Growth as an Author

Salryc TeethIn 2013, I began writing.  I was stressed out, flustered, and just needed to escape.  What came out was a very dark story that somehow managed to portray hope.  The plot has enough tropes to make the reader feel comfortable, yet enough novelty to keep  interest.  The world?  Think Game of Thrones meets Star Wars.

Even now, I think the story is good.  Keyword there is STORY.  The writing?

Oh. My. God.

It wasn’t bad, or anything, but it certainly wasn’t good.  The word choice, stylistic options, and overuse of common “ticks” (a bit, though, etc) was just very amateur.  This is why BloodLust was NOT the first novel I released.  While the story is one of my favorites, it needed to have a little cosmetic surgery, and I’ve done a doozy on it.

Now, the introduction to the iliri has flare, substance, and rhythm.  It reads like a novel should, not some stuttering babble coming from a self-absorbed bimbo.  The story is a gripping coming of age novel from the perspective of a domesticated humanoid in a world where metal is rarely available in pure form.  Iliri are used as cheap labor, considered to be inferior to humans and little more than animals.  Imagine if dogs evolved to walk on two legs and talk.  Now imagine how they’d feel about their collars and being owned.

And the story had a life of its own.  Book 1 quickly turned into a four book series.  The story took hold, grew, and became something epic.  To this day, I’m not positive if it will culminate in 8 or 9 books, but I can tell you that I know exactly where it’s going.  Sadly, I keep finding that what I THOUGHT was a single book ends up being two.  I had to re-write book 5 twice, because 350k words might be a bit much for ONE book, but the plot needs to END when the pages do.  Evidently separating them by location was NOT a good idea if too much happens in one place.

So, I got to learn about pretty much everything while living in the fantasy world.  One of my biggest problems is describing the iliri in a way that makes it clear they are NOT vampires.  They’re predators who are complete carnivores.  There’s a few other hints I drop throughout the series, foreshadowing the “big reveal”, but I also know that 95% of people won’t even notice, but it’s all to keep the reader from associating my beasties with something they have probably read a lot more about.

And yet, now that I’m well into editing the second book (which will release in June) of the series, I can’t help but see how much I have learned by writing so many novels.  At book 6, I dropped half of my personal ticks.  At book 15, I finally figured out a good method of deep third POV.  Around book 20, my dialogue tags began to feel seamless and invisible (see One More Day).  Now, nearing book 40, I look back and just cringe at my novice mistakes – then fix them!  It means that book 2 will probably have more than 60% re-written.  It will also be so much better because of it.  The world will have a chance to come alive because I, as an author, can finally get the hell out of its way.

And none of this could have been possible without the skills of a damned good – and very patient – editor.  Her remarks come back with laughter and cheesy jokes.  When she discovers a new “bad habit” I have (such as mistaking whether to use a period or comma around the quotes) she trains me, making her job easier in the future.  Often, this results in some pretty intense discussions, a lot of ranting, and a few tantrums, but in the end, I’m so much better because she stands her ground and MAKES me fix it.  Yes, the choice is mine, but bad grammar is just bad.

And today, rolling my eyes at myself, I’ve realized that even a good novice author is still just that.  Experience really does pay off, so I’ll keep on writing the books, and hopefully my fans will keep on enjoying them.

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Challenge Accepted Cover Reveal – FRIDAY!

Riley Outfits 3This is a novel that is near and dear to my heart.  Challenge Accepted was actually written on a dare – and turned into a series.  A good friend of mine said that there were some things that just couldn’t go together in a single book.  When asked for examples, she listed off: horses, gamer punks, romance, and sexism.  Yep, my mind immediately jumped to Gamer Gate (if you don’t know about it, trust me, it got ugly).  From there, the rest was easy.

 

I have been a gamer since before MMOs existed (yeah, I’m dating myself, sorry!).  I met my husband online when he asked about my loadout.  While gaming I have met some of the closest friends I’ve ever known.  I’ve also encountered the worst society has to offer.  From guildmates who would send me cash when I got laid off to guys who stream stalked my guild and email pictures to my gmail, the experience is diverse, but I still love it.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  The good far outweighs the bad.

