Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday Miscellany: Recovering From The Holiday Weekend

Even though we're stationed in Germany (far, far away from our families and most of our friends), we're still American and we tend to act like it. We celebrated Thanksgiving this year for the first time as just a family. No extended family, no friends, just the three of us and the food we wanted and a stress-free day. It was a nice change. I am a master of the traditional Thanksgiving meal thanks to my mother and grandmother (my sisters and I could prepare the whole meal, including the turkey, by the time I was fourteen, and when I moved out on my own the first time, I hosted Thanksgiving alone; we've hosted twice since we've been married, and both times the majority of the meal prep fell to me) and the cooking and cleaning doesn't bother me. I won't lie, though, the people do. Last year, we had some incredibly ungrateful guests. I put my foot down the day after Thanksgiving last year and told my husband that unless I was the only one making the guest list, we would never host Thanksgiving again. People showed up three hours late and my husband, being the decent human being he is, waited for them. As a result, the turkey was dry, everyone was cranky by the time we got to eat, and the people I actually liked left as soon as their plates were empty. The worst part about that is that I couldn't even blame them.

This year, we kept it simple. Husband barbecued a brisket since he isn't a fan of turkey, I roasted an acorn squash, and we made a gigantic pot of cheesy garlic mashed potatoes. The kid, adventurous eater that she is, loved the veggies.

I managed to finish the draft of Please, Sir and even finished the cover, as I posted before. I'm in the carefully editing stages now, but it should be finished very soon. I'm proud of it. It's very me. I have the next project ready to start, too, and that one will be another romance with another slightly-unlikable heroine. I have a weakness for unlikable heroines. Scarlett O'Hara is probably my favorite. What a little brat. I love her so much.

Despite the fact that I am nearing thirty, my grandmother still sends me birthday money. I tried to make her stop about seven years ago, but there's no telling a Texas woman--and a former preacher, no less--what to do, especially if you're just a lowly granddaughter. We did negotiate a smaller amount, at least. Anyway, I put it to good use. I got the accessories kit I've been wanting for my Kindle (a sleeve and a light) and, most importantly, I bought Supertech and Morgan's Choice. Books are so much more exciting when they're presents, aren't they? I can't wait to start reading. I am a legitimate Greta van der Rol fangirl. (For the record, my birthday isn't for a few more weeks. Its proximity to Christmas led to my parents and grandparents overcompensating and I still celebrate it early.)

I am in the planning stages of a website redesign. Now that I've been doing this blogging/social media thing for about six months, I have a better idea of my voice and what I want to offer. I think the website is going to be divided into a section for writers and a section for readers.

Speaking of readers, I'm incredibly grateful for mine. Or, at least, incredibly grateful for Kindle shoppers who thought The Cowboy Next Door looked interesting enough to download. It has been on and off the top 100 contemporary romance lists on Amazon this last week--mostly on--and it has even cracked the top 1000 of all Amazon books. For a quickie little cowboy romance novelette, that feels pretty amazing to me.

Blog Roundup: November 21 - 27, 2011

Chuck Wendig posted about the 25 reasons readers will quit reading your story. I think the entry about errors in particular is quite important to self-published writers.

Greta van der Rol talked about her current work-in-progress and the specific research that goes into it.

Avery Olive wrote about the right time/wrong time to query an agent (answer: there is no right time or wrong time).

Erica Lucke Dean hosted a guest post from R. W. Greene all about getting into character.

Rik Davnall wrote about changing plans, a post I think is an excellent read even if you're not a fan because it shows that a self-published author needs to be flexible. I'm pretty sure a traditionally-published author needs to be flexible, too, but in this case, it's specifically relevant to the self-pubbers.

With November close to ending, Keystrokes and Word Counts is wrapping up their ABC123(4)s of NaNo.

Only True Magic posted the final article in her Self-Publishing Tips and Tricks series.

Paperback Writer's post on ten online writing tools was pretty cool.

There's a post at Seeking the Write Life about the dangers of blogging. I think regular readers probably allow for some mistakes; after all, I know I certainly do. But that shouldn't stop us from being careful.

Ciara Ballintyne attended a speculative fiction festival and recapped the publishers' advice offered there.

Stella Deleuze offered two stellar posts this weekend: this second part on the possessive apostrophe, and this post on reviewers. I completely agree with her. I've left negative reviews. It's not about the author and I've been writing long enough to believe that any author at the point where she's sharing her work had better have the thick skin required to gracefully accept negative reviews (at least in public--everyone has the right to cry to their parents/friends in private). When I review, I review for the benefit of other readers, not for the benefit of the author.

I didn't catch this post last time. Teen Shiver posted about reasons to write a short story.

The post at The Sharp Angle about co-writing is good food for thought.

Trac Changes has a series of posts on the lifecycle of a book. Here is the first post. It's quite educational.

Written Words hosted a guest post from R. S. Guthrie on the best and worst of being an author.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

SitRep Saturday: Please, Sir & Other Projects

Yesterday, I posted the cover and the "back cover" summary for Please, Sir. The summary needs some work, I know. I've downloaded the file to my Kindle for reading/editing/note-making while I'm away from the computer. I'm pleased with the way the draft turned out and I'm very pleased with the cover (especially since I got it 20% off thanks to Dreamstime's Black Friday sale). The short story will be finished and available soon.

I have my next project planned. It will be another cowboy romance, this one about a dude ranch. I haven't worked out the specifics, but I've been doing some character work and some preliminary dude ranch research, and I'm confident that it can be good.

The project after that is hazy. I've been so inspired lately that I have pages and pages of outlines, character charts, plot points, summaries, and titles written down. Right now, I think I'll be alternating between romance and erotica. Alternating gives me a nice internal balance, I think.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Cover Reveal & Coming Soon: Please, Sir

Paige finally has it together. The boyfriend who turned her life around just proposed, she's studying to be a nurse, they just moved to Kansas City for Jesse's new job, and she is going to meet his father.

Her old instincts kick in when she meets John. She tries to control her desires, reminding herself that she loves Jesse and that she wants to be a real part of their family. But when her car breaks down and John is the only one available to help, self-control abandons her.

Please, Sir is a short story of lust and betrayal. It contains scenes of explicit sexual situations between a younger woman and an older man. All characters are consenting adults. The daddy complex is explored only implicitly, though the mild discipline (spanking) is explicit. It is intended only for mature readers.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Self-Publishing: On Being Professional

Lately, I've been spending time reading self-publishing forums. I am profoundly disturbed by the lack of professionalism there. Even if it is an authors/publishers forum, there's no reason for some of the behavior I've seen. We're artists but that doesn't mean we're not in a business, trying to network and make connections, and trying to build a reputation.

Don't whine.
Your book isn't selling. None of your books are selling. Reviewers have left you one- and two-star reviews. People have criticized your cover, your summary, or the fact that 50% of your ebook is devoted to promoting your other work. Don't whine about these things in writing on a public forum. It makes you look unprofessional and it makes me, as a reader, want to steer clear of your work.

Don't complain.
Your royalties check hasn't arrived. Your sales aren't showing on your reports. There's a glitch in the software that won't let you upload your book in Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. Don't complain about these things, especially if you haven't tried to do anything about them. These are problems. You should be finding a solution, not complaining. Once you've exhausted your options, sure, it's possible that the answer may be on a public forum. But you can ask for help finding a solution without complaining.

Remember that you're a person.
You're not a brand and you're not a robot. Salesmanship is important, but you are not only a salesman. I don't mind being marketed to, but not every single post in every single thread (or every single tweet or every single blog post or every single comment). Before you start sharing links and talking about your books, ask yourself: is it relevant?

