Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween!

In honor of my favorite day, we here at the SFF Seven are roasting ourselves with a little meme of Author vs Protagonist.

May your candy be plentiful, your goblins wicked, and your potions potent.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Defying Themes - and Succeeding Anyway!

The sun cresting Pusch Ridge in Tucson, spilling light through the cleft at sunrise - so beautifully dramatic.

I came to Tucson to give the Saguaro Romance Writers my workshop on Defying Gravity: Writing Cross-Genre and Succeeding Anyway. They're a terrific group and we had a great time.

This week's topic at the SFF Seven is Make a Meme: You vs. Your Protagonist. And I... just can't do this. I'm staying at my mom and stepdad's house in Tucson, and my mom says she thinks memes (she pronounced it may-may) are silly and I should tell all of you that. 

I admit I'm not a huge fan of memes either - and I don't really think of my protagonists as other, so I'm coming up empty on that one. However, I thought I should let you all know that the SFWA Fantasy Storybundle sale is almost over - ending November 2 at midnight ET! Last chance to buy four books for $5 or twelve books for $15! My book, LONEN'S WAR, is part of the core four books, so here's a little excerpt of that, if you'd like to check it out!


Lonen had seen many strange things in the past weeks. Impossible magic and horrific deaths that would take him years to purge from his nightmares, if he ever could.
If he lived that long.
The sight of the woman in the window hit him with enough force to unbalance him. Through the blood-drenched night, he’d kept focus on one kill after the next and only on that, much the way he’d climbed the wall, except that he slit the throats of defenseless women, one after another, instead of reaching for holds. They died so easily, seeming oblivious to his approach, focusing their placid attention outward to the battle where the booming assault of the sorcerers diminished and ceased as their sisters succumbed to the blades of Lonen and his men.
The fact that they didn’t fight back, that they remained so vulnerable, sickened him, each death layering on unclean guilt that he’d ignored until the vision of the woman in the window knifed into him like an unseen blade. Maybe it was because her fair coloring was so much like the first woman he’d killed. After that one, he hadn’t looked at their faces, taking the dispensation offered by their featureless masks.
For whatever reason, the sight of her gripped him, standing in the open window, illuminated by candlelight in an otherwise dark tower that rose from a deep abyss. Her hair shone a copper color he’d never seen on a living being, like a hammered metal cloak that shifted with her startled movements. She put a hand to her throat, eyes dark in her fine-boned face. A creature from children’s tales perched beside her, staring at him intently. He would have thought it a statue carved from alabaster, but it swiveled its head on its neck to look at the woman, then back to him.
Lonen had seen illustrations of dragons in his boyhood books, but they’d been huge and…fictional. This thing looked very like those, only smaller—maybe as long as his forearm, not counting the tail. All white, it shimmered in the bright torchlight from the walls much as the woman’s hair did. It sat on its haunches, taloned feet clutching the stone windowsill, bat-winged forearms mantled. Large eyes with bright green shine dominated a wedge-shaped head with a narrow jaw and large ears. It lashed its long, sinuous tail against the stone, as a cat watching birds would.
Beautiful, both of them, and as fantastical as if they’d stepped out of one of those storybooks. The wonder of the sight swept away all the bloody horror. She was the bright face of the terrible magics—something lovely, pure and otherworldly. Something in him lunged at the prospect of such beauty in the world, a part of him he hadn’t known existed. Or rather, a part he hadn’t thought survived from childhood. That sense of wonder he’d felt looking at those storybook illustrations, long since lost to the grind of the Golem Wars. He lifted a hand, not sure what he meant to do. A salute? A greeting?
“Prince Lonen!” Alby ran up, bow in hand. “Why do you—a sorceress!” He reached for an arrow and notched it, a smooth, practiced movement that Lonen barely stopped in time.
“No,” he commanded. “Stand down. She wears no mask. She isn’t one of them.”
“They’re all the enemy,” Alby insisted through gritted teeth, resisting Lonen’s grip. “She’s seen us.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Abruptly weariness swamped Lonen. Far too soon for him to wear out, as much remained to be done. That bright bubble of the fantastic had distracted him, the shattering of that brief moment of childlike wonder more painful for the sudden loss of it. He’d have been better off not feeling it at all. “Her people are largely dead, their defenses falling around them. Look out at the plain.”
Alby followed his nod. Grienon, enormous and low in the sky, waxed toward full, shedding silvery light on the quiet field. None of the magical fireballs or earthquakes thundered through the night. The golems had dropped like corn stalks after harvest. The Destrye forces moved in a familiar cleanup pattern, groups of warriors methodically searching the field for the dying, to either save or dispatch, depending on which side they’d fought for—and if they could be saved. Other groups remained in pitched battle, but the Destrye had the upper hand. Without their magic, the Bárans would eventually fall.
For as many years as they’d worked towards this day, Lonen had expected to feel jubilation, triumph, the roar of victory. Not the drag of exhaustion and regret. Their plan had worked far better than any of them had dared to hope—and yet only bleakness filled his heart.
The copper-haired woman’s fault, for showing him a glimpse of a dream of something more than monstrous death and destruction. He’d been better off hoping simply to live to the next moment, or not to die in vain.
Hope and the promise of wonder could destroy a man’s spirit more surely than a well-wielded blade.
With one last look at the woman in the window, he turned his back on her and her false promise. “Come, Alby. Let’s find a ladder or stairway down to the city inside the walls, so we can open the gates.” One that wouldn’t plunge him into that dark abyss. “There must be stairs or ladders that the sorceresses climbed. By sunrise, Bára will be ours.”
Soon he would be done with this evil place.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Cover Reveal and Excerpt LADY OF THE NILE

I was excited to do a cover reveal this week for my next paranormal romance, set in ancient Egypt. I hadn’t written one in quite a while and it was fun to dive back into my version of 1550 BCE! I also have a new scifi romance coming in November – more on that next week.

