Nightmare children

Avery and his little sister don’t get along in Instalove. This might be part of a normal sibling dynamic, though love spells and the hellhound she gave him as a gift are less normal.

During breakfast, the family discuss the rules for Stella’s birthday dinner. This is a different version of this scene than the one in the novel.

~

“It’s a good time to go over the rules for dinner tonight,” Dad interjected. Ah, how to behave in front of polite company. It used to be a long series of items, written on parchment paper and permanently affixed to the fridge.  That didn’t quite yield results though, so now there were two easily digestible points.

“Don’t be nightmare children unless our cousins are doing it first,” Stella said. Those were their words, ‘nightmare children.’ And they called us dramatic when we got going. So unfair. To me at least. Stella was definitely the nightmare.

My family all looked to me.

“It’s Stella’s birthday,” I said the next rule. They kept looking at me. “Don’t be awful to Stella,” I finished reluctantly.

“Don’t be awful to Stella,” Dad repeated.

“I said that.” Why even have me say it if he was going to say the same thing?

“It bears repeating,” he said firmly.

 Why did it even matter what I did? The remaining pastries we hadn’t eaten had abandoned their spot on the obnoxious floating platter and were doing a little dance for my sister’s amusement. Everything literally catered to her; I didn’t have to do the same. Our cutlery didn’t normally levitate, but Stella liked these little extra touches on her special day.

 ‘Extra touches’ were how my parents referred to them. I called them pointless and unnecessary. We get it, Stella had magic. Stella liked magic. There was nothing wrong with magic, but there was a whole world out there and magic was just a small part of it. Magic wasn’t everything.

That was a lesson I’d learned firsthand.

Anyway, these rules were useless. “Stella didn’t abide by the rules on my birthday,” I muttered. My parents exchanged ‘here we go’ looks.

“It was a gift!” Stella hollered.

“That tried to eat me,” I pointed out.

Stella rolled her eyes, like she was annoyed I brought that up again, but a birthday present from her had tried to devour me. I had the right to bring that up for, like, the rest of time. “How was I supposed to know it would be so mean?” she asked rhetorically.

I answered anyway. “It was called a hellhound.” She was the supposed magical savant; she should have known. The kid had no common sense.

She rolled her eyes. “I just thought it would be red.” Also, she often put too much stock in her abilities. Sometimes she didn’t read the instructions fully; she thought she was a little magic expert that knew everything. It would be hilarious when things went wrong if I wasn’t usually dragged into the side effects with her.

And my Dad found Stella’s magical appetite so charming. He encouraged her to explore the magical world. Yet he wouldn’t buy me alcohol when I wanted to explore the regular world… Okay, I didn’t fault him for that one, but I had to try.

Stella and Mom left for school while Dad floated the serving tray down to the table. He grabbed my attention before I could make my escape to school. “Hey, really, go easy on Stella tonight.” He put a hand on my shoulder as he sat down in the chair next to me and looked me in the eye, his I mean it look.

“We already went through thy hallowed, revered rules,” I told him with only a little sarcasm. It was too early for more.

His sass game was strong, undeterred by the early hour. “If they’re so hallowed and revered, how come they never get followed?”

“Maybe tonight will be the first time?” I offered. Magic existed, so miracles could happen too.

 “You’re the older brother,” Dad reminded me, turning serious again. Like I didn’t know that. Though maybe sticking my tongue out at her wasn’t the height of maturity. “Treat her with respect and she’ll do the same to you.”

“You have no proof of that.”

“I’m an eternal optimist,” he quipped.

–the book is available here.

Pageant Moms Fighting Other Pageant Moms

For the final book in the One More Thing Series, the lovable losers of Lake Forest are headed to greener, gayer pastures as they graduate high school and move on to college. So One Big Decision deals with college decisions and discussions, which threatened to cause problems for me.

Technically, I think it’s okay to mention colleges in books? As I’m a small-time indie author, probably nobody would care if I used actual colleges. The rules for using real things in fiction is tricky, and sometimes TV shows are careful about that, but they also reach a much larger audience. By my understanding, you can use real brands and titles and whatnot as long as you’re using them fictitiously, which seems obvious in fiction but whatever.

