World Building


What makes world building?  Is it a verbal vomit from the author about this new universe the reader has just dropped into?  Would it be the nuances that make fantasy life different from reality?  Does it have to be spelled out, or should it season the story like a gourmet chef?

If you can’t tell, I have a rather strong bias about this.  Every time someone talks about world building, I twitch a little.  I have no interest in writing (and I’m sure you have no interest in reading) a prologue that lays it all out and removes the magic.  That’s so 1970s.  We’ve learned since then.

Instead, I think the world should be experienced by the reader as it happens, in real time (so to speak).  A hydrogen powered car here.  A gas giant lighting the sky there.  Maybe it’s a busy military compound that’s caught somewhere between the middle ages and three centuries into the future.  Maybe it’s a world where gladiators still are a viable means to dispose of criminals.  No matter what it is, the reader should be focused on the characters, and the world around them should just fill in the blanks.

Now, in some of my novels, I’ve made the decision to let the reader fill in the blanks.  Why?  Oh WHY haven’t I spelled out every single detail of these fabulous places that dwell in my mind?  The answer is easy.  I don’t think it’s fair.  I mean, how many times have you come across the hottie by the pool, only to be told that it’s not a forest pond, but a civic area surrounded by concrete?  Did you see him/her as a blonde?  Is it shocking when the author spells out that he’s a redhead, or she has a broken nose?  Do you really need to know that the sweet bouquet is filled with flowers of YOUR least favorite color?

See, we all have preferences, and those things affect our enjoyment.  Those are minor details that don’t really matter.  I think it’s the reader’s choice to fill in what should be there.  If it doesn’t leave a gaping hole in the plot, then why am I wasting time, droning on about the color of the curtains?  I hated it when Tolkein tried it.  I despise it in every novel that has come since.  Why would I do that to my fans?

And yet, I want you to understand what is going on.  Oh, I’m not going to spoon feed it to you.  I think my readers are too smart for that.  I’m going to give you little bits, showing the heartbeat of the universe as it happens, so you’re always pleasantly shocked and surprised.  I build my worlds in bite-sized chunks, so you can swallow it without choking.  I just think that no one needs a sledge hammer to the head to get the point.  It’s crude.  It’s not considered good writing, and I certainly don’t want to do that.

In one of my series, this is necessary.  The iliri have no idea where they’ve come from.  The point of view character can’t tell you what she doesn’t know.  As the author, I’m certainly not going to ruin the mystery!  (Sorry.)

Instead, I want to make reading into what I remember as a girl.  It was a journey – a discovery.  Every new page was a marvel, filled with magnificient things.  Every chapter made my mind spin.  What I expected to happen wasn’t always what did, and I learned.  I loved the quest to make it to the last page… and to imagine things that I couldn’t really see, but saw so very clearly.


Working with a co-author (and who is Kitty Cox?)

girls-344334There aren’t many people I could write with.  The list basically consists of Kitty Cox.  For years, she’s been the yin to my yang.  Our lives are intertwined so much that our husbands think of us more like sisters than just friends.  She’s my supervisor at work.  I’m her mentor in writing.  She has a flair for the number side of things; I excel in making sure it’s noticed.  Together, we’re the kind of friends I spent my life wishing for – including the part where I don’t have to worry about what I say to her.

And that last bit is why we can write together.  I can honestly tell her, “No one talks like that, chica.  Your dialogue is stiff and false feeling.”  Conversely, she picks apart my writing until I want to cuss a blue streak at her.  She makes sure I have a reason for every single action my characters take.  It’s not enough to just put them in a situation, Kitty wants to know why Mack didn’t just ask Ryan to take her to the hospital.  She wants to make sure I’ve prepared the readers for this by keeping her personality consistent.  She highlights every place her eyes glaze over when reading, then tells me to rip it out.

Kitty helps with every book I’ve put out, just like I help with every one she creates.  Granted, I kinda have a lead on her in the production area, and maybe having a full-time job gives her a bit less time to catch up, but she’s still writing.  When the idea for the Eternal Combat series came up, it was meant to be.  I’m a gamer.  She raises horses.  We both work for an internet company, so have a decent amount of technical knowledge – including the bad things that happen on the world wide web.

girls-380618.jpgSo what started as one book quickly grew.  Add in some gamer gate, a bit of weirdness at the Hugo awards, and this book morphed into a series.  The key players in gamer’s gate were the idea of the backbone for our characters.  Long nights over margaritas/martinis always turned to what would happen next in the series.  And then Kitty sent me a couple paragraphs.

