What exactly is a Cliffhanger?

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Lately, I’ve seen people talking about cliffhangers when a book is complete.  In reality, what they’re referring to is a subplot or device used to maintain interest in a series: a lead.  Possibly even a hook.

You see, just because you want to read the next book doesn’t mean the last one ended on a cliffhanger.  Take my Rise of the Iliri series as an example.  Each book ends with an epilogue that sets up the next book in the series, making it clear what’s coming next.  In this series, every novel is basically a battle in a much larger war.  That doesn’t mean the books end on cliffhangers.

Why?  Because there is a clear beginning, middle, conflict, resolution, and ending.  Then there’s an extra hook at the end.  A cliffhanger, however, is one of those stories that might as well end with “to be continued.”  The plot of the story was NOT resolved.  What the MCs were trying to accomplish neither succeeded nor failed.  It’s still in progress.  We see this all the time with season finales on TV.  Just as you get to the point where your favorite character’s life is in danger, and you aren’t sure if they’ll survive… “To Be Continued…”

But a complete novel doesn’t have that.  BloodLust, the first book in the Rise of the Iliri series sets up the goal early on: Sal wants a place to belong.  Ideally, she wants to be an elite soldier, have her freedom, and make humans stop treating her like a second-class citizen.  Most of the book deals with this to one extent or another.  She also has a budding relationship forming, complications between her job and her species’ natural tendencies, and discrimination from humans.  Her success with her unit makes some humans uncomfortable, which comes back to those who’ve helped her.  Then, just at the very end of the book, we learn whether she was successful… or not.  Did her actions result in her losing her place – or cementing her position?  (Sorry, no spoilers here!)

But then there’s that epilogue!  Sal’s only mentioned in it, but the reader gets a glimpse of what’s happening in the background, and what Sal’s actions may have set in motion.  This brings up a NEW problem, and one she’ll have to face in the next book.  It’s a teaser, a promise that this series is about more than the one battle.  It makes the reader want more, and want it NOW.

That doesn’t make it a cliffhanger.

Now, if I’d gotten right up to the point where she gets in the big fight and stepped in the door to see if her friend was still alive… then stopped before revealing what she saw… that’s a cliffhanger.

If I’d made it so she was debating resigning her position, had her talk to her commanding officer, let him know she was leaving, and end with him saying, “We need to think this through…”  Then THAT would be a cliffhanger.

You see, in neither of the above examples is there a resolution.  There’s no ending, no way to know if the struggle we’ve been following for all those pages resolved the way we wanted (or not).  Oh sure, the war is still going on, the Emperor is still amassing his army, the humans are still discriminating against the iliri, and her love life is still unresolved… but those are all subplots.  The STORY, if broken down, is about a girl trying to find her place.  To be a complete story, we need to know if she does or does not.  All the rest is a part of the series arc.

And yeah, I know that cliffhangers are common with indie authors.  You see, it’s hard as hell to write a convincing ending without satisfying everything the reader wants to know.  If we get all the answers in the first book, why is there even a series?  Why would someone want to continue this saga?  And so, there are always some threads left hanging.  It could be a romance subplot, a character backstory issue, or so many other things.  Those are fine to leave open.  They don’t make a book end with a cliffhanger.

And ripping up a book or author for cliffhanger endings when they aren’t?  It can cripple sales, depress authors, and ruin their reputation.  Sure, some readers love that feeling of being left hanging.  Most?  They hate it.  They want a resolution for the plot of THAT book.  Don’t let your desire for the next installment come out as hurtful resentment.  This is most important with newer authors who don’t yet have a fan base and are still trying to get enough reviews to counter that omnipresent one that seems to be for a different book (because we ALL get at least one where we wonder what the hell was being read).  Just know that this is a powerful word in the literary world, and one that should be used correctly.

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THE SERIES IS COMPLETE

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This is it!  The final installment of the Wolf of Oberhame trilogy is now live!   Come, see how the story of the Gladiator Queen ends.

I know that many of my fans waited for far too long for this book, but I promised you this book, and so here it is.  Writing it wasn’t nearly as easy as I’d hoped.  The first rendition had 90% cut and restarted, but I think what came out of that is better than I could have expected.  Then again, I might be biased.

This low-fantasy saga of betrayal, love, and revenge has touched so many of you.  We’ve cheered for the gladiators, cursed them, and longed for them.  Now, we finally get to see what their fate holds, and if Luck is really as fickle as the Lion of Lenlochlien warned.

