COVER REVEAL: Bitter End (Jill Andersen #6)

Here it is!

The cover to Bitter End (Jill Andersen #6), courtesy of the awesomesauce Sarah Anderson.

Book blurb and release date will be made available in the coming weeks.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

April 2022: Month in Review

An end-of-the-month look back at the last 30 days.

Another short post, because I have once again underestimated my own energy levels. Specifically, how I spend April recovering from March.

So, About Those Book Reviews…
They’re finally here!

In this installment, I review Echoes of Blood by Halo Scot, A Dangerous Game by Madeline Dyer, and Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen. I really enjoyed all three books for various reasons; read why here.

Speaking of Ace

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Remember?
That post I mentioned in the March month-in-review, that I had submitted to Writers’ Blokke on Medium and it was just sitting there? I submitted it to the ILLUMINATION page instead, and it posted! Check out The Theory of Creativity.

I Like Indie Books and I Cannot Lie
Since people like lists so much, I made one of my own: my favorite indie books.

Because indie books are cool. Indie authors are really cool, and the more we support them, the more really cool books these really cool people (full disclosure: myself included) will write.

Work, Work, Work…Day After Day…
Like most writers, I have a main source of income outside of my books. Yes, the dreaded “day job.” Does said day job actually help my writing, though?

It can. But not always.

It’s…complicated. Read why here.

I Was Told This Would Get Easier
Most things get easier the more often you do them. Writing? Not so much.

*Insert Stevie Wonder Singing Happy Birthday Here*
April 14 marked the two-year anniversary of Betrayal‘s release. That’s right, the fifth installment in the Jill Andersen series launched right as we were in the first throes of COVID-19. Worst timing ever aside, it was a successful launch.

Check out Betrayal here.

You Like Free Stuff, Don’t You?
Have you subscribed to my newsletter yet?

No?

Did you know that if you do, you’ll receive a free novella? Specifically, the Bounty prequel Boundless?

My Favorite Indie Books

With Indie April now upon us, what better time to re-visit this Medium post from February?

Anyone who’s followed me for any length of time knows I’m a strong supporter of self- and independently-published authors.

Not just because I’m self-published myself, but because so many of my favorite books over the past several years have come from indie authors. Fighting back against the stigma indie books face means shouting from the proverbial rooftops about the books we love, so consider this my bullhorn.

NOTE: Where appropriate, I use a slot for an entire series; that way, entries from that series don’t overwhelm the list.

The Judah Black series by E.A. Copen
(Guilty by AssociationBlood DebtChasing GhostsPlaying with Fire)
I’m a sucker for female protagonists, particularly those who are in jobs where one would traditionally expect to see a man. Enter Judah Black, federal investigator who specializes in the paranormal. Oh, and she’s a single mom. This is a police procedural with werewolves and other such creatures, but whatever you think you know about the genre, there’s more character depth than you might expect. The monsters and the lore are just a backdrop; the real story is Judah and how she balances being a single mother with forging a relationship and dealing with the realities of her job (and I don’t just mean the monsters). Copen is quite the prolific writer (I think she published two more books while I was typing this), and I hope she returns to this series one day.

Floor 21 (series) by Jason Luthor
(Floor 21Floor 21: DescentFloor 21: Judgement)
I’ll admit horror isn’t normally my cup of tea, but this post-apocalyptic first-person trilogy was certainly an exception. Told, at least in part, through a series of audio recordings in a building that’s long been abandoned, but not really, Floor 21 is every bit as intense as it is gruesome. The violence comes in short bursts, and the true horror is developed in the quiet moments, when you realize how the characters got to where they are and how, at least on the surface, everything seems so damn hopeless. It’s not the fear of the monsters right in front of you, it’s the ones lurking around in the dark, in the inaccessible lower floors. What you can’t see is far more dangerous than what you can, and this is a trio of books you’ll be reading with the light on.

Untamed (series) by Madeline Dyer
(UntamedFragmentedDividedDestroyed)
More intimate in scope than most other dystopian novels, Dyer’s Untamed series rightly shifts the focus from the macro storyline (end of the world, possible human conversion that erases all negative human emotion) and puts it instead on the small ragtag gang of characters facing seemingly impossible odds. The series gets darker and more intense with each passing installment, but the focus on Seven and those closest to her never wavers. Most authors would fall into the trap of world-building at the expense of everything else, but Dyer never does — and the result is a quartet of books that never grows stale, never slows down, never relents.