Don't be a dick.
Sometimes a hardline approach to business is appropriate. Other times it isn't. I recently unfollowed a fellow author on Twitter and put his books on my "do not buy" list because he spent an entire evening berating his followers for not buying his books and reviewing his work. As a consumer, I have choices. As a professional, I don't want to be associated with other "professionals" who abuse their potential fanbase. I'm not saying don't have opinions, don't stand up for yourself, or don't express yourself. I'm saying don't be an ass about it.

Drop the entitled attitude.
No one has to read your books. Not even your spouse, parents, kids, or best friends. Sure, it would be nice, but reading is a very personal thing and sometimes those interpersonal relationships can be delicate. They don't have to buy your books just because you wrote them, they don't have to read them, and they don't have to like them.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Self-Publishing: Research, Research, Research

Recently, I talked about things to do before you self-publish. I mentioned that one should do a lot of research before making the decision to self-publish and I wanted to expand on that. Publishing is more than just "write, submit, profit." I think that anyone who wants to publish should be as well-informed as possible. There is definitely a learning curve--in self-publishing and, I'm sure, in traditional publishing--but by researching the hell out of your industry and your genre, you can decrease the slope of that curve.

The Big Six.
"The Big Six" is a phrase commonly used to denote the six largest New York publishing houses, the most powerful traditional publishing houses in the industry. Each house has a number of smaller imprints. If you submit a manuscript to a publisher, you are most likely submitting to one of these six publishers. Read up on them. Especially if you want to go the traditional route, learn everything you can. Start with their official websites (Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Group, Random House, Simon & Schuster) then drill down until you know everything you can about the people who will be touching your manuscript. Learn what they want, how they want it, and who they want it from. Examine the bestsellers in the same genre as your manuscript. Have you got what it takes? If you don't, can you develop what it takes?

Small presses and publishers.
An alternative to the big six, small print presses and publishing houses are more likely to take on untested authors and publish manuscripts that may not necessarily be surefire bestsellers, especially in the current economic climate. Poets & Writers has a database of small publishers. Again, do your research. Make sure that the company is still operating and do your best to find out if it's doing well (in this business, small publishers disappear all the time). Read what other writers have to say about the publisher's practices. Learn what they want, how they want it, who you'll be dealing with. Check out the books they put out. How well are they doing? What kind of marketing are they doing for their books? What kind of treatment can you expect?

Self-Publishing: Print on demand.
Sites like Lulu and CreateSpace (there are others, many others) offer print-on-demand publishing. Your book isn't printed until an order is placed, eliminating warehousing costs. Startup can be expensive, and you'll usually have to pay for your proofs unless you catch a great sale, but if you want to see your physical book in hand, POD can give you that. Shop around. Think about what you want to accomplish from POD and choose a company accordingly. Do you just want a few books for posterity? To give as gifts? Are you hoping to get your book into local bookstores, or sell through your website?

Self-Publishing: Ebooks.
With the Kindle, Nook, Sony e-reader, and iPad, more and more people are reading books on electronic devices. Amazon offers direct publishing for self-publishers. Smashwords offers direct publishing, ISBNs, multiple formats, and distribution. Self-publishing electronic books is probably the most popular way to self-publish right now. It's easy, it's fast, and it can be entirely free. It's so popular that there is currently a flood of self-published work on the market right now. It is not fast money. Smashwords may pay out as soon as you reach the threshold, but reaching that threshold requires sales, which probably requires marketing. Amazon doesn't pay out until 60 days after the close of the month in which you make sales and they only pay once you reach their threshold, too. If quick money is your goal, get out now. Start hooking or selling drugs or something. Do you want to reach a wide market? Do you want to make your books easy to find and easy to read? Are you comfortable with electronic reading technology?

Quitting your day job.
The big question: Can you afford to? In my specific case, my husband was transferred overseas and we were ready to have a child. I was going to be staying home, anyway, and while that was mostly to raise said child until she started school, it was partly to see if I could get a writing career off the ground. If you work to pay the bills--and who doesn't these days--sit down with your budget and see what can be done. Do you want to quit your job? Change your hours? Telecommute? Do what you need to do in order to free up time to write, to network, to market. As I mentioned in the other post, set reasonable expectations. I started writing in April and self-published my first short-story anthology in August. I won't see a significant royalty payment until February. That's ten months from start to money I can do anything with. Read what other authors, self-published and traditional, have to say about income, their day jobs, and when they could quit to write full-time.

Sizing up the audience.
What do you write? What do you want to write? Who do you expect will be reading your work? Research that. If you write romance, start with the romance bestseller lists, romance reader blogs, romance writer blogs. Check out forums, message boards, and other online communities. If you write how-to guides, or gardening books, or design knitting patterns, it doesn't matter: the Internet can tell you what you want to know. What does your potential audience like? What do they hate? Which writers are the most popular? Why? Which are the least popular? Why? What kind of money are the readers willing to spend? I am not saying write to a specific audience just because you can cash in, but if you've decided to publish, they're going to be judging you. They're going to determine your success. It's a good idea to know as much about them as possible.

Sizing up the "competition."
I use that word loosely. I guess, technically, because publishing is business that writers are in competition with each other, but I don't know a single writer who actually thinks like that. Sure, with the economy in the bad place it is now, people have less money to spend on books, so we want readers to buy our books. I guess. What I mean by sizing up the competition is see what others are doing. What works for them, what doesn't, and why. Get ideas about how to write, when and where to publish, how to market and promote. Figure out who you'll best fit in with and figure out how to target their audience. The competition can teach you a lot. Learn from them.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Monday Miscellany: WIPs, Recipes, and Blogging

So I have fleshed out the action draft of the new WIP and made some changes and, now, it will be decent to share under my current romance/erotica pen name. I just have to, you know, actually write it. Since it's a short story and I'm only shooting for 10,000 words it should be easy peasy. Well, that, and the fact that I really like it. I've even already found the cover art for it. Once I have a mockup I'm happy with, I'll share.

Last Friday, I made whiskey cookies. I used this recipe, but I would suggest the following changes: use half as much baking soda, add about 1/4 tsp lemon extract, and add an extra tablespoon or two of whiskey. I didn't add the nuts or fruit, but I planned to drizzle them with chocolate. They were still pretty good. Because writers don't have enough ways to ingest booze!

In the draft stages now I have a post on where/how to learn about the publishing industry. I am also planning a post on how and where to buy e-books and a post containing tips on cover design (the last one because I have seen some truly awful self-published covers recently).

Even though I'm not in the States, I'm still celebrating Thanksgiving this week. The hubs and I aren't doing it traditional, either. We have a brisket and a squash and we're planning mashed potatoes, homemade rolls, and some cherry cobbler. Nice and low-key and delicious.

And speaking of giving thanks: for a brief span of time, The Cowboy Next Door was on Amazon's Top 100 contemporary romance list. So a huge THANK YOU to everyone who bought the book!

Blog Roundup: November 14 - 20, 2011

Chuck Wendig wrote about 25 reasons readers keep reading this week. I was especially fond of his predictability/unpredictability points. My favorite modern novel is American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis and part of the reason I loved it so much was Patrick Bateman's crazy. I had no idea what was going on with him until the first explicit murder scene. (The scene in which he murders Paul Owen is my absolute favorite. I know that makes me sound crazy, but if you've read the book, you know how perfect it is.) Patrick Bateman was the poster child for Wendig's unpredictability point.

Amelia James wrote about why she supports other writers. Writing is an unusual business because though we're technically competing for consumers (readers) it's not really a competition. The only limits readers have are their wallets and their free time, and even then, there are ways to stretch both. I support other writers and want to share what I've learned and what I'm learning (just in case that wasn't abundantly clear from my blog posts).

