Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Release Day: The Burned Spy by @KAKrantz

Tooting my own horn today as I release the first book in my new Immortal Spy Urban Fantasy Series.

Gods. Always ready to screw you.

When Bix the Gatekeeper is summoned from exile a hundred and seventy years early by the goddess of the Norse Under World, the former Dark Ops agent knows there’s a catch. On the surface, the terms of the deal are simple. Someone attacked the pantheon’s ambassador to the Mid Worlds and left the ambassador in a coma. In exchange for early parole, Bix must identify the perpetrator and drag their soul to Hel.

It’d be a sweet contract, if not for the details. The ambassador is Bix’s ex-girlfriend, the lead suspect is the key witness from Bix’s trial, and the organization leading the official investigation is the same intelligence guild that disavowed Bix when a covert op went pear-shaped. Undeterred, Bix returns to her old stomping grounds where clues in the smoldering woods of Centralia, Pennsylvania, lead to the waterfront of Washington, DC, and Worlds beyond.

Once valued for her skills creating passageways as small as a capillary or as large as a continent, Bix’s success now depends on the relationships she was forced to abandon. As she squares off against friends who betrayed her and enemies keen to destroy her, Bix follows a trail of secrets, torture, and treason that leads to the very superpowers who banished her. With her freedom on the line and revenge within reach, this highly-trained operative will take on Fates, dragons, angels, and gods to get exactly what she wants.

Hel hath no fury like a burned spy.

Buy It Now in eBook & Paperback: Amazon | iBooks | Kobo | B&N

Monday, January 29, 2018

What's not to Love?

The Unreliable Narrator. That wonderful voice that  tells us what is going on, tells us what has happened and leads us down a rocky path to dubious revelation.

I love that voice. It's a keystone of horror stories and novels.

Poe used that sort of narration in The Tell-Tale Heart to great advantage. Madness tinges the words and leaves the reader wondering what is real and what is not. It's delightful!

I've done several stories with that sort of narration and they are among some of my favorites.  In the right hands it's a wonderful reading experience. In the wrong hands, well, what's true about writers everywhere is true here. If the writing is bad, the story will not work well.

it's certainly something to consider if you intend to write for the Twisted Book Of Shadows, edited by yours truly and Christopher Golden, The guidelines are coming in a couple of days.

Two days until the submission window opens for The Twisted Book of Shadows. Submission info will go live on Wednesday night on the Facebook page. PLEASE share to any and all writers and writers' groups with an interest in horror, but ESPECIALLY to marginalized voices. We want the best horror stories we can find, and that means from everyone. Wherever you fall on any spectrum of race, sexuality, sex, gender, age, or ability, if you have a horror story to tell, we hope you'll submit to The Twisted Book of Shadows.

More information soon!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Unreliable Narrator - Love or Hate?

Another photo from Meow Wolf. Nnedi Okorafor and I fell in love with this crazy kitchen and had to photograph each other in it. One of the most fun aspects of this "immersive experience" is not only being able to touch and enter the exhibit, but in a way to become part of it as well. I felt like part of this kitchen and wanted to seem like it, too.

Art of all mediums is interesting in the way it interfaces with reality. It's impossible to recreate reality in art - and maybe not even desirable to do so - but art necessarily reflects and at best deepens our understanding of the real world. Our topic this week is the unreliable narrator - whether we love them, hate them, write them or avoid them.

An unreliable narrator is a point-of-view (POV) character - or characters who delude themselves in some way and thus misdirect the reader. They almost always occur in first-person or deep third-person POVs, though I've read one book where the omniscient narrator turned out at the very end to be deeply unreliable, making the reader realize the entire story was slanted - which was a terrific twist. Recent examples of unreliable narrators are the heroine of The Girl on the Train, who is drunk and emotionally traumatized, with memory gaps, or Gone Girl, where both POV characters are hiding who they really are and keeping secrets from the reader.

Me, I love an unreliable narrator. In fact, I'd make the case that all of my POV characters are unreliable, because I think human beings cannot escape being subjective about their experience in the world. There's no such thing as objective reality. A character will always interpret the world according to their own emotional landscape - which includes denial of some truths about themselves.

Reading a story with an unreliable narrator requires the reader pay close attention, because you can't just believe what the characters tell you. You have to be alert to subtle cues. I love reading an unreliable narrator in the same way I enjoy solving puzzles. I like writing them, too, though I've been sometimes accused of inconsistent characterization by those who don't understand that my characters are sometimes lying to themselves.

Now, a close friend of mine - and one of my critique partners - hates unreliable narrators. She wants to know what's real and what isn't, with very little tolerance for the gray areas.

What all do you think - love or hate an unreliable narrator? Any great examples?

Saturday, January 27, 2018

What Really Matters When Balancing Your Life?

This week’s topic is how we maintain work/life balance…or whether or not you have a standing desk, a treadmill desk, believe in “butt in chair” or some other mantra. Hmmm, plenty of room there to write a post!

On the micro level, I sit at my writing desk, which is actually my great grandmother’s desk, a fact which pleases me for the continuity. I don’t think she wrote anything other than her own diary (which I’ve never seen – who knows if it even exists but didn’t every woman of her time keep some sort of journal?). My grandmother used the desk for her correspondence and I believe may have written some poetry. Then the desk came to me and I bang out science fiction romance and ancient Egyptian paranormal romance and probably both ladies would clutch their pearls at some of my scenes, but I believe they’d be supportive.

I sit in a cheap Amazon ergonomic chair at the moment, and before that had a cheap Walmart ergonomic chair that was actually better than the extremely elaborate and price-y ergo chair NASA/JPL provided me at the old day job. I used my Walmart chair until it literally fell apart after about eight years. (To be fair to the JPL chair, it had too many levers and controls that I could never figure out. It was probably extremely ergonomic if I’d ever mastered the amenities.)

I (mostly) write for a timed thirty two minute stint and then I get up and walk around, do housework or other activity on my feet for at least ten minutes before resuming my place at the desk. Why that exact time frame, you ask? Well, I used to do forty two minutes but that was too long to sit in this one spot, and thirty minutes feels too short. Go figure! Ten minutes of activity isn’t long enough to kill my creativity if I’m doing well. If I’m in the flow of writing, I never even hear the timer and I just keep writing until I realize my whole body has gotten cramped and stiff.  Forget time limits!
I have a trackball mouse, wrist braces if needed for a bad week, a lower back support and an ergonomic foot rest.

