Saturday, September 30, 2017

Responding to the Fandom

I don’t take input from anyone on which of my stories to tell next…

Or what events should happen to which secondary character, who should fall in love with whom, or any other aspect of my various series.

I’ve been writing for myself since I was age seven. I write the stories I want to read more of and can’t find, whether set in ancient Egypt or the far future of my Sectors.  I LOVE that I have readers who enjoy the stories too! I like hearing from readers and I don’t mind at all if someone tells me they’d love the sequel to Mitch’s adventures in Escape from Zulaire someday, or asks why am I “wasting my time writing fantasy when I should be spending my time writing more scifi romance”, as I was told by someone after my book The Captive Shifter came out. Well, as it happens, I wrote that story originally in late 2010, I like that story, I like the characters and I let it sit and stew until I felt I could revise it to the point where it was ready to be published and then there it was. Two sequels will be forthcoming, and maybe more, because I have other tales I want to tell in that world. I’m personally excited by that world! 

But I get that I have passionate readers who really prefer only my scifi romances and equally terrific readers who prefer only my Egyptian paranormals. (And some wonderful readers who love it ALL.)  It’s good feedback to have.

I’ve even been told that at least one reader wants me to get on with the end game war between my deadly aliens, the Mawreg, and the human-ruled Sectors. Don’t hold your breath, anyone. I have a LOT of stories to tell in the Sectors and none of them is a giant space opera full of space battles to resolve that conflict. I’m drawn to the more individual stories, set on one ship or one planet. Filling in the edges of the puzzle, not doing the whole 1000 piece finished-architecture at once.

 I do have a sequel in mind for Mitch of Zulaire now, by pure coincidence, but I don’t know when my Muse and I are going to get around to writing it. As everyone here knows (because I say it so often), I’m quite superstitious about how my Muse works and I only write what I’m really in the mood to tackle at any given time. If the words are flowing – yay! If a new and shinier idea pops up, I’ll go where the creative energy is. I don’t usually hop to a new plot about some other set of characters in the middle of writing a specific book, obviously, but as the next new project down the road.

It’s probably just as well I’m not traditionally published, with a contract that says I need to write the next book in series XYZ. Apparently my Muse and I rebel at such direction! We like to meander among the myriad of creative possibilities and pick whichever thing appeals to us.

I don’t want to sound truculent (always wanted to say that word!) but I don’t take direction either. Life is too short, I have too many stories to tell and the Muse knows which one needs telling next.

Not the Author but I liked the way the photo representing me with a myriad of creative possibilities!
Photo purchased from DepositPhoto

Friday, September 29, 2017

Story Tetris

This is my last post as a Pacific Northwesterner. By this time next week, I will have relocated to Florida. As you can see, Hatshepsut is very keen on 'helping' with the packing. We're almost done and the moving truck is filling up. I am so tired.

Packing a moving truck is an art. Think Truck Tetris. Or huge, fragile jigsaw puzzle. It's very much like putting a book together. Every book has scenes and characters and arcs. Motivations and conflicts. Those come in varying sizes and weights. The ones I can't lift have to act as the anchors to all the other bits and pieces. As the biggest, heaviest segments settle into place in a story, I have to juggle the smaller ones, slotting them into the perfect place for them. In a moving truck, I do that so the load doesn't shift and break everything. I guess stories work the same way. The pieces interlock. They prop one another up and keep the structure from collapsing under its own weight.

I wish I could talk about whether or not I'm tempted to cave to fan pressure about how a story goes down. But I'm honestly not in that position. I've had a grand total of one, count 'em one, protest about how one of my books ended. And at that point, the book was in print. So it wasn't as if I had an option to change that one to suit the reader. Would I if I had readers beating down my doors over a story?

Probably not. I cannot rearrange a story - shift boxes around - without risking the whole thing collapsing and breaking. That plot twist readers hate is, for me, the ONLY thing that will fit in just that spot in the story. It supports and props up the rest of the stuff that gets piled atop it. But hey. Never say never, right? Who knows what I'll do when faced with a mob of annoyed readers brandishing torches?

Where I DO bow to reader demand right now, though, is in what book to write when. Well. Kinda. I've had a number of readers after me for the conclusion of one of the series I write. Not that I didn't WANT to write it - but eh the rights are mine again and here we go.

So. Sunnier climes ho. When someone yells at me in protest over a plot point, I'll let you know whether I cave or fight back. In the meantime, break out the sunscreen and shades. We're palm tree bound.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Perils of the Writer: Letting Fandom Set Your Sails

So, yesterday I had a nice long chat with one of my beta-readers about A Parliament of Bodies.  Yes, she gets to read it a year before the rest of you, but what she reads is an imperfect draft.  And we talked a bit about what happens in the book versus what her expectations as a fan were, and how either fulfilling or subverting those expectations result in reader satisfaction.

Because sometimes there is an urge to ignore what the story needs to give the fans "what they want".  And, I'm against doing that for two reasons.  One, I'm kind of a believer in that old Joss Whedon quote about not giving them what they want, but what they need.  This quote is sometimes treated with derision, in that people complain, "Oh, [Bad Plot Point] is what we 'needed'?"  I can understand that to a degree, especially when plots make characters suffer, characters the readers care about.  They don't want to see them suffer, because they want Good Things for the characters.

But my job is, as J. Michael Straczynski so eloquently put it once, to chase them up a tree and throw rocks at them.

The second reason I'm against changing with the winds of fandom desires is simple.  When it comes to Maradaine (or any other world of mine) and the characters within that world, no one is going to be more of a fan than me.  I love this setting, these people, and their story so much, and I hope that love comes through in what I'm writing.  It hurts me when bad things happen to them, but I also know... that's the path they're all on.

So what does that mean?

It means that I'm that #1 Fan, so I'm the one who gets to tie myself to a bed and break my own legs if I don't do right by the story.

So now I need to get back to work.  There's a certain fanboy who insists that I clean up this manuscript.  See you in the word mines.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

It's Your Book, But You Need To Write It My Way

When fans tell you how to write your book, do you listen?

