Mistakes of a New Writer

As some of you may know, I offer manuscript critique services to people who may not have found their writing circles and don’t have someone(s) to beta read their projects. Having written my fair share of books, been through the editing wringer  process many, many times, beta read for some amazing writers, I feel like I’m in a place where I can give good, objective advice on fiction projects.

Now, it doesn’t matter what genre, or what age a writer is, it seems like most new writers make a lot of the same mistakes. Yes, I know, in fiction there are no mistakes! But, really, there are still grammar rules and there are things you can do to break the magic a story can weave and take your reader out of the moment.

1- It’s okay for characters to just say things. I know repetition feels terrible, and it often is, if you have a tick (a word or phrase) you just love and you keep using it over and over, it stands out and bugs the hell out of readers. So, new writers will often think the same of dialogue tags. They’ll see the words says or said all over the book and panic. Suddenly the characters are “exclaiming” “declaring” or “crying/cried” rather than just “Jane said” or “John says.” Everything just becomes so melodramatic but not compelling.

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Writers, yes, you can vary your tags, if someone really is screaming and it’s appropriate for them to scream, or if there’s another good reason to switch it up, then by all means do. But don’t do it all the damn time. And if you end a sentence with a question mark, the correct tag is “asks/asked.”

2- Telling instead of showing. I know this one can be hard. You need to move things along, sometimes things aren’t important enough for details, you’ve already gone over this in detail but Character A  needs to tell Character B so, yeah, hurry up. So it’s hard to know when it’s okay to tell versus show.

The three things I just said are good examples of when to go ahead and tell, for example, “John wanted to know what happened yesterday, so I told him about the fight I had with Tom.” We’ve seen the fight with Tom, we don’t need a replay. When should you show? When the fight happened. If it’s important enough to bring up, let’s see it.

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Another bad tell versus show? “Jake was a scary man.” Now, okay, you can write that line, but then back it up. I’m not going to be scared of Jake just because the narrator says so. “Jake was a scary man. He was a man you didn’t cross. His heart was a black as the boots he wore when he crushed Mike’s head.” I mean, something. Build it, give it backstory, draw us into the fear of the other characters.

3- All your characters are the same person. If all your characters think the same, react in the same way, have the same motivations and backstories, that will be one boring book. Yes, we keep circles of friends who have things in common with us, maybe there are things that we would say/react in the same exact way, but not everything.

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Supporting characters need to be their own people. They need their own personalities, their own motivations. They can’t always agree with the other characters. If they’re in your book, they need to be interesting enough not to all be killed off in the first act.

4- Writing what you don’t know. So, the old adage is, “write what you know.” Now, obviously that could lead to some really boring books too and we’d probably miss out on some awesome Fantasy Fiction if everyone stuck to this rule. But for me, this rule means, if there’s something you want to write or add into your books, you need to know it inside and out and if you don’t, fix it. I know I have researched for hours for one line in a 300+ page book. I know every Scribe on here has done the exact same thing.

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It feels insane when you’re doing it, but if you want that line, if you want that character to sound like they know what they’re talking about, you need that research. What I live by: If I want readers to believe my fiction, then my non-fiction has to be correct. And if you’re not willing to become as close to an expert as possible on something, then why is it in your book?

5- Older writers want their stories to be set in the days of their youth, and yet it’s current day. Honestly, I get it, okay? When I watch Stranger Things my nostalgia is strong! I lived outside when I was that age, my bike was my world. I had to be in by dark. If my mom wanted me home earlier, she had a whistle she blew, if I was too far to hear it, I got in trouble. No, she wasn’t panicked, calling the cops, she was waiting at the door, foot tapping because her first thought was that I went too far of my own accord. And she was totally right.

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But kids these days don’t do any of this. If I set a book in 2017 with 10-13 year old kids, it would look nothing like my childhood. Kids have smart phones and their parents take them everywhere. If you want a book to be like it was in the good old days, then set the book in the good old days. Do not have anachronisms sprinkled throughout. So many things in books can be solved with cellphones these days, you want to fix that but keep it current? Smash the phone. Lose the signal. Or, even more realistic? Have the battery ticking down from 5%–oof, that’s some real tension there!

