Sunday, April 30, 2017

Crying Wolf

The bright day after the big snowstorm. The snow is melting fast and I'm betting it will be all gone by midafternoon.

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is an open author riff, an invitation to talk about whatever's on our minds.

I kind of want to complain about bad security advice on the Internet, but that's just me being cranky. It doesn't hurt anyone, as it's overprotective. Still, folks, I could advise you to burn sage to purify your laptop of demons and we could argue the same. It doesn't hurt anyone, but let's try to rein back superstition and separate it from computer science.

Oops, I guess I did go there.

Did I mention I'm deep into writing a book riddled with conflicts around magic, science and superstition?

Okay, since I already started down this road, let's look at this Ten Concerts thing. There's a trajectory here I notice a lot with social media.

Last week, people on Facebook started posting lists of ten concerts - nine they'd been to and one a lie. I saw a friend do it, it looked amusing, I did it too. People had fun guessing which was the lie, and we ended up riffing about great concerts we'd been to. Other people did posts of their own. Lots of people doing it, lots of engagement...

Next inevitable step is people bitching about it.

I don't know why, except that any time a bunch of people get excited about something, there have to be some other people shaking their canes at it and yelling at the concert people to get off their Facebook lawn.

Then came the article about it. This one really took the prize for me, because the New York Times did an article about how the Ten Concerts Meme was a cybersecurity risk. The had an quotes from a guy in the business who called it a "moderate security risk" because some websites ask for the first concert you went to as a security question.

Note that the Ten Concerts list wasn't necessarily about a first concert at all, even if, out there somewhere, this happens to be one of yousecurity questions. (They also dragged in that since those sites often ask for your high school or high school mascot, you should either lie on the site - and hope you remember it - or never reveal to anyone that super-sekrit information. Besides, of course the thousands of people who were associated with your high school.) They also concede that since this isn't a shared "quiz," there's no danger of embedded code.

Then the article goes on to add that any information we post can be used to target marketing, as if none of us have seen the shoes we glanced at on a catalog site later popping up in a sidebar ad. And as if the fact that I saw the Go-Go's - YES, YES I DID! - when I was 18 somehow informs my current buying patterns.

Though I have been contemplating buying some thigh-high lace stockings and big bracelets lately... HMMM.

The thing is, folks, this article is about absolutely nothing at all. You know why they wrote and posted it? BECAUSE A LOT OF PEOPLE WERE ENGAGED. Engagement = clicks = advertising dollars. Why *not* write a fluff piece making vague generalizations about moderate security risks when you can be pretty sure that a chunk of all those people who played the game would click on it?

Hurts no one, right?

Except now people are sharing the article with vague warnings of their own, stirring up fear and concern where really nothing exists. Seems to me there's a story about the dangers of calling out dangers that aren't really real.

The thing about sensationalizing news is that it's main purpose is to get people excited, not to transmit useful information.

Might as well go burn some sage over my laptop and change all of my security questions. Just in case.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Energy You Put Into the World

Our assigned topic this week is mentoring. I like this quote:  “Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.” — John Crosby

In the old day job I definitely had mentors and owe a great deal to all of them. One thing I ran into, however, is expressed well by Steven Spielberg: “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” Because I was a woman in a spot where there had been few if any women at that time, some of my early mentors had definite ideas of who and what I should look like when I ‘made it’…and their vision didn’t always match mine. This led to a few problems down the road but I’m still grateful for the help I received.

I’m a firm believer in the adage of paying it forward and I worked hard to do that in the old day job, and to continue to do it as an author. I know the areas where I’m strongest and I’m happy to mentor on those things. Many topics I know nothing or very little about, or only have opinions, so if someone asks me for my input or advice on those, I make clear what they’re getting. I also try to pay my own debt forward by highlighting others when I can, usually either in a blog post or in social media, rather than mentoring outright.

I had two major mentors in the writing world – our own Jeffe, who I met at the RWA conference in Anaheim in 2012 when I was a brand new, probably very confused, just-published author. She was so generous in advice and moral support!  Still is! The other was my own daughter, who was published years before I was and patiently showed me the ropes on many things too numerous to mention here. Between the two of them and several other very patient, lovely people, I didn’t have to learn everything the hard way but could benefit from their trail blazing. I found other mistakes to make, believe me!

My favorite way to mentor and pay it forward is to take time to judge unpublished author contests in various Romance Writers of America (RWA) chapters. Contests are always in need of experienced first round judges, especially in the fantasy, futuristic and paranormal categories, and authors who enter for the most part genuinely want the feedback. I enjoy reading the first twenty pages of a WIP, or the first 5000 words or whatever the entries may be, and offering constructive criticism and suggestions. I like finding the things that are done well – a unique plot, a cool turn of phrase, a character who really comes alive on the page – and I feel I’ve been helpful if I can also highlight a few things that may be more problematic – too much backstory, an overuse of certain words, etc. -  or downright “don’t do this unless you want one star reviews, shrug, up to you” items.

I may not be able to advise you on how to get an agent or what to say in a pitch session, since I’m independently published and never had those experiences, but I can offer you my insights on the writing, especially in my genres. People may take the advice or not, or they may adapt parts of it, or do the exact opposite, but at least I’ve done what I can to pass along the help and support I received.

“I believe in luck and fate and I believe in karma, that the energy you put out in the world comes back to meet you.” Chris Pine

(All photos purchased from Deposit Photo stock images.)

Friday, April 28, 2017

Returning the Favor: Helping Fellow Writers

It's cherry blossom time in Poulsbo, the Little Norway of Washington state. The left hand shot is of the first blossom that's popped on the weeping cherry tree that Hatshepsut is inspecting (right hand photo). When the blooms finally all open, the tree will be a mass of pink. I'll try for another photo at that point. It's pretty spectacular in bloom. May even have to break out a real camera for that.

You'd think that my cherry blossom obsession had nothing to do with the topic of mentoring or giving back to the writerly orgs to which most of us inevitably belong. You'd think incorrectly because I can make anything about anything. It's a gift. Brace yourself for a crappy analogy:

When it comes to mentoring, I feel like I'm bringing a cell phone camera to an opportunity that calls for a massive DSLR

Yeah. That was it. My analogy. Aren't you glad you stuck around for that? What I'm saying is that while I try to do my darnedest to contribute, I want to be ultra careful about holding myself up as any kind of authority on anything writing. My knowledge and skill set are still equal to a middle of the road cell phone camera. There are loads of writers out there in the world with the amassed ability that's equal to a super hi-res Digital SLR camera. Sure, sure. I've held offices for various organizations. I've judged contests and critiqued entries as kindly and as constructively as possible. I will volunteer during conferences for any and all tasks that will help things go more smoothly. Need bags stuffed? Count me in. Files sorted and organized? Sure. Boxes carted? I'm there.

But frankly, at this point, I am more in need of mentoring than I am in need of mentoring others. I still have so much to learn and so many opportunities to breathe some new life into a career that's been in a bit of a holding pattern. Maybe when I manage that, I'll have a great story to tell other writers about how to do it - or at least the story of how it worked for me.