James Killick posted about what you have to un-learn and what you have to learn to be a writer. I am particularly fond of his "to learn" list. I've been reading the KDP boards lately and I have to say that I think a lot of authors--especially the self-published--could benefit from realizing that different people like different things.

Keystrokes and Word Counts is still running their ABC123(4)s of NaNo.

Over the weekend, I discovered Only True Magic, a blog by an indie author. She's currently running a series on self-publishing tips and tricks (the most recent one is on paid advertising) and her posts are very thorough and very detailed. I wish she tagged her posts to make them easier to navigate, but they're worth looking for.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

SitRep Saturday: Blog Posts, New Projects

On Monday night/Tuesday morning, I finished formatting Better with You and published at Smashwords and Amazon. I'm pretty pleased with it. That, like Cowboy, is a story that has been floating around in my head for years. Now that it's written, I can forget about it. That feels so good.

As a companion to my recent Before You Take The Plunge post, I have in the drafting stage a post on what writers should know and where they should go to learn about the publishing industry. I think lack of knowledge hurts writers more than anything else.

In other news, I'm currently working on a short story I hope to have finished and out under a third pen name by November 30th. I'm going with a third pen name rather than one of my other two because of content. My goal is to write everything I want to write and still make it easy for potential readers to choose what they think they'll like. The story has already been outlined and action-drafted and I even found the right book cover image. Final word count should be around 10,000 words. I'll have more to report next week.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Self-Publishing: Before You Take The Plunge

Being a writer is not an easy thing. Both routes to publication--traditional and self--are rough. But, as with anything else in life, with research, patience, and a lot of hard work, you can succeed.

Define "success."
What do you need to consider yourself successful? Do you need to be #1 on the bestseller lists? Do you need movie deals, merchandising options, and $50 million? Do you need to be read by every literate person in the world? Do you need to write the Great American Novel? Do you need to make a comfortable income and entertain? Your definition of success will determine what you write and how you plan to achieve that success.

Do your research. 
As a writer, you should already be proficient at finding out what you don't know. Use those skills to learn everything you can about the publishing industry. Right now, there's a great deal of discussion on the subject. I recommend starting with general information, like who are the Big Six, and then driving down to more detailed information, like who publishes work similar to what you write and how much those authors make. Read the blogs of traditionally-published authors, read the articles on publishing at online news sources, look at the bestseller lists. Learn absolutely everything you can about the traditional publishing industry. And then look at self-publishing. Don't just look at Amanda Hocking and John Locke. They're stellar, absolutely, and they're very inspiring--but they are not the norm. Look at less-exceptional self-published authors. Read their blogs, check out their books on the bestseller lists. Some of them may even be willing to share their sales numbers and figures. Arm yourself with all the knowledge you can gather. 

Self-publishing or traditional publishing?
As self-publishing becomes more viable, as authors eke out a respectable living and corps of fans, the stigma dissipates. It's not entirely gone, not yet, and it may not ever truly be gone, but right now, self-publishing is not the bad idea it used to be. With that said, it's not for everyone. Decide what you want out of your publication. Look at each method and determine which one offers the most of what you want.

Make a plan.
For example, my plan looked like this: 1) Start writing. 2) Get blog. 3) Get Twitter. 4) Get website. 5) Publish. That's a very basic plan, and each step had several bullet points beneath it, and the plan has since expanded to include things about more pen names and the possibility of starting my own publishing company in the next two years or so, but I could not have done any of this without a plan. So make your plan and know what needs to be done. Take action.

Set reasonable expectations. 
Your chances of becoming the next Stephen King, Dan Brown, Nora Roberts, J. K. Rowling, or Stephenie Meyer are slim to none. Your chances of becoming the next Amanda Hocking or John Locke are even slimmer. I'm not saying don't dream big and don't try hard, I'm just saying that you should start this publishing journey with reasonable expectations. Writing is not the way to get rich. Self-publishing is definitely not a get-rich-quick scheme. I came into this with the expectation that it would take at least one year to start selling enough books to pay for things like our car insurance, and that it would take two or three years to start making my old salary. And that only if I had five or ten solid books with good covers and decent reviews. My expectations were in the low-to-reasonable range. I expected to be in this for the long haul. And, I'll be honest, it never really occurred to me when I should consider this endeavor a failure and when I should give up. But...

Decide what constitutes failure and have a backup plan.
I should have. There is a lot of trial and error in this business. Sometimes, books just won't sell, no matter how aggressively you market on social media websites or in the paper or wherever else. If Cowboy wasn't selling as well as it is and those sales didn't seem to be spilling over to Cass and Better, I would have to re-think my strategy. (My strategy of "tell the people I know and then do some other stuff if I need to." I didn't say I had all the answers.) You should probably set a timeframe. Say, a year. If your best-selling book isn't moving enough units to satisfy your reasonable or low-to-reasonable expectations, try something else. Maybe you need an agent. Maybe you need a vanity press. Maybe you need to go back to the drawing board. Just remember that everyone fails. Failure is part of writing. Learn a lesson and move on. 

I'm operating under the assumption that if you want to be published, writing is a compulsion. This may be obvious, but I think it bears stating. Don't stop. Don't ever stop writing, don't ever stop learning, don't ever stop getting better, and don't ever stop trying. Write from before you decide which route to take to publication, write while you plan, write write write.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Book Reviewing: Blogs, Directory, and Tips

Despite the fact that I follow several book review blogs, I don't include their posts in my blog roundup on Sundays. So I thought that it was time to talk about them. If you're looking for a book reviewer, or you're just looking for some solid book recs, these blogs can help. 

Is there a Prettiest Blog award? This one deserves it. She reads romantic fiction (including erotica), YA, and paranormal. The blog has its own rating system (flowers instead of stars) which look just beautiful with the rest of the blog design. Reviews I've read on her blog are short and to the point without sacrificing anything. Several of the books on the first page of reviews alone are now in my to-read pile. She also hosts the occasional guest post.

Paul reads fiction, mostly crime fiction. I like his sense of humor and I like the way he cuts his entries so that we can decide which reviews to read. I even kind of enjoy his political and other off-topic posts, but that's probably because he discusses UK politics and not US politics. Mostly, I check his blog for ideas of books to recommend my husband, who is a fan of James Patterson and John Grisham.

Her reviews are less critique, more personal, and her taste in books seems to be all over the place. I like her weekly video updates. I think it's nice to see something different on a blog, and video on a blog about reading is neat enough to catch my attention. Bonus: she works in a publishing house, so she sometimes offers insight to that end. 

I confess that I first started following this blog for the kitschy horror factor. I love zombies and The Nightmare Before Christmas and this blog channels both. She reads and reviews a lot of paranormal/horror-type books, but she also offers book blogging tips. Like this Book Blogging 101 post. (This blogger also pointed me toward this Etsy store. Their Halloween stuff was adorable!)

Book reviews and author interviews with--as far as I can tell--an emphasis on "indie" books. Like Girl Who Reads, there doesn't seem to be focus on any one genre, which is nice for those of us who don't stick to a single genre and who frequently scout recommendations for our loved ones.

Check out the Book Blogger Directory for more book blogs. 

