Can I retire now?

Retirement: that far-off event that’ll change my whole life...

Let’s poke at that subtitle a little.

The change my whole life part is accurate – I mean, I’ll go from spending some 30 hours per week in a NICU to…not. No more NICU. Weird.

Still, it’s the far-off bit where I really need to adjust my thinking. Because honestly, I’m looking at three years before I can reasonably retire.

Three years!

I’ll only be 62, but I started my first retirement account theirty-four years ago, when I was twenty-five. I’ve literally been preparing myself for this most of my life.

Preparing for what, you might ask.

Well, it’s the “what” part that makes me nervous. I’ve always been a fairly goal-directed person. I mean, yeah it took me five years to earn an associates degree (lol!) but it was the ’80s. And I was in Honolulu. There were a lot (!) of distractions.

And I subsequently went on to earn a bachelors and then a masters, so things worked out okay.

Still, I’ve always sorta wondered what people do when they’re retired. I mean, shuffleboard’s not my bag, ya know? I guess I vaguely thought I’d travel some, and work in my garden, and just sorta go from one day to the next.

But golly that sounds pretty aimless. And kinda boring, if I’m honest.

On the other hand, after thirty-four years in the NICU, I’m ready for something new. Don’t get me wrong, I love working with babies and I take great pride in my work. It’s taken me a long time to get to the point where I can start an IV in just about anyone, any time, anywhere, and for me n’ my superpowered grey hair to be able to calm down a fractious family situation just by showing up.

But.

But…

Last spring my employer merged with another hospital and my group of Neonatal Nurse Practitioners found ourselves responsible for covering another unit. (Which is an extreme simplification, but it gets to the gist.) I ended up working a lot. Like 120 hours in a two-week pay period kind of A LOT. Those hours went on all through the summer and into the fall, so the point where I started joking that I was going to need a whole month off to recover.

And also to bring down my vacation hours so I wouldn’t lose any because I was over the limit.

Apparently I made the Month Off joke often enough that our lead and our scheduler gave me the green light. I’ve been on vacation since 4/2/21 and I don’t work again until the first weekend in May. (Okay, I covered 8 hours last weekend for a no-show but that won’t be repeated.)

Once I saw the official schedule with me officially not on it, I started calling April my Dress Rehearsal for Retirement Month. If I can’t handle a whole month off, what the hell am I going to do with the rest of my damn life?

(This is where the goal-directed piece comes in.)

I didn’t just walk out of the hospital on April 2nd without a plan. I committed to writing the first draft of the sequel to Soulmates, my m/m/m paranormal romance. My word count goal for the month is 80,000, and I’m at about 35k now with a couple thousand more in me today. Not exactly where I meant to be, but not bad, either.

I’ve also had time to sort through a particularly cluttered area of our basement and work in the garden and do yoga and walk the dogs and read for fun. It’s been pretty effing fantastic, to be honest. If this is what the rest of my life’s going to look like, sign me up.

I’ve reached this stage in life through a combination of luck, priviledge, talent, and hard work, and I don’t take one minute for granted. When it’s time for me to leave the NICU for good, I’ll do so with a lifetime of memories and a heart full of gratitude. Babies made me grow up and turned me into the person I am today.

Still, going forward, there’ll be books to write and veggies to grow and dogs to walk.

I’ll be okay.

New Release and ALL the Giveaways!

That cat is me this morning. I’ve got the day-before-release-day spins. There’s *this* to do and *that* to do and omg I forgot something else!! Please may I have an extra few hours today….like maybe 24 extra….?

It’s clear that I haven’t figured out how to balance the writing with all the non-writing parts of being an author. I find it awfully easy to get caught up in the networking and blog posting and promo-joining and whatnot. There’s also the editing and the formatting and the cover arting and the teaser-making. It all sucks up so much time! This last couple weeks I’ve been spending just about every free moment on something to do with publishing – and some not-so-free moments, tbh – and I haven’t written a new word in all that time.

Yikes.

But enough about me. (LOL!) You’re here for the new release and ALL the giveaways, right? I’m pretty excited about this book. It’s different from our other Irene&Liv books, but it’s still us. In a good way. Frog is part of the Royal Powers series, a shared-world series about an imaginary country on the coast between France & Spain, with two mythical royal families who also happen to possess superpowers. When they invited us to contribute, we couldn’t say no to a premise like that, and it was a whole lotta fun to play in that world.

You can find Frog HERE! It’s $3.99 or FREE with KU!

Here’s the blurb...

Spy vs Spy

Jim Calhoun and his sister Lori are just two Americans in North Abarra exploring their roots. They are definitely not off-duty CIA agents.
Enzo da Silva is the head groundskeeper on Princess Odile’s country estate. He is definitely what he seems to be – the guy who trims the hedge maze and measures oxygen levels in the national forest.
The Princess’s birthday bash is a major celebration every year. As the big day approaches, a series of accidents plague the preparations. It’s almost like someone wants things to go wrong. But it’s not as though two commoners like Jim and Enzo – with absolutely no super powers – can stop a rogue supervillian.  And if Jim and Enzo keep showing up at the same crime scenes, it’s not because they can’t keep their eyes off each other.
Definitely not.

