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What's New:

The Neverland's Library Anthology is now on sale! With an introduction by Tad Williams and stories by Mark Lawrence, Marie Brennan, Jeff Salyards, Miles Cameron, Joseph R. Lallo, Mercedes M. Yardley, William Meikle, J.M. Martin, Teresa Frohock, and many more, the Neverland's Library Anthology is a collection of original works will take readers back to that moment when they first fell in love with the genre.

Miserere is now available at Audible.

My short story "Naked the Night Sings" is only one of the many fine stories in the urban fantasy anthology Manifesto: UF, edited by Tim Marquitz and Tyson Mauermann, Angelic Knight Press, 2013.

Free!

 

Death comes for us all.

Keep her as your friend.

 Read "La Santisima"

Novels

"Filled with show me now and tell me later prose, [Miserere] was one of the finest debuts of 2011 and remains a novel that I remember details from nearly three years later." Justin Landon, Tor.com

Download an excerpt of Miserere here

Entries in writing (52)

Monday
Apr142014

on endings and being strong ... (#SFWApro)

I've finished Makar's story, tentatively entitled Cygnet Moon, and I've shipped it off to my beta readers. While I'm waiting for them to get back to me, I worked on the blurb and the submission package. This is the part where I evaluate the characters and the major plot lines.

As I worked, it occurred to me that I've finished a book with a protagonist who is not homicidal in any way. He doesn't use violence as the means to get his way. He is intelligent but inexperienced, and in some ways these traits might make him seem weak. Yet he's not. His strength is his ability to be flexible and not become overwhelmed by his circumstances. He is willing to learn, and that willingness to learn and listen to others becomes his greatest strength.

Killing is a last resort to him.

As I'm thinking about the blurb and synopsis, I'm wondering how we define "strong" in genre literature now. Is a willingness to kill the criteria for what makes a character strong?

Part of this musing arises from a review that Justin Landon wrote about The Hunger Games:

In other words, I find Katniss to be an incredibly unappealing character who’s saved by being able (if tentatively unwilling) to kill her peers ... And yet, Kantiss is touted as a heroic character. She is something of a icon of the “strong female character”. I think shoehorning her into that role does her, and Suzanne Collins, a grave disservice. She is, actually, a much more layered character than that.

Without digressing, I think Justin is right, but part of his rationale stuck with me for a different reason. Why do we tend, at least in genre fiction, to equate killing with strength? The proverbial "strong female character" is one who "kicks ass." She kills without blinking and fights with the same savagery as a man. We expect the same out of our male characters: he must be willing to fight and sacrifice all. Yet we seem to be putting our emphasis on the ability to kill, not the ability to reason.

In spite of their willingness to kill, the Katnisses and Jorgs of the world don't possess strong character. Justin gives an excellent overview of Katniss. Mark Lawrence's Jorg is also weak in many ways. He is a child seeking his father's approval, and he will go to any length to acquire that approval. He is clever, but he is not emotionally strong. The one thing I like about Abercrombie's work is that he doesn't claim his characters are heroes, except in the most tongue-in-cheek manner. He portrays everyman in situations that demand hard choices, but he doesn't call them heroes.

This isn't saying that these stories are bad or inadequate in any way. I'm a big fan of dark fantasy and enjoy writing horror as well. That isn't the issue I'm trying to raise. The issue is how we, the readers, equate strength with killing. Our heroes are essentially murderers who find a way to justify their homicides.

Blog post after blog post has been written about women who fight as if they are some anomaly. Women have fought alongside men since the beginning of time--only the most obtuse individual would claim otherwise. I was fortunate in that my father was a historian and a teacher. He directed me to good sources when I asked about women in history.

As a young woman, and even today, my heroes were Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. These two women fought against the injustices around them, but they didn't go around "kicking ass." They fought with their intellect, their cunning, and they were unafraid.

If women want any rights more than they's got, why don't they just take them, and not be talking about it. --Sojourner Truth

As I grew older and read more history, Eleanor Roosevelt became another hero. Roosevelt knew that other women looked to her as a role model, and she gave us ammunition in the form of words. She rose to meet every challenge around her and told us all that we could do the same. She fought with the strength of her character.

We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face... we must do that which we think we cannot. --Eleanor Roosevelt

I thought about all of these things as I wrote Cygnet Moon. I could have easily made Makar a kick-ass killer prince. Yet the biggest battle is often with oneself and one's own nature. This applies to men and women. I wanted to explore Makar's desire to be humane in spite of the inhumanity around him. That takes a much deeper form of strength.

