Who is Avery Ward?

Who is Avery Ward, you might ask as you read the title of this post. Because that’s what the post says.

Well, thanks for asking!

If you wanna get literal about it, he’s the main character of the gay paranormal romance Instalove. He’s also the 17-year-old protagonist who thinks the magic in his family doesn’t affect him, until he finds out that the thing he holds most dear may be the result of a spell.

From an author standpoint, I enjoy writing prose in his special angst-y yet practical perspective. I don’t make characters exactly like me but sometimes I give them something of mine. Avery has my taste in music. And he’s sort of a pessimist who’s trying to be more optimistic, which we also share.

Otherwise, I’ll let Avery tell you about himself in his own words. All you need to know for the following excerpt is that Stella is Avery’s little sister.

~

When given the choice, most people would rather learn about my sister than me. Stella Ward is the Witch, the girl wonder who can move objects with her mind and turn the laws of the natural world inside out.

Avery Ward is the junior who runs track, the guy who gets supporting roles in the school plays with a good audition. Enough about him, let’s hear more about this sister. Yeah, yeah. I get it.

I’m normal. My sister isn’t.

Witchcraft seems so cool and interesting to people who grew up without it. When someone close to you has powers and you don’t, it’s mostly extremely annoying. But siblings can be that way.

–Check it out here. You can buy the book or read it on KU.

New Fantasy Novel!

In an announcement I’m totally not late in making at all, I have a new book out. The novel Instalove is a gay paranormal romance set in a modern world where real magic exists.

Avery Ward is the main character. He’s an ordinary high schooler who lacks the magic all the witches and warlocks in his family wield. He thinks the supernatural world doesn’t involve him much until learns that a spell might be responsible for the best thing in his life.

The book also reached number one in one of its categories! Thanks so much to everybody who’s supported the novel so far.

I’ll share some scenes from the novel later, but I’m trying to do something new and stay on topic. And that topic is announcing the new book, yay! Yes, the ‘yay’ is included. Here’s the cover and description.

Can instant love truly last? Or will a witch’s spell lead to a broken heart?

Avery Ward doesn’t have magic powers. Get used to it. He has. Yes, his illusionist father can transport readers to beloved novels, and his sister can turn him into a toad when he hogs the bathroom. Avery prefers normal. As he nears his 4-month anniversary with boyfriend Chris, his regular life is looking pretty fantastic. Except according to his little sister, a spell she cast last week created his relationship.

All spells end sooner or later. So it’s better to steer clear of Chris and his sister until the dust settles. But when an evil wizard begins tormenting his high school, only the trio can stop him before anyone gets hurt…

To keep people safe and combat the fear taking over his school, Avery needs more than magic. He needs a miracle. If he succeeds, maybe he’ll receive a miracle of his own. Maybe he can keep Chris.

But when love and magic combine, how do you trust your heart?

Instalove is a gay romance novel about the power of ordinary magic and what it means to be the one who doesn’t fit in, even when fitting in means flying and performing spells like the rest of your family. While Avery appears in Black Cats and Bad Luck, that story focuses on different characters, so this book can be read on its own.

Grab your copy of this enchanting coming-of-age novel today to fall in Instalove!

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.

Ward Family Rules

The Wards aren’t your average family. They’re magical. And also, technically, fictional. In the new adult fantasy novel Black Cats and Bad Luck, Avery is excited and scared for his family vacation because life in a magical family can be intense. He’s used to errant spells and the occasional hex, but he wasn’t expecting evil spirits, exploding statues, and a naked man arriving at his door.

In this quote, Avery discusses life as a Ward.

My family is great. I love them, but at the last reunion, well. We never mention the wendigo incident. I rarely even thought about it. Oh, when I say we never mention it, I meant we were literally forbidden from speaking of it. Seriously, I swore a blood oath and everything, so yeah… things could get intense when the Wards were around, and the more of us there were, the more intense it could get.

Black Cats and Bad Luck

Hindsight

So I’m sort of patting myself on the back here, but one thing has become clear when sharing this deleted scene from Black Cats and Bad Luck: I made the right call. When I decided not to use this scene and write another instead, I felt bummed out about it and tried to convince myself to use it anyway. Looking back, I can tell it was the better decision. All the main characters hiding in a bed together is adorable, but it really didn’t fit with the rest of the novel.

