by Casey Hays
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance 326 pages
Jude Gallagher thought she was crazy.
It all started when the boy next door made her hear music—inside her head. All the time.
It was torture.
She didn’t think things could get worse. But then one hot summer, her best friend Kane O’Reilly decides to tell her how he really feels about her. Music inside her head? That’s nothing compared what happens next.
Things only turn stranger when she and her lab partner Frankie Melmack begin a project to prove the existence of the Vatra u Krvi—a race of people tied to the mythical Phoenix. Add in a neglectful mother and a magic ring, and the insanity that defines Jude’s life is pretty well complete.
Heat surges across the Nevada desert, and the best and worst parts of Jude Gallagher’s life collide as myth meets reality. In the middle of the chaos, she begins to hear more than just music. And she has to wonder…
Maybe... just maybe… she really is crazy after all.
“The Phoenix is a great fire spirit in Greek mythology, you know?” She sets one slice of pie on a plate, then pauses to slide a large encyclopedia across the table until it’s situated in front of me. It’s bookmarked, and she flips it open to the description of the Phoenix. “It’s a sacred firebird that represents immortality, rebirth, and renewal. It can live from five hundred to a thousand years according to legend. At the end of its life cycle, it builds a nest, climbs inside, and bursts into flames.”
“So…” She sits, placing my pie next to the encyclopedia. I move the book aside and take up my fork. “The Phoenix is one of the only living creatures that is self-reproducing, because from those ashes…” She cuts off the pointed end of her pie piece and raises her fork along with her brows, which peek at me over the top of her glasses. “…a brand new baby Phoenix is born.”
I shake my head. “Where are we going with this?”
“Think about it. Its aspects are magical. Otherworldly. A race of people with its blood running through their veins would be extraordinary.”
“The Phoenix is a myth,” I remind her.
“You could be a little open-minded.”
I plunge a piece of pie into my mouth and speak around it. “Okay. So this reborn bird… is it a new Phoenix or the same one?”
She shrugs. “That’s debatable.”
“And is there more than one Phoenix?”
“Hard to say.”
I shake my head. “Give me something here, Frankie.”
“Well, it’s rare to see one at all, so… it’s hard to say.”
It’s rare to see one because they don’t exist. I squint, testing her further.
“Male or female?”
“I suppose that would depend on the answer to the first two questions, wouldn’t it?” She picks off a piece of pie crust and nibbles on the end. I scoop up another full bite.
“Okay, look.” I focus on her pointedly. “And I’m only saying this so we don’t have to scrape our embarrassed butts up off the floor later, but we can’t do this. It’s nonsensical, and—”
Before the rest of my sentence leaves my mouth, she produces another picture from her accordion file. This one takes me by surprise. A photograph. I pick it up, holding it out for a better look.
It's a man—no, maybe just a boy. He's handsome. Jet black hair. Violet eyes. His bare chest ripples with muscles, and spread out behind him is the most brilliant pair of black wings, fluttering with an iridescent glow. They're sleek and beautiful. I blink once, and I swear they flutter.
“This is a Vatra u Krvi,” Frankie says.
A tiny catch in my chest makes it hard to breathe. I’m dead serious. Every one of my five senses is held captive by the beauty of this image.
“Translated, the phrase means ‘fire in the blood.’” Frankie cocks her head to the side, just like a bird herself. “In English, the common term is Firebloods.”
“He looks like an angel.” I breathe out the words.
She smiles. “I know.”
I tear my eyes away and glance up at her, suspicion moving in. Because this can’t be real.
“Where did you find this?”
Her eyes flit past me to ensure the door is closed. “In my father’s office.”
I lean back in my chair examining the image. It stares up at me from some vast realm of someone’s artistic imagination.
“This isn't real.” I glance at Frankie. “It’s all fascinating from a fantasy standpoint, but it isn’t a viable subject.”
“I think we can prove his existence.” She nods at the image, adamant. “In fact, I know we can.”
She lowers her voice to a whisper and motions me to lean in closer.
“My dad has a crate full of information on the Firebloods. Not just documents. Artifacts.”
She taps her fingers against the table.