She writes well.  It’s like a darker version of the way I do.  I have a love affair with the idea of hope.  She has a penchant for making the reality into something powerful.  Put those together, and we ended up with a book about some of the strongest women I’ve ever imagined.  They’re super hero strong, without losing their femininity or becoming cheap placeholders for characters that could feel real.

And then we moved into the rest of the series, and wow.  I always thought that writing with someone else would be a headache.  Sure, I expected the long debates over how to get from point A to point B in the book.  I never thought they’d be so much fun!

Since we’ve been pushing to get Flawed finished, Kitty has finally come to accept that she’s more than just a ghost writer.  She’s good at this.  She enjoys it.  That means there’s no reason her name shouldn’t be on the covers and she shouldn’t get equal billing for the hours she puts in.  The minute she agreed to it, I swapped covers and adjusted everything! (That’s the best part about digital books, changes can be made quickly.)

It also makes the final edits a lot easier.  The pair of us sit down and go through the comments our editor left.  Some we laugh off.  Many we debate.  Is this fragment indicative of the character’s mental state?  Are we trying to make the reader feel something with the choppy flow through this section, or were we being lazy?  How does ripping out that line alter things later in the book?  Does THIS line have any reason to be here?  What’s it driving in the story?  Does the sex scene have a purpose besides titillation?

children-839789.jpgYou see, every single word in a book should do something.  Whether that’s characterization, plot development, or setting – they all need to keep the novel moving in a single direction.  Forward.  The goal is always to get to the end of the book, not to wallow in the journey.  We just don’t want to skip any details between the inciting incident and the culmination of the character’s struggles.  Working with my best friend?  Yeah, it’s a whole lot easier.

Oh.  Right.  And Flawed is almost done.  Maybe after this series is out, we’ll have to start on something else, because working with a co-author is a lot better than I could have imagined.

Turning a beast into a hero

lost_neryxling_by_natehallinanart-d6wmanwThis image was the inspiration for so much of the Rise of the Iliri series.  It’s an animal, but not.  It’s humanoid, but not.  It’s adorable, strange, and intriguing.  When I saw this little beasty, questions popped into my head.  For me, that means a story is coming – and boy did it!

But readers want to have a hero who they can relate to.  I wanted to write a villain’s story without making it clear that’s what it really was.  Dozens of classics sprang to mind, all too often with a female “evil queen” type character, and I knew I had what I wanted.  The ultimate femme fatale, with charisma, danger, and pitfalls surrounding her very existence.

But taking a character from a strange creature to a hero isn’t something I can do in one book.  Well, I could, but the story would either be flat, not epic enough for my desires, or feel very rushed.  I needed a series.  An epic series!

And in the process, I’ve learned so much about writing.  I stopped listening to what I’m supposed to do and decided to become the mouthpiece for those people living in my head.  I told their story, not my own, and let it run free.

I’m currently working on the third book in the series.  For those who follow my work,  you know that I’m never just working on just ONE book, but “Iliri 3” as it’s currently being called, has just been sent to the editor (since Flawed came back).  Oh, it’s been run through a few times by myself and Kitty.  Our beta readers have picked at it.  New hints are going to be revealed, and I have a feeling this series is about to take a turn that none of you saw coming.  (insert a big, devious grin here).

But it’s all been planned from the start.  I’ve always known the overall path of the series.  It’s been the twists and turns inside each novel that often surprise me.  Hearing the reader reactions has me rubbing my hands together like some crazy mad scientist.  You won’t see this coming.  Oh no, but you’ve been asking the right questions.  I’ve left the right hints hanging out there.

The hardest part is not spoiling it for you, but I kinda want to.  Just a little.


I really like writing series

Eternal Combat Series.jpgFor me, a story is rarely told in just one book.  I love teasing out the details, making the reader go, “Oh!” when another little gem is dropped on them.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be what so many book lovers expect.  It seems that modern authors have a tendency to write single layer stories (and there’s nothing wrong with this!) that run straight from point A to point B.  I, however, want to take the scenic route.

Sometimes the good guy really isn’t.  Other times, the bad guy had respectable motivations.  Maybe an aspect of the world is a bit different than the people living there have always believed.  Sometimes, the characters simply don’t know.  And that’s the thing.  When we write from the character’s point of view, we can only show the reader what it is that the character would KNOW.

This brings a whole lot of challenge to me as the author.  Now, for those who know me, you’ll realize that’s a wonderful thing!  I love challenging myself.  I love setting myself up to fail, just so I can learn from it and grow to be better.  This also makes me aware of my own weaknesses, though.  As an example, I can not write a weak female character.