Sure, I've taught workshops. I've taken far more. Mainly, I think, because while I get a lot out of workshops, I find offering workshops to be too impersonal. My great joy is sitting down in a group of writers and listening to everyone's work. This happened recently. A writer with a great manuscript came to critique. We read her opening chapter. Everyone gave feedback, then I said, "You know, based on this chapter we've read, here's the story you're setting up." She stared at me. "That's not the story at all." "Yeah," I said. "I think you started the book in the wrong place. From what you're describing about the plot, your story starts here." I was trembling in my boots, because WHO WANTS TO HEAR THAT???

Her eyes were wide. She sucked in a breath and then shouted, "Oh my GOD! I knew something was wrong and I had no idea what it was! Thank you!" 

So that's my sweet spot. Getting to offer up an opinion about how a story is off track and offering options for putting it back up on rails. It isn't massive value to massive numbers of writers - but if it helps one single writer get her work to market, I'll be happy. Actually. Scratch that. I already am happy. It's alarmingly satisfying to identify story issues (in someone else's work where I'm not blinded by trees and forest) and to come up with potential resolutions. It's giving someone a leg up in their work. It's also excellent practice for me - solving other people's story issues makes it more likely I'll be able to ID my own. Maybe.

What I really want to know is if you could get any workshop from any writer(s) what would it be about?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Mentoring and Paying it Forward

I firmly believe that professional writers have a duty to pay forward the help they received to get where they are.  I have achieved what I did because professionals volunteered their time and wisdom to help me, and it's only right to do the same.
So: a bit of money-where-my-mouth-is time on that score.  I've got two upcoming appearances where I will be doing EXACTLY THAT.
First up: Comicpalooza in Houston, where I am on the Literary Track. In addition to appearing on panels where I'll do my best to give decent advice on writing, I will be participating in a Read & Critique Session, where we'll have ten minutes for a speed-date style examination of your work.  And I will try-- stress try-- to be available for further thoughts, questions and discussion whenever I am there.  You can sign up for a slot there-and-then, or right now by emailing
Next up, I am again teaching at the ArmadilloCon Writers' Workshop, which is in Austin and you do have to sign up for ahead of time (the deadline is June 11th).  This is an in-depth, all day workshop which also includes membership to the whole con.  I've talked about it before, and let me stress, this is so worth the time and money, especially if you have no opportunity to do one of the bigger, longer workshops like Clarion or Odyssey.  If you can take a long weekend and come to Austin, this is a fantastic learning opportunity.  More details at
I've got a few more paying-it-forward plans in the works, and when they are up and running, I will let you know.  
Until then, keep at it down in the word mines.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Giving Writers A Hand (Possibly the Wrong Hand)

How do I help writers--newer to the game than I am--find their footing?

  1. I encourage them to publicly comment on Authors Behaving Badly, then cackle madly as they're buried under the inevitable blowback. 
  2. I dispatch my beloved raven to visit their favorite writing retreat, persistently tapping, as if someone gently rapping, rapping upon their chamber door and shrieking, "Never More Words for You!"
  3. I unleash the stealth earworm so the wisp of that genius plot-thought with which they awoke is forever forgotten, replaced by a dancing digital hamster.
  4. I introduce them to the Rules Makers and the Rules Breakers cabals, then whisper about the gatekeeper conspiracy while secretly signing them up for the Million In A Month newsletters.
  5. I invented the slush pile and social media.

I'm off to dispatch muses to the wrong locations and leave one-star reviews about publisher-determined prices.

*Disclaimer:  I lie a lot. Writing fiction is the most legal use of that skill.

Monday, April 24, 2017

mentoring: The other side of the coin

Yep. That's right, I'm gonna be the heavy here.

Let me clarify something. I have spent a great deal of my time mentoring other authors and those who want to be authors. I've always been glad to, because, God knows, I had a lot of help when I started.

Here's the thing: I believe in paying it forward.

Now and then, however, I've run across a person who didn't understand the notion of moderation. I have had several people in the past who effectively handed me a manuscript and demanded that I read it. In those situations I've politely but firmly declined. My time is my time. I don't have time to read an entire manuscript, edit it and critique it. I have a full time job. Oh, and a career as a writer. I'm not alone in that.

I have, on many occasions, read entire manuscripts. When I was working with White Wolf Publications as a freelance writer and a few writers I knew who were not familiar with the games they created wrangled stories or novels and were not familiar enough with the materials, I did fast edits more than once and explained where they were missing important aspects of the games. Aspects that would have meant enormous rewrites, et cetera.

I have certainly offered advice on many things, like contract negotiations, first person versus third person, which companies are better to write for, which I would avoid. All sorts of advice and I'm glad to, provided I can help.

There have, however, been times where I truly wanted to help and could not spare the time. I have deadlines. I have writing gigs. I have that day job. Oh, and these days I have an editorial service and I teach classes on writing, with Christopher Golden, as the River City Writers. One of the reasons the group exists is because sometimes people want editing services that we simply cannot provide for free. I can refer people to other editors and I have and I will again. But if they want my services, most times they'll have to go through the site.

I've been at this for over 25 years now Sometimes, much as I would like to dig into a manuscript, I simply do not have the time. Of if I do have the time, I can use that time better to pay my bills, which have never quite managed to pay themselves despite my best efforts to convince them.

Here's the thing. I LIKE helping. I also like having a roof over my head. And because we both run into the same problem, we decided to work it out a little differently. We have fairly regular sessions at bookstores, libraries or cafes where we do the New England Writers Coffeehouse. These run every 2-3 months and the idea is that we spend three hours in a meet and greet with other writers at all levels of the writing career, from "Just thinking about it" to published and successful. The entire notion is to get writers, which are notoriously solitary beasts, to come out and meet each other and learn the fine art or networking. (Networking, for the record, is the ability to meet with other human beings in the same field of interest. That's really about it. You would be surprised how many people do not know that.)

I have several writers who still consult with me and I'm glad to help. I have a few more I've let down of late, because I really would LOVE to get to that manuscript, but there isn't enough time in the day. It saddens and frustrates me.

I still pay it forward when I can.

In a few weeks I'm teaching a class on world building. I've been accused of having a clue. We'll find out for sure soon enough.

So, again. I want to help. I do. But for anyone out there who needs heavy duty editing of a manuscript or a full on brutal critique, these days the odds are good I'm saying no, or possibly just showing how much it will cost.

That's that. I've now played Devil's Advocate. Now, back to that manuscript.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

When Mentors Go Bad: Writing Advice Red Flags

This clematis I planted late last summer has been early to bloom this spring. Such a lovely new visitor to the garden!

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is Paying it Forward: How We Serve as Mentors for Tomorrow's New Writers.

Those of you who've been following me for any length of time know this is a topic near and dear to my heart. I'm a big believer in helping out tomorrow's writers. More established writers helped me as I was coming up - and still help me today! - and I return that favor to the universe by helping others. As others have said, there's not a lot we can do to repay those higher on the ladder than us, because most of them don't need it, but we can give a hand to those lower down.