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world. --Harriet Tubman

So with Cygnet Moon, I wanted to look a little more deeply at heroes and how they are made. I wanted to bypass the thieves and the everyman. Other authors are writing those characters much more skillfully than me. I don't think we need another kick-ass hero of moral ambiguity. That's just more of the same.

Makar wants to change the world around him, and in doing so, he has to make hard choices. I don't think his lack of murderous intent lessens the tension of his story in any way. He is not the golden hero who always makes the right choices. He is flawed and quite vulnerable at times. He is a young man who wants to use his status and his privilege to protect people rather than exploit them.

I think those goals are just as worthy as kicking ass.

Thursday
Feb062014

being a woman and writing dark fiction--it's complicated (#SFWApro) 

It's question and answer time at the old blog! Today's winner is Beverly Bambury, who asked: How do you feel being a woman has affected you as a writer of dark fiction?

Like everything else in publishing--it's complicated.

Beverly's question made me think of the time I surfed through some posts on Reddit about year ago. Someone once commented that women don't write complicated novels like [insert list of male fantasy authors here].

Hmmmmm, I thought.

That is the sound of my brain warming up.

Hmmmmmm, why would someone make such an outrageous statement? Surely women were writing complicated novels that could be marketed toward the mainstream reading public.

Of course, the Redditor's statement sat in the back of my mind and fermented until Beverly’s question resurrected it. Now I was curious and wanted to dispel the myth that women don’t write complicated dark fiction, because I know a lot of women who do write complicated, intelligent fiction.

I constructed a search for female authors of dark fiction whose works were marketed to mainstream audiences at the same promotional level as those by male authors. My results returned a few prominent names: Gillian Flynn, Sarah Waters, Mira Grant, Joyce Carol Oates, and Elizabeth Kostova (and Kostova is not really a dark fiction writer—she merely qualifies due to The Historian). This is, by no means, a comprehensive list—these are just the first names that floated to the top.

I switched up my methodology and retooled my search to examine what kinds of books were being published by women. I kept my research primarily on new authors and generally skipped over authors such as Robin Hobb and Joyce Carol Oates, not because they aren't worthy of discussion, but because they have been involved in publishing for so long, their fan base and reputations are well established.

Goodreads was nice place to browse due to their Goodreads Choice Awards. I found that women are primarily, although not exclusively, published with following types of works (in no particular order):

  • Feminist literature (this includes novels with a protagonist who is a "strong female character" / usually college educated career track women, but not necessarily—the emphasis is on badass women who kick ass)
  • Young Adult
  • Urban/Paranormal Fantasy
  • Time travel (most of these novels follow feminist examinations of cultural attitudes, especially those surrounding mother/daughter relationships, and are either romance or coming of age stories--remove the fantastical elements of magic or time travel and these novels could easily be categorized as "chick-lit")
  • Historical romance (if a woman writes anything historical, there must be a heavy male/female romantic element)

As I browsed through the blurbs, I began to pick up on keywords directed toward women. The phrasing varies, but a lot of blurbs on women's fantasy contain differing versions of "they must work (or join) together." This is usually indicative of a romantic element within the story and is marketing-speak for "romance isn't the primary focus of the novel; however, there is a strong romantic element."

In order to prove my point, I'm providing a sampling of blurbs and with the keywords highlighted. If you intend to write for publication, you need to be aware of marketing techniques so you can design your blurb accordingly.

From the Goodreads Choice Awards for fantasy [note: all emphasis is mine and of course, the comments in brackets are mine]:

  • The Golem and the Jinni: "But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice." [Parting, then bringing the protagonists back together is a common romance theme.]
  • The Firebird: "... unearthing a tale of love, courage, and redemption." [Notice that "love" is mentioned first.]
  • The Ghost Bride: "After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim's handsome new heir, Tian Bai." [Desire=love]
  • The River of No Return: "Soon enough Julia and Nick are caught up in an adventure that stretches up and down the river of time. As their knowledge of the Guild and their feelings for each other grow, the fate of the future itself is hanging in the balance." [FEEEEELINGS ...]
  • The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic: This one pops all of the switches from the title on down: "Before long, she has a set of glamorous new friends and her romance with gorgeous, masterful Raclin is heating up. It’s almost too good to be true. Then the elegant veneer shatters. Nora’s new fantasy world turns darker, a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. Making it here will take skills Nora never learned in graduate school ..." [Well, of course he's gorgeous ...]

