Friday, August 31, 2018

Cover Artist Praise

 Danielle Fine does most of my covers. It's a good thing, too, because on those forms for authors, when cover artists ask if you have a vision for the cover, I always do.

And it pretty much sucks. 

For Damned If He Does, I'd figured on some artsy cover because the hero is a frustrated artist. And maybe because I grew up with those kinds of covers out of the 70s and early 80s with geometric shapes in once bold colors that inevitably faded by about the third year the book had been on a shelf. 

Danielle kindly led me down the path of PNR reader expectations for this cover. And even if the cover seems to promise something the book doesn't deliver (I had concerns this cover conveyed a really hot read and well - the heroine is ace so while the story has its share of flames, they aren't the sexy kind, much) this book is already one readers either love or think should have been a short story. So eh. Point of interest. Danielle found the models for the cover and she NAILED that heroine.

She found the heroine image for Emissary, too. After I'd looked and looked and looked. This heroine isn't 20. She's at the end of her soldiering career and I really wanted someone who looked like she hadn't just skipped class at the local high school. 

I think my favorite thing about Danielle's work is that whether models match my particular internal vision or not, Danielle always manages to convey the mood of the story. Every single time.

The two Nightmare Ink covers were done by someone at Berkley - I'm ashamed to say I don't know by whom. Because both books are e-only, the covers are simpler and with the first book, the editor and marketing staff chose to go against the UF tide at the time. Most UF covers at the time these came out were barely clad heroines in ripped jeans and leather. Some gorgeous covers came out of that, but Isa wasn't that kind of bad ass heroine. She has her strengths, but fighting isn't one of them. At least, not physically. The only issue we had with the covers, in my opinion, was that the first book didn't actually convey any hint of magic. I think the Bound By Ink cover does a better job of that. It's more atmospheric, too. But this is the difference between publishing through a traditional publisher and publishing your own work. With a traditional publisher, covers are collaborative to a point. Past that point, you can't ask for further changes in the cover. On books you publish yourself, you can pursue THE perfect cover to the limits of your budget. I have a dream to be able to commission original artwork for book covers. Just because I love painterly covers and if I could pay an artist whose work I love - everyone wins.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Cover Artist Love: Paul Young

I've said many a time how happy I am that my covers have all been done by Paul Young.  He's created a look and feel for Maradaine, while giving each series its own flavor, and he's done that by being very aware of the nature of the work, and being receptive and giving with his talent.

Now, I could go into further raving about his work on my covers-- like ALL DAY-- but I've done that before, and I want to do something a bit different.  I want to highlight some of his other works.  Pieces of his for other covers for other writers that really worked for me.  Evocative images that draw my curiosity about the stories hiding behind them.  That's a big part of what Paul does, and I'm glad a piece of that work goes to my books.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Why Perfect Gravity's cover does not feature a shirtless cowboy and robot cat

I've never worked directly with a cover artist or designer. I've never had any say in a cover once it was done.

Aaaand now you're thinking: this gal is completely unqualified to talk about awesome cover designers. You are, as usual, completely correct.

At my level of power in the biz (i.e., none), I don't talk to artists, designers, or art directors. I don't offer feedback on final designs. I don't get a yes or no. If there's something truly wrong about a final cover, I can point out that detail and it may or may not change. I think the reasoning here is that I don't know markets or reader expectations nearly as well as the people who are in charge of bringing my story to the public. So I bow to their experience and expertise.

However! What I can show you is a peek at the one thing I do get to contribute to the cover-design process: an information packet that describes the characters and setting. I send these in at product launch time, right at the beginning, and they are supposed to function as a cheat sheet so the designers and artists don't have to slog through reading the whole book.

I love filling out these things and sharing my inspirations and wishes; it's one of my favorite parts of book production. Here's what I sent Sourcebooks for Perfect Gravity (note that the images I included are all copyrighted, so I can't post them here, but I've included a short description of each in [brackets] and I'm sure your imagination or Google-fu can illuminate the rest):

Hero (Kellen Hockley)
Race:  Texan (okay, not a race, but definitely a type)

Complexion: Tan from spending a lot of time outside

Age:  30

Body (height/build):  He gets a lot of exercise. Um, I used this image for inspiration:

[pic of Scott Eastwood shirtless]

Hair color/length: dark blond

Eye color (one word):  blue

Facial hair?  Nothing really in the story, though he does go a few days without a shave there in the middle and could definitely be scruffy.

Clothing: He wears jeans and boots a lot. Stetson sometimes (outdoors only, because down-home manners!). A belt buckle. At the very end of the book, at a fancy-dress shindig, he wears a tux. Thusly:

[pic of Scott Eastwood in a tux]

Signature Accessory: A cat. He rarely goes anywhere without Yoink, a cloned, bionic kitty. She’s cinnamon-and-white striped and has metal horns protruding from her wee skull, near her ears. The details aren’t hugely important. If y’all decide to put a cat on the cover, I don’t think it matters too much what kitty looks like.

[pic of shirtless cowboy holding a cat]

My dream cover for this book would feature a shirtless cowboy holding a bionic cat. But probably that stock photo would be really, really hard to find.

Heroine (Angela Neko)
Race:  Bengali/Japanese

Complexion: more South-Indian than Japanese, so kind of latte

Age:  early 30s

Body (height/build):  short, slight, in command (of everything). Bit Napoleonish.

Hair color/length: Black. Can be in any style: she goes from having a super fancy updo to being bald to having a short pixie cut at the end.

Eye color: dark brown

[pic of Priyanka Yoshikawa]

Tattoos, body marks or piercings? Nothing that you’d want to feature on a cover.

Clothing: Conservative high-fashion futuristic chic. Tailored to within an inch of her life, but with flights of couture weird. In terms of style and deportment, I think of her as a mashup of Huma Abedin, Padme Amidala, and Alexander McQueen.

