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Lessons Learned

My Evil Day Job is in IT and we moved to Agile a few years ago. Part of our regular ceremonies now is a sprint review/retro every two weeks. We talk about what went well and what didn’t–so that we can improve and change things up for the next sprint.

I’ve been doing a “book” retro each time I finish. I do some word-count vs. sprint analysis and compare that average to other books. I take a look at my elapsed time and any other factors that I can apply to the next book that might help me write faster or improve my process.

Since I just finished Leprechauned this week, I took a look at my stats. It’s pretty eye opening.

My word-count-per-sprint average was way down and my elapsed time was way up. I took vacation days from the EDJ in both Jan and Feb to help push to completion–and the book still dragged into March. I even bumped the release date two weeks to give myself a little breathing room.

What gives?

The biggest lesson I can take from this is how much of a problem it is for me to pick up and put down a book midway.

I originally started Leprechauned 2/28/2021. Yes, that long ago. I worked on it a little over a week and had just over 10,000 words before I decided to set it aside. I’d had the harebrained idea to try and crash-write the book before St. Patrick’s Day 2021 for a surprise release, which meant I set aside Knocked Up to work on it. Then I had some EDJ stress that made it apparent that I wasn’t going to be in a position to write another 30k+ in a week. (Though my crazy brain really wanted to try.)

This is my greatest weakness as a writer. I get these harebrained ideas on the spur of the moment and let them derail me. In hindsight, I should have stuck to Knocked Up and just kept working on it. I’m sure that I damaged my momentum stopping to pick up a different book.

I did the same thing by putting down Queen Takes Darkness3 to write Carnal Magic last October. Did I have fun with that book? Absolutely. Was it smart to put down a book that I was already 50%+ into? Absolutely not. Because here it is months later and I haven’t been able to pick it up again. I’m going to have the same issues when I do get back to it.

For Leprechauned, I didn’t pick it back up until the beginning of Jan 2022. I really planned to have it finished by the end of Feb, and on paper, that should have been easy for me to do. I know what my “average” word count can be each day without pushing too hard and I should have been able to meet that date.

Should.

But again, there were several factors at play that made the book hard.

  • I was served mid February – the ex is taking me back to court AGAIN.
  • When I first wrote Shamrocked, I kept it fairly light and fun. I didn’t have super deep characterization on the guys since the book was only in Riann’s POV. I didn’t have detailed world building notes either.
  • To take a “light” novella and turn it into a meatier trilogy is work. I had to flesh out each of the guys better and give them deeper personalities. I had to make decisions on the world and overall arc that weren’t needed for a single book. I had to better define the magic.
  • My style has changed quite a lot since I first wrote Shamrocked in 2018. I had to keep referring back to the previous book and read sections so I got the tone and characterizations right. I kept forgetting little tidbits of the world or magic that I needed to go back and verify.

All that took time. A lot of time.

So what am I going to do about it?

First up, I’m going to keep right on pushing through on Evil Eyed. I’m not going to make the mistake of setting down this world and characters again. I’m going to finish up the trilogy and get that off my plate before I do anything else.

Secondly, I’m going to do my best not to hie off on these side trails of shiny new projects that would be so much fun to do, especially when I’ve got other books started. When I get back to Helayna, I’m going to have to hope I took good notes and I’m going to need to spend days re-reading and getting back into that world’s tone and voice.

2022 is the year of cleaning out all these incomplete series and spinoffs so I can get back to Shara and Xochitl. The longer it takes me to finish Darkness, Sunfires, and anything else I tackle, the longer it’ll be before I can get back to our vampire queen. Because once I do get back to her, I want to focus and stay there.

Which is why I’d LOVE to have A Killer Need done too. But it’s going to be so much work to revise two books and write a third — that I originally wrote way back in 2014-16 or so. I have the covers already lined up. It’s just a matter of deciding if I can commit months to brutal edits and getting back into Charlie’s head.

We’ll see what the rest of 2022 holds.

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The Vicious Quandary

I wrote “The Vicious” two or so years ago for an anthology. I’ve always loved New Orleans and anything related to voodoo. Absolutely hungry for any show or movie or story that combines those elements. I fully intended to write a trilogy after “The Vicious,” and even have 2 of the 3 additional covers purchased. I signed up for another anthology with the plan to write the next book (you may see a link to that anthology at the end of “The Vicious,” depending on when you downloaded it).

But here’s the thing. I’ve been BLOCKED on that series since I wrote it.

