11/15/16

Fire in Her Blood Cover Art!

I turned in my final edits on Fire in Her Blood at the beginning of the month and received in return a wonderful email with my cover art. Author wisdom tells you not to release your cover art until you have buy links and a publish date. I usually try to follow that advice, but I’m too in love this time. I mean, come on, just look at the gorgeous cover:

The cover shows a young woman standing in the center of a city. She's surrounded by flames as everything burns.

The perfect cover for my story about arson and fire witches. (Click to enlarge)

Things I love about this book:

  • It’s got a coming out story, where sharing the news is mixed with witchcraft.
  • Thanks to a fun-to-write Samhain party at the end of the book, I got to show the diverse backgrounds of Mallory’s friends and fellow witches. That means Jew-witches and Latinas, but also a chance to mention Poi.
  • The story includes a supernatural brothel filled with sexy mythological creatures, which means I got to show how sex workers live in Mallory’s world. (Hint: better than in our world.)
  • A short subplot contains my favorite friendly ghost, Marcus. The ghost stories Mallory deals with every few days are a joy to write.
  • I got to drop lots of little hints about the next book. (The draft is in the very early stages.)

Here’s the back-cover description:

Death witch and Detective Mallory Mors arrives at the scene of an out-of-control arson called by a victim who desperately wants to die. Using her powers, Mallory battles the strongest fire witch in town to help the woman cross over. When she’s forced to work with the angry fire witch, she discovers their lives are linked in complicated ways. As all the other fire witches in the city mysteriously lose their powers, the heat is on to solve the case. Saddled with a vampire assault at the local supernatural brothel, a missing person who doesn’t want to be found, and a mess of vampire politics, Mallory struggles to put together the pieces before the city burns.

As soon as I have that precious pre-order link I’ll update this page, and also add a general page to my website.

Oh, and my inbox got a bit more good news: The Mermaid and the Murders  ­­was recently named one of  “5 Amazing Underrated Books”.   I’m working on the sequel now, the Siren’s Stalker, and the encouragement of a good review helps. Actually I’m working on the next in the Death Witch series (no name yet), the Siren’s Stalker, and developing the materials to submit a third manuscript. Lots to do, but cover art like this makes it all worth while.

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04/1/16

Editing myself out

Editing a novel involves a lot of back and forth with your editor. While you may burn the midnight oil to ensure that your email is waiting promptly when she gets into work it turns out that valiant lady of letters is working with other authors. Not only is she working with them, but sometimes she puts them before you.

Shocking.

Thankfully, a career as an author requires you to have multiple irons in the fire, or manuscripts on your desk as it might be. While I was waiting for the next round of edits for the Mermaid and the Murders, I was also editing Fire in Her Blood, the sequel to Under a Blood Moon. Flipping back and forth between the two books made me realize that editing is a bit like traveling back in time to talk to the person I used to be.

Manuscripts, like wine, must age before they can become books. Fire in Her Blood was drafted back in 2009. That was the year my beloved mother-in-law ended her twenty-eight year battle breast cancer. The manuscript was in its first revisions a year later when I buried my best girlfriend after a drunk driver took her life. It’s probably not surprising that the first draft was fairly obsessed with religion. Coming in at just over 160K words, in between tracking a serial arsonist my character visits a number of churches, arranges for her vampire boyfriend to attend a Catholic mass, argues with another cop about the difference between conservative and regular Southern Baptist congregations, and debates with her own partner about the Catholic belief in transubstantiation. She also ends up at a pair of pagan churches, one for the Fire Goddess, and one for the Air God.

None of the scenes were bad, but from a distance of seven years it’s clear that my own struggle with faith bleed out on to the page. I removed most of the religious overtones as I edited, taking the manuscript down to a much more reasonable 110K words. Then it went back to my editor, in hopes that she’ll like it enough to champion it for publication.

Meanwhile, she returned The Mermaid and the Murders back to me. Reading her notes I realized when I wrote it the balance of a personal desires over family needs was at the forefront of my mind. Danika, the mermaid of the title, wants to live her own life, away from her pod. It’s a choice her mother doesn’t agree with and they fight constantly. Through the course of the story Danika comes to realize that constantly having the same fight isn’t working. Instead she stands up for herself, weathers the consequences, and when the battle is over, finds peace with her choice. I’m not sure I’ve gotten to that part, but I know I sympathize with the way she feels pulled in both directions.

