The Difficulties of Prolific Writing

I wasn’t really sure where to start with this post. I knew I wanted to talk about the struggle of writing prolifically and living up to reader expectations and how unreasonable this has gotten. But I wanted to be careful not to sound angry or ungrateful. I figured the first thing I should do is figure out how many words I’ve written since I started writing seriously.

And that’s what sort of stopped me for a second. Once I got the numbers it kind of… killed something inside of me. Because it’s a lot. Especially when I tell you the time frame in which I wrote these words.

If you’ve been following along, a couple of us have mentioned the plagiarism scandal that plagued the Romance community this past month. An “author” claimed to have used a ghost writer to help her churn out books at the expected rate her readers had come to enjoy. Apparently using ghost writers to get a shit-ton of books written quickly has become a thing. Because, here’s something a lot of readers don’t know: most writers aren’t wealthy and they don’t become rich over the success of one book. Maybe not even a whole series. So the pressure to publish multiple books a year (even 1 a month) has become a real thing if you want to be financially successful as a writer. And don’t at me about doing it for art, you want multiple books a year from a writer, then the girl needs to get paid enough not to a have a day job.

If a writer makes four figures, they’re doing better than most. If a writer makes five figures, that’s considered very successful–not per year, we’re talking *ever*. But we only hear about the major names and people think they’re over-night successes (they’re not).

I started seriously writing around 2009-2010. It took me a long time to find my voice and that first book. I did what you’re supposed to do when you finish your book while you’re querying–I wrote the next. And the next. I was half-way into the third book when both my husband and I lost our day jobs and my first book hadn’t been picked up by an agent yet.

Facing unemployment is fucking terrifying. I was lucky at the time, in that, we had a little savings. Not a lot, but some. So we decided, together, that we were going to use the time to pursue our dream jobs. He began getting certified for his and I decided to self-publish my first series.

Because I already had the next two books written, I was able to release them quicker than traditional publishing would have. I spaced it out so I could finish the fourth book and give myself some time for the fifth. But I’d set that expectation of a new book every six months.

If I could go back and slap my 2011 self, I would.

Releasing five books in two and a half years was so stupid.

Some writers only write one book for their whole carrier. Others, just one series. So really, publishing five books could have been a lifetime of work. Then I started the next to build and keep the momentum of readership I was building.

To be self-published you have to do everything and it takes a lot out of you with each book. But I pushed on, because, I knew there was a chance things would really take off and explode and I’d get the readership I needed to be long-term successful. And I didn’t stop to realize I’d already accomplished more than most writers had in the past. I was supporting our household on my income. It was great.

So I kept going. And I developed a pen name so I could write racier stuff and not confuse my YA readers. But I was constantly writing. Book after book after book. Only taking a week or two off between finish a rough draft before attacking the second draft.

Then, while the book was with my editor, I was outlining the next book so when edits were done I could start all over again, right away.

There were times where I wrote a whole 80-90k word book in one fucking month.

Eventually, by April of last year, I’d written the equivalent of 24 books (under my pen name I liked to write novels and novellas and short stories so the novellas and short stories were bundled into short novels).

So in less than ten years I’d written 24 books.

I was so done. I was totally and completely burned out.

I had a trilogy I’d been working on under my pen name and didn’t have the third book written, not even outlined, and I just couldn’t do it.

I’d run out of words. Out of ideas.

So I took some time off.

I didn’t manage to start writing that last book until November of last year (thank goodness for NaNo), having outlined half of it in October. But that was six months of complete radio silence from my characters, from my muse, from anything.

And I felt terrible.

I should have felt good about the time. I should have enjoyed it. Given myself permission. But instead I worried about my career and losing readers. But to be honest, that’s something I’ve been dealing with for the last couple of years. Because I couldn’t keep up the pace of 2-4 books a year readers slipped away. Or, and this is possible too, because I was putting out too many, readers couldn’t keep up.

I honestly don’t know. Maybe both are true?

So, write like the wind until your fingers bleed and you can’t think or take your time and let the words come naturally and there are going to be groups on either side that are angry. And, couple that with KPD Select and readers wanting books to be free or at least almost free and you realize how small the royalties are going to be, so you need a catalog of books to make it financially feasible to fight this and constantly dealing with pirates stealing your work. It’s a lot of pressure.

Every time I put out a book, no matter how fast, the first thing I’d hear from at least one reader would be: WHEN’S THE NEXT ONE COMING OUT I FINISHED THE BOOK IN ONE SITTING!

