01/20/16

What I read in 2015

In 2014 I challenged myself to take photos of every book I read. Most of them included the rabbit editor looking slightly grumpy, which is adorable but not useful for analysis. Last year, I started a Goodreads account. It made tracking my 2015 reading much easier.

I started but didn’t finish 19 novels.
Most of those DNFs (did not finish) stories included a plot development I couldn’t read past. For one romance novel set in the 1960s it was a hero who shamed the heroine for being alone a room with a man she didn’t know. There was a chance the man raped her, and as far as the hero was concerned that would be her fault. While the story spoke to me, I couldn’t forgive him being such a jerk. (I’m pretty sure the heroine did.) The big surprise among the DNFs was A Clash of Kings (the second novel in the Game of Thrones series). I love dragons, fantasy, and epic stories, but I don’t enjoy reading violence against women. I wish someone would write a more woman-friendly version.

I read 78 novels, with a total of 23,316 pages.
The bulk of those (39 of 78) were historic mysteries thanks to the 19 Phryne Fisher novels I devoured last winter.  I promised myself I’d seek out more weird west novels but only managed to find two: The Six-Gun Tarot and The Shotgun Arcana both by R.S. Belcher. I can’t wait to read the third novel in this series set in a cursed desert town. The stunning cast includes a Chinese demi-god, Christian angels, a Native American shape shifter, an assassin/witch trained by the pirate-queen, and a gay man wielding a sword from Mormon legend. It sounds crazy, but it really works. I wanted to know more about each and every character.

I’m mildly embarrassed about the amount of YA books I read – one a month this year. I already gushed about my two favorites – Scarlett Undercover and Serafina and the Black Cloak. Both are great, but it’s Scarlett,  the teenage Muslim detective, I’m most looking forward to following. I loved learning about Scarlett’s culture and enjoyed a fresh take on the noir genre.

 

Looking forward
Last year I read roughly one and a half books a week. In 2016, I’d like to push that to 2 books per week. That’s a challenging goal considering I’m writing and editing books of my own, but reading is a fundamental part of the writing process. When I don’t read I get repetitive, using the same concepts (or even the same words) over and over again. Reading stops me from getting stale.

With that in mind I want to try some new genres this year.  Some of my favorite books from the last few years have been set in another culture or place.  In 2016 I’m making a point of adding diversity to my reading list – at least one book each month by a minority author or with a minority main character. I have some great lesbian fiction in mind but I’m still on the hunt for books where the main character has a disability. About 20% of the population has a disability of some sort but I don’t see them on my bookshelf. I want to.

When I find them, or any gem of a book, I promise to come back here and blog about it. One of the best parts of reading is talking about your latest favorite. If you’ve got one I should check out let me know, I’m always happy to hear about a good book.

11/20/15

November Reads – Dragon books!

His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire, Book 1) by Naomi Novik (Author)

Some people bird-watch, others collect stuffed penguins, or love cats beyond all reason. I adore dragons. While I’m picky about it – I need four limbs and wings – my obsession is fairly boundless. When I renovated my bathroom, I commissioned an artist to etch a dragon on the shower door.  I regularly get myself hennaed with different dragon images, because I can’t choose a single dragon for a tattoo. So this month’s reads are… dragon books!

Naomi Novak’s Temeraire series
Alt-history or maybe just really good fantasy, these stories focus on Temeraire, a dragon in the service of the British Empire during the Napoleonic wars. Taken as a spoil of war, Temeraire is paired with British naval commander, Will Laurence,  instead of the usual dragonrider. Thanks to Will’s influence the books feel like Patrick O’Brian’s “Jack Aubrey novels or maybe the Sharpe books. With a fun dragon twist, of course. Temeraire is wonderfully innocent. He doesn’t understand how slavery works and won’t accept the way dragons are treated. I admit that I skimmed the battle scenes, there’s only so much ship-vs-ship and dragon-vs-dragon action I can take, but Temeraire skewing social mores never got old.

