June 14, 2020 • No Comments
Happy book birthday to Flicker, a prequel novella in the Crown of Fae series.
Wait? Why release a prequel halfway through the series? Well, I wanted to tell a story about Fliss, Ronan’s charming little sister and how she met Laren, the dashing water fae. She’s been a supporting character until now deserved a tale of her own. And, that largely happened.
What I wasn’t expecting was that these were TEENAGERS. Whether I liked it or not, my characters were crazy, wrong-headed, adorable, and insane—rather like most of us are at that age. As a result, this book has action galore, school problems, scary teachers, and a dash of sweet romance. This makes it more YA than the rest of the series, but (I think) in a fun way.
What was intended as a short story became a novella. In amongst all that youthful drama, I was able to set up some characters and circumstances that shape the next few books. Keep an eye on that enchanted bird. There might even be a clue to an Easter egg buried in one of the books already out.
For those who’ve read the books so far, the timeline between Flicker and Shimmer is as follows (no real spoilers here):
- In the prequel, Fliss is thirteen.
- The Shades arrived a hundred years before.
- The battle of Ildaran Falls, after which many of the fae fled Faery, was twenty years before.
- After the events of Flicker, Laren joins the older dragons in some of their exploits, becoming friends with Ronan. Ronan and Fliss, however, don’t see much of each other until Shimmer, where she is a fully adult fae.
- Ronan’s journey begins in Faery, but when Shimmer begins, he’s been in the human realms for some time. Since time runs differently in the human and fae worlds—and wherever else he might have been—It’s difficult to measure exactly how many years pass between the two stories, but to Ronan’s perception it is centuries.
And handsome Telkoram? Why yes, we will see him again.
For more about Flicker and to read an excerpt, click here.
Or simply buy it here.
October 7, 2019 • No Comments
Editing advice is depressingly easy to come by, especially when our work in progress is circling the drain. That’s when the armchair editors come out to play, usually with a sympathetic shrug and sad eyes. Then they gingerly toe our story as if it were a roadkill raccoon.
Once we get past the impulse to bash those know-it-alls over the head, we are at the point of autopsy. That’s when we survey the wreckage with an ache in our chests, wondering whether to draw the sheet over our darling, or make one last heroic attempt at rescue.
I’ve had my fair share of emergency room moments. Deciding whether or not a book is salvageable is tough, but I’ve come up with a diagnostic test I use when I get to about the five-chapter mark, then half way, and then again at the end. This doesn’t cover every possible scenario (I’m always finding new ways to make a mess) but it does hit the probable pitfalls.
Consider these issues before you pronounce time of deletion. Everything here can be fixed in a thorough edit.
One: Are your characters acting like real people?
I’ve read books where characters seem to experience a story in isolated episodes, as if they’ve had a brain wipe between page turns. It’s hard for the reader to engage with a protagonist in this detached state. Characters should come across as individuals with complete interior lives.
Take a moment and think about what it would be like to be your protagonist, an ordinary person, shoved into an exciting adventure. Imagine going through events as the chapter progresses as if it were happening to you. What does your character feel? Where in your body does that emotion show up? A clenched jaw? An aching stomach? How does your protagonist continue to function despite those emotions? Now put those feelings on top of the feelings from the last chapter, and the one before that. A writer needs the cumulative impact of all those layers to make character change realistic. It’s okay (and probably useful) for your protagonist to cope badly from time to time.
This is one of many reasons that it’s useful to construct a plot timeline. If your character’s parent is hit by a truck on Monday, they will still be reacting to the incident on Tuesday. It doesn’t hurt, when starting a fresh chapter, to make a few notes about the character’s state of mind going in. This is especially helpful if there are breaks between writing sessions and the material isn’t fresh in your mind.
Two: Are you keeping secrets?
This is related to the point above. I have occasionally questioned one writer or another about why a character does XYZ and been given a long monologue about the character’s thoughts, feelings, family dynamics, ambitions, grade school experience, etc. Note to author: it doesn’t count if I can’t read it on the page.
Check when you are revealing information, especially where it reinforces motivation. I know we’re all afraid of the infodump, but being coy is just as harmful. It annoys and confuses readers and frequently makes the characters appear to require strong psychiatric medication.
Three: Do you have the right amount of story for the length of your work?
A well-written story can come in any length, but sometimes that short story we think we’re writing turns out to be a surprise novel. That’s okay, as long as we don’t try to squish it back into a short story-sized container.
To figure out if your story is too short or too long for your chosen format, here are some questions to ask:
- Does every section (chapter, scene, or whatever unit you’re using) relate to the main conflict in terms of action, character, or theme?
- Does every section contain enough of its own conflict to be interesting?
- If you left the section out, would it matter to the overall story?
- Are any important events happening off stage? Does the event take more than two sentences to explain? If so, cut it out or …
- Would it raise the tension in the story to show those events on stage in real time?
- Can any other exposition be turned into action or at least a conversation?
- Is there enough rising action and setbacks to make us doubt the outcome of the story?