Here’s the story:

Tuya, a high ranking lady-in-waiting at Pharaoh’s court, lives a life of luxury, pageantry and boredom. Khian, a brave and honorable officer from the provinces temporarily re-assigned to Thebes, catches her eye at a gold of valor ceremony. As the pair are thrown together by circumstances, she finds herself unaccountably attracted to this man so unlike the haughty nobles she’s used to. But a life with Khian would mean leaving the court and giving up all that she’s worked so hard to attain. As she goes about her duties, Tuya struggles with her heart’s desires.

When Tuya is lured into a dangerous part of Thebes by her disgraced half-brother and kidnapped by unknown enemies of Egypt, Khian becomes her only hope. Pharaoh assigns him to bring the lady home.

Aided by the gods, Khian races into the desert on the trail of the elusive kidnappers, hoping to find Tuya before it’s too late. Neither of them has any idea of the dark forces arrayed against them, nor the obstacles to be faced. An ancient evil from the long gone past wants to claim Tuya for its own purposes and won’t relinquish her easily.

Can Khian find her in time? Will he and his uncanny allies be able to prevent her death? And if the couple escapes and reaches safety, what of their fledgling romance?

The excerpt:

Facing down the attacking Hyksos hordes at the Meribe Pass had been easier in many ways than preparing to meet a grateful Pharaoh to receive the reward for not accepting defeat. Captain Khian walked the line of his small troop murmuring encouragement, straightening a sword here and making a joke there, anything to lighten the men’s tension as they waited outside the ceremonial chamber for their moments under Pharaoh’s eye. It wasn’t often that common soldiers had the chance to stand in front of the Living God who ruled Egypt. The idea was terrifying.

At last the scribe touched his elbow. “You can march in now, captain.”

He nodded, gave his soldiers one final, critical inspection. “We’ll do the Jackal Nome proud, men.”

Khian set the pace, walking behind the young scribe, keeping his proud military bearing, not looking to the right or the left but focusing on the glittering dais where Pharaoh’s golden throne sat and the Great One himself waited to honor them. He might be only a landholder, commissioned to fight in the war against the invaders, rather than one of the career officers, and his men might be farmers in their daily lives, but by the gods, they’d held that damned pass and saved the day for Egypt. Pride for what his troops had accomplished in battle filled his heart and pushed aside trepidation over being in a completely foreign environment now. He just wanted to get through the ceremony without disgracing himself or his men in front of the ruler.

The scribe had them line up off to the side, awaiting their moment with Pharaoh, who was still speaking with a group of ambassadors. “Your name will be called and then move forward in front of the throne. Salute and stand at attention.”

“We’ll do as you instruct.” Khian clenched his hand on the hilt of his sword. He gazed across the chamber while he waited, taking in the crowd of courtiers attending the audience. For the most part the nobles, officers and functionaries were a blur of painted faces, fine clothes and elaborate jewelry but one woman caught his attention. She sat near the queen, so was obviously high ranking, but her expression was sweet rather than haughty and she stared at him as if trying to give him encouragement. Could she tell he was nervous about committing an inadvertent error of royal protocol? The lady smiled, plying her ostrich feather fan flirtatiously. He made a slight bow to her, before he abruptly remembered where he was.

Ridiculous as it might seem, he felt as if he had a friend here.

Boredom had been weighing on Tuya all afternoon. She’d sat through many audiences at the court of Pharaoh Nat-re-Akhte and this one was no different—newly arrived dignitaries to greet, a few issues needing  Pharaoh’s judgment, gold of valor to be awarded to a deserving soldier or two. In her five years as chief lady-in-waiting to the Royal Wife, Tuya had seen all variations.

Pharaoh would present the gold of valor next, and Tuya found herself glancing at the assembled soldiers. The officer captured her attention instantly. Something about his face drew her gaze. He had the look of a man going into combat and she guessed his unfamiliarity with royal protocol and the customs at court might lie at the heart of his tension. Or he was worried for his men that they’d manage the moments under Pharaoh’s scrutiny with honor. Direct attention from the living god was a frightening thing to most people.  She wished she could take the officer aside for a moment and reassure him that Pharaoh was a kind man, a soldier himself in fact, and would most likely be tolerant of any minor breaches in protocol from overawed rural troops.

The captain was looking at the crowd now, as he waited, and when his attention turned to her, she smiled and tried to project encouraging thoughts for him. It doesn’t matter how the court perceives you, only Pharaoh’s opinion counts with the gods.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Nonfiction Flash

Nonfiction Flash:

My father is visiting until tomorrow. He gets all the attention. Sorry. Not sorry. I'll be back when I'm not playing tour guide.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Trick or Treat

NEWS: I'm starting a newsletter soon, so if you want to be in on the updates concerning the Persephone Alcmedi series, the Immanence series, or just want to be in on the fun, check out my website today. Note: It's a double opt-in, so there'll be an email to confirm. Thank you, kindly!

TRICK or TREAT   (891 words)

Andrea had fussed too long over her costume and make-up, but it had to be the best. She was the prettiest, richest, and most sought after among her film-school pals and had to maintain that reputation. Typically, she arrived fashionably late, but tonight she'd misjudged the traffic and now she was irresponsibly late. Night had fallen full before she arrived at the secluded address scrawled on the back of a tarot card. It was just trite enough that it had to be Annie's idea. It was like her to throw a last-minute party, and to add to the spirit of the season by a pseudo-anonymous invitation. 