There are more things, but these are the most common that I see. Try to be aware of these things. Best thing to do is write your first draft, just get it on paper, don’t stress about any of these things or anything else. But! On your second pass, on the third? Look for this stuff. Correct it. Make it stronger. Then read it again, look for bigger things, like plot holes or dropped plot threads. But that’s for another post.

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Have You Hugged Your Indexer Today?

This post is a day late because I was on a deadline to get final edits and the index of my non-fiction book, The Once and Future Queen: Guinevere in Arthurian Legend, back to my formatter.

Yep, I compiled my own index. For me it was a matter of money, as in I didn’t have any more to spend on this book so I couldn’t pay someone to do it. But I learned a lot, so I thought I’d share in case anyone else has to do their own someday.

  1. I will never look at an index the same way again. Previously I’d never really given much thought to where they come from. I just had some vague thought that probably the publisher and some software were involved. (See point 7 below for more on the role of the publisher.) And yes, there is some software you can use, but there are some things the human mind will always be best for. (See point 3 below for more.) There are professional indexers out there (a job a cannot imagine voluntarily having) but it is possible to do your own with some time and planning.
  2. Indexing is just as tedious as you would expect. It is boring, yes, but part of what makes it hard is the mental gymnastics that go with it. You have put away your author hat and think like a researcher. (Having a background in research or a lot of experience using non-fiction books is really helpful. As a historical fiction author, I have that, plus part of my senior year of college was dedicated to learning how to research for my thesis, so I’m lucky in that regard.) You need to be able to think of what people might be looking for when they pick up your book. That means making sure you include in your index not only the concepts that you as an author think are important, but also those anyone using your book as a resource might need.
  3. There are really two parts to compiling an index. 
    1. Keywords – This is the way I compiled my first few drafts. As mentioned in point 2, I went through and listed every major concept and person in the book, as well as the people whose sources I used. I’m not sure if that last one is standard practice, but I thought “what if someone wants to see all the pages Katherine Bonner was quoted on?” So I gave her an entry. This being my first index, I’d rather have too much in it than it not be useful.Then I went back and tried to imagine all the ways my book might be used in research, which yielded the concepts or themes I will discuss more below. Your keywords are the easier (but more tedious) part of compiling. To get the page numbers that go with them, you can use the search function in your final PDF. When you do this, be sure to include variations and synonyms of words to get the most robust list. (i.e. for Christianity, I also searched Christian, Church, religion, God, and Catholic – and would have included Christ and Jesus, if there had been any references.)
    2. Concepts – This requires reading the book with your mind set on the themes present as you read. Because I only had two days, I proofread at the same time, but I recommend doing two separate readings if you can. Think about the themes you see and how they might be classified in the index to make sense to your researcher reader.For example, when I was reading a section on the rights of women in the Middle Ages, I was noting the page numbers on these keywords: Middle Ages, medieval, women (sub-entry “rights of;” sub-entry “in the Middle Ages”), subservience, Catholic church (because they influenced women’s rights a lot during that period), law, etc.
  4. There are two types of indexes. Because why would you want to make it easy?
    1. Run-in – These are the ones where the sub-entries are in the same line as the main heading. I personally find these really hard to read. An example would be:Guinevere, 2, 17, 150; personality of, benevolent, 152, 255, 260; self-centered, 2, 15, 24, 125, 230; weak, 56, 98, 254; rescue of, 45, 65, 125; treason, 14, 78, 53, 65

      This is the official choice of the Chicago Manual of Style.

    1. Hanging – This is when you indent your sub-entries and sub-sub-entries. Same example as above: (I have to use dashes to indicate indenting because WordPress strips them out)

      Guinevere, 2, 17, 150
      — personality of
      —– benevolent, 152, 255, 260
      —– self-centered, 2, 15, 24, 125, 230
      —– weak, 56, 98, 254
      — rescue of, 45, 65, 125
      — treason, 14, 78, 53, 65

      I think these are easier to use, so this what I went with.

