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Mark Your Calendars!

If you’ve been waiting for news on Checkmate… My goal is to have it ready the week of August 27th!

If you’ve been with me for long, you know that my writing process is usually pretty slow in the middle. I might start a book like gangbusters, but sometimes getting 10K, then 20K, then 30K… can take FOREVER.  Then I finish the last HALF of the book in like a week.

That’s what I’m hoping to do this week. Yes, I’m at the halfway mark, but I’m still announcing that I want to release on August 27th or within a few days of that (for sure by the end of the month if at all humanly possible). I feel the tides shifting inside me. Now. It’s time. The words are there. The parts of the book I had to feel my way through are written.

I have some “fun” scenes to write that I already know. Then the big showdown. The End. Easy, peasy, right?

Of course, it’s not really that easy and I’m sure there will be a few more hiccups along the way, but I’m riding the wave now and picking up speed. I may crash and burn on the other side, but it’ll be one hell of a ride.

To avoid chaos this time, I’m going to set a very brief pre-order period once I have the final book back from my editors. That way there’s no mistakes with the incomplete file going out (because it’ll be THE file) and everyone will know when the book will drop. Again, it may not be exactly the 27th depending on timing, but it should be that week.

Then…. What’s next? Well, I’m not going to tell you that, yet, because I want it to be a surprise. 

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Writers Page

Tonight, I added a new page to the site and adjusted the menu a bit to reorganize.  If you’re looking for the various templates, worksheets, etc. that I’ve used over the years, they can now all be found on the Writers page! 

Note:  this includes the new Mind Mapping templates that I created the other day as I was plotting the ZCR.

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Hidden Object Games

As part of my “vacation” I’ve been playing a bunch of computer games, mostly hidden object games from Big Fish Games.  I love being able to try the game for an hour and decide if I want to buy it or not.  It’s usually pretty obvious within the first few minutes of a game if it’s “for me” or not.

Sounds familiar, I bet.  Agents/editors know within a page or two if the project is right for them.

There are tons of hidden object games out there, but there’s only a handful that I’m going to be willing to buy.  It’s taken me awhile to discover what kind of game I really enjoy — what kind of game is going to compel me to buy it past the one-hour trial.

First, the game has to have really good graphics.  I love the haunted castles with spooky hidden nooks, or the ancient civilization sites where I really have to check behind every stone.  But good graphics alone are far from enough.

(Good, even beautiful writing, isn’t enough to make an agent/editor/reader pick up your book.)

The overlying story has to be appealing to me, too.  Usually I’m on some quest:  free the ghosts, stop the lord of the mirrors, find my father, mentor, children, etc.  But even a “find my children” game — which sounds very compelling — can fail to snag my attention.

(Have a compelling hook or premise to drive the story from the very beginning.)

The lead character of the story driving the game has to be interesting to me.  I don’t care if it’s a man or a woman, and I obviously don’t get as much internal thoughts, etc. as a reguar book, but a well-written hidden object game makes me forget that I’m not really in this fictional world.  I’ve passed on several hidden object games where I just didn’t care for the main character.

(The protagonist must be compelling in some way, even though flawed and hopeless at the beginning.)

If I like the graphics, the story, and the main character, I can still end up bailing on a game.  There’s one I can’t remember the name of off the top of my head, but it had gorgeous graphics and a cool story, but I was absolutely lost.  I didn’t know how to get to the other rooms.  I didn’t know what to do.  I stood in the front “room” of the game clicking, confused, and frustrated, until I finally closed the game and deleted the files without purchasing.

I like to be led through a game.  Yes, I know it’s lame but I like the sparkly hints that tell me where to investigate.  I’m playing this game for fun and I don’t want it to be too hard — but I also want it to last much longer than an hour (to justify buying the game).  I want to know and trust that the journey is going to be clear for me.  I’m not going to get down in some basement dungeon and quit out of frustration because I have no idea what to do next.

Now BFG does have blog walkthroughs for many of their games, which helps, but if I have to refer to the blog walkthrough every single time I enter a room just to figure out what to do, I’m sorry.  I’m not buying.

