I’m reading #Pit2Pub for Evernight & Evernight Teen

ETA: #Pit2Pub was a smashing success! Thanks to everyone who organized it and to the authors who participated.

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I’m reading the #Pit2Pub Twitter pitches for Evernight Publishing and Evernight Teen! If I (@chrissiemkl) favorite your pitch/tweet, check out Evernight Publishing and Evernight Teen’s submission guidelines.

Evernight Publishing: Submissions

Evernight Teen: Submissions

My twitter handle is @chrissiemkl.

I’ve been reading for Evernight Publishing and Evernight Teen since 2014.

Some of my recent acquisitions for Evernight Teen:

    

Some of my recent acquisitions for Evernight Publishing:

    

Q & A about #editing on Tuesday!

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I’m heading to Wegmans this coming Tuesday, March 10 for a fun Q&A session about editing and writing, courtesy of the Lehigh Valley WriMos. Come join us at 5000 Wegmans Dr, Bethlehem, PA 18017, from 6-8pm. Should be interesting. Ask me anything! ‪#‎editing‬ ‪#‎writing‬

We’ll be talking about submissions, editing, and writing.

1. How many different flavors of editor am I?

2. What are my biggest pet peeves when I receive a submission?

3. Is plot important?

4. Why publish poetry when no one reads it anymore?

5. Why do I hate prologues?

6. Why is knowing your audience important?

7. How do you know if a small publisher is legit?

8. Why shouldn’t you design your own book cover?

9. How much money do authors really make?

10. What is head hopping?

11. Are social media and self promotion important?

5 ways to jumpstart inspiration

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A lot of people ask me where I get my ideas from for writing. For many years when I was younger, I had trouble with inspiration. Ideas were like birds I could see only in the distance, in a sky I could never reach. Bits of them floated to the ground once in a while—useless, discarded feathers. It wasn’t until I spent more time writing, every day, that the ideas started flocking into my head. I developed some habits that called them to me, like scattering mental birdseed around to draw them in. Here are some of them:

1. Exercise/meditation/hiking: spend some time alone in your head. If you’re like me, sitting around doing nothing may drive you crazy, so I have found that if I do something physical while I’m wandering the pathways of my mind, ideas float into my consciousness with almost no effort.

2. Listen to music: let your favorite melodies calm your brain so that you can relax enough to stop doubting yourself. Doubt kills creativity.

3. Stop and look around: give yourself thirty seconds on the way to your car, or the grocery store, or even just walking down the hallway, to stop and observe one thing with great attention. I tend to watch birds, look for stars, examine snowflakes or flowers in a way that helps my mind create mental pictures. When writing, a good sense of imaginary places is essential. Looking at things develops the ability to envision spaces in your head.

4. Be nice to yourself: stop stopping. Just start writing something, even if you think it sucks. It probably does, but you can always fix it later. Writing is like running: you need to warm up sometimes. And telling yourself that it sucks just reinforces your ability to doubt yourself. Stop that.

5. Skip the depressing things: don’t read the horrible news story, avoid the annoying friend on Facebook, stop watching war movies right before you go to sleep. Sometimes the bad stuff lingers in your psyche and you’re not even aware of it. This is probably my greatest difficulty, but I have been trying to get better at allowing myself to not feel the bad stuff. Don’t let others steal your joy and replace it with misery.

 

How writing a novel is like running a marathon. Over and over.

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It’s fun, and then it’s not, and then the endorphins kick in…

“So you want to be a writer?” How many times have you read those words as a prelude to an essay about being an author? Once? Twice? I bet they all said some variation of this little gem of wisdom: if you’re writing because you want to be rich and famous, forget about it. You need to appreciate the writing itself. Writing is ART (said in a lofty tone).

I think I may have said those words to a few people. I am sorry. The truth is, you DO need to enjoy the writing itself, but the truth also is, I want my books to SELL. I want to make money writing and I want to have a lot of readers. I want to write a bestseller.

Unfortunately, the people who sell the most books and make the most money are composed of less than 1% of the total number of writers in the world. I am not one of them. So, the first statement is still true. If you don’t love the writing itself, you may as well stop and get a job doing IT or something else practical.

