Sunday, August 9, 2020

SFF Tropes: Name Your Fave!

If you love some Romance with or alongside your SFF, my publisher is doing this fab giveaway of new releases to celebrate Romance Awareness Month! Note that my book, THE FIERY CROWN, is included :D 

Our topic at the SFF Seven this month is our favorite SFF Tropes.

For those who might not know, a trope is simply a story element. I've noticed that some in SFF circles tend to be resistant to discussing tropes - as if they're a negative or unoriginal aspect of storytelling - where Romance readers are very open about embracing and searching out their favorite tropes. In truth, tropes are inevitable and wonderful parts of recognizing what kinds of stories we love. If you want a broad overview of tropes - and you're not afraid of a rabbit hole, because this site WILL take you down one - check out TVtropes. Despite the somewhat misleading title, this site is super useful for researching story tropes from all creative media. 

If you want to peruse just SFF tropes - maybe look for your personal fave! - I did the search for you.

A lot of the time, what people identify as tropes are those story elements that have become cliche. The Chosen One is a somewhat cliche trope in Fantasy that can make us roll our eyes if it's not handled well. Usually handled badly with this trope means that the Chosen One is a white boy prodigy (Orson Scott Card anyone?) with no indication whatsoever what makes them so freaking special except that they are Special. And no, making your Chosen One a brown girl instead doesn't automagically solve the problem.


You all know me: enemies to allies/lovers and marriage of state/convenience are right up there for me. They also happen to be grand crossovers to Romance, so they work well for me. 

I also love me an underestimated heroine with hidden talents, magical or otherwise. I love an embattled ruler, almost always a queen for me. The Hero's Journey is a favorite, though I almost always give it to a female character. That goes well with the magic worker struggling to control growing powers. The alpha male with a cinnamon roll heart always works for me. 

Amusingly enough, all of those tropes are in THE FIERY CROWN. Go figure.

What about you - fave SFF tropes???

Friday, August 7, 2020

Audiobook Recommendation

The only thing I have to offer you in the way of audiobook wisdom is dinosaurs. A Grown Up Guide to Dinosaurs Mostly, I find I can't handle someone talking at me while I'm doing other things I need to pay attention to like driving. Unless you're talking to me about the state of science. A friend recommended the book and insisted I'd love it. She was right. My only complaint was that it wasn't long enough. But then, I was listening to this audiobook while I was painting a room (no, once the cutting in is done, painting is pretty brainless. No cats were painted in the painting of my deep blue wall) and I ended up needing a few more hours than I had. Oh well.

Because of the expense of producing audiobooks, not a single one of my stories is yet in audio. I say yet because there may be efforts afoot to change that. Just. Don't hold your breath. I'm not. There are still logistics to be worked out and options to be explored.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Rise of the Audiobook

This week I’m listening to The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi, a beautifully written historical fiction that takes place in 1950’s India. I love learning new things in such a vibrant way…and I’m listening to it! 

Good timing too because our topic this week is audiobook popularity. Do you listen to audiobooks? If you’re an author, do you make them? Any thoughts on if they’ll overtake ebooks? 

Honestly, I was slow to join the audiobook bandwagon. I’m not talking books on tape, but the electronic versions you can download in an app—so EASY! Yet, when they became a thing and my fellow book bloggers were devouring them, I stuck to my paperbacks and hardcovers. 

Crazy enough, at the time I was still working in the corporate world and driving at least two hours a day, sometimes more depending on which laboratories I needed to visit. 

Fast forward to today and…man oh man, why didn’t I give audiobooks a try back then! If I could hop a time machine that might be my destination, go back and tell my commuting past-self to download gobs of ‘em I could’ve soared my 90 book-a-year average into the triple digits! 

Even though I no longer commute, I’m so blessed to be able to work from home, there are plenty of days my eyes can’t take any more screen time. That means ixnay the ebooks and even reading on a page is difficult—thank you very much chronic disease—but, I’m thankful for audiobooks! 

Popularity then: I’d say they’re gaining. I talk books with most people I come across and within the last couple of years I’ve noticed that more are listening instead of reading. Interesting…possible factors could be: chronic disease is on the rise, resulting in conditions that increase the necessity of an audible option, and in our current semi-isolated climate hearing a voice is a comfort, even if it’s recorded.

Another interesting thing, I recently learned that for traditionally published books it’s not always the publishing house that puts out the recorded version. 

Come on, gasp with me! I can’t be the only reader out there who didn’t have a clue about how audiobooks came to be. 

Yes, I was aware of companies you could hire to produce your self-published or indie-published book if you wanted to. But maybe because I haven’t been listening to audiobooks that long or maybe because I don’t really pay attention to the intro and miss who actually made it I’d always assumed they came from the publisher!

There you have it, my take on audiobooks and how I think they’ll continue to grow. Yes, I enjoy them, though never as much as a paper version. And yes, I believe I’ll make one someday. 

*By the way, have you listened to Martha Well’s Murderbot series in audio?! The narrator, Kevin R. Free’s interpretation perfectly encompasses Murderbot’s flatline emotions and ponderings. So, so good. If you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon and dig sci-fi, hands-down start with this one!

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Audiobooks on a budget

This week we're talking about audiobooks here on the SFF Seven. I'll say right off that I'm a huge fan, especially nonfiction. I subscribe to Audible and have a Chirp account too, so I'm pretty stocked on stuff to fill my ears with. Back in the days before covid, audiobooks made waiting in the car for kids a less stultifying lifestyle choice. Bonus that I was not tempted to sing along to must, therefore avoiding the "Mom, please stop singing" refrain, which as you can imagine was always so uplifting and encouraging. 

In the new normal of quarantine life, I haven't been in the car much, so my listening time is way down. (I know, I should use the treadmill more, which is a great time to listen to audiobooks, too.) Regardless, I'd still consider myself a fan. I'd recommend any and all of the last three three books I listened to on audio: The Last Emperox by John Scalzi (on Audible), What If? by Randall Munro (on Chirp), and Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik (also on Audible; I read the ebook, too, but the audio was super fun). 

