Sunday, July 31, 2016

On Trying to Write Short(er) Again

I'm on my way to New York City today, to read at Lady Jane's Salon, hang with Ron Hogan and Megan Hart, and have lunch with my editor.

As one does.

All of this means that my post is going up a little late. Airplanes and blogging don't always play nicely together.

Our topic this week is why we prefer to write long or short.

I actually like both, which should come as a surprise to no one, since I'm always the fence-sitter in all things. I started out writing short - essays and short stories  - and these days I write long. Sometimes I write *really* long. The Talon of the Hawk came in at over 130,000 words. All of my Twelve Kingdoms and Uncharted Realms books are at least 110,000 words.

Writing short was great for me, especially to begin with. I'm not capable of pre-plotting, so writing short let me write and entire story in one sitting, while I held it and all its threads in my head. I also had little time to fit in writing back in those days, so shorter was better.

***INTERRUPTION***

So, as I sat typing this in the Dallas airport, I got the announcement that my flight to La Guardia was cancelled. Worse, they can't get me there for two days, so I'm just going home again. Nothing like a day jaunt to Dallas for lunch!

What was to be a long trip has become a short one. Sometimes it works out that way.

At any rate, in writing those fantasy novels, I discovered the great joy of writing long. I even think of it as VERY long, because it's a long wending tale across the series at this point.

Conversely, with my new Sorcerous Moons series, I've been trying to write shorter again. The first book, Lonen's War, is about 65,000 words and it's looking like the next two in the series will come out about the same. The thing is, part of why I wanted those to be shorter is that I really wanted to write a long-term, slow-burn romance. In some ways that series of three will be like one 200K book.

Or longer. I might not be able to tell it in three books. We'll see.

I try to be flexible.


Saturday, July 30, 2016

I Had One Writing Ritual and I Gave It Up

I'm not a ritual type person. Pretty much I sit down and I write. The words flow and I'm happy. Or not, if it's a difficult scene!

Starting in junior high school, I did have one ritual. I'd read somewhere that creativity could be enhanced if one listened to music, which I thought sounded like s great idea. (I wish music could enhance math capabilities too, but that's another topic.) I made a lot of mix tape cd's of my favorite songs and whenever I wanted to write I'd put those on and go for it. There was no attempt by me to tailor the song selection to the theme or pace of the story, just music was enough. Typically what happened for me was I'd hear the first song and then I wouldn't hear the music at all as I became immersed in the flow of writing.

I kept that up for many years, with the variation that sometimes the sound of a specific song would seem to help me write and I'd put that song on endless replay. A lot of one of my novels was written to "The Russian Dervish" music from Riverdance, although nothing in the book remotely related to that music. Thank goodness for head phones or my family would probably have wanted me to move out!


Gary Puckett and the Union Gap had a few songs that seemed to work for one book, as did The Little River Band, and Nelson's "Can't Live Without Your Love and Affection" was killer for a certain set of scenes.


Nowadays I don't need or use music as a background for writing. I started to find it distracting and do better without any. I sit down and I write.

I DO use music sometimes to inspire creativity when I'm thinking about plots or characters, especially if I'm out cruising the freeways...So, there you have it!

Friday, July 29, 2016

My Ritual to Create Rituals

I don't know what it is about publishing a book, but every single time I do, some crisis descends, and the rituals, schedules, and discipline that got the book done and published get blown to hell. I have to reinvent my process all over again, accommodating whatever crisis has arisen this time. Can I have a ritual I'd *like* to leave behind? I nominate this one.
 
Usually rituals are lovely things designed to signal our brains that we're shifting out of our everyday world and into something other. I'm all for them. My office, when I had one, was filled with ritual items. Seriously. There's an altar in the southern window. A waterfall fountain. A salt lamp. Something to bring every element into my work space. Also - cat beds. Let's be realistic. I have long been expected to write whilst holding cat. That's more an imperative than a ritual. Book one was written in this office.
 
 I miss having a dedicated desk and office chair. That much is true. I miss all of the accoutrement that went with the great luxury of space. What I do NOT miss is the heating bill that went with this particular space and the fact that it was hell and gone from everywhere ever. So rituals of all kinds have fallen by the wayside. Desks gave way to the ergonomically egregious salon table, or to writing with my laptop in my lap. Book 2 was written with the laptop in my lap while I sat in the cockpit. Took weeks to unkink my neck and back.
 
Then I had to establish a new ritual, preferably a healthier one - that of riding in to the tea shop every day to write. Books three and five were written there while sipping various murky brews. Book four was written at the boat and while I waited during a long string of vet appointments when the eldest boy took ill. (He's now fine for a 17.5 year old with liver disease.)
 
But, on the heels of publishing book five and in the midst of writing book six, the tea shop can no longer be my go-to. I 100% regret the loss of that ritual, but it can't be helped. So here I am. Gritting my teeth in the center of the ritual that requires me to find a new ritual. Quite by accident, I may have found it earlier today. While waiting for the laundry in the Laundromat, I pounded out 800 words in an hour. Hush. For me, that's incredible. My point is that if this bears out, I may wear every last stitch of clothing out by washing them. Not sure how a Laundromat is germane to a historical fantasy, but what ever. Writing, man. The glamor never ends.
 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Writing Routines

I was most successful when I was most productive. But, as we all know, 'things' change. I overestimated the load I could actually carry.

Once upon a time, I had a lifestyle that allowed me to prioritize writing. As with many things, repetitive function made it better and easier. Then things changed and my creative 'me' time shrank exponentially.

As a creative spirit, losing that time to access the creativity meant the task grew harder. Think of it like an internal pipeline through which creativity flows because your brain is actively pumping the creative juices. But then the mind has to do other non-creative things for a large majority of time. Instead of creativity flowing unhindered, theres this OTHER INFORMATION showing up in the mental real estate, and it JUST KEEPS SHOWING UP. It has to go somewhere, so it gets stuck in this conduit or that pipeline in an attempt to keep something still flowing...and before you know it,  the creative juices are dammed up because other things are taking priority.

That's the creative person's Hell.

Now, I feel like the mental real estate is clearing and the creativity is starting to flow again. It feels natural, not forced.