Early on in my career, I attended a great lecture at the RWA national conference. An award winning author told us all that putting your own emotions on the page gave the story depth and a realism that couldn’t be duplicated any other way. That’s a great idea, but I want to be sure I’m telling my characters’ story and not my own. I’m grateful to my editor for helping me pull back and lend my own experiences without over shadowing the story.

09/15/15

Things We Keep — Under a Blood Moon First to Final

How important is preserving the past? And which version of the past do we keep?

When the paperback copies of Under a Blood Moon arrived I quickly snapped a photo of one on top of the original draft. Under a Blood moon first draft to final copyPrinted in March 2007 that draft only roughly matches the story in the finished novel. I intended to shred it the next day, not out of anger or malice, but because I didn’t need it any more. I mused about leaving the past to the past, and focusing on the future. But then I hesitated.

A story will change with the telling, altered as people apply their own point of view. It changes more when the author writes a sequel or explains things in other works. One of my favorite series began with the heroine being saved from a pair of attackers by the (eventual) hero. In the first book she was alone and desperate. Later in the series we learn another person was watching the shadows. By the end of the series some seven people were there and only the hero moved to help. Critics were quick to point out the inconsistency, but does it really matter?

I’m editing the second Mallory novel now. The third is ‘proofing’ and my mind is chewing on what will happen in the fourth. I’m tempted to re-read every word I’ve written, from beginning to end, before I start on that fourth story. It would give me a more consistent, more ‘correct’ version of the story but I want to write what’s in my mind now rather than trying to recapture what I felt then.

One of my first readers of Under a Blood Moon is a friend who I met at my day job. After reading the book she asked me an interesting question – would it bother me if Mallory was Black? There’s nothing in the text that specifically makes her White, and a reader might imagine her as a Black. I told her it wouldn’t almost instantly, but the more I thought about it the more I realized I want readers to imagine Mallory as Black, Latina, Asian, or whatever she looks like inside their mind. I want them to read my story and make my characters real.

Which is why I finally shredded those first manuscripts. A story isn’t just words on a page, but an evolving idea. I don’t want to look back at what I might have meant but instead move forward toward what my stories can become. I want that more than I want to remember what the story once was. Holding on to the past leaves your hands too full to reach for the good things to come.

09/1/15

DragonCon 2015

Preparations for my first DragonCon as a published author are coming to close this week, and I couldn’t be more excited. One of the largest conventions, DragonCon appeals to my many disparate fandoms. It’s the one time of year where I talk with astronauts, listen to editors and agents, and buy a drink for my on screen heroes. I’m especially excited for this year’s parade, which feature Nichelle Nichols as Grand Marshal. You might remember her as half of the first interracial kiss on television, which occurred during an episode of Star Trek (the original series) where she played Nyota Uhura.

My Con-trouage usually includes my two best friends, but neither of them can make it this year. While I’ll still be surrounded by 60,000 of my closest geek friends it feels odd to know I’ll be walking the Con floor alone. Unfortunately, I was late to the sign up so I won’t be speaking at any panels, but I’ll be attending most of what the Urban Fantasy track offers. If you need a coupon, want a book signed, or need a hug, look for me there.

My volunteer shifts at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America table (Hyatt, Exhibition Level) are set for Friday from 1:00pm-3:00pm and Sunday from 3:00pm-5:00pm. My nifty cover flat coupons (good for 25% off Under a Blood Moon) will be on the table throughout the Con.

On Saturday night I’m looking forward to the Georgia Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance of famous Science Fiction and Fantasy music. It wouldn’t be DragonCon without the Rocky Horror Picture Show and glamorous geek burlesque but it’s nice to have some fine arts entertainment as well.

I’ll be running the Geek Girls Run DragonCon Fun Run 5K event on Friday morning. If you’re interested, please join us! The run isn’t limited to women or girls, and there’s a place for pace. Many of the attendees will be walking or walk/running. Thankfully there isn’t much going on early on Friday, so we’ll have time afterward for an awesome brunch.

Except for some very subtle nods to my favorite fandoms, I’ve decided not to costume this year. I will be spending copious amounts of time in the dealers room and at the art show. I harbor fantasies of finding the perfect cover artists for all my books in the 200 artists who are exhibiting. Of course, I’d also like to find the perfect corset, the perfect dessert, and the perfect spot to watch the parade. It could happen. Actually you never know what could happen at DragonCon, that’s the best part.