One drawback of audiobooks in general is that they do tend to be pricey, but there's always the library. Also, you can have BookBub send you daily emails of deals for Chirp books, much like they do for ebook sales. For more info, check out the write-up on BookBub regarding the service. LibriVox also offers audio recordings of books in the public domain, for free, and this is literally the only way I can handle Herman Melville.

But all the above is from the point of view of someone who listens because it's fun and eats up a long car incarceration. So I brought up the topic--asking both why audio is a thing to do and tips for doing it on the cheap--with my friend and fellow science fiction romance writer, Cailin Briste. Here's her response:

I have a unique take on audiobooks. I’ve had eye problems for over a decade that made reading difficult. I have the Kindle Oasis specifically because it can do text to voice. At the rate I read books, having my Kindle read to me was the best financial option for me. I’ve even grown attached to the computer simulated voice that reads the books. Since I’ve had surgery on one eye, I find myself reading more rather than listening. Actual audiobooks have always been for long drives with my husband. A shared experience. He even listens to romance novels.

So, in addition to scoping out deals on places like Chirp and LibriVox, seeing whether your ereader or computer has a text-to-speech capability may also help you access audio without having to pay out the wazoo.

Oh. I guess I should mention that the first two of my Tether cyberpunk romances are available in audio through Audible. The third is not because I self-published it, and if you think buying an audiobook is pricey, whoo-boy, you should see what it costs to produce one. (Hint: a lot.) But I am pondering reading More Than Stardust aloud, like on YouTube or something, chapter by chapter, if anybody would ever be interested in such a thing. 


p.s., Much more excitingly, Cailin Briste, who was kind enough to talk with me about audiobooks, also has a new erotic science fiction romance out this week, the last in her Sons of Tallav series. If spicy SFR is your jam, check out Trey: Son of Tallav

She’s the opposite he can’t resist.

Trey Johannsen’s preference is to stick to managing a private club on Beta Tau. It’s dark. It’s sexy. The cries of pleasure, the thud of a flogger, and the mingled scents of arousal and fear are evidence he’s damn good at it.

So when his boss insists Trey’s perfect for assisting a new hire to develop a cabaret, Trey is nonplussed. How the hell do you make burlesque accurately represent the lifestyle? Then he meets her, and instant attraction has him imagining peeling her clothes off, tying her to a bed, and sinking into her until she can take no more.

He’s determined to make her his own despite differences that could thrust them into bitter conflict.

A lust-inducing man isn’t on Patsy O’Shaughnessy’s shopping list. Her commitment to refuse his overtures, they’ll be coworkers after all, slides into oblivion. She’s got a lot on her plate, but dessert never hurt a girl. Especially when the dessert is built like a Celtic warrior of old, lacking only the kilt and sword.

This is the 4th and final book in the Sons of Tallav series.

Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU | Apple Books | Kobo | Nook

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Audiobooks: Have We Heard This Before?

Audiobooks, I've had a few would-be readers ask if I'd ever release my Immortal Spy series as audiobooks. If the Universe could guarantee that I'd make back my investment in having them done (and done to my satisfaction) sure. I'm a big, big fan of delivering products in formats consumers want. However, the costs of having seven ~90k books recorded are quite prohibitive, especially now that the consumer bar of expectation is rising due to a glut of products. I'm watching consumers clamor for recordings done with a full cast and sound effects; it's audio entertainment circling back to the Golden Age of Radio when radio shows like The Shadow, Flash Gordon, and George & Gracie held listeners transfixed. Indeed, readers who are visually impaired also want to enjoy the escapist journey, and audiobooks give them that opportunity. I want to give them that opportunity, but as a Self-Pub author, I just can't afford it.

As a reader, I don't listen to audiobooks, not because I'm a snob, but because my attention can't stay fixed on someone talking without visual cues. It's my quirk, by no means a ding on those who enjoy audiobooks. 

Do I think audiobooks will overtake eBooks and print? No. Not at all. I think the heyday has passed. Now, we're moving into the high glamour, which will eventually price itself out of viability before scaling way back and settling into the niche market that's been around for a hundred years...since the dawn of commercial radio.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Audiobooks - the Future or...?

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is all about audiobooks! Do you listen to them, do you make them, do you think they’ll overtake ebooks?

I like audiobooks okay, but personally I don't LOVE them. I listen to them occasionally - like if I have a solo long-distance drive, or if I get an audiobook for free or cheaper in that format. Then I'll listen while doing housework or some such. Mostly, however, I find that I'd much rather have the quiet of my thoughts and/or listen to music. I mull my own stories when I'm not actually writing, so that's valuable thinking time for me. I'm so much in the habit of this that I find when I'm listening to an audiobook, my mind wanders. Soon I find that I've been daydreaming my own book and have totally lost track of the one I'm listening to. 


This doesn't happen so much with reading. Sometimes I get story ideas when I read, but it's easy to make a note and move on. I immerse much more with reading, either on paper or ebook. Audiobooks will never take over ebooks in my world.

That said, I *do* listen to my own audiobooks. They're an excellent way to catch myself up on previous events in the series, immerse myself in that world again, and gather up the various plot threads. I've been listening to the audiobook of THE FIERY CROWN - second book in The Forgotten Empires - narrated by the immensely talented Gabrielle Baker, as I complete a revision of book three, THE PROMISED QUEEN. I also listened to book one, THE ORCHID THRONE. I can say that getting the story in a different format - read by someone else - helps me "hear" the details better than if I read. Also it lets me multitask.

All of my audiobooks thus far have been produced by my traditional publishers. I haven't had any of my self-published books put into audio simply because the initial investment is so high. I've thought about it. I've also thought about recording them myself. I'm still not convinced it's worth the time and effort.

