Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween!

Here's a fairly simple fact about the wonderful world of writing. It's a juggling act. You work on Project Four. That's in the first draft stage. You edit Project Two: That's in the First Round Edit stage.  Not quite ready to send out, but you do what needs to be done so it can be submitted. You have to take care of Project Three: The editor and House X wants a new proposal and the first five chapters to peruse.Then there's the SUDDEN DEATH ROUND: Your publisher would like the line edits corrected on the final draft (you were late on that, no more excuses and it's time to earn some brownie points) of the manuscript that's coming out as a book much sooner than you thought it was. They'd like the entire 140,000 word MS with massive red lines and a few hundred editorial notes back in ten days. There can be no mistaking the note of Don't-Screw-This-Up-Again in your editor's email.

It can be overwhelming.

Add in a little daily family drama. Mom and her sister Lorraine are at it AGAIN. It's almost inevitable. they holidays are coming up and the debate about where the multiple family feast will take place who will cook what and whether or not to invite Uncle Wilber (He-Who-Drinks-Too-Much) is still a bone of contention. You aren't SUPPOSED to be the mediator, but they always come to you.

Bob still isn't speaking to Cousin Emily. No one really knows why, but that's going to come up soon.

That job you got to pay for this year's holidays? Yeah, that's rapidly becoming real work. Supposed to be ten or fifteen hours behind the counter and now they're asking if you could just cover for everyone who decided they couldn't actually spend the time. That's only an additional 30 hours a week (no overtime, please!) and you don't mind, do you?

Here's that thing you need to do: focus.

Set aside the time you need for your writing CAREER. A lot of times people don't want to remember that the thing you do where you're sitting at the computer every day in your fuzzy slippers with your oversized cup of coffee or tea, where you forgot to brush your hair and MAYBE even to change out of your pajamas is actually a career.

The books and short stories, those write and edit themselves, right? You were just playing around on Facebook again. It can wait until AFTER the crisis of the week, can't it?

Perception be damned it's still YOUR career and life.

Side note: Yes, I know kids make everything different, They are children and need attention and love and care. They also need down time. Or a good school to attend. And if you're the breadwinner in the family, they also need the roof over your head that your writing helps provide. Naps. Naps are good. And babysitters cane be very useful.

My point is, focus. No excuses (Understand that I consider an excuse MOST of the scenarios above. A day job is not an excuse. but if your writing is your career and the other is a job, focus first and foremost on your career. Children ARE an excuse, but if you have kids and barring unforseens and emergencies, they are a factor you can control. Focus. Find the schedule that works to make your day work for YOU, not the world around you. Set your priorities. yes, family IS important. but no rule says you always have to be the one stuck in the middle of the local family squabble.

Focus. It's hard to do sometimes, but it lets you keep all those plates spinning in the air with a minimum of broken ceramic.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Ones Who Gave Up: Great Cautionary Tales

At last, the much-anticipated next installment in the Sorcerous Moons series, THE TIDES OF BÁRA is out! About and Buy Links at the bottom of the page.

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "My favorite great cautionary tale in the writing world."

This might even have been my suggestion, because I think it's really important to pay attention to the cautionary tales. Sure, there's an aspect of rubbernecking to these, or schadenfreude (or Franzenfreude, for a specifically literary metaphor). The key, however, is not to exult in the failures of others - because there but for the grace of the blessings of the universe go we - but to learn from them.

That's why they're Great Cautionary Tales. Don't cry wolf, don't be unnecessarily unkind, don't lose your soul to material possessions. Our core stories tend to be cautionary tales. It's up to us to take those cautions to heart and live by them.

There are many Great Cautionary Tales in the literary world, even more so with the internet ruthlessly detailing each to the miserable deaths of the final squirming pieces. I write a lot of them down and have been since I was a very newbie writer. In fact, lately I've been doing this enormous cleaning of my writing office, including files, and I found a set of notes I made back in 2000, when a writing teacher of mine won a prestigious statewide fellowship. We'd all applied, with shining puppy eyes, as we did every year. She won (deservedly), but showed up only for the awards ceremony rather than the associated conference, wearing scruffy jeans and called the honor "neat." My note says "Always remember to honor the honors you're given. Even if they seem small to you, they might be lofty goals for someone else."

When I finally received that same fellowship in 2006, I made sure to honor it.

But let's take a look at that. Six years between the disappointment of not winning -  yet again - and when I finally did. Ten years since I first applied for it.

I could cite a lot of Great Cautionary Tales, but with NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month) on the horizon, I'm going to pick this one: Don't Give Up.

Or, put positively, Keep Going!

I'm thinking back to those days of my crit group, the starry eyed aspiring writers who all applied for that fellowship. There were twelve of us, more than half who went on to publish in some fashion (from literary magazines to novels), a third of whom won that selfsame fellowship and a quarter of whom are now dead. None of them were old women, either.

But one of them, who I'll call Diana, lingers on in my mind. She was older than me then, but I'm thinking she must have been about the age I am now. A professor's wife who'd spent most of her life raising a family, she wrote these incredible stories about the passive/aggressive rage in women who gave up their ambitions. Her stories were deftly told, lyrical, and explosive. When I read Meg Wolitzer's The Wife, I thought immediately of Diana. Of all of us, I thought she was the most talented writer.

I still do.

And she never published anything, that I know of. No, she's not one who died, that I know of.