~shifty eyes~  
~leans forward~

What fans?

Just kidding. Sort of. Mebbe. There is no greater compliment than fans who really connect with your work. Some of those fans will shout their passion from every review page, book party table, and fan-Con hallway (gods bless 'em; most authors really need that visibility boost). Similarly, everybody has an opinion. So when those opinions about your work collide with a passion for the characters, world, and plot there might be a few "suggestions" made.

Don't kill that character. 
Ship these two characters. 
Get that character some religion. 
Not that religion.

Speaking practically, in a series where books are still being written, the author is most likely writing two or three books ahead of what's just hitting the shelves. A lot of those "suggestions" are too late.  Similarly, the series may only have been contracted for X number of books or the series was sold as a trilogy so there are certain plot points, milestones, character developments that have to occur at a specific in the timeline in order to satisfactorily end the series. Again, the suggestions are too late.

Now, what if, what if it's not too late? What if--because the author is a super-slow writer publishing on their own damn schedule like moi--there's time for fans to voice an opinion and have it be heard? Well, the kind of feedback that might sway me is if a minor character turns out to be a fan-favorite; that character might end up with more page time. Not so much as to take away from the story, but sure, why not give a nod to the fan base? Plot suggestions? No, sorry. My world, my crazy. Who lives and who dies? Sometimes those developments surprise even me. Who's going to get laid, when, and how explicitly will it be depicted?

Come on. 

Nookie will happen if and when it's meant to during the characters' developments. Whether it happens on page or off depends on a lot of things. It's not a radio show; the characters aren't taking requests.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Yep. Nope.

I've had this discussion in public plenty of times I see no reason not to have it here.

When people ask if I consider my fan base when I'm writing, the answer is no.

Please don't take that the wrong way if you are part of that fan base. It doesn't mean I don't like you and appreciate you. It means that I can't consider the desires of the readers when I am writing a story.

If I do, I might pull punches, and that weakens the tale.

Listen, I kill a LOT of characters off. I'm in  the final book of a series that involves a war with the gods. Trust me, a lot of people are about to die. I don't want to stop what I'm doing, what has been planned, and try to second-guess anyone. And, yes, that has blown up on me a time or two, when a novel hasn't the way a few people liked. That affected some Amazon reviews, but I'll stick to my plans.

It's not about the reviews. it's about telling my tale.

I can't do it any other way. If I'm nit having a good time, I firmly believe the readers will not have a good time.

The closest I've come to an exception was when I asked readers which character they wanted to see next on the cover for CITY OF WONDERS. I was rather pleasantly surprised when the vast majority asked to see Swech, one of the female leads who just happens to have the highest body count of anyone in the SEVEN FORGES series.

I'm all about commercial success, please don't get me wrong, but before I worry abut that part of the equation, I worry about telling a good tale. That means two things to me: 1) I'm not going t take your idea and write it for you so we can split the profits 50/50 (No really, that offer happens. A LOT) and 2) I'm writing the book I want to read. Hopefully I find others who feel the same way.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Who's Looking Over Your Shoulder as You Write? Appeasing the Fandom

One of my faithful desk companions - Isabel has little interest in the stories themselves, but she disapproves of my reaching for the mouse. Good incentive for me to keep typing with no backtracking!

Not as visible - and not as likely to claw me for reaching for the mouse - is everyone else virtually on my desk as I write. By this I mean my readers. And not just any readers - but those passionately invested in the stories, worlds and characters. You know who you are! These are the power readers, the ones who take time to give me personal feedback on how much they love what I write.

And they have opinions. Sometimes strong ones. Again, you know who you are. :-)

That's our topic this week: Responding to the fandom – where do you draw the line? (e.g., not killing a character after all)

It's an interesting question for me because I've noted several authors in recent years who I've felt have caved to reader pressure on various levels. That might be a bit sideways of this topic, so let me respond directly to the question before I dive into that.

Would I not kill a character because my readers urged me not to? Absolutely. Okay, probably I wouldn't. The only exception would be if I believed that death to be necessary to the story in a way that resulted in greater richness. I wouldn't do it to make a point or to create emotional angst. I like stories that make me feel enriched and optimistic, so I like to leave my readers with that feeling, too. I have killed characters - because people die, and sometimes a character's death is needed to allow another to move forward - and I would even kill a loved character because the story demands it.

For example, in MAGIC RISES, the sixth Kate Daniels books (don't read this paragraph if you aren't caught up and don't want to be spoilered) Ilona Andrews made the choice to kill Aunt Bea, a hugely popular character. I tell you - and you know if you love the series, too - I cried and cried. BUT, her death was important. The stakes were very high and it made no sense if no one was killed in that situation. Also, her death meant a change in the political structure and allowed two other characters to step into leadership positions. I'm sure the writing team of Ilona and Gordon Andrews got a LOT of upset feedback from their passionate fandom about not killing that character. They mention in interviews that they argued between themselves about it.

They made a hard decision and stood by it.

At the same time, other authors have made the choice to kill characters - even first person point-of-view protagonists - in order to make a point. George RR Martin famously kills off characters, sometimes almost arbitrarily, to demonstrate how capricious such things can be, and how tenuous our grip on life.

I'm not into that so much.

Where I do draw my own line is bending to political pressure. There's a great deal of discussion online about what's appropriate in real life - such as consent and healthy relationships - and also trope exhaustion. I've seen authors change their stories to accommodate this kind of feedback. One wrote a beta hero who gave way to the heroine in all things because her readers were "tired of alpha holes." (That's a cross between alpha and asshole, for those not in the know.) You know what? That book was dead boring, at least to me. I know some readers loved it, which is cool, but I thought it was far from her strongest work - and I fell off reading that series due to lack of interest.

Another author has gotten tons of feedback on a couple who are both highly emotional, sometimes violent people. She's really toned down their interactions over the years - and I wonder how much is due to the sometimes strongly chastising posts written about some of those scenes. The thing is, I read the most recent book - found it dead boring - then went back to an earlier one and devoured it for all the excitement and turmoil. I'm missing that element now.

