Monday, August 31, 2020

Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit....

 Plot bunnies. That's what we're talking about this week.

What do you do with them when they show up? Do you keep them? Do you corral them? Do you let them go free?

Here's the thing. No matter what I'm writing, I can almost guarantee you that a plot bunny is gonna show up and try to distract me. If I'm only working on a few projects at once (like, maybe four or less) I'll let the little darlings run around and do their thing. More than that, and I'm likely to pull out my hunting shotgun, load it with shot and go to town. 

Why? Because for me at least, plot bunnies are everywhere. Hell, I watch the news and I'm likely to come up with half a dozen plot bunnies. They are everywhere, and they multiply like tribbles. 

The good news? I can kill the little bastards all I please. The ones that are good come back and remind me that they're bulletproof. The ones that aren't, end up as fertilizer in my constantly growing carrot patch of ideas. CONSTANTLY GROWING. Not kidding about that. The good notions resurface, and to make sure they get my attention, they often come back with more subplot or scenes attached. 

My very first novel ever was a piece of garbage that died a painful death. It was a hodgepodge of science fiction and fantasy that had a few cool ideas and a LOT of craptacular notions that I should have killed. I spent an entire summer writing that novel, came u with around 500 pages of absolute drivel, and then tossed it away when I realized it had no plot, just a few cool ideas. 

My second novel started off with a scene that would not leave me alone. I ignored it for over three months before I finally broke down and wrote out the first three chapters in roughly eight hours. I haven't really looked back since then.

The thing is, what works for me and my mind will likely NOT work for yours. I do things my way and if you're wise, you do things your way and take advice the same way you take pepper: to the level that satisfies you, and not one red chili flake further. 

At least on the first draft. Edits from the powers that be are an entirely different affair.

Currently, I am working on THE GODLESS, Book five of the Seven Forges series, and THE TOURISTS GUIDE TO HAUNTED WELLMAN (a collaborative novel with Charle R Rutledge), three separate short stories, one collaborative short story (again with Charles) and a collaborative novella, BLOODSTAINED NEVERLAND) with Christopher Golden. 

I tend to stay busy.  A lot. I don't have time for all the bunnies that want my attention. Seriously. The smart ones wave, duck and cover, and come back later when they have reinforcements. 

Your mileage may vary, and quite frankly should very. 

Keep smiling,


PS: just for fun, here's a few visual hints for the TOURISTS GUIDE. 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Kill the Rabbit: Death to Plot Bunnies


THE PROMISED QUEEN has a cover! I just love how those jewel colors pop off the screen. This is book three in the Forgotten Empires trilogy, out May 25, 2021. But you can preorder now!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is all about those Plot Bunnies: How/where do you corral them? How much room do you give them to grow?

For those unfamiliar with the term, a "plot bunny" is an idea that catches a writer's attention and imagination, but isn't what they're intending to focus on right then. I did a bit of (very causal, not all thorough research) and found this definition: From the metaphorical image of the writer's brain producing ideas with the abundance and speed with which rabbits are fabled to breed. There's also this: the term is thought to be related to the oft-quoted John Steinbeck quote about ideas and rabbits.

The Steinbeck quote is: “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”

That makes some sense, although I'd point out that the Steinbeck quote treats the cultivation of ideas as a positive where most writers seem to use the term "plot bunny" as a non-productive distraction.

I'd always associated the term with Alice chasing the white rabbit down its hole and ending up in Wonderland, the source of our metaphor "going down the rabbit hole." You chase the plot bunny and you end up in a place where you've left your project - possibly with deadlines - behind and pretty soon you're talking to caterpillars and having tea with insane creatures.

I'm not really a fan of plot bunnies. 

But you all know me: I'm not a fan of anything that interferes with getting a book written. 

So, I treat plot bunnies as what they are to me: distractions and procrastination bait.

Writing is difficult. Writing novels in particular requires focused concentration on a single story over a long period of time. It's the nature of our minds to look for ways out of that difficult work. It's also the nature of the universe to test our resolve. I look on plot bunnies as challenges to the work. If a plot bunny is the universe's way of asking if I *really* am determined to write that book, then my answer is not to chase the bunny down the rabbit hole. 

Sometimes I jot down the idea. Mostly I just it run away. If it's a good one, it'll come back. 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Rose or Petunia? Names I've Changed

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week concerns the reality of having to change names. We're asking the crew if they've ever had to change the name(s) of a character or place in a book after we'd drafted it? Who is the character who will forever go by their "unpublished" name in our minds?