So while I debated whether to use real schools or make some up, the answer occurred to me. Neither one! I could use code-names instead. That’s something I love about first person stories, the character tells the story, so the unreliable narrator can be even more inaccurate as they might want to tell the story incorrectly.

The following is how and why Ryan came up with nicknames for different institutions of higher education.


Ryan

Okay. Researching colleges and fantasizing about being at them? Actually a stress reliever during some of my less pleasant high school years. I loved higher education, I could talk higher education all day. I wasn’t going to be one of those people who said, ‘oh, I went to Harvard or Princeton’ only because I recognized that was obnoxious. I was saving all my obnoxious passes for other parts of my personality. But when bringing Luke into the mix, my brain freaked out and wanted to make the situation less scary.

So while we were contemplating life-changing, possibly relationship-breaking areas of the future, let’s spin it positively. Make it something awesome or at least weird so I wouldn’t mind thinking about it. Thus code-names like Pageant Moms Fighting Other Pageant Moms, Dancing Pineapples University, and T-Rexes with Longer Arms were born.

Other College Code-names

(Some appear in the book, others do not)

  • T-Rexes with Longer Arms
  • Honey-badgers
  • Space Unicorns
  • The University of Perfectly breaded chicken fingers with the right amount of dipping sauce
  • Sculpted Male Torso with Goldilocks Amount of Chest Hair
  • Tap-dancing Walruses University

Prom

One of the big milestones at the end of high school is prom. It’s no different for the seniors in One Big Decision. Though Ryan and Luke have two promposals because they’re difficult like that. I’ll let Luke share his thoughts regarding his promposal.

Luke

Making decisions wasn’t always easy for me outside of the pitcher’s mound, and the length of time it took me to reach conclusions might be… slightly… longer than the time it took everyone else. My mom says some people are late bloomers in terms of physically maturing and others are late bloomers mentally. Hey, she was kinda insulting me, wasn’t she? Okay, I guess she had a point. But I wasn’t dumb really, I just took my time.

So, when asking my boyfriend to prom, Zach suggested I hire a focus group. Which sounded pricey and also he made the suggestion because he’s a dick, but it normally wouldn’t be a terrible idea. Except this time, I knew exactly what I wanted.

For my prom date: Ryan.

For my ask: some of his favorite things.

I also wanted him to look completely different. Okay, not completely. From the top of his unruly brown hair to his amber eyes bursting with life and down to his ridiculously freaking sexy long legs, which always seemed on display in months with nice weather, he looked good.

Except his shirt, which featured a giant picture of… a tacocat? Cat-taco? Yeah, half taco, half cat. Taco-cat. And today might be the warmest day yet this year, so he’d gotten into popsicles or something which stained his lips an artificial blue color.

For the love of a good man

Ryan is a brainy overachiever. He imagines becoming a brilliant scientist who makes grand discoveries and is only a little mad. Being a mad scientist isn’t required for some chemists, doctors, and whatnot, but a little insanity is non-negotiable for Ryan. Here’s an excerpt where he talks about his plans and what he wants for his relationship with Luke. This possibly relates to how love, and a little insanity, can turn anyone into a fool.

The post is to celebrate the release of a new contemporary gay romance from me. One Big Decision is the hilarious and heartwarming final novel in the One More Thing series which follows a small-town couple as they navigate high school.

Ryan

I wanna do great things. I wanna discover answers to nature’s mysteries. Help people, save lives, be great. And I wanna be happy too. In the grand scheme? One man’s happiness is the least important concern. When you’re living it, it matters so much. The impossible dream is to have everything and love too, especially love.

So if you tell a few lies, burn a few bridges to get everything, you can still probably sleep at night. Even if it’s not right, you behaved poorly for the same reason geniuses turn into fools, kings lose their kingdoms, people with everything gratefully give it all away and accept nothing. For the love of a good man.

God, if I can just have this, if I can have him, I’ll never want anything else again. Yeah, it’s a lie. One more potent than a trick of the light because the kicker is, it’s real in the moment. It’s the only truth you know. For a little while.

