Kanban Board

kanbanOver the past few years at the Evil Day Job, we’ve started using an “Agile” method of developing on certain key projects.  This involves taking a large project and breaking it down into individual pieces and hanging them on a board (physical or electronic) into three or more different columns. It could be something like “Ready,” “In Progress,” and “Complete.”  (Ours at work are more complex for testing, etc.)

The real goal is to keep only ONE thing in the “In Progress” section of the board so you can concentrate on it. Then we have daily – yes DAILY – stand-up meetings of about 15 mins to go over each person’s responsibilities on the board and make sure it’s up to date. If you can’t continue for some reason, then you mark the project as “blocked” and pull a new item from the ready board.  Then it’s management’s job to help you become unblocked and keep things moving into the Complete column.

The hardest part for me is keeping only one thing in the In Progress column, at least for work!  I’m always on 2-3 projects at once.  Even if I’m on a big several-thousand-hour project, they always still find ways to slip a maintenance or support item in that needs to be done.

I’ve tried the agile method for writing before and it just didn’t work, at least the way I had my board set up.  I’ve got so many ideas, and at the time, I had two publishers, plus the stories I wanted to write, plus all in various stages of writing, editing, production, promotion, etc.  It was impossible for me to keep track of everything that way, and certainly unrealistic to only have ONE task going at any one time.

However, someone recommended KanbanFlow to me a month or so ago (it’s free!) and this time, it’s working.  I think it’s part of the situation I’m in right now – sort of starting over fresh and trying to concentrate on one project, rather than keeping a bunch of pipes flowing at the same time.  I still have promotional, website, etc. updates to do, but I don’t keep them on my board.

I’ve been using one main board for only the fantasy romance. I broke out all the tasks, like worldbuilding, character development, etc and slowly moved them to the complete column. Then I took drafting the story and broke it down into small chunks, even writing the first draft.  I color-coded all the different tasks, which both makes it pretty and also easy to see what things go together.

What makes KanbanFlow work for me this time around is the built-in Pomodoro timer.  I can pick a task, set the timer for 25 mins, and work.  That’s honestly about all I can concentrate right now (and sometimes even that’s a challenge!)  Then the timer gives me 5 mins to take a break.  Usually I just do one session and quit, because it’s late at night when I’m finally opening up Scrivener.

Then I can look back at each completed task and see how long it took me – assuming I remembered to select the task and set the timer.  I figure I can do about anything for 20-25 mins, even make my brain pay attention!  And it’s working, for the most part.  I started with 500 word tasks. Then started bumping it up with weekly goals, which I’m still fine tuning. I really want to work up to 5K a week but that’s not happening yet.

I’m still fighting the “don’t wanna” camp, so anything’s a distraction.  Ooooh, a new game!  Oooh, I should research that!  I know, I’ll check Twitter…

When I finally open my file, it’s almost always after 11 PM.  Ugh.  But I am hitting 500 words most days, so I am making progress. I’d like to work up to 1K a day, but I’m going to have to figure out how to stop the time wasting.  I think once I get deeper into the flow and rhythm that I won’t have to fight the piddly things so much.

If electronic kanban boards doesn’t work for you, you can make one easily on your wall with Sticky notes or a piece of poster board. The visual “In Progress” column is a good reminder to keep working on that next task!

 

 

Monday Wrapup

Lots of small tidbits to share this week, so I’ll try a link/brief paragraph roundup.  I used to do these all the time!

#ListifyLife Spring for me is….

A photo posted by Joely Sue Burkhart (@joelysue) on


My #ListifyLife post is up on Instagram.  You can read lots of lists across all social media by following the hashtag.

I’ve also had two great reviews for Two Cuts Darker, including 4 Stars from RT!  I’m not going to the conference this year (Vegas, sobs) – price tag was just too much to swing this year compared to returns.  Are any of you going or do you do local conferences?

Two Cuts Darker also got a B review at Dear Author.  “The sex scenes are visceral, gritty, emotionally intense and plentiful (just how I like them). In both books each sex scene serves an actual purpose, moving the story forward and creating more intimacy between the couples.”

I was also at Here Be Magic last week talking about trying to find a planner system that works for me.  We had some great discussion on my Facebook page too.

Listify Life

I’m hoping to get back to a somewhat regular blog schedule.  It’s just hard after all these years – I start to think I’ve already said everything!  Or the things I wish I could say really aren’t appropriate for the general public.  :mrgreen:

ListifyEnter Roni Loren’s Listify Life Challenge.  Each week, she’s challenging us to make a list.  A simple list.  I can do that!  And I can use my pretty fountain pens, new Leuchtturm1917 journal, and my not-so-pretty handwriting. Apologies in advance.

