Sunday, January 31, 2021

Should You Reference the COVID-19 Pandemic in Your Writing?

So exciting! DARK WIZARD, Book #1 in a totally new series - new world, new magic system, new everything! - is coming February 25, 2021. You can preorder now. 

Available at these Retailers


Yes, I know I just released a book last week, but sometimes this is how balancing an Indie career with a Trad one works out. Probably we could do a theme week on that topic. Suffice to say, I'd already planned out and begun the Heirs of Magic series, when this book - finished and very sparkly to my eye - was returned to my aegis. I could have sat on it. Or I could just launch this series, too! 

You all know me (or you should, by now) - I checked my Gantt charts and decided to go for it. 

Our actual topic at the SFF Seven this week is *not* filling the pipeline with projects in order to juggle the demands of a career as a hybrid author. It is, however, not entirely unrelated. We're discussing topicality and making choices about what to write and publish - "In These times of plague: Writing about the real world in fiction."

I recall, lo these many years ago, when I was a newbie author and soaking up All The Advice, a writing professor at my university pronounced (you may add stentorious tones, if you wish) that we should eschew anything of popular culture in our work. Such references only dated the work, and made it less than. I vividly recall everyone nodding along sagely and making erudite remarks about the banality of popular culture. So much so that, for once, I kept my mouth shut.

Though I didn't agree.

People sometimes support this argument by pointing out that Jane Austen doesn't mention Napoleon in her novels, though that was the overshadowing political force at the time. She does, however, include the presence of the regiments. The movements and stationing of The Officers! (feel free to read in Lydia's excited squeal) are omnipresent to the milieu of the stories. They're such a seamless part of the world that we don't really remark on it. Except... why are there parades of uniformed soldiers marching through these idyllic, rural hamlets? 

My point is that, even if we make the conscious choice not to mention Napoleon, the tenor of the war will invade the story regardless.

I've seen a number of authors in various groups asking about whether others are including the COVID-19 pandemic of 2019-2021 in their books. Do we show characters in lockdown? Wearing masks? Avoiding public superspreader events?

Putting those realities of our lives in this extraordinary time into our books feels... fraught. Do we really want that stuff in our escapist fiction? And yet, the alternative - at least for contemporary fiction - is to pretend it never happened, or risk our characters looking foolish, cavorting maskless in a pandemic world, coming within six feet of PEOPLE THEY DON'T KNOW.

I don't know about you guys, but I flinch now watching movies where people attend parties in close spaces, embracing and kissing on others. It didn't take all that long, relatively speaking, for my habits and worldview to change.

The advantage of writing alternate fantasy as I do is that I don't have to worry so much about this kind of thing. On the other hand, this is the world *I* live in, and - like The Officers! - aspects will infiltrate the milieu of my stories.

I've seen a number of interviews now with directors talking about how the pandemic changed their films in profound ways, leaking in where they didn't expect it. I also saw Locked Down (Baby's First COVID-19 Movie™) and enjoyed it very much. However, filmed in London in early 2020, it already felt dated in marked aspects. 

Cue sagely nodding of sycophantic students. "See?" they say. "Dated. Less than."

I disagree. Capture the moment, if that's what calls to you. As artists, we observe the world and reflect it through our own lens. That includes *gasp* popular culture. 

Besides, it's going to leak in anyway.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Welcome to our new Saturday blogger~ Charissa Weaks!

 We're incredibly excited to announce

we have a new Saturday blogger:

Charissa Weaks!!!

Charissa Weaks headshot: gorgeous woman sitting in a cafe wearing a black shirt, photo in black and white

Charissa is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside—and come on, look at that pic! She's also a fantastic writer and her stories will sweep you away and make you never want to leave them. Not only all that, but she's a genuine soul who supports those around her and lifts them up. And she's also an editor at City Owl, so we'll get to hear about that side of the business as well! 

Her official bio is even more impressive than that attempt:

CHARISSA WEAKS is an award-winning author of historical fantasy and speculative fiction. She crafts stories with fantasy, magic, time travel, romance, and history, and the occasional apocalyptic quest. She is a foodie and book-buying coffee addict who loves to travel and visit antique stores. She believes the souls of memories live in shadowy places and inside the things we cast away.
Over the last decade, Charissa has worked with and edited for published and unpublished authors alike, including several NYT and USA Today Bestselling Authors. Her strengths lie in author branding and the development of high-concept plots alongside strong emotional arcs. She has a love for historical tales, women’s fiction, fantasy, and unique sci-fi, and if those stories include a heart-rending romance, all the better. Charissa also longs to see more diverse authors and characters on the shelves. For query information and to see her current wishlist, click HERE
Charissa is active in the Historical Novel Society, was named 2019 President and Pro-Liaison for her local Romance Writers of America chapter, and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Association. She is the founder and editor of Once Upon Anthologies, a series of paranormal and fantasy romance short stories and novelettes.
Charissa resides just south of Nashville with her family, two wrinkly English Bulldogs, and the sweetest German Shepherd in existence. When she’s not writing, you can find Charissa lost in a good book or digging through four-hundred-year-old texts for research. To keep up with her writing endeavors, and to gain access to writing freebies and book giveaways, join her newsletter, The Monthly Courant.

