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This Week’s New Releases

It’s been a busy week – so busy I forgot to even list out what all came out this week!

Queen Takes Darkness is now available! This is a short novella featuring Helayna Ironheart – the wolf king’s sister you met briefly in Queen Takes Triune. This story will be included in the MORE print anthology available exclusively at Literary Love Savannah in July. Though you can order a copy directly from me if you’d like. I’ll be getting a link set up on the Shop shortly.

Queen Takes Rook is also now available in audio! Even better, Queen Takes Checkmate will release next month. I’m so glad this series continues to be made available in the audio format.

Releasing today, Seduced by Myths includes a short novella from me titled, “On Death’s Wings.” This is a re-imagining of Beautiful Death, written the way I wished I could have written it in 2005.

I’m hard at work on adding some fresh new bonus content to add to “Queen Takes Alpha,” “Queen Takes Twins,” and “Queen Takes A Late Christmas,” which were all previously released in Between the Sheets anthologies (and are no longer available). Queen Takes More will be available the first week of June.

And finally, WHEW! I told you it was a busy week! The pre-order for a new project is now up. Magic & Mayhem is an Academy-themed boxed set that will include our favorite unicorn vampire princess. I don’t have the title for Xochitl’s story yet, but I can’t wait to dig in to her story.

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House Isador shirts and bundles

If you’ve been waiting to get your complete set of Their Vampire Queen books, I’ve finally got the bundles loaded. Choose just the six main books, tote and shirt – or add a bracelet or coffee mug if you’d like. All shipping is US priority shipping.

I’ll be loading the shirts separately in a few minutes! That way if you already have the books, you can grab just the shirt.

Next up, I’ll be adding House Ironheart and Mythomorphoses wear!

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Fine-tuning My Process

Part of the Writer’s Journey is figuring out how to improve my process. I want to write my BEST books every time – but also turn them around FASTER. I don’t want to give you books that you’re not satisfied with, or aren’t my best work. Yet I also need to make sure I’m not wasting my time, goofing off playing games or whatever (though sometimes the best way to get around a mental block is to do something else and let my sub-conscious mind work on it).

I’ve been trying to do a better job with keeping a kanban board on my wall over my writing area. We keep electronic boards for the Evil Day Job, but for my writing stuff, I really like having the physical board. I wasn’t the best at keeping this updated in Q1. e.g. some of the notes are from Dec, but I kept them up because I was lazy.

But at a glance, I can definitely get a good idea of what I have coming up, and what I *finally* finished – e.g. look at all those stickies of word counts! That was for Queen Takes Triune. You can see that toward the end, I just quit with the notes, because I had the end in sight. (The book ended up crossing 90k).

Anyway, I’m getting ready to clear the board and so thought I’d grab a picture of it first.

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Personal Growth as a Writer

I’ve been working really hard on improving myself lately, both by understanding my personality better, and also by improving my writing processes. This is likely to be a really long post with some data and analysis if you’re so inclined. Though I’ll spoil it here and say in summary: wow, have I grown a lot as a writer since 2005. Also, newsflash, momentum is key for my personal success as a writer.

I’ll also preface this with: this is my personal experience. Slower is not better. Faster is not better. DO YOU. Also remember I have a full-time, usually stressful job and three busy teenagers/college kid to manage. So while I’d love to write for hours and hours a day, it’s just not possible for me at this time. My normal writing session is 9PM-midnight if I’m lucky and the kids don’t bother me with homework or emergencies.

First, the data analysis. Queen Takes Triune is the first book where I successfully kept track from start to finish of my word counts per day – and then followed up to analyze those numbers. Yes, there were days I forgot. I’m sure there were many. (I hope there were lol.) But in general, I kept track of my word counts every day. Toward the last half, I also kept track of sprint sessions, and whether they were timed, untimed, or interrupted. Again, I’m sure I missed many – but there were enough there for me to gauge some trends.

I did keep word counts for all the other Queen Takes books – but not always by session. I also didn’t make notes about other stuff going on in my life to explain gaps in time. I made extra effort to keep track of this information this time around so I could improve.

But before I get into the actual takeaways, let me touch on a personality element that has always prevented me from doing this kind of analysis before. (If you’re interested in learning more about your personality and how it affects your writing, I highly recommend signing up for Becca Syme’s Write Better Faster and Strengths for Writers courses).

ACHIEVER is only my #5 top strength. However, it has handicapped me in the past. How? I would get hung up on “how well I was doing.” If I felt like I was getting a bad grade (even on my writing), then it would crush my mood and I’d give up on tracking. Say I only managed a couple of hundred words, and my goal was 2000. “Oh well, I failed. Stop taking notes. I can’t recover from that. Your daily average is already trashed and it won’t recover (like GPA).