  1. Pre-work is key. You can’t put the page numbers to the index until you have your final layout, but you can start compiling the list of terms in your index. I did this for about a week before I got my final layout, and it really saved me time, which was my goal since I knew I’d been in a time crunch. I’d also advise reading blog posts on indexing and pouring over your style manual’s rules on indexing beforehand.
  2. You will revise and revise and revise. You start out with one long list (from what I’ve read 10-14 pages is not uncommon), and then you whittle it down. I personally found I didn’t need nearly as many sub-entries as I originally expected. The only time I went three levels deep was in my entry for Guinevere, the main subject of the book. I also found myself adding new terms as I thought of them while I read and deleting those that didn’t end up having as much relevance as I expected. And of course, there are always the typos.
  3. There are a lot of little rules. Not all of which I followed, mainly due to time constraints. Examples:
    1. See and See also entries to cross reference entries have to be italicized but the entry itself does not. And they are preceded by a comma. (i.e. Morgaine, 78, 96, See also Morgan; Morganna)
    2. Only proper names are capitalized in the index. Which is weird because you usually capitalize all leading entries in a list, which is what an index is.
    3. You can list names multiple ways, (i.e. Arthur, King or King Arthur) and cross reference as in point A above, or you can list the page numbers in both entries.
    4. Sub-entries are usually only used if an entry has more than five or six page numbers behind it. This is where I ran out of time. There were a few entries like “Arthur, King” and “convent” that had a LOT of pages, but I didn’t have the time or wherewithall to break them out. Sorry, readers!
    5. Footnotes are indexed like this: 345n10 for page 345, footnote 10.
    6. There are two ways you can alphabetize. (Seriously!)
    7. They are different ways you can list page numbers. (Who knew?)
  4. The Chicago Manual of Style sells their indexing guidelines as a separate book. This is fabulous because it is the standard for most non-fiction books and the full manual is something like $75. I wouldn’t need the whole thing (unless I was becoming an editor) so this is a bargain.
  5. Indexes take a LONG time to produce. As I said, I had a deadline, but my index could easily have taken me two to three weeks to produce. Make sure you budget that time in your schedule. I didn’t because I didn’t know what to expect.
  6. Many publishers don’t include the index in the services they provide, so even if you are traditionally published, you might have to do your own or pay for someone to do it for you. At least that’s what my trad pubbed friends on Facebook said when I posted about never wanting to do this again.
  7. Some things are worth paying for. For books that are longer (this one is about 60,000 words) or more complex, there is no way I would ever consider doing it myself again. But at least I know I can if I have to.
  8. Part of me kind of enjoyed it. Some sick, Type A part of me revels in organization. That part of me took pride in making the index and knowing it is at least a good one, if not perfect, because no one knows the subject matter better than the author. I’m sure there are mistakes I made and things I still have to learn, but I’m happy with the outcome.

To me, taking care with an index isn’t so much a matter of doing it properly for the 0.0001% of the population who will notice, as it is a matter of making it as useful as possible to anyone who is using my book as research. I hope I did a good job!

Have you ever indexed a book? Would you consider doing it yourself?

NaNoWriMo: Do blog posts count?

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NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month. Equal parts marathon and sprint, an artificial construct designed to help authors of all levels write a book.

Or most of a book.

Or something.

The basic idea is that by committing to write 50,000 words in a month, all those people out there who think they would write a book, if only….. won’t have an excuse to put it off. They’ll have to take an idea and throw down an average of 1700 words a day for 30 days, and in the end  they’ll have a solid start on that novel of their dreams.

But I’m probably preaching to the choir on this one. Let’s have a show of hands. Who’s doing NaNo this month?

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Awesome! Because even those of us who have already figured out how to get words on the page can use a little boost sometimes. Some authors figure “every month is NaNo for me”, but I know quite a few who are using this challenge to jump-start a flagging project, meet a tricky deadline, or otherwise get back on schedule.

This’ll be my first try at the November challenge. I’ve done the spring and summer “Camp NaNo” events, mainly because it’s fun to join a cabin – a group of people who cheer each other on – and it’s nice to get a boost to the word count. In past years, I’ve always had big editing projects going on in November, so didn’t have the bandwidth for the real deal.