- Are all important character traits/relationships demonstrated on screen?
Four: Is your climax in the right place? Are the right people participating in it?
Go ahead, think about the sexual double entendre. It fits.
We all know the big finale should happen close to the end of the book. Romance has a climax for the exterior action (the villain is stopped) and then one for the interior conflict
(the romance receives its final test). I would argue that most character-driven work has this double climax in which the action resolves and then the protagonist(s) gain final insight. It’s the best way to iron in a satisfying character arc. Although there are always exceptions, to put these peaks too soon or in the wrong order can make for a less than satisfying end.
Also, please ensure the main character is a participant in the climax. Not an observer. Not hearing about it from a friend. Not using a peephole. They need to personally impact the outcome of events or the reader feels cheated for spending so much time with someone who clearly doesn’t matter.
Five: Do you have too much beginning?
This tends to be an issue with bigger books or series, but it can happen with short ones as well. This is a good moment to consider whether the overall work is the right size (see above) because the beginning sets the expectation of how the whole story will be paced. If you whitter on at a leisurely trot and then sprint through the last half, the book feels lopsided.
If you’re already at novel length but need five chapters of exposition to get out of the gate, the best advice I can give is to start with a corner of your universe and build out as you go. Give us ONLY what we need to make it through the first scene. Show us the mud, the castle, the village cow. We don’t actually need the name of the town to know what kind of place we’re in. If you need to add a little something for scene number two, then dribble it in when we get there, and so on. Consider that your character doesn’t think about his or her environment all at once. They’re dealing with what’s in front of them, just like we do when we walk out the front door.
Think about the reader experience like vacation travel. Once we’ve checked our luggage, seen the hotel room, and had something to eat, we’re ready to see the sights. That’s when it’s okay to start giving more detail, because the reader has some way to relate it to what they already know.
September 23, 2019 • No Comments
Most of us experience procrastination at some point in our lives. I’m guilty of some very late night submissions, study blitzes, and (ahem) blog posts that barely slide under the wire. But rather than focus on the less attractive aspects of dilly-dallying, why not embrace the creative potential? Don’t settle for any old delay—go for the procrastination gold!
January 16, 2019 • No Comments
How to begin a book? Book beginnings tend to go two ways with me: either out of the gate like a shot or in a dithery fashion that means I begin chapter one about twenty times, erase it, make it chapter three, erase it, then go back to whatever it was I wrote the first time.
Some people would say that the latter method results from a failure to plot and/or I didn’t understand the story well enough. This might be true. Most of storytelling is a mysterious process and though people throw theories at it, I doubt it will ever become an exact science. The story might be stalled because my tea was the wrong temperature and/or one sock was inside out. More likely is that I used up my allotted number of story beginnings early on in my writing career, since I started ten stories for every one that I finished.
Half the theorists say the story should begin in the regular, everyday world of the protagonist. The other half advocate for a major explosion. One wonders about the protagonist’s propensity for bomb-making.
The best way to connect these dots (at least some of the time) is to consider that there is exterior action (incendiary vampires, or whatever action you are proposing) and interior action (whatever character growth the protagonist will undergo). What we’re looking for to launch the story is conflict. It could be the start of the action plot (kaboom!) or it could be a high point of conflict for the interior plot (or both, if you can make them realistically coincide).
I’ll throw my advice into the mix: If in doubt, start with the interior plot, but make it a big moment. Show the character sweating so we like that person but understand how he or she desperately needs to change.
Examples of a high-conflict interior plot opening could be a fight, the character getting fired, or the character doing something else high-risk. Whatever flaw they have, demonstrate it to the max. This makes a nice bookend with the end of the novel, where you can show them reacting a different way to the same situation. That’s a straightforward demonstration that they aren’t the same person they were at the start.
Chapter one: Billy gets in a bar fight
Chapter thirty-one: Having developed people skills, Billy de-escalates a similar situation.
This is a stupid-simple example, but you get the point. There is a difference between flashy and important. Billy might win NASCAR and that might make up the bulk of the exterior plot, but it’s important on a personal level that he is a functional human being so that he stays out of jail and weds Mary-Lou.
Put another way, remember that HIGH STAKES are important to open the story, but the HIGHEST stakes are those the protagonist carries inside them. If in doubt, start your story there.
November 26, 2018 • No Comments
I was asked to do a spot on Blood, Sweat and Words, so I chatted about writing about a paranormal Christmas–check it out here.
November 25, 2018 • No Comments
November is National Novel Writing Month aka NaNoWriMo. I signed up for it, but seem to be having a NaNoNot. Yes, I started out strong on my 50K word count but then I had to get on a plane and …
Of course I have excuses. I’ve been busy at work and getting home late. I’ve been doing research. I have a number of projects on the go. I’ve been learning new software. I had a book release. I’ve been out of town for the job.
Sadly, the page only cares whether there are words on it or not. That’s the bitter truth of being an author. No words, no cookie. I’m doing my best to make up for lost time, but I must be honest. The 50K goal is out of reach.
