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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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.

Whose Turn Is It?

I have been trapped in my office for the last week, finishing the line and content edits of my twentieth novel. Yup, 20th. I’ve been so consumed with it that I’ve lost track of days and hours and, for a minute, I was ready to email the Scribes to see who had dropped the ball on posting this week.

Well. Guess what?

It’s me.

Yup. This week is my turn to post and this is what happens when you use up all your words in the final stages of a book. You have no more space in your head for other things. It even took me fifteen minutes to write a four line email to my editor because I had to keep correcting it again and again. At the end I said, “I have no idea if any of this makes sense because I’m out of words.”

But, this morning, I finished the edits. It is done. The final draft is ready.

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All I have left to do is write the acknowledgements and format it so it’s all pretty and polished for ebooks and print editions and it’s done.

When I finished the first draft of Hexed and I realized it was my 20th completed novel I couldn’t help but do the math. Not counting some of the novellas I’ve written, just these 20 books, I’ve written somewhere in the ballpark of 1.75 million words in the last six years. If I include the novellas and short stories, I think I’m pushing 2 million.

That’s a lot of words, guys. I’m kinda tired, to be honest.

It’s strange too, because when I’m not writing, when I’m between books/projects, I feel guilty for not writing. I’m actually working on book 21 as we speak as a flash-fiction series for my Patreons right now. Seriously. And there’s nothing to feel guilty about! That’s a career’s worth of books in 6 years for Pete’s sake!

I think it has a lot to do with the shift we’ve seen in the publication market in the last 3-5 years. Readers don’t want to wait 12-18 months for sequels and writers really feel the pressure. I know I do. Of course, this is my full time job right now so I feel the pressure to write write write even more. But… I need a break.

I’ve said that before and allowed myself some time off, but not enough, honestly. I’ll give myself a couple of weeks and then I’m right back at it. But I think this time, I need some real, substantial time off. I’ll keep working with my Patreon posts because I need to, but my husband and I are taking our first real vacation in ten years exactly one month from today. So I’m going to take this month to try to decompress. I want to be rested for the vacation so I can enjoy it and not be exhausted. When we get back, it’ll be the start of October, and you guys know how much I love that time of year. I think I’ll be ready to write something new, something spooky, something fun.

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Research for historical romances

This week Scribe Brian O’Conor let us know that he’d have to leave us. I’m bummed because I’ll miss his posts, and wish him the very best in the future! This post first appeared Monday on Dale Cameron Lowry’s blog…though I might have tweaked a word or two, since I’m never ever done editing….

This last couple weeks, I’ve been busy celebrating the release of my 1950s m/m romance Aqua Follies. Since the past is on my mind, I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned about research for a historical romance.

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There are probably as many ways to do handle research as there are writers out there doing it. My two most recent releases were set in the middle of the 20th century, long enough ago to qualify as ‘historical’, but not so distant from contemporary times. With both these projects, I approached the research as a series of layers, and I did my best to balance information and story.

First, I tried to place my stories as specifically as possible in time, to figure out where they fit in the big picture. For example, Aqua Follies takes place in late July until October of 1955. With those dates in mind, I framed the story with current events. WWII had ended ten years before, but the Korean War ended in July ‘53 so it made sense for the characters’ life experiences to be influenced by those conflicts.

In the mid-50’s Senator McCarthy was in power, and there were several incidents of gay men being rounded up and arrested or sent to asylums. At the same time the Mattachine Society – an early gay rights group – was spreading, and same-sex establishments were in operation in Seattle, their patrons’ safety reliant on a system of police corruption. Those were the kinds of real events that became the framework I crafted the story around.

Once I get the dates plotted out – the top layer – I look for information about what life was like in the time-period. Google is a gold mine for this kind of research. Pretty much the only limit for what you can find is your tolerance for digging. For Aqua Follies, I was able to find everything from essays on cultural attitudes towards homosexuals to the daily weather report, all of which helped me create the world where the story takes place.

It’s the details that will make the world ring true. My final layer of research is seeking out first person accounts that describe aspects of the story. One of the huge benefits of writing a story set in the ‘50s is that I could talk to people who been alive then.

My friend’s father-in-law, Overton Berry, played jazz in Seattle from the early ‘50s, and he was a huge help in filling in the good bits. Overton talked about how professional musicians operated, what the standard repertoire might include, and he also gave me a feel for what society’s attitude toward musicians might be. If I was working on an earlier piece, I’d look for diaries, old catalogues, and magazines to help with the fine detail. I will never truly know what it was like to live in 1950s Seattle, but I learned as much as I could to make readers believe I was there.

And what happens with all this research? Like ol’ Ben Franklin says, “Do everything in moderation, including moderation.”

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A good story will incorporate historically accurate facts without beating the reader over the head with them. This example might be kind of a cliché, but you don’t need a paragraph on how the Colt 45 was manufactured in the middle of a fight scene, and you don’t want a dissertation on a Victorian woman’s undergarments in the middle of sexytimes. Research should inform the story, not become the story.

