About McKenna Dean

from shifters to 1950s paranormal investigators to contemporary love stories, romance lives here.

Her Dom’s Secret Past by Suzy Shearer

Please welcome Australian author Suzy Shearer to my blog today, as she shares with us a bit about her new release, Her Dom’s Secret Past. I love that Suzy features older characters in her stories–it’s a delight to read about characters in their fifties finding scorching love!

 

Her Dom’s Secret Past

by Suzy Shearer

 

Heat Rating: Level 3

Word Count: 86,000

 

http://www.evernightpublishing.com/her-doms-secret-past-by-suzy-shearer

https://www.amazon.com/B07BLVV63M 

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/her-doms-secret-past-suzy-shearer/1128246056?ean=2940155179498

When Anabelle Rowley, fifty-five, takes a two-week break at an exclusive beach-front villa, she meets a man—but not just any man. Instead, this one ticks every box on her imaginary boyfriend list.

For fifty-two-year-old John Ethan, going on a short vacation to recover from injury and moving to Australia comes rather fast. Imagine his surprise when he meets a woman who arouses his every desire. 

Their holiday romance ignites fires in them both and this is something real, something long-lasting. But when Anabelle has to leave suddenly, neither has a way of finding the other again.

Will they ever be able to locate each other? And if they do, then John must reveal a secret, a secret that he fears Anabelle will never understand.

 

This is an erotic romance. There are explicit sexual descriptions and explicit language used throughout. It may offend some readers.

 

STORY EXCERPT:  

Somehow, I’d managed to keep on my feet when the big wave crashed over Anabelle and me. She surfaced, spluttering, and I held out a hand. She let me help her up and I held her hand a little longer than necessary.

“Thank you, John.”

“You’re welcome. That was one big wave.”

“Sure was, but it’s fun.”

She was still grinning and I couldn’t help myself. I leaned toward her and our lips touched.

It was all I’d dreamed of and more. It was electrifying.

Our kiss was soft, tender, and a little unsure until I felt her press toward me. I put a hand behind her head and deepened the kiss. Oh yeah, I could get used to this.

We finally separated and gazed at each other. Her eyes had dilated slightly and her lips parted as she stared into my eyes.

“I couldn’t resist.”

“I … neither could I, John.”

“I’d certainly like to do it again.”

“Then maybe you should.”

We stood there, the waves crashing around us, as I kissed her again. This time I took my time reveling in the taste of her, mixed with the salty water. Her hands pressed against my chest.

When we stopped, I whispered, “I’ve wanted to kiss you since I first saw you reading.”

“You have?”

I nodded and traced her lips. Her eyes seemed to shut of their own accord as my fingers explored her gorgeous, full mouth. When she opened her eyes, I decided I should kiss her again.

It was wild.

The surf pounding against us, the sound of the ocean, and Anabelle in my arms. Another big wave hit us and sent us both under. I grabbed her hand as we fought our way back up to the surface.

“Sadly I have to accept that kissing and big waves don’t mix very well.”

She gave another of her lovely carefree laughs.

© Suzy Shearer 2018 

 

LINKS – WHERE TO FIND SUZY:                                                         

Website :  http://www.suzyshearer.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SuzyS

Blog:  http://suzyshearer.blogspot.com.au

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/SuzyShearer

Twitter : https://twitter.com/SuzyShearer

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/sooziiis

Linkedin: http://au.linkedin.com/in/suzyshearer

Publisher: http://www.evernightpublishing.com/suzy-shearer/

Publisher: http://www.bookstrand.com/suzy-shearer

Email her at: suzyshearer@optusnet.com.au

 

A FEW LINKS WHERE TO BUY:

Amazon: http://amzn.com/B07BLVV63M

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com

BIO:

Author Suzy Shearer writes contemporary and paranormal erotic romances filled with mature and interesting characters. Her book Build A Love was runner-up in the Ménage category in the Easy Chair Bookshop’s Fiction competition 2015 and A Hunter’s Heart was runner-up in the Series Category. Perfect Three reached #20 on Amazon’s Top Paid 100 Bestsellers in the erotic/interracial category while Build A Love was #8 on Amazon’s list in the erotic/ménage category.

In 2017 Suzy was nominated for the Best Established Author in the Australian Romance Today Readers’ Choice Award. She made it through all the rounds to reach the finals against some extremely talented and well-known Australian Romance Authors.

 A Buddhist, Suzy is single and lives in the Western Suburbs of Sydney, Australia with one very spoilt dog and two equally spoilt cats keeping her company. 

Her books always feature older heroes and heroines; ranging from mid 40s to 60s. The heroines are usually confident plus-sized women who are proud of their curves. Suzy feels it’s important for readers to connect.  When she discovered many romance books seemed to cater for younger readers with their heroines and heroes in the 20s she decided to write about characters who were older but maybe not always wiser.  As she is in her 60s Suzy feels she can relate to her characters desires, fears and hopes and hopes her readers can as well.

Suzy also wants her readers to understand just because people are older doesn’t mean they aren’t intriguing, desirable, open to challenges and willing to experiment.  Sexy isn’t just for the under 30s.

When Suzy is not writing, she is usually painting – an accomplished watercolour Artist her subjects range from portraits and animals to nudes and landscapes. 

http://sooziiiart.blogspot.com/

 

 

E-BOOKS OUT NOW

The Club series

The Club: Bound

The Club 2: Uncollared           

The Club 3: Waxed

The Club 4: Displayed

The Club 5: Submit

The Club 6: Unmasked

 

The Hunters series

A Hunter’s Heart – Book 1

A Hunter’s Choice – Book 2

A Hunter’s Challenge – Book 3

 

Dark Desires series

(each book is a standalone)

Whipped Delights      

Craving Her Master   

Melting Her Dom’s Heart

An Artist’s Kiss

Elephants and Ever-Afters

 

Single Titles

Daemons Are Forever

Build a Love

Perfect Three

Her Dom’s Secret Past

                                                 

PAPERBACKS OUT NOW

Vol 1 – The Club (Bound and Uncollared)

Vol 2 – The Club (Waxed and Displayed)

Vol 3 – The Club (Submit and Unmasked)

A Hunter’s Heart

A Hunter’s Choice

A Hunter’s Challenge

Perfect Three

Daemons Are Forever

Build A Love

Whipped Delights

Craving Her Master
Melting Her Dom’s Heart

An Artist’s Kiss

Elephants and Ever-Afters

 

Dear KU: Why I’m breaking up with you

Dear KU:

This is going to be hard for me to say, but I think we should stop seeing each other.