Also, writing is difficult. Every time I begin a novel, I’m very excited and I love my characters and my plot, but by the time I hit 10,000 words I want everyone in the novel to die via meteor strike. Why? Because writing a novel is like running a month-long marathon: it’s hard work. It’s a love-hate relationship. I love hating writing. I hate loving writing. I love writing about what I hate. I love writing about what I love. Writers are a little bit crazy.

Another problem I’ve encountered as a writer: your first novel will probably suck. Mine does. It’s embarrassing. The best thing I ever did was write another novel because I got a little better at it. And then I wrote another one. And another one. And another. I didn’t really like the prose in my novels until I’d written ten or so of them. Another way to fix the suckage problem is to let your novel sit around for a year or so (DON’T stop writing in the interim). When you pick it up again, you will think it’s terrible. Revise. When you’ve repeated this process a bunch of times and you finally pick up one of your novels and you don’t hate it, give yourself a lollipop.

Last, remember that writing a novel and selling a novel are TWO TOTALLY DIFFERENT THINGS. If your goal is simply to be published, awesome! You have options. If your goal is to become a working writer: ack. I’m sorry. I’m one of those and it’s kind of, well, totally insane. I mean, why didn’t I decide to become a graffiti artist instead? That would be SO MUCH easier. Why? Because it would be a hobby, not a career, not something I’m trying to use to buy stuff like food and clothes. Here’s a little article that sums it up nicely: http://heidicullinan.wordpress.com/2013/11/14/if-you-build-it-they-dont-necessarily-come-the-heaven-and-hell-of-marketing-a-book/

If you still want to be a writer, here are some things I’ve learned along the way. I’ll start with the cool stuff:

– Getting a cover from the publisher is great. This is seriously awesome if your artist is good.
– Getting paid. This is always awesome.
– Getting fan mail or email from a reader or a good review. AWESOME.

Now on to the practicalities:

1. There are a few genres that are selling right now. They are:

erotic romance
young adult
new adult

That’s it. Not sci-fi or fantasy or mystery (unless you’re Dan Brown) or anything else. I try to sneak my favorite categories into romance novels (sci-fi or mystery or suspense). PW agrees with me: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bookselling/article/55458-big-names-dominated-bestsellers-in-2012.html

2. Even if you sell a book or two, that doesn’t guarantee that you will keep selling. One of the best writers I’ve ever read sold a bunch of books and then her publisher dropped her because of poor sales and they have the last novel of one of her series in jail and it’s never going to see the light of day (deep breath). Why? Because. No other explanation.

3. To be a successful writer, you not only have to write (run that marathon, over and over), you also have to be lucky. Authors don’t know what’s going to sell next. Even if you write in one of the popular genres right now, you have no guarantee that it will sell. Why? Because. Even the publishers don’t know. Some big publishers throw gobs of money at a new author to promo the work and the book sinks. Some throw no money at a book and it sells like hotcakes. None of us know why.

Look at J.K. Rowling (http://www.leakynews.com/jkrowling-new-book-pseudonym-crime-novel-robert-galbraith/): she sold a book under a pseudonym and it only sold 1500 copies (that’s considered good sales, by the way). When people found out that she was the author behind “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” it sold way more. She was very lucky to sell as well as she did when she was J.K. Rowling, and then she wrote a book under a pen name and sold hardly any copies, proving how very lucky she was as J.K. Rowling. Same writer, same quality of prose: totally different outcome (at least until readers found out about the deception).

4. It’s easier than ever to get published right now because of the rise of digital readers. That means the market is saturated. This means it’s harder than ever to get published by a large NY publisher. Options if you still want to get published? Small publishers, self-publishing. Remember that getting published is SEPARATE from actually selling a book or sustaining a career. Know why you want to write and plan your life accordingly.