She moved away when her husband retired and we fell out of touch. She has a common enough name that Googling her would be very nearly futile. Oddly resonant, that.

The reason she never published was not because of the gatekeepers, because she was rejected too many times, because she didn't want to learn to self-publish (which back then was highly suspect anyway). She didn't publish because she never submitted anything to anyone. We were the only people who read her work. When we encouraged her to send in a story, she'd demur and say it wasn't ready. Once she confided in me that she couldn't bear for it to be scrutinized and rejected, that it was enough for her to write it.

I tried to respect that, but I think of her from time to time with a sense of great regret. When last I heard from her, she said that, with her husband retired, she'd given up spending time and energy on writing.

She gave up.

I know a lot of writers who have. It's a difficult business, fraught with challenges and opportunities to throw in the towel. It's frighteningly easy to let a small break become a hiatus that becomes a sabbatical that - years later - turns out to be quitting. It doesn't get easier, either. Many writers give up after having multiple books published by Big 5 publishers.

I'm asking you not to be one of them. Because the writers I know who are successful are the ones who kept going no matter what. Not the most talented. Not even the most prolific. Just who kept going.

This is the great lesson of NaNoWriMo, as far as I'm concerned. Writing 50K in the 30 days of November teaches you to build a writing habit, yes - but it also teaches you to keep going. To "win" - to reach the goal - requires that you don't let anything get in the way of completing those words.

It's the most necessary skill for being a writer.

So I'm urging you all: KEEP GOING. If you want to write, WRITE. Let nothing get in the way. Never surrender.



A Narrow Escape 

With her secrets uncovered and her power-mad brother bent on her execution, Princess Oria has no sanctuary left. Her bid to make herself and her new barbarian husband rulers of walled Bára has failed. She and Lonen have no choice but to flee through the leagues of brutal desert between her home and his—certain death for a sorceress, and only a bit slower than the blade.

A Race Against Time 

At the mercy of a husband barely more than a stranger, Oria must war with her fears and her desires. Wild desert magic buffets her; her husband’s touch allures and burns. Lonen is pushed to the brink, sure he’s doomed his proud bride and all too aware of the restless, ruthless pursuit that follows…

A Danger Beyond Death… 

Can Oria trust a savage warrior, now that her strength has vanished? Can Lonen choose her against the future of his people? Alone together in the wastes, Lonen and Oria must forge a bond based on more than lust and power, or neither will survive the test…

Buy the Book

Saturday, October 29, 2016

What Happens Before the Writing Starts?

Short answer: nothing visible to the human eye.

Right now I'm working on the sequel to 'Star Cruise: Stowaway', which is my novella in the Pets In Space anthology. (Oh yes, you'll see those buy links for PETS at the bottom but hey, we are supporting a charity which provides service dogs for veterans.)

When I was writing Stowaway, I had an idea for a sequel, so I built in a hook - the heroine has a sister who's in big trouble. If you've read the novella, you know what I'm alluding to! No spoilers here. After I finished my next novel, the long awaited sequel to Wreck of the Nebula Dream (hopefully out in November), and sent it to my editor, I took a few days off to clear my head for commencing a new project. I wrote a lot of blog posts, read a few books by other people and played around on social media.

Slowly but surely I start to feel myself becoming grumpy that I'm not writing my own next story.By whatever process my subconscious (AKA my Muse) delivers my books to me, I know the heroine, the hero, the overall situation, the opening, the ending and a few key scenes.

I sit myself down at my great-grandmother's desk, pet the cat while my laptop boots up, open WORD to a fresh new document and start typing.

TA DA! The process revealed. I don't plot, I don't outline, I don't do anything else before I start writing. In the old days when I had a long commute to the day job, I used to think about my plots while driving and listening to music, mostly to pass the time. And while keeping an eye out for the other drivers on the crazy SoCal freeways.

Now as the writing progresses, there may be times I sit and noodle on a lavender legal pad, and think about some plot options, choices the characters might make and how they'd play out in terms of the story. I've adapted a root cause analysis technique I learned at NASA/JPL, kind of reverse engineered it and it works every time to show me where I really want to go when I've hit a thorny spot in my story.

When I'm writing a novel set in ancient Egypt (my other genre), I stop and do research on various things.

But before the writing starts? Nada.

Total pantster here, but it works for me. and since I'm independently published, I don't have to write an outline or a synopsis ahead of time to 'sell'. I don't have to live up to an agreement to write three books set in the quaint village on the nice planet where X, Y and Z will happen. I suspect I'd be TERRIBLE at any or all of that! I like being a free spirit and am grateful the current publishing environment lets me get away with it. As long as my readers are happy, which they seem to be, I'm good.

So about Pets In Space.... (we do have over 50 four and five star reviews):

Even an alien needs a pet…

Join the adventure as nine pet loving sci-fi romance authors take you out of this world and pull you into their action-packed stories filled with suspense, laughter, and romance. The alien pets have an agenda that will capture the hearts of those they touch. Follow along as they work side by side to help stop a genetically-engineered creature from destroying the Earth to finding a lost dragon; life is never the same after their pets decide to get involved. Can the animals win the day or will the stars shine just a little less brightly?
New York Times, USA TODAY, Award Winning, and Best selling authors have eight original, never-released stories and one expanded story giving readers nine amazing adventures that will capture your imagination and help a worthy charity. Come join us as we take you on nine amazing adventures that will change the way you look at your pet!
10% of profits from the first month go to Hero Dogs raises and trains service dogs and places them free of charge with US Veterans to improve quality of life and restore independence.
About Star Cruise: Stowaway:
Cargo Master Owen Embersson is shocked when the Nebula Zephyr’s ship’s cat and her alien sidekick, Midorri, alert him to the presence of a stowaway. He has no idea of the dangerous complications to come – nor does he anticipate falling hard for the woman whose life he now holds in his hands. Life aboard the Nebula Zephyr has just become more interesting – and deadly.

