Saturday, February 29, 2020

A Very Few Thoughts on Podcasts and Blogs

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Our topic this week is favorite podcasts and blogs we’d recommend.

I’m not a huge podcast person. I don’t get my information that way – I get restless and start feeling guilty that I should be doing something and before I know it, I’m off somewhere else while the podcaster talks to empty space where I was. Shrug. Even in school I had to take copious, detailed notes to make myself pay attention and not go off daydreaming. If there’s information I desperately need to retain, I do better consuming it in a written format.

I do listen to Jeffe’s First Cup of Coffee podcast on occasion. She and I are friends and I can sit still and listen to her and sip my tea while she drinks her coffee. She keeps my attention!

I used to like the one author Lindsay Buroker co-hosted, focused more on the business aspects of writing, but which is apparently no longer occurring. Shows you how up to date I am (not)!

When it comes to blogs, I think the world of blogging has slowed down and lost many contributors. I wouldn’t say I follow any blog regularly – except for SFF7 of course! – but I do like the Whiskey With My Book Blog.  Riley Moreland reviews a wide variety of books in my favorite genres (and others) and I’ve enjoyed many of her ’finds’.

I visit John Scalzi’s blog on occasion, Chuck Wendig’s, Gail Carriger’s, Pauline B. Jones’s…usually it’ll be an author I follow on social media who may have posted (or has a guest poster) on a topic that interests or intrigues me. I go and do a one-time read.  The Passive Voice is another place I visit occasionally, to read up on issues in publishing, but again, in response to seeing a post mentioned on social media.

I’m going to add a plug for one specific weekly post on my own blog – the curated roundup of New Releases I do for scifi romance, fantasy and fantasy romance, and paranormal. I also add in some time travel, cozy paranormal mysteries and other related genres. I usually have between 50-90+ books spanning these genres and it is – to my knowledge – the only place to find a weekly list of new releases in those genres only. I make a big effort to include indie authors and am committed to diversity and inclusion in my listings.


Each week I pick eight scifi romance covers to feature and eight fantasy/PNR/Other covers to feature in my social media.

Happy listening or reading or however you consume words!



Friday, February 28, 2020

Blogs, Podcasts, and Writers, Oh My.

Blogs used to be a thing for me. I followed several of the heralds of the indie writing revolution and tried hard (from within my limitations) to comprehend what was being presented. These days, I don't follow blogs so much as drop in to visit once in awhile, mainly because the internet is a rabbit hole into which I all too willingly fall and then no books get written. I have to manage the addiction. Therefore, few I visit from time to time:
I drop into their posts because the language is awesome and the subject of writing is generally talked about in connection to the broader context of the world we live in. They also share my politics. So yeah. Bubble. I'm surprisingly comfortable with that. Also, they make me laugh.

When it comes to podcasts, though, I'm usually not looking for craft info or discussions. I'm looking for inspiration and ideas. I want the weird, the eccentric, and the unexplained. I want to know what novels other readers are losing their minds over so I can go read the books and deconstruct those myself. It isn't that I won't try some other podcasts. Among those mentioned this week are a few really intriguing sounding ones. The podcasts I turn to with the intent of stirring my gray matter are:
  • Stuff They Don't Want You to Know (Yes. Still.) I give you the Apple link to the podcast here, but you can also follow this podcast on Youtube if you prefer.
  • Fated Mates - This podcast was originated for the PNR audience, but has branched out to cover all kinds of romance. It's longer episodes, so I rarely get to listen all in one go, but I find so many fun reads through this podcast.
  • University of Arizona Science Lecture Series - This is hard science and you can search all over the podcast verse and find any science that lights you up and listen in on the lectures for free. When I listen to these things, I don't expect to always understand what's going on. I straight up do not have the math chops for quantum mechanics or other advanced physics. But what I do have is the ear to listen for a lecturer to say, "What we *don't* know . . ." and then the imagination to take that into a story somewhere. It's a lot of listening, and maybe learning something, for the maybe of a gem I can use somewhere. Whatever. It makes me feel like maybe I'm keeping brain cells alive. Humor me.

 

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Alexia's top blogs and podcasts!

With so many social media options out there it can feel like you're searching for a needling in a haystack to find an entertaining, informational account, blog, or podcast. But have no fear, dear reader! This week we've got you covered!

I regularly stop by these blogs. And as a result, my TBR pile continues to grow at an alarming rate. Click on their buttons to visit with caution:



During my lunch break I like to tune into these podcasts:


     by Jeffe Kennedy       by L. Penelope          Academy
                                             

The Manuscript Academy and Pub Crawl were two podcasts that I listened to early on. They were very helpful when I began querying for an agent, so if you're at this stage I recommend them! Pub Crawl hasn't done a new podcast for a year, but their website is fabulous and their authors and publishing professionals put up some great blog posts.      

And then there's all the book bloggers and publishers in Instagram. So many pretty covers and so little time to crack them all open. 

Who did I mis? Any blogs or podcasts you've found helpful or ones that are simply fun?                                                                           

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Podcast recs for spec fic writers

I still read some blogs, especially review blogs (my favorites are Love in Panels and Whiskey With My Book), but life moves fast these days and, let's face it, most of that movement is either in cars or on workout equipment. In those two situations, podcasts are my way to go. I especially dig these:


  • Myths and Legends: These guys take folk tales, retell them in a relatable way, give them context, and almost always put a surprising spin on things. This podcast is a treasure trove for story tropes and themes.
  • Strong Female Characters: More of a fandom resource than a writing one, this podcast helps me connect with my people on a shared-coolness level, plus it's fun. It's run by SyFy Wire and "celebrate[s] the countless badass women in geek culture through funny, witty, and unfiltered deep dives into the nerdverse."

  • Writing Excuses: Some folks have already mentioned this podcast, but it can be mentioned again. It is the definitive writing craft show, best one out there, and if you haven't listened to it and think of yourself as a writer of any sort, get thee to some earbuds.
  • World Building for Masochists: This is a newer podcast, but it is specifically aimed at writers who like to deep-dive into their world building. One of its hosts is former SFF Seven blogger and writer of all things Maradaine, Marshall Ryan Maresca, and if you've read his blog posts in the past, you know he is  a very meticulous world builder.