5. If you still want to get published, here are some things to try:
-Get an agent (http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents)
-Submit to small publishers who don’t require an agent (mostly erotic romance publishers)
-Self-publishing (Amazon KDP)
-Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA)

6. Read up on the business:
-Scalzi’s blog: http://whatever.scalzi.com
-Absolute Write Forums: http://absolutewrite.com/forums/index.php (check for scam publishers and iffy contracts)
Dear Author news posts: http://dearauthor.com/news/
How to submit queries to agents: http://queryshark.blogspot.com

7. If you have no support system (i.e. a girlfriend/boyfriend/mother/dog etc.) to take care of you as you suffer the inevitable rejections x1000 you will go crazy. The only other option is to be very VERY certain you want to be a writer. Like, obsessed and neurotic and totally single-minded about it. Having a support system AND being totally obsessed is the best way to be a writer.

8. You must write fast. The reality of the market today is that publishers and readers want their books NOW and then they want the next book TOMORROW. They also want them CHEAP (I am a reader and I am totally guilty of this). It used to be that authors would publish a book every year, or maybe every two years. Some really lucky authors can still do this, but most of us know that we need to produce a lot more than that in order to make any money.

I know people who have signed contracts to write a book every month. I even know people who write a novel every two weeks. I can write a book in one month, but I have no idea how the people who write one every week or so manage that feat of super-human brilliance. Maybe drugs? Electroshock?

The reason authors need to produce more, faster and cheaper, is that the market is saturated. The market is saturated because of digital readers and the rise of self-publishing. This tightens competition, especially because the NY publishers are no longer completely in charge. I know someone out there understands the basic market economy of this better than I do, but the results are still the same: write fast.

9. Craft mechanics – what the publishers I’ve worked with look for:

– No head-hopping. This used to be okay, but most publishers strictly forbid it now.
– Avoid ellipses, colons, semi-colons, etc. No, I am not joking. Some publishers are okay with creative punctuation, some are not. You can use them, but it’s best if you know how to say the same thing without them, because you may be asked to revise them out of your prose.
– No first person POV. This was popular a decade ago—not so much right now.
– Dialogue tags should be few and boring. “He said,” “she said,” is the best way to go. Anything creative gets flagged by editors. Even better is to skip them entirely and let your character’s actions stand in for the dialogue tag. ““Are you sure?” Emily scratched her forehead, puzzled.”
– Avoid passive voice when possible. (Passive voice was avoided by all. LOL, I couldn’t resist.)
– Avoid filter words (He felt his whole body seize up with fear. VS Terror rushed through him.)
– Use past tense; it’s easiest for readers to absorb. When was the last time you read a book in present tense?
– Don’t repeat the same words over and over and over. Use your word processor to find your bad habits.
– Keep your chapters around 5000 words or less. In the era of twitter, readers get fatigued much easier. Also, ain’t nobody got time for that (reading). It’s easier to put a book down and pick it back up again if your chapters are tight.
– Do NOT kill off your main character in a sequel. Many publishers have contracts which explicitly forbid this. I know what you’re thinking: so-and-so did this and she is very much still arguing in interviews that it was the right thing to do, but honestly, have you seen the fan-rage all over the internet about it? Have you seen the scathing reviews of her third novel? Personally, I would not want to face that. I would like to keep writing more books.
– Know in which genre you are writing, for what audience. Do not end a romance tragically (that is technically a horror novel). Romance novels must have a happily ever after ending. Horror novels usually contain gore. A female romance reader (30-60ish) will probably not enjoy a romance novel where the hero dies at the end. On the other hand, if she’s reading a memoir, a dead hero would be okay, as long as the narrative shows how the main character survived the death. In suspense and mystery: kill off everyone you want except for your main character. In fact, I’m having a hard time trying to think of a genre where it’s okay to kill your main character… maybe literary fiction? Hmm.

10. Social media: do have a website, Facebook account, Twitter handle, etc. The flip side is DO NOT EVER ENGAGE TROLLS. Do not respond to reviews (good or bad, but especially bad). Do not argue with readers. NO NO NO. And DO NOT EVER buy a good review on your own book, post a good review on your own book, or take pics of your junk and post it on the interwebz. Just… no.

Also, do not let your relatives post nasty commentary on other writer’s sites/reviews/etc. If your significant other starts ranting about your competitor’s ugly face on his/her book reviews or websites or twitter, you’re going to regret not stopping that disaster before it turns into the SHITSTORM that ATE YOUR CAREER.

