Showing posts with label The Orchid Throne. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Orchid Throne. Show all posts

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.

Amen. 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Audiobooks - the Future or...?



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

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

Oops.

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

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

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

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


The Twelve Kingdoms: THE MARK OF THE TALA

Falling Under: GOING UNDER

Facets of Passion: RUBY, FIVE GOLDEN RINGS







 


Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Alphahole Conundrum

My books! Spotted in the wild at George R.R. Martin's Beastly Books.

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "Sex on the Beach & Sand in the Wrong Places: What's your favorite bit of pop-culture fiction doesn't work well in reality?"

For the record, I'm going to put out there that you CAN totally have sex on the beach without getting sand in the wrong places. It's not even that difficult. Are these other people rolling around in the sand with sticky parts first?? I can't even.

Anyway...

I don't spend a lot of time thinking about fiction vs. reality. It's pretty clear to me - as I think it is for almost everyone - that stories aren't the same as real life. We want different things from our stories than we do in life. The fact that people even ask about it, like the perennial question about whether readers understand that romance in books isn't the same as in real life, is a head scratcher to me.

Um, yes. We DO understand that fictional romance is different. That's why it's called FICTION.

Every time someone complains about how there should be more awkward, terrible sex in romances I want to ask if they didn't get enough of that in their own lives. Really, that's what you want to read about for entertainment? Okay...

Anyway, one disconnect between fiction and reality is the domineering romance hero. He's broody. He's quick to anger and deliciously sexy when he loses his shit. He's protective, obsessed with the heroine to the point of suffocation. He's powerful, ruthless, and an irresistible force of nature.

We love this guy!

We would never in a million years want one in real life.

The term "alphahole" is often applied to this kind of hero, though I don't much care for it. I think most Romance readers use it for this kind of hero who goes too far into asshole jerk territory. And, pedantic types who seem unable to distinguish fiction from reality, will go on about all the behavioral red flags madly flapping here.

True enough. Like I said, we don't want this guy in real life. It's about the fantasy.

What is it about the fantasy that works here? I dunno. Could be an atavistic thing where that silverback gorilla still wows us and makes us feel safe and fertile. The herd buck is majestic and thrilling, no doubt. Also, I think power is interesting to us, no matter what form it takes.

Really, it's no conundrum at all.



Sunday, January 19, 2020

Reading: To Enter a World



Some exciting news! Book three in the Forgotten Empires has a title!
THE ORCHID THRONE, THE FIERY CROWN (out May 26), will be followed by...

THE PROMISED QUEEN.


 I really love it, don't you? I recall as a kid being captivated by the title "THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING," the Arthurian retelling by T.H. White. It was one of the first times a title really piqued my interest. I feel like I'm evoking a tiny piece of that magic.

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is our favorite quote about books and reading, and why.

For some odd reason, I can never think of my favorite quotes when asked the question directly. If I'm babbling on about other things, the quotes just fly into my head. But when I have to think of one out of the blue?

Nothing.

I blame my brain's filing system, frankly.

I know there's a quote on books and reading that I've loved for a very long time - and I was certain I could search for it and get the exact phrasing. I got out my Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. I Googled. I looked in a few other books.

Nada.

I asked on Twitter and Facebook, and got lots of great suggestions that came close to the same sentiment, but the exact one nudging my memory?

Nope.

The one I'm thinking of I could swear I even had on a bookplate or bookmark, once upon a time. Maybe in the late 70s or early 80s. With flowers on it? It's an interesting thing about Googling stuff - certain things have made it onto the internet in thousands of instances, sometimes with near infinite variations. Other things from BI (Before Internet) molder away on hard copy, never to be found again.

What's also amusing - and what a few people offering suggestions also noted - is that many quotes that came close were by other writers, attributed to themselves. So, I decided, what the hell? I'm going to try to recreate this quote. And if anyone knows the one I'm trying to remember, please say so!

To open a book is to open a door into another world - a very real magic spell that allows us to live as someone other than ourselves. 

~ Jeffe Kennedy, author and reader


Sunday, October 13, 2019

Career Goals for the Established Author - a Work in Progress

Here's a little tease of the cover of THE FIERY CROWN, sequel to THE ORCHID THRONE, and book two in the Forgotten Empires trilogy. The full cover will be revealed on Wednesday, October 16, at Tor.com. There will also be a sneak peek of the first chapter!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is the big career goal to which we currently aspire.

It's an excellent question, particularly as phrased, because our career goals as authors do change over time. Recently a fairly new author concerned about their career trajectory implied that I shouldn't have concerns about my own career because I've "made it."

People, I wish I could count the number of times people have told me that I've "made it" in the last twenty-five years.

It's a common misperception that authors with an extensive backlist (which I do have), a loyal audience (thank you all!), and regular releases (which takes dedicated work) are somehow not reaching, even struggling. The vagaries of the publishing industry are kind to no one, and every author has their ups and downs. (As do agents and editors.) Not many of us have retired to Mediterranean villas to be waited upon by cabana boys while we pithily doodle out our next brilliant work.

So, it's an interesting question to pose to any author. What BIG goal do you aspire to RIGHT NOW? The answers may be surprising.

And note that we're specifying a big goal. It's tempting to say "finish this book I'm currently working on" - because that particular goal is all-consuming. In fact, we so often have our heads down, buried in finishing the current work, that we don't always pop our heads up to consider the big picture.