Now, though, I’ve got the space in my schedule, I’ve got a premise, and I’ve even got a bit of an outline. I’ve also spent a month researching the time period and place (1920 Paris) – though as the start date got closer, I became increasingly worried that all I’d done was learn how much I don’t know.

Wait. That’s my inner critic talking.

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Shutting down that voice might actually might be the biggest benefit to NaNo, imho. By forcing myself to write 1700 words a day for 30 days, I won’t have time for second-guessing. The words will be on the page, safe in the knowledge I can edit them later. I’m curious to see what I come up with under those circumstances.

I also want to be able to say I did it.

I’m kinda laughing at myself, because when I initially considered what to put in this post, I thought I could discuss some of the resources I’m using. But… you know… word count. Gotta run.

If you’re participating in NaNo, happy words! And if you’re not, WHY NOT?! Everybody’s doing it…

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Included because it’s one of the coolest stories from last night’s World Series win. I’m a romance writer, so for me, this is what victory looks like. 🙂

 

 

 

 

Ten Years to Refill My Well

I got married in 2007 and, with a determination I wasn’t sure I had, in the year leading up to our wedding, I saved enough money to get us a two week honeymoon in Paris.

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It was magical and fun and beautiful and funny and exhausting, like most long trips tend to be. But any frustrating or disappointing moments in the trip have, over time, turned into the funny stories we tell at parties.

I promised myself that we would do something just as awesome and fun every five years for our anniversary because we both love to travel and see new places so much. And five years is a long enough time to save up for trips by doing it slowly.

Unfortunately in 2011 we both were laid off from our jobs within a week of each other. Any fun, overseas trip in the following year immediately vanished. Fortunately I had an idea the lay offs were coming and that’s why I started self-publishing in 2011–hoping to create a passive income that would help us. It took a long time for that plan to come to fruition, but eventually it did. But not in time for our five year anniversary, only in time to help carry us as my husband also built his business, which helps me run this one during the lean times.

So, you know, giving up a trip on our five-year-anniversary was worth it since we got to become our own bosses and work from home. But one does miss Paid Time Off and a boss telling you, “take your vacation days or we’re going to cancel them.”

But last year, just after our nine-year-anniversary we started talking about how long it had been since we’d taken more than a long weekend for ourselves. The more we talked about it the more desperate we were to make it happen. Our ten-year was one year away. I’d done it once before (of course then we both had corporate jobs with steady, reliable incomes and PTO), maybe I could do it again and get us somewhere for that big 1-0.

It took saving every dollar we got from Christmas gifts and birthdays (specifically telling family not to buy us “things” unless they were from our travel wish-list) and scraping every penny we could spare from income, giving up going out, shopping, and often saying “no, not this time/year” to friends many, many times. But as we saved up enough for plane tickets and accommodations and the lost income from taking time off, we knew it was worth the cabin fever.

And last month, we went to Ireland for two weeks.

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Now, this wasn’t just a vacation. I’ve been struggling for a while to think of a new story, to find new characters and new settings for a long while. I have my open series that I work on, but I want something new. Something witchy. Something darker. Something magical.

I know, Celtic influence and Ireland especially isn’t breaking any molds, but I wanted to go to the land of (some) of my ancestors and touch the ground they walked on, touch the stones they prayed on, breathe the air they once breathed. I wanted it to inspire me. To fill my well.

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We kept a travel journal along the way, taking time every evening to detail everything that happened each day. When I had access to WiFi, I posted updates with photos so I could recall everything that I loved so the exhaustion and jet lag (and sinus infection whomp-whomp) we would undoubtedly suffer wouldn’t muddle our memories or make me forget anything important.

I got to touch those magic stones and walk through the portals. I got to pick acorns from Druid trees and eat wild blackberries growing around stone circles. I got to climb hills to stand at the seat of kings. I withstood gale force winds to walk the ancient Celtic settlements. I braved the edge of the world as my fear of falling knotted the muscles in my back. I dipped my hands in holy wells, letting the water cling to my fingers.