Starstruck (series) by S.E. Anderson
(StarstruckAlienationTravelerCelestialStarboundEarthstuckInalieableDreadknot)
I’ve made it known several times that I think sci-fi as a genre takes itself far too seriously. There’s a place for the grim and the apocalyptic, no doubt, but sometimes, sci-fi needs to be goofy. Laugh-out-loud funny. It’s possible to be intense and action-packed and still bring in the laughs. Enter Anderson’s Starstruck series (which, as of Feb. 22’s release of Dreadknot, is eight books deep). Very much in the vein of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this series gives us something different each book. One’s a murder mystery, another’s a time-hopping adventure, the next is a coming-of-age…Sally is very much out of her element in each installment, and the result is a slapstick and adventurous romp through the galaxy, one I think every sci-fi fan would do well to have on their shelf.

Dangerous Ways by R.R. Virdi
As vibrant and evocative and intense as many of the dimensions its characters inhabit, Dangerous Ways does for high fantasy what Virdi’s Grave Report series does for street-level thrillers. Virdi writes with a free-flowing, quick-witted first-person style that makes the pages fly by, so a book as large as Dangerous Ways doesn’t feel all that large. It’s not just a fantastic exercise in world-building, it’s also the perfect example of how vibrant, memorable characters can elevate a narrative. Mainstays Hawthorne and Cassidy are a delight on their own, but the supporting cast they encounter through several different worlds makes this book feel like a world all its own.

Aix Marks the Spot by S.E. Anderson
One author claims two spots on this list, and Aix Marks the Spot is every bit as worthy of its inclusion — even if it’s night and day from Anderson’s flagship series. This book is emotional and charming and funny and heartfelt in ways big and small. This is mostly a light read, a love letter to Provence, France, but there is a dark undercurrent throughout — one that in the hands of a less capable author could come across as forced or unnecessary. Anderson is at her best here, weaving a personal tale with luminary prose. The coming-of-age story isn’t my first choice — unless there’s superheroes or magic involved — but Aix Marks the Spot is the exception, and it’s one of the more surprisingly emotional books I’ve read.

A Country of Eternal Light by Darby Harn
This book is a masterpiece. It’s crushing and deflating and grim and it will gut you seemingly every other chapter — but it’s also the perfect encapsulation of the stubbornness of the human condition, and you’ll find yourself unable to put the book down. A Country of Eternal Light is spec fic that doesn’t feel like spec fic. It feels more like an exhaustive, raw study of the human condition — constantly asking the question “Why?” Why do humans keep pushing forward, even when things seem completely hopeless? Why keep going when there’s no longer any point? Harn’s focus on the people, not the disaster, makes for a book that’s impossible to put down.

Edge of the Breach by Halo Scot
A gripping, disturbing read that is as enthralling as it is uncomfortable, Scot’s series debut follows Rune and Kyder, who are more or less opposite sides of the same coin in a post-apocalyptic world where freedom and power are often illusions. It’s dystopian spec fic that focuses on the two protagonists and their relationships (…such that they are, in Kyder’s case), and Scot showcases a deft pen while taking us along on a tale of violence, debauchery, heartbreak, rage, and pushing forward no matter how bleak things get. Because things are bleak. But Scot is a capable enough writer to not only handle it, but make it impossible to turn away. There are three other entries in the series (and on my TBR), and I don’t see how they won’t be every bit as engrossing (or just gross) as the original.

March 2022: Month in Review

An end-of-the-month look back at the last 30 days.

This might be a short post, because March is, by far, my day job’s busiest month. And I always overestimate my ability to do book stuff while also juggling the madness.

The only dance I know how to do.

Where’s the Beef?
No book reviews this month, because with the aforementioned March Being A Thing, I didn’t finish any of the books I’m reading. But I am in the process of reading Echoes of Blood by Halo Scot, Dreadknot by S.E. Anderson, and A Dangerous Game by Madeline Dyer. All are potential five-star reads.

End of an Era?
Don’t tell 20-year-old me, but I am giving serious thought to giving up video games and selling off my collection. I barely play anymore, and the industry has devolved to the point where none of the new machines or games interest me (even games like Gran Turismo 7, and I’m a lifelong GT junkie!). Spare time is precious to me anymore, and I find myself devoting less and less of it to gaming (and when I do game, it’s almost always the older stuff).