Now. Yay. Thank you. But also… I can’t.

I told you I’d tell you my numbers so here they are. Since starting writing around 09-10, I’ve written the equivalent of 25 books with a total of 2,134,547 words.

Two Million One Hundred Thirty Four Thousand Five Hundred Forty Seven.

That’s an average of 213,454 words a year.

I have been dying to start working on my witchy book. I’ve been talking about it for a year. And I have no bloody idea where to start. Nothing is coming to me. The inspiration, the excitement, the drive to write it, is gone.

It’s up there with those two million+ words.

This is what happens when we put pressure on writers to hurry up, hurry up, hurry up and expect the books to cost less than a cup of coffee so authors are constantly worrying about paying bills and keeping a roof over our heads. It takes a huge toll on us. We run out of ideas. We run out of words. I am terrified right now that I’ll never write something as good as my Ash & Ruin series again. I am terrified I can’t think of a new magic system.

But, mostly, I am tired. And I know a lot of other writers are too. We write more than a life time’s worth of words in such a short amount of time and yet, it never feels like enough. It always feels like we’re falling behind.

I don’t feel like I should end this here on such a melancholy note. So, if you’re wondering what you can do to help, other than obviously buying a writer’s book(s), you can spread the word about your favorite books. We say it again and again, but reviews are so important to our success that’s why we’re always almost begging for them. Go write a review, copy it and paste it to every retail website that carries the books, yes, even if you didn’t buy it there. Every review helps and every review makes us feel a little better.

Maybe your review will be the one that gives a writer her inspiration back.

Reflections on 19 Years and a Wild Dream Achieved

(Warning: I’m going to talk about myself in this post. A lot.)

This Saturday is a momentous day for me. Not only does it mark the publication of my sixth book, Mistress of Legend (Guinevere’s Tale Book 3), and a single-volume compendium of The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy, it is also the end of an era.

You see, 19 years ago Saturday is when I first heard Guinevere speak in my head. (Yeah, I’m one of those authors – wouldn’t have it any other way.) I tell the whole story in the Author’s Notes to Daughter of Destiny, the first book in the series, but for now suffice it to say she told me she wanted me to tell her story and that it would be unlike any written to date. I’ve always loved Arthurian legend, and Guinevere in particular, so I thought, “why not?”

That afternoon when I got home from school (I was a sophomore in college at the time), I sat down at the computer in my dad’s bedroom and began to type the words Guinevere was saying in my head: 

I am Guinevere.

I was once a queen, a lover, a wife, a mother, a priestess, and a friend. But all those roles are lost to me now; to history, I am simply a seductress, a misbegotten woman set astray by the evils of lust.

This is the image painted of me by subsequent generations, a story retold thousands of times. Yet, not one of those stories is correct. They were not there; they did not see through my eyes or feel my pain. My laughter was lost to them in the pages of history….

It goes on for a bit longer, but you get the idea. That prologue is mostly intact in the published version of Daughter of Destiny (though it was shortened a bit). I can’t tell you how many times I rewrote the first few chapters of the book (it was in the double digits for sure) as I learned to find my own voice as an author and developed a plot and style that was doing more than simply aping The Mists of Avalon (which was the book that inspired it). But somehow, Guinevere’s words remained.

(Some of you know this story, so feel free to skip down if you have heard it before.)

I never thought I would become a published author. For the next 10 years I played around with the book when I had free time from college, then grad school and my first two grownup jobs. But it was just a hobby.

Then in 2008 I started taking my writing seriously. The catalyst? Twilight. (Shut up.) By that time I was about halfway through what would become Daughter of Destiny and realized I had something worth reading on my hands. At this point, I still thought the book would be one doorstop of a volume (which is why I’m publishing the compendium). Upon researching the publishing industry, I realized it would have to be trilogy.

Fast forward another 10 years – past an agent, countless rejections (okay, I counted, it was like 40), three damn-near book deals with Big 5 publishers, self-publishing and three Book of the Year awards – and here we are, on the precipice of the final book being published. And I have to say I am very, very proud. It may have taken me two years to finish this book (much longer than I know my readers wanted to wait), but I think it was worth it.

I set out to give Guinevere back her voice and give her the fair shake I never thought she had from other authors (at least the ones I had read). In my mind, she was a full-fledged woman with hopes, dreams and desires, not the one-dimensional adulteress we usually see. In order to show that I set out to tell her whole life story, not just the part that involves Arthur. That meant dreaming up a youth for her in Daughter and imagining her heading into old age in Mistress of Legend. I feel like I’ve told the best possible story I could and did as much as possible to redeem her from the stain of sin past literature has laid upon her. 