(Make a promise to the reader in the opening scene of the story and carry that promise through all the way to the end on a journey they won’t want to forget.  The reader trusts you never to take them down the wrong path and leave them.)

So now I have good graphics, a storyline that intrigues me, and a lead character to guide me.  The game can still fall part between the hidden object games and the puzzles.  The games I love the most are the ones where I keep items from each hidden-object portion of the game, even if I have no idea what they’re used for.  e.g. In the opening section of the game, a key is one of the 10 items to find.  Then the key is what opens the rusty iron gate.  In another section, I find a glove.  Later, I have to use the glove to reach through thorns.

I don’t like hidden-objects just for the search.  e.g. a bunch of items that have nothing to do with the story, and it’s not crucial that I find a particular item.  I want those objects to all be tied to the story in some way.  The game I played last night was so danged creepy — one of the hidden object scenes involved row after row of old dolls, some clothed, some not, some with holes in their heads, missing eyes, some with huge creepy eyes that kept looking at me.  It was hilarious — I could hardly stand to look for the objects!  Which made that game so very very cool (Return to Ravenhearst if you’re interested).

It’s sort of like reading a mystery and finding a bunch of red herrings.  I love that aspect of a hidden object game.  Great, now I have a can of bug spray in my inventory.  Where in the heck am I going to use that?  It makes me anticipate and plan — which I love.

(Drop elements into the story that tie to the theme, enhance the atmosphere and tone of the story, and drive the plot.)

What I don’t love is when I find a bunch of stuff in my inventory at the end of the game….that I never used.  I can’t stand it!  Did I miss a section of a the game where I was supposed to use the shovel?  Ack!  How did I finish the game?  Should I go back?  But no, I finished… 

(Always tie up as many loose ends as possible even when the climax of the story and the main characters are resolved.  Careful readers make note of every little detail and will feel betrayed if they don’t mean something!)

Lastly, we have the puzzles themselves.  They’re sort of like plot or turning points of the story.  They’re “gatekeepers” to moving on to the next room.  I don’t want the puzzle to be so hard that I have no idea how to even start — or I’ll simply look up the solution in the blog walkthrough and move on.  Yes, I cheat on occasion! 

(I also read ahead to the next chapter — or even the end — to make sure the book isn’t going to fail me.)

The puzzles are more interesting if I’ve had to gather items throughout the game to beat it.  e.g. there are three marbles that I’ve found all over the mansion and now I have to use them to beat the next level.  The puzzle itself should tie to the game and the story it’s leading me through.  The elements should mean something to the game.  e.g. in one ancient civilization game, I had to stack golden skulls on a scale to balance it.  Why use regular old weights when you can use skulls?  How cool! 

I don’t care for puzzles that have absolutely nothing to do with the story itself.  e.g. a jigsaw puzzle and the final image is a contemporary-looking photograph, while the game is a creepy gothic.  The image is an underwater ship — cool — but not if it has absolutely nothing to do with the story of the game.  Don’t show me an underwater ship just because it’s cool.

(Elements of the plot should reflect the theme over and over, every element tied back to the premise, driving the story toward the climax in a logical way.)

I know it’s a great game when I immediately hope there’s a sequel in the same world.  My wish for BFG is that they’d have a way to search by the creator of a particular game.  e.g. if I know team A creates the kind of game I like with the graphics, etc. then I want to buy more by team A.  Right now, I’m relying on “look and feel” to tell me when I might want to buy.

(Branding is important.  Make sure readers can find you!)

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Project Planning

I’ve been thinking a lot about my next project, my career as a writer, and what sort of stories I want to write next.  This has been coming for awhile, I suppose, but this post Kiss of Death: The Renaissance Writer really brought it to a head for me.

One of my weakest skills as a writer is categorizing my own work.  Back around 2007, I finally made it out of the Valley of the Shadow of Death and decided that I had to write for me.  I had learned what kind of story motivated and moved me:  dark, mythology, sacrifice, blood, violence, romance, etc.  Might sound like a strange mix, but that’s me (that’s why May calls me the Sister of the Severed Hand).  Every single thing I’ve written involves mythology and blood in some way.