I know that the time-honored tradition is to say it’s not you, it’s me, but I can’t. The truth is, it is you.

See, I think you’re an abuser.

You come in with great promises. I confess, they sounded fantastic. And others sang your praises. It seemed like such a loving relationship between a distributor and an author. Writers were making money, enough to quit their day jobs and concentrate on writing full-time, and in this profession that’s the Holy Grail of promises. Who wouldn’t leap at that?

Sure, the clause about exclusivity niggled a bit. Since we’re being frank here, it bugged me a lot. But my fellow authors told me that if a book wasn’t in KU, it had little hope of reaching bestseller status within a genre, and a quick glance at sales rankings seemed to support this. I worried I was giving you too much power in this relationship, but there weren’t a lot of good options out there. Besides, the risk that you’d abuse that power was all theoretical, all down the road. Some day. Not today.

But the thing I didn’t count on was the need to feed you more and more stories in order to make your magic work for me. That’s my fault, not yours. I’m incapable of cranking out a story every couple of weeks, and the idea of collaborating on a large scale with other authors under one pen name just wasn’t a good fit for me for that reason as well. So I shouldn’t have been disappointed that my stories haven’t done well in KU. There’s a lot of competition. I’ve waffled back and forth on whether I should stay in or not. I’ve put books in and taken them out. Either way, it seemed to make little difference. The reported success stories of other authors and their exclusive relationship with you would seem to suggest that it’s more me than you.

Or that could be you, gaslighting me.

Either way, I’m done waffling. I’m saying goodbye. 

The scammers are collecting the lion’s share of your pot, and it’s obvious the system is frequently manipulated. I fully believe #cockygate wouldn’t have existed without the favorable environment created by your system. The author in question is a KU All Star. I think protecting that status is what drove the author to TM the word “cocky” and prevent any books with “cocky” in the title from being sold. Not because Amazon doesn’t have a generous return policy for those people who accidentally get a book by mistake, but because people reading other books with ‘cocky’ in the title aren’t reading hers.

Because it’s all about that page count.

You know, the page count that’s been affected by glitches that you refuse to fix. The one where you can’t tell us exactly how you determine page counts, but that’s the criteria for which we get paid–fractions of a penny for every page read, by the way. Slivers.You know, the system that  benefits us until you release your bots in an attempt to get ahead of the scammers, and then lops off heads at will with little room for recourse.

Now, I’m hearing fellow authors saying they’ve been shut out of their accounts because you have accused them of manipulating the system when they only thing they’ve done is run a promotion through your own service. Not just one or two, but widespread. I know, I know, you’re trying to get the scammers, but you keep netting the innocent instead. (Any author who would like to appeal can reach out to content-review@amazon.com if they have additional questions. The Indie Author Support Network is also seeking documentation. A quote from them: 
We are continuing to compile information and ask that anyone who has had their account suspended and/or books removed from sale on the Kindle platform, to please provide any documentation you have to indie@indieauthorsupportnetwork.com. We are looking for cases of ACTUAL suspension and content removal at this time. We understand the loss of page reads is also a major concern, but the account suspension matter has our top priority.)

Here’s the thing. It’s not worth it to me. Even without KU, 80% of my sales are through Amazon. The reason is clear–the Kindle is amazing and the website is superior. I get most of my own books (and nearly everything else) through Amazon. One of the factors in Barnes and Noble’s failure to compete is that their website is horrible. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to redeem a coupon or credit and have been unable to do so. Or I follow the link to B&N to check out a special deal, only I have to log in at least three times before I can get to the page I want. I give up. Every time. I shop Amazon because it’s so easy.

So why not give Amazon the whole 100%?

Because we as authors can’t afford to have you shut down our accounts over some KU nonsense. Boom, the decree comes down and we are out of business. It’s hard enough to be an indie author without risking the ire of an impersonal god whose army of bot minions do all the dirty work. Like hiding works from buyers because they fell into an algorithm black hole. Or deciding to decrease the visibility of erotica and then mislabeling many romances as erotica. Your decisions are arbitrary enough without the exclusivity clause. I can’t afford to give you that much power over me.

We should all be thinking about what will happen to the publishing industry once Amazon owns it all. We’re already at a state where books have been devalued to the point of slivers of a penny.

Which is why I circled back to my original impression of you, KU. You’re bad for me. You’ve created a mindset where readers demand stories faster than I can produce them for ‘free’, a price I can’t afford. And while I’m not the world’s best writer–not hardly–I love stories too much to burn them as fodder for your KU fire.

When my run ends on my current promotion, we’re done, KU. We’re done.

 

 

 

Oh, What a C*ck-up!

For those of you who haven’t yet caught up with the events associated with #cockygate, this is a great post on it here, and a Twitter thread here. 

Both sum up matters nicely, as well as bring up the implications and legal questions such an action raises.

Disclaimer: I am not a copyright lawyer and do not pretend to understand the ins and outs of the case. I am only presenting the information as I understand it.

The short version is this: Kindle All Star Faleena Hopkins (who also has written under the name Sabrina Lacey) filed trademark claims for the word ‘cocky’ as used in her series of stories surrounding a never-ending family known as the Cocker Brothers, as well as the specific font used in the titles of her books. The trademark now gives her the right to send cease and desist orders to every author with a book containing ‘cocky’ in the title. They are given the choice of changing titles or facing a potential lawsuit.