After parking her pink Porsche, Andrea resettled her witch costume and made sure her breasts mounded above the bustier just right, then added her pointy hat and scanned the many vehicles lining the road. She recognized George's BMW, Annie's Lincoln, and Jimmy's jacked-up truck. No one was in them, of course. The party started almost an hour ago. She'd have to walk-in alone. But that was fine; she knew how to make an entrance. She'd just have to make up an excuse, like her agent had called to say he'd lined up a new audition.

Ahead, a bright orange arrow pointed across into the woods.

The beat of music thumped from the barn atop the distant hill. The illumination from within seemed minimal, as only a dull hint of light pierced through the filthy windows. But they had a good playlist on. She assumed Jimmy was in charge of the music. 

After a baleful look at her high-heel shoes and thinking up a good passive-aggressive scolding for whoever didn't advise her to at least wear wedges, she left the street and stepped onto the path through thick underbrush. When it suddenly ended, hundreds of costumed people stood lining the way. She halted with a gasp. Immobile and silent, each held a carved pumpkin lit within.

"Did you all wait for me?" Her cheeks flushed.

No one answered.

"What are you doing here? Hasn't it started up at the barn?" 

Still, no one answered.

"Stop being creepy!" She marched as best she could to the closest, and pulled at the silly plastic face mask. "Is that you, George?"

It wasn't her boyfriend. It was a mannequin. So was the next and the next.

Andrea felt ashamed for having been fooled, but no one was here to see her get fooled. Besides, who had hundreds of mannequins, let alone costumes? And who had time to carve hundreds of pumpkins? This had to be George's idea. He was going to be a great director some day soon.

Each unique orange face bore a wicked grin, and was positioned to leer as she passed. The flickering candles added an ominous ambiance. 

It was wildly spooky - perfect for a Halloween Dance party. That was the thought she kept foremost as she walked to the barn. It took her fifteen minutes to arrive. This grassy terrain was murder in her heels. 

When she stepped up to the door, she reached for the handle, then realized she heard no voices.

The hair on her neck stood on end, so instead of opening the door, she peered through the crack, shifting left to right to see the broadest bit of the room.

She saw no one, but they’d gone all out for the décor. Red streamers, bloody-looking sheets and plastic screening. Annie’s father worked at MGMs prop department. She’d obviously had him call in some favors. And, there had to be hundreds of candles burning in there, and red petals dotted the floor.

Oh! George is going to propose a la the Horror films he loves so much. Yes! Finally. And I’m late! They’ve seen me coming and are waiting for the big entrance.

She resituated her hat, squared her shoulders and threw open the door.

Still seeing no one, she stepped in. Were they hiding? “George?” she moved deeper into the barn…and realized the streamers looked like entrails. It wasn't petals on the floor either, but splattering of sticky red...blood? They really went all out for this. She touched one of the 'streamers' and her hand came away covered in red goo. “Ick.” 

She’d have to wipe this off. Scanning around for the food table where there would have to be napkins, she saw the rustic stairs leading to the upper floor. The upper steps were lost to darkness but the lower steps each had severed heads sitting upon them. Some had eyes open, some were shut. She gasped. That’s going too far.

Completing her scan, she saw no food table. What kind of party doesn’t offer some kind of drink and snack?

Something creaked. She spun back to the stairs as a boot slid into view. Someone was coming down. 

She watched the dirty boots descend, unable to see the person wearing them for the dark. But her eyes caught again on the heads. They were placed two-to-each-side, yet the bottom step was different. It had two on the left, they looked like Jimmy and Annie…and on the right…George.

There was room for one more.

Understanding and dozens of thoughts collided in her brain as air rushed through her nostrils and she emitted a shrieking scream that echoed across the hillside.

From within the stairwell, a deep voice said, "Cut." 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Taunt Not the Sprites on Halloween Nights

Tit for tat.
You started that.
With actions so cruel and mean.

We were fine
On our own
In the forest, quite alone.
Until we heard the first widow scream.

Her fright
Pierced the night.
Halting our dances under the light
Of the bright, bright, bright, harvest moon.

In tribes and clans
We swept across our lands
Towards the sounds of terror mounting.

Atop roofs and deep doors
We crouched
Ready for wars.
Our countenance fierce and frightening.

For their charity
We defend
The spinsters and lonely women
Against the horrors of children flouting

All honor and respect
Shrill voices loud with threat
Their chorus a malicious chanting

Trick or treat.
Give us something good to eat.
Or by dawn, your house will be burning.

So we crept into the street
Shadows dogging their feet
Spells draining their youth and arrogance

Once the veil closes
The boyos
They knows it
Their souls are owned by the damned

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Week of Ups and Downs

(I don't have anything to add on this week's topic of trigger warnings. Neither for or against them. I've never included one.)

Purchased from DepositPhoto
I think the biggest down this week was an allergic reaction to a medication I'd safely used before - ulp. Really wasn't expecting that! The older I get, the more things I'm allergic to...hopefully I never become allergic to cats or chocolate. Everything else I can probably handle...

The biggest 'up' was HUGE and ironically the news came as I was sitting in the ER dealing with the allergic reaction - the scifi romance anthology Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2 made the USA Today Best Seller List!!! I'm the co-organizer and one of the authors so I was thrilled. Still am thrilled in fact.  Thank you to all the readers and bloggers and reviewers who've supported us...! (Not too late to get your copy......)

