When Competition is Motivating

I’m a very competitive person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shut up.

I’m beginning to realize that rather than discourage me, the success of others motivates me to work harder, to reach farther, to branch out into areas I otherwise would be afraid to go.

A few years ago, my fellow Scribe Emmie Mears had a run of great news in her career, securing four book deals in one summer for both fiction and non-fiction books. At the time, I was 1.5 years into being on submission for my first book, Daughter of Destiny, and I was starting to see cracks in my relationship with my agent. So while I was happy for Emmie, I was also feeling insecure, which led to me being VERY jealous.

Not long before Emmie’s announcement, my agent had told me the editor who had my book at the time was so certain we were going to get an offer that she wanted me to write a non-fiction book about the Celts so she could tie it into my Guinevere books. I thought she was nuts. Me? A non-fiction author? Right. I didn’t think I had the education or skills for that so I dismissed it out of hand.

I was in Chicago on vacation when I found out about Emmie’s good fortune. Of course, I stewed for a while, but then I thought, “If Emmie can get a non-fiction book deal, why can’t I?” Over the next two months, I researched my little heart out and ended up with a proposal and a 50,000 word book. Sadly, we never got to send it to the editor because the publisher ultimately passed on Daughter, but it made me do something I never thought I would. (I never have published that book. Maybe someday. I have since published non-fiction, though!)

Then just last week I found out a second author I know online, Chanel Cleeton, had her book Next Year in Havana chosen by Reese Witherspoon as her book club pick. When this happened to the first of my friends, Kate Quinn (for The Alice Network, such an amazing book), I wasn’t jealous, just very, very happy for her. But for some reason, Chanel’s announcement really got to me. (My best guess is I am feeling insecure again and that is probably right because I’m looking to go back to traditional publishing for my next few books after three years as an indie author.)

But again, after a few hours of being jealous, during which I created the graphic to the right, it energized me. I thought to myself, “well, if that’s going to be me someday, I better get a move on.” Now, at the time I was editing one book (fiction) and working on a proposal for another (historical non-fiction). What did I do? Began putting feelers out for yet another non-fiction book to determine if there is enough information on my subject to warrant a biography (I can’t find evidence that one has ever been written on this woman, but there might be a reason for that.)

My point to all of this is that you can take a negative emotion like jealousy and turn it into something positive. It just takes a little creative thinking. If I can use all the success of my amazingly cool author friends to power me on, I should be to the moon in no time!

Now I need one of you to do something else really awesome so I can get my butt in gear for the historical non-fiction proposal I really want to get out to agents soon. All I have left is researching and writing the sample chapters. Go! Do! Succeed!

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How to be Creative in the Chaos that is Now

First, let me say that I am proud of Liv and Lyra sharing their posts the last two weeks. As authors and public figures it’s difficult to know whether or not to speak up about politics, always afraid of hurting our livelihoods for offending people. But I think we all know that things are just different now and we need to speak up and not fear reprisal. If you didn’t get a chance to check them out last month, please go have a quick read.

I do want to get back to talking about writerly things, but we cannot ignore the fact that the current climate has really had a hard, hard impact on writers. The constant chaotic news loop we’re stuck in takes so much out of us. Every day, sometimes multiple times a day, there is some new horror or frustration or just plain bullshit that has us throwing up our hands, randomly cursing, or slumping over with a deep sigh.

So how, how do you push through all that crap and be creative? How do you check out if even for a little while so you can get your words for the day? You don’t want to look away because that is a privilege and the guilt is overwhelming. But you lose your goddamn mind if you don’t take a break once in a while, right? Another chaotic loop.

Well, first of all, the best thing you can do is look the monster in the face. Take five minutes in the morning to call your three reps (both senators and your MOC) and tell the staffer or leave a short VM with your name and zip code and tell them why you’re calling, what you’re supporting or protesting. They’ll take a note, thank you, and be done with the call. Boom. One important contribution done. And yes, you should do this multiple times a week. If you have phone anxiety call after hours and leave a VM, those still count.