Author Jamila Jasper received a C&D email from Hopkins, which she then shared with social media.

 

Ms. Hopkins does not deny sending this email, and in fact responds to the sharing of it in various places on social media. It begs the question as to why Ms. Hopkins sent this email herself and not through her lawyer. The answer may lie in the fact many authors might choose to comply with the implied threat rather than face a lawsuit they cannot afford to defend. And it costs Ms. Hopkins zilch in lawyer’s fees to do so. This cover change is being held up as an example of one compliant author. And the recent title change of another book makes readers question if the author was forced to do so or chose to do so rather than be embroiled in the current debacle.

Ms. Hopkins states in a Facebook post that she is not out to take author’s livelihoods but to prevent her brand from being diluted and that changing a tile is no big deal to authors and costs them nothing. She also has claimed it is necessary to protect her readers from sadly buying the wrong books by mistake. (Um, you’ve noticed that Amazon has a very generous return policy on books, right?)

In her view, changing a title is no big deal. Unless it comes just before the romance convention season, when banners, swag, and advertising have already been ordered. Not if you count the cost of redoing entire pages if you’re a graphic artist, or paying for new covers. Re-recording audio files. Not to mention, losing readers who are looking for a title that no longer exists–but oh look, happen to head to the CockyTM author’s works.

Indie publishing is NOT cheap, by the way. It can cost somewhere between $1-2 K per story and there’s no guarantee you’ll see your ROI back.

Though not directly related, except as it goes to show the mindset behind the brand, Ms. Hopkins alleges her readers were also upset at seeing the cover models she’s used (stock industry images) appear on other covers. And that as a result, she was one of the first indie authors to photograph her own covers. (Spoiler: she’s not)

Then there is also this:

Ironically, the font she trademarked is copyrighted by the creator, so trademarking it may be in violation of copyright here, according to the creator’s Terms of Use.

Irony number two: Same author apologized to the romance community for titling a book “Cocky Solider” when the MC, a Marine, would never refer to himself as a solider. Marines are Marines, thank you very much. Even after being informed of this by an actual Marine, Ms. Hopkins apparently stuck by her original title, stating in her apology letter that it was not possible to change the title as books had already been pre-ordered and it would cost too much to make the switch at the last minute.

Irony number three: Same author allegedly has a MC whom she depicts as a member of the Atlanta Falcons football team. Which is trademarked. And the NFL has a history of strongly defending their trademarks.

Let’s set aside whether or not the TM commission should have granted the TM. It’s being contested. You can sign the petition here

Trademarking ‘cocky’ would be the equivalent of J.K. Rowling not trademarking “Harry Potter”, but just “Harry” and forbidding anyone to use the word Harry in the title of a story ever again. Harry Potter is a distinct entity created by Rowling. Harry in the generic, is not. This would be like E.L. James trademarking “Shades”.  Fifty Shades of Grey is trademarked. It’s a franchise. The word “Shades” is not. There is no special brand associated with that. Not even Ray Bans. The word has existed and been used long before FOSG made it a household name. To make the example truly ridiculous, it would be as if I attempted to TM ‘shifter’ and banned the use of the word in every paranormal romance title featuring the same.

Speaking of E.L. James, that author appears to have thrown some shade at Ms. Hopkins by suggesting her bank holiday read would be a popular book with “Cocky” in the title that pre-dates Ms. Hopkin’s series.

The implications of this maneuver are huge. Not just in the romance genre but across the board in the entertainment industry. Romance Twitter is being utterly inventive and vicious with their #byefaleena and #cockygate hashtags, with authors are retaliating by posting remade covers of their stories ALL renamed with “Cocky” in the title, and changing their Twitter handles to include “Cocky” in their name. There’s currently a request for stories for an anthology: The Cocky Cockers. They are soliciting romance stories from all genres, that must feature a cocker spaniel, around 5 K words and submitted by 5/31/18. I’m tempted. Sorely tempted.

But the underlying concern is real. The petition to cancel the trademark was started. The Romance Writer’s Association has asked any members (and now non-members too) who have been contacted by Ms. Hopkins to get in touch with them, and they are currently talking with an IP lawyer.

Imagine if someone decided to TM “Duke”. The impact on Regency historicals would be unreal. Or what about “Love”? Can you imagine having the gall to email Elizabeth Gilbert and tell her she has to rename Eat, Pray, Love?

Sadly, for the hundreds of people I see outraged, I am also seeing people nod and say what a great idea this is–and you can see them considering being the first to ‘snag’ a popular word to claim for their very own. I’m also hearing readers say they no longer search Amazon for romance titles because the system is so gamed. Some authors have been known to place their books with all-white characters in ‘diverse’ categories because it is easier to get a ‘bestseller’ label in a smaller niche. This practices goes along with page-stuffing in KU–something I didn’t understand until I read this description on one of the KU boards:

Page stuffing is the practice of putting additional, full-length novels in the back of another novel to inflate page count (for the purposes of increasing KU payout) – usually paired with some kind of inducement for readers to click to the end, past the content they likely own already (as it’s novels already on sale in the Kindle Store). This inducement often takes the form of an exclusive short story, or special offer.

Of course, this only works if the book is enrolled in KU. And it is definitely against Amazon and KDP’s TOS, so if you come across something like that, it’s not allowed. From my understanding, authors may tuck as many as three to four other books in the same series in a KU book in this manner. Supposedly, Amazon has fixed the ‘skipped pages’ thing that was making this profitable, but I’m hearing that’s not necessary true.

What IS allowed is a sneak-peek excerpt, or a first chapter of another work as a teaser. Most authors do this. It’s considered normal.