That’s why you never got the continuation in that second anthology. I had to pull my story from it. I couldn’t even start it. I paid a consultant to help me plot out the rest of the series. We met several times and I worked on at least two more books’ worth of plot. I had the characters and the overall arc figured out.

But I still couldn’t write a word.

At the time, I blamed the divorce, and yeah, I’m sure that might have had something to do with it. But there’s more going on here than just all the stress.

I feel like continuing that series would be appropriation.

I’ve never lived in New Orleans, though I’ve visited a few times. No matter how much I love the culture, no matter how many books I read about Marie Laveau, no matter how many books I study about Vodou and the loa….

In the end, I am a (mostly) white author writing about a closed practice.

While I LOVE my covers–the characters used on the covers are also white. They’re white men dressed up in costumes. The heroine is clearly white.

Meanwhile, the magic system is based on a very real and personal religion to many people. People who were enslaved and killed and forbidden from practicing said religion.

And I want to write a book about it?

The sad thing is YES. I still do want to write it. I’ve agonized about it. I’ve tried to come up with excuses in my head. It’s “appreciation” not “appropriation.” I love it so much! I can give the heroine a biracial background. I could have the covers redone and put authentic people of color on the covers.

But again, in the end, I am still a white woman trying to write a fictional story based on Vodou, a closed religion.

As a writer, I’ve always pulled from mythology and other civilizations. I love everything about ancient history, folklore, and other religions. The Bloodgate series – based on Maya mythology! The twins, Xochitl, her father, Huitz…. based on Aztec mythology. I’m proud of the research I did for those series and still have numerous textbooks I bought. But in the end, they’re still only textbooks – probably written by white people.

I made Shara and queens of her world descended from goddesses around the globe.

Appropriation? Or appreciation? Though I’ve never described the color of Shara’s skin, the woman on the cover is definitely mostly white – and she’s supposed to be descended from Isis. Granted, I don’t think there are tons of people still worshipping Egyptian goddesses today, but I’ve tried to be careful and respectful in that series. I don’t use Hindu goddesses, for example. I try to be respectful and appreciative of the cultures I use. But is it enough?

Which circles right back to “The Vicious.” As much as I appreciate Vodou, it is a closed practice that is still practiced today. And I have no known ancestral ties to that culture or religion.

I can’t in good conscience write it as I originally envisioned it.

I’m trying to do better and be a better person. A better writer. Not just in craft but in what my stories say. What I pull from. Maybe it’s fine to take the Greek goddess Hekate and make a possibly bizarre connection to snakes! (Queen Takes Venom) I didn’t think that kind of streeeetch would offend too many people.

Though as I grow in my own spiritual journey, I try to question everything.

Anyway, that’s why I still don’t have a continuation for “The Vicious.”

I welcome thoughtful discussion.

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What am I working on this month?

Welcome to 2022! I’m going to try to keep my blog updated better this year.

My focus for the first half+ of the year will be finishing existing loose ends to make room for Shara to return. This includes the following series: Her Irish Treasures, Queen Takes Darkness, and Queen Takes Sunfires. I would also REALLY love to get A Killer Need wrapped up. However, that’s going to take so much work… I don’t know that I’ll be able and willing to hold off on Shara long enough to tackle Charlie. We’ll see.

First up, Her Irish Treasures. Leprechauned is set to release March 1st, though if I finish it earlier, I’ll probably release it sooner. I’ve struggled a bit to get back into the flow of this story, since I wrote Shamrocked back in 2018 or so. However, the audio rights are already lined up, so I’d really love to get this series finished and available. Once I do get into the Irish flow, I plan to stick there and finish the trilogy with Evil Eyed.

What really rocked my world with this series is how it ties into Shara’s Their Vampire Queen world, especially once I talked with Merlin in Queen Takes Camelot. Just another branch of the goddess tree…

I’m still Zooming with Molly about five times a week. We’ll continue our sessions as much as possible. I need to find time to get at least two more sprints in during the day to keep up with my goals. Four would be better. I’m slooooow but steady, until I can finally see the finish line. I’m almost to that point with Leprechauned, so it’d be great if I could finish it this month!

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2022 Plan

First up, I’ll be working on Her Irish Treasures with Leprechauned slated for March 2022. My plan is to go ahead and write the third book, Evil Eyed, while I’m in the Irish groove. These are shorter books, planning 40-50k, so I should be able to get both done early 2022. Then I’ll get Darkness3 finished, followed by Sunfires3.

The real gray area for me is in between Sunfires3 and Blizzard Bound, which I’ve slated for a December release. I have a long list that I’d like to get through…. But I have to be realistic too. Just these projects will be about 290,000 words, which is roughly where I finished in 2021.