There's lots of ways to do this, and I look forward to hearing what others of the SFF 7 say they do, but I want to come at this a little sideways by giving a warning about what is NOT helpful.

This has been on my mind all week since I saw a discussion earlier this week among some authors talking about a new "writers conference" run by a guy who promises to teach how to be successful as an author. Now, I've been around a fair amount of the success-culture stuff. People close to me have been burned by it. I can promise you, falling for their shtick is absolutely understandable because they're really good at this.

However, there are many problems with what they're doing. Best case scenario is illustrated by this most recent (how's that for serendipity?) XKCD:

If you're not familiar with the concept of Survivorship Bias, he explains it here. The TL:DR is that this is a bias caused by looking only at those who made it through a selection process, and not at those who did not. By focusing on 1% who did make it through a filter, the 99% who did not gets lost, leading to false conclusions.

Even the most well-meaning people who try to pass on the secrets of their success can be giving bad advice because very often THEY DON'T KNOW why they were successful. They can retrace their steps and say, "this is how I did it," but those aren't necessarily what actually made it happen. Especially when one step is "and then lightning struck and..."

There's a great interview that's well worth watching, where Oprah Winfrey and JK Rowling discuss that neither of them have any idea why they became so immensely successful. (Transcript here.) The self-aware recognize this, how much of phenomenal success is due to a stroke of luck and can't be replicated. The well-meaning might not recognize this and earnestly want to teach what simply can't be replicated.

Then there's another type. Those who have another agenda.

And that agenda is always making more money for themselves. Even if they insist it's not. In fact, particularly if they insist that's not their reason. That's a big red flag.

Let me break down the red flags I saw in this particular case.

1. This guy is self-billed as a hugely successful author who wants to share his secrets.

Let's ask why. Because, folks, we all know that a basic ground rule of being an author is that time = words written. Anytime a "hugely successful author" is spending their time doing something other than writing books, you can guess that this thing is either

  • earning them more money than writing books, or 
  • contributing to sales of said books. 
That's simple economics.

2. He's not doing this for money. He's only charging this low price because he's doing this out of a desire to share.

Okay, look - this guy has already gone on about his huge financial success. That's what he congratulates himself for, that's where his heart is. Nothing wrong with that, but don't turn around and try to convince me he's devoting an entire weekend just because he's such a giver. He's not a yogi, he's a businessman. Look for the business benefit.

What's the business benefit? Two things:

  • Putting on a small hotel conference, especially in a place where there are few to no other lodging choices, is not expensive. If you guarantee a room block with the hotel, especially a place like a casino, they'll comp the meeting rooms. Thus the registration fee per person is almost entirely profit. 
  • It's a big commercial for his books. Possibly he'll have a success book for sale at the conference. Even without that, this is all about raising his profile and establishing himself as a success in the eyes of attendees. Even if he doesn't make a profit on the registration, this is great promo.
Also, always be suspicious if people insist they're not doing something for the money. A professional person always needs to charge for their efforts. Honest people will say, "yes, I'm charging this fee for my weekend's worth of time because that's what my time is worth." Exceptions to this are low-effort events like speaking to a school class or answering questions online. If aspiring writers want to ask me questions at conferences, I'll sit down for a few minutes, sure, or I'll say, "but me a drink or lunch and we can talk." Authors will do interviews and talks for free or minimal honoraria, but that's usually to raise their profile and to give back. In that case they won't spend much time telling anyone that they're not doing it for the money. Obviously they aren't.

3. He hints at having exclusive knowledge

This one is a major red flag. In the text this guys says that people shouldn't ask uncool questions, but that, if they hang out long enough and learn something, then they might get to the point of knowing how to ask cool questions.

Let me tell you something, people. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN UNCOOL QUESTION.

I mean, what is this, 7th grade?? Seriously, that's the last time I remember someone trying to make me feel bad for being "uncool."

The only people who pull this shit - and complete and utter bullshit it is - are those who want you to believe they're better than you are. Even if they do know something you don't, that doesn't make you somehow substandard. There is no shame in not knowing something. That's why we ask questions, to find out. I made a resolution a long time ago to never be afraid to ask a question.

And I'll tell you what: the only people who have ever tried to make me feel bad for asking a question were those people who had a stake in trying to appear powerful. And VERY OFTEN it was because they either didn't know the answer or didn't have a good answer.

Or maybe the answer is so simple that it blows their entire posture of appearing to be this magical, hugely successful author guy.

Trust me, folks - any time some person tries to make you feel ignorant, or uncool about your ignorance, they are manipulating you. I've been down this road. Like the "teacher" who says that you're not ready to understand the answer. That you've only scratched the surface of some knowledge so profound that you have all this work to do just to figure out how to ask the right question. There's some truth to this, that as you learn a subject, you get better at asking the questions that target what you really need to know. But that does not mean you're not allowed to ask ANY questions to begin with. Not unless they're trying to control you and keep you in a subordinate position.

For people like this, positioning themselves as successful, powerful, or knowledgeable depends on positioning other people as unsuccessful, weak, and ignorant. Don't go along with it.

4. Always consider the motivation.

People do things for a variety of reasons, not always noble ones. It *always* serves you well to ask WHY someone is doing something. And, while you might take into consideration the reasons they give you, don't accept those at face value. In fact, look closely at why I spent a couple of hours writing this blog post. I'll tell you what I think they are, but I also know you might see other ones. What I think:

  • I write a blog post every Sunday for the SFF Seven as part of promoting myself as a writer of fantasy, among other genres.
  • Promoting my profile as an author sells books, hopefully. I like blogging, but I don't do it out of the goodness of my heart.
  • This stuff was on my mind and so I was ready to take the topic in this direction.
  • I have experience with manipulations of this type and it pisses me off. If I can help someone else see through these shenanigans, I'm happy.
  • I really do believe in mentoring and paying it forward. There's a lot of bad information out there. Good information is needed to counter it.
  • Also, I didn't want to spend a lot of time arguing with people one by one who are enthused about this event. It (likely) wouldn't convince them, might make me a target which I'm not interested in investing my energy in, and would ultimately just aggravate me. By writing this post, I get to have my say and move on.
  • I have a good reputation for being generous and helpful (which I find immensely flattering), so I hope this post serves that. 
  • I dunno, what else? Maybe I just want you all to tell me I'm pretty.

So, what do you all think? I already went on long, so I didn't go through every red flag I can think of, because there are many. But what ones have you noticed?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Myth or Legend I Wish Were True

When I was totally bored in elementary school one day, I created this amazing (to me) fantasy of being a long lost alien princess who was supposed to be Queen of the Universe. I often wished that fantasy was true, believe me! I daydreamed about how astonished everyone would be the day the flying saucers swooped down to reclaim me and proclaim me the ruler...well, yeah, obviously that didn't happen. Relax, you are NOT my unwitting subjects! I did find it very amusing that the movie "Jupiter Ascending" kind of had a similar plot, although wow her dress is tacky!