What else could I do? I followed my heart.

first lines

First lines are always important because they are, you know, what the reader reads first. And if they don’t like it, they might stop the novel and you don’t get another chance to make a first impression. So it’s good to spend more time than I spent writing this when working on the first line. So while almost no though whatsoever went into this paragraph, I did devote more time to the beginning of Black Cats and Bad Luck.

I’m sharing the opener of this M/M paranormal romance with you today. As a feline familiar, Horatio is connected to magic. That link is strained when he gives up his magical side to become human for a shot at love.

The Ward house rarely held such quiet. Sound always existed, from the voices of humans to the low hum of magic. Even the pixies in the garden were silent. Perhaps this warranted investigation.

Laying in a column of sunlight in the master bedroom, the cat raised its head to investigate— creatures such as him always stretched, just a little, past their limits. Seeing not only what there was, but what could be. Seeing with more than the eyes, reaching out to touch the swirling cosmos and twinkling stars, to—then again, it would be such a shame to waste this lazy afternoon on anything other than a nap. The cat rested its head back on the hardwood floor.

Awareness hovered somewhere, an insubstantial thing, easily batted away like a stray strand of yarn. He stretched, black tail swishing once in the air, before getting comfortable again.

Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com

An ordinary day can shift so quickly. After all, to go from idea to creation it only takes a spark. The being in the otherwise empty house who currently wore black fur and moved on four legs knew all about that. It was his purpose. Mostly. Except for the tiny piece of other. The call had been there for so long, a whisper echoing in his mind. He had never been able to answer. A force kept him in place, always with the same song he understood instinctively: not yet, not yet, not yet. A melody he’d long since grown accustomed to.

After a nap in the sun, the perfect next step was up and to the right. A nap atop the comfy pillow on the big bed. He moved, curling up on the softer surface. Perfectly content, he could stay there for-oh. Something was different.

Lifting his head, ears perking, no sound reached him from the still house beyond. Internally, no sound either.

The melody had stopped.

A noise… perhaps fingers snapping. A distant strike of lightning. The scent of jasmine lingered in the air. He felt a flicker of heat. The shift began.

-the rest of Black Cats and Bad Luck. is available for only 99 cents. It’s also available on Kindle Unlimited.

The world of magic

The course of true love may never be smooth, buts it’s especially bumpy when witches, familiars, and shadow monsters are at work. Here’s some info about the world of my magical fantasy novel, Black Cats and Bad Luck. This post is about how magic works.

How does magic work? Nobody knows! Magical is powerful. That much is sure. And like all powerful forces, it has the potential to be dangerous. Witches and warlocks can use magic, but things like the exact how, why, and what are something of a mystery.

Here’s two opinions about magic from main characters in this series, Horatio and Avery. As a human, Avery’s answer is more practical. As a magical being, Horatio’s answer is more abstract.

Avery explains the fundamentals of how magic is used:

The most common ways to bring about magickal manifestations included spells, potions, enchantments. Illusions and glamour as well, making a person perceive the world differently. Most of this? Limited time occurrences. Enchantments were the exception, many items would stay enchanted but need a charge after a while.

Glamours and illusions could create the appearance of anything for a short time. Spells and potions could make things happen that normally wouldn’t. Every spell and potion had its own rules and wore off after achieving the desired result.

Achieving any kind of permanency unintentionally would be extremely difficult. And while there weren’t official governing bodies, Pagan communities often policed themselves. With high priestesses like Miranda on the lookout and strongly advising against more extreme forms of the craft.

Horatio on magic:

Magic. The word did not do it justice. Humans labeled it impossible and unknowable and mystical because they could only grasp a tiny piece.

Magick created light but preferred to dwell in the shadows. Try for more, try to understand it and know it as a whole, well, it never led to success. Which was why seeing it in a pure form wasn’t easy. In early days, people thought the mystery might be hiding something nefarious. These days, most agreed it was the opposite. That knowing and understanding the root of magic, what it was or where it came from, was just too much power for any person to have. The temptation of using that knowledge for selfish reasons, for trying to control or change magic would be too great.