Why do I bring this up? Someone on Twitter explained that a successful KU author–even if the name was unknown to the general population–could be looking at grossing 20-50 K a month writing romances. A month. (Quite possibly spending 1-15 K in advertising to hit Kindle All Star status, but still…) Obviously, I’m going about this writing romance business all wrong.

It explains why someone might choose to go this route, even though they have earned the enmity of Romancelandia–and possibly destroyed their own writing career. To go “Full Faleena” has already become a catch-phrase on how to shoot a successful career in the foot.

Author Jenni M Rose on Twitter related what happened when she realized she had  named a book after a popular series and reached out to the author, Mari Carr. This resulted in #BeAMari becoming a hashtag. This is the classy way to deal with perceived competition.

 

I confess, I had to laugh when I saw this post. Someone has already taken a Chuck Tingle approach in response.

Right-o, then. The object lesson here? Be a Mari.

If you have issues with the ramifications of being allowed to TM a word to prevent it from being used in romance titles, I suggest you sign the petition to cancel the trademark as listed above. Don’t berate the author on social media. Don’t one-star her books. The author has every right to TM her series, especially, as it seems, she has hopes of making movies based on them. My problem stems from trademarking a word that has been used in titles long before Ms. Hopkins laid claim to it. The Cocker Brothers might be her brand, but I dispute that she should have the sole right to use ‘cocky’ in a book title.

Hopefully, the TM commission will see this as well, cancel the TM, and we can all move  on.

UPDATE: Author and retired lawyer, Kevin Kneupper, has filed a challenge to the ‘cocky’ trademark.

Civil Hearts by Claire Gem: Love, Loss, and Ghosts? Tell Me More!

Please welcome Claire Gem as she shares with us her exciting new story: Civil Hearts!

Thank you, McKenna, for hosting me on your blog today! I’m excited to announce my new release, CIVIL HEARTS, is now available for both Kindle and in paperback. There’s an interesting story behind the story . . . but first, here’s the blurb:

 

He’s a sexy Southern gentleman—with epilepsy. She’s a widow scarred from her husband’s brain cancer. Her new home is haunted by a Confederate soldier—and she’s a Yankee.

 

A widow with no family, web designer Liv Larson yearns for big change. After all, she can work from anywhere, right? Why not throw a dart at the map? She heads out of the big city for the rural South and falls in love as soon as she arrives—with the Belle Bride, an abandoned antebellum mansion.

 

Heath Barrow loves his country life, managing his antiques store in sleepy Camellia. But he’s lonely, and his condition—epilepsy—makes life uncertain. It’s already cost him a marriage. A new medication and the new girl in town have his heart hopeful again.

 

Sparks fly between Heath and Liv. But his first seizure sends Liv into a tailspin. Its mimics those her husband suffered before he died . . .

 

To make matters worse, Liv discovers she’s not living alone. Her challenge? Dealing with a Confederate soldier, one who clearly resents his Yankee roommate—even though he’s been dead for over a hundred and fifty years.