11. Contracts: read them carefully. Do NOT EVER sign away your copyright.

12. Do not plagiarize. Ever. Never ever. The internet peeps will ALWAYS FIND OUT and you will go down in flames while we all snicker at you for not being able to write your own stuff. Also, it’s just not cool.

13. Do promo (advertising, word-of-mouth, etc.). Don’t spend too much money on it. Post your book info to your website, twitter, etc. Buy some small ads ($5-$50). I’ve done everything from free promo to buying ads that cost $400. After several years, my data suggests that luck is more important than throwing money at the promo problem. Writing in a popular genre is also helpful. I sold more of my first book, for which I did no promo, than any of my other books. Why? Because it happened to be in a category in the romance genre that people like to buy.

Also, realize that doing promo SUCKS BIG TIME if you are an introvert (like so many writers are). I hate doing promo. I love being alone and daydreaming. Promo is the OPPOSITE of that. I really don’t want to talk about how awesome my book is. I want a reader to buy it and love it and then post a review online about how awesome my book is so I don’t have to talk about how awesome it is. I’d rather be home alone. Daydreaming. Or writing my next book.

14. Money stuff – here are some rough guidelines:

Do not expect an advance. From small publishers, it’s rare. From big NY publishers, advances are becoming increasingly smaller and are sometimes nonexistent these days as they begin to change their contracts to reflect the digital market. Royalties in the small ebook publishing market can be anywhere from 30-55% of the net price of a digital or print-on-demand book (gross minus the % taken by distributors). Some print royalties are still only 6% of the net (the traditional figure before all this e-reader craziness hit the market). If you get an advance, remember that you will not receive royalties until the sales make up the difference for your publisher (depending on your contract).

Expect to get paid on time, every three months, from your publisher. Expect royalties from third-party distributors to arrive six months after your book is published. If this doesn’t happen, jump ship (if your contract allows it).

15. You must pay taxes on your royalties. You are self-employed.

16. Run away from publishers that expect you to pay THEM for editing and cover art or if they expect you to do those things yourself (In the commercial fiction world of novel-writing. In the poetry world, well, all bets are off).

17. You will receive no real-time data about book sales. Unless you self-publish (and even then it’s an iffy thing), you will have no idea how many books you are selling. The only way to tell is via book rankings on third-party sites and since they tend to change their algorithms every few months (yes, Amazon plays god with the market), you can’t really rely on those figures either. The only time you know what you’ve actually sold is when you get your royalty statement.

Some big publishers are changing this for their authors, but most of the time it’s like using a ouija board to figure out what you’re selling: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/20/business/media/authors-to-get-sales-data-from-three-big-publishers.html

(This makes promotion nearly impossible, which makes me cry. Sometimes I slam doors. Depends on the day.)

18. If you publish a book, especially in a popular genre, people will download it off the internet and give it away for free. Yes, this is illegal in most of the world. No, there’s not much you can do about it. What are your options?

– You can send a DMCA takedown notice (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Millennium_Copyright_Act). Most sites ignore those.
– You can ask Google to take down the page that has the pirated link to your book. This is of limited value since most people who pirate books don’t need Google to find the files. (https://support.google.com/legal/troubleshooter/1114905?hl=en)
– You can use a service like Muso (http://www.muso.com/anti-piracy/) to send DMCAs for you. This is not free.

19. Word count: I tend to keep most of my novels around the 50-60,000 word length. I also write novellas which can be anywhere from 18,000 to 30,000. Why? Because most of my publishers set the price for novels based on length. Most readers will not buy a book that is over $5-6 dollars. The moment you go over 60,000 words, the price goes up and no one will buy the novel (unless you’re Justin Bieber), OR the publisher sets the price of their novels to cap at $6. Writing more words means you’ve done far more work than you need to for the amount of money you will get back in royalties.

Expect your readers to complain about how short your novel is, especially if it’s shorter than 60,000 words. Most of the time it’s because they liked it and they’re sad it’s over, but sometimes they’re pissed because they believe they’ve been ripped off. I empathize with the readers because I am a reader, too.