The series continues for eight books. I’ve read the first three and haven’t had a complaint yet. Thankfully only the first one made me cry (Levitas’ story is heartbreaking).

Wildfire: A Paranormal Mystery with Cowboys & Dragons by Mina Khan

I’ve talked about Mina Khan’s Wildfire before and I’m likely to talk about it again. Not only is the dragon a girl, Lynn is also mixed race and a cool ‘real’ person. Her relationships with her hero, her best friend, and her family are all complicated and messy. She’s battling depression, and Khan’s writing shows the ups and downs of that disease in wonderfully non-clinical, non-stereotypical way. Also there are cowboys. Cowboys and dragons. It’s like sea salt and chocolate – I never knew they were meant to be together, but now I can’t imagine them apart.

Lynn rushes to the aid her best friend after Jen’s home is almost lost in a fire. Soon she finds herself embroiled in a mystery. A cute cowboy (Jack) and more worldly real estate developer (Henry) compete for her affections. One of them is more than he seems, and either of them could be behind the increasingly dangerous fires. Lynn struggles to control her emotions, not to mention her dragon hormones, while trying to stop the crimes. The pacing, plot, and small town setting make this book a can’t-put-it-down dragon-shifter story. I’m still waiting hopefully for the next story about these characters.

Treasured Claim: A Mythos Legacy Novel by Jami Gold

Another great dragon-shifter is Elaina Drake, the heroine from Jami Gold’s Treasured Claim. I was lucky enough to read this story back when it was in beta form years ago. It was great fun then, and has only gotten better. Elaina’s story is a romance and her hero, Alex, turns the billionaire playboy stereotype on its head. Alex insists on doing the right thing. He defines himself as the opposite of his amoral, mostly horrible father. Elaina also has daddy issues, except in her case her father might actually kill her.

Gold does a lot of fun non-traditional dragon things. For example, Elaina doesn’t just like treasure, she needs it to survive. Elaina is the physically stronger partner in the relationship, but (this novel gets pretty close to erotica) is sexually submissive. The combination of unexpected twists and multi-faceted characters makes this one of my favorite paranormal romance dragon-shifter stories.

 

11/15/15

Rachel’s NaNoWriMo Anti-rules

Many people will tell you how to win at National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). They’ll quote best practices and articles, talking about support networks and plotting. All of that is very good advice. But I’m here to tell you that even if you don’t follow any of it, you can still ‘win’ at NaNoWriMo. And by winning I mean end up with a book contract.

The end of 2013 was a hard time for me. My father died, my mother had serious health issues, I was hospitalized, and my heater broke in the middle of a snowstorm. The NaNoWriMo deadline had long since passed, but I realized if I didn’t challenge myself to get writing my creativity would drown under all the stress. I needed a challenge, even though the next NaNoWriMo was months away.

Anti-Rule #1: NaNoWriMo happens when you make it.

If November is a bad time for you, start your novel today or any day. If you like the discussion boards and support of a writing team NaNoWriMo Camp starts in June and August. It brings the same support and fun as NaNoWriMo  in November with none of the holiday obligations pressing down on you. A lot of the teachers in my life prefer NaNoWriMo Camp in June when school is out for the summer. I planned to start my personal NaNoWriMo challenge on 2/1/2014, but got excited and started writing on January 27.

Anti-Rule #2: You can start with something you’ve already worked on

After my life stabilized and  the heat came back on,  I realized I hadn’t written, really written, in months. Starting a new story felt too overwhelming so I grabbed a six-thousand word opening inspired by this image:

Photo from EPBOT.com one of the coolest blogs I know.

The story of a teenage mermaid fighting with her mother while tracking down a serial killer took off in my imagination. I saw the piece not just as a YA mystery, but as a platform for talking about feminine power. I repeatedly watched the mermaid scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides:

The mermaids there were exactly what I wanted – desirable, otherworldly, and deadly. Young women are often admonished against expressing their sexuality and told “good girls don’t do that sort of thing”. I wanted a character who struggled with her own powerful sexuality, who wanted to fit in but was constantly swayed by strong emotions the world didn’t expect her to have.