I don’t usually have to change the names of the characters or the books but I have a few vignettes to share…
My first book was Song of the Nile in my head because it involved a priestess who sang paeans to Sobek the Crocodile God in ancient Egypt. I sold it to Carina Press in the summer of 2011 as Song of the Nile. They worked on it as Song of the Nile – I even have the first cover art showing that title (which I can’t share because it isn’t “mine”). I freaking loved that title.

Then in late 2011 Stephanie Dray, a well-known author of ancient Egyptian romance published…you guess it – Song of the Nile. Since I wasn’t even published yet, I didn’t want to look as though I was trying to copy her, even though she was writing about Roman-Cleopatra time and I was back in 1550 BCE. I know titles can’t be copyrighted but it felt wrong to me to have the same title on my book. She, by the way, was lovely to me when my book did come out, in January 2012, had me on her blog, guested on my blog – a really affirming model of an established author going out of her way to help a newbie. So Carina Press re-titled my book as Priestess of the Nile. Which was fine and also fit the heroine.

Ah but the story isn’t done. In late 2019 I put out a new book in my Gods of Egypt series and rather defiantly titled it Song of the Nile. Ta da! The heroine is a harpist at Pharaoh’s court. I figured eight years later and me with 40+ books in various genres to my credit (and people being somewhat more understanding about the fact that duplicative titles do happen), I could finally have the title of my heart, even if it is for a different book that the one I first intended. Ms. Dray has moved on to writing amazing American Revolutionary era novels among other things and so I think it’s all good. Her book and mine seem to happily co-exist in the greater ebook world.

When I’m writing a book, I tend to think of it in a basic one word title, maybe the name of the planet or the main character or my inspiration. As in, “Today I did 1000 words on JAMOKAN.” COLONY UNDER SIEGE takes a part of its inspiration from an island where I used to visit as a child and so the folder on my computer where the manuscript and other materials reside is labelled thusly. One novel I wrote has a prince from an old 50’s “B” movie as the inspiration and the hero wore that name throughout my entire writing and editing process but then I changed it (as I’d always knew I would) because the name doesn’t fit the time and civilization my hero resides in. But the file folder still bears that title.

My intellectual property heirs will have fun trying to puzzle out which book is in which folder!

I have changed the names of a couple of planets because when I first went to romance conventions to do book signings I met readers who’d enjoyed my scifi romances, they were enthusiastic and complimentary but I noticed they really hesitated over the titles, which contained the (made up) planet names. I thought to myself that was bad, if readers were going to love the books but not be sure how to pronounce the names. So I tried to become less convoluted with my names and also to give my books titles that were more generic, like STAR CRUISE: OUTBREAK or DANGER IN THE STARS. I also went through a period where I deliberately gave the books sort of old fashioned science fiction titles like TWO AGAINST THE STARS (which was a tribute from me to all those old Andre Norton books I treasure to this day).

When I started my award winning Badari Warriors series about genetically engineered soldiers of the far future, I decided to go with the simple, one word title using the hero’s name – Aydarr, Mateer and so forth. I have subtitles to carry the freight of what the series is – Badari Warriors: A SciFi Romance Novel (Sectors New Allies Book #Soandso). If I had it to do over, I’d leave off the “Sectors New Allies” designator but at the time I started the series I felt it was important to show it did tie in to all my previous SFR books, in term of the same universe, which I call The Sectors.

I try to be mindful not to have more than one character whose name starts with the same letter in my books, ever since my editor tactfully pointed out that all my Egyptian warriors seemed to have names starting with “K”. Kaminhotep, Khenet etc. I’ve seen for myself how annoying it can be when the author presents the reader with three female characters who names start with “S” for example. It can get very confusing, especially if all three are shown on the same page, in action or giving dialog. I’m currently reading a long series where three of the supporting male characters have names starting with “B” (but the author has helpfully killed off two of them by book #8). And she introduced a villain whose name also starts with “B’!

I do have a thing for heroine names ending in an ‘a’ so I try to change that up on occasion, with Jill, Megan, Flo interspersed with my Sandara, Keshara and Elianna for example…

And that’s probably enough on the subject for today!

Here’s my latest one word-titled novel (and the book was IVOKK through the entire writing process and the folder is under that name too):

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, August 28, 2020

Ch-ch-changing. Titles and names, that is.

First and foremost, I have a new book out. It's The Blood Knife, the vampire novel that had been in a box set for three weeks. That fundraising promo is over and I've put the book up as a standalone. It'll go up in formats other than Kindle this weekend.