Passionate voices are loud voices - and strong opinions have great conviction behind them. It's important to discuss issues like consent and healthy relationships. But it's worth noting that conflict is what makes STORIES interesting and exciting. I think authors bend to social pressure at the risk of bleeding the energy from their books.

In real life, we'd never find it useful for someone to die. As authors of our worlds, it's a choice we make. Sometimes with relish.

Because relish is what adds the flavor!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Best of Both Worlds For Me

This week’s topic is about doing worldbuilding for the pleasure of doing it, as I understand the guidelines.

I write in two very different worlds – ancient Egypt and the far future. (I also have one fantasy romance out, The Captive Shifter, but as yet I haven’t written enough there to really discuss today. Although yes, I have massive worldbuilding in my head.)

Ancient Egypt is a very well established world, with oodles of research out there to revel in and draw from, and gorgeous artifacts galore, some of which I’ve seen with my own eyes and marveled at. I have multiple book shelves full of tomes about ancient Egypt – everything from translated love poems to scholarly treatises on one tomb by itself -  and I love doing the research. There are so many more stories and story possibilities than I could use in a lifetime.

 I picked my era, which is around 1550 BCE, when the Egyptians drove out the Hyksos and embarked upon an age of expansion and stability in the New Kingdom. I invented my pharaoh to allow myself more latitude in the stories I could tell, although he’s based on several real rulers of the time.  My added element is the fact that I have the Egyptian gods and goddesses involved in daily life the way the Egyptian believed and hoped they were. My readers have told me that I make them feel as if they were in ancient Egypt, despite the fact I have this paranormal or fantasy element going on, and I also commit certain deliberate anachronisms to make my books work better and sound plausible to the modern reader who may not be immersed in all the research about the time. (Not writing actual historical where every detail is expected to be 100% accurate.)  I have a page devoted to this on my webpage in fact. As an example, Egyptian deben wasn’t actual money per se, no coins but more of a concept of relative value, but my characters deal in actual money.

I really enjoy trying to fill in the blanks left for us by the elaborate tomb paintings and the artifacts, to figure out and portray what daily life might have been like for a lady in Pharaoh’s court or living on a country estate. How was it to take a ride in a war chariot and go so much faster than you’d ever moved in your entire life? What did a priestess of the Crocodile God do all day, running her temple?

In short, I have a heck of a wonderful time dwelling in ancient Egypt on my terms, telling my story and then returning to my own modern life.

Pretty much any topic I have questions on, I can find at least a few kernels of useful information in the research materials or online and then let my imagination soar.

Now the science fiction romances are a different story and there I created my interstellar society, the Sectors, from scratch.

Except not really, because my chosen author theory is that we as humans are going to remain pretty much the same, whether in the past or thousands of years into the future. I really resonated with the well-worn, lived in, used spaceship type of universe depicted in the “Aliens’ movies and the early “Star Wars.” I also loved Andre Norton’s science fiction and the structural set up she had going on. 

My Sectors are kind of similar to all of these influences, although I’ve added elements of my own including various alien civilizations both friend and foe. The longer I write Sectors novels, the more I add to the world building. I do have some secrets that only I know, which may or may not ever be revealed in a novel, but which give me the high level context to write the stories.

So I have fun in either universe I’m inhabiting – Egypt of the Pharaohs or the far future in the big galaxy. Currently I have my next Sectors novel at the developmental editor and I’m about midway through writing the first draft of my next Gods of Egypt novel. I'm living the best of both worlds!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Fandom: the Gateway Drug to World Building

The picture has nothing to do with the subject today. It's just the season for butterflies in the zinnias and I was lucky enough to be out there with a camera when this one flitted in to have a snack.

World building, huh? Well. I have a theory.

Fandom is the gateway drug to world building (and often to writing . . .)

Pretend for me that I'm not the only one so invested in a fandom or twelve that I tell myself stories inside the world of whatever story/movie/book/game du jour that I love. I mean, you have a thing you love. Maybe it's Dr. Who, or Anime,  or Star Wars, or Sponge Bob. I don't know and I don't judge. Much. But after you've binge-watched all you can binge-watch, what happens?

If, like me, you go into immediate withdrawal, you probably start daydreaming yourself onto the bridge of the starship Enterprise. Or into some tiny New England sea-side town mysteriously afflicted by madness and rumors of something terrible lurking beneath the surface of the waves. If you do that, you're world building. If you've ever shipped a non-canon partnering in that thing you love, you're world building. Sure. Both are on a small scale and in someone's pre-built world. But you are and you know what they say. The first taste is free.

It's a slippery slope. First you're playing through mental movies of you starring in that thing that gives you life, the next, you're resentful of the restrictions that come with working inside someone else's constraints. I mean it's a stupid rule that Sponge Bob can't fly, right? So you shift worlds - you create a new construct, one that's all your own, one that won't hold back your imagination. The world you create may be based off of something that already exists - whether book, game, TV show or movie, but you'll have tweaked it to suit you. And that's it. You're hooked on world building. You're spending your time debating the finer points of whether magic that requires blood makes the mages of your world vampires and if it doesn't, where exactly IS the line between blood mage and vampire? (Do they ever cooperate? Share blood recipes, maybe?)

World building is a game, one that begins with 'what if?' and ends in narrative structure, conflict and some kind of resolution. You mix and match and create something wholly new. Like a mad scientist. Oh. Oh. Do you suppose this makes one of us here the Walter White of fiction?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

How Much Worldbuilding Is Too Much?

As much as I talk about Worldbuilding, when it comes to the actual writing of books, I don't put too much on the surface.  Sometimes it's out of fear of boring my potential audiences.*  Sometimes it's out of presumption that the things I know about the world are just so screamingly obvious that I don't have to actually explain them. 

