Monday, December 31, 2018

New Goals and the final Table of contents for THE TWISTED BOOK OF SHADOWS

First, an announcement. After literally 10 months of  reading, the final Table Of Contents for THE TWISTED BOOK OF SHADOWS is complete. 

Why so long? Because we pushed as hard as we could for diversity in this anthology. We sent the message far and wide, that this would be an OPEN SUBMISSION and asked people to help spread the word to every market imaginable. What that meant at the end of the day was that we got just at seven hundred submissions. 

Guys, that takes a while to read. 

And you'd be amazed at how many of them were just plain excellent stories. I know I was. When we asked people to send their best, apparently they listened. There were a few exceptions, but only a few. 

The submissions, by the way, were also BLIND. No names, no genders no nothing, but the stories and their titles and their word counts. 

We had to gofundme to get the money up, but we got it. Six cents a word, up to 5000 words per story. 

The Twisted Book of Shadows
Here we go, folks. Ten months. 700 stories. Profound thanks to Matt Bechtel for all of his efforts to ensure our blind submission process remained blind. James A. Moore and I could not have done this without Matt, nor would we have wanted to do it without the extraordinary help of our editorial committee, including Herculean efforts from Linda D AddisonRachel Autumn Deering, and Lee Thomas, as well as the notes and efforts of Nadia BulkinKL Pereira, and Lamar Giles.
Thank you to every single author who submitted and waited patiently as we waded through all of the stories, many of them multiple times.
Coming this year from John M. McIlveen and his Twisted Publishing (via Haverhill House Publishing)...
Without further ado, here, in alphabetical order, are the contents of THE TWISTED BOOK OF SHADOWS.
(Final Order to be Determined)
Angelmutter by David Surface
At Least the Chickens are All Right by Trisha J. Wooldridge
Beneath Her Skin by KT Wagner
Brother Mine by Rohit Sawant
Cake by MM De Voe
Coyote by Jason A. Wyckoff
Elegy by Sarah Johnson
For Every Sin an Absolution by Kristi DeMeester
Groomed by Liam Hogan
Liza by Jeffrey B. Burton
Lydia by Cindy O'Quinn
Midnight Sun by Andrew Bourelle
Mirror, Mirror by PD Cacek
Records of the Dead by John Linwood Grant
Smeared Star in Your Hands by Sara Tantlinger
The Birthing Pool by Eoin Murphy
The Pale Mouth by Melissa Monks
Underground by George Murray
Unto the Next by Amanda Helms

My New Year's resolutions? 

Lessee: Write more. 
Seriously. I spent a LOT of time doing other things this year, including working too many hours at the day job. Toward November this year I told them I could not keep working quite as many hours as they wanted. Love the job, need the time for my career. Simply because, now and then things go wrong in retail/customer service I wound up getting very behind schedule as I tried to keep up with demand on the work front and the writing front, 
I've now cut back to more reasonable hours and they'll have to stay reasonable, because as a rule I write four novels a year, and sometimes more. 
Also, I just plain have a lot of projects to work on, I have a novel due in a month or so, I really need to write that. Really. Seriously.

So with that in mind: May your New Year bring nothing but joy, prosperity and good health! Happy New Year!

James A. Moore

Added news: Happy BOOK BIRTHDAY to me! GATES OF THE DEAD comes out tomorrow, wrapping up my TIDES OF WAR series. It was a blast!

Anyone interested in meeting the author can find me at PANDEMONIUM BOOKS in Cambridge Massachusetts along with author Craig Shaw Gardner on January 10th from 7PM until 9 PM. You have been warned. 

And on the same front HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY to be and by co-author Charles R. Rutledge, for our novella, CALL UP THE DEAD, which is included in the anthology SNAFU: RESURRECTION. This is a novella with the characters GRIFFIN & PRICE, marking their fourth time in a long fiction piece of work. There will be more. :)

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Rejuvenation and Goal-Setting

The pattern of frost-filigreed wisteria vines is so lovely. The winter holidays are such a great season for rest and rejuvenation - and our weather in the high desert of New Mexico has obliged with lots of snow and freezing temperatures. All the better to keep me cozied indoors and focusing on both relaxing and giving my mind the room to mull thoughts for the coming year.

I did something a little different this year. Not on purpose, but because in those last few days before guests arrived for the holidays, I just couldn't keep my attention on work.

Instead of fighting that - I let it go.

I spent those couple of days baking, wrapping gifts - and even tandem watching schlocky Christmas movies with a long-distance friend. The upshot is I went into the actual holidays feeling rested and calm, instead of stressed. I'm going to do this every year.

In fact, front-loading rejuvenation time rather than relying on post-effort recovery time is going to be my compass concept for 2019.

The other thing that's happened is that I relaxed and rested enough that I started to get a little bored - which meant I was excited to take on some business tasks, yay! - and my mind wandered quite a bit, of its own accord, to ideas for the coming year. A big part of that is going to be reducing back log and lists.

Some of those things:

Maintain Inbox Zero

Some people can live with full email inboxes. I just can't. I tend to treat my inbox like a To Do list, which means the emails in there weigh on me as tasks that remain unfinished. Worse, emails that are more important, and thus require more effort, tend to languish in there for months, growing hopelessly stale or often forgotten entirely.

To change this up:
  • I already emptied all of my email inboxes and will start the new year with Inbox Zero
  • I will treat email with the one-touch principle - each email gets touched once and dealt with
    • to do this I will either reply immediately or
    • file emails and add any reply tasks to my To Do List instead
  • I'll also continue to check email only a couple of times each day, and then only after I get wordcount

Revivify To Do List

Related to the above, I'm going to make my running To Do List, which I keep on an Excel spreadsheet, more relevant and active. I have that same syndrome where some tasks tend to linger on it for MUCH too long, sliding from one day to the next, until they build up so much inertia from Dread & Procrastination that they feel like insurmountable obstacles.