For those of you who DO love audio, other books of mine available in audio format are (so far as I can recall - let me know if I missed any!):

The Twelve Kingdoms: THE MARK OF THE TALA

Falling Under: GOING UNDER

Facets of Passion: RUBY, FIVE GOLDEN RINGS


Saturday, August 1, 2020

Not Painting Myself into a Corner Plotwise


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "World Rules and Painting Yourself into a Corner: What's a rule of your world established in a previous book that complicated things for you in a later book?"

Re-upping a post I wrote for this blog in early 2018, here’s what I said the last time as an opener:

The best example of this I’ve ever seen is the opening sequence of “Jewel of the Nile”, where romance author Joan Wilder is writing the most fantastic pirate scene and it keeps building and building upon itself, more complications and worse problems for the plucky heroine and then…she’s trapped alone with a ship full of evil pirates and NO escape.

“I don’t know what the pirates do any more,” she says basically, in despair.

I have never, to the best of my recollection, painted myself into a corner in a book.

I sit down, I write the book over the course of a few weeks (now that I’m fulltime), I don’t have Michael Douglas in his prime to distract me, as ‘Joan Wilder’ did…I start out knowing the beginning, the ending, and a few key scenes along the way. I don’t end up in box canyons like the bad guys in old movie Westerns and I don’t have to rely on suspension of disbelief, as people had to do sometimes with the old movie serials, like Flash Gordon, as embodied by Buster Crabbe. One week the serial would end with him facing certain death or Dale Arden facing certain death and there’s no way Flash can reach her in time…and the next week’s episode starts off with her safe in his arms and no explanation given because of course, he’s FLASH. What? Eat your popcorn and don’t ask questions.

Yup, doesn’t happen to me when I write.  Somehow my faithful Muse and I avoid those issues. We might have other issues perhaps but not that one.

Moving on from my 2018 thoughts to the present day, I did get a little too conservative with my Badari Warriors series when I began writing it. This was my first ever actual series and I wasn’t sure how it would go, or how readers would like it, so in my head, I was doing three books. Okay, fifteen or so books later and with wonderfully enthusiastic fans (yay!), I’m still spinning out the overarching plot. I’ve sat down more than once and done a really rough sketch of what else could happen before we get to that last book. I do have the final book plot in my mind, as much as I ever do any plotting in detail ahead of time.

So where is the problem, you may ask? Well, I made the original packs pretty small. I believe I said about ten men each at one point.

So as it became clear to me I was going to want to write tons of books about my Badari Warriors, I had to find ways to open up the possibilities. I like wide ranging stories. I’d had in my head from the beginning that …..SPOILER…..

…despite everyone being so adamant there were no Badari women, I knew that yes, there were, and I planned to write a book for them at the right time. The book was GABE. I did plant some hints about this in an earlier book, where one of the human characters overhears two of the alien scientists laughingly discussing an old rumor that perhaps a few Badari women might have been created, early in the 800 year old experiment’s history.

So that was one way of expanding my boundaries. Then in KIERCE, I created a Badari from another lab entirely, in the south seas area of the planet, and gave this set of Badari a few new rules, while keeping the basic parameters. Now I’ve written about this southern pack in DAEGAN and the most recently released book, IVOKK.

If I’ve established a rule or a condition as an absolute, I won’t annoy my readers by breaking the rule in a later book. That can really set my teeth on edge as a reader when I’m reading someone else’s series so no way am I going to do that. But I’m pretty creative about working within my existing universes and trying to tell a good story. It’s not my nature to sit down pre-writing and draw up some gigantic, rigid structure of commandments and rules my characters and

I Must Live By.

So no, won’t be painting myself into any corners!

Here’s the newest book I mentioned above:


The blurb:  Proud enforcer of the Badari South Seas pack, Ivokk undertakes a secret mission back to their former home, in search of a cure for a mysterious illness affecting his soldiers, now in exile in the north. He’s ready to make any sacrifice to find the answer and help his pack brothers stay strong. He’s even willing to accept responsibility for the human woman assigned to the mission, although she’s a headstrong civilian, difficult and rumored to dislike his kind.

Sandara DiFerria was once a three star chef in the Sectors, but that was before the alien enemy kidnapped the entire adult population of her colony to use for experimentation. Rescued from the labs by the Badari, she does her part to support the rebellion now by running the vast commissary operation in Sanctuary Valley. All she asks is to be left alone until she can get back to the Sectors and pick up her old life again. Her one previous romantic brush with a Badari soldier turned out badly, ending in public humiliation. Add to that post-traumatic stress from her life before moving to the colony and she’s the last person to pick for a top secret mission. Or so she believes.

The Alpha running the pack disagrees and sends her to do the job under Ivokk’s watchful eye. Thrown together by the nature of the task they must undertake, the undeniable attraction they both feel grows. Will the dark secrets of Sandara’s hidden past create an insurmountable barrier between them? Can Ivokk and the tempestuous human chef find the answer to the Badari illness in time? Or will the elements and the enemy bring disaster?

Amazon      Apple Books      Kobo      Nook      Google Play

Friday, July 31, 2020

Those Who Have, Those Who Will

This made me laugh and I needed that. I figured I'd share the wealth.

On to the stuff I'm supposed to be blogging about. You know, there's a saying in boating. There are boaters who have run aground and those who will. I feel like that's the same way with writers writing themselves into trouble. Have I run aground in a boat? Oh yes. More than once. Have I written myself into a corner? Shockingly, not yet. I have no doubt that at some point it's likely that I will - it just hasn't happened yet. I put it down to one of the oddities of my brain. Sure. Migraines all the damn time. But in exchange, continuity issues seem to be a little bit of a weird and mostly useless (unless I'm writing) super power. No one else appreciates being reminded of what they said four years ago. I assure you.