In Challenge Accepted, I hope you can experience all of this.  Friendships that are real, even if the people have never seen each other’s faces, loves that are built on more than just physical attraction, and a dedication to something that most people consider a hobby and others think of as a sport.

Then there’s Riley, the main character in Challenge Accepted.  The world is determined to knock her down because she can’t seem to fit into the narrow rules that society wants her to live by.  She won’t be meek.  She’s anything but mild.  Riley is a force of nature who can’t back down from a challenge.  When she meets Void, the mysterious gamer who keeps dominating the ranks of her favorite game, she thinks he’s just another stepping stone.  Sparks fly, in more ways than one.  Take one alpha male, add a woman so dominant and vivacious that he looks passive, mix in a few death matches, real life threats, and a dog….

Challenge Accepted shows you what happens when sexism meets its  match.  They said girls could never be as good as a man.  Riley is willing to prove them all wrong.

Log in and come along for the ride.  Challenge Accepted is now available for pre-order: getbook.at/ChallengeAccepted

 

 

An interesting chat about women

cover girl in grey.pngI was talking with my husband the other night about tropes in fiction.  You see, I really like to muddle with the typical “expectations” and breaking a trope is as exciting to me as a roller coaster is to a normal person.  In the end, the topic came around to popular presentation of women (by him, not me!)

In his esteemed opinion, men are typically attracted to strong, capable women.  Shrinking violets and dainty, demure damsels are an affectation of women – in today’s world.  While sure, there’s still a segment of the population who thinks women should be seen and not heard (and probably always will be, sadly) he insists that men like a woman who is sure of herself, no matter what that self might be.  His proof: Katy Perry over Zooey Deschanel.

Now, I’m not saying he’s right.  I do find his opinion to be interesting from a writing standpoint.  How often do we present our female leads as quiet, overlooked, obedient little ladies?  If not, do we default to snarky and brazen?  Where are the women who can kick ass while wearing designer heels?  Never mind how hard that would be, I mean, there still should be a few, right?

Which kinda brings this back around to writing.  Every time I create a female character who is proud of her sexuality, unconcerned with social norms, or otherwise deviates from the standard “bookish girl with high intelligence whose beauty has been overlooked due to her shyness” I wonder if my readers will hate her.  So far, they have always enjoyed the characters who inhabit my mind.  When I wrote the first Wolf of Oberhame book, I was sure that Leyli would be scoffed at.  She is too girly.  She is too calculating and manipulative.  She is too stereotypically a GIRL.  Never mind that she promptly takes the damsel in distress trope and craps all over it.  She’s most certainly not “masculine”.

But, she is very VERY strong.  When her world turns upside down, she doesn’t break a heel and freak out.  She SURVIVES, because really, that’s what most normal people would try to do in her situation, right?  And I’m still getting emails, direct messages on twitter, and facebook inboxes from fans who adore the story.  She’s sexy because she is confident in who and what she is.

From tomboys to fashionistas, evidently “sexy” is defined by the comfort a woman has in her own skin.  Thick, thin, short, or tall, a little self-confidence is ten times more attractive than some photoshopped ideal that is impractical.  And the more I thought about this, the more I realize how very true it is.  From my little fan girl crush on a certain guy who streams my favorite game to my husband’s “perfectly respectable” appreciation for a rather deviant music star, we all find personality to be much more appealing than any physical trait that exists.

So I’m taking this as a challenge.  Can I make a character more sensual than their physicality?  Can I write love interests who society would not typically find “appealing”?  Can I convince the reader to fall in love alongside the characters in my stories?  I think so, and I plan on proving it.

I’m also feeling really inspired to write another book.  Oh, this is going to be a lot of fun.

 

What an amazing release weekend!