To change this up:
  • I will minimize tasks that float for a long time by
    • distributing tasks instead of clumping (i.e., if I have a list of things to do for SFWA, I'll put them over several days or weeks instead of all on one day, then moving them as I don't finish them.
    • And if I do move a task, I'll break it up into smaller tasks, then distribute over several days
  • I'll give larger, longterm tasks a category (I already have these, like Finances, Business, Errands, etc.) and subtasks until complete
  • Everything gets this treatment, rather than having very large tasks on my list that float with no progress
Reduce TBR List

Back in 2015, I made a spreadsheet (of course I did!) of all the books in my possession that I hadn't yet read. It lists the format (digital or paper), date acquired, reason to read, etc. I add to it as I acquire new books. All the books that I had at the time I made the spreadsheet got a date of October 27-29, 2015, which were the dates I entered them. When I made the list, I had something like 280 books on it. Today I have 316 and 233 of those are from October of 2015. (To be fair, those represent YEARS, possibly DECADES of unread residency in my life.) This list can feel like a crushing unfinished task, however, so I'm resolved to deal with this backlog.

To change this up:

  • I will read one of these 233 books for every newer book I read, alternating them.
  • I'm reducing my 25% commitment (reading at least the first 25% of every book) to 10%. If I'm not wanting to continue by then, off it goes.
  • In fact, I'm going to get ruthless about this decision-making. If the book isn't making me glow with delight and LONG to keep going, then it goes. 
I've got a few other goal sets on my list - on a spreadsheet, OF COURSE! - but they feel more personal. What about you all - anything you're looking to change up this year?

Friday, December 28, 2018

Finest Holidy Cocktail: Joy

On December 15, eight panicked phone calls and two text messages told me my father had suffered a stroke and was in the hospital. Without surgery, he wouldn't survive, yet the surgeon had to wait 48 hours past the stroke before operating, or Dad would die on the operating table. Then, the day before surgery was scheduled, Dad suffered a much bigger stroke. One that brought the entire ward staff at a sprint.

At 9PM that night, they said, 'emergency surgery.' Dad's vascular surgeon raced to the hospital and shouted down that notion. We had to wait another 48 hours for the most recent stroke lesion to heal a bit. Finally, late Friday night, 12/21, Dad had his life-saving surgery.

When Mom and I went to see him in recovery, afterwards, it was very clear from his reaction that he had not expected to wake up from this one. Not ever.

On Christmas Day, ten days after the first stroke, my father walked (because the hospital couldn't find a wheelchair) out of the hospital under his own power and went home with no appreciable deficit from either stroke event.

So here's the recipe for joy:

1 part relief
2 parts gratitude
1 store bought frozen lasagna put in the oven at the parents' house because all their food went bad over the 10 day roller coaster
1 part getting to say 'I love you'

It's been a strange and miraculous season for us. No matter whether you drink alcohol, or prefer tea (call Miro Tea in Seattle and order up a few ounces of Phoenix Dan Cong), I hope your celebrations have been filled with light and love and second (or third) chances.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Holiday toast

Folks, 2018 has been quite a time.  A crazy, disheartening year in many ways, but I've made the best of it. 

So, we made it!  Raise a glass.

(For me, said glass will have a whiskey sour.  I go very simple: three parts whiskey, two parts lemon juice, one part simple syrup.  There are plenty of variations, but I don't mess with that when I make it at home.)

So keep doing good work, hold your head up, and keep your powder dry.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Ye olde holiday boozy chat

Happy happy, everybody! My family contains many Catholic people plus some Jewish, Baptist, pagan, and agnostic folk as well, so winter holidays are a mishmash of we-all-like-each-other-ness, which makes for a heckuva celebration. It does not require adult beverages, but they aren't discouraged either.

Sadly, it hasn't been cold enough here in Austin for my favorite winter cocktail -- hot cocoa, Bailey's, and mini marshmallows -- but we have made do despite. Last year we didn't cocktail but instead drank a ... well, rather a lot of this South American red wine with llamas on the label, but I couldn't find that stuff this year. (Sadness.) We tried this as an alternative:

...which turned out not to be a complete abomination. I mean, if you accept the fact that you're drinking berry juice that's just a touch bitter, it's really okay.

My preferred cocktailish drink is always whiskey sour made with Makers Mark (I'm a cheap date) or Deep Eddy Ruby Red Vodka with something fizzy like Topo Chico. When accomplished bartenders or trusted friends are in charge, I love me a good Old Fashioned.

But you know what the best holiday mix is? A cozy fire, a good board game, some people who respect each other and can behave like adults despite any differences they may have, and time set aside just for each other. Snuggled, not stirred, and served warm with a side of giggles.


Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry, Merry Christmas!

Dear Readers,

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2018

Merry Christmas!

I'm supposed to post about a favorite holiday cocktail.

I don't drink.

I LOVE hot chocolate!

Happy holidays, folks!

Merry Book Joy!

I'm supposed to post about a favorite holiday cocktail - okay, I was supposed to do it yesterday - but I'm sharing this fantastic giveaway instead. And drinking the holiday cocktails!