Except Dear Sir, I’m Yours, which is a whole other beast.  I’ll come back to that thought in a minute.

So I set out to work on the Maya story.  It’s a contemporary setting, heavily based on Maya mythology.  I plotted it heavily — three major story arcs, three POV characters, each with their own goal, coming together in the end for a big show down.  Timing was crucial, placement, etc.  It’s still got problems that I hope to tackle this summer, but I’m really pleased with the level of work I managed on that story.  

The problem?  It’s hard to categorize.  I wanted to write an urban fantasy, but knew I hadn’t.  I’d been calling it contemporary fantasy.   Then May suggested it was more like a Preston/Child thriller.  

I was like, huh?  I never set out to write a thriller.  Yeah, I like darkness, violence, suspense, etc. but a thriller?  Really?  But as I thought about their books I’ve read — Relic, Reliquary, Blood Mountain — I began to see some similarities in the pacing and feel, although I’d say the Maya story has more fantasy than a typical Preston/Child book. It’s still set firmly in the contemporary world and mostly “normal” tools are used to defeat the bad guys.  Magic is not rampant in the world (yet).  i.e. The characters’ world view is very much “normal” until they see the proof unveiled before their eyes.  The book also has a sci-fi feel — even though magic is the mechanism surrounding the Bloodgates, not science or technology.  It feels a lot like Stargate, which I admit is part of the original premise.

So I’m sitting here, reading about that Renaissance Writer who’s an agent’s nightmare, and I realize that’s a warning I need to pay attention to.  How am I going to write an agent query for a thriller, while everything in my backlist is fantasy, sci-fi, or contemporary erotic romance?  

I’m not tackling projects just because I think it’s an “easy sell” as in their example, but I do have very wide interests, as widely as I read.  I mean, my current wip is a Regency Fantasy.  On my storyboards, I have a sci-fi Regency/Steampunk thing in progress.  Don’t even ask about all the strange things I have in the back of my mind, or stored on my harddrive.  (e.g. remember the sports mystery That Man begged me to write?)

So what’s a Renaissance Writer to do?  I know from past experience that I can’t write “to market.”  That leads back to the Valley of the Shadow of Death and I refuse to take that path.  I have to write what I love, with fire and passion and blood on the page.  However, I also need to take a care and ensure that I order my projects in a smart way.  I have to make sure I’m building readership for the projects I have sold, and work toward projects that could share cross-readership.  

Everything is based in fantasy — except Dear Sir.  So as I’ve been mulling over my short and long-term goals, I decided the next project needs to support that readership.  To that end, I’ll work on Victor’s story next.  I’ll build and plot it (while I have 10K in previously written sections — I don’t think I have enough story for a 60-80K book) while I return briefly to Revision Xibalba.  I’ll sub the Maya book while I work on Victor’s story.  Once that first draft is done, I’ll set it aside to work on Revision Hell for Arcana.  I want to keep the fantasy-related pipe filled, definitely, but I need to continue to build the romantic BDSM side as well.

Ironically, there are quite a few ties in the romantic threads from Dear Sir over to, say Road to Shanhasson.  Gregar taught me a lot about sadomasochism.  But someone who loves Dear Sir won’t necessarily try a romantic fantasy trilogy.

So, that’s the plan for the next six months.  Back to MayNoWriMo.

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Deep in the Well

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about creating art as sinking into the Well to touch the flow of inspiration that lies just beneath the surface.  When you’re deliberately dipping into the Well and remaining open to Creation, then the exact inspiration you need will be provided.

Take a small step in the direction of a dream and watch the synchronous doors flying open.

This happens all the time, if I am open and listening.  Usually, it’s music recommendations.  I always have a very specific playlist for each book, sometimes for each character.  As the story arc develops, I sometimes need a new message, a new tone or inspiration.