I took out some of the more spoiler-y elements, so all you need to know is that after an attack all the main characters are huddled together and trying to figure out what to do next. And the ‘wendigo incident’ is an event from the past that the Ward cousins swore a blood oath not to mention and I had a lot of fun with it.

~

Avery

Could only girls have slumber parties? Maybe. I mean, I had spent the night at friend’s houses before. I typically never invited people over. I worried they’d get the wrong idea, see the magic my family could do and start to expect those things from me.

There wasn’t a ton of experience for me to draw from, but I hadn’t attended a slumber party ever. Even though I’d spent the night at friend’s houses, even a group of us. Some component had been lacking to call it a true slumber party. Not pillow fights or something cheesy and stereotypical like that. S’mores? Sleeping bags? No, camping came to mind for those items. Prank calls? Huh. Maybe.

Actually, good thing I never attended a slumber party before. If fond memories of them existed, they would pale in comparison now. Not that this was exactly fun, but it was certainly an experience, one that would have blown any others out of the water.

Why did this qualify as a slumber party? Maybe because we were all on one bed. It was actually sort of weird. We probably wouldn’t all sleep here. We ended up here, Mason freaked out in a nightmare, and Horatio freaked out in turn, not sure if Mason was hurt because ‘nightmare’ definitely applied but that didn’t mean it wasn’t real. Mason was certainly the go to guy for reality-bending dreams.

He was okay, but we were all spooked, so instead of meeting anywhere else, we went to Horatio and Mason’s room. Mason and Horatio’s room? Probably Mason’s room, where Horatio stayed. Horatio only moved away from him to open the door when letting us in. Mason hadn’t gotten out of bed, so… we were all on the bed.

Mason at the head, leaned on the pillows propping him up and Horatio. Miranda on the other side. The rest of us inserted somewhat awkwardly near the foot wherever we could find space. Weird though also comfortable, only the bedside lights on, a little island of light in the dark. Perfect for huddling together and talking in quiet voices.

“Are we sure about this?” Miranda asked after we formulated a plan. “Between Horatio and his shape shifting to the mystical bond you two share, there’s too much that could go wrong.”

“We don’t want a wendigo,” Horatio said.

Stella made an urgent noise, shaking her head and indicating Miranda should stop talking. Miranda put a hand over her mouth. I made an important gesture, then asked Jonah if I did it right.

“What were you going for?” he asked.

“Sign of the cross.”

“Then no,” he answered. Damn.

~

BTW, the who paranormal romance novel is here and free.

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.

~

Second by second

I found a tool for authors to make graphics called Bookbrush, and I think I got a little carried away. So there are many graphics to share. Here’s a little snippet from the beginning of my contemporary fantasy novel Black Cats and Bad Luck.

In the novel, Horatio is a magical entity who went from animal form to human being without a pause in between, which rarely happens. No longer a feline familiar, he’s a human on a mission to be with his true love. He transitions pretty seamlessly into the human world, which is largely chalked up to magic. He’s also a cosmic traveler who has seen many things. I think some of his backstory is vast and unknowable, but there is part can be… known. It’s just touched on now, and there’s some more hints in their next book, though eventually the knowable pieces of his existence will be revealed.

So this quote comes from Horatio switching from a being intimately connected with magic and the inner workings of the universe to a human.

No more time to rest when he could do instead. He rose from the bed on two human legs. His form stood larger than before, yet almost entirely compressed into this place called flesh. The world no longer whispered its secrets into his ear.

Whatever came next, it wasn’t for him to sneak glimpses of anymore. The past, present, and future separated themselves into distinct sections. Time to experience life in a new way, second by second.

Whatever came next, it would be amazing. How could it not be? The world was full of wonder. Seconds ago, he used to be one thing. Now, he was another.

Black Cats and Bad Luck

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

Meet Jonah

Magic exists in the world of Black Cats and Bad Luck, but not everyone comes into contact with witches and extraordinary powers. Though Witches have come out of the broom closet and are part of mainstream society, most people are aware of magic but don’t witness it themselves unless they are connected to Pagans and the magical community in some way.