Goddamn, I've missed this.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The One Writing Ritual I Wish I Still Had

Once upon a time I had writing rituals. No, wait, I still do. I'm a creature of habit.  What habit fell by the wayside over the last ten years of being a writer? The one I am most ashamed I've let slip. ~hangs head~

Reading regularly. 

The ritual used to be write 5 days, read 2 days. Write 5, read 2.  Never read the genre or sub-genre in which I was writing. Different genres--even non-fiction--were necessary to unclog creative paths and to allow my mind to explore strange rabbit holes.

Lately, I write every day, working on the same story. No breaks until the WiP is done. Trust me, that's not only a bad idea; it's worse in implementation. Especially since I write so slowly. It leads to work-avoidance, burnout, and obsessing over the wrong things.

The other reason I broke the habit? I'm not proud to say it's gotten harder and harder for me to park my "editor" mode when I pick up someone else's work. I've spent a lot of money on books that I cannot finish. I get angry at the author for not trying harder. I'm furious at the editor for not insisting on certain fixes. It's all the criticism I heap on myself being redirected at someone else's finished product. I got issues. I know.

Maybe I'll try to get back on the reading-regularly bandwagon in 2017. I miss it. Like that dear friend I keep meaning to call yet never do.

#BadAuthor

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Treasured Writing Rituals I've Discarded

In honor of this week's topic -  a writing routine we used to depend on but changed and why - I dragged out this old photo of me at my very first book signing. That's January of 2004, when my essay collection, WYOMING TRUCKS, TRUE LOVE AND THE WEATHER CHANNEL, came out. I look so fresh-faced and excited. You can practically see the visions of sugarplums and lucrative multi-book contracts dancing in my head.

~pets past self~

That was before I'd even contemplated writing a novel, or really much fiction at all. And I had lousy writing habits. Actually, I take that back. I had no writing habits. Sure, I'd gone to getting up very early (4 or 5 am) and writing before the day job in the morning. But, in order to coax myself into writing at all, I'd allowed myself to write whatever I wanted to. I don't regret this choice - because it did get me writing - but that's why I ended up with lots and lots of essays. Hey, I ended up with an essay collection published by a university press, so it wasn't a bad thing at all.

But I needed to do better, particularly when I tried writing longer works.

So I developed rituals. I had a dedicated writing desk. (By then I worked the day job from home and, while I had a single room for my office, I had plenty of room for two desks.) I played certain music (the soundtracks of The Mission and Master and Commander were my go-to's.) I did all sorts of things - read the (small-town, very thin) newspaper. I wore certain clothes for writing and others for the day job. A few other things I can't even remember.

You know what? Those things totally worked. I highly recommend establishing rituals, because all of those things, done stepwise, put my mind into the state where the words could flow. They served as a cue to do *that* kind of work.

But I don't do any of them anymore. I prefer silence when I write. I have only one desk - because we live in a much smaller house and I only have room for one. (I write full-time now, but as recently as last fall I was still doing the day job from home and I simply set up two monitors on the one desk. I read most of my news online, but only later, when it won't distract me from writing.

You know why I gave up all those rituals?

I didn't need them anymore.

I didn't even deliberately give them up. They just kind of ... fell by the wayside. As my writing habit became a firmly entrenched part of my day, I started forgetting about the rituals. I just dove straight into writing.

I suspect that's one way of knowing when you've got it down.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Learning to Write Novels

Earlier in the week I was chided a bit by fellow SFF7 peeps for saying I learned to write novels by writing them. And reading them. And watching movies. And reading comic books.

Sorry, folks, that's my story! I was born with a LOT of imagination. I've been writing since I was a little kid and I write the kind of stories I wanted to read. The more I read, the more I knew what I wanted in my own books - bands of warrior brothers who would do anything for each other and the women they loved, science fiction adventures, romance, ancient Egypt, blasters, family connections, strong heroines, mystical events and powers, paranormal happenings....well, probably not all in one book of course!

I also got to know what I didn't want - no cliffhangers, no endless series of books where the heroine basically reboots with each new book and it's like the previous episodes never happened. I remember Cherry Ames, RN being particularly bad about this. No unhappy endings.

Along the way I received incredible support and encouragement from my family and friends, to keep telling stories for them...

Fortunately for me, there seem to be wonderful readers out there who enjoy the same elements in the books they read as I do. I've been able to share thirteen books and some assorted short stories to date. Book #fourteen is coming back to me from the developmental editor on Monday and I'll be sending her the next STAR CRUISE story.

If we're talking about the craft of writing novels, well of course I've had to learn about show vs. tell, head hopping, pacing, foreshadowing, character stage business, data dumps and too much backstory, and all the rest of the techniques, much as any other author should if they want to be turning out a quality book for readers. I have great editors, I've read a lot of excellent craft posts, I've been to a few workshops in my day...I probably made every craft-related mistake there is along the way to publication (and no doubt am still committing a few but hopefully my editors help me weed them out of the drafts).

When I had my author photo taken, the photographer asked me what I wanted to convey. And I said, I want to look as if we're sitting at the kitchen table together and wow, do I have a good story to tell. That's my goal!


Friday, July 22, 2016

Learning to Write

A movie with a shitty ending taught me to write. Yup. Historical. Ish. Adventure. Loads of fun right up to the end when the hero and heroine (after a convincing romance) intrinsically shake hands and say, "Right. Nice life then!" and toddle off their separate ways thus invalidating the entire prior two hours. Add into it that the heroine was a bit of a moron who couldn't fight her way out of a wet paper bag and you can already see where this is going to go, right? I was 12 and I was LIVID.

THEY'D DONE IT WRONG.

And *I* was going to fix it, by God. I did. Repeatedly. I spent that entire summer in my room with my mom's old Selectric typewriter set up on a TV dinner tray. No, I did not know how to type. I hunted and pecked my way into writing. The correction key didn't work because no one was going to buy correction ribbon for a kid with zero typing skill. We'd have had to have taken out stock in the company. So those old onion skin pages (which I still have) are a march of misspelled words, typos and carefully xxxxxxx'd out lines. I played and replayed the plot options in my head.