Be on the look out for her upcoming novel: THE WITCH COLLECTOR!

announcement for Charissa Weaks' trilogy The Witch Collector—black background with a golden crown above and the titles listed in gold below: The Witch Collector, City of Ruin, and A God's War

You can find and follow Charissa—seriously, she's all over!

Friday, January 29, 2021

What Dreams May Come

Corvid, the Void Boi, wants you to know that his human mom doesn't need to cultivate purposeful day dreams. She has him and he's a weirdo. 

Day dreaming. It's therapeutic and completely necessary for artists of all kinds. Yet we live in a culture that flings all kinds of accusations about laziness, worthlessness, and 'wasted' time. Add modern technology into the mix and most people over twelve have precious little time for the 'silliness' of day dreaming. 

In an attempt to reclaim some brain space, time, and day dreaming, I'm working my way through a book called Bored and Brilliant by Manoush Zomorodi. It's a treatise on how our devices have stolen away the free time our brains once filled with day dreams and with synthesizing our experiences. 

It's also a useful walk through the brain science that explains why we need wandering minds and 'useless' day dreaming. 

So yes. Day dreaming - the fun, the terrible, the startling. Bring it all on. It's necessary. It's enlivening. Certainly, creativity and stories are built on the foundation of day dreaming.

The interesting piece is that with migraine, you get hallucinations. Not every time. But it seems to be a feature. Hallucinations are the feral cousins of day dreaming. Day dreams can be directed. Hallucinations can't. Yet they're useful, too. Some of the grimmest of my scenes came straight out of migraine hallucination. To be clear, tho, I'd flat give them up if I could exorcise the migraines. There are other ways to get into the altered states required to bring up vision, if not hallucination. I'd take it if I could get it. Until then, day dreams are welcome companions. Hallucinations, well. They show up, welcome or not, and stay until they're good and ready to leave.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Purposeful Daydreaming

My crossed, booted feet on the bank of a creek bed covered in snow. Steam rising from the water in the sunny winter air.

 I’ve been working on being a professional daydreamer forever. I remember warm summer days spent in the poppy patch watching the bees hum around me and imagining unicorns and trolls adventuring nearby. I remember leaning my head against the glass of the school bus window as I stared out across the fields, imagining the life of a young girl with a pegasus. And I remember hiking and sitting along the banks of a frozen creek with my husky, imagining the hiss of the blowing snow was dragon scales sliding over rock.

Growing up I would chose which dreams I wanted to return to. I’d have a fantastic dream and upon waking, would sit and think about it and examine what had happened—so I could actually remember said dream for longer than an hour—then I would return to that dream before falling asleep by replaying what I’d dreamt the night before. Only the second or third nights I would change things I didn’t like or wanted to happen differently…and then I’d go back to that dream and experience it all over again but better! My pegasus lived in the most fantastical world!

But it wasn’t until I was tipped off on Robert Olen Butler’s book From Where You Dream that I realized what an important writing tool this really was. After reading Butler’s book I’m absolutely sure I’d never want to sit in on his lectures, he’s very black and white in his assumptions and definitions on literature, but I did glean one very useful writing tool. 

Dreamstorming—getting into the dream space. It’s different than daydreaming when your mind wanders and slips away for a few moments in-between life’s business. When you purposefully put yourself in the dream zone you’re examining each scene visually so you feel where the characters are standing and you’re tapped into their emotions and sensibilities.

This is a tool that I like to use before I start writing. Well, I also hang out in the dream space when I’m plotting out a novel, I love watching the action and seeing what the characters do. But it’s a great warm up for a writing session. 

Want to give it a try?

Sit somewhere comfortable. I prefer things to be very hygge, the Danish word that encompasses comfort and peace, and having a blanket on my lap and a warm cup in my hand usually do the trick. Having a fire or a candle can be handy too. I know you’ve all zoned out while gazing deep into the flames before. When you’re comfortable let your mind shut off all the stuff, your to-do list for the day, the dishes sitting in the sick, the email you have to get to, all of that stuff gets shut off and you’re left with your story. Or a character. Or a place. Pick what dream space you want to walk into and form it in your mind’s eye. Then sit back and watch. 