Here's the blurb for the anthology:

The pets are back! Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2, featuring twelve of today’s leading Science Fiction Romance authors brings you a dozen original stories written just for you! Join in the fun, from the Dragon Lords of Valdier to a trip aboard award-winning author, Veronica Scott’s Nebula Zephyr to journeying back to Luda where Grim is King, for stories that will take you out of this world! Join New York Times, USA TODAY, and Award-winning authors S.E. Smith, M.K. Eidem, Susan Grant, Michelle Howard, Cara Bristol, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Laurie A. Green, Sabine Priestley, Jessica E. Subject, Carol Van Natta, and Alexis Glynn Latner as they share stories and help out Hero-Dogs.org, a charity that supports our veterans!

10% of the first months profits go to Hero-Dogs.org. Hero Dogs raises and trains service dogs and places them free of charge with US Veterans to improve quality of life and restore independence.

Buy Links:   Amazon   iBooks   Kobo   B&N 

My new favorite review:

Friday, October 20, 2017

Trigger Warnings and Owning Recovery

If you're recovering from sexual assault, it's been a rough couple of weeks. Again. This week saw the #MeToo hashtag sweep social media. There were no trigger warnings. And yes, people were triggered - people who are in the midst of attempting to recover their sense of safety and their sense f of self. Seeing all the #MeToo hashtags brought their trauma roaring back at them. Some were women. Some were men. Some were nonbinary. It didn't matter. Their only option for protecting themselves was to swear off social media for the week and pray the rest of us moved on in that time. As we usually do. If these folks are lucky, they have someone they can trust who can tell them when it's safe to tread the social media water once more. If they aren't lucky, they have to dip a toe in the water to see if Jaws is still down there waiting to chomp bits off of them.

Bringing awareness to the depth and breadth of the sexual assault issue in this society is a worthy goal. The problem is the cost of that awareness is blood squeezed from the already broken bodies and psyches of those abused in the first place. Do I believe that those of us who've been assaulted regain our power when we can stand up and say 'hey, this is a thing?' Yes. But it isn't my call to make. I don't get to drag someone else healing in their own time, in their own way through a simple hashtag. I guess I'm saying that a few people are realizing that every female, a few males and a few nonbinary folks they know have been assaulted. Yay. More eyes on the issue. I'm also saying that maybe there should have been a trigger warning somewhere.

On the other hand.

Most of you know I've had my issues with depression - the kind of depression that bottoms out in suicidal ideation. Translated: I get depressed and stare Death in the eye. He's not a bad dude. He does promise you won't have to feel any more and that can be mighty damned attractive. However. I have a firm grip on what we say to Death. So I sought treatment. It worked. It worked well enough that I no longer require treatment.

However. I know my limits and I own them. It's on me to take care of my mental health all day every day. I do not require or ask for trigger warnings. My issues are my issues and it's on me to handle them the same way I handle food triggers for migraines. If I don't want to wind up in an ER, I read ingredients and quiz the wait staff. Peanuts anywhere near this dish? Cheese? How about wheat? No? Woot! I get to eat! Mental health gets handled the same way. Post a graphic animal or child abuse video to my social media feed and get your ass blocked. My health. My responsibility.

So. Am I going to post trigger warnings to my fiction? Probably not. Simply because there are too many triggers out there in the world and I cannot possibly encompass them all. I will always alert readers to graphic sex scenes so parents can decide who gets to read what. I will also do my damnedest in the book descriptions to make it clear EXACTLY what kind of read you're going to get. Because let's be real. If you're writing trying to purposefully ambush readers with awful, you aren't edgy. You aren't an artist. You're just an asshole.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Trigger Warnings and Controversy

I tend not to write things that would warrant a trigger warning.  Yes, I have action and violence, but I tend to keep it on the literary equivalent of a PG-13 movie.   Nothing too problematic. 

But, even though I don't write anything that warrants a warning, I'm not a big believer in censoring anything that a writer thinks is the right way to tell their story.  Just because it's not what I write doesn't mean I think it shouldn't be written.

BUT, if you do write that sort of thing, then I also think it's common courtesy to give some kind of content warning.  I think that's no different from the movie rating system, and it's a generally good idea to give your audience an idea what to expect.

Now, that doesn't mean giving away your surprises.  I think every good book should have a moment or two that might just tear your reader's heart out.  I think The Imposters of Aventil does that quite nicely. 

As will Lady Henterman's Wardrobe and A Parliament of Bodies.

And the rest of what's to come.

Just a reminder, that I do have a mailing list, which I send news to about once a month.  So you can get all the news on Maradaine and everything else going on with me.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Trigger Warnings, i.e. DIscussing 'That' Scene from Jovienne, again

NEWS: I'm starting a newsletter soon, so if you want to be in on the updates concerning the Persephone Alcmedi series, the Immanence series, or just want to be in on the fun, check out my website today. Note: It's a double opt-in, so there'll be an email to confirm. Thank you, kindly!

HALLOWEEN is coming (squee!!!!!) so I thought I'd offer a fun drink suggestion in this week's post.



8 oz. blackberries
2 lemons, juiced
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water
4 shots of rum
Splash of Sprite

1. In a small sauce pan simmer blackberries, lemons, brown sugar, and water over medium high heat for 10-15 minutes.
2. Use a colander to strain out the blackberries
3. Put juice into a metal cocktail shaker, add ice, and rum.
4. Shake for about 20 seconds
5. Pour glasses 3/4 full and then add a splash of Sprite to each drink

I know what you're thinking, "...sounds good but that's too much work for a drink." But I'll be trying it before the holiday.

On to the topic...
Trigger Warnings: When Subject Matter is Controversial

I've struggled with whether or not my latest novel, Jovienne (Immanence Series, #1) should have a trigger warning.