If you have a book you would like reviewed, remember these things:
  • Always check the blogger's pages/about me/FAQ/submission policy before asking for a review. 
  • If a blogger only reads/reviews historic crime novels, don't ask for a review on your contemporary romance short story. Find a blogger who reviews in your genre.
  • If the blogger agrees to review your work, accept the review, even if you think it's unfavorable. Be graceful and don't embarrass yourself.
  • Always say thank you. 
Especially that last one. Good manners can take you a long way.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fanfiction: Good Idea, Bad Idea

Fanfiction is work based on media written by consumers of that media and not the original creators. We can all thank Gene Roddenberry for inspiring the fanboys to create the modern incarnation of fanfiction. I know I'm grateful. If it wasn't for the powerhouse combination of sci-fi fanfiction and the Internet, I would just be a bored housewife.

Good Idea
For me, and for a lot of fanfiction authors I knew, fic was a way to hone our skills. Someone else did the hard work of creating the characters and the universe and the initial stories, we could swoop in and tell more stories and swap those stories with other fans. We could take Character A and learn to write him really, really well, down to his thought processes and dialogue. We could experiment. We could find our own voices. Once we were comfortable writing within the confines of the universe, once we understood the rules and could follow them perfectly, we could break out of that universe and break those rules.

And best of all, we had a built-in audience. We had access to a multitude of people who knew everything there was to know about the universe we were playing in and they weren't afraid to tell us when we fucked it up.

That's why I think fanfiction is a good idea for the new, unpublished, untested writer. I'm not saying that I think fic is the only way to go. I'm just saying that I learned a lot from my time in fandom. I learned how to write good characters and good plot. I learned who people loved and why, who they hated and why, what readers wanted to read. I learned to target my audience. I learned how to give criticism and, more importantly, I learned how to take it. (Back in the early days of my involvement in fandom, "cyberbullying" was called "flaming" and if you sucked, you got flamed. Sometimes you got flamed right out of fandom. Yes, I've been flamed.) I cut my teeth and my skin got thick.

I made friends. Writer friends. Friends who understood the agony of writer's block, the frustration of the fifth round of edits, the angst of balancing sexual tension. Friends who understood why I was up at 3:00 am screaming at my characters to just start listening to me already, I was their God, couldn't they see that? Friends who understood the devastation of a lost muse and the insanity of a million plot bunnies bouncing around inside my head.

Without friends, without people who understand what goes into writing, writers probably stop being socially acceptable schizophrenics and start getting themselves committed to nice white rooms with padded walls.

Bad Idea
Even in the beginning, I was careful. Fanfiction isn't technically legal and some media creators, the copyright holders, don't take kindly to it. Anne Rice is a shining example of what I mean by that. Other creators (an incomplete list can be found here and a more complete one here) have also set explicit policies. As the copyright holders, it is fully within their rights to set policies and pursue legal action against those who violate their rights. I never participated in any fandom forbidden to exist by the creators. (There was no need, as you can see; plenty of talented creators support fanworks.)

It's the tricky legal issues that have me restricting knowledge of my fandom identity to a very small circle of close friends. And this is the crux of my post today.

Trying to bring your fandom fanbase with you when you crossover into publication seems like a very, very bad idea to me. What happens if you rewrite some of the fanwork and use it in an original publication? What happens if you participated in one of the blacklisted fandoms and that information reaches the copyright holder?

What if you were a shady, plagiarizing, scandal-ridden BNF?

The Bottom Line
My Good Idea section is bigger than my Bad Idea section. Overall, I think fanfiction is a good thing. (One day, I hope to write something that inspires the existence of a fandom.) But I think the amateur and the professional should remain as separate as possible. For me, the benefits of bringing your fanbase with you when you make the jump to original publication don't outweigh the cost. I assert this as an award-winning fanfic author.

I was the new kid on the block once before. I found my voice, found my niche, and wrote well-received work once before. I didn't have half of the skills, tools, or confidence I have at my disposal now. It should be easier this time around.

Release News: Better with You

"In the years since their first meeting, Casey Jameson and Shane Moore have maintained their friendship via letters, packages, and email. Now Shane is out of the Marine Corps and has relocated to Tacoma, where Casey is a city police officer. Each harbors feelings for the other. Shane, unable to do anything about them until his discharge from military service, is ready to act on those feelings. Casey, content with her quiet life, resists...

...until Shane does something she cannot ignore.

Better with You is a romance novelette in four short chapters perfect for a quick, feel-good read."

Finally! I am happy to announce that Better with You is available at Smashwords and Amazon.

I posted an excerpt of chapter one here on the blog last week. An excerpt of chapter two is available at my website.

Until Friday, November 18, you can get the novelette for free at Smashwords with coupon code DV35M.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Blog Roundup: November 7 - 13, 2011

25 Things You Should Know About Suspense and Tension went up at Chuck Wendig's Terrible Minds this week.

Greta van der Rol shared a lesson in keeping up with your online identities. (I'll be fixing links on my blog to her site/posts this week. If you've hosted a guest post or linked to author websites, it might be a good idea to make sure your links still work.)

If you care about the self-publishing vs. traditional publishing vs. whatever else debate, Bob Mayer had a couple of good posts. There's this one about the many roads to publication and this one on the fight itself. I liked this post, too, but it's about the why of writing. (I write to quiet the stories in my head.)

This week, I discovered the blog Caustic Cover Critic. If you're worried about your cover design, it's a good blog to read regularly.

James Killick wrote about why story beats character every time.

Keystrokes and Word Counts continued its ABCs of NaNo.

Sierra Godfrey showed us a real-life example of the importance of humor in a romantic relationship and then posted her Google Reader Roundup with some links to some great posts.

Stella Deleuze posted a how to on the possessive apostrophe.

The Bookshelf Muse is a really great blog. If you're looking to do research on a character trait or a plot element or a weather trait or anything like that, this place should be one of the sites you visit.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

SitRep Saturday: Better With You, Fanfiction

I'm deep into editing and racing to meet a self-imposed deadline. Better with You is coming along swimmingly, finally. I got through the tough part, the sparring session. Now I'm headed into the climax. One more pass of the red pen once I finish the round I'm doing now and it will be ready to go!

I did plan to write a post on fanfiction this week, but it's taking a bit longer to marshal my thoughts than I expected. My goal is to have it up by the end of the weekend. I have other posts planned for next week.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sneak Peek: Better with You

On Monday, I revealed the cover for my next novelette, Better with You. I'm still editing it and I haven't finalized the summary or elevator pitch, but the first chapter is ready to share. Read on for an excerpt of the first chapter.



Shane Moore checked the return address on the envelope against the numbers on the mailbox in front of the bungalow. Yes, he definitely had the right place. He glanced at the driveway and then the street nearby. No patrol car. She was not home yet. He tossed the envelope to the passenger seat, atop the bouquet of flowers, and slid the transmission into park. He would wait. As he rolled down the windows and lowered the volume of the radio, he hoped that she had a regular nine-to-five shift. He settled back in his seat, exhaling slowly through his nose.

Coming here was the right thing. He knew it. He felt it. After all of the letters and cards and snapshots, he was ready to see her again. In the flesh. He was ready to start something.

The engine ticked, cooling. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel in time with the rock song playing quietly through the speakers. Maybe he should have called first. Maybe he should have waited for the weekend.

Before he could change his mind and leave, a police car rolled past him and turned into the driveway. Shane grabbed the flowers and climbed out of his sedan. His stomach twisted. His heart pounded. He clutched the flowers and ambled toward the edge of her driveway.

Once the brake was set and the engine was off, Casey Jameson exited her patrol unit. Her sharp dark eyes scanned her surroundings. She wore a well-fitted city police uniform, a flash of white undershirt showing at the hollow of her throat, and her rich brown hair was confined in a tidy bun at the nape of her neck. Shane's breath caught. Photos and his memories had not done her justice.