Her name is Danika. Her friends called her Danny, and for my private NaNoWriMo I thought about her every day. I challenged myself to two thousand words a day for each of February’s twenty-eight days.

Anti-rule #3 Finish your novel when it’s done.

I kept writing through March and into the first weeks of April. (Danny first appeared on the blog in April.) It turned out that I wanted to write more than the NaNoWriMo  prescribed 50K words. I wrote about Key West disguised as Danny’s beach-side town Playa Linda. My Aunt’s house on Stock Island became Danny’s house. My favorite high school books became her favorites. I filled that manuscript with a thousand sunny details of life in a tropical town while the cold winter months passed away.

Anti-rule #4 Edit whenever you want!

NaNoWriMo focuses on getting the words on the page, so the rules tell you not to edit as you go.  That means leaving something in place that doesn’t work and trying to write around that mistake. For me, it became too confusing to write chapter 10 based on what I wanted chapter 8 to be instead of what it was. I’d rather go back and rename a character than keep a list of things to correct when I’m done. I enjoy re-reading my work on Sunday night, planning out what scenes I’ll write for the week and making little changes. I don’t want to give up that ritual.

Anti-rule #5 Don’t stop when the manuscript is finished

People joke that NaNoWriMo should be followed by National Novel Editing Month, and I agree.  When I finished the Mermaid manuscript I let it rest for a month before doing a first edit. Then it was sent it for a beta read. That caused another round of edits, which were followed by two rounds of paid edits, one with a college student for YA voice and one with the amazing editors at Quail School Media. Finally it felt polished enough to send out to editors.

Bonus Conflicting Anti-rules –  

Don’t leave your manuscript in a box. 

Start something else!

While the editors were reading The Mermaid and the Murders (the current working title) I started another manuscript. More than a year after my personal NaNoWriMo finished, the Mermaid and the Murders was out on submission and I did my best to forget about it.

Months passed and I never managed to put the story out of my mind. So this November, I threw in my hat for the real NaNoWriMo focusing on a a cozy mystery about a group of quilters who dabble in magic spells on the side. As my story reached 10,000 words, I got news that meant I would need to bend those NaNoWriMo rules again.

My mermaid book, that rule-breaking not-really- NaNoWriMo manuscript got a contract. Right in the middle of the real NaNoWriMo I recieved my editorial letter. I’m excited to dive back into the world of mermaids and I’m happy that my (personal, not at the right time) NaNoWriMo was a success. If you’re participating right now, I hope you succeed. If you’re not participating, remember that any month can be NaNoWriMo or, if you don’t write, any month can be the one you accomplish your goal.

 

09/20/15

September Reads

At the beginning of the year I fell in love with Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, and found myself reading three books a week. Like most torrid affairs it came to an end, leaving my to-be-read list nearly empty. While there’s always a stack of book I ought to read I drifted looking for something that kept me up at night, wrapped in the story. I haven’t found another series to devour, but by branching out into genres I don’t usually read landed a few gems.

crazy about youCrazy About You by Katie O’Sullivan
This story is eighty percent romance and twenty percent thriller. Two people who seemingly don’t have much in common fall in love, and the seemingly unrelated problems they’re dealing with (infectious ocean waste and a not-boyfriend who might be in the mob) come together in the end. The dead body doesn’t appear until around page 120 but once it does things escalate quickly. The small tourist town setting was fun even as threats to the heroine keep adding up. I made the mistake of picking up this book on my lunch hour, and couldn’t concentrate for the rest of the afternoon.