Everyone’s welcome to participate!

Still Swimming

Two-three weeks ago, I was seriously wondering if I was “all wrote out.”  I haven’t written significant words all year and that sly little voice started whispering deep in the back of my mind that maybe I was broken. I’d pushed too hard in 2015 and I was burnt out.  Done. Finiti.

Then the Samhain news hit.

And yeah, that did take some wind out of my sails.  But when that happens, it’s easier to change directions than when you’re full steam ahead.  I’ve known for a long time that I could probably be making more if I’d self published, but my sense of loyalty is strong.  Plus I had/have a great relationship with my editor, Tera, and it’s nice not to have to foot the expenses up front for cover art, editing, and formatting.  The lure of 70% royalties is strong though.  And now with Samhain closing their doors sometime this year, I have to make the jump.

I’m still going to pursue traditional/small press publications, e.g. with Carina, with the right books.  I love my editor, Alissa, there too, and they can do way more with distribution than I know how to take care of myself right now.  But it is harder to get certain books published there because they’re picky, which is a good thing.  They’re only going to take on books that meet their needs, that they know they can sell.  Doesn’t mean a book is bad or shouldn’t be published — it just doesn’t meet their niche they’re targeting.  So not everything I write will be right for them, but look for future Carina releases as I can.

I’m building some brand new ideas right now with the hope of getting some new things released, that can be making some money before I start getting Samhain titles back.  That way I’ll hopefully have enough in the tank to pay for new covers.  As those rights come back to me, I’ll be hopefully writing the last book in the series and repackaging everything for hopefully new/better sales.

I’m expecting the Lady Wyre series to come back to me first because it earns the poorest sales.  If so, I’ll be writing the last Lady Wyre book.  I have a short story/prequel I wrote for that series, so I’ll either get it packaged and out on sites separately as a permanent freebie, or I’ll include that material into Lady Doctor Wyre.  I’ll have to make that decision once I get everything back.

When I get the Connaghers back, I’ll write Mal’s story and finish that series.

I don’t have any further planned Billionaire books.  But if I get an idea for it, I’ll consider adding another.  However, I’m expecting these to be the last books I get back, since they’re the newest.

I had to use this time for some soul searching.  I’ve been writing so hard, concentrating on my brand and sales and business – that my artist withered a bit.  That’s why I’ve had a hard time getting back into just writing new words.  So the next new project is going to be all for ME.  Things that make me smile.  That make me happy.  That feed my artist.  If it ends up BDSM, fine, but I’m not going to force it.

I need something a bit lighter right now to bring back some of the magic.  So I’m returning to my first love:

Fantasy Romance!

A New Beginning

I’ve been down this path before when Drollerie closed, but this hurts way more. Endings are sad so I’ll concentrate on the possibilities ahead.

News broke this weekend that Samhain Publishing has decided to slowly wind down and close this year. The good news is that they’re doing this smartly–up front, above board, everybody paid, rights returned.  This isn’t going to be long silences, worry, and wondering if I’ve lost my books for good.  So don’t be afraid that your favorite authors won’t get their money if you buy books, even knowing Samhain is closing.  They’ve always treated me very well, and I’ve always been paid on time.

All my Samhain titles are still available and will continue to be for sale, until my rights revert to me.  I don’t know when that will be, but likely not for many months yet.  Unfortunately, they might be unavailable for awhile after that because I’ll have to pay for new covers and formatting.  That will take time.  Possibly a long time.  But I’ll cross that bridge when I must.

In the meantime, I’ll be re-evaluating my plan for the year.  I’d already been facing some tough decisions based on sales. It makes me feel a little better that low sales weren’t just troubling me, but across the board at Samhain.  I couldn’t see investing months into the third Lady Wyre book when Lord Regret’s Price hasn’t even sold 200 copies after being published in Dec. 2013. Yeah. Pretty depressing.  Crawl under the bed and die depressing. The numbers in the Connaghers series haven’t been much better.  I’d already decided not to write another Billionaire book.  The numbers just haven’t been there.

I worked really hard in 2015 but felt further behind than ever.  I’ve been bogged down in numbers, branding, stressing, trying to figure out what I could do to turn things around.  Now…  I need to come up with a new plan.

I’ve barely written since November.  I’d already decided to take off through the holidays, but it’s been hard to get back into it this year.  Here it is almost March and I’ve barely written a few thousand words on a story that just isn’t working.

