GRRM and the Three Bears…

…or, the virtue of leaving clues that are visible to the average reader but not ham-handed, neon-bright arrows.

I’m going to start with a small qualifier: I have neither read A Game of Thrones/A Song of Fire & Ice, nor have I watched the HBO series. I am, however, a sentient human being with access to the internet, so I know the last episode – in which the Mother of Dragons went postal – created something of a stir. Or a shitstorm. Or therabouts.

I know this in part because Chuck Wendig made a tweet thread in which he argues that character should come before plot – accusing implying that GRRM &/or the series creators may have overlooked this small detail.

You can read his thread HERE, and you should. He knows his stuff. Also, he deconstructs the episode – and the series – HERE. (And if you’re really into it, fashion bloggers Tom & Lorenzo also have a detailed review you can find HERE.)

The big concern with the Game of Thrones episode seemed to be that Daenerys Targaryen behaved in a way that was inconsistent with her character. Maybe or maybe not – I did see at least one tweet prior to the episode suggesting that the Mother of Dragons might end up being the Big Bad, which tells me there must have been at least a couple hints along the way.

Hints that the vast majority of the television-watching public apparently didn’t notice.

Sunday night, while the rest of humanity was glued to HBO, I started a mystery by a new-to-me author. It was a pretty standard trope: Big City Woman is dragged back to her small-town home for Reasons, where she Learns Things, Figures Out Whodunnit, possibly Falls In Love, and then decides to Stay Forevermore.

Sadly, I bailed on it by about 30 pages in, because:

  • I didn’t connect with the main character. At all.
  • Which turned on my editing brain, so that every time her eyes wandered around the room, I lost a little more patience. (Her gaze wandered. Her eyes stayed in her head. Thanks.)
  • As a result of my lack of connection and super-editor, the clues to the character’s arc were glaringly obvious.

The main character was the only one in the family who had the time to take care of the problem in the Small Town, even though it meant leaving her job in the middle of a project and pissing off her boss. Because apparently a woman’s work is never too important to interrupt.

Whoops. That’s another blog post.

Anywhoodle, her stated goal was to return to her uber-exciting life in the Big City, but from just about the moment she arrived, she had Feelings. Right there in her internal dialogue, she noticed a strange connection to the place, one she could not understand. “Why do I feel this way?” she’d ask herself.

Why?

Because it says in the blurb that you’re going to have a change of heart, sweetie, and you’ll want to stick around.

*ahem*

Leaving aside the (potentially sexist) set-up, to me these “what an odd emotion” moments were clunky, too-obvious road signs to her character’s development. I think it would have worked better if she’d had a chance to earn that sense of connection rather than just stumbling into it like a slap-happy princess in some insta-love romance.

And honestly, maybe she did. I mean, I did quit at only 30 pages. But hey, I’m over 50 and there are too many books left for me to read to waste time getting annoyed.

Although the stories are very different, I think the essential problem is the same. Daenerys’s behavior took a wild left turn from her established character, and the mystery character’s “odd feelings” didn’t relate to anything intrinsic to her personality. In the one case, the clues were too subtle, and the other, too blatant.

Seems like we should be able to split the difference somehow.

I wish I could say I knew how to avoid either mama bear or papa bear details. I’m researching Victorian London with an eye to writing a mystery, so I’ve done a lot of thinking about how to leave baby-bear style clues – hints that give readers just enough to keep going, but don’t beat them over the head.

The best advice I can come up with is that character trumps plot, and to be ready for a shitty first draft and lots of editing. To that end, I’m brainstorming characters’ goals and motivations and secrets and wounds and all the good stuff that will (hopefully) help me construct a story that’s character driven, and not the other way around.

With a plot Chuck Wendig would love.

Wish me luck!

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It’s time.

This time last year – April 5th, 2018 – I published a post that, among other things, reflected on the upheaval surrounding the RITA Award nominations.

You can find that post HERE.

The RITAs are the romance genre’s version of the Oscars. They’re sponsored by the Romance Writers of America (RWA), and if you write romance, getting a RITA nomination is a Very Big Deal. When the awards were announced last year, there was a huge uproar because the majority – the large majority – of the nominees were white.

In years past, authors of color have been nominated and a couple have won RITAs, but no black author has ever won a RITA award.

I finished last year’s post by encouraging everyone to read outside their comfort zone, to buy books by authors of color, and to listen to what authors of color have to say about how they’ve been treated and how they want to be treated.

And then a weird, but not entirely surprising, thing happened.

Nothing.