Whiskey Beach By Nora Roberts
I got this book because a review promised ghosts. SPOILER – there are no ghosts. Oddly I felt compelled to keep reading despite that horrible omission. The story is a little on the long side, winding its way through 496 pages with smugglers, buried treasure, a murder, a stalker, yoga, and lots of massages. Still the mystery drew me in, easing me over long passages of character development and romance. I was impressed to see character back stories that had some depth and darkness to them. So while it didn’t have any ghosts, it made for a great way to spend an afternoon.

Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty
I’m not usually a fan of Middle Grade fiction. The threats feel watered down or made up. One book flew across the room after it revealed the titular vampire wasn’t a vampire at all and the whole thing was a great big misunderstanding! I hate the idea that kids are too stupid to see what’s real or when they do see the truth no one believes them. Thankfully Serafina only endures that hardship for a few pages. When people don’t believe her she takes on the supernatural terror herself. This book is genuinely scary and unique. The monster wasn’t something I’ve read about a hundred times. The story even avoided my second most-hated YA trope where all adults/parents are ignorant or absent. The way the ending came together felt fresh and entirely satisfying. I know Serafina’s story ends here but I wish I could read more about what happens to her and her life.

06/15/15

What I’m reading… June 2015

Moments after turning in the final galley edits for Under a Blood Moon, I binged. I devoured not one or two, but thirteen books. I thought I could hold myself to ten. I even left the store with ten. Then I found myself at the library the next day – getting another few, just in case. When I’m writing or editing, I dangle books as reward, finish fifty pages of edits and you earn an hour of reading time. With no edits, I’m like a kid in a candy store, greedy and glad all at once.

Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham

Scarlett thinks like an old gumshoe from a Noir novel. She talks tough, in the kind of metaphors you don’t see in modern novels. She just happens to be a Muslim-American teenager. Her story weaves Muslim faith and folklore together, exploring mythology and asking questions about who Scarlett is and who she wants to be. It’s a young adult novel, that I’m sure was aimed at kids in the 9th grade. I’m nearly forty and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The mystery involves djinns (both good and bad), cultists, and kidnapped kids. I’d consider this a good ‘beach read’, engrossing and fun.

Fatal Flame by Lyndsay Faye

On the other side of the spectrum is Fatal Flame by Lyndsay Faye. Here the mystery was tense and gritty. In the first pages of the story a man captures a group of women, intending to rape them until they agree to become prostitutes. He’s not the bad guy. That crime isn’t even the worst one in the book. New York in the 1840s was a rough place, and Faye is willing to show you all of that. She also shows off the daily life of her character, a man in love with a rich and diverse group of friends and found family. Most of them speak Flash, a language of street slang so complex that most English speakers can’t follow it. The language, setting, and the characters in this novel made it impossible to put down. I know the author says this is the last Timothy Wilde mystery, but I’m hoping she’s lying.

Phryne Fisher Mysteries By Kerry Greenwood

Since reading a review of the first Phryne Fisher novel over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, I have consumed fourteen books and watched 26 hours of her tv series. The early stories (start with Cocaine Blues) are short, under 200 pages, and can be read in about two hours. That’s my excuse for reading three in a weekend. Phryne is a wonderful character – a woman with no shame about her sexual appetites and no desire to play by the rules. Phryne grew up in starvation-level poverty and is now quite rich. She spends her time being a detective, more because it suits her than because she has to be. The books are set in 1920s Australia, which I knew nothing about and now want to visit. All of the mysteries are clever and filled with complex, real people.

To sum up I’m reading mysteries, lots of them and really enjoying historic settings and different cultures. While I love Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe, it’s a pleasure to be able to read more diverse stories. I’m sure I’ll be back to the writing and editing grindstone soon, but for now I’m delighted to indulge myself in good books.

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.

10/15/14

Back Cover Copy

Back cover copy is my favorite part of writing. A whole novel takes a long enough that your confidence fails. You doubt yourself. There are nights when every words has to be pried out, making me feel like a dentist with a pair of pliers and my knee in the patient’s chest. A synopsis takes all of that work – weeks and months of it – and forces you to choose just the barest of outlines while insisting you not leave anything out. Marketing copy, those little two lines blurbs, are equally impossible. I just agonized over 100,000 words, and now I have to reduce it down to two sentences? Nope.