[pic of Huma Abedin in her wedding dress]

[pic of vaguely steampunk long-sleeved Alexander McQueen dress with buckles and frogging on the bodice]

[pic of Padme Amidala in her heavy velvet addressing-the-Galactic-Senate costume]

Key Accessory: Elbow-length biodeterrent smartgloves. (That, uh, just look like regular gloves, those heavy-duty long things the Victorians wore to keep the whole world off their skin.)

(similar to first book in series)
The year 2059, so near future. Look should be futuristic but gritty.

Western U.S. desert (so, lots of scrub-brush flora and bumpy horizons) with an unexpected giant megastructure (an arcology, like those mongo buildings in BladeRunner) jutting out of a vast, dark nothing. 

Also scenes in post-apocalyptic underwater Galveston and a futuristic Guadalajara.

Design ideas/inspiration
This movie poster sums up the mood nicely:

[pic of Cowboys vs Aliens movie poster featuring Daniel Craig's backside]

Also has cowboy, futuristic-looking tech, impending doom clouds. Nice.

Cover descriptive words
Techno, sexy, old-west, bleak, futuristic

And this is the cover they came up with:

I think the cover is gorgeous. Does it match my vision? Not really. But it fits smoothly into that urban-fantasy kickass-heroine market, which is where I suspect the publisher was trying to place it.

So, yeah, it's probably best I don't have a lot of control over covers. There are people who are much better at this than I am.

But, just the tiniest bit, I do mourn the shirtless-cowboy-with-a-robot-cat cover that never was.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Cover Artist Love: Gene Mollica Studios

Shout out to the awesome team at Gene Mollica Studios who have done the covers for my Immortal Spy series. I've drooled over Gene's work for years. When I had a series for which I wanted a custom photo shoot, he was #1 on my list. He and his team have been awesome from go, inviting me to be a part of the process, explaining to me how things worked. From costume design to choosing the model to the actual photo shoot, the whole experience was ridiculously fun.  When I mentioned my girl was going to have shadowy tentacles in the later books, I expected him to balk; instead, his enthusiasm went up a notch.

Gene has assembled an amazing team who are lovely, lovely people who are excellent at what they do and at making you feel like your project is their priority (even though, psht, you know they're busy AF, but they are super responsive). I give them a cover-input email and my mss in a Word doc. They send me a beautiful finished book. (Okay, yes, there are a few revision steps in between.) Behold the pretty:

I am so pleased with the first three covers, I can't wait to see what Gene & Team come up with for the next four! (Once I write the books, of course.)

Monday, August 27, 2018

In Praise of Cover Artists

They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but I'm here to tell you that's a blatant lie. People do it ll the time, whether or not they should.

That's the nature of the beast., A good cover can make or break a book and so can a bad one.

My first few book covers were, well, horrid. I mean that. The publishers asked for cover ideas and it was like they took the best I could offer, tossed it aside and hired their next door neighbor's five-year-old nephew to handle it for them. They were work-for-hire books, but that didn't matter even a little to me. they managed to find the worst possible covers as if to prove something to themselves and to me. What they proved to me was exactly  how much a cover can affect sales.

The thing about being a midlist author is sometimes the publishers give you some control and sometimes they don't. In the small presses I could ask for and often receive the artist of my choice. In the big houses, it was "this is what you're getting."

Somewhere along the way I managed to run across publishers who actually consider your suggestions and, gasp, artists who actually read descriptions. The covers for the entire SEVEN FORGES series and for the TIDES OF WAR are all done by one man: Alejandro Colucci. Alejandro is an amazing talent. he also, gasp, actually reads the descriptions I send his way and then does his very best to follow them. His best, by the way, is stunning, as evidenced by the covers below.

In addition to Alejandro I want to point out the stunning talents of one Dan Brereton. Dan is a longtime friend of mine and has been kind enough to offer up several illustrations for covers of books that I am either self-publishing or doing through a small press. THIS IS HALLOWEEN. ONE BAD WEEK and SLICES are all covers created by Dan. His normal work is in illustrating fro his own NOCTURNAL Comic book, or for Marvel or DC Comics in some circumstances. frankly I don;t know how the man has time tp breathe, because if I were in charge of the hiring of artists, he would never have a moment's rest. 

Trust me: get a great cover and your book will be noticed. Get a crap cover and the book might well suffer here are a few examples of great covers from fantastic artists.

I am very, very grateful!

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Meet My Awesome Cover Designer

The Arrows of the Heart
Our topic this week is Cover Artist Praise. An easy topic for me because Ravven is an amazing cover designer. She's done all three of these for me and clearly rocked them all. 

The Snows of Windroven
 Her portfolio speaks for itself. I can add that she's prompt, efficient, delightful to work with and somehow manages to pretty much nail the cover image the first time, every time, with only minor tweaks needed after that.

The Shift of the Tide
I would like to take a moment to clarify that a cover artist and a cover designer are not necessarily the same thing. I was at Bubonicon yesterday and was on a couple of panels about self-publishing and I noticed fellow paInelists and audience members conflating cover artist and cover designer. Basically, a cover artist does the actual artwork and the designer lays out the titles and font, does the spine, and generally adjusts the art to make an effective cover. In this case, Ravven does both, but not all artists can design covers, and not all cover designers can create the art.

Also, I'm excited to announce that I'll soon have another Ravven cover to share! On November 13, we'll be releasing SEASONS OF SORCERY, an anthology with me, Grace Draven, Jennifer Estep, and Amanda Bouchet. I'm 90% sure my story will be from Harlan's point of view. Should be pretty awesome!

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Proud to be Living My Writing Dream

The Author of that marvelous
fairy tale

What am I the most proud of in regard to my writing?