For me? I have a new book and series out on submission and I have a dollar figure advance in mind for it. If I get it, that will be a big, much-needed leap for me. A saltation in evolution, for those of you who know about those things. My other big goal is to hit a bestseller list, either USA Today or, ideally, New York Times. I never have and I'd really like to tag that particular brass ring. I'm hopeful that buzz for THE ORCHID THRONE - which has been really lovely and wonderful so far - will continue to build and that THE FIERY CROWN will have a shot at making those lists. It's looking more possible now that the NYT list added back mass market paperback

There, I've put those wishes out in the universe, which I rarely do publicly. Cross your fingers for me!

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Fight Scenes for Peace Lovers

I did a book launch signing yesterday for THE ORCHID THRONE, along with Jane Linskold. So lovely to see that my local indie bookstore, Page 1 Books, has such an array of my books!

It was a fun event and I so appreciate all the folks who took the time to come out.

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is Writing Fight Scenes. Now, I - somewhat famously, if I want to give myself that much credit - don't like writing fight scenes. I'm really not much for violence overall. I'm that person who covers her ears and shuts her eyes at the scary part in the movie. The fight scenes - especially those extended mano a mano duels that seem to take up the last twenty minutes of every action movie - bore me to death.

I've even been on panels - like one Jennifer Estep put together for RT one year - on Steam vs. Scream: writing sex scenes or writing fight scenes? Spoiler: I'm the sex scene gal.

I love writing sex scenes. They come easily [heh] for me. I love the way the intimacy and power of sex peels open the characters and can drive transformation. People try to tell me that fight scenes do the same thing and my frank opinion is that they're wrong. Fight scenes can reveal character - and should, if well done - and a fight scene can challenge a character, but overall I think that fight scenes drive plot.

So, this makes sense to me, that character-driven writers like myself tend to prefer sex scenes - or any scene delving into emotional intimacy - where plot-driven writers love fight scenes. Marcella Burnard, our Gal Friday here on the blog, is forever claiming that explosions are perfectly valid plot points. I'm sure she's right - they just aren't for me.

I titled this post "Fight Scenes for Peace Lovers" and that's probably not fair. I know plenty of writers who create horrifying fight scenes while being perfectly calm, lovely and peaceable people in real life.

But what do you do when, like me, you're someone who abhors conflict and finds fight scenes (and I'm including battle scenes in this) tedious at best? When all I really care about is who wins and what kind of damage the participants suffer going forward.

I can personally vouch that treating them like sex scenes, only with fighting instead of loving, DOES NOT WORK.

You know what worked for me? Layering.

I write the bare bones of the fight scene to get it in the story, then I go back and add to it. The major battle scene in book 2 of Forgotten Empires, THE FIERY CROWN (cover reveal coming October 16 on Tor.com!), I revised and layered in more and more detail probably a dozen times. On each pass, I was able to take more time to add to the visceral experience of the battle, to slow things down. This really helped me get past the "Joe and Susan duke it out. Joe gets a gut wound. Susan wins." mentality.

Giving myself permission to revisit the scene multiple times and layer in information really made a difference for this Steam writer. I'm sure our Scream writers here at the SFF Seven will have more advice. I know I'll be reading.


Sunday, September 29, 2019

Accuracy in Fiction - Where to Draw the Line


One of the most fun things about having a book release these days is the #bookstagram world. So many book lovers make gorgeous collages with my book cover - like this one from Reading Between the Wines Book Club - and then tag me on Instagram. With THE ORCHID THRONE, I'm getting all kinds of beautiful orchids and it rocks so hard!

The hubs and I have been watching Reign on Netflix - from the beginning as we'd never seen it - and we're a few episodes into Season One. I realize I'm late to the game on this, as the show ran from 2013 to 2017. But I've seen so many people - like my editor Jennie Conway at St Martins - who just LOVE this show, that I wanted to check it out. 

And I get the appeal. 

This is the story of Mary, Queen of Scots, starting with her arrival as a fifteen year old to the French Court, where she's to marry Prince Francis. The history is familiar to most of us, kind of like watching an extended show about the Titanic - we know where this is going. And, of course, they take liberties with the narrative. Mary has her four ladies-in-waiting, making for a group of lovely, randy, and ambitious young women in the French Court. But where in history the four young women were all also named "Mary," modern viewers are spared the headache and they all have different names. They all have various love affairs, too, including with the French King Henry. 

It's basically a soap opera, a teen love and angst fest only historical. Which means gorgeous clothes! And swords! And cool political machinations. (I love Queen Catherine of Medici.)

There are also a LOT of historical inaccuracies, as one must expect. Characters have been created out of whole cloth. (Amusingly enough, some commenters list them as "goofs," and I want to ask them if they know that the show is fiction.) For the most part, I'm fine with the fictionalizing.

The ones that get under my particular skin are the ways Mary's ladies in waiting are snarky to her. The dynamic is solidly high school and the hubs and I are forever pausing and saying "No way she'd say that to her queen." But it lends to the dynamic and the drama, which makes it fun to watch.

The thing is, in telling historical and historical-feeling fantasy, we have to make choices. We want to create an accurate-feeling world, but also be true to the demands of Story. In my Twelve Kingdoms and Uncharted Realms books, I deliberately blur the lines with my High Queen Ursula. With her sisters, then her lover, and then a few friends, she begins to unbend. But she's always and ultimately High Queen - and that affects everything in her life.  

In THE ORCHID THRONE, I went to great effort to separate Queen Euthalia from even her closest ladies. That's part of who she is. She's been raised to be a queen and that weight of responsibility - and the formality her position brings - never leaves her. Though part of her character arc is peeling away her mask and exposing the vulnerable person beneath. 