On one hand, there is a rape scene. Flat out, it's easy to say, yes it needs a trigger warning. I've tried to put the word out there by blogging about it, posting and tweeting.
On the other hand, before that scene arises, I established these four things in the text: 
1.) all demons needed to feed on energy soon after they arrived in this world
2.) they fed two ways:
       a.) by killing and partaking of the death energy
       b.) by a sexual exchange 

3.) if a specific type of demon physically touched a human for an extended time, they could pull images and thoughts from that person's mind
4.) those specific demons could shape shift

When I wrote the scenes for Jovienne's test, I didn't originally have a plan for getting her out of it alive. It wasn't a planned novel, but more of a short story exercise for me so I wasn't invested in making her live through it, as I was exploring what would happen if I tried to kill that character. How hard would she fight to finish her story?

I'd also established that her family was dead and that her father had been a hostile, brooding, bullying, belittling, tantrum of a man. She hated him. He gave her no kindness and allowed her no happiness. 
As an author, having her face him --or rather one of those specific shifting demon's wearing his face-- was the worst thing I could do to her. But that demon gained a position of power over her. Having the demon attempt what evil was already established as it's prerogative and do that horrific deed as her father... it certainly seemed a demonic act to me.
So yes, I pushed hard and I did so on purpose. It was not ever my intention to trigger anyone, so I have put the word out as best I know how.

I can hear you asking, "Why not cut the scene, then?"

Because her reaction and subsequent actions establish her character so strongly, so unrepentantly, that I could not do her the disservice of removing it. I accept that hers is not a journey everyone will want to read, but I must say that, for me, it has been an inspiration to write.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Trigger Warnings & The Delicate Flower

Trigger warnings for controversial material in fiction, particularly genre fiction, particularly speculative fiction. Yea or nay?


Controversial material is a cornerstone of spec-fic. Good spec-fic should make you uncomfortable even as it entertains you. It should expand your horizons.

Part of the joy of reading is experiencing new things, strange things, and unpleasant things from the safety of the printed page. As a reader, if I'm freaked out by a scene, I can flip forward in the story or I can stop reading. No one is forcing me to read that book. And, if some authority was attempting to force me to read that book, my issue would be with that authority, not the book.

I write stories for mature audiences. Adults. Grown-ups. I don't include trigger warnings on my books. I don't include explicit sex warnings. I don't include graphic violence, foul language, or abundant gore warnings. My books may contain some, none, or all of the above.

There are reviewers out there who rate books on those categories. Subjective ratings. More power to them. Completely their prerogative. They are helping inform the consumer while raising awareness of the book. Awesome.

As a writer, if I'm penning a scene that I recognize as a controversial issue, then it's on me to write it as responsibly as I can. Yes, it's possible I will write scenes that do a disservice to survivors of similar real-life events. I'm fallible. There is always room for me to improve. Yes, my villains will do and think completely reprehensible things. My heroes might too. The only thing I can promise is that events happen to develop the plot and/or the character. Squick is not gratuitous. Trauma is not for titillation.

If I wrote Young Adult (or younger) stories, then okay, sure, I could understand including a caution about controversial themes. I imagine it'd be helpful for librarians and parents.

I don't support the idea of trigger warnings on adult content because we slide very quickly into the trap of thought-police, gatekeepers, and morality judges dictating what is an isn't appropriate along with what is and isn't 'responsibly' written. If the publishing house has a standard, then great, good for them. Hopefully, the author is aware of that standard before they sign the contract.

Yes, there are horrible, horrible people out there writing horrible, horrible stories about horrible, horrible acts for purely obscene pleasures that appeal the prurient interest. Want to protect yourself from those? Read the cover copy. Read the reviews. Read the opening pages. All that will tell you if you're about to stumble into a niche market that you want to avoid.

I don't write grimdark and I don't write cozy. I write second-world and urban fantasy for adults. If I do my job right, my stories should make you feel something. If I do it really well, you'll hate and love characters, laugh and cry during their struggles, all while staying up way past your bedtime to finish just one more chapter.

Delicate flowers have to be shielded. Readers, by their very nature, are running toward the storms of adventure.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Trigger Warnings


Okay. Label me a heartless bastard if you must, but no, I am not a fan of trigger warnings and I don't intend to use them, with possible exceptions.

But, Jim, what about-?


Not all that long ago, and you might even remember this one, kiddies, a college campus decided to have a guest lecturer on sexual assault on campus because, sadly, that's still a thing. It happens, much as I wish it didn't. How much do I wish it didn't? Ive lost a few guy friends because they had trouble with my believe that ay man who uses his tool for violence should have it removed. yes, I mean castration. No, I don't mean with chemicals. Cut the offending member away and take the testicles while you're at it. "What if they want to have kids?" They should NEVER have kids. That's potentially more victims.

Sorry, back to my point.

Attendance at this seminar was not necessary. However, a few of the students who I am sure had the best intentions, made it so clear that the very notion of having a lecturer on the campus would trigger them and others, of having the word on paper, folks. The phrase "sexual assault" was so damaging to them, that, as adults, they would need a room provided for them where they could offer bubble blow, soft music, pillows and snacks during the time that the actual lecturer would be on campus.

The University agreed to all of this and provided a room. I am not certain if they footed the bill for the bubble blow. No clue.

I am certain, that, in my eyes, the notion was ludicrous. Not because I don't believe people suffer from trauma, but because we're talking about ADULTS here. Ten year old kids? By all means Grown adults who are going to university to ensure they will make a good living? No. Adults who can, in some cases, drink legally and vote? No.  That's what my dear old mother would have called "Molly-Coddling."