Pay attention to how you feel and what you sense, everything that doesn’t require words. When you’re done, write it out. It doesn’t have to be extremely detailed or long, just jot down what encompasses the scene you just watched. You may prefer to sit at your desk, like Butler, for a short zoning session. Or you may work better by setting aside a half our or more if you’re really comfortable. If you’re stuck, got a plot hole, settle in and watch your story and see what happens when you get to the sticky situation. 

If you give it a go, let me know! 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Daydream Believer

 Do I daydream?


On purpose?


Is it a critical part of my writing process?


Do I recommend daydreaming to anyone even thinking about writing fiction?

Oh definitely yes.

My favorite ways/places to daydream about my works-in-progress:

1. Whilst walking around my back yard and waiting for dogs to do dog business.

2. Whilst driving.

3. In the shower.

4. Whilst doing dishes.

5. When someone else is talking to me about something important.

6. Pretty much any time I do not have easy access to a notepad or other method of actually documenting the genius ideas I come up with during these daydreaming sessions.

On a slightly more serious note, some of us have these weird writing processes where we think-think-think for like months and then BOOM write a full novel in a couple of weeks. All of that think time could be described as daydreaming, I suppose. It's definitely time I spend putting the story together in my head, and I almost never document all of that work on paper. (Which is why my word-count tracking is super sketchy.) If this is your process or you're thinking about trying it out, stop telling yourself that you have to make a daily word count and get to daydreaming instead. (I know, it sounds miserable, dunnit?)

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

New Fantasy Romance: The Golden Gryphon and The Bear Prince by @JeffeKennedy

This week our favorite hard-working, award-winning Sunday blogger, Jeffe Kennedy, released the first book in a new fantasy romance series Heirs of Magic! 

Heirs of Magic: Book 1

A Legacy of Honor

Crown Prince Astar has only ever wanted to do the right thing: be a credit to his late father’s legacy, live up to his duties as heir to the high throne of the Thirteen Kingdoms, and cleave to the principles of honor and integrity that give his life structure—and that contain the ferocious grizzly bear inside. Nowhere in those guiding principles is there room for the fierce-hearted, wildly free-spirited, and dizzyingly beautiful shapeshifter, Zephyr. Still, even though they’ve been friends most of their lives, Astar is able to keep Zephyr safely at arm’s length. He’s already received a list of potential princess brides who will make a suitable queen, and Zephyr is not on it.

A Longtime Obsession

Zeph has wanted the gorgeous, charming, and too-good-for-his-own-good Astar for as long as she can remember. Not that her longing for him—and his perfectly sculpted and muscular body—has stopped her from enjoying any number of lovers. Astar might be honorably (and foolishly) intent on remaining chaste until marriage, but Zeph is Tala and they have no such rules. Still, she loves Astar—as a friend—and she wants him to at least taste life before he chains himself to a wife he didn’t choose. There’s no harm in him having a bit of fun with her. But the man remains stubbornly elusive, staving off all of her advances with infuriatingly noble refusals.

A Quest to Save the World

But things change when a new terror threatens the Thirteen Kingdoms. Following prophecy, Astar and Zeph—along with a mismatched group of shapeshifter, warrior, and sorceress friends—go on a quest to stop a magic rift before it grows beyond anyone’s ability to stop. Thrust together with Zephyr, Astar finds himself increasingly unable to resist her seductive invitations. And in the face of life-and-death battles with lethal monsters, he begins to lose sight of why having her, just once, is such a terrible idea…

BUY IT NOW: Amazon | Apple Books | B&N | Kobo

Monday, January 25, 2021

To Dream, Perhaps to Write

 Dreamzoning is the catch phrase this week. 

Dear Heaens, of course, I daydream. It's all I do.  It's part of my job as a writer. Back in the day Warner Brother Looney Tunes cartoons did stories about a little kid named Ralphie Phillips. That was his job too.

Inevitably, no matter what he was supposed to be doing ARalphie would spin off in his own head and be off on another adventure. first time I saw one of those cartoons I thought that at last somebody understood me. 

I still feel that way.

It's my job to imagine new place, new situations, and then dream up the people to explore them.

If you write fiction, or want to write fiction, what could possibly be more important/

Oh, to be sure there's the craft of writing, but with9utmthe dreams, there are no stories to tell. 

I have so many tales to tell! I'm late on one of them right now, actually, two of them, so back to it for me. 

Good luck with the dreams. Make the time for them. 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Why Daydreaming Increases Productivity

Our topic at the SFF 7 this week is: Dreamzoning (term from Robert Olen Butler’s book From Where You Dream): Do you daydream on purpose?

I'm not familiar with this book, but I absolutely daydream on purpose! I call it The Dreamthink. 