In writing about the lives of rulers - whether created characters or fictionalizing historical ones - we want to create credible pressures, while still satisfying that story itch. Grace Draven and I were chatting about this and she mentioned something interesting. She said, "I did have some readers who thought Ildiko was being unnecessarily cruel to Brishen [in EIDOLON] by suggesting he put her aside in favor of a Kai consort. I was like 'Folks, that's how this kind of thing works. Look into history. It happened. Harold and Edith Swan Neck are a great example of a monarch having to set aside a beloved consort in favor of a political marriage to save a kingdom.'" 

I encountered this, too, with THE MARK OF THE TALA, where some readers felt my heroine Andi was forced into having sex with her new husband, where I felt she made the choice consciously. Yes, she wed her enemy, but she did it with the full intention of being his wife, because that was part of her responsibility as a princess and then a queen. (Besides, she was totally into him ;-) ) 

In the end, I think we all make choices to balance story drama with enough real-life truth to make the characters feel true. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

#Fantasy #Romance Release Day: THE ORCHID THRONE by @JeffeKennedy

Our very own RITA Award-Winning Author, Jeffe Kennedy launches a new Fantasy Romance Series Forgotten Empires today with THE ORCHID THRONE!


THE ORCHID THRONE
A PRISONER OF FATE

As Queen of the island kingdom of Calanthe, Euthalia will do anything to keep her people free—and her secrets safe—from the mad tyrant who rules the mainland. Guided by a magic ring of her father’s, Lia plays the political game with the cronies the emperor sends to her island. In her heart, she knows that it’s up to her to save herself from her fate as the emperor’s bride. But in her dreams, she sees a man, one with the power to build a better world—a man whose spirit is as strong, and whose passion is as fierce as her own…

A PRINCE AMONG MEN

Conrí, former Crown Prince of Oriel, has built an army to overthrow the emperor. But he needs the fabled Abiding Ring to succeed. The ring that Euthalia holds so dear to her heart. When the two banished rulers meet face to face, neither can deny the flames of rebellion that flicker in their eyes—nor the fires of desire that draw them together. But in this broken world of shattered kingdoms, can they ever really trust each other? Can their fiery alliance defeat the shadows of evil that threaten to engulf their hearts and souls?

Available in eBook and Paperback
BUY IT NOW:    Amazon | B&N | BAM! | IndieBound

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Representation in Stories: Intention Matters

I can't believe that THE ORCHID THRONE releases this week! Feels like it was forever away for so long, and suddenly it's here. Woo hoo!

Our topic at the SFF Seven is Creating representation in our stories – how do you do it, and make sure you do it well. That last bit is key, right? Because about the only thing worse than not having representation of marginalized groups in our stories is having them in there, but in awful ways.

Yeah, we've all seen it - those cringeworthy stereotypes that only point up the problem.

The last few years have seen accelerating and intensifying conversation on representation of marginalized groups. Most everyone - with the exception of trolls and fascists (oops, is that redundant?) - agrees that representation is a positive thing that needs to happen. The thing is, authors not in those marginalized groups are nervous about doing it well.

This is a big topic, and I'm looking forward to thoughts and methods from the rest  of the crew here at the SFF Seven, and I'm going to focus on a first step.

Intention matters.

Yeah... we all know about good intentions and the road to hell. That saying comes about because simply having good intentions without thoughtful execution can go sour real quick. Also because "good" intentions often aren't. They're motivations shrouded in the appearance of goodness. Motivations that are selfish or self-serving, or plain terrible.

So, the first thing to do is examine our own intentions behind the desire to create more representation in our stories. In other words, if we're setting out to do this because we're afraid of getting in trouble if we don't, or because we're "supposed to," or because that's the hip thing to do, then there's a problem - and those are the kind of surface "good" intentions that lead to hell on earth.

One clue? If you're looking for a set of rules to follow, or boxes to tick off, then maybe you're not setting out with the right intentions.

A better mindset is to start from a place of wanting to include characters who don't share our exact life experience. Get in the habit of indicating the skin color of ALL characters, the sexual orientation and self-identified gender of your characters, having people from a broad array of socio-economic backgrounds. Keep a list if you have to and check to see if they're all, say, het white guys. It might be equally weird if you have one each of some other flavor. Mix it up. And you don't have to put it on the page necessarily - especially if you're trying to tick your boxes for the reader - but be aware of that character's lens on the world.

Include those different people because they enrich the story and flesh out the worldbuilding. Think about what makes a fully realized world - do you have people of all ages and degrees of ability? Are there those in your world who have chronic diseases or disabilities? How does your world handle the nurture of children? Please don't just stick them back at the village with their mothers. Likewise, don't bury the disabled in their huts - they should be out living their lives, too. A lot of people fall somewhere on the spectrum between straight and gay, so flavors of bisexuality can be part of who a character is. Skin color is a descriptor, but making the choice whether that has political implications should be thought out and part of the worldbuilding.

See what I mean? It's a complex effort, sure, to incorporate greater representation in our books. It requires careful thought to move past our knee-jerk recapitulation of our own experiences.
It also requires the best of intentions - the authentic kind.


Sunday, September 15, 2019

When To Take the Market into Consideration


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is our most frequent story starter -- idea, milieu, character, theme, what-if, trope, editor request, etc.

It's an interesting question because when people ask me in interviews where I start with a story, I always say a particular character or sometimes a specific image. But in reading this week's suggestion, I realized that I've changed on this somewhat. It's not that the ideas themselves don't start for me with characters in a particular situation or image - that's absolutely true - but I also have a LOT of ideas, all dutifully listed in my notes. So, as far as a story starter is concerned, I've realized that it is largely affected by the "editor request" category.

