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.

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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.

The unfairness of hair

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When my hair started to turn grey, I embraced it.  When the grey came in patches, I tried to convince myself it was cool.  Then, I realized that I looked kinda like I had mange, and admitted it was time to fight this whole aging thing a bit.  But, keep in mind, this is me.

So, I decided that doing the normal thing and trying to match my natural hair color (which is mousey blonde/brown grossness) wouldn’t happen.  I doubled down and dyed it a lovely dark brown color with some neon red streaks.  Since I worked for an internet company at the time, this was a perfectly professional hairstyle – right up until my stylist had to find other work to make her own ends meet.  Cue panic attack.

And so I found my current stylist.  I asked about vivid colors, prices, and all the normal things.  We decided on a gorgeous color scheme that suited me.  The goal was to have Sunset hair.  Oh, it was so pretty!

15965215_1201669383282413_4071693069082125799_nSadly, that dark brown didn’t want to cooperate.  In order to get rich, vivid, neon colors, the hair beneath has to be pale.  The closer to white, the better.  Yeah, I never learned how to do things by half, and so we bleached.  We colored, then the next time, we’d bleach again.

I’m sure most women out there can see where this is going.  We did a LITTLE bit of damage to my hair (read: fried it to smithereens).  I also learned that mixing warm and cool colors together is a great recipe for brown.  Yeah, all of that pretty blue at the top, there?  It faded into the pink, orange, and yellow.  My hair was puppy poo brown within a week.  Not exactly the end result I was looking for.

So, one more round of bleaching it all out, and we decided we’d start over with something a bit more complimentary to itself.  Instead of a sunset, we’d go with fire.  Bright, retina-burning colors that made me happy every time I looked in a mirror.

Fire HairThe end result has been my go-to color for just over a year.  I love my orange and pink hair.  Even more amusing, I dislike both orange and pink, but it sure looks good on me (in my opinion, and it’s kinda the only one that matters).  Ahem.  But yeah, my point in all of this is to get to what comes next.

You see, about two years of abusing my hair to achieve happiness (oh, and it honestly does make me happy) had some tragic effects on my hair.  Just look at those split ends!  Well, we’ve treated, pampered, and babied it, and I’m finally at the point where all of the fried bits are gone.  My hair is once again soft, silky, and just as orange as ever… but I wanted to do a little more.

You see, for decades, black women have been using a collection of protective styles to look good while growing out their own natural hair.  The ingenuity of these styles is amazing, and they’re gorgeous!  Someone recommended that if I want to protect my own hair, I should try Sengelese Twists.  This involves something similar to microbraids but twisted instead.  To get the length I wish I had, I simply add in a little fake hair at the ends.  Sounded like a good plan, looks beautiful on the women I’ve seen wearing it, and the kanekalon hair also comes in neon.  Yep, I was sold.

7489197700205743110So, yesterday, I spent 9 hours with my stylist.  Look at those sexy twists!  I adore my new waist length hair!  It’s gorgeous, it’s neon, and it’s relatively easy to care for… but it’s so not fair.

The whole time we worked on my hair, other clients entered and exited the salon.  Quite a few had something to say.  Some people adore my neon colors and atypical fashion sense.  Most?  They grumbled about the stupidity of what I was doing.  I couldn’t believe the horrible things people were willing to say to a complete stranger simply because they don’t like her choice of style!

Now pause and think about this for a  moment.  Many black women basically have to do their hair like this to be considered “professional” looking enough to get or maintain a job.  Styles with only natural hair, like afros, are called disgusting, unkempt, and ugly.  Dreads?  Well, they’re dirty, right?  (Uh, they really aren’t.)  Microbraids, Sengelese twists, and such are the only natural hair options to look close enough to be acceptable in school or at work.