When I was much older, the things I wished were true tended to be the worlds of my favorite books. So, I wanted to swoop through the skies of Pern on a golden dragon, for example. Or live in Rivendell and be a tall Elf with a sexy Rohan lover who just happened to be Eomer (as portrayed by Karl Urban). The wishing wasn't connected to any one specific myth or legend, but to the place and the universe.

I think I solved that one by writing my own stories and making them feel true while I'm totally immersed in them, working my way through the plot and the events, and having everything turn out the way I want it to be.

But okayyyyy, if I HAVE to pick one to be a team player here on SFF7, I'll go with shifters. I want the shifters of either Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling world or Patricia Briggs' Alpha/Omega/Mercy Thompson world to be REAL. Sexy, badass, smart...

There you go.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Here Be Dragons

If the tilt of reality suddenly shifted and opened the door to the improbable, what would I hope to see come through to inhabit this world with us? Easy. Dragons. Because I have no sense of self-preservation maybe. Or because I'm taken with the notion that I am a dragon (according to Chinese astrology.) More to the point, though, there's value to casting your gaze to the sky when a shadow passes over and shuddering a combination of awe and dread. It keeps the human animal humbler to be reminded that there are forces in the world that cannot be harnessed or tamed or controlled. While I'm not entirely keen on having friends and family predated by a hungry dragon, watching a massive winged force of nature soaring the skies might be worth a few 'accidents'. Certainly, I'd be one of the dumb ones going out to look for the dragons' caves/nests/roosts. Just to catch a glimpse. On par with courting a tiger.

Maybe what I'm really looking for is something to strip away the illusion of control the human race so loves to pretend to have. I have no data to back it up, but I maintain that humans are better for having something bigger and more awesome than themselves to envy. As a species we drive harder when we're challenged. And having a dragon eating your sheep and burning your neighborhood might qualify as challenging.

Dragons have good qualities, too. Some of them bear incredible wisdom and are invested in helping humans. The fun would come in trying to parse out which dragon was which. I don't know. I'm not sure I can fully explain why it would matter to me that dragons made it across the threshold from myth to real. Only that I'd love to see one with my own eyes and experience the shiver that would come from watching a majestic, enormous apex predator claim the skies of this world.

Given the forces arrayed against humans - hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquake, volcanoes and the other assorted ways the planet has to kill us, do you suppose we already have dragons of a sort?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Myths to believe in

On the whole, I'm a rational sort. I believe in a world of what can be engaged with one's senses, what can be proven.  I'm not much of a spiritualist or superstitious person.
But I do kind of believe in Borrowers.
"Borrowers", or sprites, or whatever they may be-- beings who take objects from your house, and then return them when they see fit.
Now, the rational person would say, "You're just talking about things being lost and then found again later.  That's just normal disorganization, not mythical creatures."   True.  And I'd tend to agree.
Except, I swear, I've seen some stuff.
Once a camera charger vanished.  We looked everywhere, and couldn't find it.   Then, weeks later, I woke up one morning, got out of bed, went into the bathroom... and there was the charger, literally sitting on the bathroom floor.  Just, right there, appeared in the middle of the night.
I got a stranger one.
A few years back, my wife couldn't find an earring.  She looked everywhere, and it had vanished. Then one day as we came home, I was getting out of the car, and something landed on me.  The earring.  It literally fell on me, and the only place it could have come from is the garage ceiling.
I'm not saying these things make sense, I'm just saying they happened.
I prefer to keep the fantastic in the writing, though.  So: back to it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Yup. I think aliens would be amazing. 
Ask my family. They've heard me ponder
being on a team to terracolonize Mars. 
They've been told, 
"If they ever show up and 
I get the chance, 
I'm going."

Now of course, I'm NOT talking about 
wanting the face-hugging, acid-for-blood 
nightmares of Geiger to be real. 
I don't fancy myself a Ripley in a mech-suit.

I dream of Starfleet, Starfleet Academy, 
and the United Federation of Planets.

Because I'd love to actually live in Gene Roddenberry's dream world, 
and be a crewman on a ship that explored the stars and worlds of the universe. 
This is in part because of the ship, of course, but mostly because having that 
would mean that our world as we know it now had gotten past 
all the inequalities of our present, and strived forward into a future 
that saw the potential and value in every race, gender, and age.

Bring on that dream, please.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

If Mythical Beings Really Could Save Us From Ourselves

What myths or legends do I wish were true?

Nature Guardians. 

The ones who push back when humanity goes too far. From the gnones who look after windmills and wildlife, to the dragons of rivers and mountains. The ones who guide us to live with nature, not in spite of it. The ones who can undo the horrific damage we inevitably cause, forcing us to assist them in the healing and doling out lessons along the way. Don't get me wrong, I've no interest in an autocracy of myopic mythical beings. No, no.  I'm a firm believer in balance. In my little fantasy world, the nature guardians balance out humanity.

Monday, April 17, 2017

What would I want to see?

If I'm being honest, I'd love to see the fae proven real. There are so many of them both dark and magnificent. how could I not want to see them? How could I not want to believe in them?

An interesting theory that I've heard a few times and that I give no credence to (But love just the same) is that the Fae are, in fact, the same thing as angels and aliens. Something so completely different from our world that we automatically categorize them into something more believable for us.

The legends, the lore, the regal and horrific blended into one. There is nothing about the Fae that does not appeal to me and I even wrote about them in my very first novel, UNDER THE OVERTREE. They are not the faeries you remember from your legends but they are the Fae and even follow some of the same rules.

Highly recommended read: Raymond Feist's FAERIE TALE.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

I Believe in Unicorns

This week we're asking the question: What's the Greatest Myth or Legend You Wish Were True & Why?

My reply to this sort of thing, deep in the still idealistic abyss of my heart - which I've carried surprisingly untainted by collisions with reality since my childhood - is "what makes you think they're not true?"

I believe in unicorns.

So, there you have my secret: I believe that the great myths and legends are true. I can't even tell you where the conviction comes from - it just feels like something I know. I see so-called imaginary beast in my head like they're memories of something I've witnessed in person.

Call it having a great imagination. Call it a kind of insanity.

For me, it's understanding that there's more to the physical world than the frenetic boundaries the small-minded and power-hungry draw around it.

I believe in unicorns.

I believe in them all, quite honestly, but unicorns are emblematic of the rest. The above is a book I've had since I was eleven or twelve. It's one of many books about unicorns I collected during that era. I made a somewhat exhaustive study of them, throughout all the cultures.

In seventh grade, we had to do a five-page research paper, with footnotes and everything, which sent my classmates into a tizzy. I went into a similar frenzy, but of excitement. An excuse to look up everything the school library AND public library had on unicorns! Plus my own considerable library. I turned in a nineteen page report. I also learned not to answer my classmates with literal truth when they asked how long my paper was.

This might have been an early clue of my eventual career, though none of us noted it at the time.

