Sunday, February 16, 2020

Worldbuilding: Picking a Government

This week at the SFF Seven, we're asking: Presidential or Kingly - How do you decide your world's structure of authority and/or governance?

It's funny... as a staunch believer in democracy, I've never considered making one of my fantasy worlds have a government elected by the people. Why is that???

I mean, the easy answer is that it never occurred to me, but then I need to examine my underlying assumptions.

  • Fantasy means monarchies with cool castles
  • Crowns and the trappings of royalty are pretty awesome
  • It's an alternate world, which means not the one I live in

There's also the aspect of creating a political system where a government could be chosen by the people, which assumes a certain level of tech - or a very small population. Still, I could do it. I probably should - and now it's in my head, so that will probably brew up at at some point into something...

All that said, I do love writing about people born to the throne, taking up the noble cause and trying to do the right thing by their people. Interestingly enough, I take this to another level in my Forgotten Empires trilogy, amping up the theme in book #2, THE FIERY CROWN, where the nobility is magically tied to the land. It's an old, even pagan concept, and fun to explore.

Next up: a magical democracy? Hmm....

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Salute to My Cover Artist Fiona Jayde

Our theme this week is a shout out to the non-author creatives we collaborate with, or who enrich our lives. I'm going to keep my focus on the author sphere of my life and mention the wonderful Fiona Jayde.

She's always done my scifi romance covers and in the last year or so has also given me my fantasy covers and new Egyptian paranormal covers. Getting my new cover from her is a treat for myself, an encouragement to keep working on the book in question and FUN!

I highly value her professional opinion on the various genres and what's in, what's out, as well as her creativity...and her patience! I'm not a patient person but I admire the quality in others. Fiona has always been so patient with me when I pick stock photos that totally don't work (Me: "This one is great if we could airbrush out these three things, change the background, add a supernova and give her red hair..." Fiona: O_o, followed by a patient explanation of why we can't do any of that to the photo in question, followed by specific suggestions to achieve what I'm going for in a different manner, or alternate stock photos or...)

I think Fiona is really REALLY good at capturing the 'flavor' of the book in question from just my few notes and any inspiration photos I may send along.

I'll always remember the thrill of getting my first cover from her, for my first scifi romance to be published,Wreck of the Nebula Dream ("Titanic in space..." as one reviewer called it). That cover established what was to become my 'look' or brand for the books set in this universe.

My first REALLY huge seller was Star Cruise: Marooned and I've always thought the fabulous eye catching cover from Fiona was a key factor in getting readers to give the book a second look and maybe even a third one.

When it was time to start my Badari Warriors scifi romance series, she developed the series branding, with the ominous alien lab in the background and the sexy genetically engineered soldier in the foreground. Here's the entire series (including one we did under the In the Stars Romance logo, which frankly doesn't work as well for a book in a series.  Sigh. I confused everyone by writing that book outside the series! Never again! It's a perfectly fine logo for books written for that imprint and I might just be writing a few more for them....but not Badari Warriors.)
For my fledgling fantasy series, I asked her to have fun and sort of surprise me. Usually when we're doing the SFR I've at least tried to select the cover model or models and sent her anywhere from 3-10 possibilities. (I'm still not too good at not falling in love with photos that just don't work for a romance cover.) But I had no idea where to begin in fantasy romance.

I'm very happy with my two sparkly fantasy covers (and I have a third one already, for the next book, which I just have to write LOL.)
My original ancient Egyptian covers were mostly done by the amazing Frauke Spanuth of Croco Designs. I love her work and she did my first ever published book cover, for Priestess of the Nile, which I believe I may have cried when I saw it - so perfect.  But when the rights for the first book reverted to me, Harlequin kept the rights to the cover art.

Fiona and I had been working toward that day by designing a 'brand' image for these paranormals going forward.  Here's are the three recent covers she's created for me in the loosely connected series:

I have 38 books published, so it's tempting to give you all 38 pieces of eye candy but I'll restrain myself. (Book #39 coming soon...)

For more about Fiona and her services you can visit

Note: Background graphics behind the multiple cover displays are from DepositPhoto

Friday, February 14, 2020

Contributing Artists

Which artists move me varies by the day. Sometimes by the hour. Music is the most obvious and the easiest because I can pipe it directly into my skull from just about anywhere. Right now, Spotify's Nine Inch Nails play list (built for me based on my listening habits - well trained AI is all that, lemme tell you) is keeping me going.