Also, because I typically season my stories with a lot of romance, I also really enjoy a couple of romance-leaning podcasts that give good insight into writing craft and the publishing biz:


  • All The Kissing: The ATK group arose out of PitchWars and offers some great craft discussion. If you can deal with some mention of fictional smooching -- and honestly, even if it makes you cringe, you should do it anyway, because romance is human -- you might want to check this one out. The guests are all super accomplished writers.
  • Wicked Wallflowers: This podcast is purely about romance fiction, but it features not only high-profile (think, NYT bestsellers) writers but also industry professionals, like agents and editors. So if you've ever wondered what those sorts of people think about the current state of publishing and its future, this podcast might be interesting.


Currently I'm looking for a what-if, futurist, or even conspiracy theory podcast. I used to love listening to Art Bell-type black-helicopter radio late at night, but it's become unpleasant in recent years and I haven't really found a replacement for it. So if you know of a good our-alien-lizard-overlords sort of podcast, give it a shout in the comments. Thx in advance.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

KAK Favorite Blogs/Websites

I haven't quite got into podcasts; it's no snub to the casters and fans out there. It's just a struggle for me to pay attention. Remember those Learning Styles from grade school? I wasn't the Auditory kid.

There are blogs I read somewhat regularly, or maybe they started out as blogs and are now fully fleshed websites.

  • Fantasy Faction: Reviews and interviews for the latest in fantasy books. Supporters of Indie/Self-Published fantasy authors. Regular judges in Mark Lawerence's Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (#SPFBO).
  • The Fantasy Inn:  Reviews and interviews for the latest in fantasy books. Supporters of Indie/Self-Published fantasy authors. 
Of course, there is the jewel of all must-read blogs if you're an author, and it's Writer Beware. Yes, I know it's been rolled under SFWA now. Still, it's available to members and non-members. What A.C. Crispin (RIP) and Victoria Strauss started more than 20 years ago is perhaps one of the most valuable resources to authors of all kinds calling out predatory publishers and those affiliated with the publishing industry. It's a pre-Con must-read so you can spot the scum, and a submission prerequisite to save yourself the heartache and financial losses of querying, signing with, or retaining the services of people and businesses out to exploit authors. 



Sunday, February 23, 2020

Jeffe's Favorite Podcasts

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is our favorite blogs and podcasts.

I must be a child of my era - or current fashion - because I don't really have any blogs I follow regularly. The only times I read blog posts are when I read the daily (mostly) posts here at the SFF Seven, or if I see something go by that looks interesting.

I do listen to a number of podcasts regularly. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my own podcast, First Cup of Coffee. You can also see all episodes here, along with the various podcast services. I post four days/week - on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings - and chat over my first cup of coffee of the day. I try to give a real-world glimpse of what it's like to be a career author. That naturally leads into thoughts on writing, publishing, living, coping with the world, and wrangling cats.

I was inspired to do this by Nathan Lowell's Talking on My Morning Walk. Nathan is CFO of SFWA and an amazing author of SFF, particularly known for space opera. He takes a 20-minute walk every morning and talks about, well, writing, publishing, living, and coping with the world.

Another podcast I enjoy is L. Penelope's My Imaginary Friends. She was, in turn, inspired by my podcast (so flattered!), though she's been a successful vlogger from way back. She posts weekly about her writing, process, etc. I very much enjoy her short (key for me!) and engaging podcasts.

Leslye also turned me onto Writing Excuses. Notably, these podcasts are also brief - 15 minutes - and feature a number of guests along with the standard team of regular hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, Brandon Sanderson, and Howard Tayler. They've been going since 2008, so have a pretty established and polished presentation. They also delve deeply into craft discussions, which can be very interesting for writers.

Finally, I should also mention that both my podcast and My Imaginary Friends are part of the Frolic Podcast Network, which is a network of romance-themed podcasts. I've listened to them all and it's a great round-up of discussions on books, sex, love, and associated topics.

What about you all? I'm looking forward to getting some great recs this week!



Saturday, February 22, 2020

Galactic Civilization Hums Away in the Background in My Novels

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This week at the SFF Seven, we're asking:  How do you decide your world's structure of authority and/or governance?

The first thing to remember about me is that I imprinted on Andre Norton at a very young age and when it comes to the kind of science fiction I wanted to write, that was very much the flavor. I’m always at the micro level, the personal level, the man and woman (and maybe some comrades) battling the odds, respecting each other as they move through the adversity and falling in love as the adventure gets resolved. That’s what I enjoy reading (Ms. Norton didn’t have enough romance for me but she wasn’t trying to write romance either.) It’s what my Muse or my creative mind or whatever you call it has served up since I started writing at the age of 7.

I’m not wildly interested in the macro level – the interstellar civilizations and the intricacies of governments, etc. I’ve read grand sweeping books which explore these themes…but it’s not me. And if there’s not a couple to care about (M/F, M/M/ F/F or any other love is love duo…on occasion a trio) I’m usually gone at hyperspeed.

I liked how Ms. Norton’s science fiction novels occurred in a galactic civilization that was never defined in too much detail but which seemed vaguely familiar to me.

To tie back to my blog post title, the government of the civilization hums away in the background and doesn't insert itselt into the stories in much detail.

When I established the Sectors in my world building, I very much went for that model. It’s like the science in my novels – I don’t bother explaining how the blasters work and I don’t bother explaining how the government of the Sectors operates. Any more than I deliver a mini lecture on how the State of California governs itself when I talk about living here and some cute thing my cat did. It just is and let’s get on with the adventure and the romance.