I try to walk a certain number of steps every day and to avoid sugar. Don’t ask me how I do on those goals.

And a cat to supervise my writing. Did I mention Jake?

I TRY to write at least a little bit every day, but most days I can do 2-3K words. Yes, I spend too much time on social media.

On the macro level, two events defined my approach to work/life balance, which that life is too short to waste on things I don’t enjoy or which are stressful, and that life can end at literally any moment so be sure you’re getting the things done you really care about. My family is the most important thing to me and if they need me, I’m there. And of course one has to take the trash out, go to the dentist, have a mammogram, go to the day job to support themselves and their family (before I became a fulltime author)…but life is TOO SHORT to waste forcing myself to finish reading books I’m not into, watching movies or TV shows I’m not into, cleaning the oven, taking on thankless jobs because someone expects me to do so…etc etc etc.

What gave me this attitude? I’ve talked about both things before but briefly, one evening after work my husband went out for a bike ride with his best friend and ten minutes later the neighbors were at my door to tell me there’d been a terrible accident. An athlete and former Marine, he died in the prime of life, in his mid thirties. Our children were 3 and 5. And he was literally hit by a truck, so I don't take that phrase lightly. It happens.

Second, one morning while attending a business conference I came within about 60 seconds of dying (according to the doctors), after choking on food and passing out. Only the fact that I was able to pantomime the Heimlich Maneuver to the co-worker who was at the table with me in the seconds before I lost consciousness saved my life. And the fact he was a big strong guy, who persisted in doing the maneuver fourteen times before the obstruction came loose and my brain got oxygen again. Approximately 5000 people a year die in similar incidents. I would have been done, gone, no more time to write another word or more importantly, to hug my kids.

So when it comes to your allotted time on this Earth there are no guarantees, no promises, perhaps no chance for a few last acts or even words….

I may sound cynical here but I’ve had the experiences to support what I’m saying. It may be an uncomfortable thought and everyone expects to peacefully pass away in their sleep at 105, so they feel there’s plenty of time….

Don’t waste your life on things that don’t matter to you, okay?

NOTE: Photos are Author's own or purchased from DepositPhotos

Friday, January 26, 2018

Balance: The Involuntary Standing Desk

I have a standing desk. My standing desk has a chair. As you can see by the photo at right, whether I sit or stand is not at all up to me. This means that any notion of balancing anything is dictated by my furry masters. 

That probably sounds wrong.

Balance is such a personal thing. Most people with day jobs have to worry about work/life balance. Writers have a set of unique balance requirements in that we have to look after our brains as much (or more in some cases) as we look after our bodies. We're asking a whole bunch of our minds while we live inside our stories and attempt to imbue our characters with emotions we usually evoke in ourselves to some extent as we put them on paper.

Reading books written for laymen by brain scientists has been a thing recently and one of the fun concepts is that emotion in the body defines reality for the brain which subsequently releases chemicals in response to that emotion. Do you get angry remembering how that twit in the blue car cut you off in traffic? If I've understood the biology correctly, the brain scientists are saying that you brain and body can't tell that your anger is about the past. You're angry now. Therefore there's a threat now. Have some adrenaline and a few stress hormones to go with it. Now your body is reacting physically to a threat that's not even present. We all do this. I get that. But writers and actors do it as a living. And writers and actors need to know there's a need to purge the accumulated emotional and chemical baggage. 

Exercise, meditation, changing up and tuning our energy systems - whatever that means to you - they're all tools in the box. Getting out and away - seeing or doing something new, those can also be useful balancers. Sure. I get up at 5AM every day to meditate and do an hour of yoga. It's the single biggest predictor of whether I'll make my word count goal for the day or not. In no way do I recommend it to anyone else. You have to do you. 

I used to think I had to get up at 4AM on a consistent basis in order to make life work. I hated everyone and everything, including myself. All those years I thought I had mental illness and I had to take all those psychoactive medications to function. Turns out it was a major body clock issue. When I finally refused to get up at 4AM anymore, I was cured. So if I have any advice at all to offer here it would be this: Don't fuck with your body clock. Yes. You can train yourself to get up earlier, but if you notice you're getting and staying depressed? Back off. There's only so much play in your body's preferred sleep/wake cycle and a definite mounting cost the farther you deviate from it.

I strongly suspect that balance, like every aspect of health, is something you pursue but never quite catch. It's a work in progress and all any of us can do is keep trying.

Which, according to Hatshepsut, I will do standing.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Balancing Health While Writing

If you've been following me for any length of time, you know that January is a hard time on me, health-wise.  January in Austin is when the cedar pollen starts up, and that always does a number on me.  One year it hit me so hard, I had vertigo for a week. 

Of course, this sort of thing affects creativity, affects the work.  I try not to let it too much, and it does become a matter of powering through and just getting it done.  Which I've been making a point of doing, even if right now I'm highly medicated and a little out of it.  The point is I need to focus on the work, I need to get it done, because... well, not doing it is worse for me, emotionally.  A few days without writing or other creative work, and I get very testy.  That was the worst part of that vertigo bout-- I literally couldn't work. Eyes couldn't focus.  I couldn't do much of anything but lie in bed and watch West Wing.  It was terrible.

So thus I stay highly medicated right now to avoid that.  And keep working.  Which I've been doing: manuscript delivered to my editor this week.  Now onto the next things.

There's always the next things.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

In All Things, Balance

Balancing writing with physical and emotional health...well, that's not a subject about which I can claim any expertise. When it comes to "emotional health," my marbles may be dinged and a few have chips, but, for the most part, they stay in their jar. I'm nowhere close to achieving the "physical health" part of the trifecta. I mean, I've a pretty good idea what I ought to be doing to arrest the dreaded "writer's spread" and stop the "chin-per-chapter" growth. Getting off my ass would be one sure-fire way. Alas, I don't have the grace of Jeffe to be able to walk and chew gum, so a treadmill desk is out of the question. Oh, who am I kidding? My list of excuses is longer than an epic fantasy box-set.

I have my weird, but it doesn't impede my writing.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Butt in chair, hands on keyboard works for me.