Leyli Promo poses 1First, I have to tell everyone who read When We Were Kings and/or When We Were Dancing THANK YOU!  I mean it.  Thank you so much for taking a chance on an author you probably had never heard of before.  Thank you for buying the book, or borrowing.  Most of all, thank you to everyone who took the time to leave a review.

I know that this isn’t exactly a “hot” subject in fantasy right now.  Monarchies are over done.  Princesses saving the world?  Oh, that’s “old hat”.  So much about this series begs to be cliche – but it’s NOT.  Leyli refused to be just another princess turned warrior.  Tristan?  Yeah, he had a few of his own opinions.

And they aren’t done yet.  Granted, I’m a little burned out on gladiators right now (this always happens for a week or so after intensive editing of my books, then I’m addicted all over again).  And  it’s already starting.  So far, I’ve been locked out of WWWD for 10 days because of the publishing process.  In that time, little details about book 3 (When We Were Crowned) have become just a little more clear.  Never mind the addendum book that’s begging me to release it.

You see, it isn’t just Tristan and Leyli that are the heroes of this saga.  Haven’t any of you wondered about that birthmark on the Lyone family?  Now I wonder where something like that could have come from.  And while that’s the most obvious hint I’ve left hanging out there, it’s not the only one.  I’m waiting for someone to figure it out.  (Yes, that’s a dare).

But the release has gone so much better than I could have dreamed.  Being a pragmatist, I’m well aware that gladiators, princesses, and obscure indie authors aren’t exactly begging to become the next “megahit” of the year.  I was hoping for a solid release from my dedicated fans.  Instead….

I got so much more.  When We Were Kings hit #31 in free fantasy books, right alongside novels I’d bought myself.  When We Were Dancing reached 29k in the overall kindle store (which has like 4 million books in it)!  These numbers aren’t best seller status or anything, but it’s jaw dropping for me.

Keep in mind, I released my first book, One More Day, in September of 2015.  Less than a year later, I’m seeing sales to be proud of.  WWWK still has a perfect 5 star rating!  Reviews are ticking up, sales have been stable all weekend, and me?

I feel like an author.  Saturday evening, I had to sit down and just let it sink in.  My dream of writing a book had not only been achieved but I really, truly, honestly FEEL like an AUTHOR.  I write books that people actually read.  Not just crap to fill up the kindle listings, but books with good reviews, solid sales, and a fan base that is growing.  I have an audience to keep feeding my stories.  I have a reason to do this.  I have achieved a dream…

And I wish that I could tell each of you how much I appreciate it.  For you, my readers, it may have been a book you picked up on a whim.  For me, the author, this has been a dream come true.

And I’m not at all ready to stop.  I have two more series to release this year, and the Wolf of Oberhame…. yes, there’s still more of her story to tell.  It’s going to be a wild ride.

 

What if the trolls knew where you lived?

smartphone-friends-internet-connectionA few decades ago, setting up the perfect chance for things to go wrong in a book was easy.  One girl, one dark alley, and she’d be isolated.  Today, not so much.

Everyone has a cell phone.  Most have GPS locating apps, find friend/family, or such.  Walking home?  I’d be shocked if the girl didn’t have a flashlight app on, while texting to her bestie.  This is the constantly connected world we live in, and portraying it in literature makes a few things a bit… less easy.

Now add in social media, video games, mobile games, voice to text, blue tooth, and more.  It’s exciting.  It’s amazing and common place all at the same time.  So how do you keep the feel of the stories we loved, while embracing the modern world that is consuming us?  It’s a question I’ve had a lot of fun playing with.

You see, the internet offers a lot of anonymity.  Games offer a break from reality.  The massive amount of tech that most people carry on them is staggering, but it offers authors a chance to look at old problems in new ways.  And THAT is what I have done with the Eternal Combat series.

Gamers living like real people

shift9441PopAs I’ve said many times, we’re all gamers.  From Solitaire to Call of Duty, almost everyone I know has a game to whittle away the time.  Maybe they play it on their phone while riding the bus, maybe they rush home after school to log in with their friends in WOW, or maybe the Wii counts as exercise.  We all do it.