Hope you all are having a wonderful holiday, whatever and however you celebrate!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

My Bookish Anticipations for 2019

I tend to be a week by week person, discovering books in real time, since I do a New Releases post on my personal blog every Wednesday BUT having said that, I do have a few favorite authors with new releases scheduled in 2019 that I can look ahead to and happily anticipate:

Wolf Rain (Psy-Changeling Trinity Book 3) by Nalini Singh. I adore her world of the Psy, the Changelings and the humans. I’ll also be looking forward to the next book in her Guildhunter series because – and this is really rare for me – I have yet to read the latest novel, which came out in October 2018. I’m aware that the book has what is to me an unsatisfactory ending, a cliffhanger, and I abhor those with a wild passion, even when written by my favorite author. (I can handle Happy for Now endings though.) Usually a cliffhanger is enough to cause me to never read another book by that author but in this case, because it’s Nalini, I’m waiting and will read book 11 only when book 12 is available. I trust her to do right by the characters. I just don’t want to wait a year to have the resolution. I’d rather wait a year to read the previous book and then gobble up book 12. Shrug.

Warrior of the World (Chronicles of Dasnaria Book 3) by Jeffe Kennedy, which arrives January 8th – yay! I’ll also be excited to read the next Uncharted Realms book the second it hits my kindle. LOVE that world and any and all stories set therein.

Wild Country (World of the Others) by Anne Bishop. I’ve been hooked on the world of the Others since reading the first novel, so I’m happy the author decided to continue telling us stories set there even after finishing the original series. I wasn’t ready to leave!

Storm Cursed (A Mercy Thompson Novel Book 11) by Patricia Briggs. I never get enough Mercy Thompson stories. Or Alpha and Omega stories, set in the same world. I understand she might release a novel about the blind witch and her wolf in 2019 as well, who have appeared as supporting characters a few times so I have my fingers crossed for that.

I look forward to new books from Ilona Andrews as they are a must click immediately buy for me and I’m sure they have several 2019 titles coming…
Moving away from fantasy, Mary Balogh is my favorite Regency romance author and I hope she has a 2019 release. I enjoy spending time in her well-drawn stories, waltzing and sipping tea…

Ever since I was a little kid, I always put “And surprises…” at the end of my Christmas list, so that’s how I’ll wrap up this post – I’m looking forward to all kinds of good surprises in the form of new books by other favorite authors and new-to-me authors in 2019! My resolution: keep reading (finally found a resolution I won’t break LOL.)

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Books to look for in 2019

How is this year already almost over? I still have plenty of goals to fulfill over the next... eleven days?  So I need to keep my nose on that grindstone. 

But not before sharing a few books that I'm looking forward to in 2019!

TITANSHADEI've been excited for this debut from one of the newest in DAW's stable, Dan Stout, for some time.  1970s-esque secondary world fantasy buddy cop story with disco and 8-tracks?  YES PLEASE.  

JADE WARI thoroughly enjoyed Fonda Lee's first Green Bone Saga novel, Jade Cityand I'm very excited to see what she does next with this one.

THE SOL MAJESTICJust the other day Ferrett Steinmetz tweeted about this book about a gourmet restaurant at a remote space station and THAT IS ALL I NEED TO HEAR.  Let's have at it.

THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR:  I've been aching for a good rival-factions-from-alternate-futures time war story, and I DO NOT HAVE TIME TO WRITE IT.  So thank goodness that Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone have.  WANT.

That's just a handful of things on my radar.  (Of course, A Parliament of Bodies and Shield of the People are as well.)  Hopefully I will be getting them in my hands and getting a chance to read them.  Looking forward to it.

What 2019 books are on your radar?

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Grabby-hands about these 2019 releases

Mostly what I'm looking forward to in 2019 is it not being 2018 anymore. This was a blegh year for me all around, and I am ready to move on.

Looking at these particular things to help with that:

Anthem (video game) should have a demo ready for public consumption on February 1, 2019. I'm excited about this game because the dev studio produced Knights of the Old Republic, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and DragonAge, but somewhat less jazzed because this one is looking more combat-centered than story-centered (and also, you can't romance your NPCs the way you could in other BioWare games... booo). So, basically, it's another game chiefly for dudes who enjoy killing their friends. Because they don't have enough entertainment options already. Still, it's BioWare, and their storytelling in the past has been top-notch. I'll give it a shot.

Battle Angel (movie) is coming to theaters for Valentines: February 14, 2019. What happens when you add one part "damn, that was a fun anime," two parts badass director and producer, and cyborgs (transhumanism, for the win), and mix it all together? Dunno, but what a date movie! (pleasedon'tsuckpleasedon'tsuckpleasedon'tsuck.)  Trailer.

Avengers: Endgame (movie) is coming April 26, 2019. "Part of the journey is the end." Yes, I have some theories of how we're gonna fix that snap at the end of Infinity War. The lump is already forming in my throat. Trailer.

Game of Thrones (TV show; HBO) final season begins April, 2019. Winter has come. Let's end this. I have no hope that the book will ever get done, so watching the thing is the next best option. I'm all for Lady Lyanna Mormont taking them all out and sitting her sassy self on the throne. Bring it, Little Queen.

Stranger Things (TV show; Netflix) season 3 is supposed to come out sometime in Summer 2019. I wish they'd be a teensy bit more specific. Vacations to book and camps to register for, you know. Gotta start planning the binge early.

Star Wars: Episode IX (movie) arriving in theaters December 20, 2019. Always my princess, may they not screw up your legacy.

And books? SO MANY. But especially these two debuts:

Jen DeLuca's Well Met (preorderable now, releasing September 3, 2019), which, even though it's not SFF, is set in a Renaissance Faire, which might feel familiar to a lot of folks who live/write/breathe fantasy. Lots of fun Shakespeare jokes and kilts and  jousting and pirates and discussions of how difficult it is to breathe in a corset. I have gotten a peek at this book, and it is so lovely, you guys.

Also, Maxym Martineau's Kingdom of Exiles (releasing June 25, 2019), a fantasy romance billed as Assassin's Creed meets Fantastic Beasts. Yaaasss.