Ad Time
I tried another Facebook ad for Notna in March, since Facebook gifted me a $50 credit for a boosted post. I tried the same post I did back in January, but this time, I changed the Buffy comparison to Supernatural (to test my theory) and ran the ad for nearly two weeks (March 6-21), targeted a strictly US audience, and added target filters to include fans of adventure fiction, fantasy books, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Supernatural.

In all, I reached 4,135 people and got 60 clicks (both increases over the first Facebook ad). The mobile app news feed and suggested videos feed gave me the bulk of my clicks, and almost 70% of my reach was men (…why, I have no idea). Texas and California were the states where I had the most reach, and the effect on sales was…negligible.

So, it’s looking like, while Facebook ads are great for getting eyeballs on my FB page, it doesn’t really do much sales-wise.

Your Mileage May Vary
Are books on writing worth the paper on which they’re printed? For the most part, I say no. Feel free to agree. Or disagree. But don’t use any adverbs, or Stephen King will come after you.

Where Are the Haters?
I was convinced this article would lose me followers, but it seems to have just been…largely ignored. On Medium, I wrote about why I write about the police in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Yes, There’s a Difference
I recently wrote about the difference between inspiration and motivation. Yes, those are two completely different things, and they are often mutually exclusive from one another. It’s one of the more maddening aspects of being an author.

Is This Thing On?
I had written another essay for Medium, one where I examine creativity in a theoretical sense, and submitted it to the Writers’ Blokke publication. But…it’s still there. I know they’ve said they’re swamped with content over there, but this is by far the longest it’s taken one of my essays to get posted. Shame, too, because I was really proud of this one.

From the ‘Out of Your Comfort Zone’ Department:
I’ve written a children’s book. You can’t buy it, but you can read about what I learned through the experience.

You Like Free Stuff, Don’t You?
Have you subscribed to my newsletter yet?

No?

Did you know that if you do, you’ll receive a free novella? Specifically, the Bounty prequel Boundless?

2022 Writing Snippet #5

A periodic look at some of the passages and lines I’m most proud of. For this one, a passage from the forthcoming Bitter End (Jill Andersen #6). Pretty proud of this character moment for Det. Stevens.

Earl Stevens couldn’t remember the last time he was this angry.

Maybe when he was a linebacker at Nebraska and had been called for a facemask penalty that cost his team a spot in the Big 12 championship game (well before that nonsensical decision to join the Big Ten). It had been third-and-long late in the fourth quarter, with the Cornhuskers leading by two. He had sniffed out a slant route and tackled the receiver two yards shy of the first down — but his fingers had gotten tangled in the other player’s helmet, and he had twisted his head just so to give the refs the visual of the ball carrier’s head yanking to the side.

Whistle.

Yellow flag.

Fifteen yards and an automatic first down.

Seconds later, the football sailed through the uprights and Nebraska’s hopes for a national championship were done.

That night was the only time Stevens had ever felt the need to hit someone outside the confines of the gridiron. It hadn’t been his proudest moment, even as he did and said all the right things in the immediate aftermath. But merely thinking of lashing out against the referee had embarrassed Stevens, even though no one else ever knew what had been in his head. He had carried that memory throughout his law enforcement career, using it to keep him calm when dealing with uncooperative suspects or departmental red tape.

But right now? There was a dead body in a hospital within his precinct’s jurisdiction, and someone with the FBI wasn’t letting him by.

The FBI was keeping Earl Stevens from doing his job.

That was unacceptable. He didn’t care if federal law enforcement was around. He didn’t care if the body in question was an FBI agent, as was rumored. Stevens was a homicide detective, and the burly agent standing in front of the hospital room in question was not letting him through to do what he did best. He wondered how many years he would get if he simply drove the guy to the floor. His knees were shot, but Stevens figured he had one more tackle left in him.

What was that song Juanita said reminded her of Stevens? I ain’t as good as I once was…

“See this, hoss?” Stevens smacked his lips and waved his badge in the FBI agent’s face. Again. “This means I get to go in that room and poke the dead body.”

The agent, whose own badge read Bryant, stood motionless. Bulging eyes were hidden by black sunglasses, and his upper lip curled into a sneer. His shoulders lifted, then fell, and he stretched out his hands, fingers interlocked, until knuckles cracked in unison. “See this?” he asked, smacking his large thumb against the badge protruding from his breast pocket. “This means I’m FBI, which means I outrank you.”