And this style wasn’t CHEAP!  I’ll have to see my stylist again in six to eight weeks to replace the twists due to hair growth.  That averages out to about a hundred bucks a month just in hair care, probably more.  For me, that’s a luxury I can afford (and do in place of things I wouldn’t use such as cable).  For so many black women, it’s mandatory.  Large bills at the salon are the minimum required to keep from being kicked out of school, get a job, or be seen as respectable…

And on me, at least five people thought it was disgusting.

Now, I’d like to make it clear that I really don’t care if people like my hair.  I mean, I’m basically a hermit except for my salon visits.  I have no one to impress with my appearance but my husband (and he says my hair is sexy, just so you know).  But the more I thought about it, sitting in that chair while my stylist literally twisted the skin from her own fingers, I couldn’t help but wonder how the very women (and the culture) that invented this style deals with it.

For so many people, affording a wardrobe for a new job is a hardship.  Never mind feeding the kids, paying the bills, and keeping it all together.  To be required to add in the equivalent of a used-car payment on top of that, just to meet the bare minimum of someone else’s opinion about your looks, an opinion that is based on an ideal you weren’t born into (white, Eurocentric beauty standards) is basically disgusting.

I’m lucky.  I get to have this gorgeous hair, in a style I’ve always wanted and there are no repercussions for my eccentricism.  Being made aware of my own level of privilege, however, is the best encouragement to write a book.  I may not get it right, but I want to have beautiful main characters who don’t always fit inside the boundaries our society expects.  I want to examine our perceptions of beauty and why it’s so hard to find cover art with non-white women for fantasy.  Most of all, I want to write stories that aren’t whitewashed simply because it’s easier.

Basically, I just want to think outside the box, and help others see what it’s like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

How to make it believable

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Recently, I had a discussion with a friend that went something like this, “Well, then why didn’t she say anything sooner?”  I’m sure you have all seen or heard something similar, right?  But when we try to explain the fear that comes with speaking out, it’s dismissed as being stupid.  Doesn’t matter if that’s speaking up about sexual harassment, rape, or just bad service.  The reality is that most women get this, and a very small segment of men do not.

It’s called privilege.  One of my friends is a comfortably middle class, white, Christian, conservative male.  He ticks off every single checkbox.  Now, he’s a great guy, and possibly one of the most giving people I know, but he can’t even begin to understand what it would be like to suffer at the mercy of society.  To him, if there’s a problem, just speak up.

He can’t envision the fear of all the possible repercussions.  No one has that much power over his life.  If his boss does him wrong, he’ll just get a new job.  There’s plenty of places he could work.  The idea of having a black mark for being one of “those” types of people on his resume is unimaginable.  As a pretty good sized fella, trying to understand the fear of being overpowered is even harder.

And yet, in my writing, sexism is a topic I address pretty often.  Mostly because while we live in a world that is more equal than ever before, it’s still not EQUAL.  My friend knows that no woman would ever come up and grab his dick and shove her tongue down his throat.  In his mind, if something like that happened, she’d look like a supermodel so he wouldn’t mind.  When I asked him how he’d feel about an obese old lady doing it, he basically said, “Well, I wouldn’t let her get that close.”

Because he COULD physically stop her.

He can’t understand.  He’s never had to be afraid of the dark corners on the street.  He’s never wondered if the person he’s meeting for that online date is going to abuse him.  He’s never had to question whether his supervisor’s smile is leading up to a very complicated situation.  He’s never been in a situation where didn’t have the power to change things.

In my stories, I like to flip things around.  Make the damsel in distress become the hero, turn the villain into the savior, and things like that.  In this case, I’m completely stumped.  I have no idea how to take the powerful (especially when it comes to sexual harassment) and make them the powerless – at least not with any plausibility.  Sure, I can chain a guy down (in a book, people!) and have some horrible person do horrible things, but those aren’t the types of stories I write.

This time, though, I’m stumped.  I have no idea how to remove the privilege, and without it, my characters just aren’t believable.  The saddest part is that I think that says more about society than my skill as an author.