I do have a situation right now in a WIP where I wish I could adjust a timeline. But I can't. So I have to cope. An acting teacher, talking about how to put up a Shakespearean play, commented that it's easier to create within the confines of a set of rules than it is to create in a void. Some days, I agree. Some days, I rebel. But one thing remains. If I write a series, there's a spreadsheet with all of the details I assume I'll need going forward. I'm frequently wrong and I have to go digging through earlier books to find some detail I half remember so I can get it right in the next installment. It goes in the spreadsheet at that point. But that's about the limit of my patience for guaranteeing that I don't write myself into something I can't write myself out of. So far. But. Like I said. There are those who have and those who will. 

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Writing rules for your sci-fi/fantasy worlds

Rules…rules…rules were meant to be broken? 

Close, but our topic of the week is: What’s a rule of your world established in a precious book that complicated things for you later on?

And I consider myself lucky in this because so far I’ve only written books numbered one! But I’m aware of the danger of writing yourself into a tight corner because of world building/magic system, yes that came from Jeffe and her oh-so-handy posts over the years..and again this Sunday.

So I’ve used that advice…but mostly for my fantasy books because my sci-fi books I write as stand alones. Anyone out there write in different genres and treat the world building differently? 

For my fantasy books, one is Regency fantasy and the other is high fantasy.

High Fantasy: stories that take place in a completely fictional world with its own rules.

Regency fantasy is basically a historical with some magic thrown in. That meant I had to trade world building with historical research. Rabbit hole alert! Then the magic came into play and it was fantastic! Difficult physical challenges, magic! Weapons that met their mark as long as you’re close, magic! Clandestine meetings cracked by eavesdropping wind, magic! 

But all the while I already knew what would happen in book two and mostly in book three. Since I knew the future (ha! if only) I could work in hints and abilities/restrictions that I needed for book two. 

I used the same guidelines when world building my high fantasy. The magic system for this series took a year to formulate and over that year it morphed, like it was alive. Which it is, in the books. And like the Regency fantasy I already knew what would happen for my heroes and villains in book two so some of the secondary character’s magical abilities are the basis for the various main characters to come. 

After thinking about all of this I’m wondering what would happen if I wrote a book one without knowing anything about book two! I listened to Jeffe’s June 5th First Cup of Coffee where she interviewed author Grace Draven. During their coffee date Grace mentioned she wrote Phoenix Unbound without knowing what book two, Dragon Unleashed, would be. 

That blew my mind. I don’t—I don’t know if my brain could handle writing like that. Thank goodness for the beauty of this craft, that each of our paths are different and how we go about writing is different. And who knows, I could find myself in that predicament someday…and then I might have to borrow Jeffe’s tactic and lie my way out.

Too bad I’m not a proficient lier.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Where'd all that paint come from and why am I in this corner?

As Jeffe mentioned on Sunday, painting oneself into a corner is a plague on pantsers, those of us who write without outlines and sometimes even with no plan at all, just yee-haw it all out there. Writing's an adventure, right? No risk, no reward.

Until you're too far in to go back but look down and realize you can't go forward either. Because you've messed this thing up so bad. 

Painted yourself into a corner. 

I'm not saying that I do this all the time, but I do this all the time. Worse, I don't have any good advice for preventing it. For me, most times, it'll present as a note from a beta reader -- or worse, an editor -- something like, "This doesn't make sense. Did you even read the first book in this series?"

Of course I didn't read it. I wrote it.

But upon being informed of whatever plot sin I'd engaged in, my job as a storyteller is to go back and make it work. If making changes in an unpublished book can tidy everything up, that's best, but if the violation is in a book that's already out on the market, I have to change what I can. 

Sometimes, sad to say, this means I've had to give up some plot twists and reveals that I really, really loved. But I did it, and it's done, and no regrets, right?

Maybe the best advice is this: complete an entire series before you publish the first one. 

No really. And stop laughing.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

New #PNR #Vampire Release: BLOOD KNIFE by Marcella Burnard

See, dear readers, Marcella tried to be sneaky on Friday and slip the announcement of her latest short story at the end of her post. I, as the gleeful herald of our merry SFF 7 troupe, do not do sneaky. I shout book news from the headlines and the socials, so.... ~clears throat~


by Marcella Burnard

Someone is sacrificing innocent people in the Seattle Underground. The murderer is trying, and succeeding, to raise a rogue vampire assassin. Rose Buchanan has the magic and the will to stand toe to toe with Vampire Magic. Including that possessed by the gorgeous blue-eyed vampire assassin who kidnaps her in a bid to pull a suspect list from her mind. When he can't overcome her will, he releases her and sets out to woo it from her instead.

When she's freed, Rose is more than ready to stake herself a vampire, but he's a witness to the three murders. She can't destroy him. Yet. Worse still to have to try to work with him when he keeps dialing the charm to 13.

Gethin is a vampire assassin forged long ago to police the Vampire Nation under the control of the Vampire Council. Now, the council believes the time of the assassins has passed. One by one, Gethin's fellow assassins and their Blood Knives have been destroyed. Only he remains, his Blood Knife in the hands of a murderous, unhinged human.

Rose has a choice to make. Destroy Gethin or find a way to free him and make the entire Vampire Nation her enemy.

*A portion of the proceeds go to the Southern Ohio Wolf Sanctuary*

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Painted Yourself into a Corner? Retcon FTW!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "World Rules and Painting Yourself into a Corner: What's a rule of your world established in a previous book that complicated things for you in a later book?"

This has happened to me SO MANY TIMES.

It's a downside of writing for discovery or being a gardener - which some people call "pantsing" - because I discover the world as I write the story. Sometimes I'm writing a later book in a series and I discover that some decision I made in an earlier book is limiting what I can do. The real bite is this is almost always some minor, stupid detail that I just threw out there for no good reason. Very often, it could've been left out entirely and nothing would've changed.

I've actually learned from past errors this way, and I'm much more careful these days about adding random worldbuilding details unless I'm SURE I want to live with them.

Mostly, anyway.

Except for one I found recently.