I mean, I wrote that post with the best of intentions, and in fact I followed my own recommendations, picking up books I might not otherwise have read. The ‘listening’ part didn’t happen, though. Not because I didn’t care, but because…I don’t know…the opportunity didn’t present itself?

Yeah, that’s kinda lame.

See, for the last year and a few months I’ve been treasurer of the Rainbow Romance Writer (RRW), the LGBTQIA chapter of the RWA. Last year when the RITA nominations caused such a stir, it was brought to the attention of the RRW board that authors of color view our chapter as unwelcoming. At the time, we put out a statement vowing to change.

Which makes my inaction that much worse, because I could have worked for an opportunity, and I didn’t.

Did I mention that when the RITA nominations were announced this year, they were just as white as in years past? The biggest difference has been the fall-out: authors of color spoke more forcefully, on twitter and on various RWA forums, calling out the Nice White Ladies whose subtle, unexamined racism perpetuates the system.

I am a Nice White Lady.

I care about the usual range of liberal causes, and I want to live in a world where racism isn’t a thing, where we can all let go of that particular piece of baggage.

It’s a nice idea, but we’re nowhere close to that yet.

In the days since the announcement of this year’s RITA nominations, I’ve kept pretty quiet, preferring to read the twitter threads and Facebook posts and show my support through re-tweets and likes. Which is fine, but it’s also a demonstration of the thing I can’t ever let go of.

My own privilege.

Here’s the thing. Once the social media dust settled last year, I was able to put aside these issues and focus on other things. The authors of color I know – even those I consider friends – don’t have that luxury.

This was brought home to me with particular eloquence in this essay on privilege by NBA player Kyle Korver. (HERE‘s the link to his essay.) More than anything else, this paragraph resonated with me, and prompted me to write this post:

What I’m realizing is, no matter how passionately I commit to being an ally, and no matter how unwavering my support is for NBA and WNBA players of color….. I’m still in this conversation from the privileged perspective of opting in to it. Which of course means that on the flip side, I could just as easily opt out of it. Every day, I’m given that choice — I’m granted that privilege — based on the color of my skin.

No matter how important I think the fight against racism is, I have the ability to put it aside in a way some of my friends don’t. Hell, I was able to take a whole year off, even after hearing that a group I help run is part of the problem.

It’s a sobering thought.

I’m left asking myself how I’m going to make things different this year. It’s easy to throw things down in a blog post and then let them slide because there’s no accountability. I will say I’m lucky, because the same authors who pointed out that our RRW chapter has issues are willing to work with us, to share their ideas so that we can create a more diverse chapter.

I’ll be working with the other RRW board members to move forward on that dialogue. (Can it be a dialogue when one side is mostly listening?) In addition, the RWA has put together a number of resources for encouraging diversity, and while I don’t want to make a bunch of empty promises, I’ll be exploring what’s there.

I may not be able to change the world, but I can work on myself. I can put more effort into recognizing all the ways the game is rigged in my favor,
in the hope of finding places I can level the playing field, so that next year’s RITA nominations are a celebration of diversity as well as excellence.

Rhythm in Writing

The other day, a friend asked me to beta-read her newest story. (Meaning the project was still a draft and she wanted me to make comments on what worked and what didn’t work.) I love her stuff and was happy to give her new one a read.

Here’s the comment I made on the very first line: You might want to cut <redacted> because it’s a cliche and it messes up the rhythm of the sentence.

Now, ranting about cliches certainly deserves it’s own post, but for today, I want to focus on the second half of that comment.

“….it messes up the rhythm of the sentence.”

Do you pay much attention to the way a sentence flows? I do. It’s one of my favorite parts of writing. I love fiddling with words, because sometimes a small change can take a mundane idea and make it pop.

Here’s an example from my story Change of Heart:

My family disproved the term poor as dirt. See, we was poor, but we had plenty of dirt. We just couldn’t get much to grow.

Now, there are a bunch of different ways I could have communicated the same ideas – the character’s family was poor and their farmland was worn out – but for me, the paragraph’s structure emphasizes the beats.

Is that vague enough for you? Let me see if I can break it down a little more. To my ear, the first sentence has four even beats: my FAMily disPROVED the term POOR as DIRT. The commas in the second sentence scramble that steady rhythm: SEE (pause) we was POOR (pause) but we had PLENTy of DIRT. And then the last sentence picks up the steadiness of the first sentence, but with three beats instead of four: we just COULDn’t GET much to GROW.

Now, when I wrote that paragraph, I didn’t set out with an agenda. I didn’t think “I want X beats here and Y beats there.” I just kept fiddling with the lines until they sounded interesting. I only analyzed the rhythm after the fact – like today, writing this post.