The fact that I have twenty five books published and people besides me actually read them. I love notes and comments from readers about how they’ve enjoyed the books!

I’ve always written, since I was seven and did my first self-illustrated fairy tale about a princess with many sisters, flying cats, flying horses and a riverboat captain hero.

My image of a successful writer at that age was Jo from Little Women, writing in a drafty attic. I never understood how she could make a living at a penny a word though, and her choice of Professor Baer always puzzled me.

I envied (and admired) Andre Norton, who was one of my favorite authors and I had the feeling I could write stories too, with science fiction and a lot more romance. Which of course is what I do now.

Not the Author
I NEVER once thought I could make a living as an author. I went through wanting to be a nurse (hello Cherry Ames, RN), an astronaut (hello geometry and trigonometry and goodbye dreams of being a scientist because I can’t “math the sh*t” out of anything), a teacher (because I idolized several of my high school teachers, which led to a disastrous choice of a college which led to my dropping out after a major illness to marry my high school sweetie – ok, there were a LOT of other factors involved in the situation and the marriage part was the BEST thing I ever did….where was I?!)

I got a business degree because my late husband and I were partners and he was so good at long range planning, which started with both of us having degrees, good jobs, then our first house, then a station wagon, then a baby…
I went to work at NASA/JPL because I loved all things to do with the space program, I could work in contracts and related business areas for them…and stayed for a fulfilling and challenging career full of new experiences.

Yes, they got off the roof. Published
many years later, much revised!
But I never stopped writing. Sometimes it went on hiatus for a long time due to life happening, as when my husband was killed in a bicycle-truck accident when the children were 3 and 5…yeah, it’s a family joke how many years my poor characters were stuck on a temple roof under attack by bad guys because I didn’t touch the writing for so long after being widowed…The stories never went away - I was always thinking about plots and ideas because that's how writers are, but all my energy had to go into the daily effort to keep going and keep the family going.

And in 2010 when I had an empty nest after a LOT of life happened, I dug in and decided to make a real effort at becoming published. I had a few rejection slips here and there over the years when  I got brave enough to send something off into the void but had never made a serious, let’s-get-our-craft-skillz-up-to-par effort and attempted to conquer show vs tell and head hopping and a number of other things…

First book sold in 2011.
Published by Carina Press in January 2012.
Self published my first scifi romance in March 2012.
Left JPL to become a full time author in February 2015.

Not writing in a drafty attic for a penny a word, no difficult professors on the horizon to date or court or be courted by…but living the dream! Of course Jo didn't have to deal with the challenges of promo and marketing and social media and the vicissitudes of various ebook seller platforms and all the other things an author of today must juggle...but in general I get to spend the majority of my time working on my novels and I enjoy a lot of the 'other' activities. Twitter is my favorite thing! I just can't let them eat up too much time or I never do get the words on the page.

So there you have it.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Something to Be Proud Of

In May of 1987, I put on a stupidly expensive evening gown that I'd bought (while still in high school) without any hope of ever getting to wear the thing. If you're friends with me on Facebook, you know I have a thing about wildly impractical gowns. Even though my day to day uniform consists of cut-offs, flip flops and a tee shirt, I'm all about every woman buying at least one such gown in her life. I wish I could tell you I'd limited it to one. What I can tell you is that in May of 1987 I finally had a legit reason to wear my silly evening gown out in public. (Yeah, sorry, I have a photo of it, but only that - it's not digitized. I wish. Frankly, it was over the top and slightly garish, but hey. It was the 80s. I was an artiste. O_o)

I got to wear it for a graduation ceremony that almost didn't get to take place.

It was the graduating class from Cornish College of the Arts. My class from the acting department was graduating ten people. Three years before, we'd started with twenty. Of those twenty, only eight remained (we'd gained a few along the way, too.) Attrition was a THING. An acting conservatory sounds like something that ought to be a walk in the park, doesn't it? It was three years of mentally, emotionally, and physically hard, hard work. Long hours. And lots and lots of digging around in your own emotional guts. For a lot of people, it got too hard and they turned away from it.

Yet even for those of us who dug into each challenge, our paths were not necessarily assured. Each year, we had to be invited back to the conservatory in order to continue studying there. We faced three hurdles, GPA, a professionalism score solicited from teachers and peers, and our final hurdle, a frank assessment by the teaching staff as to whether, in their opinion, we had a future in the craft. That last one came down to a yes/no vote. Clear all three and you got to enroll. Fail any one of them and you'd get a form letter explaining that your time at Cornish had come to an end. Don't call us, kid.

Between my junior and senior year at the conservatory, my stats were solid. Yet when my teachers voted on my potential, I split the staff. Half of them wanted me gone. The other half just as adamantly wanted me to stay. The director of the program declined to break the tie and none of the teachers could talk any of the other teachers into changing his or her vote. So, by the skin of my teeth, I got to stay and I got to graduate. I only knew about it because one of the teachers took me aside and told me about it, after. He also told me that the teachers who'd voted to keep me in the conservatory all cited the same reason. Sheer determination and stick-to-itiveness. He said that if success came down to never giving in, I had it in my teeth.

I'd had no idea that I'd made that impression on anyone - that I was determined (I was). I was disconcerted, and maybe a little defensive about nearly being kicked out, but I was also proud. It was another challenge that made me work all the harder that final year. And I was prouder still to get to graduate despite the doubts of half of my teachers.

This story plays directly into what I'm proudest of in my writing. I won't give up. I've stuck to it and will continue to. Slings, arrows, and outrageous fortune notwithstanding. I keep on keeping on. I have story gripped in my teeth, and I am that bull dog that will not let go. There's no graduating this time. And no one voting over my fate. Just me and the stories. Which in some ways is too bad. Because it means not getting to wear another silly evening gown in public.