Did I mention you can find Frog on Amazon? It’s $2.99 or FREE with KU!


To celebrate the second season of the Royal Powers series, all of the authors got together for a SUPER BIG giveaway! The prize is a $75 gift card plus books from all the authors, and you can find the rafflecopter widget HERE. (Irene and I are also running our monthly giveaway for a $10 gift card. The rafflecopter widget for that one is conveniently located on the same page.)

Click HERE to get to the GIVEAWAY!

And finally, I joined another multi-author giveaway! One lucky winner will win a bundle of prizes including 2 x $5 gift cards, 8 x backlist ebooks, 1 x swag bundle, 1 x audiocode, & a signed paperback! Here’s a list of some of the participating authors:
RJ Scott, H.L Day, Clare London, Davidson King, Susan Scott Shelley, Liv Rancourt (that’s me!), A.D. Ellis, Elle Keaton, Anne Barwell, Avery Cockburn, Mel Gough, Jay Hogan, and Elizabeth Noble.

A bunch of the authors have freebies over on bookfunnel. You can find them here!
And go here to enter to win the grand prize!!

GROUP1 twitter.jpg

Thanks so much for reading along!!

On the pursuit of dreams…

I’ve been watching a ridiculous amount of tennis. Might be a strange opening line for a writing-related blog, but hang with me for a minute. It’s Australian Open season, which is a great tournament for someone who works night shift because ESPN and the Tennis Channel broadcast the matches live. Given the 17-ish hour time difference between Seattle and Melbourne, I’ve watched some fantastic tennis at three am.

In part, I consider it research, because some day I’m going to write a tennis romance. If for no other reason than because I find Stefano Tsitsipas (above) to be so very inspiring.

Following an entire tournament if fun, too, because of all the different storylines. Early on there are so many players and so many matches. I can root for favorites, see who’s playing well and who’s fighting injury and who’s mental game has gone to Mars. Over the two weeks of the Open, the numbers drop, the tennis gets better, and the matches more intense.

Are there any young players on the men’s tour who can beat one of the Big Three (Federer, Nadal, & Djokovic)? Will Serena win her 24th major? Four of the final 16 women in the Aussie Open are American. How did we end up with so many fantastic players?

And what about Aslan Karatsev, the 27-year-old Russian qualifier who’s the first man in the Open era to reach the semi-finals of a Grand Slam tournament in his debut? Wouldn’t it be cool if he made the finals?!

The thing that fascinates me – and the element I find most intimidating when it comes to setting a story in the world of pro tennis – is the amount of focus and self-discipline it takes to reach that level. I can play tennis; well, I know which end of the racket to grab anyway, but I don’t think I’ve ever dedicated myself to anything so completely.

When I was a kid, I was on swim team, and I dreamt of making the US Olympic team. I worked my butt off in practice, but somewhere along the way (ahem, high school) I got distracted. Never made the Olympics, but I did do the Waikiki Roughwater Swim, which was a 2.8 mile race off Waikiki Beach. Finished in the top fifty women, too, so some of my discipline paid off.

Later, once I found my feet as an adult, I decided I wanted to sing. I studied voice and sang in choirs and with bands, everything from the blues and rock to Mozart and Gregorian chant. When I brought my oldest kid to the pediatrician for the first time, I asked about bringing a baby to band practice. I did, too, both kids, protecting their ears with wax earplugs held in place by headbands. I’ve also known the unique pleasure of stepping onto the church altar to sing a little Renaissance Christmas ditty with a trio, only to see my then-three-year-old engage in some experimental dance between the altar and the first row of church pews.

I might never have made the finals of American Idol, but over the years I learned a lot about myself, and a lot about music.

And for my next trick...

I always knew I wanted to be an author, and about ten years ago I decided I better get my act together or it was never gonna happen. You might have heard this story already, so I won’t go into too much detail. I started writing, studying how to write, going to conferences, taking classes, and connecting with other authors. I published my first book just about nine years ago and my next release – a novella I co-wrote with Irene Preston – will be number eighteen.

I might not have the level of dedication required to play tennis on an international stage, but making the New York Times bestseller list isn’t completely out of reach. Honestly, though, I seem to have put together a pretty decent life without actually getting what I think I want.

There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere...


This is my first blog post since August, and I’m SO happy to be back with the Scribes!! I’ve had two recent releases and Irene and I have a new one coming in early March, so I thought I’d share the pretty covers. Well, two pretty covers and a teaser.

So much paranormal fun…

There’s nothing scarier than the truth…

Find HARROWED here!

