Defining Success

Katie Ledecky, winner of 7 Olympic and 15 world championship gold medals.

When my youngest kid was in middle school, he had knee problems. He couldn’t play football, but all that energy needed to go somewhere, so I signed him up for swim team. He went to one regional swim meet and I was impressed (confused? befuddled?) by the sheer number of kids who were rotating in and out of the water. His coaches reinforced the message that the kids weren’t racing each other as much as they were racing themselves. Winning gold was nice, but getting a personal best time was better.

That philosophy fits pretty well with an idea I’ve run across more than once in writing classes, often in terms of inspiration and motivation. We’re told that rather than waste time in jealousy or envy for another author’s success, each author needs to define success for themselves. For example, in a master class at last weekend’s Emerald City Writers’ Conference, Angela James started her presentation by asking each of us to describe what success looks like, and then leave a comment in the chat (we were on zoom) sharing some aspect of it.

People piped right up with comments like, “I’ve figured out what success looks like for three months, six months, and a year.” Which, okay then. LOL. I was happy for them – sincerely – yet there I was, still parsing the question.

See, if you ask me to list my goals for whatever time increment, I can do that, no problem. Weekly, monthly, one year, five year? I got this. (Well, five years might be a little vague.) And generally, I’m pretty good at accomplishing the goals I set for myself – or coming up with a damned good reason why I haven’t.

However, I’m not sure meeting goals and “success” are the same thing.

Clearly they’re related concepts. Checking things off a list feels good, whether it’s this week’s Trello to-do list or January’s goal to publish 4 books this year. And you know, according to the dictionary, that’s success.

So why am I balking? Why do I think success is bigger than just checking things off a list? Why don’t I feel like a success?

I think it’s because whenever I meet a goal, in the next breath I’m already planning the next one. Published 4 books this year? Good for me. What’s on deck for 2022? Pulled off a successful writing conference? Cool. When’s the next one?

I swear if I ever hit the New York Times bestseller list, I’ll immediately start figuring out how to raise the bar.

The thing about goals is they need to be concrete, measurable, and within my control. I’d argue that success is none of those things – unless it’s only about meeting goals. To me, it’s bigger than that. Success is satisfaction and happiness and pride, a complicated emotion that isn’t easily quantified.

I also think that defining success depends on where you focus your lens. The second bullet point in the dictionary definition is “the attainment of fame, wealth, or social status.”

And all of those values are relative.

Like, in my day(night) job, I’m a nurse practitioner in the NICU of a major university medical center with a national reputation. Does that make me famous? Probably not, although pretty much everyone in the world of neonatology has heard of my unit. (And if you google the name that’s on my ARNP license, you almost certainly won’t come up with hits about vampire romance. LOL)

Am I a success? Well, this gig is seriously my dream job, the reason I went back to school for a masters degree, and after working in a couple different places, I can honestly say its be the best utilization of the NNP role that I’ve found.

But it’s still a job, and I still have to pump myself up to go to work every night.

My husband and I have owned a house for over 20 years. To someone who’s worried about making rent every month, that might look like success. To me, it looks like unfinished projects and the garden needs work. I’m planning on taking early retirement at age 62, which might look like success, but it’ll only work if I write more books.

And….that might sound like a whole lot of bellyaching, like my cup’s half empty. It’s not. I’m very fortunate and very grateful. In thinking all this through, though, I have reached one conclusion.

If I’m not going to define writing success by meeting goals, there needs to be another way of looking at it. If I take away the goals – the yearly plan, the Trello to-do lists, the orange banners from Amazon – what’s left? The dictionary would say it’s wealth, and yeah, there’s the money, the number of books I sell minus what I spend on production and promotion.

But do I really write books to make money? Maybe a little, although I’m leery of picking a dollar amount to define success, because I can’t truly control how many books I sell. I can put together a good product and do my best to let buyers know it’s available, but I can’t make them buy.

So if I’m not successful because I meet my goals and it’s not about how much money I make, what’s left?

I think for me to be a successful author, it’s about the writing. It’s about being engaged in the process, the nitty-gritty draft and edit and read and learn and polish. It’s bringing characters to life and exploring the world through them, and it’s readers who tell me they love my work. It’s the alchemy of creativity and craft, organizing words into thoughts and recording them with care and attention so they’re telling the story’s truth.