Buy Links:
iBooks    Amazon    ARe     Nook      GooglePlay     Kobo

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Four Steps to Starting

There are four stages of starting anything. I'd tack "for me" onto the end of that, but since I'm writing this, I'm gonna go ahead and assume you've worked that part out already.

Step 1. Boredom
This is how the whole story telling thing began for me - long stretches of silence with nothing to do while tucked into the backseat of a car while the family drove from one military posting to another. Long stretches of highway, watching the scenery go by, imaging what went on in the forests or in the towns behind the facades of houses and businesses. Eventually, I liked the stories playing in my head enough to write them down. Once that happened, I could be bored anywhere and come up with a story idea. Usually as snippets of dialog. Angsty, drama-ridden dialog, but you have to start somewhere, right?

Step 2. Names and Situation
This is my proof of concept step. From angst and drama, I have to come up with a compelling situation - the background, the world, the people, and a general sense of how the story might begin and how it might end. Ish. I need only a general notion. This, for me, is no time for detail. Lots of note taking and journaling happens at this step. I play a lot of 'what if' games. But one thing is certain, without character names, I'm dead in the water. The protagonists must step forward and identify themselves. This is where I need characters to develop the beginnings of voice - this is the illusion that these people actually live and breathe and have wills of their own outside of my imagination. This is the point that the monster has to rise from my laboratory table and either go forth to wreak havoc or collapse in a mass of stitched together body parts that are all going to have to be burned before they start stinking up the place.

Step 3. Character, Character, Character
Once I have a general notion of a story and some character names, it's time to dive deep, and for me, everything comes from character. Everything. The plot, the conflict, black moment, and the climax. I spend about a week working my way through Mary Buckham's Break Into Fiction templates for all of my major characters. Protagonist(s) and antagonist at the very least. If it's a romance, I'll work through hero and heroine. This step also serves as my initial immersion point for the story - meaning that at this stage, I'm spending several hours a day buried in questions about who my characters are, why they are who they are and what they believe they know about themselves but have totally wrong. This is where conflict is born for my stories. It's also where scene lists begin building. If you're writing genre fiction, you have to build scenes that challenge your protagonists' assumptions about themselves and motivate them into change (there's your character arc). If you're writing literary fiction, your scenes will rub a character's nose in his or her faulty assumptions, but not force the character to change, though he or she may come to comprehend his or her faults.

Step 4. Word Count
This is the point at which there are no more excuses. Armed with a few markers (I usually know how a story opens and I have a soft grip on how it might end - everything else is a blur) and with a pretty good understanding of my characters and what drives them, I can start making tracks. The form of my story is still vague. I'm usually flying blind once I get past the first few opening scenes, but with my character's templates filled out, I have guideposts to keep me pursuing their goals and challenging their weaknesses even if I don't know exactly what happens in the middle of the book.

That's my summary of 'how to begin'. Do you follow any kind of pattern for starting something? What I'm curious about is how plot-driven writers approach starting a book. (As opposed to a character-driven writer.)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Perils of the Writer: Gearing Up To Start A Novel

Some of you out there might be planning to participate in NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month.  Good on you.  It isn't something for me, in part because the pace demanded doesn't match my ideal writing pace, and in part because, for me, every month is Novel Writing Month.  My current schedule, my current system... it really doesn't allow me much breathing room between projects.  
I've compared writing a novel to running a marathon, but that's not right.  It's going on an expedition.  You're going to trek out there and do some serious Lewis and Clark level stuff to get from staring at a blank page to "Hey, I wrote a book!"  And if you were to cross to the Pacific or climb Everest or reach the south pole, you wouldn't just strap your shoes on and start walking and find out what happens.
No, you're going to do some prep work.  You're going to get yourself supplied.  What does that look like for this expedition?
Here's my checklist:
  • Worldbuilding:  At this point, for all the Maradaine books, this is more or less done, but each book will probably have some additional element to investigate or deepen.  In An Import of Intrigue, that meant figuring out the street-level of The Little East in finer detail.  
  • Outlines, Spreadsheets and Timetables: With three (or four) interconnected series in the same city, there's a lot of moving parts, and a lot of keeping track of what happens when, and how that has repercussions elsewhere.  My outlines have a structure that have served me well, and in addition to writing on Scrivener, I've been playing with Scapple (from the fine people who made Scrivener) and Aeon Timeline.  Both fine programs I recommend for free-form thinking and laying out timelines, respectively.
  • Character Work: Every book, at the outset, has a Dramatis Personae, and this file gets updated over the course of the work, as new characters show up who weren't intended in the original outline.  Sometimes minor, and those minor characters blow up as the series progress.  Also part of my process is getting myself a visual reference for the character in my head.  So I create a facepage of the main characters, digging through actor headshots (here's a good source) to find people who look like the characters I imagine.
  • Playlist: I don't do too much of this, but I do try to find some music that fits the mood of the book I'm about to write.
All this reminds me, I've got to get moving on finalizing the prep work for A Parliament of Bodies in the near future.  And you've probably got some work to do, also.  Get on that.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

In the Beginning...