Sitting at 80K and dying to reach “the end” of Return to Shanhasson, I’ve been searching for THE song to get me through the big big climax.  It’s just around the corner.  I feel its beady little eyes boring into me, hear its evil cackle on the wind, and sniff the faint stench of death.  It makes me sick with dread but I creep closer every day. 

Why this dread?  Because I don’t know how I’m going to save them.

Oh, if this were Romancelandia, they’d all go off and live happily ever after.  But this is Blood and Shadows, and my characters don’t always get to ride off on white chargers to live in the Cinderella Palace.  Don’t get me wrong, the ending overall is VERY uplifting and wonderful, but bad things happen along the way.  There’s a very dark moment ahead and I can’t see my way through it. 

I can’t see who reaches the brief patch of light on the other side before the next horrifying hairpin turn, and that makes me very, very nervous.

I needed a song, and I found it thanks to Mrs. Giggles.  It’s far from a new song, but seeing it again, and reading the lyrics, I felt the hypnotic pull of the Well trying to suck me under to the bottom of the ocean. 

Who wants to live forever 
Who dares to love forever 
When love must die

But touch my tears with your lips
Touch my world with your fingertips
And we can have forever
And we can love forever
Forever is ours today

The Breaking Benjamin tribute isn’t bad, but no one will beat the original Queen.

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Maybe, Maybe Not

I loved this article by Julie Anne Long and her agent, Steven Axelrod.  The studies about randomness and “herd” tendencies of humans were interesting, but the best part for me personally was the story about the man and his one prized horse.

I always set extremely high expectations on myself and events.

  • If I don’t final and get this project in front of Editor, then I’ll never draw this Editor’s attention.
  • If I do final and Editor doesn’t request material, then I’ll never have another chance with this Editor.
  • If I can’t get an Agent on this project, and I know it’s my best work yet, then I’ll never get an Agent.
  • If Publisher doesn’t accept this project that I love sooooo much, then I’ll never sell it.
  • I’ll never sell anything again.

For years, I studied the markets.  I bought all the debuts published by my target lines.  I haunted industry blogs.  I stalked editors and entered every contest they even thought about judging.  I feverishly researched agents and queried left and right. 

And my one prized horse kept running away. 

I studied why I thought my fence kept busting.  I listened to my sympathetic neighbors who insisted I needed to write something different and safer.  And I found myself in the darkest hour of night and the Valley of Doubt.

I did finally come to the conclusion that nothing matters.  Everything is random.  I might as well be HAPPY with what I write and write what I please, instead of wandering around in the doom and gloom of the industry, because I know the stress and worries will only get worse after that first big NY contract.  If I can’t live my dream and be happy, then it’s not much of a dream, is it?

And so Dream Agent rejects my latest project.  Maybe I’ll get a different agent who’s an even better match for me.  Maybe not.  Maybe the next project will be right for her.  Maybe not.  Maybe my next big project will be a hit.  Maybe not.  Maybe I’ll sell this project.  Maybe not.

But I’ll always write what I love and I’ll never feel badly about it again.

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Officially Revision Xibalba

October is here and I’m in hell.  Revision hell, that is, or since this is a Mayan Fantasy:  

Revision Xibalba.

I’m not quite as prepared as I hoped, but the best laid plans, etc. etc.  I have a pretty solid vision in my head for what I want to accomplish, although my daysheet is still incomplete.  I do have all my hastily jotted note cards and my timelines.  I plan to fill out the daysheet as I go, recording word count per scene.

I don’t know how much “new” blog content I can provide if I’m deep in ripping apart story, so I’ll try to plan a few easy things.  I’ll scan Princess Monster’s illustrated story and put it up one page at a time.  I’ve also got some oldies but goodies from the dead blog that I can repost. 

I’ll also post RX updates here briefly but I doubt many will be interested in my little “400 words D&E – didn’t get up as early as I planned” sort of posts, but it keeps me honest.  Those little notes also go to my accountability partner, Jenna, who meets me D&E.