So what about you? Tell me what is guaranteed to make 2019 better than 2018.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Coming in 2019 to My TBR

With 2019 right around the corner, to which new releases am I looking forward? The list is long, so here are two that play to my sweet spot of mythology and mystery:

Gods of Jade and Shadow
The Night TigerGODS OF JADE AND SHADOW by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.
Young girl plus God of Death on a quest to get the god back on his throne. Set in 1920s Mexico and based on regional folklore. Releases in August.

THE NIGHT TIGER by Yangsze Choo
Mystery, superstition, and romance set in 1930s Malaya (Malaysia) starring a dressmaker/dancehall girl, a servant-boy, a doctor, and a severed thumb. Releases in February.

Monday, December 17, 2018

What I'm looking forward to in 2019

I'm looking forward to books. Which ones? Hell, that's like asking what my favorite color is: The answer changes depending on my mood.

Right off the top of my head, I'm looking forward to Christopher Golden's THE PANDORA ROOM. I haven't read it yet, I could. All I'd have to do is ask and Chris would hand me a copy, but I also know that no matter how much I'm looking forward to the read, I wouldn't get to it for a couple of months. Too much on my plate.

Joe Abercrombie has mentioned  that his next book A LITTLE HATRED is coming out in the UK in September of 2019. I will order a copy as soon as I can. He is on my must read list.

No cover yet. Maybe soon.

I'm looking froward to the release of GATES OF THE DEAD, ,y latest book. It's been three years in the making.

Give me ten minutes and most of those answers will be sublimated by whatever else catches my eye.

I'm looking froward to the release of Bloodlines, which is still being written by yours truly and coming out in October....

It never ends. I love that fact. 

Sunday, December 16, 2018

A Fab Year Ahead for SFF Romance!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is books we're looking forward to in 2019.

Can I just say ALL OF THEM???

Okay, I'll try to hone it down to a few. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that the final book in my Chronicles of Dasnaria trilogy, WARRIOR OF THE WORLD, will be out January 8. A fine way to kick off 2019! This trilogy has been a great ride and this will be the last in the world before the final book, which I hope to have out in spring of 2019, THE FATE OF THE TALA.

I'm also super thrilled that THE ORCHID THRONE, the first book in a totally new world, The Forgotten Empires, coming from St. Martins Press September 24, 2019. In one of those serendipitous alignments that only further proves that Grace Draven and I share a common destiny along with a lasting friendship, the second book in her Fallen Empires series (I swear we didn't plan ANY of this!), DRAGON UNLEASHED, will also release in September 2019. I wish I could share her truly gorgeous cover here, but she's revealing it Tuesday. I might come back an add it, so you all can see.

The other two fantastic authors who are also in the SEASONS OF SORCERY: FANTASY ANTHOLOGY with me have exciting releases this year, too.

Jennifer Estep is continuing her Crown of Shards trilogy, following up her delicious KILL THE QUEEN with PROTECT THE PRINCE, scheduled for release July 2 2019. No cover for that yet, but I can't wait to see it.

And Amanda Bouchet is kicking off the debut in her new series with NIGHTCHASER. She's departing from Fantasy Romance and dipping her toe into Science Fiction Romance this time. It releases January 1, 2019 and I've got it on preorder. You know how I'll be spending my New Year's Day! Can't wait to read it.

What about all of you - what are you looking forward to reading in 2019?

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Fantasy & SciFi Romance Mostly - My Favorite Reads from 2018

I read pretty voraciously when I'm not writing my own novels, so when I saw this topic, I figured I go with the books that came to mind immediately.

First is Arrows of the Heart (The Uncharted Realms Book 4)  from Jeffe Kennedy. I'm a huge fan of Jeffe's Twelve Kingdoms and then of course this follow-on series. Her blend of fantasy, adventure and romance is irresistible to me and her characters have such tremendous arcs of personal growth...

Ocean Light (Psy-Changeling Trinity Book 2) from Nalini Singh. I've loved her original Psy-Changeling series since I first discovered it and this second entry in the follow-on series was terrific, taking the action under the seas and finally giving us a look at the ocean dwelling changelings.

Grace Draven's Phoenix Unbound was amazing and compelling...

I've been snatching up Martha Wells' Murderbot series as soon as each new book was released. I totally love the central character and the endless rapid-fire choices they have to make...

Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone isn't in any genre I normally read, but I saw so many people raving about it on twitter and the premise was highly intriguing that I HAD to read it. Once I finished the first page, I was hooked and read it in one sitting and then reread it. Wow. Edge of the seat stuff, a taut thriller and you're definitely rooting for Jane all the way.

So where's the science fiction romance, you ask? Since that's my own genre and I write about it literally all the time for various platforms, I'm loathe to single out just one or two books here. I have many favorite SFR authors and read every book they release, often in long running, terrific series...but okay, here are a few new ones from 2018 that fly into my mind, in no particular order. (The librarian in my mind doesn't alphabetize or use a Dewey Decimal System LOL.):

Undying and Claimed by an Alien Warrior from Tiffany Roberts...
Champion (Prison Planet Book 3) by Emmy Chandler...
Unit 77: Broken (CyBRG Files Book 1) by Mina Carter and Evangeline Anderson...
Dark Strength (Refuge Book 3) by Cynthia Sax...
Guardian (Galactic Gladiators Book 9) and Cyborg (Galactic Gladiators Book 10) by Anna Hackett...
Taming Chaos (Dark Star Mercenaries Book 1) by Anna Carven...
Breakaway (Verdant String Book 1) by Michelle Diener...
Edge of Insanity (The Alliance Book 6) by SE Smith...
Cyborg by Miranda Martin...
Lost Valyr (Project Enterprise 7) by Pauline Baird Jones...
Barbarian's Beloved (Ice Planet Barbarian 18) by Ruby Dixon...


