Monday, June 18, 2018

Bonus Article: The Wisest Person At The Party

Because we are nearing the heart of convention season, an oldie but a goodie. A reminder:

The Wisest Person At The Party

I’m going to go over one of my favorite subjects yet again. Oh, we’ve visited here before, you and I, assuming of course that you bother to read what I write here. Still, some places need to be seen more than once, don’t they? Some subjects seem to need a fresh viewing from time to time.

Not all that long ago a few of my peers were talking about one of the big boys. Mostly what they had to say was pleasant enough. A few people seemed puzzled by the gent’s actions, but not shocked. The person in question had turned them down for blurbs.

Yes, you in the back with your hand held high? “What’s a blurb?” A blurb is that little sentence or two that writers ask their peers and those they admire or envy to give to them regarding their latest books. Just what their value is seems to be a very serious question to a lot of people, but the basic notion is that these little quotes could potentially help sell books. As a point of fact I’m exceedingly fond of selling books, so I recommend that if you can get blurbs, you do so.

Now, I’d like to put this into perspective if I may. If we work under the assumption that the level of popularity and sales attained is a quantifiable issue, and we then work under the belief that this issue can be studied and used to our advantage, then it’s safe to assume that someone like Stephen King, Dean Koontz or J.K. Rowling are likely to get substantially more requests for blurbs than someone like yours truly. Why? Because they are household names. True, not every person on the planet knows who they are, but millions do and that says something substantial. Thousands might know who the hell I am, which means that using the earlier assumptions, the aforementioned authors probably get (to keep with my so far scintillating numerical analogy) butt loads more requests for blurbs than I do. I get enough that I have to regretfully turn down far more than I can accept. It’s become a necessity. I have to write, you see, and I have a day job, and a family and, well, a life. I cant spend all of my time reading, much as I might want to, and I insist on actually READING anything I might be asked to blurb. Damned rude of me, I know, but there it is.  My point here being that the folks who do the asking of some of the bigger names run the same risk of getting a “So sorry, no time right now.” as anyone else.

But I digress (maybe). We were talking about politics.

Oh, now I remember.

I made a comment amidst the very small and private group. I pointed out that I was fairly certain the author they were discussing pretty much didn’t like me. A few others clarified who they knew that this author likes and doesn’t like.

And here we go. According to most sources, there is only one other writer that this particular writer actively dislikes. Examples were given. I nodded and listened.

Now, I bet a few of you are annoyed with me because I haven’t mentioned a single name regarding this conversation. In fact the only names I’ve mentioned at all were three that I used to show the difference in magnitudes between my success and that of authors who have become “name brands.”

Guess what? That’s the best you’re going to get out of me.



I don’t like them. I never have. They merely make things murkier than they need to be. I may not like an author. An author may not like me. It doesn’t matter. We don’t have to collaborate on a novel any time soon and even if we did, I think the professionals would set aside egos and differences long enough to get the job done.

See? There I go again, pointing out that this is my job. My career. Like that should make any difference at all.

It does, of course. I’m in it, as the saying goes, to win it. Yes, I love writing. Yes, I would still write if I never sold another piece. I will, however, do my damnedest to sell every piece that I write, or barring that, I’ll figure out why I couldn’t sell it. Just like other professional writers do. Just like comic artists and actors and even the occasional poet does. It’s called professionalism.

There are probably a lot of people who can say things about my writing that are negative. Hell, a lot of them already have and unless a miracle occurs, a good number more will in the future. There are a lot of folks who could probably debate my personal grooming habits and whether or not my deodorant fails in the height of the summer should they be bored enough.

Most of the time, however, what they can’t legitimately accuse me of is saying anything nasty about my peers. (Hey, I’m not a saint. I’ve slipped up a few times).

Why? Because I’m a nice guy? Well, I am, but that isn’t the point. The point is I keep my mouth shut. If I have a problem with someone, I take it up with that person alone and in private. I don’t post it on a bulletin board, nor do I email a few thousand of my closest friends and then wonder how it is that someone mysteriously heard words I would have never said in front of them.