Disappointments occur when we’re juggling too many things. I get mad at myself for not rising above circumstances. Perhaps I’m lazy? I’ve lost the magic? I don’t have the right stuff? Ah, the Drama Queen moment! That’s the kind of self-destructive wallowing that leads to actual writer’s block. My only real fault here is biting off more than I could chew.
What can I salvage from this month of chaos? I wasn’t lounging on the couch watching TV. I did do all those other things, many of which were necessary if I wished to continue being employed. Since I like regular paychecks, oh well. Plus, the book I’m working on is calling me in a way that only comes from NOT getting to a project (perverse but true). There’s a delicate balance of approach and denial that whets my imagination during the first few chapters, and maybe it’s working. What I have written to date hints that this book is going to be my best. Of course every new book is an author’s current darling, so make of that what you will.
I’m mad and sad, but whining won’t change anything. I’ll have to save the lace-edged hankies for another time.
November 18, 2018 • No Comments
I was recently listening to a podcast by the fabulous Joanna Penn, who mentioned that authors should embrace their idiosyncratic pleasures. That is, those elements one loves and uses in art or writing again and again. These might be story elements such as secret babies or serial killers (hopefully not at the same time). They might also just be images or ideas that make us happy. I love her recommendation to use these gems as one pleases, and to be unapologetic while doing so!
What’s my list? It will probably take me a while to collect everything, but here’s a start:
- Seaside towns/cities – I believe the sea adds untold romance and mystery, not to mention delicious fogs
- Funky older neighborhoods
- Cathedrals & bell towers
- Catacombs and ossuaries
- Tea and all the rituals that go with it
- Graveyards, the older the better (that’s Highgate in the picture above)
- Trees, especially twisty ones
- Magic of all sorts
- Strong-willed grandmothers
- Baroque and early music. The Brandenburg Concerti are my go-to mood tonic
- Walled gardens and glass houses
- Exotic strangers
- Underground spaces, with or without dragons
- Castles and ancient manors, complete with appropriate drafts
- Moors and heaths
- Fancy ankle boots
- Standing stones
- Talking animals
- Swirling cloaks
- Carnelian jewelry
- Mad scientists
- Possession by spirits
- Snow, mostly in theory and not waiting to be shoveled
I don’t think you need to be a writer to have a list like this–and when to dip into it on a day when you need to lift your spirits! Yes, sometimes I do take a walk in the cemetery to cheer myself up. It’s the nicest green space imaginable on a bright fall day.
July 9, 2018 • No Comments
Do you love starting a project, with all the fresh, hopeful energy that entails? Or are you one of those who enjoys putting a bow on your efforts and sitting back in satisfaction?
There are different stages to any project, and books are no exception. And, while it’s true that most writers seem to have several things on the go at the same time, starts and finishes are still red-letter occasions.
This weekend, the Corsair’s Cove Orchard Series is reaching an important milestone—the editing phase is nearing completion. The vague “what ifs” we tossed around in the spring are finished stories now, with a new cast of characters (plus some favorites), new predicaments, and brand new romances.
While I enjoy the buoyant energy of beginning (and wow do we brainstorm!), right now I’m doing a happy dance and savoring the finished product like a fine vintage. And that, readers, is a very appropriate metaphor that will linger sweetly—until next time.
May 22, 2018 • No Comments
We all know the past has a pull on us. We write about literal ghosts, but there are plenty of metaphorical ones as well. Some are even more powerful and/or frightening than a chain-rattling specter. These haunts are the echoes of past selves that—for good or ill—we’ve somehow left behind. Memories, emotions, past selves we’ve given up for a higher good or a harder road—nothing is ever truly gone when it’s a part of our soul. Sometimes that’s a relief, or an ache, or both.
Dreams delayed are the strangest of these shades. This weekend was full of open-air concerts and sunshine and the first flush of the festival season. I took time away from my desk to bask in the warmth and watch one of my favorite bands. As a creative, I had two loves—writing and music, and I had to make a choice between the two. I could only nurture one properly and still hold down a full-time job. I chose storytelling, in part because it was an easier fit with a workaday schedule, and I still believe it was the sensible choice. I can’t say that music is a road not taken, because I took that path as far as I could go at the time. I think of it as a road with a bridge temporary closed for maintenance. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel the ache every time the ghost of my musical soul stirs.
I’m not alone, of course. The demands we face as creative entrepreneurs aren’t easy, especially when responsibilities tie us to corporate jobs and all that reality entails. Creativity in that context is an extraordinary quest—one that takes us through feats of time-bending, identity-shifting, and fiscal sleight-of-hand. We transform in metaphorical phone booths, unleashing our true selves in the privacy of hidden spaces. We might not conquer literal armies, but we defend our kingdoms all the same. There are precious things inside us, and creatives fight to keep them alive.
We live in hope for eventual freedom, of a victory before it’s too late. Only then can we be whole again, returning all those lost ghosts to the hearth of our souls.
It’s a dream, but we have to believe it.