One might develop an affinity, a deeper sense after years of practicing. But familiars were tried and true. Familiars could sense and see magick in a way humans couldn’t. Though they didn’t wield it.

There were whispers in the circles I used to frequent, cautionary tales. The most whimsical, elusive force without a name, we call it magic. A being could know this power or use the power. Not both. Either option was a gift. All gifts came with a price.

Almost!

The final book in the One More Thing Series is almost available! The release date for One Big Decision is May 17. This is crazy because I’ve been writing one book or another in this series for the entire time I’ve been a published author.

Here’s a book description and a scene from the novel. In the scene, Luke is asking Ryan to prom.

In the conclusion of the One More Thing Series, Ryan and Luke face prom, college decisions, and what happens to their relationship when high school ends.

Despite the fierce competition over who can pull off the best prom proposal, Ryan and Luke are ridiculously in love high school sweethearts. But high school is drawing to a close, and the boyfriends have very different ideas for college.

While the guys want to stay together, they know young love doesn’t always last. Especially when one of them is thinking more about them than him, and the other isn’t being entirely forthcoming about his future goals. Will their love be enough to ensure a happy ending, or will they go their separate ways for good?

~

Luke

“At least offer to split the therapy bill with me as a gesture of goodwill,” Ryan said while exiting his house, too busy arguing with his father to notice me.

“You think you need therapy?” Mr. Miller spoke while shutting the door behind him. “You left me with parenting PTSD.”

“You called me fat!”

“I only suggested a walk,” Mr. Miller tiredly corrected.

“Who goes on freaking father-son walks?” Ryan complained merrily in fine form.

They began talking over each other.

“We don’t both have to—”

“Which brings us back to you thinking I should lose some weight.”

“If you could be patient for five seconds—”

“Oh, are we making wishes to the never-gonna-happen-fairy because—”

“Really? My wish already came true.”

“So not fair! What did you wish for?”

“For him to put me out of my misery.” Mr. Miller nodded his head, indicating me. To me, he said, “You owe me so badly.”

“Luke!” Ryan exclaimed. “And… a giant anthill.”

My promposal did resemble a giant anthill. The brown mass nearly reached my knees, a volcano surrounded by a small island and ocean landscape. I put in the ingredient to make it blow. The ‘lava’ bubbled and foamed with a small rush of sound as it began pouring from the top and erupting over the island and spilling out into the ocean.

“Is that… root beer?”  Yep. Ryan’s favorite drink. A huge smile burst over his face.

 Lava funneled from the volcano to the carefully cut spaces below to spell out ‘prom.’ More statement than question.

“Prom?” I asked. There, there was the question.

“Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!”

“Once is fine.”

He leapt into my arms, giving me just enough time to plant my feet and ensure we stayed upright instead of toppling into the display below. The first brush of his lips landed a few inches left of my mouth, though it worked as he began peppering kisses all over my face, too giddy for finesse or aim.

Yeah, this went well.

~

The novel is available for pre-order here.

Boys crushing on boys

Isn’t this the point of life, boys crushing on boys? For my purposes, yes. Here’s my final round of quotes before the review of That Feeling When by S.M. James. Basically, here’s some sweetness where the main characters are into each other. First is a quote from Landon, then Archie.

P.S. note the, uh, little clapper thingy that’s used when filming movies. Okay, just looked it up, it’s called a clapperboard, so I wasn’t too far off. It’s used in the book as a graphic for the chapter numbers and POV, which is a cute extra touch.


If you come in peace

Are you familiar with familiars? These are the animal creatures that partner with witches and provide magical assistance. The most obvious potential example is probably a black cat. They exist in this world, though they work a little differently in my NA paranormal romance novel. (P.S. Yes, I laughed at my own cleverness for saying ‘familiar with familiars.’ Sometimes I’m easily amused.)

In Black Cats and Bad Luck, these supernatural entities partner with Witches who can use magic. This made things tricky for Avery Ward, magical later bloomer. At least everyone assumed this. Because nearly all the Wards, and everyone on his Mom’s side of the family too, have magical powers, even if only a little. And there’s already one family member with no gifts whatsoever, so what are the odds there will be two? Extremely slim, if its ever even happened before. So of course he’ll have powers. Probably.