My update today?  :oops:  Up but later than I planned and I did this blog entry, which cut into my time.  (Note to self:  set up blog entries the night before if possible.)  I did edit the beginning of the new scene I started yesterday (340 words) and have some jotted notes from yesterday when I was waiting for the monsters at school.  Hopefully I can sneak in some real words over lunch or tonight.  I’ll post an end of the day count later.

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Happy Birthday, Year 5

Today, I’m five years old as a writer.  Five years ago, I made a commitment to My Beloved Sisthat I would FINISH Rose (then titled MBB).  I didn’t even dream of publication at that point–I just promised to get Shannari out of that prison cell and back to her barbarian. 

To be honest, I’ve struggled to decide what I wanted to say.  This past year has been hard…and glorious.

I’ve had to learn how to write new books and push existing books through to production at the same time.  Not to mention promotion, which I really don’t like to do much.  Giving away books and prizes are much more up my alley than chats (or book signings in the future), but the introvert must come out occasionally.  As a writer, there’s nothing better in this world than fan letters, though.  Meeting people who actually READ my BOOK is a humbling, thrilling, boggling, stammering-inducing experience.  Lord help me, I’ll be a basketcase if I actually have to talk anywhere.

I think my writing has taken some interesting steps.  I’ve pushed myself in 2008 to finish two very challenging and non-politically-correct stories.  AKA Romancelandia may hunt me down with torches and pitchforks after certain scenes in The Road to Shanhasson…

*Gregar grins and there’s absolutely nothing innocent in his wink*

and beta-readers either love or despise Conn in Letters to an English Professor.  That’s one book I really waged war with myself against.  Again, I almost listened to other people’s advice and filed it away instead of finishing it the way it deserved.  I’m so happy with that story I could just bawl thinking about it, but then Miss Belle would beat me over the head with her pink parasol.

Neither story was within my comfort zone as a writer.  They hurt my heart in many ways.  Gregar is not easy.  I actually wrote his big scene wrong the first time in a vain attempt to sneak around his heart’s desire.  I didn’t WANT to write him that way, but the Shadowed Blood was adamant and patient until I got it right.  Well, he did bring out his ivory rahke several times, and once I swear he grabbed me by the hair and threw me into the Well.  But hey, I finished it, and it is one incredible ride. 

And Letters, well, what the @#*&% was I thinking to write a contemporary?  It would have been much easier to shelve it instead of pushing to the end.  Sometimes I felt like that scene in the original Rambo movie where he’s hauling the POW up the sloppy muddy hill toward the helicopter, which then abandons them to the enemy.  But oh, oh, oh, I’m so glad I kept climbing.

And that summarizes the year, I think.  I kept climbing.  Maybe not as fast as I hoped (my word count took a dip over the summer).  Maybe not as far.  But I feel like my writer’s heart grew a size or two after writing those books.

May every book help my heart grow until it busts right out of my chest.

Here’s to another year.

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Happy Birthday, Year 4

Originally published September 2007

As I said Monday, I turn four years old as a writer this week.  If you’re interested in previous years’ reviews, you can always check the archives–although I noticed yesterday that something went a little wonky with the import into WordPress and some of the entries are doubled.

Two big things occurred to me last year.

So it finally dawned on me. It’s never going to get any easier. I’m never going to have more time. I whine now about having too many ideas and too little time. How much worse will it be if I ever am under contract?


The most important thing the past year has taught me: no doubts. I’m trusting my heart, my instincts, my path. I’m going to write hard and wildly and I’m not going to stop and worry about what anyone else might say or do. Whether anybody else will like what I’m doing or hate it. I’m bleeding Story with my heart and that’s all that matters.

What does this mean?  It means I finally found MY story.  I found the kind of story I *have* to write.  I can write that story with authority, with belief in my heart that it’s the right story for me, right now.  Instead of wavering, whining, and wandering around in the darkness, I hacked my own path out of the wilds.  Most importantly, I FINISH.  When I commit to a story, I finish it.  I think that’s one of the most important commitments a writer can make.