I have a day job. I'm on my feet an average if at least five hours a day. When I'm done with that, I write, I write by sitting my fanny in a seat and tapping away at the keys. I also make sure to turn off the internet if it's getting to distracting.

I have over 40 novels in print. I got them by sitting the hell down and writing, then repeating as necessary.

That's just me. You do you.

But get the writing done or no whining.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Why I'm Against Butt-in-Chair, Hands-on-Keyboard

I caught Isabel mid-yawn on this one. What I get for disturbing the cozy winter's nap with my photo-taking. She - like all cats - is the poster child for this week's topic, which is balancing writing with physical and emotional health.

There's a catchphrase that writers like to pass around, about maintaining productivity: BICHOK, or Butt-in-Chair, Hands-on-Keyboard. I get that it's a metaphor, meaning that you get writing done by actually writing, but it's one I quibble with because I'm so against the sitting-down part.

Four FIVE! years ago (I just checked, wow) almost exactly, I invested in a treadmill desk. I'm now on my second treadmill - hydraulic desk is still going strong! - and I consider it the best investment I ever made. It takes a *long* time to really ramp up and get in shape for extended walking like this. Even if you think you're in great walking shape, this kind of conditioning takes a while to build as the steadiness and extended times are very different. In 2017, I walked 2,537 miles. A whole lot of that was while writing. I think this the best thing a writer can do for their health, full stop. The only downside is that now I really hate sitting and feel like I can't write as well sitting down.

As for emotional health, I'm blessed with happy chemistry, so I don't struggle with depression or anxiety as some do. I am always working on tweaking my process and work days to maximize productivity, however.

In 2016, I tried to do too much. It was my first year writing full time, and a few things happened. I started writing five days a week instead of six, which compressed that effort into the five days. This isn't a problem except that I really amped up my daily wordcount goals. I had some high wordcount months - in December 2015, I had my highest month ever at 75,000 words - but then I'd have crash periods that followed. The upshot is that my overall wordcount fell off considerably in 2016

In 2017, I worked to remedy this by lowering my daily wordcount goals, but going for greater consistency. As you can see, 2017 words came up again nicely. For 2018, I'm trying to improve on that, and I'm trying something new: incorporating rest periods after finishing drafting a book. 

I've found that I have a down cycle after I've finished the draft of a book. Even if I try to write something else, I don't make much progress on it and I get annoyed with myself. It finally occurred to me to try honoring that rest period - which I seem to take whether I plan on it or not - and program in the down time.

So, this week I turned in book two of The Lost Princess Chronicles, EXILE OF DASNARIA. (These titles may change - more on THAT later.) Because the holidays and the flu got me all off schedule, I worked Sunday, too, finishing late on Monday.

Tuesday, I took the day entirely off, cleaning the house and doing the laundry, de-Christmasing - all the stuff that I'd let pile up. Good purging. Wednesday, I caught up on business stuff, including stuff about the aforementioned title changes. I also dorked around and watched a lot of YouTube videos I don't normally allow myself to squander time on. Thursday I got another book into shape - which I'm 99% sure I'm calling SHOOTING STAR - and sent that to my freelance editor. That just took some tweaking, no real creative investment.

On Friday, I took my car to be washed and waxed - a time investment I rarely indulge in (and my car unfortunately shows it) - and then spent time showing out of town guests around Santa Fe. 
This is me up on Canyon Road with SFF editor Ellen Datlow and fantasy writer Nnedi Okorafor. Ellen is in town for this event at George R.R. Martin's Cocteau Theater. If you're in the neighborhood, you should come! And Nnedi is here to meet with George on her new project that HBO optioned from her book WHO FEARS DEATH and GRRM is executive producing. We had a great time lunching and shopping, which then extended into cocktails and dinner with GRRM and bunch of other folks working in SFF publishing and production.

So, it was a really lovely week. Monday I'll work on page proofs of PRINCESS OF DASNARIA (again, name change pending), which is another non-creative task. Then I'll spend a few days on a new project before launching next week into drafting a new novel. It's feeling like a good thing to do. I'm feeling remarkably relaxed and replete with time.

Also, my house is clean.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Cook and Caravan Master - Tertiary Characters?

Chef Stephanie was first introduced in this book
I write in two genres primarily – science fiction romance (SFR) and Ancient Egyptian paranormal romance. I have a fantasy romance series started but it’s certainly not my primary focus.

Our topic this week is so-called ‘tertiary’ characters and do they ever try to take over a story?

In the SFR, I write pretty lean, with my focus on the hero and heroine and the dilemma they’re in. I might have a few secondary characters, especially if the novel is set on my Nebula Zephyr luxury cruiseliner (interstellar spaceship variety).  The ship has an entire crew obviously, not to mention a rotating set of passengers, but we’ve not met most of them. There are strong secondary characters, like Security Officer Red Thomsill and his fiancée Meg Antille, but they were the lead characters in their own novel  before moving to the Nebula Zephyr. An example of a tertiary character on the ship, I guess, might be the Executive Chef, Stephanie. She’s been in a few of the novels for a scene or two, and was the lead in my special Thanksgiving short story, but for the most part she’s in the background, cooking up those terrific five star meals the cruise line boasts about. Will she get her own plot someday? Maybe…but at this point I don’t have an idea for her. She’s certainly never tried to take over the story.

In the ancient Egyptian series I’m more likely to have tertiary characters because I’m dealing with a powerful Pharaoh and his court, as well as the entire pantheon of Egyptian gods, any of whom could show up in a book at any point. (Ancient deities are like that!) But again, none of them try to take over the book. They might find themselves appearing in other books where I hadn’t necessarily expected to place them but where they fit the narrative. A good example of this would be Caravan Master Ptahnetamun, who first appeared in Dancer of the Nile. He showed up again in Magic of the Nile and just recently in Lady of the Nile. (Yes, I am quite stuck on “of the Nile” as part of my book titles LOL.) He comes onstage for a few scenes where he’s needed and exits gracefully, never demanding his own story arc.

As others have said this week in discussing their characters, I do assume any or all of mine have a full, rich life going on, with all kinds of events and milestones…but none of that detail is needed for my story. Or at least not right now.