Jonah Harris is a human teenager who’s curious about the supernatural world and excited to experience magic first hand. He figures his in is his best friend Avery Ward, who comes from a powerful magical family. But after years of friendship, Avery keeps that side of his life almost entirely hidden. So being invited on a Ward family trip the summer after their sophomore year is finally his chance to see how the magical folk live.

Until Jonah learns everybody is abstaining from using powers for the majority of the trip. While the amount of magic they’re expecting, next to none, might not be the actual amount that occurs in this fantasy novel (it’s not) Jonah seems to have the worst luck when it comes to seeing magic. So much so that he begins suspecting supernatural interference.

P.S. Very Serious Author Note? I adore Jonah. He’s kind of like Ryan from my One More Thing Series in that they’re both tall, skinny tornadoes of excitement and enthusiasm. But he’s also the lone character in this novel with virtually no supernatural contact beforehand, so it’s fun as he explores this new world with fresh eyes.

In this scene, Horatio makes the case for why qualifies as astounding magic. He’s a mystical being and magical miracle who transformed from animal to human form, but Jonah isn’t exactly impressed.

~

Mason

Jonah was still dying to see magic.

“What about me, cat given human flesh?” Horatio offered as he and Jonah began chatting.

“I guess…”

 “You aren’t impressed?”

 “This doesn’t happen often, or so I hear. That’s…” He tried and failed to summon enthusiasm. “Neat.”

“Yes, it’s extremely rare.” Horatio stood taller, proud of his exceptional nature. “If this isn’t wowing you, then I’m afraid nothing will.”

 “No, hold on. It’s not like I watched you transform into a man. I only know you as a man. Yeah, I knew distantly Avery had a pet cat.” Jonah raised his hands before the protests could begin. “Before this trip, I didn’t know about familiars or anything, so I thought the cat was a pet. And I don’t really connect you to a cat whose name I might have guessed started with an ‘H,’ but I would have said Harry or Hornbat.”

Avery asked, “Where did you come up with Hornba—”

“Or Jiggles,” Jonah interrupted, looking to Horatio. “Your name was never Jiggles?”

~

Grab your copy of this 99 cent queer paranormal romance here.

Meet Stella

Stella Ward is a pre-teen witch who shows promise when it comes to magic. Her other skills? They’re a work in progress. She’s a character from the Ward Magic Series who is first introduced in Black Cats and Bad Luck.

One area where she lacks is interpersonal skills and experience with those outside of the magical community. For example, when explosions occur at a family gathering for no known ordinary or supernatural reasons, Stella assumes their guest Jonah is panicking. Her older brother, Avery, who invited Jonah, knows his friend better than that.

~

Avery

“Should we freak out?” Jonah asked. “Everyone seems kinda freaked out.”

“It’s alright,” Stella reassured instantly. “While we don’t know what happened, there is an explanation. Things don’t spontaneously explode, even in the magical community. There’s no reason to be afraid.”

“Oh, is that why you’re all shocked? Because I would have thought you’ve all seen stuff like that before.” Jonah deflated a little. “Nothing ever blows up? I always pictured real magic being more…” he trailed off, realizing there wasn’t an un-offensive way to finish his sentence.

“I didn’t say magick couldn’t produce explosions,” she defended, annoyed he was doubting. Then she remembered what she was doing. “I just don’t want you to be afraid things are going to blow up whenever you’re around Witches.” Stella’s voice did an impression of our mother’s voice. “Getting used to the magical world can be a big adjustment.”

“Don’t think that’s what’s happening here, Stell,” I said before she could try to ‘comfort’ him anymore.

“I know how to do this, Avery,” she insisted. “We have to take a class about explaining our gifts to nonbelievers.” True, though the odds of her passing Introducing Laymen to Magick with anything higher than a C seemed low.

“Um, I’m not alarmed,” Jonah said. Called it.

I shot a smug smile her way, told you so. She made a face back, and Jonah waved a hand to get our attention because he was quickly getting used to our dynamic and could tell we were about to start squabbling.

“My first reaction to witnessing real life magic would be clapping and begging for an encore,” he drawled, glancing around the room. “Going by other people’s reactions, it wouldn’t be appropriate, so I’m putting in all the effort to refrain.”

“Appreciated,” I said.

~

The full LGBTQ fantasy novel is available here for only 99 cents. Check it out!