 

~~~

 

The idea for Civil Hearts came to me in a dream. Believe it or not, this is how a LOT of my story ideas come to me, but there is a shred of true history here. Years ago, when my kids were still little, my husband and I fancied moving to central Alabama, where some friends of ours had relocated. We took a trip there, loved the countryside and the low cost of living.

 

A realtor took us around to look at a few homes—and one of them was a dead ringer for the Belle Bride. The memories of walking through that abandoned antebellum home have been buried in my subconscious for years. I got a funny, tingly sensation as we toured the lovely but poorly cared for old home, as if someone were watching us. And there was an old barn out back where I caught sight of something, some movement, I never did identify.

 

We didn’t move to Alabama, and I forgot about that chapter in my life. Until I dreamed about it. Only this time, there was a Confederate soldier pounding on the front door. A ghostly one.

 

In Civil Hearts, my hero is epileptic. I tend to address some of life’s more serious issues in my novels: the hero in Spirits of the Heart is an alcoholic; the heroine in The Phoenix Syndrome goes deaf. I think it’s important for authors to portray life as it really is, even in the romantic fairy tales we create. It’s one of the reasons I endeavor to evoke more emotion in my readers.

 

You can buy your copy of CIVIL HEARTS here.

The book trailer (which I had a blast putting together, by the way!) is here.

 

I hope you enjoy Liv and Heath’s journey, and I’d love if you’d sign up for my Author-Reader group so you’re the first to know when the next Haunted Voices, SIRENS OF SALT, will be released later this summer.

 

Thank you again, McKenna, for hosting me today.

My pleasure, Claire! I’m really intrigued by your story! 

 

Claire Gem’s Bio: Strong Women, Starting Over

   ~Redefining Romance~

Claire is a multi-published, award winning author of six titles in the genres of contemporary romance, supernatural suspense, and women’s fiction. She also writes Author Resource guide books and presents seminars on writing craft and marketing.

 

Her supernatural suspense, Hearts Unloched, won the 2016 New York Book Festival, and was a finalist in the 2017 RONE Awards. Also in 2017, her women’s fiction, The Phoenix Syndrome, was a finalist in the National Reader’s Choice Awards, and her contemporary romance, A Taming Season, was a Literary Award of Merit finalist in the HOLT Medallion Awards. Her latest release, Spirits of the Heart, was a finalist in the 2017 “I Heart Indie Awards.”

 

Creating cross-genre fiction she calls “supernatural suspense,” Claire loves exploring the paranormal and the unexplained, and holds a certificate in Parapsychology from the Rhine Research Center of Duke University.

 

A New York native, Claire has lived in five of the United States and held a variety of jobs, from waitress to bridal designer to research technician—but loves being an author best. She and her happily-ever-after hero, her husband of 39 years, now live in central Massachusetts.

 

Media Links

 

Website:                      http://www.clairegem.com

Blogs:                          http://www.clairegem.wordpress.com

                                    http://www.hauntedpathways.wordpress.com

Facebook:                    http://www.facebook.com/clairegem.author

Twitter:                       http://www.twitter.com/gemwriter

Goodreads:                  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8284235.Claire_Gem

Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/2nabvbm

Youtube Channel:        https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCO-vB7WDZhEQ8U4YpC937ng

 

 

 

 

Introducing WIP Wednesday!

A writer I follow, Bryn Dononvan, does this thing on her blog called WIP Wednesday. It’s so much fun–and I get so much out of reading about other people’s process–that I’ve decided to give it a whirl here. I decided the first Wednesday of each month would be ideal.

Here’s how to play. I’m going to post a snippet from my WIP, Ghost of a Chance. It’s the second in the Redclaw Security series and is another standalone featuring Casey Barnes, a wolf shifter and former Redclaw agent, and Sarah Atwell, a young woman with a big secret in her past. Both she and Casey are snowed in at her grandmother’s horse farm, bequeathed to Sarah with conditions.Strange accidents raise red flags for Casey, especially as the incidents escalate in seriousness.

I’m going to post my excerpt here below. I invite you to share a little something about your WIP and post a snippet in the comments as well. Let’s keep the excerpts to around 500-600 words and please, let’s remember these are WIPs! No one expects it to be perfect–we all know these are rough drafts.

Here’s the thing–the more people who play along, the more fun it is. I love reading about what other people are working on, and adore getting a little snapshot into someone else’s world. Please share with anyone you think would like to play–all genres are welcome with some caveats: please, no explicit sex scenes and no graphic horror or violence. I don’t have an issue with those types of stories but it would be hard to police for trigger warnings, etc. And if your snippet might be potentially triggering for whatever reason, please warn for it. My thought is people from all walks of life will be dropping in to read and share. I don’t want anyone accidentally stumbling across something they’d rather not see.

Okay, here goes!

Casey shot her a piercing glance. After a beat, he said, “Oh, come on. I can’t believe you didn’t know your dad was teasing. You’re gorgeous. You know that right?”

Heat rushed into her cheeks, prickly and uncomfortable. “That’s very kind of you to say. But I grew up hearing how ugly I was, so it’s hard for me to accept compliments now. There’s always an element of ‘what do you want?’ when someone praises my looks. Before I met Simon, my mother said it was a good thing I was smart because no man was going to come along and take care of me. And as a teenager, she told me I would have to work twice as hard to make friends because I was doubly handicapped.”

She’d spoken without thinking, but it wasn’t until she saw the crease form between Casey’s eyes that she realized she’d have to explain. “Because of the glasses and… and the braces, I mean.”

Not because she was a secret shifter.

“That’s nuts.” The slight tick of Casey’s mouth indicated his disapproval. “And they were wrong.”

“I don’t know.” She gave a short laugh. “You should see the pictures of me as a kid.”

“I have. June has dozens of them all over the house. All I’ve ever seen was a horse-crazy girl who was delighted with life because she was in her element. The joy just shines out of your face in those photos. You were beautiful then and you’re beautiful now.”

“Joy doesn’t shine out of my face these days.”

I’m not bitter. Don’t sound bitter.

“Well, it should. Because nothing suits you better.” Casey finished off the last of his sandwich as though he’d won his point and there was nothing more to say.

“Thank you.” The need to squirm and protest against his words was strong, but she forced herself to sit still and accept them without qualifications or self-deprecation. Her only recourse was to change the subject. “What about you and your family? Are you close?”

Without moving a muscle, he seemed to withdraw. “It’s all good. We have a pretty tight relationship over the phone. Sometimes I think it’s hard for my dad to see me like this.” He tilted his hand toward his amputated leg.

“Parents can’t always be objective when it comes to their children.”

Casey snorted. “You can say that again.”

“The lesson got a renewal earlier today. My mother was quite clear losing Simon was my fault.”

Casey had been in the process of stacking his bowl on his plate but his gaze snapped up. “Okay, for starters you didn’t “lose” Simon.” He made finger quotes as he spoke. “That makes him sound like a pair of gloves or a cocker spaniel. Simon is a grown-ass man who decided to cheat on you. That’s totally different.”