Title and name changes. You knew I'd have a story about that. When I subbed my first book to Berkley, it went in as Enemy Within. Marketing didn't like that title. So, they asked for a name change. I wasn't thrilled, but I was eager to play nicely with the big kids. So I sent in a list of twenty possible other titles. Many blessings upon my ever-patient critique group(s) who helped brainstorm those, cause I was stuck after about five. Titles are so not my super power. Anyway, I sent the list. Marketing brought their own list. Not a single one of them stuck. After a week of wrangling, marketing went back to the editor and said, "Leave it." You know the rest. The book went out with the original title. I'd have loved to have been a fly on the wall at that marketing meeting. I really would. It would have been fascinating to hear what criteria made a good title versus a bad one. With that information, I might could have given them a better title option, but alas. I was not invited.

The only change that DID happen was in the name of the aliens in the book. The major bad guys are the Chekydran. Well. That's what they *became* because when I first conceived of them, their name had far fewer vowels. My point at the time was that not every species humans and humanoids ever encounter are going to have names that we can say. My agent at the time, who convinced me to buy a few vowels, argued that it didn't matter humans and humanoids were always going to name aliens something they could say, so I might as well throw my poor readers a bone and make the Chekydran readable. I'm glad I did. I can't even remember, now, how I had them spelled originally. So it clearly didn't matter.

Frankly, if I need to change a name, that gets caught in draft when my critique group catches that all of my character names start with the same letter of the alphabet or something. I've been lucky thus far. Editors haven't asked me to change anything I feel really strongly about. I expect that's just a matter of time, though.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Sometimes you've just gotta slap a new label on!

 I think it’s safe to say we’ve all been there…we’ve all written a character or chosen a book title only to have a CP/agent/editor strongly advise a change. 

Jeffe had a book title change, but never in her head. KAK had a handful of characters sport new ID’s, if you need some name inspiration check out her post. And Vivien’s confessed to writing about an Asahel…but we’ll never read about him. Hang around a couple more days and I’m sure you’ll find out some stories from Marcella and Veronica!

I love hearing stories from other writers, I love hearing about the book that wouldn’t leave their head, and I love hearing about the characters that shout and the ones that have to be pulled from the pages. I guess that means I’m interested in hearing about yours, but beyond the topic question of have you changed any names…I want to know how you got over the change. 

As writers we become attached to our characters and even our book titles. Our minds are consumed with them for varying periods of time, but consumed none the less. So, how do you leave behind something you’re attached to?

To date, I’ve only changed one character’s name. In one of my fantasy novels I had a MC, main character, named Boromir. 

Boromir? Boromir? Boromir? 

Well, he wasn’t playing hooky, but my agent strongly suggested I change his name since the only known Boromir is in Lord of the Rings. I wrestled with that for weeks because I love that name! I think there should be more Boromir’s ! But, in the end I changed it because I didn’t want readers to immediately have LotR Boromir pop into their heads. 

I made the change, and it was hard to get past! I finished that manuscript in May 2019 and when talking about this character I still sometimes slip and call him Boromir! I suppose it doesn’t help that I picked a similar sounding name, hmmm. 

Your turn. Have you had post-renaming blues? Did you get over it, or do you still mentally call them/the title by the original name?

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The S-Apostrophe Conundrum

First, a million (maybe more) thank-yous to my publisher and editor for changing all my cringey titles. I do think up some terrible ones, and we needn't speak of those any further. As far as character names go, I don't think I've ever had to change one in a book I shared with anybody. (I do have a terrible manuscript with a slinky fallen angel named Asahel, which friends have said is a terrible name, but it doesn't really matter because no one will ever read this book. I will Office Space my computer with a hatchet before I share that pile.)  

However, I got a funny story about a character whose name-change has forever altered the way I write and critique.

My high school senior English teacher was kind of a badass. Not only was she stern and no-shits-given and made everybody read the Mahabharata in the days before non-Western canon was cool ("If you can read Dante and Milton, you can read this, too, because the entire world is not Christian," bless her), she was also the most feared teacher on campus: she would fail your ass and made all her AP students work for that extra grade point. She was also a published mystery author on the sly. 

Now, this was in the days when manuscripts were typed out on typewriters (those things with keys that predated the keyboard) and submitted on paper (that stuff you continue to get in the mail and dutifully recycle). If you think of an average manuscript comprising 300-odd pieces of paper, that's a crapton of typing. It makes my fingers hurt just thinking of it. And yet, writers back then did the thing. 