 

Forbidden Fruit

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Now that I’m waiting on the last stage of When We Were Crowned (yes, a release announcement is coming SOON!) I’m taking a mini-vacation.  Mostly reading, a little plotting, and a lot of playing.  So, in this time off, I’ve come to a realization. I will probably write something that will offend you. Yes, YOU, my favorestest of all readers. Although, I promise I’m not doing it to piss you off.
 
You see, I write to examine the human condition.  That means for every topic I show in a negative light, in another book, it will likely be given positive vibes.  Take the religious tones in Kiss of Death, as an example.  In my lineup of unreleased works, I also have a main character who is a Priest – and a damned good one.  Things like sexuality, personal identity, politics, religion, and more will likely come up.

The truth is that I don’t do this to shove my own ideas down people’s throats, but rather to examine how someone else could think that way.  Usually, a fictional someone who ends up as the main character, but still.  I’ve written about drug addicts, a highly driven woman guilty of her own sexism, a cancer survivor, and monsters.  I will write about guy on guy sex, girl on girl, polyamory, monogamy, and asexuality.  Faithful or atheistic, I don’t think it makes a person good or bad.  It’s just one of so many traits anyone can have.  How that blends into the whole is what’s really important.

But somewhere, I will hit YOUR personal pet peeve.  Doesn’t matter if that’s because the MC is 40 or 17 (I don’t write younger than that, sorry).  If it’s because the plot ends with happiness or sorrow.  Something will eventually be one of your personal “nopes”… but I hope you’ll at least give it a chance.

Granted, not everyone will like my work.  I get that, and I’m fine with it.  Still, for those who do, don’t let what someone else wrote convince you that I’m going to write it the same.  If I put a hot topic into a book, it’s because I want to see if there’s a way to bend something bad into something good, or possibly to examine how something good could end up being so bad.  I want to give my readers the chance to step out of the boundaries we’ve grown up in, and look at the other side.  To open a dialogue, if you will.

No, not because of any moral altruism.  Sorry, I’m not that benevolent.  I just think that the act of analyzing things in a new way is fun.  Yes, I like to THINK about the what ifs, and how the nuances of anything can change our perception.  I mean, the iliri are the personification of that.  I wrote them to be as far from humanity as possible, and yet still relatable – because I wanted to know if it was even possible to make that happen.

Mostly, though, it’s because we’re not SUPPOSED to talk about these things.  The taboo has an appeal that is undeniable, and I’m not the kind of person to refuse it.  Between the covers of a book, these examinations are safe and secure, kept somewhere we can walk away if it’s too much.  They also let us feel someone else’s struggles for a bit, and forget our own.  And isn’t that escapism the whole reason we all love to read?

See, every book I produce starts out with one question: what if?  Not something subtle, either.  Things like “What if Earth had a mind of its own?  How would that affect the life on its surface?”  Or “What if legendary creatures are simply evolutionary failures?  Or maybe successes?”  And then I dial it down.  If a vampire was just an evolved human, then what would one girl’s story look like?  If the planet has a mind, would s/he have children?  And I keep going down until I find the bit that makes me FEEL something.

You see, thinking and feeling go hand in hand.  One is not better than the other.  It’s like love and sex.  Sure, you can have one without the other, but when they’re paired up just right, it’s magic.  I want my books to be YOUR magic.

So, forgive me when I finally manage to offend you.  It’s not intentional.  This is just me trying to think outside the box.  Who knows, one day, maybe I’ll even find a story that has never been told before. After all, everyone needs a dream.

Nature Abhors a Vacuum

I will admit it, I took a week away from any serious writing.  I dabbled, I mowed the lawn, and I mourned my sweet Tristan.  And because I live on a farm, well, cats happen.  Where one adorable lap-cat left me mourning, two fuzzy and precocious kittens have helped make it better.

619870468538534778No, they don’t have names – not yet, at least.  This pretty little grey thing is the boy.  He started it all by laying in the barn being adorable.  My husband, the cat man, couldn’t help himself.  He had to love on the little guy, and shockingly enough, the kitten didn’t mind at all.  He loved it and wanted to be picked up.

Then he got sick.  Nothing bad, just not feeling perfect.  Inside he came (which means he’ll never leave).  Well, the little guy demanded to sit in my lap, fell asleep on my shoulder while I typed, and went from being the side effect of cat drop-offs to being a pet.