By that I mean, what editors are looking for, what my agent thinks she can sell, what my non-compete agreements allow, or - for self-publishing - what I think readers are most likely to pay me for!

In short, what "prompts" me to start a story these days is a business decision. For traditional publishing, my agent (Sarah Younger at Nancy Yost Literary Agency) and I discuss what steps might best advance my career. We talk about goals, publishing houses, possible advance money. We also have to navigate agreements with my current publishers not to compete with the books I'm doing with them. I really love that she brings this business perspective to the table, because I am trying to making a living with my art.

This is something I discuss with authors when I'm advising them on making decisions about an agent. (I seem to be doing a lot that lately.) One key criterion in choosing an agent is do you want someone who will advise you on your next project this way, taking market considerations into account, or would you rather write your next story without input and give it to them when it's ready?

Both methods are valid, and different artistic temperaments work better with each, or somewhere in between. And agents fall out on the same spectrum.

Also, with my self-publishing career, I could make a choice based on my heart - what story do I really want to get out there? - and I've done that. But when I have an eye on paying the mortgage for the next year, I have to be practical and think about what I can write that I'll love, but that my readers will love, too.

A very long time ago, when I was an aspiring writer with a few publications but not much more, a pro writer friend advised me to enjoy that time. He said being able to write whatever I wanted without practical considerations was a freedom I wouldn't have once I became established.

It was good advice, because that's largely true. As a newbie author when you're still casting about for your voice and what story will work, there IS a tremendous freedom in that, a kind that's worth savoring.

At this point, however, I find that applying practical considerations isn't at all stifling, the way he implied. Instead it helps me filter out all the many wonderful ideas. AND it helps pay the bills.

Win, all around.

****
Speaking of win!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is our most frequent story starter -- idea, milieu, character, theme, what-if, trope, editor request, etc.

It's an interesting question because when people ask me in interviews where I start with a story, I always say a particular character or sometimes a specific image. But in reading this week's suggestion, I realized that I've changed on this somewhat. It's not that the ideas themselves don't start for me with characters in a particular situation or image - that's absolutely true - but I also have a LOT of ideas, all dutifully listed in my notes. So, as far as a story starter is concerned, I've realized that it is largely affected by the "editor request" category.

By that I mean, what editors are looking for, what my agent thinks she can sell, what my non-compete agreements allow, or - for self-publishing - what I think readers are most likely to pay me for!

In short, what "prompts" me to start a story these days is a business decision. For traditional publishing, my agent (Sarah Younger at Nancy Yost Literary Agency) and I discuss what steps might best advance my career. We talk about goals, publishing houses, possible advance money. We also have to navigate agreements with my current publishers not to compete with the books I'm doing with them. I really love that she brings this business perspective to the table, because I am trying to making a living with my art.

This is something I discuss with authors when I'm advising them on making decisions about an agent. (I seem to be doing a lot that lately.) One key criterion in choosing an agent is do you want someone who will advise you on your next project this way, taking market considerations into account, or would you rather write your next story without input and give it to them when it's ready?

Both methods are valid, and different artistic temperaments work better with each, or somewhere in between. And agents fall out on the same spectrum.

Also, with my self-publishing career, I could make a choice based on my heart - what story do I really want to get out there? - and I've done that. But when I have an eye on paying the mortgage for the next year, I have to be practical and think about what I can write that I'll love, but that my readers will love, too.

A very long time ago, when I was an aspiring writer with a few publications but not much more, a pro writer friend advised me to enjoy that time. He said being able to write whatever I wanted without practical considerations was a freedom I wouldn't have once I became established.

It was good advice, because that's largely true. As a newbie author when you're still casting about for your voice and what story will work, there IS a tremendous freedom in that, a kind that's worth savoring.

At this point, however, I find that applying practical considerations isn't at all stifling, the way he implied. Instead it helps me filter out all the many wonderful ideas. AND it helps pay the bills.

Win, all around.

* * *

Speaking of win!

I'm participating in the Romance for RAICES fundraiser! You can win a critique from me and genre analysis - which means I'll help you figure out the right agent for you, if that's what you're looking for. Such a great cause!

 

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Remembering Vonda McIntyre


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is In Memoriam: a tribute to a writer you admire who has left us.

At SFWA's Nebula Conference in May, I was privileged to moderate a panel to remember Vonda McIntyre, her life and work. I was super excited about the opportunity because I'd never gotten a chance to meet Vonda - who died after a sudden illness in March 2019 - something I greatly regretted because her work had been so formative for me. The panelists were Asimov's editor Sheila Williams and authors Eileen Gunn and Connie Willis.

I figured that it didn't matter if I was kind of an impostor, since I couldn't personally contribute to remembering Vonda, since all I had to do was turn those powerful women loose on the topic.

Turns out, they all felt similarly - that they hadn't known Vonda as well as they'd have liked, and felt inadequate to the task of memorializing her. Eileen had known her best and brought little sea and alien creatures made of beads and wire that Vonda liked to create and give to friends.

But it was lovely to hear about the kind of person Vonda was. How she'd been pivotal in the early days of SFWA in getting female authors recognized and women treated with respect in the organization. She possessed a spine of steel and fiery determination - qualities the panelists found amusing to recall in retrospect, as Vonda had also been small in stature and quite gentle in personality. She baked cookies and gave them out freely. She helped people with websites and self-publishing before those were even much in use. Everyone remembered her as a warm and generous person.