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I won’t lie, some things did break my heart. Seeing the misappropriation of Celtic goddesses, them turned into Catholic nuns, hurt. Seeing their holy places over-run, twisted and diminished hurt. But who knows, maybe that will help me in my story.

I’m still not sure what the story is going to be. I am torn by the idea of creating a new world or sending a character into a strange world or what. But my mind is starting to race with possibilities and possibilities are exciting. I’m actually looking forward to brainstorming as I go back over the travel log and photos and see what speaks to me.

And I really hope it won’t be another ten years before we get to do something like this again.

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It’s Release Day!!

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At long last, and somewhat miraculously, Nocturne is here!!

It does feel a little miraculous, because life threw stumbling blocks in our way, but we got it done. For those of you who’re just finding The Hours of the Night, the series tells the story of Thaddeus Dupont, a 115-year-old vampire who fights demons for a secret order of the Catholic Church, and his lover Sarasija Mishra.

Thaddeus works for the Church in the hopes of reclaiming his immortal soul, and in return they provide him with an “assistant” to meet his unique nutritional needs. His assistants are always women, so as not to trigger the vampires more “unnatural” urges. The monks made a mistake when they hired Sara…a mistake that ends up being not so bad.

Keep going for the blurb, an excerpt, and a giveaway down at the bottom. At the end of the month, Irene and I will giving away a $25 gift card so some lucky person. Happy reading!!

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It’s Mardi Gras, cher, but this year le bon temps kick off with murder… 

For generations, the White Monks have treated the vampire Thaddeus Dupont as a weapon in their battle against demons. However, when a prominent matron drops dead at a party, Thaddeus and his lover Sarasija are asked to find her killer. Their investigation leads them to an old southern family with connections everywhere: Louisiana politics, big business, the Church, and an organization just as secret as the White Monks.

Meanwhile, an esoteric text containing spells for demon-summoning has disappeared, Thaddeus is losing control of le monstre, and Sara is troubled by disturbing dreams. These nightmares could be a side-effect of dating a vampire, or they could be a remnant of his brush with evil. As the nights wear on, Sara fears they are a manifestation of something darker – a secret that could destroy his relationship with Thaddeus.

 

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Meet Thaddeus, Sara, and Nohea, the vampire’s business manager…

Nohea’s car had been built for speed, not comfort. The backseat, a claustrophobic nest of black leather, was more of an afterthought than anything else. Sara offered me the front seat, but I refused, and not because I feared sitting next to Nohea. Sara was more adept with the GPS system. He should be the navigator, while I sat in back reciting the Hail Mary.

Because Nohea gave her glossy black vehicle every opportunity to show off its speed.

Once we climbed up onto Route 10, I eased back. “You agreed to compare notes while we drove, and by now, we’ve been to three parties. What have we learned?”

Nohea scooted from lane to lane, dodging slower-moving vehicles. The iPad cast a blue glow over Sara’s features, and the air conditioner surrounded us with stale air.

“Well…” Sara tapped on the iPad’s screen. “In my opinion, Mardi Gras parties can be hazardous to your health.”

Nohea gave him a sidelong glance, while I bit my lip to keep from smiling.

“What? You know it’s true. The first party Aunt Berta died, and this last one Uncle Whose-its almost did, too.”

The traffic around us thickened, forcing Nohea to ease up on the accelerator. “It’s almost always the same people attending, too.”

“I noticed that, and as hard as we try to go Sherlock on them, we’re coming up with squat.” Sara’s phone chirped, and he wrestled it out of his pocket. With a noise of frustration, he thrust it back in.

“What?” Nohea asked.

“My friends are idiots.”

We drove in silence until we neared the bend that would take us over the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. This narrow band of concrete ran some twenty miles over open water, carrying us out of the city. Under the cover of the night sky, I allowed my thoughts to wander.

I found it hard to believe all these events were linked. On the other hand… “Paul and Roberta are not related, are they?”

“Not directly, but maybe by marriage?” Nohea said.