So, it’s back to the drawing board.  I’m going to use this opportunity to really think about what I want to write for the foreseeable future.

I’m sure Gregar, Charlie, and Vincent will have some interesting ideas.

Behind the Story: Two Cuts Darker

TwoCutsDarker125I’ve blogged before about where the original idea for A Killer Need came from. Basically, I wanted a “horror romance” with a possible serial killer hero who I could make believable, likeable, and redeem in some way.

It might surprise you, but Vincent came first, even though his book is only just now coming out. The original idea I played with–and ultimately set aside–was a bad guy undercover as an even worse guy on some kind of private cruise ship. The heroine was in bondage there and sent to him for the night.

You can see why I tabled that idea, right?  I couldn’t come up with a way to make THAT likeable/romantic in any way.

When I started writing Charlie’s story, I honestly had no idea that he fit into the killer storyline at all. He lied to me the whole time. Only after about 30K did I finally realize I had found a way into that killer horror/romance story.

Vincent was Trouble from the beginning. Readers liked Charlie, which was great! But I hadn’t planned on him returning that much. Once I got the idea into my head, though, I couldn’t get it out.  Then I lost balance of the story and had way too much Charlie/Ranay on page for it being Vincent/Mads’s book. Luckily I had a great editor!  Alissa was able to help me bring that balance back in.

You see that “Dare to look beneath the mask…” up at the top of the page?  That’s a reminder for me too.  Sometimes I flinch.  I don’t actually look as deeply as I need to.  I don’t want to explore that darkness.

Aside: growing up, we lived out in the boondocks on a 100 acre farm just off tornado alley. I HATED going to our basement – even though it was supposed to be safer than the house. It was a nasty root cellar beneath the house.  We actually had to go OUTSIDE into the STORM to reach it.  (If you’ve seen the beginning of Twister, our root cellar was a little like that, except theirs was waaaay nicer.)  Small snakes, tons of spiders and cobwebs – you name something creepy that lives under an old farm house, and that’s what we had to sit with during a tornado.

Sometimes writing a really dark, emotional story is like standing at the top of those stairs, barefoot in the middle of the night, scared out of your mind.  There’s a tornado coming behind you.  Wind is whipping your hair and you can’t see.  But you really REALLY don’t want to go down into that black scary hole.

Even if it might save your life.

That’s where a good editor can say stuff like “Explore this more.”  “What’s he feeling here?”  “Can we get more emotional responses here?”

A.K.A. go down into that dark basement and poke around.  You might find something really creepy good in the dark.

Upcoming Giveaway: Lots of Print Books

IMG_0051As I was straightening my office for the New Year, I realized I’ve been moving a giant box back and forth across the floor ever since we moved to this house 1 1/2 years ago.  Every time I have a call for the Evil Day Job, KoKo takes the opportunity to gnaw on the box, so it looks like a pack of rats have been chewing on it.  (The box only – the books are fine!)

These books are my previous RT convention hauls.  Some of them are signed, which makes it doubly hard to part with them! But I’ve finally faced the fact that I’m not going to read them.  I just don’t read print any longer and I need the space. I’m so busy, either running to pick someone up in the car, waiting in line, etc. that I always read on my phone, or if I’m lucky, one of the two Kindles we have (the monsters like them too).

So I decided to give these print books away.  I have plenty for TWO priority boxes and each box will have at least one signed Lorelei James book.  There’s mysteries, historicals, paranormal, etc.  I’m sure I still have some swag (from many authors), so I’ll throw in some of that too if you’d like.

To enter, you must be a subscriber to my newsletter.  Easy instructions will be included on how to enter (I don’t want to randomly draw a name and pick an electronic book reader like me).

The next newsletter will go out Feb. 8th (Two Cuts Darker release date), so sign up if you’d like a chance to win!

Jody Wallace’s Dreamwalkers

I’m pleased to have Jody Wallace on my blog today – with a twist!  Instead of ME interviewing HER, she asked me some cool questions.  Her Dreamwalkers books are on sale until Feb. 5th and she’s offering signed copies and some really cool prizes!

Disciple72lg-200x300 Tangible72lg-200x300DREAMWALKERS INTERVIEW

The premise of the Dreamwalkers series is that certain human brains are so vivid that their nightmares can come to life and eat people. The heroes and heroines (so far) are the folks who fight these monsters and hide their existence from the rest of the world. Oftentimes these nightmares take the shape of popular culture creations, but sometimes there are classics.

1) What are the scariest movies, TV and books you can think of?