The thought of Simon as a pampered show dog made her snort. “Yeah, but the relationship couldn’t have been healthy or it wouldn’t have happened. At least part of it has to be my fault. My mom would have me believe it was all my fault, however.”

“There are a lot of reasons why people cheat. I don’t hold with it myself. My family takes commitments seriously.”

There’d been an odd hesitation before he’d said the word family, as though he’d been about to say something else. Before she could question it, he went on. “I can see where someone might be desperately unhappy and seek comfort in the wrong place, but you don’t try to have to have your cake and eat it too. You man up, admit you’ve made a mistake, and end one relationship or the other. Not only did Simon not do that, but he stole from you as well. So you don’t really think this was all your fault, do you?”

Sarah gave a little shrug. “I suppose on some level I do, otherwise it wouldn’t hurt so much.”

Right. There you are. Now it’s your turn! 

The Key to Success is Persistence

Several years ago, I was warming up my horse for a dressage clinic when one of the women in the class asked, “Does he always just go on the bit like that?” Her tone was clearly one of admiring envy.

I had to laugh. ‘Going on the bit’ requires the horse to round his back and be compliant to the rider’s hands, the impulsion of movement coming from the hind end. It is a measure of the communication between horse and rider, and in certain disciplines, it is highly prized. It is impossible to do if the horse has his head flung up high and his back hollowed out.

I’d bought my horse as a three-year-old from a slaughterhouse, at the going rate of eighty-nine cents a pound. He was the world’s homeliest Saddlebred, a high-stepping breed designed to move with its head up in the air and back curved so that riding feels like you’re sitting in a rocking chair. He was the last horse anyone would expect to become a dressage champion, and when I first began appearing at the local shows, people shook their heads and wondered what I was doing there. Over a period of nearly a decade (and many hours of diligent training), we went from being the horse and rider that made people snicker to the team that came home with the ribbons.

The woman at the riding clinic was stunned when I told her of my horse’s background and how much work it had taken to make coming on the bit look natural for him. In the world of competitive riding, most people buy the right horse for the job. The right horse, the right saddle, the right boots, the best equipment money can buy: these can make a huge difference in where you place in the show ring. It doesn’t eliminate the need for disciplined training, but your starting point on the podium is higher simply by virtue of having an athletic horse and a saddle that prevents you from making a wrong move. However, I’ve seen sheer hard work and determination overcome genetics and natural ability. I competed with my meat-market Saddlebred because he was the only horse I had, and the hours I put in riding him were a labor of love. Winning ribbons wasn’t the goal. The horse shows just gave me a structure for the time we spent together.

So I have to laugh when people ask me if I’ve always been a writer, in that same sort of wondering, envious tone. As though having a natural gift for something is more valuable than working your butt off to achieve the same results. The truth is, I wrote passionately as a child, only to give it up entirely as a teenager because I didn’t think I was good enough to be a ‘real’ writer. I thought it was time to put away childish dreams and get on with the business of making a career for myself. I wasn’t a natural.

It wasn’t until I discovered online fanfiction archives as an adult that I rediscovered my love for writing. My creative self, having been ruthlessly starved and repressed for several decades, woke with a vengeance. I read everything I could lay my hands on regarding my favorite show, and then tentatively, I began writing my own stories. Not because I thought I was any good. Not because I ever thought I’d be any good. Because I loved the characters so much I wanted to spend more time with them. Because I felt compelled to tell stories about them and share them with like-minded souls. Over a three year period of time, I wrote over a million words of fanfic. The enthusiastic support of friends gave me the courage to try my hand at original fiction, and eventually go on to submit my stories for publication. Making the transition to original fiction was tougher than I’d imagined, but in the end it was no different from moving up a level in dressage: everything that was once seemed effortless becomes hard work as you increase the challenge and have to master a whole new set of skills.

Being a natural is over-rated. It tends to teach poor work habits because everything is easy for you at first, and then when it gets harder, as it always does, you get discouraged and frustrated because you’ve never learned how to put in the hours to reach a specific goal. If you want to get better at anything, you have to put your hours in: under saddle, swimming laps, on the dance floor, at the keyboard. You ‘train’ when you don’t feel like it, when it’s raining, when you’ve had a bad day. That’s what it’s like to be a writer, too.

One of my favorite quotes is from Calvin Coolidge:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

They are words to live by—but especially if you’re a writer. You don’t wait until the muse strikes you. You don’t let reviews sink your confidence. You don’t compare yourself to others. You write, pure and simple. Every day, without fail. You hone your skills by practicing. Your creativity is a muscle you exercise. The more you write, the stronger you get. The better your sentences become. Sure, you can sigh and wish you had more talent, but in the end, it is the person who puts the words to paper who is the winner. It is the person who persists who achieves their dream. That person can be you.

The Art of Accepting Compliments

My lilacs are at least twenty years old, having grown into enormous, rangy bushes that burst into lovely color every spring, filling the air around my house with their delicate scent. This is a photo taken last spring.The bushes were just starting to bud this year when a late April snow storm nipped them all. The buds all shriveled and died. The bushes themselves were damaged by the heavy, wet snow, with huge pieces breaking off and splintering down almost to the core.

I’ve been telling people this is a metaphor for my life lately. I’m only partly joking. The last 14 months of my life (oddly enough corresponding with the current Presidency, don’t think I haven’t noticed) have been very difficult. The damaged lilacs, just on the verge of blooming, seem very apt these days as a depiction of my life.

But recently I ran across a thread on Twitter that made me pause. It was about self-deprecation with respect to your writing, but this is something I struggle with in general:

 

I shared the tweet, adding my own comment, “Guilty. I’ve been digging that groove deeper every day of my life. The problem is self-praise sounds like bull sh*t to me. Gotta work on both issues.”

This resulted in one of my Twitter friends suggesting looking in a mirror every day and saying something nice to myself. We tweeted back and forth on the subject, but the truth is yesterday was a bad day in so many ways and my ability to believe I was anything other than a horrible human being and a talentless hack was nil. I wasn’t very encouraging or cheerful in response.

I’ve tried doing the positive affirmation thing. I even went so far once as to record a bunch of affirmations so I could listen to them daily in a kind of meditative state. I created a journal, lovingly decorated, where I could record my kick-ass affirmations too.