Here’s another example where the rhythm of the sentence really works for me. This is from Alexis Hall’s book, Glitterland.

And when he kisses me it feels a bit like fear and tastes a bit like tears, but it’s as bright and sweet as sherbet, and I decide to call it joy. 

The music in this sentence comes from the way he links the phrases together, mostly by repeating the word “and”. Alexis is a master of cadence. He’s one of the writers I turn to when I need some inspiration to break out of a slump.

Another example is from Sarah Perry’s fantastic The Essex Serpent

He felt his faith deeply, and above all out of doors, where the vaulted sky was his cathedral nave and the oaks its transept pillars: when faith failed, as it sometimes did, he saw the heavens declare the glory of God and heard the stones cry out.

“….and heard the stones cry out.” … sigh …

I’ve only recently discovered Sarah’s work – I read Melmoth last week and OMG spooky and wonderful – and she’s a lovely writer. Her words just flow.

Writing prose isn’t like writing lyrics to a pop song, where there’s a set number of beats to every line. But it is like writing lyrics to a pop song, because when the rhythm is right, your work will sing.

As long as I’ve got your attention, I’ve got a couple books on sale this week. AQUA FOLLIES (gay romance set in 1955 Seattle) is marked down to $0.99 (regular $4.99). Also, HAUNTED (Reluctant psychic meets skeptical historian. Shenanigans ensue) is on sale for $0.99 too!
Jump HERE for AQUA FOLLIES.
Jump HERE for HAUNTED.

Happy reading!!

Margie Lawson has a post over on the Writers on the Storm blog that talks about creating compelling cadence – same idea, different words. Margie’s an excellent teacher, so you should check out her post!

More Holiday Reading Fun!

Last year I made a Ten Holiday Reading Recommendations post, and I thought it would be fun to do something similar today. The biggest difference – other than the numbers on the calendar – is that last year’s post appeared in mid-December, so I’d had a couple more weeks to get some holiday reading in.

Since Thanksgiving, I’ve only read three holiday books, so I can’t really do a top-ten list. They’re all wonderful stories, though, so I figure I’ll start with them and see where we end up. I’m also taking part in the Rainbow Advent Calendar giveaway, so I’ll post a link to that near the end. (Because you know you want a free read every day in December, right?!)

Here’s the first of my holiday reads….Mr Frosty Pants by Leta Blake. Oh my goodness! This story! It’s so good! Though it’s not the kind of thing I’d generally think of for a holiday read. It’s a full-length novel, as opposed to a warm&fuzzy little novella, the kind I can knock off in an evening. The story digs deeper, too, demanding both characters fight through real issues to reach their happily ever after. 

Yeah, there’s angst, but the ending got me all choked up, in the best possible way! 

My next holiday read was Mr. Winterbourne’s Christmas by Joanna Chambers. This one has a little backstory; a few years ago, blogger Susan Lee put together an anthology that is (sadly) no longer available. The anthology began with Introducing Mr. Winterbourne, and with all due respect to the other authors who contributed, that elegant little story was my favorite in the collection.

(And that’s saying something, because the second story was KJ Charles’ The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh, the beginning of her amazing Society of Gentlemen series.)

Anyway, Mr. Winterbourne’s Christmas picks up 18 months after the first story ended. I was a bit nervous about whether it would live up to my memories, but no worries there. It’s a wonderful, satisfying follow-up, and I recommend you read them both to get the full effect! 

The Holly Groweth Green by Amy Rae Durreson is just about my ideal for a holiday romance. It’s not long, but the author does a lovely job of giving the characters space to develop. The atmosphere is appropriately Christmassy, and I loved the way the fantasy elements are woven into the story.  Technically this one came out last year, but it’s been sitting on my TBR since then and I’m so happy I finally read it!

There are a few more holiday books on my TBR pile, including The Probability of Mistletoe by EJ Russell, Unwrapping Mr. Roth by Holley Trent, The Winter Spirit by Indra Vaughn (which some friends of mine have really loved), and Crossroads by Garrett Leigh. That should pretty much carry me through till Christmas, and then it’ll be time for Kris Ripper‘s annual New Year’s book.

And if you haven’t read Ripper’s Scientific Method series, you’ve been missing out. Just know that while there are very few sure things in this life, xer New Year’s book is at the top of my list of auto-buys.