Fusing copper, gold, and moonlight creates the strongest bond.

Find SOULMATES here!

Me n’ Irene are still keeping secrets. Join our readers group, After Hours with Liv & Irene, for more details!

What kind of reader are you?

It seems to me there are two kinds of readers. Those who MUST FINISH EVERY BOOK they start, and those who will drop a book like a hot tomato if they’re not impressed.

I’d hazard a guess that it’s impossible for one group to understand the other’s point a view. (lol)

I’m definitely in Camp Drop-it-if-it-sucks. Ouch. That sounds kinda harsh, but Camp Drop-it-if-it’s-not-working-for-you doesn’t have the same rhythm. And you know how I am about rhythm.

(Jump HERE if you want to read my post about rhythm in writing.)

This post was prompted by a chat I had recently. My friend Sheryl messaged me about a book she was reading, a contemporary romance where the author seriously misjudged how real life works. I don’t want to point fingers at any particular author, so let’s just say that most bands don’t make enough money for each member to have their own touring bus.

Even Mick & Keith have to share, y’all.

That’s the kind of error that would make me doubt every other word the author put on the page. It turns on my inner editor, and once she starts, there’s no way I’m going to be able to relax and enjoy the rest of the book.

Factual errors might be the biggest bump for me – like the book where the heroes went home to Canada in late November to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Um….Canadian Thanksgiving is in October.

Then there was the book where a character was supposed to be in a hospital on a ventilator and he had a conversation with another character. Can’t be done, but for some reason I kept reading that one and mostly enjoyed it.

I could come up with other examples, though to be honest, I’m guilty of a mistake or two myself. One of the reviews for my book Aqua Follies pointed out that Skip could not have worked at the Everett Boeing plant in 1955, because that site didn’t open until the late ’60s.

Oops.

My friend Sheryl says she’s going to finish the book that prompted our chat, because it’s one of a series and she wants to see it through. Others might say they want to finish out of respect for the author’s work, which I can’t really argue with.

Still, I pretty much adhere to Nancy Pearl’s Rule of Fifty. For those of you who haven’t heard of Nancy, she’s a librarian and best-selling author, and her book reviews on NPR have guided many readers for years. (Jump HERE to see all her books.)

Nancy’s Rule of Fifty goes something like this…

Give a book 50 pages. When you get to the bottom of Page 50, ask yourself if you’re really liking the book. If you are, of course, then great, keep on reading. But if you’re not, then put it down and look for another….And if, at the bottom of Page 50, all you’re really interested in is who marries whom, or who the murderer is, then turn to the last page and find out. If it’s not on the last page, turn to the penultimate page, or the antepenultimate page, or however far back you have to go to discover what you want to know.

The Globe & Mail, 2/4/11

Even better, she’s modified her rule for those of us over the age of 50. It’s a variation of “So many books, so little time” (Which is apparently a Frank Zappa quote. The things you learn on google!) If you’re over 50, subtract your age from 100 and that’s the number of pages you get to read before deciding whether or not to put the book down.

By adhering to this rule, I mean no disrespect to authors. If you start one of my books and it’s not working for you, you have my permission to put it down and pick up something else. Scan the Amazon or Goodreads reviews for any book, and you’ll see a range of opinions. The same book might get 5-star reviews from some and 1-star reviews from others.

Reading should be fun and moving, and it should feed your soul. I mean, it motivated Sheryl to message me because she cared enough about the book to want to talk about it.

Life’s too short to read past page 42 if the book’s a clunker. One person’s clunker is another’s lifetime top ten.

Which type of reader are you?

Using current events in fiction.

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

Pandemic. Lockdown. Quarantine. Protest.
#BlackLivesMatter. #DefundThePolice. #WearAMask.

Think back to the Before Times – you know, like last February. Did any of these terms and hashtags resonate? #BlackLivesMatter is the only one I’d heard of, but now we have this whole new vocabulary.

And it’s….awkward.

I know many authors are struggling to get words on the page, and others who are no longer struggling, because they’ve given up. It’s just too hard to tap into their creativity when it feels like the world is falling in around them. I’ve also seen debates on social media about the appropriateness of writing quickie quarantine romances to try to capitalize on our new reality.

Kinda gives the “forced proximity” trope a whole different spin.

For discussion’s sake, let’s say you do have the spoons to write, but you’re wondering how much of our current quagmire should make it on the page. As a first step, it might be worth considering what people want to read. Maybe they do want that quickie quarantine romance. Or maybe they want Shauna’s fantastic dystopian Ash & Ruin series or any of the books on this Goodreads list of Current Events Fiction.

Or maybe they want something as far from reality as possible. (How ’bout hot&naughty elves? Kasia Bacon‘s Order series – starting with The Mutt – is a whole lot of fun.)