Sara tapped on the iPad screen. “Gimme a minute. I saved the family tree from my email.” His phone chirped, interrupting him. “Crap,” he muttered. After a moment, he stuffed the phone away. “Whatever. It looks like Aunt Berta was married to Uncle Paulie’s older brother for a little while, so there is kind of a link.”

“And didn’t someone tell us that Aunt Berta was the head of the family business?” Nohea asked.

I racked my memory, but nothing came to me. “I didn’t know Brother Michael’s family had a business.”

“It’s not”—Sara’s phone chirped again—“dammit.”

“What is it?” Nohea glanced at him, brows drawn as if she were puzzled by his behavior.

The phone chirped again. And again. “Fuck.”

“Sara?” His behavior worried me. “Who is texting you?”

“Josephine and her brother.”

“Josef?” Nohea asked.

He grimaced and nodded.

“What do they want?” I found I didn’t really want to know the answer to my question. While I could not begrudge Sara the opportunity to make friends his own age, I would not have chosen the twins to be his companions.

“They started by asking me to go clubbing, but now Jo’s freaking out on me.” He stared through the window at the glossy black water. “They told me to turn around and come back to the city.”

“They are irresponsible.” I spoke forcefully, then recoiled, hoping I had not quieted him completely.

He shifted in his seat and met my gaze, brows drawn with worry. “Especially since I didn’t tell them we were going anywhere.”

His obvious concern infected me, and the vast empty lake around us left me feeling vulnerable, exposed. The city of New Orleans was a warm smudge behind us, and up ahead was a fainter glow.

“God only knows what those two are up to.” Nohea’s common-sense tone settled both of us.

“You’re right,” Sara murmured.

Our speed increased, and I eagerly anticipated our arrival back on solid ground.

When we reached the far shore, Sara used Nohea’s cell phone to find our destination. We left the freeway, taking smaller and smaller country roads. Our destination was on Monroe Lane, close enough to the lake that slivers of the dark water could be seen from the road.

“Twenty-three thirty-seven…thirty-eight…it should be right up there.” Sara pointed past a clump of hemlock liberally draped with Spanish moss.

“This is it?” Nohea slowed to a stop in front of a small shotgun cabin. The house was raised on stilts several feet off the ground. “Doesn’t seem right.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, it’s not like we were friends or anything, but the woman we met at the Gretna store didn’t look nearly country enough to live out here.”

Sara rolled his window down, letting in a wave of moist air. “A little too much corporate shark for out here.”

“She doesn’t appear to be home.” The house was dark, and there was no car in the drive.

Nohea slapped the steering wheel. “Where’d you get this address again?”

“From Z,” Sara snapped. “I told you.” He opened his car door.

“Wait.”

He ignored me, climbing out of the car. I had no choice but to follow. “Let me see if I sense anyone.”

“It’s fine, Thaddeus.” Sara strode up the front walkway. “She’ll either be here or she won’t.”

Short of wrestling him to the ground, I could not stop him. Sara mounted the front step and rapped on the door.

An explosion knocked us both to the ground, and the house went up in flames.
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To celebrate Nocturne’s release, we’ve had all three Hours of the Night books on sale! The price is going up soon, so get ’em now…

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NOCTURNE

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VESPERS

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BONFIRE

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a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

And if you want to keep up on the latest from the Hours of the Night, join After Hours with Liv & Irene, our Facebook readers’ page!

Click HERE for After Hours!

Which one is harder? Series or Stand-Alone

The other day an author friend of mine – Jennifer Martin Windrow – posted something on Facebook about her newest writing project, the second book in her Alexis Black series. (Think kick-ass vampire with a bit of a potty mouth.) This was her first attempt at a sequel, and she said she learned that writing a book in a series was much easier than writing a stand-alone.

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And I gave that claim a bit of a side-eye.

See, my writing partner Irene Preston and I just finished the second book in our Hours of the Night series. In all honesty, I did not find the experience particularly easy, and I was intrigued by Jennifer’s claim. I asked her why she liked it, – and pretty quickly decided to use our discussion as a starting point for this post.

I also decided to pose the question on twitter, because there’s no better way to come up with an honest, unbiased look at the truth.

