stories by other authors. But my relationship to Hex Breaker is nothing like my relationship to Harry Potter or the Dark Tower series. I’ve known this story from its infancy, throughout its development, and now that it’s here in its final form, I realize that I will never experience it as a reader would, for the first time. I’m in many ways blinded by my history with the story, and can only hope that others will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

So, I’d just like to take a moment to say goodbye to Hex Breaker, the secret project shared only with my closest friends, and hello to Hex Breaker, the book. My part in your life-cycle has passed. Who knows what the future holds, but for better or for worse, I’m glad that I created you.

It’s time now to turn my creative attention to your sequel, Twice Blessed, and the other projects I have waiting in the wings. But it’s comforting to know that while my time writing you is in the past, you’ll always be there on my shelf.

tamaetfcoverIs it hot in here? Or is that just the dragonfire? That’s right, Tamara Shoemaker is back folks! This time to discuss her latest offering, Embrace the Fire. She was kind enough to take time out of her busy, element-bending, dragon-riding schedule to talk to us about love triangles, cliffhangers, and writing tips!

TNK: ETF is your fourth YA fantasy to hit the market. What was your biggest challenge in crafting this tale? Compared to those that came before, do you think it was easier or harder to pull together?

TS: I’ll let you in on a little secret. This book was like driving nails through my fingers. I don’t think I knew where I wanted to take the story until I had already drafted it and sent it to my editor. When she came back with a bajillion pages of developmental notes, I started to get a feel for the great story that was hiding inside three hundred plus pages of mess.

Note to self: always, always know where you want your book to start and end before beginning your draft. It’s immensely helpful in crafting a manuscript.

TNK:Those that read the first book know you left us in a rather precarious state of cliff-hanging at the end of KTF. Will readers finally get the answers they crave? And are you going to throw us right back over that cliff at the end of this one?

TS: Haha! I guess I’ve built up a bit of a cliff-hanging reputation, haven’t I? Mark of Four, Kindle the Flame, and now possibly Embrace the Fire. I do like to leave a good hook to bring the readers back into the trilogy again. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean I need to throw someone off the proverbial cliff… but sometimes I just can’t help it. 😉

To answer your question with maddening obscurity, some questions will be answered in this one, but some will remain shrouded in mystery, and you’ll have to read the third book to answer all the questions.


TNK: You’ve included a number of nonhuman characters (or “creatures”) in this series. From pixies to dryads, griffons to valkyries (and of course, dragons!). How did you go about crafting these characters? The dragons in particular seem to have a fascinating life history and social structure all their own.

TS: I’ve had loads of fun constructing the creature groups and their habits and habitats as I’ve written these books. Dragons are, of course, the best developed, because a.) I have a dragon fetish, and b.) how can you not look past the dragon itself and think about its mating habits and nesting locations and how it fights and how it communicates and about dragon dominance—who has the biggest male-scale?

The creatures were a part of the story from the very start. On the first page of my storyboard notebook, the first day I sat down to start brain-storming, I wrote down every fantasy creature I could come up with, using Google and Facebook to help me come up with ideas. After I had made a comprehensive list, I drew a map of a made-up country and plugged the creature groups into various parts of the land mass. As the story and the map morphed, the history and personalities and character traits of the creature groups expanded as well. It was loads of fun. 🙂

TNK: Those familiar with your work know that you are a master of love triangles. Any hints on what will become of the Kinna/Ayden/Julian situation?

TS: Haha! I’ll throw a hint in free of charge: It will become clear in this book who I have intended to eventually “get the girl.”

Further than that, my lips are sealed. 😉

(TNK:Well guys, you can’t say I didn’t try to get her to reveal something!)

TNK: As I work on writing my own fantasy trilogy, I’ve found that writing the second installment seems to bring its own particular set of difficulties. How many of the secrets/revelations need to come out here, what needs to wait for the third book? How can I develop my characters based on what happened in the first, while still leaving room for growth in the third? Did you experience similar quandaries, or a whole different set of challenges? How did you solve them?

TS: Yes, the second installment is really difficult to plow through and still make it tight, effective, and riveting for your readers. I don’t know if I have any formula that works every time, but one thing I do is to always have my overarching story divided into three places that make good book endings. For my Guardian of the Vale trilogy, I closed the books with the end of a school year at Clayborne, because that was a natural ending point, but I kept a hook in the final few pages to keep readers interested. For Heart of a Dragon, I closed off the main thrust of action at the end of the first two books—following Sebastian’s Tournament in Kindle the Flame, and tailing a major battle at the end of Embrace the Fire, respectively. And of course, I still kept some hooks in there as well.

TNK: As a fantasy writer, I know from my own experiences that the inside of your brain is probably a hectic place with whole worlds bursting to be unleashed. Any advice for those who may have a head full of ideas, but aren’t sure how to begin the process of translating them to the page?

TS: Something that has worked for me when the story is so big and overwhelming in my head is to create character sketches. I’ll take a character that has cropped up in my head and I’ll put them into a random made-up situation. I’ll pull out my notebook and write a couple of pages based on that. As I do, the character blossoms even over a few lines. So when the character comes to the actual manuscript, it’s like I’m introducing an old friend. And then the book begins.

Also, I think for nearly every book I’ve written, I start out writing where I think the story starts, but in the editing stage, I almost always end up writing a first chapter that precedes the original beginning chapter. The truth is, I never really know how to start a book, so I just… start. When I come back later, often the story begins before I ever thought it had, and I have to rework it a little bit.

TNK: Let’s talk heroines for a second. In a lot of traditional fantasy it seems that female characters are either omitted, relegated to damsel, or cast as an unrealistic “fighter chick” parody. Yet in both of your stories your heroines Kinna and Alayne (of Guardian of the Vale fame) seem to walk that tightrope between a relatable girl with vulnerabilities and a fearsome warrior whose bad side is best avoided with grace. How did you go about developing their characters in this way, and why did you choose to do so?

TS: I think that’s because both Kinna and Alayne are reflections of who I truly am and who I really wish to be. So I include opposing characteristics in those two girls, and then they come out a zany mixture of self-confidence and temerity, courage and fear, rationality and thoughtlessness, justice and forbearance. I like to think that every person who reads my books will identify with one side of the character, and perhaps be challenged by the other side.

Thanks so much for stopping by Tamara! Now here’s a little sneak peek of the just released Embrace the Fire!

Wanted by King Sebastian, Kinna, the long-hidden daughter of the assassinated King Liam, flees for her life, determined to seek out her twin brother and free him from Sebastian’s dungeons. Meanwhile, the King holds Kinna’s adopted father as collateral to ensure she keeps her betrothal to a man she does not love.

Once cursed by King Sebastian to turn everything he touched to ash, Ayden suffers from new, searing pain that heats his flesh in a different way. Searching for answers, he digs into the histories of West Ashwynd’s Clans, and his discoveries lead him to the Amulet he’d thought had rid him of his curse. When he finds a rare Mirage Dragon, hope for vengeance upon Sebastian fills him again.

Captured and stripped of his power as Dragon-Master, Cedric resists using his Dragon-speak to advance Sebastian’s political aims. When he escapes the King’s clutches, he resolves to find his twin sister, Kinna. But the enemy has a long reach, and Cedric’s chains are unrelenting.

Ice and agony torment Sebastian, King of West Ashwynd. His fury rages unabated as he prepares for war. When treachery leeches into his ranks, he turns against everyone he trusts. Sebastian believes he cannot be outwitted, but…

Kingdoms rise and fall; wars transform nations—but who can survive the fires of Dragons?

Thanks for reading! Pick up your copy today!