Then there’s the dark side of this hobby: sexism.  Oh, it’s not all inclusive.  It still exists, and the more male dominated the genre of games, the more likely someone is to run into it headlong.  Even my husband has suffered because of it – while running one of my characters around.  Private messages to do disgusting things, random pictures sent to the email address I used for guild forums (yeah, I did keep that picture of your penis for future blackmail, bud!) and the threats.  Oh, there’s always the threats.

I’d say that 95% of the guys I know online are great.  Maybe 20% of those  are protective of the girls in their guild/friends list.  Then there’s that special group of idiots.  Doesn’t matter if it’s the guy who says he’ll rape me because I got a good kill, the one who keeps telling me to shut up because I should be seen and not heard, or the butt-munch who heard me on the guild stream and now stalks me across the map wanting to be friends.

Imagine what would happen if that last layer of anonymity was stripped away.  What if the world knew that QQ was named Riley Andrews, lived in small town Texas, and her face was plastered everywhere.  What happens when being a “girl gamer” means you suddenly have to do twice as good to prove a guy isn’t carrying you through the game?  How do you combat this?  How do you fight back?  Do you even bother?

And what would you do when the threats become real?  How can you tell the difference between some troll mouthing off online and the guy who honestly wants to see you die?  How can you be sure that “I’m gonna rape you!” is a joke and not a real threat?  When the harassment crosses the  line from virtual to real, and the privacy protections of the internet provide your attacker with one more layer of protection while isolating you from the support systems that were meant to keep you safe, what do you do?

What if it was your daughter that had to deal with this?  Your mother?  Your best friend?

Because it happens all the time.  Sure, it’s usually a joke, but sometimes it’s not.  The Eternal Combat series mixes the joys of our virtual lifestyle with the horrors.  Love, friendships, and stalking are all a part of the new world we’re immersed in.  The old threats have adapted.  The dark alley is a place we gleefully log into, to see what our friends and family are doing.  All across the world, teenagers are harassing each other, stalking, bullying, and destroying people while sitting comfortably at a computer in the safety of their homes.  The atrocities I grew up with have been given a healthy dose of steroids.  The virtual world has become both the best and the worst of society.

I think it’s time for storytelling to take all of this into consideration without setting it up as a far-flung future that we will never see, because it’s real.  It’s here.  It isn’t the AI in those games we should fear.  It isn’t the companies that make them.  It’s the handful of mentally deranged sociopaths who are cloaked in anonymity, handed their victims on a streaming virtual platter.

How to be an Author

books-are-magicIt seems everyone wants to do it.  No one knows the rules.  Some say there’s money out there for the taking.  Let me tell ya the truth.

Being an author is like a job.

Yeah, it may be a fun job, but there’s still some responsibilities and deadlines that have to be met.  Sometimes, there’s even a few bits that kinda suck to do.  So, let me give you a very brief overview of what you need to consider before you press “publish” on KDP.

First, you need a story.  I’m not talking about some interaction between two smoking hot people, who you wish one of them was you.  I’m talking about a story that can be set up in a single sentence.  Here’s a few examples:

  • Mackenzie just found out she has cancer and is determined to become a survivor.
  • Since a man isn’t going to come save her, Leyli plans to become a successful gladiator so she can save herself.
  • The Heir to the throne has never been a woman before, but that won’t stop her from doing what she must to protect her country, even if she hates it.
  • The PLG may be a boy’s club, but Riley is determined to be the first woman to become a professional gamer and destroy the glass ceiling.
  • Salryc may be a beast, but that doesn’t mean she’s worse than a human, and she’ll do whatever it takes to show the world that iliri are people, too.

Now, if you’re paying close attention, you might notice that those are MY books (and that 2 of them have yet to be released…enjoy).  Naturally, I didn’t start with a one-liner.  I start with an idea, and end up with the sentence.  It doesn’t matter how you get there.  The point is that your story must start somewhere, move through obstacles of some kind, and reach a solution.  Happy, sad, good, or bad, it doesn’t matter, but you must END the story.