Honestly, it’s not something I worry about when I’m writing a book!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Background Characters with Minds of Their Own

I wonder if the romance genre doesn't much lend itself to tertiary characters with delusions of stardom. Something I say because I'm with Jeffe on this one. Tertiary characters? We don't need no stinking tertiary characters. Mainly because there's just not space. We've got internal conflict reflected in or exacerbated by the external conflict. We're maximizing hero and heroine page time. Or hero and hero. Or heroine and heroine. Or any combination thereof.

Secondary characters? Absolutely. Even the most committed of romantic partners need challenges and/or narrative outside of the primary pairing. Unless this is where we're talking 'tertiary.'

Anyway. I am 100% guilty of grooming my secondary characters to become the primary characters of their own novels. If I've ever had tertiary characters, they were zombie squirrels, and even then, I feel like those where more plot device than anything else. In Enemy Games, Silver City might be a tertiary character. I wanted the station to have personality - for it to feel like a familiar city with idiosyncrasies all its own, but there's no danger that I'm ever going to have a space station be the main character of a book. I don't think. Granted, as I type that I kinda want to - just to see if I could pull it off. Maybe I need to get out more.

What does everyone else think? Do romance writers have to spend enough page space on other issues that we don't have room for tertiary characters who want to break out of the background? I'm trying to think of anyone I've read with a background character chewing the scenery. If there is one, it'll come to me at 3AM. I won't get up to tell you about it. I know I haven't yet had a character try to take over a book. So far. If that ever does happen, I'll probably have to bargain with the character - behave and I'll get you your own book. Or novella. I look forward to having to deal with it if ever.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Tertiary Characters Taking the Stage

So, I've often said how my time acting on stage has, in part, informed my writing.  Namely, to treat characters as a part that an actor would enjoy playing.  That means, when I bring in a tertiary character, I usually plan to have some fun with them.  Give them a deep, inner life that isn't necessarily on the page.  Sometimes to the point that they take a greater role in the narrative than I ever intended.  For example, when I was writing The Thorn of Dentonhillthe character of Hetzer literally only existed at first so Colin had someone to talk to when standing on street corners or sitting in the turnabout.  But as Colin ran headlong into the big confrontation at the end of that one, I realized Hetzer wouldn't let him go alone, and suddenly Hetzer became a crucial part of the climax.

I had plenty of opportunity for those kinds of characters in Lady Henterman's Wardrobe.  Part of the plot demands that the Rynax Brothers and their crew do a pit of con-artistry, and that means there are always the random people who they do that to.  Be it a guard at the office building they want to get into, a public servant they want to get information out of, or a head butler they want to hire them, they're constantly interacting with people briefly, and I strive to make those people pop.

But, for me, the ones that definitely took a life of their own was a pair of boys on the street.  In Lady Henterman's WardrobeMila continues to have her "Bessie's Boys" to run errands for the crew, be an extra pair of lookout eyes, or whatever else she needs.  In Holver Alleythey were largely a nameless group of young boys she bossed around.  Here, we get to meet a few of them, and two of them-- for me at least-- kept coming back into the plot. 

The youngest, the tiniest of the Bessie's Boys, the twins, Tarvis and Jede.  Both of them, at the tender age of six, are possibly the most savage and cold-hearted little bastards you'd ever meet.  And, oh my lord, were those two just a delight to write. 

And you'll get to meet them both soon enough, when Lady Henterman comes out in March.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Intrusive Tertiary Characters

Tertiary characters who demanded the spotlight...Do I have any? What'd I do with them? Why aren't they more important? Did they get a promotion to secondary?

Confession: I suffer greatly from the Cast of Thousands curse. I can't afford to add upstarts to the roster who shouldn't be there. Any tertiary characters--the guys who might not even have names--who somehow hog the focus of a scene during WiP drafts are usually indicators that I'm not using my secondary characters well. For me, third-string characters are either fodder or seeds planted for future books.

In short, if I have a tertiary character demanding focus he needs to shut his pie-hole or be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Tertiary Overload

So the concept for this week's article is tertiary characters that demand more attention.

"Jim, whatever do you mean?"

I mean characters whop aren't supposed to be overly significant, who decide otherwise as you're writing. Sounds crazy, right? But it happens, It happens a lot more than I like ot think about. Let me give you a perfect example. Bump. Bump is a knock off character. meaning that his sole purpose for existing when I created him was to be a name and a filler and the likelihood, especially in MY writing, is a short, lifespan with a violent death.

Yeah. Didn't happen.

In the first draft of FALLEN GOS (See picture below) Bump just went crazy. he went from being a smart ass character with a few lines to being THAT guy on the battlefield. Which Guy? THAT guy, the one who does absolutely insane shit because it strikes his fancy. In one scene, when all is lost and nothing is working, Bump grabs a horse, spurs it into action and leads it over a cliff, where the poor animal rolls down the too steep area and crushes several of the enemy under its weight before it dies. In his defense, the horse was old and lame. No one buys it. But he DID save the group with his antics. From that moment on, he tried to commandeer the novel. He stole scene after scene without any hesitation whatsoever.  (for the record, I do not condone animal violence, But I write fantasy set in a barbaric time, and barbarians, especially crazy ones, do their own thing.)

From then on Bump became a hero of the story.

Right up until my editor slapped some verbal sense into me.

Most of Bump's scenes of heroic madness were reassigned to the character they were supposed to come from in the first place, and he was pushed back down to tertiary character. For a moment he shined so very brightly. Then common sense prevailed.

it's not the first time that's happened and I pray it won't be the last.

Sometimes the mind does its own thing when you're writing, Sometimes that means the plot goes off the rails and other times it means that character who was just there to add to the body count screams "Screw you! I want to live!"

Happened in my first novel, too. by the way. I created a female character whose sole purpose was to torment our "hero" with mind games. She was supposed to die a horrible death. I did everything but put a shotgun to her head. I ran her over with a car. Still, she would not die. Instead, much to my surprise, she evolved. By the end of the tale she became a young woman of surprising strength who fell for one of the guys who was also meant to be a secondary character and both became important to the tale.

is there a moral tot his story?

Only this: Let your characters do their thing, If it goes to far, rein them in, but otherwise you can assume that your mind is finding ways to work on what it sees as a flaw in your tale. That may not work so well if you write rigid outlines, but since I don't I can take advantage of the situation from time to time.