I do not believe that you help ANYONE when you offer that level of protection from the real world. What you are inviting is trauma after trauma.

I knew a man who was, to be kind, rather spoiled while he was growing up., His parents did not correct his bad actions and as a result of that he failed to have much of an edit button. Once upon a time while in a public bar, he decided to get into an exchange with someone who was just as intoxicated and not as willing to overlook nasty comments. I believe it was eighty-seven stitches to put his face back together. His lack of an edit button, or understanding that words could have consequences did him no good. Even after that he tended to fire with his mouth worry about whether or not he could back it up later

No lessons learned.

Listen. I see a ten year old picking up a few of my books. (only a few) I'll be the first to say "That's maybe not for you and we should have your mom or dad okay it first." There are a few of my books that, frankly, have dark subject matter.  I'll point to SMILE NO MORE as an example of serious, hardcore violence. I'll be the first to say that BLOOD RED deals with subject matter that might very well qualify as "Iffy" (One of the main characters is a high end call girl and has to deal with being in the sex industry and with the fact that some people are reprehensible.)  and in both cases, without a parent's okay, after I've explained the content, I simply would not allow a kid under 14 or so to buy the books and even then I'd be dubious.

Some books are simply not meant for kids.

Now, maybe I'm wrong, but after 18, you are on your own. I write Horror and I write Dark Fantasy, and I write Science Fiction that sometimes has an apocalyptic edge. My covers are not often subtle and they say a lot about the subject matter at hand without a word being spoken.  If someone wants a rating, I can follow the movie ratings guidelines with the best of them.

I don't do trigger warnings. The possible exception? Rape. Why only possible? Because while the subject has come up in my books before and might come up again, it's a subject I handle delicately. i mention an even has happened, I most assuredly do not get into graphic detail. I have never aimed to titillate with a rape sequence, because to me it's not about sex, it's about violence. And, frankly, it's a subject ai do't consider as taboo, but it's also not something I try to use as a meth0d of pushing my stories forward. I write escapist fiction. Why would  I want to add in something that I KNOW will make a good percentage of the population uncomfortable?

That said, I am a HUGE proponent of the First Amendment of these United States. freedom of speech. I believe that the only censorship should come from the author and then the author can deal with the consequences of their wordly actions.

If I'm writing a story about werewolves, it's likely to get gory. If I'm writing about seductive vampires, there might be a sex scene, however brief. If I have a character who works as a high end hooker, she might have to deal with attempted rape or physical abuse. these things are, unfortunately, a part of an industry that is not monitored well in this country and one where the lack of regulations means that those trading in the business often deal with the darker aspects of their chosen field. All of that said, I write dark stuff.

Clive Barker once said, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Horror is the last bastion of the taboo in fiction. It's where chauvinists still exist and the politically correct is seldom seen. It's the place where women can still be victims." I would only correct that to say it's where PEOPLE are victims. It comes with the territory. As I have said before and likely will again, I am an equal opportunity destroyer. I have no problem killing anyone or anything in my works. Because, as I have also said, I believe the best place for violence is in a book or in a movie. I'd rather it never show up in the real world.

And I believe that as a result of what I write, people should expect triggers. If they can't handle them, don't buy my work ad stay away from the horror genre entirely.

Put another way: I know a LOT of people are terrified of clowns. Can't stand them. Yet, here I go, writing several books and short stories revolving around Rufo the Clown, who happens to be a dead, psychotic monster. MENTION clowns to a few people I know and you can watch them start trying to find the escape hatch. SHOW them a clown and you can see the fear in their eyes.  Here's the cover to my next book. It has a clown on the cover. There are clowns in two of the stories. The cover is your only warning.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Trigger Warnings - Do We Need Them?

The first SFWA Fantasy Story Bundle has been selling like hotcakes! Which...how DO hotcakes sell, anyway? Maybe fast before they cool off too much. But these stories will keep. For only $5 you get four full-length novels and for $15 total, you can get all twelve. Keep them forever and read at your leisure! A great way to discover new-to-you authors while supporting both those authors and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, who does so much to advocate for the genre and the profession. The first book in my Sorcerous Moons fantasy romance series, Lonen's War, is a part of the bundle.

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is Trigger Warnings: When Subject Matter is Controversial.

This topic itself has become somewhat controversial in recent years, almost worthy of a trigger warning right there. The thing is, "controversial" doesn't equate to an actual trigger. The term comes from mental health circles, where "triggers are external events or circumstances that may produce very uncomfortable emotional or psychiatric symptoms, such as anxiety, panic, discouragement, despair, or negative self-talk." (Reference) Thus a "trigger warning" is intended to advise people with mental health issues of this variety that they may want to steer clear of the content. For example, a fictional rape scene might come with a trigger warning to advise victims of rape that reading could adversely affect them.

However, the term - as can be witnessed by the wording of our topic - has come to be associated with anything controversial in any way. The term "triggering" has become part of the modern lexicon for any topic that elicits a strong reaction. Or even a response that's out of the ordinary.

The thing is... art SHOULD elicit a reaction. Certainly out of the ordinary. Hopefully a strong one.

Otherwise, what's the point?

Sure, a lot of our entertainment is designed to be soothing, to lull us back into a level of numbness where we don't have to think or feel. With that sort of thing, mild is best. TV sitcoms strive to be amusing without being controversial in any way. The edgier comedies have more divided audiences, with equal numbers hating the show as love it.

Genre fiction is often escapist, yes - but I think the best kind also stirs grand emotions and ideas in us. That's what I love best, when a book moves me and makes me think about things I normally don't. But that's not being triggered.