08/1/15

Social Media and Authoring

With less than three weeks to go until the release of Under A Blood Moon, I’m exploring the world of authorhood and learning about things I never knew existed. In the last month I’ve added an Amazon Author Page and a Goodreads Author page to my social media outlets. Both are meant to take information from other social media spots. It creates an odd echo effect – if I post about this blog on twitter, it will be copied to Facebook, and to the author pages, where my blog will appear next to the tweet about the blog post without any intervention from me.

The echo keeps resounding, making me feel like all I talk about is my upcoming book. I’m very excited about it, but also frustrated with the idea of what to do next. The sequel to Under a Blood Moon is written, but it came out at 132,000 words. Wild Rose Press, my publisher, prefers books remain under 100,000 words. I’ve had the manuscript (working title, Death Witch: Fire and Flame) beta-read, edited, and copy edited. The word count limit means there’s more to do, but, if I’m honest, I’m not sure where to start.

Really, though, not knowing where to start comes from not wanting to start. It’s shocking to admit but I don’t enjoy editing. I enjoy writing. I’m a ‘pantser’ meaning I write without an outline, plotting by the seat of my pants, making it up as I go along. That’s the part I love. The feeling of figuring out what comes next and scribbling down notes about things that need to change while I shower or drive. I enjoy seeing the story build itself in my head, then watching it spool out in words and lines. I write out of order, exciting and interesting scenes go first, then I force myself to fill in the part in between, hoping my discipline is stronger than my craving for the next exciting plot twist

There are no plot twists in editing. No exciting scenes in ordering promotional material or designing a blog campaign. Writing an artist to request advertisement graphics and searching out places to post those advertisements doesn’t hold the same thrill as hunting down facts or exploring motivations.

So I find myself once again in a place where conventional wisdom about writing and what I want to do are directly in conflict. Conventional wisdom says I should be networking, arranging a blog tour, placing advertisements, running giveaways, and promoting the hell out of my debut novel. Instead, I want to write the next book, and the book after that, and the one after that. I’ve got two or three ideas I need to get back to, along with something new and different itching at the back of my brain.

My author-side wants to write, desperately needs to get lost in a story. The business-side sees the value in all of those things I ought to be doing, and is scared of not doing them. I’m not sure which side I’ll listen to yet.

07/15/15

Mallory arrives in Baton Rouge

Under a Blood Moon is available for pre-order on Amazon.com and the Wild Rose Press website! To celebrate, here’s the scene where Mallory, the detective heroine in Under a Blood Moon, first arrives in Baton Rouge. It’s set several months before the beginning of Blood Moon and won’t be published anywhere else. 

I couldn’t deal with the memory of waking up wrapped in the arms of a zombie that looked like my husband. I got in the car and started to drive. The hum of the engine and my own mental exhaustion lulled me into a sleep-like state, still awake, but not thinking. I woke up at the counter of Sunshine’s Coffee Shop with a cinnamon roll that lapped over the edges of its plate and a cup of café au lait in front of me. I sipped the coffee and ripped pieces off the giant roll wondering how long I would keep driving.

I felt someone brush up against me and looked up to see a tall blond woman. I hadn’t paid attention to the other customers so I didn’t know if the she was coming or going.

“Excuse me,” I mumbled into my coffee cup, reluctant to establish any kind of contact with anyone. I felt something else then, something like a breeze only not across my skin. Can you feel a breeze across your heart? That’s what it felt like, cool wind blowing through my soul. The woman turned to look at me.

“We need to talk.” .

“I’m sorry?” I asked, fiddling with my coffee cup. The phantom wind had died down but I wasn’t anxious to talk with her at all.

“You need to talk to someone, and I’ve got time. Let’s grab the couch.” She gestured to the back of the shop where three old living room sets had been crammed together.

“Uh, no thanks.” I leaned over the counter and called out to the emptiness. “Can I get my check please?”

“I’m Phoebe, and we really should grab the couch.” She touched my arm and the breeze blew through me again. “Driving won’t help, you’ll still be a death witch wherever you end up.”

She was the first person to say it out loud. I jumped back, trying to get away from her, dumping my chair on ground. The barista,a bald man covered in tattoos raised, came over with a frown but Phoebe stopped him. “It’s okay, Max, she’s new and shaky; we’re going to grab the couch.”

He nodded and I realized she was a regular. What kind of a coffee shop was this? Confused, I let her led me to the most hideous couch I had ever seen. Every inch of it shimmered with inky graffiti. Completely coated with signs and symbols, the ugly fabric barely showed. It was comfortable though, sitting there I couldn’t feel the weird psychic breeze she gave off or the panic that had been hiding in my chest since I found out.