20. If you’re writing romance, use a female pen name. If you’re writing suspense, sci-fi, or mystery, use a male pen name. I know male romance writers and female suspense writers, and they use different pen names for different genres. The market says that only dudes are good at sci-fi and only women are good at romance. It’s sexist and stupid, but it’s reality (with a few exceptions).

21. Why listen to me? I’ve been a working writer in different capacities for many years. I’ve done technical writing (for big and small companies), proofreading, editing (textbooks, poetry, etc.). In the past three and a half years, I’ve written and sold twenty-two novels under various pen names in various genres. Oh, and I’ve also written four poetry chapbooks. I am not a best-seller (in the Elizabeth Gilbert meaning of the word), but I’ve sold okay. I am not famous. I am not rich. I am what people used to call a mid-(okay low)-list writer. I also don’t know everything, not by a long shot. I still feel like a beginner writer (and compared to some authors, I am very much still a beginner).

Despite all the crapola that goes along with writing, I can’t seem to give it up. If you can’t either, GOOD LUCK and welcome to the club!

Who Saw the Deep – coming November 2013 from Evernight!

I can finally announce the fabulous news I’ve been sitting on for a few days now (all the better to savor it): I’ve signed a contract with Evernight Publishing for my sci-fi/mystery/romance novel, Who Saw the Deep! It will be coming out in November 2013.

This is the book that made it all the way to the semi-finals in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. I know some of you were really wishing they could read the rest of the book after reading the sample posted on Amazon last year—and in little more than a month you will be able to see what happens to Noah and Amelia.

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Who Saw the Deep — coming November 2013!

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Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Semifinalist — April 2012

  • Romance, Suspense, Paranormal, Sci-Fi, Mystery
  • Word Count: 53,900
  • Heat Level 1
  • Published By: Evernight Publishing

Description:

When Noah moves back home after grad school, he doesn’t expect a simple handyman job to turn deadly. Amelia seems like a sweet old lady with a run-down house, but appearances can be deceptive. When an alien ship lands in her woods, Noah discovers that everything he believed about Earth and human civilization is wrong.

Amelia already gave her heart to one man—does she really want to let another one inside? Even though Noah is everything she ever wanted, can she really trust him? He seems like a good person, but her family’s genetic legacy is more important than romance.

When all their secrets are laid bare, Noah and Amelia discover that the survival of their species may be more dependent on love than either could have imagined. Civilization endures because of anonymous acts executed by ordinary individuals. And love, especially in the face of betrayal, is worth everything.

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What are people saying about Who Saw the Deep?

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Semifinalist — April 2012:

This novel is well written, original, and clever. Noah Heath has just completed his doctorate in computer science and his father suggests he give himself a break and help a local senior citizen with some handyman chores. Amelia is a woman that Jaime Heath has known since childhood. On Noah’s first day of work, he notices a flash in the sky, a silver needle, but Amelia denies seeing it. Even so, he hears her call her daughter, Leah, saying,”it’s happening again.” When he returns home, his father starts telling him about the family “artifacts,” a few chunks of old metal. Noah starts to question, and more importantly, believe his father and Amelia’s tales of centuries old invasion and the part their forebears played in it. That the power of computers is limited only by our imaginations makes the tale convincing; the lack of little green men and the highly plausible abilities of the villains make it wonderful reading. It’s a pity to classify this book as science fiction; it reads more like the ancient myths, or even fairy tales. The author really knows his characters and uses them beautifully. Perhaps he’s had centuries to develop them.

~Publishers Weekly Review

The pitch is wonderful and engrossing. The belief “That civilization endures because of anonymous acts executed by ordinary individuals.”, holds more truth than most realize. There are hints of foreshadowing inserted in the narrative, hinting of what might occur. This helps bring a reader into the story and want to continue to turn the pages. The author does a credible job in describing how the characters act and what they are thinking. That along with the foreshadowing creates interest and a connection with the persons being described and the storyline. The reader has a chance, in many instances, to interpret what the individuals are feeling, instead of being told directly. The plot flows well, moving from the beginning and then into Noah’s house with his father. The expectation of what might happen builds from the beginning and makes a reader want to continue on.