I may not have an Olympic gold medal – or an NYT best seller – but I am writing. And by that measure, I’ve been a lot more successful than I realized.

Manifesting My Dreams: The Magazine

A Halloween decoration from Michael’s that I have in my living room year-round. (Not an ad or affiliate link.)

Some of you know that I am big into manifestation – the idea that you can change things or create the life of your dreams by acting and thinking as though what you want has already happened. You have to work for it, of course–nothing is going to come to you if you just sit around and wait. This is the idea behind The Secret, the writings of Wayne Dyer and countless other life coaches and self help gurus. Your opinion may vary, but I really think there is something to it.

I’ve been practicing manifestation techniques for years–probably over a decade, I’m not sure. It started with a vision board, which I wasn’t too sure would work, but slowly, it did. One example: I had dreamed about Ireland one night (and drinking beer at a pub through chocolate straws with Jon Bon Jovi–don’t ask, I don’t know either) so I put photos of Dublin on my vision board; several months later I was invited to a spend a week there for my job (which is not international, so it was quite a shock). Then I started reading more and became more intentional in my thoughts. The first thing I was ever conscious of manifesting was my first Book of the Year award in early 2016. I visualized it until the cows came home and I was still shocked when I won.

All of this to give you background for my newest project. I’ve been listening to podcasts by life coach Tonya Leigh for about a year or so now. She’s all about changing your life (elevating it) by changing your mindset–in essence, manifestation. A few weeks ago I got the chance to do a week-long online workshop with her called Think Like an Editor. The whole week was geared around pretending you are the editor of the magazine of your life. Without giving away her secrets (take the workshop if she ever offers it again; it is SO worth it), she guides you through coming up with a title, cover photo and headlines for your magazine that are based on your dreams.

I liked what we did so much that I mocked up my cover on Canva. We had such a wonderfully strong female community for the week on Facebook that I decided to try Tonya’s School of Self-Image for a month (I’m waiting for money to come in that will allow me to sign up for a year). While I was working on some other things last night, I got the idea to actually make the magazine. (Could also have been influenced by recently watching the Vogue documentary, The September Issue) By this I mean write the articles as though they’ve already happened, use stock photos, even put in ads for things I intend to buy someday. I may even break it into sections. Who knows. And it will grow as I do.

I’ll post the whole thing online somewhere when I’m done with it and tell you a little about what each thing means, etc. Right now it is a fun side project for when my job and two end-of-year book deadlines get to be too much. Plus it keeps me focused on my dreams, rather than my stress.

Here’s the story behind the cover: My headline was actually supposed to be “sexy confidence” based on the directions of the workshop, but I changed it. The reason That Girl is the headline is its the title of a song by a band I LOVED in my early 20s that encapsulates how I want to feel. And the image shows the wealth, success and elegance that goes with it. (That image is also on my current vision board. I’m pretending it is downtown Chicago, even though it is clearly NYC.)

(Lyrics: http://dirtnaps.com/jus…/jaw2003/lyrics/tosoy/thatgirl.htm)

(Song: http://dirtnaps.com/justad…/jaw2003/sounds/ThatGirlJAW.mp3)

Not Just Critical, But Helpful

Personally, the only thing I dislike more than critical feedback is unhelpful critical feedback.

-Lyra Selene

No one writes a book on their own. I think where a lot of fledgling writers fail is they try to write a book without any outside help or support. Yes, the actual writing down of words is all on you, the writer, but getting to that stage, what happens after the first draft is done, how to get from rough draft to finished draft, shouldn’t be all on your own.

New writers are often terrified to let other people read their work. Whether it be insecurity about their talent or fear that someone might steal their work (electronic copyrights are an amazing thing in this day and age so if you’re part of the latter, let me put your mind at ease). And many new writers don’t realize, or maybe don’t want to admit, that even if you’re born with the gift of writing, no one writes well without at lease some practice if not some actual education in the craft. I, myself, have a BA in Creative Writing. And let me tell you: as a freshman in college I was CONVINCED I was an amazing writer and would coast through said major.

Yeah. No.