On the new release front, this week sees the release of A HELL WITHIN the third of the Griffin & Price occult detective series, co-written with my buddy Charles R. Rutledge. Available in both ebook and trade paperback at Amazon.com.

Also, BLOODSTAINED WONDERLAND, the very long awaited sequel to BLOODSTAINED OZ, came out on the January second. It's a limited edition (500 signed and numbered 15 signed and lettered) get 'em while they're hot from Earthling Publications.

That's it for this week! Keep smiling, 


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Can You Spot the Tertiary Character in This Novel?

I gave the man an aquarium for Christmas and Jackson finally discovered it has living creatures in it. He's quite bemused by the concept.

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is tertiary characters who demand the spotlight.

It's a funny thing about my brain that the word "tertiary" takes me right back to organic chemistry, and not to writing things at all. As far as chemistry is concerned, tertiary structure is when a chain of proteins (for example) is folded up, with disulfide bonds maybe. Primary structure is the basic molecule, secondary structure is when they get chained up. After the folding of tertiary, you might get bundles clumped together to make quatenary structure.

What about the quatenary characters, I ask you???

Really... does anyone think about tertiary characters? I certainly don't as a reader. I don't even really think in terms of secondary characters. Do you, as a reader?

I suppose secondary characters come into play because most stories focus action on one or two protagonists. It's been an interesting game for those of us watching A Game of Thrones who haven't made it through all the books in A Song of Ice and Fire, to see the story wrapping up to show that the sprawling epic with tons of characters - and protagonists - is about the Stark family in the end. And that Jon Snow may be the protagonist after all. Hard for me to tell how much of that is the show runners refining the story that way, however.

But in most books that aren't multi-tentacled monster fantasy epics, there is one protagonist, maybe two. They are the single molecules upon which everything is built. The secondary characters are part of the world they live in, because no person is an island, so those connections create chains of people.

As we all know, secondary characters in one book often become the protagonists in sequels, and all of you readers are adept at picking out who those people might be. But can you spot the tertiary characters?

If I extend the chemistry analogy, those are secondary characters who get wrapped in and cemented with extra bonds. I think, however, that the suggester of this topic wasn't thinking in those terms. Instead, tertiary must mean to them another rung lower than secondary. But if you have the protagonists, everyone connected to them, then the next rung down is.... bit players? Characters without lines? Pets and livestock?

I frankly don't know, so I'll be interested in what the rest of the gang has to say this week. For my part, I'm a believer in the advice that all characters live full lives that begin long before they walk onto the page and continue after they walk off. Some of the best observations on this come from theater.
In this perspective all "tertiary" characters demand the spotlight, because they are all the protagonist of their own tales. Whether the author chooses to spin the POV to show that tale is another question.

But you all tell me, is there a character you've read who you'd regard as tertiary who then became a protagonist?

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Can She Write A Series Challenge

This week’s topic is a challenge or ‘leveling up’ activity we’ve each decided to undertake for 2018. I have to say, my writing is my writing is my writing….as you know if you’ve been reading me here, I’m superstitious about my Muse and my process. HOWEVER, late in 2017 I did decide the time had come for me to tackle an actual series, with an overarching plot arc that would run through the five volumes. Ta da!

 I never used to think I could write such a series, being an as-I-go plotter (also known as a seat of the pants writer) and wasn’t much tempted to try it. I like writing standalone stories set in one universe, be it ancient Egypt or my interstellar civilization, the Sectors. Sometimes I even do a sequel or have the same characters make an appearance in more than one book (usually as secondary characters since they’ve already had their own book). So, I do connected series with no problem and I do have a long term arc in my head, but don’t require each book to move the action forward.

So I came up with a race of genetically engineered super soldiers, the Badari, created by the enemies of the humans in my Sectors. I added to that mix a colony of humans kidnapped in their sleep by the aliens in charge of all this questionable science and brought to the planet where the Badari are held, to serve as subjects in more experiments. The questions in the big arc are how do the Badari gain their freedom, how do the humans ever get home to tell the Sectors about this new threat…and of course how does the romance occur in the midst of all this? The first volume, Aydarr, was released in December and I’ve written the second book, Mateer, and that one is at the editor. I’ve just started the third book, with probably two more to go to wrap everything up. I also have lots of plot ideas in my head for more stories about the Badari, if readers like them, but those would be in my standalone writing style, since the big arc will be wrapped up.

It’s going fine so far, I’d say. I did enough outlining to know what the major plot point to be achieved was for each novel, but not so much detailed planning that my Muse would balk at writing the book. (As I’ve mentioned before, if I plot too much before I write, I lose all interest in doing the actual writing. The creative spark flees – the story is told.)

It’s too soon to say if I’d write another actual series. I really do like the standalone experience of writing, but I’m enjoying this challenge so far. I think my biggest hurdle is that I feel I owe it to the readers to get each book in the series out within 4-6 weeks of the previous book and so I have to write the Badari novels back to back, not stray off and play with some other shiny plot in between.

Here’s the blurb for the first book, if you’d like to see more details:

Jill Garrison, a maintenance tech at the Sectors Amarcae 7 colony, goes to sleep one night as usual only to wake up in her nightgown stranded in the middle of a forest on an unknown world. There’s no time to think as she’s stalked by carnivorous predators and rescued by genetically engineered warriors calling themselves the Badari. Turns out they and she, along with her whole colony, are now prisoners of the Khagrish, a ruthless race of alien scientists. Working for enemies of the Sectors, the Khagrish have created the Badari to be super soldiers.

Aydarr, the Badari alpha, isn’t sure he can trust Jill but his attraction to her is undeniable. He impulsively claims her as his mate to prevent her death at the hands of the Khagrish.
Can he continue to protect her from the experiments already underway? Will his claiming her put his pack in jeopardy from their alien masters?

As Jill searches for a way to rescue her fellow humans and get them all to safety, she finds herself falling for Aydarr, despite the secrets he’s keeping. She has a few of her own.

The situation becomes dire when Aydarr and his pack are sent offplanet on a mission, leaving Jill unprotected, prey for the senior scientist. Can she escape the experiments he has in mind for her? Will she be able to thwart the Khagrish plans and liberate humans and Badari alike? How will she and Aydarr reunite?

