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Sneak peek excerpt from The Neighbor Favor
Hi, everyone! Happy 2023! I know it’s February, and we’re past the point of saying happy new year, but I didn’t send out a January newsletter so I’m saying it now. Before we get started this month, I want to acknowledge that I made a major error when listing my favorite shows in my December 2022 newsletter. Somehow, I managed to forget What We Do in the Shadows!!! I don’t know how this happened. I’m so disappointed with myself. I love that show.
Okay, moving on. A few bits of the usual housekeeping! The Neighbor Favor goes on sale this month on the 28th! The preorder campaign is still going, and TNF received a second starred review in Library Journal. Here’s a snippet of what they said:
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This swoony, contemporary romance with fully realized characters will have readers hooked from the first page, and the protagonists, who are Black, have deep, relatable backstories. This is the adult romance debut for YA author Forest and readers will clamor for more.
Hopefully it’s true that readers will clamor for more because last month I handed in the first draft of adult romance number 2! And recently I started the first draft of what will be my fourth YA book. If all goes to plan, both are scheduled to publish in 2024.
This month is dedicated to The Neighbor Favor sneak peek. If you don’t already know the TNF pitch, it’s a story about an aspiring children’s editor named Lily who begins corresponding online with her favorite, obscure fantasy author, N.R. Strickland. Just as the two really begin to fall for each other, N.R. Strickland ghosts Lily. She’s crushed but determined to move on with her life. And her first plan of action is finding a date to her sister’s wedding. She enlists the help of her charming neighbor, Nick. But…Nick is N.R. Strickland, and he has a reasons for using a pen name and ending things with Lily (because he thinks she deserves someone way better than him lol). This sneak peek is the first half of the prologue from Lily’s POV before she and Nick begin their initial email exchanges. I hope you enjoy. :)
LILY GREENE ALWAYS IMAGINED THAT IF SHE WERE TO have the tragic misfortune of dying young, it would happen in a valiant, honorable way. Similar to the heroes in her beloved fantasy novels. Maybe she’d die while rescuing a child (or cat) from a burning building. Or darting into the street to save an elderly person from being hit by a speeding truck.
She didn’t imagine that at twenty-five years old her final moments would be spent drenched in sweat, dehydrated out of her mind, on a crowded New York City subway train without AC during rush hour on one of the hottest days of the year. Because this was an event that she might not survive.
Lily gripped the subway pole and tried her best to avoid touching the five other hands that were wrapped around the pole as well. With her free hand, she dug through her tote bag and pulled out her empty water canister, as if liquid would magically appear inside. Usually, she was smart about filling it before she left the office, but today, her boss, Edith, vice president and publisher of Edith Pearson Books at the esteemed Mitchell & Milton Inc., had been in a particularly terrible mood after mistakenly falling for an email phishing scam, which meant IT had taken hold of Edith’s computer and she couldn’t sit in her own office, which meant she’d stood over Lily’s shoulder in Lily’s tiny cubicle, repeatedly proclaiming that she was an “innocent victim” of a “malicious scammer.” All the while, Lily wondered if when someone emailed you, claiming to be the long-lost grandson of John F. Kennedy, and said person then claimed you could read a draft of their memoir for publishing consideration by clicking an unsecure, highly suspicious link, could you really blame anyone but yourself for clicking said link and therefore unleashing a virus onto your computer?
Either way, for the rest of the afternoon, Lily suffered through Edith’s complaining and micromanaging. She survived by drinking one too many cups of coffee, zero cups of water, and inhaling half a sleeve of crackers at her desk once Edith stepped away for lunch. Now Lily was hungry, dehydrated and very close to melting into a puddle right there on the downtown B train, which suddenly came to a halt. The conductor made a garbled announcement no one could understand, and a chorus of groans rang throughout the train. A man who’d already taken the liberty of removing his shirt banged on the subway doors as if the conductor could hear him. “Jesus fucking Christ, fix the AC! We’re dying in here!”
A few others began to shout and complain, growing angrier as the train remained motionless. Lily grimaced. Nothing good ever happened when a bunch of people were pissed, hot and immobile. At least they’d stopped on the Manhattan Bridge, so she had cell service.
“What the f*ck?” someone yelled. “Why is it so hot?”
“Global warming,” a woman standing beside Lily grumbled. She was short and blonde, with flushed cheeks and a sweaty forehead. Lily could only imagine how she looked herself. It was only May, but this spring season was already giving unbearably hot summer vibes. Lily glanced down at her sleeveless white button‑up, which now had sweat stains under her armpits. Her brown skin was dewy, but not in the cute makeup influencer way, and the flyaway curls that had escaped her bun were sticking to the back of her neck. Gross. She felt so horribly gross.
And nauseous? Her balance began to slip, and she clutched the pole tighter, attempting to keep the nausea and light-headedness at bay. She’d fainted a few times as a kid when heat and stress created a menacing combination, and she couldn’t afford to faint today. Not when she had to rush home and feed her cat and be back in Manhattan in a matter of hours because she was meeting her older sisters, Violet and Iris, for dinner in the Meatpacking District. Violet, ever the celebrity stylist social butterfly, recently heard about a new French fusion restaurant they just had to try. Lily hated going to trendy spots in the city because she always felt hilariously underdressed, but Iris, a worker bee, was actually pulling herself away from the office to join them, so Lily had no excuse to miss it.
Just then, Lily’s phone vibrated in her bag. It was Violet calling. Lily answered, keeping her voice low. She didn’t want to be one of those people who broadcasted her entire conversation to everyone on the train.
“Lily,” Violet said, her voice its usual mix of pep and confidence. “There’s been a change of plans.”
“What do you mean?”
