02/22/18

3am

The best part of writing at three in the morning is the soft hooting of the owl outside and the way my characters are loud in the quiet. The worst part is hearing the five am train go by as I finish fourteen hundred words and realizing I need to be at my day job in three hours.

Today will be a day for tea.

02/1/18

New Chaotic Update Schedule

You may have noticed that my blog took a temporary hiatus with no notice for the last few weeks. It’s become something of an internet tradition for bloggers to put a post bemoaning their lack of posting and promising to do better, only to fail at regularly updating their content again. I’m not going to do that.

Instead I want to talk about balance, specifically the balance between my writing life and my day-to-day life. Less than 3% of writers can support themselves based on their writing income alone. Very, very few of us don’t have day job. In most cases, where it seems like a writer is totally self-supporting, they’re actually working an ‘invisible’ day job, like being a stay-at-home spouse, or they’ve retired from their day job. Still others are supported by someone, a partner who brings home a steady income and provides health insurance.

For the rest of writers like me, there’s a nine-to-five daily grind kind of job. I’m lucky because my is fulfilling (most days), generously salaried, and provides very good health insurance. It’s very far from perfect. I’m obligated to never mention it in relation to my writing, a fact reiterated in the ten page social media policy and ethics statements I re-sign every year and again with every contracted book. Then there’s the busy, stressful times…

Every job has them, and mine has been in the middle of the busiest point in the last five years. Things started to get bad last August, as I was in the final edits for Blood, Dirt, and Lies. The busy-ness ramped up around the holidays, hitting peak crazy in January with 12 hour days. It’s hard to summon the energy to keep up with both the work of writing (promoting, editing, querying, networking) and the creative side (actually building worlds with words).

And so my blog suffered. But after talking with other writers and industry professionals, I’ve found that the schedule I strived for (two to three regular updates a month, on at last the 1st and the 15th) is perhaps not as important. For 2018, I’m going to be trying something new – shorter blog posts, more photos to show you what I’m doing, and (most importantly) chaotic updating.

I wish I could give you every word as I write it, but books need to age, be edited, and polished. I’ve written 17K words on an exciting new project this week. I have 20K words on the next Mallory novel and 14K on the next mermaid book. They won’t be ready for me to share with you for a while, maybe even a year or two. But snapshots of my life and a few sentences here and there can go up on the blog without much trouble. Hopefully, you’ll find them just as good, maybe even better, then my usual posts.

 

 

01/15/18

Research at Cafe Du Monde

Some days the best part of writing is the research:

The next Mallory book is going to take place in and around New Orleans. I was lucky enough to spend some time in the French Quarter soaking the essence of the city…and sipping hot chocolate while eating beignets from Cafe Du Monde. Walking around New Orleans I can’t help but wonder about the person I might have been if I had followed through on my carefully detailed plans to run away to the city the day after high school graduation. Would I have written the same books?

01/1/18

Five Star Review for Blood, Dirt, and Lies :)

Blood, Dirt, and Lies was available to book reviewers and libraries on NetGalley for two weeks after it was released. In such a short time, and over the holidays, I didn’t expect a lot of notice. I’m delighted to share that it earned a five star review:

Blood, Dirt, and Lies has ended its time on NetGalley, but the you can still read the full review.  My favorite part is “The novel itself was fast paced with a fresh/different plot than the norm. The protagonist, Mallory Mors, was incredibly well-written, and even though her character was flawed, it made her all the more likeable and able to empathize with.” I’m grateful to reader Kel M for her kind words.

I’m getting over my usual December funk (so much easier to deal with now that I recognize it each year). Moving into January my goal is to write 20k words on the next Mallory book.  There’s no working title yet, but I’m already 20k words in. If I meet my goal I’ll be at the half-way point, and past the dreaded start-of-the-middle stall. Wish me luck!