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Here’s some of what Jennifer had to say…

JM: For me, I think (series are easier) because I already know the characters, have lived in their world, and don’t have to research a ton. When I write the stand alone, it always takes me a few chapters to really learn who I am writing, then I have to go back and rewrite to make it all come together.

LR:  Did you have trouble with continuity? That’s what killed me. (And don’t tell me you started a series bible up front because I might hate you…lol…)

JMW: Yes … Yesterday I had to go through book one and all my old notes and make that stupid bible that I should have made at the start of this book… I’ve learned a lesson to do that at the start now, so I don’t have to wait. Hopefully my publisher will catch any continuity issues too!!

I started this story so long ago, and have been away from the world for so long that I really had to do my research. That’ll teach me to take a break to work on other things. 

So she learned some things and she still liked writing a sequel. Hmm…I’m just very glad I have Irene around to keep me on track, because me n’ continuity are only distantly acquainted.

Using my authoritative, unbiased twitter poll, I found some alternate opinions. I got this comment from Jenn Burke. She and her friend Kelly Jensen co-authored the popular Chaos Station series, and here’s what she had to say…

Writing a standalone is easier, because you’re not also trying to keep in mind what happened in the last book.

One of the things I find most challenging about writing a series is bringing the reader up to speed on the world/worldbuilding without info-dumping or being too obvious about it. This is a real skill I didn’t know I needed to master before we started the Chaos Station series! You have to kind of weave in the events from the last book into the current book in a way that’s not repetitive but also allows readers to get caught up on the important stuff from the previous book(s). SO. HARD.

This is especially tough when you’ve got the same characters and ongoing story from book to book. Series that are set in the same world but feature different characters are a little easier, especially if the events of the books aren’t strongly tied together. You still have to keep them in mind as the writer, but possibly not as much recap needs to be on page for the reader. When you’re writing a standalone, you have to provide similar non-info-dumpy worldbuilding, but you don’t also have to include “last time, on Chaos Station” sort of summaries.

So it’s a challenge, but in a different way. So BASICALLY…series = hard. Stand-alones are a little easier. 🙂

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So much this! Figuring out how much of Vespers we needed to include in Nocturne – in a way that didn’t make readers snooze – was such a challenge.

On the other hand, Shannyn Schroeder, a multi-published author of contemporary romance – and three different series – agrees with Jennifer.  “Series are easier – at least after the first one because you already have the world built and it’s fun to revisit. The first is like a stand alone.”

Another vote comes from Karen Stivali. She’s also multi-published with quite a few contemporary m/m and m/f series. “Series are easier. Usually. Except for the constant fear people won’t like THIS ONE as much as the previous ones. But that fear’s always there.”

The fear! Yes, I absolutely relate to the fear!

C. Jane Elliot, author of the contemporary m/m Wild & Precious series,  says that series are harder. “My NA university series has overlapping timelines so I resorted to a whiteboard to map it out. Need to keep track of names too!”

OMG, the details…the details just killed me. (Um, thanks Irene…)

Then there were a few people who sorta split the different, like author Tessa Floreano. “Twice now, I’ve started a standalone, and both led to writing a series. With a series, I don’t have to cram so much about the MC into one.”

I can relate to that, because while my only series credit is the Hours of the Night, most of my current “stand-alones” have at least a thumbnail sketch for their sequels.

Aneta Cruz has her MFA in creative writing and has published several books. Her take was short and sweet.

“Writing. Period.”

I followed up with a question about whether she preferred one to the other. “Not really. I think it’s the characters who choose how and when they’re done with the writer.”

Well if that’s the case, we’re going to be writing Hours of the Night books for a while, because Thaddeus Dupont has a lot to say!

I think my most interesting take-away from this exercise is that both sides cite the same issues as either pro or con. Some authors find the continuity makes things easier, while that very thing drives others of us crazy. With that conclusion in mind, I’m going to give Irene the last word. When I asked whether she liked writing series or stand-alones better, she said,

Neither…lol…I mean they both have challenges and advantages, but either way you have to write the book.”