Next, you must pick a perspective.

lauren-dicioccio-book-art-3First person.  Third person limited.  Omniscient.  Even second person if you’re feeling a little psychotic and want to have people cuss at you.  Now, if you don’t know what these phrases mean, try Google.  Research.  Learn.  Treat yourself like an artist trying to improve the craft.

As an aside: head hopping is evil.  Do not do it.  If you try to say it’s “omniscient” perspective, then just slap your own face for the rest of us.  We’ll want to, if that manuscript ever sees the light of day.  Omniscient has no inner thoughts and relies on ONLY mannerisms and descriptions of what can be seen, heard, felt, etc.  Third person limited is what you’re thinking of, and if you switch whose head you’re inside, well, you have rules.  Yeah… Google them.

When you finish – if you do – read it again.

Cruel point here.  Many writers never have the guts to actually finish a novel.  I hear it’s hard.  Personally, I think it’s due to confusion.  They want to write a GOOD book.  Unfortunately, no one has ever done that.  Many of us write books that “aren’t bad” but they still need help to become GOOD.  The first step, though, is to write a bad one.

When that is done, read it.  Highlight the bits that bother you.  Fix the typos (now, not while you’re trying to finish).  Watch out for things like now/not or chance/change.  Spell check won’t see those.  Make things tolerable enough while you read it, looking at the details.  Did her dress change colors?  Did an extra hand appear in that sex scene?  Is her brother suddenly her father, and then turns into her cousin?  Was his hair always brown?  Thought she left on a Tuesday at 9 am, so how did she arrive on a Monday at noon?  Fix it, highlight it, make notes in red, or margins, or whatever you need to do, but read it and don’t say “I’ll go back and fix that”.  Nope, this is when you fix it.

When you’re done with all of that, read it again.

And then someone else needs to read it.

Not your mom.  Not your best friend (usually, although mine is a writer so that doesn’t really count).  You don’t want the moron down the street to read this love child you’ve created.  Nope.  This is where you pick the smartest, meanest, most cruel-hearted person you know, who might possibly do you a favor.  Beg.  Do whatever it takes, and give them a red pen with the understanding that you want their HONEST opinion.

Then, go home and cry.  You don’t have to tell us you did that, but you will.  When the work comes back, mutilated by this asshole who thinks she knows what it took to make this into a work of art, then you can beat that cum guzzling gutter snipe back into the stone ages with the research you did and how you’re sure that they are wrong.  Er.  Um.  I mean… When the critique partner gives it back, you will probably feel a bit hurt, shocked, and embarrassed at how many things slipped past.  Have another good cry, a few beers, but make sure you lock up the guns first, because killing this person is still not a good idea.  Trust me, you’ll need them (the person, not the guns) again later on.

Now, you let it cook for a while.

frog-prince-book-artIs this your first book?  Great!  Set it aside for a week.  Don’t read it.  Don’t talk to it.  Don’t fix anything.  Start another book, either writing or reading, I don’t care.  Just do not touch it, or you will ruin the process.  Think about ANYTHING else (like that family you ignored while you were writing.  Yeah, your infant just started college, hate to break it to ya, you missed a bit.)

After a week (month is better) read that stupid book you wrote again.

Because cancer/gladiators/gamers/fantasy alien monsters was a horrible idea.  It’s so last decade.  What were you thinking?  Gah, this thing sucks, but you will still read it ONE MORE TIME.  You’ll also find mistakes that made it past you, the others who have read it, and – if you’re lucky/smart – the editor.  Typos happen.  Commas always end up in the wrong place.  Read it again and you WILL find them.  If you think you can write a book, make a cover, and get rich, well, you’re wrong.