Casey frowned at him. She flicked her gaze over the flowers and then searched his face. Half a heartbeat later, recognition dawned in her eyes. Her lips curved. She slammed her door and hurried around the back of her car.


"Hi, Casey."

"I didn't know you were going to be here so soon."

He offered her the flowers. "Aren't you happy to see me?"

She stared down at them, hesitating. At last, she closed her hand around the bunched stems and took them carefully. "Thank you." She raised her eyes to his and smiled. "Of course I'm happy to see you. But I thought you'd call first." She stepped in and wrapped her arms around him. Daisy petals brushed against the back of his neck.

"Sorry. I thought it might be more fun to surprise you." He hugged her, closing his eyes briefly and breathing her in. No perfume. Just her: soap and shampoo and warm skin. Perfect.

"You thought surprising a cop was a good idea?" Casey stepped back and looked up at him, eyebrow cocked.

He shrugged and turned his palms up. "I didn't say it was my best idea." Her hug had settled his stomach and her acceptance of him had set his heartbeat at a normal speed. He tried not to show his relief when he smiled.

She shook her head lightly, exhaling a laugh, and turned. "Come on." She gestured with the flowers. "I need to get out of this uniform."

He followed her up the steep concrete slope of the driveway, his eyes falling automatically to the curve of her rear end in the snug trousers. His fingers twitched and he craved a touch. Stifling a sigh at himself, he shook his head. He wanted more than that.

Casey led him through the carport, past a green pickup truck, up a too-high step, and into the house. Inside was cool and darkened by the afternoon shadows. A yellow cloth covered the long table in the breakfast nook. Uncovered windows along the back wall faced out over a shaded porch and a flourishing garden.

Shane shut the door behind himself.

She stopped at the sink and crouched to pull a vase from the cabinet beneath it. As she filled the plain glass cylinder with water from the tap, she glanced at him.

"Are you hungry?"

"I could go for some Buffalo wings."

"I hoped you'd say that." She dropped the flowers into the water and set the arrangement on the counter next to the sink. "Give me a few minutes to change and I'll take you to dinner." She started for the doorway at the other end of the kitchen. "I have bottled water and soda in the refrigerator. Make yourself at home."

"Thanks," he called after her.

When she was gone, he slipped out of the tidy kitchen. He hesitated in the foyer, glancing up the narrow staircase to his right, listening to Casey moving around on the second floor. Shane turned left, toward the front of the house.

He felt light-headed. Her letters had always come to him smelling faintly of vanilla and sweetness; the scent was much stronger, all encompassing, in her home. It was a heady thing.

Shane paused just inside the living room. The walls and built-ins were a bright white while the furniture was a mix of modern Swedish economy pieces and solid American vintage pieces. A wide fireplace served as the focus of the room, but the real draw for Shane was the shelves lined with books. In watery sunlight streaming through the leaded glass windows, he examined the titles. She kept fiction separate from non-fiction, but there wasn't any more of one genre or author than of any other. It made him smile. In her letters, she had always mentioned being in the middle of a book. To see them all here, in front of him, felt like coming home.

Across the foyer, the dining room was more formal, with an art deco dining set and chandelier. The built-in hutch displayed China and silver. Meticulously clean China and silver, he noted. Shane wondered if Casey did the cleaning herself.

She still moved back and forth on the floor above him, so he passed the stairs and headed for the light at the back of the house. To his right, a small home office also served as a TV room. The white desk with the flowers painted in the corners looked like something out of a little girl's room and the couch looked like something from a fraternity living room. Shane frowned. It just didn't fit. The room was as clean as any of the others, but the furniture and design were all wrong. At least the books were familiar. More of them lined low white bookcases that were not built into the home. These, he saw, were books on law enforcement, true crime, and law. That made sense.

Casey's footfalls on the stairs drew him from his thoughts. He padded back into the foyer and waited, hands in his pockets.

She came into view, dressed in flat black shoes, dark blue jeans, and a black t-shirt. Her hair was still back in that neat bun, but her lips glistened pink. Kissably pink. He grinned at her.

"What?" She stopped a few steps from the bottom, hand on the banister, wary expression on her pretty face.

"You look great," he said sincerely.

She blushed. "Thanks." She passed him, headed for the front door. Her keys jangled in her hand. "Are you ready to go?"


Years of training and the professionally-honed skill of staying cool under pressure kept Casey from fidgeting. She wanted to fidget. It was almost six years since she had last seen Shane and while there had been pictures and her very vivid memory, those images paled in comparison to the real thing.

She had forgotten the effect he had on her.

Casey sipped her water. The noise of the after-work crowd rose around them. Shane watched the baseball highlights on a television above the bar across the room and Casey took advantage of his distraction to study him. His crew cut had grown out just enough to invite a touch. He had aged since that first time they met; no surprise there, he was barely twenty back then. His face was fuller, shoulders broader, arms thicker. His hair was still the same medium brown and his dark eyes still seemed perpetually amused.

And none of that had anything to do with why he had come to Washington.

She looked down and picked at the onion rings on the plate between them. His family was in Oregon, she thought. On a hippie commune? She tried to remember what he had written about them. They disapproved of his decision to join the Marine Corps. He disapproved of his father's draft evasion during Vietnam.

If they were still estranged, that might explain why he had not gone home.

Or maybe... Casey allowed herself the thought. Was it her? Could it be her? Hope fluttered in her chest.

Commercials replaced the sports reel and Shane settled in his chair, facing her. He plucked an onion ring from the plate and met her eyes.

"How have you been?"

She smiled. "Not much has changed since the last email."

"Did you arrest anyone this week?" He munched on the appetizer.

Casey laughed. "Yes. Two hookers and a john."

"It was one arrest, wasn't it?"

She shrugged and sipped her water.

Shane chuckled. "At least it keeps the job interesting," he said. He eyed her over the neck of his amber beer bottle. "How close are you to making State Patrol?"

"A few years still." She tore a piece from an onion ring and popped it into her mouth. "How is it being out?"

Sadness passed briefly over his face: his eyes darkened, his mouth pulled down. The expression disappeared quickly, replaced by a quirk of his lips and a light in his eyes. "Weird. Dealing with all of the paperwork, not having work to keep me distracted, having my things packed up and shipped, applying for the new job... It was rough. But I start work on Monday night, so it's all right now."

"Where are you working?" In his last letter, he had mentioned applying to the fire department in the city.

"The Fawcett Avenue station."

Casey nodded. "That'll be nice. I'm sure they're thrilled to have you."

"I'm looking forward to meeting the chief." He leaned back in his seat.

Silence fell between them. Casey stared down into her drink, trying to come up with a tactful way to ask the question she most wanted answered. She listened to the din of the restaurant and felt his eyes on her and wished that she was better at... this. It was easy when it was just letters. When he could not see her eyes and did not set her heart pounding or make heat pool in her belly with just a look. She closed her eyes briefly. She needed to know.

Casey looked up. "What--"

"So--" Shane said at the same time.

They laughed together.

"What?" Shane gave her an expectant look.

Casey brushed the crumbs from her fingers. She held her breath as she said, "I was going to ask what brought you to Tacoma."

Shane turned the beer bottle between his palms and seemed to consider his words. "It seemed like the best option. Growing city, job and education opportunities, reasonable cost of living..." He looked her in the eye. "You."

Electricity shot down her spine. She spread her hands on her knees to still herself. She had her answer, then.

Shane went on, "I moved around enough in the Corps. I wanted a place to settle down."

Casey nodded thoughtfully and finally began to breathe again. She held her knees under the table, willing her hands to stop trembling. "What was it you were going to say?"