Some time before I had her for English, my teacher completed a manuscript, revised it, retyped it, and submitted it to her editor. Now, having done that a few times myself, I can imagine how that went down, passing along a little slice of your soul and hoping the person likes it even a little. Her editor took a while to get back to her, but when she did, the news was both elating and horrifying. The book was good, said the editor. She liked it overall, had a lot of nice things to say about the plot, and only had one minor, teeny little change. 

See, the main character in this mystery was named Rhys. Which ends in an S. (Those of you who've tried to name a character anything that ends in an S, you know what's coming and are cringing already.)

My teacher had punctuated her book correctly. She taught the stuff, ffs, so she knew how to make the possessive of a singular noun ending in S. You add apostrophe+S. Yes, yes, you do. (Fight me.) You only add the lone apostrophe if the noun is plural. That is, technically, the correct way to do it. 

However, so many people are convinced that the wrong way is correct (much like you folks who insist on putting two spaces between sentences because a typing teacher--it always comes back to the typing teacher--once told you to do it that way), the editor of this book feared that roughly half of all readers would be convinced that Rhys's was an error. Worse, if she changed it to Rhys' throughout, the other half of (better informed) readers would be convinced of same. 

There was no win here. She had to change his name. The main character's name. Which appeared roughly every page. 

My teacher, god bless her poor fingers, had to retype that entire bleepin' manuscript.

She also made sure her students knew of this torment so we would never have to endure a similar circle of hell. 

And that, dear critique-group friends, is why I continue to gently suggest you change your Marcus, Iris, Nikos, James, Chris, Alexis, and Frances character names to something that does not end in S. Do it for your readers. Do it for your own sanity. Do it in memory of my poor teacher's fingers. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Names Have Changed (Because The Editor Said So)

 A rose by any other still Rose, because that's what her name was throughout the draft that took me eight years to write, damn it. Do you know how often I had to type that name, rework scenes with that name, have people call that name, eh? EH?

clears throat

What names have changed in my books during final edits that will forever be known to me as their original names? I changed a bunch of names in my high fantasy LARCOUT because my editor pointed out that half the names I had used invoked stereotypes and biases that clashed with the culture I had created. Fair. With some I agreed, others...not the editorial sword on which I was going to fall. Here are three changed-name examples from a book I published five years ago that still stick with me: 

  1. Draft Name: Bishop; Pub Name: Rashan
  2. Draft Name: Maynard; Pub Name: Dhaval
  3. Draft Name: Phoebian; Pub Name: Sana

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Best Title That Never Was

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week concerns the reality of having to change names. We're asking the crew if they've ever had to change the name(s) of a character or place in a book after we'd drafted it? Who is the character who will forever go by their "unpublished" name in our minds?

For me, it wasn't a character. As far as I can recall, I've never had to change the name of a character or place in a book. If I did, it never mattered enough to me that it stuck in my head. I *have* had to change titles, however, and the one that has never left my head is for the book that became ROGUE'S PAWN, book one in my Covenant of Thorns trilogy.

This was my first published novel - released in 2012 - and was the story that invaded my dreams and wrenched me from a nonfiction career and into fiction. It was, in fact, fantasy romance, but I didn't know what to call it then. I started writing it in 2005, querying it in 2007 and it took me YEARS to sell. 

All that time, I called it by another title in my head: OBSIDIAN.

The title has a lot of shades of meaning and symbolic layers in the story. That book is forever OBSIDIAN in my head.

Unfortunately, by the time Carina Press bit on the book and published it in August of 2012, Jennifer L. Armentrout's book of the same title had come out in May. My editors at Carina said that wasn't the reason for the title change. Instead I sunk my own ship by first publishing the Facets of Passion books with them. Those were erotic BDSM contemporaries, also with one-word jewel titles: SAPPHIRE, PLATINUM, and RUBY. (Ironically, book 4, FIVE GOLDEN RINGS, was supposed to be called ORO, the Spanish word for gold, but Carina thought readers wouldn't get it. I'm still sorry about that retitling, too.)

It was a newbie author mistake. Had I realized that one-word jewel titles wouldn't work for two different series, in two different genres, from the same author at the same publisher, I would have cheerfully changed the Facets of Passion titles instead. Alas!

I'd love to get this trilogy back from Carina someday - largely because I've never liked these covers, either. Would I change the title back? I don't know... I wouldn't want readers to think I'm trying to trick them into reading something new that's actually old. 

What would you say?