They also pointed out how groundbreaking her work was. Early in my reading life, I'd been struck by her books - especially DREAMSNAKE - and their powerful female protagonists, their easy enjoyment of their sexuality, and the vivid, exciting, and unusual use of animals in her stories. The panelists spoke of how Vonda had been nearly unique in her biological approach to science fiction, how her biochemistry background illuminated her worlds in such different ways.

No wonder her work spoke to me.

Speaking of work, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my own - and that THE ORCHID THRONE is available for preorder!

Preorder at any of these wonderful retailers!


Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Isle of Flowers

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is: What place in your own books do you most want to visit and why?

Most of my books take place in landscapes I'd like to visit - or in the terrible places that my characters run away from to reach the good parts. There are elements of my favorite landscapes in all my "happy places." That's one of the best parts of writing alternate world fantasy: I can grab all of my favorite elements of various places and meld them in to a single paradise.

The one on my mind right now: Calanthe.

The image above is from my inspiration board for writing THE ORCHID THRONE. Calanthe is the island paradise my virgin queen rules. Beautiful, magical, a refuge for those seeking asylum, and the last bastion of art and knowledge in a cruel empire that values neither.

Calanthe is my ideal home, in many ways.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Do You Need a Critique Group - Or Something ELSE?

Yesterday I cooked brunch for writer friends Jim Sorenson and Sage Walker. (That's me in my Orchid Throne apron that the amazingly talented Minerva Spencer made for me. Isn't it awesome??)

We sat in the grape arbor, listened to the bluebirds feed their nestlings, and talked all things writing. Sage and Jim are in the Santa Fe crit group I used to attend. I stopped going last fall because... It just didn't feel worth my time. In fact, it sometimes felt counter-productive as a few of the guys in the group always took pains to mention that they weren't my readers. Fair enough - but then how is their critique useful to me? I stuck with it for quite a while (two years or so), because I thought it MIGHT be useful to me, to get feedback from different quarters. When I was first asked to join, several of my friends gave me the head tilt and said, "But do you need a critique group?"

I thought maybe I did, but it turns out I mostly wanted to talk about writing with other writers.

I liked that aspect, I really did! And I believe in critique. I've been in other critique groups and I've had many critique partners over the years. I cannot emphasize how much those relationships have helped me to develop my craft. (I touched on this in my blog post the other day Silly Writer! Reviews Aren’t for Craft.) But one key skill in being a career author is learning what critique to listen to and what to discard. It's not always easy to get past the emotional flinch at someone criticizing your work - so you have to learn to look past emotion and rationally evaluate the feedback - but you also have to be aware of when that feedback is actually damaging.

For me, I noticed that I came away from the critique sessions feeling bad about my work. Not from everyone. Some in the group found flaws and problems, but that feedback had me fired up to fix it. A few other people... well, I just felt bruised. The big test was when I, weeks later, pulled out some written notes they'd made, and the negative impact just slammed into me.

Ouch. And this was on a draft of The Orchid Throne, which St. Martin's liked enough to buy for decent money.

I mention these specifics to add helpful details, because I know it can be really difficult to parse the flinch from the injury. I'm not casting blame at all, because sometimes that's just how it goes. Not everyone who gives you critique is the right person to do it. (Sometimes jealousy factors in and people are mean for no more reason than that, but usually they mean well and are simply not a good fit for your thing.)

What I've found at this point in my writing career is that I really like - and sometimes need - to talk through story stuff, but not necessarily the full critique drill. With Sage and Jim yesterday, we talked about this world I'm building in this New Shiny book/series. They're both super smart about SF and we argued some of the finer points of how this world would work. That was awesome! I liked that they got me to defend my choices, and they suggested a great solution to a conundrum. It was super helpful and fun. Sage has also sent me some thoughts on what I've written so far. I also asked Marcella Burnard - our Friday poster on the SFF Seven - to take a gander at my opening chapters. She had no context or previous exposure coming into the story, so she was able to give me useful thoughts on what information she needed.

So, all of this is by way of saying that there's lots of ways to get feedback from other authors on our work - and also to give it. Knowing what will be helpful to another author whose work you're reading is a skill worth building, too. (And, to touch back on the reviews thing, that is NOT something a reviewer needs to know how to do. They need to know how to give useful information about a book to other readers, so they can decided if the book might be for them.)

What's most important is to do what's right for the work.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Still Bleeding - the Worst Rejection Ever

I had to share this tweet from Agent Sarah. We got the cover flats for THE ORCHID THRONE (out in September 2019, but review copies are going out now - eep!) and they have foil! That's the shiny stuff on the cover. It shows best in the video from her tweet, but here's a still pic, in case the video doesn't play. Super cool, huh? It's my first cover with foil, and it's SO PRETTY!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is Knife in the Heart: The Harshest, Meanest Rejections from a Publisher/Editor/Agent. I think this is a great topic because it's always good to hear that *every* author receives rejections. While 99% of them are usually vaguely kind, there's always some who have to be vicious about it.

This was on my mind the other day because there's one rejection I received about 25 years ago, when I was a super newbie author - and it was so mean I STILL THINK ABOUT IT TO THIS DAY.

I know, I know - I should really let it go. For the most part, I really have. I don't feel bad about it, but I do remember the words from this editor and they float back into my head from time to time.

So, I'd made this Huge Life Change™ and gone from a PhD program in Neuroscience to working as an editor/writer for a petroleum research group. The job had flexible hours, paid well, and let me develop my chops as a writer. I'd decided I didn't want to be a research scientist and wanted to be a writer instead. As part of this effort, I took courses from visiting writers at the university. One of the first was the class Essays on Self and Place. Thus, my early writing efforts were personal essays, also known as Creative Nonfiction.