I guess if pressed, I’d tell you the Sectors is democratic (no, don’t ask me how that works across the galaxy) more or less, with bureaucracy and a functioning, ethical top notch military and an interstellar crime syndicate and all kinds of corporations of varying influence, Non Goverment Organizations; rich people (“Socialites” are usually their children), poor people and people in between…there’s also the Outlier Empire, which is sort of Tsarist Russian in the way it operates; the Hinterlands; the frontier; unaffiliated worlds and systems…lots of room for yours truly to play. 

And we haven’t even discussed the other influences at work, like the Red Lady of D’nvannae, an ancient alien goddess who runs an order of assassins who can be bodyguards at her whim. Or her sister, the White Lady. Or the mysterious Mellureans…

(Waves hands although reader can’t see her.) It’s PEOPLE. Doing human things.
And some aliens and Others….

My characters may visit a world ruled by an emperor, as with Mission to Mahjundar, or be an undercover cop in the Sectors Criminal Investigation Agency (nope, not doing a spoiler and telling you who in which novel – sorry). It’s whatever the story needs, in the general worldbuilding of the Sectors, which frames it all for me.

But I think it’s all heavily influenced by the world in which I live.

My mind doesn’t run to outlining all the details of a government, whether it’s led by a king or a president or something/someone else. I build what I need for my story, or build out what’s already been done for the Sectors in earlier stories and thinking. I do stay consistent with myself.

I’m playing with a world ruled by an Alpha in my Badari Warriors. As I described it in the most recent release, the power to rule over all other Badari is buried in his DNA – these soldiers are genetically engineered but there’s a LOT of plot to this series. If/when these soldiers and their mates and allies manage to defeat the aliens who created them, and take the planet for themselves, he’ll be the unquestioned ruler. I’m enjoying playing within these boundaries and have already introduced some issues with the humans, who like to rule themselves, or at least to feel they could come to power someday. And unless you’re a Badari, it isn’t going to happen, not on this planet. So I’m having fun with all of it but this is on one specific planet, and they do hope to join the Sectors someday.

Now the ancient Egyptian books are a piece of cake, comparatively speaking because their civilization was so detailed. I have a Pharaoh and he has various officials to do his bidding, plus generals and high priests and priestesses…and the gods keep a mostly benevolent eye on all of it.

My fantasy world of Claddare has many parts and some are classic ‘kingdoms’ but others are clans or packs…I’m in a medieval mindset when I write those stories.

My new release HONEYMOON FOR THE ALPHA: A BADARI WARRIORS NOVELLA:

The blurb: Thrown together as helpless prisoners in the punishing conditions of a Khagrish lab, Jill and Aydarr fell in love. Claiming each other as mates despite only having one night alone in a cell, they formed a deep, loving mate bond. 

Now, a planetary year later, after escaping the lab and leading the ongoing rebellion against the enemy together, Aydarr longs for more. He wants a chance to show Jill how much she means to him.

He decides to risk everything to take his mate away from it all for a few days. But will the Khagrish, the threats lurking in the planet’s unexplored wilderness and the Badari goddess allow them to complete A Honeymoon for the Alpha?

Amazon      Apple Books      Nook      Kobo      GooglePlay

Friday, February 21, 2020

Political World Building

Political world building, next on Nov. . .no. Wait. I'm not PBS. Sorry. Still. We are examining the merits and deficits of governmental bodies in our world building.

The original question was president or monarch - I'd like to think that from a SF standpoint there are more options than that, but you wouldn't know it based on my work. My answer to the question is: Both. At the very least. Because in my main SFR series, I have at least four separate populations vying for territory and resources, I have more than one option for structuring governments.

Confession time. Never, ever in my life did I aspire to write political stories. At. All. Yet here I am, having painted myself into a corner because you can't write military-ish SFR without talking about the governments that send people into battle in the first place and the philosophies for which they're fighting. Whether for good or for ill.

Tagreth Federated Council - this is a presidential government and several chamber council system that knits a group of planets together into a pooled resource. It has draw backs because the seat of government shifts world every few years so that no one world gets all the economic advantage or becomes the seat of power. Until a ruthless, power-hungry man who thinks he's the only one with all the right answers gets hold of the reins. Things go bad fast. My heroes and heroines have to claw their way back up from the debris pile before they can do anything like damage control.

The Claugh nib Dovyyth Empire - this is a monarchy. The queen has her nobles council and her elected council of the people to which she's beholden, but she has very broad latitude, especially when it comes to serving the people. So you don't often see her cowering in a corner while the bad guys are attacking. She's usually out there on the front lines. She's more than a figurehead, less than a living god. If that makes any sense. She's young and open-minded about how a royal ought to go about ending a war. So she's willing to make alliances no one else would consider. It's earned her a few enemies. Some of them roost close to home.

The other three governments that I can think of in the books all operate based on councils. There may be a single leader at the front of that council. Or a trio. Or some number. But the point is that in SFR having just one person standing up in front saying, "This is how it's gonna be just because I say so." is only going to last as long as someone showing up with a laser pistol and really good aim. But give a population the feeling that they're represented and at least partially heard? They'll wait for someone else to rise against the government.

The only thing I wonder is whether the people in my made up worlds avoid answering the phone during election cycles the same way that I do.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Presidential or Kingly worldbuilding?



It’s no secret that my heart…or rather, my head, belongs in the clouds. Particularly clouds shaped like dragons and castles. So, it stands to reason that my fantasy books are centered around monarchies. 

Kings and queens, heirs to the thrones, lords and ladies, some of whom have magical powers or may be wizards. It’s all dramatic, and oh so much fun to read and write. 

What makes it fun? Honor. Honor goes hand in hand with knights and royalty. They’re supposed to be stuffed full of honor, right? Except when they’re human like us and make mistakes, or succumb to the lure of the wrong side of magic such as the True Father in the Earthsinger Chronicles by L. Penelope.

Honestly, the honor concept is also how I formulate my science fiction governments. They're all based on honor or the lack thereof. You can have space royalty, Jessie Mihalik’s Consortium Rebellion series is a great example of ruling families in space. There can also be galactic governments, has anyone heard of Star Wars? So many varieties of government, but they have a common thread.