I've been writing book 3 of the Forgotten Empires trilogy, THE PROMISED QUEEN (cover teased above). That means I've been listening to the audio books of THE ORCHID THRONE and THE FIERY CROWN, just to gather up all the threads of the story. Well, I found a careless remark in THE ORCHID THRONE that blows a huge part of the worldbuilding reveal in THE PROMISED QUEEN. As in, totally contradicts what we discover later. 

And it's not even important, that toss-off line in THE ORCHID THRONE! I could've deleted it and no one would've cared or noticed. 

But no.

What to do???

I had three choices, I figured:

1) Change my big reveal in THE PROMISED QUEEN*

2) Pretend I didn't know about that line in THE ORCHID THRONE**

3) Retcon*** it.

Door #3, please! 

I'll even confess here how I did it, though I won't give the details of the exact mistake. I had Lia said she lied. It actually works just fine because she's an accomplished liar - self-confessed - and she had good reason to lie about that thing, at that time and place. Is it perfect? Maybe not. Does it work? I think so. 

And now you all know...


*No way
**Risky, because I know one of you would pick up on it
***For those who don't know, retconning is short for "retroactive continuity" and it means to "revise (an aspect of a fictional work) retrospectively, typically by introducing a piece of new information that imposes a different interpretation on previously described events."

Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Muse Is Not Inspired


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is inspiration. What other media inspires us: fandom, music, photography, paintings?

Assuming the topic applies to our writing, I’m not sure I can directly credit anything as inspiration, which sounds awful, but I don’t look at a piece of art or a photograph and feel inspired to write a science fiction romance or a story set in ancient Egypt.  I may feel inspired to think lofty thoughts in general, or to feel at peace with the world or to seek out more of whatever I’m enjoying, all of which is a good thing and makes me a well rounded person, but as far as rushing to my desk and beginning a new novel…not happening.

I can listen to music and let my mind wander and think through plot developments but the point isn’t what particular music I’m listening to, because once I’m in the creative flow, I don’t even hear the music any longer. There’s one novel of mine that was largely written to the Russian dervish dance music from ‘Riverdance’ on endless repeat but not because it has anything to do with the novel. For some reason that particular piece of music was good at setting my mind free of my daily cares and concerns and shoving me into the creative flow for that one book.

There’s an old Gary Puckett and the Union Gap song that helped me with another novel, because there was something in the lyrics that reminded me of my hero and heroine; however, once the novel was written, their situation actually never even touched upon what the song evoked for me. And I didn’t listen to the song while writing.

I’m not telling you which books because I think the tie between the music and what I wrote is so idiosyncratic to me, I wouldn’t want anyone to hunt for an actual tie-in to the novels. There isn’t one!

So I guess my Muse responds to music to some extent but nothing as direct as inspiration.

I always had music playing when I started writing seriously, as it did seem to help the creative flow, but for quite a few years now I need silence when I write. Music would be too distracting and interfere with whatever I’m doing to transmit my thoughts from my brain to the keyboard. I do often listen to music in bed in the evenings before going to sleep and find myself mulling plots.

I was never tempted to write fanfic, other than some Star Trek stories I wrote in high school for a friend of mine. She had a crush on Mr. Spock so I’d clip photos from fan magazines to illustrate the short stories of her being on the Enterprise and having a flirty relationship with Spock. Other people’s characters don’t generally interest me in terms of wanting to write adventures for them though, or to ‘ship them’ with each other or with new partners. I’ve never read fanfic although I know it’s hugely popular and I’m happy for those who do love it, write it, read it, etc.  It’s just not my thing, say I with a shrug. I want to create my own worlds.

So, there you have it and I can’t think of anything to add that wouldn’t just be belaboring the point.

Friday, July 24, 2020

You Need More than One Bucket to Fill a Well

'Where I get inspiration', 'filling the well' and all the other euphemisms we use to encompass what really amounts to self-care is a tricky devil. I mean, do you ever have discontent rolling from your gut to heart and back again, but the wine and the bath bombs that did the trick yesterday don't put a dent in it today? Or is it just me pacing my house like a caged lion?

I'm guessing that answer is no. Especially not now. We're all looking for ways to self-soothe. It's a skill we're supposed to pick up in the transition from child to adulthood, but rarely do in healthy ways. This culture isn't big on it. It doesn't help that what makes us feel empty and depleted is often an incredibly fast-moving target.

What to do, then?

Multiple weapons, my friend. Multiple weapons. Some days, all you need to restore your soul is an exquisite piece of chocolate. Or a meal made by someone who cares about you. A piece of poetry or art that steals your breath. A drive (where you don't get out of the car) just to see what's over that hill or around that bend over there. Music. Movement - never underestimate the power of dancing like a goober to music you love when no one else is home. Go for a walk - just wear your mask. Learn something new. It doesn't have to be weighty or even germane. I've watched a dog training show on Youtube, for heaven's sake. I don't have dogs. Can't have dogs, more's the pity, and so the chance that I would EVAR use this is . . . well hell . . . now it's going in a story. Right now, a thunderstorm is doing the job for me. Sitting outside, under good cover, never fear, exposed to negative ions and listening to the rain and not-so-distant rumble.

Also, I think it's important to say that it's okay to be spent. It's okay to be empty. There's power in that, too. It's a rich, fallow space to lie in while you take a breath without rushing to fill back up again. Nature abhors a vacuum. You will fill. It's legit to take a break before you rush to do and just be.

PS: New book out! The Blood Knife released yesterday as a part of a box set called Beyond Twilight that's available for the next three weeks. We have eleven vampire books in the collection. A portion of proceeds supports the Southern Ohio Wolf Sanctuary. The stories are based on how vampires might have changed in the years since Twilight first came out. Politics have changed. Social justice has changed. Vamps have had to adapt. We wrote a few of those stories. While we may be writing Team Edward, we're supporting Team Jacob.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Finding Inspiration

pic from my hiking adventures

If you’re a writer, you’ve undoubtedly been asked where do you get your ideas from? About a thousand times. And the topic of the week might give you an easy way to answer: what other media inspires you? 