~ ABNA Expert Reviewer – Amazon.com

Music and Noveling: the (not so) hidden secrets of writerly rituals

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Many writers, when asked, claim that they listen to music while writing.

“It puts me in the right frame of mind,” one will say. “I use it to keep myself motivated,” another insists.

Some people start off their novels with some easy listening: a few delicious love songs, maybe the latest pop ear-candy tune. Others begin with death metal… they’re writing a horror and really, you can’t drop into that kind of narrative riding the waves of elevator musak, right?

I am not one of those writers.

I can’t listen to music at all while writing. It distracts me. I can’t handle the gobs of words heading for my auditory sensors—not and type coherent sentences. However, that doesn’t mean music has no influence on me at all. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Music is an incredibly useful tool when it comes to writing: it’s inspiration, motivation, relaxation, and illumination all rolled together into one nifty package. During the writing of Disintegrate, just before I put fingers to keyboard, I played a song that best expressed the atmosphere of the chapter I was working on. As a result, I have a fantabulous mix of music for the entire book.

Curious? Here is the list—there’s a song for every chapter:

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Chapter One: Sit Down, Stand Up (Snakes & Ladders) by Radiohead
Chapter Two: The Time Is Now by Moloko
Chapter Three: Caught a Long Wind by Feist
Chapter Four: Little by Little by Radiohead
Chapter Five: Driven to Tears by Sting
Chapter Six: Runaway Train by Brandon Boyd
Chapter Seven: Trap Doors by Broken Bells
Chapter Eight: Don’t Blow It by Cliff Martinez
Chapter Nine: Sad by Maroon 5
Chapter Ten: Love Come by Sarah McLachlan
Chapter Eleven: Breathe Again by Sara Bareilles
Chapter Twelve: I Need to Know by Kris Allen
Chapter Thirteen: Somebody That I Used to Know by Gotye
Chapter Fourteen: Trespassing by Adam Lambert
Chapter Fifteen: Closing In by Imogen Heap
Chapter Sixteen: The End of the Game by Sting
Epilogue: Lights by Ellie Goulding

Disintegrate releasing April 19, 2013! – read an excerpt

My release date is official: April 19, 2013!

This is a lot sooner than I expected, but I’m thrilled. I’m sure I’ll have a cover reveal coming soon, but in the meantime, would you like to read an excerpt? If so, scroll down…

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Disintegrate, releasing April 19, 2013!

  • Young Adult, Paranormal, Suspense
  • Word Count: 51,000
  • Published By: Evernight Teen

Description:

Emily just wanted a normal life: a boyfriend, college, two parents who loved her. Instead, her dad disappeared when she was fourteen and her life at college is anything but ordinary.

When you can manipulate matter like putty and you have no idea why, how do you pretend to be like everyone else? What happens when you meet a guy who has the same powers? Do you trust him to help you find the answers you need?

Emily desperately wants to believe that Jax can help, but the stakes grow higher than she’d ever expected: someone is after them and they’re not afraid to use violence to get what they want.

Excerpt:

“I … think you’ve got the wrong impression of the two of us,” she mumbled. “We’re just friends.” And that’s all we’ll ever be, Emily told herself.

The woman shook her head. “No. I don’t think I do.” She wiped at the bar, nodding once as though making up her mind. “He’s a good kid.” She moved off, pouring a beer as she made her way down to the other end of the bar.

Emily blinked, confused by the bartender’s confidence. Jax sang on, oblivious to the conversation they were having about him only a few feet away.

And then the wall by the door exploded.

Emily froze for a split second while the bartender looked stupidly at the mess, then rushed for the stage, shoving through the few people beginning to realize something was very, very wrong. Jax hadn’t reacted and her first instinct was to get him to safety. She knew they were there for her, and she also knew they wouldn’t hesitate to destroy anyone near her in an effort to get to her. The best thing to do was get out.