12/5/17

Who I write for

I want to tell you about Jen. She runs triathlons, and has a couple of kids. I know their names and the races she’s going for. It turned out we like the same kind of books, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, vampire smut, that sort of thing.

I’ve never met Jen.

We follow each other online, and she reads my books. She loves them. She says nice things about them on Goodreads and, most importantly, to me. She’s the first reader who got a copy of Blood, Dirt, and Lies, and she sent me a message filled with love for the characters after she finished.

Someone else I’ve never met but follow online is a book reviewer. They hated my book. They wrote a scathing review about subtext I never meant and don’t think is there. (I promise you, when I say someone is a werewolf, that’s what I mean, an actual werewolf. Werewolf is not a stand in for any race, gender, sexual orientation, or creed.) I read their review.

Every author will tell you never, ever read reviews. It depresses you. You can’t argue back. You can’t convince them that, honest, the werewolf was just a werewolf. Nope. The review is their opinion and arguing is a waste of breath.

Reading the review threatened to start me in a downward spiral. If my work was that bad, why was I investing so much of my life in writing? I’ll be brutally honest here, it takes me more than a year to get a book drafted, edited, polished, submitted, edited again, and (finally) published. For that effort I can make as little as eight cents per copy sold (sometimes that number goes up as high as a dollar). I’m not in this for the money, but for the joy it brings when someone loves my characters. If people hate them, why not spend that time doing something less horrible?

And I stumbled. I fell. I dropped into that place where writing doesn’t seem worth it. But I remembered Jen, who liked my book just as much as the anonymous person hated it. (Although Jen’s message to me used fewer curse words.)

I’ll now be writing for Jen. I hope everyone else reads my books, and likes them. But if I focus on everyone else and on all those potential negative reviews, I’ll never get any words written. So if you like a sex scene now and then, along with a good mystery about strong, supernaturally powered people who happen to be diverse and three-dimensional, feel free to join Jen and me. For all those folks that don’t, reviewers or not, it’s okay not to like me. I’m not writing for you.

11/10/17

Blood, Dirt, and Lies, Death Witch Book 3

I’m emerging from my editing cave, delighted to announce I have a release date for the third book in the Death Witch Series. Blood, Dirt, and Lies will be available on December 18th. While I don’t have a link yet, I do have some amazing cover art:

This book takes Mallory’s story in a bit of a new direction. She’s more experienced at her job, but also handling a difficult case. I wanted to show her working hard on ­­­a case that wouldn’t crack. She’s forced to take over more often as her more experienced partner gets stuck dealing with issues related to his supernatural heritage.

I’ve hinted about what Danny is and how it shapes his character in the past. In this book you’ll learn more about him, meet his sister (a formidable woman), and find out about his less than morally upright childhood. The contrast between how he was raised to think the rules didn’t apply to him, but is now the guy enforcing those rules, was one of my favorite parts of his personality. He’s deliberately made a break with his family, rejecting their values. This book gives readers a chance to see why.

There’s also some surprising insights into Mallory’s life as she contemplates moving her relationship with Jakob forward. There are some things the two lovers don’t discuss, secrets they both keep. Over the course of the story, a few of those come out. As much as I enjoyed making Mallory share those painful, sticky secrets about her magic, delicately drawing a picture of her tendency to run when things get tough was a bigger triumph. The Death Witch series starts off with Mallory escaping from her life, and in this book I got to write her thinking it might be time to run away again. (Don’t worry, Jakob won’t let that happen.)

Jakob’s subplot reveals a pair of new vampires – best friends he hasn’t mentioned. A married couple, the sexy, slightly crazy wife, Rowan is a great character to play with. She has a very small role in this story, but it nicely illustrates the divide between how the vampire community behaves and how Jakob strives to live his life.

And, of course, there’s the crime. A confusing, layered, event that starts with a simple murder, but spirals into a larger, darker conspiracy. The victim’s ghost begs for help, but as the investigation goes on her character comes into question. This is the first case for Mallory where she doesn’t really like the person she’s helping, the first case where the victim is (arguably) less redeemable than the culprit.