“Yeah, but see…” Ramon Gutierrez seemed to appear out of nowhere, placing a gloved hand on Stevens’ shoulder before he could respond. “I’ve got one of those too, and as the lead investigator here, mine says the good detective here can poke away.”

Writing Snippet #1 | Writing Snippet #2 Writing Snippet #3 | Writing Snippet #4

February 2022: Month in Review

An end-of-the-month look back at the last…however many days it’s been.

What? Math’s not my strength.

I Review Books Because Throwing Them at People is Frowned Upon
My second batch of book reviews for 2022 highlights a fantastic yet disturbing entry from Halo Scot, an entertaining, if forgettable, read from V.E. Schwab, and a re-read of one of the new Stephen King books I’ve read.

Progress! I’m Making Actual Progress!
Hey! I’m doing the writing thing again! No, really. I sent one of my manuscripts to an editor and hired a cover artist and everything. Plus, the other stuff I’m working on. Read about them here (warning: lesbians and assassins and lesbian assassins await).

Nikki Heat? That’s a Stripper Name!
From the “never underestimate the motivational power of spite” files, I detail how the television show Castle gave me the final push I needed to become a published author. And it’s not the way you might think.

There’s a Country Song in Here Somewhere
Last week, I re-posted an older essay I had written for Medium, in which I detailed the five things I wish I had known when I started this indie author journey. I’m glad I know these things now, but they would’ve saved me a lot of grief back then.

Remembering Kobe
Yes, I know this was posted in January. It still counts, and the message still resonates. Even for this decidedly unathletic author who has all the basketball skills of a sea urchin.

To Apologize or Not to Apologize?

Wares for Sale
I didn’t do any real heavy promotional work in February. Partly to study what I did in January and partly because the main focus was getting the manuscript for Bitter End (Jill Andersen #6) ready to be sent off. I’ll pick things up again in March.

Come On, Don’t You Guys Read? Redux
I pledged to read 35 books in 2022, and while I haven’t finished any books yet in February (how can a month with only 28 days be so freaking long?!), I am currently invested in two books:

Echoes of Blood by Halo Scot
A Dangerous Game by Madeline Dyer

Fresh Off the Press!
Congratulations to two of my author friends who had new releases in February: Halo Scot with the sci-fi/superhero novella The Heartbeat of a Million Dreams and S.E. Anderson with Dreadknot, the eighth entry in her hilarious Starstruck sci-fi series. I highly recommend picking up these new releases.

You Like Free Stuff, Don’t You?
Have you subscribed to my newsletter yet?

No?

Did you know that if you do, you’ll receive a free novella? Specifically, the Bounty prequel Boundless?

I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now

NOTE: This piece originally published on Medium’s Writers’ Blokke.

It’s been quite the journey since Bounty went live on Amazon in 2015.

I call it a journey because of how much I’ve learned in the six years I’ve been able to add the word published in front of author. Not just about the craft of writing, of storytelling itself, but the ins and outs of publishing. Self-publishing, to be specific.

See, the stereotype among the “self-publishing is bad” crowd is that we crank out any old dribble we please and upload it to Amazon without any care for spelling, grammar, or human decency. Nothing could be further from the truth, as we self- and independently-published authors put plenty of time, effort, and work into our stories far beyond the words on the page.

That said, I made a lot of mistakes early on. Chances are, I’m still making mistakes today. Truth is, being a self-published author is a never-ending exercise in learning. We hone our craft, we study market trends, we discover why even the prettiest cover might not work for our book and why the most expensive editor might be the worst one to read your manuscript.

So here are five lessons I’ve learned in the process of publishing six full-length novels, a collection of short stories, a non-fiction book, and submitting three short stories that wound up in published anthologies. Five things I wish I knew before I even started.

These seem obvious in hindsight, but…

You need to market your book before it’s published.

Remember what I said above about some things seeming obvious?

Yeah, well, I published Bounty with no announcement. No fanfare. No website. No social media posts. Nothing. I was on Twitter and Facebook at the time, but those weren’t outlets to plug my writing. I was just a rando with an @. I published Bounty on a whim, mostly to prove to myself I could do it…then I sat there wondering why no one was flocking to Amazon to grab their copy.

(Spoiler alert: it was largely because no one knew about it.)

This has obviously gotten better and easier as I’ve published more books and built up a fanbase of sorts (comparatively meager, though it may be), but it’s not as simple as “if you write it, they will come.” They will only come if they know about it, and hitting Publish in the dark of night and then going to bed isn’t gonna get the word out.