The Dreamthink is so central to my creativity and productivity that I gave it to the heroine of my Forgotten Empires trilogy. For her it's an actual form of magic, and you can see it referenced there in the whim for the upcoming THE PROMISED QUEEN

In my Forgotten Empires trilogy, the heroine—Queen Euthalia of Calanthe—uses the dreamthink to maintain her world. Because she’s magically sensitive, messages come to her in nightmares, when her mind is vulnerable. The world is a chaotic, broken, and wounded place—and it cries to her for help. When she wakes from these terrible dreams, she pretends to be asleep still, just to calm herself so she can face a day of politics. 

In some ways, she isn’t entirely faking it. She wakes, then goes into another stage of sleep: the dreamthink. 

Lia, who lives in a world that celebrates science and knowledge, but is not technologically advanced, has given this state its own name. It feels to her like a kind of light dreaming, where she can also guide where her mind goes. Those of you familiar with meditation or sleep stages, might recognize this as a trance state. Or it could be a Stage 1 sleep with theta waves (which are also present during meditation) or Stage 2 with sleep spindles in the brain activity. Magical or not, those are states of mind we all experience at some time or another. 

I know I do! I made up the term “dreamthink” for myself. (Even though I do understand meditative trances and sleep states – lol.) Once I became a full-time writer, I gave myself the gift of waking according to my own natural rhythms. I don’t set an alarm, so I emerge from sleep gradually. Often I’ll lie in bed in that light sleep state a while longer, and mull over the story I’m writing. That’s why I call it the dreamthink—because I can guide my mind to that particular story thread, and then dream about what might happen. It’s a lovely, low-key way to puzzle over plot issues, and wonderful ideas present themselves to me. 

In the first book of the Forgotten Empires, THE ORCHID THRONE, Lia uses the dreamthink to wrestle the nightmares. As the story progresses into the second book, THE FIERY CROWN, and as Lia begins to use her native magic in a more deliberate way, she summons the dreamthink to quiet her conscious mind and unruly emotions. The trance state of the dreamthink allows her to access the magic of the land, to expand her mind into other realms of reality.

If only we all had magic to heal the world in these troubled times! But we all can find a sort of dreamthink for ourselves. I think you’ll find it’s a great salve to worries of all kinds.

For those hoping to access the creative subconscious, this deliberate daydreaming brings its own kind of magic. Productivity comes in many forms - and sometimes that's when you appear to be worlds away, magicking up your own.  

Friday, January 22, 2021

Finding Jewels


Cute cat for tax.

Pointers for finding New to You Authors:

  • Judge contests
  • Twitter

Of course there are more ways, but these two were the ones I didn't see mentioned previously this week. 


The great thing about judging contests is that you learn as much as you judge. Most contests won't allow you to judge in the category you write (if you entered the contest). This is an excellent way to find new to you authors in genres you might not normally read. There's also no thrill quite like finding that an entry you judged and loved actually won the contest. It's rare, but it happens, and it's a bit of a rush.


Now. Lest anyone go dig up all of my earlier posts about how I doubt that Twitter sells many books, I still think it's true for the socially awkward among us. But. My Twitter account is awash with romancelandia people and altgov political resister types. So when angst breaks in either, it's almost inevitable that a rash of book recommendations follow whatever tidal wave of drama washes over. This was how I managed to go out in search of authors of color. Recommendations began rolling on Twitter and I looked at my book shelf. Lo, it was pasty and lacking meaningful representation. I aimed to change that. As with all things, some authors have been a joy to finally stumble upon. Some are less to my taste, but so goes life. I'm refining what makes a story work for me with each one I read.

So I add to James's recommendation to read outside your genre. Consider reading outside your personal experience, too. There are jewels out there and a lot of joy to be had in finding them.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Just Keep Reading

I recently had a call with someone who is starting out on their first novel. It was incredibly exciting to listen to them talk about their love of reading and their eagerness to dive into writing their first book.

One of the knowledge bits I shared was the importance of continuing to read. Writers start out as readers and when we can’t get enough books, or can’t find ourselves in enough stories, we turn into writers. But then you get busy drafting, editing, submitting, formatting—and on and on. It’s easy to get so busy that we end up not reading!

I’ve seen authors that proudly claim they don’t read. I’ve read their books. And I still say it’s important for an author to read and to read outside your genre! Why? Because a great book has more than one genre element in it. A SONG OF WRAITHS AND RUIN by Roseanne A. Brown is fantasy with a little mystery. THE LAST ASTRONAUT by David Wellington is science fiction blended with thriller and horror. Pick up your recent read and see how many elements you can pull out. 

But where do you find books when you’re busy wiring your own novel or promoting your newest release? Check out my fellow SFF Seveners’ posts from this week, there’s some gems in there. And if you need some more ideas, here you go:

1: Your local library. I love my library! They’ve always got a surprise read or two facing out on the shelves, and I’m such a sucker for a good book cover. 

library shelves, sci-fi fantasy section, with the book Realm of Ash by Tasha Sure facing out

thank you Dakota County Library!