But, some of you might say, if I write about current events, my book might soon feel dated or people will forget what happened. Those are valid points, but I like this rebuttal by Brandi Reissenweber in an article from The Writer Magazine:

Keep them (current events) fresh and meaningful long after they’ve passed in the same way you keep any events in your fiction fresh and meaningful: Lash them with urgency to the experience of one or more characters.

For example, I found one of the best descriptions of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in Royal Street, the first book in Suzanne Johnson‘s Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series. Not only did the author nail the details – she lived in NOLA during Katrina – but her characters had a life or death stake in the events, which made for a real page-turner.

One thing to consider, though, is that Royal Street was published in 2012, about seven years after Katrina. I’ve never asked, but I’d imagine it took Suzanne some time to organize her reactions to the disaster in a way that made sense. In a WaPo article that speculates on what post-pandemic fiction will look like, Chris Bohjalian makes a useful comparison with post-9/11 fiction. He points out that it was 2005 before the serious novels dealing with 9/11 began to be published.

….it took novelists a little more time to shape the nightmare into a story. After all, how do you make something up when the truth is so unspeakable? So wrenching?

Good questions.

The pandemic, with the horrific costs associated with it, is at least as profound an event as 9/11, with arguably greater consequences. The concurrent shifting social paradigms around race and racism are equally significant, though I’d caution all writers who want to explore those issues to make sure the story is theirs to tell. It’s going to take years for creatives to wrap their arms around this phase in our history, and there may be some who’ll never be able to revisit this time, even in fiction.

Is there territory between a quickie something-something that grabs the headlines and runs, and a deep and thoughtful examination of our lived experience? I’d argue that there is. One of the series I’m co-writing with Irene Preston features a character who used to be a cop but quit the force. In part because of that character, I’ve made an effort to read about the whole #DefundThePolice movement and those ideas are definitely influencing his backstory.

Times are hard, and I’ve got it better than most. The stress, the isolation, and the endless conflict have to color what we’re able to create, if not squash our creativity all together. Take care. Be gentle with yourself. Use the grist of these days in any way that makes sense to you.

And wash your hands.

(In his WaPo article, Chris Bohjalian mentions several books on 9/11 that he considered “important”. Here’s another link to the article in case you’re curious.)

Happy Pride! Top ten queer romances by POC authors

Here’s the deal. My two kids are college age, and they’re both the kind of bright, assertive young people who are gathering all over this country to demonstrate against police brutality and in support of #BlackLivesMatter. So far neither has been arrested or caught in any violence, but there have been some scary moments.

You know, I never did think to put, “Mom, I’m at a demonstration for farm workers rights and the Nazis are here and they have guns” on my short list of desired text messages.

So what do I do when the world is burning? I read romance. And how should we celebrate Pride in the year of our Lord 2020?

How about a list of novels featuring queer characters of all kinds by POC authors!

Some of these are old favorites, and some are new discoveries, and I hope you’ll find a story our two that you love, even as they draw you outside of your normal routine….

Jude LucensBehind these Doors

Behind These Doors: Radical Proposals Book 1

This books is AMAZING. It’s an award-winning polyamorous Edwardian romance that’s had incredible reviews and is just so, so good. Behind These Doors is grounded in both emotional truth and historical fact, where the harsh realities of the time period amplify the story’s sweetness and heart.

Buy Links for Behind These Doors


Holly TrentThe Plot Twist series

Holley Trent has created this fantastic trilogy of polyamorous romances that explore the ways men and women love each other. Each book features different characters and different romantic pairings, and if there’s a common theme, it’s that joy can be found in unexpected ways.


Atom YangThe Red Envelope

Cover of Red Envelope depicting a young, handsome Asian man in a suit, leaning against a wall and gazing toward to the viewer.

Red Envelope is short but lovely, and it proved to me how good own-voices stories can be. Atom Yang’s eye for detail elevated the story and made it one I remember.

Buy Link for Red Envelope
(It’s in KU!)

Cover of Tea at the End of the World depicting a handsome, young Asian man partially submerged in a white liquid with his eyes closed and face, neck, and chest above the liquid.
Haven’t read this one yet but OMG the cover!!!

Adriana HerreraDreamers Series

True confessions: I have three of these on my kindle but haven’t read them yet. I will, though! I’ve heard so many, many good things about them. Here’s a peak at the author’s blurb for the series:

The Dreamers series follows best friends— Nesto, Camilo, Patrice and Juan Pablo. Four Afro-Latinx men who came up together in the South Bronx, as they chase after their dreams and get unapologetic happy endings.

The Dreamer Series on Goodreads


Courtney MilanMrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure

cover for Mrs. Martin's Incomparable Adventure, an elderly woman in a blue dress with the houses of Parliament in the background

This book! I’m not quite as old as Bertrice and Violetta, but oh did they resonate for me. I laughed and I cried and I fell a little bit in love with their story. Courtney’s known for writing m/f romance, but she has a couple of stories with queer characters that are definitely worth checking out.