Apparently others think so as well. I sent an ARC of Mistress to my friend and fellow author Tyler Tichelaar so he could review it on his website. He liked it so much, I ended up using the opening of the review as a blurb on the cover. But the part that brought tears to my eyes was this line: “She has given back to Guinevere, an often overlooked and derided figure, her dignity and endowed her with a true personality.” Mission accomplished.

Completing a trilogy is no small feat. There were years upon years where I wondered if I could do it and feared I could not. I remember burning with jealousy the day one of my friends completed her first series. But now all I feel is tremendous accomplishment and pride. I want to jump up and down and yell “I did it!  I did it! I did it! I did it!” 

More than that, I feel like each book on the series got better as I grew as a writer. One of my biggest fears was that my story would end up like so many other trilogies and peter out or go totally off track in the last book. (Breaking Dawn, anyone?) In fact, I feel like this is the strongest book in the series, and early reviews are indicating the same.

Now I face for the first time in nearly two decades a future without Guinevere. (Well, not totally. She’ll be one of the point of view characters in Isolde’s story whenever I get around to writing that.) I will  be forever grateful for all she as done for me. She was meant to get me started in my career, and I know she will gracefully cede the stage to the characters who come next. I just hope this trilogy is repayment enough.

PS – If you want to catch up, Daughter of Destiny and Camelot’s Queen are only $0.99 for a limited time…

PPS – For those who know of my obsession with the band Kill Hannah, the reference in the title of this blog to “a wild dream achieved” comes from their song “Believer.” 

Are You a Successful Writer?

There are a lot of ways to measure success. For some, just accomplishing a goal, like finishing a book, is a success. For others, it’s getting that book published. And for others still, it’s a measure of money that determines if they’re a success.

In the publishing world there are a lot of misconceptions. Some still hold that self-publishing isn’t as prestigious as traditional publishing. It certainly is a much harder road to travel if you aren’t already a well-established author and/or personality with a base of readers who are going to jump on the publication of your book and boost you through the sales rankings. But, even without that, self-publishing is just as viable an option.

I didn’t have a base when I started publishing. I still get a little defensive when someone asks me if they can find my book on a shelf at Barnes and Nobel. My first year I counted every single sale because they were so few and far between.

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But.

Since then? In the seven years I’ve been self-published? I’ve made more money from book sales than many, many traditionally published writers. I carried my household as my partner built his business.

But.

Like so many industries, book sales are cyclical. And the lows feel very, very low. So most writers have a second job if their partners can’t carry the financial load alone. Yes, I said “second” job, not “day” job because writing is a job. A lot of writers can’t let go of the idea that writing isn’t a job because we often think of writing as a vanity—a hobby. But it’s not. It’s a job. There are days when I’ve had a marathon of words or a particularly difficult scene to write, and I’ve walked away from my desk exhausted, struggling to remember words, and needing to veg out. Just like a “day” job.

There was a second misconception there: that a successful writer shouldn’t need another job outside of writing.

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This one is hard for me. Not that I think that of other writers, but that I think that of myself. Like I said, financially, I’ve been successful in writing, but that doesn’t mean I’m immune to the cycles of book sales. And I’ve had side hustles related to writing; I offer professional beta reading and content editing. But that’s not steady work for me. My partner works very hard and we’ve traded carrying the financial load throughout our relationship. But I knew it was time that I looked for a second job outside of writing again.

It’s a hard pill to swallow. I was doing so well, I shouldn’t need to do this! But. I just can’t, as prolific as I have been, I can’t pump out a book a month or every other month to keep up with the new generation of self-publishers who do this. I’m not formulaic and my stories take energy and power from me. I can only give so much.

But as soon as I made this decision, and as soon as I saw the first money in my bank account from this decision, a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I almost passed out from relief it was so over-whelming.

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And now I don’t feel guilt from taking time to write. I’m actually excited to get back to writing. No, you shouldn’t ever feel guilty writing, but I’m just telling you where I was in my headspace. I want to enjoy writing and I can’t if I feel guilt, even if that guilt is totally self-imposed.

So if you’re in the place where you think you aren’t a “real” writer if you have a “day” job or if you’ve been a writer and can’t quit said day job to be a full-time writer or if you are a full-time writer and realize the bills are closing in and need to get a second job, none of it matters. None of it takes one tiny piece of your success away. I’ve met best-seller listers who are baristas at Starbucks.