Presidential or kingly, it all comes down to honor and how you build the rules around it. Then you’ll know if your spells, or blasters, will be pointed at the castle, or outwards, at the invaders. Even if the focus of your story isn’t centered on political upheaval, the laws of the land, the honor code, it still has to be there.


If you’re world building right now, are you wearing a crown or holding a gavel?

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Worldbuilding is the ultimate regime change

[Content warning: Politics. If you don't wanna hear it, don't read on, please.]

Political debate tonight + SFF Seven topic on worldbuilding governments = a fortuitous mix for my possibly overbaked brain. In a national election year (in the U.S.), I think most folks around here are low-grade thinking of how we'd make this world a better place if only we were in charge. Not gonna lie: I have plenty of "when I am queen" plans. Be honest. You do, too.

Which makes writing SFF so incredibly satisfying. It is not a coincidence that in 2017 I wrote a book about a woman senator who brings down a corrupt, hate-mongering, anti-migrant government and imprisons its self-serving president. (Too on the nose? Maybe. Don't care.) 

Psychologists say that PTSD forms most often in trauma victims who are captive to the traumatic episode and unable to end it or gain a sense of control in the moment. In a very real way, other than periodic voting opportunities and mostly ineffective protest and legal remedies, most citizens in a large government are powerless. In fiction, though, we are able to rewrite our reality My world in the book was obviously not the real world, but I could use it as a tool to vent my frustrations and gain a feeling of power over my reality, at least in a "this is how it ought to be" sort of way. So I guess you could say that worldbuilding fictional governments can be therapeutic.

Making up other worlds and systems of government can also be aspirational or cautionary. Right now, I'm writing a world run by benevolent computers. When Terminator did that, it was bleak and horrible, but what if computers are not after all just like us (violent, power-mad, etc)? What if they don't rule with emotion, anger, grudges, or acquisitiveness? Could their reliance on logic and rule sets instead make them more stable than human overlords? Asimov explored similar questions in his I, Robot stories and essays, of course, as have dozens of SFF writers before and since. I suspect my conclusions will be similar to theirs. In the mean time, what a fun game to play with myself. Not sure readers are going to love it, but I am digging the ride.

And that's ... kind of what writers do, right? Entertain ourselves, write the books we want to read? So when we're building worlds and governments, we are also, ultimately, creating the worlds we want to either change or inhabit.

We are all the benevolent dictators of our own imperfect minds.


Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Ruling Your Fantasy World

Presidential or Kingly? Democracy or Monarchy? How do I decide what sort of authority rules my worlds?

Mostly it's decided by who and how my protagonist is oppressed. Is there a single shot-caller who can be toppled or is it a complex network established by need/skill? Is the society established and entrenched, or is it developing?  Am I building a fantasy world on top of a real one?

That last question might seem silly, but I write Urban Fantasy where the local tattoo parlor is a front for a battalion of Berserkers and a leather-daddy at the gay bar is an archangel. If I want the reader to believe the story is happening in the USA then I have to use the existing government of our republic; unless I explain the authority relevant to my protagonist is not the human government but a representative body of superpowers in which there are committees and a chairperson. Human governments of all varieties are a minor subset of the greater authority...which is what I did in my Immortal Spy UF series. In short, if writing contemporary fantasy using the real world as the backdrop, you can either leverage existing authority or you need to offer a reason for why/how your characters are bypassing it.

My High Fantasy works are more diverse in that the societies being changed vary in population, environment, history, traditions, and internal vs external strife. A semi-isolated civilization where there are rumors and vagaries of hostile neighbors yet everything within the society is strictly controlled lends itself to a monarchy. However, a nomadic society struggling to survive extreme scarcity where the nomads are not the top of the food chain is more suited to tribal democracies where leadership is decided by those who are led.

Messing with authority is crucial to my stories, so I like to use different types of government for my protagonists to rebel against.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Worldbuilding: Picking a Government


This week at the SFF Seven, we're asking: Presidential or Kingly - How do you decide your world's structure of authority and/or governance?

It's funny... as a staunch believer in democracy, I've never considered making one of my fantasy worlds have a government elected by the people. Why is that???

I mean, the easy answer is that it never occurred to me, but then I need to examine my underlying assumptions.

  • Fantasy means monarchies with cool castles
  • Crowns and the trappings of royalty are pretty awesome
  • It's an alternate world, which means not the one I live in

There's also the aspect of creating a political system where a government could be chosen by the people, which assumes a certain level of tech - or a very small population. Still, I could do it. I probably should - and now it's in my head, so that will probably brew up at at some point into something...

All that said, I do love writing about people born to the throne, taking up the noble cause and trying to do the right thing by their people. Interestingly enough, I take this to another level in my Forgotten Empires trilogy, amping up the theme in book #2, THE FIERY CROWN, where the nobility is magically tied to the land. It's an old, even pagan concept, and fun to explore.

Next up: a magical democracy? Hmm....

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Salute to My Cover Artist Fiona Jayde

Our theme this week is a shout out to the non-author creatives we collaborate with, or who enrich our lives. I'm going to keep my focus on the author sphere of my life and mention the wonderful Fiona Jayde.

She's always done my scifi romance covers and in the last year or so has also given me my fantasy covers and new Egyptian paranormal covers. Getting my new cover from her is a treat for myself, an encouragement to keep working on the book in question and FUN!

I highly value her professional opinion on the various genres and what's in, what's out, as well as her creativity...and her patience! I'm not a patient person but I admire the quality in others. Fiona has always been so patient with me when I pick stock photos that totally don't work (Me: "This one is great if we could airbrush out these three things, change the background, add a supernova and give her red hair..." Fiona: O_o, followed by a patient explanation of why we can't do any of that to the photo in question, followed by specific suggestions to achieve what I'm going for in a different manner, or alternate stock photos or...)

I think Fiona is really REALLY good at capturing the 'flavor' of the book in question from just my few notes and any inspiration photos I may send along.