I make talismans for myself, like the I Know My Value bracelet (because I love the Peggy Carter quote so much) and my Persistence bracelet I got from MyIntent.org.

I do these things because every day I need to reverse the well-worn narrative that’s been playing in my head as long as I can remember–the one that I was taught so well I took over the lessons long after the original input ceased.

There’s a Facebook post that’s been circulating on my feed recently about Jim Carey and his self-belief in his comedic talent, even when he was shot down again and again in the early days. I find that kind of belief and persistence admirable, but I don’t understand how someone can have it. How someone can make themselves believe if the belief isn’t there in the first place.

There’s a great scene in the old Steve Martin movie Roxanne, where Martin’s Cyrano-type character Charlie is accosted in a bar by a jerk who attempts to insult him by calling him “Big Nose”. Charlie comes back with, “Is that all you’ve got?”

In the ensuing scene, Charlie insults himself with 20 better insults than the one he’s just received.

 

 

I confess, I have long identified with Charlie. I’ve always been of the mindset that you can’t say anything to hurt me because I’ve already said worse to myself. But at some point, what is a useful coping mechanism for getting through middle school becomes a chain around your legs that prevents you from getting what you want out of life.

The thing is, I’ve always been better at accepting insults than compliments. I don’t trust compliments. When someone compliments me out of the blue, I have a tendency to squint and think, “What do they want?” On the rare occasions a compliment comes my way, my response is always padded with qualifiers. Thank you, but this isn’t my best work. Thank you, but actually, I’ve gained weight. And so on.

I’m working on a conversation between characters in the current book about this very subject, where the heroine explains how difficult it is for her to believe compliments about her looks after growing up hearing how ugly she was. Because I think this is important. I think we need to stop running ourselves down–our appearance, the decisions we’ve made in life, our abilities, our intelligence–all of it. I was raised to believe self-deprecation was far more appropriate than arrogance, but the laughable thing is arrogance will never be one of my flaws. I’ll be lucky if I stretch up to reach a point of self-confidence.

And yet most days, it’s a struggle not to fall back into the old patterns. Probably because arrogance and ‘putting yourself forward’ were portrayed as something far uglier to me than believing in yourself. But I know the power of the mind. I know the things you tell yourself on a daily basis are the things that come true. Maybe you don’t look at yourself in the mirror and think how ugly/old/fat you are. But perhaps you tell yourself you don’t deserve that raise, or you aren’t that good a writer, or you’ll never get ahead, or bad things always happen to you. On the surface, these don’t seem like terrible things to say to yourself. You probably think they’re true. But are they really true or is it that your belief makes it so?

In the past week two compliments have come my way that I do trust because I trust the people who made them. The first came from a friend I’ve known since college, who is well-aware of my sensitivity toward aging. Out of the blue, she said, “I know you won’t believe me, but honestly, I can’t see any difference in your appearance now than ten years ago. It’s like you’ve stopped aging.”

Hahahahahaha. No seriously. I can see the changes, even if she can’t. But this friend isn’t prone to complimenting lightly just to do so, and I found myself oddly able to accept her kind words.

The second came last night. I’d had a horrible day to cap off an extremely stressful couple of weeks. Tearfully, I expressed to the SO that I wasn’t sure how much more I could take, given the past year. He had me sit down while he made dinner. He went all out–grilling steak kabobs with baked potatoes, and serving them with apple pie, salted caramel ice cream, and a bottle of Merlot. All my favorites.

And then he apologized for not realizing sooner I was struggling. “You just always seem so resilient.”

Resilient. I like that. I like to believe that’s true, and so it is easier for me to accept the compliment without any added ‘buts’. It also makes it easier for me to lift up my chin when the Next Bad Thing comes down the pike and say, “Yeah, I got this. I’m resilient.”

Those are the kinds of words–the ones I can believe in–that make it possible to undo some of the harm of a lifetime of negative self-chatter. 

Remember the lilac bush that isn’t blooming this year? The one that is such a perfect metaphor for my life right now?

I just took this picture just a few minutes ago.

Huh.

Well, what do you know?

 

 

Follow the Wolf Pack Giveaway!

Wolf Pack Promotions is doing a cool giveaway–from now until April 13th, every follow earns you an entry in their giveaway for two $25 Amazon gift cards and two $5 Amazon gift cards!

To enter is simple: follow the Wolf Pack on Facebook, sign up for their newsletter, and follow each of the authors listed on their Amazon pages (links provided). How easy is that? You’ll get the latest updates and news on new releases and sales from your favorite shifter authors with just a simple click!

Speaking of shifters, if you haven’t already done so, you’ll get a free sexy short story set in the Redclaw universe when you sign up for my newsletter!

 

And if you hurry, you might be able to grab a copy of The Panther’s Lost Princess at the current sale price of only 99 cents. Price is going back up in less than 72 hours!

Be sure and stay tuned for snippets on my upcoming Redclaw novel, Ghost of a Chance. Looking toward a June 2018 release!

 

Wake Up Call No. 457

It’s no secret that I’ve had a staggering amount of loss in the past year. I’ve alluded to it before. If I gave all these losses and traumas to a single character in one of my stories, readers would howl at the unbelievable plot.

Loss of communities and my own sense of identity as I re-brand myself as an author in a new genre with a new pen name. Death of multiple pets and family members. Earlier this week, my brother who’d been battling cancer for some time, lost his fight. Next week, I will be attending my third funeral in a year.

The last conversation I had with him was a good one. He spoke of his plans for his celebration of life service, and visiting with old friends who’d made special trips to see him one more time. How the love of his life was also his best friend, and how he was glad he hadn’t waited to travel and do the things most people do once they retire. I was glad he’d reached a point of peace and acceptance in his world full of pain, but I was struck by one statement in particular.

“I have no regrets.”

I honestly couldn’t say the same. It’s not that I’ve made terrible decisions in my life, but the choices I’ve made have locked me into certain pathways from which I can’t escape. Most of those decisions were based on following a calling and choosing a way of life I thought best suited to my personality, but the reality of it is I’m fried from work commitments. I spend the day putting out other people’s metaphorical fires, and then come home drained and empty, with nothing left to give to my loved ones or to myself personally.

I’ve had some health scares too. I’ve been to the ER twice in the last year, both of which should have served as wake up calls to clean up my diet, to slow down, to take more walks with the dogs, to shut off social media and shut out my fears for my country and the rest of the world. To take a deep breath and calm down.