It doesn’t take much for a simple comment to get blown way the hell out of proportion. No, I’m not pointing fingers here, I’m just reflecting on something my mother once told me. Something I’ve tried to keep close to my heart ever since I got old enough to understand politics.

She said “The wisest person at a party is the one who keeps his opinions to himself.”

Think back on the last four cases of serious drama at work or amongst your peers and see if you can disagree with that.

It’s called professionalism.

How do I know that the big name author doesn’t much like me?

He made it clear on a phone message that I wasn’t supposed to hear.

I heard it.

I deleted it.

The person who was supposed to hear it never heard it, by the way. That person would have been embarrassed and put into an awkward situation.

No harm. No foul. No arguments.

Just that simple.

I know that certain friends of mine do not like others. I know that certain editors I deal with don’t much like certain writers and vice versa. It doesn’t matter. I know it. That knowledge does not change my dealings with the individuals in question. When I am around that big name who could take or leave me, I give no indication that I overheard something I was never meant to hear, because it’s no one’s business but my own and I intend to keep it that way. There’s no reason to make two peers of mine feel the least bit awkward over a tidbit I was never meant to hear. It serves no agenda that is worthwhile and it most certainly wouldn’t get me a blurb from said author. Okay, neither does NOT spreading that news around but that isn’t the point, now is it?

Politics suck. They don’t help your career and if they do, you’d do well to remember that political climates change all the time.

Just something to consider before you open your mouth at a convention, or make a post on a bulletin board, or say something to a casual acquaintance at a book signing.

How to Level Up as a Writer

First, listen, as always, to Jeffe, who is wise. her article is spot on.

Second, this is really easy for me, guys. Because I say it all the time. Sit your bitt in the chair and write.

That's it. Write. Write every day. Read every day. read a lot and read from many, many genres. Heck throw some nonfiction in there while you're at it.

Let's look at this as a craft, shall we?

We'll go with wood carving. Look at first a wood carver might successfully make a bass relief that does't suck. Maybe the carver started out whittling sticks and a few of them had cool designs. But after a few months or years of doing the job every day, the carver takes it to the next level and starts actually doing sculptures carved from wood. Those first dozen suck. The technique isn't there and the carver is glad to have stashed away some supplies and cash from the last few successful years.

Still, live and learn. Practice and research and carve, carve, carve. Try number seven doesn't suck as badly and it sells. Try number eight had some new innovations, new design goals. The level and depth of the work gets better and better with each attempt.

It's the same with writing. I don't even know that you have to strive for it, you just evolve. My first novel was 170,000 words in length. It was a very convoluted tale and try as I might I couldn't cut it down in length. I managed to sell it anyway, and I'm very proud of UNDER THE OVERTREE.  Mind you, I want to cringe every time I look at it. Not because the story is bad. it isn't. There are some truly fine sentences in that book and i enjoy the overall efforts. I cringe because if I were to write it today my methods would be very different and it would probably be thirty thousand words shorter.

I'm simply not the same writer I was back then. For one thing I'm not s fast. For another, my manuscripts are much tighter and require less editing. I evolved. I didn't plan it, it just happened. because I write every day and I read every day. When I read I am studying the hell out of what I read, whether I mean to or not. Thomas Monteleone, a very fine writer in his own right, put it to me best, I think. He said "When you're just a reader, you can enjoy a book for the story it tells. but when you're a writer, you do more than that You find a sentence tat resonates, or a turn of phrase that catches your attention and you suddenly become a mechanic. You have to pop the hood on that baby and see what make's it purr."  I think he was spot on with that he often is.

So that's it for me. Write. Read. Repeat. Every single day. That's what this is about. If you cant do it every day, okay, but aim for that goal anyway.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Want to Improve as a Writer? Step One.

This is Lake Sakakawea, up in North Dakota. We just got back from a super long road trip to there from New Mexico to spend some time camping, boating and fishing with family.

This week at the SFF Seven we're asking: How do you level up as a writer?

It's a great question and I look forward to reading everyone else's answers - but I'd like to address something else first. This question makes the basic assumption that all writers want to "level up" - or improve. And improving can mean a lot of things to different people.