Friday, August 21, 2020

Writing Through the Rough Patches

Getting past stuck or numb or despondent or any other major block is as individual as the writer, I suspect. I carry a bag of tools around (virtually, y'know) to help when I sit staring at a blinking cursor for too long. Try a few of them on for fit.

1. The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. This is a 25 year old book about breaking through creative
blocks. It's still popular because for a lot of people, it works. I'm working through it myself, right now. If you try this, don't just read it. USE it. Even if it seems hokey.
2. Expeditions. No one creates in a vacuum. And sometimes all that's needed to shake the brain loose is a trip to a museum or art gallery or botanical garden. Maybe a hike in the woods or a trip to the beach. All safely masked and socially distanced, of course.
3. A break. I'm on writing hiatus this week - in part because another class of medication failed to prevent migraines and came with a host of really awful side effects. The weight of not getting the productivity I thought I ought to be achieving each day (while suffering chronic daily migraines) got to be more than sanity could support. Hence a little break. It's all good. I have a new med that seems to be helping and a little lightening of the load for a few days seems to really be shifting things. Don't overlook the power of a break to refresh you and your outlook.
4. Repetitive physical tasks. Bonus if they're outside. Many times, a block is little more than over thinking. Something I would know nothing about. 🙄 So I go out into the garden and pull weeds or plant flowers. Getting into the dirt is mostly a mindless task, but it takes just enough brain power to absorb the critical brain and leaves the subconscious/story brain free to do a little roving.
5. Create something else. Cook. Sew. Draw. Color. Paint. Build models. Whatever. Just make it something you don't make money from. No professional pressure. This is about wasting time on profitless (or so we imagine) play. You recover a little sense of joy in doing the things that aren't quite as fraught as writing.
6. Ask for an immersion weekend. Ask the fam to support and protect your weekend from all interlopers (including them). You need supportive and cooperative family for this one - because someone else has to take ALL responsibility for keeping life and limb together for a weekend while you do nothing but type as fast as you can on a story even if you don't know what happens next. The point here is to have people bring you things - tea, goodies. You're asking to be taken care of for two days while you let slip all responsibility for anything and everything. I won't pretend that guilt doesn't creep in. It does. Then you remind yourself that for two days nothing is your circus and those are not your monkeys. Someone else can handle them. Your circus is the story. Make it ridiculous just to see what happens.

It really helps to have an entire arsenal against stuckness. Not only do different people need different tools, what works for you one time may not the next, so having options tips this whole creating thing in your favor.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

You can't write through your Achilles' heel when it's depression.

 I don’t want to write this blog post. I mean, I do, but I honestly really don’t. But I feel that I need to, even if this only reaches one person that needs to hear it. So, if you’re facing writer’s block, that Achilles' heel that you can’t seem to write through, and you’re empty and have lost all joy, this post is for you.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Writing Through Self-Doubt

Lots of books and workshops exist to help writers get "unstuck" (writerly term meaning, essentially, "what iz plots and words I cannot huh?"), and if  you are feeling the stick, I can recommend a few of those. (If you haven't already taken her courses or read her productivity books, I would 100% recommend Becca Syme. She's the best.) But what if your brand of stuckness isn't about time management or self-discipline and maybe goes lack of self-confidence or even hopelessness?

That's often where I find myself, but when I try to describe the deep pit of cannotness, the person I'm talking to tends to get that blank look on their face and start backing away. Sometimes they'll recommend therapy or psychotropics. *shrug* I'm used to it, to the point that I don't even try to talk about it anymore. It's my own secret horror show.

But maybe I'm not the only writer out there who gets to this point (a lot)? Dunno. Just in case, here are a two things that work sometimes.

Critique Partners Who Actually Like What I Write

Okay, yes, I can rev myself up and get crit from strangers or professionals, and yes, all of that is helpful for craft and whatnot, but dude, when I'm sitting in my closet with my laptop, in tears because everything I write is a flaming turd, your critique sandwich with cute terms like "huh?" and "too stupid to live" is not going to help. It's going to anti-help. 

So I counter that kind of crit with a couple of crit partners who aren't about ripping stuff to shreds. Instead, they are about helping me grow as a writer. I know crazy, right? So they tell me not only what isn't maybe working but also what absolutely is. They help me build on the good stuff and snip out the bad. They lol in the margins and leave comments for my characters. They tell me when the ending needs more punch but don't tell me how they'd do it. 

It's like they trust me to make those story decisions myself. And, folks, when I'm in the Pit of Despair, that kind of trust is like soul medicine. If these amazing people think -- however misguidedly,  bless them -- that I am capable of moving on and making this story good, maybe there's hope for me yet. Self-confidence ticks up, I got this, poof=unstuck.