 

Sorry, but that’s not sexy

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It’s everywhere.  No man seems safe from the accusations, and everyone is being sexually harassed.  Why?  Why now? What the hell is going on?

As a writer of strong female characters, I’m not shocked at all by this.  It’s called equality.  As women gain even more acceptance in our society as true equals (as opposed to being equal enough) certain privileges are being challenged.  What bothers me is that we Romance and Fantasy writers haven’t necessarily caught up.

C’mon, we all know the tropes.  That hot rock star with all the women dropping at his feet who assumes the hottie he wants will do the same – only to pressure her, grope her, or… what’s that?  Yeah, sexually harass her to fall for him.  Or the rich business man, or the hotshot celebrity… there’s almost too many versions to count.  Why do we WOMEN write this crap?  Because it’s what we’ve been taught to think is sexy.  Our kids and our kids’ kids don’t agree.

And good for them!

Sure, back in the day, what these guys were doing was considered normal.  That doesn’t make it right.  History is filled with a lot of horrors that people accepted at the time.  Hello, slavery!  For centuries, women were assumed to be the inferior sex (notice I said sex, not gender) and laws gave control of our lives to men.  The problem is that these men can’t seem to wrap their mind around why we might not approve.  We’re better off than our moms, so isn’t it enough?  They’re giving us GOOD attention, so shouldn’t we like it?

But the problem is the assumption.  Yes, I know, our societal norms encourage men to be the aggressor in a relationship.  We praise the guys who demand what they want – then turn around and punish them – but there’s a difference.  There’s a very big line of consent, and while it may be a little grey, that doesn’t make it invisible.

And all of our popular media limits the power of women.  I mean, when was the last time you saw the heroine succeed without the help of her male counterpart?  How often does she need him to save her, teach her, or lead her in the right direction?  Why do we women write this crap?  Because we unconsciously think that a guy who doesn’t know something can’t be sexy.

Just look at my book FLAWED.  Dez is a fragile broken thing.  Her strength lies in her ability to keep going, even if she is at the end of that rope.  Her power lies in her knowledge of coding.  Her man?  His skills are different, yet complementary.  He owns the company that gives her a second chance, but he’s just as broken, although in different ways.  He can’t succeed without HER help, and she can’t move on without his encouragement and support.  The only thing he offers her is a platform.  He doesn’t teach her how to do her job – she teaches him.  His method of “saving” her is to accept her as she is, broken and fragile, not to change her at all.  Instead, he changes himself.

Or in Challenge Accepted, where Logan is the better gamer, but he never teaches Riley.  She already knows enough to be his equal – or close enough.  What she needs is a little pushing, a bit of taunting, and a reason to face the parts that are uncomfortable.  Sure, Logan uses his skills to help her, but in a networking way instead of a mentor.  Riley finds her own success – and figures out how to give Logan his dream while she’s at it.

It could be argued that my male characters aren’t alphas, but I disagree.  I think both Logan and Chance are very confident alpha males.  They just don’t have to be in control at all times (which in my opinion makes them even stronger).  Oh, yeah… and they’re sexy.

And then there’s consent.  That’s another problem with this whole sexual harassment thing in the news lately.  Women are forced to give consent – but that isn’t true consent.  Being pressured to give in or risk things like a career, income, or the basics of a stable life?  It doesn’t count.  In fact, it’s a whole lot like blackmail.

But consent can be sexy as hell.  In fact, I challenge more writers to make their consent clear and steamy.  Make the guy feel awe at her approval, allow the women to know they don’t have to fall into bed with the guy to get ahead.  I think this is especially important in YA and NA literature.  When we’re talking about kids who are still figuring out how to have realistic relationships, including a few ideas for being sexy while making sure she wants to go that far?  Yep, I think that’s not only awesome – but hot as hell.