Let's switch over to the Goodreads horror picks and see what happens:

  • White Trash Zombie Apocalpyse: "Soon she's fighting her way through mud, blood, bullets and intrigue, even as zombies, both real and fake, prowl the streets." [You can't tell me that Diana Rowland doesn't write kick ass women characters.]
  • The Fate of Mercy Alban: With the help of the disarmingly kindand attractive—Reverend Matthew Parker, Grace must uncover the truth about her home and its curse before she and her daughter become the next victims. ["With the help of" can be substituted for "they must work together" also note that the good Reverend is kind and "attractive," because in marketing-speak no one falls in love with ugly people. Obviously.]
  • Parasite by Mira Grant gets a pass, because the blurb mentions nothing about love, relationships, children, or women's issues. However, Parasite was marketed to the same mainstream audience that loved World War Z. Grant is the exception, not the rule.
  • Come Alive: It’s one thing to bring the woman you love back into your life. It’s another to try and keep her there. For Dex Foray, con­vinc­ing Perry Palomino to open her­self to their bur­geon­ing rela­tion­ship has been more chal­leng­ing than hunt­ing ghosts, bat­tling demons and stalk­ing Sasquatch com­bined. [Romance.]

The subliminal message that I'm now taking from all of this is that women are only supposed to write within certain paradigms that focus the work entirely on women’s issues, romance, or children. The trick is to keep the story-line as simple as possible, because marketing personnel obviously feel they can't easily slip a woman into the domain of traditionally male dominated "complicated" stories.

The other message is that women only buy books written by women, therefore any woman who writes a book that is not aimed at women is “unmarketable” or “too complicated.”

I am reminded of the dragon’s syllogism in Grendel: "All pigs eat cheese / Old Snaggle is a pig / If Snaggle is sick and refuses to eat, try cheese."

The publishers' syllogism is: All women love women’s issues, romance, and children / Women only read books by other women / If women want to be published, they must write books about women’s issues, romance, and children.

Whether we like it or not, that appears to be the mentality we’re dealing with.

Don't give up. I operate under the philosophy that one cannot break the rules until one thoroughly understands the rules. The cold, hard truth is that it is very difficult to break an establishment from the outside. I tend to follow the Taoist philosophy that implies I must penetrate gently and imitate the wind.

Sometimes I'm more like a hurricane, but those are the breaks.

Let me give you some advice:

  • If you are lucky enough to have an androgynous name such as Robin, Alex, Jesse, Gillian, etc., use it as your by-line. No pictures. Give scant information about your gender.
  • If you are like me and have a more gender specific name, use initials. Create a pseudonym. Go the KJ Parker route and submit to editors without them knowing your gender if at all possible. Design your website and all of your marketing with the pseudonym in mind.
  • Network, network, network, network with other authors and with publishers. This may mean going to the larger conventions that host multiple publisher tables in their dealer rooms. If are you are like me and don't have a large budget for cons, network online. Other authors and bloggers have done more to promote my work for me than all the publicists in New York. They are awesome! Thank them prolifically!
  • Take workshops with well-known authors and publishers and editors who offer them, either online or in person.
  • Join a professional organization and get involved as much as you can. I know some folks have had problems with the SFWA, but so far, I haven't. Since I can't travel as much, the forum has been an excellent place for me to get marketing tips and meet other members.
  • Learn how to use social media effectively. Watch your stats and your Google analytics. Measure which blog posts are working and which are not. You want your voice heard and spread across the Internet in a positive manner. I am merely one Who in Whoville, but hear me now, my friend, you never know precisely what is going to resonate with the masses. Keep at it. Horton is out there.
  • Utilize short stories as promotional tools. I sold two short stories to anthologies last year and wrote several more that I haven't placed yet. I've been known to give them away here and another one is here, because every little click bumps my name higher into Google's algorithms. I also intend to move into hybrid publishing and self-publish some works this year.

This will break your heart, because I know it did mine: writing a good book is not the same as being marketable. This makes me very sad, because when I started writing, I had this lofty notion that I would finally be evaluated by something other than my gender, or my education, or the social circles in which I moved. I thought I would be judged by my prose, by my stories. I know you thought these things too, but unfortunately that is not how it works.