Secondly, participate, if you can, in protests. I can’t tell you how much faith and hope and resolve the Women’s March gave me last year. Even in my small city, the turn out was amazing. This past weekend my husband and I joined in on the Families Belong Together March. In the past my husband has had to work when the protests were scheduled in our area, but not this one, so he was able to go. He really didn’t think it would be much of a turn out, he wasn’t as excited as I was. At least, not until we got there. When the crowd filled in his whole demeanor changed. He joined in on the chants, he raised his fist, he took a spare flag from another protester to hold up (this was a very big deal because my hubs is a Marine Vet and in Nov 2016 he packed away all his USMC and veteran apparel and refused to wear any of it or talk about being in the service because he was so angry and disillusioned).  Seeing so many people turn out in our small piece of America, seeing all the other veterans proudly wearing their hats and shirts, really changed something in him. If you need that, go to a march.

And finally, do what I’ve done. Give yourself a break. Not forever, not indefinitely, but take the time you need. We all need to recharge. When you’re ready, get back to work, but take as much time as you need to finish a project. You all know I’ve been talking about a new book, but I haven’t written one word yet. I did finally manage to flesh out the two main characters and that feels like something. In doing so I was able to think about the magic systems and a seedy, black market system that will work as a wonderful red herring to the mystery I’m still figuring out.

Another thing I did to help me this year was become a student again. Not back to uni or to a workshop,  but I did look up Brandon Sanderson. Plenty of people know who I’m talking about, but if you don’t, he’s a best selling Epic Fantasy writer, who also happens to teach. And what’s even more amazing, his lectures are on YouTube. I watched an 8 series lecture and took copious notes. I started watching because I wanted to learn what he had to say on magic systems, but then realized it was a whole class and decided to start from the beginning.

Now, I’ve written quite a number of books, so I like to think I know what I’m doing, but it was still nice to take this as a refresher course. It gave me some food for thought about a lot of things and it felt good to be a student again. There are a lot of his lectures to be found, but I started with his BYU 318R Writing Class. Seriously, check it out. And if you’re a newbie writer and struggling with your first book and can’t afford/don’t have time for school, take advantage of this. It was an amazing course, probably better than a lot of the classes I took in uni because so many of those were focused on reading.

Hopefully something here helps you figure out a balance to being informed without being overwhelmed and getting back to work. We need a middle ground; don’t let them steal your fire.

Vote.

On Tuesday our blog-mama Shauna PMed me a reminder that I was on the schedule for this week. I opened WordPress and started a new post and….

….crickets…

For the last couple days I’ve done little more than stare at the blank blog page, wondering what in the hell to write. This doesn’t seem like the time to tell people all about my fluffy new romance….which isn’t happening anyway, because I can’t focus long enough to write the words.

No, my overwhelming response to current events can be summed up in two words:

We’re fucked.

The government is kidnapping children at the border? We’re fucked. (See Lyra’s No Kids in Cages post from last week.) The Supreme Court determined the *president’s (blatantly racist) travel ban fell within his scope of authority? We are fucked.

Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy is retiring, giving the *president another opportunity to stack the bench and putting at risk women’s rights and LGBTQIA rights and many of the other things I consider vitally important?

We are so, so fucked.

Then this morning I read a short essay by a guy named Will Stenberg. He’s a musician, and he wrote a compelling argument against the phrase “we’re fucked”. (Here’s a link if you want to read the whole thing.) His premise suggests that, while “we’re fucked” is a fair initial, first-brush, emotional, response to any given situation, making it the only response is tantamount to giving up.

Basically, “we’re fucked” = rolling over and letting the bad guys win.

And that’s not really me.

The big hook in Stenberg’s essay was that it may be old fashioned and not very sexy, but VOTING has never been more important. We must vote in our primaries and in next November’s election. We must vote our hearts, and our dreams, and our future. Yes, we may not all agree on specific issues, but we must show the world that we value tolerance, and equality, and fairness.

All the Russian interference in the world won’t be able to overcome a thunderous voter turn-out.

If November feels painfully far away, or you’re feeling helpless, I thought I’d share a couple things you can do right now to get involved.