Friday, December 14, 2018

Favorite Reads of 2018

Favorite Books of 2018?

Book Cover for A Study in Scarlet Women
Book One of the Lady Sherlock Series

Elementary, my dear Watson.

It is no mystery which books I most enjoyed reading in 2018. It's all three books of a trilogy by Sherry Thomas. Yes. The first book came out two years ago. It simply took me a bit to get through my TBR pile. I'm glad I did. Charlotte Holmes is the youngest of four daughters and a little peculiar into the bargain. She has a fondness for cakes and an incredible mind for nuance and detail. She is also possessed of a keen notion of what she does and does not mean to accept from the lot in life prescribed to her both by her parents and by society's expectations. She devices a plan to thwart any notion to marry her off and finds there is a desperate price to pay.

In the company of Mrs. Watson, a widowed former actress, Charlotte begins unraveling mysteries - mostly for other young ladies of society. Word gets out, of course, about Charlotte's desperately ill (and fictional) brother Sherlock whose stunning intellect can solve a mystery merely from hearing it recounted by his devoted 'sister'. Still. Some secrets cannot stay secret forever and success comes with its own risks. A few of those might be fatal.

The books are beautifully written. The characters are wonderfully drawn. I love that Charlotte isn't neurotypical. Without a set of ironclad ethics, she'd be a serial killer in a skirt and it's a joy to be in her head staring at that line.

Fair warning. These books are not romances, but they are lush and rich. Well worth reading.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Four books I loved in 2018

2018 was a weird year for me personally, and my reading habits reflect that. For the first time in a long time, I read books I just plain wanted to read -- not for market research or contest judging or what-have-you, but merely because I knew this particular thing was going to engage my brain and remove me from real life for a little while. And by and large, my selections did just that. These ones especially:

The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas. I have loved all of Thomas's Lady Sherlock books, but this
one especially rocked. Charlotte Holmes protags in this gloriously feminist in-your-face-Victorian-England way, and I dig it so hard. In my estimation, she is the awesomest Sherlock ever. Fight me, Cumberbatch fans.

The Jane Hawk series by Dean Koontz, starting with The Silent Corner. I binge-read through this series and then pre-ordered the new one coming in May 2019. Jane Hawk y'all. Fear her. But also respect her.

Brief Answers to the Big Questions by Stephen Hawking. If popular science is your happy thing, this one won't disappoint. Also, the framing -- the book was published posthumously and has a long foreword by a colleague and an epilogue by Hawking's daughter, Lucy--is unexpectedly poignant.

And finally, John Scalzi's second Interdependency book, The Consuming Fire. Gotta confess I had two problems with this read: first, there's a lot of discussion of horrible people doing horrible things to each other, which is not my thing and frustrated me (horribly?); second, someone needs to, as Gwynne Jackson puts it, "de-fuck" this book. Seriously, the swearing is off the charts, and I am not in the least bit a prude when it comes to salty language. So, those two things might have caused some face-palming, but the story is strong and when the actual heroic characters get their hero on, they are such a pleasure to read. Plus, I won't spoil anything, but Scalzi threw some of my all-time-favorite tropes in here, and I luff them they are my own my precious. So yes, I enjoyed this book.

What about you? You got a 2018 read that we should all read?

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Most Memorable Book Read in 2018: THE HOUR OF MEETING EVIL SPIRITS

This week, we're chatting up our Most Memorable Book(s) of 2018. Of late, I've been challenging myself to learn more folklore, myths, and legends from around the world. Combine that with my envy of appreciation for talented illustrators, and it's little wonder that the book that stuck in my brain is one part art book and one part reference book of Japanse Folklore.

An Encyclopedia of Mononoke and Magic (Yokai Book 2)
by Matthew Meyer (

Want to learn about Tesso the Iron Rat?

How about the ghosts of vengeance known as the Goryō?

While Meyer has a lot of the content from this book and the first in the series up on his website, it is totally worth owning the paperback.

Here's an example of his illustrations...


TRANSLATION: living ghost
ALTERNATE NAMES: shōryō, seirei, ikisudama
HABITAT: inhabited areas
DIET: none; lives off its owner’s emotions


Sunday, December 9, 2018


Due to a desperate case of GOTTA FINISH THIS BOOK OR MY EDITOR WILL KILL ME I do not have a post for you today.

Apologies. Bills gotta get paid.


Friday, December 7, 2018

Screwing with Your Characters' Heads

Apologies for a slightly tardy post. The entire development lost internet and the ISP spent the bulk of the day and night setting that straight. I hesitate to say much more lest this brief window of stability shatter.

Sex in my novels. Yes. I do write sex into most of my novels. The intensity varies based on the needs of the characters and their stories. So far my sex scenes swing from sweet to just shy of erotica.

As to when and how I use sex scenes, my intent when I write them is usually to mark passing a trust milestone for hero and heroine. But. When I look back at the scenes I've written, they almost always slant into being a means of prying up the edges of my characters' defenses in ways they never imagined or intended, especially in the SFRs. I like a lot of action in my stories. I'm all about the good guys being chased by bad guys with guns. Into that action, a lull must come. A tiny space suspended between conflicts where two people who've been forced to learn to work together while battling insurmountable odds can finally explore the physical attraction that's brewed throughout the story. Yes. In the SFRs I make them wait. Mainly because most of those books are enemy to lovers stories and building trust to the point of a sex scene not being forced takes a little time. Still. In each of those sex scenes, there's a power dynamic in play and that enemy to lovers energy is never far from the surface. It's because when something like sex, intimacy, and vulnerability break a character open, it's the perfect lead in to shattering the trust that's been built. It's the perfect time to force these two changed characters back into the enemy roll they'd once fit into so easily - only now it pinches in the worst way. So yes. If my characters are gonna get it on, I'm going to use it to fuck with their heads and their hearts. Always.