I needed that education. I needed those professors telling me that, while good, they could tell I was turning in first drafts of essays and stories. What’s the big deal about that? Well, good is not great and if they could tell something was a first draft, then that meant they saw room for improvement. Your first draft may be good, but it’s probably not yet great and it probably needs more than just your eyes to see where it can be improved.

I try to make sure I have at least two beta readers for a book, but if I can get three or four, that’s amazing. And, I think, it’s good to have readers at different life-stages and backgrounds so I can find out what resonated with who and what falls flat and if I get the same/similar notes from multiple readers, I know it’s something to pay attention to for good or bad.

Now, maybe you want to be a beta reader for someone, or you want to develop a critique partner relationship with another writer–if you can, do, it will make you a better writer–and you want to know how to be a good reader. Critical, helpful feedback.

Obviously all writers live for the good feedback. I look for the lols, the yeessssss!, the swoons, the love this!, the good image notes throughout a manuscript when I get it back from my readers. I love those comments. When I read the critique letters I first revel in the parts where they sing my praises and tell me what they loved about the book. We are needy things, we writers, and our sunshine are those compliments and reassurances. But we want the book to be great, not just good, so we need the meat, the real feedback.

If you’re going to help a writer with feedback you need to tell them what didn’t work for you while also explaining why. Did you find your attention waning during a particularly long chapter? Did you find yourself hoping an annoying character died even though they are supposed to be a hero? Did the dialogue fall flat for you because people don’t actually talk like that, or maybe because it was a little too realistic? Were there dropped plot threads because you picked up on something that seemed important in the beginning but then it never came back around? Did you get lost in the magic system because there are no rules?

These are all things that can help a writer who’s been staring at these pages and those tens of thousands of words for the past year and can’t see these issues. Want to know why you can’t see the issues in your book? Because you know the answers to these questions/holes/problems so your mind fills in those gaps when you reread. Just like you can’t see the typos or homonyms but they’re glaring to new eyes.

Now if you’re the one with the book getting the feedback, you need to be open to said feedback. Of course the notes are just the opinion of one person and you’re welcome to take or leave every note, but you cannot, under any circumstances be offended by the constructive criticism they offer. Hopefully they’re actually helpful and constructive and unless they just say your book sucked, you need to remember that, no matter how harsh, they’re trying to help you and they took time out just to read your work and give you feedback.

I offer professional manuscript critique services for people who don’t have a writer group and there are a lot of people who think they’re ready for the critical feedback only to realize they weren’t and they crumble a little bit when the critique letter isn’t just compliments and praise. Remember, the book is personal to you and only you at this stage.

So if you’re looking to write a book, be ready to start forming your own little writing village to help get it from opening sentence, to first draft, to final draft, to publication. Writing is a solitary craft but you don’t have to do it all alone.

Organization for Authors: Finding what works

Not my actual workspace….but it could be…

This post is a spin-off of last month’s post, “So many spinning plates! An Author’s Life“. You don’t have to have read that post – I’ll recap the high points here – but if you want to jump over to it, I’ll be here when you get back. 🙂

Here’s the deal. I had a book release on September 4th and I’ll have another one September 23rd. I’m helping organize the Emerald City Writers’ Conference in October, and I’ve also stepped in as president of the Rainbow Romance Writers chapter of RWA. (And tbh, I believe in what the the organization is trying to do, but right now supporting RWA is exhausting.)

Also, also, I’m trying to plot the next book in the Soulmates series, and I’ve got research to do – like, two books to read, for starters – for The Pirate’s Vampire (sequel to The Vampire’s Pirate that released last week). And any day now Irene will be sending me the next scene for Benedictus, Book 3 in our Hours of the Night series.

That’s…a lot. (If you have read last month’s post, you might notice I haven’t mentioned the 1950s murder mystery I had on my list. I’ve decided to keep it on the back burner in the interest of honing in on my brand – vampires/paranormal – which is in itself a good subject for a blog post. Maybe I’ll do branding next month.)

You might be wondering how I’m keeping up with it all. Heh. I’m wondering that, myself. There are probably as many ways to stay organized as there are writers, you know? The way I see it, though, a successful approach has to include both the big picture and the daily work in a way that makes sense.

I’ve tried a couple different strategies that didn’t work particularly well. For years, every January I’d come up with a list of goals. I’d use Word or Excel and try to block out what I wanted to get done when.