Heart pounding, she grabbed him by the sleeve and dragged him down and off the stage. His guitar strap broke and the instrument hit the floor with a harsh twang. She winced, knowing it was his dad’s guitar, and important to Jax, but she didn’t stop. She couldn’t afford to do anything about it. Her skin was jumping and buzzing and she yanked—

Jax fell over her, hands raised, and Emily chanced a look back. There were three of them, huge and intent. Their faces were covered. One had a shotgun, oh God…

“Get down!” Jax yelled, shoving her over.

She ignored him, pulling until he had no choice but to follow. It was that or step on her. He still had his hands up. Something went boom—the gun, she thought—and then the staccato crunch of wood splintering around her bled through her panic. She shoved Jax ahead of her, hard. The door behind the stage hung ajar, and she stumbled for it, skin prickling as static arced around her fingers.

“Get back!” she panted, and Jax tripped. She tried to pull him up, but his muscular frame was too much for her thin frame. “Jax, you’ve gotta get up.”

He stared at her from the floor, dazed. A trickle of blood ran from a cut near his eye.

Was he hit? “Jax, get up!” she hissed.

Finally, he shoved off from the floor and staggered to his feet, falling against her. Not shot then, she thought, relieved. He wouldn’t be standing if he’d been seriously injured.

She tugged him down the dark hallway. When she looked back, she couldn’t believe they hadn’t been followed. Or at least not yet. Swallowing hard, she grabbed his hand, ignoring the electric tingle of his skin, and dragged him into the wall. He oofed as his head hit the paneling, but she had no time to worry about it. She pressed her fingers to the dirty surface and pushed, concentrating on dissolving the bonds of matter in her body and his. It wasn’t easy. She had to sort of push her energy into it, harder than she’d ever had to before. It felt a little like juggling upside down. She needed to hang onto him and release everything else, simultaneously. She had to keep his hand solid in hers while phasing their bodies out. For a moment, she thought she would fail or go mad, and then something clicked—

Thank God.

—her hands sank into the wall. She shuddered, hating the sticky feel of molecules sliding into her like this. One finger, one hand, no problem, but her entire body? That was creepy and weird. What she was doing wasn’t natural. Humans weren’t supposed to be able to shove pieces of themselves into pieces of other stuff, and here she was trying to shove her entire body, and Jax’s too, into the filthy inside of a bar wall. She almost sobbed … it was taking too long, they were coming—

—and then Jax’s fingers tightened around hers and it felt like electricity shooting into her bones. He gasped and then they fell into the wall together, their matter pressed into and within the wood and concrete and insulation.

Nausea rose. She fought it down. No time for that, she snarled to herself. No damn space for barfing. She gripped Jax’s hand, trying to keep still and quiet and think while also somehow conveying to him the need for calm. He could freak out later.

And he would, she knew. They were completely hidden, existing half in reality and half in the shadowy space between atoms that she’d been able to manipulate since forever. He would want to know how she did it. He would want do know why she’d dragged him into this.

A short, sharp boom echoed weirdly through her. They’d made it to the hall, though she couldn’t see them. She couldn’t see anything. Her eyes didn’t work inside the wall. Jax’s iron-willed calm filtered slowly through her veins, as if she could feel his emotions. God, this was completely horrible, she thought, willing the men to just go away. She needed to run—

—and then there was silence. She didn’t know how long it had been quiet, but Jax was pulling at her. She forced herself to think move and let go and enough and she stepped forward and out—

—and they fell into the hall, coughing. She stifled a gag, her right hand burning from the rough flooring. She’d just caught herself before her head hit the opposite wall.

“Jesus, what—” Jax choked, turning to her. He wouldn’t let go of her hand.

“We need to see if they’re gone,” she managed, rubbing her face on her shoulder. Her knees hurt. She felt filthy, as if she’d ingested the dirt that penetrated every portion of the wall.

Jax leaned down and put his free hand flat on the floor. He closed his eyes.

Emily stared. What was he doing?

A second later he shook his head. “Everyone is gone.” He grimaced. “Or dead.”

“How—” she began to ask, but then the skin on her hand prickled, the one he still held. Jax looked at her arm. She looked at his palm. Tiny sparks arced between them, silver stars that made no sense.