First, you can email info@TonyTheDemocrat.org to sign up for Postcards To Voters. I’ve been doing this for the last few months, and am approaching 500 postcards sent to support Democratic candidates from Florida to California and a bunch of states in-between.

Every time I see a news report that pisses me off, I ask for 20 more addresses and get writing.

Postcards To Voters pic

Also, this Saturday 6/30/18 there’ll be a nationwide, coordinated protest called Families Belong Together. MoveOn.org has put together a site where you can enter your zip code and find a list of events in your area. (Link HERE.)

I signed up for a silent meditation that day, but I think my husband and son will be down at the SeaTac Detention Center where some of the asylum seekers (parents, not kids) are being held. If you’re free on Saturday, I hope you’ll look for something in your neighborhood and that you’ll join with others who want to #resist.

Third, you should follow Celeste Pewter. She’s a former political staffer who keeps a close eye on the issues of the day, particularly in regards to how our elected officials are taking action – or not.

Celeste maintains a website – #ICalledMyReps –  where she details bills that are coming up to vote, and she supplies scripts with talking points via twitter and through her website. Our electeds are working for us, right? Calling them, even if it’s just to say “I hope the Senator will support XYZ”, is the best way of informing them of what their constituents want.

The more calls they get, the more likely they are to take action.

So yeah, these are difficult days. Yesterday in particular was a punch to the gut. But…BUT...the fight isn’t over. This country is young enough that we’ve not yet had to live through an authoritarian regime, and this administration is a tremendous challenge to the strength of our institutions.

I believe We The People are up to the test.

Hang in there.

If you’ve got other ideas for how to #resist, please leave them in the comments.

Also, Mom, if you’re reading this, apologies for all the eff-bombs. These are extraordinary times.

 

No Kids in Cages

Yesterday, Shauna sent me a message to remind me I was up on the blog rotation, and to be honest, I had forgotten. I immediately began wracking my brains for a topic to write about, something to do with my writing process, or the books I’ve been reading lately. But there was only one thing on my mind, and I knew I had to write about it. So today’s post isn’t about writing, reading, or creative life, although it ties into all of them because I’ve been unable to think about much else lately. It’s not full of funny Michael Scott GIFs or self-deprecating jokes or encouraging words.

Today’s post is about humanity.

Look, I don’t consider myself a very political person. Don’t get me wrong–I have opinions (some more strongly held than others) and I read the news (when I can stomach it) and I vote (when it matters). But I don’t march in the street anymore, and I don’t put signs in my front yard, and if someone on Facebook or Twitter confronts me about most issues, I usually disengage because I can’t stand arguing with strangers on the internet. Why? I don’t know exactly, but if I had to guess I’d say it springs from a combination of creeping disillusionment, a little apathy, and–if I’m being totally honest–self-preservation bordering on selfishness.

But this issue transcends politics. The treatment of immigrant children at the borders of this country–the United States of America, land of the free and home of the brave, a country I love down to my bones–is downright inhumane. Children should not be forcibly separated from their parents. Period. I’ve heard all the counter arguments and I don’t care. What’s happening to these kids is cruel, immoral, unconscionable behavior anywhere in the world, but most especially in a nation whose stated “inalienable rights” are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I will not stand idly by, and I hope you won’t either.

As writers, empathy is one of our greatest and most important tools. Every day, we put ourselves in other peoples’ shoes and walk miles and miles (or rather, hundreds of thousands of words). We must be able to experience joys and sadnesses not our own in order to bring our characters to life. But we must have empathy for real people too–living, breathing, aching humans–who have already endured unimaginable trauma and continue to face unbearable treatment at the hands of our government and law enforcement. So I entreat you, you–writer, reader, friend or foe–to have empathy today for these children. Call your congressperson. Write angry letters to your local newspaper. Donate to your charity of choice. Find the humanity inside you and act upon in, somehow, someway.