And then I’d ignore those lists and spend most of the year jumping from thing to thing.

Then 3-ish years ago, I joined a Facebook group dedicated to the use of planners for authors. I bought a pretty, spiral bound notebook planner and actually used it, more or less. I liked that I could make weekly to-do lists, but it still didn’t give me a fluid way of connecting my annual goals to what was happening on a week-to-week basis.

I’m pretty sure that someone in that Facebook group first mentioned Trello. It’s a project management app, and while I probably use about 1/10th of its functionality, that 1/10th is exactly what I need. There are a kajillion different templates for all kinds of business and educational applications, but I use a series of very simple boards.

This is my board for 2021. The far left column is my goals for the year, and I made a column for each month where I broke down those major goals into smaller bites. Scrolling to the right, I can easily see what I’ve accomplished every month and what’s coming up.
I also made a board for each quarter, using the monthly columns in the 2021 plan to come up with the to-do list. I *LOVE* moving cards from the “Doing” column to the “Done” column!
The cards are key! I’ve managed to discipline myself to take time every weekend to come up with a to-do list for the week, breaking up my big goals into smaller and smaller bites.

I don’t know why Trello works for me. Maybe it’s the pretty pictures or the way I can change things with a couple of clicks, but I’ve been more successful using it than any other organization tool I’ve come across. For sure, the phone app makes it easy for me to add to my to-do list when I remember something random and to check things off when I’m not at my laptop. Trello is the easiest way I’ve found to translate goals into action, and I’m pretty danged proud of what I’ve accomplished this year.

If you’ve got a cool organizational tool, leave me a comment. I’m still open to learning something new!

I’m a Biographer, Weeeeee!!!!

(Yes, the title is a Hamilton reference.)

Several years ago I came across the name Virginia Minor when researching my historical novel, Madame Presidentess, which is about Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for President in the U.S. in 1872. Because Virginia wasn’t who I was writing about at the time, I noted her as an interesting figure (she is the one from whom Victoria got the idea that the 14th amendment already gave women the right to vote) and moved on.

Virginia Minor

But Virginia wouldn’t let me go. I kept thinking about her and wondering how a woman could come up with such an intelligent and unorthodox theory during a time when college-level education was reserved for men (and a few rich women.) I started researching her and found a few profiles and the more I learned the more I wanted to know. But there was no biography for her.

Well, in 2023 there will be!

I am so thrilled to be sharing her “forgotten” story with the world. The biography is really a dual biography of her and her husband, Francis, because they were “partners in crime” on the subject of suffrage–and equal in all things (which was unusual for their time). However, there is far more information available on Virginia, but I was able to reconstruct a good portion of Francis’ career as a lawyer, as well as his suffrage work.

One of the reasons this book is so important to me is that the way we’re taught about the Suffrage Movement in school is that is was pretty much taken care of by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and a handful of other women. But that is far from the truth. The movement was actually progressed by thousands of women of all races and class levels. Writing them back into history is so important to a fuller understanding of the movement and its repercussions to us today.

America’s Forgotten Suffragists is a cradle to grave biography because it is the first one ever written about Virginia and Francis. Among the things you’ll learn about them:

  • Their early lives, education, courtship and wedding.
  • Virginia’s work during the Civil War in the health department and Francis’ work as a war claims agent.
  • Virginia’s founding of the Woman’s Suffrage Association of Missouri two years before Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone formed their national organizations.
  • How Virginia and Francis came up with the New Departure (the 14th amendment theory) and argued it through the court system all the way to the Supreme Court.
  • Virginia’s tax revolts (refusing to pay her taxes until women get the vote)
  • Her work with Susan B. Anthony to campaign for women’s suffrage in Nebraska
  • Virgina’s unorthodox funeral and will.
  • Posthumous honors for both

And if you want a little preview, you can visit virgniaminor.com, which is the companion website to the book.

If you had told me four years ago that I would write and publish a biography, I would have told you you were crazy. I didn’t think I was a good enough writer for non-fiction much less that I had research skills to write a biography from scratch. But when an idea seizes you and doesn’t let go, you follow. And this one gave me two amazing people who now feel like grandparents (a few times great) to me. I hope they will to everyone who reads about them, too.