But a lot of the time, it's because the worldbuilding details aren't necessarily relevant to the story at hand.  That's the challenge, is making those details come out as organic and natural.  Even if it isn't boring.  Heck, I could easily drop into any one of the Maradaine-set books a few thousand words on, say, the 7th Century disintegration of the Druth Kingdom, or the Mad Kings of the Cedidore Line in the 8th Century, or the coup against Queen Mara, complete with a stirring account of her fruitless last stand in her own throne room.***

But what would those have to do with the story at hand?

Not a whole lot.

What my underlying philosophy has been with translating worldbuilding into actual writing boils down to the Iceberg Principle: 90% is unseen under the surface.  One of the reasons I love using food as a worldbuilding reference point is it provides all sorts of under-the-surface information subconsciously.  If someone is eating sheep-kidney pie with parsnips and turnips it conjures a completely different cultural image than quails stuffed with dates and walnuts, or roasted goat and sweet potatoes, or mango chutney pour over broiled fish and brown rice.  Each of those dishes gave you a very distinct idea of the kind of person eating it, and what kind of culture they came from, yes?

Small, telling details.  That's the key. 

*- Who hasn't been reading something by a, shall we say, less meticulously edited author, and reach a point where we go, "Oh, infodump" and just scan until something actually starts happening again.**
**- I can think of one example where an author/series lost me completely, in that an entire chapter was a huge infodump on the history of genetic enhancements-- which didn't play into the plot of the book at all-- and all that happened in the chapter is a tertiary character walked across a spaceport terminal.
***- Come to think of it, any of those might make fun short stories or novelettes.  File that in the back of the brain.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Worldbuilding Indulgences: Quantity Varies by Subgenre

What worldbuilding do I do that isn't necessarily about the story itself but is a personal indulgence? It depends on the subgenre I'm writing.

There is so much worldbuilding necessary in second-world fantasy--the kind of story that doesn't take place in a recognizable period on Earth--that everything I include has to be relevant to the story; otherwise, the worldbuilding dominates the plot and character development...or I end up with a 300k tome. The first round of cuts I do in my second-world fantasies are the TMI details of the world. Does the reader really need to know where the water is sourced? Purified? Only if there's a plot-relevant problem with the water--scarcity, poisoned, monsters--or if an important character is employed in that industry. Infrastructure usually takes the first hit in the cuts, because I absolutely write that info in the draft. The administrative necessities of running a nation/tribe/horde? Again, it gets cut if it's not plot-relevant. A little bit of mundane is necessary, but too much can bog down the pacing and distract from the story rather enhance it. Weeds. I know them too well. Alas, getting lost in them is part of my process of immersing myself in the world I'm creating. Gods bless editing.

In contrast, for my upcoming Urban Fantasy series (releasing Jan 30th!), the worldbuilding there is all about pointing out the uncommon amid the common. That is where I allow myself the luxuries of sneaking details that--if they were missing--wouldn't impact the plot. Silly things like how dust is applied to shelves or why guys are wearing flip-flops in the dead of winter. I indulge my love of creating fantastical explanations for the one-offs in our everyday lives. I try not to be heavyhanded with them, but they do make me snicker.

In the end, worldbuilding indulgences are a lot like pepper on pasta. Flavor enhancements.

Monday, September 18, 2017

World building as its own reward.

I love world building. Be it a small town set in a fictitious version of our own, or be it a new world, as I am want to do, I love it.

Why? Because, to me, it's like playing in a room with unlimited toys. I get to set them up, I get to describe them, paint them and shape them. And, if I feel like it, I get to destroy them.

For me it's all of benefit. I love discovering a new place. There are sculptors who say that they do not create the sculpture so much as the reveal what is already there, waiting to be seen by many eyes.

I can believe that. There are natural flaws in stone or wood that will make themselves known to thew careful hand. A shape that comes forth when that flaw is touched in the marble becomes the curve of a neck or the twist of fabric. From this flaw, beauty.

For me writing is much the same. I know what I intend to say, but the words sometimes decide for themselves and it seems that is most often true when a character is suddenly revealed to me or a faction of the world I thought I was designing is unexpectedly changed. Listen, I get it. ALL of what I write is in my head, but my subconscious sometimes likes to surprise me. Sometimes I let thew words come and I get a mess of words that are useless. Sometimes that flaw is there and I can use it, shape it, smooth it into something new and wondrous. I almost always "Pants" my novels. I don't like outlines and only do them when I must and I can basically promise you that whatever I have written down in the outline will look little like what I come up with at the end.

Write, polish, shape, rewrite, edit, expunge and correct. By the time it's done, I'm not looking at a familiar world any longer, even if I thought I was. SERENITY FALLS and SUMMITVILLE exist in the same fictitious reflection of our world, but they are nothing alike.  One is small and insular, and the other is going through massive growing pains when the stories start. I love that. I especially love that I really didn't know that about either o them until they told me.

The Empire ofr Fellein in the SEVEN FORGES books looks nothing at all like the Five Kingdoms in THE TIDES OF WAR. They a e both similar concepts, mock medieval lands in their nature, but Fellein is pristine and clean and healthy and the Five Kingdoms are already depraved and broken and dirty when the story starts.

Fellein has mountains and valleys and clean rivers that curt across the land and leave plenty of room for towns and cities. The Five Kingdoms are covered by deserts and areas that are dangerous and diseased, where if people walk, they are likely to die from the equivalent of radiation poisoning, though there has never been a nuclear anything in that land. In Fellein the gods are distant and have almost faded away (Not so in the lands of the Seven Forges, where the gods have direct conversations with each and every person). In the five Kingdoms the gods are hungry and demand sacrifices and have, on ten seperate occasions punished the foolish mortals who refused to listen.

Just for grins, here's a story about those very gods and their punishments, done for fun. it's called THE SIXTH KINGDOM and is a bit of world building history for the series TIDES OF WAR. 

I have fun building worlds. It's a fascinating part of what makes a fantasy story (or any story) come alive for me.

But because I'm me, I also enjoy kicking down the sandcastles when I'm done creating them.