When I started writing this book, I wanted to move everyone forward in predictable ways – there’s a romance, an unexpected baby, family drama, tension over aggravating relationships, but as the story developed it focused on the difference between how people want to live and the lives they really lead. An unexpected theme of how we respond to the choices we face, either doing what we must, what’s best, or what we want, came out. I’m excited to see how my readers react to that, and delighted to see the story in its final form.

10/20/17

Halloween traditions

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen pictures of my many Halloween/Samhain meals. If you’ve bumped into me in the real world, my enthusiasm for the most sacred Pagan holiday is impossible to miss. I start counting down at the beginning of summer, and the decorations come out after Labor Day. Samhain, the holiday I celebrate, is close enough to secular Halloween practices that I don’t get many chances to talk about my traditions. This year, though, I’ve had a few questions so I’m writing this blog not to say what every Pagan or Wiccan does, but what I do and why.

A seat at the table
Samhain, the last of the Pagan harvest feasts, closes out the year and marks the time when the souls of the dead are able to return to earth. We welcome them into our home by setting a place for them at the table. They get the same china, silverware, and glasses as the rest of us. It’s symbolic; a powerful reminder that the dead are still with us. And while I don’t go so far as to fill their plate, I do make sure my menu would appeal.

Samhain feasts and Halloween meals
If someone you loved was able to come back to your house for one meal, you’d make their favorite foods. And years ago, that’s what I did, making a single, giant Samhain feast filled with the favorite foods from everyone I loved who had died. As I’ve aged, the number of people I’ve lost has grown, and I want to take time to savor the memories and the favorite foods from each one of them. Now I make a special meal each weekend. When I can, I use the recipes from the people I’ve lost. I remember the times we cooked together, or enjoyed a good meal filled with laughter and smiles.

My best friend from college died after going through treatment for breast cancer in 2010. I’ll never forget the elaborate brunches we had together, or the fun breakfasts before class at P.K’s coffee shop. So for her I made waffles with blueberry topping.

My mother-in-law was a famous baker in her day, so much so that her chocolate cake recipe was included in the church cookbook in 1965. I thought about her as I made it. The year the recipe was published she would have been married with babies to raise. She had more responsibility and insanity in her life than I do at the same age, and yet she took the time to sift cocoa into flour for the people she loved. Her recipe still tastes amazing.

Carving jack-o’-lanterns
There are about as many variations on the tale of Jack and his lantern as there are people who tell it. I was raised with the very romantic version:

After a bad deal with the Devil, Jack was taken to hell but the trickster managed to finagle a day pass to see the woman he loved every Samhain. Determined to ensure Jack wouldn’t enjoy his time with her, the Devil insisted Jack carry burning embers in his hands to light his way to the land of the living. If Jack didn’t bring the embers back, there would be no escape the next year. Jack cleverly tossed the embers into a hollowed out turnip. When he arrived at his love’s house he set them at the front door so he could have his unburned hands free for more romantic uses.

Jack’s story, with its brains over brutality moral and a hero who returns to the land of the living for a night, is commemorated by at least a half dozen jack-o’-lanterns by my front door, in my kitchen, and around my house.

While I have at least a dozen more traditions, like visiting graveyards and giving out candy, I never miss these three big ones. As a kid, Halloween seems creepy-cool, a magical time when anything can happen. Samhain with its focus on the dead and how they influence our lives seemed a bit stuffy. But as an adult, the memories of people who have died bring me joy. When I cook for them, using their recipes, I feel like I’m sharing a meal with them again. I love the way this time of year lets me honor their memories, share their stories, and keep them present in my life.

10/10/17

Keep Moving Forward

I write my blog posts months in advance, setting the posts to go live automatically. I don’t always know what I’m going to talk about, except for certain posts I always do – my year in reading review in January, my emotional breakdown every December (I’m just gonna own that), and Pagan New Year’s goals for the next year. Instead, blogging in advance is a way of trying to predict the future. Publishing is a slow moving industry so I can guess at what will happen and usually get it right.