I'll always remember the thrill of getting my first cover from her, for my first scifi romance to be published,Wreck of the Nebula Dream ("Titanic in space..." as one reviewer called it). That cover established what was to become my 'look' or brand for the books set in this universe.

My first REALLY huge seller was Star Cruise: Marooned and I've always thought the fabulous eye catching cover from Fiona was a key factor in getting readers to give the book a second look and maybe even a third one.

When it was time to start my Badari Warriors scifi romance series, she developed the series branding, with the ominous alien lab in the background and the sexy genetically engineered soldier in the foreground. Here's the entire series (including one we did under the In the Stars Romance logo, which frankly doesn't work as well for a book in a series.  Sigh. I confused everyone by writing that book outside the series! Never again! It's a perfectly fine logo for books written for that imprint and I might just be writing a few more for them....but not Badari Warriors.)
For my fledgling fantasy series, I asked her to have fun and sort of surprise me. Usually when we're doing the SFR I've at least tried to select the cover model or models and sent her anywhere from 3-10 possibilities. (I'm still not too good at not falling in love with photos that just don't work for a romance cover.) But I had no idea where to begin in fantasy romance.

I'm very happy with my two sparkly fantasy covers (and I have a third one already, for the next book, which I just have to write LOL.)
My original ancient Egyptian covers were mostly done by the amazing Frauke Spanuth of Croco Designs. I love her work and she did my first ever published book cover, for Priestess of the Nile, which I believe I may have cried when I saw it - so perfect.  But when the rights for the first book reverted to me, Harlequin kept the rights to the cover art.

Fiona and I had been working toward that day by designing a 'brand' image for these paranormals going forward.  Here's are the three recent covers she's created for me in the loosely connected series:

I have 38 books published, so it's tempting to give you all 38 pieces of eye candy but I'll restrain myself. (Book #39 coming soon...)

For more about Fiona and her services you can visit https://fionajaydemedia.com/

Note: Background graphics behind the multiple cover displays are from DepositPhoto

Friday, February 14, 2020

Contributing Artists

Which artists move me varies by the day. Sometimes by the hour. Music is the most obvious and the easiest because I can pipe it directly into my skull from just about anywhere. Right now, Spotify's Nine Inch Nails play list (built for me based on my listening habits - well trained AI is all that, lemme tell you) is keeping me going.

I have no idea what it is about driving beats and angry lyrics that work for me. But here I am. Maybe because the pace is fast and I get pushed to keep up. I don't have as much room to stop and overthink.

On the other hand, I have an app called Calm. It is a meditation app at core, but for me, the greatest utility is the sleep function. The app commissions a bunch of different artists to create content for the app - all centered around focus and relaxation. My two favorite are Liminal Sleep by Sigur Rós and System Sounds: Song of the Night Sky. The last one assigns a musical note to the stars in the night sky based on color and brightness then plays the results based on the stars rising at the eastern horizon. So you know that's right up my alley.

The other artists in my life are the felines. After all. It was Leonardo da Vinci who said The smallest feline is a masterpiece. Cuillean agrees.





Thursday, February 13, 2020

Introducing...Wyoming Axe Works! (with a GIVEAWAY!)

(WY Axe Works' photo)

This week we get to give a shout-out to one of our favorite creatives! For me, the pick was easy because we have a lot of his hand-crafted items in our house. And I know he’s got something you can’t live without, so let me introduce you to: Josh from Wyoming Axe Works! 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Ravven: Queen of the Cover Artists

Our assignment this week at the SFF Seven is to give a shout-out to the non-author creatives who enrich our lives: illustrators, musicians, jewelers, painters, poets, voice-actors, etc.

This one is an easy pick for me because I just released THE FATE OF THE TALA, which means I've been posting the cover everywhere.

Fortunately, it's so freaking gorgeous that no one gets tired of seeing it over and over. That's because it's the work of Ravven, Queen of the Cover Artists


THE ARROWS OF THE HEART


Ravven and I have been working together for several years now, and every cover she's done for me has been amazing.


THE SNOWS OF WINDROVEN


I can't say enough about her. Not only does she create stunning images, she does such an incredible job of nailing my characters that I end up using the covers for inspiration as I write the stories.

THE SHIFT OF THE TIDE


Ravven is also a consummate professional, always responsive and delivering right on schedule.


SEASONS OF SORCERY


She's super fun to work with, and often comes up with visual elements that I incorporate into the stories because they're so perfectly congruent.



THE DRAGONS OF SUMMER


Ravven creates covers to order, and she also has an amazing set of premade covers she can customize for you. So check out her website! But I get first dibs on her schedule ;-)








Also, as a super fun thing with the release of  THE FATE OF THE TALA - if you subscribe to Pikko's House Book Lovers Box this month, a limited number of subscribers will get the first book that started it all, THE MARK OF THE TALA, for free!!


THE FATE OF THE TALA, the  exciting conclusion of the story begun in The Mark of the Tala!

An Uneasy Marriage,
An Unholy Alliance.

The tales tell of three sisters, daughters of the high king. The eldest, a valiant warrior-woman, conquered her inner demons to become the high queen. The youngest, and most beautiful outlived her Prince Charming and found a strength beyond surface loveliness.

And the other one, Andi? The introverted, awkward middle princess is now the Sorceress Queen Andromeda—and she stands at the precipice of a devastating war.

As the undead powers of Deyrr gather their forces, their High Priestess focuses on Andi, undermining her at every turn. At the magical barrier that protects the Thirteen Kingdoms from annihilation, the massive Dasnarian navy assembles, ready to pounce the moment Andi’s strength fails. And, though her sisters and friends gather around her, Andi finds that her husband, Rayfe, plagued with fears over her pregnancy, has withdrawn, growing ever more distant.

Fighting battles on too many fronts, Andi can’t afford to weaken, as she’s all that stands between all that’s good in the world and purest evil.

For Andi, the time to grow into her true power has come. . .

 

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Working Hard Not To Be Repetitious As An Author


Our topic this week is what do we find ourselves doing over and over in our writing, like the way events unfolded repeatedly in the movie “Groundhog Day.”

