Sunday, July 23, 2017

SM Johnson ~ Nervous ~ Cover preview and synopsis

The New Dungeon: Nervous

Avery Phoenix

His employees call him The Dragon behind his back.
His sister calls him a secret keeper.
His personal assistant says he's lucky she didn't quit the first month, like all the others assistants.
His brother-in-law tells him to keep his kinky sex games at home.

And Julian Sparks? He's too nervous to say anything at all.

It starts when shy, nervous remote reader Julian Sparks gets called to the home office of Phoenix and Phoenix, a long-standing New York literary agency. Julian recognized a manuscript that was a diamond in the rough, and Avery wants to thank him in person. But to Julian, 'in person' meetings are more terrifying than anything else, and it gets even worse when Avery notices Julian's nails are bitten to the quick.

Julian can't believe this is his life, or that Avery Phoenix, who makes everyone else nervous, actually makes him feel calmer than he's ever felt before.

It ends when - well, does it ever have to end?

Julian thinks he's falling for Avery in a big way, but Avery has some pretty big secrets, maybe big enough to send Julian scurrying for home.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

SM Johnson ~ Excerpt: Nervous

Phoenix and Sparks

Avery Phoenix

His employees call him The Dragon behind his back.
His sister calls him a secret keeper.
His personal assistant says he's lucky she didn't quit the first month like all the others.
His brother-in-law tells him to keep his kinky sex games at home.

And Julian Sparks? He's too nervous to speak.

Excerpt from Nervous:

The next Wednesday the office door opened, and someone who wasn’t Stephanie stepped into Avery’s office.

 I froze. Avery had not tied my hands to my desk, but the ties were hanging there, and I’m sure they looked bizarre and out of place.

 “What the fuck is this, Avery?”

He was a good-looking black man in a sharp suit, and he was waving a sheet of paper. I had no idea who he was.

“What the fuck is what, E?” Avery sounded calm and reasonable, despite parroting the other’s curse words.

“It’s a request for secure entry to your office.”

“Oh,” Avery said, unruffled. “The button.”

“Yes, the fucking button. It says right here, ‘I want a button I can press to unlock my office door. And an intercom so I know who it is before I let them in.’ Are you out of your mind? We’re not millionaires, despite that art-deco monstrosity that makes up the wall behind your desk.”

“It bothers me when people come into my office uninvited.”

“Well, we don’t have anything like that in the budget. How about this: keep your kinky sex games at home, like everyone else.”

I was still frozen. But now I was shocked. Kinky sex games? I wondered if tying people up was a habit of Avery’s. A bad habit? A perversion? I decided I had to say something or I was going to be humiliated forever. Everyone in the company would know Avery had me tied to a desk in his office, like a slave or something.

“He’s s-s-stopping me from ch-chewing m-m-my fingernails.”

“Yeah? And who is he to stop you, and why should he care?”

I could feel myself going red in the face. It’s not like I hadn’t had those same thoughts, but somehow Avery got me to avoid examining them. He stopped me from thinking altogether. I had no idea how he did it, or why he bothered, and I couldn’t explain it, but the more he gave me orders, the less nervous I felt.

“E. Don’t yell at him.” Avery’s voice was a quiet chill. “This is Jules, the reader who discovered ‘This Terrible Juncture’. I’m helping him break some nervous habits he’s had all his life. Julian Sparks, meet Evan Wolters, the other Phoenix.”

That didn’t make sense at all. Evan was clearly black, and Avery was clearly white. Neither was old enough to be the father of the other. They couldn’t be brothers, could they? Maybe I was being an idiot again.

As usual, Avery seemed to read my mind. “E is my brother-in-law. My father planned to live much longer than he managed, and my sister is an actress with no interest in running Phoenix and Phoenix. Her husband, E, manages her side of things. My suggestion. Well. No. My suggestion was to take him on as a silent partner, but E sucks at being silent, and he never listens to me. I’m in charge of acquisitions, he’s in charge of the money side of things. Hence his budgetary concerns.”

“Cute, Avery,” Evan said. “Mr. Sparks is your latest acquisition, then? Pet project?”

Avery’s facial expression grew stern and somehow remote. “He’s our best reader.”

“He’s still staying at the hotel?”

“For the moment.” Avery almost sounded defensive. “If it’s an expense concern, I can move him into my spare bedroom until he decides if he wants to stay in New York permanently.”