If you can handle that…

Then you might be able to become an author.  What I have outlined here is kinda the bare minimum of what it takes to write a book.  You will need to put your pride in a box somewhere and bury it, because you will not be seeing it for a long time.  There are no insta-riches.  There isn’t some easy trick to becoming a multi-millionaire.  This is art.  Yes, it takes an inherent talent, but it can be trained.  Not even Picasso started off as a brilliant artist.  He had to learn, get critiques, and try again.  We all do.

The trick is to realize that your book is not you.  It is a single grain of sand in what makes up the person who wrote it.  Yes, you may love it, but that doesn’t make it great, and if you protect it from all harm, all you will do is ruin it.  Your book will become the pampered child who everyone hates because it’s got a filthy mouth, bad manners, and a helicopter mom.  Your book needs to bleed, to laugh, and to grow up.  Without a few hard knocks, it can never become the beloved novel that is hidden in the pile of shit that was born when you first typed…

The End.

Feminism (or lack of) in Romance

pexels-photo (3)The past few days I’ve been trying to get a little reading in, but can’t.  I’m just sick of the sexism.  Even worse, most of it comes from WOMEN.  Gah.  I love a good romance novel.  I really do.  The problem is finding one.  All too often, the woman is portrayed as an idiot, a gold digger, or worse.  The men are usually rich jerks, who treat their love interest as worse than crap, and we’re supposed to swoon over it.

This makes me wonder if women really find this sexy or if we’re so conditioned to a male dominated society that we simply THINK we should find it hot.

Don’t get me wrong, I like a strong man as much as the next girl.  Confidence is sexy as hell.  A guy willing to protect and care for his girl?  Oh yeah.  But enough with the rich thing already.  Don’t make that his ONLY defining characteristic.  Ok, rich with abs, sorry.

If I want erotica, then I want the woman to have at least as much control over the situation as the guy.  Now, maybe they are both whisked away with hormonal passion and do stupid things — but don’t make her useless while he gets to be the smart, sensible, and powerful one.  If you’re writing an uneven power scale into the story, you’re already halfway to domestic violence.  This is NOT something we want to ingrain in the public as “perfectly ok”.  It is NOT a turn-on to me.

Why not turn the tables?  Why isn’t it sexy for a woman to decide she wants a guy, knock him off his feet with how much he “needs” her, and enjoy the conquest?  Why not make it a power struggle between them?  That’s some pretty good conflict, right there.  Or how about a couple where the man is a feminist, and does everything to lift her up.  THAT would be sexy as hell.  (And yes, I’ve read a few of those.  Thank you to the authors who write them).

Our society has ingrained some horrible things into our female brains, though.  A few examples: there’s no male equivalent for mistress.  Why can men have a piece on the side, and society makes that ok, but there isn’t even a word for when women do it.  Lover?  Uh, what if it’s just sex?  Friends with benefits?  What if it isn’t really a friend, just a relationship of mutual benefit, and she doesn’t want to TALK to him?

How about the whole “the man is always experienced, and the girl is always innocent, or nearly so” thing?  In a very non-scientific poll of my male friends, they assure me that blushing and timid women are rarely a turn on.  A woman in control, with her own power, who relinquishes a bit because she desires HIM is much hotter.  Why are powerful women ugly, and powerless women lovely?  Why is HE always the boss, and not her?  If she is, she’s usually the villain.

Most of all, why is rape considered the shortcut to writing a woman with a dark past?  Ugh!  Stop it already!  Men get raped, too, people.  Consider how that might play out.

So, I’m challenging all authors to change this antiquated dynamic.  Make some sexy women who aren’t as weak as a wet paper bag.  Make strong women become something sexy, while keeping their feminism.  Make men gentle and caring without emasculating them.  Write something hot as hell with a little equality.  Try it, and I bet you’ll see just how many sexist tropes we’ve all fallen into using because it’s just so damned easy.

Go ahead.  Write it.  I dare you.  I double dog dare you.

(and to all those authors who have already done this, you are my inspiration.  Yours are the books I don’t quit reading halfway through!)