9191526641692853056Then there’s his sister.  She’s probably not related, in all honesty, since we had a few pregnant cats decide that our never-ending food bowl makes this a perfect home.  Where the little boy is sweet, this one is fearless and funny.  Oh, she also loves people, but she loves chasing us and attacking my dogs.  Yes, big dogs.  She will puff up and bounce sideways at them, then is so proud of herself when the guys lay down on her level and let her bat at their faces.  She got to come inside because the little boy was scared and lonely (and my adult cats wanted NOTHING to do with him).  It seemed like a good idea at the time, but let’s be honest here.  The chances of her ever being just a barn cat again?  Slim to none, and I’m leaning toward the none side of that.

And for those of you wondering about the other cats?  We’re trying our best to slowly but surely take them all in to be spayed.  Not so easy when strays show up constantly, but we are trying.  Now, if I could just get new ones to stop arriving, like the new male that’s causing fights all night long… yeah, that would be great.

I know, we could stop putting food out, but I’d rather be that sucker than pretend like they don’t exist.  And once they’ve succumbed to my husband’s loving ways, they’re easier to find homes for.  Hey, everyone needs a hobby.

But, the two kittens have made me feel like writing again, and it hurts just a bit less to write Tristan constantly.  I now have the ending of When We Were Crowned all mapped out, and it shouldn’t be that much longer to get it on paper.

Alpha reads have made a few minor corrections, but this book has been dubbed to be “on track” for what I wanted.  Hopefully, y’all will love the story, and I’m kinda excited to end this curse.  I mean… there’s nothing wrong with having all my pets in bubble wrap… right?

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The Curse of WoO #3

 

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It seems the curse has struck again.  For some reason, Wolf of Oberhame 3 seems to hate me.  Every time I sit down to work on this novel, things happen that make it hard to actually WRITE.  It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just Murphy’s Law jumping in with a whole lot of special effects.

It started with my father having sudden shoulder surgery.  Driving him to medical appointments didn’t do much for typing out words.  Then a pet got sick and needed almost constant attention.  Somewhere along the way, I set the last book of my gladiator series aside and managed to release a few other works.

But it’s been so long since I started this series, and I really want to finish it.  Hell, the fans want to read the ending!  So, I’ve cut myself off from social media, refuse to write a word in anything that isn’t When We Were Crowned, and it’s coming along so well.  Honestly, this book is going to be so good.

Then the Curse of WoO3 struck again.  About a year ago, I ended up with a pair of orphaned kittens.  We named them Leyli and Tristan.  Well, a few nights ago, Tristan ran out the door.  In seconds, he was across the street, into a pasture, and gone, thrilled to be free in the wilderness.  We tried to find him, called for him, and nothing.

The next morning, he was dead, hit by a car.

So, I’m taking a little break from you, WoO 3.  Just a few days so I can mourn my sweet Tristan without having to type his name over and over all day long.  But that doesn’t mean I’m giving up.  I will not write a word in anything else until this series is done, so listen here, Curse… you will not win.

Just don’t judge me for encasing Leyli in Bubble Wrap.

 

How we can all make it a little better

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I didn’t know the artist who was bullied to the point of giving up.  I still know her pain.  Many of us do.

I don’t blame her for what she did, and I will never judge her for trying to escape.  I just wish I could be there for her – and I am if she ever needs it.  The problem is that she doesn’t know me, and I don’t know her, but I’ve been in her shoes.  That’s why I’d drop everything to just listen – because there are some things we can’t do on our own… like survive.

I will never forget the moment when I sent my best friend a message that simply said, “That’s it.  I’m done.  I’m out.”

She knew I didn’t mean the chat.  I didn’t mean the drama.  I meant something so much worse, so much more permanent.  At that moment, I was ready to rage quit on life.  For a long time, I didn’t talk about it.  I didn’t want people to know how completely I’d broke, that I was shattered.  Now, I’ve healed.  Sure, I have superglue and duct tape all across my heart, but it still works, and I think the scars give me character.  The good kind.  The kind that can’t be bought.

I also know that the only reason it never got past that one pissed off message was due to a compliment.

Sounds stupid, huh?  A compliment?  Like, there I was, with my life collapsing around me, honestly convinced that removing myself from the equation would make things easier on everyone else, and something as simple as “They’re just pissed because they can’t keep up,” made me stop and breathe.  It was a tourniquet on my suffering.

One breath, that’s all it took for ME to stop the cycle.  I’m lucky.  I have a support network that is so tight, so close-knit, and so blindly supportive of each other that I just had to find a way to take that one breath and I could start moving forward again, but even now, that moment still terrifies me.  Others need a little more help because they’re all on their own.