(In fact, my first book was an essay collection: WYOMING TRUCKS, TRUE LOVE AND THE WEATHER CHANNEL.)

But before that happened, I was doing the magazine circuit. I'd send out work to places that published essays, from literary journals to commercial magazines. And I sold essays to that broad gamut, with my biggest score an essay I sold to Redbook for $1/word. I built this career largely through writing a lot and sheer tenacity. Which, come to think of it, is what I still do.

I'd read a piece of advice from some author I can't recall now to treat submitting like a game of ping pong. You submitted work, and as soon as it got rejected, you batted it right back out to another venue. I even called my folder of essays I was actively submitting "Ping Pong." I had a rule that I had to have every finished piece on active submission at three places at one time. As soon as a rejection arrived in the mail - and these were the days of paper printouts sent in the mail with a self-addressed, stamped envelope (the infamous SASE) - I had to whack that essay back out right away. I kept a list of publication venues (in a spreadsheet, OF COURSE), in order of preference, and I'd just go to the next on the list.

All in all, this approach worked very well for me. Treating the submission/rejection process like a game helped to take the sting out of rejections. It also meant I got a LOT of rejections. Every time that envelope showed up in my mailbox, addressed in my own hand, I'd feel the pain. They almost never *accepted* via the SASE. An acceptance came via phone call, maybe email (depending on the year), or as a thick envelope with their own postage containing a contract. Maybe even a check! I always wondered what they did with my SASEs in those cases, but it seemed cheap to ask for them back, even though I could have reused them.

So, yes, I received many, many rejections of various flavors, but I also published work at a steady rate in a variety of venues. I kept up a high velocity in my personal game of ping pong. It worked well.

This one magazine though...

It was called something like Women's World Weekly. I could be conflating several publications. But I do recall I discovered it in the Women's Bathroom at the petroleum research institute I worked in. Someone left copies in there every week. It was low-quality paper, with lots of ads for things women supposedly liked, and then those kind of heart-wrenching "real life" stories of love and loss.

So I sent them one of my essays on love and loss. And I got a rejection back pretty fast - hand-written, saying that it wasn't exactly the kind of thing for them - too long, or whatever. This was early on and I didn't always pay attention to the content of the rejections. Often they didn't say all that much that was useful. Also, I came from a scientific background and the non-scientific nature of their criteria often stymied me. Finally, I was busy - and the game of ping pong meant I had to get stuff back out there rapidly.

I sent them another essay on love and loss. I got another rejection saying no, it wouldn't work for them.

I sent a third essay. (Maybe I only sent two, but it might have been the third submission.) And I got this hand-written, black-ink, furious scrawl that said:

YOU JUST DON'T GET IT, JEFFE!

And I don't remember the rest. It was some sort of excoriation on how my work would never, ever, in a million years, be right for them.

Thing is - they were probably right. And it was true, that I didn't "get it." I was very new at that point, and green. I didn't yet understand how to discern what a particular publication or editor preferred. I viewed it all as a vast crapshoot - or a game of ping pong - and figured the right thing at the right time was what got accepted.

Which is actually very true.

But there was something in the sheer venom of that rejection that has always stuck with me. And sometimes I hear that guy's voice - the editor was male, which is interesting in retrospect - shouting at me in that scribbled note, telling me that my work was a waste of his time.

Of course, I took that publication off my spreadsheet and never submitted there again, which likely came as a relief to them. I sold those essays elsewhere, and I've gone on to build a career.

Still, every time someone implies that I "just don't get it," I feel the twinge of that knife to the heart. Funny, what gets to us, huh?

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Hands on Keyboard, Butt out of Chair

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is the deceptively simple "Perfect Writing Snacks."

I say it's deceptively simple because I'm going to have to pull a Veronica Scott this week and say that I just have nothing on this one.

I don't snack while I'm writing. Really, I don't snack much at all. The way I grew up, we pretty much just ate at mealtimes, maybe a nibble with drinks at cocktail hour. Also, my whole ethic is bent in the opposite direction. I don't snack while I write because it would interfere with my hands on the keyboard. It's also difficult to eat while walking, which is what I do while writing.

There's a saying a lot of writers pass around, that the way to get the words down is "Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard," or BICHOK. While I agree with the spirit of the saying, I don't like it because I'm not a fan of sitting. I walk while I write and it's been the most amazing thing for me.

I got my first treadmill desk in February of 2013, so over six years ago (wow!). Since that time, I've gotten so that I generally walk about 10 miles/day while writing. The trance-state induction of steady walking is amazing for writing flow, and the movement keeps my brain alert.

I have the same hydraulic desk, which I can raise and lower as I wish. I absolutely recommend that model. I'm on my second under-desk treadmill, which is about how it goes, since they do wear out.

If you listen to my podcast, First Cup of Coffee, you know that my current treadmill started tanking on me. The horrors! The folks at LifeSpan (I have this model) have been great and are sending me a new motor, since it's still under warranty. The techs come on Wednesday to install it and give the whole thing a tune-up.

Until then, I was deeply unsettled. I'm working hard on finishing THE FIERY CITADEL, sequel to September's THE ORCHID THRONE, and I need to walk to write!

Okay... maybe I don't NEED to, but I hate to mess with my process. I really do. And you all know that I'm always saying that the most important thing is that we own our process as writers, and that means doing what it takes to facilitate that process.