I could fix that ending.

NO. I could fix the entire affront! What if the heroine COULD fight? Wouldn't that be more fun?? Of course it would! Nobleman's daughter? Pff! PRINCESS. Who rides flawlessly. And handles a rapier better than anyone. Ever.

Yeah, I never finished that epic work. But it didn't matter. I'd always been addicted to stories. Books. Movies. TV shows. I think anyone who creates stories has to gorge on stories. We really are the monsters we write about - only we consume stories as fuel for our own. And for me, from that summer forth, I was lost. I wrote. And wrote. And learned. And read, and learned more. I wrote fan fiction during math class lectures when I should have been taking notes. Then I wanted to break my fan fic away into it's own thing with it's own identity. So I figured out how to do that during the most interminable year of social studies, ever. You'd think I'd have paid attention in English class. Until my mother shifted me up a grade level in the English department and the teachers had things to say I'd never heard before, that wasn't true. I spent my classes making stuff up on paper. Nooooo. There was no credit awarded for that activity.

Acting school solidified character development and dramatic arc. Possibly emotional vocabulary.

But honestly. Approaching story after story after story time and a gain, learning to finish what I started, learning to take critique and learning to edit - those, for me, were things I could only absorb and assimilate by doing. So yes. I may have been kicked into the blackhole of writing by a movie with an unsatisfactory ending, but the fact remains. I learned to write by writing.

At least it's no longer a typewriter on a TV tray.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

I Learned to Write Novels by Doing Theatre

I believe that I'm somewhat unusual amongst fantasy/sci-fi writers, in that I cut my writers' teeth as a playwright.  Coming at writing novels from a theatre background gives me a different perspective on writing than most people, especially since I was also an actor.
I'm not going to pretend that, as an actor, I was much above "competent".  My presence onstage would not be a detriment to your show, but that was about about the extent of my skills.  So, many years ago, in my acting days, I was in an excellent production of Julius Caesar, playing "Citizen #4".
For those of you unversed in the specifics of Julius Caesar, after Caesar has been murdered and Antony turns the public against the conspirators with his "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" speech, the public goes a little nuts.  Thus, four citizens are hungry for some blood, and they know one of the conspirators was a senator named Cinna.  They find another guy named Cinna, and proceed to beat the snot out of him, because that's good enough.  Citizen #4 gets to explain the logic behind that:
As an actor with only a small bit to do, you do try and make the most of it. Why?  Because it's who you are in that moment.  I was never a method actor, but I always took to acting with the idea that there's more going on than just your lines.  I recall this advice from Michael Caine*, talking about what a director told him when he was in a small part.  The director noted him and said, "What are you doing right here in this part?"  "Nothing, I'm don't have anything to say."  "Of course you do," the director said.  "You have amazing, brilliant things to say.  You're just deciding not to say them."
Doing this kind of acting crystallized something for me when I was writing.  I can't, as a playwright, write a part that would be no fun for an actor to play.  And as a novelist, whenever I write a character, even the most minor ones, I can't help but think about making it at least a little more interesting than it, strictly speaking, "needs" to be.
In Thorn of Dentonhillthere's a bit where Veranix runs into two mounted constabulary.  These two cops (or "sticks", to use the street vernacular of Maradaine) could have been just Cop #1 or Cop #2.  But where's the fun in that?  These are still two guys who got up that day, put on their uniforms, got on their horses and went to work.  These are two guys who work at night, as partners, in a tough neighborhood where most cops are in the crime boss's pocket.  But not these two.  These two are a couple of guys who have each others' backs and do their best.  These two guys would be the heroes of their own story.
Conversely, in Holver Alley Crew, at one point I jump to the POV of a character who hadn't appeared before and doesn't appear again, partly for the fun of seeing one of the main characters from a completely outside perspective.  She has her own problems and concerns, which have nothing to do with what intrudes upon her.  Her reality gets affected by the main story, but it stays her reality.  And, if I may say so myself, it's a fun bit.  It's more fun than had I written it from the main character's POV.
*- This was in a lecture he gave on video, it's not like he told me directly.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Nuptial Non-Post

I'm getting married in a few days and I didn't manage to get blogs written ahead, so you're getting a short but thought out post sans images or any attempt at style in the telling.

I learned to write by living. Craving to purge the stories inside me I did so by turns between school, a rock band, and a boyfriend or two. There was encouragement and support from a high school creative writing teacher. There was guidance in the form of the novels I devoured until all hours of the night. There were (and still are) lessons learned and scenes sparked by the young men I've been privileged to have given birth to and raise...and they also provided incentive to escape into the words and pages.

Writing is a means of having more experiences via characters, of studying the possibilities of situations through the safe lens of fiction, of dissecting life one scene at a time and finding, when it is ended, that through that dissection I understand something new about the craft or people or life.

No matter what this world had in store for me, there were always words ready to lift me up, bolster me, or ground me -- whatever I needed. My words, or other author's words. Reading and writing and choosing to plug in to that creativity and imagination is a magic I eagerly indulge because it gives so much more in return.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Double Release Day: Damned If He Does & Lonen's War


We're doubling down on the celebrations today aboard the SFF Seven. We have TWO, TWO captains releasing books, Marcella Burnard and Jeffe Kennedy. That's double the champagne, double the confetti, and double the chocolates.

First Up Marcella Burnard's Paranormal Romance:

 Damned If He DoesDAMNED IF HE DOES

Rejected by heaven, twisted by hell, what’s a damned dead man to do when he stumbles upon a life and love worth fighting for?

Though damned for his earthly sins, Darsorin Incarri likes being an incubus. Prowling women’s dreams to siphon off their sexual energy for Satan's consumption has its perks: an array of infernal power and a modicum of freedom. Sure, Ole Scratch holds Dar’s soul in thrall, and Dar has to spend a few hours recharging in Hell every day, but it could be much worse. All he has to do is hold up his end of his damnation contract – five women seduced, satisfied and siphoned per night for eternity. So when he encounters gorgeous, bright, and funny Fiona Renee, it’s business as usual. Deploy the infernal charm and rack up another score. Except it doesn’t work. She’s immune. He has to find out what’s gone wrong or face Lucifer's wrath.