I write sci-fi and fantasy. And for me, it’s almost a right brain left brain kind of thing. So it makes sense that I’m inspired to write the different genres in different ways.

When I’m writing the future and coming up with all sorts of made-up tech I thrive off other science fiction media. Anyone watch Altered Carbon? Fan-freaking-tastic! The character journeys were fun to watch unfold, but it was the world and all those small details—how the characters interacted with and used that world that fired off hundreds of ideas. 

When I’m writing fantasy I need nature. When I’m dreaming up completely new worlds and magic I need to walk under the trees and step to the cliff’s edge. If I really can’t get out, or my imagination needs to travel to the type of local I’ve never been to, photography saves me. Beautiful images, vivid or faded, breath taking scenery.

Yes, I know the act of writing stems from the same brain location, but activating the scientific part of me is a completely different function than painting worlds with words. 

I should really remember this for when I’m feeling stuck in my writing. I sort of do consciously think this way, I frequently take the husky pup (I still miss my Loki dog) for walks to get the mind going, and I’ll binge on sci-fi movies/shows for ideas. 

But if I actively try to kickstart the part of my brain I need…sooner, maybe my sticky spots will be shorter lived! 

How about you? I envy the people that get inspired by music. So, do you use a certain type of media to inspire you? 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Let the Music Shake Your Creative Soul

What other media refills my creative well? Books, movies/TV, music, illustrations/art, international news...really, not much doesn't. Inspiration is everywhere you want to see it.

If I'm stuck, though, or I can't crawl into the right mental place to make progress...or I'm just full of the I can't whines and snivels? It's music for the quick fix. Great songwriters will compress an amazing story into ~3 minutes. Better ones will set that story against music that pulls, shoves, and trips you. My go-to genre is the multi-headed beast known as Rock and it's many subgenres. Bombasts to ballads, load up my playlist with blues, punk, alt, goth, glam, or whatever some marketing dept wants to call it.  I want drums, bass, and guitar working together to make me feel and a vocalist who cracks open a door to world of possibilities. 

Give me a song that shakes the windows and my soul, and I'll give you a fantastical story.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Feeding the Creative Subconscious with Beauty

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is inspiration. What other media inspires us: fandom, music, photography, paintings?

For me, the answer is pretty much yes.

Yes to all of it. Books, poetry, news articles, music, visual arts of all kinds - it all feeds into a stewpot of inspiration for me. For today's post, however, I'll stick with visual arts, particularly paintings and drawings.

The above is a giclee by Diana Stetson called Raven Watching. My mom bought it for me a couple of weeks ago from a gallery in Santa Fe. It's an early birthday present, since the odds of us being together for my actual birthday aren't great. I love the sense of depth to this piece, and how the raven seems to be watching with a keen and knowing gaze. It looks exactly like the desert ravens around our house, too, so that's a lovely echo to bring indoors.

It's fitting, too, that my mom bought this gift for me, as she's the one who taught me to love art--largely by dragging me in and out of Santa Fe galleries on family vacations.

When I first began transitioning from being a scientist to a writer, I studied a great deal about being creative, especially the creative subconscious. One thing I gleaned was to surround myself with visual images that fed my subconscious. I read a quote from Anna Pavlova - which I inevitably can't find now - about the Imperial Ballet Academy where she studied. She said everywhere at the academy, they were surrounded by beauty - so that they would soak that in and bring it out again in their dance.

I took that to heart and surround myself with art that makes me feel reverence for the world. Sometimes I can point to specific inspirations. Other times... well, I hope that it's soaked in, ready to spring forth in new forms.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Notes for Stories Collect Dust While I Write Other Books


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is all about Ideas. How do you write down or remember those great ideas that you get mid-shower/dream/car drive? If you lose them, how do you get them back?

As an author, I have wisps of ideas and plots running around in my mind all the time (I’m good at multitasking!). Sometimes I’ll read an article that inspires a plot idea or occasionally one will come to me out of the blue. I usually write myself a one sentence note with the gist of the idea and then I have a folder stuffed full of these. The thing is, I almost never refer back to them.

I’m always working on a book and I’m always thinking about the next two books to come, even if they aren’t in the same series or even the same universe. I keep a constantly simmering ‘pot of stew’ going in my head with ideas for these books and will rarely allow myself to get distracted by anything newer or shinier. These three books – the one I’m writing, the next one I’ll write and then the most likely one after that – ARE the shiny for me. So for example, right now I’m writing a Star Cruise story set on my interstellar space liner, which is for the Pets in Space® 5 anthology, due out in the Fall. The next book will most likely be either JAMOKAN or TRATUS, which are both in my Badari Warriors science fiction romance series. I’m debating between the two of them as to what’s up first. The third book in my mind’s queue at the moment is either one set in my fantasy world of Claddare, or maybe an Egyptian…or one of these could be my fourth in line, if I write Jamokan and then Tratus.

BUT, this week I’ve become enamored of one of my older ideas and am severely tempted to write it after Jamokan. I have to go where the Muse has the energy to be in order to write my best books and to have the creative flow. I’ve learned my own process pretty well over the years! This particular plot is one I’ve been mulling for years, off and on, but it never bubbled up to the top of the list for whatever reason. The same thing happened with COLONY UNDER SIEGE: INTERSTELLAR PLAGUE, which I released in June. I’d had it in mind to do forever but then the pandemic made it the only thing I was in the mood to write and so I did.

This portion of the writing year is a bit under constraint because I can’t release a scifi romance in the same time as Pets In Space (we don’t compete with ourselves), but I do have to keep paying the rent and the bills, so I need to keep my releases coming on a more or less regular schedule. So, the fantasy or the Egyptian might come next after JAMOKAN  purely due to scheduling concerns. Luckily I love writing in both worlds but my fan base is smaller than for the SFR.

If a random idea really strikes a chord with me, I won’t forget it. I may take years to actually use it in a book, but it’ll always be there, in the Muse’s list of ingredients.