When I was thirteen and my family visited New York City (a world away from our home in Denver), my one pick was to see the Unicorn Tapestries. When they turned out not to be at the Met but were instead uptown at The Cloisters - too far to go on our schedule - I had a meltdown of disappointment, totally bewildering my parents. They'd had no idea of the depths of my obsession. Why would they? Not many people wanted to investigate those tapestries as research into proving their own deeply held beliefs in the actual existence of unicorns.

More than thirty years later, when it finally worked out for me to visit The Cloisters and I got to see those tapestries, it satisfied a deep thirst in me.

I still have all those books.

I believe in unicorns.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Danger in the Stars Excerpt: A Trip to the Garden

I'm just not a fan of doing flash fiction so I decided to follow Marshall's example from earlier in the week and give you a short excerpt involving a trip to a garden from my new book, Danger in the Stars.

                 Miriell shed her shoes and walked across the lush surface she knew was some kind of grass, kept ruthlessly trimmed to form a carpet. She stood in the center of the expanse, wriggling her toes, pulling strength from the planet in this small space of growing things. Nothing but a shadow in the moonlight, Conor stayed on the path, watching her.
                “There are trees and flowering bushes in this direction,” he said.
                “How do you know?”
                “It’s my business to know all the details of any location my boss frequents.”
                The reminder of the realities, delivered in his deep voice without inflection, cast a damper on her joy. He held out his hand, and she walked to join him. Leaving her shoes behind, he drew her deeper into the pocket garden until she stood under the canopy of three ancient trees, beds of flowers all around. Humming, Miriell knelt first by the flowers, absorbing their life-giving essence without doing harm, for here the plants were only conduits for her to tap into the planet slumbering below the harsh city blotting out the surface.
                He went to lean against the nearest tree, showing a decided preference for remaining in the shadows. “You’re practically glowing. This must be helping, then?”
                Her breathing was easier, and the muscles of her chest unclenched. The rattle and wheeze disappeared. “I would bless you for this gift had I the right to call upon Thuun for such things any longer.” Rising, she moved to the tree opposite the one he’d chosen and placed her hands on the gnarled trunk, palms down. Touching her forehead to the rough bark, she closed her eyes and hummed one of the simpler hymns. It wouldn’t do to take too much from this place, to siphon so much energy that the living things who also needed lifeforce perished. The planet’s bounty felt so smooth and strong, flowing into her from the depths via through the tree’s extensive root system.
                As if he’d read her thoughts, Conor said, “We probably can’t do this field trip twice, so you’d better take what you need, however you’re doing it.”
                Her protest was instantaneous, instinctive. “I can’t overtax the garden. It’s well tended but fragile, in the middle of the cold city of stone and metal.”
                “Even if it’s the difference between your own life or death?”
                Deciding not to answer him, she changed to a different song and added words, keeping her voice soft.
                When she finished, he said, “I have no idea what the lyrics meant, but the song was beautiful. I’ll take the private concert as fair trade for bringing you here.”
                “A Combine lackey who appreciates alien music?” She made her voice scornful. Sinking to the grass, she leaned her back against the tree and stared through the canopy of rustling leaves at the starry sky. None of the constellations were familiar, of course. Her world lay in some faraway portion of the galaxy.
                “What are you thinking?” he asked, voice quiet in the still night air.

                “Nothing happy.” She gave voice to her memories.  “As Jareck said so dismissively at the spaceport earlier today, we didn’t even know we lived on what you call a planet until the evil ones swooped down from the cold stars, killing and capturing.” She ran her hand across the grass, tiny green sparks flying as her energy renewed. “No prophecy ever uttered in the temples foresaw this fate for me, or those taken with me.”

The story:
Miriell, a powerful empathic priestess, has been kidnapped from her own primitive planet along with a number of her people, and sold to the evil Amarotu Combine, largest organized crime syndicate in the Sectors. When she and her handler are sent to use her power to commit an assassination, she must leave behind her own sister as hostage to ensure her compliance. Miriell cannot ask for aid without endangering herself and others.
Despite his best efforts, Combine enforcer Conor Stewart is entranced by Miriell, and helps her evade the worst of brutal treatment from the rest of the mob. But Conor must keep his distance, before the lovely empath learns that he has secrets of his own–secrets that could get them both killed.
The situation becomes dire when Conor and Miriell come to the attention of both the Combine overlords and the deadly Mawreg, aliens who threaten the Sectors. Can she save herself and the Mawreg’s next victims? And will Conor help her, or remain loyal to his evil bosses?
Amazon      iBooks    Kobo     Barnes & Noble

Friday, April 14, 2017

Rites of Spring Flash Not So Fiction

Here's my flash fiction:

He lived.

And because he's still around to adore when we seriously believed the old dude with the bad heart, liver disease, and bladder cancer would check out during surgery to remove a bleeding mass on his back, I am bailing on you to sit and hold the grumpy old man.

But look. Isn't his little spring green coat (hiding a wicked big incision) on point for the season?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Spring Fiction and Writing on the Air

I've been instructed to write a "spring themed flash fiction" for today's SFFSeven, and as we all know, flash fiction is my bane.  However, instead, I dug up a long trunked project that will otherwise never see the light of day, and it's sort of got a spring theme.  Spring is mentioned.  Anyhow, it's the beginning (the first 500ish words) of something that didn't work, and it's rough as all get out, but: wouldn't flash be as well?  It certainly would be from me.

            Watch duty on the high towers of the Imperial Palace was something of a formality. None of the Imperial Guard minded doing the duty, as it involved little more than staying in the tower for a few hours. Most slept. Rumor had it that in the tenth century the paranoid Emperor Luciex VII had ordered that the guards watch from the towers at all time, and since the order had never been revoked, the towers were still watched seven centuries later. But there was never anything to see.
            Never anything to see, that is, in the most classic sense of what one watches in a tower for—no invading armies, no trouble on the far horizon. Vedix, the capital of the Kieran Empire, had never actually had an enemy army approach it in the entire history of the Empire. And even if an enemy came, word would arrive long before they would be seen. But yet in the towers the Imperial Guard held watch at all times. As a formality.
This New Spring would be unique, or so the Emperor had been told, because on that night both moons would be full, and furthermore the Imperial Astronomers had told him that according to their calculations, on this night the Blood Moon (as they called the smaller red one) would eclipse the Ice Moon (the larger white one), creating a previously unseen spectacle in the Vedix sky. Such a sight was one to be seen, and therefore, the banquet. One in which anyone of any name at all in the Empire would wish to attend. The entire Imperial family, the Archdukes of the greater houses of the Empire, as well as the Nobles of the lesser houses of the Protectorates, the whole body of the Senate and Generals of the Imperial Army. This event was to be unprecedented. So the Emperor had ordered.  
            Today all the Imperial Guard was watching was large numbers of Kieran aristocracy coming into the palace and milling about. Tonight, by imperial order, was to be one of the greatest banquets ever known in Kieran history. This would be the one for the history books, the Emperor had decided, and so he had invited every person of note within the entirety of the Kieran Empire to attend. And by invite, he meant a command. Ignoring the invitation would be an act of political suicide.
            People had been traveling for weeks to arrive in time for the event. The entire Imperial family, the Archdukes of the greater houses of the Empire, as well as the Nobles of the lesser houses of the Protectorates, the whole body of the Senate and Generals of the Imperial Army came at the request of Emperor Gelmin V.
            While the festivities were hours away from officially beginning, several of the guests had already begun gathering in one of the gardens of the imperial palace. For them, it was a casual, relaxing time before the actual banquet, unaware of the busy rush of the palace staff to put all things in order.