So, my hubs David suggested that we rig up something temporary on the running treadmill. (Yes, we're a two-treadmill household, but a walking desk treadmill needs a motor that runs well for long times at low speeds, which is not the same kind of motor that you need to run at faster speeds.) Thus, above, is my temporary workstation. Those are the leaves for expanding the dining room table across the handle bars, and the ever-useful bungee cord strapping on the laptop. I have a wireless keyboard I love for the key action, so that's nice and familiar.

There's even a glimpse of the book, for the clever reader.

I wouldn't use this system for long, but it works for now.


Sunday, February 17, 2019

Jeffe's Most Difficult Character - Not Who You Think?

So, if you missed it on Friday, we finally had the cover reveal for THE ORCHID THRONE

This is the first book in a new trilogy I'm doing with St. Martin's Press. Totally new world, totally new series. My editor there, Jennie Conway, called it:

the magical feminist fantasy romance I've always wanted 😍

Which is now my new favorite tag line ever. You can read more (and preorder!) here. It comes out September 24, 2019. 

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is: Your most difficult character to have written and why. 

This question stumped me. I even asked Assistant Carien what she thought, since she often listens to me whine about these things. She offered a few suggestions, that just didn't "sound" right to me. So, then I went and looked at my publication list.

Yes, I totally use my website to remind myself of my own books, what of it?

Looking over that list, a couple of books stood out. Ones that just didn't come out the way I envisioned when I started. Ones that I'd rewrite, if I could. 

And one heroine, in particular, that I just never felt I really got into her head. 

Ava, from SHOOTING STAR.

The book is a contemporary romance, so I haven't talked about it much here at the SFF Seven. But, people, I rewrote this book SO MANY TIMES. And though the heroine, Ava, was clear to me from the start - in fact, she was one of those characters who plagued me to write her story - I never felt I really got a handle on her. I don't know if I could say why. It could be because she was inspired by a real life person (or, rather, a blend of several) and therefore I couldn't find my way into her head in the same way.

It could be because Ava is simply a very complex person, with many layers and secrets, and she's become adept over time at keeping everyone out. Even me.

I could be I'd have to write more of her to really crack that nut. 

Hmm. 





Sunday, December 16, 2018

A Fab Year Ahead for SFF Romance!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is books we're looking forward to in 2019.

Can I just say ALL OF THEM???

Okay, I'll try to hone it down to a few. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that the final book in my Chronicles of Dasnaria trilogy, WARRIOR OF THE WORLD, will be out January 8. A fine way to kick off 2019! This trilogy has been a great ride and this will be the last in the world before the final book, which I hope to have out in spring of 2019, THE FATE OF THE TALA.

I'm also super thrilled that THE ORCHID THRONE, the first book in a totally new world, The Forgotten Empires, coming from St. Martins Press September 24, 2019. In one of those serendipitous alignments that only further proves that Grace Draven and I share a common destiny along with a lasting friendship, the second book in her Fallen Empires series (I swear we didn't plan ANY of this!), DRAGON UNLEASHED, will also release in September 2019. I wish I could share her truly gorgeous cover here, but she's revealing it Tuesday. I might come back an add it, so you all can see.

The other two fantastic authors who are also in the SEASONS OF SORCERY: FANTASY ANTHOLOGY with me have exciting releases this year, too.

Jennifer Estep is continuing her Crown of Shards trilogy, following up her delicious KILL THE QUEEN with PROTECT THE PRINCE, scheduled for release July 2 2019. No cover for that yet, but I can't wait to see it.

And Amanda Bouchet is kicking off the debut in her new series with NIGHTCHASER. She's departing from Fantasy Romance and dipping her toe into Science Fiction Romance this time. It releases January 1, 2019 and I've got it on preorder. You know how I'll be spending my New Year's Day! Can't wait to read it.
 

What about all of you - what are you looking forward to reading in 2019?

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Myth of the Debut Year

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "If I could go back to my Debut Year..." You can tell I didn't suggest this one because I don't believe in the "Debut Year."

See, the "Debut Year" is a bit of magical, sparkle-pony mythology of Author Land.

This is how the myth goes:

One day a writer receives "The Call" where an editor offers the Big Book Deal. The writer's First Book comes out - their Debut Book - and they have their Debut Year. It's a time of glory and terror and dancing sparkle ponies. The writer is hopefully toasted as the New Big Thing. Reviews always discuss the book in terms of it being the author's First Book. And every mention of the author after that will note their First Book.

All of this is a fictionalization. We're novelists, after all! But I think it's also a damaging bit of mythology, so I'd like to discuss why.

First, let me break this down in reality.

1. All of this is cast in traditional publishing terms. Not only that, it's pretty much only for deals with the Big Five. So, only authors who publish their first book (see caveats to this) with the Big Five get an experience anything close to the Debut Year.

2. Almost nobody gets "The Call," even though you still hear people talk about it. If you're working with traditional publishing, you'll almost certainly be working with an agent. Those exchanges happen first via email. Your agent may call with exciting news, but very rarely - even vanishingly rarely - is there a single phone call with the final deal news. This is a fictionalization that makes it sound good.

3. Not many authors get a Big Book Deal. You just hear about the ones who do. And, because it's a Big Book Deal, the publisher puts a lot of marketing behind the book, so you hear about that, too. But hey - it's a book deal and that's fabulous!

4. But, you know what? It's one book deal. If you plan to make a career as an author, there will be more book deals. Lots of them. You might also self-publish or do that instead. We tend to celebrate "Firsts" of all kinds, but there's no particular magic to them. (Besides that you're a newbie, which is likely the point of this topic, but I'm ignoring that. You'll find out why. Stick with me.)