Today I want to talk about pre-production of the writing process.

First comes coffee. Period.

 It must be Millstone Chocolate Velvet coffee. It must be properly adjusted with cream and flavoring, and it must be served in a.) the Star Trek mug above, or b.) the Maleficient mug below. Without the adjustment or if served not in the proper mug, the coffee cannot be drunk. If served improperly, whipped cream and purple sugar sprinkles must be added to the top as a measure of penance. Oh, who am I kidding. I add the topping for the Hell of it.

For me, after the required coffee provisions are met, if there's a new seed and new work at hand, then before I get into the bulk of the writing the whiteboards and planning come into play, followed by reading.

It starts in my head with that seed of an idea. When it starts to root, it goes to the whiteboard. Here that nifty scheme gets explored and refined. In the case of Seph books, I'll research what has come before that is primarily relevant to this story and make notes, draw lines, use colors and make it interesting to look at because, hey, yeah, the artsy shit in my head doesn't turn off.

Once the appropriate connections seem made, I start plotting. Might be a few beats like the points on a W plot frame. You know, two triggers leading two turning points before the resolution. Easy, right.

Whew, we needed that laugh, you and I, didn't we? Yeah. Writing a book is never easy. But starting a plot can be as simple as five sentences.


Point 1.) Due to feisty droids, Luke meets Ben.
Neo's at work one day, gets a weird package, and a weirder call.
Harry finds out he's a wizard, is sent to Hogwarts.

Point 2.) Due to his Aunt and Uncle's deaths, he leaves with Ben and meets Han and Chewie, and shortly are captured.
He learns about this reality, doesn't believe it when Morpheus says he's special. 
Harry makes friends, meets his teachers, learns about the school and his parent's. 

Point 3.) The group hides on the Falcon, come out later, rescue the princess and get away with the important plans.
Neo trains, meets with Oracle. He still doesn't believe. 
The potions teacher seems to be up to no good, which Harry investigates

Point 4.) Regrouping with the Rebellion, they plan how to defend against the attack that is inevitable.
Baddies attack, take Morpheus, and Neo and Co come up with a plan. 
Harry and his friends face various trials and 3 headed dog

Point 5.) Luke hits the mark and destroys the Death Star.
Neo accepts his fate and faces the baddies and wins. 
Harry faces and defeats the true bad-guy, another teacher than suspected.

Okay, okay, I over simplified it, but you get the point, yes?

Knowing a few beats allows me the freedom to explore the story and characters as I learn more about them through research and through the writing itself, so the whole process is discovery in large or small ways.

Those few sentences (or less) might be all a panster needs to write a whole novel. But I like a little more. Not a full forty-page outline, but the main points, certain details about characters (fill out character sheets, etc), items, places, and the expected emotional journey of the characters. I say 'expected' because the characters sometimes change their minds mid-story.

Then comes the reading.

Yes the reading. Those details on the chart turn into sparks that make me want to read up on items or places (view pictures, read personal accounts of being there) or psychology (quirks/patterns/etc). This is not just to reinforce my plot points. There's inspiration in those readings, if you want to find it.

I might write a scene or two here and there, but I generally have a well-rendered picture in my head before I really delve into the story.

Now, I'm bound for World Fantasy Convention in Columbus Ohio. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Pre-Production: Films Say Storyboard, Books Say Outline

Pre-production. To me, this is a film term adopted by multiple industries. I knew the details of pre-production in certain circles but not in filming. Because I like to pretend I'm smart, I looked up the details. Gods bless Google, I now know more than I meant to. All of the pre-production checklists--all of the decent lists at least--had "Lock Your Script" as the starting point.


Okay, okay, okay, that's near the end of the process for us. But they did have line-items that meshed fairly well with the author-verse. Things like: Know Your Budget, Write the Production Schedule, Hire Your Crew, Cast the Show, Find and Secure Your Locations, and Complete Storyboards.

Strangely enough, that's pretty much what I do before I stare at the very blank page of Chapter One.

Budgeting: How much can I spend on cover art, editing, formatting, ISBNs, copyright filing, and marketing? The length of the book is often determined by the funds I have to pay the editors.

Production Schedule: When do I want to release the book? How many days before that do I need to lock-in the final file(s) with assorted distributors? How much lead time do I give ARC Reviewers & Street Teams? How many days does my formatter need? Proofreader? Copy-editor? Dev Editor? Artist?

Hire Your Crew: All those people from the production schedule need to be booked well in advance. I prefer a minimum 90-day lead; though, some artists and editors need to be contacted 6 months out.

Cast The Show: By the time I think "hey, this might make a good book" I've had many, many, many conversations with the protagonist about their plight, their scooby-crew, their most exhilarating/debilitating moments. I always cast more people than I really need, but, hey, that's what edits are for.

Find & Secure Your Locations: The couch hasn't gone anywhere in twelve years. However, before I start writing, I declutter and clean the house. Physical clutter is a distraction and I am too easily distracted when I write. Cleaning is necessary because once I start writing, the level of tidiness is on a constant decline.

Complete The Storyboards: Since I'm a plotter, this would be the outline phase for me. Outlining often explodes into full-on story writing, so...yeeeeah, this is the very, very last step of pre-production for me.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Driving the story forward.