You can’t write if you can’t pay your bills.

So go get that side hustle and be proud of it, just don’t forget to claim your writing time. That’s the job you really love, give it the attention it deserves.

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Behind the Scenes of Self Publishing–Paperback Edition

As you know, if you’ve been following along with my posts, I have a new release coming out on June 1st–less than a month away, EEEEEP!

Being self-published that means a few different things than it does for a traditionally published writer–including being able to try out a Friday release instead of the traditional Tuesday. And, as we’re all writers here, offering insight into the whole writing process, I thought I’d share a little bit of that with you guys.

The beginning is exactly the same. We all start with a spark of inspiration, then develop that into a story, then kill ourselves over the next 4 to 156 weeks trying to write the damn thing.

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Then we put the book away (or at least, we should). For me, I’ll set a book aside for between 1 to 6 weeks depending on how difficult the book was to write. Then I print it out and go over it for revisions/edits/plot holes/etc. Then I put those changes into the computer. It’s at this point I awkwardly ask betas/critique partners to read it for me.

And then you wait.

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Once I get it back from them I compare notes. Then it’s revision time again.

Then, on to the editor!

Some self-published writers will try to avoid this step because it is the most expensive step, but there’s a reason for that: editing is the most important thing you can do after you’ve written the book. You need an editor to rip that thing apart and fix it. I don’t care how awesome you are. I have a New York Times best selling author I used to love, but I could tell when she finally made it to the point where she could include a no-edit clause in her contracts. I don’t read her books anymore.

At this point, when the book is with my editor, I’ll start on the cover. Now, depending on the book, either I will do it myself, or I’ll hire a digital artist. I cannot stress this enough, if you are not savvy with digital art, don’t do this yourself. I will only do simple covers. If my cover is for something more magical or detailed, I hire someone experienced. And when I do it myself, I don’t just pick a stock photo and stick my title on it in a white bar in simple font. I edit and digitally paint/alter the photo to fit the mood of the book.

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An example of something I feel comfortable enough doing myself.

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And something I would have commissioned because holy crap, how do you even?

I pour over my title in fonts until I find the right one–just picking out the fonts can take me a few days–even if I’m having the cover commissioned, I like to pick out the fonts unless my artist has a better one in mind, which she often does. I go through photo sites for the cover for days until I find the one(s). I spend at least a week in my art program putting the cover together, usually mocking up three to choose from before I’m sure I’ve made something that fits the book and sells it. This takes a lot of time even without all the tricks my preferred cover artist does. Your cover is important. Even if you’re not going to do hard or paperbacks, the cover is still important. When someone is scrolling through the Zon or B&N or Kobo or wherever, the cover might make them stop and look at your book.

(If you’re on a tight budget, the two things I would recommend you spend your money on are an editor and a cover artist. And if you’d like to use mine, you can find my editor here and my cover artist here.)

Usually this is when I’ll set up pre-orders. Now that all the online retailers have finally allowed Self-Pubbers to set up pre-orders, we can finally get in on that action. Once I have the cover ready, I’ll write my book blurb and set it up the pre-order pages with temporary files for the manuscript (once you have the final draft, you come back and upload the final file before the publication date).

Now, once the book is edited and the ebooks are all taken care of, I’ll start on the paperback.

No, self-published writers don’t sell nearly as many physical books as traditionally published authors do. But I like to have the option. I just do paperback, mostly because I have so many titles, setting them up with hardback would be cost prohibitive for me. With Createspace I can get my paperback onto all the online retailers including libraries and BookBub.

And they have a guided, step-by-step process to help you get your book ready for publication.

You pick your book trim size and they give you a Word template to format the interior of your book. At this point, you want to make sure your line spacing, font size, page numbers, and chapter headings look good. Don’t forget your title page, your copyright page, your table of contents, dedication if you want, all before the first chapter page.

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Then, once you have that sorted, you can tell the site your dimensions (book size, paper color, page length) to get a cover template. This is the file you would send to your cover artist to ask them to expand your cover to a paperback cover. Or you use it yourself to make yours.

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Then, once CS approves it (or emails you and tells you you screwed up, fix it please and you do it all over again and again until you get it right), this is what it looks like.

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Another cover I did myself — I even took the photo on the back cover!

And you can see what the inside looks like too!

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You can either approve the digital proof or, and I highly recommend this, you order a proof copy to be printed and mailed to you so you can see if the printing is perfect or screwed up.

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See how the spine wrapped around to the front cover on the top one, but not on the bottom one.