Shakespeare wrote, in the Book of Sir Thomas More:

…whither would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbour? Go you to France or Flanders,
To any German province, Spain or Portugal,
Nay, anywhere that not adheres to England,
Why, you must needs be strangers, would you be pleas’d
To find a nation of such barbarous temper
That breaking out in hideous violence
Would not afford you an abode on earth.
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, not that the elements
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But charter’d unto them? What would you think
To be used thus? This is the strangers’ case
And this your mountainish inhumanity.

It’s powerful, isn’t it? What would you think, to be used thus? Let the day not come that any of us should be driven from this country, but it bears thinking what welcome we might receive anywhere else in the world, if this is how we treat their poor, their tired, their huddled masses…their children.

Ways to Help Right Now:

Donate:

Pueblos Sin Fronteras

Border Angels

Kid Lit Says No Kids in Cages

Call your Congressperson and say:  “Hi, my name is [YOUR NAME] and my zip code is [YOUR ZIP]. I’m urging the Senator to denounce Trump’s family separation policy and use all of Congress’ authority to stop it.”

Join a Protest: Check out Families Belong Together to find a protest or rally near you

My Writing Process

This was about a year and a half ago at the Chanticleer Author’s Conference.

When I put out a call on Facebook for topics for this post, my fellow Spellbound Scribe, Shauna, suggested I write about my writing process. Honestly, I don’t know that I have one, but I’ll give it a go.

Step 1: Research
Because I primarily write historical fiction and non-fiction, the very first thing I do is research. Even with romance/women’s fiction, there will be research involved because I’ll need to know about a character’s job or a location or something. I find that research often gives me the “bones” of a plot that I can build upon. I won’t bore you with the details here, but I do teach a class on it at Professional Author Academy (the class is actually on writing historical fiction, but it is mostly on research). And here’s a post I wrote a while ago on using Amazon as a research tool.

Step 2: Plotting
Plotting is an interesting step. Some of it I do as an author, and some of it I do alongside my characters. They talk to me and tell me what they want to happen. (One of my friends said she thinks I actually have the gift/powers of a medium and I’m starting to think she is right. Only instead of talking to the dead, I use my gifts for my writing. Maybe all authors are mediums?) My characters even name themselves. For example, in Been Searching for You, I wanted to call Annabeth’s best friend and co-worker Malik. Nope. He told me his name was Miles, which is a name I never really liked. But he was insistent and it stuck.

As far as the author part of me plotting, the first thing I do is look at the genre expectations of what I am writing and fill in what I know. Then I go to Michael Hague and Larry Brooks’ story structure templates and think about how I am going to shape my story. Then I look at Michael Hague’s character arc advice and think about each of my main character’s wounds, essence and identity. This often takes me a while to puzzle through, but it is worth it because it helps me see how these characters will change over the course of the story.

And I also meditate. I think that may tie in the whole medium idea, as it stills my mind and puts me into a receptive state to be able to see the scenes in my head.

Step 3: Writing
I can write pretty much anywhere, but most of it happens on my couch or backyard patio. For some reason that is where I’m most comfortable. I’m also extremely productive in airports and during flights; I think it is because I am a captive audience.

I have tried all kinds of things to get into writing mode, such as wearing certain clothes, drinking certain teas, etc. But what seems to work for me is lighting incense (I prefer campfire because it reminds me of the cabin I stayed in at Hedgebrook when I took a master class from Deborah Harkness, or peat because a lot of my books take place in Great Britain) and listening to film/TV scores (which already have the emotional highs and lows and tension of storytelling built in).

One thing I have learned is that I can’t drink alcohol when I write because it kills my creativity. But I can when I edit. Go figure.

I have a whole process for editing as well, but I don’t know interesting that would be to people. If you are interested, I teach a class on that as well.

By now, as my sixth book is in the editing phase, all of this has become to automatic, I don’t really think about it anymore. I guess that is why I didn’t think I had a process, when I really do.

Any questions about my process? Anything you want me to elaborate on? Let me know.

We’ve Got Every Book Universe You’re Looking For

Every once in a while you gotta toot your own horn, create a little, well-deserved fanfare, even if it feels little self-serving.