Buy links for Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure


Cole McCade/XenShatterproof

SHATTERPROOF: Remastered Edition: The DISSONANT Universe: Countdown -3 by [Xen]

I gotta be honest. Xen/Cole McCade is an excellent wordsmith, whether he’s writing freaky dark stuff as Xen or contemporary romance as Cole. I haven’t yet dared Shatterproof, though my writing partner Irene loved it. She also really liked The Whites of their Eyes: A collection of queer horror, also by Xen. My taste runs closer to His Cocky Valet, book 1 in Cole’s Undue Arrogance series. See? There’s something for everyone!

His Cocky Valet (Undue Arrogance Book 1) by [Cole McCade]

Buy link for Shatterproof
Buy link for His Cocky Valet
They’re both in KU!


Alyssa ColeOnce Ghosted, Twice Shy

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy (Reluctant Royals, #2.5)

This book intrigues me. It’s the only f/f story in Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series, and the cover is just so very good. Alyssa’s known for her m/f contemporary romances and especially for her Loyal League series of historical romances, which, hey, I’m a history nerd, so they’re totally my thing.

Her award-winning Loyal League series – An Extraordinary Union, A Hope Divided, and An Unconditional Freedom – are set in the Civil War era South. The characters in these m/f romances are black, and they’re strong and they’re real, and they find love.

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy on Goodreads


Talia HibbertWork for It

Work for It by Talia Hibbert

Talia Hibbert’s another author who’s better known for writing m/f romance. She has such enthusiastic fans that I was jazzed when I heard she’d written an m/m romance. But see, I do this thing where I’ll catch the buzz when a book is coming out and I’ll get all excited and preorder it and then when it finally releases I won’t want to read it because I don’t want to spoil the anticipation. Or thereabouts. Anywhoodle, I’ve had Work for It on my kindle since its release day and between that gorgeous cover and all the great reviews, I really do need to bump it to the top of the pile.

Find Work for It on Goodreads


CL PolkWitchmark

Witchmark (The Kingston Cycle Book 1) by [C. L. Polk]

Witchmark is a historical fantasy, and while it’s not technically a romance- romance, there’s a queer love story in an amongst the magic. Here’s a snippet from an enthusiastic review:

“Polk has created an amazing new world with hints of Edwardian glamour, sizzling secrets, and forbidden love that crescendos to a cinematic finish. WITCHMARK is a can’t-miss debut that will enchant readers.” 
—Booklist, starred review

Find Witchmark on Goodreads


Rebekah WeatherspoonTreasure

Rebekah Weatherspoon writes romance and erotic romance and kink. She’s also something of a fireball on twitter (@RdotSpoon), and she organizes WOC in Romance, a website that’s dedicated to promoting books by authors of color. (You can also support WOCIR on Patreon to help them get the word out.) I’ve heard Rebekah speak at a couple of conferences, and while she’s written a number of f/f stories, for this post I wanted to highlight Treasure because her in-person enthusiasm for the book made me want to read it!

Find Treasure on Goodreads


Bonus

Tom & LorenzoLegendary Children

Legendary Children by Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez

This is not a romance (oops!). As the subtitle says, it’s an examination of the first decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the last century of queer life. Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez are two of my very favorite bloggers, and at Tom&Lorenzo.com they go about judging celebrity fashion, television, and life in general with a healthy mix of take-no-bullshit and give-credit-where-its-due. They’ve been writing about RuPaul since Drag Race started, and in Legendary Children they bring wit and insight and compassion to this serious look at queer history that manages to be both informative and very, very funny. Highly recommend!

Legendary Children on Penguin/Random House


If you want to keep going, look for books by Avril Ashton, Riley Hart, Robin Covington, Ada Maria Soto, or Jude Sierra. You can find even more rec’s on this master list from the POC Queer Romance Authors Community

And….if you’re around and about, here’s a list of black-owned bookstores for you to support, compiled by Brain Mill Press:
Brain Lair Books, South Bend, IN
Cafe Con Libros, Brooklyn, NY
A Different Booklist, Toronto, ON
The Dock Bookshop, Fort Worth, TX
EsoWon Books, Los Angeles, CA
EyeSeeMe, University City, MO – children’s books
Frugal Bookstore, Boston, MA
Harriet’s Bookshop, Philadelphia, PA
The Lit. Bar, Bronx, NY
Loyalty Bookstore, Washington, DC
Pyramid Books, Little Rock, AK
Semicolon, Chicago, IL
Sister’s Uptown Bookstore, New York, NY
Source Booksellers, Detroit, MI – nonfiction
Uncle Bobbies Coffee & Books, Philadelphia, PA

The garden in spring…

This week totally got away from me. Like, today is not Thursday. Did you know that?

Sigh.