"I have a favor to ask." He curved his lips and his eyes sparkled.

That expression drew her in. "What is it?"

"My stuff won't be here for a week. My apartment is totally empty and you wrote such nice things about your guest room." He raised his eyebrows. "Mind if I stay with you until my things get here?"

Casey leaned back in her seat, moving her hands to grip the edges of her chair. She had not expected that request. "Is that why you offered to pay for dinner?"

"Maybe." Shane's smile faltered and fear flashed in his eyes.

Well, she was scared, too. She had never hosted a man in her home. She had never hosted anyone. Casey breathed out. Resisting him would be impossible under those circumstances. She might make a fool of herself. But he was a friend first and foremost. It was not like she could turn him away.

She nodded and said, "You can stay with me." She looked at him curiously. "Will you be able to get to work all right?"

"As long as my car holds out, it'll be fine." Relief showed in the slight slump of his shoulders and in the grateful way he sucked down a gulp of beer.

Another silence fell between them. Calmer, Casey raised her hands to the table again. She trailed a fingertip down the outside of her glass, through the condensation, and sighed quietly. Shane was her friend. If she was sitting alone at her old desk, what would she write?

"Was it difficult to get hired on with the fire department?"

Shane shook his head. "No. I think the chief is a former Marine, too."

"My chief is."

"You're just surrounded by us."

"Coincidence, not design." She fingered the straw in her drink and glanced at him. "You mentioned school the last time you wrote. Have you thought about that any more?"

"I think so. There's a decent community college here in county, so I thought I'd start there with the basics. I did some correspondence courses when I was deployed. Those credits should transfer over."

"What do you think you'll study?"

"English." He got a faraway look in his dark eyes. "I already have other marketable skills, so there's no harm in studying something I love. Classes won't start for a few months, though." He grinned suddenly at her. "If you have any suggestions for ways to fill up my free time..."

Her stomach flip-flopped. She could think of a number of ways to fill his free time and hers. A heartbeat later, real inspiration hit. "Actually... If you're free tomorrow night, I teach a self-defense class. I could use an experienced demonstration partner."

Shane smiled easily. "You think I'm experienced?"

The way he said it made her blush. She looked down.

He chuckled. "It sounds good to me." His hand skated across the tabletop to rest over hers. "Thanks."

Casey stared at their hands. Warmth spread from where he touched her and up her arm, into her chest. She raised her eyes. He was smiling at her.

No. There would be no resisting him at all.


"The facilities are much nicer than what we had in Rwanda." Casey pushed open the guest suite bathroom door and stepped back to let him pass her. Mentioning their meeting place made her think of that day, so long ago, when he had burst into that hot little shack and helped her save three lives. He had seemed invincible then and she had been grateful. Her comfortable home was a far cry from the makeshift camp the Marines had shared with the Peace Corps volunteers but she had not forgotten the week they had spent there.

Shane whistled. The sound echoed in the small, clean room. "Wow. Why can't I just pay you rent and live here?" His eyes moved over the pristine porcelain fixtures and the antique textured wallpaper.

Casey tucked her hands into her back pockets and shrugged. Her home was her sanctuary. She had never expected to share it with anyone, so she kept it exactly as she wanted it. As she showed Shane through the house, she had been self-conscious of the feminine decor and, in the TV room, of the mismatched furniture. Shane didn't seem to mind any of it.

With a smile on his face, he stepped back into the bedroom.

She smiled back at him and shook her head. "I'm impossible to live with. I'm a neat freak."

"I bet I could change that."

"Ah, Shane. You should never go into a relationship expecting to change the other person."

He raised an eyebrow at her.

Casey turned away to hide the blush creeping up her neck. Had she really just said that? She started across the room. His smile, his patience, his appreciation--it was more than she could take. She needed to escape.

Shane put his hand out and wrapped his fingers gently around her wrist.

Casey froze.

He turned her around and tugged her into a hug. "Thanks a lot, Case."

After a moment's hesitation, she slid her arms around him and closed her eyes. "I'm glad I can help."

"I knew I could count on you."

She pulled away, smoothed her hair back, and rubbed at her arms. Goosebumps prickled her flesh. She avoided his eyes and started once more for the bedroom door. "I have to be up by seven, but I'll try to keep it down."

"Don't worry about it. I'll probably be up by then, anyway."

Casey paused near the doorway and looked back.

Was it the dim light of the room or was she seeing things? His brown irises seemed to be thin rings around his wide pupils. The smile he gave her was soft. Almost wistful.

"Good night."

Her fingers flexed on the doorjamb. "Good night, Shane."

Casey shut the bedroom door behind her. She moved swiftly past the stairs, all but fleeing to her own room. She leaned against her door once she was safely alone, tipped her head back, and closed her eyes.

He was in her home. Looking at her like that. Like he wanted something from her. In her mind's eye, she saw his face, saw his softened his expression, saw something she thought might be wanting. She exhaled slowly.

Maybe it was. Maybe he wanted just as much as she did.

Casey pushed herself away from the bedroom door and started for her own bathroom. It was Friday night. That meant a long, hot soak in the bath, a good book, and unwinding from the workweek.

Just because Shane was here did not mean that her entire world would be turned upside down.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

On Writing: Characterization

The last few books I've read (with the notable except of The Iron Admiral: Deception) have had so-so characterization. To me, poor characterization is the mark of a writer who doesn't care enough about her work to breathe real life into the people telling her stories. Yes, it's difficult to write full, complex, realistic characters. But it's not impossible. All it takes is attention to detail and a willingness to understand.

As a reader, I want to believe the character. I don't have to like her, or agree with her, or support her decisions, but I do have to believe her. As a writer, I strive to create consistent, strong characters. I believe that any character mentioned in any story should be completely developed, whether we see that full development in the story or not. Here are some of my favorite tips for creating characters.

Use a character chart.
This is the one I use. It has been cobbled together over the years from various sources and from my own needs. I rarely use that actual document, but I typed it up to share today. (You're welcome.) Even if you don't use that chart or at least a chart, it's a really good idea to write down the basics about your character and solidify her history in your mind. Those things are important because...

Characters are people.
Or dogs. Or horses. Or robots. Whatever. The point is that they're real. They have personal histories just like real people. They have reasons for doing what they do. They have ways they speak, dress, behave. They have goals, ambitions, fears, desires, dreams, good habits, bad habits, secrets. As the writer, you need to respect them. Your reader doesn't need every single detail of your character's personal history, but in order to effectively develop and write your character, you need those details. In your writing, you'll dole out those details as needed.

Characters are not mouthpieces or puppets.
Characters should not exist solely to convey information in a dialogue and they should not exist solely to give voice to your thoughts and opinions. Characters are not you, the writer. They do not exist only to live out your fantasies or do things you wish you could do or be who you wish you could be. Characters exist to tell a story.

Characters are vital.
And without them, there would be no story to tell. If the characters you're writing don't belong to that story--as in, without them, the story would be just fine; or, without them, you could sub in any characters--then you're doing it wrong. Be sure you're writing the right story with the right characters.

More tips:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On Writing: Resources for the New Writer

With National Novel Writing Month upon us and with the ease of self-publishing, it seems like first-time writers are setting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and telling their stories in astonishing numbers. I, for one, think this is great. But I also think that those first-time writers need resources. All writers need resources. First-time writers need the basics, the books and guides that teach the finer points of the art and help you build your skills starting with a solid foundation. I know I certainly did. I also know that I still look for resources and ways to strengthen my foundation... and I've been writing and sharing for nine years now.

The Fundamentals
The very basics of writing: words, including spelling and definition, and how to string them together coherently and format them for easy reading.