I have no idea what it is about driving beats and angry lyrics that work for me. But here I am. Maybe because the pace is fast and I get pushed to keep up. I don't have as much room to stop and overthink.

On the other hand, I have an app called Calm. It is a meditation app at core, but for me, the greatest utility is the sleep function. The app commissions a bunch of different artists to create content for the app - all centered around focus and relaxation. My two favorite are Liminal Sleep by Sigur Rós and System Sounds: Song of the Night Sky. The last one assigns a musical note to the stars in the night sky based on color and brightness then plays the results based on the stars rising at the eastern horizon. So you know that's right up my alley.

The other artists in my life are the felines. After all. It was Leonardo da Vinci who said The smallest feline is a masterpiece. Cuillean agrees.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Introducing...Wyoming Axe Works! (with a GIVEAWAY!)

(WY Axe Works' photo)

This week we get to give a shout-out to one of our favorite creatives! For me, the pick was easy because we have a lot of his hand-crafted items in our house. And I know he’s got something you can’t live without, so let me introduce you to: Josh from Wyoming Axe Works! 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Ravven: Queen of the Cover Artists

Our assignment this week at the SFF Seven is to give a shout-out to the non-author creatives who enrich our lives: illustrators, musicians, jewelers, painters, poets, voice-actors, etc.

This one is an easy pick for me because I just released THE FATE OF THE TALA, which means I've been posting the cover everywhere.

Fortunately, it's so freaking gorgeous that no one gets tired of seeing it over and over. That's because it's the work of Ravven, Queen of the Cover Artists


Ravven and I have been working together for several years now, and every cover she's done for me has been amazing.


I can't say enough about her. Not only does she create stunning images, she does such an incredible job of nailing my characters that I end up using the covers for inspiration as I write the stories.


Ravven is also a consummate professional, always responsive and delivering right on schedule.


She's super fun to work with, and often comes up with visual elements that I incorporate into the stories because they're so perfectly congruent.


Ravven creates covers to order, and she also has an amazing set of premade covers she can customize for you. So check out her website! But I get first dibs on her schedule ;-)

Also, as a super fun thing with the release of  THE FATE OF THE TALA - if you subscribe to Pikko's House Book Lovers Box this month, a limited number of subscribers will get the first book that started it all, THE MARK OF THE TALA, for free!!

THE FATE OF THE TALA, the  exciting conclusion of the story begun in The Mark of the Tala!

An Uneasy Marriage,
An Unholy Alliance.

The tales tell of three sisters, daughters of the high king. The eldest, a valiant warrior-woman, conquered her inner demons to become the high queen. The youngest, and most beautiful outlived her Prince Charming and found a strength beyond surface loveliness.

And the other one, Andi? The introverted, awkward middle princess is now the Sorceress Queen Andromeda—and she stands at the precipice of a devastating war.

As the undead powers of Deyrr gather their forces, their High Priestess focuses on Andi, undermining her at every turn. At the magical barrier that protects the Thirteen Kingdoms from annihilation, the massive Dasnarian navy assembles, ready to pounce the moment Andi’s strength fails. And, though her sisters and friends gather around her, Andi finds that her husband, Rayfe, plagued with fears over her pregnancy, has withdrawn, growing ever more distant.

Fighting battles on too many fronts, Andi can’t afford to weaken, as she’s all that stands between all that’s good in the world and purest evil.

For Andi, the time to grow into her true power has come. . .


Saturday, February 8, 2020

Working Hard Not To Be Repetitious As An Author

Our topic this week is what do we find ourselves doing over and over in our writing, like the way events unfolded repeatedly in the movie “Groundhog Day.”

First, I have to take a minute to say how much I LOVE that movie and also the commercial Bill Murray did for this year’s Superbowl wherein he revisited the adventure! Great stuff.

The movie “Edge of Tomorrow” with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt is another terrific science fiction movie with the “repeat the day” trope and deadly stakes, by the way.