I suspect the person posing the topic is asking about becoming a better writer. How do we hone our craft and stretch ourselves as creators. I also suspect that many writers, if you ask them how they'd like to improve, are going to talk sales figures - dollars or numbers. Maybe they'll mention targeting their audience better, or switching up covers for better sales, maybe creating a new series and back-burnering an old one.

But the focus of "leveling-up" is often - distressingly so, to my mind - on selling more books for more money.

This is on my mind because I recently read a book by an Indie author that had me wanting to take the writer by the throat. I'll caveat this by saying I'm super pro-Indie. I self-publish this fantasy romance series, this contemporary romance series,  this contemporary romance stand-alone, and I'm continuing this fantasy romance series on my own. I'm also on the SFWA Self-Publishing Committee and serve as the liaison to the Board of Directors. I'd say I'm tremendously committed to self-publishing as it allows me to be a full-time writer (which I could not be doing solely on my trad income), and I think it's a great option for all writers.

That said... it really annoys me when craft is sacrificed for financial gain. In this case, I was reading the book - and I really like it! The magic system is cool, the characters compelling, the quest and conflict poignant, the love affair tense and full of hope and anguish. I've been looking forward to recommending it. But the prose keeps slowing me down. I finally started paying attention to what the hell felt so clunky and I realized: the author almost never uses contractions.

This was an Aha! moment for me because I've seen Indie authors telling each other this "trick." If they don't use contractions, it inflates word count and thus page count, making the book a longer read in Kindle Unlimited, which pays by pages read. And, yes, this book is in KU. I don't KNOW that this is what the author did, but I'm pretty certain. There's no good reason to have "could not have," etc., and never contract it. It's crazy.

Now, I know most readers won't notice this. Or, rather, they won't notice it consciously. The book has done reasonably well, but some of the negative reviews refer to it being choppy and repetitive. A LOT of that perception comes from not using contractions. There are some other issues, too, but I think as the writer grows, those will smooth out - but this not using contractions?


Seriously, if you're artificially inflating word and page count, then your attention is in the wrong place. There's a reason we have contractions and that's to make the words and story flow. Yes, yes - some writers have characters like androids who don't use contractions and that's a deliberate choice to reflect a lack of humanity. Even then it's a challenge to keep them from sounding, well, ROBOTIC. Also note: lack of humanity. The author I'm talking about used contractions in dialogue, which is critical, but the rest of the prose needs to sound like not-a-computer, too.

All of this comes around to Step One in Improving as a Writer: CARE ABOUT THE WRITING.

Don't make choices that elevate being paid by page over what makes the story good. It might work for one book, maybe even a few, but readers *will* notice. Tell a good story, yes - which this author did! - but tell it well. This whole idea of doing what you love and the money will follow? That idea presumes that when you LOVE doing something, you'll do it to your utmost. If you love the money more, the writing will show it.

Want to level up? First step is to care about being the best writer you can be.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Not Painted Into the Corner

Not the Author! DepositPhoto

Our topic this week is painting yourself into a corner, writingwise.

The best example of this I’ve ever seen is the opening sequence of the movie  “Jewel of the Nile”, where romance author Joan Wilder is writing the most fantastic pirate scene and it keeps building and building upon itself, more complications and worse problems for the plucky heroine and then…she’s trapped alone with a ship full of evil pirates and NO escape.

“I don’t know what the pirates do any more,” she says basically, in despair.

I have never, to the best of my recollection, painted myself into a corner in a book.

I sit down, I write the book over the course of a few weeks (now that I’m fulltime), I don’t have Michael Douglas in his prime to distract me, as ‘Joan Wilder’ did…I start out knowing the beginning, the ending, and a few key scenes along the way. I don’t end up in box canyons like the bad guys in old movie Westerns and I don’t have to rely on suspension of disbelief, as people had to do sometimes with the old movie serials, like Flash Gordon, as embodied by Buster Crabbe. One week the serial would end with him facing certain death or Dale Arden facing certain death and there’s no way Flash can reach her in time…and the next week’s episode starts off with her safe in his arms and no explanation given because of course, he’s FLASH. What? Eat your popcorn and don’t ask questions.