Caveat: It's hard finding crit partners who work for your particular brain. I've found the best ones are people who are my friends, who know when I absolutely can't handle a "you're making no sense here" comment and just need a "flagged things to revisit later, but for now: hooray for complete chapter and keep going!" encouragement. I've collected my little group over many years, but the basis in each relationship is respect. You can't have a crit partner you don't respect or who doesn't respect you. Some awe helps as well. Don't partner up with someone you think is not on your level, and def not with someone who thinks they're light years ahead of you. A mentor is not a crit partner. A mentor is a mentor.


I hear all about writers who go to coffee shops or libraries or write-ins (none of which is happening a lot in covidlandia lately), and that fuels them. It settles differently over my head. When I'm around a lot of other writers and they are all doing their awesome thing, I feel smaller and smaller and less and less capable. But by myself, locked in a room with my laptop, I can write anything. I can think anything. I am free. ( write the derpiest stuff in the history of written things but hey, it's made of words! And that matters!) When I'm at my lowest and stuckest, giving myself permission to write just anything --and have it completely suck--is a private thing. And sometimes also is the thing that makes it all start working again.  

If you're thinking, "Solitude, right, it's easier to find Clorox wipes than solitude in quarantine!" I hear you. Like, I really hear you. We're doing a lot of needs-must things right now, and many of them suck. The lack of alonetime is just part of that. We will get through this, but it'll take time, and I've given my writing career permission to stumble around for a bit. It's okay if I miss a trend. It's okay if there are long stretches between my releases. It's okay. Permission to fail, permission to pause, permission to just sit there and play Animal Crossing and let my brain bake itself in the struggling AC of a hotter'n-hell Texas summer. We will get through this. 

And, eventually, the self-confidence--and the writing--will get unstuck and work again. I have to believe this. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Didn't Write Today? That's Okay

 How do I keep writing when All The Things or Any of The Things strike?

blink, blink

grabs soapbox, slides in it the back of the closet, buries it under the letter jacket

I, uh, absolutely suck at that. I have my butt-in-seat at the appointed hour. I have all the tech working as designed. I have the cursor blinking where I left off yesterday. Yet, four dog-walks, a carafe of coffee, and a heap of crumbs down my chest later I have written a whopping big...nothing. I can't tell you where the day went. I can't tell you what the major distraction was. I can't even tell you what I accomplished instead of writing. Yep, I am a champion. Whooeee. Lookie me. Champion of what? Who knows, but something that's for sure.

flashes toothy grin

Here's what I don't do: I don't beat myself up about it. Yes, I would really, reaaaaallly like to be able to write consistently daily. I've been doing this for 15 years and still can't come close to it. I've got a thousand and one excuses, motivational mantras, and yeah-buts. None of that changes the only way to "fix" a lack of progress is to get back to work. So, I can either make myself feel like shit for not hitting the goal and then get back to work, OR, I can skip the emotional distress part and just get back to work. I opt to skip the baggage and just get back to work.

It's 2020, nobody needs more anxiety. 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

My Secret Weapon: a Writing Habit

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "Writing through your Achilles heel - How do you keep writing through [whatever it is that prevents/stops your writing]?"

I think I was supposed to fill in my particular [whatever it is that prevents/stops your writing], but I don't think I have a specific Achilles heel that way. Not that I don't encounter obstacles to getting my words in every day! There are multitudes of those things, from Stupidly Trivial to Truly Important. When I was a newbie writer, even the Stupidly Trivial stuff won all the time. These days, only the Truly Important stuff gets in the way of writing, and even then I bounce back quickly, all because of my secret weapon.

My secret weapon is: my writing habit.

I'm a huge fan of building a writing habit. Because I've spent the last twenty years developing a writing habit, it's so refined now, so solidly at the center of my daily life, that writing almost happens of its own accord.

Sometimes, sure, I have to fight the megrims, the tooth-pulling days, the sheer don'-wannas - but the writing habit has me at my desk, writing anyway. Even if I take a deliberate sick or vacation day, I feel weird not writing, because the habit is tugging at me. I feel like something is missing until I get back to it.

Human beings are creatures of habit - both good and bad. Habit takes over when we're not deliberately working against it. We all have bad habits we'd like to kick - and know from experience how freaking hard that is to do! Why not take advantage of this force of nature and our deepest selves, and build a good habit that's hard to break?