Today’s blog is the opposite of that.

I planned it out last June. At the time I was excited about a new project. A shiny new story idea woke me at 3am in early June. At the same time, I submitted the same topic to a very popular blog written by a woman I admired.  The story idea took off, like wild fire. I wrote 60K words in about four weeks. My submission to the blog made it past 342 other applications to the final round of 10 possible candidates. I sketched out the next two book ideas in the series. My submission was selected for the blog!

With all of that positive energy I found myself moving forward with plans, and making changes to things that were already in place. If that crazy 3am idea took hold, if I was blogging on that topic, then I needed to change my brand. I put logo plans on hold. I networked with new people. I wrote a much different version of this blog post, and scheduled it for October 1. It announced all my triumphs and showed off my shiny new position. I dreamed.

Right around when my first blog post for the new venture when live, I started to wake up. Blog posts are tricky things. There was backlash about this one (nope, not linking to it), and a need for last minute edits that should have happened sooner. I received some tough messages on social media. I spent a fairly miserable night. Friends told me I’d pretty much ruined my life, and my name was mud on the internet. Others sent comfort. I told myself “you’re nobody until somebody on the internet hates you.”

Life is like that. You adjust expectations and you keep moving forward.

Except forward didn’t happen.

My emails didn’t get replies. Other blog submissions languished unanswered in cyberspace. At 60k words that book idea dried up like the desert in August. My October 1st blog, written when I had stars in my eyes back in June, was horribly inaccurate. I pulled it from the schedule while I pondered what to say. I’d hinted about my success on twitter, too excited not to say something. Now that success was gone.

As Mental Health Awareness day started to pop up in my life, I realized sharing the story of a professional failure wasn’t such a bad idea. I tried something new. It was outside my comfort zone but filled me with joy for a few weeks. Then the project ground to halt. I’d failed, yes, but in a graceful way. I met my obligations. I treated everyone involved with respect. And, hey, I’ve got an almost finished 60k word manuscript out of it. That’s nothing to be sorry about.

Failure is inevitable. Writers need to eat rejection for breakfast and start over again at lunch.

I’ve spent some time moping. I’m not going to deny that. But now it’s time to move forward again. And if this path doesn’t work, I’ll find another one. It’s not how fast I go that matters, but that I keep moving on. There are too many stories to tell to waste time on the things that fail.

09/15/17

Happily Ever After

An online reading group I frequent recently blew up over a book that ended with a (dreaded) cliffhanger. As much as authors seems to love them, readers I talk to hate the idea of not knowing how the story ends. I admit, ambiguity makes me nervous. My own real life is filled with it right now. Politics shifting my day job in slippery ways, questions about family members, hurricanes, and the possibility of a move means I’ve got a lot of cliffhangers going on.

It’s exhausting, and there’s nothing better for me than to escape into a book. I’m reading recommendations from friends, but only after pestering them to death about the ending. I hate reading books that don’t have a happy ending. I don’t need every page to be sweetness and light, and I certainly don’t want a story with some tension and hurt, but in the end, everything needs to be all right.

If I was reading to learn something or reading about a historic period, I could understand a downer ending. That’s real life. But I read for pleasure. When I’m not editing or on a writing jag, I finish three novels a week. If I wasn’t careful, I could pack a lot of depressing stories into my head, which is exactly what I don’t want.

I promise my books will always feature an upbeat ending. People won’t be perfectly healed millionaires without a care in the world, but they will be hopeful, happy, and ready to take on what’s next. Before you chastise me for being unrealistic, I’d like to point out that my world contains vampires, witches, and ghosts. If you can handle that much fantasy, the idea of a happy ending shouldn’t be impossible.