I like to drive. Often times I'll hop in the car, crank up a little music and hit the road fro a while, preferably with a nice soundtrack and light traffic to keep me company. Sometimes I visit friends, or meet them for lunch, etc. In any case, I like to drive.

Because that, friends and neighbors, is where at least half of my creative process is done.

I was listening to THE SICKNESS by Disturbed when I came up with the idea for my YA Series SUBJECT SEVEN. The songs, the solitude, the lack of everything else that I should have been doing correspondence, the business of writing, etc) allowed my brain to plant a seed and watch it germinate. It was a lovely thing.

The seed of the TIDES OF WAR series WICKED WITCHES the latest anthology from the New England Horror Writers was inspired very heavily by a trip to Salem, Mass that I took a few months earlier. I looked around the historic sites and thought of all the deaths caused by the witch panics both over here and far more explosively over in Europe. The story came from that trip and festered in the back of my mind for a while before I let it out.
came from watching an old black and white movie (King Kong) and reflecting on the fact that the world didn't end when the hero of the story saved the damsel in distress from being chewed up by Kong. The rest of the story gelled for me when I was driving around New England and getting to know the area a little better. There's still TONS to explore, thank goodness. My story for

That's really very common for me On a few incredibly rare occasions I've had stories explode into my skull from a news article or a conversation, but those are the exception and not the rule.

Now and then I need to drive.

Now and then I need to dream.

Always I feel the need to write.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Family Stories

Because last week was the anniversary of my grandmother's death and because I am in nearing the end of a draft on a story set in New Orleans, I've got family on the brain. In part, because my mother's family is from the south. And in part because both in the story I'm finishing and in my life, family plays a complicated role.

This photo at right is of my grandfather Watson. He's the man on the right, in the suit and tie. This is in Arkansas, taken just after a church meeting. I have no notion of the year. Of all my family ties, my relationship with him was one of the least complicated. He and my grandmother both believed that my sister and I could do no wrong. We had an advantage, having both been born in Alaska, so far away form either set of grandparents. I met my maternal grandparents for the first time with I was five. I think they thought they had five years of spoiling to make up for. They were lovely people who accepted me without question and without fail, simply because I was their daughter's daughter.

But you know, they had six children. And those six children all had children. Some divorced, remarried and had still more children. By the time I'd come along, some of those children had married and started having children. That's a lot of people to have in the house at Thanksgiving. It's also a lot of people with a lot of different opinions, some diametrically opposed to my own. There are interdependencies and drama and accusations of terrible things. Dynamics of love and jealousy, rivalry and kinship are etched deep into the people who make up the family. We are mostly Scots/Irish and in the south, the clan identity never quite gave way. Your blood is your tribe for good or for ill. In reality, it's both. We have a body of stories in this part of my family - stories like Four Brothers Come to America and Marry Four Brothers. It was a headline in a local paper when a many times great grandfather arrived from Scotland. He and his brothers married four sisters whose last name was Brothers. When the Civil War came around, the entire line died out save for one lone boy who'd been too young to enlist. These make up a huge portion of our identity on Mom's side of the family. They're intertwined with the complicated side - like the occasional display of bigotry. I don't get to embrace one and ignore the other. They are part and messy parcel of the family.

And I'm not here to get up on a soapbox about anything. What I want is to have this complex, sometimes maddening, but ultimately loving and fertile ground woven into the story I'm finishing because it so defines the Southern experience and I suspect a big portion of the Civil War - in that it sundered families, both from an ideological stand point  and from the stand point that so many men died. The heroine of the story is already an orphan. She has no idea who she is. But she knows family. Crazy, maddening, loving and protective family. She'll do anything to protect them. Anything.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Perils of the Writer: Keeping Your Mind on the Work

So, I'm supposed to talk about whatever is on my mind, and of late my mind has been on the toxicity of social media, especially in the SFF community.  But at the same time, that's the last thing I want to talk about, because it is so toxic, and my brain power is better spent on other things.
So that's what's on my mind, but it is not what I want to talk about.
Because, when you come right down to it, the toxicity of social media should not matter.  What should matter is writing books, doing the work, and all of us authors can be "We've got books!" and everyone else can be "Yay books!" and that should be it.
I mean, my focus should be sitting down and writing.  Which is exactly what I do.  I've got deadlines coming up.  I've got more books coming out.  I do not have time to get into a tweet-war, nor do I have the inclination.  Why would I want to?
So: focused on the writing.  I'm deep in the process of Lady Henterman's Wardrobe, the second Streets of Maradaine novel, which is a lot of fun.  I'm looking forward to the things to come.  Heck, right now I've got three novels out, and a year from today, I'll have three more.  And I'm so excited about that.  I think you'll really enjoy meeting the Holver Alley Crew.  And you only have to wait until March for that.  
And only twelve days for An Import of Intrigue!  I'm so very excited.  We're do a full blog tour, kicking off on Saturday.  So keep your eyes open.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

You Tell Me: Urban Fantasy Covers--People or Objects

Since we're riffing this week about what's on our minds, I'll go with...covers.

I'm a fixin' to start work on the covers for my new Urban Fantasy series: The Immortal Spies.  I'm torn between using the traditional protagonist on the cover and the less common thematic art piece.

Examples of Protagonist-Centric Covers:

Examples of No People on the Covers:

For fans of Urban Fantasy, what are your thoughts? Preferences?  Strong feelings on either front?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Now And Then You Have To Eat Crow.