Building a solid writing habit is the best thing I ever did, which is why I emphasize it in my Author Coaching Services

But you can do it on your own! Find a time when you can write at the same time, every day, even if for only five minutes. Or one. I know it's super hard to carve out that time. When I started doing this, the only time I could find was at 5am - and I am NOT a morning person. But I wanted to build a writing habit more than I hated getting up so early. If you absolutely CANNOT find a consistent time slot, then hinge it off something else that is consistent: like lunch hour at the day job, or when you get home from work, or right after you put the kids to bed. The most important aspect is that consistency, because that's what builds the habit. 

Do this for 30 days - because that's how long it takes to build a habit - and keep doing it. After that, you can move it around without breaking it. It can adapt and change over the years - and it will take on a life of its own. It will feed you instead of you feeding it. 

Seriously, the best thing for my writing I ever did. 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Three Hot Science Fiction Romance Tropes


Our topic this week is to name our favorite SF&F tropes.

Well okay, I neither read nor write in terms of tropes. By which I mean I don’t search out books in specific niches like the bully’s best friend’s sister expelled from her academy solving a cozy mystery on Mars, to make up a wild example. I read a book if the plot sounds interesting to me and I write a book if there’s a story I want to tell.

Now most of my science fiction novels do fall into the classic SF trope of military man (or ex-military man) and strong woman heroine plunged into a dire situation, which they have to work together to survive or to solve and along the way respect and romance happens. For my Badari Warriors series, I deliberately picked the trope of genetically engineered beings, because I do love series with that as a central theme and I wanted to write one. So I guess technically you could say that’s a trope I enjoy and I write, but I don’t do searches in Amazon form my next new read based on books in that category. If I see one that sounds interesting, I might one click it. Or I might not.

And with my Badari, I put many other elements into the plot and the world building so there are various aspects to the plot.

They do have fated mates, however, which again isn’t a trope I necessarily search out to read. I just happened to think it made a nice twist in this particular series.
But rather than be totally meh here today, let me share three top tropes in science fiction romance that I am seeing strong reader interest and appetite for.

ALIEN ABDUCTION remains huge. I can’t tell you how many books I see each week that start out with some variation on the phrase “I’ve been kidnapped by aliens.” Usually the woman is destined for a dire fate until she meets a strong male – a gladiator, an alien commander, another prisoner (usually of an alien race), a soldier or mercenary with a conscience (or her fated mate maybe) who bonds with her and fights for her. There’s infinite variety in these stories as SFR authors have vivid imaginations and storytelling skills and the books span a wide range from extremely steamy to more tame. Alana Khan, Athena Storm, Ruby Dixon, Regine Abel, Kate Rudolph, Tiffany Roberts and many other authors have written this type of story.

ALIEN PROTAGONISTS WHO LOOK LIKE ALIENS. There are entire groups on Facebook dedicated to this trope and much discussion of this. A truly alien hero offers all kinds of possibilities for…ahem…interesting bedroom scenes with tails, tentacles and other physical gifts coming into play. I have to say this isn’t a variation I personally read much but I have enjoyed a few. S. J. Sanders, Tiffany Roberts (again), Ann Aguirre (her recent novel  Strange Love was so well done I had to enjoy it!), Honey Phillips, Amanda Milo, Auryn Hadley and others write using this trope.

CYBORGS are still and always hugely popular. The idea of heroes who are part human and part machine, whether it be actual metal parts, or nanocytes or some other method of enhancement, falling in love with a human woman just really works for readers.  Cynthia Sax is my go-to author for this because I do enjoy a good cyborg romance and she writes them so well, but Anna Hackett wrote my all-time favorite entitled Cyborg: Galactic Gladiators Book 10. Laurann Dohner is another author who has a top selling cyborg series. Naomi Lucas, Mina Carter, Grace Goodwin, Cara Bristol and others write excellent cyborg novels.

It should also be noted that, like me, SFR authors may bring many different tropes into play in one book - an alien looking alien who's a cyborg and kidnapped a human woman, for example.

I’m sure in each of these three categories I’m missing a chance to highlight many other authors but I’m just taking the ones on the top of my mind for today. That’s enough SFR tropes for one quick post – next time we tackle this topic on SFF7, I’ll be sure to give you some others for your reading pleasure.

Here was my most recent release in the award winning Badari Warriors series:


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, August 14, 2020

Troping the Story

Cats on the internet. Is that a trope? Heaven knows I Can Has Cheezeburger has gone to town on storytelling with cat photos and a few captions. Bleps, like the one Cuillean has going on here, are definitely a trope in the cat photo world.