What can I say? I'm an angry little god. ;)

And yes, both of these covers deal with one small part of the world I built. See the crystals in the mountains and in the cave? They have a backstory, too, and it's integral the the tale I tell.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

An Audience of One: Worldbuilding Easter Eggs I Plant to Entertain Myself

Yesterday I did a signing with Sage Walker whose book, THE MAN IN THE TREE, just came out last week. This is a gorgeous science fiction novel that I highly recommend. For the purists, the science is impeccable. An asteroid is equipped with propulsion and manipulated to create a living space inside that will eventually be a self-sustaining biosphere with a population of 200,000. By the time this generation ship reaches its planetary destination in 200 years, those people will be ready to colonize the new world. But when the story begins, the ship, Kybele, is nine days from leaving orbit with a population of 30,000 people. These people are the best of the best, who've worked and struggled to be among those granted a position on the Kybele. None of them will live to see the new planet, but they'll live and eat like billionaires during their time aboard ship - and give their progeny an opportunity like no other.

Except a man has been found murdered. Unless they find the murderer before leaving orbit - a meticulously timed departure - they'll be taking someone twisted with them. Someone who may have sabotaged Kybele herself. And the guy in charge of tracking down the murderer may be in danger of falling in love with the chief suspect.

So yummy!

One of the things I really love about this book is all the worldbuilding work Sage put into it. Not all of it is on the page, but it's all there in the supporting framework. Hearing her discuss the details is amazing. (Yes, she's a friend of mine.)

It's not all on the page because the reader doesn't need to know everything the author knows. In fact, if an author puts EVERYTHING about the world on the page, it bogs the book down beyond readability. However, the author still needs to know it, or the world comes across as tenuous, false, or hollow. Worst case scenario, fundamental contradictions may be missed.

Our topic this week is worldbuilding as its own reward. What worldbuilding we do that isn't necessarily about the story itself.

Really, as I said above, a ton of worldbuilding never makes it into the story. But this topic is asking which bits we do purely to please ourselves.

I'll tell you mine. I slip in little homages to authors I love. Or sometimes to work by friends. I named a castle seamstress for an author friend who helped me with that scene. I borrowed a cameo appearance of a fantastic bird from one of my favorite fantasy books. I chortle to myself as I sneak in jokes that are so inside I doubt anyone would ever get them besides me.

Sometimes I imagine some future scholar ferreting out some of these references. Others I know no one will ever "get." And that's okay. It's mostly me, having fun with the thing I love to do.

But if you all ever suspect you've caught one, be sure to let me know!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Introverted at the Book Signing?

Our topic this week is what can an introverted reader say to an author at a signing event (or other event but I tend to think first of signings)? I think my fellow SFF7 members have given great answers so I'm going to come at it from another angle.

I'm the introverted author! BUT when I'm at a public event I go into my 'retail mindset' by which I do NOT mean I'll come across like a TV infomercial and try to sell you All The Things. I'm there to meet you! Hopefully I'll find out what you like or don't like about my books, what you love to read, what you want more of, who are your other favorite authors (in my genre or others), what's been the best event so far at the conference, is this your first conference, whose autograph did you want the author, I want to make your time at the event happy, warm and comfortable. If you buy a book or two from me, that's lovely and cool, but I want to leave a good impression, so in the future if you see an book by me you'll smile and say, "Oh, yes, I met her".

I worked in retail during college for a major department store and I LOVED meeting the customers and trying to help them find what they needed. I'm a people pleaser by nature. So it's easy to talk to me (I think, hopefully I'm not overestimating my friendliness LOL.)

The first book signing I ever did was a gigantic Romance Writers of America event and as a total newbie with one book out at the time, I mostly sat and watched and learned from the more experienced authors around me. There was one lady I'll never forget - although sadly her name escapes me completely after all these years - who did a beautiful job of making each reader who stopped to see her feel special and appreciated. She posed for pictures, she wrote special dedications, she signed bunches of books. She focused completely in the moment on whoever she was talking with and seemed to genuinely be enjoying herself immensely. That's the role model I decided to adopt.

So let me finish with another true story from that first book signing. My favorite author in the world is Nalini Singh. She was there. I must have walked by her table ten times, but was too shy to approach her. I mean, the mere idea was TERRIFYING. I was afraid of being tongue tied and completely inarticulate. She was even all alone at one point, which if you've been to an event where Nalini signs, that never happens. And still I couldn't make myself go any closer. I regretted that and regretted that.

So the next conference I was at where she also attended, I MADE myself go talk to her and she is the sweetest person, so easy to talk to, so gracious and...yup, those few moments with my favorite author in the entire world were the highlight of the conference. And even though I read all my books on the kindle these days I'd never give up my signed hardback copy with her lovely note.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Introvert's Guide to Authors

This past weekend, I was in the North Cascades at the gorgeous Mazama Country Inn where my friends held their wedding. It was awesome. Everything went off really, really well and the newly weds are very happy. Yay. The only potential damper we had was on Saturday afternoon, when a bird flew into a window.

I was supposed to be getting dressed for the wedding dinner. Instead, I was outside assessing the damage to the victim. The bird was stunned and on its back on the patio. When I tried to right it, the bird grabbed hold of my finger and would not let go. So I held the bird. And held the bird. Finally, I offered the bird a stick to perch on. It was accepted and I went to put on adult clothing. Bird was still there once I was appropriately attired, so I picked up the stick and the bird and we both went to dinner.

Another guest identified our feathered friend as a very young white-breasted nut hatch and suggested I offer the bird a transfer to the rough bark of one of the pine trees. This met with avian approval. Five minutes later, the nut hatch skittered up the tree and took off to the cheers of the wedding party.

And if you want to know how to approach *this* author, you can always bring the animal stories and photos. Especially if its me and especially if you rescue. Don't feel like you have to do or be either, though. Because ultimately, I just want to talk to you. I am an introvert, too, so I get being afraid to speak up! But if you're shy, cruise on by where ever I am. If you linger for even an instant, I will do my best to say hello and offer you whatever goody/swag/candy/etc I have on hand. Know why I have those things in the first place?

Cause I am terrified that no one will come talk to me without bribes.