I’m really proud of the writers at this blog, we’re a pretty damn talented group! And I think we deserve a little spotlight time. So if you’ve been looking for something to read, or are like me and enjoy having an ever-growing, teetering TBR pile, check out some of our awesome works:

First up, Liv Rancourt. Liv is an immensely talented writer who doesn’t focus on angst in her romance writing, so if you need a good pick-me-up, you need to check her out. Most recently Liv has placed her book, Aqua Follies, into Kindle Unlimited–so if you’re a KU user, now is a great chance to give her writing a taste if you haven’t yet!  And if you’re looking for a great #Pride read, this might be just what you’re looking for!

AquaFollies_Digital_WebThe 1950s. Postwar exuberance. Conformity. Rock and roll. 

Homophobia.

Russell tells himself he’ll marry Susie because it’s the right thing to do. His summer job coaching her water ballet team will give him plenty of opportunity to give her a ring. But on the team’s trip to the annual Aqua Follies, the joyful glide of a trumpet player’s solo hits Russell like a torpedo, blowing apart his carefully constructed plans.

From the orchestra pit, Skip watches Poseidon’s younger brother stalk along the pool deck. It never hurts to smile at a man, because good things might happen. Once the last note has been played, Skip gives it a shot. 

The tenuous connection forged by a simple smile leads to events that dismantle both their lives. Has the damage been done, or can they pick up the pieces together?

You can find all of Liv’s awesome books at her Amazon Author page!

Next up is Lyra Selene! Lyra has a way with world building that makes me so envious I can’t even explain. We’re very excited for Lyra’s first publication later this year, with her debut novel, Amber & Dusk! It is already available for pre-order and I have mine, so you should too! If a beautiful epic YA fantasy is more your speed, you won’t want to miss this one:

Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 12.35.09 PM

Sylvie has always known she deserves more. Out in the permanent twilight of the Dusklands, her guardians called her power to create illusions a curse. But Sylvie knows it merits her a place in Coeur d’Or, the palais of the Amber Empress and her highborn legacies. 

So Sylvie sets off toward the Amber City, a glittering jewel under a sun that never sets, to take what is hers.

But her hope for a better life is quickly dimmed. The empress invites her in only as part of a wicked wager among her powerful courtiers. Sylvie must assume a new name, Mirage, and begin to navigate secretive social circles and deadly games of intrigue in order to claim her spot. Soon it becomes apparent that nothing is as it appears and no one, including her cruel yet captivating sponsor, Sunder, will answer her questions. As Mirage strives to seize what should be her rightful place, she’ll have to consider whether it is worth the price she must pay.

You can pre-order your copy on Amazon and Barnes & Noble now!

Next we have our in-house scholar, Nicole Evelina! I was a pretty studious person in school and I pride myself on the research I do for books now, but let me tell you, I cannot hold a candle to Nicole. When you get one of her books, know that hundreds (thousands?) of hours of research went into them. I honestly don’t know how she does it! But you can see for yourself in her amazing Guinevere’s Tales series–the first two books are available now with the third set for publication later this year!

Nicole's booksBefore queenship and Camelot, Guinevere was a priestess of Avalon. She loved another before Arthur, a warrior who would one day betray her.

In the war-torn world of late fifth century Britain, young Guinevere faces a choice: stay with her family to defend her home at Northgallis from the Irish, or go to Avalon to seek help for the horrific visions that haunt her. The Sight calls her to Avalon, where she meets Morgan, a woman of questionable parentage who is destined to become her rival. As Guinevere matures to womanhood, she gains the powers of a priestess, and falls in love with a man who will be both her deepest love and her greatest mistake.

Just when Guinevere is able to envision a future in Avalon, tragedy forces her back home, into a world she barely recognizes, one in which her pagan faith, outspokenness, and proficiency in the magical and military arts are liabilities. When a chance reunion with her lover leads to disaster, she is cast out of Northgallis and into an uncertain future. As a new High King comes to power, Guinevere must navigate a world of political intrigue where unmarried women are valuable commodities and seemingly innocent actions can have life-altering consequences.

You may think you know the story of Guinevere, but you’ve never heard it like this: in her own words. Listen and you will hear the true story of Camelot and its queen.