I vote we create a writers tea somewhere fancy. White tie. Impractical evening gowns encouraged. We gather once a year to celebrate everyone who stuck with writing, no matter what. Determination. Stick-to-itiveness. That's something to be proud of.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Best Editor Sheila Gilbert

People, I'm so proud that the SFF Community has confirmed the thing that I've known for some time: that Sheila Gilbert at DAW is the BEST Editor.  She's now won the Hugo twice (and has been nominated six times), and she is hands-down amazing. 


For real.  THE BEST.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Exile of the Seas - available for preorder!

"To say that Exile of the Seas exceeded my already high expectations would not do the book justice." ~Brenda Murphy, Writing While Distracted

Around the shifting borders of the Twelve Kingdoms, trade and conflict, danger and adventure put every traveler on guard . . . but some have everything to lose.
Once she was known as Jenna, Imperial Princess of Dasnaria, schooled in graceful dance and comely submission. Until the man her parents married her off to almost killed her with his brutality.

Now, all she knows is that the ship she’s boarded is bound away from her vicious homeland. The warrior woman aboard says Jenna’s skill in dancing might translate into a more lethal ability. Danu’s fighter priestesses will take her in, disguise her as one of their own—and allow her to keep her silence.

But it’s only a matter of time until Jenna’s monster of a husband hunts her down. Her best chance to stay hidden is to hire out as bodyguard to a caravan traveling to a far-off land, home to beasts and people so unfamiliar they seem like part of a fairy tale. But her supposed prowess in combat is a fraud. And sooner or later, Jenna’s flight will end in battle—or betrayal.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Proud of My Protags

Of what am I most proud in regards to my writing?

I am most proud of the protagonists I write. They're strong women who are flawed but not TDTL. They're decision makers who own their mistakes. They're brave without realizing anything less is an option. They're supportive even when they have nothing to gain. They are relatable...including the one who eats rocks and bleeds fire.

Yes, a lot of female protagonists have those traits these days, which is marvelous and inspirational because it shows the bar for female characters is being raised above the "usefulness to men" standard. More than the maid-mother-whore boxes they used to rattle around in, contemporary character-driven plots with women leading the story aren't about being worthy of dick. (Hell, there's an upsurge of protags who don't even like dick.) It's not to say that romance isn't important or of interest to these modern story-drivers; quite the contrary. Relationships and connections of all kinds are crucial. However, female protagonists are no longer servile lumps of moist clay; they're reaching through the pages to demand more. They're saying, "appreciate my awesomeness or GTFO."

When we're living in a real world where the leadership of the patriarchy is reducing women to the categories of beautiful, disgusting, or animal, it's good to have women leading stories who DNGAF.

If you want to know what makes my writing unique...well, I have a female protagonist who eats rocks. The weird just goes from there.

Monday, August 20, 2018

What Am I Most Proud Of When It Comes To My Writing?

That's about as easy to decide as it is to herd cats at a dog show.

So here's a top ten list, instead. Keep in mind that, as often is the case. Jeffe has beat me to a lot of what I might have said. he's just that good.

1) I am delighted and proud to have collaborated with some amazing people over the years of my career. Seriously. I have worked with a few truly amazing authors.

2) I am extremely proud of the fan letters I've received from people who were moved by my tales. From those who were terrified to those who were touched, I am flattered and humbled.

3) I'm beyond proud to have written in several shared universes. It's like playing in someone else's sandbox and being allowed to play with their toys.  From Aliens, to Hellboy, to Predator, to Clive Barker's Hellraiser and Nightbreed, I have been incredibly fortunate. That doesn't even touch on all of the roleplaying games I got to handle with White Wolf Games and Holistic Designs.

4) I'm proud of the fan art I've received over the years.

5) While I've seldom won an award I have been nominated for several prestigious awards. from the Stokers to the Gemmell and I a remain flattered and honored by each.

6) I'm proud, so proud of every writer I've come across who, for whatever insane reason, took my advice and ran with it and then actually came back and thanked me when they achieved their goals. A far as I'm concerned I offered nothing they couldn't have found on their pwn, but I am delighted for and proud of each and every one of them.

7) I feel a lot of pride when I look at the full list of novels I've had in print. I've been at this for a while now, and I am amazed by the fact that I've been published by many different houses over the years and the notion that I've got over forty-five novels and oen hundred titles titles to my name.

8) I'm proud of the fact that I remain in print.

9) I'm damned delighted to know that my works have been translated into over fifteen languages over the years.

10) I'm proud of the fact that I've done all of that without a college diploma to my name.

There you have it.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Being Proud of Being Different

I'm just back from #WorldCon76, which was a whirlwind of great stuff. I caught a moment of downtime at the lovely Fairmont pool, including a much-needed nap.

This week at the SFF Seven, we're asking "What are you most proud about with regards to your writing?"

It's an interesting question for me, coming out of WorldCon, which is the World Science Fiction convention. While there is some fantasy representation, the con is heavily focused on Science Fiction fandom. It's also an older institution and seems to attract a lot of the "purists" in the field.

SFF fandom can be weird that way, at least to me - and I often feel like an outsider. I sometimes joke that I'm an exoplanet. It's funny to me to discover that I'm as serious a Trekkie as any, though I never got involved in that community. And for me, coming from this blend of SFF and Romance, I'm not really what people who are solidly SSF expect.

And yeah, there's an ongoing perception of Romance Cooties. This one gal came by my autographing table and tried to explain how the romance tropes in Paranormal Romance just hit her all wrong. I explained that I don't write Paranormal Romance - and that it's quite different from Fantasy Romance - and she said "I know, but still."