In hindsight, the website and social media should’ve come first. I should’ve set up my newsletter first. I should’ve worked out a marketing strategy of sorts to drum up interest for Bounty before it went live — rather than put it up for sale and try to play catch-up afterward. It wouldn’t have guaranteed anything, but my brand as an author would’ve been stronger if I’d put in the effort to build it beforehand.

Artistic purists won’t like to hear this, but the brand is just as important as the art. It needs just as much attention, if not more at times.

Do not neglect your cover. Repeat: Do NOT neglect your cover!

That old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” sounds great in theory, but in practice, everyone judges books by their covers. Even those of us who say we don’t…we actually do.

Part of the rush job I mentioned above in publishing Bounty included a last-second, thrown-together cover that looked terrible, gave no clue as to what kind of book I’d written, and no one could tell what the image on the cover actually was (and that image will never again see the light of day). My sales reflected this reality because, frankly, I didn’t know any better until I started talking to other self-published authors.

Personal photo from 2018 Tidewater Comicon — These covers looked good, but they weren’t right for my series.

Bounty has gone through three covers, because it took me entirely too long to realize that looking good isn’t enough. The cover has to also say something about what’s on the pages inside, and if you’re writing a series, then each cover has to be consistent enough visually that readers can tell it’s one of yours with just a glance.

Mine didn’t get right until I hired a cover artist who’s also a fan of the series. Sarah Anderson knows what makes my books tic, and she’s a great cover artist to begin with, so it’s a partnership I should’ve struck way sooner than I did.

Like it or not, the cover can make or break your book.

In marketing your book, less sometimes means more.

It can be tempting to shout your Amazon link to the world 15 times a day, every day, for an entire calendar year. Sometimes, it might even feel like that’s what you have to do. But that’s not necessarily true, especially on social media. In fact, social media users (and the ever-nebulous algorithms) detest that sort of thing; Twitter will actually suppress tweets that include links (this isn’t because the little blue bird hates you — it’s likely an attempt to get you to use Twitter’s [paid] advertising service).

Fact is, social media posts actively selling your work only work a small fraction of the time. The bulk of my success, marketing-wise, has come from 1) newsletters (mine and in paying newsletter services to have my work added to their content), 2) actually connecting with potential readers beyond simply plugging my book, and 3) creating more content (i.e., writing more books…keep this one in mind for later).

Endless hashtags won’t sell books. Endlessly posting your link in #writerslift threads might actually hurt your engagements. Even those who follow you because they like your books won’t want to see you hawking your wares 24/7.

Make sure you’re still presenting yourself as a person, not just someone desperate for a sale (even if you are, in fact, desperate for a sale).

Immerse yourself in the indie author community.

There are several reasons to do this. First and foremost, the vast majority of indie authors are kickass people, and who wouldn’t want to surround themselves with kickass people? You’ll also likely find a treasure trove of great books to read on top of all that. What’s not to like?!

Don’t expect all these other authors to buy your work, though. Some will, and some might become huge fans of yours, but consider anything like that a bonus.

Note the key word above: community.

Indie authors don’t have large publishing houses supporting us; most of what we do is all on our own. That can be great in many ways, but it can also be a pain. An expensive pain. Immersing yourself in the indie community can help with that; you might find a cover artist willing to work for a discount or an editor who accepts payment plans or you might find an author you can trade services with (i.e., I’ll edit your manuscript if you do my cover art).

I offer freelance editing services for a fraction of what other editors charge for just this reason; I want to help other indie authors get their stories out in the world.

Who would know your struggles as an indie author better than other indie authors? We don’t view each other as competition, and the vast majority of us are glad to help out any way we can (even if it’s something small, like retweeting your book link).

Sometimes, your best marketing tool is to keep writing.

There’s a saying that the best way to promote your first book is to release your second. There’s a nugget of truth to that, because from what I can tell, the authors with the largest libraries tend to be some of the most popular.

Imagine you stumbled upon a book you loved. You tore through it in a day and then you went to find the author on Amazon, only to discover…what you read was all they had, and there was no sign that they were working on anything else (even worse if that book was supposed to be the start of a series).