Yup, doesn’t happen to me when I write.  Somehow my faithful Muse and I avoid those issues. We might have other issues perhaps but not that one.

So I had exciting news last week. I was really honored and excited to receive a phone call telling me that Lady of the Nile, my 7th paranormal romance set in ancient Egypt, had been selected as a Finalist in the Romance Writers of America Fantasy Futuristic & Paranormal Chapter’s PRISM Award!

That’s exciting stuff to a writer in the FF&P romance genres…see the full list of Finalists in all categories here. Congratulations to everyone whose book Finalled! Winners will be announced at the national conference in July.

I write my ancient Egyptian tales as a labor of love – not that I don’t love my scifi romance books because I DO and those are my main focus and genre – but the reader audience for ancient world romance tends to be smaller, without much crossover between the SFR genre and this one. 

Here’s the story:
Tuya, a high ranking lady-in-waiting at Pharaoh’s court, lives a life of luxury, pageantry and boredom. Khian, a brave and honorable officer from the provinces temporarily re-assigned to Thebes, catches her eye at a gold of valor ceremony. As the pair are thrown together by circumstances, she finds herself unaccountably attracted to this man so unlike the haughty nobles she’s used to. But a life with Khian would mean leaving the court and giving up all that she’s worked so hard to attain. As she goes about her duties, Tuya struggles with her heart’s desires.

When Tuya is lured into a dangerous part of Thebes by her disgraced half-brother and kidnapped by unknown enemies of Egypt, Khian becomes her only hope. Pharaoh assigns him to bring the lady home. 

Aided by the gods, Khian races into the desert on the trail of the elusive kidnappers, hoping to find Tuya before it’s too late. Neither of them has any idea of the dark forces arrayed against them, nor the obstacles to be faced. An ancient evil from the long gone past wants to claim Tuya for its own purposes and won’t relinquish her easily. 

Can Khian find her in time? Will he and his uncanny allies be able to prevent her death? And if the couple escapes and reaches safety, what of their fledgling romance?
Buy Links:
Amazon     iBooks     Kobo     B&N

Friday, June 15, 2018

Breaking Through Being Stuck

Tis the season for daily thunderhead formation. Tis the season to get weather alerts on your cellphone saying, 'Lightning strike reported within 1 mile of your location' which is code for GET INSIDE STUPID.

Wish I could use this as a metaphor to segue into today's topic but that would imply a level of caffeination I have yet to achieve. But I can admit that this was my topic suggestion, because you know me. Always on the look out for new and better power tools to help me finish books. A year ago, I'd have told you I don't often get stuck on a book - not for long. Like Jeffe, I'd keep chipping away at my blocks, little pieces at a time. I didn't believe it was possible to write oneself into a corner.

I see you've noticed the past tense. Yeah, I honestly thought I'd done it this time. I'm six months past deadline. My outtakes file is twice the size of the manuscript. (But I'm closing in on The End. Again.) I've discovered a bunch of stuff in the process of working through my stuckness on this project.
  1. It IS possible to write myself into a corner - BUT. That corner is a construct of my mind and when I'm staring at those walls closing in on me, the best way out is through those walls. That means questioning everything. Do I need this plot line? How about that one? Wait. How did this story thread get in here and what purpose does it serve? Zen tidbit for the day: Most of the prisons we find ourselves in are of our own making.
  2. When you take a wrong turn at Albuquerque, you can go back and take that left turn. Or you can give up control of the story and see where it goes. I did that. When my alpha readers sent my first rough draft back to me with 'Whoa. Wrong turn!' I don't think they'd expected me to use that as an opportunity to back it all the way up and question everything. But I did. Because I need this story to be right. Fun? No. Necessary, nevertheless. 
  3. Take a stab at plotting. I never, ever, ever want a repeat performance of trying to write this book. Never. Will plotting solve my problems? Dunno, but I do mean to find out. Gods know it can't make the process worse. (Which is not a challenge to the Universe, I swear.)
Being stuck requires an act of violence to break free. Please note that violence is to be visited up the manuscript - not upon oneself or anyone or anything else. I had to murder a lot of darlings to get at the core story. When I'd offed enough of them, I could see my way forward again. 