2: #writingcommunity I spend my social media time on Instagram and follow this hashtag because it’s filled with authors in all stages and they’re either sharing their release news, posting book birthdays, or shouting about whatever great read they just finished! It’s fantastic! (if you’re on Twitter you’ll find writers using the same hashtag)

3: Blogs! Yes, I still follow a handful of blogs that have proven time and again that their book tastes run similar to mine and undoubtedly sway me into trying reads I wouldn’t have picked up otherwise. 

Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell

The Fantasy Inn

SFF  World

Reading Between the Wines

4: follow me on Goodreads. Kidding, but not kidding. Goodreads is a never-ending supply of book choices and if you follow people with similar tastes, or maybe completely different, you'll see what they're reading and reviewing and find some books to add to your own TBR (to be read) list! 

Alexia Chantel's Goodreads shelf 2021 - 13 books read
Alexia's 2021 Goodreads shelf as of Jan 21st, 2021

I hope the information I shared with the aspiring writer was helpful, at least I know it helped me when I was starting out. And I hope one day, when he’s further along in his writing career, he lends a hand back to someone else that’s on their way up. Because I believe that’s how things should work, by receiving and giving, giving and receiving. And reading! 

Now, go find some great new reads this weekend! 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

You Might Like Book Recommendations

Amazon recently informed me that I've had an account with them since 1999. My first two orders were a Playstation version of Metal Gear Solid and a paperback of Our Dumb Century: The Onion Presents Headlines from America's Finest News Source. Man, those were the days, and not just because I could get books sent straight to me without having to go to the store (I hate shopping) but also because, back in the day, Amazon had a truly awesome "If you liked this book, you might also like" recommendation feature. I say truly awesome because I found so many new-to-me authors through that rec feature. It was magic.

The feature exists today as a shell of its former self. When Amazon started being a publisher and pushing its own books and authors who paid for extra marketing, the accuracy of that feature plummeted. For instance, the last book I bought on Amazon was The House in the Cerulean Sea, a feel-good, heartwarming fantasy. So what does Amazon suggest as my next read? Five Kindle Unlimited books that are sort of fantasy-ish or urban fantasy-ish or paranormal romance, oh, and that M/M celebrity bad-boy contemporary romance. 

Amazon rec algorithm, go home, you're drunk. Also, you're no longer helpful.

These days I find my next read almost exclusively through recommendations of friends whose taste I know aligns with my own. (The House in the Cerulean Sea, for instance, was a personal recommendation from a co-worker, and she absolutely nailed it. I'm loving this book.)

So if you're looking for a good place to find new-to-you writers and immersive story experiences, my best advice would be 

1. Join a book club. 

2. Talk to your friends and co-workers about books they've loved. 

3. Get recs from people who know what you dig. 

4. Read newsletters of writers you admire -- sometimes they'll rec other writers' new releases that they think their readership will like.

5. Scroll your social media feeds, especially on Tuesdays, which is when a lot of book releases happen. The people you're connected to online may (probably?) share your your reading taste.

6. If you specifically like science fiction romance, check out the weekly new releases post that Veronica Scott compiles. This week, it's here, but you can follow her blog to get alerts every Wednesday.

7. Also for science fiction romance, the SFR Station is a huge trove of links to books in our subgenre. It has a nifty browsing feature where you can find books by title, author, and even trope/subgenre. So if you have a particular interest in, say, space westerns or earth aliens, you can scroll through some titles guaranteed to deliver. 

True, the days of helpful recommendation algorithms are gone, but that doesn't mean we can't still find those "If you liked this book, you might also like" gems.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Finding Fantasy Novels One Step Off The Mainstream: #SPFBO

So you like fantasy novels, eh? Looking to find some hidden gems? Stories that are one or two steps off the beaten path?

Allow me to introduce the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, aka #SPFBO. Started in 2015 by Mark Lawrence (Of Broken Empire, Red Queen's War, and Book of the Ancestors fame), 300 Indie Fantasy authors submit their stand-alone or first-in-series book to the pool. It's a first-come-first-served open call. On the receiving end are members of 10 Fantasy Book Blogs. Mark divvies up the books, 30 to a blog. The bloggers then choose one of their 30 to put forth as a finalist. The top 10 books get read, publicly reviewed, and scored by all the participating blogs. The finalist with the highest score wins....bragging rights. 

What types of fantasy books final? It runs the gamut, from grimdark to parody, sword & sorcery to mythology, chosen-one quests to whodunnit mysteries. You'll find orcs, pirates, dragons, hitmen, steampunk animatronics, and fire warriors. If you've got an itch for rich fantasies, then give #SPFBO books a try. You can also follow along the journey of the entrants and bloggers on Facebook or Twitter by searching on the hashtag.