In the urban fantasy books, sex is a means of establishing control. It's a little more graphic, but, I hope, not rape-y. The heroine absolutely buys into the activity and gives enthusiastic consent, but she's also possessed by a demon who's tried using sex to debase and humiliate her. Isa manages to turn the tables on him. When the demon possessing you doesn't consent to sex but you do, what is that?? Regardless, the point of that scene was to complicate relationships and up emotional stakes for all three characters involved.

So sex scenes. When? When the characters and the story need them. When a sex scene would enhance or heighten conflict or increase stakes. How graphic? Depends entirely on the needs of the story. I know we all keep saying that. But everything that isn't sex scene in your story has a specific tone that dictates what you can and cannot get away with in sex scenes. If you read widely, you very likely already recognize this. How does it change my characters? Sex scenes usually break my people open. They demonstrate both to the reader and to the characters that they've passed a threshold and can't go back to what they once were.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Fade to Black

So, it's time for those end-of-the-year lists, and one of the classics is the Bad Sex Award, and this year it's some really glorious badness.  Looking at these ignoble entries, I'm reminded of why I tend to err on the side of "fading to black" when things are going to go much past kissing. 

Of course, anything resembling erotica or explicit sex would not fit in with the tone I've set for the Maradaine books.  Those tend to fit in the same category as PG-13 movies/primetime television, in terms of what I'm going for with them.  Not quite YA, but certainly friendly to a YA-seeking audience. 

BUT-- I've got a non-Maradaine project on the horizon, just in the planning stage, and I think the tone and feel for that one is going to want something a bit more explicit.  We'll see.  Still sorting it out, but I'd like to think this is an opportunity to build a new set of tools for my writing toolbox.

Or an opportunity to make that year's awards. 

But that's a challenge for tomorrow.  Right now I'm working on Shield of the People and The Fenmere Jobboth of which will have their share of kissing and fading-to-black.  Who's kissing who, and when do we fade?  Well, you'll have to see.  But I will say that characters who were noted by some readers as not getting to kiss anyone in earlier books will be kissing people in these.

Back to work.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Sex or violence? Sex definitely. And a free read.

The way I see it, if character arc is something you're shooting for, you have to strip your character down and leave them excruciatingly vulnerable at least once. You can, of course, do that by lobbing cruelties at them. Or you can hook them up.

Now, I don't mind a bit of gore in a book, but I way prefer sex. Writing sex is funner than writing violence, and reading it certainly is.

So my Q&A for this week's topic goes as follows:

Sex in your novels...

1. When do you use it?

When I need the character to be vulnerable, to trust, or to protag (*).

2. How graphic do you get?

It sort of depends on the audience. I've written sweet, euphemistic sex, a smooch and a closed door, balls-deep wildthing sex, and a 12,000-word bondage menage. Each was appropriate for the publisher's line or anthology or market. I build the characters around the required heat level. For instance, I wrote two short stories for Circlet Press(**) anthologies, and those shorts use all the words and body parts. (Man, were they fun.) Wanted & Wired got some extra skin time in revisions, to lean it further into the romance market. So, how graphic do I get, in general? About as graphic as readers can stand.

3. How does it change your character?

Um... a lot? I mean, to be readable, it sort of has to. Nobody wants to read an ending and then a tacked-on gratuitous bang. We want all the bangs to be part of the story, either building or breaking a character or a relationship. So, I guess the characters change by being either built or broken.

Finally, if you've read all the way through my advice-giving and authority-pretending, you deserve a cookie. How about a free read cookie? Here's a link to my very explicit but also romantic epic fantasy quest erotica story, "Orin's Strand." It's only 8k words. You have time.


* Having your character make decisions, have agency, and be proactive (i.e., "protagging") is crucial in a story. Books about people reacting to everything aren't fun. So if you write sex to get your character vulnerable, you must deal with consent. If you're creating vulnerability through cruelty, sex without consent is an option. And it's a gross one, and I don't want to read that book. If you're creating vulnerability through trust, bring on the sex and the enthusiastic consent. If you click that link for my free read, you'll get a better idea of what I mean by protagging through sex.

** Circlet Press is a speculative fiction erotica publisher run by the amazing Cecilia Tan. Circlet was supportive of LGBTQ stories before the rest of the world caught on, and publishing with them has been a lovely experience. You don't need an agent to submit there, so if you're just starting out and looking to make contacts and hone your skills--not necessarily to make a lot of money--I recommend looking into them. If you're searching for some top-quality erotica to read, they're also a fantastic source.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Sex in Fiction: Don't Confuse Intimacy w Tab Placement

Let's talk about sex, baby.

 ~Waits for the earworm to take root~

In fiction, much like real life, sex typically happens as an evolution of romance, a demonstration of power, an act of manipulation, or an emotional balm. Whether the sex is graphically detailed, faded to black, or a two-sentence spurt depends on myriad factors rolling around the author's head.

For my books, sex of any flavor comes down to whether it suits the character in "this" moment of their story. It's entirely possible that where the reader enters the character's life does not coincide with a sexually active time for the character. Sex shouldn't be shoehorned into a story any more than it should be actively avoided. Similarly, don't confuse intimacy with sliding Tab A into Slot B. Sex isn't a foregone conclusion in every intimate relationship, nor does sex require there to be a healthy relationship before/during/after it happens. However, unlike real life, sex in a novel needs to serve a purpose, to "show" something about a character and that character's relationship to their world.