I have a friend who tells me that acceptance is the key to all of my problems and it is. First, I have to accept the fact that in order to become published, I must write something marketable. In order to do that, I must understand what publishers and editors mean when they say "marketable."

Once you understand those terms, then you can either write a novel that fits within one of the standard paradigms, or go incognito.

The choice is yours.

Saturday
Jan182014

free short story & the value of critique partners (#SFWApro)

First, a brief message: Just a reminder that I have posted a free short story "La Santisima" for you. If you would prefer to download it to your device, you can get the epub and mobi versions at Smashwords. You can rate it on Goodreads if you like.

In other news, I spent some time with my critique partner yesterday. We usually do chapter critiques via email. That is so that we can spend our face-time brainstorming both characterization and plot issues.

Last week, I sat down and developed an bulleted outline for the last half of the book. This is a reference that I can scan prior to writing the chapter. It contains nothing more than a list of plot points.

However, when my partner and I met, I went through the entire outline. This turned into one of those dreaded forty minute speeches entitled "What My Novel is About." It was the type of blow-by-blow account that sends most professional authors and agents into glaze-eyed comas where they nod occasionally (note: the nodding isn't in agreement, or a social cue to continue, they are usually fighting sleep).

On the other hand, my partner, who is a professional author, listened attentively and interjected some helpful points of her own just as I do for her. That is what critique partners do. We know one another's novels as intimately as our own. Neither of us are looking for a pat on the back, more often than not, we're looking for weak spots in one another's work.

The "What My Novel is About" speech is one that I always save for my critique partner and no one else. When I am at cons or other events and someone asks me about my work, I usually have a tag-line prepared. Nothing that will take more than a minute or two to explain. If the author or editor wants to know more, they will ask. Otherwise, we can move the conversation on to more interesting topics.

I would much rather someone read my work than hear me tell them about it. I believe the power is in the characters' voices and the story.

I will have a blurb for Cygnet Moon soon. I want to you meet Makar, but I want you to hear his story through his words, not mine.

And don't forget to check out "La Santisima" if you have time. 

Thursday
Nov142013

no nano for me--2013 is the year of the short story #sfwapro

A short update on progress of Cygnet Moon and other projects:

2013 is the year of the short story for me. Thus far, I've written four:

"Naked the Night Sings" at 4,500 words;

"Love, Crystal and Stone" at 7,300 words;

"La Santisima" at 4,900 words;

"Down to the River" at 4,000 words.

That's a grand total of 20,700 words. In comparison, I have now reached the 31,700 mark on Cygnet Moon.

For the record, I thought about participating in NaNoWriMo this year, but with the pressure of a few other projects floating around, I had to decline.

If you're busy writing and counting those words, good luck. I'm hammering the old keyboard right alongside of you.

I've got two other projects under a deadline right now, so if I'm scarce, that's why. Meanwhile, here is a teensy peek at Cygnet Moon:

I dreamed that I hid in a forest. The trees grew close together. All sound was choked off.

Overhead, spirits swirled like a fine pale mist through the tightly woven limbs. The souls sought a way past the woods so they could ascend to heaven’s realms. The air hummed with their moans. The wind did not blow here. Nothing moved but the dead.

I squatted behind a tree and shut my eyes. Exhausted by my fear, I couldn’t move. I tried to be small and inconsequential. I hid in the darkest corners of my mind, yet Mother found me, her tongue a great silver blade that cut me to the bone. She opened her mouth and revealed eyes instead of teeth.

Nano away, my friends. I'll be around.

Monday
Oct212013

writing words into stories is hard

Writing words into stories is hard work sometimes. I envy people who can whip out a short story over a weekend and sell it on Monday. I'm not one of those people. Occasionally, I can write a story and polish it within a week or two by working in the evenings and on the weekends, but rarely do I finish a short story in less than two weeks.

I mean I can, but it's not usually a very good story.

I have a story that stymied me recently. I've been working on it off and on for a month now. I was ready to trash it until my reading partner told me that she loved it. She also told me how to fix it--the places where I was unclear or had shot off the rails into a side plot that didn't belong in this particular story.

About ninety percent of my work would hit the recycle bin without ever seeing the light of day if I were left to my own devices. That's why it's good to have a second set of eyes on every one of my projects.