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(Stock photos purchased from DepositPhoto.)

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Year of Challenge

A few years ago, based on I have no idea what, I started proclaiming each year as The Year of <Insert a Writing Point to be Worked on Here>. One year was the year of action. Another was the year of getting emotion on the page - or at least seeing if I could up my game on that point. This past year has been the year of taking 'telling' phrases out of my writing. As much as possible. These are the phrases that generally start 'character knew', 'character thought', 'character wondered', or 'character felt'. There might be more. But yeah. That's been my own personal little challenge.

This year is the year of learning to write to an outline. Why? Because I am the queen of overwriting and I would very much like to give up the crown. No. Seriously. Queen of Overwriting. The cut file for the current WIP is longer than the target 100k word count of the manuscript. Literally two novels. One to keep. One to throw away. The *incredible* waste of time and effort. Feel free to picture me shaking my head and knocking back a gulp of tea. This is no way to run a railroad. Or write a novel.

So this year. I learn to plot, outline, and then do my damnedest to not write an entire extra novel in the pursuit of the novel I do want written. Yes. I am still a character driven writer. And I do actually expect a book to drift from an outline, but the thing I'm hoping to get from this endeavor is a means of visualizing the story's skeleton. What flesh I hang upon that skeleton is up to me and the characters, but with the skeleton available to me, I have fantasies of being able to actually finish a novel draft in a reasonable time frame. Say 90 days.  I'd like faster, but I don't want to get ahead of myself here. 

The other thing I hope for is more coherent storylines. See. I'm a little like the writer/artist for Hyperbole and a Half. Give me a story to write and I want to include ALL THE THINGS! With an outline, I'd have a simple yardstick for whether or not my umpteenth subplot actually serves the theme. Again. In my fantasies. 

So yeah. The Year of Learning to Outline. Better stories, less waste. I think I can sell that.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Leveling Up Goal This Year

So, this is going to sound a bit strange, but my goal for this year, as a writing, is to train myself at being more efficient.

Now, I know some of you are like, "What are you talking about, Marshall?  You put out two books a year, you're a machine." And that pace is going to continue, of course.

And while I like the label of, "writing machine", the machine could be more efficient.  I could do better.  More to the point, I feel like I need to.

As I've mentioned before, I kind of fake being "superfast" with planning and outlining.  There's a long building, planning and germinating process that takes me a long time, and much of that for the Maradaine books was frontloaded well before any of you even heard of me. 

So, some of the building, planning and germination for other projects have now reached the point where they're blooming.  Stories that have been just sort of percolating in the back of my head have now starting coming out.  Of course, I also have to do other work, work that's under contract.  Work you all are looking forward to.  Heck, work I'm excited to finish and get moving on.

For example, this week I wrote several hundred words on two different secondary projects, one of which is Maradaine-tangential, they other is something else entirely.  I've also finished hand-written edits on a manuscript, and I'm about to start putting those into final edits.  So I should be sending a finished manuscript out in a couple weeks.  And then I need to start hand-edits on another manuscript.  PLUS drafting another new novel.

That's a lot of creative juggling.  I can do it, but right now, it's clumsy juggling.  I can do better.  And that's the goal for next year.

So, I better get to that.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

One Skill to Learn This Year

One skill I'd like to learn this year is...how to format my own books.  Don't get me wrong, I love my formatters. They put up with me despite my habit of finding "one more error." (There's always one more error, damn it). I'm not planning on throwing them over anytime soon; however,  I'd like to get to the point of being able to update the backmatter of my book without breaking all the pretties of the interior at a minimum. Then, level-up to Master of the Formatter Universe as time permits.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Being a Career Writer: What to Focus On

This is one f those questions with a million answers.

I have one, Focus on your craft. Jeffe just said the same basic thing, but not surprisingly, I agree with her.

Listen, anyone can tell you that marketing is key. Or having an agent. Or editing. They are all important. but at the end of the day what you are selling is your ability to  tell a story. If you can
't tell a good story, you are, frankly, in the wrong business. OR, you haven't practiced your craft well enough. As a rule I can scare the crap out of most readers. Why? I've been honing that particular skill for twenty-five years. It's a skill. It's one I practice with a lot, It's one small faction of the craft of writing. I need to be able to tell a good story, make certain that a reader is invested in the characters, make absolutely sure that the world I build (be it local or a vastly different world of possibilities with super-heroes, aliens, or sorcerers) makes enough sense and is tangible enough for the readers to enjoy it. I need to tell multiple perspectives and share enough information to keep the entire affair coherent.

And I only have words to do that with. I might have a book cover, but there's no promise that whatever cover I have will make any sense with the story. You think I'm kidding, but I'm really not, I've had more than my share of craptacular covers that had absolutely nothing in common with the words under that illustration. If you are VERY LUCKY (and I have been several times) then the cover reflects a part of your tale. A fraction. A very small drib.

So, no, the cover isn't important to the tale. Except, of course, when it is.

No I need to tell a story, I need to make that story flow with ease, and to suspend disbelief in my readers. I need to convince them, with just words, mind you, that it's possible for a single man to fight the gods, or that a collection of small, militaristic tribes can possibly be a threat to an empire hundreds of times larger. Or that the world can be changed with a spell that ends all technology and unleashes horrors best never considered. I need to make sure that readers believe a reclusive college boy might get revenge for a girl who is tormented by what a corrupt cop made her do. I need to make certain they believe said cop could get away with his crimes. I need to find the logic that binds those notions and then I need to breathe life into those little golems crafted with nothing but 27 letters set in the right order, used again and again.

All of the rest of it, the editing, the marketing and in rare occasions the movies or shows made from those notions, all of it, is secondary to the tale being told.

With words. Just words.

Yeah, concentrate on your craft and storytelling.

That's just my two cents.

Speaking of Two Cents  (or actually a bit more)

THE TWISTED BOOK OF SHADOWS is coming soon. This will be a completely blind submission anthology of horror tales crafted by writers who may not have even heard about the anthology so far, It will pay professional rates and will also offer royalties. There will be no names on the submissions. Just titles and word counts. So no bias will appear for marquee names. Once upon a time editors like Charles L. Grant and Karl Edward Wagner made it a point to find the stories that affected them the most. These days most anthologies never get a chance without at least half of the stories being written by heavy hitters in any given field. This will be a level playing field. Please, please, please spread the word far and wide. If you like horror that is.