There's a lot to unpack that way - about reader expectations, internalized misogyny, the perception that positive emotions are less important, that male-gaze sex and romance are fine but the female-gaze versions are "icky" - and none of that is all that relevant to this post. Except to say that it can be easy to from that kind of convention feeling "less than."

Really, any of us can find opportunities to feel that way, right?

Because, the next person to come up to my table said "I didn't know you'd be here or I would've brought all my copies of your books." Then she bought copies of all three that I had so I could sign them for her, and had me sign bookplates for the rest.

It's easy to focus on the negatives and forget the positives. I received a whole lot of positives at WorldCon. People saying I did a fantastic job on a panel, even that I was the best one on it. My fellow SFWA Board members taking time to say how much they appreciate my input on the board. Meetings with friends and fans who think I'm special.

I think that being proud of what we write takes constant reaffirmation. Like renewing vows in a marriage. I've known from the beginning that my choices would make my career more difficult. "Like wading through hip-deep snow," Catherine Asaro told me, way back before I published my first book. I could've tried to change this about myself - or at least about what I write.

I've repeatedly chosen not to. And I am proud of that.

While I'd love to have lines out the door like Seanan McGuire, I also don't want to write what she writes. I love to read her October Daye series. I don't want to write that.

So, what am I most proud of in my writing? I'm proud that I am writing the stories that I really want to tell. I've been called stubborn, but I think my tenacity has paid off and I've found an audience - one that's growing all the time. It's not easy to stand up to the pressure to fit in with the more mainstream, more successful stuff. I feel it in myself all the time. Every time someone says "Romance" with that eye-roll and sneer, I feel it. Every time someone wants to read my books and someone else warns them off because it's too sexy, I feel that pressure to change.

That's part of creating art, whatever kind beckons to us. Creating means bringing something into the world that wasn't there before - so sometimes people don't recognize right away. Or only some do.

And that's okay, too.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

When Your Deadline Involves Chasing a Planet


When you’ve spent millions of dollars building a robot rover to explore Mars and the planets will only be in the right alignment to launch during one small window of time every two years, now THAT is a deadline not to be missed.

If you saw the movie 'The Martian,' you'll recall all the conversation and tension around the launch windows and when supplies could be sent and when a rescue mission could be sent...

I supported the business aspects of various real life Mars missions and other projects at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory during my career there and trust me, the project planning at JPL is intricate and leaves nothing to chance, even building in slack time to handle those unforeseen glitches and gremlins that always arise when trying to do complicated one time trips to other planets. There were literally thousands, if not millions of interim ‘due dates’ in the project plan prior to the actual preferred launch date.

Including dates for all the reviews and other meetings needed to keep an eye on the schedule.

Do I apply all that rigor to my own career as a self-published author? Not really. I still break big jobs into smaller deliverables and keep an eye on my critical path…yeah, and I also still speak the project language, as you can see. I track my deadlines on my Outlook calendar and on a handwritten weekly To Do List that is constantly changing, evolving, scribbled upon and reviewed. (I need that tactile feedback of crossing things off and eventually crumpling up the paper and throwing it away to start a fresh list.) I HATE missing a deadline or causing others to do hurry up work to accommodate my not building in enough slack time.

Bu this applies to the posts I write for USA Today/HEA, AMAZING STORIES and other platforms, including this lovely, well built, friendly gathering spot.

When it comes to my own novels, I have a really rough editorial calendar sketched out, about a year ahead, to make myself see one cannot perform three actions simultaneously, there are not more than twenty four hours in a day and yes, I need to sleep. So that means I CANNOT expect to get the next novel in my bestselling Badari Warriors series released while also completing another ancient Egyptian paranormal romance, much less also writing the long awaited sequel to my one fantasy romance. Not in the same 30-40 days. And my editor has an iron clad thirty days to go over each of my manuscripts and she can’t edit three of them simultaneously either.

I have a bad habit of ‘magical thinking,’ which Wikipedia defines thusly:  the belief that one's thoughts by themselves can bring about effects in the world or that thinking something corresponds with doing it. So I like to believe I can do three things at once!

At least as a self-published author, I’ll never miss any contractually required deadlines. I just have to ensure the flow of words and books keeps going on a regular enough basis to meet that other hard and fast deadline – paying the rent!

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Deadline We All Face

There's precious little I can say about deadlines that hasn't been said already, and I'm going to hush up in observance of the Queen of Soul's passing.

I will note that there's one deadline we all face and it's non-negotiable. So if there's something that matters to you, you'd better get on it because the world needs whatever it is you have to offer.

I leave you with an article (with a  link to the performance audio) about Aretha Franklin singing opera - something I somehow missed. Had actual operas been sung a little more freely, I think I'd have been a much bigger fan. Modern operatic style leaves me cold. This performance didn't. It gave me goose bumps.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Deadlines Looming

Let me tell you something about deadlines.

Or more specifically, let me tell how I don't get what I see other writers do with deadlines.  Like, I will see people be all, "Oh, yeah, I have a novel due next month.  I better get to work on it."  As in, little-to-no work has been done, and now that the deadline approaches, they're planning on weaponizing their panic and going into FULL POWER MODE, knocking out thousands of words each day and having a finished novel in a couple weeks.

I honestly don't understand how to do this.  Like, my brain recoils at the idea.

For me, deadlines are always a long-range thing.  I look at when something is due, and look where I am right now, and ask myself, "What do I need to do to be two months before the deadline?" and start working on that goal.  Because I know things will get in the way, I know there will be setbacks, and it's best to charge in with a plan before even getting to that point. 

I mean, people ask me what the "secret" is to my output, and a big part of that is in the planning.  I know what the core of the next year and a half looks like, writing-wise, and I plan for that.   I don't think I could do it otherwise.

And that takes discipline, and even then, the schedule slips and things get behind.