I already loved New York. I was less weird here, because there were weirder people than me on almost every corner. I might want to stay permanently.

“Stephanie doesn’t approve of what you’re doing, by the way. So. I’ll get your key from her, and you can just lock the damn door, you freak. You’ll have to deal with getting off your ass to let visitors in.”

“Fine,” Avery said, and Evan spun on one heel and left.

“Your spare b-b-bedroom?” I asked, almost choking on my nerves. God, I’d never get away from him.

“Yes, Jules. My spare bedroom. New York is expensive. You’ll need roommates, if you want to live here. And that means making friends.”

I swallowed hard. Friends. Other people in my space.

I must have gone pale.

“Tell me the truth. Do you want to go home?”

I shook my head. “I like it here. I mean, I like New York.”

“Good. Pack your things tonight, and I’ll pick you up from the hotel in the morning.”

I tore a tiny strip of flesh from the inside of my lip.

“Stop that.” He got up, walked over to my desk, and took my head between his hands. “Show me.”


I pushed out my lower lip, unsurprised when he used his thumbs to roll it inside out. My hands crept up and curled around his forearms, like they did the day I thought he was going to kiss me. I’d mostly given up the notion that he might kiss me, but when he held my head like this, it made me feel like I was falling, and I needed something to hold onto.

“I’m going to be watching you full-time now, and thinking of all the ways I can punish you for disobeying me. Which means you might want to try harder.”

All the ways he can punish me? Oh, God.

His eyes looked right into mine, intense, knowing.

Shit. Maybe it really was a kinky sex game, and I hadn’t even realized I was playing.

I tried to decipher the message in his eyes, whether he was measuring my worth, or if he was about to tease me. But no, he didn’t look playful, he looked serious. Dead serious.

And then he kissed me.

He kissed me.

Avery-fucking-Phoenix kissed Julian Sparks. Right there in his office, my head held between his hands, my fingers clutching his wrists.

I had no worrisome thoughts, just a white space in my brain where the words buzzed over and over again. Avery Phoenix kissed me.

The firm press of his lips did something funny to my stomach, something I might have incorrectly called anxiety in my past life, but if it was something I wanted to feel over and over again until I died, it couldn’t be anxiety, could it?

Friday, May 5, 2017

SM Johnson ~ Aftermath ~ Mixed Reviews

Man, oh, man, my precious Darklings, ya'll are a tough crowd! Still, get out there and write more reviews of Aftermath, pretty please? Glowing or critical, I love to hear from you!

I did warn ya'll that Aftermath was different, right? That I organized it into three sections (four, if I count the short story, Secret, Secret) with each pairing (or triad) kind of a separate story. Here's the thing... I really didn't want to leave you all hanging, but juggling multiple points of view is complicated and exhausting. I did it with the vampires, and I ended up doing it with the boys from the Dungeon, and somewhere along the way realized that, as a reader, the books I love most tend to be told from one or two points of view.

I could have filtered the stories together into one novel, and it would have been less noticeable that some of the stories of the pairings were pretty short, as far as word count, but the truth is, it would have taken me several more months of tinkering. And I was already having a hard time keeping the next book, Nervous, at bay. My brain and my fingers really wanted to write Nervous.

And let me tell you point blank - my brain and my typing fingers are LOVING Nervous. And so far, (40,000 words in) my writer's group is digging it, too.

The writing life is tough right now, not due to creative constraints, but time constraints. See, I went and got a Master's degree and became a professional problem-solver, and I'm working a full-time literal "day job" for the first time in, oh, all of my authoring life.

And here's a secret - my old job had long stretches of b-o-r-i-n-g and I did a shit-ton of writing longhand while at work. Versus my new job, which is AMAZING and the best job ever and never boring.

So anyway. That's all I got.

I feel slightly bad that Aftermath is not meeting reader expectations, but honestly, the only way to keep the writing momentum going is to write what you want to read. Seriously. That's the best trick I know. And so far Nervous is a ton of fun. I'm getting the chance to stay in one point of view and really dig deep into characterization, and I haven't had much opportunity to do that before, except with Jermiah Quick, and even though it's my very favorite of anything I've written (with Dare in the Dungeon a close second) - no one else seems to like it all that much.

Writing is a weird job. Maybe not quite as weird as my day job herding cats, but still, weird.

I love you all to pieces, my beautiful Darklings, and swear I will make it up to you with Nervous (shootin' for Fall 2017), so don't give up on me!