If real life cooperates and I can keep up my energy pennies, my ideal projects will be:

  • re-release One Cut Deeper
  • re-release Two Cuts Darker
  • Three Cuts Deader
  • Begin Shara’s return

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2021 Year in Review

2021 was a comeback year for me.

I’m not completely out of the Divorce Direwoods yet. Please send good vibes that things will resolve without further court appearances.

However, I have enough closure that I was finally able to get some decent momentum this year. The game changer for me was to start meeting my Beloved Sister almost nightly via Zoom. We may only get 1-2 sprints in, but the consistency has helped us both complete numerous books this year. I’m still disappointed that I didn’t manage to finish Queen Takes Darkness3 and Queen Takes Sunfires3, but I’ll tackle them early in 2022.

My word count for 2021 was 271,980. Words definitely took a hit in April-June, which was expected. I had to get the house ready to list, and then sell and move to a new house by June 1st. Word counts stayed a little low for me through the rest of the year, but I was fairly consistent given two traveling trips in August and November.

All of these books were released this year (The House Isador ones were hardcover versions) except for Leprechauned, which will release early 2022.

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Mailing Update

As of last night, I was completely caught up on mailings except for a few prize requests for things that aren’t available yet or were out of stock. All orders, Patreon gifts, and prizes were out the door. I even have the December birthday cards done already!

Of course, I immediately set up a giveaway for the ARC group… And Friendsgiving giveaways on my main pages. But I’ll try to keep caught up now that I’m not drowning.

The whole reason I had to get ahead is the holiday cards are looming. While waiting for the card stock and bookmarks to be delivered, I’ve cleaned up my mailing list, eliminated duplicates, fixed bad addresses by hand, and contacted people who didn’t submit full addresses. This year, we’re sitting at 987 cards. Whew. I hope I can get them all done and in the mail as quickly as possible so they’re not horribly late.

Molly jokes that I’m singlehandedly keeping the USPS funded lol.

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Omnibus Collector’s Box & Hardcover Versions

The shop reorganization is almost complete and will open back up tomorrow.

There were a couple of people interested in the House Isador Collector’s Box, so I wanted to let you know it’ll go up for pre-order tomorrow. I cannot guarantee shipping by the holidays – it depends on how quickly KDP can get the volumes to me. But I did “cheat” and ordered some a week or two ago to try and get ahead a little. I wasn’t sure how many people would actually want the box, so I didn’t want to go out and buy 40+ copies up front.

You can also get just the paperbacks (one and two) or if you love glossy, heavy books, I’ve also got hardcover versions available (one and two).

International peeps – if you’re interested, please contact me and I’ll get some shipping estimates. USPS is not shipping to Australia for the holidays, but I can see what prices I can get from UPS.

I also uploaded ALL my old copies of anthologies that I had lying around. All are limited edition, and most of them are no longer available for purchase anywhere else.

Happy shopping!

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Changes to the Shop

First up, I’m almost caught up on orders. My apologies to everyone who’s been waiting to receive your packages. I have two more orders to finish up – just waiting on padded envelopes, which should arrive Sat. I’ll get these two orders ready to go before I leave for Vegas on Sunday.

I’m not happy AT ALL with my very slow mail responses, so I’m going to make some changes that I hope will help me stay on track and not get so far behind.

I did some reflection, and there are three major places I tend to get behind.

  • Making shirts
  • Making jewelry
  • Out of stock books, waiting on KDP shipments

I don’t have any helpers with the shop. I’ve offered to pay my adult kids to help, but they just don’t have any desire. I have to make all the items, do the packaging, and arrange shipping. It’s time consuming especially on the bundles and takes away time that I could be writing another book. However, I LOVE seeing and thinking about House Isador merch out in the wild. I just need to find a happy place between minimizing disruptions to my writing and not failing to get orders out in a reasonable timeframe.

I’ve found over time that I really don’t like making shirts on a regular basis. I especially don’t want to put writing a new book aside to go make a specific sized shirt, and then find out I don’t have the right size or style. Or I’m out of vinyl. It’s always something, and if I dread doing it, I put it off until it’s a problem.

It’s different when I’m making a bunch of shirts for an event. I get in a rhythm, and I like coming up with new ideas and designs for that particular event. I’ve got some AWESOME hoodies I made for LLS but I haven’t listed yet. I just haven’t had the time.