How to Write Fiction
Tips, tricks, guides, and other resources for creative writing.

The Feedback
Feedback is essential for two reasons: 1) it helps a writer improve; 2) it helps a writer develop "thick skin." 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Monday Miscellany: Cover Reveal, Fangirl Business, Half-Assed Book Review

That, dear readers, is the cover for the soon-to-be-completed Better with You, a romance novelette about making good things better. It took a lot of angst to come up with that cover and I'm finally happy with it and proud of it.

I ended up getting rid of what was an important subplot point, so the editing has been going much smoother. I'm still in the paranoid/anxious mindset, so it's still very slow going, but I just keep telling myself that the more meticulous I am, the better the story is. Good stories that are enjoyable for the readers are the goal.

Let's discuss some fannish things, too, shall we? Is anyone else watching this season of Supernatural? I really enjoyed last week's episode. Maybe it was how the story reminded me so much of season two, maybe it was Dean's rant at Sam, maybe it was the use of the word "virile" to describe Dean, maybe it was just everything about the episode... I'm not sure. I just know I really enjoyed it. Dean threatening to punch the waiter if he "affirmate[d]" him again reduced me to giggles. Dean Winchester is totally my TV boyfriend right now.

Greta van der Rol posted a sneak peek at Starheart and you should all go read it and get excited. Jess is going to be fun.

I feel obligated to mention that I read Wicked Games by Jill Myles. Eh. Meh. It was all right, I guess. The heroine was irritating and inconsistent, the hero wasn't much more than a cliche, it got really weirdly homophobic at one point, and the plot was utterly predictable. That said, it was a nice, brainless read that required no effort whatsoever. I don't think it deserves the four-and-a-half star rating it has, even for what it is. More like a three-star. Not bad, not great, not even for being an easy read.

This week, look for posts on making the transition from fanfiction to original work, characterization, and resources for new writers. All of these things are pet issues of mine and I've seen a great deal lately that makes me want to talk about them.

Blog Roundup: October 31 - November 6, 2011

Chuck Wendig's blog remains a go-to resource for the writer with a sense of humor about what she does. He posted another 25 things article, this one about writing advice.

Greta van der Rol hosted Meg Mims for a post on the importance of research. Lack of research can rip your reader right out of the story and leave a sour taste in her mouth, so it's vital.

Imran Siddiq offered this post of tips on writing prose. I also thought this post on "oomph" words was interesting because it shows how important word choice really is.

Bob Mayer offered this wrap up of Storyworld. I thought Disney's weenie was especially useful. All ten of those tips can apply to your "brand" as a writer.

I want to share this post from Erotic Romance because it made me start planning a blog post on the crossover from fanfiction to original fiction.

Into the Morning made this post on book design trends she loves and hates. Look closely. If you're in the market for a cover designer, I think she potentially offered.

Keystrokes and Word Counts has a series of posts on the ABCs of NaNo. Even if you're not doing NaNo, the posts are worth checking out.

Stella Deleuze posted part three of her dialogue attributes series.

The Bookshelf Muse hosted a guest post from Janice Hardy on marketing your novel.

Written Words posted about not carving your outline into stone. I think the core of the post is important to every writer: be flexible.

Your Cover Uncovered reviewed the Tulagi Hotel by Heikki Hetala.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

SitRep Saturday: Title Changes, Pen Names

It looks like Better Together is getting a title change to Better With You.

I am having the damnedest time with everything about this story. I only managed to edit the first chapter, which is much slower than normal for me. I can't find the right cover image and the covers I'm working on just don't seem right. It's very frustrating. I know that a big part of why this isn't going as well as I'd hoped is because the next two projects I have lined up are much more "me." That isn't to say that there's not part of me in this story; there most definitely is. But this story is more a reaction to things happening around me and the next two projects are much more personal.

Which is why I'm looking at a third pen name. The next two projects are not in the same genre and wouldn't attract the same audience or type of audience as my previous two and current one, or even as my novel-in-waiting. I think I have the first name, but the surname is eluding me.

And that is this week's progress update. A whole lot of nothing. These weeks happen.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Book Review: The Iron Admiral: Deception by Greta van der Rol

cover image copyright Greta van der Rol
Listen carefully. Hear that? That's the sound of my professionalism flying straight out of the window. Why? Because my fangirl hat is very firmly on my head and we're going to talk about Greta van der Rol's The Iron Admiral: Deception.

First of all, you should know that this is the sequel to The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy. If you haven't read that one yet, read it first, because while just enough of the first part is explained in this one to get you through it, you need to read both to appreciate the full awesomeness that is the story of Allysha Marten and Chaka Saahren. I reviewed the first one here.

Second of all, the book has been out for a month and I only finished it in the last week because it was so good I just didn't want it to end. I did not want to click the last page and be all ~angsty~ that it was over and I had to read something else. I didn't want to read something else.

Let's discuss Allysha Marten, our heroine. A lot of sci-fi heroines--hell, a lot of romance heroines--tend to fall into the Mary Sue category. Allysha has a slightly unusual backstory, is astonishingly talented, attracts some seriously eligible bachelors, ends up in the middle of a galactic plot, and still is probably--Sorry, Chaka!--my favorite character. I love her. She is nowhere even close to a Mary Sue. Allysha has a very realistic, nearly fatal flaw: she's hopeful. I absolutely love that she just doesn't believe people are as horrible as they prove themselves to be time and time again. She trusts, and she loves, and she gives people the benefit of the doubt, but she isn't stupid about it. When she makes mistakes, she owns up to them and she fixes them. She is a complete, full, three-dimensional character and if we had gone through the whole story without even a hint of romance, I still would have read and loved these books because she is just. that. awesome.

Then we have Chaka Saahren, the Iron Admiral himself. In these modern times of feminized men and soft, yielding heroes, his unwavering, unflinching, unapologetic manliness is swoon-worthy. He is every micromillimeter a military officer. He's authoritative. He's cunning. He's respected and respectful. He knows exactly what he wants and he acts to acquire that which he desires. Chaka isn't without his softer side, which makes him the sort of man a woman can fall in love with, but his softer side is something he shows only when the timing is appropriate. In Deception, we learn more about him as Chaka, not as Brad Stone or as the Iron Admiral, and, like Allysha, he is a complete, full, three-dimensional character. He has his flaws, and one of them is so dangerous it's terrifying. Like Allysha, if we had gone through the whole story without even a hint of romance, I still would have read and loved these books because Chaka is exactly the kind of lead man I love in my sci-fi.

But we don't go through the whole story with one or the other. We, lucky readers, get them both.

Deception picks up shortly after where Conspiracy leaves off. We're thrown immediately into the story, into the conflict between Allysha and Chaka and into the mess Sean has made. The whole book is one breathless riot of action, scene after scene, with lulls only when it is necessary. (As in, when Ms. van der Rol takes pity on us and allows us to breathe.) There were times when I actually had to sop reading because I was too tense to keep going.

Readers who are easily triggered by discussion of rape, or readers disturbed by it, should be warned.

Chaka's backstory is heartbreaking and explains a lot about why he is as hard and authoritative as he is. It also explains the dangerous-and-terrifying aspect of his personality that is part of what keeps Allysha away and, I'll be honest, scared me, too. Grand Admiral Saahren is not a man to mess with. His single-minded determination to be married to Allysha is overwhelming. He loves her. That's clear in every interaction he has with her and in every conversation he has about her. Toward the end of the book, though, he proves that he is a man of duty and a believer in "what's best for the most," which I actually thought made him an even better character. It would have been too easy for the author to let Chaka slip into the "my wants and my woman before all else" mindset, but he didn't. It was perfect.