First, I have to take a minute to say how much I LOVE that movie and also the commercial Bill Murray did for this year’s Superbowl wherein he revisited the adventure! Great stuff.

The movie “Edge of Tomorrow” with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt is another terrific science fiction movie with the “repeat the day” trope and deadly stakes, by the way.

Moving on to my own writing, as others have said this week, I have a list of words I overuse in the first drafts of my books, which starts with the word “that’. That is my single most overused assembly of vowels and consonants, usually with over 200 occurrences in a manuscript. Another word on my list is “moment”, which ironically was suggested to me by my editor at Carina Press in my first book and I got so overenthusiastic about using it, my current editor now has forbidden me to use it at all. (The word does sneak in a few times each book though.)  I don’t self-edit when I’m writing the first draft because I’ve found if I do, my creativity is stifled and grinds to a halt.  First draft for me is all about letting the story spill from my mind onto the page (computer) and not the time to stop and exorcise the ‘bad’ words.

I budget three solid days for the editing pass in which I do go through and clean out and replace ‘that’ and all his or her repetitious companions on my list. It’s kind of grueling but yields so many more interesting word choices and turns of phrase so the effort is definitely worth it. I know there are programs which are supposed to assist an author in finding and changing out these types of words but I prefer to do it by hand, at ground level, myself. Sometimes during this part of the process, I find some other word I’ve formed a temporary attachment to and then I work on revising there as well. I don’t try to eliminate every instance of these words – they’re English, they appear naturally in life and in conversation. I just try to prune so there aren’t say three ‘moments’ in one paragraph.

I have a very successful, award winning scifi romance series going, the Badari Warriors, and I have a different challenge there, not to basically re-tell the same story in each book.

Here’s the high level series premise:  Genetically engineered soldiers of the far future, the Badari were created by alien enemies to fight humans. But then the scientists kidnapped an entire human colony from the Sectors to use as subjects in twisted experiments…the Badari and the humans made common cause, rebelled and escaped the labs. Now they live side by side in a sanctuary valley protected by a powerful Artificial Intelligence, and wage unceasing war on the aliens. 

I have read series in the past where the author basically changes the names from book to book but everything else is the same, like old TV shows which followed a pretty strict formula. (Dare I say ‘cookie cutter’???)  I want to avoid that at all costs – I never want to bore the reader!

Just last week I had a really nice note from a reader who finished my newest book in the series, LANDON, and she in fact complimented me on the fact that I’ve managed to change up the circumstances in each book and provide new challenges for each couple, while remaining within the series world building.

Here’s what I said at one time about what I did to make the second book MATEER different from the first book AYDARR: With MATEER, I wanted to keep the series arc moving forward, advancing the overall plot, but I wasn’t done with the idea of a Badari warrior trapped in a lab and the human woman who helps him. There’s such a huge story potential inherent in the situation, which seems hopeless at first glance, but the hero and heroine will find a way out (this is romance – happy endings!).  I pondered how Megan, a doctor, would react to being awakened and finding herself a prisoner under threat of really despicable alien experiments – she’d naturally want to use her medical skills to help her fellow humans survive, but not get drawn into offering the enemy even the slightest assistance. And then there’s Mateer, the chief enforcer from the Badari pack, who’s been recaptured, much to the glee of the scientist running the lab. He has plans for Mateer and Megan together.

So while the two are mutually attracted to each other, they feel they have to resist the scientist’s plot designed specifically for them…and then something happens to Megan to totally change up the situation.

I think my biggest challenge for this book in the series was to make Mateer his own man, differentiated from Aydarr, the Alpha in book one. I had to sit and ponder how growing up in the same harsh circumstances as every other Badari would result in his being a unique person, with his own take on life. I also had a bit of fun in the beginning as Mateer envies the Alpha and his mate (from AYDARR’s events), and has confusion about how the whole concept of finding and being a mate works.  Not, mind you, the physical aspects, but how to know he’s met the one woman for him and how to impress on her that he’s the one man for her.

With Megan, who is the sister of book one’s heroine, but very different – younger, a doctor rather than a soldier as Jill was - I felt her medical training and knowledge would make her much more cautious about trusting her feelings in the high pressure environment of the Khagrish lab/prison.

I’ve played with many wrinkles and scenarios since the first two books, had a lot of fun, built the readership for the series and there’s no end to the stories I have in mind to tell going forward. So I guess this is my anti-groundhog day effort. I take it as a fun challenge and it’s also allowed me to explore a number of different SFR tropes within the series.

DARIK is probably the one where I had the most SF fun, giving a nod to the movies ‘Alien’, ‘Andromeda Strain’ and ‘Puppet Masters’ (the Heinlein classic, not the horror film franchise) in the course of the book. I’ve had hurricanes, avalanches, hidden Alphas, aliens hunting the hero and hero across the plains… (The hunt is a trope that has been used successfully in movies like 2010’s ‘Predators’, one of my favorites, and also in a classic TV movie about a big game hunter turning on his guide while they were out in the desert, and hunting him. I think that one’s been remade two or three times!)….a pregnancy, kidnapping, a heroine who says no to her fated mate (temporarily – hey, this is romance after all and she had a good reason!) and many, many more plot twists and turns over the twelve books so far.

Before I slide into repeating myself here, time to end the Groundhog Day and get back to work on my next book in the series which, yes, will have some new and different plot twists!

Happy reading!

Note: Graphics from DepositPhoto, book covers by Fiona Jayde

Friday, February 7, 2020

A Writer's Groundhog Day

In Groundhog Day, the 1993 movie with Bill Murray and Andie McDowell (and given a short sequel with a super bowl Jeep commercial) follows a man learning to be a decent human being by living the same day over and over and over again. Until he finally gets it right for all the right reasons.