In my work, I find the process has a real give and take; I write until I hit a detail I need to research, then dig around enough to feel comfortable writing more. In addition, research has helped me solve story problems. For Aqua Follies, I needed something dramatic that would keep my two heroes from coming together. A small story in the Seattle Times digital archives described how one of the real Aqua Follies synchronized swimmers mistimed a dive and nearly drowned. That two-paragraph article became a key event in the novel, and was definitely not something I would have come up with on my own.

Even with the best intentions, though, it’s possible to throw in an anachronistic detail. Despite something like eight beta readers and two content editors, it was the proofreader who recognized that Buddy Holly was still in high school in 1955, so couldn’t have had a song on Skip’s car radio. If there are other little slip-ups and a reader calls me on them, my best bet is to smile, apologize, and add them to my notes so I won’t screw up the sequel.

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I recently read a historical romance that I described as “the Glee version of a Regency”. The author had most of the details down, but there were enough little bumps either in characters’ attitudes or the language they used that I didn’t quite believe that version of the time period. The book sold very well, so clearly not every reader is going to throw their Kindle at the wall if a subordinate forgets to address a duke as Your Grace. Good storytelling is worth the effort, though, and I love the process of excavating the layers of history and finding a balanced way of bringing them to life.

If you’d like more information on writing historical romance, check out these articles by Elizabeth Crook, Chuck Sambuchino for Writer’s Digest, Anne M. Marble for Writing World, and KJ Charles. Thanks very much!

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The 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 sometimes good things can come of it. 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?

 

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On the Importance of Ritual

The other day a reader asked me if I ever wrote in long hand, much like Neil Gaiman is known to do. I do not–never. I hate the idea of writing something by hand knowing I’ll just have to type it again later, creating twice the work for me. But, I conceded, I do hand write my outlines, always. I tried to type one once because I always end up adding asides and run out of space on my papers, and I thought it would be nice to be able to just add in a line when I needed to but there was no magic in a typed outline.

So, always type a story, always hand write the outline.

Funny, right?

But it got me thinking about the rituals of writing. Any art, really, but writing is my magic, so that’s what I’m focusing on now.

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Any professional artist will tell you that you can’t wait for the Muses to speak to you, otherwise you’ll (almost) never get any work done. You have to make your Muses speak on days you just don’t feel like it. On days where you only have an hour, or less, to get the words done. You have to force the magic to make the art.

And there are ways to do this. There are ingredients to every spell and if you manage to figure them out, you can create the magic potion to get the art done even under the worst situations. A few years ago, I was stuck at jury duty for the full 8 hours. I got so much writing done that day, it must’ve been a record, all because I have my ritual to make the magic.

First, I outline. Now, if you’re a pantser, this part doesn’t apply to you. But for me, I allow myself at least a week to complete an outline before I ever start a new manuscript. You’ll have to figure out how detailed or loose your outline needs to be, that in of itself is its own magic spell. If too loose you leave yourself sitting at the keys, trying to figure out how to get from point D to point M. Too detailed you might feel like you’ve already written the story and lose your excitement to actually write it.

Secondly, if this is the start of a brand new book, not part of a series, I allow myself a day to start to curate a soundtrack for the book/main character. I know, this seems like one of those “I’m an artiste! I need my special music to write!” kinda things, but it’s not. For many, both reading and writing a book plays out like a movie in our heads and what is a movie without a soundtrack? You need the creepy notes that warn you the monster is coming. You need the pounding base to choreograph a fight and get your heart moving. You need the sweet strings of a romantic moment. But, I think, most importantly, it gives you the feel of the book or main character. This, for me, is what helps me get into the right headspace for a book, no matter where I am or what mood I am in. And with each book in a series, I add more and more songs to the list until it’s hours and hours long.

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I also have a few universal playlists to help me with certain types of scenes. If I’m in the middle of fights or battles, I have strong lyric-less soundtracks from movies or video games to help me. If I’m trying to get into the head of a strong, angry female, I have a playlist of what I call “angry power” songs, only sung by strong female vocals.

You could be trapped in the middle seat of coach, on a full flight, but you put your headphones on and turn on the soundtrack of your book, and bam! Watch the words flow. I won NaNo last year in that exact situation because I had my music.

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This also helps if you’re working on more than one project at a time. For example, I’m working on a witch book in my Matilda Kavanagh series and I’m working on a piece of flash fiction that is a spin off from my post-apocalyptic Ash & Ruin series. Neither MC is the same and both worlds are totally different. So, they have their own soundtracks to help me switch my brain depending on which one I want to write in.

Third, I always have something to drink. Usually it’s coffee, but sometimes just water. It’s a small thing, but it’s important. It adds to the level of comfort as you stare into that bright screen and create indents on your wrists as you pound away.

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There are other things, like I try to write in the mornings, but if I miss that window, I don’t skip on writing unless it’s One Of Those Days. It’s always easy to make excuses to get out of writing, but unless you’re under a contractual deadline, you’re just letting yourself down by putting it off or treating it like a chore. I mean, some days, it does feel like a chore but when it’s done, damn that’s a good feeling.

Figuring out your rituals to help you get shit done is important. It’s not being a fussy artiste, it’s creating magic. Allow yourself the special combo of ingredients that will allow you to create art no matter what the situation. Make no excuses for doing what you need to get it done and give yourself no excuses to avoid it.
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Speaking of… I have some words that need writing before dinner.