GoodReads Listopia: #SPFBO

You're in luck, for two more days, 30 SPFBO finalists are offering their ebook(s) for $0.99/ea. Sale ends tomorrow, 1/20.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Guide to discovering New To You Authors

Um, yeah.

Find an author you have not read before. Read them. Read a lot o new authors. It's how we grow as readers and growth as a reader helps us grow s writers. Also, read outside of your genre.  a lot. 

Really, that's all I've got. 

Okay, back to writing. 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

A Guide to Discovering New-To-You Authors

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is Discovering New-To-You Authors: Where would you direct someone wanting to read more from emerging authors in your subgenre?

I'm going to cheat a bit today and point you to an article I wrote for the SFWA Blog: A Guide for Authors on Recommending Books. I'm not cheating for my usual reasons - too busy, running behind, general laziness - but because I really like this article and I think it's useful for this topic. 

Despite the title, it's useful for readers, too!

That's because we can all make an effort to diversify our reading, and this article talks about ways to do that - including resources for finding new-to-us authors who aren't from the usual walks. 

Go forth and find cool new stuff!

Friday, January 15, 2021

Leveling Goals

 Goal: Leveling up. How to get there? For me, writing classes. It's not enough to just want more words - that state is eternal. You can always assume I'm looking for a way to make stories happen faster and more efficiently. Over and above that, though, I'm interested in taking skills up a notch. I want to look at words differently. I want to think not just about what makes a story, but what makes a tale compelling. How do I get more emotion from characters into readers - if words are my only tools - I need to experiment with how they evoke a response in someone who isn't me. 

It's that old acting chestnut of Sir Lawrence Olivier supposedly saying, "It isn't my job to feel anything. It's my job to make the audience feel everything."

I'd started writing on the theory that if what I wrote made me feel something, then surely reads must, too. T'ain't necessarily so. Without getting into the showing versus telling diatribe, let's just say there are multiple ways to approach reaching out to touch a reader via nothing more than flat words printed on a page. 

That's my current work on leveling up. Concentrating on skills. While spurring for more words faster than they are currently being produced.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Career Goal: MOAR WORDS

One aspect of my publishing career that I want to improve this year? An aspect over which I have control? 

Finish writing three books.

Longtime readers of this blog know I'm not a fast writer. This year, I'll release books 6 & 7 in my UF Immortal Spy series, wrapping up the story of Bix and the Berserkers. Then, I have to decide: do I return to my HF Blood Born series and spend the next four years completing that series, or do I write the first book in a new HF trilogy and try to sell it (and the series) to the Big Houses? My HF books are twice as long as my UF books, 175k vs 85k, which means finishing that third book this year is a stretch goal that'll require me to spend less time fighting with a blank page. Can I do it? I have no idea, but I'd sure like to improve my record of days with net-positive word counts.

After all, getting the movie in my mind to show up as words on a page is HARD.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Career Leveling Up: What Jeffe Is Doing

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "Room for Growth." We're discussing one aspect of our writing or publishing careers - that we can control! - that we'd like to improve this year.

This topic is apropos for me right now because I'm in the midst of a push to boost (wedge, shove, or squeeze) my career to a new level. I should caveat that I know I'm doing relatively well. I'm grateful for the success I've realized in my writing career and I never want to lose sight of the fact that many excellent and deserving authors haven't seen the same success. 

But I've reached a real sticking point.

For those who don't know, my husband has early onset Parkinson's Disease. He's over ten years into diagnosis, so while his progression has thankfully been quite slow, he's reached the point where he really can't hold down a job. That leaves supporting our household up to me and my books. I'm stubbornly resisting getting a day job again, so this year will really be the make or break on whether I can make enough money to pay the bills and have a cushion for the future.

So, what have I been doing?

Since I can't bottle lightning - which, I admit, I've kind of been hoping to do as getting a book or series that takes off into the stratosphere would be super nice - I've been learning to *shudder* market and advertise.

I attended Romance Author Mastermind in December. Something I'd been leery of before for many reasons. My bestie and sister author Grace Draven talked me into it and I'm so glad she did! I learned so much from it! Mostly I came to the realization that it would behoove me to treat my business like an actual business. 

The other thing that happened is I completed my contract with St. Martin's Press (all but for page proofs on book 3) and they passed on my option book, which is one I've mentioned, DARK WIZARD. They passed on it - even though my editor loved it and the house loves me - because they feel like they can't move fantasy romance in the print numbers that they'd like to. (They don't care about ebook sales. They want what they can sell at Walmart, which is Cowboy Romance and sweet contemporaries these days - so a tidbit for those of you who write that!) 