When it comes to my protags, a critical part of their character development involves establishing and managing intimacy. Whether that intimacy leads to romance or to uncommon friendship depends on the protag. Since I write series rather than stand-alones, building intimacy takes place over multiple books. The question of sexual desire is answered fairly early. If sex is in the protag's future, then, sure, flirting happens. Sure, there will be caresses when merited. A toe-curling kiss may happen in book 3, but that's no guarantee that beds will be breaking in book 4.

In my High Fantasy series, my protagonist understands the primal drive of intercourse, but she views the act with something close to disdain or contempt. Her history is rife with copulation equating to manipulation or worse. She's not the sort of gal for whom sex is the ultimate demonstration of a soul-deep connection. The only sex described in detail in that series is when the protag happens upon others in the throes.

In my Urban Fantasy series, my protag is hardly sex-averse, but her focus isn't on getting laid. Her last two girlfriends ended up maimed by greater powers, so she's not keen to put someone else on the chopping block. However, there is a romance (re)building between her and another series regular. Crafting that intimacy takes priority over the boinking. Yes, I do hear from readers that "the story was good, but I want sex in my UF books and this didn't have any so I won't continue with the series." That's cool. There's a good chunk of the UF genre that offers high-octane sexual experiences. No harm, no foul. Hell, I'll offer recommendations.

Since I don't write romances (well, not that I've published) a romantic plotline is not the primary plotline; therefore, I can't have sex detract from nor dictate the main plot. The quest for intimacy, on the other hand, provides motivation for the protag. It is integral to the story. And that, I lay out in great detail.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Serving Sex: Only if it makes a difference.

Okay so I was raised in a household where sex was something that happened but was not widely discussed. Not exactly prudish, we certainly had conversations, but most of them were of the Birds and the Bees nature.

One of the very first things I heard with any regularity in the writing field was simply that sex sells. Cool beans and more power to you, but I decided early on that unless the scene mattered tot he story, I probably wasn't gong to mention it,

Most of my dirty scenes are a couple of sentences long.

Which rather amuses me. I happen to be extremely fond of sex. I make mention of it with regularity in my writings. But you know what? I also mention that sometimes characters have to pee.

It's a biological function and I will mention it. But unless the sex A) pushes the story forward, B) has a serious impact on the story or C) proves something I don't find a need to go into details.

Examples: In UNDER THE OVERTREE a character is raped. I mention that she was raped. I deal with the consequences of the situation. I felt no need to write a seen to titilate, so I didn't. As far as I'm concerned rape is an act of violence and shouldn't be used to stimulate anyone. There are consequences to the action and they are far ranging.

In BLOOD RED one of the main characters is literally paid as a prostitute to seduce every member of the religious clergy she can get in contact with. She does an excellent job. It isn't as thanks for all the good deeds. it's set up by a vampire who wants to generate as many crisis of faith as he can in order to weaken the religious faith in the community. She is rather successful in causing multiple crisis of faith. Completely unaware as to why she has been hired and not willing to ruin the cash flow coming her way the character never examines the reasons, but she DOES discover that seducing the people who should be above seduction is a powerful rush.  There are a few MODERATELY descriptive scenes. There are a few VERY descriptive sex scenes I have more sexual actions in this book than in anything else Ive ever written because they are pertinent to the story.

In SEVEN FORGES one of the male characters runs after Swech, a foreigner that he is watching over, in order t make sure that she is not sexually assaulted when she heads for the wrong part of town. What he finds when he chases after her is that Swech is capable of defending herself. She either maims or kills the six men that decide she would make an excellent victim. They are very mistaken in their beliefs.

Swech later "seduces" Merros, the man who went to save her. By seduce, what I mean is she basically jumps his bnes. Not that he's objecting. the entire purpose of these scenes is to make certain that A) Merros sees Swech first and foremost as a warrior and at the every least an equal. And second to show the very strong differences in cultures. Merros comes from a place where the only women who sleep with a man when unmarried are either foolish or prostitutes. Swech comes from a place where, if both parties agree, sex happens. Should pregnancy occur it's the will of the gods and deemed perfectly acceptable. The sex is mentioned. it is not something that is graphically described aside from the fact that Merros admires her shape a few times.

The lack of description has more to do with the fact that I likely will never be able to put into words the complex situations that happen between and man and a woman, and from the simple notion that sometimes less is more. I can describe a sexual act in detail. I can also describe a violent beheading in detail. I rarely feel the need to go far with either event.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Sex: Always, Extremely, and Profoundly

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "Sex in Your Novels: When Do You Use It, How Graphic Do You Get, How Does It Change Your Character(s)?"

I answered the question in my post title, so I guess I'm done and go finish trimming the tree!

All right, seriously, I suspect I'm fairly well known for writing the sexytimes into my stories. I sometimes teach classes in Sexual Tension and Sex as a Tool for Character Transformation. I think I've written maybe one or two fiction works with zero sex. Some of this is because my readers expect the sexytimes from me, sure, but it's also because sex just always works its way into my stories.

For me, sex is a profound part of the human experience - and it's also a way to pry open the characters. During sex, we are vulnerable in a way that we aren't in any other facet of life. We reveal our intimate faces to another, and the emotional stakes can be extreme. Sex is a way of connecting with another person, and it's also a way of showing where that character is in their emotional journey.

When Do You Use It

This varies from story to story, depending on the characters, but very often the act of full intercourse happens at a moment of intense emotional crisis. I'm using THE SNOWS OF WINDROVEN as an example, in part because this is a midwinter holiday story, so appropriate for the season. It takes place during the Feast of Moranu, my fictional solstice celebration in my Twelve Kingdoms world. The hero, Ash, is struggling with his own feelings of inadequacy - and that he feels unworthy of the love of his life, Ami. His consuming passion for Ami is a drive nearly beyond his control, so when he lets go and allows himself to have sex with her are emotionally charged moments.

