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A (Possible) Vicious Solution

Earlier this year I wrote about the Vicious Quandary and why I’ve not been able to finish Undead in New Orleans. It’s been on my mind for months, even since writing that post.

It’s the one story people ask about more than any other, even more than when we’ll get another Princess Xochitl book. I’m so grateful that people are interested enough to want to read more, and I certainly hate letting people down. I felt like surely there was a way I could write the story I wanted to write–but still be respectful to Vodou. I just needed to give the story time.

I am an INPUT writer. Sometimes when I’m stuck in a plot point or idea, I get the feeling that if I can only find the one missing piece of information I need that everything will fall into place. If I’m stuck in the middle of a book, the first thing I do is open up some browser tabs and start researching different things until I find the nugget that makes it all make sense. Sometimes it’s not even a fact–but a song or image.

For the Vicious, it was an image.

A cover, to be exact. I don’t know why this cover was special but when I saw it, it made my brain tingle, for lack of a better word. I bought it immediately. I’ve seen similar ones before, but it was the right moment, right colors and elements, right aesthetic…. And that image freed the log jam in my head.

I’m not ready to show it yet, and I don’t want to make any promises about timing. My schedule is jam packed as you know. I have a million ideas and things I want to write but my time is at a premium as long as I have the Evil Day Job. But I am jotting notes and working through the mental connections of what I will need to change in the series’ plot to make it happen.

Keep your fingers crossed!

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Solo Writing Retreat Night 2

Even though I’d just finished a book at 2 AM the night before (Monstrous Heat), I moved directly into Monstrous Hunger. Sherri and I met Sunday night for a couple of sprints. As always, I started slowly, but I’m learning new characters and getting a feel for how this book is going to go.

The night before, I also took myself on the “Eureka Springs Loop” – through the historic district, up to the Crescent Hotel, and then down through the shopping area. I’ve been on that loop many times with That Man, but I’ve never driven it and certainly not alone. If you’ve been to Eureka Springs, you know that some of the roads are extremely narrow and steep, especially when people are parked on the main shopping roads. I was nervous about getting lost and having to go up a goat track to get out lol. But I had no problems at all and made the entire loop myself. I even ended up exactly where I’d hope to end up and found my way back to the cabin easily.

The only thing I wanted to do on this trip but didn’t was get out at one of the springs. Sat. night there was live music down by the Basin Hotel and all the parking was full. Maybe next time.

Sunday night, I ate leftover pizza on the couch, had a nice long bath in the Jacuzzi, and then packed up/organized as much as possible for the checkout. Loading up Roger (my van) didn’t suck as much as unloading, though of course I had to do that once I got home. Everything was destroyed in the house, the kitchen was a mess, but everyone was glad to see me, especially my dog who didn’t have anyone to sleep with until I came back.

Overall, it was a great time. I wish I could have gotten more done, but I accomplished the #1 and #2 goals on my list. I finished the book and I sketched out an impossible plan for the rest of 2022 that I’m already behind on. Score!

I also added some wants to my forever house at my dad’s. I definitely need a spot for outdoor meditation with that first cup of coffee in the morning!

Meditation with a view
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Solo Writing Retreat Day 2

Sunday was my planning and recovery day – plus a new start (later post).

After being up until 2 AM the night before, I slept in later than I intended. Had my brunch and still took my nature meditation time out on the deck. The friends I saw this time were a lizard that scurried across the floor and a big buzzing bee that hovered overhead in the beams. They both left me alone for the most part, but another large fly or wasp kept buzzing around my head, which cut my time outside shorter than I planned.

I came back inside and pulled out some of my notebooks and fancy pens that I brought to begin a planning session.

Magical bag of notebooks and pens

First, I did a retrospective for Monstrous Heat. The same “pick up and put down again” issue hit me for this book. I underestimated how hard the edits were going to be, and I had no choice but to put the book down so I could get Evil Eyed completed. Losing momentum is tough. Changing POVs from third person to first is tough. Adding more monster sex scenes (literally) is… you know it. Monstrously hard. Laughs.

But this was a really fun book. It continually surprises me how much I’m growing as a writer. The original draft was written in 2016. I was not a new writer then. I’ve been published since 2009 by small presses with good editors. But man, did that original draft need some overhauling!