My first "woke up in the morning,
gotta write it" title and my first really BIG
On really rare occasions I might wake up in the morning with an entire book in my head (well, as completely as I ever plot in advance – the beginning, the ending, the hero and heroine and a few major scenes) and I know I have to set aside everything else and just write this book. Those plots are a gift not to be squandered and they kind of write themselves. This is where it’s helpful to be independently published as I don’t owe anyone anything under a contract with a hard date. Pets in Space is an exception.

The other thing I have to be careful of is not thinking through an idea too much before writing it. I used to have a two hour commute that could become three hours or more on the Southern California freeways. I also used to get anxiety attacks after a really bad 1982 accident (long story, on a freeway offramp, locked the brakes, rolled the car three times, ended upside down after knocking over a tree, broke three ribs..). One day I was stuck in traffic, on the way to work, anxiety giving me hell…so I told myself a story. You can safely do that if your car isn’t moving or only inching forward in occasional bursts. It was a scifi ghost story, set in space on an abandoned colony. I seriously gave myself goose bumps because it was so darn scary. And then the traffic eventually opened up, I got to work and was late for meetings that day, etc., so I never wrote any of it down. It was one of those shining magic stories that I should have dropped everything to actually write but at the old day job that certainly wasn’t a possibility. Bosses paying you to work don’t exactly resonate with you shutting your door and writing a novel on their time.

Will I ever write it? I haven’t forgotten the essentials and at one point I did write maybe the first 1000 words but the magic of it was gone. The Muse felt we’d been there and done that and weren’t going back. If I think about a story too much, I can’t write it, and on that commute from hell, I’d let myself develop the entire story, like a movie, down to the details so I wouldn’t have a major anxiety attack and pass out in the (allegedly) fast lane. Soooo, I kinda doubt it but never say never. If I got a new wrinkle or twist to add, then maybe. But for now the few notes and words there are on it reside in that bulging, never opened “Note for Stories” folder in the old beige file cabinet.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Idea Recall

Just a flower about to burst into bloom on the lanai. I was told it was a form of orchid. To be sure, it's an epiphyte, but I'm not so sure about the orchid thing. It's a Medinilla magnifica.

I'm using this photo here because I want to make the point that ideas are as numerous as the clusters of flowers on this plant. You either enjoy them when they bloom or you lose them when they drop, which happens frequently. Like so many tropical and subtropical plants, the flowers don't all come out at once. They emerge in waves and they drop in waves. No sooner have you swept up one mess of rose grapes, which these are also called, and another set are falling.

There's my idea metaphor.

Gather ye the buds of ideas while ye may. Cause sure as you sleep on 'em, they'll be gone like ghosts in the rising sun. Waking life ideas are easy. Say you're in the shower. You get an idea followed by another and another. Those ideas are related or they wouldn't have triggered one another. NUMBER THEM in your head. Assign each a single key word. REPEAT THEM. Then finish your shower asap, GTFO, and find paper. Or whatever recording device you need. Your phone has a recorder on it. Record the idea. There's a notes app. Use that if you have to. I prefer either paper or just getting an idea to a computer. The whole strategy for me is to find just that one single key word that opens out the entire idea when I repeat it.

But. As I said. The One Thing Guaranteed to Fail: lying to yourself about remembering that idea that comes to you in twilight sleep - in that moment between waking and dropping into slumber. You don't want to rouse yourself. So you number the ideas. You key word them. You repeat them. And when your alarm goes off, all you'll remember is that you had ideas and now, they're gone. The only solution here is a pad of paper beside the bed and a book light. I used to use sharpie and write on my palm when I got ideas in the middle of the night. That gets really, really hard to read when you write over something you've already written, so seriously, don't do that. A little note book and an unobtrusive light source will make  you much happier and you won't hate yourself in the morning.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

How to not lose your ideas!

You walk into the room, flip on the light switch, and stare…wondering why you came in here to begin with. Memory can be tricky. And if you’re a writer you’ve undoubtedly lost ideas. So, ‘How do you write down or remember those great ideas that you get mid-shower/dream/car ride?’?

My chronic disease sometimes pals along with brain fog. If you don’t know what that is, consider yourself blessed. If you read my description below and it resonates with you, my heart goes out to you, let me know if you need an electronic hug.

Brain Fog: symptoms of mental fatigue. Sometimes involving memory, mental clarity, mental fatigue, loss of concentration, not feeling like yourself…similar to mentally wading through thick fog. 

So the question remains, how do I remember those lightening-bolt book ideas when they strike? Maybe it really depends on what kind of lightening you get.  

Book concept ideas. The big ones that undoubtedly have rolling thunder follow. When these hit I prefer to ruminate on them for a while. I read a post by John Scalzi, likely the same one Jeffe referred to on Sunday, in which he talked about his story selection process and if his idea still sounds good after a year he figures that it’s worth writing. Trust me, the good ones stick around.

Writing ideas. Cloud to cloud lightening. Plot fixes, characters, world building, magic, transitions…etc. It never fails, these kinds of ideas hit at the least convenient of times. In the shower, driving, cooking, weeding the garden. Basically anytime I’m far away from my computer and can’t immediately start writing out the genius idea. And too many times I’ve been struck, but couldn’t get to my computer or find some paper to write down the perfect fix…and then forgotten it. 

I’m pretty terrible at recalling those perfect fixes, sucky brain fog. But I do have a secret weapon. He’s been with me longer than I’ve been without him, we’ve grown up together, he’s always got my back, he’s more important to me today than he was in the beginning, and today we’ve officially been married for 15 years! (I wish we were back in Ten Sleep WY) Technically we’ve been together for 21 years and it’s safe to say he knows how my brain works and how it’s going to work. Which is why he bought me…this is where I divulge my insider tip: 

I have mini notebooks, everywhere. Along with a pen. 

My handsome man bought me a handful of mini moleskine notebooks for my birthday a few years back and I keep one in each of our vehicles, always one or two in my purse, one in my nightstand and one in the kitchen. Always within reach and always on hand. 