Before publishing Betrayal in April 2020, I had gone nearly three years between releases, and I truly think that was part of my issue. I wasn’t putting out enough content at a consistent rate, and with my series in limbo because of this…

Some writers will complete several books before releasing any of them; that way, they have a backlog of content they can release at whatever interval they choose without worrying about what happens if the words suddenly dry up for no reason. Whether you do that is up to you (that’s the beauty of the indie author game), but keep in mind productivity might be your best friend from a marketing perspective.

That’s not to say you need to release something every month. But whatever schedule you choose — a new book every six months, one new release a year — try to keep that consistent, so your fans know what to expect.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but if I had known these five things before I published Bounty, I think that book launch would’ve been much more successful and I might be a better, more popular author today.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Project Updates: February 2022

Progress! Is being made! It’s a thing! Promise!

Exclamation points!

(Okay, I’ll stop. Maybe.)

Bitter End (Jill Andersen #6)
Revisions are complete, and the manuscript will shortly be in the hands of my series editor once logistics and payment are sorted out. I’ve also solicited the outstanding Sarah Anderson for the cover, so be on the lookout in the coming weeks and months for a cover reveal, a blurb, and possibly even a release date. All signs point to the longest, most intense, and violent book in this series hitting (virtual) shelves sometime in 2022. Then work will start on book 7 in the series, tentatively titled Big Apple, and the plan is to not wait two or three years before that one’s out.

Summertime, Assassins, and Other Skullduggeries
I’ve begun my third attempt at a full first draft of the closest thing I will ever write to a true love story. My 2020 NaNoWriMo project had a lot of potential, and most of the words from that go-round have survived (largely) intact, but I think I’ve found a much more streamlined way to tell this story of lesbian assassins and all the naughty things they do (maybe so streamlined that this will become a standalone novel, rather than a duology or trilogy). There may or may not also be a cover of sorts in the works, but I’m going to keep the lid on that at least until I have a completed first draft. I’m excited for this project, have been since the day it first popped into my head. Now I just have to, you know, write it.

Prelude to Hellion
This short story collection, meant to launch a brand-new series, is roughly 3/4 done (in fact, newsletter subscribers have been receiving an exclusive sneak peek into one of the stories that will be in this collection; if you want in on goodies like that, just sign up for my newsletter). The stories within will set the stage for the new series, while taking concepts from both Notna and the Jill Andersen series, and some of these stories, on top of being fun to write, will also be crucial building blocks to the world these characters–new and familiar–inhabit.

Land of the Free (Hellion #1)
The first book in a series I’m dubbing West Wing meets Supernatural began as my 2021 NaNoWriMo project, and while I fell way short of the 50,000-word goal, it’s not because I didn’t know what to write. The story is there, the characters are there, it’s simply a matter of me putting together all the puzzle pieces in a way that will satisfy those who’ve been with me from the beginning, while also enticing new readers. I’m really excited by the potential this series has, even as time is making parts of this series far more relevant than I’d like.

Y’all have no idea how great it feels to have actual progress to share. I came into 2022 with the intent of getting back on the proverbial horse, and so far, that effort is bearing fruit. Maybe not fruit that’s edible any time soon, Bitter End aside, but rest assured the words are being typed and the creative juices are flowing.

Which, after the past two years, is all I can ask for.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

2022 Writing Snippet #4

A periodic look at some of the passages and lines I’m most proud of. For this one, a passage from the forthcoming Prelude to Hellion. This is another one I get pretty chuffed over every time I read it.

“Are you two alright?”

“I…I think so.” Frances sighed and plopped herself onto Logan’s couch, which was when he saw the massive gash running along the back of her faded brown leather coat. There was no red to go with it, which was a relief, but Logan shuddered to think of all the creatures capable of that kind of cut. “Just…Dave and I were attacked across town. Found a nest of Skarlak demons and they were less that welcoming.”

“Those weren’t Skarlaks,” Dave muttered, his attention on Logan’s overstuffed bookshelf on the opposite end of the living room. It was a normal shelf, unremarkable in the fact that it was stuffed with Stephen King and James Patterson and volumes upon volumes of Marvel and DC collections.

Logan was never going to leave his real library out in the open.

“I know a fuckin’ Skarlak when I see one,” Frances snapped back. “The giant green horn on their forehead is a pretty big giveaway.”

Logan cleared his throat. “That, uh…that’s not a horn.”

Both Frances and Dave turned to stare at Logan. “What?” they said in unison.