The family figures Avery’s gifts haven’t been discovered yet when he’s around 8-years-old. His younger sister Stella’s gifts are active and growing and it won’t be long until she could use the help of a familiar, but he’s the oldest. It’s his job to ask the universe for a magical companion. Even though he has no powers. Yet. They’ll manifest eventually.

Except they don’t.

During the novel, Avery is 15 and the familiar who ended up choosing to live with his family, Horatio, has changed from a feline animal companion to a man. Neither truly animal nor man, Horatio is more a magical being, one of many who takes the shape of an animal. Except he’s unique when it comes to changing shapes in the middle of his familiar duties. This isn’t something familiars usually do, so the Ward family are trying to figure out how this happened while Avery thinks back on the ritual he performed to call a familiar to him. There’s a little bit of this in the novel, though this is a larger version.

~

Avery

“Even if we couldn’t mark your arrival down on the calendar,” Dad said, “we were expecting you a few years earlier.”

“I couldn’t come then,” said Horatio. As everyone stared at him, he opened his mouth to say more before faltering. “Um… the only part I know is I couldn’t come then.”

Great, the focus shifted, and I could feel everyone’s eyes on me.

“Why would he need to?” Stella wondered. “For Avery? He—”

“Yeah,” I interrupted. “I don’t have much use for a familiar.”

Horatio stared at me and I managed not to fidget. “That wasn’t it. I, I… I just.”

“Couldn’t come earlier?” I filled in.

“Precisely,” he agreed. He mouthed the word ‘precisely’ again.

Despite having little use for a familiar, I performed the ritual anyway at age seven or eight. Did he even hear me? I suppose I could ask him. Anyone could perform spells, the results were what differed. With prayers, well. Mom said prayers weren’t spells or magick, they were special requests. All you needed was a thought, belief, and the courage to ask. So despite not manifesting any abilities, then or ever, I performed the Request.

I faintly remembered saffron in the air, opening the big bay windows in the living room, looking up to the sky dotted with stars, and lighting the yellow candle that made me sneeze. Mom stood behind me the whole time, helping me perform the activity. There were formal words I could recite, something about seeking an ally to join me as I journeyed deeper into the craft. Or the more folksy, ‘if you come in peace for partnership, please come in.’ Though if there were something else in my heart, I should speak that instead. I remember searching for the brightest star and starting there, then finding one so distant I could barely see it, thinking maybe I would find an answer somewhere between those two points.

Please, I began, voicing the desire in my heart. I found there was nothing else to say. Please, please, please, I asked every star near and far.

That was back when we thought my powers would come one day. They didn’t. Neither did Horatio. Not until a few years later when Stella performed the request and there he was on our doorstep the very next day.

~

Black Cats and Bad Mood Boards

Hello, is this Moodboards Anonymous? My name is F.N. Manning, and I’m addicted to moodboards. Oh, this isn’t Moodboards Anonymous? And that support group doesn’t exist? That’s fair.

As you might have guessed, I enjoy making mood boards, which I put as one word in every instance before this one, but I get the red squigglies so now I’m changing my mind. This is for my new adult fantasy novel, that is also naturally a gay romance, Black Cats and Bad Luck. Here’s a board for the main characters, Mason and Horatio.

After years of waiting for a mysterious man from his dreams who might not exist, Mason is ready to move on with his life. Until Horatio finally appears, and his whereabouts were stranger than anyone imagined. With the help of the smartest paranormal experts, or at least the only ones available, the guys must battle the forces of evil, keep everyone safe, and see if their relationship can become more than a good dream and survive in the real world.

When I spent too much time on the computer, whether searching for Horatio or playing games online, Dad would bring me back to real life. Life’s not happening there in between the ones and zeros, he’d say. It’s happening out here. I’d hate for you to miss it.

After what felt like a lifetime of the alleged perfect man for me being so close yet never close enough to touch, I drew my own conclusions. My only defense, I suppose, was that I lived with the idea of him for so long, I began to think that’s all he was. An idea, a hope, a dream who lived within a dream.

Black Cats and Bad Luck