Anywhoodle, I haven’t posted about my garden in a while, and since it’s feeding my soul in a very real way, I thought I’d share some of what’s blooming. Keep in mind I’m a better writer than I am a photographer…

The view from my front door, about a month ago.
Looking at my front door, last week, with a guest appearance by Ed-the-dog. My tulip game has been strong this spring.
Tequila Sunrise Rhodedendron, 10 days ago, just starting to bloom.
My new favorite tulip, Antoinette, about 2 weeks ago.
Antoinette turns pinker as she goes
Tulipa Antoinette today, along with a pretty perennial geranium (blue flower).
Veggie bed – peas and lettuce and herbs…
Chives just starting to bloom.
Burnsie “helping” with the apple tree.
The front bed, a week or so ago.

The back yard hasn’t seen as much love as the front, but I do love my back porch, and the little Enkianthus Red Bells is so pretty when it’s in bloom. Those are perennial geraniums blooming under the Japanese maple. They’re hardy as hell and so lovely when they bloom…

Earlier this spring, the husband and I consulted with a garden designer, who made some fantastic recommendations for how we could better utilize our outdoor spaces. We loved her ideas, but figure we’ll have to take it on the five (eight? ten?) year plan. I’m looking forward to what we come up with, though.

I hope you’re all hanging in there and washing your hands and staying safe. Oh, and if you like my garden pix, follow me on Instagram, because that’s where they hit first. Thanks….

Here’s a close-up of the daffodils that bloomed along the front walkway. They look like a bunch of ladies in their Sunday best, chatting after church.

What the book is really about.

I don’t know about you, but I’m so, so tired of a certain virus that is apparently hell-bent on ending civilization as we know it. In the spirit of Shauna’s last post, I want to focus on writing, because I have a helluva lot more control of my imaginary worlds than I do over the real one.

This is aspirational. My real-life looks nothing like this.

I’m an avid (overly enthusiastic?) fan of author KJ Charles. Her books are funny and sexy and scary and they make you think. Her plots are a master class in how-to-do-it-right. And this week, in the run-up to her newest release Slippery Creatures (Will Darling #1), I noticed something else.

She’s got a knack for describing her books in a way that makes them sound like they’re the most fun ever.

I’m not talking about her book’s blurbs, the back-jacket copy that supposedly sells the book, although her blurbs are very well done – check out the Goodreads link for Slippery Creatures to see what I mean. The thing that really grabs me, though, are the one- or two-line descriptions she uses on social media that summarize what the stories are about.

For example, on her Facebook fan page (KJ Charles Chat) she posted a sign-up for Slippery Creatures ARCs, giving readers the chance to review her book prior to it’s May 13th release, and I promise you, that sign-up post is golden.

She compares her Will Darling series to Golden Age adventure stories with spies and secrets and country houses and social change. (I’m paraphrasing because I don’t want to give too much away.) I don’t even need to see the book’s blurb; she had me at nightclubs and shady conspiracies.

The blurb is awesome, but the one-line description on the ARC sign-up bumped the book to the top of my to-be-read pile.

Having made this observation – that KJ makes her books sound fun! – I wondered if I could do the same with my own books. I turned to my current WIP, the book I started last November for NaNoWriMo, but couldn’t come up with anything coherent. (More about that later.)

Instead, I shifted gears and went digging through my back list. Here are a few examples:

Vespers mixes a 100-year-old vampire monk with a 22 year old college grad and a bunch of demons (both physical and psychological) and gives Liv the chance to work out her ideas about religion.

Here’s another example:

Change of Heart throws a country girl who talks like Dorothy Gale into the Big Easy and gives Liv a chance to explore how trans people might have survived in the days before hormones and surgery and also gives Vespers fans an Easter egg.

Or:

Lost and Found takes a very sad story (the life of the Russian dancer Najinksy) and finds him a happy ending (because romance) and also gives Liv a chance to brush up on her high school French.

Hmm…I’m sensing a theme. In these one-liners, I focus on my intention when writing the books, rather than picking out elements that make the story sound fun!

And that, my friends, might explain why I had trouble coming up with a one-liner for my current WIP. I mean, I know what it’s about – in the days when the city of Seattle was struggling to establish itself as the top dog in the Northwest, a necromancer tried to run all other magic workers out of town but he is challenged by a ne’er do well night patrolman, a pretty piano player, and their friends – but I haven’t yet figured out the why.

Why am I writing this story? What overarching theme grabbed me and made me spend however many hours it took to hit the 85k word mark? (I’m just about there, with a couple scenes left to draft.) I’m pretty sure my motivation went deeper than “well hell, I managed to write 50k words in November, let’s see where this bad boy goes”.

I mean, I’m pretty sure I have a deeper motivation. I hope.