But, once it’s all done, and all perfect, then you can step back and admire your beautiful books on a bookshelf.

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This isn’t for the impatient. I promise you. Yes, there are people who you can pay to go through all of this for you. You tell them what you want your book to look like and they’ll do all the formatting for you and just email you the files you need to upload to CS and be done with it. And if you have the budget for it, go for it. But if you don’t, with a little patience and practice, you can do this yourself, I promise.

The Tax Man Cometh…Or the Uncertain Future for Indies Under the Senate Tax Bill

Image purchased from Adobe Stock. My ability to write off my stock photography subscription would be eliminated under the current tax reform.

You guys, I am scared to death that the Senate tax reform is going to become law.

Before I go into why, a disclaimer: I am totally not a political person and I am not posting this to bring up anything about either party. In this article, I’m putting aside the ACA inclusion, the wins for big business, and other factors included in the proposal to focus solely on the concerns of small business owners, indie authors included.

At issue is the fact that small businesses – sole proprietors like myself, LLCs, S-corps and partnerships – are what is called “flow  through” or “pass through” businesses. This means that I don’t pay taxes as Lawson Gartner Publishing, even though that is my company. My business taxes pass through to me as an individual and I pay taxes on my business profits at a lower rate.

The way I understand it, the problem is that some corporations are managing to get away with being classified like us small business people and are therefore paying much lower tax rates than they should. Boo. (That’s as far as my understanding goes. Check out this article from Forbes or this one from The Washington Post for two experts’ takes.)

The biggest problem is that under the Senate’s tax reform, the itemized deductions we can currently take for professional memberships, conference travel, office expenses, marketing costs, etc. all go away. That is a death-blow to indie authors. Most of us have day jobs and can only afford to publish because we can write off these expenses. (This is in addition to many other deductions we would lose personally, like medical expenses, tax preparation costs, student loan interest, any mortgage interest above $10,000, etc.)

That means I am facing the possibility of going out of business if this law passes. Right now, I’m totally not managing my finances well – and I’m telling you that for the sake of transparency; we need more of that in the publishing world. I spend about 10x more than what I make. (Sad, but true. I’m working on that in 2018 since I now have two years of experience to help guide me.) When I get my tax refund each year, it’s about twice what I make and not quite a third of what I spend. That is not an insignificant amount and it’s what keeps me afloat (along with the income from my day job).

Besides lowering or eliminating my tax refund, what really sucks is I’d have to stop going to conferences, or at most only go to one a year because travel is expensive and many times the registration costs as much or more than your flight. Even though I don’t sell many books at those events, they are incredibly valuable for networking and learning. Plus, they give me a chance to expand my speaking career and attract new fans. While not doing this isn’t the end of the world, it’s a big blow to me professionally.

The silver lining is that even if the proposal passes, it doesn’t go into effect until at least 2022 (I’ve even heard as late as 2027). The way I see it, this means I have a few options for future business:

  1. Pray that I get a traditional publishing contract in the next four to 10 years and can stop relying on self-publishing. Ugh. I have four books in mind that I’m planning to try to traditionally publish once they are written, but I really don’t want to be beholden to the industry forevermore. I like being able to write what I want when I want, even if it isn’t “marketable.” I would really like to have the option to be a hybrid author in the future.
  2. Significantly scale back my self-publishing. Right now, I try to publish one or two books a year, which is all I have the time and money to do. (I’m still recovering financially from releasing four books in 2016.) My current pace is still considered slow, but it us adequate to keep my career going. According to conventional wisdom, if I slow down to a book year or every other year, I have very little chance of maintaining the momentum needed to make a decent showing as an indie author. But I will try it if I have to.
  3. Quit self-publishing all together, close my business and put all my eggs in the traditional publishing basket. See #1 above.

One thing is for certain: I won’t stop writing. I have stories that MUST be told or I will go crazy. Even if I have to stick them in a drawer for someone to publish after I’m dead, they will keep happening. But no one wants that to be the case, and I’m really uncertain of what the future will hold.

I very rarely contact my representatives, but I did for this. I highly doubt my voice will change the outcome, but I have to at least try when it is going to affect my livelihood, the thing that brings me more joy than anything else in the world. I have actually been praying about this. Those two things are all I can do.

And I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a day job that pays well that I can fall back on to pay my existing debt and, if I save, finance future projects. I can’t imagine how scared those whose only livelihood is their small business must feel. For me, this is about making my dreams come true; for so many it is about subsistence. All of this so that politicians can get a “win.” It’s just not right.

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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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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