As for me, I have never met a trope I didn't like. Except, y'know, fridging girl friends or other sexist/violent/misogynistic. Also? If your trope kills an innocent critter just to show up how bad your baddie is, I will toss your book against the wall. And then in the donate pile. Unless it's really egregious. Then I might destroy it rather than inflict it upon another reader. But really. After that, I'm good! Just don't rest too comfortably on your trope. Give me a light touch and have a little fun with it and I'm yours. Like Jeffe, I like myself some enemy to lovers. I love long odds and heroines and heroes who don't yet know what they're capable of.

Honestly, for me, tropes are never the problem. It's how they're handled that determines whether I'm going to go for the story ride or spend my reading time rolling my eyes until I can look at my brain. If you want to give me a secret baby story, but don't give me a woman keeping her kid a secret. It'd be a cool twist for the dad with the secret baby. Don't hold me to that, though, cause I'm working on a book right now with a secret kid and she's with her mom -- so I guess, don't trope as I trope.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Tropes and Rhubarb!


Rhubarb isn’t for everyone. Neither is every trope out there. I could argue that there are so many ways to cook or bake rhubarb that eventually you’d find a version you love, just like book tropes. There’s rhubarb crumble, strawberry-rhubarb jam, cherry-rhubarb pie, rhubarb sauce both sweet and savory! You could have rhubarb for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Then I suppose some would say they’re full, too much of a good thing! 

I don’t have a problem with well-worn tropes because it’s all about the characters. But we’re not talking about the used-up stories or the not-for-me kinds this week, this week we’re talking about our favorite SFF tropes! 

One of the reasons I love reading science fiction and fantasy is that the best ones do something magical…they combine tropes.

Not sure what I’m talking about? Well, when you read a mystery you get to solve something. When you read a thriller you get ever heightening tension that grows between the hero and villain, the impending doom, until you reach the big climatic clash. An adventure will, well, take you on an adventure like a historical will take you back in time. 

Now sci-fi fantasy have their own tropes. One of my faves is The Quest. I believe in life we all strive towards a purpose and those of us who don’t feel lost. Throughout our lives we all go through quests, big and small, which is why this is such a well used theme in entertainment because on some level we can all relate.

Another classic SFF trope is the hero’s journey. Yes, I hear you—not another chosen one, because really, the hero’s journey is basically the chosen one making a choice to leave the known behind, venturing into the unknown to experience trials and challenges before returning a changed champion. But I can’t be 100% anti chosen-one because there are so many ways to do this trope differently than what we had been given over the past fifty-odd years.

This is where the magic comes in. 

You can have a chosen one AND a mystery! A young woman thrust into a hero’s journey as the result of a murder and unbalanced magic system! Ahhh!! So fun! Or, a sci-fi thriller where a killer’s on the loose and they end up on an alien spaceship face to face with the one who can stop their reign of terror! *shudder*

It would be fun to go on and on about the mash-ups that are sci-fi and fantasy, but since there’s hardly any Thursday left I’d better sign off. Till next week, I hope you have a great weekend with an even better read!

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Tropes! Tropes! Tropes!

Favorite SFF Trope, eh?  I'm a fan of most of them as long as they're not thinly veiled masturbatory fantasies centering around violent oppression (yes, that includes rape) to satisfy the lizard brain of the hero (or author, really). 

I'm hungry for new spins on standard tropes. I will go giddy over trope mash-ups with modern social awareness and contemporary struggles. Give me a Chosen One, but not a pasty white boy who is never held accountable for his failures or his neglected responsibilities. Make her a middle-aged washerwoman with three adopted kids and the ghost of a nagging mother-in-law. Put her on a space ship or an airship. I'm game for whichever lane of SpecFic. Give me the Gang of Outcasts' Quest, but not motivated by the pain inflicted upon a woman. The gang is a bunch of snarky aliens or a passel of retro shapeshifters? Love it. Give me the Steampunk partial cyborg family mixed with the case of mistaken identity out to battle an Eldritch terror on the high seas of a Secondary World. Give me all the portal fantasies...that aren't set in medieval Europe. I want to Time Travel to locations and play in Alternate Histories that real-world society wishes we forgot. 

In truth, I will ride any trope train as long as I give a damn about the characters. 

Bonus: If there's no head-hopping*, I'm buying the series.

*Head-hopping is poorly-executed multiple POVs that bleed together. Well-defined multiple POVs are good...within reason.

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.