I couldn’t keep track of my writing ideas with out my notebooks and I couldn’t make it through life without him. So, thanks for the moleskines, Jon, and thanks for these past amazing years. I’m looking forward to the next 15, happy anniversary.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Flight of the elusive story idea

You know how butterflies can't seem to fly in a straight line and never go where you expect them to go? It's really hard to capture them, even with a huge net. I don't even try. I just watch them fly and appreciate their beauty and attempt to imprint it on my memory.

Butterflies are like story ideas.

They wander into view unexpectedly, a flash of distracting gorgeousness exactly when I don't expect them and, frankly, don't have time for them. (Usually when I'm driving, exercising, or doing dishes.) The best I can do is attempt to see every part of them, run them through the challenge course of my brain, and attempt to imprint their essence there so I can retrieve them later, when I have the time.

Okay, yes, I have tried fishtailing onto a side street, skidding to a stop, grabbing my handy-dandy notebook, and furiously writing the thing down. Usually it's a dialogue snippet of such startling brilliance I find myself amazed... until I read it back later and am like, what? I almost got myself rear-ended for this crud?

Same thing with dreams: I'll wake up, certain I've got a complete and glorious story or scene ready-made from dreamland, and I'll scribble it down in a rush, only to find out later that it wasn't so great and actually was probably just a dream-mangled episode of Doctor Who or quest from Dragon Age.

Mostly I find that these brilliant butterfly ideas are only beautiful in the moment. If I write them exactly as they are, it's like capturing a critter in a net, and folks, that's not where a butterfly is supposed to be. A butterfly, like an idea, is only actually beautiful if it's wild.

So I started making myself step back and letting my ideas fly, and turns out they don't always fly away. Sometimes the linger, thread themselves in and out of whatever other task I'm doing, and then later, when I sit down to write, I find that all that aimless flitting has evolved into a discernible pattern and has sort of magically fitted itself into my work-in-progress. I guess, my brain being what it is, it's not the act of recognizing an idea that's useful: it's allowing that idea to process.

So maybe the idea is more caterpillar than butterfly, honestly. It's better if it has time to develop.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

New SciFi Romance Release: IVOKK by Veronica Scott

Our Saturday blogger and publishing powerhouse Veronica Scott released the latest in her Badari Warriors SciFi Romance series this weekend, so for those of you building your payday book list, be sure to add IVOKK to your cart and savor the Happily Ever After!

A Badari Warriors SciFi Romance Novel

Proud enforcer of the Badari South Seas pack, Ivokk undertakes a secret mission back to their former home, in search of a cure for a mysterious illness affecting his soldiers, now in exile in the north. He’s ready to make any sacrifice to find the answer and help his pack brothers stay strong. He’s even willing to accept responsibility for the human woman assigned to the mission, although she’s a headstrong civilian, difficult and rumored to dislike his kind.

Sandara DiFerria was once a three-star chef in the Sectors, but that was before the alien enemy kidnapped the entire adult population of her colony to use for experimentation. Rescued from the labs by the Badari, she does her part to support the rebellion now by running the vast commissary operation in Sanctuary Valley. All she asks is to be left alone until she can get back to the Sectors and pick up her old life again. Her one previous romantic brush with a Badari soldier turned out badly, ending in public humiliation. Add to that post-traumatic stress from her life before moving to the colony and she’s the last person to pick for a top-secret mission. Or so she believes.

The Alpha running the pack disagrees and sends her to do the job under Ivokk’s watchful eye. Thrown together by the nature of the task they must undertake, the undeniable attraction they both feel grows. Will the dark secrets of Sandara’s hidden past create an insurmountable barrier between them? Can Ivokk and the tempestuous human chef find the answer to the Badari illness in time? Or will the elements and the enemy bring disaster?

BUY IT NOW: Amazon | BN | iBooks | Kobo

Monday, July 13, 2020

How do you save ideas

This week the topic of conversation is how to save those ideas that come to you at the strangest times. OIn the shower and a notion pops up, driving down the road or having a conversation and an idea for a tale hits you?

I don't save them. I kind of fih=gure if it's a good enough thought, it'll come tome again. Like all of the goodies boiling in a pot of stew. If it's good enough, it'll come back to the surface. I'll see it when it does.

On an unrelated note: along with my co-editor Christopher Golden, I have won the Shirley Jckon Award for 2019, in the category of anthologies. Chris put it better than I could have, so I'm stealing his words: 

"I'm absolutely thrilled to learn that The Twisted Book of Shadows has won the Shirley Jackson Award. It means the world to me that this book, and these authors, has received this honor. While I'm extremely grateful to publisher John M. McIlveen, co-editor James A. Moore, coordinator Matt Bechtel, and editorial committee including Linda D Addison, Rachel Autumn Deering, Lee Thomas, Nadia Bulkin, and KL Pereira (as well as to every person who supported our gofundme with a donation), I want to point your attention to the contributors. We sifted through 700 stories to find extraordinary stories. I'm so damned proud to be associated with the authors and the stories in this book, so congratulations to the authors. If you haven't read the stories yet, you owe it to yourselves to do so.
Angelmutter by David Surface
At Least the Chickens are All Right by Trisha Wooldridge
Beneath Her Skin by KT Wagner
Brother Mine by Rohit Sawant
Cake by MM DeVoe
Coyote by Jason A. Wyckoff
Elegy by Sarah L. Johnson
For Every Sin an Absolution by Kristi DeMeester
Groomed by Liam Hogan
Liza by Jeffrey B. Burton
Lydia by Cindy O'Quinn
Midnight Sun by Andrew Bourelle
Mirror, Mirror by PD Cacek
Records of the Dead by John Linwood Grant
Smeared Star in Your Hands by Sara Tantlinger
The Birthing Pool by Eoin Murphy
The Pale Mouth by Melissa Swensen
Underground by George Murray
Unto the Next by Amanda Helms"

Wow. Just, wow. I am so very honored.