“No,” she said miserably, face pressed into my chest. “You’re right. It was thoughtless of me. I just…” She let out a long breath. 
“What?” I urged. When she stubbornly shook her head, I levered the hand between us to lift her chin. Her eyes huge in her face, she looked fragile and vulnerable. Heartbreakingly beautiful. “Tell me, my sun.” 
“I just really miss you,” she whispered. “I miss us, how we used to be.” 
I groaned, losing everything to her, as I’d done all along—even before I ever knew her. And I was kissing her, lush mouth soft and sweet under mine, then parting and taking me into her heat. I devoured her, frustrated that I could only hold her with one hand, but using that to cup her head and hold her still so I could drink her in. I’d been starved for the taste of her, for the silk of her hair between my fingers and the delicate curve of her skull in my palm.

How Graphic Do You Get

I'm really not sure where I fall on the graphic scale. I write detailed sex scenes, but I also use euphemisms and focus on the feelings and sensations, rather than meticulously detailed blow-by-blow descriptions.

(explicit below)

My Ami might look angelic, but she possessed an uncanny mastery of the sensual skills. Another gift from the goddess of love. I slowed, stroking into her and savoring the way she enveloped me, so warm, an embrace like coming home. She watched me now through slitted lids, blue burning through the lace of fire, her moans like purrs. I bent over her, taking her nipple in my teeth and flicking my tongue that way that drove her crazy. She grabbed my head, bringing my mouth to hers, sucking my tongue in and biting hard enough to draw blood. 
I snarled, losing what little gentleness I’d been able to muster. Holding her in place, pounding into her, my vision blurred into a red haze. A whirl of jeweled stars exploded in my brain, and with a shout of near agony, I wrenched my mouth from hers, sinking my teeth into the vulnerable curve of her neck. The climax vised through me, a rumbling thunder of need that rattled and rocked me.  
Holding onto her like a drowning man, I dropped into oblivion.

How Does It Change Your Characters

Obviously this changes with the character, depending on what's going on with them. But I do believe that every sex scene should have some sort of personal fallout for the characters. Sometimes they might go right back into whatever cycle they're bound up in. Other times they might finally let go of something that's been holding them back.

In the case of this particular scene, he immediately retreats to that same prison he's made for himself.
The pain in my arm finally made me move. Trapped between us, the still-bruised flesh and knitting bones protested being pinned. Reality crashed back with it. I’d fucked the Queen of Avonlidgh on the grand table in the main hall of Windroven. An abysmally bad decision, even for me. 
As if there’d been any thinking involved.

But later
“It’s not so easy as that.” 
“It is that easy, Ash.” She framed my face with her hands. “Just let me love you. Let yourself love me and everything else will fall into place.” 
“Love doesn’t solve everything.” 
“No.” She kissed me. “But it makes everything worthwhile.” 
I sank into her, into the kiss and into the silken sweetness of her embrace. In the soft light of morning, I let myself love her as she’d asked, showing her with caresses and all the rawness in me, how very worthwhile that could be. 

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Picture Books and Regency Romances - My Favorite Holiday Books

I have to take this week's topic of favorite holiday books from two standpoints - favorite picture books we used to read every year when the children were little - and Regency romance, which is my personal FAVORITE ever holiday genre. Give me that snowy inn or the big house party at the Duke's estate (any Duke but he must waltz)!

Picture books first. The one that comes to my mind immediately when this topic is raised would be The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett. Her books are marvelous, with all these intricate details in the illustrations, plus the main character in this holiday book is a girl, which my daughters especially loved. I still have my collection of Jan Brett books and when she has a new one released I BUY IT.

Second would be Tosca's Christmas by Anne Mortimer, who does wonderful cat illustrations, and Matthew Sturgis. We're cat people in my family and this tale is holiday fun.

Third would be Angelina's Christmas by Katharine Holabird and Helen Craig (illustrator). We had the entire Angelina Ballerina series but this one is a December favorite.

For myself, my single most favorite Regency Christmas story IN THE WORLD is The Best Gift by Mary Balogh. The story of Jane, a single teacher at a girls' school, who has no family, and goes to chaperone one of her students over the holidays. There's a Viscount rather than a Duke but he waltzes and I just love this story.

My second favorite is The Porcelain Madonna, also by Mary Balogh. There is no waltzing but there's a lovely story...

And my third favorite is The Best Husband Money Can Buy by Mary Jo Putney.  I love everything about that one, but especially the idea of the huge family gathering annually for their Christmas celebration...always room for another couple. And waltzing. Plus the story of how the heroine became rich is based on a real, heart warming episode...

And last, The Wise Virgin from Jo Beverley, which is more of a medieval tale but I like it...

Best Wishes for a very Happy Holiday season!


Friday, November 30, 2018

Favorite Holiday Reads

This book has already been mentioned. In fact, I think I bring it up every single time we do the holiday book thing. Here it is again, with good reason. It's my favorite. Has been for decades now. The story is aces. The art is utterly haunting - even though it's cartoon water color, it's vivid and fluid and alive. You feel like you're actually striding the strawberry fields. It doesn't matter how often I read the book, I end up on the emotional roller coaster of the story whether I mean to or not.

So sure. It's a silly little holiday book. A trifle. A book for kids and for kids at heart. And if you read it to one of your favorite kids, the art and the story will stick with you for days and days. Maybe for the entire year until the next time you read it to someone. Or have it read to you.

If you're of a certain age, you recall exactly what it was like to go see E.T. in the movie theater for the first time and to expose yourself to the master emotional manipulation that defines that movie. Red Ranger Came Calling is the watercolor and blue haze of swear words hanging over the fields and frightening the rabbits version. It's sublime emotional manipulation. 

To my mind, that makes it Art. Fight me. Just remember. I have back up.
Photo credit: Faye Heath