I stare at her, incredulous. Is she seriously contemplating basing our hypothesis statement on a mythical creature? I suddenly feel ill. My chances at winning a scholarship are riding on whatever it is we decide to do this summer. I need this. And this is all she’s got? A flying boy? I sigh and toss the picture onto the table, frustrated.
“Frankie, this could just be your dad’s hobby. Maybe he collects memorabilia on a favorite, fictional character in a book.”
“I don’t think so, Jude. You didn’t see what was in that crate.” She habitually pushes her glasses up the bridge of her nose, her mouth poised and very serious. “I asked my dad about it a couple of months ago when I found it. He shut me down. Fast. He told me to focus on my studies and keep my head out of the clouds.”
“See?” I hold my palms face up, agreeing with that reasoning.
“The crate disappeared after my conversation with him. I found it again last week. In the basement. With a padlock intact. He’s hiding the truth about this.”
I stop when she shuffles to her feet and yanks open a cabinet door to retrieve a couple of glasses. Water streams from the refrigerator dispenser. She sets a full glass in front of me.
“Will you just listen to what I have to say?”
I straighten, scraping up the last bit of my pie with a shrug. “I’m just being honest when I say I don’t have much faith in this idea.”
“I gathered.” She leans a hip against the counter. “I’m only asking that you not immediately discredit it. Not until we’ve had a chance to research it further.” I purse my lips; she keeps talking. “Jude, we could blow the judges away with our findings. It could be a monumental discovery, right up there with extra-terrestrial life. Don’t you see?”
I focus on the photograph of the angel-boy. He looks so realistic. His eyes, poignantly vibrant, seem to reach right into my very soul. I shudder and look away.
“This is risky,” I point out.
“I know. But it’s worth the risk. It’s why we could win.”
“I don’t think we should waste much of our time on it.” Doubt flutters across my face, and she sees every bit of it in the wrinkled folds of my brows. “I mean, anybody can doctor up a photo. Take Bigfoot. Prime example.”
Frankie lifts her chin, indignant. “I have it on good authority that Bigfoot is most indeed real. You are such a pessimist, Jude Gallagher.”
“Pessimist? This is myth, Frankie. One of us has to be reasonable.”
“Wrong. If scientists were reasonable, nothing would have ever been discovered or invented. Or founded. Take Newton or Einstein, for instance. Do you think they accomplished anything by being reasonable? No. They defied norms to prove their theories. People thought they were off in the heads, but those men proved in the end that they were brilliant. We have that opportunity here.”
I simply stare at her. What can I say to that?
Casey Hays developed a love for young adult fiction while teaching high school English literature. She writes fantasy sci-fi and dystopian--all with a twist of romance. She is best known for The Arrow’s Flight Series (Breeder, The Archer, Master), a YA Christian dystopian, which includes The Scent of Lilac, an Arrow’s Flight Novella nominated for a RONE award for Best Novella of 2016, and A Heart of Flesh (the first NA in the series). Her short story "Edge of a Promise" is featured in the collaborative anthology PREP FOR DOOM. Currently, she is working on two more novellas for Arrow's Flight as well as the Firebloods series based on the legend of the Phoenix. Look for book 2, Scorch Song, this spring.
A little about the author:
I have been writing professionally since 2008, but I have never quit my day job. I am a Trial Court Administrative Assistant for a District Judge, and I love my job. I have 7 books published, including a faith-based dystopian sci-fi, The Arrow’s Flight Series which contains 3 full novels and 2 spin-off novellas. Scorch Song, the sequel to Firebloods, will be my 8th book, and should be out by May. My self-owned publishing company is called Whispering Pages, LLC, and I host a fan club on Facebook by that same name. (Whispering Pages Fan Club.) I also host a reading marathon group called Awesome Reading Marathons and Read-a-longs where indie authors sign up to host on-line readings of their own books or series. I love my indie author community.
I am the mother of two: a twenty-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter. I’ve been married for nearly 27 years to a great man who whole-heartedly supports my writing. I am a Christian and very involved in my little church. I play the piano a little (but never in public), and sing on the praise team at church. I help teach a step aerobics class at my gym once a week. My hobbies include Zumba, snow skiing, reading, writing of course, and music (lots of heavy metal and hard rock mostly) I drink at least three cups of coffee a day (with hazelnut creamer). All in all, I’m really not very interesting, which is why I love to create worlds that are a heck of a lot more interesting than me.