“Better?” She asked.

“Yes, much, thanks.” I paused trying to think of a graceful way out of the conversation and the coffee shop.

“That’s good, then it won’t bother you that the couch is charmed.” My eyes got wide; the calm feeling was a spell. Damn, it had been the best I’d felt in a while. “How’d you find out?”

I tried to think of a way to tell her about Greg’s death and his reanimation, about the cemetery, my desperation, and how it all turned into witchcraft.

“Guess it was pretty bad?”

It was, but sitting on that wonderful, ugly yellow couch I didn’t care any more so I only nodded in reply.

“Maybe you should sip your coffee for a little while, and just listen, ok?” She took a deep breath, focused her gaze far away. She pushed her ropy hair behind her ear and started to speak. “When I was young my parents had this friend, he was like a favorite uncle to me. One day we went out for slushies and he put his hand over mine to steady the cup. Suddenly, I saw that he was thinking of me naked. It was like I turned on a tap and couldn’t stop it, the gross images in his head just kept pouring into mine. I started screaming. When no one could get me to stop, they called the cops.”

She stopped, shook herself a little and took a sip of coffee before she started again.

“There was this cop, a black guy with a bushy mustache. He used his handkerchief to dry my tears. The minute he did, I went calm, like you are on that couch. He stopped the pictures from coming into my head.But they didn’t stop forever. I’m a spirit witch. Nothing’s going to make it stop, not for me and not for you.”

“How old were you?” I asked, not sure I wanted to know.

“Nine. How about you?”

“It was last month.”

“I’m incredibly jealous; you got to grow up normal.” She shook her head again, thinking about some schoolyard trauma I’d never had to endure. “So what are you going to do about it?”

“I have no idea. I’ve got enough money to get by for a while, but if I can’t hide this, how can I hold a job? Which isn’t really my biggest problem, I can’t go back to where it happened. Where am I going to live?”

“I was serious before, you should stay here. There’s a good coffee shop and you already have a friend.”

This time I shook my head. “That’s sweet but you’re not a friend. You’re a helpful stranger in a coffee shop.”

“Nope. I’m a friend. You know how I know? Because I’m going to get you a job where you don’t have to hide who you are, and you don’t recommend a stranger for a job.” She took a business card out of her bag. “Here, spend a couple of hours working on the place to live problem, then call this guy.”

I looked down at the card; one side was embossed with the dome of the capital building, and the other read Special Lieutenant French.

06/1/15

Cover Art Reveal!

I’m delighted to reveal the cover art for Under a Blood Moon, coming soon from Wild Rose Press:

Under a Blood Moon cover

And there it is.

When I started writing, I had no idea cover art wasn’t designed by the author. I imagined myself meeting with an artist, making rough sketches on the back of a napkin, and then finally going to a studio with soaring ceilings and paint splotches everywhere. I’d stand before an easel and perfection! My book cover revealed.

Except that it turns out most covers don’t start as paintings. The artists work with digital editing software, not paint brushes. When my book was contracted for publication I was sent to an online form, not a meeting in a café. After dutifully filing in the blanks with a description of my heroine, hero, and the location, I had nothing to do but wait anxiously.

Why the anxiety? Authors don’t get approval rights over their covers. People judge books by their covers and most authors aren’t experts at marketing and selling books. Publishers are. It makes sense to let them make the decisions. If an author sees something they don’t like they can mention it, but the publisher isn’t obligated to act on it. It’s easy to daydream about perfect covers that exactly capture your book, but fears creep into your mind at the same time.

The internet is happy to share the details of covers gone wrong. There’s the painful, hilarious Kindle Cover Disasters blog and the more harrowing accounts of white washing and blond-ing of covers. The latter comes from the perception that sales are higher for blond heroes in romance and white girls in young adult. Covers reflect that to market the book, even when it’s not what’s inside. Authors post angry recriminations or apologetic notes, but that’s all they can do. The publisher gets final say.

I’m grateful my publisher doesn’t play those games. The design above is actually the third cover for Under a Blood Moon. My suggestions for the cover art were accepted and implemented quickly. One cover had a very marketable petite blond woman, but my brunette heroine wears a size large. The publisher was fine to remove the skinny blond, even though she might have generated more sales.