So fellow introverts, come on down. Meet my eye for just an instant. I'll start the conversation for you. Because after sitting alone writing books, *whispers* I'm desperate for actual people to talk to in real life. E-hem. I'll ask you questions - who do you like to read? What's your favorite genre? All kinds of stuff. And if you have photos of your dog or cat or rabbit or mini horse or raccoon or fish on your phone, show them to me! Just be prepared to be shown kitty photos in return. :D

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Interacting with the Busy Writer

Geez, is September nearly half over?  Is 2017 three-quarters done?  How did this happen?
Anyway, I've got plenty happening for the rest of the month.  This weekend I'm teaching a Worldbuilding Class with Amanda Downum.  Next week I'm going to FenCon.

If you are attending either, please come up and say hello.  Now, I say this all the time, but now I feel like I should give details.
  1. Really, come up and say hello.  I'm there to interact with people.
  2. I actually quite like it when people do.
  3. Especially if they offer to buy me a drink.
While #3 is completely true, it is not required.  You want to ask me a question, pick my brain about something, or even just gush about Maradaine... I'm there for you.

I get why it can be intimidating.  Heck, even now, I don't always go up to people and say hello myself.

But for now, I need to get back to work.  A Parliament of Bodies won't finish itself.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Breaking the Ice with an Author

Across the room, you see the author from whom you buy every book the moment it hits pre-order. Your hands get sweaty. The room gets warmer. At twenty yards, you're blushing. At ten, you're having the pre-conversation in your head. At five, three people step in front of you and grab the author's attention first. No, no; it's good, it's good. You replay the script you've been practicing and remind yourself not to mumble You check your breath. Oh, hell, it smells like gym feet. Mints. Mints, you brought mints just in case. Where'd that little tin go. Pocket? Bag? No other pock--

You're face to face with the author. There's no one in between you now. The author smiles at you. All that witty banter you'd practiced ~poof~. There is nothing but a thousand and one memes of the slow blink rolling through your head. You start to smile back...but the bad breath. Better keep your lips together.  You don't want to accidentally breathe on the author and cause them to faint. You're vaguely aware that your smile feels more like a grimace. This is not going the way you'd imagined.

You could bolt. Pretend like this never happened. But this author, this author has written words that have made you cheer, laugh, cry. They've given you book boyfriends and reasons to buy new shelves. You've missed train stops and coffee dates to finish just one more chapter.

Don't run. Forget about the mints and the grimace and the sweaty palms.


I'm a fan.

My favorite book is...because

My favorite character is...because

My favorite moment is when...because

I'm excited to read the next book.

That, right there, is how you break the ice with an author. That is how you make their day.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Three tips for the introverted fan

Heck, that's easy.

1) be yourself. You're probably a lot cooler than you give yourself credit for and genuine responses always go over better than contrived nonsense.

2) Say "hi." You'd be amazed how far that can take a conversation.

True story: Not long ago at Boston ComiCon, I ran across a lady who had read all four my Seven Forges books. She had no idea I was going to be there and when she realized who I was, she freaked a little. Believe me, it's very flattering. It was also cool to just talk with her and calm her down and discuss what she liked about the books.
As I had no copies of THE LAST SACRIFICE with me, I gave her a postcard with thew cover on the front and the link to the Angry Robot website page on the back. She had all of my books on Kindle, but she bought them again so I could sign them.
Put a smile on my face that lasted the whole day.

3) Relax. With VERY few exceptions, (they do exist) writers are delighted to meet you. I always am. Maybe not in the bathroom at the local convention or anything but still, delighted to meet a fan of my work or even someone who is curious about it.

4) Bonus round: Be friendly and be polite. Happily it hasn't happened to me (YET) but there are a few people who've had "fans" come up and be nasty about a book they didn't like or understand. Never gonna be my favorite thing.

But especially remember rule number 2. I can't have a conversation with you if you don't engage and I'm looking forward to meeting you. It's why I attend conventions, etc.

In the meantime, look at my cool new cover!!!!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Three Tips for the Introverted Fan

Today at the lake I kept my seltzer cold in my Bacchus Bag from St. Martin. Counting my blessings and thinking good thoughts for everyone in the path of the storms.

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is The Introverted Fan: Three things a fan could say in person or via social media that would help break the ice.

Because, of course, we've all been there. I know I have. Meeting the author of that book that transported me, trying to convey my excitement and all the love I've built up over time to them in one big gush. It inevitably comes out as something like:


And they, just as inevitably, look like the deer in the headlights of the onrushing Psycho Fan Train.

It's simply a weird conversation to try to have. And I've seen it from the other side now, too. Readers come up to my signing table, blurt out that they love my books, I say thank you, we stare at each other for a moment, and they dash away, muttering something about not bothering me anymore. There's a social media equivalent, though almost always less awkward.

I don't know about breaking the ice, but here's three things I love to hear.

1. Specifics

I love to hear which book is your favorite, which character you love best, and why. Feel free to go into detail. Getting to hear what exactly worked for you is super fun and hugely helpful, too.

2. Gushing Is Great

Never apologize for gushing! It's so wonderful to hear the good stuff that makes people happy. I could listen to it all day. That kind of thing is never a bother.

3. Ask Questions

I love questions! Especially about the books. Please ask those things you wonder while you're reading. If you're afraid you'll forget in the excitement, write them down. That's high praise, that you cared enough to do that.

What else works for all of you - what's the best way to talk to a favorite author?

Saturday, September 9, 2017

What Genre Will I Not Write?

Still from 'Hill House'

Horror. Hands down, no question.

I was always an overly imaginative kid and I worried about things that went BUMP in the night. (Still do!)...the creature lurking under the bed waiting to grab a dangling foot was my worst nightmare. I'm in good company - here's Stephen King's take on it:

“The thing under my bed waiting to grab my ankle isn't real. I know that, and I also know that if I'm careful to keep my foot under the covers, it will never be able to grab my ankle.”