You can see all of Nicole’s books on her Amazon Author page and if you “follow” her there, you’ll find out when the third book, Mistress of Legend, is available for pre-order, releasing September 15th! 

And, finally, your’s truly! So I’m what you might call, your resident witchy-writer as witches and magic are my happy place, but my most recent work isn’t about witches or potions or magic, but rather about monsters and hope and survival. In 2015 I finished my post-apocalyptic trilogy, The Ash & Ruin Trilogy. But I had people asking, what happened before this? So I started writing spin-offs, first Dandelions, now Blackbird, which was just released!

Blackbird

What if YouTube warned of the end of the world? Would we even take it seriously? Or just assume it was some lame, internet hoax?

Maggie has her first college finals to prepare for; she doesn’t have time for pranks and conspiracy theories. But a super flu has broken out on campus and her dorm mate keeps coughing, threatening to get her sick before she can get through the tests and get home for Christmas.

More and more people are coming down with the super flu and the vaccines aren’t working for everyone and when one of her professors is dragged out of the classroom by cops and doctors, Maggie realizes she’s waited too long to leave campus.
Finals are the last thing she should be worrying about—she needs to get home, but can she make it in time?

You can find all of my books on my Amazon Author page (though all books are available on all online retailers) and you can follow me there so you never miss out on a new release!

Hopefully there’s something here that has piqued your interest! We’ve got something for everyone, that’s for sure! Happy reading!

Research for Writers

Cat Reading gif

One of the first things on my to-do list today – well, after opening up WordPress so I could start this post – was to check my account on the Seattle Public Library website. A couple weeks ago I checked out a stack of ponderously thick books that have to do with the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War.

New project, y’all!

Actually, I described this project – Havanain last month’s Spellbound Scribes post so you may already know a little bit about it. I’m finally ready to dig in, and since I’m all about the research, I figured today would be a good opportunity to revisit another post I wrote about a year ago. (Check out Pen to Pen: Liv Rancourt on researching historical romances if you’re curious.)

CarinaPitchforHavana
My twitter pitch for Havana…

In the Pen to Pen post, I outlined a template for my research process. Here’s the Cliff Notes version:

Step one: Locate the story on the calendar. Pick specific dates, and then study up to get a feel for what was happening at that time.  The key to this is specificity. Whether your story is set in 1955 or 1455, there was more to life than the events on the page. Use what’s already there to add depth.

Step two: In broad strokes, find out what life was like during the time period. This is the bulk of the work, tbh. I look at fashion and attitudes and food and technology and population statistics and whatever I can find to ground the story in reality.

(For some excellent ideas about how to do that, check out my friend Jules Dixon’s post over on the Rainbow Romance Writers blog.)

Step three: Fill in the fine details with first-person accounts. This one gets trickier, the further back in time you go, especially if you’re writing about marginalized groups – like women, or queer people, or pretty much anyone who’s not a white male.  Finding first-person accounts is hard, but not impossible, and absolutely essential to bring your story to life.

tumblr_inline_o2dxeywJxG1rpr1t4_500
Go HERE to read about M. de St. George. Go HERE to  become a Patreon supporter of the MedievalPOC org, a group that focuses on POC in art history.

 

Since I wrote Aqua Follies (1950s m/m rom), I’ve come across a couple more resources for first-person accounts of LGBT experience in the 20th Century. The University of Washington had a collection of oral histories, biographies and video excerpts from interviews with members of Seattle’s LGBT community – HERE – that I’m really excited to dig into.

I’ve also started reading Between the Acts: Lives of Homosexual Men 1885 – 1967. This is an important book for me, because I don’t want to sugar-coat anyone’s experience, nor do I want to overlook the ways ordinary men and women found to cope with lifestyles that fell outside the majority.

So…yeah. If you need me, I’ll be holed up somewhere with a book in my hands. I just sent L’Ami Mysterieux off to beta readers (m/m rom set in 1920 Paris) and have about a month to do research for Havana.

Color me excited!!

LAmiMysterieuxBetaCover
I made myself a faux-cover for inspiration!