I'm blessed enough to be more or less trigger-free. I have my hot button, sure, but I know what most of them are and I'm able to manage my responses for the most part. For people with actual triggers, I do try to be aware of what those might be and warning people appropriately. That's the compassionate thing to do.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

How Do You Find the Measure of an Arc?

Purchased from DepositPhoto
Considering I’m just now writing book #1 of what I plan to be a series with an overarching arc, I don’t have much to add to this discussion  - sorry.

I always have to be mindful of my Muse’s peculiarity that if I think about a story too much before writing it, then I won’t ever write it, because it feels ‘done’ to me. So in trying to figure out the long term arc of this scifi romance series, I had to be very careful or all the momentum would die ded. We’ll see how I do.

In other news, Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2 has had a great release week, sales/ranking/review-wise and I’m really happy readers seem to like my rock star romance in the anthology.

Here was one review (if you don’t mind me squeeing just a bit). Heather's well known in SFR circles so her opinion carries weight with me and she got what I was going for:

Blurb for Star Cruise: Songbird:
Grant Barton, a Security Officer on the Nebula Zephyr, is less than thrilled with his current assignment to guard an Interstellar singing sensation while she’s on board the ship. It doesn’t help that he and his military war bird Valkyr are dealing with their recent separation from the Sectors Special Forces and uncertainty over their future, with their own planet in ruins.

Karissa Dawnstar is on top of the charts and seemingly has it all – talent, fame, fortune and devoted fans, but behind her brave smile and upbeat lyrics she hides an aching heart. When a publicity stunt goes wrong, Karissa finds herself in the arms of the security officer assigned to protect her – and discovers a mutual attraction she can’t ignore.

Trouble continues to plague the pair, driving a wedge between them and leaving Grant certain that Karissa is in more danger than she realizes, from overzealous fans and her own management. Grant is determined to protect Karissa whether she wants his help or not. Can he discover the truth behind what’s going on before he loses Karissa or is there someone else plotting to keep them apart – permanently?

Blurb for Embrace the Romance: Pets In Space 2:
The pets are back! Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2, featuring twelve of today’s leading Science Fiction Romance authors brings you a dozen original stories written just for you! Join in the fun, from the Dragon Lords of Valdier to a trip aboard award-winning author, Veronica Scott’s Nebula Zephyr to journeying back to Luda where Grim is King, for stories that will take you out of this world! Join New York Times, USA TODAY, and Award-winning authors S.E. Smith, M.K. Eidem, Susan Grant, Michelle Howard, Cara Bristol, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Laurie A. Green, Sabine Priestley, Jessica E. Subject, Carol Van Natta, and Alexis Glynn Latner as they share stories and help out Hero-Dogs.org, a charity that supports our veterans!

10% of the first month’s profits go to Hero-Dogs.org. Hero Dogs raises and trains service dogs and places them free of charge with US Veterans to improve quality of life and restore independence.

Buy Links: Amazon   iBooks   Kobo   B&N 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Twists, Turns, Dangling Threads

Y'all. I'm phoning this in. Straight up. Dangling threads. Long series. Plot arcs. Right now, the dangling thread is an apartment so empty it echoes. The overarching plot is the work of getting my folks and their cat out of Washington State and down here with us. This series has been airing daily now for MONTHS with new twists and turns every damn day. 

Today's twist - the moving truck was delivered to the storage unit I had to find on short notice. Tomorrow at a time when most people are still asleep, a bunch of strangers I hired will show up to throw everything off the truck into the storage unit. Mind you. It took four people 10 days to load that truck. I fear for my life and for my breakables.

The OTHER twist is that someone has to fly Nicadeimos (Mom's cat) to Florida. Either I have to hop a plane to Seattle and collect Mr. Tuxedo, or one of my folks has to fly down and bring him to me and then fly back so they can finish up the house sale and then drive across country (to SEE things, they say) in freaking November.

Do you know how I handle all of these details and dangling threads? With a Bullet Journal. And in fiction, each book in a series has a notebook. This notebook is spiral bound and gets filled with notes about eye colors, names, places, things, editorial notes, scene notes - just everything. But after the book is done, while the novel is out for edits, my notes get munged into a spreadsheet for the series. Every ship name. Every planet. Every single detail that matters end up in that spreadsheet. Behold: The Series Bible.

Authors are weird. I cop to that. And we all have our bugaboos. Continuity is mine. Would anyone else notice it if I screwed up a detail? Probably. But unless it was major, I could probably count the number of people who noticed on one hand. BUT I WOULD NOTICE AND I WOULD NEVER SLEEP AGAIN. 

So I keep track. Am I organized? No. Am I thorough? Oh, yes. Oh very much yes. Because the sanity at stake is my own. And that's already only so/so. 

For my series to work or me, they have to follow a set order of precedence. Series arc rules everything. Each novel must serve the series arc while containing it's own arc. Each character must have an arc within each novel in which they appear and all of those arcs must serve the series arc in some way. 

Strangely enough, I find it doesn't matter where I start in the process of figuring out arcs. It's very chicken and egg. All that matters is that I start somewhere figuring out arcs and the rest emerge. Easy to say. Harder to do. Each book and each character likes to escape control just little bit. So it doesn't always go as planned.

And now, I'm taking this weary author off to sleep so she can face a day of schlepping boxes and heavy things without ending the day either in the emergency room or in prison.