Yup. I also saw a horror movie on TV when I was pretty young, "The Haunting," based on Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. At one point two of the female characters are sharing a room, with twin beds. The ghost is rattling the door and spooky things are happening and the heroine stretches out her hand to hold her friend's hand for courage through the ordeal. Afterward (and this is how I recall it and and I never watched the movie again so who knows if I actually got it right...) she thanks her friend for holding hands and comforting her. And the friend says, "I wasn't holding your hand." OK, for YEARS after that I slept with my hands firmly under my pillow.

So vivid bad things stick in my memory way longer than they should. Yes, I used to read Stephen King novels - not all of them, but a lot of them and I especially loved The Shining but somewhere along the way I had to put down one of his books in the middle because the imagery would not go away and I was having terrible nightmares, and I've never gone back.

As an adult I've become aware that there are Things Best Not Disturbed...

And so, in summary, I'll never be writing a horror story.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Never Say Never Except Now

If brevity is the soul of wit, then Imma be a genius tonight. Cause I should be asleep so I can get up at o'stupid thirty to travel to the North Cascades where I have the great privilege of officiating a handfasting. Sure. You say wedding, I say pagan handfasting. Which leads us to the genre I am totally comfortable saying I will never ever write. Inspirational. No way. No how will this witch write that stuff. Faith from a pagan perspective? Sure! Count me in! But there is not the least hope I will pick up someone else's religion to write about in that way. By which I mean using a romance to preach or illustrate Christian principles.

I'm also comfortably certain the Inspirational market doesn't weep over my refusal to do so.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Subgenre I Can't Write

There's an idea I've seen pop up and get some traction in my circles lately.  A very simple thing, really:
The opposite of grimdark is hopepunk.
This simple phrase was like a lightning bolt to me.

Let me step back a bit.  You see, "grimdark" is a subgenre of fantasy that just doesn't work for me. What is "grimdark"?  If the name wasn't cue enough, from the wikipages: "Grimdark is a subgenre or a way to describe the tone, style or setting of speculative fiction that is particularly dystopian, amoral or violent."

And, yeah, for me and my fantasy, this represents everything that doesn't work for me. I don't begrudge anyone who writes or likes it, mind you.  It just doesn't work for me.
So when I saw the post that expanded on the idea "the opposite of grimdark is hopepunk", I was immediately invested in it, because "the opposite of grimdark" is exactly the kind of fantasy I want to do.

Now, this doesn't mean fantasy that's light and fluffy and consequence-free. Bad things happen.  I mean, I like to put my characters through the wringer.  Fundamentally, with each of my various Maradaine series, I'm exploring heroism at different angles, and each of my protagonists are capital-C Champions who aim toward the light.  They may miss, they may have a journey through the darkness that threatens to break them.  But what I want to write, what drives me, is fantasy where no matter how bad it gets, it's worth trying to make it better.  No matter how hard my characters fall down, they're still going to stand up, tie their hair back, set their sails and get their Moana on.

Because hope is always the star that guides them.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017


I've heard DragonCon set a new record this year with 82,000 people.

Myself, I kept to the Westin as much as possible. Even so, I had a fantastic time. Saw so many friends, made new friends, and participated on some splendid panels. Despite my rather sequestered visit, I did manage to make my annual list....but first, the weeks topic: what genre would I be least likely to write and why.

Short answer: I won't do myself the disservice of thinking or saying that there's anything I'd be unlikely to write. I've already written in many genres and there are elements of other genres within that work. I refuse to put that limitation on myself.

ShortER answer: I DO WHAT I WANT!

And now....

*Random quotes as heard in passing 
that may have been spoken in complete innocence, 
but taken out of context and 
having passed through my dirty mind, 
they are all the more funny.*


    Often, I have a glut of fucks, but right now I'm all out.

     The absence of confusion is not the confusion of absence.

     It's not delivering. Get on the table.

10.) If you give a pun and receive a guffaw in return, 
well, that's a little too self-important.

9.) I just like talking about it, not doing it.

8.) I admit it, I was playing with my sack.

7.) I went in, took a sniff, and decided 
to stand in the back and watch the lights.

6.) I don't need to smack rods with people to know mine is better.

5.) Aw, she has a long shiny one in her hands. 

4.) Hey...that is not normal.

3.) Just lick him and stay there.

2.) I only come to DragonCon to get things stuck in me 
so I can get a free t-shirt.

1.) Of all the mostly naked people I've seen today, you're the best.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Genre Safest From Me

What genre (or sub-sub-sub) genre is safest from me? Which one am I least likely to write? Uhm...hmm.  My ego would like to think it can rise to any challenge, yea though that challenge might end in the Universe caving in on itself.

I'm least likely to write some sort of earnest sweet Amish romance. I don't know that I could resist going all Sir Terry Pratchett on it.

Ya know what? Probably should bump that up to "least likely to write a sweet romance."  Aliens, shifters, dragons...they really do like to show up in the most unexpected places. Keeps things interesting.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Most Unlikely to Write

I found this great ceramic Dia de los Muertos doll a couple of weeks ago. It's difficult to tell from the pic, but she's made entirely of ravens. I would have bought her in a heartbeat if she weren't so expensive. For those of you who've read THE SHIFT OF THE TIDE, there's an aspect to this doll that reminds me of Moranu with her many faces. Even the cover of that book is reminiscent of the same images for me. Do you all see that?
There's a key difference, however, between the two - and that links into this week's theme, which is the genre we are mostly unlikely to write.

As much as I'm fascinated by the dark and grotesque, I think you'll never find me writing horror. I'm not a fan of the unrelentingly grim. Likewise, I think you'll never find me writing Inspirational - as I also can't see going to all sweetness and light.

Personally and artistically, I live in the middle, at the intersection of both. Or, were I a citizen of my created world in The Twelve Kingdoms and The Uncharted Realms, I'd be at the intersection of all three goddesses. Yes, I'd love Moranu of the shadows, the night and many faces, but I'd also be an adherent of Danu, of the bright blade and unflinching justice and wisdom. I'd also look to Glorianna, goddess of soft light and in-between spaces, of love and beauty.