But the truth is, that’s easier said than done when you’re living off your adrenal glands. When work is so stressful you’ve developed a twitch under your left eye, it’s hard to settle for a salad for lunch when there’s a bowl of Easter candy sitting in the employee lounge. It’s easier to throw the ball in the yard for the puppy for a half hour in the evenings after work than it is to take the dogs for a walk. Get up earlier and exercise? I can barely drag myself out of bed as it is. I wish all mirrors could be banned as I look at myself and note every line, every wrinkle, every roll, and an increasingly visible scalp. An old woman looks back at me, and I don’t recognize her. I am utterly exhausted. I don’t know how to squeeze more out of my day.

And I do have regrets. I hate that I wake up every morning playing a negative soundtrack in my head about how much I hate my job, I hate the way I look, I hate the way I feel, I hate the clutter in my house, I hate the person I’ve become.

Again and again over the last ten years, I’ve said I need to make changes. And each time, I start out meaning to do so, only to let the stresses and demands of my daily life suck me back into grabbing processed food on the run, living off soda and cheese & crackers, starting exercise programs I never complete, and continuing to feel crappy and exhausted. I think for most middle-aged women, the combination of stress plus changing hormones sets us up for all kinds of ‘failure’. We simply can’t stop being the workhorse of the family to take care of ourselves, but we have less reserves than we had when we were twenty.

But we only get so many wake up calls. I’m lucky I’ve had as many as I’ve had, to be honest. I’m extremely fortunate that good genes have left me relatively healthy despite the abuse my body takes at my hands on a daily basis. Given the junk food I eat, it’s a bloody miracle I’m only 20-25 pounds overweight and not more. My heart is healthy, and I’m not pre-diabetic. I still have my gallbladder. While not an athlete, I go hiking and horseback riding. My biggest issues are pain-related, stemming from a lifetime of refusing to respect my body and joints that are severely annoyed with me. There is also the ever-increasing list of foods I can no longer eat because of my skin condition, or digestive issues, or food sensitivities. I’m running out of time to coast on my genes. I have caught a glimpse of my future and it’s a scary place–unless I make changes now.

There are reasons I’m not a fan of some of the more popular and successful diet systems. I have friends who’ve lost tremendous amounts of weight through Weight Watchers, etc. But most of these systems require a degree of tracking that is very triggering for me, coming as I am from a household of people with eating disorders. I’d never really considered myself as having an ED, but I suspect now my extreme pickiness is a form of it. Likewise, only a few days of logging food intake on WW or My Fitness Pal has me running in the opposite direction.

I also have a slew of minor but frustrating issues relating to food: I have a skin condition called acne rosacea that is that is triggered by certain foods. I’ve developed a caffeine sensitivity that has resulted in my having to give up caffeine entirely. I struggle with heartburn and digestive issues. So following a specific diet plan is often an automatic fail for me. I just can’t do it. I have to tailor my meals around what I can eat.

But I think I need some accountability, which is why I will be posting about my journey here. No pictures–I’m neither that brave nor that vain. But I will be logging what I’m doing as a whole on my path toward health–mental, physical, emotional. The Wake Up Call for a Middle-Aged Woman, so to speak. The focus here isn’t going to be on weight loss, though that would be a nice bonus if it occurred. It’s going go be about feeling better: about myself, about my life, about my future.

Because I don’t want to have any more regrets than I already do.

 

 

 

What Happens When You Run Out of Virgins?

Digital Illustration of a Dragon

This post could also be titled: Why Amazon Needs Competition from Other Publishing Markets.

Because it does.

Last week, I posted a question to one of my indie publishing support groups, asking for a show of hands for those who used KU or went wide with their distribution. The vast majority of people went with KU. Certain genres do quite well there, and most authors did have their books enrolled in KU. Many said they would release wide the first week before pulling their books from other platforms and going with KDP select from then on. The vast majority of authors said they just didn’t make enough money on the other platforms to justify not doing KU, and they did make money on KU. Not much, admittedly, but since it was the only game in town…

The other day, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, pleased at how many companies had pulled their support from the NRA, and seeing the calls for boycotts of companies that hadn’t done so. And then I saw that Amazon not only supported the NRA, but they advertised with Brietbart. 

Well crap.

Because a) Amazon is big enough not to give a rat’s ass about public opinion, even when the tide is turning on the matter of sensible gun control here in the US and b) virtually every author I know would be crippled by an Amazon ban. Myself included.

Just this morning, I was chatting with my critique group about the state of publishing in general and signs that Barnes and Noble is going under. B&N, who gobbled up Borders, and now is falling victim to Amazon. The chain bookstores crushed all the smaller competition, and are now getting killed themselves. When I first moved here, we had a Waldenbooks, a Books A Million, B&N, and a fantastic used bookstore. They are all gone, with the exception of B&N. And now it looks like B&N will be folding soon.

Hopefully it will get bought out by someone else, but that seems less and less likely in today’s market. I like my local B&N store. I don’t go there as often as I used to because I buy mostly digital books now. My first e-reader was a NOOK, but it was heavy and had a pitiful battery life. But the real reason I bought a Kindle and began getting all my ebooks from Amazon was that B&N’s website sucks. OMG. It is so terrible. I get a coupon or a book link, log in, attempt to buy the book, and the site kicks me out multiple times, requesting I log in again or redirecting me off the page where I am trying to redeem my coupon. My experience was so consistently bad, I actually thought ebooks would never catch on. Hah.

The ease of being able to get a book on my cell phone’s Kindle app converted me. The superior functionality of my Kindle Paperwhite gives me so much more than the NOOK that I don’t miss the fact my book covers aren’t in color. B&N is falling victim of its inability to keep up.

Recently I heard Wal-Mart is getting into the e-book game, and along with Kobo, Apple, and Google, are pursuing the ebook market. What this means for indie authors, I don’t know, but I suspect they will not do any publishing. They are more likely to serve as a distribution center. Are they willing to take a loss on book sales the way Amazon is? Amazon is not a publisher. It sells products, including e-readers. If selling books brings people to the website, they are more likely to buy other things too. At the moment, Amazon is content to lose money on book sales. So maybe that’s what Wal-Mart is ultimately hoping for–books driving people to their site (which I didn’t even know existed until now).

Competing distribution sites is all well and good, but I think we need someone else in the field who will allow self-publishing on the scale Amazon has done. I think we as authors need to think carefully about letting Amazon be our sole distributor as well. Because relying solely on KU feels a little bit like sacrificing a virgin to keep the dragon happy for a year–and what’s going to happen when the town runs out of virgins?

Amazon will call all the shots then. And authors, who have never been a priority for them, will be eaten up along with the town.