I Love Villains

The other week, I came across this article: It’s OK to be horny for the villain by Lena Barkin. And I am fucking here for it. She talks about the love so many of us female presenting people have for our Lokis, Jareths, Draculas, and more damaged, beautiful villains and the hate and derision we female presenting people get for that love.

I fucking love villains. I have loved them since I first fell in love with the Goblin King when I was a wee tot.

I love a good anti-hero (hello Jessica Jones). And I know that we’ve all been teased and even shamed into being quiet about our love. But you know what? No.

In the article Barkin says, “Fans of complex and morally ambiguous characters are often a sign of a classic work in the making.” Complex and morally ambiguous characters, do you know what I think of when I hear that? Fully formed. Four dimensional. Real.

The article focuses a lot on young women and queer folk and how we’re viewed and treated for what we like. Young women and queer folk are, themselves, complex and more in tuned with emotions and pain and scars–both physical and emotional. Often, when we hate someone, it’s because they show us a mirror, but I think the same can be true when we love someone damaged and dangerous. How many of us are damaged and therefore dangerous? Can you see your pain and anger in the face of your favorite villain? Can you hear the same song you heart sings in their voice when they launch into their world-domination soliloquy?

It’s fine to love Captain America or to root for the genuine Good Guy in the story. After all, we need Good Guys in the world and Cap is genuinely a good guy, not a monster in sheep’s clothing. We want people like them to exist because we are so often let down by that guy in real life. So often they’re actually judgmental, controlling, or just a goddamn let down. So often That Guy is just wearing a mask and when it slips, we’re disappointed at best, devastated and hurt at worst.

But a villain in a story? He’s honest about who he is once you know who he is. Maybe he’s trying to be better, but he doesn’t hide his backstory, he doesn’t promise you forever, and he doesn’t judge you for your demons. If anything, Dracula embraces them, Loki revels in them, Jareth grants those wishes without judgement. Maybe we all love the villain because he can love the darkest parts of us and doesn’t make us shove them down into a box we keep locked in the darkest corner of our hearts. We get to be complex and morally ambiguous. Hell, we get to be fucking human, unashamedly, unabashedly, completely whole with the villain.

And I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound wholly toxic and unhealthy to me. Sure, we can debate about trying to be better people, but how can we be better people if we can’t love all of ourselves first? How can we accept others if we don’t accept ourselves? Villains are often looking for their own happy ending, just like the good guys, they’re just also dragging a tragic backstory along with them, trying to heal from it, while being judged and punished for it.

Sound a little familiar?

I love a villain. I love writing them. I just wrote a book and the MC is probably more villain than hero and it was refreshing to have that freedom and write from her perspective. It was fun to write her love interest who was even more broken than she. They accept each other and want to rule the kingdom together.

So I say it’s okay to love the villain too. Love that complex, morally ambiguous character and do it proudly.

Creating New Worlds

Every novel, regardless of genre, needs a few big things to make it work: great characters, a riveting plot, and a compelling setting. But for speculative fiction–fantasy, science fiction, and everything in between–setting carries a little more weight than in other genres, especially in alt-world settings, where the world is totally invented by the author.

World building is one of my favorite parts of writing craft, and is probably one of the more intuitive elements of my writing process. In fact, sometimes it’s so intuitive that I forget to actually put any thought or effort into it while in the planning stages of my books. And then, inevitably, I’ll realize I completely failed to come up with something crucial and need to go back to the beginning.

To help me improve my mastery over world building (and maybe yours too!) I’ve rounded up my favorite tips for deepening already complex worlds.

Breakfast

In one of my favorite quotes from Margaret Atwood, she talks about how she likes to start her world building with breakfast.

“I like to wonder what people would have for breakfast–which people, as their breakfasts would be different–and where they would get those food items, and whether or not they would say a prayer over them, and how they would pay for them, and what they would wear during that meal, and, if cooked, how … Breakfast can take you quite far.”

With this technique, a seemingly simple, basic act becomes a lens through which a world’s customs, values, and systems are distilled. Focusing on a single activity can help you color in a world’s broader dynamics, from the micro to the macro.