Final thoughts for today….December 1st is the start of the Rainbow Advent Calendar Giveaway. Here’s a link to the Facebook Group  – join up so you can get notices when new books are posted. There are a lot of fantastic authors involved, and it’s all FREE! Happy Holidays!

My Advent Calendar contribution will be The Christmas Prince. It’s a sequel to my Steampunk-lite novella The Clockwork Monk, and I had a ton of fun playing in that world again. Monk is still available for FREE – jump here for a copy – and you can keep an eye on my website for more information about The Christmas Prince. Or, you know, join the Advent Calendar Facebook Group. Merry Merry!

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!

Pre-Order Announcement!

A little while back I shared the cover reveal of my upcoming young adult novel, Blackbird. Well, I’m very happy to announce the publication day and the pre-order links (if you’re so inclined)!

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?

Coming June 1, 2018!

Pre-order from your favorite retailer now:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords | Kobo | iBooks

Add it on Goodreads now! 

What happens next?

snow nyc GIF by Caitlin Burns-downsized_large

I was going to title this post “The Whiteness of Romance”, but that seemed a little on-the-nose. Instead, I figure what happens next is just as appropriate, because there’s a lot of stuff going on…

The post I wrote last month – Where is the line, exactly? – was deliberately vague, but now that the issue has resolved, more or less, I want to fill in some of the blanks. I wrote the post about the situation in the world of M/M romance, where Santino Hassell was revealed to be something other than the character in his author bio.

Instead of being a bi dude single father with health and money problems, he/she/they is a husband & wife team with a talent for manipulation and, it seems, very little conscience. In the weeks after my post, the testimonials describing their abusive behavior – in addition to questionable crowd-sourcing support for unlikely health problems – has been really appalling.

I don’t know for sure how many of the accusations are true, but the entity known as Santino Hassell has been dropped by their agent and most of (all of?) their publishers. That’s enough for me.

On the heels of that – like, literally the next week – author Xen Sanders came forward, and in painful detail accused Riptide Publishing of racist practices and sexual abuse. (You can read his full statement here.) His editor has been fired, and a substantial number of Riptide authors have asked for and had the rights to their work returned.

Riptide is (was?) one of the bigger LGBT romance publishers. Their principal editors put out a statement (read it here),vowing to do better, and they’re currently closed to unsolicited submissions.

All in all, it was quite a 1-2 punch for M/M romance.

And then RWA announced the RITA nominees.

The RITAs are the annual awards for published novels, organized by the Romance Writers of America (RWA). Think Academy Awards but for romance. As usual, and to the surprise of no one, the nominees are predominantly white. I did find numbers that suggest there’s a small increase in diversity; Alexis Hall’s blog post on the RITAs historical category goes into some statistics. But still.

But still, no black author has ever won a RITA.

And people are speaking up. Loud.

Maybe the shitstorm in M/M and the takedown of Riptide primed the pump, and maybe the #metoo movement laid some of the groundwork. For sure and for certain, the diversity report put out by The Ripped Bodice, a romance-only bookstore, added fuel to the furror.

This is the second year The Ripped Bodice has put out a diversity report that can be summarized pretty simply. Six of their top ten best sellers are written by authors of color, yet overall, only 6.2 out of every 100 romances published in 2017 were written by an author of color.  That’s down from 7.8/100 in 2016.

Here’s one of their other statistics: “80% of publishers had fewer than 10% of their books written by people of color.” Read the whole report. It’s food for thought. They debunk the most common excuses used to justify the disparity, and give credit to Crimson Romance, who at 29% had the highest percentage of authors of color.

Crimson closed the day the report came out. Not joking.

A few paragraphs ago, I said people – authors – were speaking out, but the thing is, I don’t want to put words in their mouths. Go to twitter and listen to the stories they tell, stories about the shit way they’ve been treated by publishers, editors, and the RWA and its members. Follow Courtney Milan, Rebekah Weatherspoon, or Alyssa Cole, and listen to what they have to say. Follow Xen Sanders. Follow EE Ottoman.

And while you’re listening, buy their books!

Because the best way to prove to a publisher that a book will sell it to buy it. To be honest, I think Ripper says it better than I ever could:

All books.

ETA….so what does happen next? I’d like to think we all wake up and start treating each other like Mr. Rogers thought we should. But…

Meanwhile, take small steps. Read outside your comfort zone. Listen to what the authors of color you know have to say. Systemic change will only happen when a critical mass of individuals push for it. Be part of that critical mass.

ETA2..here’s a link to RWAs statement, “Board Commitment to RITAs and Inclusivity”. And for more ideas on what you can do, check out this statement by the POC Queer Romance Authors Community.