SPEAKING OF, I'm working hard on finishing The Shield of the People before its deadline, and The Way of the Shield is coming out in just a few weeks, so I might be pretty scarce here in the coming days. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Deadlines: A Haiku

People say a lot of things about deadlines: they're stressful, arbitrary, debilitating, intrusive, confusing, too much. I get it. However, I'm not one of those people. Here are my thoughts on deadlines, in haiku form because odes are too complicated for a summer day when the kids are still not back to school:

I adore deadlines
(not kidding) because they mean
someone wants to read.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Managing Deadlines: 5 Steps to Successful Project Management

Ever work with a project manager? The people whose primary responsibility is to ensure the project moves through the process from concept to customer? They're the ones who keep track of deadlines and deliverables. Communication is the crux of their job, followed very closely by organization. They are arguably the most well-connected people in a company. The bane of their existence is when somebody slips a date and doesn't tell them in advance. (Feature-creep is a wholly different PITA.)

I have had my ass schooled by learned from some of the most efficient project managers who mastered herding cats. I've carried those best practices into my author career. If you've followed this blog for a while, then this list will sound very familiar.

5 Steps to Successful Project Management 

  1. Prioritize
    • You are the only one who knows your workload. Don't expect others to intuit all that you've got going on. Your path to sanity is via prioritizing tasks and projects. Even the repetitious ones, like taking the kids to/from school. Anything that demands your time gets prioritized. Note the things that are flexible and those that aren't. You can reschedule a conference call. You can't reschedule the start of a public school day.
  2. Set Realistic Expectations...then add two weeks.
    • So you attracted the interest of a Big Publisher. Congrats! They want to sign you for three books. Awesome! They want those books delivered in six-month intervals. Uh...You only have the first one written and that took you three years to get into a query-ready state. Talk to your agent, be frank with them. It's better to decline an offer than to be in breach. 
    • Always add two weeks to big projects. That's wiggle room in case the flu strikes, equipment fails, or your brain goes on strike.
  3. Confirm Dates and Times
    • Seems logical, but it's amazing how many problems crop up because of ambiguous phrases like "30 days." Is that 30 business days or calendar days? "The end of the month." What if the end of the month falls on a Sunday? Is the deliverable due on the Friday before or the Monday after?  Even "COB " is suspect what with time zone differences, flexible hours, and people who never.stop.working. 
  4. Communicate as Soon as a Bump Appears
    • This is the one that a lot of people resist because they're afraid of the perceptions and the consequences. They think they can "power through" and "slide under the deadline." Worse, some folks stay quiet and hope an elf will magically fix everything for them. Peeps, don't do that to yourselves or your team. The ulcer isn't worth it. Tell your contact/team as soon as you know there's an issue because date slippage has a ripple effect. The sooner the team knows, the faster they can compensate. Missing your date might not be that big a deal...or it means they get someone else to do your piece of the project. Regardless, fess up fast. Don't work yourself into an oozing pustule of anxiety. 
    • See Jeffe's post from Sunday about Big Trouble vs Daily Shit
  5. Reassess & Reset
    • Whenever you complete a project, take a beat and assess the resources and time it took you to finish. Did your accurately estimate what was needed? Do you have similar projects in your schedule? Based on what you learned from the completed project, are there any adjustments you need to make to the future projects? Are there any people who need to be informed about the needed adjustments?
Adulting. Sometimes the hardest part is being honest with yourself. Once you are, it's a lot easier to be upfront with others...even about moving deadlines.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines....

There was a time when I never, ever missed a deadline.

I think it lasted roughly a month.

I try very, very hard to make sure I hit deadlines, but sometimes it simply isn't going to happen.

When I started out I would say "yes" to very nearly impossible deadlines regularly. Why? Because I wanted the work and I was willing to make the sacrifices.  Who needs sleep when you have coffee?

Now and then that philosophy backfired and life got in the way.  The day job required more time (Retail does that), or the family needed some help. Then you have to start weighing what is more important.

Know what else you have to do? You have to communicate. There is usually at least a little flex time in what you are told as a deadline. Maybe not much, but some.

Look on the right side of the screen and you'll see a cover for my Predator novel.  When I was writing that everything that could go wrong did. First, there were changes in the script, They made the movie better in my opinion, but they were there and that meant reevaluating all of the source material before I could start writing my novel. Heck, I had to rewrite my outline before we could proceed. That was a decent slow down, but not crippling.

No. What was crippling was falling the wrong way in ice and tearing two tendons in my shoulder and destroying my rotator cuff. I thought it was a sprain and tried to just power on through, but the pain was actually debilitating, I could not work for several weeks at the day job but I also could no write very much.  My beloved was wise enough to point out that Google Docs has a voice option. I employed it and things got better. But the voice option isn't flawless and a good deal of  clean up was required.

I was a little over a month late.

I did the unthinkable and told my editor the truth. We worked together to make it right. 

There are those situations where a book will be, by God, late. My mother going into hospice? No writing done while she left this world. My wife passing away? No work done while I tried to remember how to breathe, how to walk, how to go through the regular day without losing my mind. How bad was it I only recently pulled out and finished the novel I was writing when she passed away. It took me 8 years to get back to  even looking at that book. It took me a month to finish. but it was the book I worked on while my wife was on dialysis and dying by inches. I set it aside, I came back to it when I could.

Deadlines are flexible. If they weren't there would be no publishing industry.

I had a few deadlines after my wife passed what were delayed because I got lost in grief. I don't torture myself over those. I merely accept them and try to move on. I made it a point to explain to my editors. They were usually understanding. Sometimes I know it was inconvenient for them, but we worked it out.

 I'm a writer. I used my words.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Big Trouble and Daily Sh*t: Knowing the Difference

Kitty bookends for breakfast!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is Deadline mania. How to keep the deadlines in times of trouble.