That's why I doubt I can write horror -- not enough of love and light. Nor am I likely to write anything that's all in the sweet direction, because I also love the shadows.

Still ... I might have to go back and buy that doll.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Series Challenge

As a reader, I love series, with the more volumes and adventures the better. I grew up reading all the standard series for kids and Young Adults available at the time, starting with The Bobbsey Twins and moving on to Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames RN, Tom Swift Jr., Rick Brant, Tom Corbett Space Cadet, The Dare Boys, The Dana Sisters and even older series from my grandmother’s days as a girl (The Outdoor Girls anyone?). My family loved books and reading and my parents were always happy to buy me more to read. 

My favorite treat was a trip to a giant used bookstore in nearby Syracuse NY, where I could spend hours searching out new-to-me volumes in the various series I read, as well as comic books (DC superheroes mostly,  anything scifi, or World War II like Sgt. Rock; also Tomahawk, Tarzan and the like. Wasn’t into Archie, Disney, or Marvel.)

In those days before Amazon and eBay, it was nearly impossible for me to get all the books in a series or all issues of a comic book but I did my best. Fortunately I like to reread!

In junior high school and high school I happily wrote series. My first one bears too much resemblance to Tom Corbett, I’m sure, although I added all kinds of plot elements his creators never dreamed of, including a LOT of romance. My high school years’ series might remind a reader of ‘Star Trek’, but again with all kinds of additions like a secret base under Antarctica. I had no trouble writing new installments and ongoing adventures, romances and drama. I didn’t outline then either.

(When will this deathless prose be coming to an Amazon link on your tablet? Ummm, never! It was terrific learning for me but wow, totally unreadable now!)

My personal Mt Everest - Writing a Series!
Photo purchased from DepositPhoto
So why, with all this early steeping-in-series as both reader and writer, did I think I was only going to write standalone books as a published author? I had this absolute conviction I would never write a series, or at least not one that wasn’t connected, by which I mean revolving around the same Egyptian Pharoah’s court, or set in my Sectors, but with different characters. It’s not that I didn’t like the idea of a ‘real’ series, but just some mental block of my own. Since I don’t outline but am a plot-as-I-go author, I quailed at the idea of knowing today what might happen to which characters in book 5! My Muse also shuts down if I overthink a book plot too much, apparently feeling that the book is ‘done’ and there’s no need to write any more.

But I LOVE series like Nalini Singh’s (pick one, any one!) and Jeffe Kennedy’s Twelve Kingdoms and Uncharted Realms,  Lora Leigh’s Breeds, Christine Feehan’s Ghostwalkers and Sea Haven series, Ilona Andrews, Anne McCaffrey….well ok, apparently I was also intimidated at the mere idea of trying to write a series!

But I’ve been sneaking up on the goal over time. I wrote several direct sequels (Star Survivor is the sequel to Wreck of the Nebula Dream for example) and my Muse began to relish the challenge of writing an actual series. In fact, when I finish my current Work in Progress, another in the loosely connected alien empath stories, the next planned thing on my plate is ……drum roll please…..a SERIES!!! Starting with Book 1 and moving through 5 books, with a series arc and everything. WOOT! I figured out a way to outline it at a high level so my finicky, cantankerous Muse doesn’t shut down. So we’ll see. I think I’ll probably still be writing standalone stories and interspersing them with any series that I do develop, plus I have sequels percolating for some of the earlier standalone books like Escape From Zulaire,  Lady of the Star Wind and others. I hear from readers quite often that they'd really like the sequel to this book or that book, which is always highly gratifying and also a bit terrifying because I want to do justice to the characters they enjoyed.

 I also LOVE my interstellar cruise liner, the Nebula Dream, so there will always be new stories set on board, with old friends and new ones.

So I guess my Muse accepts challenges after all!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Binge Reading, a Bookworm's Approach to Series

Do you remember as a kid finding a book in the library? It looked great, so you checked it out. Then you started reading. It's a hit out of the park. You LOVE this book. You're right in there with the characters, laughing, crying, fighting -- and then the book ends on a cliffhanger. Then and only then do you realize you have a book that's the first in a series.

Heart fluttering, you rush back to the library. There! On the shelf! More titles by the same author. You search frantically. You come up with books three and four and seven.

Right then. Right there. Your innocent little bookworm heart breaks just a little. And you learn. NEVER start a book without 1. first knowing whether it's part of a series and 2. that you can acquire the rest of the series.

Maybe your life was settled and you grew up in some rarified place where books were as important to your family as they are to you. If you did, you could generally be sure that if you developed an addiction to a series that was still being written (as opposed to one already completed) you'd be able to get a hold of the latest in the series when it finally came out. Those of us without such assurance, at the mercy of library systems without our loyalties to long-running series, learned never to start a series until it was finished and all the books in the series were available.

This is the long way of saying I strongly favor writing stand alone books, which is amusing, because everything I have is part of a series or leaves the door open to being a series. Funny how the world turns, isn't it?

As it happens, at the time that Enemy Within sold, series were THE thing. I'd written the book as a stand alone. Straight up, I admit that I did. And then my editor asked if I could make it a series. I was still so afraid someone would take back that publishing contract, I said that of course I could. So I did. Same thing happened with Nightmare Ink, though I wised up before I wrote that one and I planned it out as a series because I could see the handwriting on the wall. Sure enough. That same editor asked for a series treatment. At least this time around, I was ready for it. And now that I'm writing my series, I love them. I don't want to abandon them any more than I wanted to read the first book in a series I'd never find book number two for when I was a kid.

This isn't to say I don't love reading series. I do. And now that I'm an adult with my own book budget AND Amazon Prime, I can do my very favorite thing in the world: Find a series I love and buy the whole damned thing in one go. Because you binge watch GoT if you want. I'll binge read Jeffe's Twelve Kingdoms, thanks.

I desperately wanted a bookwormish sort of photo to give you. I don't have one. But I do have a little green garden frog who was hanging out in the zinnias yesterday. I have yet to ask what his reading preferences are.