5. There is a lot of terror. Moments of glory. Mostly a lot of work. Spoiler alert: No sparkle ponies.

6. Some writers get to be the Big New Thing, which is super cool. Most don't. Even those that do? Well, like prom queens and MVPs, there's a finite shelf life to being one, and there's a replacement coming the following year, if not sooner.

7. The "First Book" is a myth I'd really like to see die.

  • Most writers have written many books before their first published one.
  • Most writers have written and published extensively before their first published novel - poems, essays, other nonfiction, short stories, novellas, etc. By making a big deal about the first novel, we're elevating it above all other forms.
  • Because they understand the "magic" of the debut, very often publishers will ask an author to adopt a pseudonym and present the initial book under that name as a first book by a debut author. All smoke and mirrors.
  • In new publishing landscape, an author's first book is much more likely to be self-published or published by a small/digital-first publisher. These don't get the same splash.
The reason I think this mythology of the Debut Year is damaging is that any author who doesn't get this particular brass ring ends up feeling less than. Because this is most authors - I want to say 95% or more - that makes a lot of people laboring under a false perception of being lesser.

For myself, my "First Book" was WYOMING TRUCKS, TRUE LOVE, AND THE WEATHER CHANNEL, an essay collection published by a university press back in 2004. A lot of those essays had been published in literary journals and magazines - including Redbook, my big score - so the collection wasn't even my first publication. 

After that...

[insert montage of time passing here]


...when I transitioned into fiction, my "first book" was a digitally published novella. My first novel-length work was published by Carina, an imprint of Harlequin, also a digital-first publisher.

My first print deal was with Kensington, for The Twelve Kingdoms trilogy. The first book, THE MARK OF THE TALA, was my 4th novel-length publication, my 2nd print book, my 13th fiction publication, and I have no idea what number it would be in overall number of creative works.

The first book in my first Big Five book deal, THE ORCHID THRONE, comes out next summer. It will be something like my 30th novel-length publication.

The point is, I never had a Debut Year.

Okay, yeah - maybe we could say it was 2004, when Wyoming Trucks came out. That's why I put that photo at the top, because that's at my signing and launch party, where I'm clearly bright-eyed, cheeks flushed with excitement.

It was a great night.

And good things came of that book.

But I was never the New Big Thing. I didn't get rich or famous. The only sparkle pony I have is a plastic one that an author friend gave me.

What's most important is that this is just fine! My career has grown slowly and steadily, which I will absolutely take over what some of my friends have gone through - a Debut Year that burns fast and hot, but ends in ashes and reinvention. Building a career through small presses and thoughtful self-publishing is a viable path - often a far better one - than shooting for the moon and the Big Book Deal. Even if you *do* get the Big Book Deal, that's no guarantee of the future.

So, the others of the SFF Seven might have more to offer on the actual topic. But when I consider going back to my Debut Year, I don't know when that was.

Even if I did know, and could go back - I wouldn't change a thing.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Strategy Games and Martial Arts in SFF Worldbuilding

When I was in Denver for the RWA National Conference, my friend and writing buddy, Darynda Jones, and I took a lunch break at Ship Tavern in the Brown Palace Hotel. While there, I spotted this guy and snapped a pic. It seemed like a good omen, because I finished THE ORCHID THRONE during our mini-writing retreat there, and now (finally!) am going back to THE ARROWS OF THE HEART. This image is highly relevant to the story, for those of you who've studied the cover. 

Once I finish this blog post, I'm diving back into THE ARROWS OF THE HEART. It gave my own heart a little stab to see I haven't opened the document since March 20, 2018. That's over four months ago. A third of a year! Where has it gone??? I have no idea. 

Anyway, our topic this week at the SFF Seven is: If you had to invent a sport or game for your novels (or ever have), what would it be?

It's probably telling about me personally that I've invented several games, and a couple of martial arts systems, for my books - but never any sports. I'm so not a sports girl. If I were to invent a sport, it would probably be something forced on children where they're forced to deal with objects flying at them at speeds as fast as the scorn of their peers is scathing.

Not that I'm scarred or anything.

Despite my early clumsiness in all things Phys Ed, I later discovered Chinese martial arts - and studied with a school for over fifteen years. I drew on that practice in Tai Chi Ch'uan, Pakua Chang, Hsing-I, Shaolin Temple Boxing, and others, to build the martial system that's part of the worship of Danu in The Twelve Kingdoms, The Uncharted Realms, and even in The Chronicles of Dasnaria. (Fun fact: Jenna's dance, the ducerse, is a modification of a Pakua form that can be performed as a slow dance with saucers of water or lit candles.)

Invented martial systems are a terrific way to flesh out a world in SFF. Many draw on religious or philosophical tenets (as mine do), along with the physical training and more aggressive applications. A character devoted to a martial practice like these will have their entire worldview and choices informed by that. 

I've also invented a few strategy games, such as kiauo in THE PAGES OF THE MIND. That game serves several purposes in the story. The shape of the game board and the pieces give important clues to the culture and what they hold sacred. The game itself allows communication between two people who don't speak the same language - and they build an understanding of each other through it. Also, a strategy game gives character insight in the same way martial systems do. Strategic thinking occurs in more places than on a battlefield. 

Sports can do this, too - JK Rowling's famous sport of Quidditch being a prime example. Come to think of it, it IS a way to torture children and subject them to the scorn of their peers, isn't it? TOLD YOU.