I wasn’t sad.  I wasn’t “depressed” as most people like to define it.  I was tired.  I was so far beyond upset that even being anguished would have felt like an oasis in the sea of negativity that I was long amongst.  I had become convinced that everything I touched turned to shit, that my absolutely perfect husband would be better off without me, that my pets didn’t need to suffer because I couldn’t get anything right.  I was wrong, but I had nothing left, no single spark to keep me moving forward.  Thankfully, my best friend knew what to do.  You see, she’d been there, too.  Many of us have.

She knew that saying she needed me wouldn’t help.  I’d just tell her she was wrong.  She knew that trying to ignore it wouldn’t make it hurt any less.  Instead, she threw me a lifeline.  She SHOWED me what I wasn’t failing at.  She pushed and poked, and kept telling me I was GOOD at something, and rubbing it in my face until I couldn’t deny it.  And she hasn’t stopped in the five years since.

I’m fine now.  I’ve made it out of the hole and I can look back at that time with my eyes wide open.  I know how stupid the decision seemed to everyone around me, and I also know how logical it was from the inside looking out.  I know why I thought that way, and it wasn’t something that could just be argued away.

It’s so much easier to complain than to compliment.  It makes us feel a little awkward to fangirl over something so minor – even when we honestly feel that way.  It’s easy to be carried along by the crowd and to pick things apart.  But stepping into someone else’s shoes for a moment?  Especially when it’s someone you don’t really like or even know?  That’s a challenge worth trying, and it makes you appreciate someone else so much more.

But most of all, to fight against bullying, harassment, and the nonstop criticism that comes with our modern always-connected lives, there’s one great thing we can all do.  Give a compliment.  If you see something you like, say you like it!  Every compliment nullifies one of those soul-rending remarks just a bit.  Just enough to stop the bleeding.  Even if you’re only complimenting a portion of it (I love the cover but hated the book, or I loved the way this author writes but had problems with the MC) it still makes it easier to make that a lesson and not a mortal blow.  Bruises can heal, and verbal padding helps.

For those who think they shouldn’t mollycoddle others like that?  Fuck you.  We all know you’ll be whining the loudest when it’s your turn to get kicked on, and trust me, your turn will come.  It always does… and I’ll be the person giving you the compliments because you deserve them, too.

You know, I’ve always found it strange that we deal with the horrors so easily.  Another story of rape, murder, or mayhem in the news?  No biggie.  Telling someone they look lovely or that we like something our friends do not?  It’s terrifying – but it matters.  Why is it cooler to dwell in the darkness but shameful to brag about the love we have for our friends, the adoration we have for artists, or even the wisdom seen in someone how shares our interests?  Why is caring something we think of as a vulnerability?  It’s really not!  It’s the greatest strength any person can have.  It makes us real.

I was there once before, staring into that abyss, and I noticed something I will never forget:

I wasn’t alone.

On either side of me were people dealing with just as much pain, weighing the same heavy options.  I wasn’t alone, and those others could honestly understand me – and by helping me, they helped themselves.  And by helping them, I realized that I was good at one thing.  I was good at giving a damn.  It was the first step I needed to start climbing out of my own personal hell.

To quote one of the greatest poets ever,

“There will be bad days. Be calm. Loosen your grip, opening each palm slowly now. Let go. Be confident. Know that now is only a moment, and that if today is as bad as it gets, understand that by tomorrow, today will have ended. Be gracious. Accept each extended hand offered to pull you back from the somewhere you cannot escape. Be diligent. Scrape the gray sky clean. Realize every dark cloud is a smoke screen meant to blind us from the truth, and the truth is, whether we see them or not – the sun and moon are still there and always there is light…”

For the full poem, check it out below.  And for those of you blinded by the darkness, I’m always there for you, no matter what.  You matter to me.  You are a big part of that lifeline that helped me get better, and I will never be able to thank you enough – even if I don’t know your name yet.

You know I’ve been waiting for that book, right?

amazon-1580654One of the most asked questions I get about my books is, “When will the next one be out?”  Fair question.  I totally get it, and I do my best to answer as honestly as I can.  Here’s the thing, though.

Sometimes, I’m wrong.

When We Were Crowned is a perfect example of this.  I’m SO far behind schedule on it (and I’m sorry!) but I’ve realized that this is my Cursed Book.  While working on it, just about everything that can go wrong has.  From my father having surgery, my dog destroying a box of dinnerware, a sick horse, and more.  The first time I had to set it aside was because I spent 5 days in the hospital for a kidney stone.  That was a year ago.