Keep reading. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Short-term, Long-term Juggling Act

Writing the Maradaine books takes a certain degree of juggling.  Fortunately, that's something I learned to do back in the stage-acting days.*

Fundamentally, each book has to serve three masters, in order of importance:
  1. Tell its own exciting, interesting and complete story.
  2. Seed/move forward plot points for the arc of its series.
  3. Seed/move forward plot points for the larger arc of Maradaine as a whole.
Early on, numbers 2 and 3 were very minor, but as the needs of each series arc and the larger Maradaine arc has increased, they've needed to take more precedence.  Imposters of Aventil and the upcoming Lady Henterman's Wardrobe and A Parliament of Bodies all have this challenge, and it's only going to grow as I move past that. 

What's the trick to pulling it off?  How do you keep serving the second and third goals from being too much of a distraction?  For me, the big thing is making sure every scene in the book still fulfills the first goal, regardless of the other factors.  For example, all three of those books have scenes near the end that are largely about the greater Maradaine arc.  But they still also serve as epilogue for the story of the book they are in. 

Hopefully, that series-arc and Maradaine-arc seeding has its hooks in you, and you want to know more about what comes next.  There's going to be an announcement pretty soon, so watch this space.

*- A circus-themed production of Brecht's The Life of Galileo, in which I not only had to learn to juggle, but do knife-spinning tricks, and a host of mild acrobatics.  I could even walk on my hands back then.  Now I am old and creaky.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Long Term Arcs-Managing the big arcs

Great subject, as far as I'm concerned. I've been working on several long term series, and you know what I've learned about managing the big arcs? Not much.

Okay, let me break this down the way it's always worked for me. I write in what I tend to think of as the "tapestry" method. There are a lot of characters, a lot of threads, and the idea is that I use those threads to make a cohesive story. I have to weave them together well enough that a whole tale is told. What I should point out, however, is that I am also a person who believes that art and life should look rather a lot alike.  To that end, I almost always have loose threads at the end of a story. When the story starts people are already having lives. When it ends, the survivors will continue to have lives, though they will often be severely altered.

For me, every chapter of a novel is a short story. It's just that those short stories are connected. If the chapter doesn't move the story forward, I cut it away. Why? Mostly because I'm unbelievably wordy, and I can usually cut a few chapters of detritus without much pain.

Every scene, every chapter, every arc is part of the greater tapestry and when I am done,. nothing is completed. The main story arc is finished, but the world is likely going to move on and so are many of the characters. In the Seven forges series I have written four books and a LOTY of story arcs have been finished, but not nearly all of them. One of the main overlaying arcs, the war between Fellein and the Sa'ba Taalor, has been completed, for now. The war is done. Both sides survived and both are definitely changed by the experience. Several of the characters are virtually unrecognizable. They have changed to that level. So too the land of Fellein, which has been brutalized and broken. So too the Blasted Lands, which have been altered by the actions of gods.

No one and nothing stays the same. That's true of my story arcs, too, The war is over. For now, There are still plans for Fellein and the Sa'ba Taalor. They will involve conflicts but they may not involve a full on war. One major story arc is done. (actually, several) but more possibilities are opened n the process. if there is never another novel in the series then I have told my tale. If there are more, then life goes on and threads left discarded and dangling are once more woven into the tapestry.

I have plans for Fellein.  There are murder mysteries to solve, political battles to wage, new parts of the world to explore. Oh, so many plans.

Time will tel if I get to weave that tale, but the biggest parts of the pattern are all there for people to see, even if, as sometimes happens, those patterns are unpleasing to some.

Never leave your tales unresolved. But don't be afraid to leave a few loose strands to continue on in the tale. Just because Harry Met Sally, that doesn't mean they get together right away, It might take decades.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Long Term Series - Managing Those Big Arcs and Dangling Threads

We're to get a freeze this week, so I'm savoring these annuals and their intense color. Bittersweet to say goodbye, but I also know I love them partly because they're temporary.

And I like the cooler weather, having a fire in the fireplace and associated coziness.

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is weaving in overarching plot lines in a long-term stories, and how to keep those dangling, to-be-continued threads from dangling so much that they distract from the simpler arc of a particular book.

The thing is, you're always going to have readers (YOU PEOPLE KNOW WHO YOU ARE!) who are going to bitch complain about dangling plot threads. This is a good thing. If readers of long-term series - and we all know I'm one of them - don't come away at the end of the book hungry to find out what happens next, then the author hasn't done her job right. At the same time, there's a delicate balance between that and the cliffhanger so egregious that the reader throws that expensive eReader against the wall.

Or not even a cliffhanger, but taking TOO many books to get to some promised event. There was a famous author (*cough* LKH *cough*) who burned up so many books with her characters NEVER getting a ball that was only a day away to begin with, that I know someone who literally threw the book against the wall in rage - and gave up on the series.

#ProTip: This is BAD and not the reader reaction we want.

Now, I know I'm an offender in the "but I thought we'd get to the big conflict already" category in more than one series. Still, I'm really trying to steer clear of LKH-level offenses.

The key to managing those big arcs and keeping them from distorting the individual stories lies in both ends. The individual story arc must be complete and the overall arc should be simple.

Complete individual story arc

This is where LKH ran afoul. Each book needs to have a beginning, middle, and end. I know this is basic stuff, but stick with me. The protagonist needs to change in some way and accomplish a key goal. This goal, ideally, should be one piece in the larger arc. If all of these things happen, then the reader will feel satisfied at the end - with at least THAT story.

Simple overall arc

The simpler the overall arc, the less it distracts from the individual books. The example that springs to mind is George R.R. Martin's monster epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. The overall arc is SO complex and overriding, that the individual books are really just installments in one massive story. He's a brilliant writer, and his genius lays in the subtle weaving of this complex arc - but it's so overwhelming that there really is no complete arc in the individual books.

What say you, readers - do I have this right? I'll entertain arguments.