Death

One of the most interesting and diverse elements of human culture is how we deal with death. How a society approaches old age, funeral customs, spirituality and grief can tell a lot about their values, religious beliefs, and understanding of their place in the world.

Ask yourself–do the characters in your book fear death, or accept it? Do they bury, cremate, or entomb their dead, and why? Do they believe in ghosts, spirits, or ancestors? Answering these questions will help clarify the deep-seated values of your characters and define where they believe they fit in the cosmology of your world.

History

Your characters aren’t the only thing that needs a backstory. Give your world a history, too! While you don’t need paragraphs and paragraphs outlining the last thousand years of your world’s history, you do need glimmers of what has come before and how it may have affected the world your story takes place in.

Have their been any wars in the recent past, how did they start, and how did they end? How did the people in power get there, and who came before them? Have there been any societal shifts that changed the way the culture saw themselves?

Once you understand the history of your world, you’ll be able to offer the reader glimpses of it when needed.

Keep it simple, stupid

It may seem like a complex world needs complex world-building. This isn’t necessarily the case, though. If you need to bend over backwards to explain something, chances are you’re overthinking it. If your magic system needs a glossary, simplify. If you need to explain the past two thousand years of history for the current social structure to make sense, simplify. If your readers can’t figure out what invented words mean through context clues, simplify.

Speculative fiction can stand–nay, demands–a degree of lushness and intricacy. But don’t get so tangled up in your own world building that it becomes convoluted.

Say yes to you

At the end of the day, trust yourself. This may seem a little contradictory to the last point, but you know your story and your characters and your world best. The details that will make your story shine will ultimately spring from your glorious imagination. Try not to second guess yourself too much, especially in the early stages of a project.

Sometimes the wildest concepts will make your world sparkle; other times, it’s the simplest of details that will make your world shine. Try not to be precious about being so original that no one has ever done something similar; try not to be too derivative, either. Trust your gut and your imagination–that’s how you’ll build your world from the ground up.

So many spinning plates! An author’s life…

Yesterday I saw a “What are you working on?” query on FB and responded with “I’ve got this, and this, and this, and this in progress.”

And those are just my actual writing projects. I’m also involved in two different chapters of RWA (for Reasons) and both have ongoing projects and then there’s the day(night) job, which has apparently decided to seek revenge for the month I took off in April.

It’s all good stuff, but I’m a bit fried.

For today’s post, I thought it would be fun to run through my spinning plates, so you know what’s on the horizon…


Is death too great a risk when the reward is freedom?

Dáire Malone has been undead for over 200 years when he is summoned to the home of a would-be queen, a vampiress who possesses an unnatural potency. She declares that Malone will not leave without giving her a pledge of loyalty.

He’s been held in thrall before and would rather face his final death than let another have power over him.

Thomas Clifton is a pirate, or rather, a privateer. He too is summoned to the vampiress’s home and commanded to pledge his fealty to her. Clifton’s allegiance lies only with the man he sees in the mirror, and his first impulse is to run.

But Dáire Malone’s aura of mystery and his melancholy beauty appeal to Clifton, and Malone won’t leave until they destroy the source of the vampiress’s magic. Caught between opposing impulses, Clifton must choose.

Leave, and lose Malone, or stay and risk his freedom…and his life.

First up, THE VAMPIRE’S PIRATE! A sweet little novella that poses the question, “what if Bridgerton had vampires?” Actually, PIRATE is set in 1805 New Orleans, so the time period similar to Bridgerton, even if the location is different. This book’ll be available FREE as part of a multi-author giveaway that starts tomorrow – Friday, 8/20/21. Here’s the link to the promo so you can bookmark it. The giveaway runs until 9/3/21 and after that, PIRATE will be available at all ebook retailers.


There’s no easy way to come back from the dead…

…and Connor MacPherson is living with the consequences. He may be back in Trajan’s life – and in his bed – but the trust they once shared is gone.

Some days it feels like David is the only thing holding their threesome together.

When Trajan and David stumble over a murdered kitsune, Connor is drawn into the investigation. He uses that murder to cover a second inquiry, one he’s bound by his oath to the Elites to keep secret – specifically from Trajan.

Then David uncovers his covert search, and if Connor’s own internal conflict is painful, seeing how it hurts David makes it even worse.