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Edited to add…Irene and I just started a new Facebook group to share the fun parts of our Hours of the Night series. If you’re the Facebook-group-joining type, check us out!!

Jump HERE to find the group!

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Lessons About Women Gleaned from Stock Photography

Maybe we need more female photographers to contribute to stock photo sites.

I’m putting on my feminist hat (okay, it’s a crown) for this post, so be forewarned.

I was looking for pictures for the cover of my next book yesterday and I noticed that you can really draw a lot of inferences about our culture just by looking at the way women are portrayed in stock photography.

To give you context, I was looking for a middle-aged woman with a sword for the final installment of my trilogy. The original mock up my designer and I came up with has been bugging me for months and I finally figured out why: the model we used is too young for where Guinevere is in life in this story. So I’m looking for an older one.

You would think there are stock photos out there of queens, right? Yeah not so much, unless you want one who is maybe 18 or you can pay thousands of dollars to a photographer period images. I can’t, so I used Adobe Stock and ThinkStock, which produced some rather…interesting results. What I found was pretty consistent on both. I realize that this likely has more to do with the specific searches I was doing than the diversity of images overall on those sites, but my results were still pretty telling:

  1. Keywords: Woman with sword. Many of the women with swords were very young and most were scantily clothed. Some were licking the swords in what I guess was supposed to be a seductive manner. (Eww…) This clearly comes from some sort of male fetish and is obviously meant to cater to the male gaze. I guess this shouldn’t surprise me, given the lack of strong female historical role models, but you would think with all the fantasy novels out there, there would be more images that were appropriate for books that aren’t anime-like or erotica.
  2. Keywords: Dark haired woman. Finding pictures of middle-aged women is very hard. I can find young models and elderly woman in spades, but like with Hollywood rolls, women in middle age are ignored. This makes me feel like our society wants to hide the period of life when women are no longer traditionally desirable, yet aren’t the crones we like to trot out at Halloween and ignore for the rest of the year. As someone approaching 40, I find the lack of representation of women near my age very troubling. I know I no longer look like I did when I was 18 so I don’t want a child representing me or subconsciously conveying I should still look like her. No. I earned every one of my wrinkles and age spots. I want my characters to be able to show the beauty of aging, too.
  3. Keywords: Middle aged woman. When you do find middle-aged women in pictures they are smiling. In and of itself, this isn’t a bad thing, but when you’re trying to find one in which the woman looks like she wants to be taken seriously, this is a problem. I began to think about the types of products these happy images might accompany and most of them were intended to solve some sort of “female” problem: child-rearing, cleaning, eating healthy so they can look young (see above). Then I remembered the old idea that women should always be bright and happy for their men; looks like that is still alive and well. God forbid we show a woman who could go toe to toe with a man! We’d rather have vapid, smiling Barbie dolls.
  4. Keywords: Middle aged woman serious. If you ask for serious faces, most of the images you get are women who aren’t wearing makeup. Um…what am I supposed to do with that? Does that mean that photographers think serious women are ugly or plain? Or that a woman can’t be desirable and serious at the same time? Are the only ways to be serious and female to be sick, tired or depressed? Because that’s what these search results look like.
  5. Keywords: Fierce woman. Fierce women apparently like to bite things: chains, whips, pens, hot peppers (don’t ask, I don’t know either, but it was there). And they like to exercise and yell. That’s seriously (no pun intended) all you get in this type of search. Where are the businesswomen, pissed off mothers, and women thinking deep thoughts? Where are the warriors, military women, doctors, police women, etc.? The message this sends to me is that I can only be considered fierce if I’m a dominatrix or I’m working out, both of which end up feeding into ideals put in place by men for how women are supposed to be. And that is bullshit. I’m fierce every single day, even when I stay in my pajamas!

As a feminist, I find these results deeply concerning. If women ever want to be taken seriously we need to break through the stereotypes that run rampant in these images.

Right now I really wish I was a photographer so I could start consciously integrating more positive and diverse female images into my work. But I am a writer, which means I’m going to have to keep writing strong female characters who demand a different image on their book covers. Write enough of those and the pictures will change. Or at least that is my hope.