I know, that’s not the best way to think about it – but that’s my first reaction. Or I’d set crazy high word counts because I *can* write 5K a day. So I should be able to write 5K *every day*. Right?

Wrong.

So even though it kills my achiever side to look at the numbers, I did keep track as much as possible. Then I put all the numbers into a spreadsheet so I could see them. Painful. Ouch. “How did I only keep track 6 days in November? (Note: I wrote other days, I’m sure – but I didn’t track them.) Why was December even worse!? What’s with all these empty days? Even after I found my stride?”

What were you thinking, Joely? Why didn’t you do better? There’s no way in hell this book should have taken you until MARCH to finish!!!

That’s immediately where my Achiever went. I had to face that pain, suck it up, and look again. And understand why.

Takeaways

  • Momentum is key. Early Nov, I went to Vegas for 20Booksto50K. While I did write while I was there, I was busy and forgot to track. It also wasn’t anywhere near 1K+ a day. Same with the Australia trip for Books by the Bridge. I was busy for days before preparing, and then had to take a week to recover. I did write while on the plane and in Sydney – but I didn’t keep track and it wasn’t enough to keep my momentum.
  • Focus is key. Late Nov – early Dec, I paused work on Queen Takes Triune to write the Holidays Between the Sheets short story. While it was fun and I’m glad I did it… it totally killed my momentum. I didn’t recover from that break until January. Obviously holidays and family stuff added to that delay – but it was a costly mistake.
  • Timed sprints really will make me focus. I know this isn’t earth shattering. I’m not that fast a writer – and my achiever got hung up on “doing well.” I know writers who can do 1K in 25 mins. I can’t do that, even if I’m completely in the zone. So my brain said, “why sprint at all?!?” Well, brain, because setting the timer and making myself do nothing else for that time is GOOD. 300 words in 25 mins is GOOD ENOUGH. And if I do it again and again and again, I will finish the book. Duh. Sidenote: the more sprints I did in a day, the more words I got. So while the first one or two might be “average” at 350 words, toward the end of the day’s work, I could write 550. Momentum, again.
  • Even when I am finally finding my stride and consistently hitting days in a row and multiple sessions each day, I still will have an off day. That’s OKAY. That’s my INPUT (#2) and INTELLECTION (#1) strengths speaking up. On days where I didn’t have as many words, I was researching or thinking. I needed to find something that sparked the next piece of worldbuilding. When I get stuck with the plot – I need to RESEARCH. I need the INPUT to spark the next bit of creativity. I need to THINK and scribble on paper and make weird connections that don’t mean anything to anyone else but me.
  • I am also an “exponential” writer, meaning I go faster toward the end (if I keep my momentum). I wrote 30% of the book in 5 days. Gulp. That’s the “P” in my INFP Myers-Briggs kicking in. I need the pressure to finish. Deadlines are great – but self-imposed ones don’t always work for me.

Some actual data references.

  • Untimed session examples: 158, 80, 68, 345, 186, 286, 195 words
  • Timed sessions (usually same days as untimed ones): 330, 325, 531, 499, 589, 550, 622, 514 words

You can definitely see doubled results across the board, even when the session was interrupted.

Side note: untimed sessions are not BAD. In fact, I plan to allow myself at least one untimed session at the beginning of every writing session. That way I can flip back through the last couple of paragraphs or even the entire scene, read and make light edits, and then continue with the next scene when I’m ready.

Now the fun part. How am I going to take this information and improve?

I have two novellas (20K each) due by May 10th – with an Evil Day Job trip likely somewhere in that time frame. There is plenty of time for me to do these. If I focus. If I work on my momentum. And I implement what I’ve learned so far.

For each novella, I will come up with a schedule – but it won’t be a “write 2K words a day” kind of schedule. That doesn’t work for me.

  • A couple of days for INPUT and INTELLECTION. Research, brainstorming, jotting notes.
  • Write the BLURB first. That gives me a road map for the main conflict.
  • A complete plot outline generated from those days of thinking and researching.
  • Write each day – even if I only read through what I’ve already got to keep the story in my head.
  • Don’t work on any other projects, even the second one that’s due.
  • Use the timer, but allow myself 1 or 2 untimed sessions daily as needed.
  • Keep a daily “words remaining” count on my notes so I can see that number going down. But don’t stress about how many words I get each day.
  • Lean into my pressure personality. If I feed the momentum and keep my focus, I know the words will be there when I need them – at the end! For Triune, I went from writing 500 words a day to 5000+ near the end. I just can’t lose that momentum!
  • TRACK. So I can make adjustments on the next book again.

What was the reference to 2005 about? That’s when I finished the first draft of Beautiful Death. I wrote a long post in the Triune about my unhappiness with that book, and I had decided to rewrite it for an upcoming anthology to be the way I always wanted it to be.

So this weekend, we made a trip to Mythos in Joplin and to visit my Beloved Sister. I planned to read the old draft on the way down, and jot down the major plot points I wanted to keep, along with all the things I wanted to keep or change.