Also, last month I appeared on Writing On The Air, and now you can listen to the podcast of that interview.  Check it out!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Flash Fiction: Rites of Spring

Spring has sprung, the grass is riz
I wonder where the dragons is?
No snow to mark their prints
No ice to frost their flames
How are we to know from whence the dragons cames?

They say the horde will ride
Demanding tithes of gold
Taxes in the season of rain and mud and cold

Spring has sprung, the grass is riz
Do the dragons wonder where their hatchlings is?
Wrapped and tucked in blankets
Buried in the well
When they burn my village, I'll see them all in hell

*A riff on the original "Spring in the Bronx" by Anonymous

Monday, April 10, 2017

Flash Fiction: Rites of Spring

Our mission this week? Flash Fiction on "The Rites of Spring.: I went new school on the rituals. This time around, it's the prom.

There were four of them to take out one little girl. Seemed a bit like overkill, but as I worked for her grandfather, Dmitrius, I knew how much she was worth.

The kid just wanted her prom. I just wanted to be at home sleeping. I hate bodyguard work, especially when no one is supposed to know about it.

She was down on the dance floor, swaying to a soft song with her date, and I have to saw she looked beautiful. Perfect dress, hair pulled up and then cascading down.

I had a nice view from the windows on the roof and she was easy to separate from the rest of the crowd because we'd met a few times over the years. Mostly the only time I see kids is when I'm teaching classes.

That's a different job and filed under a a different name. When I'm doing this stuff, I go by Buddy Fisk. It serves me well enough.

Any way, they weren't exactly subtle. Most of Dmitrius's enemies aren't. They lack the class of the old school gangsters,

Four of them in one big van that might as well have said "Kidnappers R Us" on the side. First one climbed out, I was already halfway down the side of the building. By the time he'd headed for the front doors of the community center they'd rented for the prom I was waiting.

Want to know what I mean about the class of the old school gangsters? These jackoffs were ready to go in and shoot as many kids as they had to to get to their target. The old guard believed in doing things quietly when they could. You might get a little collateral damage but that was the exception.

I reminded them about what class is.  First guy coming up was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt advertising his favorite beer. I tossed a throwing knife and nailed him in the jugular. Three steps forward and hands reaching for his throat while he died. Before he hit the ground I pumped three rounds from my Sig into the next two. Suppressors are great. They don't really make a weapon completely silent, but there was a lot of background noise inside that place and that helped.

The fourth one tried to retreat. I saw his eyes go wide and he stepped back, shaking his head. It's easy to be brave when you have three other goons with guns to hold you up.

Me? I work alone.

I didn't have to interrogate them or any of that shit. So I just ended him. Two to the back of the head.

Remember how I said I work alone? Not completely. I had to do bodyguard duty. There might be more attempts to ruin the kid's prom. So I dragged the bodies to the sides of the building and into the the shadows and then I texted one of the guys who works for Dmitrius full time to do the actual clean up.

Back to where I could see the roads leading to the club. When the prom was over, I was going to make sure that his little granddaughter got home in one piece. Then, I was going to pay a visit to a man who thought he could take out Dmitrius by hurting his family. The details of what I was going to do to him were very graphic.

It was going to be a long night.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Only Me Myself and I For Plotting

The topic this week is who helps us develop the plot in the early stages. Um, I would have said  "I walk alone" on that but James beat me to it on Monday!

I don't consult with anyone. I get an idea, usually based on a situation like ooh Titanic in space! (Which became Wreck of the Nebula Dream and by the way the 105th anniversary of the tragic sinking is next week.)  And then quickly thereafter I know who my hero and heroine are going to be, the beginning and the ending appear in my head, and 2-3 scenes that will be along the way. Then I write. If my plot gets thorny at some point, which does happen, I have a technique where I sit down and draw myself a diagram of the possibilities, pick the one that seems best for the book, and resume writing.

This all undoubtedly traces back to my childhood and reasons. But hey, I'm not going to bore you with ANY of that LOL. It's me, it's how I write. No beta readers either. Just the developmental editor and the copy editor (who kindly weighs in on much more than comma placement). Well, I do have one sometime beta reader - Michael, the wonderful actor who narrates my audiobooks. He occasionally reads the scifi romance manuscripts and offers terrific insights on the heroes especially. But I don't brainstorm plots with him.

I'm distracted today - finally got Danger in the Stars released last week! SQUEE!

She’s a powerful empath. He’s an interstellar mob enforcer whose ruthless boss is holding her prisoner.
Miriell, a powerful empathic priestess, has been kidnapped from her own primitive planet along with a number of her people, and sold to the evil Amarotu Combine, largest organized crime syndicate in the Sectors. When she and her handler are sent to use her power to commit an assassination, she must leave behind her own sister as hostage to ensure her compliance. Miriell cannot ask for aid without endangering herself and others.
Despite his best efforts, Combine enforcer Conor Stewart is entranced by Miriell, and helps her evade the worst of brutal treatment from the rest of the mob. But Conor must keep his distance, before the lovely empath learns that he has secrets of his own–secrets that could get them both killed.
The situation becomes dire when Conor and Miriell come to the attention of both the Combine overlords and the deadly Mawreg, aliens who threaten the Sectors. Can she save herself and the Mawreg’s next victims? And will Conor help her, or remain loyal to his evil bosses?
Buy Links:
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Friday, April 7, 2017

Brainstorming, Plotting and Characters, Oh My.

Brainstorming: The process of idea generation, generally done as quickly as possible, often in a team so members can broaden their perspectives by feeding off of the ideas presented within the team.

Plotting: Figuring out how a story gets from beginning to end.

Where did these definitions come from? The crowded, noisy insides of my own head. Meaning that yes. I made them up. I did that because I wanted to drive home that these two activities are not the same thing. Nor are they interchangeable. I suspect for most writers (I know I'm one of them) brainstorming precedes plotting. That said, I believe the question was when should someone else help you brainstorm.

My answer: Any time. All the time. So long as it's someone else's work we're brainstorming. Leave my story out of it. Don't get me wrong. I love What-if-ing. I love asking questions about stories, finding the places that intrigue me about it and I love to start lobbing thoughts and ideas around. For anyone but me. Like James, I don't want to examine my ideas too closely when they are newly hatched and still fledging. They're too fragile for examination at that point. I want to sit with them in silence and see what develops. If I'm going to ask for brainstorming for me, it's going to be when I'm at least halfway through the book and 'stuck'. Then all I want is get out of whatever corner I've written myself into.