Allysha is still recovering from the hurt her husband caused and from the lies Chaka told her. She works through that as the story progresses and she does it in a completely reasonably, real way... but there were still times I wanted to shout at her to just admit to herself that she loved him already.

Things look especially dire near the end, but each conflict--the Chaka/Allysha romance, the politics, and the mess with Sean--is resolved absolutely beautifully. Each conflict is resolved in ways that could easily happen in the real world.

Basically, this whole story is handled masterfully. Common science fiction pitfalls--plot holes, unrealistic conflicts/resolutions, incomprehensible technology, one-dimensional alien species, one-dimensional support characters--are completely avoided. In fact, I would love to see an entire series of books based in this universe. I'd love to read about Butcher. (Okay, I confess that I've developed a bit of a crush on Butcher.) Or Admiral Leonov. Or Chief Werensa. I'd love to read about Xanthor. That, to me, is the mark of excellent science fiction. I care about the "minor" characters. I care about the world they inhabited. I care about the ships, the technology, the planets, the politics, the history, the culture, the customs.

Best of all, the end of the story is so perfect.

Buy this book. You can get it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and OmniLit. If you like science fiction, if you like good stories, if you like your heroines just as strong as your heroes, read this book. You won't be sorry.

Then come back here and be a fanperson with me.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

On Writing: The Process

In order to give myself a break from editing Better Together, I thought that I would share my writing process. I thought that I would share why I think writing is hard.

Spoiler alert: It is long!

Step 1: Have brilliant idea for a story.
Maybe it starts with a character, maybe it starts with a scene, maybe it starts with a line of dialogue, maybe it starts with a point to make. However it starts, it always seems like the best idea for any story ever.

Step 2: Pre-write.
I'm a plotter, so I do everything. I write the one-line summary, the one-page summary, and the longer-than-one-page summary. I write out the big plot points and the subplot points and diagram the conflict. I summarize character backstory and the story's backstory. I research names and places and any details I may need to know. (For Cass, I looked up the old Route 66 and used Google maps to plot her route. For Cowboy, I researched cattle ranching in northern Colorado.) Everything gets written down and I refer back to it frequently.

Step 3: Write the action draft.
An action draft is the first draft of the story. If the outline is the skeleton, the action draft is the skeleton with muscle attached. Action, emotion, and dialogue are written out, usually in incomplete sentences. Well, the dialogue is usually complete. An action draft is usually written in present tense with an omniscient viewpoint, whereas the final result will be past tense third-person subjective.

Step 4: Write story.
Once the first draft is done, I write the second draft. I write full sentences, change the tense, stop head-hopping, that sort of thing.

Step 5: Rewrite.
Then I fix it. Usually whole sections need to be re-written. Dialogue is altered. Sometimes the point of view changes. By the time I'm done with this step, it's okay, but not ready. Not even close.

Step 6: Editing, round one.
This is usually when I get rid of the passive voice, delete the -ly words, and abandon commas, em-dashes, and semi-colons. (While swearing to stop my abuse of the English language immediately.)

Step 7: Editing, round two.
During this round of editing, I tend to focus on word choices, characterization, tone, voice, and dialogue. I start looking at sentence structures, overall rhythm, and sentence/paragraph length.

Step 8: Hate it.
Hating my work is a vital part of any project. By the end of the second round of edits, I hate every single word on every single page. I hate the characters. I hate the situation. I hate everything about it and I wonder what kind of crack I was smoking when I thought it would be such a good idea.

Step 9: Whine about hating it to anyone who will listen.
I am fortunate enough to have three good friends who are also writers. They understand the process. I think I amuse them when it comes time to whine. I also tend to whine about the writing to my parents. My dad is a photographer so he understands art and my mother just thinks I'm crazy.

Step 10: Editing, round three.
Each word, each sentence, each paragraph, each scene... This is the details round. Is that the right word? Are these sentences too much alike? Can his hand be here? What kind of hat is that?

Step 11: Read it.
I usually wait a few hours or a day between the last step and this one. I try to read it with fresh eyes. I try to read it as a reader and not as the hate-filled god of the world I've created.

Step 12: Give it to beta-readers and editor(s).
While it's off being hacked to small pieces by others, I ignore it. Pretend it doesn't exist. Don't open the file. And I stress and angst and panic about it the whole time. I also usually read it a few more times and make more changes before they send back their notes. Yes, I do mean plural. I send each story off to at least two people and usually four or five, depending on what it's about.

Step 13: Editing, round four.
This round of editing is mercifully short. I go through each beta's/editor's notes and make changes as I see fit.

Step 14: Read it again.
But I still have to read it through one more time as a reader. At this point, I'm usually drunk, so my hate is mellowed by whiskey/champagne/red wine.

Step 15: Angst about it.
Is it good enough? Does it say what I want it to say? Is this the best story I can tell? Is this my story or could it belong to anyone? Why did I write this? Why is it special? Why do I think anyone will want to read this?

Step 15: Publish it.
I shove it out into the world. I'm done. It's ready. It is good enough. It does say what I want it to say. It is the best story I can tell.

Step 16: Have another brilliant idea for another story.

Book Review: Father Figure by Jasmine Dayne

cover copyright Jasmine Dayne
Today's review: Father Figure by Jasmine Dayne, a short story featuring hardcore sex between an older man and a younger woman.

Once again, I was drawn in by the summary. Once again, I decided not to read the sample Amazon provided. Once again, I regret it.

Shortly after high school graduation, eighteen-year-old Kat returns to the home of her childhood best friend after four years away. Her best friend isn't there, but her friend's father is.

Father Figure wasn't as bad as Camping with Daddy. It's not even the worst thing I've read. The premise of the story is good and some of the details (like the fact that Kat once caught Steve masturbating) could have been really great if the story had been handled with more skill and care. My eyes skated over most of the errors (dropped letters at the ends of words, missing words) with no issue. It was well-formatted and the length was nice for a quick read.

I still had several problems with it.

First of all, Kat's relationship with Steve confused me. Early in the story, she told us that she didn't think of Steve as her "dad or anything." Okay, so why is this story called Father Figure? If it's simply older man/younger woman sex without the daddy kink, why give it that title? Is it because Steve happens to be a father? I don't understand. If Kat thinks of him "like a good buddy" then why was her first sexual fantasy about him? The back-and-forth irritated me. I don't think it's too much to ask for consistency, even in a story that is around 5,000 words long.

Characterization was the second set of problems. Kat was clearly an immature person. She bounced from innocent (being a virgin with little experience at all with boys/men, never having had alcohol) to not-so-innocent (masturbating thinking about Steve's dick, showing off her body to him, intruding on him in his bedroom, initiating sex with him). I wish the author had picked one or the other. Steve wasn't any better. At times he behaved in an appropriate fatherly fashion (comforting Kat when she vented about her mother), at times it was inappropriate (serving her beer, treating her like a child when it was "bedtime"). His transition from reluctant sex partner to demanding sex partner would have been much more satisfying and believable if there had been any consistency before that point.

The dialogue regularly made me cringe. It only accentuated the utter lack of characterization. Neither Kat nor Steve spoke in a believable way, with the exception of one line uttered by Steve shortly before the sex.

As for the sex itself, it wasn't that bad. If the rest of the story had been well-written, it would have been hot. I had a personal issue with Kat being a "virgin squirter," but I could have believed it had the context been better.

This story was heavy on the telling and the passive voice, light on the showing and the active voice. I didn't like Kat at all. I could have liked her, and I could have liked Steve, but the story wasn't written well enough.