So, as I have said to several people in the last few years, I can be a luddite. I can be stubborn and I can even be down right repetitiously set in my ways. The subject in this case is self-publishing. Listen the fact of the matter is I've seen a LOT of people selling their self-pubbed books from the backs of their cars, both to individuals and in some cases even selling successfully to bookstores. I'm not saying that the works were amateurish, I'm just saying that you shouldn't have your seven-year-old nephew do the book cover, your auntie Mildred (You know, the one with dyslexia?) do the editing or your cousin with the xerox machine do your printing. It was about that bad when I was starting out. Mock me if you will, but those of us who have been there know the truth. There was a reason that self-publishing was sneered down at with open contempt. Most of the editing done was on par with one of my first drafts, before I proof it. That, folks, is just plain not pretty.

Well, over the last decade or so I've slowly learned a lesson. Self-publishing is like anything else. There's a right way and there's a wrong way. Only, until very, very recently in the history of publishing, doing it the wrong was was easier and far more common.

J.A. Konrath certainly deserves a great deal of credit. Not only was he really one of the pioneers of the new self-publishing frontiers, he was also one of the first to point out how he did it and make regular reports. He had a step up, of course. he had a traditional career as a best selling author to help boost his name and he's wise enough to use that momentum and keep going.  The man is practically an empire these days. complete with other people writing novels in his world and making profits as well, provided they receive Joe's approval.  That's damned impressive.

But in my mind he was the exception, and not the rule. There are always exceptions, right?

Enter E.J. Stevens.  Last year at Boskone, a fantasy convention set in Boston, E.J and I were on a panel together. I couldn't even tell you which one anymore,  (I THINK it was on keeping old myths alive in horror and urban fantasy).What I can tell you is that in the few minutes we had to chat before the panel started she caught my attention with her, frankly, impressive track record. In seven years time, E.J. had written and published fifteen novels. Self published. She had post cards, business cards, mini-posters, and actual books to show and they were well done. They had good, solid covers (I think the new artist she's working with is better. She improves. That is wise.).

Now, that's impressive enough. Let me clarify: E.J. had fifteen novels. Most of them already translated into multiple languages. Most of them either already out as audio books or heading in that direction. She had professional editors, professional translators and professional voice actors lined up and working for her on multiple projects. She had translators she could trust to double check that the first translators were doing it the right way.

She had, in other words, all the stuff anyone could possibly want from a traditional publisher. Only she was footing the bill for all of it and making a handsome profit to boot. In her own words, 80% of her time spent on books was spent on handling the artists, the translators the voice actors, the publishing and publicity details. Only 20% of her time was actually spent writing.

I'd say we exchanged cards, but I wasn't carrying one, I wasn't prepared. She was.  Even gave me a card that gave me a free download of her first novel in the IVY GRANGER series. As I love free books and was properly intrigued, I broke down, downloaded the book to my Kindle and read it. It was damned solid. I liked it enough that I bought the rest of the series. I can safely say that as a series they wander through the four and five star review territory for me. A with most every writer I've met, her style has changed and improved over the span of the series.

I thought about that for a few minutes when I was done reading the first one, by the way. Because five years earlier I would have been the guy that shook his head at the notion of self-publication. I mean, like Bill Clinton and pot, I've dabbled, but never anything serious. Unlike the former president, I can even confess that I'd inhaled on the notion of self-publishing, but only after the books had already been out.

E.J. Stevens had a few incidents in her life that made her decide to try her luck with self-publishing and set about the idea like a general running an elite killing force. Again, in her own words, she's a control freak. She HAS to have control over every aspect of her publishing career or she ain't happy.  I'm a traditionalist, I prefer to have other people working on the things I can barely comprehend.

But that's changing.

This Halloween the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival is taking place a block from where I'm living, at the public library in Haverhill, Massachusetts. I've been given a table to share with E.J. All I could think about was the fact that I would have nothing to sell but a couple of limited edition books. Next to me would be a woman hawking fifteen different novels, offering swag, with banners for several of her books. It's like being the kid in the playground who forgot to bring any toys. A little uncomfortable and awkward. And really, who needs all those looks of quiet pity? So I decided to self-publish a book for the event as an experiment. I got help from a lot of people, E.J. among them. Also Dan Brereton, John McIlveen, Bracken McLeod and Dyer Wilk.

Okay. Stop. Breathe.

E.J. Stevens. John McIlveen. Dyer Wilk, Bracken McLeod and Dan Brereton. That's five people to help me make one book. Six if you count in the foreword by Christopher Golden.

E.J. does all of it herself, or hires the people who do. She takes care of her own website (I occasionally dress myself successfully), she does all of the publicity and everything else. There are teams of people with my publisher whose sole responsibility is to make sure that my book (okay and their other authors) get great book covers, proper PR, layout, edits, etc. I quite literally have trouble grasping the volume of work involved.

E.J. Does all of that and well enough that she is, in fact, a best selling author many times over, Currently she set up and posted about two books on Saturday. One of them is in the top fifty from pre-orders alone at Amazon and the second ain't far behind. The books do not come out until January.

I have a lot of backlist books that are out of print. I can give them to someone else, or I can publish them myself. I can share in the profits or be a greedy bastard and actually do the work myself. I have a few books I want to write that no publishers think are a good fit for them. I think they are damned fine stories and I intend to prove it. I quite literally just published my own book (albeit with help) and I intend to explore these waters carefully.