But plotting. Ah, plotting. If we're going to talk about that, it is important to impress upon you my theory that there are two types of plotters in the world. Possibly more. Regardless. The  two types break upon a single point of procedure: Do you decide what happens first? Or do you come up with characters first? (I'm that last one.)

Plot-driven writers seize upon an idea for a thing or a situation. Something like "what if Supreme Court Justices were being murdered to clear the way for new nominees?" (Not that this story idea occurred to me today or anything.) A plot driven writer could lay out the major story points without ever knowing who his or her protagonist was. Characters are slotted in somewhere, but they definitely show up after the plot has started taking shape. These folks usually benefit from brainstorming sessions more easily than their character-driven counterparts because the plot can be anything. It's freer form when you don't pin the plot to the foibles of your characters.

Character-driven writers might get an idea for a situation or for something that happens, but usually, there are characters already attached to the situation or event. Half the time, the characters show up and announce that you'll be writing their story thank you very much. For character-driven writers, brainstorming isn't very useful because these writers require that the plot come from the characters. These are the people who need to know what someone's inner wound is (a question Jeffe mentioned annoys her). These writers have to know what makes their characters tick because it's the places where the characters get stuck that the story starts. For that reason, these writers have to know their characters intimately. Everything that then happens in the story is designed specifically to hammer these characters at their weakest points so they either shatter or they strengthen. Character-driven writers end up elbow deep in the emotional lives of their characters - in fact, they require that - before they can begin plotting. That means that brainstorming with a group of people who don't have the same level of character knowledge just isn't going to work. It'll be an exercise in frustration for everyone involved. Most character-driven writers I know avoid brainstorming entirely, unless they are brainstorming for someone else.

So yeah. That was a really long way of saying, "It depends" in answer to the when should someone help you brainstorm or plot question.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Perils of the Writer: The Process of Planning

I've made no secret of the fact that there is a Big, Crazy Plan to all of the Maradaine books.  I don't get too specific about it, as I don't like talking too much about books that aren't finished or contracted, if not both.  As much as I believe I am capable of accomplishing my goals (and doing it in a relatively efficient manner), I prefer not to say THIS BOOK IS COMING OUT SOON until I know that it's actually true-- or as true as it can be within my power.  This is part of why I talk about Other Things vaguely.  Because too often you can say This Is  A Thing I'm Doing and then there's an Amazon or Goodreads page for a thing that you've decided to shelve.  
But I digress, because I wanted to talk more about the process of putting together the plan-- both for individual books and long term.  I'm, as I said, a big fan of outlines for both things, and working out where things need to go to reach the place I want it to in the long term, while maintaining compelling storytelling and plot in the individual novel.  
This is a pretty personal process for me, that involves a fair amount of sitting in front of a large work area and scrawling notes by hand, which then form a skeleton of the plot.  This is largely solitary, but sometimes I need to talk something out, or hack out the bigger points and that's where Dan comes in.
If you've read the acknowledgements on any of my books, you'll see a big one always goes to Dan Fawcett, who's been my friend and sounding board for about thirty years now.  While there are plenty of people who know Maradaine and understand what my goals for it are (including my editor, the once-again nominated for Best Editor Sheila GIlbert), Dan knows it in a way no one else does.  He knows about the long-term story, about characters you all haven't even met yet, and the deep secrets being threaded throughout.  I've written out about 20K words of Long Term Plan that was essentially for his eyes only.  (My agent has seen this too, but he decided not to read it, because: spoilers.)
However, if with his help, it's still 95% me, sitting down at the table, and hashing it out.
And now: time to get to work.  

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Building A Plot Fire

Interesting timing, this post topic. Last weekend I gathered with a few friends to talk about the plotting of upcoming stories. It was me, another author, and a voracious reader. There was food and adult beverages of course.

I have plotted alone too much. When there is no one to bounce the ideas off of, no one else to poke at the notion with their sticks, then my options are limited. I write on my white board, I pace, and I talk out loud. I can get it done, but the result will not shine as bright.

Interaction with other creative people is intensely satisfying to me. Its like I'm looking through a telescope, trying to see this world that is light years away. The details my eyes percieve are my version of basic. Then someone else takes a peek through that lens. Their eyes might be better or worse, and their life experience is uniquely their own, so their initial assessment is drenched with their version of basic which has little in common with my own.

Suddenly, that world comes into greater focus in my own eyes. The addition of their thoughts is, in part, a validation of my own which gives me confidence to move forward, and the other part is fuel on the idea spark I started with. Before much time has passed, there is a bright flame.

It is important (to me) at this point to keep feeding that fire. To hammer out some details, to consider the tropes, the stereotypes and the current trends, and then to take a hard look at this idea before me and identify what is 'normal' and certain to be anticipated. I follow that up by actively asking myself what emotional appeal can be found in altering the plot or characters to avoid that ground which has already been explored.

You wouldn't dig for gold in an old mine, right? You and I both know that endeavor would most likely be a complete waste of time and effort.

So it is vital to push onward, to stumble past the lines of my comfort zone and stand on new territory. Adding the influence of even a few thoughts, connected only by the words of someone whose life experience differs from mine, is an invaluable part of the process. Like a relay...I know how, when and where to run, but I'm all anticipation and no distance until I'm passed the baton.

Then...because that spark has become a blaze, my passion is burning bright for the project, and the momentum has built and is hurlting me onward...there's no stopping me.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

At What Point Is Brainstorming Most Useful?

When do I solicit the ideas and/or opinions of other people for the sake of plotting? Uhm...I tend to do that after the draft is done, usually when a CP has returned it to me with notes of "Yawn" or "DUMPSTER FIRE" in the margins. At that point, the brainstorming is solving a specific problem. Too soon in the process and I'm paralyzed by the abundance of choice, the internal struggle to make it uniquely mine, plus all the fun of hatching evil plans as I write the draft is gone. I do plot, I do outline, and I do end up with a product that isn't similar to where I thought the story was going.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE brainstorming. Letting my imagination run wild with "what if" is a blast. You give me "nuclear physics" and I can get us to "were-chickens in outer-space." It's the best drinking game ever. Hell, I like so much, I'll do it sober with very little prompting.

However, when it comes to a story I'm actually going to write/am writing; that's me and my special weird having a grand old time before we expose it to anyone. Once we have, should my Dev Editor or CP make notes of "this is what I think you're trying to accomplish, this is how it reads, maybe try something like this," I'm all Gabrial Iglesias with the giggles, "Yassss, yasss!"

Every creative person has a different point in their process where brainstorming is most beneficial. There is no "right" answer just as there is no requirement that you take any of the suggestions hatched during a session. It's all about when and how you need your leeetle gray cells stimulated. (What? I know that's Poirot not Iglesias!)

Monday, April 3, 2017

I walk alone

It is nearly impossible to get me to give nay answer that goes beyond very vague when I am in the process of writing a novel. When I was younger I would have said I didn't want to jinx it, but the truth is, I just don't want feedback until after I've reached a certain point. Take off can be a tenuous thing. Too many questions tends to make me doubt myself. What if the idea isn't original enough? What if the writing is weak?