Destiny Pierce, the lead female in Flawed (cover art above, planned to release in June) is about as weak as they get.  Oh, sure.  She has a snarky comeback for everything, but she spends more time hiding from her demons than beating them back.  Compare that with Mackenzie, who is as sweet and mild-mannered as they come, but tackled cancer head on.  I think Mack wins that round for inner strength.  The best part, though, is when I can make a character grow, like Riley.  She started out so over confident and brazen but ended up actually learning that she had to care about more than just herself to succeed.

I think this is why I’ve enjoyed writing the Eternal Combat series so much.  Each of these girls is broken.  They all have a story worth telling, from PTSD to arrogance, without missing a beat for domestic violence, childhood trauma, and poverty.  By writing in a series, I get to tie one woman’s story arc to another, bringing in a fresh story to distract the reader while the bigger, deeper, darker picture keeps on going.  And yes, there is always a bigger picture in my series.  It seems I can’t just do the “well they know each other” type of serial romances.  I evidently suck at it.

Maybe it’s from being a fantasy author as well as writing romance?  Maybe it’s my own personality leaking into these stories?  I have no idea, but working out all the twists, the intertwining arcs of each novel, and then those novels to the series?  Yeah, it’s a drug I can’t seem to get enough of.  I just wonder if I’m the only one that enjoys it this much.

Tell me, do you prefer a complicated series plot, or are you happiest when you can simply take things as they come, and not try to chase tidbits through a book?  I’m honestly curious, and would love to know how others feel.

Sadly, I don’t promise it will change but might convince me to try something new.  It would be like a challenge.

Why are women supposed to be “good girls”?

woman-695454It seems like every book I read has a girl in it that is kind, sweet, and relatively innocent about the world.  The women who aren’t always come across as broken, being snarky to protect themselves, or such.  It’s social conditioning that we’re not even aware that we’re doing to ourselves.  Considering that most writers AND readers are women, this might be a problem.

I write books that I want to read.  I try my hardest to write the kind of books I never found, but went looking for.  My goal is to create stories about people that I believe are possible.  To clarify – the people are possible, not the stories.  I don’t really think that aliens are going to crash in North Carolina.  I do believe that not every girl in the world would see that and panic.  Some of us might be scared at first, but more curious than interested in running around screaming.

I also think that women’s sexuality is a problem.  Just think about it for a moment, there’s no female equivalent to “stud” in our language.  A “playboy” or “player” is a term for a man.  What are the feminine counterparts?  Slut?  Whore?

And why is it always the man’s job to do the picking up.  Where are the stories about the women who say “he’s hot, I want him”?  What about the rich ladies who are looked at fondly from a distance by their male admirer?  I get that we want our men to be strong, to protect us, and to help fix  all the problems.  It’s kinda coded in our DNA, and imprinted by our society.  We can’t help it.  This is what women find sexy.

But doesn’t that typically result in the woman being weak?  In some manner, she’s relegated to a position of subordination by the very stories we’re writing.  Why not equality?  It’s not really that hard to do.  It DOES mean that we need to think about relationships a bit differently.

Rochelle’s Reviews often comments on my “men”.  They aren’t alpha males.  They aren’t cruel, living on a power trip, or whatever.  They are strong, yet kind; powerful, but never better than their love interest; protective without being a caveman.  What I want people to see are my women.

I want to write women who remind my readers that it’s ok to like sex.  That there’s nothing wrong in putting a career over a man.  That sometimes she might have more sexual experience than her potential lover – and that it’s OK.  There are a zillion confused virgins out there in literary land.  What I want to write are all the other shades of female sexuality and dominance.  I want to let women like myself know that they aren’t alone, that it’s ok to be however they are.  That some girls want to grow up and be a mommy, but others want to find the perfect stay at home dad.  I want to write books for the readers who think outside the box.

I’m pretty sure that’s going to upset a few people.  Know what?  I don’t really care.  Growing up, I always wanted to read stories about women like me, but the only ones I found were always written as something to be ashamed of.  Well, let me assure you, I’m not ashamed of being different.

I’m damned proud of it, and we all deserve to feel that way.

Why do the gamer girls cuss so much?

Gia_by_WarrenLouw.jpgIn Challenge Accepted, the main character has a mouth that would make a sailor blanch.  It’s one of the most common complaints against the book, but there is a reason.  It’s a mask made of words to keep others away.

Riley is nothing but extremes.  From her neon colored synthetic dreads to her tattoos and favorite past time, her entire life is meant to prove that she’s not a victim.  Part of this includes refusing to let anyone in.  Except for her best friend and near-sister, the rest of the world is kept at arm’s length, and her potty mouth is just one tiny part of that persona.