Fiona Renee has the life she’d always wanted: a career, a home, a cat with a bad attitude, and peace. Fiona’s dated. Had boyfriends. And hated every minute of it. She’s reconciled to being lonely. So when a man shows up in her bedroom in the middle of the night demanding to know why her dreams turn to nightmares every time he tries to seduce her from within them, Fiona winds up negotiating a contract with a demon that allows him access to her life. She never anticipated that it would also give him access to her heart. If she's going to fall in love at all, something she never thought would happen, shouldn’t it be with someone who’s alive? If Fiona wants to hang on to Darsorin, she has to find his true name—the one he’d been given at his birth over a thousand years ago. But Satan, himself, stands in her way. Even if Fiona can dodge Lucifer, she and Darsorin have to face the question neither of them can answer: What happens to a dead man if you manage to wrest his soul from the Devil?

BUY IT NOW:

Amazon   |   Kobo   |   Apple   |   Nook  


Then Jeffe Kennedy begins a new romantic fantasy series with her latest release:


LONEN'S WAR

An Unquiet Heart
Alone in her tower, Princess Oria has spent too long studying her people’s barbarian enemies, the Destrye—and neglected the search for calm that will control her magic and release her to society. Her restlessness makes meditation hopeless and her fragility renders human companionship unbearable. Oria is near giving up. Then the Destrye attack, and her people’s lives depend on her handling of their prince…


A Fight Without Hope
When the cornered Destrye decided to strike back, Lonen never thought he’d live through the battle, let alone demand justice as a conqueror. And yet he must keep up his guard against the sorceress who speaks for the city. Oria’s people are devious, her claims of ignorance absurd. The frank honesty her eyes promise could be just one more layer of deception.

A Savage Bargain
Fighting for time and trust, Oria and Lonen have one final sacrifice to choose… before an even greater threat consumes them all.

BUY IT NOW

Amazon   |   Kobo   |   Smashwords

Monday, July 18, 2016

I learned how to write novels by drawing comics.

Jeffe already said it, really, but at the end of the day we learn by doing.

My number one answer as to how to write a novel is simple: plant your butt in the seat and start writing. Repeat.

Thats not far from true. But the fact of the matter is that any sort of craft requires time and discipline.

It also requires focus. That's not quite the same as discipline, but they are very close cousins.

WhenI was growing up my family moved a lot. How much? Seventeen schools in twelve years of schooling and most of my moving was done by the time I was fourteen. My constant companion while growing up, the ONLY constant other than my family, was comic books. Marvel, DC, Charleston, Gold Key. Whatever comic I could find, I read. I was raised as much by Superman and the Avengers as I was by anyone else. My moral compass was definitely affected by the actions of Clark Kent and his alter ego (No powers, but a definite sense of what i thought was right and wrong) and I knew at an early age that I wanted to draw comics.

I sat down every day and I read them and I studied them and I broke them down in my mind as to how I would lay out the individual panels and what I would say.  I spent a lot of time drawing, and I did my best to understand the basics of storytelling and anatomy and How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way.

That last one? I read that book a thousand times and studied each example they gave

What I never managed in all of that time was how to draw comics well. It wasn't for lack of trying and I could get certain aspects easily enough, but in the words of a Marvel Comics editor ai was showing my work (I'd actually done a full 22 page issue of the DC Comics character The Creeper, but damned if I wasn't going to show it to someone and DC was not there that year; The best laid plans....) "You can't draw a straight line and I can see you've been using a ruler. Your anatomy is horrible and out of proportion, but I you're telling a great story. Have you considered writing?" I should point out that at first there was a lot of hemming and hawing, but eventually I told him he wouldn't hurt my feelings if he was brutally honest.

He was brutally honest. It hurt a bit. I was wrong on that aspect. He also bought my first professional sale a few months later. Turned out pencil wasn't my medium. I could tell the story just fine with words and that's what I practiced after speaking to him.

I learned the proper format by looking at a few other comic scripts and emulating the layout. I told the story n a way that the artist could understand.

Later, when virtually every contact I had at Marvel Comics got fired on the same day and I'd spent a month writing at least one one page proposal a day, I got sick of telling the equivalent of a story a day in the same basic format as the back cover text of a novel I sat down one day with an image in my head that would not leave me alone.

A solitary kid, overweight and winded, runs through the woods with half a dozen kids after him. They chase him down and bear him mercilessly, while, in the woods around and above them, hundreds of tiny creatures watch and cheer them on.

That image would n leave me alone until, finally, exasperated, I sat down and I wrote the scene out. Then I thought about it a bit and wrote the next scene that explained the first. And then I write the consequences of those actions.

I wrote about how that beaten down boy got better and got his revenge and I wrote about the motivations behind his actions. As I wrote I drew a bigger picture with words. It just kept growing.

I believe the final text was somewhere around 170,000 words. I was told matter of factly that it would never sell.

I sold it anyway. It's been in print multiple times and got some pretty damned decent blurbs back in the day. the story was called UNDER THE OVERTREE.

I liked the feeling so much that I did it again and again. Along the way I honed my writing skills with practice, with patience, with the help of good friends who gave me their time, and by trial and error. Oh, and with the help pf very patient editors.

As I have explained to people before, I went to seventeen schools in twelve years. My best year I had a 2.5 GPA. Most years in high school it was a 1.5.

When I was drawing comics, badly, granted, I was telling a story. That story had a beginning, a middle and an end. I drew out easily ten or fifteen comics, full stories, either on note book paper when I could afford nothing better, or on full sized 11 x 17 bristol board after I got a job and saved up for my meager supplies.

I don't physically draw much these days. No spare time, and, honestly, I was never very good But I visualize the same way I always did, and my palette of words is pretty comfortable.



Sunday, July 17, 2016

I Learned How to Write Novels by ... Training in Kung Fu

I'm headed home from #RWA16, the Romance Writers of America annual conference, which was in lovely San Diego this year. This was a truly wonderful gathering this year.Grateful for this community that always leaves me refreshed and supported.