I’m happy with the spooky image we ended up with; it communicates the atmosphere of the book without putting ideas in the reader’s head about who does what inside the pages. Even better it reminds me of all those wonderful pulp horror novels I devoured as a teen. I’ll be making the cover art into a quilt later, and I can’t wait to see it in person.

05/1/15

Apologies and the Rabbit Editor

Due to line edits, copy edits, and galley edits, today’s blog (planned topic: Beltane and Witchcraft in my novels) has been replaced with gratuitous pictures of my rabbit editor. Many apologies.

For those of you who aren’t aware, rabbits are disapproving creatures.

I disapprove

Your shenanigans are not amusing. Get back to writing.

They also enjoy sleeping on large, fluffy piles of shredded paper, if that paper contains your hopes and dreams, er, manuscript, all the better.

Your failure is as soft as a cloud.

Your failure is as soft as a cloud.

 

These two combine to make a harsh, but adorable editor. For example, when you get a rejection and nothing is working right you see this:

 

keep writing

I’m bored with your complaining. Go back to work.

Then, when you’re ready to give up:

Give up

Enough. I’m done.

And hide your face in shame:

 

I can't face what I've done.

I can’t face what I’ve done.

They offer you a treat. If you’re lucky you won’t fall asleep before you can finish it.

So tired.

So tired.

When you wake up, you’ll see something like this:

so bored

Why aren’t you writing?

04/15/15

Reenactments as Research

I love the juxtaposition of historic values and modern settings. One of the reasons I write with vampires is the unique chance they give me to explore cultural shifts and changing social roles. In my book, Under a Blood Moon, I have two vampires, Jakob, born around 1360 and, Mark, born 1574. Jakob, a devout Catholic, values family and faith. Mark is more calloused and cynical. That’s probably enough to start writing but to really flesh out a character you need more. When you dig into the history you learn that most men in Jakob’s time couldn’t read. They knew famine personally and would have lost family members to starvation. Their church offered not only solace but also support and safety. Knowing that about him improves my writing. There’s no way around it, to really understand how historic characters think you need to do research.

While I enjoy the usual kinds of research, like reading academic articles and history books, my favorite kind of research is more hands on. I talk with and interview historic reenactors. Most people are familiar with Civil War reenactors. Many Southern states hold large scale battles and encampments in the summer. But there’s more than just the Civil War out there. In St. Augustine, where I went to college, encampments from the 16th century were common. I spent more than one summer night awkwardly pressed in a crowd of women and children forced into the old fort while cannons fired around me, trying to beat back English forces as if it was still 1586. For years I interacted with people who slept, ate, and dressed in that time period. It’s no surprise that I based Mark on what I learned. His favorite breakfast is the one I saw being eaten in the camps, his political views are shaped by the discussions I had with the reenactors while they ate.

I was recently lucky enough to find an event that focused not on one battle or time period, but brought them all together. Military through the Ages showcased encampments from a Roman Legion (64 A.D.) to the current Virginia Army National Guard. While it was hard to pull myself away from the Fenvald Vikings, the good people of La Belle Compagnie who reenact the Hundred Years War between England and France (1337 to 1453) were my best resource of the day. I learned about cooking, cleaning, women’s roles vs. men’s roles, and how fighting really worked in the time period. Reading about swords is good, holding the sword and talking to someone who uses period techniques to make swords is even better.

One of the ladies of La Belle Compagnie and a friend of hers from about 600 years in the future.

One of the ladies of La Belle Compagnie and a friend of hers from about 600 years in the future.

The event included a lot of hands on demonstrations, some of them given by people who aren’t just reenacting, but remembering. This lovely woman was a member of British Women’s Land Army during WWII.

The Women’s Land Army took on the jobs left empty by soldiers. They planted and harvested crops, milked cows, and ran the home front. Despite all this, I’d never heard of them. I folded their story into the background of Margaret, Jakob’s love from the 1940s and the grandmother of his adopted son. Not far from the encampment, one of the wonderful women offered to pin my hair up. While Margaret and I don’t have the same hair, I know the way the bobby pins scraped across my scalp will end up in a book somewhere.

The seated woman was a member of the Women's Land Army, while the standing reenactor is dressed in clothing from the Colonial era

The seated woman was a member of the Women’s Land Army, while the standing reenactor is dressed in clothing from the Colonial era

To me history is a dying solider on a battlefield telling you his story. Reenactments give us a chance to talk to those soldiers, and ask them about the little things we might not be able to read about so easily. When you’re lucky you get a chance to feel a piece of history (or something pretty close) for yourself.