Moving on to my own writing, as others have said this week, I have a list of words I overuse in the first drafts of my books, which starts with the word “that’. That is my single most overused assembly of vowels and consonants, usually with over 200 occurrences in a manuscript. Another word on my list is “moment”, which ironically was suggested to me by my editor at Carina Press in my first book and I got so overenthusiastic about using it, my current editor now has forbidden me to use it at all. (The word does sneak in a few times each book though.)  I don’t self-edit when I’m writing the first draft because I’ve found if I do, my creativity is stifled and grinds to a halt.  First draft for me is all about letting the story spill from my mind onto the page (computer) and not the time to stop and exorcise the ‘bad’ words.

I budget three solid days for the editing pass in which I do go through and clean out and replace ‘that’ and all his or her repetitious companions on my list. It’s kind of grueling but yields so many more interesting word choices and turns of phrase so the effort is definitely worth it. I know there are programs which are supposed to assist an author in finding and changing out these types of words but I prefer to do it by hand, at ground level, myself. Sometimes during this part of the process, I find some other word I’ve formed a temporary attachment to and then I work on revising there as well. I don’t try to eliminate every instance of these words – they’re English, they appear naturally in life and in conversation. I just try to prune so there aren’t say three ‘moments’ in one paragraph.

I have a very successful, award winning scifi romance series going, the Badari Warriors, and I have a different challenge there, not to basically re-tell the same story in each book.

Here’s the high level series premise:  Genetically engineered soldiers of the far future, the Badari were created by alien enemies to fight humans. But then the scientists kidnapped an entire human colony from the Sectors to use as subjects in twisted experiments…the Badari and the humans made common cause, rebelled and escaped the labs. Now they live side by side in a sanctuary valley protected by a powerful Artificial Intelligence, and wage unceasing war on the aliens. 

I have read series in the past where the author basically changes the names from book to book but everything else is the same, like old TV shows which followed a pretty strict formula. (Dare I say ‘cookie cutter’???)  I want to avoid that at all costs – I never want to bore the reader!

Just last week I had a really nice note from a reader who finished my newest book in the series, LANDON, and she in fact complimented me on the fact that I’ve managed to change up the circumstances in each book and provide new challenges for each couple, while remaining within the series world building.

Here’s what I said at one time about what I did to make the second book MATEER different from the first book AYDARR: With MATEER, I wanted to keep the series arc moving forward, advancing the overall plot, but I wasn’t done with the idea of a Badari warrior trapped in a lab and the human woman who helps him. There’s such a huge story potential inherent in the situation, which seems hopeless at first glance, but the hero and heroine will find a way out (this is romance – happy endings!).  I pondered how Megan, a doctor, would react to being awakened and finding herself a prisoner under threat of really despicable alien experiments – she’d naturally want to use her medical skills to help her fellow humans survive, but not get drawn into offering the enemy even the slightest assistance. And then there’s Mateer, the chief enforcer from the Badari pack, who’s been recaptured, much to the glee of the scientist running the lab. He has plans for Mateer and Megan together.

So while the two are mutually attracted to each other, they feel they have to resist the scientist’s plot designed specifically for them…and then something happens to Megan to totally change up the situation.

I think my biggest challenge for this book in the series was to make Mateer his own man, differentiated from Aydarr, the Alpha in book one. I had to sit and ponder how growing up in the same harsh circumstances as every other Badari would result in his being a unique person, with his own take on life. I also had a bit of fun in the beginning as Mateer envies the Alpha and his mate (from AYDARR’s events), and has confusion about how the whole concept of finding and being a mate works.  Not, mind you, the physical aspects, but how to know he’s met the one woman for him and how to impress on her that he’s the one man for her.

With Megan, who is the sister of book one’s heroine, but very different – younger, a doctor rather than a soldier as Jill was - I felt her medical training and knowledge would make her much more cautious about trusting her feelings in the high pressure environment of the Khagrish lab/prison.

I’ve played with many wrinkles and scenarios since the first two books, had a lot of fun, built the readership for the series and there’s no end to the stories I have in mind to tell going forward. So I guess this is my anti-groundhog day effort. I take it as a fun challenge and it’s also allowed me to explore a number of different SFR tropes within the series.