Also, the first book in my new Sorcerous Moons series comes out on Tuesday. I'm loving on this cover! Yes, I helped design it, but the amazing Louisa Gallie is the one who pulled it off. Love the feel. And here's the blurb:

An Unquiet Heart
Alone in her tower, Princess Oria has spent too long studying her people’s barbarian enemies, the Destrye—and neglected the search for calm that will control her magic and release her to society. Her restlessness makes meditation hopeless and her fragility renders human companionship unbearable. Oria is near giving up. Then the Destrye attack, and her people’s lives depend on her handling of their prince…

A Fight Without Hope
When the cornered Destrye decided to strike back, Lonen never thought he’d live through the battle, let alone demand justice as a conqueror. And yet he must keep up his guard against the sorceress who speaks for the city. Oria’s people are devious, her claims of ignorance absurd. The frank honesty her eyes promise could be just one more layer of deception.

A Savage Bargain

Fighting for time and trust, Oria and Lonen have one final sacrifice to choose… before an even greater threat consumes them all.

Our topic this week is “I Learned How to Write Novels by (doing some other activity).“ It will be interesting to hear what all everyone else has to say. Hopefully Jim won’t just post that he learned to write novels by writing novels.

~Gives Jim the beady-eyed stare down~

For me, I had to teach myself how to write a novel – both by focused, deliberate habit-building, and by an overall effort to improve myself.

As for the first, I didn’t know how to write long. I started out as an essayist and short-story writer. I could hold essentially the entire arc of the story in my head and I usually hammered it out in one writing session. Sure, sometimes an all-session, but still. I’d gone to working four ten-hour days at the day job, and writing all day on Fridays. For a while I wrote an essay or story a week – though most were 1,500 – 5,000 words

When I decided to write longer, I realized this wouldn’t work. I couldn’t hold the whole story in my head, and by writing one-day each week, I’d lose too much of the thread in between.
So, I had to deliberately build a habit of writing every day for a couple of hours – and teach myself how to work incrementally, rather than in a long, focused session. This was a huge change in work-pattern for me. I had always been a binge-worker. I was the girl in college who pulled all-nighters, staying up to write my papers the night before. I’m pretty good at concentrating and working in one long session.

While some people can do this with novels, I cannot. 10,000 words/day is a really good day for me. I can’t sustain that for many days in a row. For a 130,000 word novel? No, no, no.

Therefore I had to learn how to work in slower, steady increments.

But that’s not the subject of this week. What I discovered was that something else I’d been doing helped me enormously in this effort.

I started taking Tai Chi and Pakua Chang long before I decided to become a writer. Those are both internal Chinese martial arts that fall under the collective umbrella of Kung Fu. (I learned several more arts and styles over time, but this was where I started.) I’d been dating David for about six months at that point and he really wanted to learn Pakua. I’d been a religious studies major in college and had become very interested in the idea that practice shapes belief. (Christians, for example, teach that you only need to believe and everything else follows; in Judaism, practice comes first – prayers, rituals, dietary observances – and they teach that belief, and spiritual growth, arises from that.)

All of this is a long way of saying I was up for learning Kung Fu also, as a way for practicing a physical discipline that could lead to personal growth.

We studied those arts for over fifteen years. Along the way, I discovered a level of patience I’d never before possessed. That kind of training in particular depends on incremental work. We did a lot of moving meditation. Tai Chi requires very slow, meticulous and relaxed movements. There are various standing exercises that require fortitude of both body and spirit, remaining in the same very uncomfortable position for a long period of time.

After a while of practicing an activity, it becomes easy to focus on the specific goals – the next demonstration or test – and lose sight of the original reasons for taking it up. I became intent on the trees, pouring energy into the school I belonged to, both taking and teaching classes. It wasn’t until we eventually left the school that I remembered about the forest.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that all that practice resulted in personal growth. I’d developed all sorts of patient focus for working incrementally that dovetailed directly into learning to write novels. I had created work habits that allowed me to move into a new kind of steady and productive creativity.

I get asked a lot these days to explain how I do what I do. I’m regarded as a fast and productive writer. Fortunately I also seem to write good books! The people asking inevitably want to know how to do the same – and I’m afraid my answer isn’t an easy or fast one. Except that I think we all have these other experiences that come into play, skills we’ve built over time that we can move into new 
efforts.

Nothing we do is ever wasted.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Slew of Favorite Minor Characters

I figure the most memorable minor characters are the ones who come to mind first, so here is my list, in no certain order:

1. The tiny Death Star robot

2. The multipurpose Guard in Wizard of Oz

3. We had a lively debate on Facebook the other day whether the Scarpatine Pie in Grace Draven's Radiance novel counted. I vote yes! (Think meat pie with nasty live scorpions.)

4. In my own novels there's a rather dashing Captain Intefiqer-Duaen, a Ushabti warrior who serves the Queen of the Gods. He appears in Magic of the Nile in one scene and in Ghost of the Nile for one scene. I have a plot idea in mind for him someday, where Isis sends him to the land of the living to retrieve a lost....well, that would be telling.

5. I was always rather intrigued by this Hawkman in the "Flash Gordon" movie:

6. The passengers on the bus in the movie "Speed"...

7. James Shigeta (always loved him in movies) as Mr. Takagi in "Die Hard":

8. Thomasina Tittlemouse from Beatrix Potter - I love her fluffy coat!

9. Every put upon valet, butler and housekeeper in every Regency novel EVER.

10. And of course who could forget Lady Veronica in Jeffe Kennedy's The Twelve Kingdoms series, who I believe is still awaiting the arrival of her own Dasnarian mercenary. Ahem.

Friday, July 15, 2016

When Your Favorite MInor Character is Evil

This releases next Tuesday. It's something a tad different from me. You can usually count on me to bring the grim and faintly creepy. Also, body count. Pretty much absent from this book.

It is possible that I attempted a bit of comedy. I'll leave that to you to decide whether or not I succeeded. This book has one of my favorite minor characters of all time - I wasn't supposed to like him. I didn't want to like him. But he is awfully charismatic in a way I hadn't expected. No. I am not talking about the heroine's cat. Of course I adore Archimedes.

In this case, my favorite minor character is Satan. Here's a bit of a scene he has with the heroine.