So I just don't do it.

Does that help you? Probably not. But there it is, truth in advertising.

So let's have a different twist this time around. I have a novel coming out that is different. It's a mosaic novel. Thee are ten authors total, including yours truly, Charlaine Harris, Jonathan Maberry, Kat Richardson, Mark Morris, Tim Lebbon, Christopher Golden, Seanan McGuire, Cherie Priest, and Kelley Armstrong.

Nice group, right? Well, here for our regulars at SFF7, is a giveaway.

Respond to this post.  Name your favorite pulp author, horror author, comic book writer or crime novelist and one person picked at random (who answered one of the above questions) will win an Advanced Readers Copy.

Any questions? Beuller? Beuller?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Early Stages - Who Should Help You Plot?

In keeping with our story-writing theme - last week we talked about how much space to give to the denouement - our topic at the SFF Seven this week focuses on the Early Stages of Plot Development. Do we work alone, with critique partner, developmental editor, or in a round-table group.

My answer is that this has changed dramatically for me over the course of my writing career - and it can vary by book. Plus, just recently I've done something Totally New, which isn't even on that list.

First off, for anyone who *doesn't* know this about me - though I'm not sure how that's possible since I feel like it's a big neon sign over my author-hatted head - I don't pre-plot. I'm going to make that distinction, pre-plotting vs. plotting. In some genre communities, people are given to calling writers either plotters or pantsers. A "pantser" is someone who is perceived as writing "by the seat of their pants," a description that simply oozes with pre-plotter panic to my mind. The way I write feels nothing like what it seems many imply with it - that there's somehow no plan at all.

Interestingly, there are myriad definitions for that phrase. It turns out that it's early aviation parlance. Aircraft initially had few navigation aids and flying was accomplished by means of the pilot's judgment. It meant "going aloft without instruments, radio or other such luxuries." In our analogy, I suppose the instruments, etc., would be an outline of the story. As far as the idiom is concerned, I found this definition very interesting: "To use one's judgment, initiative, and perceptions as events unfold in order to improvise a course of action without a predetermined plan."

Now, that last *does* feel like how I write. I don't feel like I can plot a book before I write it because I don't know how events will unfold. And I do trust in my writer's instincts and the skills I've honed over time to make those judgments as the story goes. Several of the definitions used the word "intuition," which I think is spot on.

I don't really think my stories through, I intuit them.

I have a critique partner (and good friend) that I talk through stories with a great deal. She's very much a thinker. She plots out the stories ahead of time and is always asking me questions like what is my heroine's goal or her internal wound. I inevitably get irritated by these questions - not that I don't know the answers, but that I can't articulate them. They are feelings to me, not easily definable in a few words. That said, this friend is great at helping me figure out my stories. I can tell her "Oh, my heroine is like this, and her mother is this way, but the hero is this other thing to her - so what would happen if...?" And she has great answers. I don't always use her ideas, but they do help to guide me.

I seem to work best that way, brainstorming what my characters might do, talking it through with one or two other people. I love to do it with other people's stories, too.

Just recently, however, I got to do something new and very fun. Last week I announced that I have signed with a new agency, Nancy Yost Literary Agency, and that I'll be working with Sarah Younger there. I couldn't announce this change immediately, as the contract with my former agency asked for 30-days notice. But, until Sarah could officially act as my agent, we discussed several projects I had in mind as possibles. She picked one as her favorite - and as the most marketable at the moment - and gave me some ideas to think about. What she gave me helped crystallize the project and injected it with life. Which is so much what I was hoping working with her would be like!

This is an aspect of working with an agent that I think some writers, especially those exclusively in self-publishing, perceive as being "told what to write." It doesn't feel like that at all. Instead it's a "wouldn't it be cool IF" scenario. Agents are passionate about books, by definition, and widely read. The right agent can bring fantastic perspective to a proposed project.

But, and this is key, whoever a writer talks to in the early stages of a story has the power to profoundly affect the direction of it. Or even to kill it with careless criticism. Choose those people with utmost care, for a new story is precious and fragile. Don't hand that baby to just anyone.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

How Much Ending To Include?

When I saw this week's topic, I thought of the ending of the original "Star Wars" movie versus the ending of "Return of the Jedi." For me, the ending of "Star Wars" was too abrupt. I mean, there was the medal ceremony, the music swells and.....done. Wait. What? I wanted more closure, more conversation, more TIME with the characters. Whereas the ending of "Jedi" didn't feel as rushed to me - there was a big party going on, we got to see pretty much everyone, all was good, all was happy...I left the theater in a contented mood. (Of course at that point we had no idea there'd be sequels/prequels/sidequels/JarJar and etc.)

Of course you can overdo that final closure stuff. There used to be a romantic suspense author whose series I devoured (and I don't remember the author's name or the series any more) but every single book ended with a cookout at the home of the parents (I believe) of the first set of  main characters. Each couple from the previous books would be trotted in with their potato salad or whatever, their new babies, introduced to the woman (or guy) who'd been the heroine in the latest novel...I realize some readers love that kind of scene, catching up with all the much beloved people from the earlier books, but it got to be just too much over the top for me by about the 8th or 10th time. Nothing meaningful was happening, other than John and Jane (made up names) from book #3 or #4 getting a few lines on the page and oh gee, look they had TRIPLETS.

(Clearly she knew what the majority of her readers did want though, so kudos to her! It just wasn't my thing.)

My books usually end pretty close to when the action of the main plot is over. I try to have a scene or at least a moment where everyone takes a deep breath and it's really clear how happy the couple will be with their hardwon Happily Ever After and then we're done.

With Wreck of the Nebula Dream, my take on surviving the "Titanic in space", I did write an extended farewell scene, at a restaurant, and let Nick and Mara, the hero and heroine, say their farewells to everyone in their group who'd survived. I got some less than positive reviews for that, with a few readers and reviewers saying after the breakneck pace of the novel the ending broke the mood, Sorry! I write what I want to read and I wanted Nick to get some closure on his regret at not being able to save everyone. And then go off to his HEA with Mara.

In my latest novel, The Captive Shifter, a just released fantasy romance, Caitlyn and Kyler are getting ready to leave the witch's castle after their victory, and we see them happily heading toward the stables to make their exit. They've already had closure during the climactic finale so there's no extended scene. (I am writing a sequel though.)

In the next scifi romance novel, Danger in the Stars, which is coming in about a week, I do have an epilogue tying off the loose ends, and some characters from other books might briefly reappear (no spoilers) but it just felt right and fun to me to go there, versus ending the book any sooner.

So as you can see, yet again, I'm in no way scientific and cannot measure out for you how much denouement I include in a book. As a person who just sits down and writes the novel without a lot of planning, I do what seems to fit the needs of that story and those characters.

By the way, I just guested on Jeffe's blog last week (waves to Jeffe) and shared an exclusive excerpt from The Captive Shifter, if you want to hop over there for a sample!