I spend a lot of time asking my male friends some really awkward questions.  I’m used to the eye rolls, but the interesting thing is that most of them have already thought about this.  Guys don’t naturally want to be a dick.  They want to find that middle ground between being sweet and being sexy – and it’s a very murky place.  What impresses me the most, though, is how they handle it.  From asking, “Do you want me to strip you down?” to the more hurried, “Are you sure?” it’s all still a form of making sure she wants to go that far.

And having the hottie tell her no because she can’t give consent?  Yep, I’ll be one of the readers swooning!  Girl gets drunk, he takes care of her and fends off her inebriated advances, and I’m gnawing at my nails and fanning my face.  THAT is hot.  A man who can keep his head in the heat of the moment and realize that she might regret this in the morning?  Yep, sign me up.

But how about all those marriages or relationships of convenience?  That sounds like a challenge I’m dying to read.  One where she agrees to be his lover, but he STILL manages to get consent in the bedroom?  I dare someone to write that.  I mean, he’s already using his power (see sexual harassment above) and walking a very narrow line.  To have a hero who either realizes that he’s just been a complete jerk and try to reform or even better, work hard to remove the pressure his power puts on the situation before it reads like something in our current media run – that would be amazing.

But what I want to see the most is a woman who will stand up and say, “No, you don’t have the right to pressure me just because you’ve grown up with a dick.  That’s not how this works anymore.  Now be sexy in a different way.”

To quote Emmet Fox: “Do it trembling if you must, but do it!”  Wouldn’t that be the perfect mantra for the quiet, bookish girl that’s all too popular in modern literature?  Just imagine the readers whooping out loud with excitement when the shy girl figures out how to grow a (trembling) spine.

Yeah, I want to read that book.

 

The sound of color

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The turn of phrase.  An eloquent description.  Sarcasm, puns, and rhetoric.  Words are the color of our communication.  They’re what we notice first when talking, allowing body language and situational awareness to seep easily into our subconscious.  They’re picked apart, debated, and slung like weapons.

In other words, they’re powerful.

As an author, I’ve become much more aware of my word choice over time.  I’m amused at the difference between how I “speak” in text as compared to when I actually use my vocal chords.  Chatting online or on social media has a completely different language than the prose in a novel.  I’m not saying it should, I’m saying it does.  I cringe at the idea of posting on facebook using the same phraseology I’d use to start a chapter.

There’s a time and a place for words, a proper setting, and even a feeling.  The things we don’t say are just as important as those we do.  As a Gen Xer, I can remember a time before texting, before social media, and even before the internet.  My formative years were made talking to people across the world using the written word.  As typed communication became more and more common, a phrase became popular.  It goes something like this: “It’s hard to tell tone with text.”

Back in the ’90s, we used that as an excuse to explain away a written miscommunication, but I don’t agree with it.  Long before we had the ability to smack haphazardly at a keyboard to rant in 140 characters, well before we could just pick up the phone or drive over, people relied upon the written word to communicate.  Every time I see an example of old-timey love notes or handwritten diatribes, I fall in love with language all over again.

Sure, the prose was a little “purple” (too flowery) for today’s audience, but the meaning was always clear.  Those writers went overboard to make sure their meaning was understood, painting it with bright colors and bold strokes while using nothing but words.  Today, we have politicians and celebrities falling back to the “you didn’t get it” idea as a way to explain away mistakes, blaming the character limit or inability to hear emotion from the written word.

It makes me irate every time.  My job is to fill words with emotion.  To make it clear to my reader how someone feels, even if their words don’t match.  I create worlds, destroy them, and do it all with 26 simple letters.  I can’t fall back on body language, scents, and sounds to add intrigue – without using words to create them.  And to make it even harder, my goal is for my readers to never notice the words at all.

With nothing but those letters, I get to bring an image to life, allowing it to suffuse the reader’s mind so they can lose themselves.  The words I chose must incite, entwine, and contain just the right emotions.  Each and every one must be heavy with meaning, chosen for the subtle connotation – or lack of it – and sewn together seamlessly without any jarring stops or starts.  I must bleed feeling from each and every one.