What gave me so much patience with this yet unnamed story was another short story that I wrote back in the spring. "La Santisima" took all the same weird curves and turns that this current story has suffered. I worked on "La Santisima" a little at a time as a side project for a couple of months.

"Naked the Sings" shot out of my laptop in a week. That was one of the rare stories that just flowed from beginning to end. "Love, Crystal and Stone" fell between the others--at times it came very quickly, other portions had to be groomed and polished relentlessly.

I love working on short stories, though. They give me the opportunity to experiment with different styles and subjects without the time investment of a novel. I also force myself to complete them whether I think the story has merit or not.

The ones that I spend the longest time working on are usually my better works, the ones that I'm very proud of when I reread them.

A couple of links:

Drey's Library is running a series of posts where authors who are involved with the Neverland's Library Anthology discuss why we wrote stories for the anthology. Mine is here.

You can read an exclusive excerpt from "Love, Crystal and Stone" at the Fantasy Book Critic.

Sabrina Vourvoulias wrote an exceptional post on Some Thoughts About Ageism, Fear, Failed Posts and Even More Failed Imaginations. I agree with her and she will no longer be fighting that battle alone. I'll also raise the banner to see more older characters in novels.

That's it for this week.

Come back next week, because if the stars come together and the universe smiles upon us, I might have something very special for all of you.

Monday
Sep092013

Writing other cultures -- Diversity in SFF

Or writing outside of your comfort zone, as I like to call it.

I'm not talking about sprinkling people with different colored skin throughout my novel, or even about adding a gay person here or there to show diversity. I'm talking about taking the time and energy to immerse myself in another person's skin. It's not an easy thing to do, but writing about other cultures has broadened my world view and raised my awareness; it has made me more empathic to other people who live differently than me.

I try to follow three rules when writing outside my comfort zone: 

  1. Talk to people from the culture or who live the lifestyle that I'm trying to represent, and if possible, ask someone from that culture to beta read the story for me. That is the best way possible to prevent stereotypical errors that I might be blind to but that someone from that culture would be highly sensitive about.
  2. Read and watch documentaries about the people and/or time period that I want to portray. I try really hard to immerse myself in someone else's world before I put the first word down.
  3. Be respectful.

When I first started Garden in Umber, I had one character who I knew was gay. He was a very minor character, not one who I saw as rising up to take over the story, but he did. In the beginning, Diago was almost an afterthought, a side-character and a very stereotypical gay man. I'm almost ashamed to admit that now, but if I don't tell you where I began, you won't truly understand how I learned the lessons that I did.

While I worked on my character sketches, I happened upon some blog posts about the lack of competently rendered gay characters in novels, especially in SFF. The more I read, the more I realized that my character was exactly what people hated to see, and they very clearly articulated why they found a lot of the gay characters offensive.

Sometime around this same period, Dark Scribe magazine did an interview with several gay horror authors (The Fear of Gay Men: A Roundtable Discussion on the New Queer), one of whom I had met online and whose work I greatly admire. I emailed Robert Dunbar, explained the situation, and Rob set up a place for me to ask questions. Then he did the most generous thing of all and asked some of the fine gentlemen who participated in the Dark Scribe interview to answer my questions.

Other members of the online gay community showed up and were very generous with both their time and their honesty. One thing they said, over and over, was that they were tired of seeing gay characters being all about sex. They said (and rightly so) that gay people are whole, complex people with many passions and many loves--that there was more to being gay than sex.

In short, they taught me many things and directed me to some wonderful resources. My character Diago went from being a frivolous stereotype to being a much darker character, but he has reason to be dark.

I don't know anything about being a gay man in the 14th century, but I do understand what it means to have people treat you badly because of who and what you are. I know what it means to be shut out of "polite" society, and all I can do is translate those feelings of loss to Diago and Miquel.

To honor all those people who took the time to answer my questions, Garden in Umber is about love, not sex, because sex is not always about love. Love is about acceptance and thinking beyond yourself, and those are the themes of Garden in Umber.

Writing Garden in Umber took me far outside my comfort zone, but it was a worthwhile journey. I learned to understand love from an entirely different viewpoint. Hopefully, I've translated all these things accurately, and if I haven't, I hope people will at least appreciate the fact that I tried.