It’s also a method for her to “prove” that she’s as tough as the boys.  To Riley, that’s a big deal.  She’s been reminded over and over in her life that she’s not good enough, so she counters that by swinging the other direction.  She tries to be as bad-ass as they come.  She wants to be the rebel, to be seen as anti-social.

I think all of us know someone like Riley Andrews.  This isn’t an uncommon type of personality, but it’s rarely lauded as the hero of a story.  Granted, it’s becoming a lot more popular in modern novels, but still.  I think that if Riley toned down ANYTHING “a bit” she’d lose a lot of her power.  Riley is such a striking character because she is so over the top.

My writing partner, Kitty Cox, and I discussed Riley a lot.  We wanted to make her weakness – her “fatal flaw” be her own strength.  We wanted to write a woman who could get knocked down over and over, and just make bigger plans for her own victory.  Each failure was a lesson to her.  Each attempt to do better was a success.  She’s given up on playing in the rules of society and that has consequences of its own.

We’re very aware that some people will disagree.  We know that the Eternal Combat series is not for the faint of heart.  We also know that online gaming has become a haven for the socially awkward, the insecure, and the shunned.  Online, the rules are different, but those are the things Riley has mastered.  She’s learned the game in one small part of her universe, and it alters how she interacts with the real world.

With the prequel to this series coming out, Riley and all of the Eternal Combat women have been on my mind.  While these books are technically romance, they teeter on the edge of Dark Romance.  The main characters are often broken in some way.  Their stories aren’t nice.  Then again, who of us can say we’ve had the perfect life?  All too often, it’s the hardships we’ve conquered that make us into interesting people.

Hopefully, we’ll soon be announcing a release date for Flawed… and the third Iliri book is getting close to one as well!  Going to be a busy year!

Without writing, I die a little inside

Pink AventadorI have oodles of books to finish up and publish.  About 28 more to go.  The problem is that there’s a very big difference between creating a new story and polishing one that’s finished.  Maybe not for everyone, but it is for me.

When creating, it feels like I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole and found myself in a wonderland.  I get to learn the nuances of this universe, to meet new characters, and to delve into their complicated situations.  I have the power of a god – to alter the fate of humanity, fix up a relationship, or whatever else the plot needs.  It’s thrilling, addictive, and immersive.

Editing does not give me that high.  Editing is the logic and rationalization behind the art.  It’s all about judging whether or not that compound sentence needs a comma, or if I can string those words together in a better way.  The goal of editing is to be sure that each and ever sentence makes the reader FEEL something.  The goal of writing is the experience the journey.

And so, I get very sick of editing.  I can think like that.  I am smart enough, dedicated enough, and proud enough to want my work to be published in the best state possible.  But my passion lies with creating.  I am an artist.  Maybe I use words to paint the scene instead of acrylics or clay, but it’s still the creativity that my mind demands.  Throwing myself into endless hours of watching for commas, periods, straight quotes, and word repetition is like data entry.  It’s dull.  It’s boring.  It makes me die a little inside.

My solution is to balance this with a new book.  Eight hours of editing gets me a day of writing.  Sadly, it’s easier to WRITE a book than it is to polish it.  For every novel I edit, I could probably write two.  That is if I didn’t have the dreaded day job.  Now that thing steals away the hours.  So, for now, I’m trying to balance the creativity with the productivity.  I’m hoping that I can keep making the books my readers are asking for while finishing the ones I already have out.

Steampunk Workshop.pngYet I still feel guilty for writing something new.  I keep thinking that my readers are waiting.  People are asking for When We Were Crowned, Two of a Kind, the third book in the iliri series, the prequel to the Eternal Combat series.  They don’t even know about my elementals, the monochromatic world, the hacktivist romances, or the second chance stories.  I do, and I love them.  I want to lose myself in those worlds, to finish the last few words before that book is added to the long line of works waiting to see the light of day.  I want so bad to write…

But I should be editing.  I should be finishing the series that are out instead of starting another.  I should be editing not creating.  This is what the responsible half of my brain says, and it’s smothering the other side that is dying to keep going, to keep this crazy pace of pumping out books.  If I could just learn how to tell my mind that it’s all ok, that I’m releasing books faster than most people, and that I deserve the time to do what I love….

Well, that’s what we all want, isn’t it?

So, I’m going to write.  I’m not going to edit another word today.  I’m just going to let my imagination run wild for a bit and enjoy the way it feels.  Tomorrow I can worry about being responsible and editing again.