Once I got over the initial sad, because I loved working with St. Martin's, I took this as a Sign. While my writing income had been pretty close to 50/50 between Indie and Trad for the last few years, in 2020 that changed to 65% Indie - and my Trad income was only 75% of what it was in 2019. That's not a good trend. At Romance Author Mastermind there were many former Trad authors who been where I am and said they'd made their money switching to Indie. Yes, I've heard this before, too. These people showed the numbers. 

I decided that, instead of taking DARK WIZARD on submission to other Trad houses on submission, I'd self publish it. So, DARK WIZARD, book one in my new series, Bonds of Magic, will come out on February 25, 2021. (I loved writing this freaking book so much that I'd already written the whole thing!) 

(If you want a sneak peek of the cover of DARK WIZARD and what it's about, it will be in my newsletter going out Monday. Sign up here.)

Then, because I'd already planned a new series, Heirs of Magic (unrelated, I didn't realize the series title echoes until too late, ah well), with book one THE GOLDEN GRYPHON AND THE BEAR PRINCE releasing on January 25, 2021. You can preorder it here, or here are some handy buttons.

That means in 2021, I'll be taking advantage of the fact that I'm a relatively prolific writer - not writing anything for Trad - and releasing two Indie series. My release schedule will look like this. 

The Golden Gryphon and the Bear Prince (Heirs of Magic 1) 1/25/2021
Dark Wizard (Bonds of Magic 1)                                                 2/25/2021
The Sorceress Queen and the Pirate Rogue (Heirs of Magic 2) 4/19/2021
The Promised Queen (Forgotten Empires 3)                                  5/25/2021
Bright Familiar (Bonds of Magic 2)                                         6/26/2021
The Long Night of the Crystalline Moon (Heirs of Magic 0.5) 7/15/2021
The Dragon's Daughter and the Winter Mage (Heirs of Magic 3) 8/25/2021
Bonds of Magic 3 (Bonds of Magic 3)                                     11/1/2021
The Storm Princess and the Raven King (Heirs of Magic 4)         12/31/2021

Of those, three are already written, so it's not as intense as it looks. Also, because I track my productivity so intensely (something I always recommend all writers do, so we know exactly what we can and can't do), this is a doable writing schedule for me. (Hopefully. I'm pretty sure I can do this, but light a candle for me.)

I'm also doing things like reading books on marketing and advertising! I very much recommend David Gaughran's AMAZON DECODED: A MARKETING GUIDE TO THE KINDLE STORE. It's easy to digest and full of excellent, practical advice, absent the ickier kinds of self-publishing shouting. I bought the Publisher Rocket app and have been taking the online classes on maximizing keywords. 

I'm going all in, people. Wish me luck! (And buy my books :D) 

Friday, January 8, 2021

Exercise Envy


Sitting. Not ideal. You've seen the data earlier this week. But you know, when all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail. All I have are sitting desks. So far. I lust after a treadmill desk like Jeffe has. With four adults and too many cats in the house, that ain't happenin' any time soon. Space concerns and all.

Still. In the middle of the raging hellhole that was 2020 (and that 2021 is still flirting with, the hussy) doing something - anything - to look after our health made my family feel a little more in control. Working out at home became THE thing.

Yes. Yoga. Weightlifting - we have free weights and a bench and training in the Weider method. We take 2-3 mile walks (with masks - this is Florida and well - the FL man memes, they do not lie). The dh and I bike. 

These are lovely. They boost mental and physical health. But they're time delimited. There are only so many hours in a day and only an hour a day I can devote to motion for motion's sake. Yet our brains evolved in very different circumstances - when motion WAS the day. Our brains were designed to operate at peak efficiency while we walk. Stroll, really. Take a look at the book The Brain Rules

Read this and see if you don't join me in lusting after a treadmill desk like Jeffe's. 

The spoiler is this: Our brains were designed for us to walk up to twelve miles per day. It keeps our brains oxygenated, boosts connections, etc, etc, it's really good for you, so there. 

All I know is that if I stop moving, I start hurting. Maybe I'll start saving for that treadmill desk.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

You Can't Stay Sedentary With A Husky At Your Side

Ullr the husky pup stretched out on his back on the floor, his blue and white rope bone resting beside him as he snoozes.
(Ullr the husky pup)

This is a Siberian husky. This sled dog is in a rare form….tired. And the only way to tire out a husky is to hike/mush/run/skijor them ‘till their energy drops to a manageable level. 

That’s it. My annoyingly, adorable pup is the one tool I have to battle the sedentary job of being an author. I’d love to have a walking treadmill like Jeffe’s to write at. But like she mentions in her post, it’s a monetary commitment. Though I also agree that prevention is the way to go, so I’ll keep it on my to-be-purchased list. 