Of course, if I hadn't read those posts on gay characters a few years ago, I never would have undertaken my journey the way I have. If I hadn't asked questions or reached out, I would have written another stereotypical gay character from a heterosexual viewpoint.

Having learned my lesson with Garden, I decided to use the same approach when I wrote my short story "La Santisima." The story initially began as a story about the drug war, but I was at a loss for a supernatural element for the story. I contacted Sabrina Vourvoulias, who kindly answered my questions and pointed me toward some valuable resources. Through those resources, my story opened up to shift completely away from drugs to immigration. The story became less of a cliche and more realistic than I imagined.

Sabrina kindly read the story for me and she advised removing and rewriting portions that were stereotypical and might be offensive to people. Neither of the things that Sabrina picked up on were intentionally introduced to be racist, but they reflected my ignorance about the culture. So I tweaked the trouble spots again, and now I'm very pleased with the story.

Writing diversity into stories takes the author (and the reader if the author has done his or her job properly) outside of the confinements and comfort of commonly perceived notions. It's not easy writing, but that is why I call it writing outside of my comfort zone.

Nor will I lie to you, it is harder to get these stories published, at least for now. Publishers are hesitant to try new things, but to their credit, publishers are giving us works by Nnedi Okorafor, NK Jemisin, Saladin Ahmed and more. Authors like Sabrina are utilizing small publishers like Crossed Genres to get their important works and voices heard. Maybe if we write more and more stories with people of different lifestyles and cultures, these works will become easier to sell. I'm willing to take that chance. I hope you'll take the chance and read a book by someone from a culture different from your own.

If you have a moment, recommend a novel or story that has changed the way you think about a certain culture or lifestyle. Name an author whose work put you outside of your comfort zone.

Tuesday
Sep032013

a guest post over at a bitter draft

This week, I'm hanging out over at Patrick Doherty's blog, A Bitter Draft, with a guest post that contains some of my random thoughts on religion in fantasy. I talk about religion, fanatics, and societies, oh ... my! Check it out.

I'll be back next week to tell you about the movie Solomon Kane and why I enjoyed it, but for now ... go say hi to Patrick and tell him that I sent you.

Wednesday
Aug212013

why so silent?

While I'm letting a short story percolate, I've returned to work on Cygnet Moon. I don't have any taglines or blurbs for this novel yet, but I am thoroughly enjoying the story. The protagonist has finally begun to show me a few moments of subtle psychological imbalance. That trait has prevented the story from slipping into the tired old frame "young person goes into the world to mature."

Makar is twisted around the edges--his madness is embedded in his DNA and comes from both his mother and his father. I'm still discovering all of his quirks, but this one surprised me as I completed a scene the other day:

“Swear your loyalty to me, Makar.”

With the suffocating whiteness of her ar’nel gone, I could breathe freely once more. My eyes still burned and refused to focus properly, but I glimpsed the shadowy image of Balian as she stepped close to Mother’s side.

I disengaged myself from Tatiana’s grip and knelt before Mother. “I swear on the names of my ancestors and on the blessed name of my grandmother Queen of Heaven Norayn ib Jebid that I will fulfill my duties to our people and protect them from harm.”

“With your life.”

“With my life,” I whispered to the floor, then kissed the hem of her robe and made sure to smear my blood on the underside of her gown. She wouldn’t notice until this evening that she had carried a part of me with her all the day. The very thought of my blood on her person would horrify her. “I will not dishonor this house.”

Ah, family.

I've also been working on some guest posts that will be showing up online over the next few days and weeks. I'll keep you notified of when those go live.

I'm over at the Ranting Dragon, making a case for Marion Zimmer Bradley's novel The Mists of Avalon as my choice for their Great Fantasy Novel series.

Tomorrow, my big post of the week will be at BookSworn.

I'm really excited about the Manifesto: UF anthology that is coming September 1. I've had a chance to read several of the stories and I love the way that Tim and Tyson have segued from one story to the next. There is a definite flow to the anthology that makes reading the stories in order very smooth.

One thing I've loved about the various stories that I've read so far is the scope of urban fantasy. Manifesto: UF has a little something for everyone.

I'll be talking more about my story, "Naked the Night Sings," over at Suzanne Johnson's blog later in September. Suzanne is an agent-mate of mine, we're both represented by Marlene Stringer. You can read about Suzanne's urban fantasy novels right here.