I say all of this as if I know what I'm doing. As if I'm not wracked by doubts and every 'yer doing it wrong' voice to ever have sullied this planet. Pro tip: The louder that nonsense is, the closer you are to doing the right thing by a story. Unless your alpha readers tell you otherwise. But only they get to judge. Not you. And certainly not those crappy voices. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Staying Out of those Painted Corners

If you've been paying attention to me and my various babbling on writing, you know I'm a big fan of the outline.  I try to avoid the whole "paint myself in a corner" problem by sorting out the big path of the plot beforehand.  If I know the line of things from A to B to C and so on, I'm less likely to get lost in the weeds in the first place.  Now, that doesn't mean that sometimes things don't work, or I write a bit in one direction and go, "Wait, I need to go back and thread something else in here to be the way out."  
But I know how the whole story hangs together, and that's because I have the outline.  (And the outline of the larger arcs, etc.)  And the outline tends not to have plot cul-de-sacs or corners I paint myself into because it's got a solid structure.
I've talked about the twelve-part outline structure before, and it's the basic scaffolding I use to craft an outline.  Here it is:
  1. Establishment: Show character(s) and initial situation. Here’s where you set up not only who your main character(s) is, but what the rules of the road are.  What is “normal” for your story?  If there is magic, for example, you need to let the reader know here.  Especially in a genre story, you need to make it clear what’s going on.
  2. Incitement: Incident or new information spurs protagonist. This may be interwoven with Establishment, or exist on its own, but the important this is that the something changes to throw us out of the Established “normal” and gets the protagonist acting. 
  3. Challenge: Minor antagonists come into play. You can’t throw the big guns at your protagonist yet.  Either your protagonist isn’t aware of the Big Bad yet, or doesn’t understand the scope of what is happening, or just plain isn’t ready for the big picture yet.
  4. Altercation:  Conflict with minor antagonists.  Give your protagonist a hard-won victory, even if it’s minor or only symbolic.  This lets you show your protagonist as having the competence and drive to deserve being at the center of the story. 
  5. Payback:  Minor antagonists report back to major, allowing a strike back.  That hard-won victory may have felt good, but it isn’t without consequences.  Perhaps it means that your Big Bad just re-evaluated your protagonist, and has elevated the threat level from Nuisance to Problem.
  6. Regrouping: Protagonist reacts to the payback, possibly in an ineffective way; thinks confrontation is over, relaxes.  Here is where your protagonist has another victory, but not the victory they think they’ve had.  This is where they make a mistake, be it underestimating the antagonist, or just sloppy pride.  That deep character flaw you’ve woven into them is set up to bite them back.
  7. Collapse: Protagonist loses stability and safety of base situation.  Everything falls apart.  Whatever your protagonist thought they could count on crumbles under their feet.   
  8. Retreat: Protagonist must leave base situation to escape threat from main antagonist. Deal them that serious blow.  Force their hand.
  9. Recovery: Protagonist establishes a new situation, enough to be stable and safe. You need to give them a chance to lick their wounds, figure out where they stand, and if they can accept that.
  10. Investment: Personal reason forces protagonist back into fray with main antagonist—they won’t choose to walk away.  This is where you make your heroes.  At this stage, a lesser protagonist would cut their losses, admit defeat.  Your protagonist can’t do that.  It’s time to see this to the end.
  11. Confrontation: Goes after main antagonist, partly to reclaim investment. Now you’re at the climax. 
  12. Resolution: Defeat of main antagonist, which can create a new base situation or re-establish stability of original one.
If this is a useful tool for you, by all means, use it.  I developed it because I needed it in my toolbox, and it's been a very helpful thing for me.  If it helps you as well, all the better.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Getting unstuck when the muse lets you down

In the massive multiplayer online game Star Wars: The Old Republic, if you maneuver your character between boulders or buildings or something and get stuck, you can type in /stuck, and the game will magically transport you to a space where you can move your character freely again.

Writing? Sadly lacks that feature.