A little while ago I posted the following at my blogspot. I couldn't post it on my website as I don't have the access codes and couldn't figure out what the hell I was doing in any event.

 I think it bears repeating:

Well, I have always said it's best to learn from those who actually DO rather than those who don't. E.J. Stevens is proof of that. 

E.J. has gotten so successful as a self-published author (Fifteen novels in seven years, multiple times over a best selling author and the winner of numerous awards) that she's told me during almost every time we get together that she's fending off people who want to play twenty questions and learn her deepest darkest secrets. So she decided to do something about it. Enter her new books. Listen, Christopher Golden and I founded the River City Writers in part because of a similar challenge. Want to help, want to teach, can't keep doing it for free when we have careers. 

That's the challenge here for E.J. Below are her solutions. 

The covers are self explanatory, but let's go one step further. 

Here's what E.J Says about the books on their back covers. 

Want to improve book sales?

This simple introductory guide will give you the basic information you need to begin promoting your book. Learn how to find readers, increase sales rank, and become a bestseller. Both independently published and traditionally published authors will benefit from the tips, strategies, and checklists provided in this how-to guide.

This book provides an introduction to:
  • Building an Author Platform
  • Social Networking and Blogging
  • Creating a Marketing Plan
  • Checklists, Spreadsheets, and Calculated Risk Taking
  • Designing Book Swag and Promotional Items
  • Cover Reveals and Book Blasts
  • Book Tours, Interviews, and Guest Posts
  • Giveaways
  • Book Reviews and ARC Reviews
  • Retail Product Pages
  • SEO and Keywords
  • Advertising and Promotions
  • Building and Maintaining an Author Newsletter
  • Bookstores, Libraries, and Sell Sheets
  • Book Signings and Conventions
Begin using these simple methods to help your book sales soar.

Want to self-publish a bestseller? Check out the Super Simple Quick Start Guide to Self-Publishing. E.J. Stevens

And, of course,

Want to self-publish a bestseller?

This simple introductory guide will give you the basic information you need to begin self-publishing.

Whether you are writing your first novel or looking to breathe new life into your backlist, this guide will give you the tools you need to successfully self-publish. Useful information and checklists will help you create a professional quality book.

Simple tips will save you time that you can spend on writing, publishing, and promoting your next bestseller.

This book provides an introduction to:
  • Copyright
  • Beta Readers and Editors
  • ISBN and Barcode
  • Font Licensing
  • Book Covers
  • Ebook Formatting
  • Print Book Formatting
  • Audio Books and Narrators
  • Translations and Translators
  • Retail Product Pages
  • Blurbs, SEO, and Keywords
  • Pricing
  • Book Reviews

I have, of course, already pre-ordered mine. They're out in January. 

Side note: Here's the cover to my first ever self-published boo (that isn't just a reprint). I chose an award winning artist to handle the cover as I do not have a seven-year-old nephew. 

Oh, heck, here's a LINK where you can buy it if you'd like.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

More Important than Money

Caught this gorgeous full moon setting in the warm sunrise colors on my run this morning. Glad I took my camera along. Although it annoyed me bouncing around, so I had to tuck it inside my zippered hoodie - which made me look pregnant, though unnaturally so.

Unnatural camera baby, ftw.

This week at the SFF Seven - whether by deliberate ploy or mental lapse (there's some debate on the topic - our calendar guru KAK missed giving us a topic. Therefore this week is an open "on-my-mind" theme.

What's on my mind? I hate to tell you guys, but it's marketing. And the love of money.

Quite topical, really, with the U.S. Presidential election coming down to its final days, with one candidate a multi-billionaire known for his devotion to building a commercial empire, his campaign heavily funded by other corporate giants.

But really it's mainly on my mind because I discovered last week that a "new" author selling incredibly well in a subgenre is a pseudonym for an woman who wrote in a totally different subgenre last year (and sold well, I understand) under a different pseudonym, both of which were different than the name under which she wrote a prominent review blog well known for taking authors to task for bad books and bad behavior.

Without going into detail, I can only say that this disturbs me because it feels so calculated. More than one of my sister authors - all equally disturbed - in discussing this new revelation said, "well, I guess she's laughing all the way to the bank."

And right. So it goes. She's found a formula that works, that apparently satisfies readers, and is making money at it. A lot of people will say there's nothing wrong with this, and there isn't.

There's nothing wrong with money. I happen to be a big fan of money, mostly because it makes for a much nicer quality of living. As someone who now totally relies on my book sales to pay the bills, I like for them to sell. Like most all of us, I suspect, I'd love to have a lot of money. I have a bathroom/kitchen dream remodel I like to fantasize about (and maybe collect pictures for, mumble, mumble). I'd love to travel and do it high end style. I'd like to have enough money that I wouldn't have to worry about money.

But there are more important things than money.

What's weird to me is that, several times lately when I've given my reason for not wanting to do certain kinds of marketing, or to plan books a certain way - which is that I believe some things are more important than money - people have actually laughed. And then they stop when they realize I'm not joking. Then kind of subside into an uncomfortable silence.

I suspect they think I'm being weird by saying that. Or perhaps naive.

Both could be true.

Still, I believe in this. The Bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil and the Taoists say that putting the pursuit of money above all else maddens the mind. This is a real thing - becoming consumed in the acquisition of money above all else can drive a person crazy. That's why we say money can't buy happiness. Sure, as David Lee Roth famously said, "Money can't buy happiness, but money can buy the big yacht you can park right next to where the happiness is." Why not? Hey! A big yacht could be great fun.