I’d argue that while KJ’s one-liner for Slippery Things hits on a number of elements that focus on fun! (Spies! Nightclubs! Shady conspiracies!) she slips in a note about social change, hinting that she’s worked in a deeper theme or two. That grounds the story, making it even more compelling.

So if you need me, I’ll be pondering the theme(s) for my current WIP, which I’m hoping will be more obvious after I finish the draft and give the story some time to breath. I’ll also be working on a one-liner that includes the kind of fun! elements that make KJs books sound so good.

Because it’s smart to learn from the best.

When in doubt, read. (Or, ten+ free or $0.99 books to get you through.)

Authors are nothing if not accommodating. We see a need – in this case, the world-wide shut-down of most everything – and we strive to fill it. In the last week or so, a bunch of books have been put on sale for $0.99 or offered for free, so for today’s post, I’m sharing those goodies with you. Enjoy!!

#1 OMG KJ CHARLES HAS THE MAGPIE LORD FOR FREE!!!
If you haven’t read this book – or this series – damn, have you missed out. It’s SO good. It’s a Victorian paranormal m/m romance and if I could choose a world to live in, it would be this one. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that when I finished book 1, I immediately clicked over to book 2 and downloaded it. Thank you, Kindle.
UNIVERSAL LINK FOR THE MAGPIE LORD.

#2 Rainbow Place (Rainbow Shores #1) by Jay Northcote
Haven’t read this one, but Jay Northcote is consistently good, and I’m excited to dive into his new series. It’s set in Cornwall, one guy is out-&-proud and the other’s in the closet, and it all sounds like catnip to me. And it’s FREE!
LINK

#3 The Isolation Survival Plan Sale
There are over 50 authors in this promo! All of their books are either FREE or $0.99! Books by authors like Josh Lanyon, Nic Starr, Nyrae Dawn, CJane Elliot, Charlie Descotaux, Kelly Jensen, Karen Stivali, Eliot Grayson, and Elle Keaton!!! GET CLICKING!
LINK

#4 WIDDERSHINS IS FREE!!
This one gets an all-caps too, because Widdershins by Jordan L Hawk is the start of one of THE best Victorian paranormals in all of m/m romance. The series is done now – for those of you who won’t start something until you can glom them all the way to the end – and the way the relationship between Whyborne & Griffen evolves is truly lovely….and it all starts with Widdershins….
LINK

#5 Everything at Ninestar Press is 40% off!!
Ninestar publishes all subgenres of queer romance, all kinds of voices and pairings. Because the editor says it better than I could, I’m going to quote from the website’s blog:
LINK to NINESTAR PRESS

I want LGBTQIA+ people of color to be able to find their likenesses in characters. I want great Lit/Genre Fiction books out there to show that gay/lesbian/queer people have a voice. Trans people can be in hetero relationships, and Bi people are still bi, even if they end up with someone of the opposite gender. Ace people can have loving and fulfilling relationships without sex scenes, and characters can be gender fluid.

Here’s a link to her whole post.

Ninestar also has A Dance of Water & Air by Antonia Aquilante for FREE.
If you’re into elegant fantasy stories about royalty, check this one out!
LINK

#6 Not Dead Yet (Not Dead Yet #1) by Jenn Burke
So this is the only one that’s a little more money. Not Dead Yet is on sale for $2.99, but I gotta tell you, it’s SO MUCH FUN! Worth the extra couple bucks. It’s basically a second chance at love with a snarky ghost-ish dude and a crabby vampire and oh just read it!
LINK

#7 Supernatural LGBT Love giveaway!
This is a Prolificworks giveaway with 20-some books for FREE, including books by Morgan Brice, Jordan Castillo Price, and Victoria Sue. Most – if not all – are newsletter optional, including two of my novellas. The Clockwork Monk is a gay steampunk novella that’ll eventually be part of a larger series, and Change of Heart is a f/trans-f romance set in the world of the Hours of the Night series I write with Irene Preston. This is the first time Heart has been offered for free…
LINK

#8 Rule Breaker (Mixed Messages #1) by Lily Morton
Okay so I haven’t read this one (yet) but my friend KimLicki swears it’s fantastic. I have read Lily Morton’s The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings, and it was quite good, so I’m comfortable recommending this one – in case you need more than just KimLicki’s word for it! If you like snarky romcoms with heart, this one will most definitely take you away from our new (virus-infested) reality.
LINK

#9 Catalysts (Scientific Method Universe #1) by Kris Ripper
This one’s a bit of a cheat, because it’s always FREE, but OMG the SMU books are SO GOOD! Ze calls it a “universe” because for reals, there are more than 15 official books in the series along with a bunch of freebies and spin-offs (and even more if you join zir Patreon!) If you’d like to trade reality for a kinky, hot, smart series that’ll take you a while to get through, this is your book!
LINK