            Fire surrounded her. Everything, even the rocks, burned. Flames circled the jagged black surface on which she stood. Obsidian stairs rose to a dais and a throne fashioned from burning, still living, still screaming, people.

She looked away.

Hell.

“Welcome to my office.” Satan stood beside her, still in the human form he’d presented in the restaurant. “I see you’re indoctrinated well enough to expect the fire and brimstone motif. Trite but effective.”

Fiona quelled and her gaze ran away from him, too, only to find the damned souls being swarmed by serpents. The snakes buried fangs dripping with poison into the flesh of their victims. The wet, ripping sound reached her above the hiss and crackle of the flames.

“Ah, I see it in your face, the same look I see on the face of each soul who lands at the foot of my throne for the first time. Awareness that settles so rapidly into despair. Don’t make the mistake of thinking Hell is about despair,” the Devil said. His voice crashed down, crushing her beneath derision. “Despair is useless to me. Everyone adapts to it. I am about hope.”

He shifted, peeling back the illusion of civility. Of humanity. His skin reddened to crimson. His eyes turned black. No irises. No pupil. Just the endless depth of evil. He grew horns. A tail. A vicious, razor-toothed smile of triumph split his multi-planed face.

“I am the hope that sucks the marrow from your bones. The hope that shatters souls. I am every futile, dashed dream lying in broken-winged tatters at your feet,” he said, obscene relish in his tone.

Fiona snarled at the towering creature. “You’re the reason my mother couldn’t survive that heart attack?”

His laughter stoked the flames surrounding them higher. Screams shoved her to the ground, cowering with her hands over her ears while her skin charred and crisped. Her shriek mingled with the cries of the damned.

“Do you not pay attention?” he demanded. “No. Your pathetic mother’s death was never in my hands. But that tiny, flickering flame of hope that burned you to the ground before she died, that was me.

“No one resists hope. No one adapts to its lies. Futile hopes bring me more souls than any torment ever devised. Get up, you stupid mortal. You’re cooking alive. It’s against the rules you believe you know so much about.”
 
            A fetid wind, slimy and cold, oozed across her skin. Shuddering, she climbed to her feet. From the way she gulped for breath, from the shattering weariness dogging her, she might as well have climbed Mount Everest.


As you can see, Satan, in this book, has no issue with being bad. He actively enjoys it. He loves twisting everything he can get his hands on. And there's just something about that unabashed love of being evil that's appealing. Yet there's no danger that Satan would get his own book. He can't. Not the way the rules of the world work in this book. So he truly is a minor character who gets a few bits of stage time, and who cannot graduate to being the star of his own show. At least, not until he's ready to go to war with heaven again. And we all know how that ended last time.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

An Import of Intrigue: Writing My Favorite Secondary Character

Folks, in a few months my fourth novel, An Import of Intrigue, is coming out.  
FB Banner Import
I'm very excited for this book, and it was very fun to write, in part because I got to do more with my favorite secondary character in the Constabulary cast, Corrie Welling.
Corrie is Minox's younger sister, and she's just as dedicated to a career in the Maradaine Constabulary as he is.  But she's also still early in her career, and facing a bit of an uphill climb being a woman who actually serves in the streets-- as opposed to taking the clerking desk position that her cousin Nyla works.  So she works the shift she can-- horsepatrol on the night shift.  "Working the dark", as she calls it.
She also swears in ways that would make a sailor blush, at least in terms of Maradaine's own unique forms of profanity.
Corrie really gets to shine in An Import of Intrigue.  In A Murder of Mages, she is mostly just some extra color.  In Import she's elevated to a point-of-view character, she becomes integral to the plot.  
Corrie is, of course, one of the many reasons why I'm thrilled with An Import of Intrigue, and hopefully all the fans of the Constabulary books will be pleased with where their story goes.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Minor Character Favorites

This week we are talking about our favorite minor characters. I'm going to divide this up into two sections: TV & Film, and my books.

TV & Film:

3.) Ernest Borgnine as Cabbie in Escape from New York


He provided lightened a dark plot, created a sense of levity in the dangerous good guy on the inside, and generally classed-up the flick.

2.) Kristian Nairn as Hodor in Game of Thrones


Hodor proves a character does not need words if his actions have great impact.

1.) Pauly Perrette as Abby in NCIS


Abby is fun and wacky in a 'can't guess what she'll do or say next' way that provides a highly interesting side-point to the episodes.

My Books:

3.) Eris Alcmedi 

Excerpt, Arcane Circle, page 331

Eris crouched over her artist and smacked Lance’s cheek with increasing force. Lance looked like he’d barely graduated high school. “Shake it off, bitch boy.” His eyelids fluttered. “There you go, show me those baby blues.” He moaned, then blinked and focused on her. “How many fingers am I holding up?” she asked as she flipped him off.






2.) Xerxadrea Veilleux

Excerpt, Hallowed Circle, page 186

She stamped her staff on the dais floor; it cracked like thunder and the orb atop it began to glow with a white light. “Why have you come?”
“It is my right to attend.” Menessos stopped perhaps ten feet from our contestant line. “Do you yet begrudge me the past, Eldrenne? Will your bitterness never cease?”
They had history between them. Curious.
“You give me no cause for anything but bitterness, Menessos.” She spat his name.
“What benefit could I seek in aggravating the wounds of decades past, Eldrenne?”
“Your motives are ever your own. To guess at them is to relinquish myself to thoughts just as depraved and selfish. I will not sully myself to venture there.”
“Your words sting me, Xerxadrea.”
The other Elders gasped in unison; he’d addressed her by name. WEC had only a handful of Eldrennes and once they became Eldrenne, that was their name in public.
“Good,” she replied. “It may not be the stabbing vehement agony you deserve, but a sting implies pain and if I have hurt you even a little, then I will relish it.”
Menessos took three steps forward, hand out, palms open in a show of nonaggression. “If my pain pleases you, Xerxadrea, if you delight in hearing of it, then come down from your dais, witch. Come down and make me bleed of your own hand, that you may be happy once more.”
Before I could even turn back to her, the Eldrenne glided past me to accept his offer. 