More details and yes, a chance to support this project, can be found here. 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Being a Career Writer: What to Focus On

I dug out this photo from last summer - at Epcot Center after the RWA conference and me all shiny from winning the RITA® Award. Sometimes that still feels as fantastical as my troll friend here.

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is one writing/publishing-related skill we want to learn/improve on this year. The writing/publishing conjunction struck me because - while I totally get that being a career writer involves both - those two aspects of being an author seem far more distant from each other than a slim slash mark would convey.

Okay, I started to write about something I saw an author tweet about the trials of self-publishing. Though I was paraphrasing, I ended up deleting because it felt unfair to call them out. But what I'm seeing is a LOT of discussion of the business of writing. That right-hand side of the slash mark. Marketing. How to get reviews. Amazon stripping reviews, stripping rank. Piracy. Best-selling rank. Marketing. Covers. How to reach readers. Marketing. Box sets. Series. Ideal release timing and spacing. Marketing.

You get my point.

So, I get that it's easier to focus on marketing. (Did I mention marketing?) There's a LOT of information out there on that stuff. In fact, many writers have gotten into the business in order to have something to market. (I've met these people. "I wanted to take advantage of Internet marketing and so I decided because romance novels sell, I'd write one and use that as my test product.) Also, the business side of the slash mark can feel much more controllable than the writing side.

This is what bothers me, however. For all the discussions I see about improving all the business end, I see maybe a tenth - if that - on improving the left hand side of the slash mark: the WRITING.

In point of fact, some self-publishing authors I know have said they don't care about improving their craft. The reasons vary, but some seem to feel it's beyond their control or irrelevant.

It's also the most difficult aspect of being a writer. Improving craft can be both humbling and infuriating. A writer has to set aside ego and take a good hard look at their work. They have to compare it to work by better writers and see where it falls short. And they have to be willing to listen to criticism without losing confidence. THEN they have to set to the frustrating and often daunting task of attempting to improve.

I get that it's hard. It's hard for me, too.

But I'm going to venture that, if you're losing readers instead of building an audience then the problem may not be with the marketing. We're in the weeding-out phase of the self-publishing boom now. Readers no longer have patience with giving books a whirl just because they're cheap or free. Or, rather, they'll give the author a chance, and if the quality isn't good, they won't try them again. I'm hearing this from many, many readers. This phase has been inevitable. The first week of the cruise is done and people have stuffed themselves with all the free food at the buffet. Now they're pickier, looking for the good stuff.

I should caveat that I'm picking on self-publishing here, because traditional publishing tends to force you to up your game to pass the various levels of tests involved in selling a work to them. However, with many editors in traditional publishing failing to give content edits, making our work the best it can be there, too, is critical.

So, what AM I wanting to improve this year? Craft! Each book is a master class in craft, meaning I learn something new with each one I write. Over the last couple of years, I've been working on my endings. I've been trying to give them as much heft and time as the beginnings - which isn't easy. I've improved, but I'm still not there. I also find I'm rarely satisfied with endings other authors write. I think this is partially why the cliff-hanger ending is so appealing. JUST DON'T EVEN TRY.

But I'm curious - who writes really good, perfectly satisfying endings? I'd love suggestions!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Prioritize the Stress Factors

Good and timely topic as I’m currently dealing with the chaos of moving during a major holiday season. Sigh. Just this morning I was heading down the serious anxiety attack path but a good friend is coming over later to organize and help unpack. I’ve been unpacking a few boxes a day but I swear the pile was regenerating itself overnight. Add to that a cat who was extremely upset and spent THREE DAYS (and nghts) roaming the new place yowling at the top of his lungs, and yup, I was pretty well fried.

The cat is happier now that I’ve got some major things unpacked and arranged. I found one of his favorite cat toys and we spent a lot of time with him sitting on my lap, being petted and admired.

I’m trying to write and release on a much more rapid pace in 2018, plus there’s the ongoing political situation, and so yes, I’d say this is a time frame where I do need to deploy any and all proven techniques for managing my stress and staying productive.

First of all, being a morning person, I eat a good breakfast. Being hungry makes me off balance and less capable.

Then I have my To Do List. I keep a big running, list, where I jot down things as they occur to me, lest they be forgotten, but then I have my prioritized shortlist for the day, which contains only the top 3-5 things that MUST be done today or all Chaos will break loose. Truly. Often I find when I actually sit down to put together the list, the formless black cloud of impending doom and anxiety I’ve been under shrinks to a tiny dustball. It usually turns out that I’ve been wildly overthinking what actually has to be done on any given day. I also break large tasks down into smaller ones, to make the effort manageable. Maybe I make the first phone call about an interview today, then tomorrow I do the followup, then the day after I write the post and so forth. There’s a lot of second tier-organization happening behind the way I work.

I devour magazines and serious news commentary. I love the back to back shows of Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow in the evening…but you know, sometimes it’s all just too much. There’s just a tidal wave of events going on in the world that frustrate me and upset me and scare me (nuclear war anyone?) and I’ve come to realize that on occasion I have to not be the most informed person on all of the breaking news and analysis. I voted, I’ll vote again, I contact my representatives when something really concerns me, I make my donations to candidates and causes I support…so it’s ok if I skip the news cycle some days and go binge watch “Making the Team”. Most of the things that happen in Washington DC, or as a result of events in DC, don’t affect me personally (although some do, of course) and neither can I wave a magic wand and do anything about them, so it’s no use for me to get all spun up.

Social media is the same – I LOVE to be on twitter and also spend a lot of time on Facebook throughout the day. But there are days I have to walk away from it, whether there’s an author kerfluffle going on, or more of the political stuff. If I don’t see the tweets and posts, they won’t create anxiety for me.

I also know when I’m done for the day and it’s time to stop pushing to get tasks crossed off the list. I sit with the cat and read, or watch TV or a movie, and relax. I know I’ll be full of energy again in the morning and ready to tackle the next day’s To Do List.