I LOVE horror movies – but they don’t really scare me. I’m more scared about things that could happen in real life, especially something happening to my kids.  So in that regard, I’d say that the original Poltergeist is scary.  The way JoBeth Williams fights to save her kids gets me every time. When little Carol Anne says “No more,” ugh, it gives me goosebumps. I almost always cry when she takes her first breath in the tub after JoBeth brings her back.

2) What monsters do you think your brain would create or has created in your books? (Caveat: real world human monsters don’t tend to get created, just things like vampires and mega spiders, and the size of the monster tends to be between 3-12 feet. If your nightmare is more of an “event”, like falling or appearing in public naked, I bet there’s a monster that represents that kind of horror!)  

I know you said most of the monsters are big – but one of the most horrific real life things I’ve ever seen/had to do was scrape lice out of my baby’s hair. Those wiggling creatures feeding on her, buried in her sweet-smelling hair…. UGH.  It happened years ago and still gives me the heebie jeebies.  So my monster would be something that lived on my kids and slowly devoured them.

3) What kind of dreamwalker hero or heroine do you think would be required to dispatch your nightmares? (Romance optional!)

A big sexy hunk with a gentle hand on a fine-toothed comb to get all those crawlies off my baby!

4) Bonus question: What pop culture monsters do you think the dreamwalkers have the most trouble killing?

Hackers and spammers.  They’re monsters, aren’t they?

DREAMWALKERSALE3-300x251

Crochet: Tentacles of Doom Scarf

IMG_1659Some Twitter buddies were talking about octopus scarves and I really wanted to make one.  This pattern from HELLOhappy looked really cute and pretty simple, so I gave it a shot.  It was fun and very easy to make – but fair warning: the tentacles get OLD really FAST.  I decided to only make 2 as called for in the pattern, and made all the others with different instructions.

I made two extra long curling tentacles and then folded them over to make a total of four tentacles.  Then I also made two long tentacles with a simple double-crochet-post stitch (where you go around the post of the previous row, rather than through the normal “chain” stitch at the top).  It gave an interesting 3-D texture to the tentacle, without driving me mad from boredom.

I didn’t want a lot of stuffing in the octopus’s head/body, but I did want a little dimension. It just so happened I’d made a “cowl” earlier in the month that was way too small and ended up more of a fat, wide headband. Which just didn’t work. So I recycled it into stuffing.

I made the whites of the eyes from some leftover “hairy” white baby yarn I bought to make my Evil Day Job boss’s baby a sweet little lamb hat.

Sewing things on/together is not my favorite thing, so I didn’t make as many suckers as I probably should have.  Maybe someday when I’m bored I’ll make a few more and sew them on. But for now, it was all I could do to sew everything together and finish the eyes.

It’s definitely one of a kind.  Some of the tentacles are too long and definitely uneven – but I’m not a matchy-match sort of person anyway.  I like it and the finished product is fun.  I still want to make a more elegant tentacle scarf, but haven’t found the right pattern yet.

Not a Graphic Designer But…

Anytime I need to make an ad or one of those banners for a post, I have to hire it out. I just can’t make graphic manipulations the way I want, even after taking a PhotoShop class a few years ago. I can do basic scrapbook-type layouts, but that’s it, and nothing fancy at all. It’s embarrassingly amateur.

However, I might have found something I can do even with mediocre graphics skills.

I’ve written before how colors influence a story. Beautiful Death will always be indigo, blue, and black with a bit of silver. The Blood & Shadows series is white, black, and red.

When I’m building a story, I like to get out the magic purple pen and paper, but I’d really love to have folders or papers with the right colors for the story. Obviously that’s really hard to find. I don’t want just a plain paper folder – I want something artsy and cool. But when I do finally find one that’s really pretty, it’s not the right color or theme for the book I’m working on.

Then I found Etsy.

I really had no idea there was such a thing as “printable paper.” That didn’t even make sense to me at first. Why would I want to print my paper? But when I find artists that can make stuff like Burning Love, it makes total sense. But I still wasn’t sure *how* to actually use it.

I’m currently using digital papers to build two different story bibles. I can’t do much in Gimp – so I’m making do with Word. I can do just enough to layer a few elements together and make a really cool template page. I can customize it to MY character questions and plot points. I control the colors. The text. How I lay it out. I can hole-punch the papers, clip together with a binder ring, and re-arrange or add to my heart’s desire.

I’m having a blast and the story ideas are really coming. The creative process is just enough “me” to keep the juices flowing, without requiring me to be a real artist with anything but words. And for a few bucks, I can buy new papers for any book I want to work on and print new pages!

Awesome fun!