I didn’t even make it 4% through the book before I gave up. I wanted to unpublish the book and print it out… so I could BURN IT. I don’t want to say it was bad, but goddess above, I could not get through it. That is not the kind of book I want to write now. I just can’t. I couldn’t even think about lifting out the characters as they are now.

So let’s just say I have more work to do for the first anthology piece than I planned, lol. So I’d better get busy.

It’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks!

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The Final Countdown

Why, yes, that Europe song is on my playlist! Along with Never Be the Same (Camila Cabello), Permanent (Spag Heddy), Glitter & Gold (Barns Courtney), The Greatest Show theme song, and Hurricane from Hamilton.

It’s the final countdown. The last book for Shara’s main arc (though trust me, I have lots more stories percolating in Their Vampire Queen’s world with new queens, and Shara will obviously play a huge part).

Ra has it coming, and Shara fucking Isador will deliver.

This month is all about finishing the series I started just a little over a year ago. (I bought the cover in June and had the first glimmer of an idea then.) My plate is cleared. Queen Takes Jaguars is finished, and will be included in the Realms & Rebels boxed set in August.

I want to be finished with Checkmate *before* I head out to Literary Love Savannah the last week of July. It’d be terrific if I could release before then – but we’ll see. I do still have a long ways to go and I’m quickly running out of July.

Don’t look at the pic if you don’t want to be spoiled, though I admit, it’s pretty sparse. This is how I’ve started “plotting.” I say that loosely, because even I don’t know what all of the notes mean yet. But I sit down and jot out what I want to cover on 2 pages in my traveler’s notebook. That’s it. Note: this doesn’t include the scenes I’ve already written. I already had them figured out. This is what I have left.

I’ll say that again. I have no idea what some of these mean – I just know they’re important. The magic will guide me when I get there. But you can see that I have a TON of plot to get through yet.

So I’d better get busy.

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The Queen is Live!

 Shara and her men are back and the hits (and heat and blood) just keep on coming. (snickers)

Queen Takes Rook went live last night, but it has really taken some time for the links to filter through the Amazon mazes. People were having a hard time finding it, and at one point, we joked we’d broken Amazon!  We didn’t of course but it was fun.

The reviews are pouring in and I’m just dumbfounded and awed. Thank you, each and every person, who’s picked up a copy and left a review already! It makes me smile to see comments like “best in the series so far,” because I truly want each book to be better and better.

Shara’s taking us on one crazy ride.

And here’s the funniest part. All four books? Happen in the span of a month. Yet she’s already killed a thrall, turned into a Cobra Queen, dragged Leviathan out of his prison, killed some vicious ants, taken her first sibling, gained ten Blood (including five-hundred-year-old virgin twins), and…

Well. I won’t spoil anything. Go read it!

 

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A few more days…

I need a few more days to finish Queen Takes Rook. I’ve been pushing hard, but I needed to take a few days off to be with my Beloved Sister while she had surgery this week. The first half has already been sent off to a few betas and editors, so hopefully the last half will go quickly.

I’ll finish the last few scenes, do my edits, send it to the betas and editors, and then switch back to make the final revision pass while they look at the last half.

Sorry for the delay – but I promise, it’ll be worth it! Shara kicks some major ass in this book.

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Marathon

Do you hear the tick tick tocking thundering away? That’s the sound of my self-imposed deadline quickly approaching for Queen Takes Rook.

I’m honestly nowhere close to being “done” yet. It’s going to be a mad scramble to finish, and I’ll have to hope my editors, beta readers, and formatter can fit me in quickly to make the deadline on the 17th. I won’t put out a book that’s not edited, so have no fears in that regard. But I’m definitely going to be cutting it close.

And it’s so frustrating because on paper, I had plenty of time. But there’s more to writing than just getting the words down. On top of the business aspect (ads, giveaways, takeovers, etc.), some books require a lot of thought. I’ve been pecking away at Rook for weeks now, and it’s been a slow chiseling process. It’s still mostly a giant hunk of shapeless stone. Though I can see what I want just beneath the surface, and I’m tapping a little quicker on it now.

In the past, I would have given up by now. I would have picked up another project because it was easier. I would have decided to work on another series (for my other publisher), or start a new idea, and goddess, yes, I’ve been so tempted. I even have a trilogy set of covers in the works with exclusive photography on a new series that’s only in my head. I have a spinoff “dark queen” cover I bought from a different designer, and two others I’d like to commission her to do that will match it.

Not to mention the other ten or so covers I’ve bought that caught my eye, or were cheap, or just spoke to me somehow.

It’s taken me years and years, but I’ve finally realized I have to just finish this series. No matter how hard it is. Now matter how shiny something else is. I have to finish it. Now. Not in six months or a year. That will stall my momentum again.