I wish I could tell you that's what happened with my books. It's not that simple. Bill Murray's character Phil has to overcome self-interest and selfishness. My books have to overcome a multi-layered set of handicaps.
  1. Thematic repetition - I write about finding your place in the world, so all my stories have that theme running through them somewhere. I keep hoping I'll move on, but it hasn't happened yet.
  2. Characters having to learn to accept themselves - I suppose this is common stuff. It's part of the character arc, right? If we accepted ourselves fully, we'd have no impetus for change and then there'd be no character arc. But still. So far, every book has this running through it, too.
  3. Repetitive phrases/gestures - this is purely a relic of my brain and my writing process. I'm trying to write fast, to get a really crappy draft down asap. That means I don't stop to think about how else I could have said something. Apparently, this is how you end up with 300+ exclamation points in a manuscript. Who knew.
  4. Dark night of this writer's soul. Every book, there comes a point where I stop dead and stare at the carcass of my draft with all the bones sticking out and the sinews attached in places that make no sense and I boggle at it wondering what the hell I was thinking. We're there now. I'll get through it, usually by rearranging points of view and raising stakes. 
But there you have it. The terrible thing about Groundhog Day, the first half of the actual movie, in fact, is the despair of realizing you have to keep repeating your mistakes and missteps over and over again, hoping to heaven you can figure out what you're supposed to learn from it all. The wonderful thing about Groundhog Day (for Phil in the movie and for me in RL) is that you learn the patterns. Once you figure those out, you know what to expect and you can start twisting them. Maybe not to your advantage right away, but eventually. 

I'm looking forward to that part.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Groundhog Day writing...good or bad?

 (photo from the author's own monopoly fail)

It’s inevitable.

It’s gonna happen, you just know it.

Sometimes you don’t see it coming because you’re focused. Eyes on the board. Head in the game. But most of the time you know, because you know it happens every time…the fed-up-with-this-monopoly-game—board-flip. Boom. It happened.

Yes, you’re right, the topic of the blog this week is what Groundhog Day thing do you keep doing in your own writing. And I am getting to that, promise! But I wanted to point out that there’s Groundhog Day tendencies everywhere.

If you’re a creative, they’re not always bad. It could be your signature, that it factor that everyone recognizes as you. But more often than not we think of the repetitive in the negative, right?

My first thought was that I Groundhog the hell out of glancing eyes, but then realized that’s because I just finished re-reading a manuscript. Thinking back to the first book I wrote, and I had an overabundant use of was and just. My second book had the case of the glancing gazes. By the third book, I’d moved onto using too many sensory descriptions and not enough environmental ones.

Now in my fourth book, well, I’m only a handful of chapters in so it’s hard to say what will end up being my Groundhog Day for this one. But isn’t that great?! It means I’m learning with each book I write. No, I’m not perfect at what I’ve picked up, but I am aware of those writing pitfalls and take strides to not repeat them, I take strides to improve my writing.

So I guess I’ll go with that, my writing Groundhog Day thing is learning something new. Give me another five books or so and I’m sure I’ll have a new answer. ;)

‘Till then, I really, really want to go watch my favorite, cynical weatherman kidnap Punxsutawney and try win over the heart of the beautiful Andie MacDowell!

How about you? What stage are you at in your writing? Do you have any things you keep doing, good or bad? Or…maybe you just need to find a spot on the couch and turn on Groundhog Day too!

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The eternal rut of authorial assumption

I think to some extent all of an author's books are the same. At least, mine are. My stories are all about found family and identifying your home base in a chaotic world. Considering I've been writing this theme my whole life, that probably isn't going to change.

Another thing that won't change: overuse of the words still and just. Sorry, those words. I hate to love you  -- and search-and-destroy you -- so much.

But the one thing that I keep doing over and over in stories and that does frustrate me and must be killed with fire is assumption. I keep assuming that the majority of readers have my brain, that they're going to share my weird sense of humor or my probably naive sense of wonder, that they'll get and appreciate the in-jokes and pop culture references, that they'll be charmed by the things that I'm charmed by, that they're going to appreciate big words and not being talked down to.

None of these assumptions has proven true in practice. Readers often say I lose them with jargon, that they just didn't get what I was trying to do there, that the pacing was bogged down by too much or too little exposition, or that the authorial structures I considered so fun and unexpected were, to them, boring and confusing.

So, like Bill Murray, I'm iterating. Learning. And someday, I'll write something sans assumptions. At that point, I'll consider sharing it with readers, crossing my fingers, and hoping to wake up, well, tomorrow. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Bad Habits of Writing: The Beloved Words

What, oh what, had babits do I have in my writing? What things do I do over, and over, and over in my books, regardless of genre?

Dear reader, I have a list of Beloved Words that I overuse. It's a long list. During the drafting phase, my focus is on getting the story told; very "put words on page" versus getting hung up on selecting unique actions that demonstrate emotions. I can get lost in the weeds in an instant, massaging a single sentence for weeks as deadlines shoot past me. It's not something of which I am proud.

Then again, I'm not proud of the 142 occurrences of eye rolls, arm pats, growls, chuckles, or really any of the hundred+ go-to phrases I flog. Really bad is when those beloved words appear on the same page...more than twice. ~cringe~

Policing my beloved words is 100% my least favorite part of editing. I do it; otherwise, I'd have to retitle my works to "The Book of Batted Lashes, Volume 16."

To those readers who catch beloved phrases I don't realize I have: Sorry. I'm trying to be less annoying.


Sunday, February 2, 2020

Writing Through the Cycle of Despair

Happy Groundhog Day! In celebration of this (dubious) holiday, we here at the SFF Seven will be discussing that THING we find ourselves doing over and over in our books. If that's not scary, I don't know what is.

Just last weekend I did a video chat with an author friend, because I asked for her help with some brainstorming. We also chatted about our current projects and deadlines. Now, she's had multiple books on the NYT Bestseller list and commands enviable advances. She has a large and passionate fandom. But she was at the phase of her current book where she doubted *everything* about it.

I said, "the phase where you're certain the book is not only TERRIBLE, but the one that will destroy your career forever?"

And she said, "YES!"