I also paid attention to the state of the market, New York publishing, and how that fits with what I like to write.  When I stumbled across Drollerie Press and saw mythic transformative fiction and the glorious graphics on the site, I can’t explain it.  My heart skipped a beat.  I felt a resonance deep inside.  And I knew I had to submit.  Three pieces officially accepted for publication this year!  Another under consideration.  Inspiration brimming inside me.  A brilliant editor who’s teaching me to keep my voice while fine-tuning the story to our utmost ability.  What more could I want?

Well, someday, a NY contract too and an agent would be nice.   But I’m writing what I LOVE, and I found a place that loves the same thing.  It’s a great opportunity to grow with a new house, and I’m loving every minute of it.

So this year, I learned to listen to my heart.  I committed to daily writing, 500-1000 words, even if that means getting up at 4:00 a.m. to do it.  I have an accountability partner, my beloved sister, and my dearest friend, Wanda, all whom I trust unquestioningly. In 2007, I’ve written over 194,000 words already and finished SEVEN projects.

I have a vision for where I’m going, and I’m writing stories I love to get there.

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Happy Birthday, Year 3

Originally published September 2006

Oh, the exuberence, the giddy joy, the frantic nerves when I received the news TWO years ago today (rather, the night before). That was the pinnacle of my first year of writing. As with all Freshmen, I was too stupid to know that I didn’t know anything.

My writing birthday is September 30th. I’m nearly THREE years old. I look back on this last year, and MBB is still sitting in NY (is there a record for the longest submission? I mean, TWO years!).

I’ve been slogging through the Valley of the Shadow of Death much more often than scaling any glorious heights, but I wouldn’t give up this Journey for anything. My Shadowed Blood walks with me every step of the way, as well as my very dear friends.

These past two years taught me heartache and doubt. I wondered if I had any hint of talent at all, or if I should simply go bowling instead. I feared every word I wrote would be meh at best. When I finally realized how awkwardly I built MBB, I was afraid I’d never write anything I loved as much again. Despite its glaring flaws, I still see magic in that beloved story. That first dream suffered a painful death after the hopes and joy of the first full request, but was reborn in a new vision. I sacrificed Shannari and sculpted her again from blood and suffering, already carrying just a little bit of Shadow. A new vision, a new promise, a new heartache waiting to happen.

I learned all these things about character development and plotting and structure, and instead of improving, my writing tanked. I lost something, and I was afraid I would never get it back. I was afraid I’d never FINISH anything again.

But I also learned several truths while stumbling around in the dark.

Writing really is a Hero’s Journey, not just “to publication” or for a specific manuscript, but every single day. I will find myself in the Ordeal, the Inner Cave, not once, but over and over and over, and the only way out is to keep writing. The night really is darkest right before the dawn. The light never looked so miraculous unless you doubt deep down in your heart whether the sun will ever shine again. The road less traveled really is the only way for me–I must forge my own way, and fail and slog and struggle and bleed on my own. I can’t hand the reins over to anything or anyone ever again and expect to keep the magic alive. I learned the truth of the old saying about opening up a vein to write. Without blood pouring out of me and onto the page, the magic isn’t there for me.

I don’t know what the future holds any more than anybody else. I don’t know where this path leads, whether I’m bound for the Valley again, or whether the current foothill of joy and success will lead to a new marvelous peak.

It doesn’t matter in the long run. There are many more mountains to climb.

For so long, I wondered whether the path was right. One of the great agonies, I think, of the aspiring writer who works and has family with very limited time left over for writing. What if I wasted a whole year on something stupid? What if I chose a different project, a different path–would I reach a mountain any sooner?

If nothing else, this past year has brought me a certainty that I treasure. I know my path. I know it’s my path, and every step resonates with a melody that only I can hear with my heart. If that’s sentimental and foolish, so be it. If this path never leads to Mount Dhoom, so be it. The Impossible lives in my dreams, and all I can do is try to capture that beauty with words to the best of my ability.

When the Butterfly soars, I will rip off its wings and offer the blood on my hands as sacrifice. When the Butterfly crawls, I will throw it up into the sky again with heaven ablaze in my eyes. Because the Butterfly will fly again, as long as I keep writing on this endless mercy mile.

So here’s to another year of writing.