It's kind of amusing because I started this blog post around 10am this morning, then spent over four hours with Microsoft Office 365 help trying to find out why I'm suddenly getting prompts to log in, when until yesterday I've been able to work in the Office 365 programs without being constantly logged in. Even though I asked right off if something changed, it took four hours for them to tell me that new "security" was implemented yesterday to "protect my files." I don't use One Drive because frankly I don't trust Microsoft with my documents. Now I trust them even less. And I'm cancelling my subscription to 365.

I'm probably going to Office 2016 or 2019 (if it's available soon), but all suggestions for an alternative are welcome!

(Though don't tell me Scrivener. It gives me hives.)

So, while I don't have an actual hard and fast deadline for this blog post - and a Sunday of housework is an arguably decent time to deal with extended shite like that - I'm feeling super behind.

So here's the thing. There's two kinds of trouble. Okay, maybe there's a spectrum of trouble, but it all falls under one of two major categories: Big Trouble and Daily Shit.

Big Trouble is anything where people could die, or become very ill, or something equally as bad in your world.

Everything else is Daily Shit.

And like all things, the trick is knowing the difference.

I've you've got Big Trouble, then deadlines don't matter. A famous author with a long and productive career said that she has a profoundly autistic adult child. Compared to dealing with those issues, things like losing an editor pale in comparison. Deadlines can move, if you have Big Trouble. The most important aspect there is not to let Daily Shit derail your deadlines. Then you build up a karma bank so if you have to move a deadline because of Big Trouble, everyone knows that it must be important, because you wouldn't let them down because of Daily Shit.

Me dealing with the dorkwads at Microsoft Office 365? Daily Shit. I'd never do that on a writing day because my word count takes precedence over Daily Shit.

If you're committed to being a writer, then word count and meeting deadlines should ALWAYS take precedence over dealing with Daily Shit. If it doesn't, then you're elevating Daily Shit to Big Trouble, which means that a whole lot of Daily Shit will want to be that important, and pretty soon you have a whole lot of Big Trouble and no time to write.

I can't really tell you what should qualify as Big Trouble in your life, but I can promise that you need to know. Find that line, and draw it big, bright and bold. And stick to it.

Keep that Daily Shit where it belongs - out of the way of the important stuff.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

My Freeform Post Today


Our topic this week is freeform – anything on our mind.



As in, I’m thinking about lots of things all the time, but nothing I want to write a post about, or which adds up to a post on its own.

I’m driving hard to finish my next Badari Warriors novel, TIMTUR, so maybe that’s part of why I’m coming up empty of BIG ISSUES I want to discuss in this space today. My brain is off into the far future, with my imperiled hero and heroine, fighting the alien scientists.

My toddler grandson has discovered a love for multisyllable words and gives them his all. Helicopter. Watermelon. Butterfly. He also loves his Gramma and has taken to asking for me. Fortunately I live literally at the other end of the same apartment complex and so I can walk down for frequent visits. There’s nothing as restorative as a hug from a little one. His favorite books are by Neil Gaiman (the 'Chu' series) and Sandra Boynton. Plus of course, the SPOT books...all of which I read for him with gusto and sound effects.

There are a plethora of things happening in the world on my mind. I tweeted last week that I’d realized the last time I knew so many members of Congress (from both parties) by sight who were not my own representatives was…during Watergate. I even recognize the Cabinet members and I don’t think that’s ever happened. Someone else agreed and said we both must watch too much MSNBC. Quite possible! But it’s not my nature and not my purpose in being on social media to discuss current events, with rare exceptions. Sit in my living room and we’ll hash it all out. Not here. Shrug. Your mileage may vary. I vote, I donate and I let my elected representatives know what I think.

My high school gym teacher passed away last week. She was a force of nature, kinda scary to an introverted-non-athletic-girl like me but inspirational in her way. And I’ll never forget the rousing, somewhat puzzling sex ed talks she delivered (“Gals, y’all gotta pump the BRAKES and it’s y’alls job to slow down those boys and their accelerators when they git you parkin’ on that dark mountain lookout some night after prom…” Slightly exaggerated for effect – I AM a romance novelist – but not much.)  I left home at the age of 19 to get married to my high school sweetie and live the entire continent away from the location of my high school, and only in the last year reconnected with my high school community on FB, so it’s still a little disconcerting to me when that part of the past reaches out and grabs my attention. That was a lonngggg time ago but they’re all locked in my head as they were when we roamed the school together, so it’s a surprise every time I realize hey, we’ve all gotten older. Kinda like the cast of “Grease”. Revelation: No one from our class is 17 anymore.

I baked banana bread this morning for my son-in-law, father of the aforementioned delightful toddler. Used my late mother’s recipe, which is older than I am, has probably too much sugar and butter but tastes great of course as a result. I’d written the recipe in what used to be my good handwriting on an index card and put it in the wooden recipe box my Dad gave me when I left home to be married.

There were various kerfluffles in the author world last week, some more hurtful to people than others. I usually miss hearing about these until they’re over and I almost never weigh in on them because most of the time I have no direct involvement. My eyes open wide and I blink a lot in disbelief as the tweets and posts go by in the social media stream and I might discuss aspects of it all privately with close author friends but that’s about it.

I watched a really unintentionally amusing scifi movie last night where at the one hour mark exactly the alien spaceship crashed in Laos (the first hour occurred in LA) and for the rest of the movie the hero and heroine battled it out against the aliens side by side with a group of Laotian drug smugglers who seemed to have dropped in from a kung fu movie of years past, on a set that looked like Angkor Wat but wasn’t. Turns out it was a direct sequel to another one I’d seen years ago which had ended with that movie's hero changed into one of the aliens and his pregnant girlfriend stuck on the spaceship high above LA.  The production values were actually pretty good, the hero was mildly hunky (terrific biceps) and I kept watching till the end, partly in disbelief and partly because the story moved along briskly.