I also love making jewelry – when I’m in the rhythm of making it. There’s a whole process to it, and it takes me several days (usually) to make one. I have boxes and boxes of beads organized by color, and it takes time to drag all that out and then put it all away again so I can write. It never fails that I have a red and black one made, but the order is for a purple one, or vice versa, and now immediately I’m behind on a several day project, that takes away time from me writing another book.

So… here are the changes I’m making to the store effective once it opens again.

  1. All bundles are obsoleted. I will do SPECIAL bundles with limited stock when I have shirts made, etc. But only when I have blocked the appropriate time to make or gather whatever items are in the bundle.
  2. All bracelets and accessories are marked out of stock. I won’t take new orders on them.
    • What I will do instead is make jewelry when I have all the beads and tools out, when I have planned time away from the book. Then I’ll list what I make, and all you’re waiting on is for me to put the finished product into packaging and slap a shipping label on it. I’ll post about items being ready on the blog and in the Triune.
    • This also allows me to be more creative. If I’m in the mood to design something new, I can make several of them at once. If I’m tired of red and black and want to experiment, I can do so without feeling guilty about making someone wait.
  3. I added inventory to all the items in the shop. That way you can’t buy a book if I don’t have it, and you’re not stuck waiting on the next KDP shipment to arrive.

I am going to try and get all the books I have on hand listed. e.g. there are currently some copies of the Omnibus House Isador volumes up, and all the short novellas. I will be listing the House Isador hardcovers soon, as well as the special limited House Isador bundle.

I will also list all the shirt stock I have already made individually in the size I have, so if you want one great. it’s already made! No waiting on me to get to the Cricut room.

I’ll revisit this new setup in a few months and see if there are any more tweaks I need to make. Eventually I’d like to get to having “events” where the shop is open with special items that I’ve already made, though I will have signed books available all the time (assuming I have the stock).

Let me know if you have any questions!

Long live House Isador.

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Writing by Zoom

Excuse me while I get a little emotional.

Since Molly and I have started our Zoom sessions almost every night, each of us has completed FIVE books. I’ve also written two short stories. We’ve edited and published those stories too in that time.

This is especially amazing for Molly, since she has been blocked for 12 years.

While we are “sprinting,” we don’t race. If we did race, I’d lose every night! I’m pretty slow in that regard, but you don’t have to be fast when you’re consistent. That’s what Zoom has been doing for us.

We always talk awhile. How was your day? What’s going on at work or the kids or our parents? At first, yes, we did talk a LOT. We hadn’t seen each other in over a year thanks to the pandemic. Now, though, we usually talk 15 mins or so and then we get to work.

I set a 25 minute timer. Usually I have to mute once we start, because I write in the downstairs dining room and the kids are always in and out to the kitchen making racket. I put on my headphones with my book’s playlist, and we go. Once the timer goes off, I unmute and tell her. We chat a bit about the scene, or what was fun or hard. I may agonize about the never-ending sex scene, or she may laugh and tell me about a killer line. Then we go again.

Most nights, we can get in 2 sprints without even trying. Some nights we can get 3, especially if we start a little earlier. On Friday nights, if we’re on a roll, we can hit 4. The books finish themselves.

One night this week, we were talking about writing in general and we came back to the car metaphor. Sometimes when you’re in the zone, it’s like driving at night. Flying down the road with reckless abandon. You don’t even need your headlights – because you see it all so clearly. It’s glorious and exhilarating. Just you and the road and the roaring hum of the engine rumbling beneath you.

I personally love to hit that zone near the end of a book. I need the pressure of a deadline breathing down my neck to help me finish. In that impending doom, I want to hit the gas and fly the last few miles to my destination.

People say don’t burn yourself out. You’re pushing too hard…

But that’s not what my engine wants to hear. It was built for that reckless race down the dark road, going faster, harder, until we hit “the end.”

Or so I thought. During the divorce these past two years…

Sometimes I hit the gas, ready to accelerate through to the finish line, and my engine sputtered. The car actually died in the middle of the road, and I could only stare in horror as a semi-truck barreled down a hill straight at me. I missed my deadline. I pulled a pre-order. And I’ve not been the same since.

Once that happened, I’ve been a little scared to hit the gas. I don’t want my car to die. But I miss that glorious, reckless speed toward the finish line, adrenaline pumping as I soar through the night.

Regular Zoom sessions with Molly have helped me trust that when I press the pedal, my car will respond. I’ve got enough gas in the tank. My engine is a well-oiled beast. Fine-tuned, transformed, with more horses than ever beneath the hood.

I’m ready to floor it and drive through the night. Again and again and again.