I promise that none of it is intentional, and some of it isn’t really a big deal (while other parts have really sucked).  I’m still going to finish this book.  Right now, I’m down to an “if it’s the last thing I do” mentality.  Not another word will be written or published on anything else until WWWC is live for my adoring fans who have waited so long.

BUT!

I can’t help but see posts by readers on social media complaining about slow releases.  Now, for the most part, my fans are wonderfully understanding.  So long as I keep them in the loop, they’re willing to forgive me.  That doesn’t mean everyone is.  Seeing a booklover whine and complain about slow releases by their “formerly favorite authors” (who are rarely named, and probably not me) is just a little irritating.

It wasn’t that long ago that traditional publishing houses ruled the book market.  Back in 2012 (just six years ago, my friends) ebooks were barely making a dent.  A decade ago, self-publishing of any kind was a death sentence to an author’s career.  The Trade Markets ruled our literature gateways, and we liked it.

Authors produced ONE book every year at most.  Yeah, I know, there are a few rare exceptions to this, but 99% of authors weren’t popular enough to warrant the funds necessary to get a book out.

Stop and read that again.  Big money corporations couldn’t justify spending that much money to produce a book!  And now we expect housewives and retirees to do it better and faster?

I’m not saying it isn’t possible.  Oh, I think the determination of independent authors has made it clear that we can do just about anything.  I am shocked that people were just fine with 12 months of waiting before the indie revolution, but now that the person WRITING the book also has to contract out an editor, cover designer, formatter, marketing, personal publicity, social media management, track all necessary updates (including back matter in previously released works), plan release schedules, do promotions tours, and still cook, clean, and spend time with their families…  we now expect it to happen FASTER?  Trade Publishers have entire teams dedicated to each of those tasks.

Hell, George RR Martin still hasn’t finished the last book in A Song of Ice and Fire!  No one seems that upset by it, either.  It’s been YEARS.

But the little guy busting his/her ass to make a few bucks is expected to do it better and do it faster?  That kinda makes me angry.  Not for myself, mind you.  I’ve been so lucky with my fan base.  My readers are some of the best, and those who dislike me seem to do little more than send hate mail and vanish.  Those who enjoy my writing cheer me on even when I screw it up royally.  (See When We Were Crowned’s lack of release for one such example!)

*ahem*  But back to my point.  I’m a crotchety old bitch.  If you don’t like my books, I really don’t care.  I’m not exactly mainstream, I pump out novels that are two to three times the size of what is typical in my genre – much to my readers’ delight – and I have enough dedicated fans to keep me going regardless of what the masses think.

Nope, I’m annoyed for that debut author who just bared her soul to the world after spending ten years working to get a few scraps of free time to write a book.  I’m annoyed for that USA Today bestselling author who took a chance to branch out, but her underperforming series needs to be put on the back burner so she can keep up with her main genre.  I’m annoyed for the author who took a chance, did well enough to get noticed, but still has to work full time, manage her family, and finish her degree.  I’m mostly annoyed that all of this reader entitlement that I see isn’t coming from Millennials, but from people old enough to have been bibliophiles before the days of kindle.

Trust me, as authors, we don’t really want you all up in our daily lives.  We certainly don’t want to come across as anything but competent.  When a book is delayed, there’s probably a very good reason for it – even if that’s nothing more nefarious than not knowing how to end the story, or having anxiety over being good enough.  Writing is hard.  It takes time, concentration, and dedication.  If you’re honestly a fan of the author, ask them if they have any idea when the next book in your most adored series will be out, and if they say it’s delayed or set aside, realize that even we indies have to prioritize what sells most so we can pay the bills.

Writing is not a career that will every make us rich.  If we’re lucky, we might get to be comfortably middle class.  All authors have to make hard calls, and we honestly feel bad about it.  We simply can’t be all things to all people, and if you’re one of those in the minority, suck it up and move on.  There are over eight million books available on Kindle alone.  I’m sure there’s more out there on other platforms.  It’s not like any of us are hurting to find something to read, even if we really REALLY wanted that one series to get finished.

Basically, what I’m saying is that it’s fine to critique our work.  It’s great to give constructive criticism.  It’s even better to spread the word about novels you’ve loved.  Acting like a self-entitled douche who believes that because you want something, an author should produce it for you?  Just stop already.  We’re trying.  Bitching about it isn’t going to make us go any faster.  Sometimes, life just happens – even to an author.