It’s a marathon right now and I’m at the part where my fingers feel like hunks of concrete and my brain feels like slogging through quicksand and I wonder if I’ll ever even see the finish line. I’ve got the pedal pushed to the floor, engine whining, tires spinning…  I’m barely moving, but I am moving in the right direction.

Eventually, the tires will hit solid ground and I’ll accelerate to the speed of light and finish in a rush of glory that will leave me giddy for days.

Goddess, let it be soon.

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Clearing the Baffles

(reference from one of my favorite movies, The Hunt from Red October)

So it’s been a crazy few months. I went from barely writing anything in 2016 through May 2017, to finishing 5 books now (Mine to Break, Queen Takes Knights, Queen Takes King, Queen Takes Queen, The Treasurekeeper for Shamrocked). Even better, I’m on track for finishing three more by July of this year (Queen Takes Rook, Queen Takes Checkmate, Queen Takes Jaguars).

One series, started in October, and complete in less than a year. That’s my goal!

I finished The Treasurekeeper for Shamrocked: An Anthology of Irish Shenanigans and got it sent off in time. It’s probably one of my funnier–but still very sexy–books, a bit shorter under 40K, but still some meat to it. I left it where I could write more in that world/series if I want to. It features a gargoyle, a leprechaun, the four Irish treasures, a curse only the heroine can break, and some demons/dark fae including a kelpie, some imps, and a couple of pookas.

I also sat down and finalized the publication schedule for the rest of Their Vampire Queen this weekend. Part of my brain is like “but but but we can do it QUICKER!!!” and maybe I could. But I also need to sleep more than four hours a night and I’ve got to get our taxes done, and the house is a pit. So Sherri talked me down off that cliff.

So, to the best of my knowledge right now, here’s the release schedule for the next 3 Queen books.

P.S. Queen Takes Knights is free this week and Queen Takes King will be a Kindle Countdown deal for only 99 pennies!

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On Writing: Bujo Story Keeper 2

See part 1.

Continuing a series of posts about how I’ve been using the Tomoe River notebook for my writing, this time I’ll show how I plot at the highest level. I’m not the kind of writer that wants or even likes having every single scene listed out in gruesome detail. I really only need a roadmap to keep me on track. I need to know the main points – and I can capture enough to guide the story on two pages in my notebook.

I use a combination of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat and Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey for my plotting.  I’m almost always thin in the middle – which is one reason the middle can take me a long time to get through. I try to have at least one major candybar scene for the midpoint that I really want to reach, and then after that, the rest is downhill. Sometimes a book will have a couple of candybar scenes. Sometimes I’ll be writing a book, and an entirely new, unexpected scene will rise up and demand my attention. That’s all great – that means the magic is working!

I don’t care if things change or I mark out something in this initial plan. I mainly use this to help me figure out how much more story do I have to figure out. I don’t always write it down, either – though I should. I know it’ll go better if I write it down rather than relying on my brain to hold the whole thing, but sometimes I convince myself I don’t need to take the time for this step.  (Don’t listen to my brain and write it down if you can.)

Since I’m on a tight deadline for this story, I sat down and did this tonight. In less than an hour. So I really have no excuse not to do this every single time.

I start with 18 bullet points, basically, on two sheets of paper.  Some of them I don’t care about as much, but I write them down in case it sparks something later. The big MUST DO ones are: Inciting Incident, the Call, Crossing the Threshold, Midpoint, All is Lost, Climax, and Resolution.  Anything beyond that is gravy on top.

My favorite thing to do, though, is the opening and closing image. I love coming full circle. I love reflection. I love the words or thoughts a character have or say coming back in a new way at the end.

[Aside: I tried to do this with Queen Takes King, but ended up shifting the story line around. The line “Merry fucking Christmas to me” was supposed to begin and end the book, and it did, at first. But then you would have missed out on the smokin’ hot scene with Mehen, which I originally wrote for Queen Takes Queen. It made more sense to pull that scene to King (since, duh, he’s the king), but that messed up my perfect reflection. Having a complete and satisfying conclusion was more important to me than a cute catchy line ending at the right place.]

So generally, this is how I plot.

  • I know how the book opens.
  • I use that image and flip it, so I know how the book ends.
  • I figure out the inciting incident. What drives the beginning.
  • I figure out what the ending is. What needs to happen to get to that final image.
  • Then I fill in the spaces in between.

Below are two images from my TN. One blank, and one filled in. Note: the one that’s filled in may give you spoilers to the novella I’m working on, so if you don’t like to know a complete high-level plot, skip that one!  Though I kept it at a very high level.

Hope this helps! The most important thing I hope you see is that you don’t have to have a ton of information figured out. I’ve only got a few sparse sentences for each of these bullets, but that’s PLENTY for me to write this novella and find the end without wandering around too much.