I guess Shara has really taught me a thing or two.

Then I moved into my calendar for planning the rest of the year. I have a love/hate relationship with my calendar. I want to do so much. I have so many ideas. So many plans. Figuring out how to get it all done in the limited time I have with the Evil Day Job and all the interruptions of real life is the difficult part.

I joke that if I write it down and make a plan, that I basically have to throw the whole thing out after day one. It’s sure to change immediately. But I have to plan and keep trying to get a better system down. Continuous improvements! Learning those lessons from retrospectives. Or why do them, right?

So again, keeping in mind the number one thing that messes with my momentum is shifting gears from one book to another, I’m really going to buckle down and focus on the other Monstrous books. The complication is Blizzard Bound set for Dec. 1st and a surprise prequel freebie I need to finish by mid October. In a perfect world, I will get all this done on time and I won’t have to bump any dates.

We’ll see about that.

I WANT to get back to Their Vampire Queen ASAP. I have half of Helayna’s third book written. Shara is ready. Karmen’s hovering in the background. Even Xochitl and Belladonna are ready to join the party. But if I put down what I’m currently working on to start… and then try to pick up something else to finish… and then try and go BACK to our vampire queens… it’ll take me forever.

I won’t get anything done if I’m switching from world to world and spreading books out too far.

If I can get these tasks done by the end of the year, then 2023 will be the year of Their Vampire Queens.

I know I always set impossible goals. I am an overachiever at heart. But if I set more “reasonable” goals, then I just don’t get things done. I need that constant crazy pressure hanging over my head to function at full capacity. So I’ve penciled in my due dates and sketched out a sprint schedule that will allow me to do all the things I want to do by the end of the year.

I just have to stay off TikTok! And actually sit down at my open file to write. Sometimes that’s the hardest part.

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Solo Writing Retreat Day 1

Yesterday was all about finishing the book (Monstrous Heat). I was close, but still had 20 some pages to edit and then a new ending/expansion to write. I wasn’t sure how long that was going to take.

I allowed myself to wake up without an alarm clock and then had the first cup of coffee sitting outside on the covered deck. Pure heaven listening to the birds, watching the trees sway in the gentle breeze. A mama deer and her fawn grazed across the gravel road just 20-30 feet away. When I get to my forever home at Papa’s, I’m definitely going to need a similar place to sit each morning and soak in nature.

Cabin porch with a view of the woods

I brought plenty of breakfast and snacky foods, so I had a quick bagel and then got to work. I meet with Sherri via Zoom twice yesterday and we got several sprints in both times. I was into the new ending scene(s) when we said goodnight at midnight my time, so I just kept going. I finally finished Monstrous Heat at 2 AM this morning.

Wine, crackers, bread, bagels, and freshly ground coffee from home

It stormed several times last night. I went out on the deck until it got too wet and windy. Rain and hail pounding on the roof woke me up a few times but I slept in pretty late this morning. I love the look of a log cabin but it’s definitely noisy. The cabin pops and snaps continuously throughout the night. Sometimes I swear it sounds like someone walking across the floor. That’s the only time I’ve been a little scared to be myself. I wake up several times throughout the night, thinking someone is here. Luckily I’ve been able to get back to sleep without too much issue, though.

It was late enough last night when I finally went to bed that I didn’t get my nice long soak in the tub. I’ll shoot for extra time tonight!

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Solo Writing Retreat – Night 1

It’s just me and all the characters hanging out in my head for the entire weekend! I’m so excited I don’t know what to do with myself!

As a gift to myself, I booked a cabin in Eureka Springs, AR just like That Man and I used to do for our anniversary. Only this time *I* picked which cabin I wanted, based on criteria that are very important to me.

  1. The size of the whirlpool tub
  2. Writing area
  3. Quiet – for deep work thinking

This cabin is almost perfect. There were too many stairs up to the main level, and the bedroom is also in the loft, but I guess I can use the exercise. It was hot carrying everything in by myself but I hauled it all in and I’ve unpacked.

Lots of slate stairs
Lots of comfy places to sit and think

Love the tub — but the voyeur is a bit much.

Deer be watching

I’ll post more about the trip and what I hope to accomplish over the next few days!