But there are more important things than money.

I had a birthday in August and, as is our culture these days, I received many good wishes via Facebook. It can be staggering, all those people - from ones I've known all my life to those I've never met in person, who may have only read my books - wishing me a happy birthday. A few however, were static images that said "happy birthday" or some such, along with the author's website address and book series. This was the first year I'd seen that. And I could imagine just how that came about. Some marketer gave the advice that when you wish someone a happy birthday on Facebook, you're missing a promotional opportunity if you don't have your author information on there.

My point is, what's more important to you - grabbing that promotional opportunity or wishing me well on my birthday? Maybe some of you are saying both. Maybe you're wisely pointing out that rando person I don't even know doesn't actually care about me or my birthday, so why would I even be naive about their intentions.

I just find it troublesome. If even wishing someone well on their birthday has an alternative agenda, what does that say about what's most important to us?

For me, writing books and telling stories is an expression of art. And I feel funny even typing that. Some of these writers of genre would curl their lip at me for that. Funny thing is - I've always celebrated that aspect of genre-writing. I started out in the literary/arts council world and grew weary of the nobly poor writer. I have zero patience with the idea that writing a good book takes years of angst and thrashing. When I transitioned from writing creative nonfiction to writing novels in fantasy and romance (and the interstitial places between), I loved this community for focusing on making it into a business. We're here to make a living at it. I've written before about the concept of selling out - and how I didn't believe in it. That "selling out" essentially demonizes making a profit from our art and that's bullshit.

I still believe that.

I also believe there are some things more important than money.

Telling a story for the story's sake is one. I think there's a huge difference between trope and formula. I believe there's a huge difference between art and manufacture. They might be difficult lines to draw, but I think we all have to find them. I believe there's a difference between creating something out of love versus designing it to sell. Maybe not in the end product - they may be indistinguishable - I mean for the creator. It's another version of me wishing someone a happy birthday out of a desire to celebrate their existence in the world and in my life, as opposed to doing it to gain attention.

I think personal integrity is more important than making money. I don't believe they're necessarily in opposition - you can both make money and have integrity - but if it comes to a choice between the two, then I choose integrity. My integrity may not be yours. Only we know what we're at peace with in our hearts. But I do think we all have to make this choice. It informs who we are as human beings.

I read an interesting essay recently by Joyce Carol Oates, Quilts, in a collection edited by Elizabeth Benedict called What My Mother Gave Me. (I linked to my Goodreads review of it - very much recommend the book.) Oates talks about an old quilt her mother gave her decades before, now very worn, and the comfort it gives her, now that her mother is gone, along with both her first and second husbands. She says,
In extremis we care very little for the public life - the life of the career - even the life of literature: it is comfort for which we yearn, but comfort can come to us from only a few, intimate sources.
There are more important things than money.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Cute Pets Transcend Genre

So our topic today is whether genres can actually ever be declared 'dead'. Since I never really pursued a career in traditional publishing, at least not to the extent of trying to get an agent, doing pitches at conferences and/or submitting tons of books over the transom, etc., I've never run into that declaration. Not directed at me anyway. Carina Press published two of my ancient Egyptian stories and then pivoted away from "Ancient World" romance - hopefully not because of ME LOL - so I just happily self published and the books have done quite well. They certainly have an audience, for whom I'm very grateful. As far as my main genre, science fiction romance, I've always self published so I could care less if someone somewhere thinks they can't sell it, therefore it's 'dead' to them. My readers and I beg to differ!

Another related thought is that sometimes a genre is 'dead', like Western movies, for example, and then someone has a brilliant idea how to twist the tropes and presto, the genre is re-energized. Case in point would be HBO's "Westworld", which combines the Wild West and science fiction.

Yes, this is one of the 'pets'! Very scifi!
I had a killer migraine yesterday and am operating on a mere four hours of sleep as a result, so I'm kind of out of inspiration now on this topic. Eight fellow SFR authors and I did however release the Pets in Space anthology last week, combining science fiction, romance and heroic pets who save the day. I believe cute pets can rise above any genre - think Lassie for cozies, Rintintin for Westerns, tribbles for science fiction, Astro for cartoons (or Scooby Doo for that matter) here are artist Nyssa Juneau's renderings for our nine pets and if you haven't snatched up your copy (figuratively speaking as it's ebook only), what are you waiting for?

We've been hovering in the low 200's in Amazon Kindle all week, which is fun. Thanks to everyone who has bought the book!

And we're donating 10% of the first month's royalties to Hero Dogs Inc., service dogs for veterans...

NOTE: Not a children's book, despite the cute creatures!

Here's the book's blurb:

Even an alien needs a pet…

Join the adventure as nine pet loving sci-fi romance authors take you out of this world and pull you into their action-packed stories filled with suspense, laughter, and romance. The alien pets have an agenda that will capture the hearts of those they touch. Follow along as they work side by side to help stop a genetically-engineered creature from destroying the Earth to finding a lost dragon; life is never the same after their pets decide to get involved. Can the animals win the day or will the stars shine just a little less brightly?
New York Times, USA TODAY, Award Winning, and Best selling authors have eight original, never-released stories and one expanded story giving readers nine amazing adventures that will capture your imagination and help a worthy charity. Come join us as we take you on nine amazing adventures that will change the way you look at your pet!
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My terrestrial cat Jake