Best wishes to you for a very happy New Year!
Jake hangs out in the china cabinet during the move

Friday, January 5, 2018

Seeking Sanity from the Insane

Marcella looks at the topic for the week and giggles for fifteen minutes straight. Amused by the notion that she has any sanity to preserve in the first place. But hey! Let's assume for a moment that my sanity = yes. How to keep it in three easy-ish steps?

1. Know what you want - Sounds self-evident, right? Not to mention that it's easy to say 'of course I know what I want'. But 'winning the powerball' isn't really what you want, is it? You want whatever it is you believe that amount of money would bring you. Security. Safety. Freedom from worry. The ability to help your struggling parents/sibling/loved one/charity of your choice. There's an ideal at the core of the things we think we want. What's interesting is that you can chase a thing all you like. You might even get it, but unless you're clear on what ideal you're trying to fill/accomplish, you're likely to find the thing doesn't make you feel accomplished. By having a firm grasp of your core need, you'll find that it becomes very clear what you ought to be doing day by day to move you toward that goal. Funny thing. While working toward your core need, you often find you're fulfilling it just by pursuing it.

2. Focus on the small stuff. Once you know what, you gotta know why. Why is it important to keep
pressing the word count? Why is it vital to challenge the assumption that you're a pantser and learn to outline? Everyone will have their own why. Family. Charitable work. Proving the meanies in junior high wrong. Whatever it is. Remember to take the time to look at, really look at, and enjoy your why. The single most grounding thing in our lives are those things we love and enjoy. For me it's my family - the dh, the cats, the parents, friends, and getting to explore. The photo is from an expedition my folks and I took to one of Tampa's power plants. The manatees gather in the warm water outflow. The plant built a viewing center. Silly, maybe, but getting out of the house, shutting off all social media and news to just be in the world is eminently grounding. Coming back with silly photos is just a bonus.

3. Define success - What does success look like to you? Not long term. For today. For this week. What three things, if you got them done, would make you feel like you succeeded for the week? Write 'em down. Make a plan to get them done. Schedule them into your days. Example: my goals for this week were to get a WIP written right up to the point of the final battle. Try one new recipe. And start learning to outline. You can see I'm not aiming for the stars this week. But week after week, I'll be building on the previous week's goals. One goal (the recipe) has an element of fun to it. Maybe yours would be knitting something. Or binge watching Dr. Who. No judgement. Just make the goals reasonable so you can build on success. And if there are mistakes, assess and learn from them. Bonus grounding/sanity preservation technique: Give up feeling like a failure. Seriously. Just give it up. You're trying things. Learning stuff. If you come at this with beginner's mind, you can grin at something not working out. You can examine it and figure out something else to try. And something else.

Above all else master the mundane. Sleep. Eat. Hydrate. Exercise. Meditate - whatever that looks like for you. Sanity comes more easily when you take care of all of you.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Keeping Grounded for 2018

So now the new year is underway, and it's time to buckle down and get to work, and keep my head on straight.  Part of the problem with that is January is such a challenging time for me to do that, for two key reasons.

Reason the first: I love living in Austin, it's a wonderful city, but in January, the city wants to kill me.  Namely, it releases SPORES OF CEDAR DOOM into the air and it takes high levels of allergy medications to stay functional.  For real.  Five years ago my reaction was so bad it gave me vertigo for two weeks.  I literally couldn't walk, and worse, couldn't write.  It was awful.  Right now, even highly medicated, I've got light congestion and watery eyes.  And I've been indoors most of the day.

Reason the second: For those who don't know, the "day job"-- which i put in the quotes because it isn't just in the day, nor does it have regular hours either-- is running our business Live the Language, where my wife teaches Spanish to children and adults.  Now, if you run any business which provides Service X, where people will say to themselves, "I really should DO X this year", January is when you get ALL THE INQUIRIES.  It's great, it's the very lifeblood of our business, but it does mean my workload right now cranks up.

So, given that's just the normal Things of January, and add in the whole "2017 was a Trashfire Year, what is 2018 going to bring" aspect, how do I keep my head on straight and get work done?
  1. Put some people on your social media who JUST BRING JOY.  I'm talking make sure your feed has someone who just puts gifs of otters playing, or daily affirmations.  Me, I've got a guy, who just plain loves Star Trek.  And I mean, deep cut stuff.  Like he'll post about Ben Sisko's outfits.  But that's what he does, he just LOVES STAR TREK, and man, just seeing that on a regular basis was a great counterbalance to the usual doom-and-gloom of the social media feed.  And so therefore...
  2.  Just stay the heck out of the Social Media.  I mean, yeah: World is a Trashfire.  But I've made peace with the fact that 98% of the Trashfire is stuff that doesn't really mean much to me other than give me something to stress about.  And, I mean, I am stressed, but frankly I don't need to know the minutiae of the Trashfire.  It doesn't help anything.
  3. Watching Superheroes.  I've made no secret that I'm a total superhero junkie.  And in the coming months the universe is giving me not only my beloved CW/DC shows, but adding one more with Black Lightning.  And Black Panther comes out in a few weeks, and Avengers: Infinity War is a few months down the road.  All this stuff is just tank-fueling joy for me.  Sometimes when I get stuck on a scene I'll rev up the Captain America Elevator Fight or Everyone Fighting Nazis and a bit of that just clears my head and gets me back on track.  (And, come on, how can you not love Supergirl saying to her Nazi Doppelganger, "General, would you care to step outside?")
So, that said, time to get back to work.  I got plenty to do, and I'm not going to let this year hold me back.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Release Day: Fallen Gods by James A. Moore

What a great way to welcome the new year by celebrating our Monday blogger James's latest release in his Tides of War epic fantasy series!  Congrats, James!

Tides of War

The gods are angry and only one man can fend off their apocalypse in the brutal sequel to The Last Sacrifice.

Brogan McTyre and his compatriots are wanted, dead or alive. Preferably alive, so they can be sacrificed to the raging gods. All they can do is hire more mercenaries and turn them into a fearsome army. But warriors aren't enough when the gods bring Armageddon to the world, unleashing storms and madness, and ceaseless attacks on Brogan's men by increasingly demonic foes.

Deep in the heart of the Broken Blades Mountains lies a sword containing the heart of a god slain in immortal combat, the one thing that might give Brogan an edge against the gods, but finding it isn't going to be easy...

BUY IT NOW:  Amazon   |   B&N   |   Indiebound