1.) Demeter Alcmedi  / Nana

Excerpt, Shattered Circle, page 305

Demeter stood before him with all the ferocity of a lioness in her eyes. “My granddaughter has been nearly killed how many times since she got involved with you and that vampire?”
Johnny’s chin dropped shamefully.
“Right now she’s stuck in a meditation downstairs. You”—she poked him in the chest—“were here. I bet she saw Menessos tonight, too. He resides an hour away.”
She shuffled a step forward. Johnny eased a step back.
He is accustomed to the night, and more than normal stress.” She gained another few inches on him, and Johnny retreated again. “He can use magic. He could probably have fixed this . . . but you called mehad to get my ass out of bed in the middle of the night and come home to fix this.”
Johnny could say nothing. She was right.
Demeter put her hands on her hips. “Hate him if you have to, Johnny. Hate him because he wants her and you feel threatened by that. But trust him, damn it. You three have to trust each other if any of you hope to survive this.”


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Top 3 Favorite Minor Characters

My favorite minor characters are...hard to choose. I'm the sort of reader/viewer/consumer who tends to identify more with minors than the majors. For the sake of clarity, I'm defining "minor character" as having third tier relationship to the protagonist(s) and/or the plot. Secondary characters get a lot of glory; but we really shouldn't gloss over the amazing third-string who get so little time on page/screen yet have a notable impact on the story.

Because I'm a girl who enjoys making lists here my Top 3 Favorite Minor Characters:

1. The Master of the Young Amelia -- the merchant ship's captain from Dumas's Count of Monte Cristo (the book, not the movie). A man who recognized the genius beneath the filth of the escaped fugitive pretending to be a shipwrecked sailor. The captain was a man of authority who also had the humility to recognize and appreciate that Dantes was a rare gem of an asset to the crew. Yet, the captain didn't abuse Dantes, didn't manipulate or conspire against him, he didn't punish Dantes for seemingly being a better man than he. The captain was one of the few characters in the book about revenge and betrayal, who was a genuinely good guy.

2. Pree -- The club owner/bartender from Syfy's Killjoys (played by actor Thom Allison). Counselor, comic relief, and amazing eyebrows that he uses to great effect, Pree is the guy who when shit's gonna blow, grabs the booze. He owned my heart after that. He was a minor character in Season One, but Season Two Ep1 featured him prominantly, so I'm hoping for more screen time for that character. A hat tip to our own Veronica Scott for her interview with Killjoy's show creator Michelle Lovretta. If you haven't tuned into this Sci-Fi bounty hunter series, you're really missing out.




3.  Asta -- the dog from the Thin Man movies. Comedy + mystery + happy couple + mischievous dog = everything I love in a movie. I dare you not to cry, "Asta! Asta!" the next time you see a fox terrier.

Monday, July 11, 2016

My favorite minor character

First, sorry for the late start. Turns out my hard drive on my Imac is toast.
Moving on, trying to pick one minor character I liked best is tough, because I have a lot of novels and  most of them have stupid numbers of characters.

Instead of searching through each and every one of my books to find just the right character, I'm going to go to Mr.Mortimer Slate, an undertaker in my novel in progress BOOMTOWN. He's got all the charm in the world and it does him no good. He is an outcast not only because of his job but because he is an albino of mixed heritage living in a town where money is the only master.

Mr. Slate starts off normally enough, all things considered, but he changes through the course of the novel, becoming something he's not even sure he can describe.

He is also the busiest man in the town, burying body after body and often burying then a second or third time, all while desperately trying to find the supplies to bury them and the land to do so as well.

Poor Slate just wants a simple life, but it's not his place to have it. he shows up in several additional stories of mine, not as the main character but as a companion to my anti-hero Jonathan Crowley. Slate has no choice in the matter, because whatever it is that corrupted him (I ain't telling, but I know) is making him less human and Crowley is deciding whether or not he'll have to kill the man.

Slate shows up as Crowley's companion in "Black Train Blues," "Blank White Page," my novella "The Devoted," and in the chapbook "What Rough Beast," co-authored with Charles R. Rutledge.

Not a bad run for a minor character.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

My Favorite Minor Character

In case you missed my very fun interview with Ilana Teitelbaum at the Huffington Post, here's the cover reveal for the next book in The Uncharted Realms, THE EDGE OF THE BLADE! I have such mad love for this cover. Of all my heroines so far, Jepp is the one whose cover comes closest to showing her as she looks in my head. She's also terribly badass, prowling along with her knives.

Love love love.

It's timely, too, because this week's topic is "My Favorite Minor Character." With the recent release of THE PAGES OF THE MIND, you'd think I'd pick Dafne. She's the librarian, who labored in the background of the first three Twelve Kingdoms books - and who proved to be such a popular secondary character that there wasn't any question of who should be the heroine of the next story, once we decided to expand the original trilogy into a spinoff series.

I love writing Dafne - in both THE PAGES OF THE MIND and in the novella that bridges the two series, THE CROWN OF THE QUEEN. But she's not my favorite minor character, mainly because Dafne never felt minor to me. She played a key role in all three princesses lives. She was just in the background because she likes it there.

No, I'd have to pick Jepp as my favorite minor character. She snuck up on me - not surprising, with her stealth skills - first appearing in THE TALON OF THE HAWK (book 3), as one of Ursula's elite guard, the Hawks. I really thought Jepp would be there and gone. As the head scout for the Hawks, she reports on what the long-range scouts have discovered.

Turns out Jepp couldn't be a simple mouthpiece. No - her mouth is WAY too big for that!

She possesses so much fire and spirit that she came vividly to life. Writing her book became a ride in itself. So much so that people expressed shock at times when I made snarky or salacious remarks in real life. I had to apologize, saying, "it's being in Jepp's head so much - the woman has no filter."

Jepp is also very cool in that she's pansexual. She's just lusty in general and finds everyone beautiful. Being in that mindset opened my mind and felt incredibly refreshing. She has no sexual hangup and loves bodies of all varieties, finding something sexy about everyone she meets.

Of course, her enthusiastic sexuality and big mouth get her in all kinds of trouble. Which made digging her out again quite the challenge.