ABOUT THE BOOK AND THE CHARACTERS: Firebloods is the first book I’ve ever taken out on tour. Based on the legend of the Phoenix, this book is probably one of my favorites. All of my books are very character-driven rather than plot-driven, and this book is sort of an interactive read, where my main character, Jude Gallagher, draws readers right into the story, up close and personal. She’s a seventeen year old girl whose father was brutally killed in a wildlife attack five years ago. Her mother has never recovered from his death, sinking into a clinical depression and staying there to this day. So Jude has fended for herself since she was 12. She’s a gifted pianist, but she hasn’t played a note since her father’s death. But she’s full of an inner-strength she doesn’t recognize, and this has allowed her to overcome her obstacles.
Enter her gang of friends: These four people are Jude’s rock. They’ve been there for her when her mother hasn’t, and she wouldn’t have survived without them. Let’s break them down:
Kane O’Reilly is very confident, but not cocky. He’s gorgeous with distinctive dimples, jet black hair and emerald green eyes, all of which attract a lot of female attention, but Jude stole his heart ages ago over an alphabet assignment in kindergarten. He’s waiting for her to realize that she loves him. He’s into motorcycles and cooking, and he has a huge secret he’s never shared with these four friends.
Jonas Cameron has known Jude since toddlerhood when their mothers commuted together during nursing school. Strong and trustworthy, athletic and kind of a little teddy bear with a wild heart, this blond-haired, blue-eyed boy is always there when Jude needs a friend. He’s really like a brother to her.
Devan Parker is Jonas’s girlfriend. She’s a cheerleader with a thing for fashion. Spontaneous, fun-loving and always ready for some excitement, she’s never afraid to speak her mind, which sometimes gets the rest of them into a bind. Her carefree attitude balances Jude’s much more conservative personality.
Frankie Melmack is the genius in the bunch. Frizzy, flyaway hair and glasses, she’ll likely graduate from college within six months of graduating from high school. For all her education, she’s a firm believer in the supernatural, which is a paradox. She and Jude have been friends since 7th grade when they were thrown together as lab partners. Currently, they are working on a summer project to prove the existence of the Vatra u Krvi, aka Firebloods- a race of people purportedly created with Phoenix blood. This project opens the door to a mythical world neither girl ever imagined.
We can’t forget about Rylin McDowell- a red-headed, hazel-eyed Irish boy who somehow makes Jude hear music inside her head. He’s a mystery she can’t quite figure out. But she will.
What inspired you to write this book, how did you come up with the concept, and why is it a must read?
I wanted to create a paranormal romance that didn’t follow the norm. Vampires and werewolves have been so overdone that I wanted a fresh perspective on a new kind of paranormal creature. The premise is that a Bosnian scientist captured the Phoenix in the 1950s and extracted its blood to create an amalgam which he injected into human volunteers. The results were otherworldly. This book is full of fantasy, extreme love, friendship, and scenes that melt the heart. There’s a lot of tenderness mixed in with the fiery action, and anyone who is a fan of the Phoenix and the paranormal romance will find a unique take on the legend in Firebloods. Because music is an aspect of the Phoenix, I’ve uniquely written the book to read like a score of music, with flashbacks called “interludes.” These sections give us insight into Jude’s childhood at different stages in her life to bring the elements of the story full circle. This book is very dear to my heart, and I hope it becomes that for you.
What candle scent represents this book?
Funny thing, Firebloods all have a unique scent. I won’t say much on that so as not to spoil the unveiling of them, but Jude has always smelled a musky vanilla with one particular character and mint with another. I occasionally give away Firebloods candles in these scents at book signings. I found this company on Etsy who turned my book covers into candle labels, and they are awesome.
Do your characters hi-jack the story?
My characters always hi-jack the story, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My best writing happens when I have no idea where my characters are going to take us. It’s an adventure in so many ways. Ninety-nine percent of my writing takes place in my head where I meet with my characters. I know only other writers would understand this, but my characters have full conversations with me. When I finally make it back to my computer, I plug in my earbuds, blast some music, and literally wrap myself up in the shell of whichever character’s voice is speaking the loudest. I become them in a sense, and I let them tell the story through me. I call it my zone. Please don’t think I’m crazy.