But on a back over I just need to say enough to intrigue a reader. I only have to tantalize and tease. All the hard things – showing a character grow and change, developing tension, or making a relationship seem real – can be skipped. That’s why back cover copy usually comes first, and why sometimes it’s the only thing I write.

Thus I give you back cover copy from books I will likely never get around to writing.

Windswept (Inspirational Romance)

When Kim Newland hears that her hometown has been devastated by a hurricane she shrugs her shoulders. She lived through enough hurricanes not to worry, but when her sister, Kristi, asks her for money everything changes for the hard driving lawyer. Money and family in need are the two things that caused ruined her life. Wanting to help but scared of repeating her greatest mistake, Kim heads into the town determined to help make things right.

George Dent spent the hurricane pulling people out of crumbling houses and praying God would stop the storm. Now that it’s over he’s working even harder on clean up, trying to find the missing, comfort the hurt, and maybe, if there’s time, rebuild his church. He’s never had time for a family of his own, and now he’s busier than ever. When Kristi brings her reluctant sister along to the firehouse kitchens he doesn’t know what to say to Kim. Should he try to break through her hard exterior and help her find faith and family again, or just focus on his own work?

###

Remnant’s Revenge (Romantic Suspense)

Srgt. Steve Carter barely remembers the combat accident that stole his soul. Being dead for five minutes wasn’t bad, coming back to life as a remnant, without morals or ethics and with no way to love is horrible. Discharged from the Army for conduct he can’t control, Carter drifts, trying to get back to the man he was.

ER Dr. Jessica Kelly has just found an interesting set of anomalies on the MRI scans of a patient who died briefly on the operating room table. The changes in brain usage might explain the sudden shift in personality and behavior. And if she can explain it, she can fix it. But before she can gather more data she finds herself targeted by shadowy organization, a group willing to kill to keep the remnants exactly as they are.

 

05/15/14

Steampunk is my type

Not long after I got married my two best friends joined my husband and I for a drink at DragonCon. Some how the conversation twisted its way to ‘types’ and I admitted I was glad I didn’t have one.  At which point my loving friends began to list off names and attributes: Dana, with his tall lanky body and freckles, Dean, who could barely find a pair of pants small enough and wore his blond hair down to his waist. Two boyfriends didn’t make a type, I insisted. They added more names and finally turned to my husband – tall, thin, and very fair skinned.

There was no way to argue with that.

Years later the same friends teased me that I have a ‘type’ when it comes to time periods as well. It seems that while I’ve recommend many books, the only ones I buy for them are from the Victorian Era, usually the late 1870s. Again, I tried to fight it, but the more I thought about it the more I realized, I really do like that era. I like the manners, the civilization, the respect for science as a powerful force for social change. Contrast that against the deplorable class system that was in place, the way people starved in the streets and were treated like dogs. Add a hint of the paranormal and I’m in heaven, because something about the foggy streets of London just calls out for ghosts and ghoulies. It’s why steampunk makes me so happy.

And so, as a rather self-serving blog post (aren’t they all?)  here’s my list of ‘must reads’ from my favorite time period:

  • Gods of Gotham and Seven for a Secret  by Lyndsay Faye
  • Murder in Murray Hill and all of the Gaslight mysteries by Victoria Thompson
  • The Parasol Protectorate Series & The Finishing School series by Gail Carriger
  • The Native Star (Veneficas Americana #1) by M.K. Hobson

And on TV  or in the movies:

  • Ripper Street
  • League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
  • Pennydreadful (hopefully)

But what I really want is a novelization of Disney’s Haunted Mansion, something with a sea captain building a lovely mansion that turns into a pretty cage for his young wife. I imagine lots of murder and intrigue, thwarted loves, and at least 999 not-always happy haunts. If I can’t find it, I’m going to have to write it.