But they don’t know the secret Trajan’s keeping, a command that could destroy everything. Trajan’s maker has ordered him to kill, and if they don’t rebuild their damaged trust, this time death will be permanent.

TESTED is book 2 in my Soulmates series (m/m/m paranormal romance), and I’m busily editing the manuscript so it’ll be ready for a 9/23/21 release date. The official cover reveal will be on JoyfullyJay‘s blog 9/2/21. I’m sooooo excited for this one!


The next spinning plate doesn’t have an official cover yet. Heck, it doesn’t even have an official title. I’ve been working with The Blue Sky Murders, although that title is subject to change. Basically, the BSM is the start of a mystery series set in 1950 Seattle, about a PI who was an MP in the second World War. He’s hired to follow a young man who just inherited a whole bunch of money and he shows up just in time to see the young man get murdered. He then spends the rest of the book solving the crime and fighting his own demons. Fun stuff!
I’ll be (hopefully) pitching it to a couple of publishers this fall. (Also, a red Cadillac plays a key role, so pretend the Mustang is a Caddy.)


And finally…

The project I’m arguably the most excited about, is BENEDICTUS, book 3 in the Hours of the Night series I co-write with Irene Preston. We started this book in 2017, y’all, but life has a way of messing with even the best plans. At any rate, here we are, four years older and four years wiser, with four years more experience as writers which’ll hopefully pay off as we bring Thaddeus and Sara their happily every after.

But first we’re going to mess with them in a big way!


Just a couple other bullet points to share. One of the bigger projects I’m working on is the Emerald City Writers’ Conference, put on by the Greater Seattle Chapter of RWA. The ECWC will by 10/15- 10/17, and it’s on-line only this year. Registration is $150, and we have a fantastic line-up of presenters, as well as agents and editors who want to hear your pitches!

Click HERE to register for the Emerald City Writers’ Conference!

And FINALLY – for reals, this time – if you’re in the Seattle area, the Shanty Tavern is having their grand reopening on Friday, September 10th. The Shanty’s over on Lake City Way, one of the last survivors of the days when Lake City was it’s own place. The Shanty only opens Friday nights and there’s always live music of both kinds – country and western. (Random Blues Brothers reference…lol…) At any rate, for their first post-pandemic show, my husband’s band The Fentons will open for the 1Uppers, so if you’re in the ‘hood, come say hi!

Click HERE for the Shanty Tavern’s FB page for more info.

Thanks for reading along! I’m off to keep the plates spinning…

Flash Fiction Writing Prompt Ideas

You’ll have to forgive me for the brevity of this week’s post. I just don’t have the bandwidth to think of 500-1000 words this week. If you follow me on Insta, you’ll understand why.

But every day is a little better than the day before so I didn’t want to bail completely.

I thought, since it was summer, and we’re between NaNos, it might be fun to give you guys a flash fiction writing prompt. Maybe, if you’re between projects, or feeling a little stuck, or just want to see if you can do this challenge, it would inspire you.

I took two flash fiction prompts from Chuck Wendig many, many years ago and they, somehow, became the inspiration of my longest running series, The Matilda Kavanagh Novels. The first was to look up the name of a cocktail and base a 1000 word story on that name. The second, be as creative with profanity as you could.

The first prompt I found a cocktail that had the word Fairy in it and the story of a half-troll stealing the magical token of a royal fairy and using it to blackmail her for riches beyond measure came into my mind. The second, a witch who had been cheated out of payment for a spell she’d brewed for a man in a position of power burst into my mind, creative new profane words bursting from her. Both stories ended up in my series. And Mattie just might be my favorite character I ever created.

So, if you’re game, here are three prompts. Pick one, or all three!, and see where your muse takes you. The goal is to write a whole story within 1000 words, no more than that, so paint that picture, but hone your words.

  1. Your favorite food.
  2. Spotting a shooting star.
  3. A broken object.

See where your imagination takes you. I wrote about fairies and witches, which you probably automatically think of some far away land or time, right? Nope. My fairy was in a casino bar. My witch lives in North Hollywood. Both live in present day. See? Anything can happen with flash fiction.

Have fun with it! And if you feel proud of your story, post it to your own blog and come back here and share the link in the comments so we can read your story. Who knows, I just might do this challenge too if I find the will.