“Iris can’t come. She has a work thing. Big surprise. Can you—hold on.” Lily listened as Violet pulled the phone away from her ear and murmured to someone in her background. Violet might have been at a photo shoot or on a set of a music video with one of her clients. Her life moved at lightning speed and Lily could never keep up. “Hey, I’m back. Sorry. No one ever listens to me during these things. I put her in a pair of bright pink satin Versace platform pumps and what does the photographer say? ‘Put her in black.’ She looks best in bright colors! Why is that so hard for everyone to understand?
“Who are we talking about?” Lily asked, wiping the sweat from her forehead. “Just so we’re on the same page.”
“Karamel Kitty. I told you about her before. She’s the rapper I’m working with now.”
“Oh, right,” Lily said, vaguely remembering. “Isn’t she the one who exposed that politician who sent her d*ck pics?”
“What? Oh yeah, that was last year. Anyway, I want you to meet me at this bar in the village instead of going to the restaurant. I’ll send you the address.”
Lily almost said okay but she hesitated. She felt a catch coming on. “Will it just be the two of us?”
“Um,” Violet mumbled. “No.”
Lily sighed. “Who else will be there, Vi?”
“Nobody really… just my new friend, Damien,” she said quickly. “He’s the assistant photographer at the photoshoot today, and I started talking about you and I showed him your picture and he said you were beautiful, which you are—”
“But he’s so cute and sweet, and he really wants to meet you! For real, you’re not even going to give him a chance?”
Lily groaned. Her sisters were always trying to play matchmaker. Why couldn’t they just accept that Lily was terrible at dating and leave her alone in awkward peace?
“Violet, I’ve had the worst day. Really. I can’t deal with meeting someone new. I don’t have the energy.”
“I’ll buy you dinner too.”
Lily paused at that. On her salary, she didn’t often pass up free meals.
“Fine,” she finally said. “But don’t be disappointed when Damien and I don’t hit it off.”
“Okay, Negative Nancy. I’ll send you the address. See you in a bit. Love you!”
“Love you too,” Lily said, but Violet had already hung up.
Lily let out a full-body sigh and pulled her phone away from her ear, grimacing at the sweat left behind on the screen. In all the time that she’d spent on the phone with Violet, the train still hadn’t moved. How was that possible?
“Are you all right?”
Lily glanced up and the blonde girl was staring at her, sporting a concerned frown.
“You’re swaying,” she said. “You look like you’re about to faint.”
Lily noticed the people around them turn in her direction.
“I’m fine,” she insisted, even though she was beginning to see spots everywhere she looked. Maybe the conversation with Violet, and agreeing to another blind date, had stressed her out more than she thought. Why won’t this freaking train move? She forced a smile. “Thank you, though.”
She’d be off this train soon. She just needed to distract herself in the meantime. Planting her feet, she dug in her bag and pulled out her copy of The Elves of Ceradon, her favorite fantasy novel. She’d discovered it two years ago while working at a bookstore, struggling to find a full-time job in any field that was willing to hire people with an English degree. She’d never read a book about a clan of Black elves before, a story that made it completely normal for Black people to exist in high fantasy. Lily realized then that she wanted to help bring more fantasy like this into the world, but for kids. So began her long journey to break into publishing. Currently, she was working with Edith on slightly depressing adult nonfiction, but soon she hoped she’d make the switch to children’s books. And in her heart, she felt as though she had The Elves of Ceradon to thank for that inspiration.
The author, N.R. Strickland, was a mystery, though. The copy Lily discovered at the bookstore had been torn and tattered, published years ago by a now-defunct British press. N.R. Strickland’s bio was sparse, saying that he was born and raised in London and that The Elves of Ceradon was his first novel. He didn’t have a website or any social media. The plain, dark red book jacket didn’t even have an author photo. In today’s day and age, it was odd but a little admirable that he’d decided to forgo anything public- facing.
Lily carried the novel with her for moments like right now when she was stuck on a train and needed to kill time. She opened the book and tried to focus on the words in front of her instead of the heat but found it difficult. The struggle to read was giving her a headache. In a moment of blissful relief, the train started to move, only to stop after what felt like a few feet. Someone opened a window and a bit of the hot air inside the train was exchanged for the hot air outside. Lily swallowed thickly and tried to concentrate but the words began to swim on the page. Okay, so reading wasn’t going to help.
Instead, she pulled out her phone and googled N.R. Strickland on a whim, as she did occasionally, hoping to read news of a sequel, but ultimately expecting to find nothing. The search engine loaded and . . . wait, N.R. Strickland had a website now.
Shocked, Lily clicked on the link and his bare-bones website appeared. It didn’t provide any information that she didn’t already know from the bio on the back of his book. But what the website did have was a contact form. Amazing. Lily wiped the sweat from her forehead and grinned at her phone. Giddy and increasingly delirious, she typed out a message to N.R. Strickland, telling him just how much his book meant to her, how finding his story had changed the trajectory of her life.
Her heartbeat increased, and her palms grew clammier, but she chalked it up to her excitement. Even when her breaths turned shallow and black spots aggressively clouded her vision, she continued to type. It wasn’t until her phone slipped out of her hand and the train seemed to tilt off- kilter that Lily realized she was falling. Fainting, to be more accurate.
“Oh my God!” the blonde shouted as Lily hit the floor, clutching her copy of The Elves of Ceradon.
Minutes later, after Lily came to, and kind strangers helped her up, and someone offered her a bottle of water, and a mom forced her to eat a pack of her child’s fruit snacks, Lily was busy focusing on the fact that she’d just fainted. Her mind was so far from the email she’d feverishly drafted, unaware that it had been sent prematurely and was already on its way through cyberspace for its intended recipient.
Please note that any term that had an asterisk will not have an asterisk in the book lol. I was worried about email servers flagging the newsletter as spam if it had profanity.
Until next time!
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