Totally my favorite (once) minor character.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Politics Optional

When two unrelated factions meet, the thing that keeps everyone alive to go home at the end of the day is politics. Unless you're George R. R. Martin.

Case in point: This photo is politics in action. Two felines, both alike in dignity, on the sunny dock, where we lay our scene. (With apologies to Shakespeare) Max (the boy facing the camera) is a neighbor who desperately wants to be accepted by my cats. He is particularly taken with Hatshepsut (foreground). She, being a decade older and wiser than he, has been known to shove him in the water. True story. This moment of détente brought to you by catnip. I'd make a joke about US politics needing some weed, but frankly, I think maybe anti-psychotics are called for at this point.

So there you have it. Do I include politics in my SFF? Absolutely. I contend that it's impossible to avoid

Humans are social animals, which naturally sort themselves into hierarchies as a matter of survival - this is the stuff hardwired into the oldest parts of our brains. When we were still cheetah-snacks wandering the savannahs, the social hierarchy determined who led a group. Who ate first. Who reproduced. Who lived. Who didn't. Jockeying for position within a given social structure is part of being human.

Since Science Fiction is as a genre, one big, open ended 'what comes next?' there's really no way to avoid politics. Which isn't to say that an authors personal political views ought to intrude. They shouldn't, however, I admit that my voice, my experiences and my world view are so colored by my beliefs/thoughts/ideals that I suspect it all bleeds through. If my characters hold political convictions, I want them to belong to those characters, not to me. I'm not writing to make my characters a megaphone for my own views.

That said. I have a fondness for shining light on certain marginalized populations. As a result, many of my characters hold alternative religious views, or are other-abled, or are non-hetero. In all those cases, there are politics surrounding the issues those characters face. And because I'm usually writing romance where HEAs are the expectation, my politics DO slip into the story - I'm going for acceptance and equality. Some days, like today, after more men were killed by police (and I freely admit I will never have the full story on those incidents, but the mounting death toll of young black men in this country is unacceptable) I wonder if inserting politics into writing isn't a duty - a way of saying something, as Elie Wiesel urged - a way of sounding the alarm at enough of a remove that the message of and for compassion slips in beneath a reader's skin and takes root.

I don't know yet how to respond to something that bothers me so deeply about my society. Maybe it requires someone more skilled than I. All I know is that I grew up on the golden-eyed optimism of Star Trek. Apparently, some of that optimism rubbed off on me. Because I do think politics end up in fiction anytime there's more than one character on a page. What I don't know is where the line in the sand lies. At what point does a socially conscious scifi story turn into a morality tale? I'd prefer to stand firmly on SFF side of that equation.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Perils of the Writer: Getting Your Politics into your SFF

I don't usually bring up real-world politics here.  I might be something of a rare bird in this industry, in that I'm on friendly terms with people with vastly varying political leaning.  People who I disagree with, even vehemently.  And don't get me wrong, I do love occasionally getting into it, politically speaking, as long as it's a good argument, and not just yelling, "You're wrong!" back and forth.
Partly, I don't bring up politics because-- especially within political things that cross with SFF writing-- by the time I know something is going on and people are talking about it, someone-- usually Scalzi, Wendig or Hines-- has more or less already said what I feel, and said it better than I would have.  We don't need another white guy going "Oh, me too, because my opinion is important!"  I stay out of it because you don't need me to weigh in on it.  I will if asked, but otherwise, I'll just listen.
However, I mostly don't talk about my personal politics here because it really doesn't reflect on what I write.  Even Way of the Shield, easily my most "political" work, doesn't necessarily reflect any specific political view as "right" or "wrong".  In fact, if any eventual reader does take a specific political message from it, that's more a reflection of their read than my intent.  But if they find something, great.  Subtext is best when it's unintentional.
But some writers aren't like that.  Some wear their politics right on their sleeves, especially in their work.  And that can be great.  Or it can be horrible.*  But I'm kind of the opinion, if you want to write that sort of thing, that's what opinion columns in the newspaper are for.  As fiction, it tends to be uninteresting.
And some wear their politics so proudly, it becomes their public persona.  That's your right, of course, but Freedom of Speech only prevents the government from shutting you up.  It doesn't stop people from thinking you're a jerk.
But let's not confuse politics for behavior.
Because there are plenty of people-- people on the far left and far right, frankly-- who gleefully act like assholes, and then when called on that behavior, use their political affiliation as a shield.  "Oh, you're coming after me because of my beliefs!"  Terms like "witch hunt" are used, because it's easier to hide behind that, make yourself a victim, instead of acknowledging: hey, I'm acting like an asshole.
It's so much easier to act like you're being persecuted.
But if you act like an asshole-- and believe me, I've been there: back in my twenties I'm sure I had some Grade A moments-- people will and should call you on it, and it's disingenuous to say it's because of your politics.  You know why?  Because I know people with the same political lean who aren't assholes, so it's clearly not some sort of obligatory behavior based on political opinion.
I am all for people wearing their politics on their sleeves.  And put it in your fiction.  Have your fiction be a full-on polemic; rip your political opinion off your sleeve and shove it down my throat.  Politics I agree with, politics I don't agree with.  Go full out.
So, without pointing fingers or getting into too many details, here's two things that have stood out to me:
1. I've noticed that the kind of people who are complaining that SF is "getting too political" and "politics shouldn't enter into it" are the very same people who can't seem to make a blog post or Facebook entry without being highly political, including actively attacking people who don't have the same politics.
2. People who complain about having to be "politically correct" tend to be people who want to be jerks.  Let me tell you a secret about "political correctness".  Do you know what it really is?  It's not calling people something they don't want to be called.  That's it.  If doing that is something you've got a real problem with, then you should take a look at yourself and decide what kind of person you want to be.  If the answer is, "I want to be a jerk and piss people off", then fine. Own that shit.  But also own the consequences.  Don't act like you can be that guy and also be surprised that you generate some ire for it.
So that's my main thing: talk the smack, if that's you want to do.  But don't be surprised if it smacks you back.
---
*- For the record, I've read fiction on both sides of the political spectrum that I've found eye-rollingly absurd.