I read two great scifi novels in the last week or so – Contagion by Erin Bowman and Planetside by Michael Mammay, and interviewed both authors for AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE blog. I did a long post for USA Today/HEA on mermaids, interviewing ten authors.

We’re in the middle of a series of 100 degree days (global warming anyone?) and although there are no brush fires near us this year, at least not right now, I’m keeping my eye on the news just in case.

So, ok there you go, my stream of consciousness “this is what’s on my mind today” post and now I have to get back to my characters and their dilemma. Have a great weekend!
Not the Author although I do have blue eyes.

Friday, August 10, 2018

All or Nothing

I took a class from someone who specializes in teaching writers to play to their strengths. Which meant identifying those strengths. That work was done and those of us in the class listened to lectures, chatted amongst ourselves and with our instructor, mostly trying to grasp how far of course each of us had drifted when it came to core personality traits and/or our wiring.

Think of it like vehicles with internal combustion engines. Some of us are motorcycles - lean, agile, able to zip around obstacles that stymy others, but side swipe us with a truck, and it's game over. Some of us are econoboxes - no frills workhorses who won't set any speed records, but we get where we're headed. Some are sporty models - high output engines, speed, flashy good looks and a tendency to end up sitting in repair shops because, man, those engines are fiddly. Or maybe a rusted, dented pickup truck with a lawnmower hanging out the back and one wheel that wobbles and a top speed on the freeway for 40.

At their core, all of these vehicles are the same, right? Wheels and internal combustion engines. But after that, they are all built entirely differently.

So are writers.

And yet, we tell ourselves that if THAT author is doing were-hamster/were-guinea pig mash up romances at the blistering clip of 16 new novels a year, then by all the gods, WE SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO THAT TOO. If plotting is THE way to make writing easier and faster, then let's all learn to plot! So what if the only way we discover story is literally in the writing of it? We can learn anything! Well. Yes. As a matter of fact, we can learn anything. Yay, reading, right? But then we start applying everything we've taught ourselves and over time, we bog down. So we learn more things, trying to get unstuck. It rarely works. We've loaded waaay too much stuff into the sports car and completely ignored that vehicle's great strength - drama. I may stretching the analogy far too thin.

Back to the class I took. It was a series of epiphanies centered around figuring out how we as writers (and human beings) are wired to work. No two of us in the class were the same. But our instructor did a fabulous job of explaining what drives each of the different personalities. Interesting stuff trying to peel back layers of expectation to get at the core of your writing drive. Then, in the final class, the instructor began talking about people who are what she called 'the 0-100 percenters'. When these people do a thing, they DO the thing - no one and nothing else exists for them. That's the 100%. The rest of the time, these people are 0%. They might even deny they're writers during a 0% phase. She kept talking, mostly about the challenges versus the advantages of the type and how to structure your life to take advantage of it. I kept listening, my heart sinking.

I am one of those people. How do I know? After that class, I took the weekend off. I read four novels in two days. This had been my childhood. Devouring books. Getting in trouble because I couldn't stop reading long enough to do the chores my parents assigned me.

I'd always been amazed by (and maybe deeply suspicious of) people who could just read a chapter in a book and then put it down. Then I graduated to wondering what was wrong with me that I couldn't do that. It's because I'm just wired to be something different.

So where's the benefit? The day after finishing the fourth book, I wrote an insane number of words after having been stuck in the low triple digits for months. It was easy. It was fun. It's been a long time since I said that. That's the power of stripping way all the 'shoulds' around what we do and playing to your specific strengths. Now to fun something - anything - to completion.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

ArmadilloCon is the best con you aren't going to, and you need to change that

This past weekend was ArmadilloCon, which truly was an excellent whirlwind of a convention.  I've been hearing a lot of positive buzz and feedback from several corners, and the phrase "best ArmadilloCon ever" has been whispered here and there.  And I think, yeah, maybe so.  It's hard for me to gauge exactly, of course.  On the whole, each year is better for me, but each year has been marking my steady transition from hopeful-aspiring-writer to pro-with-a-stack-of-books, including the con treating me like a pro when I was "guy-with-an-agent-but-no-sales", which is an incredibly strange and frustrating stage in one's writing career.

But here is the thing about ArmadilloCon: it is probably the most friendly con for the aspiring-pro-writer out there.  The writer's workshop is a centerpiece for the con, and it's probably the most valuable one-day workshop out there.  I mean, most people can't afford the money or time to do something like Odyssey or Clarion, which are multiple weeks, but even if you don't live in Texas: you can probably swing a long weekend. 

More to the point, the con is geared toward being an extended hand to people who are striving to be a professional writer.  Panels on craft, panels on business of writing, and most of the pros who go there make a point of being open and welcome. 

I mean, I've seen several cons where the "pro" space and the "fan" space are very specifically segregated, either implicitly or explicitly, and that often leaves the hopeful pro feeling left a bit at sea.  But, many of our regular pros (including myself) came up through the workshop, and we all still have vivid memories of being there.  We know how hard it is.  We want to make it easier.

Also, the con is just filled with good energy.  There's been a lot of specific steps taken to make the con more open and welcoming to people from traditionally marginalized groups, and continuing to improve and expand on that that has been a real goal. 

We, the SFF Writing Community of Austin-- as well as the greater area of Texas as a whole-- are striving to give all of you: the established pro, the prospective hopeful, the eager fan-- the best con experience we can give you.  We'd love for you to join us down here.

Plus: Tacos.  And barbecue. And did I mention tacos? 

Really.  Come on down.