So when people try to explain something away as just being a problem with text, I can’t help but roll my eyes.  So many people aren’t aware of those little things that show what the other is really thinking.  Things like avoiding contractions when they’re angry or selecting single syllable words for emphasis.  The power of a word doesn’t come from its definition, it comes from its use: why someone chose it over another with a similar meaning.  We’ve all heard the example of cheap vs. inexpensive, but other things matter just as much, like sentence structure and repetition of words.

I often get annoyed.  I see paragraphs that have the same problem.  I notice all the sentences feel the same.  It pulls me right out of the flow.  The rhythm is too jarring.  (See what I did there?)

Noun, verb, ending.  Noun, verb, ending.  No introductory phrases to smooth the flow.  No complex verbs or compound sentences to pull the ideas together.  In the end, the language feels elementary and stilted.  It comes across as hesitant or grumpy rather than easily shifting from the page to the mind as something bigger.

When we start writing our first novel, we read how every word must matter, how adverbs and adjectives should be avoided to keep it clean, and how we must show and not tell.  I’ve never seen anyone advocate adding a few extra words to build voice or maintain flow – but I’m going to.  Yes, I agree with much of the advice, but rules are meant to be broken.  Sometimes, putting in that extraneous little sentence leader (like “Sometimes”) can soften the blow, ease the transition into the idea, or just keep the thoughts feeling smooth.

For me, when I’m writing a book, I imagine the character telling the story to someone else.  I think of how they’d talk years after the events of the novel, and then I let my imaginary friend just go.  Different points of view get different language styles.  The characters end up with verbal ticks that easily identify them.  The descriptions come alive because of the power they have in my (admittedly warped) mind.

The goal isn’t just to share, but to paint with these words.  To chose the right ones to make the images tangible in the reader’s mind.  To breathe in life and add color.  I am an artist, and words are my paint, made up of nothing more than 26 different pigments.  My goal is to one day master my media.

It’s a whole new life!

Fire HairAs many of you already know, I quit my job in August.  This means I’m a full-time author.  Since then, things have been changing at light speed.  One of my big home renovation projects is basically done, and I have a whole new living room (with an office in it).  I also have decided that it’s time to fight against the “sit on my butt for 18 hours a day” spread.  I’ve been exercising.

And I’m so bad at it!

So, moment of truth here.  I have an elliptical.  When I first got it, I had these big visions of 15-minute workouts, high intensity, and some amazing legs.  Yeah, no.  I climbed on at the lowest resistance (i.e. baby mode) and lasted……two minutes.  I sweated, I panted, and I realized that two years of sitting in a chair cranking out books is bad for me.

But, now that I’m not chasing the clock all the time, I am going to actually change that.  Two weeks ago, I was maxing out at two minutes.  Now it’s four.  A month ago, I was working to get five thousand words out a day.  Now it’s ten thousand.  The best part?  I even have time to play with my doggies!

So, I’ve been a full-time author a few months now, and I honestly feel like I’ve finally hit the groove.  It’s amazing what getting one tiny piece of the puzzle in place does to all the rest.  The best part, though, is that I’m FINALLY getting to those books that had to be put off due to a lack of time.  When We Were Crowned, the Wolf of Oberhame 3, is currently in progress.  Virtual Reality, Gamer Girls 3, is next up.  Oh yeah, and Dissent, Rise of the Iliri 7, releases in a couple of weeks.  I’m not sure all of those are going to make it out in 2017, but it’ll be close.  Virtual Reality might release early 2018.

And you wanna know something?  All those minutes spent on the elliptical?  Yeah… I’ve got a new idea brewing.  Hey, it’s not like I can do much else while sweating my flab off!  I’m just proud of myself for actually being productive, and I figure I’ll look back at this in a year and cringe at the thought of 4-minute workouts wiping me out.  But hey, we all gotta start somewhere, right?