The more practical, maybe feasible is a better word, option would be a standing desk. For me, being able to stay in the scene and not be pulled out by distractions is huge. If I had the ability to stand I could do squats or stretches without having to step away from my keys. But I’ve never worked with one before.

Anyone out there use a standing desk? And do you actually use it? 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Couch potato? I prefer couch crumpet.

Yes, I'm a writer. Yes, I live a fairly sedentary life. Yes, I dislike exercise for the purpose of exercise. Yes, the width of my behind bears testimony to these facts. But also? I see a therapist and work pretty damn hard to become better at taking care of myself and valuing my own health -- physical as well as mental. 

I'm also a really healthy person, physically. I eat good stuff, limit my carbs, do my mammograms, and get a check-up every year. So although, yes, I could use more exercise and do have some soft-priority plans to up my going-for-a-walk game, the priority here, for me, is not becoming a gym rat. 

Writing is what eases my brain, makes me happy, soothes my insomnia, battles my depression, and enables me to be a better mother, wife, daughter, and human in general. So if the choice is between an hour on the elliptical and an hour writing, and that's all the free time I have, I will always choose the keyboard. I have to.

You can call me a couch potato if you want. You can fat shame me if you must. I don't really care. This is a choice I have to make, for myself and those I love.  

Be good to you, people.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Before The Cushion Molds to My Butt...

Apparently, sitting too much is horrible for your health. According to the Mayo Clinic,

"...those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking."

Well, that's craptastic. To battle the numerous bad things that will happen from molding your seat cushion to your butt, health professionals recommend:

  1. Getting up and moving every 30 mins.
  2. Standing instead of sitting. 
  3. Using a Treadmill desk. (Be like Jeffe!)
I, uh, no. If I have to stop what I'm doing every 30mins, then I'm not existing in my fictitious alternate world and writing the damn book. I'm eyeballing a timer that's keeping me grounded in reality. The health sages say too much sitting leads to back pain. For me, it's too much standing. Also, I'm one of those who can't stand still. Seems like a treadmill desk would be the perfect solution! Alas, no. I cannot walk and chew gum. I'm not that graceful.

Am I doomed to die at a ripe old middle age from a brain aneurism? I...I hope not. I do have a secret weapon in the fight against total sloth. 

My Dog Pi in the Snow
My dog Pi. 

Trained to fetch me every two hours from the time we awaken, Pi ensures I get up and take her outside for 10-15mins per pesting. Every day. Every kind of weather. Healthy or sickly, we go. While I won't win any fitness awards, and yes, the crepuscular creatures are less than amused by our appearances, I haven't completely become one with my couch. There are still two more cushions that need molding. 

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Kicking That Sitting Habit

Happy 2021 everyone!! 

First things first: If you haven't yet read Book One in my Forgotten Empires trilogy, THE ORCHID THRONE ebook is on sale for only $2.99 all month. This is a great opportunity to start the series, as Book Three, THE PROMISED QUEEN, comes out in May!

We're kicking off a new year here at the SFF Seven and we're talking writer fitness. If sitting is the new smoking, what are the perils of a sedentary art and how do you counteract it?

That means it's time for my regular evangelistic sermon on the many virtues of my walking desk!! 

Yes, I have one - a hydraulically height-adjustable desk with a treadmill beneath - and have had for eight years now. Wow. Amazing even to me! You can read about my grand opening (with pics) here, from February 2013. I also have a post from one-year later here - which includes video of my cat Jackson walking on the belt! 

Do I love my walking desk? 

Yes, yes I do!

In 2020, I walked over 2,000 miles on the thing. On working days (5 days/week) I walk 6-10 miles, depending on the day. I absolutely walk while I write, and I believe the trance-induction of walking helps me enter that ideal state of concentrated creative flow. 

CW: weight loss.

While I'm relatively slender, I'm also someone who struggles with weight gain. I'm post-menopausal and my daddy's side of the family tends toward obesity and type II diabetes. I also really love wine. Prior to 2013, I was facing steady, incremental weight gain and increasing blood pressure. Between writing and my then day job, I sat all day long/

Eight years later, my blood pressure is down, I'm holding the body fat and weight reasonably steady, and it's gotten so I'm restless if I sit for too long. This is why I'm a total evangelist for the walking desk. It's seriously the BEST investment in my health that I've ever made. It's become especially pointed for me in the last year, because I have two writer friends who developed blood clots in their legs from sitting too much, both of which turned septic and required expensive surgeries and months of recovery to correct.

So, I know it's a major financial investment. I have a Geek Desk Standing Adjustable Desk and a LifeSpan Under-Desk Treadmill. I know it's not cheap. BELIEVE ME - eight years later I'm on my fourth treadmill and I KNOW it's not cheap! But, I am also a firm believer in paying for prevention. I'd rather invest in my pricey set-up than pay hundreds of thousands in surgery or medications.