#10 Perilous Trust by Barbara Freethy
This one is a bit of a departure – the only book that made the list that isn’t a gay romance. It’s a m/f romantic suspense, and while that isn’t my fave genre, this one is SO GOOD. There’s lots of action, a second-chance-at-romance plotline, and a heroine who saves the day because she’s SMART. Altogether it’s more than worth the $0.99!!
LINK

HONORABLE MENTION
Amy Jo Cousins has Off Campus (Bend or Break #1) for FREE!! This is a college-aged roommates enemies to lovers story with all the heat and a healthy helping of angst, too. Highly recommend!
LINK

HONORABLE MENTION #2
I WARNED YOU. Authors just wanna help!! To that end, Looking for Trouble by Misha Horne is FREE! This is a kinky historic slow burn and about as much of a page-turner as a 400+ page book can be!
LINK
Also, Misha made a blog post with all kinds of free/low cost ways to entertain you while you’re at home. Find it here.

There’s a little of everything in this post and I’m confident something on the list will work for you! Meanwhile, I hope you’re all well and safe and staying home and washing your hands….

Happy reading…

ALSO!! If you’re an author and have a book on sale, leave a link in the comments!!

Writing outside my lane

Image from Unsplash.

So I did something sneaky. In this year’s New Years Resolution post, I only listed ONE action item:

I hereby resolve to use my planner.

When it comes to the planner, so far so good. The “sneaky” part comes from what I didn’t say, the one or two other ideas I didn’t share.

For instance, I vowed to take a writing class, something I’d have to commit to and that I’d learn from. I kept that resolution secret, a little something just between me and my laptop because I didn’t have a firm plan at New Years. In early January, however, I stumbled over something good.

I found Writing the Other: Deep Dive into Diverse Characters, which is a month-long class given by Nisi Shawl, Tempest Bradford, and Piper J. Drake.

The foundation for this course is the book Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl. (I’ve linked to Amazon but it’s available from B&N and the publisher as well.) The course teaches character development through a framework that strives to avoid stereotypes and offensive characterizations when working with characters of different gender, race, &/or orientation.

Here’s a bit from the course description:

Representation is fundamental to writing great fiction. Creating characters that reflect of the diversity of the world we all live in is important for all writers and creators of fictional narratives. But writers often find it difficult to represent people whose gender, sexual orientation, racial heritage, or other aspect of identity is very different from their own. This can lead to fear of getting it wrong–horribly, offensively wrong–and, in the face of that, some think it’s better to not even try.

But representation is too important to ignore. And it is possible to write characters who represent the “Other” sensitively and convincingly. This four week course will provide authors  with a solid foundation in how to craft characters from any background, no matter how different they are from you.

I’m sharing all of this both because I’ve learned a lot so far and because growing my skill at writing outside my own experience is a crucial part of my development. I’ve published nine novels/novellas with gay or queer protagonists, so I’m working outside my lane all the damned time. I need to make sure I’m not stepping on people’s toes – or damaging their sense of self – when I do.

We’re only halfway through the class, and so far I have a couple of take-homes. First, I think some – possibly younger – people are a lot more comfortable with labels than I am. In the course introduction, we were asked to share how we fit the dominant paradigm and where we differed from it.

All my intro said was “I am the dominant paradigm.”

I’m a cis-het white woman with no chronic health or emotional issues. I’m neurotypical and I’ve never I experimented with alternative lifestyles or genders. Compared with most of the other intros, mine was SHORT.

Having the language to identify yourself as queer or neurodivergent and the comfort level to share ongoing mental health challenges is a truly beautiful change in our culture. I grew up with a much more limited vocabulary:

You were straight or (whispers) gay, a boy or a girl, and if you felt bad you went to a therapist but you damned well didn’t talk about it.

My theory – based on observation alone – is that it’s a generational thing, but I could be wrong. Either way, I count it as progress.

The other take-home from the course has to do with the how of it. How does an author avoid creating hurtful characters?

Do your homework.
Ask yourself honestly if you’re the best person to write this story.
Diversity is important, but I’d be very careful of writing a PoC character where the story was about their experience as a PoC. You’re not here to save anyone.
Get to know people who belong to the group you’re drawing from.
Read and research, looking specifically for works created by group members, not by others writing “authoritatively” about them.

Hire a sensitivity reader.
Although it’s not one person’s job to speak for the many, a good sensitivity reader can help you avoid the most obvious pitfalls.

Respond to feedback with an apology and a promise to change.
Because you’ll make mistakes. I sure as hell have. In one of her comments, Tempest said their goal is harm reduction, and that’s about all I can hope for.

Taking this course has slowed down my word-count, but it’s time well spent. I choose to write outside my lane for a complex mix of reasons, but since I’ve made this choice, I want to do the very best job I can.

I don’t want people hurt by the stories that come from my heart.

Here’s another link to the Writing the Other website. In addition to the Deep Dive course, they have a number of different offerings that I encourage you to check out.