DARIK is probably the one where I had the most SF fun, giving a nod to the movies ‘Alien’, ‘Andromeda Strain’ and ‘Puppet Masters’ (the Heinlein classic, not the horror film franchise) in the course of the book. I’ve had hurricanes, avalanches, hidden Alphas, aliens hunting the hero and hero across the plains… (The hunt is a trope that has been used successfully in movies like 2010’s ‘Predators’, one of my favorites, and also in a classic TV movie about a big game hunter turning on his guide while they were out in the desert, and hunting him. I think that one’s been remade two or three times!)….a pregnancy, kidnapping, a heroine who says no to her fated mate (temporarily – hey, this is romance after all and she had a good reason!) and many, many more plot twists and turns over the twelve books so far.

Before I slide into repeating myself here, time to end the Groundhog Day and get back to work on my next book in the series which, yes, will have some new and different plot twists!

Happy reading!

Note: Graphics from DepositPhoto, book covers by Fiona Jayde

Friday, February 7, 2020

A Writer's Groundhog Day

In Groundhog Day, the 1993 movie with Bill Murray and Andie McDowell (and given a short sequel with a super bowl Jeep commercial) follows a man learning to be a decent human being by living the same day over and over and over again. Until he finally gets it right for all the right reasons.

I wish I could tell you that's what happened with my books. It's not that simple. Bill Murray's character Phil has to overcome self-interest and selfishness. My books have to overcome a multi-layered set of handicaps.
  1. Thematic repetition - I write about finding your place in the world, so all my stories have that theme running through them somewhere. I keep hoping I'll move on, but it hasn't happened yet.
  2. Characters having to learn to accept themselves - I suppose this is common stuff. It's part of the character arc, right? If we accepted ourselves fully, we'd have no impetus for change and then there'd be no character arc. But still. So far, every book has this running through it, too.
  3. Repetitive phrases/gestures - this is purely a relic of my brain and my writing process. I'm trying to write fast, to get a really crappy draft down asap. That means I don't stop to think about how else I could have said something. Apparently, this is how you end up with 300+ exclamation points in a manuscript. Who knew.
  4. Dark night of this writer's soul. Every book, there comes a point where I stop dead and stare at the carcass of my draft with all the bones sticking out and the sinews attached in places that make no sense and I boggle at it wondering what the hell I was thinking. We're there now. I'll get through it, usually by rearranging points of view and raising stakes. 
But there you have it. The terrible thing about Groundhog Day, the first half of the actual movie, in fact, is the despair of realizing you have to keep repeating your mistakes and missteps over and over again, hoping to heaven you can figure out what you're supposed to learn from it all. The wonderful thing about Groundhog Day (for Phil in the movie and for me in RL) is that you learn the patterns. Once you figure those out, you know what to expect and you can start twisting them. Maybe not to your advantage right away, but eventually. 

I'm looking forward to that part.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Groundhog Day writing...good or bad?

 (photo from the author's own monopoly fail)

It’s inevitable.

It’s gonna happen, you just know it.

Sometimes you don’t see it coming because you’re focused. Eyes on the board. Head in the game. But most of the time you know, because you know it happens every time…the fed-up-with-this-monopoly-game—board-flip. Boom. It happened.

Yes, you’re right, the topic of the blog this week is what Groundhog Day thing do you keep doing in your own writing. And I am getting to that, promise! But I wanted to point out that there’s Groundhog Day tendencies everywhere.

If you’re a creative, they’re not always bad. It could be your signature, that it factor that everyone recognizes as you. But more often than not we think of the repetitive in the negative, right?

My first thought was that I Groundhog the hell out of glancing eyes, but then realized that’s because I just finished re-reading a manuscript. Thinking back to the first book I wrote, and I had an overabundant use of was and just. My second book had the case of the glancing gazes. By the third book, I’d moved onto using too many sensory descriptions and not enough environmental ones.

Now in my fourth book, well, I’m only a handful of chapters in so it’s hard to say what will end up being my Groundhog Day for this one. But isn’t that great?! It means I’m learning with each book I write. No, I’m not perfect at what I’ve picked up, but I am aware of those writing pitfalls and take strides to not repeat them, I take strides to improve my writing.

So I guess I’ll go with that, my writing Groundhog Day thing is learning something new. Give me another five books or so and I’m sure I’ll have a new answer. ;)

‘Till then, I really, really want to go watch my favorite, cynical weatherman kidnap Punxsutawney and try win over the heart of the beautiful Andie MacDowell!

How about you? What stage are you at in your writing? Do you have any things you keep doing, good or bad? Or…maybe you just need to find a spot on the couch and turn on Groundhog Day too!