PS I brought a lot of wine AND there’s a winery just down the road…!

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Evil Eyed is Locked & Loaded

It was touch and go for awhile. If Sherri hadn’t been able to edit the finished 50k over the weekend while I wrote the last two scenes, I never would have made it by the lock date (today).

If you’re a member of the Triune, we started a “finish date” pool on 7/11. I really thought I was almost done – but those last two scenes just went on and on. I was planning on 4-8k more, which would have brought me up to around 50K. Instead. I ended up needing another 13k. Evil Eyed finished at just over 56k.

As usual, I did my retrospection while the story is fresh on my mind. This book took MONTHS longer than I planned, so I expected an outrageously high number of sprints and a low word count average. Instead, what I found is that all the numbers were right on, other than a higher number of interrupted sprints. The real problem was just getting those sprints in. I had several days, even a full week here and there, off where I had either none or only one sprint per day. No wonder it took so long!

I had a ton of interruptions, both personal and professional. I wanted to be done before LLS but that didn’t happen. With all the shirts I needed to make and the preparation/packing, I lost several days. We also had some major personal/family developments last week that I’m trying to be sensitive about and not be specific, but all of that impacted my ability to focus. The short answer is that I don’t have to worry about That Man taking me back to court ever again.

It’s over. I’m finally free.

It may have taken me months to write, way longer than I ever intended, but I’m extremely happy with how Evil Eyed turned out.

Aidan is one of my most favorite characters to ever talk in my head.

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The Waiting

I know in the scheme of problems, having to wait for something isn’t that big of a deal, but it’s one of things that hit me the hardest. The uncertainty. The constant what ifs. It takes such a toll that I have little room in my head for anything else.

I’m still waiting for news on the latest round of divorce court proceedings to be resolved. No news is good news I guess, but I wish I knew what was going on.

The weight of not knowing hangs over me like a leaden cloud. I trudge onward because I have things I must/want to do. I’m just so. So. So. SLOW.

I had to bump the pre-order date for Evil Eyed again. I have been chipping away at it as regularly as I can but I just can’t seem to make that shift into high gear to power through to the end. Of course that puts me behind on everything else I planned for this year. I can’t work on the final edits for Monstrous Heat until Evil Eyed is done. I can’t get back to Darkness3 until both of these projects are done. But now it’s taking me so long that I need to shift over to Blizzard Bound first or I won’t make that deadline either.

I am deadline driven. But this is getting ridiculous, even for me.

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Long Overdue Overhaul

Once I finally get started on something, it’s hard to call me off!

Since I started working on old backlist books Saturday, I’ve been going ham on all my admin tasks that I’ve been putting off.

  • Re-edit Free My Dragon
  • Re-edit Save My Dragon
  • Fix all the back matter through the Shanhasson series and reformat 4 books plus the boxed set.
  • Which lead to updating my bibliography document with all links (it was really out of date).
  • Fix all the back matter through the entire Connagher series in preparation for loading it wide. Reformat 7 books plus the boxed set.
  • Reload what I’ve already published to KDP, Kobo, and D2D with updates.
  • Update all of the books2read links with as many retailers as possible, especially for audio books.
  • Started hacking up the website, trashing a bunch of old pages that were cludgy or out of date.
    • Broke some stuff because I deleted it lol
    • Rebuilt missing pages and menus
    • Created missing book and series pages. (I still have a few to do but the current ones are updated.)
  • Created a new ARC list form to submit links. Preparing to do some clean up with this big backlist push to wide retailers.
  • Submitted another BookBub – braced for a YES this time! Please and thank you!

I still need to take a look at Their Vampire Queen back matter and reformat. It’s less bad than the really old stuff but it needs to be updated. I also created a mess for myself by changing my mind on how to handle the spinoffs, so I need to clean up my series numbering on KDP.

I’m still waiting on my Google Play and B&N accounts to update and let me publish, but I got my first book pushed through direct at Apple/iTiunes. Definitely needed a how-to guide for that beast! (And yeah I need to fix the blurb – I don’t like how it’s formatted.)

Getting there!

The next thing will be… deciding when to pull Their Vampire Queen out of KU and take it wide. I’m still on the fence on timing, but I’m hopeful that getting all this groundwork done will help me make that decision.

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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.