This week, our SFFseven topic is the one thing that helps us get unstuck in a story, but I'm going to adjust that topic a little. (Forgive me.) See, once I get going in a story, with a deadline in my pocket and a character arc in my head, I rarely get stuck. That point in the adventure is the sweet spot, the roller coaster at full speed. It's the between-story living that sticks me really hard. I'm talking about especially that stickiest of things: the will to write. Some folks call this the muse.

I've said I write because I can't not. Because I am a thing that writes. Because it's what I love to do. But, true confession: sometimes I'm not, and I don't. Sometimes I get stuck. Here are some things that have helped me, to varying degrees:

  • Find the thing you love that isn't writing and do the crap out of it. Dance. Cook. Play games. Walk the dog. Reupholster your dining room chairs. 
  • Read something other than the genre you write. When I read excellent books in my own subgenre, I inevitably get the "I can't do it this as well so why even try" blues. But if I read excellent books in another genre, like thriller or horror or literary meandering, I get energized and thoughts like, "This would be really cool if it also had robots. And kissing. Hey! I can make that happen!" And then ideas--and more importantly, enthusiasm--pour in.
  • Develop go-to unsticking resources. A very wise and talented writer, Skyler White, has developed a game for getting unstuck. It involves identifying the sticky thing, turning it into a goal-positive, and coming up with ways you would be able to tell if it was getting less sticky. The preliminary documentation for this process is on her Facebook page, The Narrow Shed. I recommend it. A lot.
  • Write fanfiction. I'm not even kidding. If you disdain the hobby, consider getting over that, because fic is the single best way to practice your art without the weight of "oh crap, I have to get this manuscript done and shop it and sell it and promote it and build a career with it." In fic you have no pressure. You can just make words. It is incredibly liberating.
  • Find a friend who you trust, and who can handle this, and whine. Let that person whine back when they get stuck. Writing can be incredibly lonely, and most of us get low from time to time. But, quick protip: that trusted friend is not social media. Don't whine on social media. :)
  • Be kind to you. You are worthy beyond the manuscript. Daily word count, reviews, sales, social media followers--these are not reflections on who you are as a person or, in many cases, as a writer. The pit of stuckness is easy enough to fall down without letting those outside things give you a push.

Hugs, you guys. We can get through all the stuck.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Release Day: Prisoner of the Crown by @JeffeKennedy

It's a party here at the SFF Seven Authors' Blog as we celebrate the release of Jeffe's new book kickstarting her Chronicles of Dasnaria High Fantasy series!

**It is NOT a Romance.**

I don't tell you that to discourage you, dear reader. Far from it. I tell you so you are prepared for the type of heart-pounding adventure on which the Chronicles of Darnaria will take you. Afterall, Jeffe is an award-winning Fantasy Romance author; hell, she's won the top prize in Romancelandia for her work, a RITA Award. It's fair to assume her fans, many of whom are our blog readers, would think this new series is all HEA and smexytimes.

That is not this book.

When it comes to rich worldbuilding, nail-biting plot twists, and a heroine discovering her own value and power, well now, this IS that kind of book.



She was raised to be beautiful, nothing more. And then the rules changed…

In icy Dasnaria, rival realm to the Twelve Kingdoms, a woman’s role is to give pleasure, produce heirs, and question nothing. But a plot to overthrow the emperor depends on the fate of his eldest daughter. And the treachery at its heart will change more than one carefully limited life…


Princess Jenna has been raised in supreme luxury—and ignorance. Within the sweet-scented, golden confines of the palace seraglio, she’s never seen the sun, or a man, or even learned her numbers. But she’s been schooled enough in the paths to a woman’s power. When her betrothal is announced, she’s ready to begin the machinations that her mother promises will take Jenna from ornament to queen.

But the man named as Jenna’s husband is no innocent to be cozened or prince to charm. He’s a monster in human form, and the horrors of life under his thumb are clear within moments of her wedding vows. If Jenna is to live, she must somehow break free—and for one born to a soft prison, the way to cold, hard freedom will be a dangerous path indeed…

Read an excerpt here.

BUY IT NOW:   Amazon  |  B&N  |  iBooksKobo