Skarlaks don’t have horns,” Logan said, pursing his lips and choosing his words. “That…thing on their foreheads is actually their…you know…”

Logan’s eyes flicked downward; the teenagers’ gaze followed suit and their eyes widened when they realized what they were being told. Specifically, the fact that Skarlak demons were notorious for having their reproductive organs on their foreheads.

Dave went pale and he brought a hand up to his mouth. “You mean I grabbed that thing’s…?”

Logan nodded with a cringe, even as Frances buried his mouth in her hand to suppress a chuckle. She failed.

Dave swallowed hard. “Where’s your bathroom?”

The boy was gone down the hall before Logan could point the way with his bat. Frances bit back another smirk as the door slammed shut and the faint sound of retching came through the wall. “Well,” she said, “that explains why they all ganged up on him.”

Writing Snippet #1 | Writing Snippet #2 | Writing Snippet #3

Book Reviews XV

Edge of the Breach by Halo Scot

Edge of the Breach is a masterpiece.

It’s also a terribly uncomfortable read. Not because of the violence or the sex or the frank language (though there is one scene, late in the book, that prooooooobably should come with a warning); no, the discomfort comes from how much of myself I saw in both Rune and Kyder. Kyder, especially.

This book is sci-fi, arguably spec fic, but those aspects are but background elements. The true story is the shared tragedy of the two protagonists. This book is as thick with emotion as it is with the sex and the violence; the heartwrenching trajectory of Rune’s life, the helplessness with which Kyder’s true nature is revealed. They parallel in so many ways, and in just as many ways, they are diametrically opposed, and the delicate touch with which Halo Scot handles them both is remarkable.

Scot is a brilliant writer, both in terms of the words themselves and the overall narrative. Kyder is the sort of character to be reviled, to be truly despised, and yet. Rune is to be sympathized with, to be the “hero” of the tale, and yet. In the hands of a lesser writer, these characters would be absolutes, caricatures, two-dimensional archetypes.

In Scot’s hands, they are dynamic, complicated, the very heart and soul of this book.

Make no mistake: this is grimdark. Emphasis on dark. In every sense. And yet, there’s this stubbornly human persistence about the whole thing, both with Rune and Kyder and with the reader’s need to turn the page. Edge of the Breach toys ever so slightly with the “will they/won’t they” trope, and the beauty of this story is the co-leads.

If the rest of the series keeps the focus right there, I’m in for a treat. A bloody, graphic, titillating, disturbing treat.

Rating: *****

Edge of the Breach is available on Kindle and paperback.

Vicious by V.E. Schwab

V.E. Schwab’s Vicious is entertaining enough. Fast-paced and action-packed.

It’s just not all that memorable.

Which is fine, in the grand scheme of things. Not every book has to be a mind-blowing life changer. Sometimes, a story is just a story. It’s there to entertain, to liven things up for a few hours (or however long it takes you to read), and then you move on with your life. In that sense, Vicious is no different than a typical action movie.

There is a philosophical question being asked within Vicious‘s pages: are those with extraordinary powers (EOs, as the narrative calls them) an affront to nature, to God, or are they simply products of circumstance? But at some point, the argument gets lost in the plot, in Victor’s need to do away with Eli before Eli does away with…well, everyone.

Maybe the intellectual heft is there in the follow-up, Vengeful. But Vicious is an entertaining, violent, quality read. Just don’t expect to remember much about it once you’re finished.

Rating: ***1/2

Vicious is available on Kindle, hardcover, paperback, and audiobook.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (re-read)

I rarely re-read books. Who has the time?

But I do occasionally re-visit the few books on writing I can actually stand. I’ve read my share of books on writing over the years, and most of them have either bored me to death or intimidated me to the point where I no longer felt the urge to write.

But this book — the first Stephen King tome I ever read (seriously) — did neither of those things.

The opening portion of the book serves as memoir, and while it feels out of place at first, it adds to the book once the minutia of “how to” begins. I could feel myself becoming a better writer as I read this, and I’ve already seen the results in my own writing.

That’s not to say I agree with everything King says or consider his advice gospel. I don’t share his foam-at-the-mouth disdain for adverbs, for one thing. But this book is best treated as a tool; take what you can use from it, leave the rest be, and go about your writing life. Books on writing are not meant to be paint-by-numbers how-to’s.

At best, they’re guides. Fortunately, even King himself appears to realize this.

I hesitate to ever call any book on writing a “must read,” but On Writing is the closest thing to it.

Rating: ****

On Writing is available on Kindle, audiobook, hardcover, and paperback.