While I worked on "Naked the Night Sings," I thought a lot about the fine line between urban fantasy and horror. Of course, we all know what happens when I start to think--either nothing good comes of it, or I end up writing an ungodly long blog post about it.

So that is what has been going on behind the scenes. I hope you've been busy too.

#SFWApro

Monday
Jul082013

building first drafts and cygnet moon

First drafts are very fluid for me--they shift and merge a little at a time as I work through the story. A strong synopsis gives me an excellent road map to use, but all stories shift and merge and change as they go along, primarily due to the growth of the characters.

During the course of a first draft, I find or create various images to help me visualize and describe the characters and their environment; I write scenes that help me define characters and their motives but never make it into the novel. I draw maps, or locate pictures or scenes of different landscapes, and sometimes I find pictures of men or women who make me think of my characters. I keep them on hand for inspiration. Sometimes, I post them to my Tumblr, other times I just save them to my hard drive and pull them up when I need to strengthen my inner vision.

About a week ago, I changed my cover pic on Facebook (and a couple of other places) just for something new. Back during the winter, Robert Dunbar posted a spooky little pic on his Pinterest page that intrigued me. I took the pic and edited it heavily in my photoshop program in order to make it look like a character from my new work in progress, Cygnet Moon.

Several people asked about the picture and a few people speculated that the character was supposed to be evil, but he's not. I'm reposting him here with the excerpt so you can meet Makar's ar'nel with the understanding that all of this might change before the first draft is finished.

This is the first time that I've photoshopped a pic to make a character and I'm really proud of how he turned out, because this is exactly how I imagined Makar's ar'nel to look:

He is a black shadow with wild hair and eyes like nickel. My ar’nel is my magic made manifest, the breath of my spirit. My grandmother’s ar’nel exhibits itself as a great gray swan that follows her like a shade. When she visited me, her ar’nel filled my chambers and enveloped her in a pearl mist. The tapestries undulated like waves and the shields that decorate the walls trembled in her passing.

My ar’nel barely causes the lamp flames to flutter. I glare at him. If he was a great spirit like grandmother’s swan, I could use him to force the guards aside; they would have no choice but to obey my commands. Instead, I am left with this wicked magic that refuses to obey me. He is good for tipping over inkpots and knocking paintings askew but little else.

I've got two short stories to finish, then I am back into Makar's world in Cygnet Moon. If you want to leave a comment, let me know what you do to build your worlds during your first drafts.

Monday
Jun102013

time, writing, and social media

A lot of you have been asking me when my next novel is coming out, and I am so grateful to all of you for your interest! You just blow me away, you really do. Unfortunately, I don't have much to report right now. Garden in Umber is still on submission, and I will let you know if it sells to a publisher the very minute that I am able.

I also want you to know that my online presence might be somewhat diminished for the next couple of months. Without disappearing entirely, I am going to be taking a less active role in social media. It's not that I don't love interacting with everyone, but working on three short stories and my novel really made me realize how much I'd missed writing during the months of March and April.

The year 2013 started out with sickness and upheaval in all aspects of my life: the day job and my writing were going through transformations, and my home life was disrupted by my own illnesses. It hasn't been a good year thus far.

The day job still hasn't stabilized; however, my own equilibrium has begun to return. That doesn't mean I am filled with peace and serenity while being tossed by the seas, but it does mean that I am no longer giving other people control of my free time. I want to spend that time reading and writing.

I'm really excited about being a part of two lovely anthologies: Manifesto: UF and The Neverland Library's Fantasy Anthology. Working with the editors and writing stories to specific guidelines has given me the opportunity to flex my writing skills in ways that I hadn't imagined that I could. I am indebted to both Tim Marquitz and to Roger Bellini for inviting me to participate in their respective adventures. I'll be around to promote both of these anthologies when they are available.

I want to tell you about my friend Helen Lowe's novel Heir of Night. I have a partial review written and would like to finish it soon. My friend Alex Bledsoe's newest novel Wisp of a Thing is pre-ordered on my Nook, and I intend to give you a review of that too. I also have an idea for southern gothic short story that I've started to kick around, in addition to working on my novel Cygnet Moon.

I'd like to get all of these projects rolling and finished by the end of the year, and in order to do that, I'm going to have to spend less time on social media and more time doing that writing-thing that I love. I will be popping in on the old blog with my updates, but if you don't see me on Twitter and Facebook as much, it's because I'm writing.

Ya'll carry on ...