This is an inevitable Groundhog Day cycle for me. (For those who don't know, this metaphor comes from the 1993 Bill Murray/Andie MacDowell movie, Groundhog Day, where he is trapped reliving the same day in an infinite loop. If you haven't seen it, it's both entertaining and a terrific analogy for working through the same issues repeatedly until we find our way out of them.)

My Groundhog Day writing cycle goes like this:

Baby love -> potty training -> school years -> horrible teen that smells bad and begs you to kill them -> off to college -> adult reconciliation

I know that's a metaphor within a metaphor, but I feel that's on brand for me.

Basically, when I start a draft, everything is joy, cuddles and sweet-smelling new everything. Then there's a bit of wrestling to get it to behave - the potty training phase - but then I settle into helping the book grow up, get smarter, stronger, bigger.

And then we hit the teen years. The teenage phase for the book is when it totally rebels. It drags bad company home. It smells terrible and is generally filthy in every way. It's recalcitrant, miserable to be around, and you begin to wonder if you should kill it and bury it in the back yard to spare society.

That's when I'm utterly convinced that the book is not only TERRIBLE, but the one that will destroy my career forever.

It's funny because, even though this crisis occurs with every book, it's no less a black moment for that. Even though I *know* this is part of the writing cycle - that I've gone through it before and emerged with a good book - each time I hit that crisis it feels new and especially true. I'll actually think (and my friends will point out) that I've gone through this before, that it's a natural part of the cycle and to just keep going - and then the panicked voice will take over and shout:

NOT THIS TIME! THIS TIME IS REALLY IT! THIS BOOK IS SO EXECRABLE THAT IT WILL NOT ONLY FLOP, IT WILL CONTAMINATE EVERYTHING ELSE I'VE EVER WRITTEN OR WILL WRITE AND DESTROY MY CAREER FOREVER.

It even shouts in all caps like that.

I don't know why this is. It's a deeply emotional, even existential doubt that overpowers all rational sense. Sometimes I think it's a test from the universe, a chasm of despair that must be crossed to prove that you want to create the thing badly enough to keep going.

And eventually, if I keep going, the teenager gets their hormones under control and leaves home. Later we can reestablish our relationship as adults, with mutual respect and understanding.

Speaking of which, I have the copy edits in hand for THE FATE OF THE TALA. Barring disaster, I should be able to finish those today, which means the book will be live on the website store by Wednesday at the latest, and then going live on the retailers after that!!

My copy editor called it "A triumph!" Just saying. :D

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Talking About the New Coronavirus

DepositPhoto

Our subject this week is a favorite feel better recipe for the flu or other bugs. I can’t help you much because I favor sleep, a cup of hot sweet tea and chicken soup. Simple stuff with no recipe! I also get the flu shot without fail every year and have had all the various pneumonia shots.

It is a timely topic with the 'novel coronavirus' on the news right now, and everyone waiting to see if the relatively few cases (so far) outside China will turn into the great pandemic we’ve all been dreading for so long. On the one hand I feel like we’re living in the early pages of an End of the World As We Know It scifi novel (a genre I enjoy but have no desire to encounter in real life or to have anyone anywhere have to deal with)…and on the other hand, I’m clinging to Mark Twain’s old saying about most of the things he worried about never happening.

This outbreak seems to resemble the opening scenes in the 2011 movie “Contagion,” right down to the way the Patient Zero in that one caught the virus. “The wrong bat met the wrong pig...” as a CDC scientist says in the film. CNN published a list of movies with this kind of plot, should you be in the mood to see how the world fares in fictional mode, some plots being more realistic than others. Lucky for us there won’t be zombies or vampires rising from the after effects of the virus. I’m pretty confident of this.

DepositPhoto
(I‘d skip the scenes involving bone saws – just a word to the squeamish like me.)

I’d also add the TV series “Containment,” which only lasted one season but which dealt pretty effectively with the results of a deadly outbreak in Atlanta. Of course there were all kinds of conspiracy theory level shenanigans going on too in that one, which I don’t believe are happening here. As another scientist says in “Contagion”, “The birds are weaponizing the flu,” in answer to a question from the Homeland Security official as to whether someone intentionally set the virus loose in the world. All the wild animals and birds passing viruses back and forth are Mother Nature’s toxic laboratory at work.

DepositPhoto
I’ve been watching the excellent Netflix documentary “Pandemic,” which is not about the current coronavirus but everything the doctors and scientists are discussing is quite applicable to the situation we’re watching unfold today. (There was also a made-for-TV series with the same title in 2007 and there’s no connection.) The documentary “Pandemic” shows the amazing lengths to which scientists all over the world are going to try to study the evolving viruses in the nonhuman sector. It also shows what steep odds doctors are up against in developing countries and those with less than robust health care infrastructure.
 
These outbreaks have patterns, going back thousands of years. There’s a good article on Health24.com detailing what they consider to be the Top 10 epidemics in history.

Yes, I’m kind of a geek on this stuff, but I think it’s good to know as much as a layperson can without getting utterly terrified, and to consider different scenarios.

I even wrote a scifi novel about a deadly epidemic breaking out on an interstellar luxury liner, STAR CRUISE: OUTBREAK. I did a lot of research into various viruses and other medical conditions which can seem similiar and created my own nightmare scenario for these travelers of the future.
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Here’s the website for the US Government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is a good source for updates. Here are the CDC’s tips for what a person can do to protect themselves, bearing in mind as yet there’s no vaccination for the novel coronavirus, nor is there a specific medication to cure it:
There is currently no vaccine to prevent 2019-nCoV infection. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to this virus. However, as a reminder, CDC always recommends everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including:
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Stay home when you are sick.
Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Personally I think one of the most important things to remember is to avoid touching your face if you possibly can. The opening minutes of the movie “Contagion” are pretty chilling and true to life about how easily these viruses are transmitted  just by touching a cup, a credit card, or anything an infected person has recently handled and then touching you mouth, nose or eyes.

Additionally, some people are contagious with this new virus before they run a fever or show any symptoms at all, so the hand washing component of self-care is very important.

Wishing you good health!