Of course, a happy ending doesn’t mean there were never any problems along the way. I’m in the midst of copy edits for the next Mallory book and I can assure you all of the characters face challenges. Relationships have ups and downs; a couple even break up entirely. There are bad days at work, and fights at home. But in the end things are all right, or maybe they’re going to be all right despite everything.

Without realizing it, I ended this book with a party, just like Fire in Her Blood ended with a party. My YA book, The Mermaid and the Murders, also ended with a party. While the party came a few chapters from the end of Under a Blood Moon…yep, it’s a pattern. I’m not sure if I’ll worry about correcting it though – the good times in life should be celebrated. Small celebrations for hitting some goal, big celebrations for big events, and quiet celebrations that no one else knows about remind us that good things happen. They help us mark the good times and give us joyful memories to sweeten the hard times.

Because there are hard times – ugly times when we can’t face another day and we don’t know what’s going to come next. And you’ll find those in my books, but not, I promise, at the end.

09/1/17

What we say, what we don’t say

When I edit, I have to block out the world around me, ignoring the news, fun events, and generally forcing myself to focus on word choice, grammar, and mechanics. This year, that editing cave saved me from becoming embroiled in a couple of controversial situations. Now that I’ve mailed my copy edits to my editor, I’m reading over scores of emails (literally several hundred of them) and trying to figure out how to respond.

First there’s DragonCon, an event I’ve loved attending over the last thirteen years. The largest fan-run convention in the southeast, folks affectionately call D*C “nerd mardi gras.” This year some 84,000 people came to geek out. Unfortunately, there were a myriad of small-scale assaults, like the guy going around ripping off costumes glued onto delicate body parts, and one serious incident were two chairs were thrown from a tenth-floor balcony into the crowd below, causing two women to go to the emergency room with head wounds.

I enjoyed parts of DragonCon: the Georgia Philharmonic Symphony playing sci-fi and fantasy themes, the random moments of joy when I discovered new music by seeing bands play live in the halls, the atmosphere, the shopping. But I don’t feel safe anymore. A woman in front of me was grabbed by a stranger intent on pulling off her clothes despite her protests. There was no security and nothing to be done about it. That’s not a party I want to support.

But should I say something? Should I wipe my blog free of references to DragonCon from years past when things were reasonable? I’m not naïve enough to believe there was never a problem at any of the previous Cons I attended, but the silence from DragonCon staff seems deafening. Do I say my relationship with them ends as of this year, or do I volunteer and work from the inside to make things better?

Meanwhile the Romance Writers’ of America, a group I recently rejoined, struggled with questions of racism and privilege. The published authors network (PAN) forum included a note from a longtime volunteer who felt outreach efforts were misplaced. It stated that rather than recruiting and working to include marginalized groups, RWA should only focus on writing. Almost immediately, authors big and small stepped in to say that’s not okay.

RWA has a history of being a group for heterosexual, cisgender white women, but that’s changing. Most of the authors who spoke want it to keep changing. Some of them felt passionately enough to copy quotes and comments from the private forum group onto social media, much in the way I’m posting this to my blog. That’s where the problems started. Until the information was shared outside of the group, the conversation focused on the problem. Once it became a public issue, people wanted to talk about privacy and witch-hunts. It was no longer about discrimination or diversity, but about victims and rule breakers.

The two situations are very different, but coming late to the debates thanks to editing, there’s a common question of what do I say? And where do I say it? Does it make a difference if I speak out on the internet or in person? Is saying something on my blog enough or do I need to plaster the same message on all my social media outlets?

One of my favorite philosophers is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He’s the one who said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

I wish I had a better idea of what being silent means for me, in this moment. I won’t deny this year has been hard – disasters, human rights issues, and violence have dominated the news. I see protesters speaking out, spreading hope, and people working hard to find solutions. For me I think the solution is not to name people or harp on controversy. There are plenty of people doing that. Instead I’m going to write the stories I want to see in the world, and hope their visions turn into reality.